BY: MAURO AZZANO
A phone call in the middle of the night sends a police officer on one of the most perplexing cases of his career.
Detective Sergeant Ian McBriar is called to investigate a death that seems to have no motive and an obvious suspect that has no alibi. And the deeper he goes, the darker the trail of death becomes.
Set against the backdrop of 1974 Toronto, Ian must also prove his love to the woman he has come to care about and to her son who has come to look on him as a father.
Death Works at Night is the second exciting installment in the Ian McBriar Murder Mystery series, the story of a Metis police detective who conquered bigotry, prejudice, and his own personal tragedies to succeed.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Death Works at Night by Mauro Azzaon, Detective Sergeant Ian McBriar is trying to solve a murder. He doesn’t think the girlfriend did, but she’s the most logical suspect, especially when the bodies start racking up and she’s been either married to or living with most of them. But she has no motive, or at least none that Ian can find.
Death Works at Night is the second book in the Ian McBriar Murder Mystery series, and like its predecessor, it’s a fast-paced, hard-hitting, police-procedural mystery with a strong plot and some surprising twists and turns. And a lot of clues that don’t make sense until the end. Just my kind of book.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Death Works at Night by Mauro Azzano is a follow-up story to Azzano’s first book, The Dead Don’t Dream. We get reunited with the characters we met in the first book and get to meet some fun new characters as well. There were a few things that I wondered if I would have understood if I hadn’t read the first book, but overall, it’s an excellent effort by this talented author.
Azzano’s characters are well-developed and three-dimensional, and the plot is intriguing. Death Works at Night is a fast-paced page turner that will keep you guessing right until the end. There’s a lot of little things you’ll miss if you don’t read it carefully, so you’ll want to put it on your shelf to read over again.
It’s a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon; my brother and I walk to the movie theater where our mother works. The marquee out front reads High Noon ends Tues. Below that a poster in the ticket window reads Coming Wed. — The Quiet Man.
Our mother, in her beige uniform with red piping and a red pillbox hat, smiles her smile, takes us into the theater and sits us up front. The Maple Leaf Theatre is only half full, and the owner lets us in for free when there are empty seats. He likes mom, and letting us in keeps her happy.
The theater goes dark. A distant sound–like a playing card on a bicycle spoke–emanates from the projection room. The screen lights up. After the cartoon we will finally see the western everyone in town is talking about.
A bell rings in the lobby behind me. It rings again, insistent. Before I can turn back to look, Karen’s voice comes over the theater’s speakers.
“Hello?” she says. “Yeah, he’s here, hang on a sec. It’s for you. Ian. Ian, wake up, it’s for you.”
I sat up.
Karen handed me the phone and slid back down under the warm sheets.
“Hello?” I wheezed, still half asleep. I listened to the man at the other end of the phone, trying to focus on what he was saying. I nodded, forgetting that he couldn’t see me nod.
“Fine,” I mumbled. “I’ll be out front in ten.”
I crawled out of bed and shuffled, shivering in the cold air, to the clothes I laid out over a chair for just these calls.
I put my suit on, clipped my tie onto my shirt collar, and combed my hair. Karen lifted her head and squinted at me.
“Everything okay?” she whispered.
“We have a dead body, that’s all,” I whispered back. “Go back to sleep, hon.” I kissed her nose.
“What time is it?” she mumbled.
I squinted at the clock radio. “Three thirty.”
“Will you be long?”
“I don’t think so. I should be back in time for breakfast.”
I tugged the covers up under her chin and kissed her cheek.
“Get some sleep. I’ll tell you all about it in the morning.”
I drank a glass of milk, stepped out my front door, and locked it behind me.
On the sidewalk, a young man in a pale gray suit paced beside a navy Dodge Polara, puffing frantically on a Craven A. I walked down my porch steps and nodded. He opened the passenger door, tossed the lit butt onto the sidewalk, and balanced on the toe of a shiny black shoe, crushing the cigarette to a powder.
I rubbed my eyes involuntarily. “Hey, Walsh. What do we have tonight?”
