The dual forces of good and evil take center stage in this, the fourth installment in the Jimmy McSwain Files, one that finds the tortured, sexy detective battling an unforeseen enemy: happiness. Yet murder will soon rear its desperate chill, hurtling Jimmy into the highest society and the lowest of lives.
Winter is nearly upon Manhattan, the holidays right around the corner. Jimmy is hired to escort the infamous tabloid favorite Serena Carson to a charity benefit, intent on guarding her from an abusive ex. Yet the job takes a brutal turn as Henderson Carlyle, the privileged, spoiled lothario, is found sliced to death outside of Serena’s brownstone. The cops warn Jimmy away from the case, including his former lover, Captain Francis X. Frisano. Jimmy has his hands full anyway, as his visiting cousin Kellan was found beaten by one-time family friend, Mickey Dean, a Hell’s Kitchen thug with a dark past and even darker threat. As the snow falls and answers remain buried, Jimmy finds himself thrown into the midst of two conflicting cases, one of which will expose a dormant clue to the long-unsolved murder of his NYPD cop, Joseph McSwain. Complicating matters is a new man in Jimmy’s life, who promises Jimmy security and safety, neither word easy for him to accept. When fate sends Jimmy’s world into turmoil, he realizes there’s a devil at work in a season usually owned by angels.
Case file #101: THE FOREVER HAUNT
Clues had been few and far between lately for his first and still cold case, leaving him, on some nights, staring at a file that failed to provide him with any answers, much less any needed solace. Motivation can come from unexpected places, though, stirring a fierce desire to once and for all solve the mystery. On this starlit November night, he’d been downstairs at Paddy’s Pub, the intimate bar owned by his uncle, his mother’s brother. Paddy’s was quiet tonight, closed for the holiday, so the only people inside were family, celebrating the annual feast that was Thanksgiving. It was only after the pumpkin pie—never his favorite—had been brought to the table that he slipped out the side door and made his way upstairs to the second-floor studio apartment that doubled as his office.
Grabbing a Yuengling from the small fridge he kept inside the apartment, he twisted the cap and took a grateful sip before setting down the bottle on the floor. Fortified, he then went to the closet and slid open the door to reveal the black metal filing cabinet he stored inside. Opening the drawer was always dramatic in his mind, almost like Batman unveiling the special access batpoles to the cave carved deep under Wayne Manor. This was his not-so-secret place, a go-to haunt where he went to fight a strange concoction of sorrow and —hope—where his soul was fueled, where he was reminded of what he’d lost and what one day he would solve. He withdrew a thick file bulging with yellowed newspaper articles, aging photographs, and other notes from a case that only seemed to grow more complicated with each passing year.
Next March, it would be fifteen years since the shooting, half his life in which he’d lived with his father dead.
Joseph McSwain had been a career NYPD officer, shot down while off duty during an innocent deli run to grab some morning bagels. He’d taken his only son with him, the son who later held him, watched as his father bled out while not even hearing his own screams, the look in his father’s eyes forever ingrained: Why? Why indeed, he thought even today, because whoever had pulled that trigger and for whatever reason still remained a cruel mystery. In the past year, he’d redoubled his efforts to solve a crime the cops had long given up on, and while he thought he’d inched closer, this past fall had seen one pertinent clue dry up like a raindrop on a humid summer’s day, gone before it had solidified.
Downstairs, he could hear the joyous celebration continue. This day was Uncle Paddy’s favorite holiday, and as such he preferred to host. He closed the pub, covered the pool table with a plank of wood, then allowed his mother, Hester, to decorate and set the makeshift table. His two grown sons arrived, some years with a girlfriend, most not, because Paddy liked to keep things small, “just family,” as he was wont to say. This year just Kellan and Taren were here, along with Grandma Hester, who came down from upstate Peach Lake, and of course Paddy’s sister, Maggie, was there, along with her brood, daughters Mallory, who had brought her steady beau, Taylor, a pregnant Meaghan, and lastly the man who had now deserted the party, her son, Jimmy.
