Thursday, March 16, 2023

Carl Brookins' The Case of the Deceiving Don - A Sean Sean Mystery

Back in my office I considered what I had learned. My former boss, Duke Fararra, the owner of the agency where I’d trained to be a P.I., taught me that sometimes you had to kick the tires to dislodge the rust. I was going do that, metaphorically. On the main floor of my building was a small print shop where one could do some typing and mailing. I used an old portable typewriter they had lying around to compose a brief letter in which I explained I had some information the letter’s recipient needed. For a fee, I’d provide it. The information I had. I could have done the letter on my computer, but I wasn’t good with it for things like this. Besides, I wanted a deliberately low-tech appearance. 

I typed that the information was about the recently dead Augustus Molinaro. I suggested they call my representative, detective Sean Sean, and I put in my office telephone number. I signed it, Martin Levy. I addressed it to the Elite Agency in Edina. I didn’t wear gloves, and I didn’t care about other traces I might leave since I just wanted to see if I could break something loose. Rattle a cage or two, so to speak. 

Elite knew where my office was, and they knew where I lived. So I mailed the letter and went home. The next morning, after a peaceful night with my cats, a delicious steak and baked potato, and Yo-Yo Ma on the stereo, I sat down at my home computer, a nice, state of the art Dell, and Googled up Mr. Augustus Molinaro. I spent a couple of hours wandering the Internet dipping into various government and media sites, collecting bits and pieces on Don Molinaro. Some of this research had been done before and by others. But I was looking with a different eye. I wasn’t just collecting information, I was looking for clues. I was searching for something like a loose thread I could pluck out of the fabric of this event. What I assembled gave me some clues as to what might be going on. Molinaro came out of a Boston family. He spent some time in New York and then went off to Pennsylvania. I got the impression he was kind of a visiting fireman, or maybe a trusted liaison. In any case, he settled down in Mechanicsburg where he then rose steadily through the ranks to become a kingpin of the Eastern Pennsylvania Mafia.

Mechanicsburg is a small place, essentially a western suburb of Harrisburg in east-central Pennsylvania. It’s on the Susquehanna River. Which wanders through the Tuscarora and Appalachian mountains on its way to Chesapeake Bay. Pretty country out that way. Why is it important? If you drive north along the river a few hours you come up to Milton. It’s an easy scenic sort of drive with the White Deer Ridge rising ahead. You’ll see signs for the town of White Deer and another place called Allenwood. Allenwood has seen a lot of mobsters and other assorted criminals over the years. It’s the site of a large federal prison complex. One of the biggest in the federal prison system. So Mechanicsburg isn’t such a bad place to be headquartered if you function as a kind of inside/outside liaison. And you might acquire a lot of juicy secrets. And if you were a careful Don Augustus Molinaro—greasy Gus—after a while you might just become a liability. Or not. I was going to find out, hopefully not by traveling to Pennsylvania. There was a surprising amount of information, both official and not so official, about Allenwood on the Internet. There wasn’t a floor plan of course, and the maps were a little short on exactitude. So I called the Bureau of Prisons. Yes, under certain guidelines and under the rules for particular prisoners, almost anyone could visit almost any prisoner. If said prisoner agreed. 

Now, in spite of what they tell you about security, information flows back and forth. So does contraband. I was getting an idea that just maybe Don Molinaro was targeted for past actions or indiscretions which may have only come to light in recent times. If that were true, knowing what changes had occurred could lead me to the why of the bomb. From there it could be an easy step to the who of it. So the question of the moment became what sorts of information and other illegal goods might the good Don have been handling? I would find out. I went to my office and checked the roof across the street. It was empty. I checked the street. No ice-blue late model Audis in sight. I ran my new blinds up and down a couple of times. Nice and smooth. The telephone rang. 

It was my cop friend, Ricardo Simon. “How’s tricks, dude?” he asked. “Okay. I’m still a little jumpy, as you can imagine. Any information for me?” “Not on the Molinaro thing. I’m calling because we got a notification that Mrs. Higgins has been released.” “What, probation?” “Yeah. Good behavior. Thought you’d want to know.” “I appreciate the heads up, but I didn’t take her daughter’s threat seriously, did you?” “Nope. Just wanted you to know,” he said. “Is she staying in town?” “Oh, sure. Her listed address is their place on the south side.” “Thanks. Let’s have dinner one day.” “On you. Take care, Sean.” Simon hung up the phone. Mrs. Higgins. Huh. I’d been instrumental in getting her put away back a couple of years. She’d had an accident on the job at some insurance company. Figured she knew enough to stiff the company for a whole lot of money. Nice older lady, until you got in her way. Then she could turn nasty. I followed her around for a while and discovered her back and hip problems weren’t anywhere near as bad as she and her doctor said they were. I’d testified in court that my pictures and video of her cavorting in the water at Hidden Lake were true and unedited. I guess it didn’t help that she wasn’t wearing any clothes. Anyway, when the jury convicted her, she stood up in court and called me some names in most unfortunate language, concluding as the bailiffs muffled her that she’d get me. 

