A cincinnati cold case, p.1
A Cincinnati Cold Case, p.1R. W. Nichols / Mystery & Detective
A Cincinnati Cold Case
by R. W. Nichols
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 R. W. Nichols
When ex-detective Jimmy Warren returned to his drafty downtown office after the rare indulgence of an expensive steak sandwich, his low mood wasn’t improved. Of course the burned lip he'd received with the first bite hadn't helped. It stung to high heaven. Lately he'd used food as a boost, with his waistline unfortunately showing this propensity to be a bit too common. He just couldn't seem to snap out of the funk he was in. The new career he’d been forced into, his dwindling bank account, and the cursed enlarging waistline combined to play roughshod on a normally good nature. He’d only had one client he’d been able to help since he’d opened his office. If you wanted to call it ‘help’. An unhappy woman had come in two months earlier asking him to find out if her husband was cheating. Turned out he was. Jimmy hated having to confirm her suspicions. The woman was devastated, but her check cleared, and, if you get right down to it, he couldn’t be blamed for her choice in men. And he certainly needed the money. Money was worse than tight. He’d considered running an ad in a larger paper, but hadn’t dared risked the cash. Sadly, the local paper so far hadn’t given him much by way of clients, but it was all the advertising he could afford.
One hand on the knob to his office and the other still on the key in the lock, he pushed the door open, only to see a man seated, leaning back with his muddy shoes disrespectfully crossed above the poor abused mahogany top of Jimmy’s desk. Jimmy’s bad mood became substantially worse when he recognized Thug One. Too late he remembered that where Thug One was, Thug Two wasn’t far behind.
“What the hell are you--?” the words burst out of Jimmy’s mouth just before a hard fist round-housed into the left side of his face and the lights went out.
“Hey, wake up Mr. High-and-Mighty, you.” The words accompanied some not-too-gentle face slapping. Jimmy could hear one of the thugs laughing in the background, as he tried to turn his head away from the unpleasant bombardment. “Meester Private Eye,” the voice sneered. “You not taking care of my seester and she ees not happy.”
With an effort, Jimmy focused his eyes on those of Thug Two, which were only a foot from his face. The man had eaten something spicy loaded with garlic for lunch and his breath was curdling Jimmy’s stomach, threatening nausea in addition to a blossoming headache. Jimmy groaned and tried to roll onto his side only to find the stars he’d seen earlier return. The man hovering over him might not be the sharpest knife in the caddy, but he sure could pack a wallop. Thug Two grabbed him by the collar and assisted him roughly into a sitting position. From there the man began to jerk him upright, but, fighting escalating nausea, Jimmy gasped out, “Wait a minute! You hit me badass hard. Give me a second.” He hoped to appeal to the man’s vanity - the hoodlum was proud of his fists and his pugilistic talents - hoping to get gentler treatment. But he wasn’t stretching the truth. He’d really been clobbered.
Both thugs laughed raucously. Jimmy was glad he’d proven so entertaining. One thing about the brothers, they were jovial for silverbacks and easily amused. Why their physical appearances were so brutish and their sister so drop-dead gorgeous was a question that plagued him, even battered and confused like he was. It was a question that would stump geneticists.
When the room stopped spinning he took the offered hand and allowed the foul-breathed, dark-complexioned man to pull him to his feet. It was all Jimmy could do to keep his balance and not fall back to the floor. But he managed to keep his dignity. Some things you have to do because you’re a man. Allowing the brothers to see him vulnerable was something it was best to avoid. Never let an animal see that you’re afraid. And avoid eye contact – wasn’t that the rest of the rule? Regretfully, he hadn’t done that. Of course, now he might be able to with the way the eye felt. It was swelling rapidly.
“Okay, now what’s going on? Why’d you hit me?” Jimmy asked Thug Two, as soon as the floor was steady.
“You need to know thees ees serious,” Thug One answered. He was the usual spokesman for the two. “Our seester ees broke. Since the divorce she ees not final, it ees your job to take care of her.”
