Past Due

( 8 )

Overview

It means something to be a client. It means he gets my loyalty, whether he deserves it or not. It means he gets my absolute best for the price of an hourly fee. It means in a world where every person has turned against him there is one person who will fight by his side for as long as there is a battle to be fought.
—Victor Carl

Author of the acclaimed novels Fatal Flaw, Bitter Truth, and Hostile Witness, bestselling writer William Lashner ...

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Overview

It means something to be a client. It means he gets my loyalty, whether he deserves it or not. It means he gets my absolute best for the price of an hourly fee. It means in a world where every person has turned against him there is one person who will fight by his side for as long as there is a battle to be fought.
—Victor Carl

Author of the acclaimed novels Fatal Flaw, Bitter Truth, and Hostile Witness, bestselling writer William Lashner crafts dark, witty, engrossing tales of suspense involving one of the most intriguing characters of modern popular fiction: Victor Carl.

A defense attorney who lives his life in shades of gray, Victor Carl fights all the right fights for all the wrong reasons. With a failing legal practice, a dead-end love life, a pile of unpaid traffic tickets, and a talent for mixing it up in tough working-class bars and sparring with obstinate cops, Victor skates on the razor's edge of legal ethics in search of the easy buck. But the one absolute in Victor's life is loyalty, especially to a client—even if he happens to be dead. Like Joey Cheaps, a no-account who takes a knife to the throat down on the waterfront, but not before he shares with his lawyer his part in a terrible crime.

With his client murdered, Victor must search for a killer. But solving the crime means investigating the darkest spot in Joey Cheaps's misspent youth, sending Victor on a twisting journey that leads to a missing suitcase stuffed with money, photographs of a mysterious naked woman, and a Supreme Court justice with a secret to hide. And most dangerous of all, Victor steps into the crosshairs of a vengeful enemy with a past full of pain and a taste for blood.

As thrilling as it is darkly evocative, Past Due is a superb tale of crime and justice that takes the intrepid Victor Carl into brilliant new territory and confirms William Lashner's place among the top suspense writers of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

