Done Deal is the first in the series featuring reluctant sleuth John Deal, a South Florida building contractor who has a penchant for stepping into the path of the wrong people. Here, Deal is struggling to rebuild the once formidable DealCo, a development company once headed by his flamboyant father Barton Dealbut little does he know that the piece of land upon which he plans to build a small apartment complex is coveted by a ruthless businessman intent on making a fortune off Major League Baseball's arrival in South Florida.
About the Author
Les Standiford is the author of ten novels, including the John Deal series, and two works of nonfiction, including Last Train to Paradise. He wrote a chapter of Naked Came the Manatee, and edited The Putt at the End of the World, a collective novel of golf. He is the past recipient of the Frank O'Connor Award for Short Fiction and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.
Date of Birth:October 31, 1945
Place of Birth:Cambridge, Ohio
Education:B.A., Muskingum College; M.A. and Ph.D., University of Utah
Read an Excerpt
By Les Standiford
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 1993 Les Standiford
All right reserved.
You look like Gatsby, all alone out here." It was Janice, come to hand him a drink.
"I could use his money," Deal said. He'd been standing away from the party at the stern of the Mandalay Queen, staring eastward out to sea. The tail end of a perfect south Florida sunset, the water gone steely blue, so calm it was hard to tell where the horizon left off and the mirrored sky took over. A lone pelican up there, now, lumbering through the last of the light toward shore.
"Could we buy this boat, then?"
Deal smiled, still watching the pelican saw its way along. The Queen was a hundred-foot wooden yacht, built in Seattle in the 1920s for a lumber titan. It was laden with teak and brass and was worth several times more than the apartment house Deal was building. To their host, it was just a minor business expense, a kind of floating office. But it was a wonderful boat, and for a moment, Deal had forgotten he would have to be up at six.
It was cool on the water, especially for a June evening, and except for the trio of musicians stationed near the entrance to the stateroom, he'd had the afterdeck to himself. Quiet Cole Porterish music, cocktail chatter like a distant rain shower for background, the glow of one Myers and Coke inside him, and a view of paradise laid out before him. This was why Floridahad been invented, he was thinking, trying to jump-start his party mood.
There was a blinking green marker buoy a half mile off to port, marking the way through the shallow waters of the bay. Beyond it, to the east, a group of strange-looking shadows shimmered, looking almost like houses floating above the water. Which is very nearly what they were.
"Stiltsville," he said, taking the drink. He gestured toward the horizon. "I worked out there one summer. Did you know that?"
She followed his gaze. "No," she said thoughtfully, "I don't think you ever said."
"With Flivey Penfield," he said.
"Oh," she said. She was still staring out that way. When she squinted, a fine network of lines gathered near her lips, her eyes, but you'd have to be standing close to see it. Take one step back, she'd look like burnished gold in the last, reflected light. She wore a black party dress that looped around her neck, left her back exposed. He could see the slightest crescent of white where the fabric dipped to cup her breast.
"So you must be Daisy," he said, lifting his drink. He was willing to get into the spirit, he really was.
"I don't think Daisy ever got pregnant." She turned, glancing down at her stomach as if there were anything to see there yet. She smiled, but her eyes were solemn. He'd likely caused that, mentioning Flivey-she hadn't been around when he had died, but it didn't take much to throw her off. Deal had chalked it up to changing hormones, but felt he was walking on eggs these days.
He glanced toward the main cabin where Thornton Penfield, Flivey's father, was holding court for a knot of south Florida movers and shakers, hustling backers for a Major League Baseball franchise. The city was in competition with a half dozen others around the country, including two more in Florida.
The prize was that you got to spend ninety-five million dollars for one of the two available spots, shell out another forty or fifty million for startup costs, then endure a decade or so of cellar dwelling, while payroll costs skyrocketed and television revenues plunged. It was no wonder that the baseball commissioner was insisting on "demonstrated fiscal solidity" for successful applicants. And it was no wonder Penfield had had the teak on the yacht refinished. He was desperate for some angels.
There was a banner strung across one end of the teak-paneled room: TROPICS BASEBALL IS COMING. Penfield and Deal's father had done business together, in the grand old days. Now Flivey was dead, Deal's father was dead, and DealCo was a shambles. The truth was that he and Janice had been invited to this party for old times' sake.
She widened her eyes slightly. "I don't know how you'd get over something like that."
"You don't," Deal said. He could suddenly see Flivey as clearly as he saw Janice now. "You work yourself so hard you can't think about anything else for twenty years." He had another swallow of his drink. "When you get tired of that you try and start a baseball team."
