Authors: Jessie Chandler
Chip Off the Ice Block Murder: A Shay O’Hanlon Caper
© 2014 by Jessie Chandler.
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First e-book edition © 2014
E-book ISBN: 9780738740034
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Cover illustration © Gary Hanna
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To my Buddy Burg, love you always; and to my wife,
Betty Ann, for standing beside me no matter how hard
the going gets—you are the very heart of me.
There are so many people who lend a hand in the creation of a book. All the usual suspects have returned, and from the bottom of my heart, they have my undying thanks.
Lori L. Lake, Patty Schramm, MB Panichi, April, DJ, Pat, Angel, Mary, and whoever I’m forgetting … I’m forever grateful for your assistance, and in such a short timeframe. I couldn’t do it without you all.
Lastly, I write caper stories and occasionally take the liberty to alter reality. The St. Paul PD and the St. Paul Winter Carnival are two of my latest victims. No offense or disrespect intended.
The events of this book take place at the beginning of 2012,
a few months after
Pickle in the Middle Murder
“Shay! Hey, yo—phone!”
“Hang on a sec,” I hollered and cringed as the reverb hurt my ears.
My upper body was crammed inside a two-tier glass display case, where I was wiping up pastry crumbs left from a busy New Year’s Eve afternoon. If I wasn’t careful, this simple project was going to leave me hearing impaired.
More garbled yelling spurred me to rapidly finish up, but I misjudged my withdrawal and cracked my skull sharply against the top edge of the display.
“Ow!” I yelped and tossed the damp rag into a sink along the back wall of the café with a little more force than necessary.
“Coming!” I yelled, and stomped into the kitchen/storage room of the Rabbit Hole, the Uptown Minneapolis coffee shop I co-owned with Kate McKenzie. The woman herself was currently leaning
against a wire rack of supplies impatiently tapping the phone
receiver against her leg. Her attention was on the screen of a fifteen-inch TV we’d recently mounted above the sink counter. It was tuned to a channel with coverage leading up to tomorrow’s Rose Bowl.
Kate was a whirling dervish I loved like a sister. Tonight she was itching to blow out of the café and get on with the business of celebrating New Year’s Eve with her squeeze of the week. Her short hair was currently electric pink, and her cheeks were almost the same color, probably from frustration that I hadn’t heard her.
I grabbed the phone she thrust at me. “This is Shay.”
A gruff voice cut through background noise that sounded like lots of people in a tight space. “It’s Whale. Your dad left your number for emergencies, and I’ve got a fucking emergency. He was supposed to be here to open at eleven. Still hasn’t shown his face. It’s busier than shit. To top it off, the fucking Summit Brewing delivery guy needs payment before he can unload. We’re almost out, and if we don’t get this shipment, there’s gonna be a lot of pissed partiers.”
Whale? What kind of name was that? And where did my father find these people? My apparently absent parent ran the Leprechaun, a blue-collar neighborhood bar in Northeast Minneapolis. He loved to consume what he sold and periodically hopped off the responsibility merry-go-round, riding a multiday bender instead. To my knowledge he hadn’t performed one of these stunts anytime recently, so getting this call was last thing I expected, especially with the potential profit from a Saturday night New Year’s Eve on the line. The problem was, each time I thought I had my old man figured out, I learned how very wrong I was. He had some serious balls to fall apart on the busiest drinking day of the year.
While I hadn’t picked up an abnormal affection for firewater from my father, I had inherited a healthy temper with a fast-burning fuse. My rope was exceptionally short when it came to dealing with his excessive alcohol consumption, and now I bounced hard at the end of it.
“Hang on,” I told Whale more sharply than I intended, and muttered, “I’m going to kill him.” I checked my watch. 3:27 p.m. Kate and I had closed early in honor of the holiday, and we were almost done cleaning up.
Kate had managed to tear herself from the TV to focus on my conversation. I covered the mouthpiece and said to her, “My father picked today to no-show. I need to head to the Lep. You okay to finish up? Front’s done except for the mopping.”
“Oh, shit, Shay, I’m sorry. It’s fine. Get outta here.” Kate was well acquainted with my father’s alcohol-induced shenanigans. It wasn’t the first time she’d pick up my slack because of it, and it probably wouldn’t be the last.
Into the phone I growled, “I’m on my way. Do not let that delivery guy leave.”
Whale raised his voice against the muted roar of the crowd. “I’ll do what I can.”
There was a click and dead silence on the other end as I opened my mouth to respond. I pulled the handset from my ear and stared at it in disbelief. “That jerk hung up on me. Whale. Jesus.” I slammed the receiver into the cradle. “Of all the days for my father to crash the gravy train.”
