BY: HAROL MARSHALL
A dead body, identified as Lenny Spinoli, washes up on Dockweiler Beach in Southern California. Spinoli was last seen on Santa Catalina Island, leaving on a fishing trip with his friend, Ricky Martin. When Ricky goes missing, his realtor wife hires Hollywood PI Polly Berger to find him. Meanwhile, Polly’s firm has been hired to tail the wife of a big-time Hollywood director of zombie movies, who claims his wife is cheating on him. Within days, the director’s wife dies of a purported suicide. Polly suspects the director of murdering his wife, but how can she prove it? And as she digs for clues to the whereabouts of Ricky Martin, the FBI horns in, demanding that she help with their investigation. But will they return the favor, or are they just using her as bait?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Case of the Missing Mobster by Harol Marshall, a body of a man shows up on the beach in Southern California. The dead man is identified as Lenny Spinoli, who was heading out for a fishing trip with his friend Ricky Martin, who is missing. Did Ricky kill Lenny, or is he dead too? And if he is not dead, where is he? This is the question Ricky’s wife wants PI Polly Bergin to answer. But no sooner does Polly start investigating than the FBI shows up asking for her help on the same case. She doesn’t trust them—after all, she is just a small-time PI, so why would they want her help?—but what can she do?
Fast paced, intense, and intriguing, this is a story that will grab you by the throat from the very first page and hold on tight all the way through.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Case of the Missing Mobster by Harol Marshall is the story of an LA private investigator, Polly Bergin. As the story opens, a man in New York, named Lenny Spinoli, gets a call from his brother who delivers a message to Lenny from a mobster. Some time later, Lenny’s body washes up on the beach in California. Lenny was last seen with his friend, big-time LA realtor, Ricky Martin, who is now missing. Martin’s wife, Sally, hires Polly to find her husband and prove he did not kill Lenny. As Polly begins to investigate, she calls her cop ex-husband, Johnny, who tells her that the feds have taken over the case and he has been told to stay out of it. He tells Polly to stay out of it too. Then she gets a visit from the FBI who, to her surprise, don’t want her to stay out of it but to help them solve the case. Knowing they don’t really need her help, she doesn’t trust them, but how can she refuse?
Marshall has crafted an intriguing and enthralling tale, combing mystery, suspense, and superb character development to make The Case of the Missing Mobster one you won’t be able to put down.
Coxsackie, New York:
Lenny Spinoli was a dead man, thanks to unfinished business from his sordid past. Two questions danced in his head—not the why, but the how and when. If he could eliminate one of those two uncertainties, maybe he could beat the rap. After all, he was smarter and better educated than the mobster who put a price on his head. And he had a heart. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be in this bind, a predicament he’d thought about a hundred times, wondering how he’d feel, how he’d handle himself when the devil came calling. Now he knew.
He’d have quit on his own if quitting had been an option, but that was not how things worked. You didn’t quit the Mob. The Mob quit you. Like it or not, signing up amounted to a life sentence, a message drilled home to him when his brother Mickey phoned.
Lenny failed to put two and two together in the beginning. Figured the call was another effort to keep Mickey in their clutches. Mickey, who’d been walking the straight and narrow for twenty-five years. Hadn’t thought about the life, hadn’t missed it. Married a nice lady, had two kids, opened his own bakery in downtown Coxsackie. Lived well. Mickey was happy and Lenny was happy for him.
Lenny turned off the burner under his pasta when his cell phone chirped. Caller ID read Anita Spinoli. His sister-in-law. She never called him. Had something happened to Mickey?
“Nita. Somethin’ wrong?”
“It’s me, Mickey,” his brother said.
Must have forgotten to charge his phone. Not like him.
“What’s up, Bro?”
“Jeez, Lenny, I got a real scare today.”
Mickey’s voice shook, like he might be standing on one of those phony weight loss machines with the vibrating belt that jiggled your middle. Lenny wondered how anyone lost weight on those things. Maybe the shaking action liquefied your stomach contents so the food ran right through you instead of absorbing into your intestines. Only way he could see the thing might work, not that he ever used one. Losing weight wasn’t a problem for Lenny. He worried the pounds off.
“What happened? You in trouble?”
“Not now, Len. It’s over, but I tell ya, I thought I’d seen the last of this world today. All for doin’ a friend a favor.”
Lenny sighed, drained the pasta, and dumped it into his red clam sauce. His mouth watered at the sight, but he turned his attention back to his brother. He had a pretty good idea what this was about. “Who’s the friend and what was the favor?”
“See, Father Moretti was in the bakery picking up his weekly order of cannoli. He likes the ones with pistachios in the cream, which is my favorite too.”
