12 Murders of Christmas: Six Geese a Laying… Dead

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“They were all zeros, every one,” the owner of the bowling alley said when the police asked him about the dead men in his parking lot.

There were six of them, shot to death outside a Dorchester dive, gangster style–lined up and gunned down with a Thompson 45.  Just like Big Al did to those boys on St. Valentine’s.

Nicky Saint, P.I., found the scene bloody, horrible and fascinating. The neon lights of the bowling alley sign bathed the scene in a strange blue and orange glow. The falling snow melted in the still warm blood. It was two o’clock in the morning, December 30th.

All six men were part of a bowling team called “The Geesers,” a play on their age and their bowling record.

“They were the worst bowlers in the whole joint,” the other league members said in their interview with the police investigators, “maybe of all of Boston. They always bowled zeros, nearly every frame.  They became notorious for throwing big giant goose eggs.  That’s why their leader, Hap Simpson, was called ‘Mama Goose.'”

The rest of the team was Sal “Zip” Rizzo, Stanley “Nada” Banks, Harry “Zilch” Maroni, Ernie “Nixy” Yarbrough, and Louie “the Void” Nelson.

Rumor had it they were a rowdy bunch.  They drank a lot, laughed a lot, kidded the other bowling teams endlessly, but all in good fun. Most people thought their antics to be quaint. That’s one of the benefits to being old.  Annoyances get called eccentricities, ornery behavior gets labeled as cute.

The old men had just finished last place in a late-night tournament and were tying one on until the bartender kicked them out of the bar at eleven-thirty.  Thirty minutes later there was the rat-a-tat-tat of a machine gun in the parking lot, and the six Geesers were a laying dead.

“What kind of beef would gangsters have with a bunch of retired bowlers?” Nicky wondered out loud.  He had counted fifty-three casings by the curb.  Someone really laid into these guys, and good.

“You know these boys were all retired mobsters themselves,” the beat cop who was taping off the crime scene told Nicky. “Rumor had it that they were all hit men, too.  Their nicknames preceded their bowling records because they were renown for completely erasing their targets. “Mama Goose,’ in particular, was the go-to man for the head of the Languine family if he needed to put any problems to bed.”

“Those are just rumors,” the newspaper man writing up the story for the Globe said. “Besides, Zilch Maroni and Nixy Yarbrough were in opposing gangs. Cold blooded killers like that don’t just shake hands after shooting each other’s cousins for a decade.  No, these guys were low level traffickers and bootleggers.  They all spent the last few years getting to know each other in jail serving nickel and dime stints for minor offenses and came out the other side on a bowling team. From the Pen to the Pins, Ha! That’ll be the headline.”

“Well, either way, these geezers ain’t exactly innocents,” the cop retorted. “Pretty open and shut case by the looks of it.  A couple of old Mafia boys killed off by a new crop of young Mafia boys.  Let ’em pick each other off, I say.  Saves the G-men the trouble.”

“Open and shut except for the timing,” Nicky said.

The reporter took up-close shots of each of the dead men’s faces.  He’d be the lead story for sure. “What do you mean the timing?” he asked Nicky between flashes.

“The thirty minute window from when they left the bar to when they were killed.”

“Probably stumbling around looking for their cars,” the cop said.

“Maybe they tried to talk their killers out of doing them in,” the reporter suggested. “They probably knew the boys.”

“Or maybe they didn’t,” Nicky postulated as he puffed on his pipe.  “Maybe this is just supposed to look like a mob hit. Maybe the killer wanted to make sure he left them dead on the sixth day of Christmas.”

“Oh boy,” the reporter sighed. “Here we go again.”

12 Murders of Christmas: Five Golden Ring Fingers

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He had been missing since Christmas day. Peter Black, lawyer, newlywed.

Judy Black, his wife, had called the police the afternoon of the twenty-fifth after he failed to return from the store.

“He said he wanted eggnog and so he was going to go down to the corner market to pick up some eggs,” she had told the investigators. “It’s not like him to disappear. He’s not the type. I know the type. I’ve dated the type, I’ve been engaged to the type, and I married Peter because he wasn’t the type.”

