Kansas City, 1934. Devlin Caine, a WWI veteran and former Pinkerton’s operative, is hired by a wealthy industrialist to check out a potential business partner. The job is simple and the money good, but for Caine, it’s a short step from checking public records to being roughed up in a back alley. Clearly there are things the client neglected to mention, such as Caine’s predecessor on the job being found in the Missouri River with a slug in his chest. When the man Caine is investigating turns up murdered as well, Caine finds himself in the middle of a power struggle between his client, a competing industrialist, and a local underworld boss – all after a coded notebook Caine found in the dead man’s hotel room. Desperate to unlock the mystery of the notebook (and to protect his client’s beautiful young daughter), Caine plays the three men against each other in an effort to buy time. He knows only one of the three rivals can win this battle, and backing the wrong side will cost lives, starting with his own.
ISBN ebook: 978-1-926760-48-3
FICTION | Mystery & Detective - Hardboiled
Word Count: 139,000
List Price: $4.99
Published: November 15, 2010
“Shadow of a Distant Morning is a mesmerizing read. Written with a dry humor and a keen sense for keeping the suspense and action going, this is a detective novel that will have you wonderingwho dunnit, who has it, and who is playing who right up to the satisfying ending...[A] fast-paced mystery thriller filled with more than its fair share of suspense, secrets, lies, subterfuge, manoeuvring, blackmail, intrigue, danger, and even romance.” The Scribe’s Desk - Kyra Dawson
“Topek transports you back in time through the seamless use of authentic details, descriptions and dialogue. The plot is full of twists and turns and will keep you guessing until the very end.” Suzi Davis - author of Amber Frost
“Topek managed to use the recognizable archetypes of the genre without seeming hackneyed or cliched. All the things you expect from a hard-boiled detective story are there, but the story remains vital and surprising. I strongly recommend it.” Karen M. - Reader
The first morning of October was a bright, clear one in Kansas City. I was sitting at the counter at Maxie’s Diner on Main Street, taking some breakfast and giving the newspaper a light read between bites. Four laborers in denim trousers and thick shirts sat together around one corner of the U-shaped counter, the two in the middle talking quietly over coffee and smokes while the two on the ends gave their ham and eggs a working over. I stretched my neck and saw the elderly couple still in their booth, the wife taking dainty bites of French toast and the husband gumming his grits. A pretty girl of twenty wearing too much makeup sat by herself a few booths away, looking tired as she spooned down a bowl of cornflakes. Probably just came off the night shift at some local joint. No one else had come in after her. It was early yet; business would start picking up in the next half hour.
I went back to my paper. Melvin Purvis and his bunch were said to be closing in on Pretty Boy Floyd. They hadn’t let up much since that bloody shootout at Union Station last year, where four cops had been killed along with the prisoner Floyd was trying to help spring. They were turning up the heat on Baby Face Nelson as well. ’Thirty-Four was coming out a rough year for public enemies – Bonnie and Clyde taken out in Louisiana last spring, Dillinger getting nailed in Chicago a couple months later. The cops seemed to be using as many bullets as the crooks these days, some of them taking just as many, too. I’d made the right decision about going into business for myself. When I left Pinkerton’s a few years back, some former workmates approached me to see if I had any interest in joining the Bureau of Investigation. I hadn’t. Checking out sketchy insurance claims and serving subpoenas isn’t what you’d call a glamorous career, but the odds are better it will be a longer one. And sure, during the slow months I still take money to shutterbug for jealous husbands, but if any of them go shooting, it’s not likely to be at me.
I noticed it was only two more days until the Cardinals squared off against the Tigers for the World Series. I had no idea who I’d be rooting for. I’d spent some time in both St. Louis and Detroit, and hadn’t cared all that much for either place. Still, I’d probably put a few bucks on the Cards, not so much from any regional loyalty as the fact that I liked Dizzy Dean’s style. It ain’t bragging if you can back it up. That’s what Dean had said at the beginning of the season, and back it up he did, coming back strong in the final weeks to yank the pennant away from the Giants.
The kitchen door swung open and the owner came out, making the far end of the counter in his brisk stride before the door could swing shut behind him. Al Vestovik (there was no Maxie, Al just thought the name had character) was barely over five-foot-three inches tall, and seemed nearly that wide across the shoulders. Used to be a pretty fair southpaw boxer in his day. What he lacked in reach he made up for in brute strength. He never went far, but he’d won enough purse money to buy this place in the twenties. Al may have hung up his gloves, but he hadn’t gone soft in the intervening years. Last winter a couple of punks tried to rob him one night after closing, one carrying a knife, the other a bicycle chain. The hearing had had to wait until both of them were out of the hospital. They might have had a better chance with guns, but I wouldn’t put money on it.
