Stories of murder, vengeance, and that dangerous feeling called love
When Derek Marshall meets Gina’s family, he doesn’t behave like a man in love. He can’t look his fiancée in the eye, instead ogling the maid or walking around the house examining furniture and tapestries with the greedy smirk of an insurance investigator. To expose this fortune hunter, Gina’s uncle hires private investigator Leo Haggerty, who soon finds that greed can overwhelm any kind of love.
The Edgar and Shamus Award–winning title story of this collection introduced the world to Leo Haggerty, the tortured star of six remarkable novels by Benjamin M. Schutz. “Mary, Mary, Shut the Door” is paired with a series of spellbinding tales of violence and deceit, starring sleuths from all walks of life, each marked by the gripping psychological realism that is Schutz’s trademark.
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Mary, Mary, Shut the Door
By Benjamin M. Schutz
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2005 Benjamin M. Schutz
All rights reserved.
Whatever If Takes
"Wake up, Sean, Mickey called. We've got work."
His brother, Matthew, prodded him with a toe.
"You need a shower too. You've still got paint in your hair."
Sean Ellis grunted but didn't move. He entered each day with the ease of a twelve-pound breech birth.
"You better get a move on. I'm not waiting. I'll take all the work myself."
"Like hell you will." He rolled over, swung his legs over the side and followed his brother out of the bedroom. He went into the shower and watched his brother go into the kitchen.
Matthew Ellis opened the refrigerator, took out two bagels and a block of cream cheese. Dropping a bagel into the toaster, he reached up and got down two coffee mugs and poured a cup for himself and one for his brother. He carried his cup, milked and sugared, into the living room.
His mother lay asleep on the sofa. Matthew walked around the living room chairs and turned off the television. More and more often he found her asleep in her clothes in the living room, as if she had only enough energy to get inside the front door.
Chris Ellis was a petite woman, barely over a hundred pounds. Her son thought she was slipping from lean to frail but hoped that he was wrong. Her blanket had slipped down to her waist and her book was open on her chest.
He sipped his coffee and looked at himself in the mirror over the sofa. Stocky and muscular, he was dressed in khaki shorts and a dark blue T-shirt from his stint at the medical examiner's office. Across his chest ran the unofficial motto of that office:
He looked down at his mother's tiny fists, clenched in her sleep like a baby's. Her thumbs were tucked inside her fingers. He wondered if she had been fighting in her sleep and hoped that she had won. He wanted to cover them but knew that if he adjusted her blanket, she'd startle and waken.
The phone in the kitchen rang and he rushed to answer it.
"Hello," he said.
"Matthew, boy. Is that you?"
"Yeah. Who is this?"
"It's your dad. Don't you recognize my voice?"
He did, but denied it so that his father would have to identify himself. Every little bit of distance helped. "What do you want?"
"I'd like to see you and your brother. Talk about things. See where we stand."
"Not a chance. You made your choices, now live with them. We sure as hell had to."
"Look, Matt, I know you're angry ..."
"Angry? I'm homicidal, you bastard."
"Put your brother on."
"Sorry, I can't hear you. You seem to be breaking up."
He hung up the phone and began to massage his temples with his fingertips.
"What's up, Matt?" His brother asked as he walked into the kitchen.
"What else? That was Dad with his Monday morning overture. Let's talk boys, let's start over, let's forget everything that happened. I'm a changed man. I've found Jesus." He squeezed his eyes shut and began to use his palms. "I get such a headache talking to him. You gotta take the next one, man."
"Whatever." He fixed his coffee, handed Matt the bagel from the toaster and put one in for himself.
He was as long, lean and fair as his brother was short, wide and dark. Like his brother, he'd dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. August around D.C. made anything else unbearable without air conditioning.
"Sean, let me ask you a question."
"Have you noticed how gray mom is getting? She's only forty. Do you think stress can do that to you?"
"I don't know man. I'm the art major, remember. I didn't take psychology."