Jimmy settled down on the floor, sipping at his beer while flipping open the file. A photo of his father in his dress blues stared back at him, as it always did. His face was lit with a smile, his bristly handlebar mustache highlighting his handsome face. Jimmy saw himself in the man’s features, the shape of his mouth and the slight hook of his nose. Where they differed was in the eyes. Joseph’s were open, inviting. Jimmy had stared in the mirror often enough to know his eyes were darker, shaded with regret. He carried that look with him often, which some found enticing, while others saw only distance.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Dad,” Jimmy said to the open space.
There was no answer. There never was. Joseph McSwain was as silent as ever.
Jimmy flipped another page, where he came upon his own notes about a recent twist in the case that had left him cold. A killer had been released from prison, only to kill again. After he was gunned down by the NYPD, an unknown sister had surfaced with new facts then one day retracted them and disappeared into a black hole provided by the authorities. Jimmy was told by the police it had all been fabrication, that the Assan case shared no link to the long-ago shooting death of their brother, Joseph McSwain. Skeptical of the story but with no place to turn, Jimmy had filed his own report and then pushed the Forever Haunt into the recesses of the dark closet, not to mention those regions of his mind that awoke only at night. Only after a visit from Captain Francis X. Frisano last month had a new fear sprung up inside Jimmy, one that suggested he’d been manipulated by results of the Assan case. A fresh clue existed somewhere. It had to. Jimmy would find it. A phrase the stuck out during the last case: Blue Death.
“I’ll find the truth, Dad.”
A gentle knock stirred him. He looked up to find his mother standing in the doorframe of his apartment. Maggie was sixty-seven and still beautiful, with knowing eyes and a mop of gray hair. Her knees sometimes grew creaky, which might have come from a lifetime of climbing five flights of stairs to her home or up the grand staircases of the Calloway Theatre. Here it was only two. Still, she rarely visited his office, knowing this was his sanctuary. Another superhero image flashed in his mind, Superman hiding inside the cold walls of the Fortress of Solitude, but Jimmy possessed no superpowers, and even if he did, the knowing presence of Maggie McSwain was his Kryptonite. Whatever resolve of hiding up here dissipated with her arrival.
“Jimmy, it’s Thanksgiving, a day of rest, of family.”
“I know. I was doing great, until I wasn’t.”
“Do you always sit on the floor, or has the weight of the world on your shoulders pushed you down that far?”
He tried to smile. “I’ll be down in a minute.”
“The Martinos just arrived,” she said, “Including Rocky. They brought a pecan pie. I know you prefer that over pumpkin.”
Rocky Martino was the father of Meaghan’s baby, due this coming February. They were not a couple, since Rocky had only been pretending to date her—one drunken night a notable exception, hiding his true sexuality from very traditional parents, both now considered extended family and thus partaking of the holiday dessert. All of their families went back years, growing up in Hell’s Kitchen. Gentrification had pushed out some of the old-timers, that or death had, but these three clans—the Byrnes, McSwains, Martinos—still considered 10th Avenue their home, their turf, along with a host of other families who never referred to the neighborhood as Clinton and who refused to sell out to the high-rise, low-life developers.
“I’ll be down soon.”
“You could have brought a guest, too, Jimmy, so you wouldn’t feel so…”
“I’m not alone, Ma. I got you.”
“A thirty-year-old man, relying on his mother.”
“I could be eighty, and I’d still rely on you.”
“Hate to think how old that would make me,” she said.
“You’re timeless, Ma.”
She came over to him and tousled his brown hair like he was still ten years old, a half-smile upon her face. She didn’t need to say more. Sometimes words minimized earnest gestures. Maggie turned around and went back downstairs, leaving Jimmy to himself, his heart lifted. For just a brief moment, both of his parents had been inside his world, one ghostly, the other an ever-present angel. He closed the thick file but not before staring intently at his father’s image again.
“One day, Dad, one day you’ll rest.”
Joseph McSwain was still smiling. At least one of them could.
The file put away, the beer drained, Jimmy McSwain left his office, dousing the light, and with it, the safety he always found inside. Darkness stared back at him, threatening to claim him. Clues were not going to be found among these silent walls but outside, floating in the blowing wind, white noise amidst the honking of horns, waiting for that perfect moment to drift down to the earth like snowflakes. Jimmy promised he would catch them, on his tongue and in his heart, and in doing so, he would catch a killer.
Time couldn’t evade him forever.
CASE FILE #101: THE FOREVER HAUNT