After a tour in Vietnam and several years working the streets of Detroit as a private investigator, Amos Walker has seen a lot. But he’s never encountered anything quite like his newest assignment. Ann Maringer, an aging stripper hard at work at one of the city’s many low-grade joints, hires him to find a missing person: herself. She expects to disappear any day now, she says, and she wants to be found. He goes to her apartment the next day, hoping for more information, but Ann was true to her word and has disappeared completely, leaving behind nothing but a carton of Bel-Airs and a dead man on the floor. Unshaken by the body or the circumstances, Walker sets out to find his client. After all, she paid in advance. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Loren D. Estleman including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.
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By Loren D. Estleman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Loren D. Estleman
All rights reserved.
The Crescent was a cellar place on Cass, established before Michigan outlawed public dining and drinking below ground level. A door with an iron grille left over from Prohibition led down a short flight of steps into a bin full of noise and smoke, in the center of which a half-naked pubescent blonde was shaking her various appendages to the disco beat while lights changed her exposed flesh from green to orange to blue and back to green. The music sounded like an old lady shaking her teeth in a glass.
In the absence of a hostess I groped my way along the buzzing concrete floor until I found an empty table and ordered a double Scotch. Ringside, the light show cast ghastly hues over glistening male faces wreathed in marijuana smoke, their watery eyes following the dancer's bumps and grinds, white-tipped tongues sliding along fat, grinning lips. On the outer fringe, almost in darkness, a couple of guys were kissing at a table.
The gyrating blonde's was one of only two white faces in the room; the other belonged to me. But hers wasn't the face I'd been told to look for, so when the waiter returned I asked him if he'd seen Ann Maringer.
"Lots of times," came the sullen reply. "She works here."
I looked up at him. He was a big black with lumpy shoulders under his red uniform shirt and a shot of gray in his gnarled black hair. His eyes, bright white semicircles beneath an apish brow, had the slightly knocked-out-of-focus look you sometimes see in boxers who stayed too long in the ring. I said, "Have you seen her tonight?"
"Who wants to know?"
"Me and the Wayne County Sheriffs Department." I flashed the buzzer the department had forgotten about, carefully lest the sight of it empty the room; it was that kind of place. He squinted at it a moment, then jerked a broad flat thumb over his shoulder. As he did so, the light show died, to be replaced by a single baby spot that washed the empty platform in powdery blue. The tiny electrified combo hurled itself into the first three beats of a fresh piece. A new dancer took up the position.
"Just don't bust her in front of the clientele," the waiter advised. "The boss don't like scenes."
"No busts. Just talk."
He nodded solemnly and moved off into the gloom with the ponderous grace of an aging elephant.
She was a blonde, like her predecessor, but that was where the similarity ended. She was thin, almost bony, and her hair, unlike the other's stringy, waist-length locks, was done up frothily on either side of her head like water boiling around the base of a fall. The style had been popular about the time the first dancer was born, which tied in with this one's apparent age. She wasn't too old to be wearing her brief costume of spangled fringe with a bare midriff, but the dance she was doing fit her the way a screw top fits a bottle of champagne. Still, she gave it something it hadn't had originally, moving with a controlled fever that suggested a lifetime spent undulating to sour, secondhand arrangements played by sullen, third-rate bands. The overhead spot painted hollows beneath her eyes and in her cheeks, accentuating her gauntness.
I concentrated on the music. Somewhere under all that crap, a strain or two from the old Sinatra hit "Angel Eyes" struggled toward the surface from time to time, only to be put under again by the pounding drums and snarling electric guitars. But she knew it was there, and that was all that counted.
The music ended abruptly and she was left in darkness to find her own way down to the floor. There was no applause. I was wondering if I was supposed to meet her in the dressing room and where that might be when she appeared at my table, still in costume.
"Amos Walker?" Her voice was low-register, not quite husky. When I stood: "You're better-looking than I'd hoped. I was expecting Mike Hammer."
