Lucky Stiff: A Lillian Byrd Crime Storyby Elizabeth Sims
There is what you believe, and then there is the truth. For Lillian Byrd, a chance encounter with an old friend means that everything she thought she knew about her shattered childhood is about to be revealed as a lie. One summer day when she was 12 years old, her best friend, Duane, left for summer camp. Later that night, flames ripped through the Polka Dot, a bar
There is what you believe, and then there is the truth. For Lillian Byrd, a chance encounter with an old friend means that everything she thought she knew about her shattered childhood is about to be revealed as a lie. One summer day when she was 12 years old, her best friend, Duane, left for summer camp. Later that night, flames ripped through the Polka Dot, a bar owned and run by Lillian's parents. Three bodies were found in the ashes: those of her mother, her father and Trix Hawley, a bartender and Lillian's frequent babysitter. Or so she has always thought. But Duane's story reveals something shocking. After summer camp, his father moved him to Florida, telling Duane that his mother had left, and for a short time Trix Hawley lived with them. Now Duane's father has disappeared as well. Who was the third body in the ashes of the Polka Dot? Was the fire an accident or arson? Where is Trix now? And where are Duane's mother and father? Lillian and Duane set out to find the truth about their parents, a truth that has been hidden well by members of both their families. The author of the bestselling mysteries Holy Hell and Damn Straight has crafted another nerve-tingling thriller rich with characterization, humor and humanity.
Elizabeth Sims is the author of two previous Lillian Byrd crime stories, Holy Hell and Damn Straight. She lives in Port Angeles, Wash.
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He looked out of place in Greektown, out of place in Detroit as a whole, frankly. He could have been a European fashion model: the unmuscular, haunted type, only weirder. He wore a dark suit cut from what appeared to be raw silk, with a glowing white shirt and a deep pink ascot. Perched at an angle over his floppy hair was a beret, for God's sake, and he was smoking a cigarette.
I tried to read his expression. His eyes, half hidden by the hair, were aggressive, but his lips were parted as if in a question.
He watched me and I watched him, and recognition dawned.
I knew this man.
He swung his arm off the pole and threw away his cigarette.
I stopped playing. Lonnie lifted his head toward the man's footsteps as he dodged traffic across the street. A car honked.
The man stood before me.
"Lillian!" he said.
"Duane!" I said.
Simultaneously we said, "Oh. My. God."
I put down my instrument and threw my arms around him. He hugged me tight.
"Duane, Duane, Duane!" I laughed. "My God! I can't believe it's you!" Cliches poured out of me. "It's so good to see you. My old buddy! After all these years! I can't believe it!"
"Oh, Lillian," he said, burying his face in my shoulder, "I never thought I'd see you again." I felt moisture on my collarbone.
"Duane, it's all right." I stroked his beret. He sobbed a little. I held him out from me. "Hey, buddy," I smiled, "get ahold of yourself. Are you OK?"
"II'm all right," he said, sniffing hard and smiling. With a brave flourish he produced a silk pocket square and blotted his eyes. "I'm overwhelmed."
Lonnie said, "Hey?"
I said, "Lonnie,this is Duane Sechrist, my old friend."
"Lonnie Williams." He held out his hand and Duane shook it.
"Pleased to meet you," said Duane.
I said, "My God, I haven't seen you since"
"That summer day."
"We were twelve, remember?"
Oh, yes, I remembered everything.
Duane said, "What are you doing here? Are you begging, Lillian?"
I straightened my spine. "I am not begging. I am busking. I'm playing a musical instrument in a public area for any money the citizens might wish to give. This is not a begging experience. This is a value-added street life experience for music lovers."
"Why are you doing it?"
"I like to play music. You know I was always musical."
Lonnie made a little sound.
Duane said, "Why are you doing this really, Lillian?"
"I'm broke, goddamn it, why else?"
"What are you doing here?"
"Looking for my mother."
"Lillian, we need to talk somewhere." When I last saw him, his voice was a squeaky altar boy's. Now it was smooth and pleasant, a sophisticated city man's voice. "We've got some heavy catching-up to do."
"Where do you live?"
"I moved back here last year from Fort Lauderdale, I've got a place in Indian Village."
"And you came here to find your mother? Where is she? I mean, are you literally looking for her on the streets of Greektown, or is this some kind of theoretical quest, or what?"
"I'm literally looking for her on the streets of Greektown. I have a very weird feeling, Lillian. Like I was meant to bump into you. You've stayed in Detroit the whole time."
"Yes. Why did you disappear after summer camp?"
"It has to do with my mother. My mother and father."
"Did you ever come back to the old neighborhood after camp?"
"Why…don't you know?" Duane's eyes cut right and left and he dropped his voice. "About my mom going crazy and disappearing? While I was at camp?"
"My God. No!"
"Then three years later my dad took off, and I haven't seen him since."
"Not that I give that much of a shit about him, frankly. But it occurs to me that I ought to talk to your mom and dad, about my mom and dad. I remember my mom gabbing on the phone to your mom and the two of them"
"Duane, don't you know…about my mom and dad?"
His face settled into a mask of dread.
I said, "They died that night. The night you went to camp."
For the second time, we looked at each other and said, "Oh. My. God."
Meet the Author
Elizabeth Sims is the author of three previous Lillian Byrd crime stories, Holy Hell, Damn Straight and Lucky Stiff. She lives in Port Angeles, Wash.
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