Burton's Solo

Burton's Solo

by Richard J Cass

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Overview

When Dan Burton beats up Antoine Bousquet, the clothing designer suspect in the murder of two Chinese seamstresses, he jeopardizes his job as a homicide detective and his life. Bousquet is released without bail because of Burton’s mistake. When Bousquet turns up dead, beaten and tortured, Burton becomes the prime suspect. The department’s Internal Affairs inspectors, Bousquet’s live-in lover, several Russian gangsters, and the kingpin of the Boston underworld are all looking for Burton. But Elder Darrow, his best friend and proprietor of the Esposito bar, hides Burton and helps save his position on the Boston Police Department and rescue him from death. In the process, they expose an evil scheme by which illegal immigrants were effectively enslaved to work in Antoine Bousquet’s sweat shops.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781948338301
Publisher: Encircle Publications, LLC
Publication date: 11/01/2018
Series: Elder Darrow Mystery , #3
Pages: 290
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.65(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Burton said the perp walk would make the six o'clock news," I said. "What time is it?"

Marina looked at her watch.

"Five forty-six."

She picked up my dirty dishes off the bar and carried them back into the kitchen.

To cut down on drunken arguments about whether it really was last call, I didn't keep a clock out front in the Esposito. It also worked the way not having windows helped the Las Vegas casinos. People forgot whether it was day or night and kept doing what they were doing. In the three years I'd owned the Esposito, I'd learned a few tricks.

I pointed the remote at the small TV, mounted up in the corner solely for the use of the occasional Red Sox fan. The dust on the glass surface crackled and the screen brightened.

I lowered the volume, though it wouldn't bother my only two customers on this cold Monday evening in February, house painters working in a brownstone on Shawmut Ave. Neither one of them was within five feet of sober and they'd been bitching out their foreman so unimaginatively, listening to something else would be a relief.

WCVB was already down to the sports and weather, so I'd missed the five-thirty report. The six o'clock newscast usually led with the big local story of the day and the arrest of Antoine Bousquet for double murder was a very big story. I muted the commercials until AnnaLise Jacobs appeared on the dot of six.

She bestowed her professionally friendly smile on all of us out in TV land and launched right in.

"Violence erupted today outside Boston Police Headquarters as Antoine Bousquet, the Belgian clothing designer, was arrested on suspicion of murder in the deaths of two of his employees."

AnnaLise favored us all with a gypsy-dark look of caution, almost hidden under all that hair.

"We do need to caution you that the film we're about to show may be disturbing to some viewers."

The footage panned, locating the camera in a scrum of media held back by the boundary of the concrete bollards on the Tremont Street side of Boston Police Headquarters. A clot of plainclothes officers and one uniform escorted a slim, medium-tall man in a beige two-piece suit, black shirt, and silver tie along the sidewalk toward the building entrance. A topcoat draped over his wrists in front, drawing attention to the fact he was handcuffed.

Burton walked closest to Bousquet, only fitting since he'd been the primary investigator. He'd bucked public and political pressure to build the case for arresting the civic icon and he'd earned whatever credit he got.

The print reporters and still photographers pushed and shoved, but TV is king in Boston, as it is everywhere else, and the camera maintained its focus.

Burton kept the group moving. He'd be the first to admit the perp walk was a made-for-TV event but he wasn't going to stop to answer questions. As the group approached the glass and steel doors, though, he steered Antoine Bousquet around so his face — narrow, planed, overly tanned for winter — squared up to the mob. The designer winced at the harsh lights and the barking crowd, then said something to Burton out of one side of his mouth.

"Oh, shit," I said.

Burton and I had been through enough together for me to recognize when he was about to blow: the hard set to his jaw, the swell in his chest. He grabbed the handcuffs with his left hand, whirled Bousquet, and quick as a gun — bam, bam, bam — fired three jabs into Bousquet's face.

