Here's the first chapter of my mystery novel Slime Incorporated.
“So would you put idiot or moron?”
Jerry Newton looked up at me from behind his gold-colored PC. “Ustick, neither is quite up to our professional standards.”
The boss and I were seated in the office of Newton Investigations. We had eight peeling, artificial wood desks and eight mismatched office chairs in need of yet another reupholstering. My other six colleagues had all either gone home for the weekend or were out on assignment.
The sterile white walls bore only our business license and the first dollar the business ever collected. Both framed items hung behind the boss near the window. It gave a nice view of the traffic headed down River Street toward the library, which was cleverly named “Library!”
I swished around in my mouth my flavorless Juicy Fruit gum. “This has got to be the dumbest guy I’ve run into yet. I go to his house, and he’s got a stack of these stolen computers—with the company lease numbers facing the windows, mind you. He copped out to the whole thing. And I got on to him just because of his shoes.”
“How?” Newton asked as he picked lint off his navy sweater vest. He was chubby, but his afternoon snack was plain celery sticks, in a plastic baggie. They were on his desk beside his Idaho Medal of Honor for Law Enforcement certificate. He straightened it. “They were just a pair of tennis shoes.”
“To the untrained eye, but I saw their label. Those shoes retail for $300 on Amazon. They’re not available locally. Thirty bucks would be pricey for a pair of shoes on his pay.”
Newton typed on his computer’s keyboard. “You have too much faith in your own instincts, Ustick. If they’d been a gift from a rich friend, you would have cost the client two billable hours plus and ninety-six miles of gasoline.”
“He lives in Homedale.” I snorted. “If the people there had friends that gave them $300 shoes, they wouldn’t live in Homedale.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. Some of us don’t want to spend our whole lives like rats trapped on a wheel.”
I smirked. “Did we get transported to New York or Philly? Boise is only what? The 120th largest city in America?”
The boss stopped typing and glared at me. “104th, Ustick.”
“Sorry, I didn’t get the latest circular from the Chamber of Commerce.”
He pointed a celery stick at me. “You can be wrong.”
“Sure, I’m wrong twenty-five percent of the time. That’s built into my salary. Otherwise, I’d be Sherlock Holmes, and you couldn’t afford me. I’d be living the good life in Homedale.”
The boss leaned forward. “You’re playing with people’s money and lives. Sometimes, it’s like you’re living out a boyhood fantasy.”
“Nah. It was simply easier to get on here than to join the Power Rangers, and becoming a cowboy was impractical.”
The boss sighed. “Never mind. Do you have anything else to do other than distract me?”
“I have to hit the save button on my Word document.”
“Do Control S. It’ll give me more time to work without you chattering.”
A bald man in his thirties blustered through our door. The stranger wore a pin-striped suit, a red tie, wingtips, and the ghost of a permanent smirk, from the wrinkles around his mouth.
Time to live up to Newton’s definition of professionalism. I turned my head away from the visitor, spit my used-up gum in a wrapper, and dropped it in the trash can under my desk.
The stranger was swaggering past me, smelling like a fifty-dollar bottle of Gucci cologne. He stopped by Newton’s desk. “Hey, Fig.”
The boss shuddered but shoved the celery in his desk and looked up with a standard issue, professional smile. “Are you talking to me, sir?”
“Sir?” Laughing, our guest slapped his leg. “That’s no way to talk to the best power forward ever in the history of Mount Tacoma High. I certainly remember our respectable point guard.”
Newton scrunched his eyebrows together and stood. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember you. High school was more years ago than I’d like to admit.”
“Fig, I’m surprised. You’re a detective.”
I rolled my eyes. Not another joker who thinks detectives have Jedi powers.
The smirk grew wider. “Okay, the old powers of deduction are allowed to be a little off at the end of a hard week. I’m Bart Bradley.”
Newton eyed Bradley’s chrome dome and inhaled, leaning away from him. “You’ve changed a lot.”
“You haven’t—aside from too many donuts.” The jerk’s smirk stretched into the proportions of a cheeky grin.
Gritting his teeth, Newton shook his hand and waved at the chair across from his desk. “Have a seat. What can I do for you?”
The chair creaked as Bradley lowered himself into it. “Fig, I need you to help with a background check on a job candidate.”
I sighed. Great. I’m the only operative available, so this will delay my weekend.
Newton sat and pulled a yellow notepad from his desk drawer. “Who is the candidate?”
Bradley reached into his jacket’s inside pocket, pulled a photo out, and slid it across Newton’s desk.
