Joe Bellano never hurt nobody. A gentle barber who takes bets on the side, he’s muddling through life when his world comes crashing down around him. First he’s arrested by an overzealous police force hoping for dirt on the local mob. Released after convincing the police that he’s strictly small time, Bellano is trying to get back to normal when his teenage daughter vanishes. After years of keeping a low profile, Bellano finds himself with enemies on both sides of the law. Which one snatched his daughter?
Hemmed in by the feds and the mob, Bellano turns to Jacob Lomax, a private detective with a soft spot for bookies. The case seems routine until Bellano is killed by a car bomb meant for the missing girl. The barber may have been a crook, but his daughter is innocent, and Lomax will risk death to save her from her father’s fate.
About the Author
Lomax would star in four more novels, including Blood Stone (1988), The Dead of Winter (1989), and Grave Doubt (1995). In the early 1990s, Allegretto began writing standalone novels, including the Christmas suspense story Night of Reunion (1990) and the fast-paced family thriller The Watchmen (1991).
Read an Excerpt
The Dead of Winter
A Jacob Lomax Mystery
By Michael Allegretto
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1989 Michael Allegretto
All rights reserved.
It was below freezing, but Joseph Bellano wanted to walk.
"Can't we talk in my office, where it's warm?" I suggested.
"Your office might be bugged."
Bellano was shorter, heavier, and twenty years older than I; I'd say five ten or so, two hundred pounds plus, and mid-fifties. He was also more immune to the cold. I had on corduroy pants, a shirt, a wool sweater, heavy socks, boots, a ski parka, gloves, a scarf, and a knit cap pulled down over my ears, and I was still shivering. I was also certain my office wasn't bugged.
"How about we sit in my car and turn on the heat?"
"Come on, no one bugs cars, not even in the movies."
Bellano shook his round head. His ears and bulbous nose were turning red from the cold. He should have had on a hat—his hair was thinning on top. The rest of it was long, the way barbers like to wear it. There was a lot of gray mixed in with the black.
"You're right," he said. "I'm getting paranoid. But you gotta understand, the feds are on me like fleas on an old rug, and I don't know how far they'll go. I know for a fact they've tapped the phone in my shop. So let's just walk and talk, okay?"
"Sure." I pulled the scarf up around my chin.
We headed north on Broadway. The afternoon traffic mushed by the other way. There was still a lot of old snow left over from a few days ago. Most of it was piled along the curb and against the brick buildings. It was so gray from sand and pollution that it hardly looked like snow. At least the sidewalks were shoveled clean. Temporarily. Tiny icy flakes fell from the dead sky. They were sticking to the concrete and soon would make footing treacherous.
"It's my daughter," Bellano said grimly. "She disappeared three days ago. I've called around, friends and all, no one's seen her. Her mother's going crazy."
Obviously, he was, too.
"I can imagine," I said. "Have you talked to the police?"
He nodded yes. "Not that they're that eager to help me right now."
Bellano thrust his hands deep in the pockets of his black overcoat. His heavy shoulders were bent, and his collar was turned up. It made him look like a middle-aged mafioso. But he was no criminal. Unless you called someone who runs a sports book out of his barbershop a criminal. Which, by the way, I don't.
"I called the cops Saturday morning," he said, "after she didn't come home Friday night. They told me she's not a 'missing person' until she's been gone for seventy-two hours. I went down there today and signed some papers. So now it's official. She's missing. Then I called around to get the name of a decent private snoop, er, no offense."
"Hey, I'm used to it."
I'd been in the business for four years, and I'd been called a lot worse. Also punched, spat on, and shot. So I guess "snoop" wasn't so bad.
We waited for the light at Twelfth Avenue. The big window of Howard Lorton Galleries on the corner was hung with a twelve-foot Christmas wreath. Tomorrow was December first.
The light changed, and we crossed the street. My freezing toes were thankful for the movement.
"Where did you last see your daughter?"
"In my barbershop Friday morning. A few hours after I'd been busted."
I'd read about Bellano's arrest.
A dozen of the bigger bookies in town had been rounded up by a special crime unit made up of federal agents and members of the Denver police. A truckload of evidence had been confiscated. Most of the bookies were otherwise honest businessmen who also happened to act as clearinghouses for those eager to wager on sporting events. But every ten or twelve years some civic group decided to purge the city of gamblers. Make it safe for their kids. Meanwhile, the state ran the lottery and lotto and dog races, and the sports pages of the morning papers carried the point spread for every ball game in the country, pro and college.
This year, though, the feds were trying to tie the bookies to organized crime.
"Do you think there's a connection between your daughter's running and your arrest?"
"Absolutely. You gotta understand, Stephanie is a sweet kid, barely eighteen. Polite, respectful. Her mother raised her to be a good Catholic. She never knew I was making book until the cops showed up at the house Friday. She went to pieces."
"You're telling me that your eighteen-year-old daughter didn't know you were a bookie?"
"How could you keep something like that from her?"
"Because I didn't want her to think her father was a crook."
"No, I didn't mean it that way. I meant 'how?'"
