Corrupt cop on the make.
He studied himself in his closet mirror, made sure all the laundry tags were removed. Katie had taught him a valuable lesson. His thoughts stayed with her, and he promised himself he would check on her later as he locked the apartment door behind him.
The Oasis bar was filling up. Early evening crowd. Despite the team trawling bars, they hadn’t had any leads on the Maria Hopkins murder. But now while he waited to see if Sammy was around, he would once again move along the bar showing the punters her picture. He had to get a break sometime; there were so many balls in play, one had to drop in the slot.
Only three Buds, and he was showing a newcomer the photo, when the guy said, “Yeah buddy, she looks familiar. Homely, if you know what I mean. If she lost a few pounds and smartened up a little, she could be dateable.” The man guffawed as he motioned to the bartender for a refill. “That is, after several shots of Kentucky rye.” He nudged Mac and winked. “I hope she’s not your fiancée or nothing. No offense meant buddy.”
Mac shrugged it off as though it was no problem. “Her name is Maria. She could have been in this bar, let’s see two weeks ago, maybe less. Can you remember if you saw her?”
The man squinted at the photo again. He scratched his cheek and ran his fingers through stubble. “Maria, Maria,” he mumbled to himself. His face lit up. “Yeah, that’s it, she came in with this weirdo; all giggly she was, kept asking for Tia.” He nudged Mac again. “Get it? Tia Maria. Seemed like she could have downed a six pack of cocktails easy.”
“Tell me about the weirdo,” said Mac.
“Yeah well, I didn’t take much notice. Regular Joe, but he was on her case, telling her to can it. Bit poker faced, he was. Bars are for socializing, isn’t that right, buddy? I wasn’t interested in them; I was looking for some fun. Then these hot babes came in, and I kinda got involved, you know what I mean buddy? The one I hooked up with was Virginia. I called her Virgin for short, but not for long.” He guffawed again as he finished his shot, and called the bartender over for a refill. “You want another, buddy?” he asked, all smiles.
Mac put his hand on Buddy’s arm. Let him know he was serious. “This is important. Think back to what this guy looked like. Anything unusual?”
The guy shuffled his arm away. “Hey buddy, take it easy. Like he only had one leg or something?” He snickered. “Doing some bar-hopping, huh?”
“Yeah that’s exactly like it,” replied Mac, trying not to lose his temper and drag this asshole down the precinct.
Buddy peered around the bar area, before answering. “Yeah now you come to mention it, I could’ve sworn he was gay and out of place here. Wearing make-up or something. But I didn’t get a real good look, and the lighting in here isn’t the brightest. Romantic Rhapsody they call it. Fancy name for a livestock auction, everyone looking to get a leg-over, more like it. And that includes the women; lesbians, bi-sexual, you name it buddy.” He paused for breath and took a long slug. “Tell you what, how’s about us pairing up with those two babes over there, buddy?”
“I’ll pass on that,” replied Mac, grinding his teeth but keeping his act together. “Maybe another time.”
Buddy lost interest, picked up his drink and sauntered over to the girls.
Mac turned his attention back to Sammy’s whereabouts. A gay perp, huh? Unlikely. Buddy could wait. He motioned the bartender over. “Seen Sammy today?” he asked.
“De Maggio. You know, nephew of Mario Coppola.”
“No one called Sammy around here.”
Mac flashed his ID card. He had enough bullshit for one day. “Give me a number I can call. Someone who can patch me through to Coppola.” He caught the concerned look on the guy’s face. “Don’t worry; I’ll keep you out of it.”
Mac called the number.
“Who’s that?” asked a voice. Not the polite ‘who are you?’ voice, but the aggressive ‘who the fuck are you calling this number?’ voice.
“All you need to know is that I want to talk to Coppola. It’s about Sammy.”
“There isn’t any such person,” the voice responded.
“Well in that case if the Oasis bar was closed for health reasons, no one would worry?”
“Who are you, pal?” The voice becoming more questioning and less aggressive.
“Do I have to repeat myself? I’m the guy that can close down the Oasis bar tonight, if I get any more hassle. I’m at the bar on a stool drinking Bud. If no one comes over in the next thirty minutes, you can say good bye to a thriving business.” Mac cut the call. Now he had to sweat it out. He didn’t even know if it was a real threat: they would have protected their business interests for sure. But they would be curious.
It took them twenty-eight minutes by the bar clock. More correctly, one big ape by the name of Bernie. The kind of guy you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alleyway, unless you were Spiderman or something. And Mac wasn’t. But he was safe enough in the Oasis bar, the guy was not going to cause a scene with so many people around. That’s why the ape motioned that they go outside, and Mac shook his head at that idea. “We can talk here,” he said. “A private conversation in a public place.” He motioned to the stool next to him.
Bernie hesitated, but then slung his butt over the stool. “What you want, pal?” he grunted.
