The latest entry in The Mike Fargo Mysteries series, THE GRAB-A-CAB MURDER, is an action-packed novella that takes the reader back to the spring of 1921. Fargo has just been promoted to detective after some ten years walking a New York City beat. When he’s sent to check out a double-murder of a cabbie and his fare on his very first day he soon realizes he has to learn how to handle his new job on the fly.
The case turns out to be bigger than anyone thought when the murdered passenger turns out to be Arthur Worthington, the owner of the new Grab-a-Cab Company, shot in one of his own cabs. A random robbery or something more? That’s what Fargo has to find out. He soon learns that Worthington is also the owner of Worthington & Sons, a major clothing manufacturer. The list of possible suspects quickly grows and when a second murder takes place a short time later, Fargo knows there is something much larger in play.
As the investigation widens, Fargo finds himself dealing with the growing criminal element at the beginning of the Prohibition era in New York City, as well as some high-rolling Park Avenue lawyers. Were the murders about the Grab-a-Cabs or the clothing business, or maybe both? Or was it simply a personal vendetta? As he pursues a number of divergent leads, Fargo finds his own safety and indeed his life in danger. And he also has to decide just what kind of detective Mike Fargo wants to be.
The Grab-a-Cab Murder is a novella and a Mike Fargo Mystery that is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo and Smashwords for just 99 cents.
Chapter One – NEW KID ON THE BLOCK
“Congratulations, son,” Deputy Chief Arlen Dell said, with a big smile plastered on his mug. “From now on it’s no longer Officer Fargo; it’s Detective Fargo. I’m sure you’ll serve us well.”
Mike Fargo smiled back, at least what passed for a smile for him, something that didn’t come often and wouldn’t light up even the darkest of nights. Then he shook Dell’s hand, saying “Thank you,” very quietly. He had waited a long time for this, thinking about it often during his ten years walking a beat and always doing his job the best he could. Finally, in early April of 1921, he was promoted to detective, a place he always wanted to be. He could discard the uniform that he was so proud to wear when he joined the force in 1911. Now it would be cheap suits and a straw skimmer, when he felt like donning a lid. He wasn’t a kid anymore, coming up on his thirty-fourth birthday and never regretting his decision to leave Staten Island to become New York City police officer .
He knew there were guys who made detective faster than he did. He was always a plodder and a grinder, with a take no prisoners attitude, who just kept at it until he caught the bad guys. No Sherlock Holmes was Mike Fargo, but he got the job done. And, finally, he had his reward.
He was reassigned to the 17th Precinct on East 51st Street where he’d report to captain Milo Sheehan in the morning. That night, he picked up his girl, Millie Carnes, that he had been seeing on and off for about six months. Fargo never thought of himself as the marrying kind, not with the nature of his job. As a detective he’d have to be even more focused. But Millie was fun and a good sport who wasn’t adverse to going into a local speakeasy for a drink, as did so many since Prohibition had gone into effect in January of 1920. Cops included.
“So now you’re a big cheese, eh,” Millie said, with a smirk, once they were seated with a couple of beers in front of them. “Suit and all.”
She was a small girl with short dark hair and tight features. You wouldn’t call her beautiful by any means but the word cute often came to mind. At any rate, Fargo enjoyed her company. Being with Millie was a way to forget about the bad guys and human trash he so often encountered. He was hoping that his promotion would give him bigger fish to fry, albeit just another level of trash.
“Yeah, I’m going bring the cheap suit back into style,” he cracked.
“Didn’t know it ever left.”
“You got a point there. To be honest, when I was working the docks on Staten Island I never thought I’d be wearing one of these. Never even owned one.”
“Maybe they should have you go undercover as a dock worker,” she said. “Then you’d feel right at home.”
“Geez, my gal is a real wiseguy,” he answered, taking a man-sized slug of beer.