I hung up and went to the bathroom. When I got back to my office, the message light was blinking so I played the recording. There was only one call, from Blanche at the retirement home. “Hey, sonny,” she said. “Good recording on your answer machine. Get your buns out here as soon as you can. I got some intelligence for you.” Uh oh. If these imperative calls became a frequent pattern, Blanche could get to be a nuisance. On the other hand, she might have something significant for me. I decided to compromise with myself. I’d go over to Sheltering Limbs tomorrow morning on my way into the city from home, instead of right now...


I haven't quite figured out the time period during which Sean Sean acted as a PI... For one, cell phones exist, but he refuses to use one. Computers, including notebook style are available, but Sean doesn't have one. In fact, he eschews most anything technical, and, instead, depends upon experts with whom he builds relationships, to handle the parts of his job that are necessary, but not really, actually dealing with the actual investigation and pulling the pieces of information together to solve a case... 

And while he may not use technology, he has outfitted his car in various ways to ensure that he's able to both protect himself as well as work to investigate wherever he may need to go, all with the right tools... He is also quick to notice and remember his immediate surrounding area, no matter where he was, and, even though everybody was running around, Sean was, perhaps, the only one for this case who noticed a car parked not too far away that seemed to have two men in the front seat... And, a blue silver car, which he would later identified as an Audi...

Of course, he's also particular with what jobs he takes--and, under no circumstances, will he take on jobs related in any way to the mafia...

But, this one evolved out of an accident... Specifically, a wheelchair was found very near to the entrance of Sean's home and he had immediately ran to see if he could help... The individual in the chair lived in a retirement home. Sean learned from the officer in charge, Sgt. Lasker, that the chair and occupant was blown literally into pieces by a bomb! Fortunately, Ms. Laster was the type of officer who was willing to include Sean as somewhat of a partner as long as they were willing to share whatever information was found by either.

Almost immediately, it seemed that there was one individual who would be the main person of interest. He was a male attendant to the victim, Augustus Molinaro, a Mr. Levy, who was not an employee of the Home and about whom not even the director of the Home knew how to contact him. The only thing anybody now knew was that he had disappeared right after the bomb had exploded! 

This investigation was turning out to be extremely complex, so much so that Sean had to start making notes... He lamented the fact that, unlike Hammer or Philip Marlowe who must have a better memory since they didn't take notes... So Sean headed back to his office to start writing up what had happened. He may not have a client, but he knew that he personally was going to get involved with this one... Yeah, even after they found out that Augustus was, you guessed it, actually, Greasy Gus who had a long mob connection! So Sean figured he'd better check a few manuals--Lew Archer and a Ross MacDonald from his bottom desk drawer, but neither of these provided any new insight... Although... Archer did suggest that in his experience, at least, old crimes seemed to be at the root of much of his clients’ troubles. When the telephone rang, I picked up. That turned out to be one of my poorer decisions of the day... But Archer was right, because Greasy Gus' crimes were old...and still continuing! 'Til Somebody Blew Him Up!

Cause the Feds were not involved... And one of the things he brought to that meeting was this: What I mean is, who knows how many other nefarious characters like Greasy Gus are being quietly housed in our community? Isn’t this something that civic-minded citizens ought to take to City Hall? I mean, do I have to start worrying about property values?”

Well, Sean, somebody is out to keep you off this case... first, there's the two big guys... then somebody murders one of them thinking it was you...and then an anonymous caller asks you to meet him late that night at the Stone Arch Bridge... Personally, I'm pretty sure Spenser would have told him to take at least Hawk as backup...

