The Black Glove

The Black Glove

by Geoffrey Miller

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Overview

NOMINATED FOR THE EDGAR AWARD

Terry Traven is an L. A. private eye who modeled himself after Philip Marlowe and thrived in the 1960s, becoming a minor celebrity for his hardboiled style and his skill at tracking down runaways. But now it's the 1980s, his minor fame has completely faded, and he's barely making a living. So he jumps at the opportunity to find a wealthy, born-again industrialist's missing son who has been dabbling in drugs and punk rock. It's not just a chance to save the kid... but himself. Traven's search leads him into a bizarre, cocaine-drizzled world populated by kidnappers, drug dealers, talent agents, greedy entrepreneurs, religious zealots and desperate killers.

"Miller pretty much equals the masters - Hammett and Chandler - of the hardboiled detective story," Houston Post

"THE BLACK GLOVE is every bit as remarkable as the best film noir of the 1940s," Detroit News

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781941298886
Publisher: Brash Books LLC
Publication date: 12/22/2015
Pages: 270
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)

About the Author

Geoffrey Miller caused a sensation with his debut thriller, The Black Glove, which earned him an Edgar Award nomination from the Mystery Writers of America for the Best First Mystery Novel.
A hard-boiled detective tale, The Black Glove follows Los Angeles sleuth Terry Traven as he tracks down the kidnappers holding the son of a wealthy businessman for ransom. Confronted with complications, conspiracies, and cocaine stashes, Traven navigates the dangers Southern California's dark underbelly with a twisted a sense of humor that gives this noir thriller a tongue-in-cheek twist.



A UCLA graduate who studied motion pictures, Miller worked as a public librarian for three decades. Now retired, he recently finished his highly-anticipated second thriller.

Read an Excerpt

The Black Glove


By Geoffrey Miller

Brash Books, LLC

Copyright © 2015 Geoffrey Miller
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-941298-88-6


CHAPTER 1

The Black Mask Detective Agency was on the second floor of a two-story building in the sixty-six-hundred block of Melrose, corner of Citrus — a building that, since the earthquake in '71, had crossed the nebulous line into architectural blight.

Inside, Terry Traven sat quietly, acquiescing to the heat. Torpid, dry summer weather in three figures made him uneasy. All the windows were open, and the Venetian blinds were drawn nearly shut to exclude the harsh light. Irregular throbs of a Santa Ana wind whistled through the window screens, playing fluttering tattoos on the slats of the blinds.

He studied the wall calendar from the 400 Blows Massage Parlor. Today was the hundred and third day without work. He was becalmed in that body of stagnant water called the desperate straits.

The county would soon be testing for Junior Administrative Assistant, an entry-level civil service job requiring only a bachelor's degree or appropriate experience equal thereto. He would not take that test, though the fact that he had thought about it was significant.

He pushed off with his right foot and the chair swiveled to face his desk. His left foot touched the floor, the chair stopped, and he stood. Coming untucked from his tweed slacks was a dark blue Western-style denim shirt with mock pearl studs. He unbuttoned the shirt down to the bottom of his sternum, fanned it back and forth, then sat down again. His hair, neither long nor short, stuck to the sweat on the back of his neck. Now that it was summer his normally light brown, straight hair began to look gold. His complexion was smooth and tanned, even though he did not spend any more time outdoors than necessary. His skin, like his hair, was highly susceptible to sunlight. He had, by his own description, what he called "a beach face" — pleasant, the gray eyes a little deep in the skull, but something bland in the overall effect of his features. A snob from up north or back east might look at him and think: right, L.A. A lifeguard or a surfer. Junk food. Top Forty radio. A gun rack hanging from the back window of the pickup.

He would not be taking the county test. He would turn thirty-six in the winter and the poll-takers would no longer list him as a young person. The seventies had been one long lesson in living through times that were emotionally and economically difficult, sometimes desperate and depressing. He had gone through all this before, once even living on popcorn and water. But never a hundred and three days. That was a record. He had long ago reached the point where as long as he could pay for food and rent and have a little left over for some small pleasures, this would satisfy him. But now a steady job offered the security of routine, which made you think (if you didn't think too much) that there was truly some pattern to life. Traven didn't see any pattern to life except in its disarray. Being a detective, with long instances of no work, or work with a lot of dead time in it, gave him much opportunity to think. Thinking was not always a good thing, and in a steady job you usually only had to follow orders, not think. But Traven had smoked some pot before coming to the office, and pot made him think, think intensely, and now he regretted it.