The boss glanced at it, snarled, and flicked the photo back at Bradley like he’d wanted to stab him with it. “Go to the devil!”
I gaped at him. What had gotten into him?
Bradley raised a hand. “Fig—”
“And another thing.” Newton jumped up and got in Bradley’s face, his eyes blazing. “I hated that nickname in high school. If you use it again, I’ll lay you out. You lied right off and said this was an employer background check. You want a smear job? Find yourself another boy, pally.”
Bradley stood. “Opposition research is a legit field of investigation.”
“Nice Orwellian euphemism.”
“A lot of men look good until you find out who they really are.”
“You can hire every bottom feeder in Boise, but they won’t find anything on Ignacio Hernandez.” Newton stabbed at finger at Bradley. “Get your rear out of my office before Mr. Ustick and I toss you out on it.”
I stood. And here I’d thought I wouldn’t have any fun at work before I went home.
Bradley shook his head and chuckled. “Too bad, Newton. Just wanted to send an old pal some business.” He glanced around at our office. “Looks like you could use it.”
With that, he strode out the door without closing it.
Party pooper. I flopped at my desk.
Newton strode to the door and slammed it.
The frame rattled.
He kicked over the empty trash can by his desk, straightened the can, and sat. “Ustick, get me that report, now!”
I bit back a comeback and emailed Newton the report. I poked my head out from behind my computer. “That was disappointing. It’s been years since I’ve gotten to toss someone out on their rear.”
Newton sighed. “I’m sorry. That was unprofessional.”
I rolled my chair out into the aisle, so I was facing his desk. “Oh, I found it entertaining. You were so upset, I thought you might say fanny.”
“But I did curse out a potential client.”
In a way I consider worthy of being made fun of. “Two questions, boss.”
Newton glowered. “What?”
“What kind of nickname is Fig?”
“Put the nickname and my last name together.”
“Fig Newt—” I chuckled. “That’s a good one. I’ll have to remember it.”
He grimaced. “Just don’t repeat it.”
“Second question. Why did you go nuts over exposing a politician?”
“Don’t you have work to do?”
“Other than shutting down my computer? Nope. I’m ready to go home. So again, what set you off?”
Newton turned his chair towards me. “When I was in college, I worked part-time at Hernandez’s corporate office. During my sophomore year, my dad died while stopping an armed robbery. I left school and sought a full-time job that could support my family. Hernandez found out. He helped my mom find work and took care of my undergraduate tuition as well as my brother’s.”
“And there’s never been any publicity about it. He really took an interest in me, and I’m not the only one. He and his wife are good people. It boils my blood to think, because he wants to make the state better, they’re going to be put through the ringer by the likes of Bart Bradley.”
I leaned back. “Hernandez sounds like the type of guy I might vote for—if I voted.”
Newton lifted his chin. “I never you took you for an idiot.”
My cheeks grew hot. “What do you mean by that?”
Smiling, the boss leaned in. “In Ancient Greece, the word idiot referred to people who didn’t vote.”
I waved it aside. “In modern America, idiot means the guy who sits on pins and needles for two weeks on call waiting to see if our beloved county will summon him to jury duty. That won’t happen to me.”
“You’d be surprised. The registered voters list doesn’t double as a jurors list in Idaho. You can still be called.”
“I won’t get called. Anyway, are you going to tell your kindly benefactor to watch his back?”
Newton shook his head. “Hernandez has been around long enough to know a gubernatorial campaign isn’t going to be a breezy picnic. Even scum like Bradley deserve what happens in this office to be confidential.”
I looked at my watch. “Now that my curiosity is satisfied, mind if I leave? I’ve already put in forty-four hours this week, and you have no client to bill for my overtime pay.”
The boss waved me away. “Sure, see you on Monday.”
I shut down my computer. I pulled my fine black hair out of its ponytail, retied it, and let it fall just below my shoulder blade to the middle of my back. I put on my scarlet fedora, and walked to the coat rack. I pulled my tan overcoat on over my scarlet suit, worn with a pair of red leather wingtips. Under my jacket, I carried a 9mm Glock in a shoulder holster.
After ambling out of the building, I walked down the stairs and onto the sidewalk. A little uneven pile of slush remained on a shadowed portion of the grass. The rest of the grass was wet with no slush. The sun was shining bright while a cold wind was blowing, as if nature wasn’t quite sure what season it was. Typical for February in Boise.
I hopped into my pink 2005 Jaguar.
Across the parking lot, Newton’s pal Bradley sat at the wheel of a late model silver Impala with rental car plates, hunched over a smartphone.
