***Note: The following excerpt has not gone through its final proofing.**
Sam Hawke, an investigative reporter for The Boston Daily Record, consoled herself. You couldn’t break a big story every day. Her deal with her editor, Archie August, was that she’d continue to lead the ladies’ pages as per her original agreement when he’d allowed her to move from receptionist to reporter, even though she was still technically a married woman.
Technically, Samantha thought as she snapped photographs of the fundraiser held at St. Stephen’s Church on Hanover Street. Her louse of a husband, Seth Rosenbaum, had skipped town years ago and left her with their young daughter and his ornery mother. Well, enough was enough. She couldn’t be expected to wait for him forever, and the good Lord knew, with the kind of reckless life he led and the nefarious company he kept, he could good and well be dead.
“Miss Hawke?” Hawke was her maiden name, and the byline Sam Hawke had a non-female ring to it. At least with the printed press, her blond locks and curvy form couldn’t be discriminated against.
Mr. Mulryan, the church secretary, wore cuffed pants, a well-worn cardigan over a shirt and tie, and scuffed-on-the-toes leather loafers. With hair and nails neatly trimmed, and smoothly shaven skin on his long face, he had an effeminate quality. To raise money for widows and orphans, he’d organized the clothing bazaar.
Samantha responded, “Yes, Mr. Mulryan.”
“Thank you for agreeing to cover our affair. Since the panic, there are so many more people in need, and we at St. Stephen’s church are here to help out any way we can.”
Putting aside her camera, Samantha removed a notebook and pencil from her leather messenger bag. “If someone needs clothing or another kind of help, who should they contact?” she asked.
“I’m the person they can come to first.” Mr. Mulryan gave Samantha a telephone number. “Of course, Father O’Hara is always here on Sundays, and we do hope to see more people attend mass this weekend.”
St. Stephen’s church attracted the Irish, but everyone felt the pinch of the Depression, no matter their ethnicity.
“I’m sure your efforts are appreciated,” Samantha said.
The door flew open, and a middle-aged woman screeched, “There’s a dead man in the churchyard!”
Samantha looked at Mr. Mulryan. Dead people in a churchyard wasn’t so unusual, except for the fact that there wasn’t a cemetery attached to St. Stephen’s sanctuary.
Mr. Mulryan stepped toward the distraught woman. “Are you certain, Mrs. Breen?”
Mrs. Breen seemed to get her nerves under control. “I’ve buried two husbands and a father, Mr. Mulryan. I know a dead body when I see it.”
Samantha followed the odd pair out the front door and around the corner on the Clark Street side of the building. The body of a man lay along the short fence.
“It’s partially hidden by that shrub,” Mrs. Breen said, gloved hand to her heart. “And if a bee hadn’t landed on my shoulder, I wouldn’t have jumped and turned my head. At first, I only glimpsed a shoe and thought it was a vagrant sleeping it off.”
Samantha reached the man on the lawn just as the lady completed her long-winded explanation.
Mrs. Breen wasn’t wrong. Whoever this poor soul was—twisted unnaturally onto his side—he was clearly not breathing. No one would be with that gash across his neck. Samantha was a little ashamed at her next thought: Finally! A story of her own.
She turned to Mr. Mulryan. “I’ll stay with the body while you call the police.”
Samantha was pleased that the bile that rose in the back of her throat subsided quickly—faster than in the past when she’d been exposed to a dead body—especially where blood was involved. Intrinsically, she knew she had precious little time before the hordes of police and journalists descended and took the opportunity to snap as many pictures as possible. She carefully set the exposure. The light was getting low. Would she need a greater aperture?
Mrs. Breen inexplicably remained, a handkerchief pressed to her face.
“I’m fine to watch over the body until Mr. Mulryan returns and the police arrive,” Samantha said.
Mrs. Breen didn’t take the hint. “I find the whole concept of death fascinating,” she said, her handkerchief out like a flag. “One second you’re alive and bam! The next, you’re talking to Saint Peter at the pearly gates.”