Al bent down behind the counter and hauled up a tub of clean plates, his huge, hairy arms bulging under short sleeves. His shirt, work pants, apron and hat were all immaculately white, and would remain so throughout the day no matter how many times he had to change out the pieces. At least five or six, I guessed, knowing how hard the man worked. I wondered what it cost him in extra laundry bills, but Al insisted that people want to eat their food in a clean place. He knew his business; I’d never seen anyone step through the door and have second thoughts about sitting down.
He stopped in front of me, holding the tub of dishes like it was nothing.
“Breakfast okay today, Mr. Caine?” Al looked down at the few bites of egg and cottage fries left on my plate. Poor guy takes that kind of thing as a personal affront to his cooking. I’ve explained that it’s my habit to leave a little, not to clog myself down with extra, but professional pride can be a tough thing to beat. I took out my worn leather cigarette case and fished for my lighter.
“Best yet, Al,” I told him as I fired up. “If I was a bigger guy, I’d have licked the plate clean.”
“You’re plenty big for a couple eggs and a potato.”
“Maybe, but a guy who works for himself has to have discipline. I figure if I can hold back from the last few bites of your cooking, I’ve got the sand for anything.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled, but I could tell he appreciated the effort. “How’s your coffee?” My coffee was fine, but I wasn’t going to press my luck.
“When you get around to it, Al, thanks.”
“Coming right up.”
He bumped his way through the kitchen door with a beefy shoulder. I barely had time to knock the ash off the end of my cigarette before he was back with a steaming pot to top off my mug.
“There you go, Mr. Caine.”
“Al, how many times, huh? It’s Devlin. Better yet, Dev.”
He smiled and shook his head stubbornly.
“You’re a customer, Mr. Caine.”
“So? That makes me better than you?”
“Better?” His grin got wider and creases grew in the corners of his light brown eyes. “Who says you’re as good?”
I laughed and blew smoke toward the ceiling as Al moved off with the pot to check on the other patrons. When the coffee cooled enough I took a few sips, then crushed out my cigarette, dropped a few coins on the counter, scooped up my newspaper and hat, and hit the door. Bright sunshine was pouring down onto the sidewalk, but the mercifully cool temperature we’d been enjoying of late seemed here to stay. Not a moment too soon, either. This past summer had been the hottest in living memory, and fall had arrived barely in time to save everyone’s sanity. I walked over to where my two-seater Ford Cabriolet was parked. Black with a cream-colored, retractable top, I’d bought it two years ago when I finally had enough money to unload the Model A. The Cabriolet was my first new car and I kept it nice. Not bad for a man of thirty-six, especially these days. I climbed inside, started the motor, and pulled out into traffic.
The last half of “All I Do Is Dream of You” came through the car’s radio as I headed uptown to my office. Coming up on my left I saw the usual line of people outside the squat, yellow brick two-storey that serves as the headquarters for Tom Pendergast, our local political boss. The people in line had come to ask for favors, work mostly, and the majority of them would leave happy because that’s how Boss Tom likes things to go in his town. A good Catholic boy from St. Joseph, he started off working in his big brother Jim’s saloon in the West Bottoms. The elder Pendergast worked his way up from saloon keeper to a seat on the city council. Tom got the seat when Jim retired and kept it maybe five years, but officialdom just wasn’t in his nature. He figured there was more he could be doing for the city – namely, running it. Prohibition officially ended last year, but it never really came to Kansas City in the first place. Folks continued to wet their whistles while the cops wet their beaks, and you can thank Boss Tom for that. The man had built one of the strongest political machines in the nation, and I’d lay good money on his boy Truman getting that senate seat next month, assuming I could find anyone between Elmwood Cemetery and Swope Park willing to bet against me. Granted, the Elmwood crowd isn’t all that much into gambling these days, but many of them are still damned loyal voters.
I shot over to Broadway and continued north, cutting east just shy of the Garment District. When I found my building, I circled around to the back, pulled into my spot, switched off the radio, and killed the engine. The sundries shop on the first floor gave off the scent of fresh soap and candles as I climbed up the back stairs to the second floor landing. I walked down the hall until I came to the door with “Devlin Caine, Licensed Investigator” stenciled in neat golden letters on the frosted glass window. Six dollars for a professional job, but easy to find on those nights when I’ve thrown back one too many at Lonnigan’s and need to make it to my office couch to sleep it off.
Also by William Topek