Murder on Pleasant Avenue
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When Gino Donatelli is accused of a brutal murder, beloved sleuths Sarah and Frank Malloy have to catch a killer who is out to destroy their innocent friend's life in the latest installment of the national bestselling Gaslight mysteries.
A victim is found, brutally murdered and the police are certain they've caught the killer. Their only suspect: Gino Donatelli.
Frank and Sarah know Gino is innocent but the police have a one-track mind. Once Frank struck it rich and left their ranks taking Gino with him, there has been a simmering resentment in the department. And now, someone has pulled out all the stops to make it look like Gino is the only one who could have committed the crime.
With the clock ticking and evidence mounting against their friend, Sarah and Frank will try to unravel a treacherous plot before Gino is sent up the river for good.
Release date: April 28, 2020
Print pages: 336
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Murder on Pleasant Avenue
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," Maeve whispered to herself, deliberately striking each key on the typewriter as she said it. Why had she thought working in Mr. Malloy's private investigator's office would be exciting? The first thing he and his partner, Gino Donatelli, had wanted her to do was learn to use the typewriter. She would never get the hang of this. She should have been content just being a nanny to the Malloy children. Taking little Catherine to and from school and getting her and her brother, Brian, ready for bed was so much easier than this. At least being a nanny didn't require using machinery.
She looked up when the main office door opened, grateful for the interruption.
To her surprise, a lovely young woman came in. She looked nothing like their usual clients. She was obviously Italian, and she wore what must be her Sunday best, including an interesting little hat. She twisted her gloved hands nervously in front of her.
"May I help you?" Maeve asked brightly.
"Is this Mr. Malloy's office?" she asked without a trace of an accent. She glanced around uncertainly at the utilitarian office space with its plain wooden desk and chairs and a pair of windows that provided a stunning view of a brick wall. She'd probably been expecting something grander.
"Yes, it is."
"And Gi-I mean, Mr. Donatelli, too?"
Maeve somehow managed not to wince. This beautiful young Italian woman was looking for Gino Donatelli, and Maeve didn't even want to know why. She also shouldn't care, so why did she?
Should she lie? Did she dare send the woman away? But that was foolish. She'd only come back. Besides, the door to Gino's office was open, and he'd apparently overheard the woman's question, because he'd already come out.
"Teo?" he asked, surprised but also much too pleased to see her. Of course he was. Any man would be happy if a woman this lovely had sought him out.
"Oh, Gino!" she cried, hurrying to him and giving him both her hands, which he took with a familiarity that made Maeve furious.
"What's wrong?" Gino asked. "Is it-?"
"No, no, nothing with the family, but Gino, it's something terrible," she said, bursting into tears.
"There now, don't cry," Gino said, which is what men always said, but only because it made them feel helpless to see a woman cry. He slipped his arm around her shoulders without the slightest hesitation-they knew each other very well!-and led her into his office. "Maeve," he called back over his shoulder, "would you get Teo a glass of water?"
How dare he ask her to wait on his paramour! But the washroom was just next door to their offices, so Maeve was back in no time. By then Mr. Malloy had come out of his office to see what all the commotion was about.
"What-?" he began, but Maeve cut him off.
"Gino has a lady visitor." Did she sound disgruntled? Mr. Malloy's eyebrows rose, so she must have. Oh dear, that would never do.
Gino hadn't closed the door, though, so Maeve went right in. Teo-what kind of a name was that?-had produced a handkerchief to dry her tears, and she gratefully accepted the glass of water Maeve handed her. Her face, Maeve was annoyed to see, did not blotch up when she cried, and when her tears had dried, she looked as lovely as ever.
"Can I get you anything else, Miss . . . ?" She glanced expectantly at Gino, waiting for an introduction.
"It's missus," Gino said with a sly grin. "Mrs. Donatelli."
Maeve usually prided herself in her ability to conceal her emotions, but this time, she couldn't stop her jaw from dropping or her eyes from widening in shock. Mrs. Donatelli, and she certainly wasn't his mother! Was it possible? Anything was possible with these Italians. She couldn't imagine Gino had gotten married without telling them, but hadn't he mentioned that his parents had found a bride for his brother? If they arranged marriages for their children . . .
"Mrs. Donatelli?" Mr. Malloy echoed, having followed her into Gino's office. "How do you do? I'm Frank Malloy."
Mrs. Donatelli gave him an uncertain smile.
"And this is Miss Smith," Gino said, still smiling slyly. "She's learning to typewrite."
Maeve glared at him, but his grin never wavered.
"And which brother are you married to, Mrs. Donatelli?" Mr. Malloy asked.
