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Finding Fitz: Fracktown Gumshoe, #6

Finding Fitz: Fracktown Gumshoe, #6

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Finding Fitz: Fracktown Gumshoe, #6

Length:
249 pages
3 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Nov 17, 2020
ISBN:
9781393305835
Format:
Book

Description

Unhappy clients and a marriage on the brink of implosion mean tough times for Fitz.

 

When Alicia is kidnapped from her hotel room while prosecuting a high-profile murder trial, the search for her uncovers an ugly subculture of hate that Fitz needs to infiltrate in order to save his wife. What he learns along the way could also save his marriage.

 

This is the sixth in Debra Gaskill's award-winning Fracktown Gumshoe mystery series.

  

Publisher:
Released:
Nov 17, 2020
ISBN:
9781393305835
Format:
Book

About the author

Debra Gaskill is the former managing editor of the Washington Court House (Ohio) Record Herald, which earned two Associated Press General Excellence awards during her tenure. She was an award-winning journalist for 20 years, writing for a number of Ohio newspapers covering the cops and courts beat, and the Associated Press, covering any stories thrown her way. Gaskill brings her knowledge of newspapers to her Jubilant Falls series. The mysteries 'Barn Burner' (2009), 'The Major's Wife' (2010), 'Lethal Little Lies' (2013), 'Murder on the Lunatic Fringe' (2014) and 'Death of A High Maintenance Blonde' (2014) all center around crimes committed in the fictional small town Jubilant Falls, Ohio, and often center around the damage family secrets can do. 'The Major's Wife' received honorable mention in the 2011 Writer's Digest Self-Published Book Awards and 'Barn Burner' was a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award at Killer Nashville.. Her next series, featuring the private investigator Niccolo Fitzhugh, brings her cops and courts experience together in a mystery that "creates complex characters and places them in real settings" according to customer reviews. That series includes Call Fitz (2015), Holy Fitz (2016), Love Fitz (2016), and the 2018 Silver Falchion Award winner for Best Suspense, Kissing Fitz (2017). Gaskill has an associates degree in liberal arts from Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Va., a bachelor's degree in English and journalism from Wittenberg University and a master of fine arts in creative writing from Antioch University, Yellow Springs. She and her husband Greg, a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, have two children and three grandchildren. They raise llamas and alpacas on their farm in Enon, Ohio. Connect with her on her website, www.debragaskillnovels.com, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

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Finding Fitz - Debra Gaskill

Gaskill

Prologue

It was late when the doorbell rang, right before the eleven o’clock news. I had just stepped from the shower and thrown back the covers on our wide, empty bed. I slipped on my robe and padded downstairs.

Alicia was gone, staying at a hotel in Akron while she served as a special prosecutor on a high- profile trial there. I didn’t like her being away. I wanted her home at night—after all, our place was only an hour or so from the Summit County courthouse. She said she didn’t want to make the drive after such a long day in court.

It was a matter of convenience she said. We both knew that convenience was bullshit. Her claims of long hours, late-night strategy meetings with her team, or quick access in case the defense somehow wanted to make a deal really meant she didn’t want to look at me.

At least, not for a while. I was lucky she called every night, usually during the late news, even if it was short. We were both under our separate covers during these late night calls, me in our lonely bedroom, Alicia calling from her hotel bed. We were trying to work our way back to the days when our pillow talk was face-to-face, tender and full of promise. Back then, we would look at each other across the pillows, grinning like fools, trading sweet talk and kisses and rehashing our day.

The last few months had been rough—rougher than we thought possible. In the end, we decided this would be a temporary cooling-off period. She wouldn’t have to deal with our continual disappointments, our angry words or our broken hearts if she commuted home. We could think things through and decide where we would go next: into a future of happily ever after or divorce court.

I’m coming! I’m coming! I hollered as the pounding became louder and more insistent. Jesus Christ, hang on!

I threw open the door. It was Chief Dave Baker. He’d been my lieutenant when I was on the FPD—saved my ass when I got caught with the former chief’s wife. Yeah, I know. Save your pontificating for somebody who gives a fuck.

Dave was within a couple weeks of retirement. The chief’s job had been hard on him and it showed. He looked ten years older than me—and was five years younger. It was just last week over a cup of espresso at Puccini’s that Dave detailed plans of a month-long vacation with his wife Alice in Hawaii. Those last days couldn’t come fast enough, he’d said.

