Dead Center

Dead Center

by Collin Wilcox

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Tony Frazer, a millionaire playboy, tries to sidestep a panhandler. To Frazer's amazement, the man whispers his name. . .then pumps two bullets dead center through his chest.

Frank Hastings, a veteran police lieutenant, knows it's not a casual killing. Then others are killed in the same way. All are men, all wealthy and powerful. And all are shot with a silenced .22 automatic. Can Hastings pull together the threads that link them and snare the murderer?

"Finely honed and richly textured, a story that gets under your skin." (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9783958595903
Publisher: Mysterious Press at Bastei Entertainment
Publication date: 07/31/2015
Series: Lt. Hastings Mysteries , #18
Sold by: Readbox
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 262
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door—a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.
Hastings, a football player turned San Francisco homicide detective, made his debut in The Lonely Hunter (1969), and Wilcox continued to follow him for the rest of his career, publishing nearly two dozen novels in the series, which concludes with Calculated Risk (1995). Wilcox’s other best-known series stars Alan Bernhardt, a theatrical director with a habit of getting involved in behind-the-scenes mysteries. Bernhardt appeared in four more books after his introduction in 1988’s Bernhardt’s Edge.
Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door—a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.
Hastings, a football player turned San Francisco homicide detective, made his debut in The Lonely Hunter (1969), and Wilcox continued to follow him for the rest of his career, publishing nearly two dozen novels in the series, which concludes with Calculated Risk (1995). Wilcox’s other best-known series stars Alan Bernhardt, a theatrical director with a habit of getting involved in behind-the-scenes mysteries. Bernhardt appeared in four more books after his introduction in 1988’s Bernhardt’s Edge.

Read an Excerpt

Dead Center

A Lt. Hastings Mystery

By Collin Wilcox

Copyright © 1992 Collin Wilcox
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-4689-2



Frazer put the half-filled martini glass aside, turned, let a deliberate moment elapse as he looked the waiter up and down.

"You're—?" Another moment, this one inquiring.

"I'm Taylor. Bruce Taylor."

"You've been working here how long?"

"It'll be a week tomorrow."


Taylor frowned. "Sir?"

"And how do you like it?"

Still in his twenties, slim, sandy-haired, open-faced, the waiter smiled. It was an engaging smile, an all-American smile. Conclusion: Charles, the manager, had exhausted the supply of available continental types and was recruiting college boys. To test the premise, Frazer said, "You've been to college."

Pleased, the young man nodded. "That's right."



"Ah—" Satisfied, visibly bored now, Frazer nodded. "Good." Then, cryptically: "So?"

"There's a man—a gentleman—in the lobby. Carlton Wallace. You're old friends, he says."

The name's evocation was instantaneous: The frat house. The booze. The girls. Four years at U. of M., where it had all started. How many years was it now? He'd been twenty-two when he graduated; he was forty-two now. Twenty years. Was it possible?

"How's he look?"

Puzzled—cautious—Taylor frowned again. "Sir?"

"Wallace. How's he look to you? All right?"

"Oh … sure." Once more the all-American smile surfaced. "Sure, I'd say so. Good clothes, a fifty-dollar tie." The smile broadened affably. "I always look at the ties. Then I look at the shoes. Three hundred-dollar shoes, I'd say. Minimum."

"Okay." Frazer consulted his watch: ten minutes after eight. For a Thursday night, the restaurant was busy. Could it be the review Bea Pixa had written in the Sunday paper?

"Okay, bring him in."

"Yessir." Taylor nodded, turned, made his way among the tables to the lobby entrance. A moment later he reappeared, followed by Carlton Wallace.

Yes, the waiter's instinct had been accurate: Wallace made an acceptable appearance. But the Carlton Wallace following Taylor between tables was no longer slim, no longer lithe. Only the face was the same: smooth, self-satisfied, self-confident. For Carlton Wallace, the gift of grace had come easily, effortlessly. In the Lambda Phi house, Wallace had been an insider. Always.

