Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

by Ed Gorman

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Overview

At the height of the Cold War, a dead woman turns up in a bomb shelter
Black River Falls used to be a boring small town, but at the pinnacle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, nowhere in America can be boring anymore. As the country awaits nuclear annihilation, Iowa gubernatorial favorite Ross Murdoch has a crisis of his own: There is a dead woman in his bomb shelter.
Murdoch tells his lawyer, Sam McCain, that the corpse was planted there by his enemies in the local police force, and begs McCain to clear his name before Election Day. The dead woman was mistress to four of the town’s most powerful men—any of whom might have wanted her dead. As the nation’s nuclear paranoia reaches a fever pitch, McCain searches for a killer and learns that there are certain kinds of disaster for which even the finest bomb shelter is no match.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480462595
Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication date: 12/31/2013
Series: The Sam McCain Mysteries , #6
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 207
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Ed Gorman (b. 1941) is an American author best known for writing mystery novels. After two decades in advertising, he began publishing novels in the mid-1980s. While using the pen name Daniel Ransom to write popular horror stories like Daddy’s Little Girl (1985) and Toys in the Attic (1986), he published more ambitious work under his own name, starting with Rough Cut (1986). A story about murder and intrigue inside the advertising world, it was based on his own experience, and introduced Midwestern private detective Jack Dwyer, a compassionate sleuth with a taste for acting.
Gorman’s other series characters include Robert Payne, a psychological profiler, and Leo Guild, a bounty hunter of the Old West, but his best-known character is probably Sam McCain, a gentle young sleuth of the 1950s, who first appeared in The Day the Music Died (1998). Besides writing novels, Gorman is a cofounder of Mystery Scene magazine.
Ed Gorman (b. 1941) is an American author best known for writing mystery novels. After two decades in advertising, he began publishing novels in the mid-1980s. While using the pen name Daniel Ransom to write popular horror stories like Daddy’s Little Girl (1985) and Toys in the Attic (1986), he published more ambitious work under his own name, starting with Rough Cut (1986). A story about murder and intrigue inside the advertising world, it was based on his own experience, and introduced Midwestern private detective Jack Dwyer, a compassionate sleuth with a taste for acting.
Gorman’s other series characters include Robert Payne, a psychological profiler, and Leo Guild, a bounty hunter of the Old West, but his best-known character is probably Sam McCain, a gentle young sleuth of the 1950s, who first appeared in The Day the Music Died (1998). Besides writing novels, Gorman is a cofounder of Mystery Scene magazine.

Read an Excerpt

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

A Sam McCain Mystery


By Ed Gorman

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 2004 Ed Gorman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-6259-5


CHAPTER 1

He didn't call ahead for an appointment. He didn't knock. He just eased himself through my partially opened office door and said, "I've got a little business for you, Mr. McCain. I mean, if you're interested."

He scared me. When I describe him you'll wonder what I'm talking about. How somebody his size and his manner could scare me. I'm no tough guy but I was surely tougher than he was. And yet I got spooked because he was so odd, so wrong somehow.

There was something unclean about him, dusty, that pale complexion, those dead grey eyes, the heavy black topcoat that fit him hobo-like. And yet it wasn't frayed or dirty. And the voice that wasn't much more than a whisper. I'd heard that a lot after both wars. Men who'd had their throats and larynxes damaged. He was a black-and-white photo in an old, old book come mysteriously to life.

And in case you think this spectral appearance took place during a window-rattling midnight thunderstorm—it was eight-thirty a.m. on a sunny October day.

He held up a small package the size of a cigar box. It had been wrapped with manila paper and sealed with Scotch tape.

"It's an easy two hundred and fifty dollars, Mr. McCain. I just want you to deliver this to somebody."

"Gee, I'm really not a courier service."

"I know what you are, Mr. McCain. I checked you out."

"I'm not sure I like that."

"You check out people all the time."

"It's my job."

"Maybe it's my job, too."

I nodded to the package. "What's in the box?"

"That's irrelevant. It's nothing that can hurt anybody. Not physically, anyway."

"And why can't you deliver this package yourself?"

"I have my personal reasons." He hesitated. He was a hesitant man.