The press noise exploded, baying for the blood of the news. Bousquet tried to slump onto his knees to protect himself but Burton hoisted him by the cuffs and stared into his face as if contemplating further ass-kicking.

The uniform separated them. Bousquet knelt on the sidewalk. The camera zoomed in on his face, the split lip, the blood dripping from both nostrils onto the concrete sidewalk, the darkening flush of what would be a spectacular black eye in a couple of hours.

Burton stepped back and stared at his hands, as if appalled by what they'd done, though it might only have been regret that he'd used them on the hard bones of someone's head. He always told me if I needed to punch someone, go for the soft parts.

I closed my eyes and shook my head. He was always running along the thin edge of fuck-up, usually because he invested himself so heavily in his cases. This was not going to help his shaky standing in the department. It might even jeopardize the case against Bousquet.

The film cut away to a severely disappointed AnnaLise.

"There you have it. Again," she said. "Even more evidence that the Boston Police Department is a wee bit out of control." She smirked at her co-host. "Not much presumption of innocence there, eh, Derek?"

She brightened.

"In other news, the Duck Pond will be opening for the season …"

I shut the TV off and cursed, loudly enough for the house painters to look down the bar. Marina was out in the kitchen but she'd hear about it soon enough, probably from her mother. Carmen did not approve of the fact that Marina and Burton had been dating, off and on, for more than a year.

I sipped my coffee, which had gone cold, and wished it were Scotch. Did Burton have some kind of professional death wish? He always went his own way, but the fact that he cleared homicides at a higher rate than anyone else in the department usually saved him. It wasn't clear if that would be enough to save him from a public fuck-up like this.

Marina's phone rang out in the kitchen, the first few bars of Nelly Furtado's Powerless. No doubt that was Carmen, carrying the bad news to Marina. Which meant it was all beginning.

CHAPTER 2

If I'd known Burton was going to disappear on me, I might have paid more attention to his mood on that Tuesday afternoon when he came into the Esposito for the first time in weeks. Predictably, the department had suspended him for punching out Antoine Bousquet, but Burton's attitude didn't seem anymore down today than on one of his usual crawls up the slopes of Mount Drunk.

Besides, I was too involved in my own problems to notice too much. Being sober for the last six months had pretty much trashed my reactions: I got angry more quickly, cried more easily, and was generally touchier than a sunburned Chihuahua in a room full of cactus. Then there was the money my father Thomas had left me and what that meant for my future. And the bar's.

"Publicly funded trash-talk radio." I balled up the Style section of the Globe and pitched it into the trashcan. "Morons."

WGBH was canceling Eric in the Evening, one of the few all-jazz radio shows left on the air anywhere, let alone in rock and roll crazy Boston. All the big brains over on Guest Street had determined that the public radio airwaves needed more rehashed political commentary, more puff pieces on the local politicians and real estate developers, more and more words, that is, at the expense of the complex beautiful music that, except for some petroglyphs carved into rocks somewhere, was America's only native art form.

The notion that I wasn't going to be able to turn on the radio at eight every night and hear the sweet lilt of Horace Silver playing "Peace" and then Eric Jackson's molasses tones introducing the evening's theme annoyed me past reason.

"They didn't shitcan him altogether." Burton spoke over the top of his fourth whiskey sour of the afternoon. "He still has the weekend slot."

"Ten to midnight on Saturday night? Deadest time on the radio dial. And anyone who listens to jazz is probably out in a club, hearing live music."

"Always assuming there's anyone left in the world who remembers what a radio dial is."

I poured myself a glass of tonic water and squeezed a wedge of lime into it, drank it so fast the bubbles got up my nose and made me sneeze. Shuffling through the iPad, I picked the Tommy Flanagan version of "Peace" and turned the volume up, disgusted.

Most of the gossip said the drivers of the decision were two members of the station's board, the big-wallet, big-stick Hope brothers, long practitioners of the version of the Golden Rule that says that he who has the gold makes the rules.

