Crash Course (A Truman Kicklighter Mystery)

Crash Course (A Truman Kicklighter Mystery)

by Kathy Hogan Trocheck

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Retiree extraordinaire Truman Kicklighter returns in the second installment of a simmering Florida series by one of today's hottest suspense writers. When Truman's twenty-something pal is taken for a ride by a used-car dealer, he has to put the brakes on a scam with a deadly payoff. Truman's young friend Jackleen Canaday has bought herself the car of her dreams, a hot… See more details below


Retiree extraordinaire Truman Kicklighter returns in the second installment of a simmering Florida series by one of today's hottest suspense writers. When Truman's twenty-something pal is taken for a ride by a used-car dealer, he has to put the brakes on a scam with a deadly payoff. Truman's young friend Jackleen Canaday has bought herself the car of her dreams, a hot red '88 Corvette with cool leather upholstery, but the ink's hardly dry on the contract when she realizes she's got a nightmare on her hands. The 'Vette reeks of lemon, and Jeff Cantrell, the suave huckster who sold her the car, refuses oh-so-politely to take it back. Much as Jackie loathes Cantrell, she's shocked when she goes by the lot one evening and finds something that looks an awful lot like his corpse. She's even more shocked when the cops arrive a few minutes later and there's no body to be found. Enter Truman, who hates to see a friend cheated and hates even more to pass up a juicy puzzle. Truman goes undercover and gets a ringside seat at the scene of several crimes, from insurance fraud to usury to - he's increasingly convinced - murder. He unearths a bloody trail that leads from the dealership to Tampa's stripclub strip, and quite possibly to his own demise. As Truman follows his twisting path to justice, he treats us to refreshingly wry glimpses of retirement - a realm of adventurous penny-pinching and enforced leisure.

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Kirkus Reviews
Who'd make a better murder victim than a used-car salesman? You'd think Jackleen Canaday, the struggling waitress at St. Petersburg's Fountain of Youth Hotel, would be delighted when somebody takes out Jeff Cantrell, the slick article who sweet- talked her into buying the red Corvette with a bleeding transmission, a deceptively elderly odometer, and a frame battered from multiple collisions. But when the Corvette is swiped off the street before it's one payment old, and Jackie returns to stake out Bondurant Motors, she's not overjoyed to find Jeff's corpse bundled into the Vette. And she's even less happy when the cops, responding to her call, don't find any trace of either Jeff's body or its pride-of-Detroit coffin. Though her friend, retired newsman Truman Kicklighter (Lickety-Split, 1996, not reviewed), has his suspicions, Jackie doesn't know she's stumbled onto a Bondurant-backed insurance scam whose operators are such loose cannons (from the onetime footballer who wholesales meat and drugs from the back of his truck to owner Ronnie Bondurant, who sees Jeff's surgically enhanced girlfriend as just another challenge for the body shop) that the good guys would have them nailed in a St. Pete minute if they weren't even more disorganized.

Easygoing Florida intrigue—a step up from Trocheck's Callahan Garrity series (Heart Trouble, 1996, etc.)—for audiences who aren't ready for the high-speed rigors of Carl Hiaasen and Laurence Shames.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Truman Kicklighter Mystery Series
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.79(h) x 0.91(d)

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Chapter One

Truman Kicklighter frowned at the mirror on his bureau. A thin, reddish-brown trickle weeped off the end of each of his eyebrows, giving him a clownlike appearance. Not what he had in mind. Not at all.

He blotted each eyebrow with a tissue. Now the ends were gray again, and the red-brown stain was soaking into his skin. It was the heat. August in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the air-conditioning at the Fountain of Youth Residential Hotel had once again gone on the fritz. He was perspiring so profusely that the Nice 'n Easy was melting as fast as he combed it into his hair and eyebrows. Now it was trickling down his forehead, and into his ears.

Management, meaning young Mandelbaum, was making feeble excuses about how there was a problem with the wiring, which would be fixed just as soon as the electrician could get to it. In the meantime, temperatures hadn't dropped below ninety since Labor Day and the old yellow-brick hotel was hell on earth. The window air conditioner Truman had invested $199.95 for was useless now. Every time he plugged it in, all the lights on his floor winked on and off and then off. So now the unit sat on the floor, an expensive end table, while he propped open his only window with a brick.

He was waving a handheld hair dryer over his eyebrows when he heard the loud knocking on the door.

"Mr. K? It's me, Jackie. Can I come in?"

"Just a minute, Jackie," he called. Quickly he opened the top drawer of the dresser and swept in the Nice 'n Easy, the toothbrush he'd used for application, the hair dryer, and the used tissues. One more hasty blot with the tissue. He scowled. Now it looked like he'd developedliver spots. He slipped his short-sleeved white sport shirt on top of his undershirt and buttoned it.

There was one chair in the room, a high-backed wooden number he'd brought from the old house after Nellie died. He sat down and picked up the paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice.

"Come on in," he said, trying to sound casual.

Jackleen Canaday was feeling the heat, too. After working the Saturday early dinner shift, she'd gone to her own room at the hotel and stripped down to cutoff jeans and a white tank top. She came in carrying a newspaper.

"You weren't at dinner," she said accusingly. "Chicken croquettes and cream gravy and pickled beets. Mrs. Hoffmayer had two helpings."

"It's too hot for cream gravy," Truman said, fanning himself with the paperback. "Besides, it's my Great Books discussion group night. I'll eat there."

Back in the winter and spring, they'd had twenty members, a real lively bunch. But now they were down to only seven members, and he was the only man in the group besides old man Drewry.

