Bloody Murdock

Bloody Murdock

by Robert J Ray
Bloody Murdock

Bloody Murdock

by Robert J Ray


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PI and ex-cop Matt Murdock is picky about the cases he takes on. Being a bodyguard isn't his favorite gig, especially when the client is a high-handed number-cruncher like Ellis Dean. But Murdock is short on funds, and the case is a puzzler. It doesn't hurt that it features the death, accidental or otherwise, of a beautiful woman. Murdock has a weakness for damsels in distress, even after it's a little late for rescue. Gayla Jean Kirkwood, killed in a car wreck on the Pacific Coast Highway, was a good-time girl, high-class waitress and wannabe starlet. Dean fires Murdock and ends up dead, clearing the way for Murdock to sign on with Gayla Jean's sister, Meg Kirkwood, a gorgeous dead ringer for her sister. The case will offer other female distractions, including a fresh-faced and overly eager girl reporter. Who would want Gayla Jean dead? Was it a scorned lover? Someone at the chic club where she worked? The men who paid to photograph her naked? Or was she simply collateral-the real target being the Mexican actor driving the doomed car? As his investigation continues, Murdock and his client will discover just how dirty deals in Hollywood can get. If they live long enough.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603818872
Publisher: Epicenter Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 05/24/2012
Series: A Matt Murdock Murder Mystery Series , #1
Pages: 246
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)

About the Author

ROBERT J. RAY is the author of eight novels: Cage of Mirrors, The Heart of the Game, Bloody Murdock, Murdock for Hire, The Hitman Cometh, Dial "M" for Murdock, Merry Christmas Murdock and Murdock Cracks Ice. Ray is also the author of a popular non-fiction series on writing, The Weekend Novelist, and he shares writing techniques on writing on his blog: A native of Texas, Ray holds a PhD from the University of Texas, Austin. Tuesdays and Fridays, he writes at Louisa's Bakery and Café in Seattle.

Read an Excerpt


I read about the death of Gayla Jean Kirkwood on page one of the Tribune, Orange County's largest newspaper, on a rainy Sunday in March. Her photo — a pretty, smiling girl framed in newspaper black and white — looked familiar, so I read the whole story.

She'd been to a Saturday night party in Bluebird Canyon, a snappy upscale section of Laguna Beach, where she'd apparently met a young dude from Hollywood named Jaime Modesto. The party had been at the home of a Laguna Beach art dealer named Philo Waddell.

Gayla Jean and Modesto had left the party together around 3:20 a.m. Sunday morning, and started driving north on Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. At approximately 3:31 a.m. Modesto's Pontiac Trans Am had slammed up against a wall of rock just on the outskirts of Laguna. The car had caught fire, the gas tank had exploded, and both Modesto and Gayla Jean Kirkwood had been killed. The photo, which covered a third of the front page, showed some cops, a couple of emergency vehicles, a smoking wreck, and a fire crew fighting a fire that was spreading up the hill. Burning up was not a good way to die.

The reporter was careful about documenting how hopeless it had all been, and how quickly the emergency units had responded. The journalist's name was Teresa Aiken, and she was an ace at laying out chronology.

The Laguna Beach PD had arrived seven minutes after the accident. The fire department had arrived two minutes after the police. Two cars from the Orange County Sheriff's Department had arrived at 3:52 a.m. And the paramedics, who weren't needed at all, arrived at 4:01.

The fire had spread from Modesto's car up the hill to ignite some dry brush, and had done a hundred thousand dollars' worth of damage to a house that was probably worth close to a million, because of the spectacular ocean view. The rain had started at 4:30, the paper said.

The story didn't mention any witnesses.

Down below the picture of the scene of the accident, there were photos of Jaime Modesto and Gayla Jean Kirkwood, side by side, smiling into the camera. Modesto was what some women would call handsome — sad eyes, open face, Valentino grin, though with a better set of teeth than old Valentino. The paper said Modesto had made three movies in four years, the last one being Tijuana Rose, a story about Mexican illegals and their problems getting across the border.

Modesto himself had "emigrated" to the U.S. seven years ago. His hometown back in Mexico was Guanajuato. His present address was Marina Del Rey. When he'd got himself burned to death on PCH on a dark Sunday morning in March, Modesto had been twenty-six.