She gave him a look. "You should talk, Deal. We haven't been out in a month."
It was bait he nearly went for, but he forced himself to calm. He shrugged, finished his drink. "It's a nice night," he said, tightly. "Let's enjoy it."
"You're right," she said, her tone just as strained. How quickly these skirmishes came, like squalls blowing in off the bay. "Baby can stand one drink," she said brightly, patting her stomach.
"What'll it be," he said.
"No." She put her hand on his arm. "I'll get it." And then she was moving across the deck toward the crowd.
Three or four drinks later, Deal found himself in the stuffy main cabin talking to a blond woman in a black sheath dress. "You're a developer?" Her hair was swept up in tousled ringlets, her pale skin almost translucent. Her lipstick was so dark her mouth seemed like a bruise.
"It depends upon who you ask." He had caught sight of Janice at the other end of the room, a dark-haired man in an Italian suit leaning over her, his back to Deal. The man was speaking earnestly at her ear. Janice toyed with a drink, nodding as if she were listening, but her eyes were on the musicians who worked earnestly at a samba. She was in her element, Deal had to admit. And they hadn't been out in a long time.
Christ, she was the most beautiful woman on the boat, he thought. He'd seen the other men, the old guys, the young guys, the waiters, the musicians, all of them popping a glance her way when they got a chance. And who could blame them. It wasn't just the way she looked. It was the way she was. For an instant, he felt like Rapunzel's keeper.
"You're good at this, aren't you?"
It was the blond again. He turned. She had an olive speared on a toothpick, was rolling it across her lower lip. She flicked her tongue out, and the olive disappeared. "With this cocktail chat, I mean."
Deal thought about maneuvering her into the galley, or one of the staterooms down the hall. Maybe that's what was going down here. They could go at it standing up, be back for canapes in fifteen minutes. He'd be doing it for spite, and it wouldn't do him a damn bit of good.
"I'm a just a friend of the family," he said to the blond, and moved away.
"John Deal," he said, as he wedged himself between Janice and the man in the suit. Janice looked up, startled. Deal had taken a deep breath. He had put on his most amiable smile. And if the guy so much as looked crosswise at him he was going to jerk him out across the deck and pitch him into the bay.
"Of course," the man said, turning to him, extending his own hand smoothly. "We have met."
Deal stopped short.
"I am Raoul Alcazar," the man was saying.
Deal stared. It was true, they had met, a couple years before, but it was hard to believe it was the same man. He'd lost twenty pounds, learned how to dress, found a good barber. If he hadn't known where he'd come from, how he'd come by his money, he might have mistaken him for a European financier.
"The Latin Builders' Association party," Deal said, finally. "When they opened the Centrust Building."
"Exactly." Alcazar beamed, as if Deal had passed some kind of quiz. Deal wasn't sure why Alcazar would want him to remember.
Deal and Janice had been among the few Anglos at that party, the others being politicians and lobbyists. Deal suspected the invitation had been a mistake, but Janice had wanted to see the Centrust corporate offices, which were rumored to give bacchanalian excess new meaning.
He'd left her by a Modigliani sculpture in a foyer while he went off for drinks, had come back to find her pinned to the wall by Alcazar, then a Hialeah city councilman with the look of a used-car salesman. When Deal arrived, Alcazar had backed off Janice and suggested there was great opportunity for builders in Hialeah public housing. Deal thanked him for the advice and took Janice out on the terrace.
Alcazar had even called the office a couple of times afterward, but Deal had never gotten back to him. Alcazar had since moved out of government and into business in a big, if shady, way. He'd been called before at least two grand juries investigating influence peddling, but nothing had come of it.
Now, here he was, in a suit John Gotti would envy, a little gray at his temples, his accent cleaned up, hitting on his wife again.
He took the man's hand, testing. Surprising strength. Deal gave some back. Alcazar nodded, gauging Deal as well.
"You're interested in baseball?" Deal said, skeptical. Involving Alcazar in a franchise would be like trying to put Pete Rose on your board of directors.
"Everyone from my country is interested in baseball," Alcazar said. "As I was telling your lovely wife, I am simply here to show my support."
Deal glanced at Janice who gave him an amused smile. I'm not responsible for these men, she seemed to say.
"I read about you in the papers," Deal said.
Alcazar dismissed it with a wave. "Your enemies will try anything." He shrugged, his face almost mournful for a moment. "For money."
"Anything for money," Deal nodded. "Some people are like that."
They stared at each other for a moment. Janice pretended to watch the band.
