Fifteen years ago, NYPD officer Joseph McSwain, was gunned down while trying to stop a robbery. His murder was never solved. Until now.
For his son, Hell’s Kitchen private detective Jimmy McSwain, his father’s death has defined him, defied him, and denied him his chance at happiness. But the shooting death of a young officer named Denson Luke has re-ignited the investigation into the mysterious Blue Death conspiracy. Jimmy still must earn a living, so he cannot ignore a family in distress. New neighbors Carmen Ramirez and her young son, Sonny are clearly running from danger. Overnight, their case becomes one involving a missing father, a Chinese crime syndicate, and an abduction which threatens to overwhelm Jimmy’s mission of solving his father’s case. His relationship status with Frank Frisano on and off again, Jimmy tries to do double duty, jeopardizing his own safety. It’s only when another murder occurs that Jimmy finally finds the path that has eluded him. His investigation finally leads him back home, where a devastating family secret overshadows all he’s learned, and the cost to the McSwain family may never be repaid. Jimmy realizes the blood on his hands will forever haunt him.
Case file #101: THE FOREVER HAUNT
The past stared back at him, a ghost with glowing eyes. He hadn’t looked at these clothes in nearly a year’s time, not since last March, the anniversary of his father’s death. March 18th, mere hours after the entire family had celebrated a traditional, and for them—final–St. Patrick’s Day together. He wasn’t sure what hidden impulse had him withdrawing the plastic bag out of the back of his closet today, or why he was looking at ancient stains, rust colored and crusted, that too long ago bore the bright crimson of freshly spilled blood. A pair of faded jeans, a simple white T-shirt, dirty sneakers, the lone survivors of that awful day. His mother had thought she’d thrown them out. Except he had fetched them out of the dumpster in front of their building and never told her he kept them. Back then when a teen he’d been afraid to say so, fearful she would steal them away. Today, the soiled clothes served not as a reminder of the terrible unsolved crime because he didn’t need one, but instead was more of a talisman in this quest he’d sworn one day to complete. The clothes remained in the plastic, a transparent coffin.
He’d inched closer in the last year to finally adding the word SOLVED to the file, the one cold case that continued to deny him sleep. The case was labeled file 101 because it had been his first ever as a private investigator, he his first client. He’d redoubled his efforts in the past ten months, fresh, unexpected clues starting to fall into place. It was like he could taste a resolution, on his tongue and feel it in his heart, within his soul. Both words, forever and haunt, could at last be laid to rest beside his father.
A new year had at last arrived, and with it came a renewed sense of hope, of salvation, as it always did. Except this year was different, because it would be the fifteenth anniversary of the murder of Joseph McSwain, and the truth had been buried too long. Almost like the dropping of that sparkling, diamond-encrusted ball in Times Square, the anticipation of its descent offered up a sense that brightness filled the future. All you needed was an official countdown. Then you could cheer. Then you could celebrate triumph.
Now, though, distant stars dotted a clear night sky that was slipping into the brightening horizon. Morning was edging in, pushing out the past day, bringing sun-filled promise from the east. Wide-awake and restless, he stared at the window of his office, a studio apartment found on the second floor of a walk-up on Ninth Avenue and 46th Street. The time was approaching 4:30 in the morning, the city gone quiet. It was one of those rare times when Manhattan defied its hard-earned reputation. The bars were closed, people slept, the only signs of life coming from the occasional cabs passing by, empty. The lights on the roofs beamed like fallen stars.
Jimmy McSwain had been asleep but his pattern was interrupted, as it was most nights he stayed here. He easily fell asleep, usually around 1:00 a.m., only to awaken somewhere between four and five. He would then do case work, mostly the online research which only seemed to suck up valuable time during normal waking hours. He was between cases right now, which is when he usually turned to the Forever Haunt. He would take out the thickening file of fading memories and reread articles his lips knew all too well. Tonight he’d altered his routine, left the file in the closed drawer, and instead reached back and found the plastic bag of clothes.
It hadn’t happened far from here, the murder of his father. At the corner of Tenth Avenue and 47th Street, a block from the safety of home, an avenue from here. A nexus between his home life and his business, a perfect storm of tragedy and destiny. He should never have lost his father that day, not in that way. Imagine if Joseph McSwain had lived, where would Jimmy be now? Not awake, not being taunted by darkness that lived not only in the night sky but inside his heart. Morning would shun the night and bring the new day it always did. Not the same for what ached inside him, because the wound never did go away. He knew the feeling too well, especially with the anniversary looming. He could hear the loud blast of a gun just as much as he could the constant ticking of the clock. A countdown indeed, the sort that kept sleep at bay.
Jimmy released the faded curtain, closing out the waking city. Encased in his own world, he sat on the worn sofa, the bag of bloodied clothes keeping him company–his younger self still beside him. He leaned forward and instead grabbed the television remote. He flipped the power button, watched as the TV blared to life. He pressed the mute button, not ready for both sight and sound. The cable box always went directly to NY1, the 24-hour news channel in Manhattan. Time was four thirty-one, the early morning anchor detailing the “weather on the 1s.” It was going to be a normal February day, high of 37. He didn’t have much planned for the day. At night, he had promised his mother he would pick up a sub shift at the Calloway Theatre. Not his favorite job, ushering the people to their seats, but he did help in a pinch.
