A model’s murder takes Cuddy into the jaws of the Boston mobShe was born Tina Danucci, but modeled as Mau Tim Dani., Her friends find the slender beauty strangled to death in her apartment, a priceless necklace of hers nowhere in sight. The police dismiss the murder as an impossible-to-solve botched robbery, so the insurance company hires John Francis Cuddy to do what the homicide detectives can’t. But there’s something the cops know that Cuddy doesn’t: Tina’s murder isn’t just hard to solve, it could be deadly. Tina was the granddaughter of Tommy “the Temper” Danucci, the invisible face of the Boston mafia. She turned her back on him to become a model, but hers is the kind of family that never forgets a child. Once Danucci learns that the police have lost interest in the case, he puts the screws to Cuddy. This is one murder Cuddy has no choice but to crack.
About the Author
Jeremiah Healy (1948–2014) was the creator of the John Cuddy mystery series and the author of several legal thrillers. A graduate of Rutgers College and Harvard Law School, Healy taught at the New England School of Law before becoming a novelist. He published his first novel, Blunt Darts, in 1984, introducing John Francis Cuddy, the Boston private eye who would become Healy’s best-known character.
Read an Excerpt
By Jeremiah Healy
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Jeremiah Healy
All rights reserved.
A funny feeling, coming as a visitor to an office that once was yours.
Harry Mullen cradled the telephone in its console and stood up. "Jeez, John Cuddy, it's been what ... years, right?"
I let go of his hand and fought the urge to wipe mine dry.
"You're looking real good, John."
I wish I could have said the same for him. In a word, Harry looked harried. Sloping shoulders over a donut of fat at the beltline, troughs under bloodshot eyes in a fleshy face. His teeth were yellowed from nicotine, like the keys of a neglected piano. Maybe two years younger than I was, he could have been mistaken for ten years older.
"I've been running, Harry."
"Running? You mean like jogging?"
"What're you weighing these days?"
"About one ninety."
"On six three?"
Mullen shook his head. "Next thing, you'll be telling me you did the marathon."
"As a matter of fact."
"Just this last one."
"Jeez." Harry shook his head some more and sank back into my old swivel chair, the one with the frozen right front wheel. Moving forward, he scraped rather than skidded to my old desk and opened the red file folder on my old blotter. I noticed the laminate on the desk was starting to lift at the corner nearest the window. Mullen kept his telephone to the right and a triptych photo frame to the left. The frame held studio shots of his wife and two kids, one of them a boy of about eight who goofed his pose with no front teeth. I remembered keeping a vacation candid of Beth in the same place until she died. Then I moved it to the center.
The back of the visitor's chair was too steep, and I realized how uncomfortable people must have been when they had business with Head of Claims Investigation/Boston for Empire Insurance. From where Harry was sitting, he could just see the Prudential Insurance Tower, now mostly abandoned by that company. From where I was sitting, I could just see the Burger King on Boylston Street.
Mullen spoke without seeming to read from the file. "You know Phil's gone?"
"No, I didn't."
"Yeah. Early retirement, last—no, month before last."
"He earned it."
"Yeah. Head of Claims wears you down."
Phil had been Head of Claims/Boston in my time. One day Phil asked me to sign off on a jewelry theft west of the city that nobody on my staff had investigated. When I refused, two heavy hitters from Home Office shuttled up from New York to pressure me. One of them was Brad Winningham, the Head of Claims Investigation for the entire company. Winningham had that classic preppy look and manner, the kind of guy who tended to use four syllables where one would do. When I still refused to sign off on the jewelry theft, I got a command invitation to see the Head of Region/Boston, who gave me a heartfelt handshake and a letter qualifying me for unemployment. The letter looked better than a lawsuit, and the government checks gave me the chance to go out on my own. The company at least had the decency to promote Harry into my old job. And my old office.
Mullen futzed with some of the documents in the file, his fingers trembling a little, making the papers crinkle till he noticed that I noticed and stopped. "So, John, you hear from any of the other guys?"
"From here, you mean?"
"No. I made pretty much a clean break, Harry."
Mullen pursed his lips. "Meaning, how come I asked you to come in?"
"Crossed my mind."
"It's got nothing to do with anything while you were with the company, John."
"In fact, it's a new claim entirely, and we'd like you to look into it for us. Your usual hourly or daily."
I shifted in my chair. "You want an outside private investigator looking into one of your claims?"
"You got it."
"Since when did Empire start using outside help?"
Harry grimaced. "Since they cut me down to five field agents."
"Five? From twenty-three?"
"And one of them's a gal just off maternity leave."
"Long story. Some hotshots out of Home Office—New Yorkers, think they're fucking gods—they get this brainstorm, they're going to change our computer system, company-wide. Great idea on paper, since we've always had kind of a roll-your-own approach to data processing around here."
"So the company they buy the equipment from goes belly-up out in Silicon Valley, and now there's nobody who can keep the things on-line or find parts for them when they go down. It's not like you can just change a tube here and there, you know."