"Rinaldo," she said proudly. "He is the oldest."
Rinaldo? Of course. She was married to one of Gino's brothers-he had about twenty-seven of them, if she remembered correctly-so of course she would be Mrs. Donatelli. What had she been thinking? "So nice to meet you, Mrs. Donatelli," she said with complete sincerity.
"Teodora was just going to tell me why she's here," Gino said. "Something terrible, you said, but not something with our family."
"No, not with our family, but terrible, yes." Her uncertain smile vanished. "Miss Harding has been kidnapped."
Maeve and Mr. Malloy looked to Gino for an explanation, but he was apparently just as puzzled as they were.
"Who is Miss Harding?" Gino asked.
"She is a worker at the settlement house. You know what that is?" she added to all of them.
They all nodded. Mr. Malloy's wife, Sarah, had been involved with The Daughters of Hope Mission, which was where Maeve had found shelter when her grandfather's death had left her alone in the world. Maeve had first met Mrs. Malloy there, and that had eventually led her here. Do-gooders of all types were opening settlement houses all over the city, so called because volunteers from more prosperous neighborhoods would "settle" there, living among the poor so they could more accurately discern their needs and therefore meet them. And of course Mrs. Malloy had recently opened a maternity clinic on the Lower East Side.
"What do you mean, she was kidnapped?" Maeve asked. "Has there been a ransom note or something?"
Teo shook her head. "Not that I heard, at least not yet, but she disappeared yesterday. She did not return to the house after she went to visit some neighbors, and she was gone all night. She would never be gone all night unless something happened to her. Some children said a man stopped her in the street, but after that, no one saw her again."
"That does sound serious, but maybe there's a simple explanation," Mr. Malloy said. "She might've just gotten tired of the work and decided to go home."
"She left all of her things behind, though," Teo said, "and there is more."
"What?" Gino asked.
"It is the Black Hand." She crossed herself against mention of this evil secret organization.
"The Black Hand?" Gino echoed in alarm. "Surely not . . ."
"They kidnapped Mrs. Cassidi. They held her for a month, until Mr. Cassidi could pay them."
"A month!" Maeve cried. "How horrible for her!"
"Isn't Mr. Cassidi the man Rinaldo works for?" Gino asked in amazement.
"Yes, he is. I do not think Mrs. Cassidi will ever be herself again. She refuses to even see visitors who come to comfort her, and she won't leave her house, not even to go to church. And there were others, too. Usually children of the Italian businessmen who have done well and have money, like Mr. Cassidi. I don't want this to happen to Jane-Miss Harding-so I told Mr. McWilliam-he is the head resident at the settlement-that I would ask Gino and Mr. Malloy to help."
"Why didn't you ask the police to help?" Mr. Malloy asked.
She gave him a pitying look. "The police do not care about the Italians, Mr. Malloy."
"But Miss Harding isn't Italian, is she?" Maeve asked.
"No, but the police do not challenge the Black Hand, because they do not concern themselves with the Italians."
"But what about Detective Sergeant Petrosino?" Gino asked.
"Yes," Mr. Malloy said. "Back when he was police commissioner, Governor Roosevelt promoted Petrosino specifically to handle crime in the Italian neighborhoods." Because the Italians were so suspicious of outsiders, Roosevelt had discovered he needed Italians on the police force to deal with crime in their neighborhoods. Gino had been one of them until he came to work for Mr. Malloy.
"Mr. Petrosino cannot be everywhere, Mr. Malloy," Teo said. "He is only one man, and besides, if you go to the police, the Black Hand will kill your loved ones."
"Have they actually killed anyone?" Gino asked, outraged.
"Not yet. The men pay the ransom and everything is fine."
"Then why not just pay the ransom for Miss Harding?" Maeve asked.
"We do not know how long it will take for them to ask, and Miss Harding, she is an unmarried American lady. She cannot . . . We must find her," Teo concluded with an uneasy frown.
"But-" Gino tried.
Maeve cut him off. "She means Miss Harding's reputation will be ruined if word gets out she was the captive of a gang of Italian criminals."
Teo nodded gratefully. "She is a good lady. She came to live at the settlement because she truly wanted to help people. We cannot let her life be destroyed because she was kind."
"Because even if nothing really happens to her, people will always assume the worst," Maeve said.
Mr. Malloy was nodding his understanding. "But Gino and I can be discreet, and if we rescue Miss Harding quickly, maybe no one will even find out this happened."
"I see," Gino said. "What about her family? Could the kidnappers be thinking they'll pay the ransom?"