"Oh. Well, for one thing my wife and I never told her. I always took care of the bets and the money at my shop, where she rarely goes. My books I keep on a computer at home, but it's locked up in the den. Off limits. Anyhow, Steph thought all I did in there was play the stock market, which I do, some. Did."
"You kept your books on a computer?"
"Why not? It's the electronic age."
"Oh, yeah, I forgot."
We passed leafless trees poking up through the frozen sidewalk. They belonged to the new Security Life Building. It stood on the former site of Azar's Big Boy, where a guy used to be able to go in and get a cup of coffee and get warm. I wiped my nose with the back of my glove.
"Tell me about Friday," I said.
"The cops came into my shop first thing in the morning and pulled me downtown. They also went through my house with a search warrant and confiscated all my records. Almost all. The jerks missed one copy right under their noses. Anyway, Stephanie was home with her mother. The poor kid didn't know what was going on. When the cops left, Angela explained it all to her. She didn't take it well."
"What did she do?"
"She drove straight to my shop."
We crossed Thirteenth. A truck had stopped in the crosswalk. Its nose dripped dirty icicles. We had to step around it, out near the lanes of traffic on Broadway. We got frozen slush splattered on our pants. Bellano didn't seem to mind.
"When she came in, I was cutting hair and—"
"Wait a minute. This was a few hours after your arrest and you were already working?"
Bellano nodded. "I'd been charged, printed, pictured, and bailed out. I was back cutting hair before noon. Also taking bets."
"Hell, no. No way am I gonna close down, not with the Broncos playing tonight. Monday night. National TV. That brings the part-time gamblers right outta the woodwork."
Which reminded me that I'd laid a nickel with my bookie earlier in the week. After all, the line was Denver by three, and I figured they'd stomp Seattle. Plus, I had money to burn from my last case, so five hundred didn't seem like much of a risk. Actually five fifty, counting the vigorish.
"Anyway," Bellano said as we made it to the curb, "me and Sal are in there cutting hair, a few customers waiting, all of them trying to cheer me up, and in charges Stephanie like the wrath of God."
"I'd never seen her like that," he said. "At first it was kinda funny. To me, anyhow. The other guys in there, though, were staring with their mouths hanging open, like who the hell is this broad?
"Stephanie's yelling about how I betrayed her all these years and how she hopes me and my pals all go to prison and how she doesn't want to ever see me again. And then it's not funny anymore."
He frowned. "I tried to calm her down, but it was no good. She threw the keys to her car at me and said she didn't want anything that was paid for with dirty money. Then she ran out of the shop. I went after her, but she was already down the block. She turned the corner. That was the last time I saw her."
"You said you called around. Friends and relatives."
"Me and Angela called everybody. Nothing." He shook his head for emphasis.
"Does Stephanie have a boyfriend?"
"Not that I know about."
"What about her girlfriends? Could she be hiding with one of them?"
"She's only got a couple of girlfriends, and they live with their parents. I've called them."
When we reached the corner, Bellano turned right. Ahead lay the capitol. Its gold dome was as dull as a penny.
"There's probably something else you should know," Bellano said. Then he sniffled—the first sign that the cold was affecting him. He wiped his nose with a folded white handkerchief. "There's more to this gambling bust than they put in the papers. The cops and the feds aren't too concerned with us small fries. They're mostly after one guy. Fat Paulie DaNucci." I see.
"The prosecutors are pushing me and some others to turn state's evidence against DaNucci," Bellano said. "They'd like us to admit we were working for him. This would strengthen their case quite a bit. Of course, this is bullshit. We're all independent. Sure, there's guys who lay off bets with DaNucci if they're getting too much action on one side or the other. I've done it myself. But it's only because DaNucci's big enough to handle it. On the other hand, I'm a little different than the rest."
I knew that Fat Paulie DaNucci wasn't simply a bookie. He was connected. Mafia. Everyone knew that. Of course, knowing it was easier than proving it.
We turned right at Lincoln and walked south, back the way we'd come.
"I've been making book a lot longer than most," Bellano explained. "I started before there was a bookie in every tavern and office building in the city. You know, before it was 'respectable.' And back then I was, well, acquainted with Fat Paulie. Let's just say that I know one or two things about him that could embarrass him. In a legal sense. Of course, he knows this, too. It might be making him nervous."
"Do you think he might have kidnapped your daughter?"
"It crossed my mind. He says no, though."
"You talked to DaNucci?"
"I called him, sure. At his restaurant. He says he knows nothing from nothing. He got mad that I'd think he'd do something like that."
"Did he hint that Stephanie would return after the trial?"
"No, no, nothing like that. Like I said, he got mad. He hung up on me. I think if he had her he would have let me know by now. At least indirectly." Bellano shook his head. "Maybe she just ran away, I don't know. But no one's seen her, and she left without her car and with hardly any money. Not much more than the clothes on her back."
He took a deep breath and let it out through his nose, blowing vapor like a bull. Then he reached inside his overcoat and handed me a thick envelope.
"Some pictures of her," he said. "Also a list of everyone we could think of who might have seen her. But like I said, we already talked to them. Also five grand."
"If it's not enough, say so."
