Detective Arturo “Chip” Bruno chose the day after Thanksgiving to do something that was extremely out of the ordinary for him.
He smiled in public.
It surely had something to do with his current company. Bruno walked hand in hand down the streets of his neighborhood with Maggie McGee, a tall, beautiful redhead with piercing green eyes. If her appearance didn’t betray her ancestry, her heritage became obvious the minute she opened her mouth.
“I almost forgot to tell you,” she said excitedly in her thick brogue that hadn’t faded despite her not having set foot in Ireland in over a decade. “I swear on the Holy Bible that I saw a ghost!”
Maggie quickly made the sign of the cross with her free hand as Bruno chuckled.
“Ya sure this sighting ain’t because of all the Baileys ya had last night after dinner?”
Maggie punched him playfully in the arm. “Don’t be such a shit, Chip. You know I can hold my liquor way better than you.”
“Ya gotta clarify for me then,” Bruno requested. “Are ya talking a friendly ghost like Casper, or some bad ass malevolent spirit that’s gonna require the Ghostbusters? Cuz I ain’t afraid of no ghost, but I also ain’t got their number handy, and I don’t wanna go into work on my day off.”
Maggie squeezed his hand tight and rolled her eyes. “I was at the bar this morning, helping to unload the delivery truck, when I swear I saw Irish Tony walking down the other side of the street.”
Bruno stopped dead in his tracks. “These nicknames from your neighborhood don’t make no sense. Why the hell do they call him Irish Tony? I ain’t sure how much you know about all things Irish, but Tony ain’t no Irish name.”
Maggie giggled. She wasn’t much of a giggler, but Bruno brought out that side of her. It was one of the many things she loved about him.
“Such a wiseass! They called him Irish Tony because he was Italian by birth, but adopted by the O’Connells when he was just a baby. They raised him to be a fine Irish lad, but they couldn’t do anything to change the fact that he looked like a typical Italian.”
Bruno nodded like this all made sense, and since he was finally able to wrap his brain around it, he decided it was okay to start walking again.
“So if ya know the guy, why’d ya say ya saw a ghost?”
Maggie’s boyfriend might have comprehended the tale, but the Detective in him was determined to keep asking questions.
“Irish Tony moved to New York some fifteen years ago to get in touch with his Italian ancestry,” she explained. “Maybe two years later, we’d heard he’d been killed in some Mafia dispute.”
Bruno grunted in understanding. It was all becoming clearer now, and the post-dinner Baileys once again moved to the top of his suspect list.
“So now he’s gonna haunt his old neighborhood after all these years?” Bruno teased.
“I don’t know, Chip,” she answered with a sigh. “He vanished before I could talk to him.”
Bruno raised an eyebrow to the comment. “Vanished like he walked through a building, or got called back to a higher plane?”
“Vanished like he turned the corner, and I had to keep unloading the truck with a massive hangover,” she answered with a little sass.
Bruno wanted to continue to pursue his line of questioning because he was enamored with his suspect, but his train of thought was unexpectedly derailed by the gray haired man who yelled at him as he crossed the street to intercept the couple.
“You’re a cop, right?” the man asked in what seemed more like a demand than a question.
“Yeah,” Bruno answered with a sigh. “You wanna confess to something?”
Maggie gave Bruno a gentle elbow in the ribs to remind him to mind his manners.
“No, I want to report a crime,” the man clarified as he reached the sidewalk and stood in front of them, arms crossed, to impede their progress.
“I’m happy to call it in for ya, cuz it’s my day off…”
The man, who was in his early sixties and half Bruno’s size, shook his head in emphatic disagreement and made it clear he was not going anywhere.
“I’ve asked around about you,” the man explained. “I like to know who my neighbors are. You are a highly respected Detective, quite possibly the best one in the entire city. I want you to handle this.”
“He’s got you there,” Maggie whispered just loudly enough for Bruno to hear.
Bruno let go of Maggie’s hand as he slipped into his more serious professional persona.
“Fine,” Bruno relented. “What’s the crime? I’m sorry, but your name ain’t coming to mind…”
The old man smirked like this didn’t surprise him.
“My name is Edmund Kroski, Detective Bruno.”
Bruno and Maggie both understood that Kroski had added Bruno’s name to the sentence to establish that he had taken the time to get to know his neighbor, while the decorated Detective had not.
“This is Maggie McGee,” Bruno decided to turn the tables slightly by pointing out that Kroski had totally ignored Maggie’s presence to this point.
“A pleasure, Miss McGee,” Kroski replied with a nod and smile in Maggie’s direction. “I wish we were meeting under better circumstances.”
“Same here, Mr. Kroski,” Maggie answered.
Without having to be told, Maggie took a couple of steps back to allow Bruno to take care of business.
“So what’s going on?” Bruno asked, suddenly all serious.
“Someone stole Santa Claus!” Kroski yelled loud enough for Bruno to hear if he had been standing on the next block.
“Look, that ain’t gonna fall under my jurisdiction,” Bruno explained as patiently as he possibly could when all he wanted to do was explode. “I’m gonna call dispatch, and they’re gonna send an officer who can drive ya to the hospital to talk to a nice doctor. And ya can tell the doc about how Santa got kidnapped and maybe he can give ya some medicine to help ya deal with your sadness about that.”
Kroski’s face reddened and his eyes narrowed.
“I’m not a mental patient, Detective! I didn’t say that Santa Claus got kidnapped. What I’m trying to explain, to the supposedly great Detective, is that someone stole the giant inflatable Santa Claus off my front lawn!”
Maggie chuckled. She quickly covered her mouth with her hand, and took a walk off up the block so that she would not be a distraction.
Bruno wished that he could follow her, but he understood that duty called. Even though it was his day off, this guy knew where he lived and had the look of a dog that was never going to let go of this bone until the perpetrators were brought to justice and Santa Claus returned to his rightful place on the lawn.
“Ya sure it ain’t got stolen by a neighbor who didn’t take well to ya putting up your Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving was over?” Bruno challenged.
“Unlike you, Detective, I know my neighbors,” Kroski replied without hesitation. “It was probably those damn skateboard hoodlums I’m always yelling at to get off my sidewalk.”
Bruno let the comeback sink in because he knew he probably deserved that one.
“Which house is yours?” he finally asked.
“It’s the green one across the street. The one without the giant Santa Claus on the lawn!” Kroski snapped.
Maggie had by now wandered back to rejoin them. She kept her distance, but gave Bruno a questioning look. He returned it with a look that said he really didn’t have any choice.
“I don’t suppose this can wait until Monday?” Bruno took a shot in the dark.
Kroski shook his head. “My grandchildren are coming for Christmas, Detective, and they fully expect to see Santa Claus waving at them as they pull into the driveway.”
“Looks like I gotta go to work today after all,” Bruno said to no one in particular.
The smile that had so uncharacteristically crossed Bruno’s face a little earlier was nothing but a distant memory as he surveyed Kroski’s empty front yard and formulated a plan of action.
TO BE CONTINUED…
If you’re eager to read more about Bruno and Wally’s adventures before the next chapter is published, check out The Vanishing Corpse, the 22 part serial that details their first case together. That story is available exclusively on this blog!