It was a typical mid-summer night in Minnesota. Hot, moist, thick. It was nigh onto three in the morning and the pavers under my tires chuckled and popped. That’s what they’re called, pavers. Basically, they’re a kind of brick, and they replaced mud and gravel on a lot of Twin Cities streets in an earlier century. Some places they called ‘em cobble stones. Later they were dug up or just coved over with asphalt. In this historic district of the original village of Saint Anthony, hard by Saint Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River, in spite of their unevenness, the pavers had been exposed and many re-laid to add a bit of nostalgic ambience to the neighborhood. With the later bar closing installed by the legislature and various city councils, there were still a lot of people about here in the dead of night and numerous cars parked at the curbs. In an earlier time, three in the morning would have been pretty dead. Maybe my mysterious caller was hoping for the anonymity of a crowd. I was driving slowly south, more or less along the east bank. That put the river on my right. My caller had said to meet him at the south end of the famous Stone Arch Bridge. The bridge actually connects the east and west banks of the river, but because of the orientation of bridge and river at that particular place, the east end of the bridge was actually a little south of the west end. People sometimes get confused about that. Makes clandestine rendezvous problematic—or something. A patrol car went by in the other direction. I felt the cop’s eyes on me for a minute, registering, assessing my presence. Not for the first time I wondered why I was indulging my caller. I might learn something significant, but more than likely, I wouldn’t. I was a little more relaxed than I might have been because the site was open. It would have been difficult to sneak up on me, or even to get a shot off. The lighting and the closed up building on this side of the river all worked in my favor.

He was wearing a western-style straw hat and dark narrow-legged pants. But no high-heeled boots. His shoes appeared to be dark cross-trainers. The hat was pulled low on his forehead so his face was shadowed from the ugly orange overhead light that fell on us. He was white. His dark blue or black short-sleeved shirt revealed skinny arms and knobby elbows. I judged he was around forty, maybe a little older, and around 160 pounds. He appeared reasonably fit. He was leaning against the railing on the bridge looking sort of down toward the water and when I got close enough he said “Mr. Sean.” Quiet voice. Flat, no discernable inflection or accent. Not nervous. Like the voice on my machine. “That’s me,” I said. I didn’t ask his name. I figured it was a waste of breath. He didn’t ask me for ID, either. I was pretty sure anything that transpired here wasn’t going to end up in a courtroom under oath. A nocturnal bicyclist rode slowly by, tires faintly hissing on the pavers. I leaned on the same railing facing the man about four feet away. My instincts told me he wouldn’t take it kindly if I moved closer. He turned his head and seemed to look past me. I had the feeling he was checking for observers. I’d already done that. I was feeling just a mite exposed. After two murder attempts I was jumpier than usual. 

“You came alone.” “Yes. Your call indicated this was to be a private meeting.” “You wired?” “No. That stuff is expensive, not always reliable, and I can’t recall the last time I had a need for it.” “Who killed Dennis?” “Dennis?” For a moment I was taken aback, as it were. I recovered quickly. “Oh. Dennis, the man I called Buzz Cut. I don’t know.” “Wasn’t you.” “No. I was home watching TV. I think he was searching my office and somebody made a mistake. Whoever did it saw a shadow on the window blind, thought it was me, and pulled the trigger.” “You get shot at often?” “No, but it happened not too long ago. In my office that time as well. Missed me then, too.” I made an effort to keep my voice laconic. I didn’t want this guy to think I’d been freaked. Or that I was a little freaked at the murder of Buzz Cut in my office. “So you’re satisfied whoever shot Dennis thought he was aiming at you.” “That is correct.” “And it’s not related to the Molinaro thing.” “I don’t believe it is. I haven’t come across anything that would lead me to think there’s a connection. I could be wrong about that.” 

My inquisitor shifted away slightly to take more weight on his off leg. I can’t stand hip-shot like that for more than a few seconds. I guess the stance pinches a nerve in my back, or something. “You worried about being offed?” The tone of his voice changed. I’d had a feeling right from the beginning that the guy was graveling his voice and trying to use language in a different manner from his normal voice. All by way of concealing his identity. “Do you want to get to your point? It’s late, and I’ve got a full plate tomorrow.” I didn’t, but he didn’t have to know that. “Have you discovered anything about Gus Molinaro’s background?” “Some. He came from Mechanicsburg. That’s in Pennsylvania. Just a short ride south of Allenwood, the federal prison.” Straw Hat nodded once. “Do you know where Martin Levy is?” “No,” I said truthfully, “I don’t.” “We think he was planted on Gus.” I remained silent. None of my business what this guy and his companions, or family, thought. The less involved I could stay, the more likely I was to come out of this without any excess baggage. I rolled to my left and placed both elbows on the rail. Stared down at the water. It put me a little closer to my companion. I had my face turned toward him and could see a figure on a bicycle coming toward us along the bridge. Under the orange lights he was wearing a helmet, loose ankle-baring pants and a baggy tee shirt. He kept both hands on the handlebars and pedaled at a steady pace right on by us. Didn’t so much as glance our way. “I think you’ve got a tail,” I said. “Unless that cyclist is one of your minders.” Straw Hat tensed slightly. “All right,” he said. “Somebody will call you.”

With a surprising ending, I was hooked on this case from the very beginning... 

But next, we'll be hunting for a stolen piece of Art! I'm loving the Sean Sean Mystery Series! How About You?


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