On second thought, my curiosity hasn’t quite been satisfied. Where would you go to find a bottom-feeding private detective in Boise? I plugged my iPhone into the car’s docking station and turned on my tunes.Beyonce’s voice filled the cabin.
Three songs in, Bradley finished with the phone and started the Impala.
I waited for him to pull out before following him and merged into traffic two car lengths back. We drove down River Street, across 9th, past the library, and turned left onto Capitol.
Near the end of the boulevard, Bradley turned right onto Bannock and pulled into a parking lot of a two-story building. The wooden sign listed only one private investigator firm, Sheryl Thompson and Associates. Bradley parked and stomped to Thompson’s office.
Well, that figured. I drove around the block three times before finding a metered parking space in front of a dentist’s office half a block away, in sight of Bradley’s car.
Time for the most exciting part of my job: waiting.
I fed the meter for half an hour’s worth of parking and popped in a fresh stick of Juicy Fruit. I leaned back in my seat, savored the orange cream pop flavor and hunkered down with the Angry Birds on my iPhone.
After twenty minutes, Bradley came downstairs, got in the car, fiddled with his smartphone a bit, and drove away.
I followed him over to 9th and to Vista Avenue. About two miles down, he hung a left into the lot of the Holiday Inn Express.
Most likely, he was simply returning to his hotel room after having found his bottom feeder. Sheryl Thompson would turn down a paying job the day Donald Trump refused publicity.
Either way, it wasn’t my case. I yawned. Time to head home.
A few minutes later, I parked outside my duplex’s garage, picked up a stack of mail I’d grabbed from my box, and went inside the house.
The kitchen’s gray tile stretched into the entryway. I headed to the left, onto the slate blue living room carpet.
Against one wall was a baby blue leather couch with matching recliner. I laid the mail on the end table by my recliner. To the right of it was my purple keyboard on a music stand with a brown chair borrowed from the dinette set. On the wall across from the couch was a stone shelf. There, I kept three food-flavored candles in jars and one lighter. I lit the butterscotch blondies candle and breathed in the “fresh out of the oven” smell without the fuss.
I slipped my phone into the high-end docking station and turned on the radio app. The Hip Hop station’s tunes poured out of the station’s speakers. I switched it to a reggae station, perfect for chilling on a Friday afternoon.
I settled into my recliner and smiled at my mural of the Vermillion rocks at Pariah Canyon. The ruddy, spiraled formations looked like they were from another world.
After a minute, I yawned and sorted the mail. Junk, circular, junk, junk.
Letter from Ada County.
Huh? What would the county want with me? Assessments shouldn’t be out for a couple months.
I opened the letter and cursed.
A summons for jury duty.
Slime Incorporated's available as a paperback and for the Kindle. From March 27-April 2nd, it's available as part of a Kindle Countdown deal for 99 cents for the first half of sale. Amazon Prime members may borrow the book for free through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.
You can enter to win a paperback copy at Goodreads.com
Here's an excerpt from An Ounce of Prevention, my new mystery short available for Kindle for 99 cents:
Three days went by and everything had been quiet. Then the fourth day in the afternoon.I was reading over some reports from a security job at Boise Town Square mall. My desk phone rang. I picked it up. “Newton Investigations, this is Jerry.”
Pop. A low pitched male voice came over the phone. “Hello, boss. It’s Ustick.”
I cradled the phone. “Ustick, what is it? You're not due to report until 5:30.”
Pop. “Durand’s car was bombed.”
I swallowed. Some security we were. I sighed. “Was he hurt?”
Pop. “Nah, the bomb was tied to the remote signal for unlocking the door. He was thirty feet away when the thing blew up.”
“Ustick, didn’t I tell you to check the car completely? That meant under the car, around the car, on top of the car, in the car.”
Pop. "Yeah, you did and I did like I do every time, boss. I went over the car twenty minutes before Durand came out. I sent the pictures of my inspection to your cell phone."
I grabbed my cell phone off the table and pulled up the pictures taken of the SUV's undercarriage, interior, and under the hood. No sign of a bomb. Another picture time-stamped fifteen minutes later showed the car in flames, and one minute after that with the fire burned out, and the car gutted.
Pop. Ustick spoke up. "Boss, any other questions?"
"First, I've told you to stop chewing gum on the job. I'm hearing a popping sound on the line."
The line went silent for a moment.
Ustick's voice came through clear. "We just have a bad connection."
I chuckled. "It just cleared up. Are the police there yet?"
"They just pulled up."
