Twilight at Mac's Placeby Ross Thomas
In Twilight at Mac's Place, the quiet death of an aged spy triggers a desperate race to control his memoirs, which threaten to reveal Cold War secrets many would prefer stayed secrets. When the spy's estranged son receives the then dizzying sum of $100,000 for all rights to the work, he is properly dizzied. He is also smart enough to seek the help of/i>… See more details below
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In Twilight at Mac's Place, the quiet death of an aged spy triggers a desperate race to control his memoirs, which threaten to reveal Cold War secrets many would prefer stayed secrets. When the spy's estranged son receives the then dizzying sum of $100,000 for all rights to the work, he is properly dizzied. He is also smart enough to seek the help of veteran Cold Warriors McCorkle and Padillo, owners of a D.C. bar called Mac's Place that is both a capital landmark and a nest of intrigue.
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Twilight at Mac's Place
By Ross Thomas
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1990 Ross E. Thomas, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Shortly after the death of the failed Quaker, Steadfast Haynes, the Central Intelligence Agency received a telephoned blackmail threat that was so carefully veiled and politely murmured it could have been misinterpreted as the work of some harmless crank.
But it wasn't misinterpreted. And it was solely because of this vague threat to reveal what Haynes had really done while serving as an occasional agency hire in Africa, the Middle East, Central America and Southeast Asia that the Department of Defense, after much grumbling, gave in to CIA pressure and ordered the Army to bury him at Arlington National Cemetery with standard military honors.
Steadfast Haynes was fifty-seven when he died at 11:32 P.M. on January 19, the night before the inauguration of the nation's forty-first President. He died in bed on the fourth floor of the Hay-Adams Hotel in a $185-a-night room that commanded a fine view of the White House. He died quietly, even discreetly, much as he had lived, and the thirty-three-year-old woman who lay next to him when he died was a former Agence France-Presse correspondent and old friend who knew just whom to call and what to do.
Her first call was to Paris and lasted a little more than four minutes. Her second call was to the front desk to notify the hotel that Haynes was dead. Her third call was to the robbery and homicide division of the Los Angeles Police Department.
After this third call was finally transferred to Sergeant Virgil Stroud, she identified herself and, speaking in tones both formal and slightly accented, asked for Detective Granville Haynes in order to inform him of his father's death.
"That's not bad," Sergeant Stroud said.
"I mean we had one guy call yesterday, maybe the day before, that had to talk to Granny because he was Granny's identical twin and dying of leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant."
After a moment of hesitation, she said, "There is no twin brother."
"Yeah. I know. But you'd be surprised what people will say to get to him." This time it was Sergeant Stroud who hesitated. "Or maybe you wouldn't. Be surprised."
"Something's happened to him — is that it?"
"That's it all right. He won the lottery three weeks ago and quit us the next day."
"I still need his home telephone number."
Sergeant Stroud used a chuckle to say good-bye and end the call.
When the Los Angeles Police Department was robbed by fortune of Granville Haynes's services, it was also robbed of its only homicide detective with a master's degree in Old French from the University of Virginia, where he had written his thesis on the three major humanistic aspects of Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel.
After making detective, Haynes frequently had been assigned to the occasional rich folks homicides in Bel Air, Brentwood and even as far west as Pacific Palisades, where, it was felt, the usually wealthy and often influential relatives of the victims would be reassured by his competent demeanor and soothed by his faultless manners, which some mistook for diffidence.
Haynes had spent an odd childhood on the French and Italian Rivieras among the very rich and, consequently, was not only knowledgeable but also chary of their curious folkways and taboos. This knowledge, effortlessly acquired as a child, later enabled him to move among them as one of the nearly anointed — almost as if once long ago they had given him a temporary guest membership that nobody had ever remembered to cancel.
Haynes had acquired his false passport into the land of the rich without any encouragement — or discouragement, for that matter — from his father, who had made it a rule never to give his son unasked-for advice, except once, back in 1974, when Steadfast Haynes, then forty-three, had delivered a brief homily in Washington. The occasion had been his son's eighteenth birthday and the homily had dealt with the basic economic benefits of inflation.
"Inflation," the older Haynes had said, "means that if you borrow ten bucks today, you just might be able to pay it back next year or the year after that with ten quarters, ten dimes or even ten nickels."
The homicide detective and three other Californians (a journeyman pool cleaner in Santa Barbara, a dentist in Modesto and a waitress in Eureka) had hit the state Lotto for a little more than $1 million each with six numbers, 3 11 13 19 32 45, that had been picked for Haynes by a computer. The gross amount of each check he and the other three winners would receive for the next twenty years was approximately $58,000.
