For the hundredth time, McKenna wondered just what the hell he had gotten himself into.
The newly promoted Sergeant laid his head down among the stacks of case files and witness reports on his new desk, trying not to break down crying or laughing–whichever seemed crazier.
In the days since he had been installed as head investigator on the Showstopper case, the trail of the marauder had gone from sketchy to all but cold. There was no recent activity that suggested the Showstopper even still existed, to say nothing of whether he was planning a new attack. How was he supposed to catch a criminal who committed no crimes?
Worse still had been the interviews. In the last 72 hours, McKenna had pulled all kinds of Broadway characters into the precinct for questioning, following up on every possible lead the 43rd had on the Showstopper, which in truth was not that many. What few eyewitnesses there were had unreliable stories and provided no description worth going on.
Even more frustrating was that all the actors, managers, and other bigwigs he interrogated invariably clammed up when it came to the Showstopper. They were willing enough to whine his ear off about how they were personally affected by the criminal’s attacks, but any deeper questioning into possible reasons for the Showstopper’s behavior made even the most scandalous gossipers snap their jaws shut faster than an oyster protecting its last pearl.
It was almost as though despite what they said, these people were bent on protecting the Showstopper for some reason. He told Calvin as much.
“And what evidence do you have to back up this ridiculous claim, Sergeant?” scoffed the Chief.
“Well, sir, it’s just a theory. I don’t have any hard evidence yet, but…”
“You’re damn right you don’t,” said Calvin. “Get out of my office, McKenna, and don’t come back until you have either tangible proof, or the Showstopper himself, whichever comes first.”
“Sir,” pleaded McKenna, “this case is a trap. It’s unsolvable. If I don’t have the cooperation of the public, how can I proceed?”
“How? I’ll tell you how. We’re all depending on you, Sergeant. I placed my trust and the most important case we have in your hands because I thought you had what it took to catch this son of a bitch. If we don’t solve this, the council will shut down this precinct and put us all on trial for dereliction of duty.”
Calvin glared at the uncomfortable rookie.
“Either do your job, Officer, or I’ll find someone who can. Don’t make me regret putting my faith in you.”
“But sir,” said McKenna. “I’m a Sergeant now. You promoted me.”
Calvin gave him a look that could have wilted every potted plant in a forty-foot radius.
“Nothing is forever, McKenna,” he growled. “Now get back to work!”
And so for days, McKenna languished at his desk like a ship becalmed, without direction or purpose. The only thing he had been getting in spades were the sidelong glances and snide comments of his fellow officers, and the mounting sense that his failure would only confirm their abysmal opinion of him.
“Captain Decker, sir,” he murmured, without even bothering to look up. “What a surprise. What can I do for you?”
Decker’s smug grin faltered, his anger sparked by the suggestion of flippancy McKenna’s tone.
“Don’t ask what you can do for me, you paddy bum,” he hissed. “Ask what you can do other than slouching in that chair like a bump on a damned log. If I were in your place like I was supposed to be, I’d have caught the Showstopper by now. What do you have to show for a week’s worth of work? Nothing. Just that load of bunk you tried to feed Calvin this morning.” He smirked. “Personally, I commend your effort, paddy. I was surprised that idiot didn’t go for it. Maybe the Chief is more intelligent than I gave him credit for. He’s certainly brighter than you, but I suppose that’s not saying much.”
“Don’t talk about Calvin like that,” said McKenna, his own ire rising. “He’s a better policeman than you’ll ever be. And pardon my saying so, sir, but right now I’m his choice for this case. So maybe you could do us all a favor and take a running jump in the river.”
The Captain stiffened.
“Talk big while you can, you slob,” he said. “I don’t have to do anything to you to make you fail. I’d say you’re doing a pretty good job of that on your own. So I’m just going sit back, watch, and enjoy every minute of it.”