He smiled and walked around, sliding behind the wheel. I got in the passenger side.
He started the engine and pulled out onto the street. “A dead guy in Leaside, boss. Woman says she came home from work and found her common-law husband dead.”
“Do we have a cause of death?” I asked, rubbing my face, trying to wake up.
Walsh smiled and glanced over at me. “We think it may have something to do with the knife sticking out of his back.”
Despite myself, I laughed at the statement. “Something to start with, then. Any witnesses?” I was wide awake now and thinking clearly.
He nodded. “Yeah, we’re talking to them now.”
Walsh glanced left and drove briskly north to Eglinton Avenue, turned right onto Bayview, and left at a street called McRae. There were almost no cars on the roads, and we made good time.
The skinny police tires made a hissing sound as they crossed streetcar tracks and chirped when he turned over white road paint. Walsh looked around constantly, watching for cross traffic.
Leaside was a working class, residential neighborhood. Old Toronto ended right here and, to the north, new homes–ostentatious houses and oversized ranch-styles–claimed their space on the map.
To the south, toward downtown, apartments were smaller, buildings were taller and the roads less inviting, feeling more like a path out of town than a part of the neighborhood.
Walsh drove too fast, his youth and his impatience evident in his driving style.
He screeched right onto Millwood, a curving, quiet street with clusters of small, low apartments separated by the occasional single house. This was not the kind of street you’d expect to generate a murder. Then again, in this job I’d come to expect almost anything. We turned left onto a street named Airdrie Road and stopped behind a yellow cruiser, its emergency flashers warning passersby that a crime had been committed. Two uniforms on the sidewalk were setting out sawhorses and caution tape, blocking off the entrance to a three-story walkup.
A black Ford station wagon, the coroner’s car, sat across the street, almost invisible in the dark.
Back on the sidewalk, a handful of people milled around, shivering in bathrobes and sweat suits.
Walsh led me past them, up the front steps, through the small lobby, and up a zigzag stairway to the second floor. A third uniform stood outside an open apartment door. The door’s latch was shredded, as was its doorjamb.
The uniform nodded in recognition.
“Hey, Ian.” He smiled. “Constable Walsh.” He frowned.
Walsh shrugged. The uniform crooked a finger at me and pointed carefully at the broken latch and the deadbolt, intact, above it. I looked for a moment, comprehending his meaning, and grinned.
“Got it. Thanks, Perry,” I said.
Walsh looked at me, puzzled. “What’d I miss?” he asked, curious.
I thought for a second. “Tell you later.” I wanted him to work for the answer.
I followed Walsh into a small one-bedroom apartment. It reeked of stale cigarettes, burnt steak, and beer. I got out my Moleskine book and started making notes.
A pair of constables held measuring tapes and numbered cards for the photographer, standing around a dead man like construction workers around a hole.
In the bedroom, a female constable was crouched beside a small, painfully thin woman with short, teased blonde hair and a sleeveless shirt hanging over worn jeans. She looked about thirty-five, with thick makeup and smeared mascara tracing the creases around her eyes.
She seemed to be in shock. She sat on the bed, hugging her knees, her head down.
The officer asked soothing questions, trying to comfort her, but the woman only grunted short answers.
I walked past the bedroom to the coroner, who was leaning over a small dining table. He was looking at a crumpled body on the floor–a man in a rough plaid shirt and white pants, lying in a small pool of blood.
The man was curled up in the fetal position; he could have been asleep except for a green-handled dinner knife sticking straight up out of the right side of his back, behind his arm. I knelt down and spoke softly, as if loud voices might wake the corpse. “Doc, how’s it going?”
“I’m fine, Ian,” he said, also softly. “Better than our friend, here. Single stab wound. We’ll know more later, though.”
I nodded and said a quiet “Hail Mary” for the dead man’s soul, then I walked back to the bedroom. Walsh followed. The female officer met us at the doorway.
I smiled. “Hey, Eve.”
