Everybody's who's been worried ever since Police Chief Mario Balzic retired from the Rocksburg, Pa., force (Cranks and Shadows, 1995)--and nobody's been more worried than Det. Sgt. Ruggiero Carlucci, Balzic's right-hand man and heir-apparent--can breathe easier: Rugs's first case as acting chief is right up there with Constantine's best. Starting with an unidentified female, raped and beaten after hours in the offices of the Rocksburg Pre-Cast Concrete Company (Alfredo V. Picadio, Jr., prop.), Rugs battles his way through a series of joyfully interminable dialogues with the Picadio cook and accountant--who are less worried about the boss's absence in the Bahamas, or even the murderous attack on a woman who turns out to be his mother, than about giving something away to the police--as well as Rugs's priceless mother and his penny-pinching boss, Mayor Angelo Bellotti. The best news is that even though Balzic's been shunted off to a supporting role, his fellow citizens have mastered all the conversational tropes you'd expect from Constantine: the straight-faced clichÇ, the tactical evasion, the comic non sequitur, the goofball philippic. Mrs. Carlucci's rant against Alex Trebek's necktie is worth the price of admission all by itself. With crimes and cops and chitchat like these, you may hardly miss Balzic.