Father Divine's Bikes

Father Divine's Bikes

by Steve Bassett

ASIN: B07B1FJ748

Publisher BookBaby

Published in Mystery & Thrillers/Mystery, Mystery & Thrillers, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description

His latest work, “Father Divine’s Bikes,” is a historical, noir crime novel set in 1945 Newark. A gangster war, three murders, a gun-toting paperboy, and the numbers racket punctuate the tragic story of two gritty altar boys adrift in a world of poverty, crime and hopelessness. The boys live in a world ripe for grifters like Father Divine and his promise of heaven on earth.

Sample Chapter

It was almost nine o’clock on a Monday morning when Police Lieutenant Nick Cisco and Sgt. Kevin McClosky pulled up in their unmarked cruiser in front of the Broome Street tenement. The meat wagon from the morgue was already there, its rear doors wide open to accept the latest human jetsam to be scraped from the Ward’s streets.

The stiff, a Negro man probably no more than twenty-five, was sprawled across the pavement, feet on the lower tenement step, his head a few feet from the gutter. The killing was not high profile enough for Coroner Walter Tomokai to handle so an assistant was given the thankless task of collecting the necessary forensic evidence.

A brown wooden handle above the man’s chest stood strong against the mid-morning breeze indicating where an ice pick had skewered his heart. Blood that had pooled around the body had already begun to harden at the edges. About a dozen onlookers, young and old alike, displayed the indifferent curiosity common to those who have seen it all before. A uniform cop stood between them and the body.

“Jesus Christ, it’s Frank Gazzi. So this is where they buried him,” McClosky said as he switched off the ignition and stepped out to the street.

“He’s still got his badge,” Cisco said. “Come on, let’s get started.”

The two homicide detectives examined the body while the ghouls from the morgue snapped their pictures. McClosky turned to Gazzi, “Frank, you the first one at the scene?”

“Yeah. I was around the corner when I heard a woman scream, so I came running. Took about thirty seconds. When I got here he was still breathing, coughing up blood, but breathing. Two uniforms got here a few minutes later,” Gazzi said nodding over his shoulder to the police cruiser. “They’re upstairs now.”

“Good luck with that,” Cisco said. “Doubt if they’ll get much. Whatever it is, we’ll want it.”

“You heard a woman scream, so there’s a witness,” McClosky said. “Where the hell is she?”

“What you see is what I found,” Gazzi said. “Beats hell out of me how quick these people can run and hide.”

It took Cisco and McClosky less than an hour to wrap it all up. Nobody heard a scream. Nobody saw anything. And nobody knew the victim’s name or where he came from. That was remedied when they emptied his pockets. There was forty-seven dollars in his wallet along with a U.S. Army ID card stating that Staff Sergeant Wilbert Locklee was honorably discharged at Camp Kilmer only two weeks earlier. A 1942 driver’s license had been issued to Locklee in Clarkdale, Mississippi. There was an unopened pack of Camels, ninety-two cents in change, and a Zippo lighter emblazoned with the crest of the 92nd Infantry Division.

“I’ll be damned,” Cisco said. “This guy was a Buffalo Soldier.”

“Buffalo Soldier?”

“Yeah there was a big article in LIFE magazine, how the 92nd , an all Negro division, went all the way back to the frontier Indian wars. Did pretty damn well this time around in Italy. Quite a history.”

“So what do you think?” McClosky said.

“Hunting for poontang,” Cisco said. “What else would get him up here on the hill. He had plenty of green, just picked the wrong pussy.”

“My guess, it was her pimp,” McClosky said. “They love the ice pick. When his whore screamed, they panicked and hauled ass. Left behind a stuffed wallet and wristwatch.”

“We’ll contact the cops in Mississippi, see if there’s a Locklee family still living in Clarkdale.”

“Poor son of a bitch. Put his ass on the line for Uncle Sam and ends up this way.”

They watched the meat wagon pull away with Locklee’s body, then turned to Gazzi and the other two uniforms.

“Tell me what you’ve got,” Cisco turned to the two patrolmen. “Your names….”

“James DeAngelo,” the older one, probably about thirty and clearly in charge, said. “My partner’s Dave Hurley.”

“Come up with anything worthwhile?” Cisco was aware of a common tendency of street cops to embellish their reports in order to put themselves in the center of homicide investigations. He had been there himself.

“The same old shit,” Hurley said. “Everyone was deaf, dumb and blind.”

“How long have you had a badge?” McClosky said. “Got it all figured out, do you.”

“Long enough to know there aren’t any niggers in this Ward talking to cops,” Hurley said.

“Hell, we almost had to kick-in some doors to get them out in the hall to talk at all,” DeAngelo said.

“Life can be a bitch,” Cisco responded sarcastically. “Just let us know, do you have anything?”

