Nick Forte has a hard time leaving well enough alone. He seriously injures a man for slapping a woman Forte has never seen before, so when Becky Tuttle comes to him with disconcerting letters sent to her author alter ago Desiree d’Arnaud, he does more than a cursory investigation. Following the thread of Becky’s problem leads through a local cop who takes the situation too lightly for Forte’s taste and into the disturbing world of men’s rights activists, for whom he has no use at all.
Becky’s case isn’t the only thing going on in Forte’s life. A chance meeting with Lily O’Donoghue, a former prostitute whose mother’s death Forte feels responsible for, leads to a blackmailer who has videos of Lily’s former occupation. Forte takes care of the blackmailer with minimal fuss, but learns (again) that no good deed goes unpunished. Forte’s innocent intercession brings him back into the sphere of Chicago gangster Mickey Touhy, who has interest in both Lily and Forte.
“Tough, taut, unsentimental, and as hard-boiled as a dinosaur egg; Dana King delivers a private-eye procedural that would make Joe Gores proud.” —David Housewright, Edgar Award-winning author
“Nick Forte is a throwback to the classic tough guy, politically incorrect PI who takes care of business. He’s the kind of guy you’d want working for you, if you were in a tough spot. And Dana King is a master at creating a low-down, dirty world where everyone needs a someone like Forte on his side.” —Charles Salzberg, author of the Henry Swann mysteries
“Dana King’s Nick Forte is a two-fisted, no-nonsense PI in the tradition of Amos Walker and Mike Hammer, who is aware of his strengths and willing to confront his weaknesses. Don’t pick up Bad Samaritan if you can’t take a punch.”—J.L. Abramo, Shamus Award-winning author of Circling the Runway
|Publisher:||Down & Out Books II, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.54(d)|
Read an Excerpt
The water tower distinguished this cul-de-sac from the others in Downers Grove. It loomed over the brick ranch-style houses like a remnant of a long past World's Fair: the Countersunk Screw Exhibit. A yellow hydrant at the edge of the driveway was cheery in the morning sun, a seed with hopes of growing into a mighty tower itself one day.
I parked in the driveway of the smallest house on the circle. Cool under the overhang that shaded the front stoop from what was shaping up to be a hot day. The neighborhood was quiet as a sleeping baby. I pushed the button and a standard two-tone chime sounded.
The door opened to show a woman of average height in her middle thirties. Dark hair cut in an unfashionable bob framed a round face with high cheeks and chocolate eyes. She held the door open and looked at me, her attention somewhere behind her.
"Rebecca Tuttle?" I said.
"You must be Nick Forte." I agreed, I must be. "Call me Becky. Come on in. Thanks for coming by. I've got one home sick from school and this one doesn't want to share the house." She pointed to a child no more than eighteen months old standing in a plastic corral built into the corner of the family room. "Can you keep an eye on him for a minute? I think Sammie just sicked up on her bed. His name's Alex, but he likes A.J. better." She was gone before the door latch caught. The trusting sort.
A.J. gave me a look I'd seen before. I'm bigger than most, and a stranger. Whatever uneasiness that created fought with whatever quality I have that makes kids like me, the younger the better. He teetered on the edge of uncertainty for a few seconds before he extended his arms for me to pick him up.
"Sorry, big guy. I think you're right where you're supposed to be. I can level the field, though." He stared at the sound my knees made when I squatted. I picked up a plush tiger that looked like Hobbes from the corral. Handed it to A.J. He threw it in my face with surprising velocity.
"You want to play rough, do you?" I sat Indian style where I could reach him and extended an index finger. Swirled it in a tight circle until I had his attention. Took my time moving it toward him. Waited for his eyes to cross before I touched the tip of his nose and pulled away before he could grab me. I knew he'd laugh. This was the only way Diane and I had been able to change Caroline's diapers for quite a while. I distracted the baby with the Hypnotic Finger of Hygiene while Diane did the dirty work. Caroline never tired of it. Rare was the kid who didn't engage.
