Murder is not a spectator sport.
Chuck Chandler has choked on more than one occasion—first as a pro tennis player at Wimbledon, then as a womanizing coach at posh tennis clubs around the country. Now at Key West's Old Racquet Club, Chuck gets involved with the wrong married woman—the enticing Clare Carras, married to an enigmatic older man—and soon he is in way over his head.
Enter Tommy Sculley, a retired New York homicide detective who has just joined the Key West force, and his young green partner, Daryl Haynes, who turns out to be smarter than he looks. Up to their necks in an investigation of a bizarre apparent homicide, the two detectives barely keep afloat in murky waters. Events take them from the Florida Keys to Los Angeles and back, as a plot emerges that involves not only the dangerous Clare, but a furious West Coast mob boss determined to get back what is his at any cost.
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About the Author
Hometown:Key West, Florida; Mt. Desert, Maine; New York, New York
Date of Birth:January 9, 1938
Place of Birth:Manchester, Georgia
Education:B.A., University of Georgia, 1959
Read an Excerpt
Wimbledon Early Seventies
Chuck won the point, won the game. He sat down at courtside, picked up a towel, mopped, then reached into his bag for a dry shirt.
Bud: Well, Dan, young Chuck Chandler has come a long way in this tournament.
Dan: I'll say he has, Bud. Coming into Wimbledon, this boy was ranked number one hundred in the world. He started strong, then clawed his way up through the seeds, defeating two former champions along the way, and now he stands at the threshold of a whole new career. Would you say that, Cynthia?
Cynthia: I certainly would, Dan. This young man has the talent to beat anybody when he's playing this well, and the charm and looks to become a new matinee idol of tennis for the young female spectators. Off the court he handles himself with the kind of assurance that we have only just begun to see on the court at this Wimbledon.
Bud: And now Chuck Chandler has the reigning champion tied at two sets all and down five games to four, and he's just about to go out there and serve for the greatest of all tennis championships.
Chuck slipped into the clean shirt. He wanted to be cool and dry when he accepted the gold trophy from the duchess, smiling for the cameras, basking in the glow of his new fame. He thought ahead to the ball that night. He'd be dancing with the women's champion, pressing his crotch into hers, as he had the night before in her hotel room. They'd make quite a pair for the press, "the dark-haired eighteen-year-old beauty and the handsome, golden twenty-two-year-old who came from nowhere to win Wimbledon." That's what the press would be saying.
Chuck jerked backto the present.
"Mr. Chandler," the umpire said, "would you please take the court?"
Chuck strode out to the baseline to a swelling roar of approval from the crowd. They had loved him from the moment he had defeated the first former champion in the first round, and now they showed it to the fullest. Chuck flashed his perfect teeth at them. They roared anew.
He accepted three balls on his racquet from the ball boy, tossed away the fuzziest, and tucked one into a pocket. He positioned himself at the baseline, looked down the court at the waiting champion, began his backswing, tossed the ball, and slammed an ace down the centerline.
The crowd went wild.
"Fifteen-love," the umpire said over the loudspeaker.
Chuck walked to the opposite side of the court, positioned himself, and sent another serve straight down the centerline at 125 miles an hour.
The crowd went nuts.
"Thirty-love," the umpire announced.
Chuck accepted balls from the ball boy, took his place, and this time, just for variety, slammed his first serve into his opponent's forehand corner for a third ace.
The crowd went berserk.
"Forty-love," the umpire announced.
Bud: Well, now. Young Chuck Chandler is standing on this court with three match points in his pocket and a very shaken champion staring helplessly back at him. Let's see if he can put this championship away with the next serve.
Chuck thought about the Porsche Cabriolet he had seen in the showroom in New York. His first phone call after this match would be to the salesman, whose card was in the pocket of his tennis shorts. He'd call from the dressing room, before he even got into a shower.
"Mr. Chandler?" the umpire said.
Chuck snapped back. The crowd chuckled.
Dan: Dreaming of glory, no doubt.
Bud: Who could blame him?
Chuck served with all his power. The ball slapped against the tape at the top of the net and fell back into his court.
A groan from the crowd.
Chuck served again. The ball struck the net again.
A noise of pure misery from the crowd.
"Forty-fifteen," the umpire announced.
Dan: Well, I suppose he can afford a double fault at this point.