The woman must be in shock, Samantha thought. As soon as she was done getting the story, Samantha decided she’d find out where Mrs. Breen lived and take her home. Meanwhile, a few questions wouldn’t hurt.
“Do you recognize this man?”
Mrs. Breen shook her head. “He looks to be Italian. I’m Irish,” she said as if the two ethnicities never had reason to meet or socialize.
Samantha wasn’t a doctor, though now that she and Dr. Haley Higgins, Boston’s assistant chief medical examiner, had become friends, she was a little more familiar with the basics—like how rigor mortis worked. With a tentative touch, she could tell the victim’s limbs were stiff, which meant the syndrome had set in and the man had died over four hours ago. Who knew how much longer he would’ve gone unnoticed if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Breen’s bee? Samantha sniffed and wrinkled her nose. With this streak of warm weather, someone would’ve smelled him soon enough.
Mr. Mulryan returned, puffing from his jog to his office telephone and back.
“The police are on their way.”
Recognizing her window for snapping photos had closed, Samantha put the lens cap on the camera. She carefully stowed it in its leather case and tightened down the strap to keep the expensive piece of equipment from sliding out.
“What’s going on, Mr. Mulryan?” A shrill female voice reached them from the other side of the hedge. Mr. Mulryan went into action, turning his back to the dead man as a shield.
“It’s nothing, Mrs. Jones. Go on inside. Lovely things available to purchase and such a good cause.”
Mr. Mulryan’s gaze rested on Mrs. Breen. “Shall we find Mr. Breen?”
“I suppose.” The lady sniffed. “There’s not much I can do for this poor fellow.”
A bug-eyed Ford police cruiser screeched to a stop. A uniformed policeman and a pinched-faced detective in civilian clothes stepped out of the boxy machine and slammed the doors. Mr. Mulryan approached and said a few words Samantha couldn’t hear before taking Mrs. Breen inside.
Samantha recognized both men and smiled at the sight of the younger one, Officer Tom Bell. She and Tom had become acquainted through a mishap at an illegal speakeasy. He’d been on an undercover mission, and she was hot on a story. When she’d saved his life, he’d become her police contact. He would’ve been interested in more than friendship if she hadn’t put a stop to it. Tom was an agreeable man with attractive features. A fellow who lived by the book, which Samantha admired, but it wasn’t a philosophy she could always abide by in her profession. Plus, there was Seth. There was always Seth.
“Hello, Tom,” she said.
His eyes widened in surprise. “Samantha. What are you doing here already?”
Tom would’ve expected her to show up with the flock of journalists sure to be screeching to the curb any minute. Samantha wasn’t the only one with a police contact.
“I was working on a story for the ladies’ pages. The summer bazaar here is quite popular and of interest to the community.”
Detective Cluney was at Officer Bell’s elbow. Beefy in stature and gruff in nature, the detective wasn’t one for pleasantries. Another cruiser pulled up behind the first one, and an officer with a camera approached with long, relaxed strides. After a quick greeting, he took photographs in the same manner Samantha had earlier. She made sure to keep her camera strapped over her shoulder and pushed toward her back. The detective would frown at her presumption and accuse her of interfering if it looked like it had been in use.
Detective Cluney nodded at Samantha in acknowledgment. “Miss Hawke, how did you first learn of the body in the yard?”
“Mrs. Breen, a parishioner at St. Stephen’s, noticed it then announced her discovery after she entered the church in distress.”
Just as Samantha had predicted, members of the press began driving up, and Samantha saw Johnny Milwaukee’s tall form in the midst. His felt fedora sat crookedly on his head, and his persistent wry grin was plastered to his face. Samantha smirked, staying out of her colleague’s line of sight. They weren’t enemies, but Samantha didn’t consider him a chum either. Fierce competitors were what they were, and she’d take whatever advantage she could gain.
