Sylvie likes the British detective series "The Inspector Lynley Mysteries". She asked that the two central characters from that show visit Chicago.
Alternate title: An Italian Mystery
From time to time Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley would pull out the notes from old unsolved cases, just in case the passage of time might let him see aspects of a case that he had missed when it was fresh.
On this occasion, Inspector Lynley was looking over his notes on the Ierfino case and bouncing his thoughts off the younger woman who was his protege. This was a case he had worked on before he had taken the Detective Sergeant Havers under his wing as his partner.
"Havers, we have the dying words of the victim giving us the killer's name, and we still haven't been able to close this in six years. It' embarrassing."
Barbara Havers wanted to smile to herself at this declaration, but she had too much respect for her superior officer to do that. She knew that being embarrassed would be a very serious thing to the very proper, very upper class Inspector Lynley. Her own earthier Cockney upbringing made her a little less vulnerable to that kind of threat.
"And you're absolutely sure there is no mob involvement, sir? The victim was Italian and name of the killer she gave was Italian."
I'm not absolutely sure of anything, Havers. I'm not even sure the name the victim said was actually the name of the killer. We haven't found a connection between the victim and ANYONE named Maria del Vecchio. Do you know how many Maria del Vecchios there are in greater London area alone? And still none of the victim's family and friends we questioned knew anybody by that name in any way connected to the dead woman. We might as well be trying to hunt down John Smith."
Lynley closed the file folder with a definitive flip and tapped it with long thin fingers. "Well, there's no more we can do for poor Miss Ierfino today." He consulted his watch. "We should have been at the airport twenty minutes ago. I think you'll like Chicago, Havers."
He strode out of the station on long, lean legs. Habers, much shorter, trotted after taking two steps to each of his long strides.
Ray and Fraser were sitting at Ray�s desk, bickering over where to have their regular Tuesday lunch. Their deliberations were disturbed by Louis Gardino's stopping by Ray's desk.
"Hey, Ray, guess who's in Welsh's office. Some people from the Met." Having imparted this knowledge, Gardino drifted off.
"Opera singers, hunh, Let's hope we get that case, whatever it is, Fraser. You like opera."
"I suppose it's possible the lieutenant'ss guests are from the Metropolitan Opera, Ray, but it's more likely that they are from the Metropolitan Police Service in London. 'The Met', as it often referred to, is the largest of the police forces that operate in Greater London. The others include the City of London Police, the British Transport Police and the Royal Parks Constabulary."
The Mountie was interrupted by the voice of Welsh himself, calling from his now opened office door. "Constable, come on over, there's some people here you should meet. Oh, you too, Vecchio, I guess."
Ray had to take a second to shake his head in dismay in Fraser's direction before the two of them stood up together and headed for Welsh's office. Inside the office with Welsh were a man and a woman, both too slender to be opera singers as Ray pictured such, so chances were that Fraser was right about them being from the London police.
The man was a little older and very much taller. Ray�s practiced eye priced the classic black suit. It was very expensive but the man wore with a casual air. Also apparently expensive was the pink shirt, which would have looked effeminate on a man less self-assured than this lanky dude.
Beside and a little behind the man stood a woman in a plaid skirt and white blouse which screamed 'bargain basement'. Her main features of interest were her eyes. Fraser started casting about in his mind for a medical condition that might account for the slight bulging.
Welsh hailed Ray and Fraser as they came in. The formality Welsh's voice surprised them as he made his introductions.
"Detective Inspector, Detective Sergeant, this one of my detectives, Ray Vecchio, and with him is Constable Benton Fraser, our liaison with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police." Fraser's dress precluded any need for Welsh to specify which man went with which name.
Fraser opened his mouth to protest but Welsh cut him off. "Yes, Constable, I realize that you are officially the deputy liaison officer, but you can't deny that as far as this district is concerned, you are OUR liaison."
Welsh continued with the introductions.
"Gentlemen, these are our guests from London, Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers." Just what it was these Britons were doing here, Welsh did not elucidate.
Oh, so it IS that Met, thought Ray, slightly disappointed for his friend's sake.
Fraser let Ray be the first to reach out and shake hands. Ray's abiding interest in females caused him to overlook both protocol and his superior's example and address the female guest first. "Sergeant. Inspector," He repeated, while shaking hands with each.
Fraser took his turn next. He reached his hand out to Lynley first. "An honour, your lordship," he intoned. "Good day, Detective Sergeant," he added, shaking hands with Havers.