Kate straightened up. “Get going, I’ve got this. And good luck.”
At that moment, Bogey, my bloodhound and flunky ex-police dog, ambled into the kitchen. His nose was twitching and a string of drool trailed to the floor from the corner of his mouth. He plopped himself on his haunches and whined a yawn, his droopy brown eyes flicking from me to Kate and back again in hopes that something edible might come his way. I’d forgotten about him and Dawg, who was probably still in the same position—upside-down and sound asleep in front of the fire—as he’d been a half hour ago.
“Oh crap. Kate, can you—”
“Yeah.” She cut me off with a wave. “I got ’em. Scoot.”
“Thanks. I’ll swing by and pick them up later.” I gave Bogey a pat and grabbed my jacket from the hook behind the kitchen door.
Behind me, Kate muttered, “Holy crap.”
Her tone stopped me cold. “What?”
“Check it out.”
I turned around and followed her gaze to the television. A breaking news banner filled the bottom of the screen and a talking head took up the rest. Kate upped the volume.
“—in an large chunk of ice.” The picture cut to a stock image of massive blocks of ice awaiting carvers from some previous Winter Carnival. “Our sources tell us the body is that of a man, but we haven’t received official confirmation.”
The news anchor reappeared. “Once again, if you’re now tuning in, a body has been found encased in a rectangular block of ice in St. Paul’s Rice Park near the area where workers have been feverishly preparing for the 2012 St. Paul Winter Carnival’s ice carving contest.”
The anchor looked up from his notes, his expression both incredulous and stern. “We have a crew headed to the scene, and we’ll keep you updated as we learn more.” With a grim smile, he signed off and football coverage resumed.
“Damn,” I swore softly.
“No kidding. Nasty way to go.” I shuddered. “I’m out of here. Thanks again.”
After another quick scratch to the top of Bogey’s bony head and a
few treats from my pocket, I made tracks out the front door,
exchanging warm, coffee-and-spice-tinged aromas for an Arctic blast that slithered down the back of my neck.
My feet squeaked, irritating and loud, on the snow-covered sidewalk. I gingerly did the Minnesota shuffle—the peculiar waddle Midwesterners adopt to keep upright on ice and snow. I hustled as fast as I dared toward my new-for-me-but-previously-owned 2005 Ford Escape. The vehicle was a replacement for the pickup I’d totaled after smashing into a clothing donation bin last fall.
A slow-burning rage bubbled up to simmer right below my rib cage. I cranked the engine and thoroughly cussed out my liquor-loving father. My partner, JT, and I had miraculously managed to finagle six consecutive days off in a row, and we were booked into a bed-and-breakfast up in Duluth starting tomorrow. It’d been a little over a year since I’d started seeing JT Bordeaux, a detective with the Minneapolis Police Department, and we were planning an anniversary of sorts. If I had to delay my mini-vacation, my father was going to be in some even deeper shit.
The ride between the Hole and the Leprechaun didn’t take long. Street parking was at a premium, and the lot next to the Lep was full. Whale was right; the bar was busier than a tow lot after a snow emergency.
The Summit beer truck was still backed up to the rear entrance. I let out a mental breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. My dad lived on the razor’s edge of being unable to pay the next month’s bills when they were due. To lose out on beer sales on New Year’s Eve would put a serious dent in his prospects.
I trolled the neighborhood streets and eventually found an open spot a block and a half away. After locking the SUV, I trudged to the bar. We still had a long way to go before this unusually cold and snowy winter released its grip. The dwindling rays of sun did little more than blind people as it reflected off the white stuff.
We’d suffered through a couple of recent snowstorms where a combination of freezing rain and slush with rapidly plummeting temps had resulted in unevenly icy roads, sidewalks, and parking lots. You could get bucked right onto your ass if you weren’t careful, and sometimes even when you were. We’d probably be dealing with dangerously bumpy ice-coated surfaces for the rest of the snow season. Happy frickin’ New Year.
I pulled open the Lep’s heavy wooden front door and stepped into my past. The familiar scent of booze and a lesser odor of ancient cigarette smoke engulfed me. No matter how long smoking had been banned in bars in Minnesota, the acrid smell would not go away. It seemed to have seeped into the very core of the old building. It didn’t help that half the time my father didn’t enforce the legislation.
I squinted as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. The din of drunken revelers was at an all-time high. Within a few steps, my ears hurt.
