Death at the Tavern

Chapter 1 Excerpt

DISCLAIMER: The following content has not gone through the final editing process. 

When the door of the morgue cracked open, Dr. Haley Higgins hoped it wasn’t news of another body. She’d been backlogged with autopsies since the day the chief medical examiner, Dr. Angus Brown, had been struck by a streetcar and died. She had only just finished stitching up the Y incision on the body now lying on the table. The medical examiner’s replacement was due today, a Dr. Peter Guthrie, and in her opinion, he couldn’t arrive too soon.

“Stand down, my good boy!” The owner of the gruff voice slammed the door on his way in. “Bloody intern thinks I can’t find my way around. It’s not my first time in America. I know how the savages think.”

The doctor was exceptionally tall with long, willowy limbs and pointed elbows and knees. His shoulders fell forward giving the impression that his head, and its mass of white unruly hair, was in the lead, just an inch or two ahead of the rest of him.

He made a turn about the morgue, squinting his eyes as he took in the equipment and supplies. Giving Haley only a cursory glance, he acted as if she merited no more attention or commendation than the mechanics in the room.

Becoming aware of her slackened jaw, Haley snapped her mouth shut. Her mind tried to comprehend the man before her. Why on earth would the hospital administration replace the late medical examiner with a man who was clearly as old as the hills? And worse, Haley recognized the crotchety English gentleman. Years ago

back in England, they’d worked on a case together.

Haley wiped her hands on her lab coat before crossing the floor. “Dr. Guthrie?” She reached out a palm. “I’m Dr. Higgins, your assistant.”

The man had a modicum of English good manners and returned her salutation. “How do you do?” His bright eyes blinked as he finally took a moment to consider her. “A lady pathologist, eh? Not many in the field. I’ve only encountered one before.”

“Might that have been me?” Haley asked. “We have met before.”

He worked his lips. “Yes, in Chesterton. I remember you. You’re tall for a woman, aren’t you?”

Haley held in a smirk. If she had a dollar for every time someone mentioned her height—that and her occupation—she’d be a rich woman.

“You were friends with the Gold family at Bray Manor,” Dr. Guthrie continued.

“That’s correct.”

“How extraordinary that we should meet again and on this side of the globe.”

Haley couldn’t have agreed more. “It is.”

Dr. Guthrie made a sudden pivot and took quick strides toward the chrome table situated under a bright lamp in the middle of the room. He nodded his pointy chin to the pale corpse lying there. “Very well, tell me about this poor fellow.”

Haley began her recitation. “Male, Caucasian, mid-thirties. Stab wound. Upper thrust with a thin blade puncturing the right lung and left ventricle. He lost too much blood.”

“In the wrong place at the wrong time?”

“He’s a suspected bootlegger.”

“Ah. Sadly, one must not drink on American soil.

Haley concurred. “That’s the law of the land at the moment. However, the powers that be must eventually come to the conclusion that it’s a fool’s errand trying to control the private lives of people in that manner.”

The success of rum running and the string of underground clubs and speakeasies was a testament to that.

Dr. Guthrie grunted. “Prohibition is on its last legs, I predict.”

Haley had to agree, though they were almost halfway through 1931 and she couldn’t see it happening anytime soon.

“It’s the only reason I agreed to endure that frightful journey over the Atlantic,” Dr. Guthrie continued. “That and my sons’ audacity to move to America. The idiots went on to marry American women and now, blast it, I have American grandchildren! My wife Eileen must be turning in her grave.”

Haley held in a grin.

The morgue telephone rang, and Haley picked up the heavy black-an-gold receiver. It was the police. After a short conversation, she hung up the phone and followed Dr. Guthrie to his office behind a glass wall.

“There’s a body at the Bell in Hand on Union Street,” Haley said. “Would you like me to accompany you?”

Dr. Guthrie lowered himself into the chair behind his large oak desk, his knees jutting out awkwardly. He flapped long fingers in Haley’s direction.

“You go. The weather in this blasted city is too bloody hot for my old bones.”

Investigative Reporter Samantha Hawke, byline Sam Hawke, is the only dame on the beat at the Boston Daily Record. She doesn’t take no guff from the guys, and they’ve learned to respect her, even if she’s a skirt. She’s fearless and tough as nails. Her blond locks and red lips get attention, but the smart men keep their distance. Those who don’t learn a thing or two about the lethal side of long fingernails and pointy-toed shoes. Besides, Sam’s married, even if she hasn’t seen her no-good husband for a year.