Lynley cleared his throat. "Actually . . ."
Havers chuckled a little, which endeared her to Ray immediately.
"I apologize, Detective Inspector," Fraser responded, "The eighth earl of Asherton happens to be named Thomas Lynley, so I supposed that you were he."
Lynley smiled, but only slightly. "I am, Detective Constable. But we don't go in for titles at the Met. It complicates things, you see."
Fraser ducked his head. "It's just plain Constable, sir."
Welsh interposed before this exchange could go any further. "Our British colleagues are trying to decide what to do for the evening. I�ve been just wondering what to suggest as a typical Chicago place to eat."
"I've got just the place," Ray announced, "Typical Italian cooking, homey atmosphere, friendly people. My house."
"We wouldn't dream of putting your wife to that much trouble. Especially on such short notice." This was Havers, leaving Ray to wonder if she were fishing to see whether he was married or not. Habers wasn't all that good looking, those pop-eyes would take some getting used to, but there was a look of lively intelligence in them that gave Ray the feeling she'd be nice to get to know.
"I'm not married," Ray clarified and, sure enough, he detected a widening of those funny-looking eyes of hers. "And my mother would kill me if I didn't give her a chance to feed a real live earl."
"We wouldn't want to be the cause of a murder our first night in America, would we Havers?" said the tall Inspector, graciously. "Thank you, Detective, we'd be delighted."
"Great. So, do I pick you both up here and bring you home with me?"
Lynley shook his head. "D.S. Havers and I have some business to attend to first. If you'll just give us your address and tell us what time to come, that would be fine."
Ray gave them his address, and then figured seven in the evening would give his mother enough time. Raised eyebrows and a significant glance at the door from Welsh told him and Fraser to scram. Ray gave the Britons final handshake each, holding Barbara Havers' hand a little longer than needed. She didn't seem to mind.
Settling back in his place again beside Ray's desk, Fraser asked, "Ray, about tonight . . .
"Of course you're invited, Fraser. Ma and Frannie would both lynch me if I didn't bring you."
"Don't you think you should have checked with your mother first before inviting them and fixing a time?"
Ray laughed. "All this time you know my family and you still don't know what an Italian mother is like. She'll be tickled pink."
Ray was surprised that his mother said nothing much on the phone to the news that one of their dinner guests was going to be an English lord. Instead she seemed to focus on the fact that the guests were detectives. Ray spent a moment musing about this, then returned his attention to the burning question of where he and Fraser would have lunch.
Ma Vecchio was not so easily distracted from the question of her guests� identity. As soon as she hung up the phone with her son, she called out to her older daughter.
"Maria, come in here to the kitchen! Now!"
"Is everything OK, Ma?" Maria questioned as she came in.
"No, everything is not okay. Your brother is bringing two detectives from London into this house. Tonight."
Maria went white and started to shiver. "Ray doesn't know. He can't know. Can he?"
"Of course not. If he knew, do you think he would bring British detectives here? I think it's only a co-incidence, but you must not be in the house when they get here. Take Tony and children. Go out. Anywhere. I think, yes . . . go to your Aunt Rosa's house and stay there until I call you that it's safe to come home. Go! Go now!"
Maria hurried upstairs to round up her family. Meanwhile Ma looked around the kitchen with calculating eye, then went out and surveyed the living room. No, there was no way to hide at such short notice that children lived here.
After that, Ma called Francesca at work and warned her of the plan. "Don't mention Maria or Tony. They don't exist. The children are yours and your husband's name is Gino. He's taken the children out of town. To see his mother in Buffalo. Do as I say, cara, and don't ask questions." For the rest of the afternoon Francesca had trouble concentrating on the needs of the customers at Bruno's Fine Meats.
That left only Raimundo and Benito to be dealt with. She didn't dare call her son in case he was with those people from London. While she cooked dinner, Ma prayed that Raimundo came home before the guests arrived, not together with them.
By 6:45 pm, a frantic Ma whispered a quick prayer of thanks when her son, together with his Mountie friend, finally came home. She grabbed each by the arm at the same time and led them into the kitchen. They could just as easily have talked in the vestibule or the living room but the kitchen was her domain, and she pulled them there without thinking about it.
"Raimundo, Benito, I don't want to explain it all now, but you must do as I say." She repeated the instructions she had given Francesca. Ray was too obedient to his mother and Fraser too deferential for either to argue, puzzled though they were.