Millie just snickered as Fargo pulled a couple of Lucky Strikes from his pack and gave one to her. More women than ever were smoking cigarettes and it was quickly becoming acceptable, especially in speakeasy circles. They lit up and sat in silence for a couple of minutes, smoking and finishing up their beers. Then Millie asked,
“So how does it really feel being a detective, or should I say dick?”
Fargo flashed a quick smile at Millie’s use of the popular slang term for detective. “Yeah, it’s jake, all right. Can’t say it’s something I didn’t want. Nothing wrong with walking a beat, but after awhile you get tired of the petty little things. I’ve always wanted to tackle real cases. That should tell me what I’m made of.”
Millie eyed him up and down. “Hey, I think you’re made of pretty good stuff. I got no complaints.”
“You never did, but you’re one of the good guys.”
“That’s the second time you’ve called me a guy. What’s a girl got to do to prove herself?”
“Tell me that’s not a loaded question,” he said.
They both laughed, but at the same time Fargo was doing something else. Ever since he became a cop he had forged a habit of always keeping his eyes open, checking everything around him for potential trouble. He knew the importance of never letting his guard down. Even while relaxing in a speak with Millie he was looking at the other patrons, watching people come and go. When he saw a scruffy looking man in a torn coat and tattered cap come in and order a beer at the bar, something didn’t smell quite right. Donegan’s wasn’t a swank joint by any means, but this guy just looked awkwardly out of place.
Fargo kept one eye on the bar as he and Millie had their back-and-forth, and that’s when he noticed the man leaning forward and speaking quietly to the bartender. The bartender’s eyes suddenly opened a little too wide and then darted down toward the bar. Fargo instinctively felt the man was holding a gun and when the bartender turned quickly and went to the cash register, he was sure of it.
“Stay here and don’t move,” he said to Millie, who started to ask why, but by that time Fargo was on his feet and walking quickly toward the bar. When he was just about there Fargo began staggering and practically fell onto the bar about two feet to the left of the scruffy stranger. He could see the bartender already beginning to take the cash out of the till. Slurring his words and speaking loudly, he said,
“Hey, barkeep. Get yur head outta that register and gimme anodder beer, will ya?”
Out of his side eye he could see the man trying to conceal a small caliber handgun. The man looked over at him and snorted, “Shut up, eh. I got me some business here first. You wait your turn.”
“How come,” Fargo said, almost sliding off the bar.
“Cause I said so,” he answered, looking at Fargo for a second. Then he turned toward the bartender who had stopped pulling the dough when Fargo hit the bar. “Hurry up, pal, if you know what’s good for ya.”
As soon as he turned back toward the bartender, Fargo moved. The stumbling drunk suddenly turned into a cat-like predator, leaping at the man and grabbing his wrist. One good twist from Fargo’s huge hand and the gun was on the floor and a followup right to the jaw put the man on the floor right alongside it. Fargo kicked the gun away and yanked the man to his feet, spinning him around and cuffing him.
“Thanks, buddy,” the bartender said. “First time this has happened here. I thought he might shoot me,”
“Good chance he might have,” Fargo said, then turning to the still groggy would-be robber. “Guess it just wasn’t your lucky day, eh pal?”
“Who the hell are you?” the man asked, as blood poured from his lip.
Fargo pulled his new, shiny badge for the first time. “Mike Fargo,” he said. “Detective Mike Fargo.”
The bartender thanked him, then winked, “A detective in a juice joint?” he said.
“Yeah,” Fargo said, winking back. “Don’t tell anyone.”
When Fargo finally turned Millie was standing there smiling at him and shaking her head.
“Wow,” was all she said.
“Let me run this dirtbag in and then we’ll head home,” he said.
“Yours or mine?”
“Take your pick.”
The next morning Mike Fargo walked into the 17th Precinct for the first time. The desk sergeant looked at him as if he was from another planet.
“Detective Fargo,” he said. “Reporting for duty.”
“Yeah,” was all the sergeant said.