He pushed his rimless glasses up his small freckled nose and smiled. "It involves a woman. She—" He paused. He sat in front of the desk in my dusty little law office; maybe five foot five and 125 pounds and a sort of squint half the time. He glanced at the framed degrees of law on the wall. "I don't think I've ever heard of a lawyer who was also a private investigator."

I'd gotten to the office early because I had to be at the courthouse at ten this morning and wanted to clear my desk of paperwork that was piling up. They warn you about a lot of things in law school but somehow they never get around to paperwork.

He sat. He squinted. He sniffled. He said, "Allergies."

"Ah."

He'd brought in a briefcase, which he now lifted and sat on his lap. He opened it, delved inside and pulled out what appeared to be an 8 x 11 black-and-white glossy photograph like those that celebrities hand out. Somewhere in a box I have several glossies like that of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. They're autographed. I have a glossy of Lassie, too. She didn't autograph hers.

He handed me the photograph. I looked at it and said, "You ever see the movie Laura?"

"Many times. And I know just what you're going to say."

"You do?"

"Of course. You looked at her just now for the first time and you're intrigued. Just the way Dana Andrews was intrigued."

I smiled. "A movie fan."

"Very much so."

"Who is she?"

"It doesn't matter."

"Then why show me the photo?"

"I wanted you to see who you'd be delivering the package to."

"I haven't agreed to deliver anything yet. What's in the package doesn't matter and she doesn't matter."

"I'd have to know more than that."

His eyes scanned my office again. "No offense, Mr. McCain, but you don't look awfully successful."

"I pay my bills every month."

"You can use the money. And for the money I'm offering, you'd be foolish to turn it down. And in checking you out, I didn't get the impression you're foolish."

I was thinking of what I could do with the money. It represented about a third of my monthly income. I didn't care for him or the reason he wanted to hire me but delivering a package probably couldn't get me in a whole lot of trouble.

"You couldn't deliver it yourself, huh?"

"It'd be more dramatic if somebody else delivered it."

"Western Union'd be a lot cheaper than two hundred and fifty dollars."

"Western Union—anybody can use Western Union. This has to be special, Mr. McCain. You're a movie fan. I don't have to tell you how a dramatic gesture can get to a woman."

"She break your heart, did she?"

He laughed. It was an unpleasant sound somehow. "Something like that." He tapped the box. "She goes out during the day but you can catch her at home tonight."

"She works?"

"Yes, but I'm not sure where. That's why night is safer."

I stood up. "What's your name?"

"Hastings."

"You have a first name?"

"You know you need the money, Mr. McCain."

I snapped my finger. "Peter Lorre."

"I used to consider that an insult. The older I get, I don't mind so much. Better I remind you of a movie star than just some nobody." Then: "I'm in a hurry, Mr. McCain." He stood up, closed his briefcase. Extracted from his overcoat a white number 10 envelope. No writing on the front. "Twelve twenties and two fives." He shoved the envelope over to me.

I stared at it and then picked it up.

He said, "I need it delivered tonight, Mr. McCain." He pulled his briefcase from the desk. Walked to the door. "You've made me want to see Laura again. Too bad it's not showing somewhere around here."

Then he was gone. I picked up the envelope and counted the money, way too much money for so little work. Way too much.

CHAPTER 2

"All we can do is plead guilty and hope for the best, Lumir."

"Tell 'er I was framed."

"That's crazy, Lumir," I said. "You were driving drunk. And you were alone. How could I say you were framed?"

"Maybe somebody slipped somethin' in my drink."

"C'mon, Lumir. We don't want to screw around. This is your second drunken driving charge."

"I seen this here show on the TV."

"Uh-huh."

"Where they claimed this guy went bat-shit for a while and couldn't be held responsible. What's that called?"

"I think you had it right, Lumir. I think that's the technical term for it. Going bat-shit."

Lumir of the sleeveless catsup-and-mustard-stained T-shirt said, "It is?"

"'Temporary insanity' is what it's called, Lumir. And we don't have a chance. Now shut up and let's go inside."

"You tell me t'shut up one more time, McCain, and I'm gonna throw you through a window."

"And here I was going to invite you to my birthday party, Lumir. My mom said I could invite all my extra-special friends." When you're the least successful lawyer in town, you usually get the dregs for clients. Lumir hadn't worked up to the dreg level yet. He still had miles to go before he slept.


