Cold Case, Hot Bodies(5)

By: Jule McBride

Dario’s mother, Bianca, crossed herself. She felt the family’s long-time connection to a house of sin was tantamount to a curse. “If you don’t sell, Beppe,” Dario had heard her vow many times, “your only son is never going to settle down with a nice girl. Due to this legacy, he’ll be a womanizer his whole life, just like Angelo.” To whatever extent this was true, Dario hadn’t minded.

Luther continued, “When Angel’s Cloud was first built, nearly every house radiating from Five Points was a brothel. So-called panel games were invented at establishments such as Angel’s Cloud, where women would remove panels in the walls and rob male clients while other women kept the men…” Luther smiled “…shall we say, occupied.

“These were powerful men, too. Lawyers, doctors and town fathers. Many wives, under the guise of temperance societies, tried to shut the places down. Because of morals, yes.” Luther flashed another smile. “But also because their husbands were having such a good time.” Stepping forward, Luther lifted some folders and began handing them out. “I’ve put together a package of pictures, to illustrate why Mr. Donato’s property must be declared a landmark.”

“Ridiculous,” insisted Beppe.

“As curator of the Centuries of Sex Museum,” Luther continued, “I’ve learned a great deal about life at Angel’s Cloud. Of particular interest is the possible murder of a woman named Gem O’Shea. Recently, her ancestors have been in contact with me, but before I say more about that, I’d like to acquaint everyone with the O’Shea family tree…” After pausing to catch his breath, he rattled off names, then listed Angelo Donato’s relatives, including Dario’s great-grandfather, Enrico, and his grandfather, Salvador.

“My predecessor acquired many items from Angel’s Cloud through the Donato family,” Luther continued. “For years, the museum has owned all the original furniture, as well as portraits of the women who worked for Angelo. Replica rooms are roped off in our museum, preserving rooms exactly as they once were. I think this proves that our relationship with the Donato family has been excellent, but now that Mr. Donato has voiced intentions to sell, we have to try to save the building itself.

“While an old bawdy house may not seem a national treasure, Judge Zhang,” he concluded, “Angel’s Cloud is one of the only original Five Points buildings still standing today.”

“I have to sell,” Beppe muttered, twirling the end of his inky black mustache anxiously. “The taxes are through the roof! Besides, I’ve been renting to tenants for years!”

“But now the area’s been rezoned, and if the property winds up in the hands of a developer—” Luther stared pointedly at Chuckie Haswell “—a high-rise will appear in its place.”

“This is what the Donato family gets for being patrons of the arts,” fumed Beppe.

“Patrons of the arts?” whispered Eliana. “By contributing to a sex museum?”

“Shush,” commanded Bianca.

“Of course Mr. Donato wants to sell!” Brice Jurgenson burst out, rising to his feet and shaking his fist. “On behalf of the few remaining tenants, I’m here to say the place is unlivable! Overrun with mice! Every Donato slumlord has renovated it, breaking it into ever smaller rental units, and now it’s full of architectural oddities and tenants can’t—”

“I’m no slumlord!” said Beppe in shock. Noticing how his father’s liver-spotted hands were starting to shake, Dario felt a surge of protectiveness. His folks had wanted a son desperately, so they hadn’t quit having kids until Dario came along; he’d been a late baby, behind seven sisters. Now his dad was too old to keep up with a rental property full of disgruntled tenants.

“There are strange sounds in the hallways late at night,” Brice pressed on. “Very strange sounds. Loud music. Footsteps. Some tenants believe the place is haunted, and—”

“It may well be!” added Luther. “That’s exactly my point. We must preserve this piece of history.”

“This isn’t about history!” protested Beppe. “Just mice. And that’s why my son, Officer Donato,” he emphasized, “has agreed to move in, starting tonight. He says he’s going to take care of everything.”

Inwardly, Dario groaned. “What?”

“I already told them,” assured Beppe under his breath. “Before you came. You’re a police officer, so you can fix anything.”