The cops looked for her husband, sort of.

It wasn’t unheard of for a man to up and leave his wife.  After all, they’d been married only a few days. Maybe he changed his mind?

When the police interviewed the neighbors they said they’d overheard the young married couple fighting… often.  When they interviewed Peter’s co-workers, they said he was the last guy to turn down a drink at lunch, and the first guy to buy a round after work.  And rumor had it, Judy had married Peter impulsively, perhaps to keep him from running of with the other girls in his office that still seemed quite interested in him.

Maybe this wasn’t the missing persons case the new Mrs. Black claimed it to be. Maybe Peter had gone on a giant bender. Maybe he’d run off with another dame. Maybe he’d moved to Hoboken just to get away.

“He’ll be back,” the police reassured Judy.

“If we see him we’ll pick him up,” they said.

They said.

Judy hired Nicky Saint, private detective, on the fifth day that Peter had been missing.

“Big fan of eggnog?” Nicky asked her as he looked around their downtown apartment.  Nice place. Peter must’ve been a good lawyer… or a bad one.

“Peter liked his liquor… um, flavored,” Judy replied toying with the ornaments on the Christmas tree she’d left set up by the window, “particularly in the morning. And, well, eggnog is the flavor of the season.”

Nicky sat down by the fire and looked at their wedding photo on the mantel. Peter looked simple, happy, handsome.  Judy was the same. They made a nice looking couple.  Too nice.

“Oh, my, what is this?” Judy exclaimed.  She picked up a package from under the tree. “I swear this wasn’t here yesterday, and look, it’s adressed to me.”

On the outside it was a simple box with a bow and some stripped wrapping paper. Inside was a severed finger with a golden ring on it.

When Judy finally stopped screaming Nicky asked her, “Would you say Peter was your true love?”

“Y-y-y-yes,” she sputtered, her eyes glued to the the crimson horror in the box.

“Then you’ll most likely be receiving four more of these.”

Nicky Saint left the woman’s apartment as she sobbed and phoned the police again. The ring was definitely Peter’s wedding ring, but that was no finger of a man who made his living sorting through case files and drinking with his colleagues. That finger had blisters on it from hard work.  It had dirt under the fingernails, coal black dirt. Oh, and by chance there was a coal plant just a few miles away.

Nicky walked out into the clear, white, snow-covered streets on the blackest of errands.

12 Murders of Christmas: Four Calling Cards

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The bishop was dead. Stabbed through the heart.  His carcass was left in front of the alter, clutching a calling card with a single blackbird printed on it.

To the untrained eye this would look like an isolated incident, but to Nicky Saint, Boston’s premiere private eye, this was another Christmas murder.

“How can this be related to Christmas?” the police officer guarding the crime scene asked Nicky.

“It’s the twenty-eighth of December, the fourth day of Christmas, right?  Well, according to the song, the gift for today is ‘four colly birds.'” Nicky stooped down to get a closer look at the knife wound.  It was clean, professional, one hard jab and the work was done.

“Don’t you mean ‘calling birds’?” the cop said.

“Common mistake,” Nicky replied. “It’s actually ‘colly’, an Old World term for the common blackbird.”

“Ah,” said the cop taking a second look at the image on the bloody card in the bishop’s hands. “But why the bishop?”

Nicky stood up and looked around the chapel. The perpetrator didn’t force his way in, the church had been open since eight o’clock this morning.  He had probably walked right in and sat in the front pew just like any member of the laity would.  In fact, judging from the angle of the wound and the pattern of blood on the floor, he had sat on the west side of the building.  Then, as soon as the bishop happened by…

“I don’t think the killer cared who the bishop was, I think he only cared where he was,” Nicky said.

“Meaning here at St. Matthew’s?” the cop said gazing up a the statue of St. Matthew presiding over the choir loft.

“Precisely. According to legend, the Twelve Days of Christmas song corresponds to a Catholic catechism in which the four colly birds represent the four gospels.”

The copper counted out the evangelists on his fingers, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and…”

John,” Nicky said.  “And all four are names of cathedrals in Boston.”