I tried to walk off my time with Lumir. My little town has a good number of nooks and crannies dating back to the time when the Mesquakie Indians still roamed the prairies and when Thanksgiving was a communal feast in the Presbyterian church. There was, believe it or not, some peremptory coal mining, so a short-haul railroad was built, the roundhouse of which is now the town market; and there was a blacksmith's barn so big that they had square dances there twice a month. The barn had been refurbished a couple times since it had been built. We wanted to hang on to it.

Two blocks from my office I saw Abe Leifer suddenly tap his chest and sit down quickly on the edge of a bus bench. Abe is the State Farm insurance agent. He's handled my family's insurance since the day my older brother—now alas long dead—was born.

"Abe? Abe? You all right?"

Abe was in his late fifties. You usually saw him in one of three brown sportcoats, each subtly different from the other, a white tab-collared shirt and brown slacks. He was a nice-looking man the local barbers always pointed to as an illustration of "a beautiful head of hair."

Right now, he was pale, sweaty and breathing hard.

"I got to lose some weight, Sam."

He had put on maybe thirty pounds in the last five years or so. Between his fingers, a Winston burned. Extra weight and cigarettes and middle age are not a good combination.

Just about everybody liked Abe. He'd been wounded twice in the war and as a result spent time occasionally in the Veterans hospital in Iowa City.

A few people stopped to see how he was doing.

"How's he doing?"

"You doing okay there, Abe?"

"Did you fall down or something, Abe?"

"Is he all right, Sam? What happened here?"

I became Abe's de facto press representative.

"He's fine."

"He just got a little winded is all."

"He works too hard. You know Abe."

Etc. and etc.

During the course of fifteen minutes, he got his wind and his color back. He started to look the way he should. But I still didn't want to leave him alone. Especially after I saw him try to stand up. His knees were wobbly.

"We're going for a little walk, Abe."

"Where?"

"The hospital. Two shorts blocks away."

"Sam, Sam, I'm fine. I just got winded is all. I don't need any hospital."

"You have a choice, Abe. You can walk beside me or I'll carry you and people'll think you're my bride."

"Sam, Sam—"

But he went.

I took him to the emergency room. While I waited for them to call his wife Helen and check him out, I wandered down the hall where I saw Peggy Leigh and Deirdre Murdoch standing outside an office marked Volunteers.

Peggy Leigh, who always tells you as part of her introduction that she's not the singer Peggy Lee, is well known in town for being able to get everybody of whatever status to give time or money to the hospital volunteer office. She's one of those short, square-yet-attractive women whose severe gazes can melt steel if need be. You never see her in anything but her uniform which is a blue blazer, white blouse, lighter blue skirt, hose, and flats.

She smiled and said, "Deirdre. Watch out for this guy. He has a way with women. Especially when he gets you in that car of his."

"I've got a neat new car myself," Deirdre said. "The only trouble is, I have to share it with my Mom. Dad won't let her have her own car." She smiled. "She does tend to get into accidents."

The phone rang inside the office. Deirdre excused herself and rushed into the office.

"She's getting off early today so she's working extra hard," Peggy said. "She works plenty hard as it is." Then: "Pretty, no?"

"Very."

"And Daddy rich."

"Very. The one and only Ross Murdoch."

"Our next governor."

"Maybe," I said.

"Oh, you Democrats. When will you admit that this is a Republican state?" She was also a tireless Republican volunteer.

"The state's changing, Peggy. Won't be Republican much longer."

Just then I saw Helen Leifer rush into the emergency room.

"Well, I need to go."

"Nice to see you, Sam."

Helen came over to me and took my hand. Her entire body was shaking. "Thanks for being such a good friend, Sam." She was a sweet-faced little woman bundled up inside a massive tan storm coat that she'd bought at Monkey Wards. I knew that because my mother had one just like it.

Then she was rushing away.


A few minutes after I got back from the hospital, the phone rang.

"Dawdling?" said Judge Esme Anne Whitney, the district magistrate for whom I investigate things.

"Doodling, actually." And I was. I'd returned a phone call and in the process begun penciling out a sketch of President Lincoln. For some reason, his is the only face I can draw that remotely resembles somebody human.

"Well, I hope you're better at dawdling than doodling."

"You're in an awfully chipper mood, this afternoon, Judge. Did something terrible happen to Chief Sykes?"