Anything for Maggie McSwain.
Including ultimately solving the murder of the only man she’d ever loved.
On the screen Jimmy noticed video of a crime scene unfolding along one of Manhattan’s waterfronts. Emergency lights swirled in the background, adding garish red streaks to the night. The scenario grabbed his attention. He clicked on the sound, rewound to get the report from the start.
“Breaking news now. Police have responded to a shooting that has taken place along the East River near 14th Street. Early reports have the NYPD harbor patrol retrieving a body from the river, but no other details have emerged yet. We are waiting for word from the officials on hand but until then we go now to our on-scene reporter, Jillian Jansen, who is standing by. Jillian, can you tell us the latest?”
“Pat, police responded at about 3 a.m. to a call of shots fired on the pier here on the east side. We expect to hear from the responding precinct captain in a matter of minutes…wait, I see someone walking to a makeshift podium…it’s not the precinct captain but NYPD Commissioner Patrick Delaware himself. This is an interesting turn of events, which makes this incident a high priority. Let’s listen in.”
Jimmy leaned in, as though doing so got him somehow closer to the action. He watched a distinguished, gray at the temples man of about sixty step up to the microphone. As someone who took careful notice of the activities of the NYPD, Jimmy knew Delaware’s florid face quite well, but it was the two men who flanked him that added to the unfolding intrigue. First, he recognized a one-time family friend, Lieutenant Lawrence Dean, and second, on the left side of the commish was another of his trusted lieutenants, Salvatore Frisano—who happened to be father to Francis X. Frisano, captain of the 10th Precinct in Chelsea and Jimmy’s current lover. Seeing such a high-powered press conference unfold had Jimmy wondering who the victim could be. He felt his heart racing quickly, anxiety winning out over curiosity.
“Good morning, and it is an early one at that,” Commissioner Delaware began. “I stand here with a heavy heart, regret filling me as I report that one of our finest, Officer Denson Luke of the 10th Precinct, was found washed up along the waters of the East River at approximately 3:45 this morning. The circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery, though I can confirm that it was neither a suicide nor an accidental drowning. Officer Luke was killed by a single gunshot to the forehead, and while an autopsy will be performed, we are treating this as not only a homicide but an execution of a man in blue. His brethren of the NYPD will devote all our waking hours to finding the perpetrator of this terrible crime. We will all know why Officer Denson Luke lost his life.”
Jimmy felt like the past never stayed where it should, his life a constantly staged revival. The bloodied clothes served as a prop in a tragic play, the men at the podium the leads. Jimmy a mere spectator, the man who put people in their seats, just as he’d been during the days after his father’s murder. That was back when the police swore the same commitment as he’d just heard. No one gets away with killing an NYPD cop. Yet someone had, long ago. The police had come up empty back then, and who knew, perhaps they would now.
Jimmy focused back on the television, where the Commissioner was still talking.
“I have asked two of my trusted aides to form a task force to investigate this brutal crime, working in tandem with the 10th Precinct, where Officer Luke was assigned. Many of you know Lieutenant Lawrence Dean, who works within a special branch of our Internal Affairs bureau. And Lieutenant Salvatore Frisano, who has overseen many high-profile cases, though much of his investigative work is done behind the scenes. Together, these two dedicated men in blue will protect one of their own, even when—especially when—one cannot protect himself. Thank you. I wish us all better days ahead.”
Jimmy sat there, stunned as the three powerful men in uniform broke from the podium. He absorbed what he’d just heard. The 10th Precinct was under Captain Frisano’s command, and now one of his officers was dead. His father heading up the task force. Jimmy thought about calling or texting Frisano, but what would he say, what comfort was there? Frisano was busy no doubt, perhaps even among those first responders assembled on the pier. He gazed at the screen to see if he could recognize anyone walking about but the camera then panned back to where the reporter stood. Jimmy listened in.
“Pat, we just learned more details about the victim. Officer Luke was on the force for five years, and he leaves behind a wife and two young children. We will have more for you later. For now, I’m Jillian Jansen, live in Manhattan…”
Jimmy pressed the power button and watched the image disappear. So easy to douse, just like a life. Everything was instant these days. Except pain. That didn’t disappear so quickly, if it ever did. Jimmy thought about Officer Luke, and he thought about the man’s family, who would wake up to the news of his death, if they hadn’t already been informed. Their lives were altered forever. Jimmy understood all too well.
Crime never solved anything, not for the perp, not for the vic. It just did damage.
Jimmy tossed the remote aside, wiped a tear from his eye as he retrieved the bag of soiled clothes from the sofa. Walking across the room, he opened the closet and set the bag on a high shelf. Out of sight, but never out of mind. He returned to the window and saw the first break of light on the horizon. He was grateful to see the hint of a new day, an orange glow of hope. Not everyone got to witness such radiance, and so few appreciated it.
In truth, few appreciated their life. Not until death readied its final nail.
Resolution was near. He could feel the tingle in his fingertips. Bring on the morning, that fresh start so many sought.
Through another family’s pain, mourning, Jimmy McSwain had found new determination to finally close out his first case, no matter the circumstances, or consequences. He was going to bring the heat to this cold case.
Case File #101: THE FOREVER HAUNT.
Case Status: UNSOLVED
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