The dinner was a quieter more subdued meal than had ever been seen in the Vecchio household. Since Inspector Lynley was a reserved type, it was Habers that ended up dominating the dinner chatter, but only Ray seemed to be responding. The rest of the Vecchios said as little as they could throughout the meal and each hoped the guests would not pick up on the tension they were all feeling. Since both Britons were detectives, they had reason to be concerned.
When the eating was finally over, Fraser and Lynley fell into a conversation about policing, technical enough to allow the rest of the family to tune out. Ma and Francesca retired, grateful for the release, to the kitchen to start the cleaning up process. Havers wanted to help, but Ray came to his mother's and sister's rescue by insisting she join him on the veranda for a chat.
"So, what's it like, working with a guy like that? I guess he's pretty rich."
"Not all the lords are rich these days. In fact some of them are in real trouble. It takes a lot of money to keep up some of those large estates. But, the Inspector's family, they're really something. Do you know what he did once?"
Ray leaned forward to hear.
"He re-decorated my house. I was having trouble selling it, so while we were out of town on a case he called somebody to come in and paint and put down all new carpets. I was furious. He meant well, though."
"Fraser never decorated my house," Ray said. "He tore it apart once," he added, softly to himself.
Ray was both glad to get Lynley out of the house and sorry to see Havers have to leave. Interesting women just seemed to come into his life and leave again, but this time he resolved to keep in touch with Barbara Havers if he could. They exchanged cards and email addresses just before the taxi pulled up to take the two British detectives back to their hotel.
In the taxi, Lynley and Havers discussed the evening they had just passed.
"They were all disturbed about something, Havers. That much was obvious. You spent some time alone with Detective Vecchio. Do you have any idea what was going on?"
"No," she admitted, "All the Italian family dinners I ever went to before were rollicking. Maybe Americans are different. You and the Mountie seem to have hit it off, sir."
"He's a fascinating fellow. Apparently he first came to Chicago on the trail of the killer of his father." He turned to look at her with one of his infrequent smiles. "I was expecting YOU to pay him more attention, Havers. He's rather good looking."
She snorted. "Too good looking for the likes of me, sir. Detective Vecchio's very nice. We're going to keep in touch. Then she frowned. "You know, sir, I�m wondering about the name 'Vecchio'. I've never heard it before, I mean, just plain 'Vecchio'."
"Nor have I," the Inspector agreed, "I've always heard 'del Vecchio', like our elusive Maria we were trying to track down before."
Havers sat thinking for a while. "I wonder if . . . when Miss Ierfino was dying, maybe she was having trouble speaking and said something like . . . Maria . . . ughhh . . . Vecchio. Not DEL Vecchio."
"That's rather far-fetched, Havers."
"I suppose so, sir."
It would have been rude for Ma and Francesca to hide in the kitchen while Lynley and Havers were taking their leave. Worse, it would have been suspicious. So the two women came out and stood with Fraser and Ray in the front doorway watching Lynley and Havers climb into a taxi. As the taxi door shut, Ma let out a heavy groan, went over to the living room sofa and collapsed into it.
She sat still for a moment, then turned to her son. "Raimundo, call your Aunt Rosa's house and tell Maria to bring everyone home."
Ma was so drained that Ray risked not obeying immediately. "Ma, what's going on?"
"Your sister Maria, she's a passionate woman. Do you remember that time Tony ran off and she went after him?"
Ray, Fraser and Francesca all took seats to hear what was coming.
"Of course I remember. She chased him to New York. He was with another woman, but she brought him home," Ray said.
Ma looked around at all of them and met their eyes one by one before going on. "You must all promise never to tell. Benito, if you can't promise to keep silent, you should go home now."
Fraser rose. "I''ll just go finish the dishes. I won't be able to hear a thing over the running water." So saying, he headed for the kitchen.
When he was safely out of the room, Ma continued. "We told everybody Tony went to New York. This was a lie to protect Maria. He really went to England, and Maria followed him there. Your sister is a passionate woman and she wanted her husband back. She . . . we can't let detectives from London . . . we can't let anyone know she was there. I . . . I . . . shouldn't say any more."
Ray and Francesca sat stunned, each trying to make sense of what they had heard and try to draw some conclusions. From the kitchen came the sound of running water and Fraser humming Wagner's 'The Ride of the Valkyries' very loudly.