McKenna sighed and put his head down again as Decker walked away. He wanted to prove the Captain wrong very badly. He would give anything to walk through those doors dragging the Showstopper by the collar just so he could see the look of shock and defeat on Decker’s face.
But for all his detestable qualities, Decker was right about one thing: McKenna had beaten himself. The Showstopper case was all but hopeless, and he had sealed his own fate by accepting Chief Calvin’s offer.
There had to be something he could do. Didn’t there?
“Pardon me, sport, but can you tell me where I might find William McKenna?”
McKenna’s head jerked up, and a wiry man in a rumpled shirt and hastily knotted tie, bundled up in a long brown coat, confronted his eyes. A jaunty felt fedora was pulled low over his clean-shaven, hawk-like features, and a few stray strands of well-oiled black hair hung down on his forehead. His dark eyes shone with the kind of hyper-observant regard for detail that made men uncomfortable and ladies gossip among themselves.
“Huh?” asked McKenna.
“I haven’t got all day,” said the man insolently, pausing to take a drag on the cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. “I need to talk to an Officer William McKenna. I don’t suppose you know him?” He smirked in a condescending manner that the Irishman already knew he would despise.
McKenna sighed, controlling himself before answering.
“I’m McKenna. Now who are you, and what do you want?”
“So you’re the man I’ve heard so much about,” the newcomer said, in a tone lacking anything close to the respect the statement inferred. “Sorry about that. You just sit so close to the entrance, I thought you might be the door man.” He chuckled to himself.
“Yes, that’s me,” McKenna growled. “And it’s Sergeant McKenna, by the way. I just got promoted. Now, I’ll ask again. Who are you, and what the hell do you want?”
“Sergeant, huh?” asked the man, seeming amused. “Well, congratulations, I’m sure.”
He looked the officer up and down, unimpressed.
“Thought you’d be taller, personally.”
McKenna ground his teeth.
“Anyway,” the man continued, grinning as though he knew exactly the effect he was having and loved it. “I’m Trevor Goodwin, reporter for the Broadway Revue. You must have heard of me. I’m a terribly important man.”
“And how,” said McKenna. “You’re that jackass who slandered Chief Calvin. What kind of paper publishes garbage like that?”
If Goodwin was offended by McKenna’s name-calling, he didn’t show it.
“Come on, sport,” he said. “Slander is such a strong word. I prefer the phrase ‘digging up the dirt.’ God knows I do it better than you people.”
“What’s that supposed to mean, scoop?” McKenna demanded.
“It means that your precious little precinct is under investigation by the Fourth Estate. This whole Showstopper business stinks from the head down.”
“Showstopper?” whispered the Irishman, glancing around to make sure no one was watching. “How do you know about that? Why do you think I’m involved? Not that I’m saying I am, that is. What I mean is…”
“Knowing things is my life,” Goodwin interrupted him, leaning casually on the desk and lighting a new cigarette. “If you think you can keep a secret for long in this town, then you’re either crazy or a damn fool. And you, my friend, don’t seem like the crazy type.”
“Chief Calvin made the investigation top secret,” McKenna hissed. “He’d fire me if he knew I was talking to a reporter!”
“Please. That incompetent boob?” said Goodwin, with sharp and unpleasant sarcasm. “I did him a favor only writing as much as I did. The oaf actually had the nerve to throw me out of his office. He assaulted the press!”
“Now that I think about it, I wish I’d thrown the whole transcript of that interview on copy and nailed the fat bastard when I had the chance.”
McKenna wanted to punch Goodwin’s smug face in, but panic at the thought of losing his job temporarily overrode his anger. He reached out and grabbed the reporter’s arm.
“Come on. Let’s take this somewhere private.”
The odd pair moved to the back of the precinct, where McKenna unlatched the door to the filing closet and shoved Goodwin inside before entering and closing the door behind them. The reporter looked around at the mountains of papers in a bored sort of way and leaned back against the nearest filing cabinet, whipping a small notebook and pencil out of his pocket.