“How many times, I have to tell you guys. Next time I’ll put it on a recorder and give it to you. I want to talk with Mario Coppola about Sammy De Maggio. Is that too difficult to understand?”
The ape ignored him. “You carrying, pal?” he asked, motioning for Mac to open his jacket.
Mac did better than that. He stood up and removed his jacket, and then turned right round, so that the ape could get a good look. “No,” he said. “I just want to talk, that’s all.”
The ape seemed to make up his mind that Mac was no threat. “Stay here,” he said in a voice that was more of an instruction than a request.
Mac shrugged as if he couldn’t care less. As the ape pushed himself up from the stool, Mac pointed to the bar clock. “Time’s running out,” he said. This was perfectly true. Tomorrow would be Thursday; he had just over forty-eight hours to find the killer. He watched Bernie leave the bar, and then after a few minutes Bernie came back in with the mafia boss.
Mario Coppola was probably lean and mean in his youth, but advancing age and probably fondness for pasta and wine had taken its toll, and increased his waistline. But he carried himself well; suit from Armani and all the trappings of extravagant wealth. He was light on his feet for a big man and exuded a presence. One of power. He waved Bernie away, and walked over to Mac serious like. No small talk. Came right out with it. “I’m Mario Coppola; I hear you got a business proposition.”
Mac knew about him of course and had seen pictures, but had never met the guy. For a two-bit hood to rise from the slums and hit the big time in Longfield, the guinea had to have a ruthless streak. And it was being focused on him right then. Mac waved him to the stool Bernie had vacated, but the guy wasn’t going to sit there.
“There’s a room next to the lobby, we can talk there,” he said. “Follow me.” Then turned his back on Mac and walked away.
The guy has balls, thought Mac. I could have been a hired killer for all he knew. He shrugged himself of the stool, put his jacket back on and followed Coppola out into the lobby. “Bernie will make sure we’re not disturbed,” he said as he opened the room door and beckoned Mac inside.
The room had one executive desk and four padded chairs with armrests. Walls painted Magnolia, varnished wooden floor, metal bars across the window. A locked cabinet stood on the floor to one side of the desk. Coppola opened it and withdrew a file. He tossed it onto the table and sat down. “Health inspection two months ago,” he said. “Passed by the city hall inspector.” He sat down and peered closely at Mac. “Now, who the fuck are you and what the fuck you want from me?”
Mac sat down opposite Coppola, took out his ID and slid it across the polished surface. “That’s in case Bernie gets restless,” he said. He watched as Coppola put on a pair of reading glasses, and examined the card. “Stewart Mackenzie, senior detective, homicide unit, Longfield police department,” Coppola said out loud. “Is that right?”
Mac nodded. “Now you know who I am, face to face.”
Mario Coppola put the card in his pocket, leaned back in his chair, and clasped his hands together. “Don’t tell me detective, you’re on the make,” he said.
“No I’m not,” replied Mac. “Although it might sound surprising, I need your help in catching a killer.”
Coppola sat up. “My help?” he repeated, as if he hadn’t heard it right.
“Yeah, Ruth De Maggio’s killer, and for all I know Sammy’s as well. Sammy and I got a mutual interest. I gave him some leads, off the record.”
Coppola shuffled the health file around. “You don’t say. That must be a first. A cop asking for help. Anyway that’s Sammy’s business. He can look after himself. So why you sounding me out?”
You seen Sammy recently?”
“Why you ask?”
Mac came to the point. “When I called Sammy to check up, seems like a friend answered. A male, sounded just like Sammy. Said Sammy was in the hot tub, and he was looking after him. That make sense to you?”
Coppola frowned. “No it doesn’t. Sammy’s rooming at his cousin’s apartment, all right, but Paulo that’s his cousin, is out of town. Business interests. If anything, Sammy has an eye for the ladies. He sure wouldn’t be shacking up with a male friend.” He paused, seemed to remember something. “Maybe it was Mike. He’s Sammy’s look-out.”
“You want to check this out?” Mac could see Coppola hesitating. “Mr. Coppola, Sammy could be in real trouble right now. This killer isn’t scared of someone like Sammy, or his family. You’d better believe me on that.”
Coppola relented. “Okay I’ll get Bernie on to it. He’ll chase up Mike.” He got up and tossed a business card on the table. “Give it a couple of hours then call this number and ask for Mama. If there’s any news you’ll be told.” He started to walk to the door, then turned and focused his cold black eyes on Mac. “Detective, you pull a stunt like this again; I’m not going to be too pleased. You get my meaning?”
Mac knew. Lead boots were all the latest fashion in Longfield.
“And one more thing,” Coppola said. “You owe me one; someday I’ll call it in. We clear on that?”
“Crystal,” replied Mac. A devil’s pact to nail a killer.