The picture of Gayla Jean Kirkwood showed a girl in her early twenties, strawberry blonde or light redhead, with intelligent eyes and a smile that turned out just lopsided enough to make her interesting. She'd died young, and died pretty.

Gayla Jean's residence was Newport Beach, where she was also employed as a waitress. Her hometown was Fort Worth, Texas. She was twenty-three, the paper said. She was "survived" by a sister, Margaret Kirkwood, also of Fort Worth. I looked at the picture again and felt sad. Two kids were dead. They had probably smoked a joint at the Bluebird Canyon party, decided to share a bed for the night, and had wound up in a surprise funeral pyre on a dark road in the clammy beach fog of Southern California.

Maybe I'd seen her around. She'd lived in Newport Beach, where I lived. Newport Beach was a small town, snug, smug, cramped, on that edge of America about halfway between Kansas City and Honolulu. Maybe we'd passed one day on the pier. Maybe we'd locked eyeballs across a room, a bar, a restaurant. Maybe she'd served me a beer, or some fish and chips, or some spaghetti and meatballs. Maybe I'd made her day with a tip, on a sunny summer Sunday when I'd had money.

Now, looking at her lopsided smile, I wondered what Gayla Jean's hopes had been, what she liked for breakfast, how she handled sorrow and frustration, whether she was neat or sloppy, what made her happy, what kind of men she chose, what made her sad.

Something — the look in her eye, the pretty, lopsided smile, the short, terse formality of the obituary — made you think of Gayla Jean as a butterfly, with only one summer to live.

So what do you do when you're alone on a beach in California on a rainy Sunday and you read a newspaper story about two kids burning up in a car in the dark and the fog on a twisting coastal highway?

Well, you try not to react. That's what. You shut death out.

You drop the paper and you try to forget the eyes filled with fierce energy and youthful promise. You heave yourself out of the canvas director's chair and you go through the motions of assembling another mug of coffee. This is the way you brew your coffee these days, French style, a plastic Melitta coffee cone, number 4 filter papers, boiling water. You make only one cup at a time. It's one of the few good things you brought home from the Viet Nam war, and brewing it this way gives you the feeling you're a major part of California cafe society. Once the coffee is brewed, you stand at the window and stare out at the rain and the tossing sea and you think about the jungle and the killing, and how you almost bought the farm yourself. Then, to forget, to stop yourself from thinking about death, you open the paper again and read the scores from the sports pages.

So I did that. Only it didn't help much, so I put on some old shorts and my Nikes and went out into the rain for a run along the beach.

That didn't help, either. It was okay as long as I kept my eyes straight ahead, on the wet asphalt. But when I glanced out to sea, the waves turned into green jungle and in the center of the jungle was a mound of earth with a little white cross sticking up from it. It was a grave, and on the white cross was a small shiny plate with my name on it. And some fat words, filled with hot air. Inside my head, the metal plate winked in the tropical sun.

* * *


If there had been a woman in my life, I would have phoned her and tried to forget my troubles in her warm and comforting presence. But there wasn't, not right then, so I ran back through the rain to my place, above Wally's Surf Shop at the beach end of Newport Pier, and I showered away the chill and opened a can of Bud and fixed some eggs and sausage and cut some green two-by-fours for Jerry Monaghan's patio cover over in Costa Mesa.


My phone was ringing when I came in from dinner. It was after ten, the beach was buttoned up for the night, and walking back from beer and fish and chips at the Blue Beet, I'd been humming "Oh, it's beer, beer, beer, that makes you want to cheer" — a song sung by college boys gearing up to conquer the world and all its beautiful women. The streets were wet and shining. There was a cold, raw wind whipping in from the sea. All I could think of was a warm bed and a deep, dreamless sleep.

Then I heard the phone.

The guy on the other end was a Laguna Beach resident named Ellis Dean. The way he said his name, "Ellis Dean," with lots of authority, gave me the idea he was used to giving orders to secretaries and other corporate underlings. His voice was over-controlled, nervous, on the edge of panic. "Is this Mr. Murdock, the investigator?"