She smiled briefly, without committing herself. Away from the stage, her face was hard, its natural angularity heightened by sharp creases beneath her eyes and at the corners of her thin mouth. But the eyes themselves were large and blue and child-like, untouched by time and experience. Against the life-map of her face they looked like fresh replacements. The tune she danced to had been no random choice.
Her baby blues swept the immediate vicinity, taking in the black faces that were turned in our direction. "Let's find a booth. This is worse than being on stage."
We wedged ourselves into a coffinlike cubicle near the door, upholstered in slippery vinyl and illuminated not at all by a tiny electric lamp posing as a candle on the burn-scarred table. The bruiser who had waited on me earlier lumbered forward out of the shadows. She ordered vodka neat. I asked for a refill and a flashlight. He left with an expression that told me he'd heard that one before.
"Nathan Washington gave me your card," Ann Maringer said. "He says you stick like nuclear fallout."
"He ought to know. I'm still dunning him for what he owes me on that tail job I did for him last year."
"That's his problem. Or yours." She took a cigarette from my proffered pack and let me light it. The glow of the flame was kind to her, softening her bony features and doing wonderful things with her eyes. A man could fall in love with eyes like those. As I lit one for myself I wondered how many had.
She watched me through the smoke. "You work late Sundays. I didn't expect anyone to answer when I called your office at ten."
I said nothing, particularly about falling asleep over a game of solitaire. She took my silence for professional ethics.
"You were a cop?"
I nodded. "In the service. The instructors in the Detroit Police training program didn't like me, so I went to Vietnam to forget."
"I'll bet. You drowned your sorrows killing the same people we're making instant citizens out of now."
I let that one drift. I was watching her replacement on stage, a gangling black girl with the vertebrae of a snake, cavorting to something that didn't sound much like "Up a Lazy River" anymore.
"So how come you're a private eye?"
My eyes were still ringside. "How come you're a dancer?"
She laughed shortly. "Because I find my home life a lot more comfortable with the electricity on. I'm conducting an interview here. The least you could do is pay attention to my questions."
"What do you want to know?" I asked irritably, looking at her. "I'm bonded. My fee is two hundred fifty a day plus expenses. Sometimes grief is all my clients buy. I don't guarantee even that, but I do promise a day's work for a day's pay, which means I don't belong to a union." She flinched at that. I didn't find out why until later. "Nate Washington told you I'm reliable or I wouldn't be here," I continued. "If you're shopping, my office hours are in the Yellow Pages." I started to rise. She put out a hand to stop me. There was a diamond ring on the engagement finger that would choke a goat.
The waiter brought our drinks and withdrew, ignoring the silence that was the fanfare of his occupation. When he had passed beyond earshot:
"My, you're hot-headed," she said. "You're just like—never mind. I didn't mean to sound like I was grilling you." She watched with approval as I took my first sip, advertising my intention to remain. "What are the odds of finding someone who's missing? Intact."
"That depends on how long he's been gone and whether he wants to be found. Generally, I prefer it when they don't."
"Deliberately vanishing means giving up your identity. Most people aren't prepared to go that far. They've got hobbies, interests, needs they can't abandon. With today's technology a competent investigator should be able to pick up a trail within a few days in most cases. Unless the FBI or the CIA or some other federal agency is involved in the disappearance, in which case he ought to have something in an hour or two. The more tightly the cloak-and-dagger boys try to pull wraps over something, the easier it is to uncover. It didn't used to be that way, but we only get one J. Edgar Hoover to a century."
"And if they, want to be found?"
"Then we're talking kidnap, which is a different story. Abductors don't place much store in their victims' needs or interests, and unless they leave behind a button or a broken shoelace or a ransom demand I've got nothing to go on. Besides, that's a police matter, and they have strange ways of showing their appreciation for my help. Of course, all this is academic if the missing party's been gone longer than a few months. I once found a girl who hadn't been seen in nearly a year, but that was a fluke and my client wasn't at all happy with what I brought back."