The divorce? Apparently Ada had filed saving him the effort. That was good to know. And by the way her brother had worded it, there was a hope that they wouldn’t expect him to take care of her afterwards. Which was another very good thing. She’d probably already found another man for that. Surprisingly, Jimmy didn’t feel pain at the thought. In fact, the only things that hurt were his face and the back of his head that had collided with the scuffed hardwood floor, and, don’t forget, the blooming headache. That was progressing nicely. Jimmy expected a whopper before the next hour rolled around. What a lucky day. And it was going from bad to worse. The only good thing was his burnt lip didn’t demand much attention. In fact, he thought he might be able to forget it entirely.
“What happened to the thirty-five grand we split? She go through seventeen-and-a-half thousand already?” Jimmy asked, his voice rising in disgust. Ada certainly knew how to spend money. That was one of the things they’d argued about throughout the years and why their nest egg hadn’t been larger. “She knows she’ll get half when the house sells.”
Thug One clucked sympathetically. “Our seester has expensive tastes; you know how it ees. She needs to be taken care of and Papa says you weel do it until the divorce.”
What Papa says, Papa gets. Jimmy remembered some of the violence that rumors attributed to Xavier Velasquez. He was not a man to cross. And if he said “until the divorce” then that was what he meant. He was a man of his word. Jimmy thought there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, the divorce went through quickly.
“I can give you five-hundred dollars.”
“Papa, he wants you to be fair. You don’t want heem unhappy, do you Jimmee?” Thug One asked in a soft voice.
Jimmy looked at the two bear-like men glowering at him.
“I have seven hundred in cash. That’s all I have. I’ll barely be able to survive.”
“That weel do. You weel survive, I am sure. You are smart guy.”
Jimmy slowly pulled his wallet from his pocket, trying to look down-in-the-mouth. This was going to crimp his style, but only marginally. He was fortunate that the brothers didn’t know he’d been frugal with his half of the split. Still, it was another seven hundred dollars down the drain. That divorce better be final soon. He hoped the poor sucker waiting in the wings (he knew there had to be one) had some idea of what he was getting himself into. On second thought, no, he didn’t. Let the fool find out later. After the divorce.
“You weel send money. We no come back, right?”
“Of course. Whenever I get a retainer, Ada will get paid. Tell Mr. Velasquez that he can depend on me. I just thought that because she’d left me, I wasn’t responsible.”
“Not the way eet works, bro’,” Thug Two finally jumped into the conversation.
Jimmy looked at him in surprise; the man spoke so rarely. “I see that now,” he said, wincing as he touched his jaw.
“No hard feelings,” Thug Two added. “We just get your attention.”
“Well, you got it. Next time just call.”
The brothers again thought him humorous, clapping him on the back as they left. Jimmy said goodbye, shut and leaned against the door. He closed his eyes and gingerly fingered his face. He winced as he found the spot where Thug Two’s large, hairy fist had connected. Sighing, he found his way to the bathroom to survey the damage.
“Whoo,” Jimmy whistled when he got a good look. There was no longer any doubt about Neanderthal in his family tree. The proof stared back at him through the streaked mirror. In an attempt to control swelling (something he didn’t waste much hope on), he wet a washcloth with cold water and held it to his cheek and eye, lamenting the timing of his new look. A client was coming in that afternoon and this would do nothing toward establishing a good opinion. He could say that his brothers-in-law, sons of a mob boss, had laid him out because they didn’t feel he was treating their sister right. No, that wasn’t good. Should he lie and say it had been an accident? If the client had any sense, he’d know that wasn’t true. The bruising showed exactly what had happened. He could even make out the imprint of all four of his brother-in-law’s huge, simian knuckles, surprising proof that Thug Two did indeed have opposing thumbs.
