O’Malley crept to a halt at the intersection with Eddy Street and squinted up the road, trying to see through the sideways slanting snow. It would be just like some numbskull to slide through the stop sign in the middle of a blizzard and T-bone him on the job, especially on what was supposed to be his night off. It might spare him some aggravation with Eileen, he reflected, who hadn’t been too keen on him leaving her alone in the middle of the storm. But an accident sounded extreme even under those circumstances. Maybe he could just plead frostbite. He shook his head, spied the flashing blue-and-reds, carefully made the turn and eased to a stop a few dozen yards down, knocking the top off a drift. Sighing, he grabbed his Bruins knit cap from the seat beside him, pulled it over his ears, opened the door and struggled out of the department-issued Fury and into the wind and snow.
“I thought you were off.”
The speaker leaning into the storm as he approached, head down, like a man with a bad back searching for lost keys.
“I am,” O’Malley shouted in return. “As I tried to explain to the lieutenant when he called. He informed me I was mistaken. Whaddya we got?”
“Over here,” Donatelli said.
“We know what happened yet?” O’Malley still shouting, though his fellow detective couldn’t have been more than ten feet away.
“Oh yeah.” Donatelli turned and trudged up the street.
Donatelli’s reply was lost in a gust of wind. O’Malley gulped, flakes stinging his eyes, trying to catch his breath. No surprise. The time-temperature clock on the Fleet Bank around the corner from his house in Cranston read 11 degrees as he pulled out of the garage. He sighed again. An hour ago he’d been nodding over the ProJo in his recliner while Eileen watched Magnum P.I., already in her nightgown, bathrobe and slippers. He was deciding whether to keep reading, make a no doubt futile attempt to suggest he remove Eileen’s nightgown, or just call it a night—and then the kitchen phone rang.
“Jesus,” O’Malley said as they came to a stop. “I take it this ain’t a slip and fall.”
“She fell, all right.”
The woman lay face down in the snow, beige overcoat now her shroud, one red heel on and one red heel off, head bare, frosted feathery blonde hair matted with blood. Even with the swirling snow O’Malley could see the dent in her skull the size of an inverted quahog shell. In front of and behind the body, Providence police crime scene technicians struggled to erect a flimsy canopy to protect her while they snapped pictures. Shifting to his left, Donatelli slipped and stumbled. He dropped to a knee beside the woman’s loose red shoe. A technician barked at him to get the hell out of the way. O’Malley reached a hand out and helped him up.
“So what’s the deal?” O’Malley said.
“Attacked by this crazy homeless guy, according to her husband. He’s over there. The crazy guy, I mean.” Donatelli nodded at a squad car up the street.
“Husband says she”—a glance at the figure on the ground—“and him were at Winkler’s. Anniversary dinner.” The steak restaurant was a block up in the Biltmore. “Afterwards, they’re walking toward their car when this guy comes after them with a shovel.”
“Apparently he carries it around, knocks ice off the curbs, clears the sidewalks, then looks for handouts. Restaurant manager says he works the whole downtown in the winter. They chase him off but he comes right back.”
“He was shoveling this late?”
Donatelli shrugged, pointed his finger at his right temple and twirled it in a tight clockwise circle.
“Where’s the husband?”
“Rhode Island Hospital. He’s the lucky one, so to speak. Took a shovel in the face—knocked him clean out but not fatal-like. Woke up to see his wife on the ground and the guy beating on her head. Managed to get up, tackle him, then stumble back to the restaurant to call for help.”
“We get anything out of him? The crazy guy?”
“Confession. Of sorts.”
“Easier if you take a listen.”