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No Stone Unturned

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No Stone Unturned

  Published 2014 by Seventh Street Books®, an imprint of Prometheus Books

  No Stone Unturned. Copyright © 2014 by James W. Ziskin. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  The characters, organizations, companies, products, and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or organizations or companies, currently or previously existing, or existing product names is coincidental and is not intended by the author.

  Cover image © helene cyr/Media Bakery

  Cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke

  Inquiries should be addressed to

  Seventh Street Books

  59 John Glenn Drive

  Amherst, New York 14228

  VOICE: 716–691–0133

  FAX: 716–691–0137


  18 17 16 15 14 5 4 3 2 1

  The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:

  Ziskin, James W., 1960–

  No stone unturned : an Ellie Stone mystery / James W. Ziskin.

  pages cm

  ISBN 978-1-61614-883-6 (pbk.) — ISBN 978-1-61614-884-3 (ebook)

  1. Women journalists—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3626.I83N73 2014



  Printed in the United States of America

  Styx & Stone

  To Lakshmi


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17



  About the Author


  The story I heard was that Fast Jack Donovan was chasing a rabbit through the woods when he tripped in the wet leaves. As he fell on his shotgun, the muzzle peeked out from under him and blasted a volley of lead and powder past his right ear. He twisted on the ground for a while, kicking and swearing until the ringing in his ear had faded. Then he picked himself up, scraped a layer of muck off his brand-new hunting jacket, and saw the crop of blonde hair half-buried in the mud.

  It was just turning dark. I was driving myself home from a date: a Saturday matinee of BUtterfield 8 with an eager young bank clerk of my acquaintance. For weeks, we’d been flirting through the teller’s window as he scribbled entries into my passbook and dealt me my withdrawals with the panache of a seasoned croupier. He seemed fun, and I thought he might have potential. But I never imagined that an innocent movie (well, not so innocent) would lead to his pinning me on the sofa for a count of three. The wrestling was a disappointment, at least for me. As I buttoned my blouse, I swore to myself there would be no rematch. And of course I would have to change banks.

  I turned north and started to climb Market Hill, just as one of those Mitch Miller sing-alongs came on the radio. I nearly broke the knob switching it off and turned up the police scanner instead. A dispatch was in progress: a body had been found in Wentworth’s Woods, near Route 40, north of Wilkens Corners Road.

  In all my time in New Holland—nearly three years—the most exciting event I had covered for the Republic was a mysterious trash-can fire in front of Tesoro’s Pharmacy on East Main Street. The boredom had just about worn me down, and not even the odd afternoon of heavy breathing with bank clerks, lawyers, or junior editors made any of it seem worthwhile. My life was grinding by like a glacier inching down a mountainside. I was ready to leave the bars, bowling alleys, and empty knitting mills behind. Abandon this forsaken backwater like an unwanted child and go back to New York to prove my late father right once and for all—that I was wasting my time writing filler and shooting photographs for a small, upstate daily that didn’t appreciate me.

  My father’s death in January was a recent wound, made all the more tragic by our long, unresolved estrangement, now fossilized and permanent. Abraham Stone, celebrated Dante scholar and professor of comparative literature, had challenged me to show him one significant piece I’d written for the paper, and when I couldn’t, we essentially stopped speaking. We’d had little to share anyway, especially with my mother and brother gone. Elijah was killed on his motorcycle in June of 1957, and my mother succumbed to cancer three months later. My father and I were left alone, two survivors uncertain and unsympathetic of each other, thrown together without the option. And now he, too, was dead.

  Furthermore, my position at the paper was going nowhere fast. Artie Short, publisher of the New Holland Republic, didn’t like the idea of a girl reporter and hated the sight of me to boot. Yet, somehow, I hadn’t found the words to tell Charlie Reese, my editor, that I couldn’t stand one more day in New Holland. It was five thirty on a cold Saturday afternoon, two days after Thanksgiving, and I was getting the feeling I’d be sticking around just a bit longer.

  The woods were crawling with cops: New Holland police, state troopers, and county deputies. Even Big Frank Olney, sheriff of Montgomery County, had managed to pry himself out of his swivel chair to investigate the biggest crime of his tenure. When I pushed through the cordon, Doc Peruso, the county coroner, was pulling a sheet over the naked body.

  “Hey, Eleonora,” called Olney. “Our guy’s in Schenectady. Can you take the pictures?”

  “Sure, Frank,” I said, unsnapping my Leica, knowing he called me that just to gall me. Everyone knew I went by Ellie. “What happened here?”

  “Murder,” said Peruso. “Not sure how long she’s been dead; maybe twenty-four hours. I’ll know later if she’s been raped. And here’s your headline, young lady: that’s Judge Shaw’s girl under the sheet.”

  “Judge Shaw?” I gulped. “As in the Shaw Knitting Mills Shaws?”

  “That’s off the record,” said Olney. “We don’t have any positive ID.”

  “I’ve been their family physician for twenty-five years,” said Peruso. “That’s Jordan Shaw, all right.”

  “Off the record, please, Ellie,” repeated the sheriff, nicer than he’d ever been in a nonelection year. “We haven’t raised Judge Shaw yet.”

