Nemesis

Nemesis

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by Bill Pronzini
     
 

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Young, newly rich Verity Daniels claims to be receiving threatening demands for money from a mysterious caller. When Jake Runyon agrees to investigate, it seems a relatively simple matter to expose the extortionist by setting a trap for him.

The case, however, is nowhere near as clear-cut as it first appears.
And Verity Daniels is nowhere near the

Overview

Young, newly rich Verity Daniels claims to be receiving threatening demands for money from a mysterious caller. When Jake Runyon agrees to investigate, it seems a relatively simple matter to expose the extortionist by setting a trap for him.

The case, however, is nowhere near as clear-cut as it first appears.
And Verity Daniels is nowhere near the helpless victim she pretends to be.
A series of surprise revelations culminates in Runyon being falsely accused of a crime that never happened, and he and his employers then become the targets of a vicious legal vendetta. A sudden act of violence turns the case upside down, leading to a much more serious charge against Jake.
With the help of partner Tamara Corbin, Nameless (known as Bill to his associates) puts aside the difficult personal issue that has kept him sidelined at home and works to clear both Runyon's and the agency's good names. The task requires untangling Verity Daniels's bizarre past and present relationships, and before Bill succeeds, he must overcome a deadly threat to his own safety.
Nemesis continues author Bill Pronzini's acclaimed Nameless Detective Series.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Jake Runyon, Nameless’s partner in his San Francisco detective agency, takes an extortion case in MWA Grand Master Pronzini’s solid 38th Nameless Detective novel (after 2012’s Hellbox). Verity Daniels, who recently came into money, receives a threatening call from a man demanding that she pay ,000—or he’ll expose something from her past that will put her in prison. Verity insists to Runyon she has no skeletons in her closet, and that her fiancé’s accidental death was just that. Runyon agrees to work with her to nab the extortionist, but something about her story doesn’t add up. He’s even more skeptical when the blackmailer is a no-show for an arranged drop-off of the cash. Meanwhile, Nameless is tending to the home front (his wife, Kerry, is still recovering from wounds received while being held hostage), but rapidly changing developments in the extortion case, including murder, bring him back into the fray. Fans of well-written, unspectacular mysteries will find this an engaging quick read. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary Agency. (July)
From the Publisher

“Can doing first-rate work as consistently as Pronzini really be as effortless as he makes it seem?” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review on Camouflage

“The Nameless series continues to be a wonder of great plotting, long-term character development, and insight into the chilling banality of evil.” —Booklist, starred review on Camouflage

“Pronzini is a pro at PI fiction: he never cheats on the reader, respecting the conventions of the hard-boiled detective stories and puzzle mysteries he employs so well.” —Library Journal on Schemers

Kirkus Reviews
When a stalwart of the Nameless Detective Agency is jailed on homicide charges, his co-workers spring into action. Jake Runyon has his doubts about new client Verity Daniels, now ensconced in the pricey Bayfront Towers apartment complex, where security is tight, residents are uber-rich, and she claims someone has demanded, out of the blue, that she pay $10,000 or suffer the consequences. She giggles inappropriately, comes on to Jake, tells him a few whoppers about her background, "accidentally" disconnects the trace equipment he puts on her phone, and is left unharmed with the extortion money intact when no one shows up to collect it. After Jake finally dumps this cuckoo client, she retaliates by filing rape and assault charges against him. These come to nothing but inconvenience until she's found dead, strangled, her head bashed in, Jake's coat button clasped in her hand. Now he's indicted for murder. Once she starts digging, Nameless office manager Tamara turns up three old beaus of Verity: her former boss, a married insurance agent; her former fiance, who was about to ditch her before he drowned on a camping trip with her; and her former husband, a broke landscaper, now remarried, who couldn't put up with her lovers. Meanwhile, Bill, the Nameless agency owner who hasn't really worked since Hellbox (2012) since he's been nursing his wife back to stability after her awful abduction experience, steps in to save Runyon. Down the dark streets he goes, maybe a little slower than before--after all, he's pushing 70--but in exemplary fashion. Smooth, readable, not top-notch Pronzini, but better than much of the noir material out there.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429943901
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
07/09/2013
Series:
Nameless Detective Mystery Series , #40
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
541,672
File size:
487 KB

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Nemesis

A Nameless Detective Novel


By Bill Pronzini

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2013 Pronzini-Muller Family Trust
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4390-1



CHAPTER 1

The address Tamara had given him for Verity Daniels's condo was one of the big, new SoMa high-rises on Harrison, just off the Embarcadero. Which meant that Ms. Daniels had money and plenty of it, one of the reasons, if not the main reason, that Tamara had agreed to an after–business hours appointment to accommodate a prospective client. You couldn't buy into a place like Bayfront Towers unless you had a minimum of a quarter of a million to spend on lodging.

