Caper (Stanley Hastings Series #17)by Parnell Hall
The fair maiden turned out to be a married mom who wanted Stanley to find out why her teenage daughter was skipping
Poor Stanley Hastings. After getting hired by a hitman and nearly getting shot, the put-upon PI needed some fun, so when a gorgeous damsel in distress walked through his office door she seemed just what the doctor ordered.
The fair maiden turned out to be a married mom who wanted Stanley to find out why her teenage daughter was skipping school.
Playing truant officer wasn't exactly Stanley's idea of fun, but at least it should be easy.
Stanley being Stanley, nothing goes right, nothing is as it seems,
bodies start to pile up, and faster than you can say 'fall guy',
guess who's left holding the bag?
Before the case is resolved, Stanley will be nostalgic for the good old days, when all he had to worry about was a hitman.
self-deprecating commentary as the narrator of his adventures.”
The New York Times
Read an Excerpt
A Stanley Hastings Mystery
By Parnell Hall
PEGASUS BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Parnell Hall
All rights reserved.
I needed to have fun.
I'd just come off a bad case. I'd gotten involved with a hitman, nearly gotten shot. If you've never had the pleasure, trust me, it's overrated. Particularly if you're not accustomed to such things. I have a photo ID, but that's where any resemblance between me and a private investigator stops. I don't have car chases or fist fights or any of that stuff. I don't even carry a gun.
I work for a negligence lawyer, the type who advertises on TV: "Free consultation. No fee unless recovery. We will come to your home."
He won't of course. He'll send me. And I'll sit you down and get you to sign a retainer, and then I'll investigate your accident, which I could do in my sleep, they're all the same, hell, I could tell you what happened: you tripped on a crack in the sidewalk and broke your leg and you want to sue the City of New York.
It's dull as dishwater, and not the least bit dangerous. True, the clients tend to live in slums and crack houses, but I've actually never had a problem. The scary-looking dudes who make me nervous always assume I'm a cop, and give me a wide berth.
It's not like being shot.
Knock on wood.
But it isn't fun.
Far from it.
It's just a stopgap job in between my acting and writing gigs.
I've been doing it for years.
At any rate, having had a near-death experience I was up for anything. I was growing old, closing in on that final frontier, wondering was there one more adventure in my life before I shuffle off this mortal coil? Or something to that effect. I can't even get the quotes right anymore. Not that I ever could. Oh, imperfect, flawed, failure.
And so I spiraled down into a depressing abyss of despair and doldrums and decay.
I was ripe for adventure.CHAPTER 2
She came wafting into my office like a jolt of adolescence. I felt weak. I felt numb. Hormones were kicking in. Rockets were going off. Warning lights were flashing in my head. DANGER. TO YOUR BATTLE STATIONS. ALL SYSTEMS ON ALERT. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. YOU ARE A MARRIED MAN. REPEAT, YOU ARE A MARRIED MAN. NOT A DEPRESSED, PATHETIC GEEZER, LUSTING AFTER THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM. LOOK IN THE MIRROR. REPEAT. LOOK IN THE MIRROR. IF THE MAN LOOKING BACK AT YOU IS NOT THE TWENTY-YEAR-OLD THAT YOU ENVISION YOURSELF TO BE, PUT YOUR LIBIDO DOWN AND STEP AWAY FROM THE HOT CHICK.
Did I mention I'm horny as hell? Well, keep it in mind.
Not that that's unusual. I'm a guy. Horny as hell is my default position. Has been ever since I was a teenager. Will be till the day I die. Only lately it's seemed more intense.
Maybe I'm just having a mid-life crisis. Maybe it's just the older we get the more self- aware. It's not that I'm thinking about sex more often, though I probably am, but merely the fact that I am aware that I am thinking about it, that the subconscious has become conscious, that I am now thinking about what I am thinking, which is the sort of stuff that therapists' dreams are made of. If I earned more money I could buy some analyst a condo.