They ate in silence, washed their cups and plates, stacked them to dry, and turned out the lights before they left the apartment. Matt stood by the door, his hand on the light switch looking at his mother's shape on the sofa.
"You know Sean, when I was little, I thought the worst times of my life were those nights mom came home with a date. I was wrong. I'd give anything for her to come home with somebody now. She doesn't even use the bed for herself any more."
"Let it be, Matt. We've got work to do."
Their ten-year-old Subaru had all the pickup of a pair of drunken oxen. Like their previous car, they had bought it at an auction for less than a hundred bucks, planned to drive it 'til it stopped and then get another one. Maintenance had no place in their plans. It was just delaying the inevitable. Like a respirator or a feeding tube. Besides, it cost money.
Mickey Sloan's office was tidy and well organized. He had a sofa along one wall for his field agents to sit on and read the papers they were going out to serve. He sat facing them inside a U-shaped desk. His desk phone had five lines. A missed call was a job lost and so he carried a cell phone and a pager with him at all times. A copy machine sat on top of a wall of file cabinets. On the opposite wall next to the window was a large map of the metropolitan region. Through the blinds, Mickey could see the courthouse across the street; a giant paper factory, without any smokestacks. His computer screen had a screen-saver design of a bearded caveman with a piece of paper in his hands, trotting forever across a barren landscape.
Matt and Sean came in, took their packets off of Mickey's desk, and sat down to read their day's work.
First up was a notice of judgment against Mohammed Ben Zekri out in Herndon, then a witness subpoena for Vu Tran Nguyen in Falls Church. Vu had seen an automobile accident. Lorelei Petty was going to get a notice of deposition in the divorce case of Truman and Molly Wing. She was going to be asked about her affair in excruciating detail. Truman's attorney had a very limited imagination and the mechanics of lesbian love had to be repeated over and over before he got it. A restraining order was today's bit of sunshine for Gustavo Martin, courtesy of his girlfriend Mirabella Montoya of the bloodied nose and chipped-tooth Montoyas. Last but not least was a subpoena duces tecum for the records of Lowell Gorman, DDS, pioneer in the use of anesthetic-shrouded fellatio as a dental procedure.
"How much for these, Mickey?"
"Ben Zekri, Nguyen, and Petty are twenty-five each; Gorman is thirty, and Martin is fifty."
"Anything special we should know?"
"Watch out for Martin. Serve him together. This isn't the first girl he's slapped around. He's out on bond and looking at some time inside for this one. He won't be in a good mood when you find him."
Mickey cleared his throat. "Uh, I've got a piece of bad news for you guys. You know that case you've been working on for Barton and Hammon?"
"Yeah," they said, drawing the syllable out slowly. They had been working for days to find a way to serve Byron Putnam, who oscillated between his gated condominium in McLean and a security office building on K Street. He was now worth $4.00 an hour and sinking fast.
"They want it back. They know you've had trouble getting to Putnam. There's another agency that says they can get into his building."
"Who?" Matt asked.
"Right. She thinks one of her hos in hot pants and a halter is gonna do the job."
The boys shook their heads. "She's probably right," Sean said. "The gimp at the gate will go brain dead, drool down her cleavage and the chemical reaction will make her invisible. I remember reading about that."
"Hey, I'm sorry. I know you guys put a lot of time on that one, but they're the clients. They can take the paper back."
"Fine, fine. It's out in the car. We'll drop it by their office later today. Any more good news?" Sean muttered.
"No. That's it."
"How about letting us into the 'Icebox'. We've been here almost three months already. You know we can do the job. How about it?" Matt asked.
Mickey mulled it over. They were leaving soon to go back to school. He wanted to hold it out as a carrot to get them to come back over the Christmas break. On the other hand, they were reliable and hard working. Maybe a taste of bigger things now would whet their appetite. Christmas gifts could run into beaucoup dollars.