Shivering in a cold draft with the icy washcloth held to his face, the ex-detective sat at his beat up desk contemplating life. Specifically, he was pondering the question as to why he’d returned to Cincinnati. He hated the snow and ice in the winter, also the thick, heavy humidity of the summers this god-forsaken country attempted to suffocate its populace with. Regardless, two years after making the move down to Miami, here he was, right back where he’d been. He’d returned a little lighter, though, since he was minus one wife. Since Ada had decided she’d rather be single. What was stupid was that she’d stuck by him through his cop days and through fifteen years of earning his stripes as a detective. But just as soon as he’d bowed to the pressure of moving to Florida to please her, she’d flown the coop. Of course, Miami had a lovely climate, and he had enjoyed that aspect. Cincinnati, on the other hand, was a temperamental old babe. Oh, she gave you sunshine, but at such a price! Jimmy thought at times that his sinuses would explode. And yet, he was back.
He grimaced as he looked around the sparse, modest (another word for cheap) office, and cursed himself again for having such an impulsive nature. Just because he and Ada split was no reason to quit his job. He was just lucky that he had twenty years in. Twenty years and six months, to be exact. If he had been smarter and actually used his head for a change, he would have sent out his resume and transferred over to a friendly little town someplace down south where you asked for ice cubes – they didn’t come pre-frozen to the bottom of your cup. Hell, he could have stayed where he was. She’d left him. It wasn’t as if he would run into her all over town. She’d flown straight home to her family. Her father, with his link to the Cuban mob, her mother, who was every bit as pretty as Ada and could have been a movie star, and her two brothers, Thug One and Thug Two, took her in with open arms and a flurry of threatening phone calls. As if he had ever hurt her! As if he had been the one to kick her out and hadn’t been the one wronged!
He stuck out his burnt lip, looking for all the world like a maligned little boy, and scowled. Still, what can you do? Knowing, almost positively, the history of her family and that he might end up missing at any time, maybe it was better that he’d left Florida. But darn, a few more years and a bigger pension would have been nice. At least, he wasn’t tapping it yet, and had no intentions of doing so until he was sixty-five. Ada couldn’t draw off it now either. That was one good thing. She was entitled to her share, Jimmy agreed with that. Just not yet. She could wait. They’d split everything else right down the middle, which hadn’t left him much, less now that the boys had hit him up.
Roots are a hard thing to shake, especially when they’re covered with damp Ohio valley clay. He’d run straight home, belatedly discovering the hiring freeze. The economy was picking up, but it had a long way to go to get back to what it had been even ten years earlier. Greed - it was claimed - had gotten the country into quite a pickle. Jimmy didn’t claim to understand. He only knew that the Cincinnati Police Department couldn’t take him back, not now, possibly next spring they’d said. Maybe never, he figured. But, he didn’t want to starve in the meantime, so he’d opened this office. Now he was sitting at this badly used desk in a squeaking chair that had seen better days, his head hurting and his face puffing grotesquely, idly running a finger along two sets of initials he’d found carved into the desk top, as he waited for what he hoped would be a new (paying) client.
The initials were coarse, blocky letters, scratched with a pocketknife, or even a steak knife, not something normally used for detail work. They had his attention, thankfully blocking out some of the pain he was in, but also added to his irritation. It angered him that some people have no respect. He decided the first chance he got he would use his investigative talents to find out who would ruin a fine wood antique desk.
A rap on the door brought him out of his musings. Jimmy stood to answer it, wishing he could hire a secretary. But that was definitely not in the immediate future. With money so tight and with his good name still prominent in investigative circles, hiring an employee wasn’t a necessity. And, he rationalized, anyone that couldn’t look past this slight business irregularity didn’t deserve him or his skills.
“Mr. Warren?” the middle-aged man behind the door quietly asked, shaking the hand that Jimmy was quick to thrust at him. The gentleman appeared reserved and apprehensive, but his grip was strong and firm. Prematurely gray hair classically cut, with clothes neatly tailored, he showed deep pockets without attempting to flaunt them. “My name is Ed Hilton,” he said, confident his name would be recognized. Jimmy thought it was also to his credit that he hadn’t flinched at Jimmy’s appearance. He knew his left eye was swelled shut now and he could only imagine how the rest of his face looked. If it looked like it felt, it had to be bad.