"Nothing terrible ever happens to Sykes. The terrible things are the things that Sykes does to our town."

The Judge is part of a large, rich Eastern family that came out here to Black River Falls, Iowa about a hundred years ago after a litigious argument with the Treasury Department over what it considered some rather—what is the word I want here?—illegal financial maneuverings. Disgraced, the family put some of its remaining millions into building our little town of 25,000 souls. Everything went fine with their Iowa empire here until WWII when the Sykes family, which had come to Black River Falls with the Southern migration of the late last century, got some federal contracts to start building roads and airstrips for the government. The Sykeses, through thrift and theft, made a few million dollars for themselves. And proceeded, before the Whitneys quite understood what was going on, into bribing virtually every local official, bank and prominent merchant into supporting the Sykes slate of candidates.

While the Judge had her millions and her district court, she no longer had the sort of imperious power her family had become accustomed to.

Police Chief Clifford Sykes, Jr. is thus her enemy. It helps that he's none too bright, marginally crooked, and eager to wrap up major criminal cases before doing any serious investigating. I haven't kept track, not being a petty sort of person, but I believe that we've proven him wrong on the last eight murder cases that fell in his jurisdiction. He doesn't like us any better than we like him.

"I told a friend of mine you'd help him this afternoon."

"Is this one of your country club friends? Do I have to unload gold bullion again?"

"In fact, McCain, he is one of my country club friends. One of my nearest and dearest, in case you're interested. But I don't know what he wants. He just asked if I could get you out there as soon as possible."

"Who's this friend?"

"Ross Murdoch."

"The guy who's running for governor?"

"Yes."

"Why would somebody as rich and successful as he is want me in his mansion?"

"No offense, McCain, but that's the very question I asked him."

"Why would I take offense at that, Judge? Gosh, I know I'm a low-born swine."

"This is no time for being cute, McCain. He sounded sort of—strained. But then who wouldn't be with the election this close. Everybody's pulling for him but with all that leftwing money flooding the state, who knows what'll happen."

By "left-wing money," the Judge means money given by labor unions, teachers' unions, and any other groups that try to help the downtrodden and despised. You know, the scum of the earth.

"I can't get out there for a while."

"Well, I'm going to lean on you a little here and play boss. I want you to get out there as soon as you can. I don't like to hear my good friends agitated this way." She lighted a cigarette, something she does to the tune of two packs a day. "He was so excited about his fancy new bomb shelter the last few weeks. He seems to have forgotten all about it now. Get out there as quickly as you can, McCain."


All this is taking place during what the press had come to call the Cuban Missile Crisis. For the past four days a confrontation had been building.

And now it was a crisis. Jack Kennedy had proof that Khrushchev was on the cusp of installing Russian missiles on Cuban soil. Missiles that could easily reach America. So Kennedy had now set up a naval blockade and essentially dared Khrushchev to try and run it. The world didn't want to think about what Khrushchev would do. The prospect of nuclear war had frozen everybody in place. You went to work, you played with your kids, you made whoopee with your wife, you paid your bills, you raked beautiful Indian-summer leaves. But no matter where you went or what you did, the subject of the missile crisis was there. If you didn't bring it up, a friend did. In television interviews teachers explained how difficult it was to make children understand what was going on without giving them nightmares.

I'd grown up with air raid drills, with duck-and-cover, with movie and TV melodramas inspired by good old Uncle Joe McCarthy. According to him, there were more commies in the US of A than there were Americans. I'd had plenty of nightmares myself. But all that had been nothing more than practice. This could well be the nuclear war, the nuclear holocaust, the nuclear winter we had been dreading ever since 1945.

During the past four or five years, bomb shelters had become popular. Most people couldn't afford anything fancy. They'd find a spot in their basement that could be walled off with brick or concrete block or some other fortification and then just kind of hope for the best. Most of these homemade shelters were worthless. When the nukes hit, you needed to be in some place deep and well protected.

People like Ross Murdoch, who had the wherewithal to have their shelters professionally built, just might survive for a time in their shelters. They'd been designed by architects who followed government guidelines, and they'd been built by construction men and carpenters who knew what they were doing.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Breaking Up Is Hard to Do by Ed Gorman. Copyright © 2004 Ed Gorman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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