“Sergeant McBriar.” She nodded. “The woman’s name is Rhonda Clark. The victim is her boyfriend, Ed Hereford. She says she got home from work, the door was kicked in, and she found him like this. She called us right away and claims she didn’t touch anything, claims she doesn’t know who could have done this. There are a few signs of a struggle–a chair knocked over and a broken vase. She wrinkled her nose. “But something smells funny, Ian.”
I smiled. “You don’t buy it, huh?”
She shook her head. “Something’s fishy. This doesn’t feel right.”
“Did either of them give us any trouble before this?” I asked.
“Neighbors say they fought a lot–they drank. They lived together, but they weren’t married.”
Walsh snickered. “More of that going around,” he joked.
I glared at him. He shrank back, embarrassed at the blunder.
“Thanks, Eve.” I said. “Get the witness details and go home.” I motioned Walsh to follow me into the hall. He trailed me like a moping puppy. I poked my pen into his chest and stared at him. “Listen,” I hissed quietly. “You comment on my private life in public again and I will break your jaw. Am I clear?”
Walsh nodded sheepishly and looked up at me. “Sorry. Won’t happen again, Ian.”
“Detective Sergeant McBriar,” I snapped.
“Detective Sergeant McBriar,” he repeated meekly.
I went back into the apartment bedroom and squatted beside the blonde woman.
“Hi. You’re Rhonda?” I asked softly. “I’m so sorry for your loss. Can I help you at all?”
She shrugged her shoulders and looked up at me with sad eyes. “I don’t know what I’ll do. I loved Ed. He was my best friend. I miss him already.”
I made notes, quietly nodding as she spoke. She looked up at me. “What happened?” I asked. “When you got home, what did you see?”
She looked around at the apartment, what little she could see from the bedroom. She poked her chin at the front door.
“I got home and the door was like that,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“I called out to Ed, but there was no answer. So I got Annie to come in with me. That’s when we found him like this.” She looked up at me again.
“Who’s Annie?” I asked quietly.
“Annie Ross–my next-door neighbor.”
“You called us right away?” I asked, confirming her statement.
“Was anything missing, anything taken, out of place?” I asked, trying to sound concerned.
She shook her head. “Me and Annie looked to see if anything was gone. We didn’t find nothing.” There was a definite maritime accent that I picked up in her speech.
“Do you have somewhere to go? Anyone you can live with for a while?”
She seemed surprised by the question. Her face flushed. “Why can’t I stay here? It’s my place, after all,” she snapped.
I shook my head. “Sorry, but we’ll be here for the next few days. You might accidentally disturb something that will tell us who did this.”
She looked around the bedroom nervously, thoughtful. “What if I just sleep in here, and stay out of the living room?” she asked, hopefully.
I shook my head again and smiled a consoling smile. “Rhonda, our forensic team needs to do their work. Trust me, they’ll find out who did this to Ed. They always find things people don’t realize they left behind. That’s what they do.”
Her eyes shot to the kitchen, and she stared at the sink for a minute before looking back in my direction. She leaned her head back, staring at me. “When you find the guy who did this, what will happen to him?” she asked.
“Why do you say it’s a guy?”
“Just figured. I sure couldn’t ’a kicked in the door.”
It sounded too shifty, like an evasion. I nodded, making mental notes, and smiled softly at her. “Why were you coming home so late, Rhonda?”
“I work late,” she said, “Cleaning offices. I work the six p.m.-to-two a.m. shift.”
“Where do you work?” I asked warmly.
“Them new buildings up on Don Mills–IBM, Kodak, and all them.”
“Do you take the bus home after work, or do you drive?”
“Nah, I don’t drive. I get a ride home most nights.”
“So Ed would usually drive you home?”
“No, Ed was a baker. He started work ten at night.”
“He wasn’t working last night, though, was he?” I pointed out.
She paused and looked away. “Yeah, shouldn’t’ve been home.”
I had hold of something tangible now, I felt, and moved gently forward.
“Who drove you home tonight, Rhonda?”
She stared at me for a long time. “Gustavo. Mr. De Melo, my boss.” She seemed hesitant to give up the information.
“Did he come up here with you?” I asked, firmly.
“No,” she lied.
