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                                                                                                Chapter 1




“The victim appears to have been punctured by something several dozen times, Captain.”

Monahan glowered, it could have been at the uniform standing over the corpse, at the circumstances that had him dragged out of his house at a couple minutes after midnight, or it could have been at me because I was the one who phoned it in. The victim was Alphonso Guinelli, one of the Fashion Districts top tailors and also a friend of my partner, Franklin Jackson. Me, I’m Tony Mandolin, a slightly worn private investigator who’s seen far too many dead bodies killed in far too many weird ways.

Located between 2nd and 11th Streets, San Francisco’s Fashion District is one of the top money-makers for both the city and the state. It’s one of those South of Market areas that has never really changed, since before both earthquakes. The styles may come and go. But some of the firms have been there almost since the days of the missionaries, and in several of them, Italian is the language of choice… still.

“Tell me again,” Captain Monahan fixed his glare completely on me, “Mandolin, why you were down here, and in this shop at this ungodly hour of the morning.”

Pat, Captain Patrick Monahan of Metro’s finest is, believe it or not, one of the few, if not the only friend I have on the police force. Both of us have saved each others’ life far more than either of us would like to count. However, friendship can only cover so many bases and being dragged out of your bed on a cold, damp, miserable night to look over a body covered in more blood than anything else is not something most friendships are built upon.

“Alphonso was one of Frankie’s friends, Pat,” I said. “The big guy called me. I guess he was unsure about calling 911.

Frankie’s close to 7 feet tall, well over 300 pounds and just about the strongest man I’ve ever known. He’s also a raging diva, ex-drag queen and if there is such a thing as a renaissance man covering all areas of the pop culture, cooking and fashion worlds, Frankie’s the template that broke the mold.

“I see,” Monahan growled. He knew Frankie almost as well as I did, so I didn’t have to elaborate.

He looked down at what was left of Alphonso and then back at me, and I knew what was coming next, “So tell me, Tony, why shouldn’t he be number one on our suspect list? Who else but an over-the-top fashionista would have the motive to off a tailor?”

“Pat,” I had to go through the ritual, “Frankie was one of the guy’s best friends! They probably spent more time chatting in that back room than you and I do watching Niners games!”

Monahan muttered, “Who doesn’t, these days?”

I gestured to the corpse, “Besides, look at the guy. Whoever did that has to be insane. No one stabs a person, with whatever was used, that many times unless they are really around the bend, across the intersection and out into the middle of the bay.”

“You’re not helping his case, Mandolin,” Monahan said in a flat no-nonsense tone.


He waved a hand, “It’s alright, Mandolin,” he said, “I’m just giving you a hard time. This whole thing could have been handled by Knowlen and I could still be sleeping. The only reason they called me is because you’re involved, even if as an outside investigator.”

Inwardly, I groaned. Lieutenant Knowlen, or as everyone I knew called him, Little Denny Knowlen, was about 5’6” in lifts with about 8 feet of tender ego. He was also tied in with some folks in the Mayor’s office, probably as a snitch. He did not like me and the feeling was just abut as mutual as a thing could be. I’d done him wrong by being involved in the putting away of his bosom buddy ex-police lieutenant Rorche, a cop so bent he could do his own rectal exams. Rorche made the mistake of trying to kill me, and I made the mistake thinking the cops would be glad I helped remove a cancer from their insides. Foolish me, thinking people employed in a bureaucracy would value integrity over money. I found out after the fact that Rorche was their second employer, in oh so many ways.

“The M.E’s here”

Pat nodded at the uniformed cop and said, “Let her in.”

The Medical Examiner for the city and county of San Francisco is Ursula Ignatova, also a friend, and also one of those people to whom science is a playground, not this distant misty land of unknown languages and symbols we mere mortals see it as. She and her fiance, Paul Verona have both helped me out of really sticky situations, a few times at risk of their own necks. In times like this, Ursula was truly welcome as far as I was concerned.

We all stepped back to let her work. Unlike the M.E’s in television, she did not glance at the body and tell us how he died, including when and where. In the real world, even in Fog City, such things require examination, and that is what she did, along with her continuously yawning assistant. The exam went on for a while, and, after looking at several square inches of skin, wiped clean, with everything wiped placed in those little evidence zipper bags, Ursula said, around mouthfuls of a deli sandwich she’d managed to bring along, “You need to look for a needle.”

Monahan looked around, and said, exasperation all through his voice, “Doc, we’re in the middle of a Gawd damned tailor shop! You can’t spit without hitting a needle!”

Ursula looked at him, and swallowed, “This one will probably have blood on it.”

Running his hand through his red and white thinning hair, Pat called out to the officers on scene, “Bag every needle you can find, and if you come across one with blood on it, put it into its own bag.”

Everyone stood there, staring at him. He took in a breath and bellowed, “You heard me, move!”

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