Death on the Tower

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Chapter 1 Excerpt

From the back seat of the taxi, Samantha Hawke leaned close to the driver’s ear. “Mister, can’t you make this thing go any faster?”

“Goin’ as fast I can, lady.”

Frustration built up in her chest, and to her dismay she felt sweat build up under the arms of her two-piece, summer dress suit. She removed her straw hat and fanned herself, furious that, not only was she burning up in this slow-moving oven on wheels, but that Johnny Milwaukee would arrive at the scene of the crime before she did. And she’d gotten the tip first!

The nerve of that man, refusing to let her ride along with him in his fancy roadster. He’d get the lead story again. How was she going to prove to her boss she was as good a reporter as the guys if she had to depend on transit and they drove their own cars?

“Finally!” she muttered under her breath as the taxi approached the west side of the Custom House on India Street. She pushed damp locks of honey-blond hair off her face and replaced her hat. She paid the cabbie, then stepped out onto the street with her messenger bag and Kodak box camera strapped over her shoulder.

Her status with the newspaper didn’t prevent a wave of scowling to follow her, even as the pedestrians stepped aside. She could see the top of Johnny’s messy flop of hair with his fedora tilted jauntily to the side—slightly rebellious like the man on whose head it rested. Max Owen, slight in build and quiet by nature, was with him, snapping photographs with a modern Ensign Cameo camera. Samantha envied the slender, rectangular, leather-encased wood box that when opened, produced a lens contraption on an accordion sleeve. The quality of the lens was notches above her box camera and had a classier focusing ability.

He and Johnny were a professional team and watching them made Samantha feel entirely inadequate.

Which wasn’t true. She’d broken the last hot case they covered, hadn’t she? She couldn’t let the surrounding men intimidate her, especially the somewhat handsome and very arrogant Johnny Milwaukee.

He smiled when he saw her.

“Hey, doll. You made it.”

“No thanks to you!”

The crowd was extremely large, larger than what constituted an average number of rubbernecks, and Samantha was pushed up against Johnny’s back.

She shouted to the hapless offender behind her. “Hey!”   To Johnny she added, “What’s going on? Why are there so many people on the streets?”

Johnny tilted his head and stared down at Samantha in that superior way that drove her nuts. She bit her tongue at the snide remark bubbling up at the back of her throat. Her patience was rewarded.

“Fire alarm was pulled at the custom house,” Johnny said. “The siren was turned off a minute ago, just before you finally got here.” This last sentence was delivered with a cocky smile. He was the reason she was late. When he looked away, she stabbed him with her elbow.

“Ow!”

Samantha masterfully delivered her faux apology. “Oh, sorry. The crowds…”

She couldn’t see the body, a jumper who, according to her contact, had fallen from the seventh floor, on the west side of the Custom House Tower. Police had the area roped off, holding back Custom House employees, the curious, and reporters alike. The Boston Daily Record wasn’t the only paper on the beat.

Samantha spotted the burly Detective Cluney shouting orders to his underlings—one of whom was Officer Tom Bell. Officer Bell was her contact at the station, a relatively new arrangement, and she tried to catch his eye. Maybe she could tell something by the look on his face, or at the very least, she could indicate her gratitude with a nod of the head, but he didn’t turn around.

“It’s bad, sweetheart,” Johnny said.

Samantha stretched up onto her tiptoes, but still couldn’t see through the taller bodies standing in front of her. Johnny had the advantage of height, along with the fact he was male, single, and socially savvy. She’d hate him if he weren’t so charming and, admittedly, useful.

“Do you want to climb up onto my back?”

“Very funny, Johnny!” Even if Samantha would risk her dignity to do such a thing in public, her formfitting calf-length dress wouldn’t allow for it.

“At least tell me what you see?”

“A splat.”

“A splat?”

“Yeah, a splat.”

Samantha huffed. Johnny had a habit of being vague when he wanted to.

“Male or female.”