San Antonio Express-News
“If you like your mysteries tough, fast-moving and packed with colorful and off-color characters, you’ll like Past Due.”
San Antonio Express-News
"If you like your mysteries tough, fast-moving and packed with colorful and off-color characters, you’ll like Past Due."
The Washington Post
For all its convolutions, Past Due is smart and funny and reads beautifully. Its characters are colorful and its surprises many … on the evidence of Past Due, I would say that Lashner is as impressive as anyone writing legal thrillers today, and his well-reviewed earlier novels -- Hostile Witness, Bitter Truth and Fatal Flaw -- are available in paperback for those in search of additional Victor Carl adventures. — Patrick Anderson
Publishers Weekly
Lashner's latest, his fourth and longest, is another big and beautifully written saga, narrated by righteous, melancholy Philadelphia lawyer Victor Carl. Though the book is nominally a legal thriller, the Dickensian atmospherics command as much notice as the plot. A complex case connecting a recent murder to one 20 years ago counterpoints Victor's hospital visits to his dying father, who is obsessed with unburdening himself of (mostly sad) stories from his youth. It's a tribute to Lashner's skill that these yarns hold their own against the more dramatic main story line. Victor has been retained by petty wiseguy Joey Parma (known as Joey Cheaps) about an unsolved murder a generation ago. The victim was young lawyer Tommy Greeley, and Joey Cheaps was one of two perps, though he was never caught. When Joey is found near the waterfront with his throat slashed, Victor knows his duty. This involves considerable legwork and clashes with an array of sharply drawn characters; Lashner is in his element depicting this rogue's gallery, and Victor riffs philosophically on his encounters. Foremost among the shady figures is a femme fatale (improbably but appropriately) named Alura Straczynski, who sets her sights on Victor. It's a move more strategic than romantic, but no less dangerous for him. The standard coverup by men in high places waits at the end of Victor's odyssey, but this novel, like Lashner's previous ones, is all about the journey. Lashner's writing-or is it Victor's character?-gains depth and richness with every installment. 5-city author tour. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
When low-level criminal Joey Cheaps turns up with a slit throat, the loss of a client proves to be only the beginning of struggling lawyer Victor Carl's difficulties. Before dying, Joey had revealed to Victor a terrible event of 20 years before, the repercussions of which Victor believes may have led to Joey's death. Soon after, Victor is hired by Edward Dean, a man whose ultimate motive is also related to the events of that fateful night. Victor's investigation quickly leads him into conflict with several parties and, ultimately, with Dean himself. On top of his work-related plight, Victor must also deal with a dying father, trying to rebuild a relationship before it's too late. It would be a stretch to call this fourth entry in Lashner's Victor Carl series (after Fatal Flaw) a page-turner, but the payoff is ultimately well worth the effort. The characters have depth, Carl is easy to root for, and the writing is above standard thriller fare. Recommended for public libraries, especially those that already own other entries in the series.-Craig Shufelt, Lane P.L., Oxford, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
As if Victor Carl doesn't have enough trouble in the present tense, an ancient stiff rises from the grave to bite him on the leg. Other members of the Philadelphia bar can only envy Victor's loyalty to his chronic client Joseph Parma, a.k.a. Joey Chops. Just because Joey's always guilty, just because he's never current with his bill, just because he's been found with his throat slit is no reason why Victor shouldn't go the extra mile for him. This time, that means figuring out which 20-year-old murder Joey was scared about when he phoned Victor shortly before turning up dead on Pier 84. At length-at extra length-Victor satisfies himself that Joey was implicated up to his brass knuckles in the death of Tommy Greeley, a Penn Law student and rising drug dealer who vanished in exactly the proper time frame. But how are the two murders (assuming that the never-discovered Tommy was really murdered) connected to Kimberly Blue, the guileless, stunning Vice President for External Affairs who turns up in Victor's office, or to Eddie Dean, her unlovely boss at Jacopo Financing? How are they connected to Tommy's one-time best friend, now Justice Jackson Straczynski of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and his single-minded wife? Why is Victor suddenly getting the bum's rush in every courtroom he stumbles into? And why does his father, hospitalized with pneumonia and worse, insist on unburdening himself of the interminable story of the girl in the pleated skirt? Victor, a wisecracking lawyer (Fatal Flaw, 2003, etc.) trapped in a tale otherwise devoid of legal intrigue or wit, will have to rely on a little help from a lot of friends to wind up the tangled, forgettable skein. Conscientious, lumbering,prosy, and as voluminous as one of those fits-all ponchos that really fits nobody but the biggest dogs in the rain. Agent: Wendy Sherman
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060508197
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/26/2005
  • Series: Victor Carl Series , #4
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 963,850
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Meet the Author

New York Times bestselling author William Lashner is the author of seven suspense novels that have been published in more than a dozen languages throughout the world. A graduate of the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop, he lives with his family outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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Read an Excerpt

Past Due


By William Lashner

William Morrow

ISBN: 0-06-050817-5


Chapter One

They say Philly is a city of neighborhoods, but it's really a city of neighborhood taps. There they sit, one on every corner, with the same hanging sign, the same glass block windows, the same softball trophies, the same loyalty among their denizens. When you're a Philly guy you can count your crucial affiliations on the fingers of one hand; you got your mom, you got your church, you got your string band, you got your saloon, you got your wife, and the only thing you ever think of changing is your wife.

Jimmy T's was just such a neighborhood joint. When Beth and I stepped inside we were immediately eyed, and for good reason. We were strangers, we were wearing suits, we had all our teeth.