Their mouthpiece was one Marty Laird, a big-mouthed TV interviewer who rarely stopped talking long enough to hear the answers to his questions. He reminded me of other media personalities the city had spawned over the years — a certain faux-populist newspaper columnist and a much unloved baseball writer came to mind — both of whom focused on their own visibility more than anything useful they might report.

"You know I'm not one of these nostalgia freaks," I said. "But they did the same thing to Ron Della Chiesa with Music America. 'GBH has its monthly identity crisis and all of a sudden the only place you can hear Sinatra on the radio is down in Plymouth."

Burton was happy enough to play along. The last thing he wanted to talk about was what had happened with Bousquet yesterday, anymore than he intended to end this day sober.

"Fuck me," he said. "When I was a kid, I was listening to the Stones. Joe Cocker. The Beatles. What were you, Duke Ellington's youngest fanboy?"

I might have been, if I'd discovered the Duke before he died in 1974.

"'California Dreamin''," I said.

Burton snorted part of his drink, coughed, then laughed.

"I don't really see you as a folkie."

I leaned on the bar, trying to gauge if he was going to get drunk enough for me to cut him off, something I'd only had to do twice before. I'd bought myself a season's pass on the slope of sobriety this winter but even before all the Bousquet business kicked up, I worried about him. He'd had an ugly winter, starting when his divorce from Sharon started to limp a little closer to finality. Add in the fact that we'd averaged two snowstorms a week since mid-December and it was now the first week of February and he'd been whacking the bottle hard, even for a boy from Charlestown with a lot of practice.

Having him around the bar in this frame of mind always tensed me up, not that he was the kind of cop who threw his weight around when he got loaded. No, the more Burton drank, the heavier he got, until the space around his stool became a black hole, dragging all good cheer and conviviality down into the void with him. The only brake I had on that was making him pay for all his drinks. No freebies for that kind of mood. Not in my bar.

"Not the Mamas and the Papas," I said. "Wes Montgomery."

Burton faked some air guitar.

"It was the dead of fucking winter and you liked the idea of someplace warm," he said.

I nodded.

"Surfing, zoris, baggy shorts, and Hawaiian shirts. Bleached blondes in French bikinis."

"You know the two-piece suit was a sartorial invention of the third century AD?"

"You know a lot of strange shit, Burton."

"But you didn't leave town, did you?" He slammed the rest of the drink, wiped his lips, and pushed the glass back over the bar.

"Boston boy," I said. "One more?"

He shook his head.

"Pretrial conference. On the Bousquet case. It helps my meetings go better if I'm coherent." He smirked. "If not entirely sober."

"I thought you were on suspension."

"DA doesn't give a shit. She's still got to put the case together."

Antoine Bousquet had emigrated to the United States with a European reputation as a clothing designer and built a local empire out of rendering his designs into clothes in factories he established down in Chinatown. Eventually, though, instead of employing locals, he started importing illegal immigrants to sew the shirts, suits, and dresses. For the price of passage and a bed in a three-decker firetrap, a person could make his or her way to the golden pathways of America. Or Boston, at least. The story was as old as the city itself, down to the hints of violent intimidation that kept the workers in line. None of it was very far from slavery.

Then came the beating deaths of two young women working in Bousquet's sweat shops, both of whom had separately opened complaints about working conditions with the city's Office for Immigrant Advancement. Bousquet's mistress, Viktoriya Lin, had come out of the sweat shops too, but when her cousin, another seamstress, became the third person to disappear, Viktoriya had added to the police pressure on Bousquet by filing a missing persons report.

Burton was assigned the homicide case originally, though his bosses at Schroeder Plaza were no doubt holding their heads in pain by now. The beat-down of Bousquet had muddied things to the point that a friendly judge had allowed Bousquet to bail himself out, almost unheard of for a murder charge.

I reached under the bar and pushed a can of Altoids across to him. He slid them right back.