She nodded, but understanding fell short of her eyes. Looking at the rest of her, it was hard to believe they were the ones she'd started out with. While listening she had held her cigarette upright between long-nailed fingers, blowing across the glowing end. The ash was an inch long before she tapped it into a cheap tin tray. Then she started in all over again.
I said, "You haven't touched your drink."
"It's only club soda." She touched her lips to the glass and set it back down with a grimace. "Part of my job is to mix with the customers and get them to buy me drinks."
"It's that kind of place, is it?"
"I've never worked in any of the other kind."
"Would you rather?"
She shrugged one shoulder. "My feet wouldn't hurt any less than they do here." Her eyes leaped from the cigarette to me. "Look, if it bothers you I'll pay for the drinks."
"I never let a woman pay the tab. I'll put it on my expense sheet."
She laughed again, a low, throaty sound that stirred something in me I hadn't realized was still there. Suddenly she flipped a switch and broke the circuit.
"If you could start looking for the missing party before it came up missing, what would be your chances then?"
I hesitated. "Better, I would think, without speaking from experience. They don't usually make appointments."
I smoked and watched her. The amplified music thundered along the floor, vibrating our glasses on the table. She took hold of hers for the first time and drank deeply. She grimaced, as if she wished it weren't just club soda.
"I'm about to disappear, Mr. Walker," she said. "Very suddenly and very soon."
"Have you been to the police?"
She laughed again. This time there was an edge to it. "I've danced professionally since I was fifteen. I know what cops think of dancers, and they aren't likely to spend many tax dollars looking for one that's missing. Or one that's about to be. It's one of the hazards of the profession, like rape for prostitutes. Besides, I'm a rugged individualist. I prefer to choose my own rescuer."
"You lie lousy, Miss Maringer."
Anger flushed her cheeks, only to fade when she saw it wasn't reflected in my face.
"Does it bother you?" she asked.
"I'm used to it. Only priests hear the truth first time through. I don't have their clout. When you're ready to part with it, I'm in the book."
We locked glances for a moment, like two strange cats sizing each other up in the gloom of a back alley. The nymphet who had been dancing when I came in finished a second number. The music paused for a beat, then started up again. "Angel Eyes." It made my companion anxious.
"That's my number. I'm covering for another girl. Here's my address; it's right down the street." She fished a folded scrap of paper out of the valley between her breasts and handed it to me as she got up. "I'm off at two. We'll talk there. That is, if you're interested." The blue eyes brimmed over with entreaty.
I rose. "Can you afford me, Miss Maringer?"
She glanced impatiently toward the stage and the vamping band, then, impulsively, tugged the sparkler off her finger and pressed it into my palm. "That will bring seven hundred and fifty from any honest jeweler. It's worth far more. It should buy me three days."
"After that, what?"
"After that, don't bother." She hurried away.
I turned back toward the table and almost bumped into the hulking waiter.
"Did you get an earful?" I asked him.
He handed me the bill and moved off without a word.
I finished my drink, paid, and left while she was still dancing. Pausing before the door to adjust my hat and coat, I heard someone shifting his weight on the other side and moved to make room for the customer's entrance. The door remained closed. Nerves tingling, I transferred my Smith & Wesson from its snap holster to the right-hand pocket of my coat and depressed the thumb latch on the door. It swung inward of its own weight. Someone's vaporized breath swirled in the cold air outside.
"It does my heart good to see a waiter waiting," I said.
He'd been standing on the sidewalk. Silently, with that economy of movement an athlete never forgets, he leaped down into the shallow stairwell that led up to the street. He had drawn a sheep-lined jacket on over his red shirt. And he was carrying a baseball bat.
"Gimme that ring." He brandished the club.
I fingered the gun in my pocket but decided against using it. His choice of weapons was too tempting. Taking my hesitation for obstinance, he whooped and swung the bat at my head. I ducked and jabbed the stiffened fingers of my right hand into his solar plexus. His heavy jacket prevented the blow from penetrating too deeply, but he doubled over retching and I got my hands on the bat. Grasping it by both ends, I twisted it from his grip, stepped sideways, and brought my arms down over his head, pulling back and forcing the weapon against his throat.
