Jimmy McSwain returns, but the question lingers, now that he has finally solved the fifteen-year-old murder of his NYPD cop-father, Joseph, who has he become?
Busy concentrating on family issues, Jimmy hasn't taken a new case in nearly three months, and when a call comes in from Philip Connelly, who wants proof of his wife, Myra's, cheating, Jimmy is torn. Take the case, or say no. He rejects it, only to learn a week later that Philip has been found dead in a park on Staten Island. The police believe it was suicide, but Myra--a self-admitted adulteress--is convinced he was murdered. Jimmy agrees to take the case. But it seems his decision to rejoin the world has also affected the other areas of his life: his sister is facing a health crisis, an old friend from his father's past has resurfaced, and his lover, Captain Francis X. Frisano, is working a difficult case in Chelsea where gay men are being attacked.
If that wasn't enough, Jimmy is on the hunt to bring down his new nemesis, the criminal mastermind Mr. Wu-Tin. A fire at one of his warehouses stirs fear in Jimmy that the man is trying to destroy evidence of his crimes. That's when life throws him a twist, and suddenly Jimmy feels that just as he's hoping to find answers, new mysteries emerge about whether the path he's on leads to a fresh start, or a fresh kill.
Case file #701: FORTUNE’S ENEMY
Starting anew, a new series of cases. Here’s what he’d learned this past year: that as much as you unearthed about the mysteries of life, the specter of death was never far from reach. In less dramatic terms, whenever good news found you, it seemed the bad news was sneaking up behind it. It’s why some people, when given the option, chose to hear the bad news first. Clouds first, then wait for the silver lining. For Jimmy McSwain, he sought the good first. Maybe it would set a better tone.
The doctor had spoken the good: she had awakened. A miracle.
The veteran detective had added a surprising detail. The shooter was dead. Hanged himself in a jail cell at Riker’s. That, a mixed blessing. An easy out.
Except there was more bad news, again, coming from the grizzled detective from Midtown North. He’d once worked with the late Joseph McSwain as a beat cop. He’d been promoted. Which meant he’d survived the mean streets. Unlike Jimmy’s father. What he stated was that the man who had allegedly ordered the hit was not only still free, but there lacked any evidence connecting him to the crime. Solving it would have to wait. A familiar phrase to Jimmy. Hot to cold.
But Jimmy preferred to concentrate on that first bit of good news, the most important.
It had been a quick visit to Mallory’s room at the hospital from both professionals, updates that couldn’t alter her reality. Nearly three months had passed since the shooting, which all parties assumed had been meant for Jimmy. Instead, his older sister, Mallory, had been caught in the crossfire, a bullet lodging in her brain, taking her down in front of Jimmy. An eerie reverie of his father’s shooting, but unlike Joseph’s, she’d survived. The fact the ambush had taken place in front of a hospital is most likely what saved her. She’d been not two hundred feet from the entrance to the emergency room. She lost a lot of blood that day, and he in turn did too, donating much of his to save her. Not that their bond ever missed a beat, but in his heart Jimmy knew he and his sister were forever connected by her steady, and steadying, pulse. In the ensuing weeks, while the beep of machines played as her soundtrack, Jimmy never used the mute button. It wasn’t guilt that fed him, nor obligation. Just love. Sometimes it was that simple. He would end every visit with a kiss to her forehead. Liked to think it gave her strength, imbued in her quiet determination. Time meant nothing, stalled as it was, and yet, for her, the more she had, time meant everything.
Mallory McSwain woke up on the first day of June, about ten weeks after the bullet had hit her skull. Eyes flickered, light inside them. She’d smiled. And then she’d quickly retreated into her sleepy state. The doctors said she’d accomplished an amazing feat just by waking up. They hoped it would only be a matter of time before a true prognosis could be made about her future. Whenever she spoke—assuming she could—they could better gauge her recovery time. She had a long road ahead of her. A path of tangled brambles.
The person who wouldn’t be able to recover was her assailant, a cheap thug named Fong. That was the news the detective had delivered, recapping it in the hallway outside Mallory’s room.
“Yeah, he’s dead.”
On that fateful morning of March 18th, a witness had come forward and identified Fong, Jimmy providing a second opinion. Since he’d interacted with the man, having endured an assault by the hired gun for his interference in the questionable business practices of his boss, a certain Mr. Wu-Tin. Fong had been sought by the Department of Homeland Security, because he was a known illegal. ICE had captured him and locked him up. That had happened in late May, just days before Mallory’s eyes first fluttered. As if the shooter’s incarceration had given her fresh life. Her eyes had opened again this morning, the same day Fong had been found dead in his cell, his belt tied around his neck, that same belt wrapped around the lighting fixture on the ceiling. The thin metal bed overturned. Just how he’d gotten his hands on a belt remained a question none of the authorities cared to investigate. Good riddance to bad trash.