“Father Moretti’s the friend?”
“No. He happened to be in the bakery when Eddie Dagostino comes in. Tells Father the cannoli are gonna make him fat. But Father says these are Holy Cannoli. Once he blesses them, they’re no longer sinful. So, we all have a laugh about that. Then after Father leaves, Eddie tells me he has a problem.”
I knew it, Lenny thought, stirring the pasta and stifling a sigh. “What kinda problem?”
“With his kid. Kid’s got no brains. Doesn’t know his butt from his elbow, but he got lucky.”
“If he’s so lucky what’s the problem?”
“Kid’s lucky his father called on me, that’s what. Problem is, his father called on me.”
“What’d the kid do?”
“I don’t ask. I’m guessin’ he screwed up a drug deal. Bottom line, some jerk downstate stiffed the kid. Owed him a lot of money and wouldn’t pay up.”
“So, what’s this got to do with you?”
“Eddie didn’t want his kid handling the problem alone. Asked if I’d accompany him when the kid went to collect the money.”
“Why you? Eddie’s got plenty of friends in the business. Collecting is what they do.”
“That’s the point. The deadbeat’s connected. Eddie didn’t wanna start a war or nothin’ so he needed somebody clean. Like me.”
“Let me guess. You were smart enough to turn him down, then he sent somebody to your place today to convince you otherwise, especially since you know he knows where your kids live.”
“No. I told him I’d do it.”
Lenny exhaled slowly, unsure what his brother expected him to say. Unsure what to say himself. A quarter of a century his brother had kept his nose clean. Started his own business. Worked hard, put two kids through college. Son earned an MBA and worked as an accountant, his daughter taught school. Mickey had a lot to lose saying yes to Eddie. More to lose saying no. That’s the business for you. Always squeezing their own.
“Guess you didn’t have a choice.”
“So, what happened?”
“Me and the kid, we drive down to Brooklyn yesterday morning.”
“You kiddin’ me?”
“The SOB talks tough. Says if we don’t get out of his territory, meaning the City, we’re dead meat. You know the routine.”
Lenny nodded like they were on video chat. “Then what?”
“I put a gun to the creep’s head, and he saw the light. Handed over the money and we split. Kid’s happy, Eddie’s happy, I’m happy.”
“Until today. I close up the bakery and head out to my car with the last of the cannoli. Black SUV’s parked next to mine. Inside are three guys I never seen before. One of ’em gets out and tells me to get in. I say, ‘hold on a sec, gotta run back in the bakery and take a leak,’ but the guy opens the back door and tells me, ‘you ain’t goin’ nowhere except with us. Get in.’” Mickey paused. Lenny could sense his distress. “Guess he knew if I went back in the bakery I’d come out carryin’ heat. Anyway, right then, I think to myself this is it, my last day on the face of this good earth. Honest Lenny, tears came to my eyes when I thought of Nita and the kids. I couldn’t move, stood there like a freakin’ statue. I’m tellin’ ya, if I was captured by ISIS, I couldn’t o’ been more scared.”
“Where’d they take you?”
“Coxsackie Mall. Back of the parking lot I see this black limo. Thing looked like a hearse, which didn’t make me feel too good. Alls I can think is, how they gonna do this? Shoot me? Slit my throat and dump my body in the river?”
“Stop draggin’ out the suspense.”
“Just paintin’ a picture so’s you know why I’m so upset. I puked my guts out when I got home. Couldn’t settle down enough to call you. Told Nita I had a stomach bug.”
“Okay. Calm down, and tell me what happened.”
“We pull up beside the limo and stop. The back door opens up. I wait for somebody to get out, but instead, the goon in the seat in front of me turns around and tells me to get out and climb in the limo.”
Lenny was running out of patience. Mickey was the worst storyteller ever. Had to include every detail, no matter how insignificant. Drove his kids crazy. Every time he started another story, they’d wave their hands in circles telling him to speed it up. Lenny glanced down at his right hand drawing the same circles. He wondered how long this story would go on, and if in the end it was even worth listening to, but when it’s flesh and blood you do what you gotta do.
He sighed audibly, a hint for his brother to get on with it. “Since you’re on the phone talkin’ to me about this, I take it nobody bumped you off, so what’s got you so agitated? They threaten you, have another job for you? And who was in the limo, anyway?”
“One question at a time. I’m still shook up. Remember, this just happened to me. I ain’t recovered yet.”
“You tell Nita about it?”
“Of course not. I’ve never told her nothin’ about the life. You know that. She’d leave me in a heartbeat. Couldn’t deal with it. The kids neither. You’re the only person I can talk to, Lenny, and sometimes I just have to vent, you know?”