  “I’ll hold off on the ID,” I said, plugging a flashbulb into the reflector. “Can you move these guys back while I take the pictures? No need to put on a show.”

  Olney ordered the cordon to retreat twenty yards, and Fred Peruso turned back the sheet. I’d seen a few dead bodies before, but none so fresh or so young. I’d never met or even seen Jordan Shaw before, which I’m sure made photographing her corpse a little easier. They don’t teach you this stuff at the Columbia School of Journalism.

  “Pretty girl,” I said to Peruso. That was an understatement, even with the mud smeared over her bare, white skin. “How old was she?”

  “Twenty-one. Just back from school in Boston for the holiday.”

  “You said her name was Jordan?” I asked. “Kind of an unusual name for a girl, isn’t it?”

  “Family name,” said Peruso, puffing on his pipe. “The judge’s grandmother was one of the Saratoga Springs Jordans.”

  “Any idea of the cause of death?”

  “Look at her,” he said. “I’ll give you three guesses, and the
first two don’t count.”

  Her neck was indeed twisted into a difficult and, apparently, fatal angle. I knelt down next to the body and snapped a tight shot of her colorless face.

  “Can I touch her?” I asked. Peruso nodded, relighting his pipe in the cool breeze. Frank Olney had no objections. My boldness surprised me. “Doctor, what’s this mark on her pelvis?”

  Peruso joined me to examine her lower abdomen. “What the . . . ?” he said, brushing some dirt away and exposing a two-inch, horizontal gash in her skin on the left side, about an inch above the line of her pubic hair. Frank Olney joined us, peered over Doc Peruso’s shoulder, and swore to himself.

  I backed off to shoot the torso, pelvis, and legs.

  “Is this how you found her?” I asked the sheriff, ejecting another spent bulb onto the wet earth, where it hissed for a brief moment before going cold and silent.

  “No. Her face was in the mud, body twisted clear around. Buttocks almost flat against the ground.”

  “Not a comfortable position,” I said, rewinding the first roll of film.

  “You’re gonna clean up them bulbs when you’re done, ain’t you, Ellie?” asked the sheriff to needle me.

  I nodded yes. “I suppose she was already dead when she hit the ground?”

  “Dead before she got here,” clarified the doctor.

  “What’s the nearest road? Forty?”

  “Route Forty’s about two hundred yards back that way,” said the sheriff, throwing a thumb over his shoulder. Then pointing past me, “There’s a service road to the water tower about fifty yards over there.”


  “Just mud.” He squinted at the moon then nudged the wet ground with his toe.

  “Are your boys checking for tracks over there?” I asked, loading the second roll.

  He glared at me. “You want this job, Eleonora?”

  “Take it easy, Frank,” I said. “It’s for my story.”

  Olney stared me down for a moment, hands on wide hips. It must have made him feel tough to push a girl around. A girl just trying to do her job. Then he lit a cigarette and took a deep draw.

  “Halvey and Pulaski are over there now, looking for tracks,” he said. “Why don’t you see if there’s anything worth shooting when you’re done here?”

  “Almost finished. I just want to get some tight shots of her neck.”

  “She ain’t in no rush,” he mumbled. “But remember, the paper doesn’t use any of these. They’re for my investigation. And black and white. I ain’t paying for Kodachrome.”

  “I’ll bill you for film and processing,” I said, returning to the body. “And bulbs . . .”

  Jordan Shaw’s hair was matted with mud and wet leaves, making it impossible to tell if she’d been clubbed on the head. Peruso would know better in the morning. Her face showed no contusions or abrasions. The neck appeared to have been snapped neatly, with no sign of trauma anywhere on the skin, if you didn’t count the gash in her pelvis. But that hadn’t killed her. I finished off the second roll with some wide shots of the crime scene, picked up my exploded flashbulbs, then set off in search of Halvey and Pulaski.

  I tramped through the woods toward the service road, wondering if I was following the murderer’s route. The ground was saturated from the previous night’s rainstorm, and the soggy earth tried to suck the shoes right off my feet. I wished I’d worn boots; my heels were ruined. If anyone had left Wentworth’s Woods on foot the night before, there would surely be tracks left behind.

  “Jesus, Ellie!” cried Halvey. “You scared the hell out of me. Make some noise when you sneak up on a guy!” He put a hand on his heart and took a seat on a dead log.

  I snapped a picture of the distressed deputy, blinding him for about ten seconds with the flash. “Check the bulletin board at the jail on Monday,” I said.

  Once he’d regained his sight, he leapt from his log and snatched the camera from my hands.

  “I’m confiscating this film,” he grinned.

  “I’ve got shots of the body on that roll, you big bully,” I lied. “Olney’ll have your head.”

  Halvey frowned and gave me back the camera. “What are you doing over here anyway?”

  “Frank sent me to take some pictures of tracks. Found any?”

  “Just this mess here,” he said, pointing to the deep ruts that cut through the middle of the road. “And those have been there for years.”

  “Where’s Stan?”

  “I don’t know. The Polack’s poking around somewhere. You go look for him; I’m beat.”