“Who’s the dead guy?” Johnny shouted out to no avail. Detective Cluney didn’t pander to the press, and none of the other officers would dare to answer without their boss’s go-ahead.
Dr. Haley Higgins, assistant to the chief medical examiner, was the next to arrive and stepped around the throng. A tall, no-nonsense woman, Haley Higgins was intelligent, insightful, and driven. Wild curls refused to be tamed into place, and the doctor often forwent the style of the day for a practical ponytail under a simple hat. Haley arched her dark brow at Samantha when she spotted her.
“I was already here,” Samantha explained preemptively. “Covering the fundraiser.”
“Hello, Detective and Officers,” Haley said. She stopped short before the body and stared.
Hesitation at the sight of a body was so unlike the pathologist, Samantha felt a note of concern. “Dr. Higgins? Is everything all right?”
Haley snapped her gaping mouth shut. She’d seen plenty of stabbing deaths in her line of work, and neck lacerations weren’t uncommon. That wasn’t what bothered her.
“Who found the body?”
“A parishioner,” Samantha said, “on her way to the bazaar.”
Haley scanned the small crowd of investigators. “Did anyone move the body?”
Detective Cluney puffed on a newly lit cigar. “What’s on your mind, Dr. Higgins?”
Haley didn’t want to mention the real reason her pulse jumped, and she didn’t have to. Other evidence was present. “There’s no blood pooling on the grass. With the nature of these wounds, it was likely that he bled to death.”
“So, he was moved here,” Detective Cluney said. “Bell, go find this Mrs. Breen and have her brought in for questioning. Maybe she saw something she doesn’t know is significant.”
Haley caught Officer Bell’s quick glance in Samantha’s direction. The poor fellow was in trouble, but matters of the heart weren’t Haley’s concern. She had her own problems in that regard. Officer Jack Thompson, to be specific, a crime scene photographer and former love. With camera in hand, he awkwardly hovered over her as she squatted beside the corpse.
“Dr. Higgins,” he said. “Are you all right?”
Haley forced a smile. Jack had returned to Boston, and she could do nothing about it. Even though she’d made it clear that she wasn’t interested, that she was a mistress to her work, he seemed undaunted. Haley was of an age where the word spinster was used to describe her and accurately so. Despite all of that, she’d still agreed to attend the policeman’s ball on his arm. It was a good cause. She’d told herself that was why she’d said yes.
Haley asked a question back. “Do you find the positioning of the body unusual?”
“For a body dump? No.”
Haley nodded and returned to her examination. Blood and bruising on the corpse’s face. A laceration on his neck. Pulling the man’s fists clear of his body, Haley noted contusions on the tops of his knuckles. “He’s been in a fight.”
“Nothing new for hooligans,” Detective Cluney said as he lit a cigar. “Our man here got in bad company, and it got out of hand. Was dumped at the church out of guilt, I’m bettin’. Wanted the guy to be found.”
“Any clue to where the crime might’ve taken place?” This was from Samantha who, for the moment, had been forgotten by Detective Cluney.
“Why are you still here?” he barked.
Samantha put her shoulders back and looked the detective straight in the eye. “I was one of the first on the scene.”
“Then you’ll be called to the station to give a statement. I’m not taking questions from reporters right now, Miss Hawke.” Detective Cluney blew smoke out of the side of his mouth as he stared Samantha down. She shrugged at Haley. “See you later, Doctor.”
“You’re still coming for dinner tomorrow?” Haley asked.
Samantha smiled. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
“Do you have an answer?” Detective Cluney asked with impatience, once Samantha was gone.
“Clues for the scene of the crime. Where the fight happened?”
Haley checked the dead man’s pockets. Empty.
“Nothing definitive at the moment,” Haley said. She stood and brushed dry grass off her skirt. “The postmortem might tell us more.”
The ambulance had arrived, and the detective released the body. The members of the press asked their questions, but when Haley searched for Samantha among them, her friend was nowhere to be found.