So, the truth was, Mallory was awake and Fong was dead. The world was balancing its quota of hope and justice.
“Thank you, Detective,” Jimmy had said. Fong dead, it left only Mr. Wu-Tin to chase.
He remembered his only ever encounter with the dangerous Mr. Wu-Tin. In an office above his Chinatown restaurant, Imperial Dragon. Fong had beaten him, all while the boss watched. But little did they know that Jimmy had a back-up plan, incriminating evidence of the illegal activities that overrode a seemingly legitimate business. He’d been released that night, and was even given a take-out meal. Perhaps a metaphor, a last supper. It had come, of course, with a prescient fortune cookie. He’d tossed the meal in the garbage that night, cookie included. He didn’t need anyone telling him his fortune, or his future. Jimmy McSwain decided his own fate.
And his fate included vindication for Mallory.
At the hospital, both doctor and detective left. Leaving Jimmy with his sister, as it had been since March.
“I’ll get him, that’s a promise,” Jimmy said, kissing her forehead.
She touched his arm. Tried to smile. And she spoke. Her first words. “Jimmy. No.”
He hated hospitals. The antiseptic smell, the cool efficiency, the artificial brightness. Soon, he hoped to take her home to Hell’s Kitchen, back to where she grew up. Before guns, before death, when they innocently played stickball on the sidewalks. Mallory had always been a bit of a tomboy. She was tough. But she loved to laugh, her vibrancy having a way of drying tears.
He’d promised to find peace for his father, and he’d delivered on that promise, years later. He would do the same for her. Guns were the enemy. Family, that was his fortune, his future.
§ § § §
He was babysitting, happily.
It was a Friday night in mid-June. His mother, Maggie, was at work. The play at the Harold Calloway Theatre on West 47th Street was in its “final weeks.” Triskaidekaphobia had performed decently on Broadway, but had never become the big hit Wellington Calloway and his producers and playwright had hoped for. They had secured four Tony nominations, but not one for Best Play. Such a result meant putting up a closing notice. Maggie said she didn’t mind. It would free up her summer, just as she liked. Meaghan had gone back to work on the aisle, too, which is why Jimmy was right now entrenched on the sofa, Baby Joey in his arms, a bottle between his lips.
Joey. Joseph. Named in honor of their fallen father.
“Thirsty, aren’t you? Wait till you’re twenty-one, we’ll share a beer,” he said to his three-month old nephew. “Though I hate to think how old that would make me.”
Jimmy was thirty, and Joey was the first of the next generation of McSwains. He was cute; he’d lost the early redness of birth, and now glowed with health. He had a good head of hair, dark brown and thick like his uncle. When anyone in the family took him outside, locals all cooed around him. He’d be a lady-killer, for sure. Or a man-killer, if he so chose. He could take after his uncle again. Too bad Jimmy’s lover, Captain Frank Frisano, was on call tonight, because how much fun would it be for the two of them to play pretend-parents to this amazing child. A taste of the possible.
Jimmy watched as Joey’s eyes closed. He removed the near-empty bottle, set it on the table beside him. Standing up, he eased the baby into his basinet, sleeping peacefully. Thankfully Joey had been low-maintenance tonight, though truth be told that was his natural demeanor, a contrast to his always-complaining mother. Perhaps he’d heard—in utero—her bitching for nine months and thought, “nope, not gonna be me.” Jimmy kissed the boy’s forehead, and that made him think of Mallory. He was set to see her again tomorrow, ready to supervise as she was being transferred to a rehabilitation center upstate. It wasn’t far from Grandmother Hester’s cottage on Peach Lake, where Maggie, not coincidentally, would spend her summer. Meaghan and Joey would be there as well.
Which meant Jimmy would have the apartment, and the city, to himself.
He made his way over to the refrigerator, grabbed a beer, his first of the night. A Bass Ale, he uncapped the bottle and took a swig. The cold refreshed him in the heat of the apartment. Soon they would need air conditioning to cool things down; summer was fast approaching. Though he wouldn’t mind the heat if it included sweaty nights with Frisano. They were as solid as they’d ever been. Mostly done because Jimmy had hit the pause button on his private investigations since the shooting. Mallory became his focus. It also didn’t hurt that he’d finally solved the cold case of his father’s murder, which had freed up his mind, not to mention settled his soul. An achievement that had opened his heart to possibility.
Francis X. Frisano was that possibility.
Jimmy checked his watch. It was nearing ten o’clock. Meaghan would be home in an hour. She was an usher at the theatre, and tonight was on the late-shift—meaning she had to stay till the end of the performance. Her return would free Jimmy to head out into the Manhattan night, but in truth he thought he might just stay in, crash in his old room.
The ringing of his phone interrupted his thoughts. He grabbed for it.