I could hear it clear as a bell.
“Does he often drive you home?”
“Sometimes. He drives right past here to go home.”
Also a lie; I could hear that in her voice. Her eyes darted around nervously.
“Where is Mr. De Melo now–at home?” I persisted.
“No, he’s going away on vacation today.”
“When exactly is he leaving, do you know?”
“No, I don’t know.” She sounded unsure of her answer.
I wanted her to stew for a while, so I excused myself and joined the two uniforms by the body.
One nodded to me. He leaned close beside me, whispering so I could barely hear. “Figure she did it?” he asked.
“Uh-huh. Not solo, though,” I mumbled.
“You think the boyfriend caught her with the boss?”
“Smells like.” I frowned. “Where’s the cutlery?”
The uniform pointed to a drawer under the kitchen counter and pulled it open with a pencil.
Inside were a dozen or so assorted spoons, forks and knives, scattered loosely and mixed in with a dirty can opener and a few odd cooking utensils. The cutlery was all green-handled, like the knife in the dead man. This was an open-and shut case, I thought. Should I tell her what I think happened, or let her sweat? I decided to let her sweat. I wanted to find her accomplice. I just knew she had one.
Walsh was taking witness statements from the neighbors. Most of them were in the hall by now, talking casually, swapping stories about other gruesome sights they’d seen.
I asked him to point out Annie, the one who’d found the body with Rhonda.
Annie was a pear-shaped woman in her sixties, who waddled like a duck when she walked. She was wrapped in an Indian-blanket bathrobe, which came to her knees, and clutched a discolored mug filled with some kind of soup.
Looking at her, I doubted she could have kicked her slippers off, much less kick hard enough to break the door.
“Hi, Annie. I’m Detective Sergeant McBriar,” I said. “You came in here with Rhonda earlier, is that right?”
Annie nodded. “Yeah.” Her voice was like a rusty gate.
“Can you remember how long it was from when Rhonda knocked on your door to when you called us?”
She shook her head. “I don’t remember, actually,” she creaked. “It wasn’t long, though, I don’t think.”
“Is Rhonda a close friend of yours?” I asked.
“No, I barely know her. I figure she knocked ’cause she knew I was awake.”
“How would she know that?”
“You can hear inside the apartments from the hall. I guess she heard me walking around.”
I smiled politely. “Are you usually up at this time of night?”
She wrinkled her face, insulted. “I got a day job. I got woke up by the noise next door. Rhonda knocked after I heard the noise.”
“There was a disturbance at Rhonda’s before she came to get you?” I asked. It confirmed my suspicions.
Annie nodded. “I heard yelling and screaming, then it went quiet. But by then I was wide awake.”
“How soon after that did Rhonda knock on your door?”
“I dunno. Not long, ten minutes, maybe.”
“Roughly what time did she come to your door?”
“About a quarter to three, I guess. Yeah, I’d say about a quarter of three.”
I thanked her and went back to Rhonda’s apartment. The neighbors had all gone home, some trying to get to sleep, others resolving to get an extra early start on the day, along with juicy gossip for the water cooler, I guessed. The female officer waved me over.
“Rhonda has a cousin named Paulette up in Richmond Hill, who might take her in for a few days,” she said
We called Rhonda’s cousin. She agreed immediately to put her up so I got a uniform to drive her, with instructions to note the address and a description of the cousin.
The female officer helped her pack, making certain that no evidence was taken, and walked Rhonda out, shielding her from seeing the dead man.
I looked at my watch. Five-fifteen. I wrote this in my Moleskine notebook: 5:15 a.m., Tuesday, September 24, 1974.
The photographer left, the coroner took the dead man away, and the uniforms prepared to seal up the apartment.
Walsh, wanting to make amends, came meekly up to me. “Sergeant,” he started. “Why did you suspect her right away?”
“She referred to him in the past tense,” I explained. “Usually, when we break the news that a loved one is dead, people still refer to them in the present tense. ‘Ed is a great guy,’ or ‘I love my Wilfred,’ or ‘John wants dinner on the table every night at six.’ They only use the past tense if they already knew the victim was in the past tense, already dead.”
