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"Estleman is a true master of the private-eye genre.... Fans of the hard-boiled mystery need look no further than the Amos Walker series." —RT Book Reviews
"Walker is a classic hard-boiled private eye."—Booklist
"Spellbinding adventure."—Library Journal
The last line of security was a big Basque built like a coke oven. He wore a familiar face behind picador sideburns and a dozen-odd rivets in his eyebrows, nose, and the deep dimple above his lip. In another Detroit, under a different administration, he'd specialized in kneecapping Republicans. When the market went soft in '94, he'd scored work in show business, playing a succession of plumbers, janitors, and building superintendents in Spanish-language soap operas. I couldn't approach him without glancing down at his chest for a subtitle.
"Hello, Benny. I thought you'd be busy opening a supermarket."
He looked at me down the treacherous bends in his nose, one of which I claimed credit for. A caterpillar had taken up residence under his nostrils, which were as big as gunports. Fourteen-karat gold buttons gleamed on his mahogany double-breasted Armani. He looked like a tall chest of drawers. "It's Benito," he said.
"Benito like in Mussolini? I didn't know you were Italian."
"Benito like in Juarez. I'm Chicano."
"You were Colombian back when you smuggled cocaine aboard the old mayor's jet. You must have more passports than a soccer team."
"What you doing here?"
"Working, same as you. And for the same person. She's chilling me a bottle of Tecate right now." I showed him my pass. It contained no words, just a holographic image of Genesius, patron saint of theatrical performers. He looked at it, crossed himself out of habit, and reached behind his back to rap the door.
"¿Quién es?" A smooth contralto, deadened slightly by the panels.
"Benito, Señorita. Es Un Visitador."
"Right on time. Hokay."
He worked the doorknob, again without turning. I had to walk around him to get through. On the way, he leaned down and called me a son of a whore in border Spanish. I grinned and patted his big face. It was like slapping a truck tire. His hand jerked toward his left underarm, also out of habit. He remembered where he was and let it drop.
Where he was was Cobo Hall, three hundred thousand square feet of convention arena, exhibition space, and concert facilities on the western end of the Detroit Civic Center, a white marble aircraft carrier of a building with a green granite section tacked on forty years ago and a curving covered promenade that looked like a furnace pipe with windows. Some history had taken place there, including the Republican National Convention of 1980, several decades of auto shows, and a couple of hundred body slams courtesy of the World Wrestling Federation. The incoming traffic plunged straight under the building by way of the John Lodge Expressway and parked on the roof, where the windshields shattered by homegrown vandals and tape-deck thieves tinkled down like fairy dust.
The dressing room I'd entered was one of the largest on the site, reserved in the past for presidential hopefuls, famous fat tenors, and the occasional evangelist and his mistresses. It had been done over more times than the government of Argentina. At present it was dressed in the colors of the flag of the island nation that had given birth to its present occupant, with some Roman Catholic bric-a-brac cast about and a portable bar as big as a pumpwagon, stocked with lethal-looking spirits with foreign labels. One of those gurgling mood recordings that make your bladder ache was playing on a hidden stereo system.
"Your name is Hamos, yes?"
The contralto was stronger without a door standing in front of it. It belonged to a tiny woman in a plum-colored kimono sitting at a Moorish vanity table, inspecting both profiles in a three-way mirror lit from behind. She looked both smaller and darker than she did in concert, but at close range it was the white-gold of her hair that made her caramel skin seem duskier than it was. With the waist-length waves pinned up in braids and no arcs or fills to bring out the glitter, she looked like a wellpreserved old lady. I had a bottle of Scotch older than she was, and I can't afford a vintage label.
"Amos," I said. "If it makes you uncomfortable, you can call me Mr. Walker."
She caught my eye in one of the mirrors. Hers were a very deep brown, almost black, but too warm to bridge that gap; but you can get any effect with contacts. Eyes had gone the way of lips, breasts, noses, and hair, as protean as a sandhill. I hadn't bothered to crack The Big Book of Facial Features since before I renewed my license.