"It's more than enough. In fact, why don't you just hang on to it and I'll bill you later."
Joseph Bellano smiled briefly and pushed his fists into his coat pockets.
"There's an old Italian saying."
"Don't be a jerk, take the money."
"Oh, well, if an old Italian said it," I said, but Bellano wasn't smiling anymore. I could see the pain in his face. His baby was missing.
"Maybe she had some friends from school that we don't know about," he said. "That's the only other thing I can think of."
"Where did—does she go to school?"
"Loretto Heights. She's a sophomore," he said with some pride. "She's a year younger than probably everyone in her class, see, she skipped a grade in elementary school. She was such a smart little kid. Me and Angela, we were always real proud of her, but maybe it wasn't such a good idea, you know, putting her ahead like that, since she'd always be the youngest in her class...."
Bellano realized he'd begun to ramble.
We crossed Thirteenth.
It seemed colder now. The sky had darkened noticeably since we'd started walking. Half the cars coming toward us on Lincoln had their headlights on. Neither of us spoke for two more blocks. We neared Eleventh, where Besant's used to be. Like a lot of other restaurants in Denver, it had changed names so many times I'd lost track.
I glanced at the sign on the door. CLOSED.
"I hear you're good at this?" Bellano had made it a question.
He was quiet for a few more paces. Then he wiped his nose again with his handkerchief.
"Find her," he said. "Please."
"I'll do my best."CHAPTER 2
After Joseph Bellano left me at my office, I deposited most of my new cash in the bank. The rest I took home and locked in the safe with my guns.
Then I popped the cap off a Labatt's Blue and emptied the rest of Bellano's envelope on the kitchen table.
He'd given me two photographs.
One was a studio shot from the waist up of a smooth-skinned young lady in a powder-blue cashmere sweater and a string of pearls. Her black hair was long and sleek, her lashes long. Attractive, not quite pretty. She smiled faintly at something to the left of the lens. She looked content and virgin-pure.
The other picture was a family snapshot of Joseph, Stephanie, and another woman who I assumed was Stephanie's mother, Angela. They were in the backyard, probably this past summer. I could see the corner of a garage and some tomato plants caged in wire. The Bellanos wore shorts and short sleeves and sandals. The sun made them all squint through their smiles. The shadow of the photographer fell on their legs. Ominously, it seemed.
Along with the photos, Bellano had included what looked like his Christmas-card list—six sheets of lined paper with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of forty or fifty people. Bellano had said he'd talked to them all. None had seen Stephanie. For now I'd take their word for it. Bellano had seemed less certain about the college. I'd start there.
Tonight I had a Broncos game.
Except it turned out to be a Seahawks game. In fact, it was well into the third quarter and my second six-pack before the hometown boys finally scored. Way too little, much too late. So I lost five hundred, so what?
I mean, five fifty.
Tuesday's sky was as cold and gray as dead ashes.
I'd begun to wonder if the old Olds could take another winter. But this morning she turned over on her first try, bless her heart. I let her run with the heater on and spent the next fifteen minutes carefully scraping frost from her windows.
Then I drove to Loretto Heights. More properly, Regis College, Loretto Heights Campus.
The original building sits like a red-stone castle on a hill in southwest Denver. Tall pines, bleak elms, and a vast expanse of snowy lawn insulate it from the mundane traffic on Federal Boulevard.
The college was founded before the turn of the century by the Sisters of Loretto, who turned over its operation to "civilians" in the 1960s. Not long thereafter, the institution began to slide into financial difficulty. Last year it was rescued by Regis. Temporarily, anyway. I'd heard they were planning to sell it to a Japanese interest. For a large profit, of course. Regis was run by Jesuits.
I left the Olds in Visitors Parking, then climbed the red-sandstone steps to the main entrance. The Virgin Mary, frozen in white marble over the arch, welcomed me with open arms.
The campus administrator was Father Shipman. He was a thin red-faced man in his sixties. His office was as austere as his clothing. His Roman collar looked too tight. Maybe that explained the red face. I told him who I was and what I was doing. He said he'd spoken to Joseph Bellano yesterday on the phone.
"He wanted to know if Stephanie had missed her Monday classes," Father Shipman said.
"I assume that she did."
"I really didn't know. I told him either I'd check with her instructors or he could talk to them himself. He preferred the latter, so I gave him the names and numbers. That was the last I spoke with him."
"Did you talk to Stephanie's teachers?"
"Not about her absence, no. I assumed that if there was a problem they'd let me know."
"Would you mind if I talked to them?"
He wouldn't. He wrote down their names and told me where to find their offices. Then he cleared his throat.
"Mr. Lomax, don't interfere with the classes."
He'd made it sound like a threat, Roman collar or no.
Stephanie was taking one class each in nursing, art history, business administration, and creative writing. She didn't know what she wanted to be. Father Shipman had made a note that Stephanie's creative writing instructor, Rachel Wynn, doubled as her academic adviser. I tried her first. Her office door was locked, and no one answered my knock.
Excerpted from The Dead of Winter by Michael Allegretto. Copyright © 1989 Michael Allegretto. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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