The doorknob clicked and two suits off the rack at Filene’s Basement downtown appeared. Tie, black and knotted perfectly, and pressed white shirt walked in first. His sidekick followed him. Same black tie, but his knot, a simple four-in-hand, looked as if it had been looped and pulled through with broken fingers and his shirt was wrinkled, ironed by elephants.
“Sergeant said you wanted to see James Constantino.”
“I did and I do.”
“May we ask why you wish to speak with him?”
I played the part. Minimalistic answers to these boys left little to twist and use against Jimmy or me. No introductions, no names from them, also told me this meeting never happened. Their word against mine, and I’d better have patience for Jimmy’s sake. Sloppy Cop left the room, leaving his partner with me for a staring contest.
“He’s in for arson.”
“So I was told.”
“So I heard.”
“I’d advise him to take a plea deal and save everyone a lot of time.” The tall and neat detective decided to do the walk-and-talk to show I was in his house and he made the rules. “When I arrested Jimmy, do you know what he said to me?”
“Knowing Jimmy, he probably said fuck you.”
“That’s exactly right. He said fuck you. Nice guy, your client Jimmy. I didn’t quote him in the report, so you could say I cut him some slack. Heat of the moment.”
To thank him, or agree with him would give him a lever. I said nothing.
“Now, let’s get to the point, shall we? Jimmy is a pyro. You know it and I know it.”
He touched his chin. I knew this trick, too. Semantics.
“Excuse me, alleged arsonist,” he said. “Imagine how it’ll play for Jimmy when the DA explains to a jury how a person dies in a fire, how he smells his own flesh cooking, and how he’ll start coughing and sputtering and gasping for air before he chokes to death.” He stepped close enough that I could smell Maxwell House on his breath. “Not a whole lot of sympathy. I’d love to be there, right up in his face and ask Jimmy who’s fucked now?”
The detective’s dark brown eyes drilled into me.
“I’m curious, Detective,” I said. “Did the coroner’s report come in?”
“I’ll take that as a no then. I thought you might know something about the deceased in the building since you keep repeating he.” I raised a finger. “That brings up another small matter. Neither of us knows whether he was already dead or not when the building burned down, do we? And one other thing, did you find any traces of accelerant on Jimmy?”
The detective leaned forward. “What’s your point?”
I stepped right up and delivered. “It’s called presumption of innocence.”
The door opened. Partner Slipshod returned. He let the door yawn close. Since Jimmy wasn’t with him, I assumed the next stop was holding.
A brief walk, two doors down, I met a proper interrogation room. The sloppy little man eased the door open for me to see Jimmy inside what cops called the box. My escort whispered, “I’ll give you two some privacy.”
Straight out of the latest research from the psychologists, the room boasted four sharp corners, smooth surfaces and edges. Accommodations included an uncomfortable hardwood chair for Jimmy, its back to the door for the element of surprise. The light fixture hung low and bright, its glare relentless to blind the eyes or toast the top of the head. I walked towards the empty chair. I ran my hand along the tabletop. Jimmy came into view, handcuffed to an eyelet in front of him. His eyes glanced sideways, to a glass window, to remind me there were eavesdroppers. I gave him the slightest nod.
Jimmy had one look: composed menace. Hair short, shirt tailored, and slacks pressed. The cops had confiscated his wristwatch, belt and shoelaces. The harsh lighting did him no favors. His high cheekbones, long face, hooded eyelids and dark eyes telegraphed violence.
The bruise on his cheek was as purple as raw steak. The left eye would close up soon. His knuckles were scraped and bloodied. He had gotten a few in. Lawyers used the Socratic method. Boston cops used the Ground and Pound, familiar to Marines.
“Haven’t had much sleep, have you?”
Jimmy smirked. “What can I say? Hard mattress, harder pillow, and then somebody wanted to dance, but you know how it is in the dark. Clang, clang, bang, bang, and nobody heard a thing.”
Order SYMPHONY ROAD
Release Date: January 12, 2021 from Level Best Books
Trouble comes in threes for Shane Cleary, a former police officer and now, a PI.
Arson. A Missing Person. A cold case.
Two of his clients whom he shouldn’t trust, he does, and the third, whom he should, he can’t.
Shane is up against crooked cops, a notorious slumlord and a mafia boss who want what they want, and then there’s the good guys who may or may not be what they seem.
Praise for SYMPHONY ROAD
“The second installment in this noir series takes us on a gritty journey through mid-seventies Boston, warts and all, and presents Shane Cleary with a complex arson case that proves to be much more than our PI expected. Peppered with the right mix of period detail and sharp, spare prose, Valjan proves he’s the real deal.” – Edwin Hill, Edgar finalist and author of Watch Her
“Ostracized former cop turned PI Shane Cleary navigates the mean streets of Boston’s seedy underbelly in Symphony Road. A brilliant follow up to Dirty Old Town, Valjan’s literary flair and dark humor are on full display.” – Bruce Robert Coffin, award-winning author of the Detective Byron Mysteries