“Blimey, we should warn them other priests,” the cop said rushing out of the building to find a call box.

“You scare off the police with another one of your crazy conspiracy theories, Saint?” a journalist said walking up the main isle. He scribbled a few notes then produced a camera. “Let me guess, this murder is related to your favorite Christmas carol, right? How’s it go?” He cleared his throat and started singing, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, blah blah blah blah.”

My true love, Nicky thought. This crime is a gift to someone. But who? He took a second look at where the killer had probably been sitting. There was a plaque on the bench engraved with the words, “Donated in memory of Margret Blackbird, may she be forever at peace.”

“Move over, Saint. You’re in my shot,” the journalist said from behind his camera.

The flash blew a puff of smoke in the air and the evening edition had its front cover photo.

But by the time that particular newspaper would hit the streets, two other priests would be dead, and Nicky Saint would be ankle deep in snow and neck deep in trouble.

12 Murders of Christmas: The Three Dead French Hens

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The audience had gathered, the orchestra music had swelled and the curtains had opened to reveal a scene of absolute horror.

There, dangling by their necks, lifeless and pale, were the three stars of the “Post-Christmas Chorale Spectacular and Fundraiser,” five feet above center stage.

The dead women were Ella, Sarah and Matilda Dubois. Back at the turn of the century the sensational singing trio of French beauties had risen to fame as the “Three French Chickadees.”  Over the decades their increasing age, weight and persnicketiness had earned them the mock title the “Three French Hens.”

They dangled like limp chicken carcasses in a butcher’s window now, thought Nicky Saint, gentleman detective.  Three dead women on the third day of Christmas. This was going to be one of those cases.

“I heard these dames were set for a comeback,” a reporter at the crime scene said to his fellow newshound as they chewed gum, snapped pictures and scribbled in their notepads. “I heard they were supposed to sing a couple of numbers in that new big time motion picture musical with What’s Her Name, you know, the movie actress, the blonde one.”

“They’re all blonde ones now,” the other reporter replied. “Besides, you heard wrong.  These old French biddies have been recording their voices in movies for years, just they never get the credit.  They sing over some beautiful starlet’s caterwauling so’s it sounds like she’s got real talent.”

“Ah, everybody knows that,” the first reporter said. “I mean these broads were supposed to sing on the big screen as themselves. They were all going to star as What’s Her Name’s aunties in her next musical. Geez, why can’t I think of her name? She married that football star, that quarterback fella, about a month ago, you remember?”

“How they gonna dub her voice if the three women that provide it for her are on screen at the same time?”

“Beats me.  Movie magic, I guess.”

“Show’s over, boys,” a police officer said coming across the stage to shoo them away. “You too, whitey,” he said to Nicky, glaring at the detective’s stark white locks.

“Ah, come on. The show ain’t over until all three fat ladies sing,” one of the reporters joked.

“The show never even started,” the cop replied.  “Now, get.”

Nicky Saint relit his pipe and adjusted his overcoat’s collar to head out into the cold winter night. “Mind telling us what the opening number was supposed to be?” he asked the policeman.

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure it was ‘Ave Maria.’ Why?”

“No reason,” Nicky said.

Ave Maria, Hail Mary.  The clue itself was a bit of a Hail Mary, but at least it was something to go on.

Ninja Bill Book

I’ve been working on turning one of the Ninja Bill stories into a children’s book for my little boys.  Hopefully it will be done by Christmas.  I’ll throw a few excerpts up here on the ol’ bloggy blog as I get them done.

Mystery #12

 

Belief is a powerful thing.  It shapes our perspective, it changes our actions, it alters the way we walk and talk, it can even change our identity.  What do you believe and why do you believe it?  Faith, experience, hope, despair, ignorance, education, tradition, rebellion?

The mystery of belief to me is why we believe anything at all, and conversely, why don’t we just believe everything.

Be merry.

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Splash page I drew for the comic book “Little Christmas” written by the immensely talented (though still undiscovered) comic scribe Russ Kazmierczak, Jr.