But once all taxes were withheld, the net came to $39,979, which sum, Haynes quickly decided, was enough to let him abandon one of his two careers. So, after almost ten years on the force, seven of them in homicide, he had abandoned police work and turned instead to full-time acting.
It was nearly 4 A.M. in Washington and 1 A.M. in Los Angeles before the former Agence France-Presse correspondent pried Haynes's new and unlisted telephone number out of a reluctant GTE with lies, threats, tears and, finally, help from the French consulate. After Haynes answered his ringing phone with a sleepy but polite hello, the former correspondent used a carefully thought out twenty-three-word paragraph to identify herself and tell him his father was dead.
The brief silence that followed was ended by Haynes with a series of questions of no more than five or six words each that asked about cause, time and place of death. Once satisfied that he had most of the pertinent information, another silence began. Haynes also ended this one when he asked whether his father had ever said anything to her about wanting a particular kind of funeral.
She replied that although Steadfast Haynes had never once talked to her about dying, she thought it might be possible to have him buried in Arlington National Cemetery with some form of military ceremony. Haynes said he thought his father would have appreciated the irony of that, if not the occasion. There was yet another silence, longer this time, and during it Haynes thought he could sense the woman's long-distance smile just before she offered, providing he approved, to arrange the interment at Arlington.
After he gave his approval they ended the call and Haynes went over to the cracked-leather armchair by the living room window of his one-bedroom apartment in Ocean Park. He sat in the chair, staring out in the direction of the Pacific Ocean, his view blocked by the pale yellow monster house across the street that had been built on speculation six months ago but still hadn't sold because of its exorbitant price.
As he sat, trying to summon up images of the near stranger who had been his father, Haynes found himself murmuring the lines he would deliver later that day during the filming of a one-hour television cop show in Burbank. He was to play Cal, a very minor thug, who died early on, and whose only lines were "Forget it!" and "I'm outta here!"
The son of Steadfast Haynes continued to sit in the cracked-leather chair, staring out at the moonlit yellow house, running blurred images of his father through his mind and chanting the two lines aloud. They were, he discovered, almost as good as a mantra and far more comforting than prayer.
An autopsy revealed the cause of Steadfast Haynes's death to have been a massive cerebral hemorrhage. It also revealed a slightly fatty liver and a mild case of emphysema, neither of which surprised the son, who knew that his father, from fifteen on, had smoked at least a package of cigarettes a day and drunk as much alcohol as he wished for nearly as long.
After flying into Washington, Haynes soon learned, again with no surprise, that there were only a dozen or so persons in the capital and its metastasizing suburbs who, unless pressed, would even admit to having known the late Steadfast Haynes. Nor did most of them really care that he was dead — although there were two former U.S. government super-grades who might have paid their respects, except both were under Federal indictment and far too worried about their own fates to mourn for anyone else.
Still, there was one man at the Central Intelligence Agency who remembered Steadfast Haynes with a measure of admiration, if not affection, from their days together in Laos. Now sixty-seven years old, the man had retired two years ago as the agency's senior Burma analyst. Of necessity, he temporarily had been called back from retirement after the recent political upheaval in Burma — soon to be renamed Myanmar — and after, as he put it, "They found out they didn't have anyone who really knew fuck all about the place."
The aging analyst, correctly suspecting he would either be asked or ordered to go, had volunteered to sacrifice a lunch hour and attend the Arlington ceremony as the agency's unofficial observer, if not mourner.
The only true mourners at the grave of Steadfast Haynes were his son, the woman who once had been an Agence France-Presse correspondent, and Tinker Burns, the sixty-six-year-old ex-French Foreign Legionnaire, who had flown in from Paris on the Concorde.CHAPTER 2
Holding a dove-gray Borsalino homburg in his left hand, Tinker Burns stepped out of the rear of the hired chauffeur-driven Lincoln limousine just as the army bugler began playing "Taps" over the grave of Steadfast Haynes.
Burns snapped to attention and quickly transferred the hat to his right hand so he could hold it over his heart. The homburg went nicely with the dark gray double-breasted suit that had a faint chalk stripe and must have cost at least nine thousand French francs. Burns also wore a white shirt, so carefully ironed and starched it glistened, and a plain tie whose color could have been either black or the deepest navy blue. A black band, which Granville Haynes somehow knew to be silk, was worn just above the elbow on the suit's right sleeve and testified to Burns's status as an official mourner.