Walsh nodded at that. He thought for a moment and frowned. “What did you see at the front door?”
I smiled and walked him to the broken doorjamb. “Look.” I pointed. “The door latch is broken, but there’s a deadbolt above it that isn’t. It must have been unlocked when the door was kicked in. Why would you bother kicking in the door if it wasn’t even locked?”
He frowned and stared at the door, trying to come up with a plausible explanation. “Maybe the killer wanted to get in and just kicked the door without checking if it was open?”
I shook my head. “You’re coming here to kill someone: why would you kick in a door instead of trying it first? You’d lose the element of surprise if you kicked it more than once. Also, if you kick the door in, you’re not paying a social visit. And if you came here intending to stab somebody, wouldn’t you bring your own knife? Why trust that your victim would have something right at hand that you could use? Finally, if you came over and then decided to kill him, why kick in the door?”
Walsh watched me explain it, fascinated, then shook his head slowly and sighed. “You think they kicked in the door after they killed him to cover up their motive?” I nodded. “Jesus,” he mumbled. “They don’t teach you everything at the Academy, do they?” He looked up at me, his curly strawberry-blond hair and freckles making him look like a young Robert Redford. “You’re very good at this, aren’t you, Sergeant McBriar?”
I smiled. I was sure he didn’t realize what a real compliment he’d paid me. “Call me Ian.” I grinned. “Unless you piss me off again,” I added.
“Thanks, sir.” He grinned back. “Ian.”
t six in the morning, he dropped me back at home, chirping the tires as he sped off up the street.
I opened my front door and crept quietly into the kitchen. Karen came around the corner from the bedroom, wearing flannel pajamas, and wrapped her arms around me.
“Morning, sweetheart,” I whispered. I kissed her nose.
She looked up, worried. “Hey you. Are you okay?”
I nodded. “Woman killed her live-in, we think. I don’t know who helped her, but I’m pretty sure we’ll find out soon.”
“Why did she kill him?” Karen asked.
I frowned. “He didn’t make her breakfast. Let’s make sure I’m not next.”
Karen smirked. “Nut. I’ll take you up on that, anyway.”
We talked, eating and sipping coffee, for the next hour.
Karen showered and dressed then got Ethan up and dressed for school. I made him breakfast, packed his lunch, and got him ready for his day.
“Do you need anything else, sport?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Can you make my friend Alan some lunch, too?” he said. “He likes my lunches.”
“What does he bring for lunch?” I asked, amused.
Ethan shrugged. “He doesn’t have lunch,” he said simply.
“Doesn’t he get hungry?” I asked stupidly.
Ethan nodded. “That’s why he eats some of my lunch.”
I stared at him for a minute. “Okay,” I said. “I’m walking you to school today.”
Karen kissed us goodbye and left just before eight, her Beetle whistling down the street, the engine sound fading as she turned the corner.
I unloaded my gun and left it in my dresser, then I walked Ethan across the street to his school.
Three hundred children raced into the building at eight-thirty. I stood in the middle of the hall like a rock in a river, with a stream of young heads rushing past me at waist height.
Ethan waved at one, a thin young boy his age who stopped in front of us. “Hey, Alan,” he squealed.
The other boy looked at me, the way I’ve seen suspects look at me.
“Hi,” he mumbled.
Ethan tugged my arm and giggled. “This is my pops. He makes my lunch.”
I squatted down to child height. “Hi, Alan.” I smiled. “I hear that you don’t bring lunch with you?”
He shrank back, as though I’d discovered a terrible secret.
“It’s okay.” I smiled. “I just want to know if I can help. Do you have any brothers and sisters?”
He shook his head. “No,” he chirped.
“Does your mom work?”
He nodded, slowly.
“Is she home now? Do you live near here?” I asked.
The boy shrugged.
I got his address. He wasn’t sure what street number the house was, but it was just around the corner, and he lived on the ground floor. He described the truck owned by the family upstairs, then he and Ethan ran off to class. I sighed and debated, briefly whether I should meddle in this boy’s home life.