Though no one had ever laid eyes on it but her, Samantha had written that autobiography five years ago when she’d braced herself for a confrontation with the editor in chief, Archie August. She’d insisted that he promote her from receptionist to reporter. The editor said he’d admired her nerve. He had given her the women’s column, which she begrudgingly took. Though Mr. August didn’t know it, she had a young daughter to think about, and had inherited a demanding mother-in-law whom she supported. The women’s column offered pay she couldn’t scoff at. She’d taped the biography to the back of her notebook to remind her about how far she’d come since the day Seth Rosenbaum had walked out on her.

Hollywood bombshell Marlene Dietrich’s eyebrows are all the rage. Get your tweezers out and shape your brows into razor-thin arches. A little pain is worth the glamor, ladies! Women who happen to lack the natural arch pluck the entire brow and pencil them in with the new eyebrow pencils by Maybelline.

Samantha didn’t mind writing the columns, even if they were mostly fluff. Fashion and make-up interested her and her only beef was that she couldn’t afford to buy those things for herself. The men she shared the room with would be surprised to know that a safety pin held her brassiere together and that the seams of

her skirt had needed re-enforcing more than once.

There were times when facing issues particular to a woman, such as the recent celebration of the tenth anniversary of Nineteenth Amendment—the women’s right to vote—that Samantha, being the only female to report on the story, had produced copy that Archie August whistled at. Whistling was always a good sign with the bloated editor: it meant he liked what he saw. Samantha had taken the opportunity to plead her case that she could report stories of interest to both sexes. Mr. August had puffed hard on his cigar before relenting.

“Okay, I’ll let you sniff out stories on your own time, but in the office you have to cover the women’s page.”

“Deal!”

Since then Samantha Hawke had made some headway for herself in the paper, but what she needed to be recognized as a real journalist was a big lead.

The Boston Daily Record was a three-story stone building located on Water Street. The “pit” on the second floor had rows of desks butting up against one another, each with a black Remington typewriter, a black cradle telephone, stacks of paper, a well-used coffee mug, and an ashtray. Streams of gray smoke pillared upwards, collecting into a mesmerizing haze along the ceiling. The men sat in various positions of contemplation or hunched over their typewriters with inspired enthusiasm.

Johnny Milwaukee sauntered over to Samantha’s desk—the only one without a telephone. Not exactly Rudolf Valentino, Johnny had a charisma that outshone what he lacked in Hollywood good looks, and never lacked a woman when he wanted one. Samantha had made it clear from the beginning that she wasn’t

available for dating. She couldn’t afford to screw up her job with a bad office romance. Johnny took the rejection easily. “I don’t swing with married broads anyway.”

She still kicked herself for letting him in on that secret, but it had seemed like the only way to stop his unwanted attentions.

“Hey there, Sam,” he said with a glint in his eye. “Slow news day?”

“I’m busy,” Samantha said, glancing up from her typewriter.

“I mean with real news, not that women’s fluff.”

“Women read newspapers too and advertisers like that.”

“I just finished a piece on Al Capone,” he spouted. “Indicted on 5000 counts of violating prohibition and perjury. Five thousand! Can you imagine?”

Samantha huffed. “Practically everyone is guilty of violating prohibition. They know Capone’s guilty of murder, yet they never arrest him for that. Now that would be news.”

“Take it outside!” The grumpy voice belonged to Freddy Hall, a middle-aged sports reporter with a brood of kids to feed. He wasn’t shy to show his disapproval of Samantha’s entrance into what used to be a boys’ club. He’d groaned to Archie August when he discovered they had promoted Samantha from her position as receptionist. “We’re called newsmen for a reason! And when jobs are hard to find, it’s a sin to bring a woman into the pit!”

It wasn’t uncommon for a man to write the ladies’ pages, and the reporter with the least amount of seniority was usually tasked with the job. But Archie August thought the pages would read more authentically to their female readers if written by a woman. He had a lot of advertisers’ dollars counting on it.

He refused to give her a byline, though. Fluff work didn’t merit one.

Johnny leaned a hip on the edge of Samantha’s desk, his arms casually folded over his vest. “How ’bout I make you a deal?”

Samantha raised a brow. “What kind of deal?”

“You bake me some of those rugelach,” Johnny said, murdering the pronunciation, “and I’ll let you tag along the next time my telephone rings.”