Dark paneled walls were lined with memorabilia from my father’s barge rat days on the Mississippi. A highly polished, antique oak bar ran down one wall of the space, and tables and booths were scattered on the other side. There was room for a twelve-by-twelve dance floor if patrons cooperated in rearranging the furniture, but not much dancing usually happened here. Just a lot of heavy drinking.
The place was well and truly packed. Faces I’d never seen before were four deep at the bar, and every table was occupied. Most of the regulars knew better than to come to the Lep on the last day of the year.
Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” blared from the same beat-up jukebox that I grew up with. That it still functioned was a minor miracle. I scanned the room and glimpsed a head of short, spiky hair bobbing through the crowd. Jill Zats, a longtime part-time server, worked her way through the throng toward the bar. She expertly balanced a round tray of glasses and empty bottles above her head. Her skill at fending off wandering hands and groping advances while keeping a friendly smile plastered across her face was legendary. If it were me, I’d be doing a whole lot more slapping and much less serving. Good thing I was into coffee and not booze. At the café I only had to deal with someone who was tripping on a caffeine buzz instead of inebriated, pawing patrons.
Jill, wearing an uncharacteristic frown, threw a quick wave my way before she was snagged by a customer. I pushed through the crush and managed to work my way behind the bar.
Whale—whose name actually fit him well, since he was huge in all ways—was frantically taking orders, mixing drinks, and making change. Sweat poured from his shiny bald head. The white bar rag slung over his shoulder and the navy T-shirt beneath were both stained dark.
He acknowledged me with a curt nod and finished the drink he was working on. Liquid sloshed onto the bar top as he slammed it down and snatched the bills out of the waiting customer’s hand.
Whale lumbered toward me, his bushy eyebrows nearly colliding above the bridge of his nose. His eyes were squinty, his mouth pinched. “You Shay?”
“Yeah,” I shouted.
He flung the rag from his shoulder to mine, the end grazing my cheek before it splatted wetly against my jacket. Fumbling behind his back, he pulled the apron off and tossed it at my face. “I quit,” he shouted. “This is ridiculous. Tell your old man I’ll be in next week for my check.”
I swatted at the apron as he fired a ring of keys at me. They smacked me in the chest and fell to the floor.
“Wait a minute—”
“I’m done.” With that, Whale shoved past me and pushed people out of his way like a human snowplow, headed directly for the front door.
I managed to extricate myself from the apron and stood staring, open-mouthed, at his retreating back. “But you can’t … ” I held out a hand, then dropped it.
A voice and a poke in the arm yanked me out of my shocked stupor. “Lady, looks like you’re in a mess, but I need payment before I can unload that beer in back.” The speaker was a burly man with a buzz cut, wearing an insulated flannel jacket on his back and compassion on his face. He shrugged. “Sorry.”
“Okay, hang on.” My brain was two steps behind. “Goddamn it,” I muttered and bent to scoop up Whale’s keys and slide them into my pocket.
“Hey hotness!” a guy shouted from halfway down the bar. He had a silver New Year’s Eve party hat sitting cockeyed on his head.
“Where’s me drinkie? Are you a Leprechaun?” He dissolved in
laughter that would make a donkey proud.
“Shay!” Jill hollered over Mr. Happy’s braying.
My head snapped from the man to Jill, and in that moment I took in the full impact of Whale’s departure. I was stranded with a shitload of drunk or on-their-way-to-being-drunk partygoers who wanted more booze—right now—and a delivery guy who needed god only knew how much money. Patrons up and down the bar were staring at me, holding up glasses and money and waiting for service.
My first inclination was to tell them all to go to hell. Thankfully, before I did something really stupid, autopilot kicked in. I pulled off my jacket, stowed it under the counter, and hustled down to Jill. She looked at me with wide eyes and a tired “here we go again” grin.
“Long time no see,” I yelled in her ear. “You have any idea how my dad pays the delivery guy?”
“I think usually by check. Not sure. I’m only around on days like this, when all hell is breaking loose.”
“Don’t suppose you know where he keeps his checkbook?” Why would she? It was a long shot, but it couldn’t hurt to ask.
Jill was about to answer when someone grabbed the shoulder of the green Henley I wore and yanked so hard that my ribs slammed into the edge of the bar top. I grunted in pain.
It was Mr. Happy, and he wasn’t smiling anymore. “I wan’ a beer and I wan’ it now!”
Laying hands on me was a very bad idea. I’d been doing everything I could to keep my anger in check, and now Mr. Happy was about to meet Shay on a rampage. Fury pounded a heavy beat through my veins. I grabbed the collar of his sweatshirt with both hands and yanked him half over the bar. “Touch me again and this will be your last new year.”