Runyon didn't have to try to find street parking, which would've been next to impossible in South Beach at 5:30 on a weekday: too many restaurants and clubs, and the Giants playing a late-afternoon game at AT&T Park down at China Basin. Bayfront Towers had an underground garage with visitor parking. But you couldn't just leave your car and take an elevator up to the residents' units unannounced; you had to go through security protocol first.

A uniformed security man in the garage had Runyon's name and the fact that he was expected by Ms. Daniels — that was the first step. Then he was directed to take an elevator that only went up as far as the lobby; the other garage elevator was for residents only, operated either by key or keycard. In the lobby there was a glassed-in cubicle full of monitoring equipment and another uniformed guard presiding over it. Runyon had to sign a logbook before he was allowed access to the visitor's elevator. Modern urban living in steel-and-glass luxury. All well and good for those who could afford it and felt comfortable with it. For him it would have been like living inside a fortified watchtower — living scared.

The high-speed elevator whisked him up to the twelfth floor, deposited him in a carpeted hallway with indirect lighting and pieces of decorative furniture that no one would ever sit in. Muted chimes sounded inside condo 1206 when he pressed an inlaid pearl button. There was a peephole in the door; he felt himself being scrutinized even though he'd been announced by the desk guard, had opened the leather case containing his license photostat, and held it up to the glass eye. Even so, it was half a minute before chain and bolt locks were released and the door opened.

"I'm Verity Daniels, Mr. Runyon. Thank you for being so prompt. Please come in."

Thirty or so, large-boned and on the voluptuous side. Dark hair cut in a short, feathery, in-curling style, mild blue eyes under artfully plucked and arched brows, a wide mouth painted with too much lipstick, a beauty mark just above the angle of her chin. Runyon was no expert when it came to women's clothes, but he knew expensive silk when he saw it: the silvery gray jacket and skirt and darker colored blouse with gold buttons must have had a four-figure price tag. Likewise the diamond-chip earrings, the blood-ruby ring on the little finger of her right hand, the thin platinum gold watch on her left wrist. An expensive packaging job, and yet the effect didn't seem quite natural. As if she weren't used to all the rich woman's trappings, wasn't completely comfortable with the image she presented.

The place, a large studio rather than a full-sized apartment, gave him the same impression. Richly furnished in blond wood, modern art on a couple of the walls, thick, pale blue carpeting, matching blue drapes drawn back over picture windows that provided an off-angle view of the bay, the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, the East Bay hills. The only thing that didn't quite fit the decor was a huge flat-screen TV mounted on another wall. The rest carried the carefully planned, formalized stamp of an interior decorator, and all of it looked brand new, unlived in: no personal touches, nothing out of place. He wondered if Ms. Daniels was afraid of disturbing its showroom perfection. If she wasn't at home in surroundings like these, why choose to live in them?

She seemed to think his casual inspection was centered on the flat-screen. "I watch a lot of TV," she said, but not as if embarrassed by the fact. "It's really too big for the room, isn't it? The television?"

To be polite he said, "Looks okay to me."

She invited him to sit on one of a pair of streamlined chairs, claimed the other across a kidney-shaped, glass-topped table. She sat primly, knees together, hands folded in her lap. Runyon set his briefcase on the floor and readied his notebook while he waited for her to open the conversation. Took her close to a minute, but not because she was having difficulty finding words, he thought. She spent the silent period studying him, her eyes unblinking, a faint half smile appearing and disappearing on her too-red mouth. Measuring him, trying to decide how competent and trustworthy he was, maybe. He'd been subjected to that kind of client scrutiny before.

But that wasn't quite it, because when she finally spoke it was to say, "You know, I've seen your name in the newspaper. You must be a very good detective."

There was nothing for him to say to that. He shrugged, smiled a little, waited.

"Have you been one long? A detective?"

"Fourteen years with the Seattle police. Nearly eight as a private investigator."

"It must be exciting work."

"Sometimes. Mostly it's routine."

"Oh, I'm sure you're just being modest."