  I walked about a hundred yards in each direction, searching the ground with the flashlight Halvey had given me. I passed Stan Pulaski going and coming as he knelt in the mud to examine the ground. He said he was looking for tire tracks. The ruts seemed as old as the water tower itself, and I could find no evidence of footprints.

  “Where does Judge Shaw live?” I asked Pat Halvey once I’d returned to the log.

  “Market Hill,” he said. “Big old mansion in the nice part of town.”

  “Any houses around here?”

  “Nope. The Mohawk Motel’s about a mile up Route Forty, and the Dew Drop Inn’s just over there.” He pointed through the woods.

  “What do you make of all this, Pat?” I asked.

  The deputy’s eyes narrowed. “Something dirty, Ellie,” he said. “Nice, pretty girl like that turns up dead, bare naked. I think she was raped and killed by a sexual pervert.”

  I murmured agreement as I snapped a few shots of the mud. Pat Halvey was the kind of fellow who would notice a puddle on the ground in the morning and deduce that it had rained the night before.

  “Jordan Shaw was a nice girl?” I asked.

  “Sure,” he said. “Homecoming Queen her junior year.”

  “You knew her?”

  “No, but you know how it is. Everyone kind of knows everyone else around here. At least by name.”

  Sheriff Olney and Doc Peruso were huddled over two cups of coffee from a thermos bottle, their hot breath puffing billows into the wet air. The body had been wrapped into a big, old Packard Henney ambulance and carted away to New Holland City Hospital on Franklin Avenue, where Peruso would spend a busy Sunday morning on the postmortem. Police officers were now combing the area, scanning the muddy landscape with bowed heads and long, black flashlights.

  “Find anything?” Olney asked when he saw me approach.

  “Nope. Scared the life out of Halvey, though.”

  The sheriff muttered something under his breath and took a sip of cooling coffee.

  “So what do you think, Frank?” I asked. “What happened here?”

  “Goddamn it, Ellie,” he said, pitching the dregs of his coffee onto the muddy ground. “I got here an hour ago, and you expect an arrest?”

  “I’m just asking where the investigation stands. I’ve got my job to do, too.”

  “I’m waiting for the coroner’s report,” he said, tossing his head in Peruso’s direction. “Then I’ll consider the physical evidence and go from there.”

  “Is there any physical evidence?” I asked. “Besides the body, I mean.”

  Olney glowered at his feet. “No. No tracks; nothing.”

  I nodded and made a mental note for my story. The sheriff took notice, and his face fell flat.

  “What are you planning to write anyway, Ellie?”

  “You haven’t told me anything,” I said. “Our next edition won’t be out until Monday noon. I’m hoping you’ll get something more by tomorrow night.”

  “I’ll get the bastard who did this,” he said, glaring at me. “You can put that in your damn story.”

  Olney trudged off to confer with the troopers and his deputies, leaving me and Doc Peruso behind.

  “Would you mind giving me some information tomorrow once you’ve examined the body?” I asked.

  “Sure,” he said. “I should be finished around eleven.”

  “In the meantime, how about I buy you a coffee i
n a proper cup?”

  Whitey’s Luncheonette on East Main was crowded as usual for a Saturday night. The richer kids were home from college for the holiday, and the poorer kids were always around. Whitey’s was a renowned late-night hangout for young and old, and it was busy even on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Whitey Louis kicked some dawdling teenagers out of a booth and ushered us over personally. I thought this singular behavior, since the proprietor was a royal prick who rarely budged from his seat at the cash register, and even then only to call his bookie.

  “Why the first-class treatment, Whitey?” asked Doc Peruso. “You need some free medical advice?”

  Whitey laughed, took a seat with us—another first—and summoned Carmella, a slim waitress of a certain age, whose jet-black beehive belied the years she’d clocked on her odometer. Peruso eschewed his pipe and lit a green cigar instead. We ordered coffee. Whitey told Carmella to bring a large order of fries and gravy, and Peruso and I shrugged at each other. Tony Di Gregorio, the fruit wholesaler on West Main, once told me Whitey Louis was cheaper than a Scottish Jew living in Genoa. Italian humor, I gathered, my feelings none too hurt.

  “I hear something happened up on Route Forty,” Whitey said. Peruso and I exchanged glances.

  “Maybe,” I said, toying with one of the spoons on the table; Fred Peruso had to be more diplomatic than I did.

  “Come on,” said Whitey, lowering his voice as I lit a cigarette. “I hear someone was murdered. Ten minutes later, the coroner and Lois Lane stroll into my diner arm in arm. You two were out there, right? So what’s the story?”

  “Read the papers, Whitey,” I said, payback for the Lois Lane crack.

  “Come on, girlie. There ain’t no paper tomorrow. Just give me a hint. I won’t breathe a word to nobody.”

  “To tell you the truth, Frank Olney asked us to keep quiet until tomorrow.”

  “Screw him, the fat slob. I know something happened out there, so why don’t you just tell me?”

  Carmella returned with the coffee.

  “Sorry, Whitey,” I said, feeling a sudden chill from our host.

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