The big gray Lincoln, a special pass displayed on its windshield, had crunched to a stop on some loose gravel in the asphalt roadway. The sound of the crunching gravel had caused Granville Haynes to turn from the flag-covered casket. Turning with him were Isabelle Gelinet, the former Agence France-Presse correspondent, and Gilbert Undean, the recycled Burma analyst.
Once "Taps" was over, Tinker Burns's enormous feet, shod in gleaming black wingtips, carried him from limousine to grave at the Legion's official slow-march pace of eighty-eight steps per minute. Burns marched at attention, which is how Granville Haynes seemed to recall he did almost everything, with head high, chin tucked, shoulders back and arms swinging just as the Legion long ago had decided they should swing.
Burns now wore his hair longer, Haynes noticed. Hair that once had been kept at a maximum length of three quarters of an inch was now one and a half inches long on top but still far less than that at the back and sides. It was a different color, too. Instead of being a shiny tar black, it was now a shiny lard white.
There were also some new lines, Haynes saw. Creases really. But those merry green eyes still sparkled, or maybe even glittered, although not enough to spoil the solemn expression that Haynes knew was meant to portray sorrow, perhaps even grief, and had been carefully applied to the long brown face that had spent too much time under too many tropical suns.
Tinker Burns was almost halfway to the gravesite when the Army sergeant stepped over to present Haynes with the U.S. flag that had covered the casket and was now folded into the prescribed triangle. After the sergeant stepped back and saluted smartly, Haynes murmured his thanks and looked at Isabelle Gelinet, turning the look into a silent offer that she refused with an almost imperceptible head shake.
Haynes turned again and waited for Tinker Burns to come to a halt before offering him the folded flag. "You take it, Tinker," Haynes said. "You knew him longer than I did."
Burns tucked the homburg against his left side with an elbow and used both hands to accept the flag reverently. He stared down at it for several seconds, as if to certify its provenance, looked up at Haynes and said, "Not longer, Granny; just better."
After performing a slow-time about-face, which left him facing the Lincoln, Burns nodded at the uniformed chauffeur, who was leaning against a front fender. The chauffeur hurried over, relieved Burns of the flag and hurried back to the Lincoln.
Still facing away from the others, Tinker Burns bowed his head — in plot, if not in prayer, Haynes thought — looked up finally, turned and said, "I'm going to miss the shit out of Steady."
"It was good of you to come," Haynes said.
Burns sighed and looked at the former Agence France-Presse correspondent, who wore a navy-blue dress under her unbuttoned oyster-white trench coat that had a plaid lining.
"Ça va Isabelle?" Burns said.
She shrugged. "Ça va, Tinker."
Burns let his green gaze wander over to the tall thin elderly man with the posture of a crooked stick. Because the weather was unseasonably warm for late January, the man wore only a brown herringbone jacket, gray flannel trousers, scuffed brown loafers that may not have been polished in years, if ever, and a purple tie.
Haynes had wondered whether the tie was the nearest thing to mourning wear the man's closet had to offer. Or maybe, he thought, somewhat cheered, he just doesn't give a damn what he wears.
Tinker Burns finished his own brief inspection, gave the man a charming smile and said, "Don't think we've met, friend. I'm Tinker Burns. You by any chance the official representative of a grateful government?"
"Gilbert Undean," the man said. "I knew Steady in Laos."
"That a fact? Who you with now?"
"I'm sort of retired."
"They called me back. Temporarily."
Burns nodded twice, as if confirming expected news. "Believe somebody did tell me they were running short of experts on that part of the world, especially after the dust-up in Burma."
Undean frowned. "Who's running short?"
"Langley. Who else?"
"Don't think I mentioned them. Don't think I said damn all about Burma."
"Just a hunch, Mr. Undean. I figured that if you knew something about Laos, since that's where you knew Steady, then you probably knew right smart about Burma, since it's just across the fence. And I also had a hunch that Langley, as caring and sentimental as always, would've sent someone from the old days to represent it at the grave of a fallen comrade."
Tinker Burns smiled again, a bit quizzically this time, as if in anticipation of Undean's reply. But when the reply turned out to be only an indifferent stare, Burns said, "Why don't the four of us take the afternoon off, Mr. Undean, and go have us a long wet lunch somewhere on me and hear all about you and Steady during the Vientiane follies?"
"Thanks," Undean said, "but I wouldn't much care to eat with anyone who'd want to listen to that old crap."
