Buzz Cut (Thorn Series #5)by James W. Hall
In the shifting sun and shade of Key Largo, Thorn had made a home, tying bonefish flies and making love to a woman he barely knew. Then a call came from Miami - his best friend, Sugarman, was fighting for his life. Sugar had taken a security job with the owner of the M.S. Eclipse, when he was attacked by a madman who came at him with a knife in one hand and 400,000… See more details below
In the shifting sun and shade of Key Largo, Thorn had made a home, tying bonefish flies and making love to a woman he barely knew. Then a call came from Miami - his best friend, Sugarman, was fighting for his life. Sugar had taken a security job with the owner of the M.S. Eclipse, when he was attacked by a madman who came at him with a knife in one hand and 400,000 volts of electricity in the other. Racing to his friend's side, Thorn arrives in Miami to find a bizarre mystery of extortion and violence swirling around Morton Sampson, the cruise line magnate whose casino ships make him a fortune but whose empire may be on the brink of collapse. Now, as Sugarman recovers, the Eclipse suddenly falls under the madman's command, and he's killing off passengers one by one, defying anyone to stop him from decimating the entire ship - and more. While Thorn stalks his quarry in a nerve-shattering game of cat and mouse, two dark family dramas unwind around him. The lovely, long-missing daughter of Morton Sampson has reappeared and entered Thorn's life. As she plays her own pivotal role in the ship's fate, a shocking layer of deception is revealed. And against a backdrop of terror and betrayal, two very different brothers are locked in a struggle of near-mythic proportions, while the woman who bore them plays her own dangerous game.
Butler Jack has a passion for etymology, an integral stun gun installed on his fingers, a consuming hatred of Fiesta mogul Morton Sampson, and a plan to bring Sampson to his knees via a demand for a $58 million ransom he wants to donate to charity. To feed his hundreds of foster kids the world over, Butler plans to override the autopilots of the Fiesta cruise ship Eclipse and Sampson's behemoth, pathetically vulnerable oil tanker Juggernaut. To carry out this James Bond plot, he needs the unwitting help of the hopeless love of his youth, Sampson's missing daughter Monica. Monica, who ran away from Daddy and his dirty millions three years ago to settle down as buzz-cut Florida maid Irma Slater, readily rises to Butler's bait even as Hall's hero Thorn, who comes across more and more like Travis McGee guest-lecturing in Philosophy 101, and his sidekick Sugarman are coming on board Eclipse to foil Butler. But wait! How can either grizzled Sugarman or disillusioned Monica stop Butler when they're actually his own brother and sister? These twisted relationships ought to be the heart of the book, but they fizzle, because Hall (Gone Wild, 1995, etc.), who pumps up his characters to near-mythic status when he first introduces them, tends to neglect them thereafter, and they shrivel like demigods with a slow leak. So you're left with smiling, venal Sampson determined to keep the lid on Butler's murderous sabotage to protect the p.r. for the cruise, a showcase for his TV star wife Lola, Butler's mom; Butler snaking through the ship zapping everybody who gets too close; and Thorn and Sugar spouting manly wisdom like ninjas on Oprah.
Butler's a villain worthy of the grotesques in Dick Tracy, but the rest of the cast, including the hero, don't seem any more interested in the familiar plot than you're likely to be.
"A page-turning action thriller. . . will leave readers breathless."
Ann Arbor News
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"A slick, action-packed read."
Phillip Margolin, author of After Dark
"Jim Hall is brilliant and Buzz Cut proves it."
Robert B. Parker, author of All Our Yesterdays
"We'd best accept the inevitable: Hall's ship has come in."
Read an Excerpt
In his official Fiesta Cruise Lines shirt, Emilio Sanchez stood before the bathroom mirror squinting at his new tummy bulge. The blue rugby shirt was hugging him tight at the belly, showing off the extra couple of inches of flab.
What it was, was too much cruise line food for the last six months. First time in his life he'd had a chance to eat three meals a day. Here he was, only twenty-four years old, way too young to get a gut. He didn't watch out, soon he'd be looking like all those American passengers. Worse than that, with a big gringo belly he wasn't as likely to score with the ladies.
Emilio was sucking in his stomach, staring at his profile when the door to his cabin opened. Tindu, his Filipino roommate, probably ducking in from the first dinner seating for a quick smoke.