There were already a few guys milling around, bullshitting and laughing. A couple were sitting at their desks reading the paper, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Fargo asked the one closest to him.
“Where’s captain Sheehan’s office?”
“You blind or something. Name’s on the door. Back there.”
“Yeah, I’m blind. Wanna lead me there,” Fargo said.
The cop just shook his head as Fargo made his way to the office. Milo Sheehan was short and stout with a roundish face. He had a fat cigar pasted in the corner of his mouth and the way he held it made it look like he was smiling.
“Welcome to the 17th Fargo. Right on time, I see.”
“Always,” Fargo said.
“Good. Nothing like punctuality,” the captain said. “That tells me you’re serious about your job.”
“Is there any other way to be?”
“Most guys who get promoted start that way. Unfortunately, they all don’t finish with that same attitude. Job gets to them.”
“Doesn’t seem as if it’s gotten to you.”
Sheehan removed the cigar from his mouth and snorted, “Not yet, anyway. But let me tell you, it ain’t always easy.”
Fargo just nodded and the captain continued.
“See you made a pinch already, stopped a robbery last night.”
“Yeah, kinda fell into my lap.”
“In a speakeasy?”
“Hey, a robbery’s a robbery. Besides, I was celebrating my promotion.”
Sheehan made a waving gesture with his hand. “No argument from me. Good work.” Then he continued. “Gonna partner you up with one of our veterans, Billy O’Roark. Billy’s been a detective for almost fifteen years and can show you the ropes.”
Fargo nodded. He never liked the idea of a partner. In his eyes, a partner was someone who just got in the way. He preferred going it alone figuring he already knew enough of “the ropes,” but he wasn’t in a position to demand anything. And who knows, he thought, maybe it would work out.
Just then the desk sergeant came in, brushed past Fargo and gave captain Sheehan a slip of paper. The captain looked at it for a second and then motioned for the sergeant to leave.
“OK, Mike, time to get to work,” the captain said. He walked to the door and shouted, “O’Roark!” They waited for a few seconds until the veteran detective entered.
“Billy, this is Mike Fargo. I want you guys working together for awhile. Mike’s new to the precinct and just made detective. That jake with you?”
“Why not,” O’Roark said. He barely gave Fargo a look and didn’t offer to shake his hand. Not surprisingly, Fargo didn’t like him.
“Okay,” the captain said. “Time to go to work. Just got a report that they found one of them new Grab-a-Cabs in an alley off 47th Street. Cabbie and his fare both shot dead. Looks like a robbery. Hustle over there and see what you can find out.”
O’Roark nodded and just turned to go, but Fargo stayed long enough to ask, “Any ID on the victims, cap?”
“Don’t know yet.”
He followed O’Roark out of the precinct. They went to the garage and grabbed a squad car that looked like it had seen better days. O’Roark drove and pulled out a Camel as soon as he left the garage. Fargo countered with a Lucky. Both lit up and O’Roark still hadn’t spoken. He looked to be in his mid-forties, was overweight and had a pudgy face that seemed to have a permanent scowl on it. Fargo’s first impression was that the guy was tired – maybe tired of the job or just tired of everything. He finally opened his yap after they had gone about a block.
“Where you from Fargo?” he asked.
“Out in the sticks, eh. What made you want to come to the big city? Seems like being a cop on Staten Island would be a walk in the park.”
“What makes you think I’d be happy with a walk in the park?”
“Tough guy, eh,” O’Roark said, with a smirk. “Looking for some action, are ya?”
“I’ve had my share,” Fargo answered. “I don’t look for trouble, but if it comes I’m ready to deal with it.”
“Guess you have. Where’d you get the scar on your face?” O’Roark asked, pointing to Fargo’s left cheek.
“On the job?”
“Yeah, but the other guy ended up a lot worse.”
“Do say,” O’Roark quipped, as if he didn’t believe him. Then that discussion promptly ended when he looked and pointed, “There’s the cab over there.”
