McKenna had only just clocked in at the precinct that morning when all hell broke loose.
The first hint that something was wrong was the lack of the customary morning coffee that usually sat steaming on his desk. The institution of this ritual had been among his first orders to the junior staff upon his promotion.
So, naturally, his first thought was that he was the only one around here who could do anything right.
Hanging his coat on the back of his chair, he began to walk toward the far side of the room to fetch the refreshment on his own, annoyed but oddly comforted. At least there was one thing he couldn’t be replaced in.
That was when Sergeant Kelly, huffing and sweating profusely, almost bowled him over.
“Hello! Take it easy, Kelly!” McKenna cried, startled. “Where’s the fire?”
“McKenna!” Kelly panted. “Thank God I found you. Everyone’s been looking for you, and the Chief’s throwing a fit!”
McKenna was confused, and all his noble aspirations for the day were dwindling. The last thing he needed was more trouble in his life, what with Molly threatening to beat him black and blue if he couldn’t do a simple thing like hold a decent job and actually spend time with his family once and a while. Was a calm morning and a damned cup of coffee really too much to ask?
“Look,” he said, grasping the officer’s shoulders. “Just relax and tell me what’s going on. All right?”
“A message,” Kelly gasped.
“All this fuss over a message? That’s insane.”
“Not just any message. It’s addressed to you.”
“Me?” asked McKenna, incredulous. “Who sent it?”
Kelly took a deep breath, and then blurted it out.
McKenna was stunned.
“What? The Showstopper? No, that’s impossible. It must be a mistake. Nothing like this has ever happened before!”
“Well, it has now,” said Kelly. “Calvin’s furious with everyone, but especially you. I never knew a person could be so vulgar.” He shuddered, recalling the moment. “You wouldn’t believe what he said about you. He said that…”
“Yes, yes. I get it, Kelly,” said McKenna, cutting him off before he could get into more detail. “Do you have the message on you?”
Kelly shook his head.
“Sorry, McKenna. Calvin has it in his office. Actually, Captain Decker has it in Calvin’s office. We made him hold it because we were afraid the Chief might get so angry that he’d rip it up and destroy the evidence.”
Calvin and Decker in the same room with an incriminating note, McKenna thought. Fantastic.
“Thanks, Kelly,” he said, trying his best not to start hyperventilating. “I think I’ll take it from here, if you don’t mind.”
Kelly nodded, giving McKenna a pat on the back.
“Good luck, paddy.”
McKenna wasn’t sure luck would help much in this situation. Even a minor miracle might not cover it.
“McKenna!” Calvin roared, spittle flying from his mouth. “Where the blazes have you been? Get in here!”
Perhaps even worse than the Chief’s fury was the triumphant and malicious grin on Decker’s face as he lounged in corner of the office, the offending slip of paper clenched in his fist. The look was one that said that the Captain had followed through on his promise. He had said that he would get McKenna back, and now he had done so.
For reasons he didn’t understand, McKenna was suddenly very suspicious. Just what game was Decker playing, anyway? What stake did he have in all of this?
“You’ve got a lot of explaining to do, Sergeant!” the Chief continued to rant. “How is it exactly that the Showstopper knows to ask for you by name? BY NAME! Spill it, or so help me, I’ll throw you out of this precinct myself!”
“Yes,” mused Decker, the smile never leaving his face. “I’d like to hear this story as well, Chief. How do you explain this one, paddy?”
“Shut up, Decker,” Calvin growled, silencing his second-in-command but failing to dissipate Decker’s smug attitude. “Well, McKenna? What have you got to say for yourself?”
“I’m just as lost as you are, sir,” McKenna insisted, “and that’s the God’s honest truth. I kept my interviews quiet, just like you told me to, and I haven’t talked about the case to anyone outside the 43rd. I have no idea how this happened.”
“Quiet, my ass,” Calvin snorted, tossing the morning’s newspaper in McKenna’s direction. “The damn papers got the story anyway. Another travesty on my watch.”
Monday, October 26, 1922
The Broadway Revue
Showstopper Case Mishandled Again
Junior Officer Assigned to Broadway’s Most Important Mystery
By Trevor Goodwin, Staff Reporter
In another example of how little Broadway’s police force cares for the common citizen, higher-ups within the New York Police Department’s 43rd Precinct have placed an inexperienced and newly-promoted rookie officer, Sergeant William McKenna, in charge of an investigation into the greatest crime spree our city has ever seen…
The story went on for another page and a half, but somehow McKenna didn’t have the stomach to read it.
The next time he saw that rat Goodwin, he swore he would kick the sorry excuse for a reporter up and down the street. Blaming him for the Showstopper’s crime wave was at best outrageous. At worst, it was outright slander. The gall of that bastard!
“You like having your name in the news?” Calvin shouted. “Is that it, McKenna? This whole case is turning into a circus because of your ineptitude. Although I suppose I have no one to blame but myself. I was foolish enough to believe in you in the first place.”