"I'll be there in ten minutes." I hung up the desk phone, stuck the cell phone in my pocket, went to the file cabinet, grabbed the three threatening letters, and placed them in a manila envelope.
After a quiet drive, I arrived at the elementary school parking lot. It was almost vacant except for a very busy corner. I reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a package of latex gloves I’d stowed there years before. I put them on and walked to the scene. Police officers, firefighters, and haz-mat crews were all over the place. Some of them were gathering around some debris.
I ambled up to the crime scene tape where a dark haired police officer stood. “Sir, can I help you?”
I pulled out my license and business card. “I’m Jerry Newton, I texted Detective Weston that I was coming.”
She nodded. “Yes, sir. Please sign the log before entering the crime scene?”
I put the pen in my hand like I had a hundred times before and signed the sheet.
The remains of Durand’s Ford Explorer were charred from bottom to top. Cole Ustick was talking with my former partner, Detective Charlie Weston. Cole Ustick was all of twenty-three years old. He was five foot eleven, and his black ponytail stuck out from beneath his fuchsia fedora, which matched his suit.
I ambled over to Weston. The light of the late afternoon sun reflected off his waxed bald head.
Weston closed his notebook. "Okay, Mr. Ustick, I'll let you know if we need anything else. Thank you for your time."
I poked Charlie in the back. "Detective.”
Charlie turned and smiled. "Jerry, good to see you. Come this way." Charlie led me over to a Black Crown Victoria. He stared at Ustick and pivoted back to me. "So they're calling that a detective these days."
I shrugged. "You joined the fashion police, too?"
Charlie chuckled. "No." He frowned. "My biggest problem right now is your client. He just had his car bombed, he's hired a bodyguard on a teacher's salary, and he tells me he's got no idea who’s behind this. Jerry, I think you got more sense than to sell me that line.”
I handed Charlie the envelope. He opened it, flipped through the letters, and frowned. "Mind if I keep these for a while?"
Like my permission mattered. "No problem."
Charlie marched toward the former parking spot and I followed him over to my client, who stood by a fire truck.
Charlie rested his arm against the fire truck. "Mister Durand, why didn't you tell me that you'd received threatening letters?"
The redness of Durand's face deepened a shade and he glared at me. "Newton, what I told you was supposed to be in confidence."
I put up a hand. "It is, but there's a police investigation here, and it’s illegal for me to withhold information."
Durand interwove his fingers and pushed on his knuckles. "I'd rather there not be a police investigation."
Charlie furrowed his brow. "Sir, this is an arson investigation and we have to investigate every possibility.”
Durand squeezed his hands tight. "I understand, Detective. Now if there’s nothing else, Newton, will you take me to get a rental car?"
"Ustick will take you." I pointed towards where I'd last seen Ustick. "He's over that way."
Charlie said, “Mr. Duran, I may have more questions later.”
Durand grunted. “You have my number.” He lumbered past us.
Charlie shook his head. "You got a prize client there.”
“You sound like you suspect him.”
“Wouldn’t you? It’s the easiest way to explain how a bomb got under there after your man checked it. It was already there. Maybe he encased it in part of the car and put it back on.”
I chuckled. “What’s the motive? How many guys torch cars for the insurance money? Plus if it was encased in the car itself, I think you’d have seen a lot more debris. This looks really professional. The bomb did just what it was meant to. Look at it, as pretty as you please, burned to a crisp.”
“Good point, but you expect me to believe this sort of professional job was done by a kid mad because Durand held him back a grade.” Weston shrugged. “Either way, The lab will find out. Of course, Ustick could have missed it.”
I shook my head. “Nah, he’s very thorough. “
He shrugged. “Well, even thorough people make mistakes. But neither explanation satisfies me which leaves me in a spot because it happened. Your client’s not telling everything he knows.”
I leaned in towards Charlie and spoke low. “I know he's probably hiding something he doesn't want you to find. However, that's not my problem.”
Charlie grinned. "Jerry, you know this type of conversation makes me a little nostalgic. You were a good cop. Have you ever thought of-?"
I shook my head. "Nothing’s changed, Charlie."
Read more in An Ounce of Prevention.
My new ebook, What Made Golden Shine is now available for the Kindle. In this book, I take a look at what made Hollywood's Golden Age so special and unique. Below is the first Chapter of this interesting and engaging read.
Chapter 1: Entertainment as a Service Industry
What did Abbott and Costello have in common with a waiter and a manicurist?
They all worked in service industries.