Frazer rose, smiled, extended his hand. Wallace spoke first. "Tony. I read about you in the airline magazine." As their hands disengaged and Frazer motioned the other man to a seat, Wallace looked appreciatively at his surroundings. "This is the place to see and be seen. That's a quote."

"What'll you have, Carl? Order dinner, if you'd like. Except that I can't stay." Frazer shrugged apologetically, waved gracefully, an explanation. "It's Valentine's Day, you know."

"I've already eaten." Wallace turned to the waiter. "Hennessy, please. Straight up."

The waiter nodded, smiled, looked inquiringly at Frazer, then withdrew.

"And," Wallace said, continuing, "and, according to the article, this restaurant is just a hobby—so you always have a table, someplace to drop in when you're bored."

"I'll have to look up this article." As Wallace continued his appraisal of the restaurant decor, the diners, the rhythms and cross rhythms, Frazer scanned the other man's face, searching for the visual relationship between the twenty-year-old Wallace and the forty-year-old Wallace. Plainly—predictably—it was a success story: everything complemented the fifty-dollar tie.

"So—" After the waiter placed a half-filled crystal brandy snifter on the table, Frazer watched the other man drain most of the contents. Was Wallace a drinker? Something in the long, single gulp of brandy begged the question. "So—" Frazer repeated. "What? You're married, I imagine. Gainfully employed, obviously. A father?"

Wallace's smile was unreadable, but then twisted wryly. "Married, yes, right out of college. And a father, yes. Two kids. But—yes—we got divorced. Pamela Ames. Remember?"

"Ah—" Frazer nodded. Yes. Pamela Ames. Sigma Alpha Phi. Daughter of Walter Ames, advertising tycoon. Ames, Blanchard and Weston, based in Detroit, tapped into automobile advertising. Pamela had been blond and sullen, with no visible breasts.


Wallace nodded. "Right." He drained the goblet and, without benefit of invitation, signaled for another. Yes, something suggested a drinker's mannerisms, perhaps a hint of arrogance, of defiance. After all, one of them sold liquor. And sellers needed buyers.

Frazer drew back a gleaming white cuff, consulted his watch. Ignoring the pointed gesture, Wallace tossed off half the second brandy before he said, "I don't have to ask about your marital status, Tony. All I had to do was read that article." The remark was edged with irony. Or was it thinly veiled contempt, the price he had accepted so long ago? Wallace's eyes gave no clue; his gaze had gone flat.

"Where d'you live, Carl?"

"Chicago. I started out in Detroit, working for Pam's father." Wallace grimaced. "Big mistake."

"So you were in advertising."

Wallace nodded, drained the second snifter. "Still am. But not working for my father-in-law. Jenny—my wife—is twenty-six. Believe me, that's the way to go." Wallace winked. Yes, it was the Lambda Phi wink. Significantly, Wallace contemplated his empty glass. Frazer looked away.

"I don't have to ask about your marriage," Wallace said again. "I read all about it. How does it feel, seeing your life spread out in four colors?"

Frazer shrugged. "It goes with the territory."

"The gold mining territory, according to the article. Your wife's—what—great-grandfather was tapped into the mother lode. Right?"

"Right." It was a dead-level response. Frazer pushed back his chair.

"So you didn't marry the boss's daughter." A malicious beat passed, another frat-house evocation: Carl Wallace, the cool one—the cruel one, after a few drinks. "You married the granddaughter. Or is it the great-granddaughter?"

"Speaking of whom—" Frazer rose. "I'm off. Nice to have seen you, Carl." He decided to smile, decided to offer his hand.

A little unsteadily, Wallace rose, took the outstretched hand, saying: "You always knew how to please the girls, Tony. And now look." With his free hand, he gestured expansively. "All this. All yours."

"That's right. All mine." He caught the waiter's eye, nodded to the empty brander snifter.

"Is she older than you, Tony? How much older?" It was a soft, sibilant question: the slender knife, expertly wielded.

Frazer smiled, disengaged his hand. "Fuck off, Carl. Have another drink. And then fuck off." He turned, walked to the checkroom, where Amy waited with his coat held ready. He slipped into the coat, smiled at her, dropped a five-dollar bill in the silver tray, and left.