They'd read The Odyssey, Remembrance of Things Past, Ivanhoe, David Copperfield, and War and Peace over the winter. He'd nominated Lady Chatterley's Lover for this time, but the women, especially Elvida Hamm, a former librarian, had block-voted against "that smut." Old man Drewry voted both ways.

Now they were plodding through Pride and Prejudice. He would quit, Truman had admitted to his friend Ollie, except that the refreshments served at this book group were of the highest quality he'd ever experienced anywhere. Each woman tried to outdo the other with her covered-dish offering: creamy, crumb-topped macaroni and cheese, garden-fresh vegetables, salty-sweet Coca-Cola-glazed hams, lemon icebox cakes, towering chocolate layer cakes. It was beyond description.

"Great Books," Jackie said, waving a hand dismissively. "Bunch of old ladies reading poetry. There's a car listed in the classified ads. I was hoping you'd give me a ride over to this car lot, Bondurant Motors up on U.S. 19 to check it out. It's only six hundred dollars, and that's exactly how much I have saved."

"What kind of car?" Truman asked. "I didn't know you could buy cars anymore for that kind of money."

"A 1970 AMC Gremlin," Jackie said, pointing at an ad circled on the classified page. "Says it's a cream puff. Low mileage, radio, the works. What do you think?"

"I believe the part about low mileage," Truman said. "Those cars only went a couple times around the block before they quit running. You don't want a Gremlin, Jackie. Those cars were so bad they quit making them after just a few years. Hell, AMC went out of business. A Gremlin's a joke."

"It's only six hundred dollars," Jackie said. "And I've got to get a car. I can't stand riding that bus or begging rides another second."

"We'll go out tomorrow, see what we can find," Truman offered.

"Never buy a used car from a dealer. That's my policy. Besides, we're reading Pride and Prejudice. I can't miss Jane Austen."

On the first Saturday night of each month, Great Books night, he was always greeted at the door of the Mirror Lake Adult Recreation Center with a chorus of glad cries and gratitude. Each month, he managed to slip enough leftover food into his canvas book bag (specially lined for the occasion with tinfoil) to snack on for a week.

"Come on, Mr. K," Jackie pleaded. "This car sounds perfect for me. Besides, you hate Jane Austen. You told me Harold Robbins and Ian Fleming are a hundred percent better than her."

"Well, if we're talking contemporary novelists, sure," Truman said. "You ever read The Carpetbaggers? How about From Russia with Love? Anyway, I happen to know that Maggie McCutcheon is leading the discussion tonight."

It was nearly time to go. He got up, went to the bureau, and got his bottle of Old Spice aftershave. If there was anything that could cool him off, it was a splash of Old Spice on his face and neck. He rubbed a little extra on the Nice 'n Easy stain, which had faded to a dull purple. Then he ran the comb through his still damp hair. Was it a darker red than usual? Maybe he'd gone overboard this time.

"Which one was Maggie McCutcheon?" Jackie demanded. "The one with the hearing aid that buzzes?" Truman had dragged Jackie along to Great Books group once. Talk about boring. You might as well sit home and watch PBS.

"Miss McCutcheon happens to have perfect hearing," Truman said, picking up his car keys. "She is a prodigious researcher. And, she's promised homemade peach ice cream and sour-cream pound cake tonight. Sorry, Jackie."

She sighed a martyred sigh and stood up. "Guess I'll just have to take that nasty old bus."

"Guess you will," Truman agreed. He liked to get to his meeting after the discussion was started, but in plenty of time to plan his attack on the buffet table. Refreshments were served from eight-thirty till nine. He always left at nine. Sharp. Any later than that, the widows would be inviting him home to help finish up their leftover food—and maybe take a look at why their cable reception was so poor or their dishwasher made a funny thudding sound during the spin cycle.

Jackie reached up with both hands and jerked hard at the upper sash of the metal window, grunting out loud with the effort. It squeaked and the window slid open maybe five pathetic inches.

"Have mercy," Jackie said, slumping back in her seat. Of all the days to catch a city bus with a malfunctioning air conditioner. First the hotel and now this.

Was there any place cool left on the face of the planet?

The sweat had soaked through her shirt, and now the front of her shorts were damp, too.

August. Supposed to be off-season in Florida. Tell that to the college kids. Forty of them, must be. All of them staying at the Fountain of Youth. It was old man Mandelbaum's idea to make the place a youth hostel. After the church deal went sour last year.

That was the idea, make the place a youth hostel for the summer, once the snowbirds had gone back up north for the year. Just a handful of regulars stayed there year-round. The regulars, most of them retired, like Mr. Kicklighter and Ollie and that nasty Mrs. Hoffmayer, groused about the college kids, but it wasn't like they could afford to live anyplace else. Her either, for that matter. She'd moved into a one-bedroom efficiency at the Fountain of Youth in May. Her own personal Independence Day.

Jackie bent down and rubbed her aching shins. Jesus. The college kids packed the place, two and three to a room, for twenty-five bucks a night. Ran up and down the halls all hours of the night, even though the front door was supposed to be locked and lights out at eleven. And they could eat like there was no tomorrow. Breakfast and lunch was what they liked. Cheap and filling. Pancakes, eggs, sausage, grits, hamburgers, french fries, pizza. Pie. Anything salty, greasy, or sweet. She had to keep an eagle eye on her tables. Some college kids were okay. But others thought being poor was a game. Cute or something. They liked to ditch a check, sneak out without paying. Let one of 'em try it on her. She'd jerk a knot in their tails all right.

She had her face pressed up against the open bus window, looking for the right street address. Suddenly the bright red-and-yellow Bondurant Motors sign loomed up ahead.

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