"Alright. Here's the rules. The 'Icebox' has papers we haven't been able to serve. They may not even be valid anymore. You'll have to check with the lawyer and the client to see if they still want them served. If they do and you're successful, you keep all the money. So check with the attorney on that too, some are worth more than others. But it's strictly a sideline — something you do after you hit the current jobs. I like keeping that box small. That means we tag all the fresh ones. Understood?"
Sean took the box down and sat it on his lap. Matt leaned over as they thumbed through the papers. They were filed alphabetically.
"We'll come back when we're done today and research these, see which ones we want to pursue," Sean said.
"Good hunting. You better hit the streets. One last word about the 'Icebox', even though I don't think you need it. One reason I don't let everybody in there is because of the risk of sewer service."
"Sewer Service. I once had a guy claim he'd served a paper when he'd flushed it down the toilet. He figured we couldn't find the guy so he wasn't gonna show. Easy money. Well we couldn't find him because he was dead. That came up at the hearing. Not a shining moment. I got a reprimand and he got sixty days. My reputation rides along with you two every day, but hey, I don't need to say that, that's why I'm letting you into the 'Icebox'."
Mickey's office was in one of the faux colonial buildings that ring the courthouse and public safety building. They took I-66 west from there to the parkway, then across the county over the Dulles Access road into Herndon. Matt drove and his brother navigated.
"Right here, Matt, into this development. Take the first left and go straight to the end."
"Where do we stand, Sean?"
"You're up thirty-five. I figured to take two of the twenty-fives and the doctor. You take the other two and we're even."
"Alright. This one's yours."
They drove past a row of McMansions, five hundred thousand dollar pseudo-Georgians so close together you'd have to mow on alternate days, and looked for house numbers painted on the curb. Sean began to count by twos and started to shake his head. The houses came to a halt just short of the address for Mohammed Ben Zekri. They pulled up to the curb and looked at the hole in the ground, awaiting a foundation. Mr. Ben Zekri was gone along with ten thousand cubic feet of dirt.
Matt got out of the car and walked over to the last house and headed up the stairs to the front door. Sean pulled out the cell phone, looked at the signature page on the notice, and called the attorney.
"Klompus, Bogans, and Hess. How may I help you?"
"Jack Klompus please."
"Who may I say is calling?"
"Sean Ellis of AAA Process Service."
"This is Linda, Mr. Klompus's secretary. How may I help you?"
"I'm here at the address your office provided for Mohammed Ben Zekri and what it is is a hole in the ground."
Matt stood next to him and mouthed, "Empty for six months."
"In fact it's been a hole in the ground for six months. We'd appreciate it if Mr. Klompus could check his file and see if he has a more current address for Mr. Ben Zekri."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Klompus is on vacation. I'll leave a message for him. His assistant will call you back."
Sean put the phone back in his pocket. "You know for three hundred dollars an hour, they could check their addresses every six months. That wouldn't be too much to ask, would it?"
They got back in the car and plotted a course to the next address, a red brick apartment box in Falls Church, on the edge of "Little Saigon." There was no grass on the lawn, only dirt, rocks, and glass. The one tree was long dead. A number of windows had broken panes. The chain-link fence lacked only a razor wire frosting to complete the detention-center look of the place. The boys walked through the graffitied door and looked at the mailboxes. There wasn't a name on a single one.
"You take the top floor and work down. I'll go up," Matt said.
They met on the second floor at the only door that was opened to them. Inside was an elderly Vietnamese woman, her streaked gray hair pulled into a tight bun. She had a young child on her hip and two others behind her. All three children were in diapers with fingers in their mouths.
"Uh, ma'am, we're looking for Mr. Vu Tran Nguyen. Can you tell us what apartment is his?" Sean asked.
Her face was utterly impassive, an appropriate reaction when assailed by gibberish.
Sean proceeded, "Do you speak English?"