And so, his uneasiness spurred on by the heat, Traven reached a familiar conclusion. Life was ultimately a theological problem. The frustrations, the boredom, the panic that caused people to explode into violence against others or themselves, as he had seen over and over again on the police force, had no political, economic, or sociological remedies. The solution lay only in the imagination, which is to say, in a sense of morality. Traven did not use the concept of God because he had no active belief in religion. Yet this morning, after he had smoked the joint, he had gone into the bathroom and pulled back the shower curtain to turn on the faucet, and there was a large black spider in the tub. Traven's heart grabbed two beats in one when he first saw it. He hated insects, not only because of the miniature otherworldliness of their form, but also because of the dumb, ravenous hustling of their lives, which linked them somehow with the violent criminals Traven had had to deal with. But instead of washing the spider down the drain, Traven put it into an empty pillbox and dropped it in the garden as he left the building that morning. It was not until much later that he remembered that Philip Marlowe had done essentially the same thing in Farewell, My Lovely, and there was the briefest moment of transcendent feeling as Traven remembered why at first he had wanted to become a detective. Later on, absurd and sometimes lethal things would give him more realistic and acceptable motives, but the first reason was always the real one.

A mottled shadow loomed behind the pebbled glass on the outer office door. The knob turned and the door opened halfway, revealing a tall man with his back to Traven, mumbling something to two young men in brown and gray three-piece suits and razor-cut hair. One of the young men nodded, and the other gestured obsequiously by raising a hand and bowing slightly; they were cut from Traven's sight as they walked away. The beanpole continued to keep his back to Traven, watching after the two of them until the clack of their footfalls dissolved down the stairwell at the end of the corridor.

Now the man turned and their eyes met. He was gaunt, and his quick, perfunctory smile revealed only the top row of teeth, which were bladelike and separated by uneven spaces. It was an unpleasant face. The features were not proportionate: either too large, like the nose and chin, or too small, like the eyes and mouth. The tasteful, expensive clothes were meant to soften the effect, but they did not. As he walked into the office the man asked Traven if that was his name.

"Yes, sir," Traven said, shuffling half-heartedly in his chair, meaning to stand but not doing so. This was the only lingering effect of the pot. Traven was very careful about what and how much he smoked. He preferred good homegrown to something from Asia or Latin America because he only wanted a taste of being high. He wanted to remain alert, to be able to deal with problems if he had to.

The man was at the age Traven would be at in ten or twelve years, which his hair, dyed black as newly laid asphalt, attested to. "I was told you did a very good Bogart impression," he said.

One side of Traven's face rose; it was not a smile of amusement. "No more. Or the hard-boiled patter. I feel foolish just thinking about it."

The beanpole smiled a second time. The mouth had to carry the entire effect because his eyes were busy assessing the office. "I had heard things weren't so good for you these days." He looked toward the corner at the female clothes mannequin, where Traven had once hung his expensive 1940's suit coats. Except for the head it was covered by an ankle-length white sheet. The face was very realistic. "Do you know why?" he asked, his eyes fixed again on Traven. "Why things went bad, I mean."

Traven shook his head a bit, meaning not that he didn't know but only indicating inevitability. "Partly because I'm a one-man office. Economically the times are uneasy, and people who can't afford the Pinkertons or Burns or Ameritec suddenly don't mind taking their troubles to the police." Traven lowered his voice, as if confiding in himself, and said, "I wonder sometimes if I'm being tested."

The other man's face brightened, as if he had heard something important that pleased him. "You're a religious man?"

Business was business. Traven was not stupid. The way the man asked the question seemed to indicate a hope that Traven would answer yes. If, indeed, this were business. "I like to think so."

"Really." The man was pleased after all. "Tell me, do you still engage in investigations?" He flicked his left hand behind him. "There's no sign on the door outside."

"The glass that my name used to be on was shattered in the earthquake. I never got around to having a sign painter come up."

"The earthquake was in '71, eight years ago."

Traven grinned, a bit sheepishly, and turned over a hand. There was no answer to it. Things had been so good back then that he did not need a sign on the door. Then things went bad and a sign would have been equally unnecessary. Anyway, he was still on the directory in the building's entrance.

"Then ..." The beanpole pointed at the rattan cobra throne that functioned as the client's chair, like the mannequin, a holdover from the old days. "May I sit?"

"Sure," Traven said. Then, almost without realizing, "Park your bones."

The beanpole smiled a third time and threw a laugh in with it. The laugh, like his voice, sounded flat and impersonal, as if any emotion it had had been squeezed out in the throat before becoming public. "Good, I was so hoping you'd speak hard-boiled while I was here." He placed himself noiselessly into the chair, and his right hand dropped from sight below the desk, then came up again. There was a black rectangle between thumb and forefinger. "My card."

Traven took it and glanced down. He was expecting a salesman of religious merchandise. Raised gold letters read:

athol busby promotions, inc.


Traven's eyes bounced up. "You're the man who owns all the sports teams? The St. Stephen Society?"

"Among other things, yes." A little self-satisfied chuckle buzzed in Athol Busby's throat. He reached into an inside pocket and produced a number of stapled pages, which he unfolded. "You mentioned Ameritec before. So you know who they are?"

"Yes."

"This," Busby said, holding up the pages, "is a photocopy of their dossier on you."

Traven was speechless for a moment. "Their what?"

Busby's face suggested a grin. "I knew you'd be indignant. It's in keeping. Would you care to hear what it reveals?"

