Bruno hated wasting another day of his long holiday weekend chasing down his neighbor’s missing Christmas ornament, but he really had no other choice.
He had hoped that when he tracked down the skateboard punk in question, that would be the end of things, but as was his luck, finding that suspect had only opened a Pandora’s Box that had immediately devoured his time off.
Bruno was not the kind of Detective who ignored a hunch or took the easy way to closing a case. Yes, he had located the person who’d stolen the Santa, but it was obvious that there was much more to the crime than the random pilfering of holiday decorations.
He needed to find out more about the Astro Cowboys and the mysterious Tex, who was financing the bizarre crime spree. Since Tex was out of town until tomorrow, Bruno told Wally to knock off for the night. They’d continue their quest for justice tomorrow, and if it went beyond that, then Bruno was going to be even more unpleasant than usual.
Since he couldn’t just turn off his Detective brain once it had been charged up for a case, Bruno decided to look into something else that had been on his mind all day while chasing down the annoyingly elusive skateboard gang.
This bit of business brought him to Molly McGee’s, the bar owned by his special someone who shared the same name.
The place was always packed on a Friday night, but even more so tonight because it was the day after Thanksgiving. All the college kids were home, relatives were in town, and no one wanted to be stuck at home after the family gathering/torture session better known as Thanksgiving dinner.
Despite the crowd, Bruno was immediately recognized upon entering.
“Detective Bruno! Champ wants to wish you a happy Thanksgiving!”
Bruno could not help but grin at the sound of the familiar voice. Champ, an elderly fellow with a misshapen nose from his years as an amateur boxer, was the bar’s newest employee. When Bruno had met him, however, he’d been homeless and possessed the secret to solving the case that had brought Officer Wally Wainwright into the Detective’s life.
To thank him for his help, Bruno had helped the chess loving former pugilist collect on a reward from a feared local gang, co-signed on an apartment for him, and used his pull with the bar’s owner to secure him his first regular job in over a decade.
As a result, Champ looked up to Bruno like a god, and lit up like a kid on Christmas morning anytime he saw his boss’ boyfriend.
“How ya doing, Champ?” Bruno asked as he made his way over to his friend.
“Champ is doing amazing!” he replied excitedly. “Champ loves his new job. Champ loves his new life. Champ owes it all to Detective Bruno!”
Champ almost always spoke in the third person. No one understood why, but everyone assumed it was the result of way too many blows to the head during his time in the ring.
The old man hugged Bruno, who did nothing to resist.
“Gotta say, I ain’t never gonna get tired of hearing ya say you’re happy, my friend,” Bruno replied. “I ain’t seeing the boss around. Where’s she hiding?”
“Champ saw Maggie heading back to her office,” Champ reported. “She told Champ that all the prick head college kids were giving her a headache.”
Bruno laughed because that sounded so much like Maggie.
“Look, Champ, while I gotchya here, I gotta ask ya something,” Bruno explained as he put his arm around the man’s shoulder and led him to a somewhat quiet corner.
“Champ’s always happy to help Detective Bruno. What do you need?”
“Were ya here this morning helping Maggie unload the delivery truck?” Bruno asked.
“Sure,” Champ answered. “Champ is always happy to help Maggie whenever she needs it. Champ loves being out in the fresh air, especially the day after Thanksgiving when he badly needs to burn off all the calories he ate.”
Champ laughed and Bruno smiled.
“I know ya ain’t no doctor, but did she seem okay?”
Champ looked at Bruno in confusion. “Champ’s not sure what you’re asking.”
Bruno leaned in to be better heard over the din of the packed bar.
“Did she seem outta it? Maybe a little hungover?”
Champ shook his head. Bruno felt foolish, but he really cared about Maggie, so he felt he had no choice, but to press the point.
“She say something about seeing a ghost?”
Champ’s eyes widened.
“Ghost?” he asked. “She didn’t say anything to Champ about a ghost. Champ sure hopes there aren’t any ghosts because he lost a lot of friends during his time on the streets. Champ doesn’t want any of them coming back to haunt him just because he finally found a home and a job…”
“Ya ain’t got nothing to worry about, Champ,” Bruno assured him with a pat on the shoulder. “Irish ghosts are only looking for a good bar because they ain’t got them in Heaven. They ain’t gonna mess with a big time boxer like you!”