Five minutes of sophisticated merriment passed before his mother reappeared, drying her hands on the tail of a Blackhawks jersey two sizes too large. I stood and A.J. slammed his hands on the top rail. "No!" I jerked my head his direction. "First word I've heard out of him."
"Count your blessings. Once he starts he'll go for an hour. It's cute until you remember how limited his vocabulary is. Can I get you something to drink? Coffee? Pop?" I said I was fine. "Toss Hobbes back to him and turn away. He'll calm right down." He did, too. Impressive.
We sat on opposite ends of a couch that showed evidence of children's love. "What can I do for you, Mrs. Tuttle?"
"Please. It's Becky. Mrs. Tuttle sounds like the nosy neighbor in a sitcom." She fussed on her cushion as if her position had to be just so for what she had to say. "Have you ever heard of Desiree d'Arnaud?
"Should I have?"
"Not really, I don't suppose. She's an author, but I doubt you'd read much of the kind of stuff she writes."
"What does she write?"
Becky said, "Mostly paranormal romantic urban fantasy," like it had a shelf in every bookstore between science fiction and young adult. "Kind of borderline erotica, too." Maybe not so close to young adult. "Modern-day bodice rippers, except that a lot of the bodices get ripped by vampires."
Okayyyyyy. "Sorry. My taste runs more along the lines of Elmore Leonard and Charlie Stella."
"Don't feel bad. Ninety-five percent of my readers are women. The other five are men looking for a way into those women's pants."
"Whoa. Back up a minute. You're Desiree d'Arnaud?"
"Is that a pen name, or is this —" I opened my arms to include the room, "— your cover?"
"Desiree is my nom deplume." She exaggerated the French accent. "I'm just plain old Becky."
"What can I do for you, plain old Becky?" I enjoy small talk as much as shoveling icy walks in sleet storms. She was the potential client. Up to her if she wanted to hide her nervousness by playing goofy. Her manner was childlike enough to be endearing, any erotic paranormal romantic urban fantasy bodice-ripping tendencies aside.
"First I want to make sure you understand the honor you've received. There are only four other people in the world who are supposed to know what I just told you."
"What? That you're Desiree d'Arnaud?"
She held up fingers as she counted off. "My husband knows. My sister, my brother, and my agent. My editor doesn't. My mother doesn't even know."
"Why all the secrecy?"
"This." Her turn to gesture around the room. "This is my life. This messy house, with these kids, and my husband. I'm a soccer mom. Desiree is someone I like to be from time to time, but she's not who runs this life. Or even interferes with it."
"No one ever recognized you on a book jacket? On a promotional tour?"
She got off the couch to take a book from the shelf. Handed it to me back cover up. A smoking hot woman wearing a garment that might have been a bodice and an expression that implied said bodice was primed for the ripping looked at me with eyes that belonged in no bedroom I'd ever been in. I looked from the cover to Becky and back again. "That's not you. No offense."
"None taken. That's Kelsey Whitson, a professional actress, with lots of makeup, a wig, and fake boobs. She does other work, too, but when Desiree is seen in public, it's Kelsey."
"And she doesn't know who you are?"
"A couple of times a year we get together for a weekend to talk about the books and what kinds of answers she can give to questions. We're friendly — friends, even, in our way — but she doesn't know my actual name. Or where I live. Anything real about me. She's the persona."
Becky brightened. "You heard of him? I was just a kid, but I loved that show. That's exactly what we're going for."
"How's it working out?"
Hesitation. "We ... thought it was going really well until ... some things happened."
I gave her every chance to continue. The spring had run dry. "What things?" "I've been getting letters. Addressed to Desiree, in care of me at this address."
"Four so far. From the same person. They have downtown Chicago postmarks."
"You're sure they're from the same person."
She nodded. "The handwriting is the same. The ... voice is the same."
"Do you have them?"
She took four letter-sized envelopes from the book she'd shown me a minute ago. I pulled away before she could hand them to me. "Have the police seen these?"
"I took them in after the second one. Showed them to a detective named Delauter. He said they looked like fan mail and that no laws were being broken."