Abbott and Costello, the Marx Brothers, Burns and Allen, Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Eddie Cantor all got their start in Vaudeville or even more humble origins. In Cantor’s case, he began his career as a singing waiter in a dive with a young Jimmy Durante playing the piano.
Entertainment was a hard scrabble existence. Entertainers lived from show to show, traveling the country from city to city, following the work wherever it might lead. They were, in the end, dependent on their local audiences for their livelihoods. If their audiences didn’t love them, they would not make it.
This had two great effects on entertainers. First, they understood they were there for the audience. The most successful performers had a love and respect for their audience, and the audience returned that.
Secondly, the road to Hollywood often went through humble circumstances. In some case, this humility began at birth. Jimmy Durante was born to a large immigrant family in the kitchen. Radio legend Bob Bailey, best know for his five years playing Johnny Dollar, was born in a theater trunk to a pair of actors.
Others’ lessons in humility came simply by living from one booking to the next, often having to find additional work to support themselves, or even having a play close unexpectedly while they were a long distance from home.
They understood the struggles of the poor and working class. They knew they came to the theater tired and worn out from a day’s labor. These earlier performers experienced real, every day life. The best of the Golden Age performers had a genuineness and honesty, a down-to-earth air about them that made us love them and relate to them as friends who we enjoyed spending time with. For that reason, Jimmy Durante and Lou Costello got far more laughs on their blown lines than modern day counterparts like Jay Leno and Jon Stewart get off of their best written material.
At times, the Golden Age of Hollywood may seem to be out of touch with how the real world worked and how people really struggled. It was because they were all too aware of it and figured their audience didn't need a movie to tell them. They knew their movie-going audience was looking for a little escape: to laugh, to sing, to dream, and dance for a few moments before returning to the real world.
The entertainment industry felt this burden particularly strongly during World War II. Performers entertained soldiers and sailors on the frontlines. Bob Hope made entertaining servicemen his passion. He not only performed for large groups of soldiers, he visited those who were wounded and couldn't join the group. Hope never considered himself a hero. He was doing what he was he was born to do, using his God-given gifts to lift the hearts of lonely, tired, and worn out men thousands of miles from home.
One would be hard-pressed to find that understanding of Hollywood as a service industry today. Far too often, young actors are handed absurd amounts of wealth and fame in their teens and twenties long before they are ready to deal with it. Actress Traylor Howard, best known for her roles in Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place and Monk, decried Hollywood's indifference to American Troops, telling the LA News in a February 24, 2006 article, "They're risking their lives, they haven't seen their wives, husbands and families…They need people to come, and they deserve that."
The entertainment industry’s humble origins made it possible for the Golden Age to feature the most memorable comedy teams in history: Abbott and Costello, Burns and Allen, Laurel and Hardy, Lum and Abner, the Marx Brothers, and the Three Stooges among others. These teams began their acts in Vaudeville, early radio, or the early movies. They each found a formula their audience loved and stuck with it.
The comedy team is a relic of a bygone era in mainstream entertainment. To be part of a comedy team required humility, particularly on the part of the straight man who had to accept that public adulation would be with the comic even though the straight man’s timing was essential to the act. It also required a great deal of unselfish trust. In effect, your fate was linked to your partner’s. Our modern Hollywood culture has no place for such an arrangement. Actors’ egos simply will not accommodate it.
We should not kid ourselves. The Golden Age had its share of Hollywood hero worship and big egos. This was usually tempered for the actors themselves by a self-awareness formed outside of Hollywood. Today, young icons are hit with fame, fortune, and adulation and don’t know enough about themselves to not believe their own PR.
How many entertainers would describe their goal as bringing happiness? Stardom is seen as a road to money, fame, sex, and political power. Who today sees it as service?
Even their attempts to reach out often come across as shallow and self-absorbed. Activism is often less about the issue the entertainer is talking about and far more about their self-importance and self-righteousness.
Contrast this with the calls for world peace between World War I and World War II and Hollywood’s anti-war activism of late. Those who dreamed most of peace during the 1920s and 30s were those who had experienced wars and had lost loved ones and seen war’s devastating impact. They spoke with conviction, hope, and a heart of love for the innocent bystanders whose future is blown away by the winds of war. This stands in contrast to modern Hollywood, whose words come across as laced with contempt for political opponents and the military rather than love and concern for real people.
Recent decades have cemented Hollywood’s reputation as a place of the unreal. The authenticity of the Golden Age is definitely missed.
You can read more in What Made the Golden Age SHine available now for Kindle for $2.99 or free from the Kindle lending library for Amazon Prime members.
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