At the intersection of Franklin and Geary, Frazer stopped for the red light, turned up the collar of his topcoat. The night was cold and foggy and windy, with rain forecasted before morning. At home, Constance was waiting. At noon, pleading an essential business appointment that only he could fulfill, suggesting problems with an unnamed government agency, solemnly promising to return by cocktail time, he'd succeeded in getting out of the house, getting away from her, a reprieve. Then, at four o'clock, he'd called, ready with the elaborate excuse that would move back the deadline to nine o'clock, usually the final dispensation. Constance had been in the bathroom, the maid had said, and he'd left the message with her, an unexpected stroke of good fortune, no more lies required, no cajoling.

Every year the leash got shorter.

After the portable cellular phone, was the omnipresent minicamera next, Big Brother's ultimate surveillance device.

Big Brother, Big Constance.

Grimacing at the bad pun, he saw the traffic light turning green.

Is she older than you, Tony?

Ah, but he must turn the painful incident to show a profit. Today's lesson: next time, tell the waiter to keep the Carl Wallaces of the world in the lobby.

After checking for traffic, Frazer stepped off the curb. Across the four-lane street, he saw the slight, scarecrow-ragged figure of a street person, loitering on the sidewalk in front of the parking garage. Frazer made the slight correction that would allow him to angle past the beggar with a six-foot margin before he resumed his progress toward the parking garage.

In America, the population of street people—derelicts—was increasing every year. One solution, someone at the club had said, was to get them hooked on heroin, then restrict the supply of needles. Ergo: AIDS, the final solution. Johnny Lynd had said it. And he hadn't been joking.

Almost at the far curb, in his peripheral vision, he saw the beggar move, coming closer.

Yes, Johnny Lynd's solution had merit. It—


With his right foot on the curb, his left foot still in the gutter, he faltered. Tony, the beggar had said.


The light was bad. The beggar was stooped and wore a shapeless hat that shadowed his face.

Was it a joke? A tasteless practical joke, see Tony run?

Aware of a sudden flutter of fright, an instant's regression to childhood's earliest fears, he was momentarily immobilized, his eyes fixed on the shape of the face beneath the hat.

"This is for you, Tony."

The voice. The memory, stirring. The hate, hidden so long. Yes, it was—

From the folds of the coat a shape gleamed: a metallic cylinder.

From the cylinder a small tongue of bright-yellow flame exploded. Something struck him in the solar plexus. He staggered back, regained his balance, raised both hands, a supplication. But a second explosion followed the first. The explosions were muted, strangely muffled. Was he falling? Yes, his knees had struck the concrete sidewalk, the position of prayer, of supplication. Had he torn his suit? Kneeling, had he forgotten his prayers? Had he …?

The third shot exploded inches in front of his eyes. Everything shattered, all of it gone.

Except for the void descending.


He must walk, not run. He must not look back. At the corner of the parking garage, as he'd planned so carefully, so meticulously, he must turn to his left—here. Allowing himself, therefore, a glance to his left, as he'd also planned. Yes, two people—men—were bending over the body. One man was looking down at Frazer. The other man's head was up. He was looking. Searching. Probing. Now, as another pedestrian ventured closer, the second man raised his arm, pointed.

"Police," the second man shouted. "Call the police!"

Three steps took him to the corner of the three-story garage. Another step and he was liberated, invisible to those who clustered around the body now. A narrow walkway separated the garage from the building next to it, a large warehouse, storage for new cars arriving from Japan. The walkway was about fifty feet long, with a gate at the far end. The gate was secured by a padlock and chain. The first phase of his plan had included cutting the chain with bolt cutters. The bolt cutters, he was surprised to learn, had cost more than two hundred dollars. But, the clerk had assured him, the tool was the best of its kind available. Japanese, of course. Makita.