“McSwain,” he said. He never ignored a call. Often it meant work. With Mallory awake, with the world moving forward, wasn’t it time for him to wake up too? Get back to his daily life.
“I want to hire you,” said a man’s voice. He sounded panicked.
“How about we start with hello. Who you are, and how did you know to contact me?”
“Name’s Connelly. Philip Connelly. My wife is cheating on me.”
“And you need a private investigator, why?”
“To prove it. You know, photographs, recordings, video, whatever.”
Jimmy hated these types of marital cases. A couple finds love, so much so they get married, pledge to devote their lives to each other. Now the husband was angry and the wife was a cheating whore. Such cases represented the worst part of his profession, not to mention humanity. Jimmy didn’t like the tone in this guy’s voice. He at least liked to like his clients.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Connelly, I don’t think I’m your man.”
“Fuck you. What kind of P.I. are you? My case not good enough for you? My money?”
“I wish you the best.”
Jimmy heard another string of foul words before the guy hung up. He put his phone down, took his beer in to the living room, checked on the still-sleeping baby. He switched on the television to the Fox 5 News at 10, if only to add some noise to the quiet apartment. The anchors droned on about the latest fail of the president, then of an arrest of a man who stole an ambulance and killed an EMT worker. But then a banner came across the bottom of the screen: Breaking News.
“This just in, word of a fire down in Chinatown. Details are sketchy, and we have a reporter headed down to Canal Street as we speak. We’ll have more details soon. Right now, let’s check in on the weather…another warm one on the horizon…”
Jimmy leaned toward the screen, as though willing the reporters to return to the breaking news item. Instead he learned tomorrow’s temperature would be almost eighty. It was a reminder that the hot summer months were near, spring on the wane. Jimmy, on the other hand, was wanting, for more on the fire down in Chinatown. Not a neighborhood he’d given a lot of thought to prior to the kidnapping case that had almost derailed the Forever Haunt case this spring. What he knew was that a ruthless man named Mr. Wu-Tin ran a restaurant supply company at the corner the anchor had mentioned. The same man who had hired a hit man, missing Jimmy, hitting Mallory.
He could feel the blood coursing through his veins. Anxiety. Anxiousness.
To get to the story took wading through segments that represented the worst of the human condition, robberies, rapes, a celebrity accused of sexual assault, and then, at last, the reporter appeared on the scene. The video showed fierce, fiery flames ripping through a warehouse, shooting through the roof with anger. Jimmy assumed it would be a total loss, despite the presence of numerous fire trucks. Red flashing lights filled the screen. Jimmy turned up the volume.
“As you can see behind me, a five-alarm fire is raging out of control. Streets along Canal have been blocked off, snarling traffic. From what I’ve learned, the warehouse is home to the Wu-Tin Restaurant Supply Company. It’s not known if anyone is trapped inside at this late hour, but we can hope that all employees are off-premises. Firefighters are desperately trying to put out the flames, but it’s going to be a while. For now, I’m Marcia Anderson, Fox 5, News at Ten. Back to you in the studio…”
Jimmy pressed the mute button, using the silence to absorb what he’d just seen, heard.
Fires happened every day, they ate at buildings and destroyed lives.
Sometimes they were accidents.
Sometimes they weren’t.
He would bet this one was deliberate. Jimmy had a sense Mr. Wu-Tin was trying to cover-up something, or, more accurately, eliminate it. Fire left nothing behind but ashy destruction. First his associate Fong found hanged in his cell, now the warehouse where he conceivably conducted much of his illicit business burning down. Was Mr. Wu-Tin going through a string of bad luck, or was he trying to turn his own fortune without the benefit of a cookie? Were both deliberate acts, and if so, what was the truth behind them? Was Mr. Wu-Tin shutting down his operation, or was he reorganizing? Did he know Jimmy McSwain wouldn’t rest until he’d brought him down?
Jimmy knew he had to find out, and the result wasn’t going to be pretty. Unlike his father’s death, the answers to Mallory’s shooting wouldn’t take fifteen years. That was his current promise. Jimmy felt energized, renewed, the fire inside him worse than the inferno currently incinerating Chinatown. He’d never understand why he had to make his life complicated, it’s just who he was. Duty his drive, family his priority.
Still, with the flickering images of the fire playing out on the television screen, in the back of his mind, he wondered: why couldn’t he have just taken the cheating bitch case and avoided the question of death, of murder. The motive behind sex was simpler than that of the condemnation of death.
That was when Baby Joey began to wail.
Jimmy raced over to the basinet, took him out. He knew you shouldn’t be so quick to coddle them, kids got spoiled that way. He didn’t care. He cradled him, comforted him, his actions doing the same for him. How you started life impacted your ending.
It felt like he was holding his father in his dying moments. Infusing him with hope.
“Sleep, Joey. Tomorrow’s in no hurry to get here.”
CASE FILE # 701: FORTUNE’S ENEMY