For instance, when I see a woman I notice her breasts. That's nothing new. Mother Nature stuck them right there up front, hard to miss, and I am appreciative. Only discreetly so. I do not ogle, goggle, stare, wolf-whistle, rubberneck, or any other boorish behavior of the knuckle-dragging neanderthal type.
Only women think I do.
At least, that's the impression I get. When an attractive woman comes walking toward me, I am convinced that she thinks I'm looking at her breasts. Because she gives me that impression. She looks at her breasts. As if to say, "My God, why is he staring? Is my bra unhooked? Is my nipple exposed? Did I forget to wear a shirt? Why is that disgusting pervert looking at me?"
I realize this is all in my head, that is not what is happening at all, what I am observing is simple eye avoidance. The woman looks down, shifts her eyes away from those of the stranger. I know that plain as day.
As far as I'm concerned, she looked at her breasts because I'm a disgusting pig.
And to a certain extent I'm right. Because, whether or not she's thinking about her breasts at that point, I am. So for all practical purposes I've become that boorish lout that I believe she perceives me to be.
But I digress.
I was talking about my client.
Jennifer Weldon couldn't have been more than twenty-two or twenty-three, most likely younger. She had blonde hair, lopped off and curling in, a pear-shaped halo around her head. Blue eyes, turned-up nose, pouty mouth, chirpy cheerleader look. That's probably more description than I've ever given a client of mine. Of course, she was wearing a scoop-neck pullover. I guess I just wanted to show I was looking at her face.
I smiled hello.
She looked at her breasts.
I offered her a chair, sat behind my desk. Grabbed a pen and a legal pad, flipped open to a random page. It's a good tactic, puts clients at their ease. I've done it several times. I don't think I've ever written a note.
"What can I do for you?" I said.
"It's my daughter."
I reevaluated my assessment. This woman had a child? What, did she get knocked up when she was fifteen? Kid must be one or two. Guy must have skipped town. She must want me to find him. What a sordid affair.
"You have a daughter?"
"Of course I have a daughter. That's why I need help." She sucked in her breath. "David doesn't know I'm here."
"You have a husband?"
She looked at me as if I were a moron. "Yes, I've got a husband. And he doesn't know I'm here."
"I don't understand."
"Of course you don't. I haven't told you yet." She sighed. "I'm not telling this well. I guess I'm upset."
"What's the matter?"
"It's my daughter. She's headstrong. I can't deal with her."
"How old is your daughter?"
I blinked. "You have a teenage daughter?"
"You're not old enough to have a teenage daughter."
She scowled. "Are you flirting with me? I find that highly inappropriate."
"I'm not flirting with you. I'm having age issues. It has nothing to do with your case. You got a teenage daughter you can't deal with. What's the problem with her?"
"She's skipping school."
I smiled, shook my head. "I'm not a truant officer."
"No, of course not. But ..."
"You're an investigator. You could find out."
"Find out what?"
"Find out why."
"She probably doesn't like it."
"Yes, that's very clever. Can you do it?"
"I don't know what you want me to do. You want me to find your daughter?"
"You don't want me to find your daughter?
"I don't need you to find my daughter. She's in school. At least, I hope she is."
"She's not a runaway?"
"Certainly not. She lives with us."
"In our apartment."
"Park Avenue and Eighty-fourth."
"Nice address. I may have to adjust my fee."
"I'm glad you think this is funny."
"I don't think it's funny. I'm just trying to understand the situation. Which is a little difficult, because you haven't painted a very clear picture. You want me to drag this out of you in a way you obviously find irritating, or would you like to take a deep breath and just lay it on me?"
She actually took a deep breath.
I kept my eyes on her face.
"Sharon's a bright girl, does well, never gave us any trouble, gets her homework in on time, gets good grades. Comes home on time. Doesn't hang out with the wrong crowd."
"The wrong crowd?"
She cocked her head. "Oh, my God. You're being condescending? Judgmental?"
"Not at all."
"Really? I could practically hear a disapproving 'tut tut.'"