"That's me. Who's this?"

"Mr. Murdock, my name's Ellis Dean. I'm calling on the recommendation of Mrs. Adrianna Califano. I hope it's not too late, but I'm ... in need of some advice and ... ah ... information."

There are women you can never forget. They stick inside your head like sea creatures on your hull — humid, undulating, salty. Adrianna Califano was one of them.

"How is Mrs. Califano these days?"

"Oh, fine. Just fine."

"She back in the country?" Adrianna had an expensive life-style — winter in Hawaii, spring on a Greek island, summer in the Swiss Alps, autumn in Paris.

"Well, I don't know, you see. I got your name from her last October. In Paris."

Ellis Dean was giving me a clear picture of how he lived, of how organized he was — get a name in October, wait until March to use it — but I was thinking of Adrianna Califano, the dark, the sultry, the dangerous.

She had hired me back in August, on the recommendation of her attorney, J. Benton Sturges, who sometimes referred lost people my way. She'd invested $100,000 in some so-called "energy condos" out in the desert, beyond Palm Springs, and the builder, a friend of hers from Lido Island, had taken off with his secretary, Adrianna's hundred grand, and maybe a million more gleaned from other suckers dumb enough to try and double their money in half a year. For a forty percent salvage fee, I'd followed the builder to Mexico. When I found him, in a smelly second-class hotel in Acapulco, he was drunk and sad and alone. The secretary had run out on him, taking a bundle of money with her, and all he had left from his million-plus was $47,000 and change. I left the builder there, crying in his Carta Blanca, and I brought back the $47,000, minus my forty percent.

Adrianna is a woman of spirit. She's been married twice, that I know of, and she's used to coming away from men carrying silver buckets dripping with dollars. Her instinct for survival — and her natural sense of competition for any prize — told her to go for a chunk of my forty percent. I had finished my obligatory drink and was walking out the door when she brought up the heavy sexual artillery. Adrianna was thirty-five at the time. She'd been fat once, she told me, but then she learned to keep those groceries under control and to stay in shape by working out at a local spa. The workouts worked. We'd be walking down the street and people who thought they knew her from one of the nighttime soaps — Knots Landing or Dynasty — would rush up asking for her autograph. Adrianna loved signing her name, which was what got her in trouble with the "energy condos" in the first place.

For me, Adrianna was tanned, experienced, ruthless. In bed, she maneuvered her muscles like a four-star general bucking for a seat on the Joint Chiefs. The bedsheet was her battleground. The victory prize was my forty percent.

But us Irish detectives have a life-style to protect, too. Work is always scarce, even when the Republicans are in office. Tracking people is dangerous and tedious. It tests your staying power. Being the relentless hunter takes energy. And after a torrid week of torrid Adrianna, I took the money and walked away. She made a loud scene, straight from a nighttime soap — tears, keening, threats, the works. On legs made unsteady by sex and drink and discovery, I advised Adrianna Califano to trim the fat from her life-style the way she'd trimmed it from her elegant bones.

"Spend a fall here instead of in Paree," I'd told her. "Save on the exchange rate. Cheat the money changers."

We hadn't spoken since. Adrianna hated to lose. She thought she could outwit any man between fifteen and eighty-three, and with me she'd gone all out. Remembering Adrianna made me wonder about Ellis Dean.

"She speaks highly of you," Ellis Dean said.

"Great," I said. "Fine person."

"Are you occupied at the moment, Mr. Murdock?"

"What's on your mind, Mr. Dean?"

"Adrianna — Mrs. Califano — said you sometimes worked as a security consultant?" He had a way of ending his sentences with a question mark when there was no question. He meant bodyguard, but he said security consultant. It was a fifty-dollar phrase.

"That's correct, Mr. Dean. Mind telling me the situation?"

He hesitated. In the short time I would know Ellis Dean, I'd see him hesitate a lot. Hesitation was built into his personality. It was Dean's way of controlling situations. It probably worked great at the office. "I'd rather not say ... on the phone. Is there someplace we can meet? I'm calling from a ... pay phone."

I checked my watch. It said 10:32, Sunday p.m. The Blue Beet would be closing. It had been a nothing day. I was fading fast. "How about tomorrow, Mr. Dean?"