The dank, narrow bar was decorated like a VFW hall, Flyers pictures taped to bare walls, cheap Formica tables, a pool table wedged into the back, a juke box in the corner with its clear plastic cover smashed. Someone had made an unwise selection, maybe something not sung by Sinatra. Working men of all ages slumped at the bar, leaned on the tables, wiped their noses, sucked down beers, complained about politics, the economy, the Eagles, the cheese steaks at Genos, the riffraff moving in from the west, their girlfriends, their wives, their kids, their lives, their goddamned lives. Before we stepped in it had been sullenly loud, but the moment we opened the door it had quieted as if for a show. It didn't take long to realize we were it. I figured we might as well make it a good one.

"You sure yous are in the right place?" said the bartender, a crag of a man with a great head of white hair and a missing arm. The thief, Earl Ganz, I presumed.

"We're in the right place," I said. "I'll have a seabreeze."

Ganz blinked at me. "Say what?"

"A seabreeze. It's a drink."

"Hey, Charlie," said Ganz without looking away, "guy in the suit says he wants something called a seabreeze."

A slim-jim at the end of the bar, long, brown and desiccated, said in a rasp, "Tell him to drive his ass on down to Wildwood, face east, open his mouth."

I turned away from the derisive laughter swelling behind me. "You don't know how to make a seabreeze?"

"Are you really sure yous in the right place. We don't got no ferns here."

"Careful," I said. "My mother's name is Fern."

"Really?"

"No, not really. Do you have grapefruit juice?"

"It's late for breakfast, ain't it?"

"Cranberry juice?"

"You kidding me, right?"

I let out a long disappointed breath. "Why don't you then just inform me as to the specialty of the house?"

Earl Ganz blinked at me a couple times more. "Hey, Charlie. Man here wants the speciality of the house."

"Give him a wit," said Charlie.

"A wit?" I said. "Something Noel Coward would have ordered, no doubt."

One of the guys behind me said, "Wasn't he the councilman up in the third district, caught with that girl?"

"Yes, he was," I replied. "All right, Earl, let me have a wit."

Earl took a beer glass, stuck it under the Bud spigot, pulled the spigot with his stump, placed it before me.

I looked up at him, puzzled. "That it?"

"Wait."

He took a shot glass, slammed it on the bar next to my beer, filled it with tequila. When I reached for the tequila, he slapped my hand away. Then he lifted the shot glass, hovered it over the beer, slop dropped it inside. The beer fizzled and foamed and flowed over the edges of the mug.

"What the hell's that?" I said.

"A guy comes in," said Earl "sits down, says, 'Earl let me have a Bud,' he gets just the beer. But he says, 'Let me have a Bud wit,' then this is what he gets." He leaned forward, cocked his head at me. "Mister, it's the closest we got to a speciality of the house."

I stared at the still foaming drink for maybe a bit too long, because an undercurrent of laughter started rising from behind me.

Beth reached over, snatched the beer with the shot glass still inside, downed it in a quick series of swallows, slammed the empty back on the bar so the shot glass shook. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, swallowed a belch.

"How was it, missy?" said Earl.

"It's not a seabreeze," said Beth, "but it'll do."

I took a twenty out of my wallet, dropped it on the bar. When another wit sat before me, boiling over, I lifted the glass high, turned to face the crew watching me from among the tables, said loudly, "To Joey Cheaps," and downed my drink.

It roiled in my stomach like a pint of sick. I shook my head, gasped out a "God, that's bad."

I expected a jiggle of laughter at my discomfort with the drink, I expected a few expressions of surprise that I had mentioned Joey Parma, I expected maybe a few murmurs of assent to my toast, a few sad exclamations of poor bastard as they remembered the man who had turned Jimmy T's into his local tap. I expected something different than what I got, which was a dark, glum silence.

It took me a minute to figure it out, but I did.

"So," I said, "how much he end up owing you guys when he died?"

There was a moment more of quiet, and then one of the men said, "A hundred and six."

"Thirty eight," said another.