Samantha eyed her co-worker suspiciously. She’d only brought the rugelach—a croissant-like pastries made with flour, butter, sour cream, sugar, and yeast, and filled with pecans and brown sugar—once, on Mr. August’s last birthday. They were expensive, even after replacing the pecans with walnuts and cutting back on the brown sugar, and were meant to impress her boss. And though she never claimed to have baked them—she had Bina to thank for that—she’d never bothered to correct the assumption either.

“Won’t we, Max?” Johnny said, waving to his quiet counterpart, Max Owen who took photographs for the paper when out in the field. When in the building, he ran memos between departments and performed miscellaneous task.

Max blushed as he locked eyes with Samantha and nodded subtly.

Johnny turned up the charm. “Come on, doll face. Don’t be a pill.”

“Okay,” Samantha said slowly. An actual story would be worth a higher grocery bill. “But the lead comes first, then the rugelach.”

Johnny pushed away from Samantha’s desk as he slapped his hands together. “Terrific! I’ve been dreaming about those darn pastries ever since the old man’s birthday. Seriously, I’d considered becoming a Jew.”

Johnny only referred to Archie August as the old man when out of the

editor’s hearing. In the man’s presence, Johnny always addressed their boss as Archie. Samantha couldn’t quite bring herself to call him anything but Mr. August.

Samantha tried to regain focus on the piece she was writing, but her gaze landed on her leather messenger bag. She returned her notebook, added a sharp pencil, and confirmed other important items were inside such as a small flashlight, and a tube of red lipstick—nearly a nub—that Sam wore sparingly. Next paycheck she’d have to break down and buy a new tube.

Samantha finished her article, then picked up her camera bag. The film in her black Kodak Box camera held images from yesterday’s Ladies of Boston fundraiser. The luncheon had taken place in the new and glamorous Hotel Manger, an imposing modern building near the North Station that simply dwarfed everything else around it. Mrs. Warren, a member of Boston’s elite, hosted the event and had given her free rein to take photographs. It was in times like that, when confronted by wealth, that Samantha wished she owned a more fashionable wardrobe and a proper camera. She knew she should be thankful that she even owned a camera at all, but she couldn’t help but envy the Ensign Cameo used by Max Owen.

She removed the roll of film and carried it out of the pit. The darkroom was down one floor, along with the composing room, and though there was an elevator in service it took longer than using the stairs.

Heads bobbed up as Samantha passed the glass window of the composing room and she smiled and waved. She hated to interrupt the men, who were busy setting up rows and blocks of type—a task that required extreme concentration—but by the pleased looks on their faces when they saw her, it was evident that they didn’t mind.

The dark room was a small rectangular, windowless space that took walking through two doors to get to, as a precaution against letting in unwanted light.

When occupied, a Do Not Disturb sign hung from the door, but at this moment the sign was down and Samantha knew it was safe to walk in.

She pulled the cord and the room was washed in red light, the only type of light that wouldn’t ruin the photographs as they were being developed. Samantha began the process of subjecting her negatives to the chemical solutions she’d introduced to the trays.

While she waited for them to develop she took a look at other photographs that were pinned to a couple of wires that stretched across the room. There were shots of political rallies, the construction of a new office building, and Fred’s photos of a baseball game at Fenway Park.

Once her photos were ready, she pinned them to the remaining space on the wire. Some fine shots of Mrs. Warren. She should be pleased.

Samantha returned to her desk and wondered what she should work on next. She checked her watch for the time and sighed. Still three hours to go before the end of her shift. The newspaper had a subscription for several ladies’ magazines, an expense she’d convinced Mr. August was necessary to her job, and she started thumbing through them for ideas. If nothing else, she could write about depression-friendly recipes. Independence Day was coming up. She could tie the piece into that—easy celebration meals and how to adjust a winter frock into a pretty summer dress. A common adage is to write what you know, and making the most of one’s wardrobe was Samantha’s specialty.

She held her fingers over the keyboard and began typing just as Johnny’s

telephone rang. Samantha stared at him as he answered.

“Ya? Ya? Yep. Thanks.” He grinned at Samantha. “Got a lead. Body at the Bell in Hand.”

Samantha grabbed her bag.


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06
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Chapter 2 Excerpt

DISCLAIMER: The following content has not gone through final the editing process. 

A small crowd had already gathered at the tavern when Haley eased her 1929 DeSoto to the curb. The cream-and-red, square-bodied, flat-roofed sedan had lost its gleam over the past couple of years, but Haley was one of the few women who owned their own vehicle, and she was proud of it. Together with the double chrome fender, large round headlights, and cream-colored wheels with exposed spokes and inflatable tires, Haley thought the car quite handsome. She’d inherited a sum of money when her parents died, her father having been a savvy investor in his time, and she’d learned a thing or two from him. She had invested well and had had the foresight and instinct to get out of the stock market just before it crashed.