"I'd rather get started immediately, at whatever retainer you think necessary. This is a ... sort of... emergency. Perhaps I could ... ah ... drive over to your ... ah ... office?"

I'd been in the PI business since the late seventies. One of my first lessons was you don't let frightened prospects come to your place late at night. People go crazy at night. They drink. They kill haphazardly. They feel sorry for themselves on your floor. If someone's after them, your home can get blown to bits. It's better to meet in public, among witnesses, spread out the risk. I wanted to wait until daylight to begin bodyguarding Ellis Dean, but I smelled a client, and I hadn't worked in a month.

"There's a bar in the Ancient Mariner, on PCH. How soon can you get there?"

"Fifteen minutes. How will I know you?"

I almost said I'd wear a red rose in my lapel. But smarting off is bad for business. "I'm six-two. I weigh one eighty-five. I'll be wearing a yellow slicker, jeans, boots."

"Mrs. Califano mentioned you had a beard."

One of my weaknesses is a woman with a memory. I used the beard to tickle Adrianna's flat, brown, athlete's belly. The feel of it made her laugh, made her cry. And when I was finished teasing and pleasing, she still went after my forty percent like a shark whiffing raw meat in the cold sea.

"Still do," I said.

"What do you charge ... may I ask?"

"I get forty dollars an hour. If the job runs over seven hours, I get two hundred and fifty dollars a day."

"I find that ... agreeable," Mr. Dean said.

"See you at the Ancient Mariner."

"I'll look forward to it," he said.

I have two land vehicles. One is a '73 Ford pickup with an inflated book value of $650. It came to me as part of a deal when I still had one hand in the construction game. It is a muscular, useful vehicle that reminds me of my working-class heritage.

The other vehicle is a Plymouth V-8, 1969 vintage, with dual carburetors and a super charger that boosts the horsepower to just over 500. She's blue, with a white interior, a handsome German stereo, a two-way radio, and a police band scanner that allows me to tune in to law enforcement efforts along my strip of beach. Four years ago, I traded a mechanic named Patrick Vallejo some construction work for a pair of Rocaro seats and now the Plymouth rides like the Queen Mary on a glassy sea. Freddy Heidegger, an engineer buddy who's moved back east, installed some electric windows plus some remote control side mirrors — my idea of total automotive luxury. Her in-town mileage is twelve miles per gallon. On the freeway, with the wind behind her, she cruises at seventy and gets seventeen miles per gallon. She's made for OPEC, that Plymouth, but I dig her mightily.

I drove the Plymouth across the Newport bridge and turned right onto PCH. I parked in the lot in front of the Ancient Mariner and walked through the puddles to the bar. The rain was down to a fine drizzle. I was tired, but the scent of money and the sight of the waitresses revived me.

The waitresses in the Ancient Mariner are mostly heart-breakers who wear costumes intended only to inflame the mind and encourage exorbitant tips. Tight red tank tops that hug the torso and lift the breasts and leave arms bare and shining. Sarong-style skirts that call attention to long, athletic legs, kept fit by summer volleyball. For some guys, I know, waitresses are fair game. For me, they're just people. They work. They laugh. They hope. They get tired. Some waitresses, like Gayla Jean Kirkwood, die young.

I knew one of the waitresses who was working that evening. Her name was Donna. She was a brunette, at least twenty years younger than my forty- odd, tall, with elegant legs and a good smile. We were chatting when Ellis Dean arrived.

He was short, with close-cropped graying hair and an edgy nervous look about the eyes. His shoulders were tense. His right hand kept clenching, then unclenching. He stood at the entrance, like Jimmy Cagney in an old gangster movie, staring around at the room while trying to appear calm and in control. He wore a natty blue business suit, uniform of the corporation, a white shirt, and a conservative striped tie. His Burberry, which was thrown open to billow in the coastal breeze, retailed for at least $500.

I signaled him from the bar and went to one of Donna's tables. Ellis Dean's hand was cold as we shook. Short men like to impress you with their muscle, so he squeezed extra hard.


Excerpted from "Bloody Murdock"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Robert J. Ray.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
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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