"Comprendo. You don't want your picture took with me. Hokay. You like, let's see, the oldies but the goodies, no? The Platters, the Drifters, the Dave Clark Four?"
"Five. I'm not eighty. Your stuff 's fine. It's got a beat and you can dance to it, if you've consulted your physician first. It's your personal protection I don't like. Big Bad Benny's turn-ons include arson and pulling the skin off DEA agents."
"Talk to my manager. He hired him." She smoothed an eyebrow with a little finger. A holy icon was painted on the nail in glittering red and gold. "I'm Gilia, but I guess you know that." She pronounced the name as if it started with H.
"I do. I saw you once on MTV when my Kay Kyser tape ran out."
She filled and emptied her celebrated lungs. "I apologize, hokay? In my country you were born either before the coup or after. Is a wide space between. You learn to translate."
I moved a shoulder. It would have taken more than an armed military takeover of her government or mine to draw attention from the Gilia phenomenon. She was Carmen Miranda, Ricky Martin, and the Baja Marimba Band all rolled into one ninety-six-pound package. They were splitting and splicing words in order to pigeonhole her: rock-salsa, Cuban hip-hop, jalapeno pop. She sang and danced in front of back-projected hydrogen bomb explosions in stadiums and concert halls and on military bases, owned a record label and a Hollywood production company, and had signed with United Artists to be the next Bond girl. Two years before, she'd made the rent on her fourth-floor walk-up in East L.A. by dubbing in the voice of a cartoon cat on Little Friskies commercials.
In the meantime she'd broken up half the storied marriages on the West Coast, served six months' probation for illegal possession of a controlled substance, and performed eighty hours of community service for running a red light, broadsiding a Bel Air cop, and spilling his coffee. The only thing the Christian Right and the Politically Correct Left had agreed on in years was the importance of tying a bell around Gilia's neck. That was why the security was so tight at Cobo and I was picking up cigarette money patting down people in line at the entrance for fragmentary grenades.
"I heard someone say you're a private detective. I didn't know they did this kind of work."
"I didn't either, until I bounced a check off Detroit Edison."
"What kind of work do you do when your checks don't bounce?"
"I look for people who went missing. As I recall."
"Oh." Her face fell as far as a face can fall on her side of twenty-five. But before that I caught a golden snap of light in her eye. She was going to do just fine in the movies.
I looked at my watch. I didn't have anyplace to be, but I'd drunk a Thermos full of coffee outside and the gurgling music had begun to have its effect. "If it's my fast draw you wanted to see, I haven't greased my holster since Christmas."
"Are you any good at following people?"
She'd stopped looking at me in the mirror. She'd half twisted my way, resting an elbow on the back of her chair and letting the kimono fall open to expose a caramel thigh. Her bare foot was stuck in a slipper that was just a strip of leather and a pompon. She had a high arch and a pumiced heel. That altered my opinion of her, a little. You can always tell a woman who works on her feet by how well she takes care of them.
"It's one of the things I'm best at," I said.
She studied my face for irony. Her brows were steeply arched as well, undyed black in contrast to her hair, and she had a good straight conquistador nose, a strong chin, and a fragile upper lip; no collagen there to turn it into a slice of liverwurst. The bones were good. Age would not harm her.
She said, "I have a thief in my employ. You can follow her, yes? Find out who she is stealing it for. I will pay you ten percent of the value of what she has stolen so far."
"How much has she stolen?"
"Seventy-five thousand dollars."
"I can follow her, yes," I said.CHAPTER 2
You can tell more about an entertainer's career by whether you've ever heard of him than by who he's opening for. If the name is unfamiliar, he's on his way up, sharing a bill with a big star. If you remember him vaguely, he's on his way down with an armload of anvils, warming the stage for a Johnny- or Janie-come-lately who was in diapers when he was headlining in New York and Vegas. Gilia's opener was a country crossover whose first hit had been his last, and whose most recent exposure had been an Entertainment Tonight feature on his release from detox and a riches-to-rags spot on Behind the Music. The underwear being flung at him by the women at Cobo had plenty of Lycra.