Hey, Fitz, he said.

What are you doing here? I asked. Is everything OK?

The six o’clock news had mentioned a couple—former clients of mine—who hadn’t shown up for their jobs at the college. This couldn’t be the reason cops were knocking at my door, could it? Had my client wised up and finally left her bastard husband, like I told her to? Or was this one of another one of their dramatic displays of dysfunction? The news said they’d gone off on vacation last week and simply didn’t show up when they were supposed to. Both of them were too attached to whatever faux social standing they thought they had here. Together, the two of them were more than maladjusted. I cringed at the shit they’d put me through with their case. As long as I wasn’t involved—that was all I cared about.

Two men in suits stepped out of the shadows and flashed their badges at me.

Can we come in, Fitz? Dave asked. This is Steve Manus and Roger Howarth. They’re detectives with the Akron police.

Akron? I didn’t like where this was going. I’ve been on the other side of these late night visits, when I was a cop here in Fawcettville. I saw many a family member’s reaction when the detective I accompanied had to give them bad news. Sometimes they screamed, sometimes they held their hands silently over their mouths to contain the agony, but always, the detectives had to first ask some uncomfortable questions.

Do you know where your wife is? Manus asked.

She’s in Akron, at some boutique hotel downtown. The Blue Nile. She’s there for the Smoot trial. It’s been all over the papers.

The men looked at their feet, uncomfortable.

You didn’t talk to her this morning or at any time during the day? Manus asked.

Once today. We talked last night, too, about eleven. She’d had a rough day. The victim’s mother was in the stand all afternoon. I guess it was pretty emotional testimony. Then today, we talked when they were in recess this morning.

Manus nodded.

She called to remind me to give Sadie the dog some medication about lunch. Hearing her name, the slobbering mastiff lumbered from her bed in the kitchen to the living room. I patted the old gal’s graying head. She’s got arthritis, and the vet has her on some medication.

You didn’t hear from Alicia again?

No, I was expecting her call any minute now.

Manus and Howarth nodded, but didn’t speak.

Why? I asked. What happened?

She disappeared after court this evening. Hotel security said a guy in a suit came to the front desk, about six, said he was a lawyer and wanted to talk to her. So he called her room from the front desk and went up. Then, ten minutes later, some more folks came by—the prosecution team— and said they were supposed to meet her for drinks. They went upstairs and she was gone. The room had been ransacked.

And you fucking waited until almost eleven tonight to come tell me? I exploded. Where is she? What happened? You better have some goddamned answers!

Fitz, come on, Baker said. They found her Volkswagen just over an hour ago. It was abandoned on a county road, outside of Youngstown.

We’ve got cops in six counties and the FBI looking for her. Howarth tried to sound sympathetic.

But you couldn’t call me when she was first missing? You couldn’t pick up the goddamn phone?

Manus hung his head.

I ran my hands down my face. Oh God. This can’t be happening.

Unfortunately, it is, Howarth said. Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with your wife?

I looked at Baker, who nodded.

We’ve hit a rough patch lately, I said, softly. We’re trying to have a baby. And it’s not been real successful.

The three of them looked at each other, then down at the floor, a little embarrassed.

Go ahead and say it, I shot back. It’s not like I haven’t heard it from my own family.

No, man, no, Manus said. No judgment.

We’ve been arguing. She’s frustrated, I’m frustrated... My words trailed off. She said she needed some time away, so when this trial was to start, she decided to stay in Akron.

The prosecutor defended Smoot back when he was a juvenile, so he had to recuse himself, Manus told Dave. He knew Ms. Linnerman from her days with the Summit County prosecutor’s office and thought she’d be a good substitute.

I didn’t want her to do it, even though it meant a lot of time commuting, I said. I wanted her here with me. But she said she wanted to be alone for a little bit.

Baker nodded. I understand. Alice turned down a job in Akron because of the commute. The money was great, but it was too much time on the road.

Manus and Howarth didn’t speak. I looked from one man to another and back, and then to Dave. Something in their faces changed. Their sympathy receded, replaced by neutral, blank looks. I knew what came next.

Let me get dressed and get my keys. We can get this over with so that you can quit wasting time and get back to looking for my wife.

