For those of you who want to get a taste of the book before spending the time to wait for Amazon to ship it to you, here is chapter one of The Ragman Murders.
1 HARTFORD, CT. MARCH, 1930
“Here, Miss Amato, have a seat.” Detective Lieutenant Frank Santoro held the back of a worn wooden desk chair for his guest then walked around to the other side of his own desk and eased his old frame into the extra-wide leather room across from the frosted glass door. The only wall hangings were a framed photo of a younger, thinner Santoro accepting an award from the well-known mayor of the city of Hartford, Ct. and a large, well-marked calendar, turned to the correct month of March, 1930.
He quietly studied her as he pulled out various papers from his desk drawer. She was obviously uncomfortable being here, for this reason, but had been advised by her family to just do it and get it over with. The young lady demurely looked at the older man across from her. Anyone, even a crotchety old man could appreciate the chiseled features, the dark bob, the piercing blue eyes, all sitting on top of a well-made mink coat. Her hands, placed lightly on her lap, had fine white gloves. Her cloche was a little out of date, but it looked appealing on her. It was even hard for the detective to believe that such a woman was the little girl he remembered.
“First of all, I want to thank you for coming in here on such short notice. Since you are not in Hartford very often, I wanted to meet with you this week. Your traveling between New York and here is easier for me. I am not one to chase.” Miss Amato watched the detective pull a large white handkerchief out of the pocket of his vest, regarding it as he began to cough. He held it up to his nose and trumpeted loudly. Marianne looked with concern at the face of a supposedly hostile questioner. Santoro then turned to a brass spittoon on the floor beside his desk and nicely aimed into the pot.
The detective began again. “Excuse me, Miss. Allergies.”
“Detective, I am married now,” she began, turning in her seat to indicate the tall fair man with the glasses. He was sitting on the other side of the frosted windows dividing the questioning room from the main detective bureau office.
“Miss Amato! I have so many names in this file! It goes back eighteen years! And with all the Italians Americanizing their names, I am not going to start adding another generation of married names! DeFrancescos becoming Francises! Amatos not getting adopted but pretending they are! And then Amatos marrying each other! Italian women not always changing their names when they do get married! No, I’m sorry but I am not going to fill in any more new last names. We will keep what you got. The others in the squad are going crazy with the names as it is. Besides he”, nodding towards the door. “He hasn’t got anything to do with this, anyhow.” He blew his nose again and breathed in deeply. “And then, I do not want to retype all these pages just to add another name in all the right spots when I am trying to close out this whole thing. So, we will just stick with Amato.” Santoro took another deep breath and smiled to reassure her.
“We had to reopen the murder case based on information that your family gave to one of our detectives a few weeks ago.”
“Yes. It was my sister Mary,” the young lady interrupted. “And my cousin, Nickie. They came here together. It’s about the phone number, isn’t it?”
O’Neil looked at her impatiently, not appreciating the interruption. He had this all settled in his head and he did not want details where he did not want them. “Chief Farrell wants this file closed. It has been a thorn in his side, and mine, all these eighteen years. He was a detective when the whole thing happened. He and the whole crew were pretty mad that we did not get our man.”
“I spent an hour with them and one of the other detectives spent another. We wanted every little detail they could remember,” Santoro continued. “But they could not seem to associate the phone number in British Columbia with anyone they know.”
He began to flip though the file, looking for something specific. “Yes. Here it is.” He looked up at the young lady simultaneously pointing to the faded type-written words. “It says here that you and your sister Teresa were eye-witnesses. You two and Mrs. Tassone are the only ones. And Mrs. Tassone disappeared off the surface of the earth a long time ago.”
Marianne Amato felt a shiver go down her spine. A name she had not heard or thought about in a long time had been bringing back memories these past few days. Bad memories. Santoro watched her hands ball up, gripping the coat, She blinked hard a few times and swallowed. She glanced around the room, apparently trying to get her bearings. The old place had eleven foot ceilings, the paint was peeling at the corners and the wallpaper torn along the seams. The upholstered chairs, sitting against the wall common to the detective squad room, had seen better days. It smelled like dirty shoes and the cigar smoke from the old stubs in several ashtrays.
“Your sister, Teresa, hasn’t been back to Hartford in years. And I cannot subpoena across state lines. So that leaves you. And I am going to sit and have a long talk with you. I want to get every last little memory out of you. The murder investigation has been reopened because of this new information and the chief wants to finalize everything before he retires in June. So I am going to give it one more attempt.”
“I was very little then,” began Marianne.
“Your uncle and aunt must have talked about it.” The detective was not taking no for an answer. “I want you to think back. Any detail. Any detail at all may make a difference in how we go about finding this man, picking him up and making him pay for what he did.”
“May I have a glass of water before we start?” she asked.
Santoro heaved his arthritic frame out of the maroon leather chair and walked over to the door, opened it and shouted, “Hey! Charlie! Get us some water. A pitcher!” Then, horrifying to the witness, he turned to the bespectacled young man who had looked up at the sound of the door opening, he said, “I am keeping your wife for a few hours. Go back to wherever you are staying. You will just be underfoot here.” Then he shut the door and returned to his seat.
navy blue dress with a dropped waist, pleated skirt and white collar. It was knee-length, a little short for the current fashions, but well-tailored. She had removed her gloves as well, but left on the hat, as was the mode.
A knock on the door was followed by an older assistant bringing in a tray with two glasses and a pitcher of water. Charlie crossed the spacious room, moved papers out of the way to free up space then placed the tray on the old wooden desk. He turned to the lady. “Miss, the man outside waiting said to call him when you are ready to leave.”
“Thank you,” she replied. He exited quickly, after nodding to the detective. Santoro glanced at his guest and poured some water into one of the glasses.
“There you go,” he said handing her the glass across the desk. He pulled out his fountain pen, filled it and straightened out some blank white paper, ready for any notes. “Now let’s get started. I want everything. Leave nothing out. There has to be a clue somewhere.”
“I do not remember my real mother and father very well,” she began. “I was only six and a half when everything changed. But my Papa, who is really my Uncle Ciro, has told me some information. My Aunt Mary and Uncle Dominick Francis have filled in more. My Ma, actually my aunt, my Uncle Ciro’s wife, Emelia, gave me the biggest piece of information, probably accidentally.”
Santoro rolled his eyes. “Wait. Let me make sure those names are in my file here.” He viewed a list of names, making growling sounds as he found each. “Okay. Go on.”
“Once, when I was about nine or ten, I had a dream. I dreamed that I woke up and there was a red-headed lady standing at the foot of my bed just watching me sleep. Well, I think it was a dream. It may have been real. At any rate, I was frightened and asked Ma about it. She told me the lady was my real mother and she had come back from Heaven to check on me. That answer made me feel better than I had in a long time. I felt a little of the love that I had lost.
“That is not to say that there is no love for me. My Papa loves me and spoils me sometimes. Like this mink coat he bought me for my 16th birthday and the beautiful librettos he got me when he took me to the operas in New York. But, Ma, who makes sure I am always aware that she is not my real mother, made life dull as possible. But that is neither here nor there.”
“Yes, that’s very nice,” Santoro scowled, remembering meeting Emilia Amato at the funeral and things he had heard about her among the gossipy ladies who lived by the tracks. “But how about your real father? What do you remember about him?” He looked at her carefully, trying to catch if she recognized him. But there was no glint of acknowledgement.
“My real mother and father met and married in Italy,” the young lady continued. “It was in the small town of Serra San Bruno. Up in the mountains. They had dreams for the future. They were in love, at least at the beginning.”