"They aren't rich," Teo said, "or at least Miss Harding said they weren't, but neither are the Italians who are paying ransoms for their wives and children. I suppose the Black Hand would think Miss Harding's family could pay, though."
"Or maybe they think the settlement house will pay," Gino said.
"Those places don't have any money," Maeve scoffed. "Everyone who works there is a volunteer."
"I don't know if they think the settlement house can pay or not," Teo said, tearing up again, "but we must find Miss Harding quickly. Gino, will you help?"
"I will, too," Mr. Malloy said.
"No one can pay you," Teo warned them.
"We'll do it as a favor to Gino's family," Mr. Malloy said, earning a grateful smile from Teo.
Maeve wanted to volunteer as well, but she knew Mr. Malloy would remind her that her job was to be in the office in case a potential client came in. And to practice her typing. Why did men get to have all the fun?
Where is the settlement house?Ó Frank asked as he and Gino escorted Teodora down the stairs and out of their office building.
"It is on East One Hundred and Fifteenth Street."
"A Hundred and Fifteenth Street?" Frank echoed in amazement. "I thought it was in Little Italy."
Gino grinned. "It is. East Harlem is the other Little Italy."
"And it is bigger and much nicer, too," Teo said.
"Oh yes, Italian Harlem. I should have remembered, but it's pretty far uptown, so I don't ever see it."
"But don't try to tell my mother how nice it is," Gino said. "She thinks Rinaldo and Teo moved into the wilderness when they settled up there."
"But Rinaldo needed work, and that is where it is."
"My brother is a carpenter," Gino said.
"He does beautiful work, Mr. Malloy," Teo assured him.
"I'm sure he does. I guess the best way to get there is to walk over to the Third Avenue El." The elevated train would carry them eighty or so blocks north far more quickly than they could travel on the streets.
Conversation was difficult as they made their way along the crowded sidewalks and crossed the busy streets. The train arrived just as they finished climbing up the stairs to the tracks that ran one story above.
"Does Rinaldo know you're doing this?" Gino asked when they had taken their seats in the car.
"It was his idea to ask for your help. He could not come himself because he has to work."
Gino glanced at Frank, his expression telling him this was serious indeed. Italian women didn't usually go gallivanting all over the city on their own. "One reason Mama doesn't like Italian Harlem is because she says there are too many Sicilians living there."
"That is silly," Teo said. "Besides, the Sicilians keep to themselves. They have their own neighborhoods and we have ours."
"Do you think the Sicilians could be the ones doing the kidnapping?" Frank asked.
Teo looked around in alarm, but no one was near enough to hear them. "They do not do the kidnapping," she said in a near whisper. "They steal things and make the bad money."
"Counterfeit money?" Frank asked.
"Yes. The other ones," she continued, probably not wanting to say the group's name in public, "they make people pay them not to blow up their stores or their homes, and they kidnap women and children."
Which was worse? Both groups were a blight on the Italian immigrants, like Gino's family, who could expect little help from the police and had no reason to trust them in any case.
"How did you get involved with the settlement house, Teo?" Gino asked.
"I go there to help mostly. They have all kinds of classes. They teach people how to speak English and all the things they need to know to become citizens. They teach adults how to read. They teach sewing and cooking and-"
"You don't need to learn how to cook," Gino teased.
She blushed and gave him a swat. "I said I help. And people need to learn how to cook American food. They have a nursery and a kindergarten for children so their mothers can go to work. They even have a playground. They bought five houses in a row and combined all the backyards."
A playground in the city was a rarity and would attract the children who would, in turn, bring their parents. Someone knew what they were doing.
"You said the people who work there are volunteers," Frank said. "Where do they come from?"
"From all over. They went to college first, even the women," she added in wonder. "Miss Harding just came a few weeks ago, after she graduated."
"Is she from the city?" Frank asked.
"A town up north somewhere," Teo said. "I forget the name."
Up north could mean anywhere, but certainly not a place like New York City. A na•ve young woman would have been easy prey for anyone in East Harlem. Didn't the settlement give their workers instruction in how to stay safe? Frank should give this head resident-whatever that meant-a piece of his mind.
For the rest of the trip, Teo told them all about the settlement and the work they did. By the time they reached the place itself, which was just a short walk from the El stop on 116th Street, he saw it was just as Teo had said, a group of five row houses that looked pretty much like all the others on that street except for a large sign that read harlem settlement hall and additional lines of what looked like gibberish to Frank but which was most likely the same thing in various languages. As Teo had explained, the settlement served everyone in the neighborhood, which included Germans, the Irish, and Jews from Eastern Europe, in addition to the Italians who were relatively new to the area.
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