"Fifty," said a third.

"How about you, Earl?" I said. "What was his tab here?"

"Two hundred, thirty six and fifty nine cents," said Earl. "Approximately."

"Well, we got you all beat," I said. "Three thousand, five hundred. Approximately."

There was a moment of stunned quiet and then someone, barely suppressing his glee, said, "Oh man, you got hosed," and then a wave of nervous laughter hit the bar.

"What were you, his bookies?" someone said.

"Worse," I said. "We were his lawyers."

The entire tap then collapsed into laughter, loud belly-grabbing laughter. Even Charlie at the end of the bar turned his sour gape of a mouth around. "His lawyers," he said in rasp. "What a pair of saps."

"It would have been quicker you just let him burn your money," said another.

"Joey's lawyers. What a perfect pair of saps," said Charlie.

"Hey, Joey's lawyer," said a man, "how'd it feel to be getting it up the bum instead of giving it for a change."

As the laughter spiraled and swelled, I joined in and then I said loudly, "You know what we need to soothe our empty wallets?"

"What's that?"

"We need to have ourselves a proper wake for our debts. But not on wits, no more wits for me."

"What yous got in mind?" said Earl Ganz.

"Why don't you send someone to the Wawa for some juice," I said, "and then, Earl, let me teach you how to make a seabreeze."

* * *

It didn't end with a conga line, but it came close.

The first taste Earl took of a seabreeze made his lips twist. You could tell he didn't take to it right off.

"Close your eyes this time," I said.

Earl's eyes blinked shut, the crowd came closer.

"You're on a tropical island. Beyond your lounge chair, the ocean is lapping. A cabana girl, tawny and lean, wearing a lot of nothing" - catcalls, whistles - "has handed you your drink. She leans over, her breath is sweet, redolent of coconut, conch."

"Conch?" said Earl, eyes still closed.

"Conch. And she leans ever closer and her warm breath now is in your ear and she whispers, her voice smooth as the white sand beneath her bare feet, 'How is the drink, Earl?. Is it okay? Is it, Earl? Is it okay?'"

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Past Due by William Lashner Excerpted by permission.
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.

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

Past Due

Chapter Eight

They say Philly is a city of neighborhoods, but it's really a city of neighborhood taps.There they sit, one on every corner, with the same hanging sign, the same glass block windows, the same softball trophies, the same loyalty among their denizens.When you're a Philly guy you can count your crucial affiliations on the fingers of one hand; you got your mom, you got your church, you got your string band, you got your saloon, you got your wife, and the only thing you ever think of changing is your wife.

Jimmy T's was just such a neighborhood joint.When Beth and I stepped inside we were immediately eyed, and for good reason.We were strangers, we were wearing suits, we had all our teeth.

The dank, narrow bar was decorated like a VFW hall, Flyers pictures taped to bare walls, cheap Formica tables, a pool table wedged into the back, a juke box in the corner with its clear plastic cover smashed.Someone had made an unwise selection, maybe something not sung by Sinatra.Working men of all ages slumped at the bar, leaned on the tables, wiped their noses, sucked down beers, complained about politics, the economy, the Eagles, the cheese steaks at Genos, the riffraff moving in from the west, their girlfriends, their wives, their kids, their lives, their goddamned lives.Before we stepped in it had been sullenly loud, but the moment we opened the door it had quieted as if for a show.It didn't take long to realize we were it.I figured we might as well make it a good one.

"You sure yous are in the right place?" said the bartender, a crag of a man with a great head of white hair and a missing arm.The thief, Earl Ganz, I presumed.

"We're in the right place," I said."I'll have a seabreeze."

Ganz blinked at me."Say what?"

"A seabreeze.It's a drink."

"Hey, Charlie," said Ganz without looking away, "guy in the suit says he wants something called a seabreeze."

A slim-jim at the end of the bar, long, brown and desiccated, said in a rasp, "Tell him to drive his ass on down to Wildwood, face east, open his mouth."