"Have you had these auditory hallucinations often?"
"Stop trying to be clever. You're no good at it."
"I know. Only one of my many failings. I don't suppose you'll be hiring me then."
"You don't want the job?"
I didn't. My client had gone from being a red-hot mama to an overprotective mama. One immune to my wit. She also reminded me too forcibly of the high-powered young women executive types who scared the shit out of me when I was fresh out of college working job- jobs, making the rounds, and trying to get my sea legs.
"I don't know what you want me to do. You tell me your daughter's skipping school. I ask you where she is, you tell me she's in school. She's a bright girl, gets good grades, doesn't hang around with the wrong crowd. Your story doesn't add up. Either there's something you're not telling me, or I don't know why you're here."
She stared at me defiantly for a moment, then dissolved into tears.
Attractive weeping women are not my forte. Should I put my arm around her? Pat her on the shoulder? Look down her shirt?
I took her in my arms, averted my eyes, let her cry herself out.
She pulled away, snuffled, fumbled in her purse for a tissue.
"All right," I said. "What's the story."
She snuffled again, looked up, set her chin.
"I think she's turning tricks."CHAPTER 3
Richard Rosenberg could not have looked more skeptical had I told him I was going to Mars. "Why did she hire you?"
"She's afraid her daughter's turning tricks."
"I got all that. Why you?"
"I'm a private detective."
"In the loosest sense of the word. Stanley, this is the first question to consider every time you have a potential client. Why are they hiring you? I mean you, specifically. Why would any reasonably intelligent, rational person, who had not completely taken leave of their senses, ever think of hiring you?"
"You hired me."
"For the most menial job possible. A trained chimpanzee could do the work you do. Assuming he could drive a car."
"That's rather sexist."
"Assuming the chimpanzee's male. Or do you only hire male chimpanzees?"
"It's no laughing matter, Stanley. This is what always happens to you. You walk into something, wide-eyed, innocent, naive, trusting. Next thing you know you're wanting me to bail you out of jail."
"When have you ever bailed me out of jail?"
"When have I not? Granted, I've never put up any money, but I've got you released on your own recognizance. The point is, you're a credulous fool. What do you really know about this woman?"
"Ah. Then vetting her is unnecessary. A pretty woman couldn't be up to anything."
"She paid me cash."
"Cash is good. I happen to like cash. But why did she pay you in cash?"
"She didn't want her husband to find out."
"She thought it would upset him."
"And you bought that?"
"Why not? It would upset him."
"More than it upset her? Stanley, you have this romantic idea about parents and children. You think no girl with a father can be a hooker. Trust me, they all have them."
"These are nice people."
"All your clients are nice people. Including the prostitutes, drug addicts, scam artists, and hitmen. They're all really nice. The fact that they lead you into temptation is entirely coincidental and not to be inferred."
"Are you telling me not to take the case?"
"You took the money, didn't you?"
"Then you took the case. The only question now is how badly you handle it."
"You have any advice on that?"
"Don't fuck it up."
"That's your only opinion?"
"No, but it's the best advice I can give you. That's what you're here for, isn't it? You don't want permission. You've already taken the case. You don't want my blessing, because you know you'll never get it. You just want my advice."
"I just wanted to tell you I may have to alter my schedule. It seemed only fair to do so, since you happen to be one of those people you disdain. You know, those who hire me."
"Oh, we're back to chimpanzees again. Speaking of which, have you turned in your cases? I could use a good laugh."
"A good laugh?"
"Well, most of you cases are pathetic."
"They're your cases."
"Not until I take them. They're potential cases. If they look good, I file suit. If they don't, I have a form rejection letter. Would you like to know what percentage of cases you handle get that letter?"
"Is it higher than average?"
"That would be hard. The percentage of cases I take is actually rather small. True, I file more cases than any other attorney in New York. But I investigate a hell of a lot more. At least, you do."
"Sounds like I should be making more money."
"You don't pay chimpanzees. You give 'em bananas."