"Which means that nobody can find anything because nobody can retrieve anything. The equipment breaks once, it's like the Arabs with their tanks, you just shoot the fucking thing and leave it in the desert to rot. I'm telling you, John, every department in the company, every regional office, has a bad case of the shorts. Most of the hard-copy paperwork's been shipped to New York, and we're down to only six floors here."
I hadn't checked the directory in the lobby. "I'm sorry, Harry."
"Yeah. Thanks." Mullen sank deeper into the chair, which balked as he pushed it back to open a drawer. He pulled out a towel and offered it to me. "John, do me a favor?"
"What, give you a rubdown?"
"No, no. Just run this under the door, like a draft protector."
I got up, took the towel, and wedged it under the door. A college freshman afraid the scent of marijuana would leak into the dormitory corridor. As I turned back around, Mullen was plugging in a small black appliance that had appeared at the center of his desk. The appliance had a front grille like an electric space heater but was no bigger than a clock radio. Harry flipped a switch on the side, which started a humming sound. Then he took out a pack of Marlboros and a lighter and fired up.
Mullen held the smoke inside him, like marijuana, then blew it into the grille on the little machine.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Another new policy. After they bought the computers they started worrying about some kind of disease you're supposed to get from being in front of the screens too long. Then Ex-pire Insurance gets so damned worried about its internal liability in general that it makes all us coffin-nailers go outside the building to smoke."
I'd seen it in front of banks and other employers along the major streets. "You thought about quitting the habit?"
"No. Too late for me. And who's got time to make the trip every time I need one? But this little gizmo sucks it right up, so if I ration myself to eight, ten a day, I can get away with it."
"What happens if they catch you?"
"Three strikes and I'm out."
"Uh-huh. Third violation and it's the axe."
Harry Mullen. Overweight and overwrought, worn down trying to do the job I left. Never a smoker, I thought about what the booze might have done to me by now if I'd stayed.
Sending my eyes toward the folder next to his black box, I said, "That the file you want me on?"
Mullen filled his lungs, nodded, and blew into the grille, spreading the stream of smoke around it like a suburbanite spray-painting patio furniture. "Model. The one got herself killed."
"Week ago Friday."
"I was out of town."
"You wouldn't have heard much about it, anyway. Strangled in her apartment, looks like a burglary gone sour."
"We got the landlord?"
Harry took a small draw and held it. "No. We got the modeling agency. Key employee policy."
"Model as key employee, the owners of the agency as beneficiaries?"
"You got it."
"What's the face amount?"
Mullen pursed his lips again, then expelled the smoke into the grille. "Five hundred thousand."
Could have been worse. "We—Empire going to coordinate with the family on this?"
"Of the model. They're going to sue the landlord, right?"
"No." Harry finished the cigarette, which had burned down almost to his fingernails.
Mullen took a liter-sized Coke bottle from the cigarettes drawer, unscrewed the cap, and dropped the butt into a sludge of brown water and other filters bobbing near the bottom. "You see, John, the family is the landlord."
"She was renting from her family?"
Recapping the bottle, he put it away, but let his smoke-catcher hum a while longer. "Family realty trust." Harry slid a stapled document from the file over to me.
It was the application for insurance, completed by the "Lindqvist/Yulin Agency" as the applicant. The model's name was listed as "Dani, Mau Tim."
I said, "How do you pronounce the first two names?"
"I think it's 'Mahow Tim.'"
I went back to the application. Her address was 10 Falmouth Street, Apartment #3, a zip code in the South End. The owner's line said "A and T Realty Trust." Next to "Relatives" and "Relationship" was "Vincent Dani/uncle and landlord."
I said, "What about the inspection report?"
Mullen took a breath that had nothing to do with his departed cigarette. "Wasn't any."
"On a half-million policy?"
"Jeez, John, I know you're right. Before we approved the application, there should have been a field agent out there, interviewing present employer, prior employer, neighbors, family—you name it and I'll agree with you. But we're so fucking pressed around here, have been for over a year, that nobody ever did it, all right?"
In the application packet, I turned to the medical exam of Mau Tim Dani, done by a nurse-practitioner. The dead woman was eighteen and a half at the time of the examination six months before. Next to race was a checkmark for "Other" and the handwritten word "Amerasian." Height five eight and a half, weight one-fifteen, hair black, eyes violet. The rest suggested she enjoyed the kind of medical health you'd expect in a drug-free late teen.
I gave Harry back the application packet. "When did you hear from the beneficiaries?"
"No, I mean next business day. Called us that Monday, a week ago yesterday."
"Didn't waste much time grieving."
"Not only that."
Mullen dipped into the file and came up with a pink message slip and a piece of stationery. "Guy telephones, then I get a hand-delivered letter yet."
"Belt and suspenders."
"And real anxious."
"What's this guy's name?"
"George Yulin. Types his title as 'Director' of the modeling agency."
"Yeah, like there's only the letterhead of the agency itself, no individual stationery for the bigshot."
"Who'd you have cover the funeral?"
"Clip the obit?"
"I know, I know, all right? But I already told you how short we've been."
I tried to take the edge out of my voice. "Okay. Do we know who's got the case at Homicide?"
"Yeah." Mullen dipped into the file again, came up with another pink message slip. "Lieutenant Houk, I think it says."