The Grab-a-Cab wasn’t exactly in the alley. It looked as if it was run off the road or the driver lost control. He might have tried to turn but hit the corner of the building to the left. Both detectives got out and told the two uniformed cops on the scene to keep the onlookers at a distance. Upon seeing the uniforms Fargo couldn’t help thinking that he was one of them until just a few days ago, doing things like looking for troublemakers at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade down Fifth Avenue on March 27, and more recently standing by as physicist Albert Einstein made his first visit to New York to lecture on something called the theory of relativity. He was there to keep an eye on Mayor John Hylan. But that was then. Now it was on to the business of being a detective.
“Both the driver and the guy in the back were shot several times,” one of the uniforms told them. “No ID on either. All the cash gone. Looks like a robbery, plain and simple. Probably happened some time early in the morning, maybe before first light.”
“Most likely,” O’Roark agreed. Fargo said nothing. He was already checking out the cab.
The Grab-a-Cabs had begun appearing on the street about six months earlier, part of the growing fleets of taxis in the city to accommodate the rapidly-growing population. Fargo had noticed them while walking his beat and knew there was a lot of competition for business within the various fleets.
He looked inside. The driver, a middle aged, unshaven man was slumped over the wheel. He had been shot once in the neck and again in the chest, at least that’s how it appeared. In the back seat was a well-dressed man who looked between his late fifties and mid-sixties who must have been sitting on the passenger side. He was sprawled across the seat with what looked like a bullet wound to the head. That’s all Fargo could see without moving him.
“As soon as the coroner gets here we’ll have these two guys loaded up and taken to the morgue,” O’Roark said, with the kind of finality that made Fargo wonder.
So he asked, “And that’s it?”
“Probably. Looks like a robbery to me. These two saps probably didn’t know what hit them. Shooter could have been any bum with a gun. Crimes like this usually go unsolved.”
“Don’t you find it a bit odd that a guy dressed like a swell was in a cab in the middle of the night?”
“Nah, he could have been at a speak, playing poker in a back room somewhere, seeing some tomato what wasn’t his wife. There’s a million reasons he may have been out late. Just a mug in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Maybe,” Fargo said. “And maybe not. Let’s wait till we find out who he is.”
O’Roark snorted and reached for a Camel. “I figured you’d find a way to muddy the waters. New guys like you always do.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Fargo said, disliking Billy O’Roark even more. “Sounds like you can’t wait to pull the old Case Closed stamp out of your desk drawer.”
“Look, kid. I’ve been at this a long time. Do you know how many cases like this go unsolved? Just too many people in the city now. No sense beating the bushes and wearing holes in your shoes to find . . . nothing. Take it from me. You’ll learn.”
“Not from a teacher like you.”
O’Roark made a dismissive gesture with his hand and walked out to the curb to wait for the coroner. Once he arrived, O’Roark started back to the squad car and waved at Fargo to follow.
“You go,” Fargo said. “I’m gonna hang around until the coroner is done.”
“Suit yourself, kid. Have a nice walk back to the precinct.”
O’Roark began getting into the squad car when Fargo said, rather loudly. “I ain’t no kid, pal. I’d appreciate you not calling me that again.”
“Whatever you say.”
O’Roark just shook his head, climbed into the Tin Lizzie and drove off. Fargo watched as the coroner examined the bodies. Finally he turned to Fargo.
“Whoever did this really made sure.”
“That neither of these guys was gonna have breakfast. Each was shot three times, including a neck and head shot.”
“Seem like overkill to you?” Fargo asked.
“Could be. Or maybe the shooter just panicked and wanted to be sure he couldn’t be identified.”
Fargo shrugged. He still wanted to know the identity of the victim in the back seat before reaching any conclusions, so he waited until the bodies were loaded into the meatwagon for the trip to the morgue, then began hoofing it back to the precinct. As he walked he also knew something else. There wasn’t going to be a Billy O’Roark in his life any longer. He planned to make that clear to captain Sheehan as soon as he could. He pegged O’Roark as a lazy cop and that was something he hated. He also knew if he got a couple of more condescending kid-callings from O’Roark he might have to flatten the guy.