I took care to handle only the edges. The contents were the kinds of things people would discuss on FX but only HBO could show. No threats. No violence. Descriptions of how much he enjoyed — definitely a man's handwriting — the way she portrayed certain acts. How they excited him. By the third letter I noticed what must have scared her: all the addresses referred to Desiree d'Arnaud, care of Becky Tuttle. The salutations read, "Dear Becky."
"I'm guessing what he says here came pretty much straight out of your books?" I knew from her expression that hadn't come out right. "I just mean to say I have the feeling he's read at least one of your books. Am I right?"
"He's read at least parts of all of them."
I checked the postmarks and did some math. "They're mailed from downtown, and always on a Monday. He either works in the Loop, or something takes him there on Mondays. Makes sense if he writes them over the weekend." I perused the envelopes as if I might see something important. "You want me to find this guy?"
"Can you?" Said it like she was afraid to ask.
"Let's say I do. Then what?"
"Get him to stop."
"I have an idea asking for a cease and desist order isn't what you have in mind."
Becky shook her head quickly, almost a vibration. "I'd have to go to court. Coming out like that would ruin my career."
"You sure? A little scandal, secret identities, some salacious letters? Could be just the kind of publicity a writer of." I thought hard. "Paranormal urban vampire erotica couldn't buy if she wanted to."
"You don't get it. Look at me." She swept her hands down along her sides. Attractive in a cute way, with her rosy cheeks and round chin. Probably a little heavier than she'd like, or used to be. A little sister grown up. "This is not the persona that sells these kinds of books. I couldn't present myself as Desiree if I wanted to, and I don't want to. I'm Becky, and Becky is all I ever wanted to be. The books are fun to write, and I'll admit my husband and I have fun with what's in them sometimes. I'm hoping to put Sammie and A.J. through school with the royalties. But only Desiree can do that. Becky can't." Came up for air, indecision and what might be fear on her face. "He knows where I live. He knows where my kids live."
"What do you want me to do?"
She didn't have to say for me to know she had no idea. "Get him to stop. I don't know how. I asked about you. You ... have a reputation for handling things with discretion."
That was one way to put it. Some would say I had a reputation for killing people. "Where did you hear that?"
"I went to school with Michelle Finnegan."
"Who's Michelle Finnegan?"
"You did some work for her mother-in-law a few years ago." She must have seen that didn't help me. "Michelle's married name was Mitchell."
I sat back as deflated as if she'd butt-ended me with a hockey stick. I'd worked a cold case for Michelle Finnegan Mitchell's mother-in-law that achieved justice: The men who'd killed her grandson were dead. What I uncovered tore apart what was left of Michelle's family. Yeah, I was discreet as hell.
"Michelle told me how you kept things quiet so they could live as normal a life as could be expected. You know, after."
"Did she mention that among the reasons we were able to keep things so quiet was because those responsible were dead?"
Becky might as well have had a glass forehead for all the better it concealed her thoughts. "I don't want you to kill anyone. Or even hurt them. I just thought someone with your reputation for handling ... bad things ... if you talked to him."
"I might scare him off." I was sorry as soon as I said it.
"No no no no no. Not like that." She looked at her hands cradled in her lap. "I don't know what to do. I thought you might. My husband." She paused. Considered options. "He doesn't know how to act, he's so mad and frustrated."
"About your husband. I half expected to see him here today. Any reason he's not?"
Becky looked down. Might have blushed. "He doesn't know. After the third letter he got so I never told him about the fourth. Or that I called you. He says he wants to find this guy and take care of it himself. I don't know how. I don't think he does. Beat him up, or something. But he has no idea how to find him, and he's not a violent man. I'm half sorry I ever said anything to him in the first place. He feels impotent. That's the word he used: impotent."
At least she didn't think I was impotent. "Can I have the letters? I doubt they'll tell us anything, but you never know." She nodded and nothing else stood between me and the worst part of such a visit. "I hate to mention this, but you need to come up with an idea of how much you're willing to spend. You don't have to decide right now, but think about it." I told her my rates and the kinds of expenses likely to accrue. "Don't let yourself in for too open-ended a commitment. You should have a number in mind. Spend that and it's time to cut your losses."