The pistol, made long and cumbersome by the silencer, was still in his hand. Without breaking stride he verified that, yes, he'd set the automatic's safety catch, one precaution he'd most particularly rehearsed. Now, with his left hand, he drew open the shapeless beggar's overcoat. With his right hand, he slipped the pistol into the long leather sheath slung beneath his left arm. The gate was coming closer—closer. The chain was draped over the latch, as if it were locked. He removed the chain, lowered it gently clinking to the concrete walkway. Cautiously he swung the gate open. Yes, the car was still there, parked a half block away. In the backseat, he'd left the garment bag. The garment bag was ready to receive the beggar's clothing—and the executioner's gun. The leather sheath would remain beneath his sports jacket until he was home, safe.

As he walked toward the car, he felt it beginning: his body responding. Was it terror? Ecstasy? Had he come alive—finally come alive? When would he begin to feel, to know?

He draped the garment bag over the back of a lounge chair and went to the hallway door. Yes, the door was double locked, and bolted. And, yes, the drapes were tightly drawn. He turned to the garment bag, unzipped it, took out the pistol wrapped in a large towel. A year ago he'd known nothing about guns, had never fired one, never handled one. Now, with assurance, he released the clip, placed it on the towel beside the pistol. Of course, a cartridge remained in the pistol's chamber, the safety penalty the gas-operated automatic weapon exacted. Carefully he drew back the slide, tracked the ejected cartridge as it spun to the carpet at his feet.

Then, about to retrieve the cartridge, he felt himself go rigid, suddenly immobilized.

The shell casings.

Three ejected shell casings.

Just as most bullets bore distinctive marks from a weapon's rifling, so did brass shell casings bear telltale marks from a gun's receiver and its ejector.

As he bent to pick up the unfired cartridge, he was conscious of the effort required, as if his muscles were locking, resisting his will to move. It was, he knew, the hand of fear.

This, then, was the beginning, the first test. Leaving the scene, walking to his car, taking off the beggar's overcoat and hat, putting everything in the garment bag, thus transforming himself into a member of the establishment, then driving the two miles to his home, all this had been accomplished according to plan, according to foot-by-foot, minute-to-minute rehearsal. During the time—fifteen minutes, no more—he'd felt as if he were apart from himself, as if he were disembodied, a random bit of flotsam adrift on the sea of his own consciousness. He'd expected to feel terror, or desperation, or even ecstasy. He'd expected either complete control or complete confusion, abject helplessness, no more, no less. Instead, he'd felt nothing.

Until now, staring down at the cartridge cupped in the palm of his hand, he'd felt nothing.

But now it was beginning.

Soon he would know. As only those who crossed over from life to death knew what lay on the other side, so would he know fate's design. Whatever was stirring deep beneath the surface of his consciousness, whatever emerged, he was either its master or its slave. Terror or triumph. Soon he would know.

Some were slaves of the law—perpetual servants. Fear was their master, subservience their fate.

But some men mastered fear. First they mastered themselves, then they mastered fear. For these men—this handful of superior beings scattered across the face of history—law was their servant, their handmaiden. While the goddess held her scales extended, these men ripped open her bodice to expose her breasts.

At the thought, even with the cartridge in his hand, he felt himself begin to smile. Later, in bed, he would allow his thoughts to linger on the lady with her breasts exposed, the blushing goddess of justice.

His goddess, this night.


Grimly, Hastings shook his head. "The crazy son of a bitch. For a couple of hundred dollars, he'd take me to court?"

"It isn't the money," Ann said. "You know that, Frank. We've talked about it. You've threatened his manhood. You've always threatened his manhood."

"I hit his goddam Porsche with the flat of my bare hand. And he says I'm harassing him. His lawyer—what were they, college roommates? He'll work up the case for a twenty-five-dollar lunch. It'll cost me twenty-five hundred."

"To be fair," she answered, her voice measured, "you did damage the car door. You said yourself that the stop broke and the door hit the side of the car."

He grinned conspiratorially. "No comment."

"It's ten-thirty," Ann said. "Let's go to bed."

"Will you comfort me, if we go to bed?"


Excerpted from Dead Center by Collin Wilcox. Copyright © 1992 Collin Wilcox. Excerpted by permission of
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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