"I thought so. So if I tell you I'm going to rip this child out of your arms and eat him, your eyes won't widen and you won't slam the door in my face, will you? Of course not, and so you haven't. Have a nice day. Welcome to America."
They turned away and trotted down the stairs. "Didn't I tell you to take Vietnamese as your foreign language elective, Matt? No, you had to take French. Have you noticed any place called 'Little Paris' around here?"
"Let me think. No, I don't think so."
"Me neither. Who's next?"
"Lorelei Petty over in McLean. Good bet she speaks English."
"Lucky you, Matt."
They drove slowly through Falls Church towards Tyson's Corner and McLean. Tyson's Corner was the largest commercial center in America not located in the heart of a city. Falls Church sat between Washington D.C. and Tyson's, and its one main thoroughfare was always distended with traffic, a perpetual aneurysm.
Forty-five minutes later they pulled up in front of Lorelei Petty's townhouse on the Tyson's-McLean frontier, where the proper zip code could mean a twenty thousand dollar difference from the other side of the street.
Matt read the paper. "This is a notice of deposition, so the shit's been hitting the fan for quite awhile. We don't have the advantage of surprise here."
"So, call her. See if she's here. Do we have a description?"
"Yeah, five feet six inches, hundred forty-five pounds, light brown hair, wears glasses."
Matt dialed directory assistance, got the number for an L. Petty, and then dialed that.
"Hi, my name is Matt Ellis, I'm a process server. I have a subpoena for you in the Wings matter. I'm on my way over. I'll be there in about twenty minutes, is that okay with you?"
"Uh, sure, whatever."
Matt set the phone down. "What do you think, Sean?"
"A guy, he'd be outta there three minutes tops. A woman, I'd say six."
They looked down at their watches. The adjacent town-house had a contractor's sign hung from the front porch railing. It proclaimed: "Another fine project from the master craftsmen at DNT Contractors. Call Burle Hitchens at (703) 555-9400."
Five minutes later, Matt rolled up the paper, stuck it in his back pocket and got out of the car. He was going up the stairs when the front door opened. A woman stepped out, and turned back to lock the dead bolt. Matt closed ground.
"Lorelei, is that you?" He asked, eagerly but uncertain.
"Yes," she said and turned to face her caller.
Matt whipped out the papers and handed them to her.
"You've been served, ma'am."
She backed away, waving her hands at the paper like it was an angry insect.
"No, I haven't. I haven't taken these."
"That's TV, ma'am. You answered to the name, you match the description, you live at the right address. You've been served."
Matt dropped them at her feet. "I'd advise you to read them and call a lawyer. Have a nice day."
"I hope your dick falls off, you miserable little bastard."
"Duly noted ma'am, and my affidavit of service will include your kind words."
Matt jumped into the car and it pulled away. "What next?" he asked.
"Our Latino lady-killer, over in Arlington."
"Where are we serving him?"
"Work. He's a janitor at a motel in Arlington."
Their cell phone rang.
"Hello?" Sean said.
"Sean, is that you? It's Chuck Pruitt. You and your brother want to do some surveillance?"
"Hold on Chuck, I'll ask him."
He covered the mouthpiece. "Matt, it's Chuck Pruitt, he wants us to do surveillance, what do you say?"
"I say no. He hasn't paid us for our last two jobs. Working for him is working for free. It's been over two months he's owed us."
"You sure? It's work."
"Work? It's charity. Slow pay is no pay. You can do it. I'll pass."
Excerpted from Mary, Mary, Shut the Door by Benjamin M. Schutz. Copyright © 2005 Benjamin M. Schutz. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Whatever It Takes,
2. Til Death Do Us Part,
3. What Goes Around,
4. Mary, Mary, Shut the Door,
5. Lost and Found,
6. The Black Eyed Blonde,
7. Not Enough Monkeys,
8. Expert Opinion,
9. The State versus Adam Shelley,
10. Christmas in Dodge City,
11. Open and Shut,
12. Meeting of the Minds,