Jimmy squinted one-eyed into the man’s sad, hazel-colored eyes. Those eyes didn’t hide the misery that must have been Hilton’s constant companion. Jimmy was very familiar with the tragedy Mr. and Mrs. Hilton had lived through for the past five years and his heart ached in sympathy. He also remembered the circus that had surrounded the girl’s disappearance. The media just wouldn’t let it go. Rumor after rumor had filled each broadcast for weeks.
“How do you do, Mr. Hilton?” he asked. “I don’t know if you remember, but we met five years ago. I interviewed you and your wife.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t remember you. There’s a lot about that time I don’t recall.”
“It’s understandable. I’m sure that was a horrible period for both of you.”
“Yes, it was… Is.”
“Of course. Sorry. Please, come in.” Jimmy stepped aside and motioning with his hand toward one of the two faded chairs in front of his desk. He waited until the other man had seated himself before he settled into his own. The mechanics of the worn leather swivel chair complained with an unpleasant screech over the extra pounds he’d gained, which added to the discomfiture he felt over his appearance. He made a mental note to replace it and some of the other furniture, except for the desk. Jimmy had inherited his father’s love of woodworking, and he felt that an antique desk, especially one that was so solidly built, deserved better treatment. Besides, it had aroused his professional curiosity with the clumsily gouged initials.
“Coffee?” Jimmy asked, wondering if he should have made a new pot. One quick glance told him he should have thought to do that earlier. Black as ebony (and probably as stiff), what was left of the morning’s brew was undrinkable by anyone except a former cop, or a poor gumshoe who only allowed himself the luxury of a single pot a day.
“No, thank you.”
Smart move that.
“How, then, can I help you today?” Jimmy asked, as kindly as possible after a short pause that tugged at his patience. The man seated before him seemed unwilling to continue. Of course, he understood that clients came to private detectives because of problems that were painful and deeply personal. But time was money, as they said. He knew he was certainly feeling the pinch, and also, at forty-two, wasn’t getting any younger. In fact, some days he felt his age more than others. And, as a sharp jab of pain shot through his closed eye making it water, this was turning out to be one of them.
Ed Hilton cleared his throat and finally began. “You remember when my daughter went missing?”
“Of course. Again, my sympathies.”
Ed nodded, then looked curiously into Jimmy’s face. Jimmy was sure he was going to ask how bad the other guy looked, but Hilton surprised him by changing directions.
“Have you retired from the force, detective?”
Jimmy realized that Ed Hilton, someplace in his tortured mind, had finally made the connection and now remembered Jimmy had been one of the detectives who first worked the case. Ed, like most people when given time and a prompt or two, remembered more than what they originally thought. Memory has a way of seeping back.
“Not retired,” Jimmy answered. “I’m currently between posts and thought I would set up my own office. I’m qualified and have pretty good connections in law enforcement. My license is displayed on the wall over there.” He motioned at the small, framed certificate that the state had dutifully supplied when they received the rather large application fee which had been more than expected and contributed to the tight budget he lived on. “I’m a private investigator now.”
Money, money, money. That’s all the whole world seemed to want. Suddenly forty-two felt very old. He wondered if he shouldn’t just apply to some little backwater kind of place and put in the next twenty-some years there, until he could draw social security. He could be a hick sheriff, or even a deputy if he had to, if it meant security and anonymity. But Ada’s family would probably still find him, and that wasn’t a pleasant thought. They would make his life a living hell and, in the end, he wouldn’t have gained a thing. Except maybe boredom.
“I didn’t mean you weren’t qualified,” Ed Hilton continued. “I was just curious. I appreciate your skills and contacts and my hope is that you will help Sarah and I. We’d like to hire you to find our daughter, Janet.”
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