From where I stood, his hip-swivel seemed to have developed a hitch, and he couldn't hit middle C with a shovel; but from backstage even the best acts always look like Open Mike Night at the Pig 'n' Whistle. In any case I wasn't being paid to follow the program. I only had eyes for the wardrobe mistress.
Her name was Caterina Muñoz, and like many women trained to match a three-hundred-dollar scarf to a pair of crocodile pumps, she dressed like a fire in the big top. She was a dumpy sixty with her hair chopped short and dyed bright copper, and she had cut a hole in a painter's drop cloth and stuck her head through it on her way out the door. I watched her using a portablesteamer to take the creases out of a dozen of Gilia's costumes hanging from a rack on wheels and wondered what she was spending the money on, since it didn't appear to be clothes.
According to Gilia, the Muñoz had sold a pirate photograph of her employer trying on the gown she'd planned to wear to the Golden Globe Awards in January to a supermarket tabloid, which had run it on the front page. This had forced Gilia to spend another seventy-five grand on a replacement gown. She'd shown me pictures of herself wearing both outfits. I used more material cleaning my revolver, but that wasn't the point. Without quite resorting to a pie chart, she'd convinced me the surprise factor on the red carpet outside the arena was worth a couple of million in good press. No surprise, no sizzle.
"What makes it Caterina?" I'd asked. "Anyone can sneak a picture."
"She was the only one present at the fittings, apart from the designer. Signor Garbo makes tons more money keeping his designs secret than he ever would selling the details."
Everything about that made sense, not counting the name Signor Garbo. Now the Grammies were in the chute and she wanted me to nail the wardrobe mistress and her contact before history repeated itself. With a tour of Canada on tap after Detroit, she was reasonably certain the next exchange would have to take place locally. That meant a tail job, and with my five-hundred- dollar-a-day rate guaranteed and a payoff of seventy-five hundred if I delivered, I could spend the rest of the winter sopping up the sun on a beach in Cleveland.
Muñoz was busy throughout the concert. The hardest part about keeping an eye on her was staying out of the way of an army of grips and talent wheeling pianos, a harp, banks of lights, and set pieces throughout the wings at Grand Prix speed. The place smelled of perspiration, ozone, animal-friendly cosmetics, marijuana, and all the other indispensable effluvia of show business. I saw a relationship consummated in a stairwell, overheard someone giving someone else complicated directions to the local cocaine connection, and almost tripped over a female backup singer having a full-blown anxiety attack during a cellular telephone conversation with her analyst in Pasadena. There was enough material there to keep an enterprising private detective in business through Thanksgiving. Meanwhile the woman under surveillance recycled the costumes as needed, catching discarded articles of clothing on the fly, handing out changes, and sewing split seams with an arsenal of needles and spools of thread from an emergency basket she carried slung over one shoulder.
I saw Gilia naked many times. She peeled out of her Wonderbras and sweat-soaked bikini panties and rigged up for the next number without bothering to seek cover, while the hundred or so supernumeraries, most of them male, boiled about her showing all the interest of vegetarians at a steak fry. I got tired of looking at it myself, but then the whomping guitars, amplified drums, and laser effects had my head hammering like Sunday morning, and anyway there wasn't a major magazine in the country that hadn't featured every pore of her body at one time or another. It was an athletic body, but without a G- string or a halter top to call attention to the racy parts, it was just a slipcase for her talent.