Of course, I should.
I walked around the corner, knocked at a door by the garage, and waited for an answer. I heard movement on the other side of the door, but nobody came to open it. I knocked again, more insistent.
A shadow moved over the frosted window in the door and stayed there.
“Hello?” I called. “I’m looking for Alan’s mom.”
The lock clicked loudly and the door swung open. Inside, a woman stepped out of the dark and faced me.
She was very attractive, dressed in a maid’s smock with a big purse slung over one shoulder. She looked like Ava Gardner, I thought, but with flaming red hair. She was curvy, with an hourglass figure and a bosom that strained at her buttons.
My eyes opened wide despite myself. I smiled. “Hi, my name is Ian McBriar,” I stated. I stretched out my hand.
She looked behind me, ignoring my hand. “Is Alan all right? He isn’t hurt or anything, is he?”
I shook my head. “Don’t worry, ma’am, no, he’s fine. I’m concerned about him, though. Our boy, Ethan, mentioned that he doesn’t bring lunch with him to school. Is there a problem?”
She glowered at me, indignant. “I need to get to work. I’m sorry, but I can’t talk. I have to be at work in half an hour.”
“Would you like a ride? I don’t mind. We can talk as I drive you,” I offered.
A split second later, it sounded like a bad idea. I suddenly hoped she’d say no.
She looked at me warily. “How do I know you’re not some just kind of creep?” she asked.
I pulled out my ID and showed it to her. I waited as she read it, slowly. “I’m a police officer. As I said, I’d just like to talk to you about Alan, that’s all.” I shrugged.
She waited outside on the curb while I drove up in the Fury, and I opened the door to let her in the passenger side. She gawked at the radio and the magnetic gumball–it proved that I really was a cop, after all.
“So what kind of policeman are you?” she asked curiously.
“I’m a Detective Sergeant in homicide. Can I ask why Alan doesn’t bring lunch to school?”
She looked at her white tennis shoes and sighed. “Times are tough. I barely make ends meet. Sometimes I don’t have time to make lunch.”
She played with a ring, spinning it around on her finger.
“Does your husband work?” I asked.
She sneered. “No. He’s been in jail for two years. Bastard did nothing for us, anyway.”
“Where are we going?” I asked, pulling out onto the street.
She sighed. “I work at the Holiday Inn up by highway 401, in housekeeping.”
“Do you enjoy your job?” I asked.
She smiled sadly. “Not bad. Lets me do my own thing. I just wish it paid better.”
“Look.” I sighed. “Alan seems like a nice kid. I just want to make sure he’s okay. Would you mind if I made lunch for him too when I make Ethan’s?”
“You make his lunch?”
She said it as though I was just bragging.
I shrugged. “Usually, yes.”
She stared at me, calculating something. “You married, mister?” she asked, grinning.
“Working on it. Why?”
“You’re not just trying to get into my pants, right?”
I blushed a deep red and grinned. She laughed out loud.
“I’m only trying to help out Ethan’s friend, ma’am,” I said. “That’s all.”
“Vivian,” she purred.
I nodded. “Vivian.”
We drove on, not speaking for a minute. Finally, at a light, she looked up at me. “Look, if you want to give Alan lunch, that’s fine with me. I appreciate the help. Lord knows, I need all I can get.”
“Great.” I stopped at the back door of the hotel. “Ethan will like that, too. Anything in particular he likes, any allergies or dietary restrictions?”
She laughed a husky laugh. I got a warm rush hearing it, and that made me feel somehow guilty. “You sound like a doctor,” she chortled. “No, he’ll eat anything.”
She opened the door and slid out. She leaned back in, bending deeply to retrieve her purse. Instinctively, I glanced at her cleavage. I could see down her smock, past her bra to her navel.
She grinned as my eyes met hers and wagged a finger at me. “Naughty.”
I shrugged sheepishly and watched her walk gracefully away. No matter how hard I tried to forget it, the image of her round, pale breasts and wiggling hips stayed with me all day.
© 2013 by Mauro Azzano