Traven's initial uneasiness was edging into mild fear. Not really, he thought. Nonetheless he replied, "Why not?"

Busby thumbed ahead a few pages. In a casual tone he read a detailed physical description of Traven, right down to the intimate location of a birthmark. Next came a short account of his life, beginning at the precise hour of his birth in Los Angeles and ending in 1965 when he left college without a degree, because even though he had spent four years in the place, he had never majored in anything.

Busby paused, obviously to emphasize what was coming next.


"He almost immediately applied to the Los Angeles Police Academy, which accepted him fourteen months later. He graduated sixth in his class. The police background check indicated a history that was not typical of people who become policemen. However, because police hiring policies were under scrutiny by the federal government then, men with college credits who were really interested were actively sought.

"Traven served for a little over two years. His work was unexceptional, except for his shooting to death of an armed robbery suspect, something that hastened his departure on April 1, 1968.

"Vernon Pike, a.k.a. Ellis D., the man Traven killed in the line of duty, was well known to the police as a manufacturer and wholesaler of LSD. The night of the shooting, Pike was supposed to make a deal to purchase certain chemicals needed in the manufacture of that drug. The man who was to sell Vernon Pike those chemicals decided at the last minute to raise his price. Pike apparently didn't have the money and was told he had two hours to raise it, in cash. Pike then went to rob a liquor store in Palms, where he eventually encountered Traven, who had responded to a silent alarm.

"The shooting of Vernon Pike brought Officer Traven into contact with Cosmo Dutton, so-called publisher, editor, and journalist of the highly popular and profitable underground newspaper, the Los Angeles Pink Sheet, which was primarily a disseminator of propaganda and gossip about The Beatles as well as the house organ of southland drug culture. Dutton wrote a column called 'Tom Swift and His Electric Grift.' The main thrust of this column was to portray drug dealers as romantic outlaws, and drug users as essentially religious people who 'use drugs as a tool to enable their minds to leap beyond the sterile rationalist attitudes of twentieth-century America, opening themselves to invisible and fantastic dimensions.'

"Dutton had known Vernon Pike well; he wanted to do a series of articles on Pike's life in the LSD trade. After Pike died, Dutton wrote an article describing the shooting. Traven was ordered by his superiors not to speak with Dutton, but did so anyway. Dutton said he merely wanted to quote Traven's account of the shooting, to which there had been at least half a dozen witnesses, all saying that Pike opened fire first.

"Their conversation however ranged far beyond the Pike shooting, and what Traven went on to say caused a furor, leading to his resignation. This observer believes the following quotes succinctly sum it up:

'I can tell you firsthand that a lot of cops, certainly not all, but the ones who wind up with the real power in the department, they deal with the horrid circumstances of their jobs by truly becoming religious. But the dynamic behind their belief is contempt, not humility or mercy. They see everyone they come into contact with — from first-degree murderers and rapists to juvenile runaways and winos — as being like the same person. You're always busting the same guy over and over.

'You're standing there on the sidewalk with your legs apart, hands on hips, the butt of your hand touching the top of your holstered revolver, looking down at some passed-out bum lying half in and half out of the gutter, and you get these very strong feelings. Like, kick the mother; get him to his feet and shove him into the back of the black-and-white and drive him down to the tank, lecturing him on the way about what a weak, gutless asshole he is; best get right with God or you'd be better off dead, because at least then you can go to heaven, if you're not sent to hell first.

'Listen, no matter how pious these cops profess to be, their hearts are in their bowels because what they really believe in is a cynical version of evolution where you see all of life as just one long, meaningless, struggling food chain. Catch these cops with their guard down and ask them about life, and they'll wink and put an arm around your shoulder and say, it's fucked, boy.

'I know; I've felt that same snakemouth meanness, but I always try to catch myself when I feel it rising up. And I've been criticized for that, on written evaluations by my superiors and by gossip among other cops. They tell me I'm not really capable of the black glove, by which they mean I'm not tough enough, don't have what it takes to get it on with a gun or a nightstick. Killing Vernon Pike didn't count because everyone knew I felt badly about it, and I did. I wish I hadn't killed him, but he was shooting at me with a Magnum as big as a breadboard and I greased him because I had a gun in my hand and it was a reflex. I didn't go around afterward saying har har, got me one, got me one.

'Look, it comes down to this. I believe that people can at least be improved. This attitude bothers the police because it implies that if man can get better, then there will arrive some time in the future when no police will be needed. That means police work isn't as crucial and prestigious as most cops are convinced it is; it means policemen exist as a reaction to certain human traits that are temporary and inferior. It brings the job down in their eyes, and they don't want this.'


"Two days after the appearance of these words in the Pink Sheet, Traven resigned. He admitted he never had any intention of making police work a career, that he only wanted to gain the necessary number of hours required by law to obtain a California private investigator's license.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Black Glove by Geoffrey Miller. Copyright © 2015 Geoffrey Miller. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
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