I turned away from the derisive laughter swelling behind me."You don't know how to make a seabreeze?"

"Are you really sure yous in the right place.We don't got no ferns here."

"Careful," I said."My mother's name is Fern."

"Really?"

"No, not really.Do you have grapefruit juice?"

"It's late for breakfast, ain't it?"

"Cranberry juice?"

"You kidding me, right?"

I let out a long disappointed breath."Why don't you then just inform me as to the specialty of the house?"

Earl Ganz blinked at me a couple times more."Hey, Charlie.Man here wants the speciality of the house."

"Give him a wit," said Charlie.

"A wit?" I said."Something Noel Coward would have ordered, no doubt."

One of the guys behind me said, "Wasn't he the councilman up in the third district, caught with that girl?"

"Yes, he was," I replied."All right, Earl, let me have a wit."

Earl took a beer glass, stuck it under the Bud spigot, pulled the spigot with his stump, placed it before me.

I looked up at him, puzzled."That it?"

"Wait."

He took a shot glass, slammed it on the bar next to my beer, filled it with tequila.When I reached for the tequila, he slapped my hand away.Then he lifted the shot glass, hovered it over the beer, slop dropped it inside.The beer fizzled and foamed and flowed over the edges of the mug.

"What the hell's that?" I said.

"A guy comes in," said Earl"sits down, says, 'Earl let me have a Bud,' he gets just the beer.But he says, 'Let me have a Bud wit,' then this is what he gets."He leaned forward, cocked his head at me."Mister, it's the closest we got to a speciality of the house."

I stared at the still foaming drink for maybe a bit too long, because an undercurrent of laughter started rising from behind me.

Beth reached over, snatched the beer with the shot glass still inside, downed it in a quick series of swallows, slammed the empty back on the bar so the shot glass shook.She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, swallowed a belch.

"How was it, missy?" said Earl.

"It's not a seabreeze," said Beth, "but it'll do."

I took a twenty out of my wallet, dropped it on the bar.When another wit sat before me, boiling over, I lifted the glass high, turned to face the crew watching me from among the tables, said loudly, "To Joey Cheaps," and downed my drink.

It roiled in my stomach like a pint of sick.I shook my head, gasped out a "God, that's bad."

I expected a jiggle of laughter at my discomfort with the drink, I expected a few expressions of surprise that I had mentioned Joey Parma, I expected maybe a few murmurs of assent to my toast, a few sad exclamations of poor bastard as they remembered the man who had turned Jimmy T's into his local tap.I expected something different than what I got, which was a dark, glum silence.

It took me a minute to figure it out, but I did.

"So," I said, "how much he end up owing you guys when he died?"

There was a moment more of quiet, and then one of the men said, "A hundred and six."

"Thirty eight," said another.

"Fifty," said a third.

"How about you, Earl?" I said."What was his tab here?"

"Two hundred, thirty six and fifty nine cents," said Earl."Approximately."

"Well, we got you all beat," I said."Three thousand, five hundred.Approximately."

There was a moment of stunned quiet and then someone, barely suppressing his glee, said, "Oh man, you got hosed," and then a wave of nervous laughter hit the bar.

"What were you, his bookies?" someone said.

"Worse," I said."We were his lawyers."

The entire tap then collapsed into laughter, loud belly-grabbing laughter.Even Charlie at the end of the bar turned his sour gape of a mouth around."His lawyers," he said in rasp."What a pair of saps."

"It would have been quicker you just let him burn your money," said another.

"Joey's lawyers.What a perfect pair of saps," said Charlie.

"Hey, Joey's lawyer," said a man, "how'd it feel to be getting it up the bum instead of giving it for a change."

As the laughter spiraled and swelled, I joined in and then I said loudly, "You know what we need to soothe our empty wallets?"

"What's that?"