Bud: Remember, with double faults it's not how often, it's when.
Chuck felt a swell of anger at himself. He'd let his concentration wander, and he had to settle down and think. He walked to the other side of the court and served again, straight into the net.
A sound of shock from the crowd.
Chuck took a deep breath and served again without delay. The ball struck the tape and died.
A worried, almost angry murmur rose from the crowd.
"Forty-thirty," the umpire announced. "Quiet please, ladies and gentlemen."
Bud: That's two wasted match points, and he's only got one left. Can Chuck do it?
Dan: We're about to find out.
Suddenly Chuck's fresh shirt was soaked. He wiped the sweat from his eyes and glanced down the court at the champion. Was that a small smile on the bastard's face? His heart seemed to be beating irregularly. I'll do this one by the numbers, he thought. Foot pointed at the netpost, feet a shoulder's width apart, racquet held for a flat, hard serve, straight-armed toss, mighty swing. The ball hit the tape and bounced off the court.
The crowd gasped.
Dan: This is difficult to believe, Bud. For a player who has comethis far to put five consecutive serves into the net is absolutely astonishing.
Bud: I'm speechless, Dan. Chuck is still at match point, though; let's see if he can pull this one out.
Chuck stood, sweat pouring down his face into his eyes.
"Second service, please, Mr. Chandler," the umpire said, not without sympathy.
There could be no second serve in this position; he had to pull just one more ace out of the hat. He walked to courtside, picked up a towel, wiped his face, and returned to the baseline. By the time he arrived the sweat was in his eyes again.
Please, God. He set himself up, taking his time, tossed the ball, and put his last match point unerringly into the net.
The crowd was absolutely silent.
"Deuce," the umpire said.
Twenty-four minutes later in the dressing room, Chuck knelt before the porcelain throne and puked his guts out. He had lost the next two points; he had lost the next two games; he had lost the Wimbledon championship. He had lost the best opportunity a boy ever had to become a hero.
He had lost more than he knew.
Dan: Bud, what happened out there on the center court?
Bud: There can be only one explanation, Dan, just one. Chuck choked.
Chuck woke in a sweat, his heart pounding as hard as it had twenty-odd years before. The Wimbledon dream was back. The brass clock on the bulkhead said 9:20, and he was starting his new job at 10:00. He dove into the boat's tiny shower and sluiced away the sweat.
At a quarter to ten, freshly shaved and dressed in clean whites, he stepped ashore at Key West Bight, the racquet bag in his hand and the sunglasses perched on top of his blond head. He looked around him. It was a pretty odd collection of vessels compared to the marina at Palm Beach. There were sightseeing catamarans, a large schooner or two for the more traditional-minded tourists, and a weird submarinelike vessel, along with the usual assortment of fishing boats and live-aboard yachts.
His own boat was a thirty-two-foot twin-screw motor yacht that had been custom-built in the fifties at an old-line yard in Maine. He had lived aboard her for nearly three years, since the time when he had had to choose between the condo and the boat. The condo had never had a chance. He worked hard at keeping the boat beautiful, and she rewarded the effort. Her black hull was unmarked, her mahogany trim was bright, and her teak decks were clean and well oiled.
She was named Choke. He preferred to make the joke himself, before somebody else brought it up, as somebody always did.
He'd have to rig up the gangplank, he thought, looking at the three-foot gap between the boat's stern and the concrete wharf. The women wouldn't like making that jump.
He walked to the parking lot and stopped in his tracks. The car was a late-fifties Porsche Speedster, bright yellow, restored to a fault, and her radio antenna had been snapped off by some passing sonofabitch. Chuck sighed. He wasn't in Palm Beach anymore.
He got into the car and drove the length of the island to the Olde Island Racquet Club, three courts and a tiny pro shop, owned by the big hotel across the street. He walked in at the stroke of ten.
Merkle Connor looked up from his computer and peered at Chuck. "Oh, hi," he said. "That's right, you're starting today." He seemed to have forgotten.
"That's right, Merk," Chuck said, offering his new boss a smile.
"Sit down a minute, Chuck," Merk said, pushing back from his desk in the tiny office and moving a crate of tennis balls away from the spare chair.
Chuck took a seat. Here it came.
"Let me give you the lay of the land," Merk said.
This is not Palm Beach, Chuck predicted.