He let that pass, too. Get to the point, he was thinking, but he kept waiting in attentive silence. You had to let these interviews develop in their own way. She figured to be nervous, a little on edge in spite of her outward show of calm.

Pretty soon she gave herself a little shake and said, "Well. Would you like something to drink? Coffee? Tea? A soda? I'm afraid I can't offer you anything stronger. I don't drink alcohol, so I don't keep any on hand."

"Nothing, thanks."

"Well," she said again. "It really is good of you to come at this hour. Ms. Corbin said you wouldn't mind, given my busy schedule, but I know it must be an imposition...."

"Not at all."

She seemed to feel the need to explain further, in more detail than was necessary. "You see, I inherited quite a large sum of money six months ago from my aunt — she was an actress who lived in Paris, famous on the European stage. I had no idea she was so wealthy or that she'd leave me as much as she did. Well, anyway, I no longer need to work for a living, so I've become rather heavily involved in charity work. Fund-raising for Lighthouse for the Blind, Foundation for AIDS Research, the Breast Cancer Fund. The problems they deal with are so much more important than mine and I hate to take time away from my work for them."

Runyon nodded. The recent inheritance explained the newness of the studio and her lack of ease in dress and surroundings. Nouveau riche. Brand-new lifestyle.

"Well." She cleared her throat. "Did Ms. Corbin tell you why I'm in need of your services?"

"Just what you told her. Someone is trying to extort money from you."

"Yes. A lot of money."

"And you have no idea who it is."

"None. I can't imagine anyone who would do such a thing."

"How did this person contact you?"

"By telephone. Two calls so far, the first two nights ago, the second last night ... in the middle of the night. The voice had a funny muffled sound, as if he was talking through some kind of ... I don't know, a filter or something."

"You said 'he.' You're sure it was a man?"

"Well ... no, not positive. I just had that impression."

"We'll leave it at that for now, then. What exactly did he say?"

"That he ... had proof of something in my past that would put me in prison if he took it to the police. But that's just crazy. I've never done anything wrong in my life."

"Did he indicate what he thought you'd done?"

"No. He laughed when I told him he had no grounds for blackmail."

"So he wouldn't say the kind of alleged proof he had?"

"He wouldn't, no. Just that I'd find out when I paid him."

"How much is he demanding?"

"Five thousand dollars, the first time. Last night ... he said he changed his mind and he wanted double that amount. In small bills, nothing larger than a twenty."

A lot of money without any specifics to back up the demand. But extortionists were an unpredictable breed. "Did he say when or where he expects you to deliver the money?"

"No. He said he'd tell me next time he called. And I'd better pay him or else he'd make me sorry, very sorry."

"Did you threaten him with the police?"

"I ... no. Should I have?"

"Sometimes it scares them off," Runyon said. "Have you been in touch with the police?"

"No. No, I haven't. He warned me not to."

"It's still your best option. Extortionists are as afraid of the law as their potential victims."

"But I'm not afraid of the law. I have nothing to hide."

"Then why not go to the police? They have resources that private agencies don't in cases like this. For one thing, they can arrange to monitor future calls, trace the man that way if you can get him to stay on the line long enough."

"Can't you do that?"

"Not through the phone company, no."

"But there are other things you can do to find out who he is?"

"Before we get into that, please answer my question. Why not the police?"

Verity Daniels fussed with her hair, nibbled some of the paint off her lower lip. "I ... had a bad experience with them once. The authorities."

"What sort of bad experience?"

"Over an accident, a terrible accident. But it couldn't have anything to do with this...."

"Tell me about it anyway."

"Must I? The memories ... they're still painful."

"You can leave out any details that aren't relevant."

"Yes, all right. The accident happened to a man I was engaged to ... Jason, Jason Avery. We were on a weekend camping trip in the Delta. He went for an early-morning walk while I was still sleeping, and ... I don't know, something happened, he fell into the water. He must have panicked because he couldn't swim and he ... drowned." Ms. Daniels shuddered. "I found him after I woke up. He was lying facedown in mud and tule grass. I dragged him out on shore and tried giving him mouth-to-mouth, but it was too late, he was already dead."

"When was this?"

"Two and a half years ago. Do you have to write everything down?"

"It's customary, yes. You have no objection?"

"No. No, of course not."

"I take it there were no witnesses? Other campers, fishermen?"

"No. We were alone. That's why the police ... sheriff's people, I mean ... at first they didn't believe it was an accident, that we'd had some sort of fight and I'd done something to Jason, hit him with something and then dragged him into the water...." She shuddered again. "An awful time in my life. Awful."