"We need to have ourselves a proper wake for our debts.But not on wits, no more wits for me."

"What yous got in mind?" said Earl Ganz.

"Why don't you send someone to the Wawa for some juice," I said, "and then, Earl, let me teach you how to make a seabreeze."

*  *   *

It didn't end with a conga line, but it came close.

The first taste Earl took of a seabreeze made his lips twist.You could tell he didn't take to it right off.

"Close your eyes this time," I said.

Earl's eyes blinked shut, the crowd came closer.

"You're on a tropical island.Beyond your lounge chair, the ocean is lapping.A cabana girl, tawny and lean, wearing a lot of nothing" -- catcalls, whistles -- "has handed you your drink.She leans over, her breath is sweet, redolent of coconut, conch."

"Conch?" said Earl, eyes still closed.

"Conch.And she leans ever closer and her warm breath now is in your ear and she whispers, her voice smooth as the white sand beneath her bare feet, 'How is the drink, Earl?.Is it okay?Is it, Earl?Is it okay?'"

Earl took another sip, swilled like a swell, considered carefully."Better than a stick in the eye," he said, finally, and a cheer went up and we were off and running.

The jukebox with its smashed plastic was plugged in and the volume jacked, Sinatra bypassed for a few novelty numbers from the bottom of the list.I was behind the bar, jacket off, tie loose, shirtsleeves rolled, making up the seabreezes as fast as Earl could take the orders and get me the glasses filled with ice.Two jiggers cranberry juice, one jigger grapefruit juice, one jigger house vodka, a slice of lime.Maybe not perfect but close enough, and they were going as fast as we could set them up.An empty peanut basket had replaced the till, two dollars a pop for the drinks, all cash, all of it earmarked for the Joey Cheaps bar tab memorial fund.The kid we had sent to Wawa to buy the juices and the lime was sent out two times more.

Glasses clinking, shouts called out."Hey mambo," sang Rosemary Clooney, "don't want to tarantella.Hey mambo, no more mozzarella.Hey mambo, mambo Italiano," and then the guys shouted out the refrain along with her, "All you Callebreze do the mambo like-a crazy."

Beth sat on the bar, legs crossed, leading the singing, her pink drink sloshing over the sides of her glass."Hey, Earl," she said, "turn up the heat."

"Why?"

"Let's make like Jamaica."

He did, and soon the jackets came off, and then some shirts, which would have been better left on, and the drink orders came in even faster than before.Guys were hogging the phone, calling their wives and girlfriends, sometimes both, telling them to come on down to the party.Guys were stopping in, drawn by the noise leaking through the steadily opening door, asking what the hell was going on.

"It's a wake."

"Who died?"

"Do it matter?"

Hell, no, it didn't matter.The crowd grew, grew louder, more frantic."Two more, Earl," said a man with both hands already filled with drinks."Let me have some more of this pink crap," said another, "but this time wit."

Charlie climbed himself up top the pool table as the juke box sang, "Day-o, day-ay-ay-o, daylight come and me wan' go home."

"I always liked that Sidney Poitier," said someone.

"Hell of a singer," said another.

Lift six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch.

"Two more sody pops, Earl," shouted Charlie on the pool table just before he collapsed on his back, his head banging off the felt like an eight ball.

Daylight come and me wan' to go home.

Just as I was running out of cranberry juice for the third time, when the beat cops had stopped in for the second time, when we were listening to "Mambo Italiano" for the fifth time, someone called out, "Frank," and it turned into a chant, "Frank, Frank, Frank," and someone else banged the jukebox, skipping off Rosemary Clooney before he punched in a number by memory and soon enough the sweetest voice that ever was come pouring out like liquid regret.The place immediately calmed, Sinatra sang Paul Anka's surly anthem to individuality, we leaned one against the other and listened and sang along badly and when Frank had let out his final "My way," Earl raised up his seabreeze and said, "To Joey Parma."