"And you, Mr. Deal," Alcazar said. Composed. A predator's face. A man who sprinkled his morning cereal with chopped razor blades. And as assured as if he'd had a look at the pathetic condition of the DealCo books. "How are things going for you?"
"Hanging in there," Deal said, without missing a beat. He raised his glass to Alcazar and smiled. He was wondering how that expensive suit was going to hold up in salt water.
"Good," Alcazar said. "I wish you the best. And now if you will excuse me ..." He raised his own glass in a gesture of farewell.
"It has been a pleasure," he said. Janice turned and gave him a smile.
They stood together for a moment, watching Alcazar weave his way out through the crowd.
"I felt like we were on a playground," Janice said.
Deal glanced at her. "You know who that guy is?"
She shrugged. "He reminded me."
"I'll bet. Did he bring up his indictments?"
"He was telling me how interesting American women were. We're smart. We demand to be taken as individuals. He says woman from his country could learn something from us."
Deal turned. "Jesus Christ. You believe that? He was climbing down the front of your dress."
She laughed. "Really, Deal, relax. I saw you talking to Madonna over there in the corner."
Deal rolled his eyes, but still glanced across the room. The blond had disappeared. "You about ready?" he asked.
"In a minute," she said. "I like this group."
The trio was playing something more languid now, some jazz standard he couldn't quite place. There were couples swaying to the music on the afterdeck. "Want to dance?" he said.
She gave him a speculative look. "It's okay," she said. "I'm just listening."
He took a deep breath. It was like taking a test to which there was no correct response. "I'm going to get a drink," he said. And walked off.
* * *
"Johnny-boy!" Deal had had three drinks, in fact, and was weaving slightly as he made his way back across the crowded room. He felt himself being pulled off course, and turned to find Thornton Penfield toasting him with a full glass. "You're dry, Johnny."
Deal tried to protest, but Penfield made a gesture and a waiter darted toward them. "I want you to meet Terrence Terrell, Johnny." Deal glanced at the fortyish man by Penfield's side. A deep tan, a flat belly, a sport coat, and a polo shirt. This was Gatsby, Deal found himself thinking, blearily.
"Mr. Terrell's down from Palm Beach," Penfield said. "You know Jobe Computers. This is John Deal, DealCo Construction."
Deal looked at Terrell again as they shook hands, finally registering things. No wonder the guy looked at ease. Net worth some factor of the Gross National Product, you'd have to look good.
"Commercial or residential?" Terrell asked.
"Whatever comes along," Deal said.
Terrell pursed his lips, nodded. "These are difficult times," he said. Deal wondered what Terrell's concept of difficulty was, in fact.
"That string of condos down Brickell," Penfield said, pointing out the window at the glittering city skyline. "That's DealCo work."
Terrell glanced out, then back at Deal, a glimmer of interest there now. Deal shrugged. Typical Penfield bullshit. His father had built the condos, and what they lost had finished off the company for all practical purposes. But let Terrell think what he wanted. Deal was going to find Janice, get them the hell out of there.
"I've been trying to convince Mr. Terrell that we're a baseball town, John. We could use him in our group."
Deal seemed to think about it. He gave Penfield a studied look. "You bring him in, I want my ten million back."
There was a stunned moment of silence, then Penfield exploded into laughter and clapped Deal on the shoulder. "That's good, Johnny." Deal took the drink the waiter brought, toasted Penfield and Terrell with it. His head was swimming with the drinks, with fatigue.
Terrell smiled. "Actually, I've been telling Mr. Penfield much the same thing. I'm not accustomed to group ownership. It's not my style."
Deal nodded. It wasn't reasonable to begrudge Terrell his fortune. At least he had done it all himself, if you could believe the stories. Maybe they'd have been buddies in another world, cutting deals over tennis.
"That's all right," Penfield said. "I told him, he buys enough shares, he can do anything he wants." Penfield laughed and put his arm around Deal again. "Good to see you, Johnny. Where's that pretty wife of yours?"
Deal glanced at the corner where he'd left Janice, but now she was gone. "More than you know ..." the bandleader was crooning. The afterdeck was crowded with couples now and he felt an unreasoning stab of anxiety.
"I was just going to find her," Deal said. He nodded at Terrell, already on his way out of the cabin. "Nice meeting you. Buy the team, Mr. Terrell."
Penfield raised his glass. "Better keep track of that one, Johnny," Penfield was saying. "And think about that offer we had ..." but Deal had already spotted her outside and was gone.
Excerpted from Done Deal by Les Standiford Copyright © 1993 by Les Standiford
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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