Chapter 1

"E wwww! That’s gross !"

My older sister Chrissy’s face reddened and she smacked the back of her granddaughter’s head, but I still remember the look of polite neutrality on everyone’s face that hid their own disbelief. At least the kid was honest.

It was Christmas. The Fitzhugh clan was gathered at Chrissy’s house: AJ, the oldest, his snobby wife Dora; Randy, the brains in the family, and his nearly invisible spouse, Mimi; my sister Chrissy and her husband Arnold; Matteo and his little blonde wife Denise; the youngest brother, Pauly, his wife Josie, and my favorite sister, Katie, the wild girl, and her husband Pete. I fit in before Matteo and after Chrissy, who, as the oldest sister, hosted our family’s annual holiday gorge-fest.

Whenever possible, kids and grandkids came to the meal, if they didn’t have other job or familial obligations. This year, Chrissy and Arnold’s oldest boy, Gianni, was home on leave from the Marines and the guest of honor after his second tour in Afghanistan. A few other of my nieces and nephews were there, with their children.

Up until now, these gatherings brought back all the great memories of my childhood in our Italian neighborhood of New Tivoli. Unlike AJ and Randy, Chrissy, Katie, Pauly never left, all living within walking distance of each other in the old clapboard houses built during Fawcettville’s prime, when men walked the brick streets to the gates of the now-dead steel mill, able to make a real living. Alicia and I lived within a few blocks of my brother and sisters, too; I loved living in the old neighborhood again after we bought a New Tivoli house.

Alicia slipped her hand over her wine glass after the first course of Chrissy’s vellutata, a warm soup of pureed carrots and butternut squash. Chrissy shot her a sidelong glance, but didn’t say anything. Then, Alicia declined the decanter of dago red—twice—as it came around our table after the main course of Ma’s lasagna—now christened ‘Lasagna del Nonno’ (Grandma’s lasagna), served with side dishes of roasted potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, and a huge salad. Concern flitted across my sister’s face—or was Chrissy trying to hide her nosiness?—as she headed back to the kitchen to get dessert.

Chrissy returned with zuppa inglese—her special dessert she only made at Christmas and served in a big footed bowl Grandma Gallione brought from the Old Country. The dessert, layers of sponge cake with custard and chocolate custard, reddened with homemade alchermes liquor, was Chrissy’s specialty.

She sat the bowl in front of Alicia.

You want some, Alicia?

Yes! It looks fabulous! I had some last year, didn’t I, Fitz? she turned to me.

Yes... I said slowly.

Well then, I need a big serving! Twenty years younger than me, Alicia hadn’t been as accepted as my first wife, the late Dr. Grace Darcy. As a result, she worked hard to get into my family’s good graces with mixed results, even now, two years after our wedding.

I shook my head once, sharply.

You should have the panettone, especially with mascarpone cream, I said.

Chrissy caught my eye.

OK, you two—what’s up? Alicia always eats anything I make—and she’s turned down three glasses of wine today.

Alicia and I exchanged glances. Her face told me it might be too early. I knew my sister wouldn’t let it go until we said something. I helped Alicia stand and put a hand protectively on her belly.

We have an announcement. We’re going to have a baby.

THE CHIEF'S CRUISER slid through New Tivoli’s emptying streets as we headed downtown toward the police station.

So the family didn’t take the news well, huh? Baker’s eyes met mine in the rearview window.

I lay my head against the seat back and sighed. I couldn’t believe I was in the cage like any slime ball perp. The cruiser’s camera faced backwards, its red light blinking to tell me it recorded my every word. Fucker. He knew I hadn’t done anything to Alicia. Baker was protecting himself: somewhere along the line, someone would accuse him of shielding me and he needed to make sure his own ass was covered. I knew this town all too well.

No. I’ll bet there were six or seven of my nieces and nephews there, some of them with their own kids. I mean, a whole houseful of Fitzhughs. It was one of the grandkids who said something first, but I could see it on everybody’s face: ‘Uncle Niccolo’s baby will be younger than my own kid.’

Baker smiled at me in the rearview as we turned a corner into the downtown, streetlights shining down on six revitalized blocks of shops, restaurants and tattoo parlors. It was a rebirth long in coming, thanks to the rise of the fracking industry in Fawcettville. Some still wondered if the occasional earthquake or contaminated well was worth the economic recovery, but in large part, the citizens of Fawcettville were happy to have money in their pockets again.