Back at the precinct he saw Billy O’Roark throw him a dirty look and then start talking to another of the veteran detectives. He walked right past them to captain Sheehan’s office and closed the door behind him. The captain looked up from his desk and took the cigar out of his mouth.
“Something wrong, Mike?” he asked.
“Me and O’Roark are wrong,” Fargo said, quickly.
Now he really had the captain’s attention. “Already. What happened?” he asked.
“Just can’t work with him.”
“Don’t tell me you’re gonna be one of those mavericks, Fargo. They don’t fit well around here.”
“It’s not that. What’s said here stays between us, right?”
“O’Roark’s what I call a lazy cop,” Fargo said. “Maybe he’s tired, maybe he’s always been that way. I don’t know. But when I see a cop take a quick look at two dead bodies and decide the case can’t be solved, that just doesn’t wash with me.”
Sheehan walked around to the front of his desk as Fargo lit up a Lucky, wondering if he had already overstepped his bounds.
“So you’re saying you don’t want to partner up with him?”
“Would rather not have anything to do with him. He’s arrogant, a know-it-all, and if he calls me “kid” once more he may be picking up his teeth.”
“You really don’t mince words, do you, Mike?”
“No, I don’t cap. Even if the cab murder was a random robbery and O’Roark was right, I want you to know I take my job seriously and I like being thorough. I may be the new kid on the block to these guys, but I’ve worked this city for ten years now and I ain’t no novice.”
Sheehan looked down at the floor, then took a long puff on his cigar. When he looked up Fargo got the feeling the captain still wasn’t sure how to handle his newest detective.
“I don’t know, Mike,” he said. “Whenever someone new comes in here I’ve always felt it best to pair him up with a veteran who’s been around for awhile. Find it works better that way, especially for the new guy. And while I hate to admit it, I think I know what you mean about O’Roark. In fact, I was kind of hoping some of your drive might rub off on him. Guess it didn’t.”
“You can say that.”
“Let me think about it, see if I can match you up with someone you can work with.” Before Fargo could answer the captain added, “Now what about this shooting?”
“O’Roark was right in that it has the look of a random robbery. No ID’s on the victims,” Fargo said. “I just find the situation with the passenger a bit odd. He looked like a fifty or sixty-something swell dressed in an expensive suit and even had manicured fingernails. I’d like to know who he is.”
“Okay, that shouldn’t take long.”
It didn’t. And when they found out it changed the complexion of everything. Fargo was sitting as his desk eating a couple of corned beef sandwiches for lunch when Captain Sheehan came in hurriedly and beckoned Fargo to follow him into his office.
“We got it, Mike. And you were right. It wasn’t any ordinary fare. The victim’s wife contacted headquarters to say her husband hadn’t come home last night and still wasn’t home this morning. We brought her down to the morgue and she ID’d him.”
“Who was he?”
“Arthur Worthington. Name mean anything to you?”
“No, not offhand.”
“Arthur Worthington is . . . was the owner of the Grab-a-Cab company. So he was killed riding in one of his own cabs.”
“I’d say that merits looking into, wouldn’t you?” Fargo said.
Sheehan nodded. “You’re damned right. When a big shot or high roller gets plugged, there’s usually pressure from above to find out who and why. Let me see if I can team you up with one of the other guys.”
“Cap,” Fargo said, holding up his hand. “Do me a favor. Let me start working this one solo. I’d feel more comfortable doing this my way. If you don’t think it’s going well, then we can reconsider.”
Sheehan didn’t say anything for a few seconds, just rubbed his forehead with his hand, then re-lit his cigar. After taking a couple of puffs he finally nodded.
“Okay, Mike. We’ll play it your way for now. The case is yours.”