The press, with the help of their contacts in the police department, quickly got wind of each new crime, and this one was no different. Men in linen suits and straw hats huddled together with either a notebook or camera in their hands. Haley had to admire their tenacity to wait it out in the stark heat of the sun. She noted a lone female presence among them, pushing her way to the front. 

The oldest pub in Boston, the Bell in Hand Tavern was situated where Union Street met the narrower alley of Marshall Street. The unusual architecture of the red-brick, four-story building reminded Haley of a wedge of a tall piece of cake, rounded at the tip where the pub was located. The view head-on created the illusion of a column, but a step to either side, and the wings of the hairpin spanned outward. Today, the windows along Union Street were riddled with bullet holes. Haley grimaced. Another gang shooting. 

Two police officers stood at the entrance, preventing members of the public, including the journalists, from stepping inside. 

The newshounds where aware that Haley was the assistant medical examiner and when they saw her, they started shouting:

“Dr. Higgins, where’s the medical examiner?”

“Is this shooting related to the gang killing that happened last week?”

“What are your thoughts about prohibition?”

Haley kept her chin down and nodded a silent thanks to the officers as they let her inside. 

Members of the police—one taking photographs and filling the room with smoke as the flash powder went off—were gathered around a hatless male figure slumped at one of the tables. Glass splinters from the windows littered the wood floor, glassware along the tall bar had been shattered, and the mirror behind where the waiter stood, looking pale and in shock, was cracked like a spider’s web.

Detective Cluney waved at her. “Over here.” He stepped aside along with his officers to make way.

“I expected the new guy,” he said. “Guthrie, is it?”

“He just arrived today. Sent me alone this time. I hope that’s okay.”

The detective shrugged. Haley knew he just needed someone to sign off on the death and if it meant a woman doing it, so be it.

Haley set her black medical bag on one of the tables. The victim slouched forward and toward the right, away from the windows. A bright-red circular wound decorated his vest on the upper left side of his chest with a corresponding wound on the back of his shoulder. The body was warm and mobile—rigor mortis had yet to set in—and Haley estimated the shooting had happened within the hour. Detective Cluney was quick to confirm.

“The fellow behind the bar called the police.”

Haley glanced toward the bar, pleased that the bartender—or rather “fellow behind the counter” since there was no alcohol on offer—had moved out from behind it. He now sat in one of the chairs, his head lowered towards the gap between his knees. Shock-induced nausea was common. 

“Unfortunate citizen,” Detective Cluney said, “or a gang attack?”

“Has the fellow behind the bar given his statement?” Haley asked.

Detective Cluney referred to his notebook. “Name’s Mike Tobin. Says the victim ordered “tea” and took a seat at this table. Tobin was washing up behind the bar when he heard gunfire. He flattened himself on the floor and didn’t see anything until the shots ceased. When he had the gumption to stand, he saw our victim slouched over like this.”

“Do you have an identity?”

Detective Cluney turned his thick neck. “Checked his pockets. Nothing on him except a few bills.”

Haley glanced around the bare tavern. “Are there any other witnesses?”

“Tobin says it was a slow period. Only this guy in the tea house.”

Haley inclined her head. “Was it really tea in his cup?”

Cluney chuckled. They both knew “tea” was a euphemism for whiskey.

“I sniffed the cup myself. Oddly, it smells like actual tea.”

Haley hummed. There was no question Tobin had switched the cup before calling the police. Quite likely, all evidence of alcohol on the premises had been removed prior, as well. 

Detective Cluney seemed to read her mind. “My officers found nothing illegal in their search of the building so far.”

A cursory glance proved that several uniformed officers were making a show of milling about and searching.

Detective Cluney’s vest had inched up over a soft belly. He tugged it sharply. “They found bullet shells out on the sidewalk. It’s a cut-and-dried case, I’d say. Capone-style execution. Vic must’ve rubbed a gang boss the wrong way.”

Haley almost agreed when her gaze landed on the bullet holes in the window. She counted them, five in total: one aligned with the victim, two before and one after. She collected a magnifying glass from her medical kit and strolled up close and studied each hole.

“Whatcha doin’?” Detective Cluney asked. 

“The craters of the four holes on either side of this table are angling inward, but the shards in the crater of the one that killed our victim angle outward.” 