"But you were finally absolved of any wrongdoing."

"Finally, yes. They had to leave me alone in the end because I told the truth and they couldn't prove otherwise. If you're thinking that's what this person on the phone was referring to, you're wrong. I had nothing to do with poor Jason's death."

"Were there any problems with members of his family?"

"Problems? I don't ... you mean a relative who didn't believe what happened?"

"Yes."

"Oh, no, his people were very supportive."

"Do you know of any enemies you might have, Ms. Daniels? Someone with a grudge against you for any reason?"

"No. You think this man could be somebody I know?"

"It's possible. Is there anyone who might resent the fact that you inherited a large sum of money? Family members, acquaintances?"

"I don't have any family, now that my aunt is gone. Or new friends since I moved to San Francisco. I ... don't make friends easily." Pause for some more lip nibbling. "There's Scott, I suppose, if he knows about it, but I don't think he's capable of a vicious thing like this."

"Who would Scott be?"

"My ex-husband."

"Last name?"

"Well ... Ostrander. I took back my maiden name when we divorced five years ago."

"Where does he live? Work?"

"I don't know. I haven't seen or talked to him since the divorce. The last I heard he was still in Orinda. That's where we lived while we were married. After the divorce I moved to Martinez, where my job was. I worked for an insurance company there, but after the inheritance ... well, there wasn't any need to keep the job and I'd always wanted to live here in the city."

"What does your ex-husband do for a living?"

"He was a landscape engineer. That's what he called himself, but it's just a glorified name for gardener."

"Was the divorce amicable?"

"No divorce is ever completely amicable, is it? But it wasn't bitter, either, not really. We were married for two years and we just didn't have a lot in common. I finally made up my mind to end it."

"No resentment on his part?"

"There didn't seem to be."

Runyon asked, "What about people you knew and worked with in Martinez? Anyone you didn't get along with?"

"I can't think of anyone, no."

"In Orinda while you lived there?"

"Well, Scott's sister. Grace never did like me." A curled lip indicated the feeling was mutual. "She could be a bitch sometimes, pardon my language, but I haven't seen or talked to her since the divorce, either."

"Any serious trouble between the two of you?"

"Not really. It was just that I couldn't do anything right and Scott couldn't do anything wrong. She always took his side."

"What's her full name?"

"Grace Lyman. L-y-m-a-n. She's married to a doctor, or was then — a pee doctor." Ms. Daniels blinked and made a little embarrassed tittering sound. "Urologist, I mean. Sorry about that."

"Anyone else I should know about?"

"I can't think of anyone." Ms. Daniels shifted position in the chair. "You are going to help me, aren't you?"

"If you're certain that's how you want to proceed. A police investigation is still your best option."

"After what happened when Jason was killed, the way I was treated ... no. There's my charity work to consider, too. Any kind of publicity might be harmful to my fund-raising efforts."

"The authorities can be discreet."

"Can they? Not as discreet as you and your agency. You have a reputation for honesty and discretion, that's what the newspapers said. You're not trying to talk me out of hiring you, are you?"

"Just being frank. What is it you expect of us?"

The question seemed to puzzle her. "Find out who's doing this awful thing to me. And why."

"And then what? Scare him off? Have him arrested?"

"Whatever you think is necessary. Just so he never bothers me again."

Reasonable enough. If Verity Daniels was being truthful about her past, it looked as though she was the victim of an extortion ploy rather than a blackmail attempt. The "proof of something in the past" and the veiled threats smacked of a come-on, the kind that would be followed by direct threats of bodily harm unless she met his demands. If that was the case and the perp wanted money badly enough, she was potentially in danger.

"One more thing, Ms. Daniels. For the record, you should know that in the investigation of extortion cases, we're bound by law to notify the proper authorities if we uncover evidence of a felony involving the victim, and to turn over any physical evidence that might come into our possession."

"That doesn't apply to me. I told you that."

Runyon opened his briefcase, took out the standard contract the agency used for individual clients. While she looked it over, he outlined their fees. No questions. She signed the contract with a flourish.

While she was writing a check to cover the retainer, she asked, "What if he calls again tonight?"

"If he does, try to stall him for at least eighteen hours. Tell him you need time to get the money, or use any other excuse you can think of."

"Why?"

"So I can make what might be a necessary arrangement. I'll explain when and if the time comes."