Becky fussed with her hands a few seconds. Made the first solid eye contact since she told me why she'd called me. "It has to stop."
Downers Grove Detective Kurt B. Delauter was one of those cops who tried to pass as a nice guy. Big smile, firm and enthusiastic handshake, profound interest in why I was there, all phony as a whore's orgasm. Loved his middle initial. Displayed it on his desk's name plate, the security badge hung around his neck, and the business card he handed me before I had a chance to sit down. A lesser man would have asked what it stood for. I believe a person who wants anything that transparently doesn't deserve it.
"Sure, Becky Tuttle came to me. Couple weeks ago. Brought me some letters. She show them to you?"
I laid a Ziploc bag holding the letters on his desk. He asked if I'd read them. "Browsed."
"See anything actionable?" He went on before I could answer. "Even she admits everything in there came right out of some books this other woman wrote. What's her name? d'Arnaud?"
"You don't think they're a little risqué to send to a woman anonymously?"
"You ever see the nasty shit kids text to each other? This is no big deal."
"Easily identifiable text messages between consenting adolescents is one thing. These are sexually explicit letters from an unknown source. You don't think there's an implied threat there?"
Delauter gave me the condescending look he must have shown Becky. "I guess I can see where someone of a certain personality might. For all we know, her husband could be sending them to spice up their sex life."
"I just left her. It's a safe bet these are not spicing up their sex life."
"No argument. I didn't talk to her in that kind of detail." He brandished the business card I'd given him. "You're a PI that does field work. Were you a cop, or military?"
"Both. My military service wasn't in law enforcement."
"So, a cop. Look at those letters again, as a cop. Show me anything that's actionable. There's no, 'I'm watching you,' or, 'I know what you like.' No threats of any kind. What am I supposed to do?"
The shock of sitting in a room with a man who didn't see anything wrong here delayed my response. Delauter didn't wait. "I know what you're thinking. Even if I did take a liberal definition of one of those violence against women statutes, I don't have jurisdiction. We have no idea where those letters are written."
"So if someone reports a dead body in McCollum Park you don't investigate unless they can prove he was killed there? That's bullshit and you know it."
Delauter didn't like my appraisal of his skyscraper in the swamp. "If there's a criminal threat — not that I agree, just saying for the sake of argument — the crime — if there is one — occurs when the letters are mailed." He raised a hand to block my interruption. "It's no crime to write anything you want. Sending it's the crime. He mailed the letters in Chicago. That's where the crime took place. Chicago."
His train of thought didn't just insult my intelligence. It hurt my feelings. "Really? That's the argument you want to make?"
"That's the argument you 're making. I don't think there's a crime at all. You're going to come back with how there's no threat until it's delivered. Well, it's delivered to her mail box by the Postal Service."
"So the mailman's an accomplice."
Delauter made a great show of forbearance. "Using the mail makes it federal. She needs to talk to the Postals. Or the FBI. Hell, Homeland Security, it'll make her feel better. There's two big-ass federal buildings downtown. They'll all be there." He pushed the bag of letters toward me. "As far as this office is concerned, no crime has been committed over which we have jurisdiction. Now tell your story walking."
I looked at the place where Tony's garage used to be as I walked past on my way to work. For almost ten years I parked my car there. Broke balls with Tony coming and going each time. Semi-adopted his assistant, Joey, a good-hearted Baby Huey lookalike with an IQ less than his height in inches. Tony cashed out six months ago, sold to a developer who wanted to build ... something. Condos, probably, given the location. Girders rose over temporary construction fences, cranes already attached. The old parking structure was on its way down before Tony got home from the closing.
It still struck me odd how busy things seemed when I came into the office with the work day in progress. Not how busy things were — lots of small businesses had more ongoing activity. How busy it seemed, with as many as five or six people getting around each other in a space intended for two, expanded to fit three.
Excerpted from "Bad Samaritan"
Copyright © 2018 Dana King.
Excerpted by permission of Down & Out Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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