Book I: Charlie Novak and the Dead Pigeon
Saturday morning, December 15, Tampa, Florida
“Did you kill my wife?”
Charlie Novak blinked. “Which one?” He propped the cell phone between his shoulder and his ear and continued buttering his toast. Fucking Owen. “What’s this about?”
“Vanessa was murdered near San Francisco.”
“Murdered. Who says so?”
Owen’s wireless voice came through a scrim of static. “A police detective was out here yesterday to question me. Robert Mazurski.”
“Huh.” Charlie paused in thought. “She died way too early.”
“Six months ahead of schedule.” Owen sounded more bewildered than grief-stricken.
Charlie rubbed his frowning eyebrows. He’d liked Vanessa. But he knew better than to get emotionally attached to any of Owen’s wives. There was no future in it. “This cop flew all the way from the west coast to— Where you at, Chicago?”
“I’m sure he wanted to see my reaction when he delivered the news.”
Charlie sat for a long moment, his disquiet growing. “Did he say how she died?”
“Her throat was slit.”
“Aw Jesus.” The sour taste of bile rose from his gullet. He reached for his coffee, took a swallow and set the mug clattering down. “You know that’s not how I work.” His methods were bloodless and as painless as he could manage. That was a point of pride with him; his sole consolation.
“Then it must’ve been someone else,” said Owen.
“When did it happen?”
“Couple weeks ago. Saturday, December First. As it happens, I was in Cleveland that
whole weekend. I have the receipts to prove it. I gave copies to Mazurski.”
“Then you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
“Oh, I know. Still, her death was a shock.” Owen managed to sound sorrowful. But he was an old hand at feigning emotions of any kind.
“Also a nasty coincidence,” said Charlie.
He leaned back. An ice-cold ache seized the ghost of his lower left shin. Like an arthritis flare-up that warned of rain, his missing part sometimes flashed pain signals when trouble was headed his way. It was an omen he couldn’t entirely dismiss.
He reached down with one hand and massaged his stump while Owen went on about how much he’d loved the girl. How sweet she was. How beautiful. How adoring.
Charlie had heard these sentiments expressed too many times. He didn’t point out that Owen and Vanessa had separated a year ago. He turned to business. “Listen, Owen. You’d best not file a claim just yet. Soon as you file, Little Rock Beneficial will contact the cops and tell them the victim was insured for almost a million dollars, with you the beneficiary. Alibi or not, you don’t want to hand anyone a reason to look harder at you.”
“Let them look.”
Charlie snorted a laugh “You really want a bunch of homicide detectives poking around? Digging into your history?”
That silenced Owen. Any loose thread could end up unraveling their entire scheme. A scheme with enough dead wives to net them north of twenty million in insurance payouts.
Charlie added, “I’m not saying we give up on the money. Let’s just give this Detective Whatsit--Mazurski time to clear the case. Nail the killer. How did he strike you? Competent?”
“Very much so.”
“I’ll check him out.” Charlie jotted notes. “Anyway, even if you did file now, the money would be held up for the length of the investigation.”
“Which you could be monitoring. As a senior investigator and all.”
“I don’t want to go anywhere near it. That gets the both of us tromping around in the net.” All he needed was to get himself tangled in a homicide investigation, letting his ugly, fire-scarred face pop up on Mazurski’s radar. “Don’t worry. Just go on about your business. But Owen? Be sure to check for messages every day. Where you heading next, Ohio or Pennsylvania?”
“Youngstown. Keely’s expecting me.”
Owen’s other wife, a cutie with short hair, a boyish figure, and about ten months left before her terminal visit from Charlie Novak. “Tell her ‘hey’ for me.”