A razzing of Yo's and Hurrahs.

"We all knew his dad," said Earl."The best damn meat man in the city.I remembers when Joey was just a kid, coming in here to pull his dad home.They weren't on the best of terms, yous remember, but that's the way it is with dads and sons.He wouldn't come here when his dad was alive, but as soon as Joey Senior died, Joey Junior, he started showing up.He said to me, he said, Earl, there ought always be a Parma at Jimmy T's.And there always was, though I guess unless that battle ax shows her face, there won't be none no more.But let's give Joey his due.Can't say the man wasn't consistent.He went out the way he lived his life -- in debt.To Joey Parma."

"To Joey Parma," came the response from the congregation.

"Good," said Earl."Now somebody want to scrape Charlie off the pool table?"

*  *   *

"Tell me about Joey's last night," I asked Earl when the money had all been stashed, the glasses cleaned, the jukebox unplugged and the place every bit as quiet and sullen as it had been when we first stepped inside.He stood behind the bar, leaning on his arm, talking to us as Beth and I sat each on a stool.He had seemed like a dour old coot when first we met, but our seabreeze party had opened him up like a steamed clam.

"Nothing to tell, Victor," said Earl Ganz, my new best friend."A cop came in asking the same thing and I had nothing for him, neither.A big black fellow with some Swedish name."

"McDeiss?"

"Yeah."

"It's Scottish."

"Funny, he don't look Scottish."

"He doesn't look Swedish either.Just tell me anything you can remember."

"He was the same as always, came in ordered a Bud wit, felt around in his pockets and then told me just to put it on his tab."

"And you did?"

"Yeah, I always did.When I got out of the VA and my pension wasn't enough to take care of the family, his dad took care of me, you know.I always had meat on the table.A lot of shit you can eat in your life when you got meat on the table.So with Joey, out of respect for his dad, I let the tab run."

"He promise to pay it off?"

"Sure.Always.With Joey, the big score was just around the bend.And that night was no different.He was jumpy, you know, bouncing around, telling everyone that he was onto something."

"Did he say what?"

"Nah, and truth -- no one cared.It wasn't like we hadn't heard it all a hundred times before, him and his pipe dreams.And it didn't look so promising, him coming in with that mouse on his eye.I asked him about it, he just said it was a wake-up call."

"A wake-up call?"

"Yeah."Ganz looked both ways, lowered his voice."So he's in here, drinking and talking, telling everyone he was getting ready to pay thems all off, when he gets the phone call?"

I looked at Beth."Phone call?"

"From the woman who was always calling him here.Some dame never set foot in the place."

"Joey's mother?"

"Nah, she don't call here.Every time she sees me she spits between her fingers, like I'm giving her the evil eye.First I was getting free meat and then, when I got enough to buy this place, Joey Senior spent more time here than at home, not that you can blame him, her and her knives.But this other dame was always calling here and Joey, he was always this little sheep on the phone, baaing out yes, yes, yes."

"Sounds to me," I said, "like he was falling for a girl just like the girl that terrorized dear old dad."

"Don't it though.That last night, same call, same yes, yes, yes, and then he's slapping the bar, hiking up his jacket, shooting his cuffs on his way out the door."

"He say where?"

"He said he had a meet."

"He say with who?"

"He said with money.Like that was ever a possibility with Joey.Poor kid.You know, he wasn't a bad kid, but he never had a clue of what was what."

I had a sudden thought."Beside me, who did he owe the most?"

Earl leaned close."What I heard, he was deeper than he ought to have been with Teddy."

"Teddy?"

"Teddy Big Tits."

"Are they?"

"Oh yeah."

"Why was Joey borrowing money from some big breasted loan shark?"

"Maybe for the wolf on the phone," said Earl."He was stupid enough, wasn't he?"

"Where does Teddy drink?"

"The Seven Out, on Fourth Street.You know Victor, them drinks you was making, us all remembering Joey, the toasts, it was almost nice."