You know, I never figured you’d ever be a father, Fitz—at least not intentionally, he said.

I looked out the window.

Yeah, me neither, I whispered. If Baker didn’t know any of the painful details, I wasn’t going to tell him.

We were silent for a moment or two.

What do you know about the Smoot case? Baker asked.

Not a whole lot. Alicia and I don’t trade information on cases, as much as everyone would like to believe. I wasn’t going to give anybody anything to latch on to when the cruiser-cam video was played.

We were the county’s official law enforcement odd couple: the young county prosecutor with a brilliant career ahead of her, married to a retired cop who happened to be the department’s biggest fuckup and the only private dick in town.

Baker nodded.

That's for the best. He killed his girlfriend, as I understand it, with a baseball bat.

I knew all that—and more. Smoot was a dead-ender, with the shaved head and facial tattoos blaring his allegiance to the Neo-Nazi skinheads, including a cute little swastika on his neck.

Baker was correct: Smoot’s weapon for killing his girlfriend Sharon McCall was a baseball bat.

What I knew that he didn’t: the bat was wrapped in barbed wire. Alicia—normally tough as nails—covered her face with her hands and gagged when she saw the photos of the victim and the weapon marked with the victim’s blood and brains. That was when I learned she would be stepping in to lead the prosecution.

She was still pregnant. It was just before Christmas. We hadn’t told the family yet.

Baker didn’t say any more. We pulled up into the sally port behind the FPD, with the two Akron cops behind us. Baker shut off the cruiser and with it, the camera; all four of us exited our vehicles at the same time. Baker led the way to an interview room, Howarth and Manus behind us like Roman centurions. I settled into the suspect’s chair as Manus and Howarth left to chairs for themselves.

You want some coffee, Fitz? Baker asked.

I shook my head.

The longer we dick around here, the longer my wife is missing.

There’s folks still looking. Don’t worry.

Only Manus came back to the box, pushing a wheeled office chair. Howarth, no doubt, was in the file room around the corner, watching the interview on closed circuit TV. Baker shut the door.

So tell us, Mr. Fitzhugh, Manus began. Tell us what’s been going on with you and your wife.

IT WAS SPRING, RIGHT after our wedding, when the subject first came up. Alicia and I were sitting on the front porch swing, enjoying a glass of wine after dinner. The neighborhood was coming alive again after a rough, cold winter. Kids rode their bikes up and down the old brick streets as parents took the last dying light of the day to mow their short, square front yards or bring their trash cans to the curb for tomorrow’s pick up.

I loved this old neighborhood. It was built sometime in the twenties when New Tivoli was a new and booming neighborhood, filling with Old Country immigrants who came to work in the steel mill.

I love the history of our house, too—families just like my mother’s people, the Galliones, had lived here over generations. There was a bedroom doorframe with the heights of somebody’s kids, written in pencil each year on their birthdays. Alicia hadn’t wanted to paint over it when we added the second upstairs bathroom. This place, along with every other building on this street and every street in New Tivoli, was part of the backbone of Fawcettville. I was glad to be back here, glad to be starting again, here with Alicia.

We bought the place right before we got married.

Do you ever think about having a family?

I took a sip of my wine, then gestured toward my face. You want to curse some poor kid with this?

I was a troll: no neck, big shoulders, thick bowed legs and, according to my wife, a little taller than Napoleon but with all the complex. I had my father’s round pugilist’s face, my mother’s curly, dark Italian hair and her father’s barrel chest. My off-center nose reflected my football and personal career with the punches it had taken. My looks never stood in the way with the ladies—it had to be my fucking sparkling personality and way with people.

Alicia laughed. It’s handsome enough for me. She laid a hand on my leg. I’m serious, Fitz. Have you ever thought about kids?

I wouldn’t be a good father.

Sure you would! Beneath all that bluster and bravado, there’s an old softie in there. Her voice dropped and she leaned closer to me on the swing. I’ve seen it—and not only when the lights are out.

Don’t tell anybody. I have a reputation to uphold. I took another drink and smiled at her. What brings this up?

I dunno. She

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