“Are you saying that you think the bullet that killed this man was shot from inside the Bell in Hand?”

“Yes, Detective,” Haley said. “That’s what I’m saying.” She offered him the magnifying glass. “Come, have a look.” 

The detective did as requested and took a moment to examine each hole, coming to the one adjacent to the body a second time. 

“Well, I’ll be darned.”

“You see the difference?”

“I do, Dr. Higgins.”

Haley picked up her medical bag. “I’m going to see how Mr. Tobin is feeling. He looks unwell.”

Detective Cluney scowled at the young man. “I think I’ll have a chat with him too.”

Mr. Tobin’s freckled face grew crimson as the two of them approached. Haley spoke quickly to get in front of Detective Cluney’s inquisition.

“How are you feeling, Mr. Tobin? You’ve had a shock.”

“I’m finding it a bit hard to breathe,” Mr. Tobin admitted. “It’s not every day you see a bird kick the bucket in front of your eyes.”

Detective Cluney’s soured expression was pointedly unsympathetic. “Do you own a gun, Mr. Tobin?” 

“Wh-what?” 

“A firearm?” the detective repeated impatiently. “Do you own one?”

“No. No, I don’t.”

“Is there a firearm on the premises?”

“No. Look here, whatcha driving at?”

“We believe the bullet that killed our John Doe here was shot from inside the Bell in Hand.”

Mr. Tobin was either sincerely surprised or a very good actor. He shook his head adamantly. “No way. I swear I was alone with the guy.” His gaze shot to the ceiling. “Wait a minute. I remember hearing something. Could’ve been a gunshot. I thought it was an automobile backfiring. My Tin Lizzie does it all the time. Embarrassing really,” he smiled slyly. “Especially when I have a pretty passenger.”

“You’re a funny guy,” Detective Cluney said. “Up to funny business, I’d say.” Detective Cluney bellowed across the room. “Peters! Take Mr. Tobin to the station for a visit.”

“What a minute,” Mr. Tobin protested. “I didn’t do anything!”

Detective Cluney snorted. “Then you ain’t got nothin’ to worry about.” 

Haley watched an indignant Mr. Tobin being led out by the elbow to a police car parked on Marshall Street. Just as the door opened, Haley caught sight of the morgue van waiting. 

Inside, Detective Cluney consulted with an officer. When Haley approached, he said, “No bullet shells inside, but they collected four from outside.”

“Not five?” 

The detective confirmed it by a quick shake of his head.

“The killer must’ve picked it up off the floor,” Haley said, now completely convinced the dead man had been shot from inside the tavern.

The detective raised his voice to address one of his men. “Check behind the bar and have a look in Tobin’s locker.” To Haley, he added, “I asked Peters to check Tobin’s pockets. I’ll let you know if he finds anything.”

Haley exited through the Marshall street door to wave in the driver of the morgue van and supervised as he and a police officer rolled the gurney with the body outside. 

As Haley knew he would, Detective Cluney left via Union Street to take on the reporters. He’d swear up and down that he hated that part of his job, but Haley suspected he secretly liked the attention.

Wanting to avoid the news folks, Haley decided to walk around the building, rather than through, even though it would take longer to get to her car. She even went further out of her way to cross Union Street, giving the journalists a wide berth. She’d had plenty of encounters with pushy and insensitive reporters, and did whatever she could to avoid them.

Haley reached her DeSota, unlocked the door, and was about to slide inside, when a female voice called for her.

“Dr. Higgins!”

Haley was surprised to see the woman reporter she’d spotted earlier and huffed in frustration. Why hadn’t she stayed with the others to question Detective Cluney?

“Yes?”

“I’m investigative reporter Sam Hawke, Samantha actually, but you know, it’s a man’s world.”

Haley nodded. This was a truth she and this reporter shared.

“Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?” 

Haley considered the woman whose straw hat angled sharply along the right side of her head. Even though the blond at her temple was damp with sweat, and natural spots of red colored creamy cheeks, she remained attractive. Her rayon dress suit fit nicely on a slender, hourglass frame, but it wasn’t new. Her expression, close to desperation, flashed behind large eyes. Haley didn’t have the heart to turn her away.

“I’m in a hurry, so if you don’t mind riding with me. I can drop you off at the paper. Which one is it?”

Miss Hawke jumped into the passenger seat, shuffling her messenger bag inside with her. “The Daily Record.”

Haley checked her rearview mirror and signaled before making a U-turn. She shot her unwanted passenger a glance.

“So, Miss Hawke, what would you like to ask me?”