Chapter 40: Butchie thinks Billie

“So here’s what I need to know,” Butchie Block said. “I ain’t no good at this research shit.”

He and Tasha stood at big window at Want-A-Burger. That fast-food joint occupied a spot overlooking the Destiny River, having replaced an old-country German restaurant that had surrendered to a new age. Once people spent long afternoons gazing at the river over Biergarten schooners. Now it was drive-thru burgers and fries.

“Remember the Lorelei Inn?” Tasha said.

“That joint was too expensive for my crowd,” Butchie said.

“A lot of wasted summer afternoons here,” Tasha said. “And I do mean wasted. I was sad to see the old place go.”

“Want-A-Burger’s good enough for me,” Butchie said. “Where else can you get a view like this for $1.99?”

Out that big window, Tasha and Butchie watched a storm pass into rainbow skies. The hurricane had veered away toward the North Atlantic. The rain-washed Roosevelt Road steamed. The river was the color of a cafe mocha, tree limbs floating down from the hills.

“Billie McGinn,” Butchie said. “I need to know how she like poisoned her old man.”

Across the river, they could see the Savoy Hotel, where said poisoning took place.

Tasha said: “You can read all about it at the Public …”

“I ain’t got time for that. Help a guy out.”

“Come on, Tasha, help a guy out.”


Tasha suspected that Butchie couldn’t read, maybe not well, maybe not at all. She sighed and said: “Harold ‘Happy’ McGinn. The family’s been here since they chased off the Indians. Happy inherited scattered lots here and there. You know what’s happened to real estate in this town. It didn’t really take any talent. Unless you were dumb enough to step off the money train, you got rich.”

Butchie, looking over his shoulder, violated state law by lighting a cigarette.

“You know, I got Indian blood,” he said.

Tasha neither believed him nor cared. She found Butchie, even the new reformed Butchie, a little creepy, although he was a good source when it came to low-life Shipwreck Bay.

“The money really started to roll after Warner moved its main factory to China. All their little jobbers and suppliers went bankrupt. The Warehouse District hit bottom, then began to rebound. The McGinns owned some really cherry property with river views. Like that one right over there.”

She pointed to a six story brick condo, once a cold-storage warehouse, now an upscale loft, its units bought up by overpaid nerds at Console Graphics.

“Happy was married when he met Billie, but not happily. Billie was a flashy real estate novice with a taste for high fashion and fast cars, but no matching income stream. Are you getting the picture?”

“Bye bye Mrs. Happy.”

“A very quick divorce. Billie, the new Mrs. McGinn, hung on for something like four years. She was in her late 20s, the dude was just over 60. She could have just waited him out. But … one night she and the old man were celebrating yet another monetary triumph, drinking martinis at Scotty’s Green Lantern. The old man is hauled off by ambulance. Somebody slipped eyedrops into his martini.”

“Eyedrops?”

“Don’t ask me, I’m no chemist. Apparently it constricts your blood vessels, that’s how it ‘gets the red out.’ Anyway, if you’ve already got heart disease, and I’m sure Happy did …”

“I see,” said Butchie.

“Autopsy nailed the cause, cops focused on Billie, the waitress, two bartenders. One of the bartenders was Simmons, you know that guy.”

“Pete.”

“Ex-con, right. Turns out he’d been evicted by old Happy three months before. But…” Tanya shrugged, “nobody could prove nothing, so … Summit Realty was born, Widow McGinn at the helm.”

Billie and Harold “Happy” McGinn, at their home in happier times.


Butchie tossed his cigarette over the rail and it sailed on the wind before disappearing into the river. Tasha shuddered, remembering that Butchie had gone to prison after drowning a guy at a spot downriver, where it flowed into the salty bay.

“So Billie done in Harold McGinn, definitely.”

“Probably.”

“No definitely, I know.”

“You can’t know for sure, Butchie.”

“I got instincts,” he said. He gripped his cane, tapped it on the concrete rail. “All I ever had, you know, because I ain’t got the head for bookwork. Follow my trending thought here.”

Tasha folded her arms, not quite ready for guidance from an illiterate.

Butchie pointed his cane toward the ocean. He didn’t absolutely need the cane for support, but doctors had advised him to walk with it anyway. People won’t bump into a man who uses a cane, they said, and you don’t want to be jostled or knocked down until your wounds are better healed.  

“Billie wants to build a hotel on Poke Island,” Butchie said. “It would be like a monopoly, a money machine. Her two properties over there separated by Liz Burns’ vacant lot. Liz wanted to build a family cottage. Billie couldn’t sway her. I knew Liz. She was stubborn. But her son Taylor’s a weakling. The kid’s got a mountain of debt, right? So if Liz goes…”

“Go on. I’m ahead of you, though.”

“No you ain’t, girl. Because Billie can’t get to Liz without the Bulgarian. He’s her enforcer. He muscles the ferry man, or bribes him maybe, traps Liz on the island. Now the Bulgarian knows where to find her, and it’s the dead of night. Liz is never seen again so now, nail this all down. There’s your story. Write that up. Billie McGinn pulling the strings, the Bulgarian’s her puppet. You’ll find out I’m right.”

“I’ve gotta get back for my show,” Tasha said. “You should be my guest some day. If you find something we can use, I mean. Something you can take to the police.”

“I ain’t taking nothing to the police.”

“You’re not an instrument of Justice, Butch.”

“What’s that mean?”

Tasha just sighed and looked down the river.

“Hey,” Butchie said, “what about that article? The Bermuda Triangle, or whatever. When they gonna run it?”

“Dennis spiked it.”

“Who? What?”

“The editor. He didn’t like it.”

“Son of a bitch,” Butchie said. “Ain’t that something? The Man always gets his way.”

next: What Penny saw