"Dead giveaway," he said. "I've got a toothbrush in the car."

"That's about as subtle." I hesitated. "Any word on whether the investigation is continuing?"

I'd read that the DA now wanted even more evidence of Bousquet's guilt than Burton had developed.

"Oh, it's going. I got people chomping at the bit to take over my case." He lifted one shoulder. "I'm more worried about the disciplinary hearing. I know I fucked up but I can't go back and fix it. All I can do is ride the trolley to the end of the line."

He was pretending not to care but losing his job would drive him permanently into that deep black hole he sometimes visited. His case against Bousquet had no doubt been tight and by the book, but because of the way his temper took hold, his judgment was suspect.

"Be smart, Burton. You know there are people out there who'd love to take you down."

"Wouldn't be the first time someone tried." His smile was tight. "Some of them think I'm halfway there already."

He backed off the stool, sketched me a salute, and headed for the stairs up to the street.

I watched him go, wishing there was more I could do for him, then knelt down to rummage in the music drawer for that old Wes Montgomery CD. Until the pall over Burton lifted, all of us were going to need a little dreamin'.

CHAPTER 3

Marina walked out of the kitchen as the steel door at the top of the stairs clanged shut.

"Is he doing all right?"

It was an odd question to ask me, since the two of them had been dating — if anyone knew how he was doing she ought to. I frowned at her.

"He'll talk to you," she said. "He doesn't talk to anyone else."

"He knows he's in trouble. But he still thinks the case is solid. The rest of it is all distraction, as far as he's concerned: the media, his bosses. Lawyers and politicians."

She squeezed her lips together, making her look even more unhappy.

"Did he tell you we're not seeing each other anymore?"

"Really."

"The divorce. Sharon. It's dragging on. I don't think he really wants to go through with it."

Marina was exactly the stabilizing influence I needed in the kitchen after Jacquie Robillard got herself murdered. Marina was a creative cook and managed to stay calm even in the weeds of a busy Saturday night. And she'd turned out to be a fierce haggler with my suppliers, some of whom had been cheating me and kicking back money to Jacquie. I couldn't imagine running the Esposito without Marina. The only downside was that she'd given up taking classes at the community college so she could work full-time, something else her mother Carmen wasn't happy about.

"And you started smoking again."

The odor clung to her clothes. Stress, no doubt. Another thing for Carmen to blame on me if she ever found out.

"I wash my hands right afterward."

Her sharp tone was intended to remind me that she and her mother both managed their lives fine without input from any male authority figures. Marina's father was an unknown and never-mentioned ghost in their story. But even though at forty-seven I was only six or seven years older than her, I couldn't help feeling avuncular.

"It stinks," I said. "But you know that." It was too early in the week to start an argument. "If the stories about Bousquet's sweat shops are true, I can't say I blame Burton for smacking the guy. Even if it does get him in trouble."

She grinned and pumped her fist.

"He didn't smack him. He fucking whaled on him."

"Language." I laughed, which is what she'd intended. She knew I worried about Burton, felt like I owed him.

"And Bousquet provoked him," she said. "Asked him how many of his designer dresses Sharon owned."

That was a detail Burton hadn't shared with me. It seemed like a weak taunt.

"I would have nailed him for it too. Not that I have to ask which side of the question you come down on."

Marina's dark eyes flashed.

"Even if I didn't know what Bousquet did? I'll tell you about sweat shops. My mother, before she went to work for your parents? She came over from Sicily, seventeen years old. The first people she worked for, she cooked, cleaned, took care of the babies twelve or fifteen hours a day. Six and a half days a week. For her room and board only."

Before my mother died, she occasionally alluded to the fact that Carmen had lived a rough life before she came to our house on Louisburg Square but this was the first time I'd heard details. No wonder Marina was so self-sufficient.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Burton's Solo"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Richard J. Cass.
Excerpted by permission of Encircle Publications, LLC.
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