Before Tinker Burns could respond, Haynes quickly went over to shake hands with Undean and said, "Thank you very much for corning."
"Volunteered before I got sent," Undean said, bending forward to examine Haynes more closely. "Thing I remember best about Steady is how well he did it and how easy he made it all look."
"A matter of style?"
"Or nerve." He peered even more closely at Haynes through thick bifocals. "You sure look like him — or at least how I think he used to look almost twenty years ago." Undean paused, opened his mouth as if to say something else, clamped it shut instead, nodded good-bye, turned and walked away.
"What kind of report you think Brother Undean'll turn in?" Tinker Burns asked, once the analyst was out of earshot.
Still staring at Undean's back, Haynes said, " 'How I Alone Swelled the Crowd at Steady Haynes's Grave by Twenty-five Percent.' "
Burns chuckled and made a quick survey of the cemetery slope with its rows of matching white headstones. "When I was fixing up my pass and getting directions, they told me they were burying Steady not far from where they'd buried two other great Americans, Lee Marvin and John Mitchell. How'd you get 'em to plant him here?"
"Isabelle arranged it," Haynes said.
Burns looked at her. "Blackmail?"
"What else?" she said.
"They know it was you?"
Burns shook his great head in appreciation, chuckled again and said, "Well, it by God deserves a great lunch and all we can drink."
Without waiting for their acceptance of his invitation, which he obviously took for granted, Burns asked Gelinet whether she had a car. After she nodded, Haynes volunteered he had come by taxi.
"Then you ride with me, Granny, and Isabelle can meet us there."
"Where?" she asked.
"What about Mac's Place?" Tinker Burns said. "If it's still in business."CHAPTER 3
The man with the courtly air and the bald head turned from the seventh-floor window at 1:13 P.M. and dropped into his high-backed leather chair with a sigh just as Gilbert Undean finished the last of his egg salad sandwich on whole-wheat toast.
The man in the high-backed chair was Hamilton Keyes, who had sent down for the sandwich after learning that Undean had not yet eaten. After Undean licked a trace of mayonnaise from the left corner of his mouth, carefully folded the unused paper napkin and stuck it down into the right-hand pocket of his brown herringbone jacket for possible future use, Hamilton Keyes said, "Steady was never in any branch of the service, you know."
"Wrong," Undean said. "He was in Korea in 'fifty and 'fifty-one."
Excerpted from Twilight at Mac's Place by Ross Thomas. Copyright © 1990 Ross E. Thomas, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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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Meet the Author
Ross Thomas is ranked as one of the very top thriller writers by his fellow authors, and his readers loudly agree. Two Edgar Awards, and other prizes, only complement the abundant praise that Thomas has received.
Thomas died in 1995, and since then all but one of his twenty-five novels had gone out of print. This should never have happened to the man of whom The New Yorker has said "Very few...are as consistently entertaining...even fewer can match him for style and power." Minotaur is proud to remedy this situation by reissuing Thomas's novels. So start reading, and prepare to join Ross Thomas's legions of admiring fans.
Ross Thomas is ranked as one of the very top thriller writers by his fellow authors, and his readers loudly agree. Two Edgar Awards, and other prizes, only complement the abundant praise that Thomas has received.
Thomas died in 1995, and since then all but one of his twenty-five novels have gone out of print. This should never have happened to the man of whom The New Yorker has said "Very few...are as consistently entertaining...even fewer can match him for style and power." Minotaur is proud to remedy this situation by reissuing Thomas's novels, including Chinaman's Chance and Briarpatch. So start reading, and prepare to join Ross Thomas's legions of admiring fans.
T. Jefferson Parker set the country afire with his debut novel Laguna Heat, and has continued to prove himself a meteoric and masterful talent.
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Read this book! Ross Thomas' style is impeccable, classy and funny. A tangle of idiosyncratic characters dance through a Cold War tangle. I read it years ago, loaned the book and it never returned. Glad to see it in print again. Ross Thomas is a Great American Writer.
This is a later McCorkle and Padillo adventure set in Washington, D.C. Thomas again uses their bar and grill as a focal point. The real hero of the story is Granny Haynes, former LAPD detective and now aspiring actor who inherits an old Cadillac convertible and the memoirs of his deceased father, long-time CIA operative Steadfast Haynes. Another interesting character we encounter is Tinker Burns, a spry old ex-French Foreign Legionnaire and maybe the only living American veteran of Dien Bien Phu. I consider this book to be one of Ross Thomas' better efforts, full of insights on maneuverings within the CIA and the Washington power elite.