“Champ is relieved to hear that,” he confessed. “Champ is too old to deal with the supernatural.”
“I hear ya, buddy,” Bruno agreed. “I’m gonna go find your boss. Try to keep outta trouble.”
Champ cackled and shook Bruno’s hand.
“Champ would love to get together for a chess match,” the old man said as he pumped Bruno’s hand.
“I’d love that,” Bruno admitted. “We gotta make that happen real soon.”
Champ smiled with glee and then disappeared into the throng of bar patrons.
Maggie’s office was in the back of the bar. There wasn’t much to it: just a small, battered desk, a rusted filing cabinet, and a neon clock on the wall bearing the logo of some beer that had long gone out of business.
There wasn’t even a chair for guests because Maggie did not want to encourage visitors to disrupt what little time she spent in the cramped room.
Bruno leaned against the door frame and watched her enter something into the ancient ledger that she used to keep the bar’s books. Maggie had never been a fan of computers, and she certainly wasn’t going to waste money on one at this point.
“Hey, Beautiful,” he finally decided to interrupt her work.
Maggie looked up with a bright smile that lit up her beautiful face.
“What are you doing here, Handsome?” she asked as she waved him into the room.
He quickly crossed the small distance to her desk and bent down for a kiss.
“Someone told me ya needed a computer installed, so I time traveled back here to the 1980s to grab ya and drag ya into the modern age.”
Maggie chuckled and slapped him playfully on the arm.
“Chip, you’re such a smart ass,” she purred in her melodic brogue. “Really, though, what brings you by? I know you hate hanging around the bar when it’s this packed.”
“I ain’t happy that I hadda bail on my promise of a long weekend, so I thought I’d surprise ya,” he explained as he stood awkwardly in front of the desk because there was no chair.
“’It wasn’t your fault, though,” she assured him. “Duty called and we certainly can’t have a year without a Santa Claus.”
Maggie laughed, and Bruno had no choice but to do the same. Her laughter was infectious, and led to about ninety percent of the laughing Bruno did in any given week.
“Did you find Santa and close the case?” she asked as she closed the ledger, and then locked it away in the top drawer of the filling cabinet.
“My cases ain’t never that easy,” he reminded her. “Not even the ones that dumped in my lap by grumpy old neighbors.”
“Sounds like another orphan followed you home,” she pointed out with a wink.
An orphan was the nickname Bruno had taken to giving to the cases that no one else wanted, and somehow magically turned up on his desk.
“Ain’t that exactly what I need in my life right now?” he chuckled. “Hey, you ain’t ever heard of a gang called the Astro Cowboys, have ya?”
Bruno had first met Maggie when she’d agreed to be his Confidential Informant. Very little went on in the neighborhood that Maggie didn’t know about, and her customers loved to fill in the details about anything she’d missed once they had a few drinks in them.
She shook her head to this one, though. “Not ringing a bell. Is it related to your case?”
“I think so, but I ain’t exactly dealing with the most reliable witness,” he explained. “Not only was he a bit shady, but he kinda mighta suffered a head injury in the course of Wally’s pursuit.”
Maggie cringed at the thought of that. “Wally has to remember that he’s not on the pitch anymore, and that suspects aren’t wearing helmets and shoulder pads.”
Bruno chuckled. “It ain’t called the pitch in our version of football, my dear.”
“There’s only one version of football, Chip, and what your American brutes play is not it.”
“Noted,” he remarked with an eye roll just like he usually did when they got into any sort of debate about football versus soccer.
“I’ll ask around, though,” she promised. “I take it this means you’ll be working through the weekend?”
Bruno sighed because all he wanted to do was spend time with Maggie, and not let the orphans dominate his attention just for a few peaceful days.
“Looks like I ain’t got no time off until Santa Claus finally comes home,” he replied glumly.
“Let’s go find Champ,” Maggie suggested. “If anyone can turn that frown upside down, it’s your number one fan…”
TO BE CONTINUED…