“Not my first choice for an interview setting, but it’ll do. Now, Mr. McKenna, you were saying that the case details are classified secrets?”
“That’s ‘Sergeant McKenna’ to you,” said the Irishman. “And this isn’t an interview. This is me telling you to get your sorry ass out of here and drop this story before you get somebody hurt. I’m not going to talk, and neither will anybody else in this precinct.”
“Everybody talks, sport,” said Goodwin. “Otherwise I’d be out of a job. Now let me tell it like I see it. You’re not like these other idiots. You’re different. I could tell from the minute I laid eyes on you. So why don’t we stop playing games and cut to it?”
“All right, fine,” said McKenna. “I’ll cut to it, and I’ve got a question for you. Why is everybody breathing down our necks about the Showstopper? Just because we haven’t caught the man yet doesn’t mean we’re corrupt. What did we do to make you people hate us so much?”
“Well, what have you done to make us trust you so far?”
Stung by the reporter’s point, McKenna glared at him silently.
“Listen,” said Goodwin, taking a step toward McKenna and adopting a friendly, persuasive tone. “Like I said, I can tell you’re different from the rest of these guys. You may be misinformed, and your loyalties may be misplaced, but you seem like at least a fairly intelligent guy who knows a reasonable argument when he hears one.”
His face grew serious.
“I’ve been a reporter for ten years, and my instincts have never steered me wrong before. Right now they’re telling me something fishy is going on in this town, and I plan on getting to the bottom of it.”
He put a hand on McKenna’s shoulder.
“You’re an officer of the law. Truth is what you’re supposed to be fighting for too, right? We both want the same thing. How can you stand by and watch it get buried right under your nose?”
“Nothing’s being buried,” said McKenna, brushing off Goodwin’s hand. “I’m in this just as deep as anyone. If your instinct is half as good as you say it is, then you’ll believe me.”
Goodwin gave him a long, hard look, and slowly nodded.
“Yes, you’re telling the truth. At least, you think you are.” The reporter’s arrogant grin reappeared as he exhaled a cloud of smoke. “It seems I underestimated you, Sergeant McKenna. You might turn out to be one of the good guys after all.”
“How touching,” said McKenna.
“I’d like to thank you for this little chat,” the reporter continued. “It’s been really enlightening. But don’t think you’re in the clear yet, sport. I’ll be watching this case like a hawk from now on.”
He quickly flipped to a new page in his notebook and jotted down a set of numbers.
“Here’s where you can reach me if you change your mind,” he said, tearing the page out and pressing it into McKenna’s hand. “You might not know it now, but eventually you’ll talk. Everyone does. And trust me, you don’t want to come down on the wrong side of this thing once I find out what’s really going on here.”
“Get used to disappointment, scoop,” said McKenna, balling up the note and shoving it in his pocket. “I know what side I’m on, and that’s keeping the public safe from panic-mongers and rumor-spreaders like you.”
“Pleasant day, sport,” said Goodwin, opening the door and adjusting his hat.
“And stop calling me that!”
Goodwin turned momentarily.
“All right, let’s make a deal. Since your relationship with the press shouldn’t be antagonistic, I’ll stop calling you ‘sport’ if you’ll stop calling me ‘scoop’.”
He chuckled to himself.
“Listen to us. We’re practically pals already.”
“The day I become your friend is the day I sell my soul to the Devil,” said McKenna. “Now get out.”
“I’ll see you soon!” Goodwin remarked as he strolled away.
Once he was certain the reporter was gone, McKenna sighed and slumped against a filing cabinet, his energy spent. He instantly regretted it, however, as the sudden jerk of contact caused a stack of folders perched on top of the cabinet to topple over and land one after the other on the poor Irishman’s head.
Ankle-deep in strewn record papers, McKenna sighed again. He was beginning to think that he should have stuck with the coffee.
You can find the full version of Kyle Robertson’s debut novel, “The Showstopper!”, available online at Amazon or on Kindle.