The scalpers were getting five hundred bucks per ticket, and she gave the victims their money's worth. Her brand of juiced-up Latino music had been burning down the competition from rap and third- generation rock for months, and she showed no signs of coasting. At the climax she climbed into a harness attached to a boom and soared around the auditorium fifty feet above the audience's heads, belting out her chart-topper of the month over a radio headset and flapping a pair of electrified butterfly wings that would have blown every fuse at Tiger Stadium during the 1984 World Series. She had a voice, too; what could be heard of it above the roar from the seats. It chilled spines and tightened every scrotum this side of Windsor.
When the concert finished, a flying wedge of Cobo security guards formed around her with Benito, the born-again Chicano, at the point, and swept her down to the basement and the private exit the Detroit Police had cleared for her escape. The announcer, a squirt in a pompadour with an exposed heart and lungs printed on his T-shirt, gave her fifteen minutes, then announced over the P.A. system that the butterfly had flown. More security appeared to usher out the fans and prevent the seats from being torn loose of their bolts.
I hung around while Muñoz packed Gilia's costumes into a wheeled trunk, taking note in a memorandum pad as she did so of missing buttons, broken zippers, and ripped linings. Off in an untrafficked corner, yesterday's country-pop powerhouse stood smoking a conventional cigarette with this month's rent written all over his face.
The wardrobe mistress accompanied a pair of grips in the elevator to basement parking and watched while the trunk was locked away in an unmarked van. I went along, attracting less notice than the elevator carpet. I stood between a couple of cars pretending to fish in my pocket for my keys while she chirped open the lock on a rental Toyota and got in. She had a nine-by-twelve manila envelope in one hand.
Gilia had arranged a slot for me near the van. I climbed under the wheel of the venerable Cutlass and tickled the big plant into bubbling life. I'd replaced the carburetor recently, steam-cleaned the engine, and yanked the antipollution equipment I'd had installed to clear my last inspection. The body was battered, the blue finish broken down to powder, and thirty blistering Michigan summers and marrow-freezing lake effect winters had cracked the vinyl top, but I could hose Japan off the road in a head wind.
I gave her until the exit ramp, then pulled out and followed. I wanted a look at what was in the envelope.
Muñoz's megastar employer was staying at the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn, for the very good reason that after three decades of recovery from the riots, Detroit had yet to harbor a hotel where the silverfish didn't have a key to the executive floor. When the Toyota turned west on Fort, I thought that was where she was headed. When she swung north on Grand and made a left on the Dix Highway I was sure of it. Then she made another left onto Vernor and we entered a foreign country.
Excerpted from Poison Blonde by Loren D. Estleman. Copyright © 2003 Loren D. Estleman. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
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Posted December 9, 2008
Latino singer Gilia Cristobel is as hot an act as one will find today with her albums at the top of the charts and her popularity at stratospheric levels at least with music lovers. However, the down side of her meteoric rise is that her fame has brought her to the attention of someone who knew her back in the old country in Central America. That individual has blackmailed Gilia claiming he has proof of her involvement in an atrocity back home. <P>Paying off her extortionist is worth the lost cash to Gilia, but three months pass without further word from the blackmailer. Desperate to end the potential fiasco that if it went public would sink her career permanently, Gilia hires Detroit private investigator Amos Walker to find the real Gilia who has vanished since the threats surfaced and whose identity the singer has paid for so she can remain in the USA. <P>The latest Amos Walker tale is the usual superb hard-boiled noir that hooks the reader from the very beginning until the finish because the entire cast seems so genuine. Readers believe what Amos becomes entangled in due to the ensemble, whether they make a cameo appearance or are a key secondary player. The story line is vintage Walker who solves one thing only to be engulfed in something larger. Loren D. Estleman delivers another winner as the Motor City sleuth remains at the top of his game investigating on all cylinders. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 1, 2003
In his 16th Walker book, Loren Estleman has written another gem. In this book Amos is hired by a Latino singing star to find out who is blackmailing her, and he's working on a dead line. PI writing in it's classic form and at it's best. Truly another great work from a wonderful writer.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 6, 2014
No text was provided for this review.