Uh-oh. "Let me see that."
I looked at somebody's poor penmanship. "That's Holt, Harry."
"No, not whatever. We've got a problem."
"Holt and I had a go-round last year. Still has a low opinion of me."
"What kind of go-round?"
"He thought I horned in on one of his cases."
"Yeah, but on this one, you got the right to horn in. I can give you a letter and all."
I shook my head and returned the slip. "Won't matter to Holt. He won't give me squat."
Now the pink paper trembled in Mullen's hand. "Jeez, John, can't you ... like, apologize to the guy or something?"
I sat back without saying anything.
The slip trembled some more before he put it down. "What's the matter?"
"I'm just wondering."
"You call me in for a heavy case when I didn't leave the company on exactly the best of terms. Then you want me to stay on the case after I tell you I may not be effective in dealing with the cop assigned to it. Something smell funny to you, Harry?"
Mullen took a breath and chewed the inside of his cheek, the way he did when he'd been a little shoddy in the old days. Then he came forward, working one hand in the other.
"Between you and me, John?"
"Everything has been so far."
"No, really. I mean it."
"Between you and me, Harry."
"The pressure ..." Mullen's voice got a little scratchy, and he cleared his throat. "The pressure's worse than I've ever seen it. I don't know if the company's ... I don't know if Empire's going to be okay with the economy and all, especially around here."
"Winningham ... You see, this claim, the letter and all, came in when I was up in Portland. We got this new rule. Any claim with a face amount over three hundred thousand has to get reported to Home Office."
"So Winningham down in New York gets wind of this one when we fax him Yulin's letter last week. Before he sends us the app', he calls me and says, 'Give this one to Cuddy.'"
"Winningham wanted me to have it?"
"He give you a reason?"
"He said he felt bad about all the shit we heaped on you."
"Winningham said 'shit'?"
"Uh, no. No, what he said was 'indignities.'"
I pictured Winningham. Ivy League smile, razor-cut brown hair, shirt cuffs he'd shoot like a magician about to do a card trick.
"Harry, I'm not exactly convinced that the milk of human kindness is behind all this."
"That's what I said to the guy, John."
"What'd he say back?"
"Winningham said ... Aw, shit, he said if I couldn't handle this, maybe I was getting a little light to be running a regional office."
I watched Harry Mullen chew on his cheek some more. Thought about how he backstopped me when I slid into the bottle over losing Beth, even drove or carried me home a couple of times. Thought about his wife and kids and how he'd look to another company at a job interview. Winningham was a son of a bitch, and I could see him canning Harry for this while saying it was because of other mistakes that probably had piled up since the cutbacks. On the other hand, it was possible that Winningham saw the handwriting on the wall for Empire, the preppy prince just feathering the private-sector nest he might have to fly toward himself.
Mullen said, "John, he thinks we owe you this one."
"His exact words. 'Reparations, Harry. We need to effectuate reparations here.'"
Indignities, reparations, and effectuate. Four syllables, every one. Sounded like Brad Winningham, all right.CHAPTER 2
On the desk in front of Lieutenant Holt at Homicide were a multipart form and a soggy paper plate with six congealing french fries. Around forty-five, Holt wore a short-sleeve white shirt and plain wool tie. His gray hair was snipped close, his skull like a round magnet that had picked up iron filings. The chin was square and the nose long, enough lines in his forehead for terrace farming. The portrait of a man who'd had a humorectomy.
Holt's right hand held a stubby pencil above a box on the form. He entered two numbers in the box, then used his left hand to reach for a treat. When the hand couldn't find the plate, his head rose. Holt pinched a fry just as he caught me standing in his doorway.
"Christ on a crutch. Cuddy."
"Nice to be remembered."
"Not when it's me doing the remembering." Holt apparently forgot about his fry, still between thumb and forefinger. "The fuck do you want?"
"Can I come in and talk about it?"
"Tell me first. Then I decide whether you get to sit."
"I'm doing an outside investigation for Empire Insurance on one of their death claims."
"Yeah. They had the model who was killed in her apartment."
Holt seemed to suffer a brain cramp.
"Lieutenant, I think it was 'Dani.' Mau Tim Dani." I pronounced it the way Harry Mullen had.
Holt stopped for a minute, face unreadable. Then he dropped the fry and said, "Sure, Cuddy. Sure, I can spare a minute for that."
I took it I could come in and sit down. Holt used the time to tip back in his chair and fold his hands over his stomach. They had to stretch some to do it.
He said, "So what did Empire tell you?"
"Not much. She got strangled, apparently by a burglar, but the modeling agency that had the policy on her seems kind of quick on the trigger."
"And you'd like to see our jacket on it, right?"
Holt stopped again, just short of smiling at me.
"I was thinking about last year, with that Marsh guy and the hooker at the Barry."
"You know I wasn't involved in that."
"How about what happened afterwards?"
"I was in jail, remember?"
"I remember a lot of things, Cuddy. And like I said, it's not so good for a guy in your line of work to have me remembering. But you've got to make a living, too, right?"
Excerpted from Shallow Graves by Jeremiah Healy. Copyright © 1993 Jeremiah Healy. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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