“I’m guessing female. ’Cuz of the skirt.”

The crowed opened, making way for the city’s assistant medical examiner, and Samantha’s new friend. She called to her, “Haley! Uh, Dr. Higgins!”

Haley turned at Samantha’s voice and paused, which gave Samantha a chance to step in before the crowd closed behind them.

“Hello, Samantha,” Haley said. “Word travels fast.”

“I’m actually surprised I arrived before you did. My taxi was slower than an ox.”

“And I’m usually late to the scene,” Haley said, blowing loose, wild, dark curls out of her eyes. “As I don’t get called until after the police have arrived to assess the damage.”

“Does Dr. Guthrie always send you?” Samantha asked.

Haley snorted softly. “Dr. Guthrie prefers to stay at the morgue to drink tea and work on crossword puzzles.”

They reached the crime scene rope and the police lifted it for Haley.

The officer dropped it before Samantha could pass. “Sorry, ma’am, police only beyond this point.”

Samantha shrugged. She didn’t expect to be let in, she only wanted to get closer. And now she had.

She gaped at the gruesome scene before her. The body was a splat.

Bile crept up the back of her throat and her stomach contents surged. Despite the June heat, she felt cold and clammy.

Oh no, was she about to vomit? No! She would never live that down. Johnny would see to that. She closed her eyes, braced herself against her knees, and forced herself to breathe deeply.

“You okay, doll?”

Drat! Johnny Milwaukee was the type of guy who was never there when you needed him and always there when you didn’t!

She spat out, “I’m fine.”

“Are you sure? You don’t look too good”

Samantha straightened, smoothed out her dress, and adjusted the straps of her messenger bag and camera.

“I’m fine. Where’s your lackey?” Samantha searched for Max and saw him staring quietly. Embarrassment flickered behind his eyes, and she knew he’d heard her.

“I’m sorry, Max. I didn’t mean that. I’m just angry at Johnny and, well, I’m sorry.”

A slight smile formed on Max’s face, and Samantha knew the mild-mannered man had forgiven her.

Jostling about in crowds was a normal occurrence at crime scenes, so Samantha hadn’t expected politeness when it came to a round of pushing and shoving, but she was pleasantly surprised when she looked at the owner of the English-accented voice that said, “So sorry, madam.”

Very well presented, the gentleman wore a crisp summer suit, a white shirt with an expertly tied black tie, and on his neatly styled hair (Johnny could take a lesson or two on this count), a straw hat, worn, straight.

Samantha self-consciously patted at her hair and smoothed out her skirt. “Oh, it’s quite alright.” The man was handsome and charming. Why did she have to look like she was about to lose her dinner?

“So sad,” he said, looking back at the scene. “I’m told she was quite talented at her job.”

“You knew her?”

“Only in passing, but I really have to get back inside. Despite this tragedy, I’ve got work to do.”

“You work at the Custom House?”

“Yes.”

“What’s your name?”

The man’s blue eyes glinted. “I’ll tell you mine, if you tell my yours.”

She felt her lips tugging upward in response. “I’m Samantha Hawke, a reporter with the Boston Daily Record.” She reached out a lacy-gloved hand and the man took it.

“Richard Wentworth. I hope we do meet again sometime, Miss Hawke.”

Before Samantha could get in a professional question, Mr. Wentworth slipped away into the crowd. She closed her mouth at the stranger’s obvious attempt at flirting and reprimanded herself. She was on the job! Focus!

Samantha pushed thoughts of the handsome man aside and prepared her box camera, then shot the scene until half of her roll of film was used up. That done, she acquired her pencil and notepad.

“Do you know the name of the deceased?”

Samantha asked this question to no one in particular. It was rare for the police to answer when the press shouted questions, but it was something to do, and once in a while, you got lucky.

“Did she jump? Or was she pushed?”

Johnny leaped in. “C’mon, Detective Cluney, give us a crumb!”


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