“Just names.” DeAngelo said. “Had to pry one of them out of the landlord. Seems a gal named Ruby West was nowhere to be seen this morning. He unlocked her first floor flat to give us a look-see.”

“And….” McClosky said, his impatience evident. “Is this Ruby West a whore or not?”

“With all the trappings,” Hurley said. “Big fancy bed, velvet sofa, big pillows all around and even carpets on the floor. Beer in the ice box, gin and rye. Not the best, but pretty good stuff. Fancy duds, his and hers in the two closets.”

“This bitch looks like a real moneymaker with a live-in pimp,” DeAngelo said.

“Whatever you’ve got put it in writing, then get it down to homicide by tomorrow,” Cisco said.

“Frank, it’s good to see that you’re still kicking,” McClosky said. “Hang in there.”

The two detectives drove away. Their first stop would be the Tenderloin to see if Ruby and her pimp also worked the downtown streets. Their curbside space was taken by a Fire Department truck. Two firemen had already begun unwinding a high pressure hose to flush blood off the sidewalk and down a storm drain with other gutter debris.

They were waiting for the light to change on Waverly when Cisco broke open a fresh pack of Chesterfields, tapped one out for McClosky and lit up for both of them. Cisco took a deep drag and exhaled. “You know, I’ve just been thinking about Gazzi, from wop golden boy to rousting voodoo scam artists along the black belt.”

“He’s been around a long time, longer than me, and just as long as you,” McClosky said. “Clue me in. How was it that he fucked up?”

“Goes back to when the goombahs started flexing their muscles downtown,” Cisco said. “Gazzi linked up with Tony Gordo’s bunch from Messina. He saw how Richie the Boot and Longy had divided the city. Learned real fast how the game is played, and when to put the blinders on. It seems he took his blinders off at the wrong time and the wrong place.”

“I heard it was a simple vice bust,” McClosky said. “That he had picked up a whore. Jesus Christ, if that’s all it was, he’s really paying big time for it.”

“It didn’t end there,” Cisco said as the squad car pulled to the curb in front of the Picadilly. “In fact, there was a second bimbo, the same thing, wrong time, wrong place.”

Chapter 2

That morning Officer Francis Gazzi had just completed his swing through his Third Ward beat. After a few seconds at the call box, he was on his way to Bloom’s Deli for a cup of coffee when he heard a woman scream from around the corner. Not knowing what to expect and fearing the worst, he felt for his Smith & Wesson, but left it holstered. He poked cautiously around the corner entrance to the Zanzibar Lounge. Four of the bar’s patrons ducked back inside as he brushed past them. He found the sidewalks and tenement stoops, generally teeming with Negroes of all ages, completely empty.

Gazzi spotted a man’s body on the sidewalk, and broke into a cautious trot. He realized, when he was within fifteen feet of the body and saw the spreading pool of blood, that this was going to be his first homicide. He turned his gaze back to the corner just as a Negro couple was leaving the Zanzibar. “Call the police! Do it now!”

The man stopped in his tracks, and turned towards Gazzi. But the woman kept going as fast as her tight skirt and heels would let her. “They’s already on the phone inside,” he shouted back, then turned and followed his lady already a half-block up the street.

Five minutes later the patrol car arrived, followed in short order by the meat wagon, and Cisco and McClosky.

Gazzi was only the second gentile cop to work a beat that included the heart of Newark’s Jewish immigrant community, adjacent to the “nigger belt” with its stabbings, shootings, fire-trap tenements, voodoo parlors, numbers banks and staggering infant mortality rate.

The beat was the latest price he was paying for screw-ups dating back to his years as a rookie. His best friend, Lt. Tony Gordo got him into the department. Tony was like an older brother to him. Their families had shared steerage from Messina. He was the best man at his wedding. Tony had joined the force just before the war, and worked his way up. Since the force was fifty percent Italian, it had been easy for him to pull Frank along with him. He showed him the ropes and told him to keep his nose clean, not to rock the boat. He even convinced his uniform boss to give Frank a soft, downtown cruiser beat even though it would mean screwing over cops with more seniority.

All he wanted was to do a good job, be a good cop back then. That was his first mistake. It all turned to shit toward the end of his first year in the squad car.


Excerpted from "Father Divine's Bikes" by Steve Bassett. Copyright © 2018 by Steve Bassett. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Steve Bassett

Steve Bassett

Steve Bassett was born, raised and educated in New Jersey, and, although far removed during a career as a multiple award-winning journalist, he has always been proud of the sobriquet Jersey Guy. He has been legally blind for almost a decade but hasn’t let this slow him down. Polish on his mother’s side and Montenegrin on his father’s, with grandparents who spoke little or no English, his early outlook was ethnic and suspicious. As a natural iconoclast, he joined the dwindling number of itinerant newsmen roaming the countryside in search of, well just about everything. Sadly, their breed has vanished into the digital ether.

View full Profile of Steve Bassett

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