“I know what you mean, Chief,” said Decker. “I share your disappointment in young McKenna here. I guess he doesn’t have the chops to play with the big boys after all.”
“Stow it, Captain,” Calvin snapped, throwing him a withering look. “If it wasn’t for your infernal pussyfooting, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Now get out!”
The smirk dropped off Decker’s face, replaced once again by anger. He stalked out of the office, but not before smacking the note into McKenna’s chest with much more force than was necessary.
“Piss up a pole, paddy,” he hissed. “I’ll get you yet. This case is mine.”
McKenna and Calvin were now alone. The Chief sighed, looking more tired than the Irishman had ever seen him.
“Go on. You might as well read it. I can’t change it any more than you can.”
McKenna held the paper up to the light and squinted at the writing.
You do not know me, but naturally I know you. I believe you call me the Showstopper. Tonight I will be attending the Tower Theater’s production of The Tempest. People will be dying to see the show. We both know you cannot stop me, so do not embarrass yourself by trying. If you or any of your officers attempt to get in my way, it would be regrettable.
“Unbelievable,” said McKenna.
Calvin clenched his jaw and pounded his fist on the desk.
“The nerve of telling us where and when he’s going to strike next, and that we can’t do anything about it. Damned cocky son of a bitch.”
“That’s not what I mean, sir,” said McKenna. “This doesn’t make sense.”
Calvin raised an eyebrow, irritated.
“What are you on about, McKenna? It seems pretty straightforward to me.”
“No offense, sir, but it’s not. Of all the productions the Showstopper has ruined, how many has he sent messages to warn us about in advance?”
“You’d better start making sense, McKenna,” Calvin growled. “I’m getting tempted to give you a head start on your way home.”
“The point is, sir,” McKenna stammered, “that the Showstopper has never done this before. It’s not in character for him.”
“Really? And what makes you an expert on criminal behavior, Sergeant?”
“I’m just saying that something seems wrong here, sir. Until now, the Showstopper’s advantage has been that with so many shows going on at once, we have no idea where he’s going to strike next. He uses it to make us look like fools. Why would he endanger himself by telling us more than we already know?”
McKenna stopped to glance hopefully at Calvin, who gave a non-committal grunt.
“I assume there’s more, McKenna?”
“Yes, sir. The actors and managers I interviewed loved to talk my ear off about the damage the Showstopper has done to their own careers, but they wouldn’t say anything about anyone else’s problems. It was almost like they wanted to protect the very man they hated. I think there could be some kind of conspiracy connecting a lot of prominent people on Broadway back to the Showstopper, but I don’t know how or why as of yet.”
The Chief sat back in his chair and stroked his chin. McKenna wasn’t sure, but he thought that his hastily constructed explanation might have succeeded in saving his job. That was, until Calvin opened his mouth.
“Well, McKenna, that theory is probably the most ridiculous concoction I have ever heard in my entire career as an officer. Your conclusions are based on no evidence and flimsy supposition, and you have precious little experience in actual police work to back it up. I’d have a hard time believing what you just told me if Jesus Christ himself walked through my door and fed it to me with spoon.”
McKenna took a breath to try and continue his arguing, or to beg for his badge; he wasn’t sure which. Calvin, however, held up a finger.
“That being said, I have, on occasion, been wrong before. So, despite my better judgment, I’m not going to take your badge or kick you off this case. On one condition…”
“Oh, yes, sir,” McKenna babbled, relief washing over him so intensely that he had to restrain the urge to kiss the Chief’s boots. “Anything.”
“You have five days, McKenna, before I have to make my official report to the council. Bring me the Showstopper by then, and all will be forgiven.”
It was an impossible demand. Totally unreasonable. It couldn’t be done.
“I’ll do it, sir.”
“You’d better,” said Calvin threateningly. “Because if you don’t, this precinct will be shut down, and I’ll get thrown into prison right along with you. Trust me when I say you don’t want that. As it is, the only reason I don’t bump you from this case right now is that it would take any one of those other boobs the whole five days just to catch up on all the meaningless reports you’ve filed.”
“Yes, sir,” said McKenna, no longer able to control his tongue. “I’m on the case, Chief. I’ll get him yet.”
“Then you can start by organizing a squad of our best men into a security detail for the show tonight. If the Showstopper’s planning on being there, I want us to stop him in his tracks and nab the bastard before he causes us any more trouble. He’s about to become Broadway’s shortest-lived celebrity.”
“I’ll do it right away, sir.”
“Good. Now out. Out!”
McKenna did an abrupt about-face and bolted out the door. Calvin slouched behind his desk, looking utterly bemused and depressed.
“The future of our city in the hands of an Irishman,” he muttered. “God help us all. I’m getting to old for this kind of nonsense.”