Chapter 56: ‘A better place’

The motorcade for Butchie Block’s funeral was 54 bikers long. American flags flying from many of the motorcycles, it rode from the Harrison Mortuary & Crematorium up the hill to Holy Trinity Cemetery and finally back down to the Crosstown Tavern, where the river met Monroe Street. Artie Buchanan, anonymous benefactor, hosted a one-hour open bar, featuring Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, in Butchie’s honor.

Butchie stories echoed in the tavern’s dark stinky labrynths. Remember when he went on a three-day bender and tried to join the Army? Remember when Garella almost sliced his face off? Who here has lost a motorcycle to Butchie Block? In the darkness, hands went up, and some later swore they could hear Butchie laugh.

“He always claimed,” Artie said, “that he was really ripping off the insurance companies.”

“You dated him, right?” Tasha Wolf asked.

“I most certainly did not,” Steffie Voss asserted.

“Weren’t you and him like famously 86’d from Commando?”


“I heard it from a roadie.”

“Oh, well that makes it official.”

“Where’s your soulmate?” Tasha asked.

“Taylor is on a job interview,” Steffie lied.

“Really, what job?” Artie asked, sipping Third Place Scotch Ale out of a can. “Not Austin, I hope. He’s been talking about Austin lately.”

“I’m not at liberty to say,” said Steffie.

“Tasha, what are your cops saying?” Artie asked. “Are they going to charge The Bulgarian?”

“With Butchie’s death? Are you kidding?” Tasha poured the remains of a bottled beer into the gutter. “Swill,” she said. “Whoever heard of a tavern that doesn’t serve wine?”

“The Bulgarian?” repeated Artie.

Tasha shook her head. “Oh sure. Weeks after their fight, Butchie dies of infection, and they’re gonna charge the Bulgarian with murder? Come on. Besides,” she looked around the motorcycle-clogged parking lot and lowered her voice. “The Bulgarian has some magic mojo with the sheriff. Put two and two together. The Bulgarian makes a small fortune running hookers, which the Sheriff never seemed to notice. Did you see that the Sheriff bought himself a Boston Whaler last year.”

“I’m taking the over-under,” Artie said, “on how long before he runs it aground in the bay.”

“So you’re saying…?” Steffie asked Tasha.

“Nick Katanjiev is brought in for questioning in the Liz Burns case, and let go the next morning. And by mere coincidence, he ran a million-dollar brothel in the sheriff’s jurisdiction. For three years! Everybody knew where it was, but it never got seriously busted. Meanwhile, the deputies are running a speed trap a mile and half down the road. They gave me a ticket, 53 in a 45. Please. People. Open your eyes.”

A burly, bald, tattooed white guy, dressed in leather and chains, stepped out onto the river patio, aimed a pistol at the sky, shouted “He’s in a better place!” and punctuated his grief with seven gunshots into the fog.

“I don’t know about you two,” Tasha said, “but I’m getting out of here.”

On the drive home it was Tasha behind the wheel of Artie’s Subaru, Artie riding shotgun, Stephanie in the back seat. The car was damp and even foggy inside, and had a lingering smell of sea marsh. As Tasha navigated the traffic, Artie told Stephanie, straight and true, the story of Liz Burns’ last night. Tasha, for a change, merely listened.

“The man who rowed Liz away in that sneakboat,” Artie said, “it wasn’t Nick Katanjiev. Wasn’t anywhere near that big. And don’t say Butchie Block. He was in Atlantic City.”

“Maybe,” Stephanie suggested, “it was Karen’s boyfriend Rick Lowe. I’ve always …”

“He’s a little guy. Walks with a hunch. I’d know him.”

“Well, if all this happened around midnight, it certainly wasn’t Taylor.”

“I know.”

“At midnight, Taylor was having breakfast with his horrible fiance at …”

“I know!” Artie said. 

“Maybe it was Marco the Ferryman.”

“I didn’t want to say this, Steffie, and you’re sworn to secrecy, but the night the Bulgarian lured Marco into a van? Cammie was the bait. The Bulgarian and his pal Kenji tricked her and said they were making a sexy movie. Marco was in the van with Cammie from 10:30 until at least midnight.”

“But Cammie’s not aware of time,” Stephanie said. “You’ve said so yourself.”

“But we’re sure because she saw the midnight bus,” Artie said. “It came by just as Marco was leaving the van. There’s a bus at 10:30 to meet the last ferry, and one of those little night-owl buses at midnight. Cammie remembers that the bus was bright lit and empty and the driver glared at them, like they were up to something. Usually that lot is empty at midnight.”

 “Okay,” Stephanie said. “Maybe it was one of Liz’s boyfriends.”

“Maybe,” Tasha said. “And maybe it was Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson or Lee Harvey Oswald. None of these supposed boyfriends have eve been identified. And they weren’t going to come out of the woodwork to face a murder probe. Why are we avoiding the obvious? The Sheriff was never able to identify Liz’s rumored boyfriends, because they were figments of Dan Burns dark and guilty imagination. He was the one cheating on his marriage.”

“Dan Burns,” Artie said, “is the one and only suspect who has no alibi for the hours between 11 and 1.”

“Besides you,” Stephanie said.

“Stephanie, why are you doing contortions to deflect the obvious?”

“Oh fuck you Artie.”

“Ox man’s Razor,” said Artie, turned around in the seat, facing her fully. “It was Dan Burns took her away, and Dan Burns who killed her. Who killed his own wife.”

next: the rock