"Yes, it almost was," said Beth.

"What do you think, Earl?" I said."You got yourself a new specialty of the house?"

"Fugettabout it," said Earl."Guys don't come in here for the fancy cocktails.They come in here to get blurry fast and cheap.Tomorrow it'll be back to the wits."

"Does that mean no ferns?" said Beth.

Earl snorted, took his rag to wipe the far side of the bar.

"Who was Joey meeting?" said Beth, softly.

"I don't know, but it doesn't sound right.That morning he's scared witless and by nine-thirty that night he's all gussied up for a big money meet."

"Maybe he wasn't as scared as he let on."

"Or someone changed his mind.I'd sure like to meet that new girl of his.Maybe baby needed a new pair of shoes.And maybe Joey got a line on the suitcase.Whatever it was, it had something to do with the man Joey killed twenty years ago, I'm certain of it."

"Who was he?Do you have any idea at all?"

"His name was Tommy," I said, "and his initials were probably T.G."

"How do you know that?"

"It has a ring to it, is all.But as to who he really was, I don't have a clue."

Except I was lying when I said that last little bit.Because I did have another clue.I had the envelope.And inside the envelope was something that would come to haunt my very dreams.

Past Due. Copyright © by William Lashner. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Posted February 2, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed for Midwest Book Review

    Philadelphia lawyer Victor Carl is broke, as usual, and his father is lying in a hospital bed near death. Victor¿s client Joey ¿Cheaps¿ Parma seeks Victor¿s advice about a murder he was involved in 20 years before of Thomas Greeley, a law student/drug kingpin. Soon after his confession, Joey¿s body is found on the waterfront, with his throat slit. Victor, always defender of the underdog, knows the police won¿t put too much effort into finding Joey¿s killer, so Victor commits to finding out why Joey was murdered. His investigation leads him back to Joey¿s youth, and on to the people surrounding Thomas Greeley, including a present Supreme Court jurist and his eccentric wife and her life journals which hold the secret behind Joey¿s death. <BR/><BR/>Victor Carl is perhaps the best character written today. His self-deprecating comments, inner turmoil, and reflections reveal a man whose demons from the past influence his present-day life. The relationship with his father, previously tumultuous, is now mellowing as his father¿s health deteriorates. Lashner delivers intriguing characters with real depth and dimension. Victor Carl¿s introspections are insightful and well-delivered and simply eloquent. The plot is a twisty one, and the read lengthier than most mysteries, but well worth the time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2004

    Excellent who-done-it

    In Philadelphia, lawyer Victor Carl visits his dying father residing at the Temple University Hospital. His dad may be near death and seems to only tell melancholy tales from his youth, but has enough of his faculties to know that his son¿s cable is out and the Sixers are on TV........................................ Meanwhile pathetic insignificant wannabe thug Joey ¿Cheaps¿ Parma wants to retain Victor involving the murder of a lawyer Tommy Greeley twenty years ago. Only Victor would agree to assist Joey Cheaps, who not only never pays on time, is assumed guilty even by his attorney, and admits to his lawyer that he was one of the killers. However, not long afterward, the throat slashed corpse of Joey Cheaps is found near the waterfront. Though he knows he will not get paid and realizes he should mind his business, Victor feels a certain obligation to his dead client and begins making inquiries into what happened two decades ago and why suddenly did that homicide resurface into a new murder..................................... Though the conspiratorial ending and the lack of legalese makes the tale more a private investigator novel, fans will enjoy touring Philadelphia on Victor Carl¿s days off. The story line is fast-paced, punctuated by Victor¿s sarcasm, much of which is self-effacing. His relationship with his dad adds a humanizing sidebar even if the Iverson is the draw. Readers will enjoy trekking the town with Victor as he does what he believes is right even for a dead beat loser like Cheaps............................ Harriet Klausner

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