Emilio smoothed his hand over his stomach, flattened it briefly, and decided tomorrow he would begin a diet. Eliminate breakfast. That would be easiest. Eat two meals a day instead of three. Drop ten pounds by the time of the anniversary cruise. No problem. An easy decision. Sex was a hell of a lot more important to Emilio Sanchez than breakfast.
He ran a quick comb through his thick black hair and turned from the mirror and the first thing he saw was the glitter of the blade. It was not a large knife. He'd seen bigger. Four times in his life he'd faced knives. Taking cuts on both arms and one deep wound to his left shoulder. But in those Juarez street fights, he had always possessed his own knife.
The man in his doorway held the knife in a comfortable underhand grip, left hand. Nothing fancy. Clearly familiar with its use.
"The shirt," the mansaid.
The man stepped closer. "I want that shirt."
"You want my shirt?" Emilio plucked some fabric at his breast. "This shirt?"
"I want it. Give it to me."
He did something with the knife, a little Zorro waggle of his hand. Then he held up his right hand and Emilio blinked. Couldn't believe what he was seeing here in his own room. A guy with electricity coming out his fingers. Knife in one hand, sparks coming out the fingertips of the other.
"Hey, man, it's okay. You want the shirt, you got the shirt. You can put the goddamn knife away. I give you the shirt, it's yours, man. I never liked the fucking shirt in the first place."
Emilio stepped back, pulled the shirttail out of his pants, crossed his hands over his stomach ready to drag it off over his head, watching the man. "You want it, what, like for a souvenir or something?"
"I need the shirt." Saying it very calm. "Like right now."
The man wore a black Fiesta Cruise Lines T-shirt and a pair of new blue jeans. The T-shirt said he'd been a Jackpot winner. The man looked like a movie star, not the super handsome type, but one of those you've seen all your life, in this and in that, the star's brother or best friend. You've seen him a hundred times, but you never know his name. One of those.
Blond hair hanging loose down to his shoulders. A face that looked like the guy might've been playing with his girlfriend's makeup. Lips a little too red, skin a pasty, powdery white. Like you could take a fingernail and scrape some of it off, get down to the real flesh. But still handsome, and despite the knife, still somebody it looked like you could reason with.
"I got more shirts if you want them. In my drawer over there. I got three or four, man. Brand new practically. You go and take them all. Start your own collection. I don't give a shit. I never liked these fucking shirts."
Still gripping his shirttails, arms crossed, ready to strip off the shirt, but trying to talk his way past this, find some way to keep from ducking his head into that blue material, lose sight of the guy in his doorway for even a half second. That knife not moving, just hanging there in front of the guy's belly. The blond man very still, not blinking, nothing.
"Go on, take off the shirt." Voice getting quiet now.
Emilio shifted his feet, brought his right one back a half step, gonna kick the man in the groin if he came forward at all. Punt him up to the Promenade Deck if he tried anything.
Emilio tugged on the shirt, made a little feint to see if the guy moved. He didn't. So Emilio went ahead, stripped out of it. Losing sight of the guy for a half second was all it was, a half second, couldn't have been any longer than that.
The shirt came over his head and Emilio felt a cold jiggle in his belly, and something hot spilling out, running wet down his pants, and he heard the noise coming from his throat, like he was gargling, or puking, like he was out in the alley behind the Kentucky Club back in Juarez, too much cheap tequila, drinking in that bar he remembered now, a place where men stood and guzzled beer and opened their flies right there, a beer in their hand, and pissed into the ceramic trough that ran under the lip of the bar and through a pipe out into the street, a river of urine running down the gutters of Juarez. Thinking of that bar, of that border town, how much he'd wanted to escape that river of piss, go away, see the world, wear nice clothes, meet the blond women, only so he could wind up like this, in a tiny, pathetic fucking room on a ship, a man killing him for his shirt, for his stupid goddamn shirt.
And Emilio felt himself falling backward against the sink. Seeing the man in his doorway, holding the blue cruise lines shirt in one hand and the bloody knife in the other. No smile on his face, nothing at all. Same look Emilio felt on his own face at that exact moment. Nothing there at all. Never would be again either. Never. Just like the blond guy, a dead face.
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Thorn is slowly dragged into another bizarre crime. James W. Hall creates evolving crimes set in the South Florida miieu so familiar to Miami Vice fans as well as "natives". The plot line is full of surprises and will lead to further novels in the Thorne series.