"Great. Can you find another chimpanzee to pinch-hit while I save a young girl from a life of sin?"
Richard shook his head, pityingly. "God, you mix metaphors."CHAPTER 4
Sergeant MacAullif didn't call me a moron. WHICH made me nervous, because he always does. Whether I've taken a case, finished a case, asked him to trace somebody, brought him a piece of evidence, or merely said, "Good morning," his response has always been the same. "You're a moron." In the event I've displayed more than usual ineptitude, and sometimes even if I haven't, his response is, "You're a fucking moron." Which is ironically less and less true as the years go on.
This time he just nodded and said, "She pay cash?"
"Way to go."
"You think this is a good idea?"
"Taking cash is the best idea ever. I suppose technically I should turn you in to the IRS, but, hey, if you don't declare it, there's really nothing I can do."
"You don't think I'm doing the wrong thing."
MacAullif leaned back in his desk chair, a somewhat precarious position lately. Always a beefy cop, the sergeant had put on weight, would be needing to let the waist of his trousers out again soon. He twiddled his thumbs. "You have any milestone birthdays coming up?"
"It's kind of like a stripper-gram for private eyes. A teenage-hooker-gram."
"I'm not saying you have sex with her. It's better than that. You find her, you talk to her, you straighten her out. You feel great about yourself. You're the white knight on the steed, saving the maiden in distress. Which is the role you always cast yourself in. I would say whoever set this up probably brought it in for less than a grand. Including the money they paid you. Which is like a bonus. You get paid for feeling good. How much did they give you?"
"Two hundred dollars."
"What's that supposed to buy?"
"One day's work."
"Call it a day an a half. Actually, two. Today's shot for you. Considering the time you're wasting telling everyone. I assume you've already told Rosenberg."
"He's my boss."
"I'm sure he's proud. You don't suppose he set this up, did he? As a sort of bonus?"
"Right, right, it's Rosenberg. He doesn't know the word bonus. Just the word contingency. Which you don't share in, do you? Richard gets thirty-three and a third percent. You get five bucks an hour and two cents a mile."
"It's a little more than that."
"I'm glad to hear it. You maintaining a New York apartment, and all."
"Any time you're through screwing around."
"Huh? Oh, you want something? What could that possibly be? You need me to find this hooker? Surely Mommy took care of that."
"I'd like to know I'm not doing anything wrong."
MacAullif rolled his eyes. "Oh, my god, what a straight line. I don't know what to say, it's too damn easy. You always do something wrong. Given a fifty-fifty chance, you'll pick wrong every time."
"All right, then. How about illegal."
MacAullif shook his head despairingly. "Moron."
"Prostitution is illegal. It's illegal to begin with. Unless you're making a citizen's arrest and dragging this girl down to the station. You are compounding a felony and conspiring to conceal a crime."
"That's the wrong answer."
"Yeah, but it's the one you expected to hear."
It was, actually. When I get going on a fantasy, there's nothing to bring me back to reality like a good, hard, slap in the face from MacAullif.
"Would you say that any private eye hired to bring back a teenage runaway was conspiring to conceal a crime?"
"Is this girl a runaway?"
"She's living at home?"
"What do they need you for? Why don't they give her a good talking to, ground her, and get on with their lives?"
"She doesn't want her husband to know."
"A teenage hooker has a husband?"
"Oh. And what's the mother like?"
"Good God, you're let another attractive woman wrap you around her finger. What was the mother like? What a stupid question. I'm assuming she's got tits and ass and a pulse."
"She is rather attractive."
"No kidding. Otherwise you'd never let yourself get talked into this for no money."
Excerpted from Caper by Parnell Hall. Copyright © 2010 Parnell Hall. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Parnell Hall is an Edgar, Shamus, and Lefty nominee, and is the author of the Stanley Hastings private eye novels, the Puzzle Lady crossword puzzle mystery series, and the Steve Winslow courtroom dramas. An actor, screenwriter, and former private investigator, Hall lives in New York City.
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