I didn't have to do anything more, just increase the pressure and it would have been all over except the inquest. Instead, I let go of the bat and brought my right hand chopping against the side of his neck. He whimpered and oozed into a puddle at my feet.
"Never stick-fight with an ex-MP," I told the twitching mess on the landing. It was lost on him.
No one inside had heard the scuffle. I was still standing there when a flamboyantly dressed black with a white woman on his arm started coming down the stairs. He saw me and stopped. I read the emotions on his ginger face and knew that I was never going to explain the situation to his satisfaction. I sighed and aired the revolver.
The woman gasped. She was a redhead with a complexion that looked impossibly pale beside her companion's. I said, "Go in and have a good time, folks. The lounge is closed."
He considered the situation. He hadn't acquired the wherewithal to buy those clothes by taking foolish chances. I was relieved, but not surprised, when at length he tightened his grip on the woman's arm and ushered her past me without looking back. I closed the door behind and, stepping over the waiter, sprinted for my car before a posse could be rounded up. I didn't know then how much grief that little scene would cost me.CHAPTER 2
It had been a long time since my last bar fight, and by the time I got to my office on Grand River I had the shakes pretty good. I hoisted the bottle out of the desk, poured my first unwatered-down drink of the evening, and nursed it thoughtfully. Then I switched on the desk lamp and got out Ann Maringer's ring to study it. That bought me exactly nothing. Glass or not, it went into my ancient safe to await appraisal while I made another donation to my alcohol system.
I checked my watch. It was too late to go home and too early to meet my client, and in any case I didn't want to show my face there again until I was sure the lynch mob had dispersed. I propped my feet up on the desk and went to sleep.
When I awoke it was almost two o'clock. The drinks had caught up with me. My eyes ached and my mouth was glued shut. Donning Polaroids against the glare of street lights and headlamps, I cranked up my battered Cutlass and took my time negotiating the labyrinth of thaw-slick streets that are Detroit in early spring. As a result I was half an hour late by the time I reached the address on Cass.
Cass Corridor. Fire Alley, the boys on the Detroit Fire Department call it, that neighborhood being the arson capital of the so-called inner city. Most people avoid it even in broad daylight, some from righteous indignation over its thriving hooker trade, others because the Cass Corridor Strangler remains at large five years after the killing ceased. After two in the morning, when the bars and bowling alleys vomit their clientele out onto the street, the area boils briefly, then settles back into sullen dark complacency as it waits to swallow the occasional lone transient. The magic word Renaissance opens no doors on Cass.
Excerpted from Angel Eyes by Loren D. Estleman. Copyright © 1981 Loren D. Estleman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
...Estleman goes on my very short list of the peer group I can read for pleasure.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Private Investigator Amos Walker, a Vietnam vet and former MP, meets a club dancer with ¿angel eyes¿ who hires him to locate a missing person ¿ her. Turns out she knows in advance that she¿s gonna go missing and wants somebody out there looking out for her. She gives him a valuable ring as a retainer and when she does disappear Walker sets out to scour the mean streets of Detroit to find her. Along the way he encounters all of the expected working class and industrial riche scum a blue-collar city like Detroit can offer. Elmore Leonard showed us that Detroit can be a swell playground for bad guys. Estelman shows us that it is also a swell playground for heart-of-gold tough-guy PIs like Amos Walker. I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. It is written with a lot of Raymond Chandler-esque language, such as ¿His face had the color and texture of ground beef.¿ I love it! I fully intend to read more about Amos Walker.
Angel Eyes was the first Amos Walker mystery I happened across. He is a tough and endearing PI, who takes the reader on the fast track to the heart of the crime (or crimes in this case). This was an extremely enjoyable book. I read the enitre book cover to cover in a matter of hours. I simply could not put it down. You are involved in the story from the very early chapters and the action flows like a raging river from there. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a can't-put-it-down mystery. I plan on delving further into the Amos Walker mysteries in the very near future.