"Well ... all right. But I should contact you right away and let you know, shouldn't I? Whenever he calls?"

"Yes." He gave her one of his business cards with agency, cell, and home numbers on it. "You should be able to reach me any time, day or night." He asked her for her contact info — phone numbers, e-mail address — and added the information to his notes. Then he said, "There's one thing I can do now, if the extortion calls come in on your landline."

"They do, yes. I can't imagine how he got the number."

"Do you own a pocket tape recorder?"

"Why would you ask — Oh! To record the next call?"

"That's right. It's not admissible as evidence in court, but any record of a blackmail attempt is to your benefit."

"I don't own one, no. I've never needed to use one."

"Not a problem." From his briefcase Runyon removed the spare Olympus digital voice recorder and the telephone recording interface he'd brought with him. "You can borrow this one."

"Well, you come prepared, don't you."

"As much as possible. Where's your phone?"

It was on a table next to an archway into a kitchen alcove. Runyon hooked the adapter to the phone and plugged the other end of the wire into the recorder, while she stood watching in a fascinated way. "This allows both ends of the conversation to be recorded," he said.

"And I don't have to do anything?"

"Just turn the recorder on — this switch here — when you know it's him. It's voice activated."

She nodded, staring at the recorder and the interface as if they were curious artifacts. Not much into technology, Ms. Daniels.

"One more thing," he said. "When he calls, threaten him with the police this time. See what kind of reaction you get. But don't carry it too far — be careful not to antagonize him."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Nemesis by Bill Pronzini. Copyright © 2013 Pronzini-Muller Family Trust. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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

BILL PRONZINI has been nominated for, or won, every prize offered to crime fiction writers, including the 2008 Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He lives and writes in California, with his wife, the crime novelist Marcia Muller.


Bill Pronzini's novel, Snowbound, received the Grand Prix de la Littérature Policière as the best crime novel published in France in 1988. A Wasteland of Strangers was nominated for best crime novel of 1997 by both the Mystery Writers of America and the International Crime Writers Association; in addition to six Edgar Award nominations, Pronzini has received three Shamus Awards, two for best novel, and the Lifetime Achievement Award. He lives in northern California with his wife, the crime novelist Marcia Muller.

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Nemesis 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This latest entry in the series is a welcome return to form for Bill Pronzini, since "Nemesis" offers everything you'd expect and want in a Nameless novel: a tight plot, engrossing mystery, and further character development that adds yet more layers to each character. Don't be surprised if you're speaking aloud to the characters by the end of the book as you urge them on.
gloriafeit More than 1 year ago
“Nemesis,” the newest in the Nameless Detective series, in which this is number 38, is told from three points of view: that of each of the three private detectives who work together out of their office in the South Park area of San Francisco, Jake Runyon, Tamara Corbin, and the “nameless detective” of the title of this series, in which this is number 38. (He is not “nameless” to his colleagues, btw; to them he is “Bill.”) Their newest client hires them to find out who is trying to blackmail them, the case goes to Jake. (Bill, an ex-cop now 60 years old, is working minimum hours, still trying to help his wife heal after she was held prisoner by a psychotic before being rescued, and Tamara mans the office, aided by a couple of part-time detectives.) The woman, voluptuous Verity Daniels, who lives in a sumptuous high-rise just off the Embarcadero, turns out to be much more, and much less, than she at first appears. The investigation takes Jake across a wide swath of San Francisco, checking out the family of a man to whom Verity was engaged but who drowned just before he ostensibly was going to break off the engagement; a married ex-employer with whom she appears to have been having an affair; and a former husband. Jake’s instincts, after 14 years with the Seattle police and nearly 8 as a p.i., tell him he should drop the case. When her truthfulness becomes a serious issue and he tries to do just that, the result is not a pretty one. And the volatile Verity soon after charges him with rape. Things get rapidly worse, soon the detective agency is itself sued for serious money, and Jake is thrown in jail. The next portion of the book belongs to Tamara and her end of the investigation, and the final section is Bill’s as he picks up the case. As with all of this author’s books, the latest Nameless Detective novel is a very well-plotted tale with the author’s trademark wonderfully drawn characters. Each section goes into the lives of each of the three detectives, their own past life-threatening episodes, and the ongoing investigation. There are several twists and turns, and at the end a prologue tying up all loose ends in the three detectives’ current lives. All terrifically well done, and the book is highly recommended. Besides, how could one not love a guy called “Nameless” who owns a cat called “Shameless?!”