“I know. Go ahead and finish your story, but I haven’t got all day. I got things to do.”
“So, my knees are quaking, I almost break my neck climbin’ outta the SUV, but I make it without fallin’ on my face. When I slide into the backseat of the limo, I see Eddie sittin’ up front. He turns around, introduces me to the guy next to me, and sez, ‘sorry about this,’ and I think to myself, you little punk. I do you a favor and now you’re gonna have me wacked? But it wasn’t like that.” Mickey hesitated. Lenny could hear him catching his breath again. “Guess who he introduces me to? I’ll give you a hint. The limo had Connecticut plates.”
Lenny didn’t need a hint. He’d once worked with the Connecticut mob. They ran Coxsackie, so he guessed they sent a mid-level capo to town, maybe to put the fear of God into Mickey, or maybe sign him on for more work since he’d done such a good job, suck him back into the business now they had something to hold over his head.
“Sounds like your New York deadbeat was not just connected,” Lenny said, “but well-connected. I don’t suppose you looked into his background before you took the job, try to find out if maybe he was the son of somebody high up in the organization, a little higher up than Eddie, say?”
“Didn’t have time. What’s your guess? Who was in the limo?”
“Look, I don’t have time for games, but I’ll play because you’re my brother. Easy. Some bone-breaker with a vowel at the end of his name.”
“Wrong on both counts. The Big Boss himself.”
“Jeez, Marie. What did he say?”
“Asked me about ‘that thing.’ I said, ‘what thing?’”
“Not the smartest answer.”
“I know. He says, ‘that thing this weekend in the City.’ I shrug and tell him I was doin’ a friend a favor, like I’d do for any of my friends if one of their kids was in trouble.”
“Hell no. He asks me a coupla more questions, then he says, ‘You dig up your gun?’”
“He asked that,” Lenny said, “’cause it’s an important question.”
“I know and I tell him the truth. I tell Pauly, ‘No. I been straight for twenty-five years. This is the first time somethin’ came up. It had nothin’ to do with the business.’ I say, ‘Eddie’s kid got in some kind of trouble that I don’t know nothin’ about, other than the kid was getting stiffed by some sleazebag in the City. Eddie was afraid to let his kid confront the guy alone, and I don’t blame him. Clearly the guy was connected, but he made a big mistake. Thought he could abuse his connections in order to make a little money off o’ one of our own. But we all know that ain’t the way things work.’ I mean, I said, ‘if your kid was in trouble, Pauley, and you asked me for help, I’d o’ helped you out, too. Don’t mean I’m back in the business because I ain’t.’”
“Pauley tells me I done good. I was so relieved, I handed him the box of cannoli sitting in my lap, told him they were Holy Cannoli blessed by a priest, and he could eat all he wanted without gainin’ a pound.”
“Pauly’s not known for his sense of humor,” Lenny said, “so that might not have been the wisest answer. More like a wise-ass one.”
“On the contrary. He opened the box of cannoli, stuck his finger in the cream, and licked it off. Said it was the best cannolo cream he ever ate. I told him I was glad he liked it. Then he looks me in the eye and says, ‘Now I’m gonna do you a favor. Tell your brother that Angel Bianchi found the two cannoli your brother was supposed to polish off, and Angel ain’t happy about it.’”
A chill ran through Lenny, like someone sealed him in a meat locker, one of those places where they slaughter animals and hang ’em in long racks. Lenny’s heart raced, but he controlled the tenor of his voice. “What else did Pauley say?”
“I ask him, ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ But he shakes his head, tells me to pass along the message. Says you’ll know what it means, then he tells me, ‘get outta the limo, go home, and keep your nose clean,’ which is all I was hopin’ to do. I thanked him, said I was pleased to meet him, and split. The three goons drove me back to my car. Nobody, including me, said a word on the trip over or on the trip back.”
“Always best to keep your mouth shut when you don’t know what’s going down.”
“I know. I probably should keep my mouth shut now, but my curiosity is gettin’ the better of me. What’s this about you refusing to eat the cannoli Angel gave you?”
“Nothin’ to worry about,” Lenny said, knowing the message was about a contract on his life. He wondered about the price tag, but not about who placed the order and why.
One week after Lenny Spinoli received Pauly Budin’s bad news, two things happened: the first pertained to an apparently unrelated celebration of good news taking place inside the second-floor office of Berger Investigative Services, a small PI firm in Hollywood, California. The second occurred in Coxsackie when Mickey Spinoli received a visit from the FBI informing him of the drowning death of his brother Lenny, whose body washed up on a beach in Southern California.
© 2019 by Harol Marshall