Fortunately, Reece has a Plan B: the $25,000 Raygene gave her in Vegas to bet on the 50-1 underdog Arizona Cardinals to win the Super Bowl. The very same Super Bowl the Cardinals are about to play in for all the marbles.
Holding a casino betting slip worth a potential $1.25 million, Reece heads back to Vegas to watch the big game, unaware she won't be going alone. Right behind her are Raygene, who's finally remembered that betting slip; Raygene's psychotic homeboy Trip Stiles, who's blackmailing him to the tune of 200 grand; and smooth operator Aeneas Charles, the no-nonsense troubleshooter Raygene's agent has hired to keep his star client out of trouble.
Once her grandfather's little "firecracker," Reece Germaine is a pregnant lady in high demand—and Sin City is about to find out what the word "action" really means.
|Publisher:||Brash Books LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.57(d)|
About the Author
Gar Anthony Harwood is the author of Man Eater and Firecracker, two brutally funny thrillers set in Hollywood. Man Eater earned Haywood starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and well-deserved comparisons to Elmore Leonard for his fast-paced thrills and dark humor. He followed that stunning success with Firecracker, an explosive story of sports, sex, and outrageous schemes that also received rave reviews.
Haywood is also the author six mysteries featuring African-American private investigator Aaron Gunner. The first novel in that series, Fear of The Dark, won the Shamus award for Best First Novel of 1989, and his Gunner short story "And Pray Nobody Sees You" won both the Shamus and Anthony awards for Best Short Story of 1995. His latest Gunner short story, "The Lamb Was Sure to Go," snagged him his third Shamus award in 2011. His other novels include two books featuring Joe & Dottie Loudermilk, retiree crime-solvers traveling in their Airstream camper.
In addition to his novels and short stories, Haywood has written episodes of several TV crime shows, including New York Undercover and The District, and is a former president of the Mystery Writers of America's Southern California chapter.
Read an Excerpt
By Gar Anthony Haywood
Brash Books, LLCCopyright © 2014 Gar Anthony Haywood
All rights reserved.
Shirelle Milbourne was not a business manager by trade. She was just a fifty-one-year-old black woman with a master's degree in business from Fisk University, class of '98, who knew the difference between a slick con and a genuine investment opportunity. But that was all the help the one client she'd just taken on really needed.
Almost three years earlier, at the tender age of twenty-one, Raygene Price had signed a three-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League for $2.65 million, plus a $1.25 million signing bonus. Gene the Dream was a tight end out of Florida State who was blessed with soft hands, 4.9 speed, and the body of a Greek god, and the Cowboys had made him the eleventh overall pick in that year's collegiate draft. In the thirty months since, he had caught twenty-nine touchdown passes, made All Pro twice, broken the Cowboys' single-season receiving record for tight ends, and lost exactly $1.25 million in a series of real estate deals that fell through the roof like a 747 with its wings clipped.
Although "lost" was a woefully inappropriate term for what had happened to the money, in truth, because Raygene knew exactly where it all had gone: into the pockets of one Cecil Jerome Blumenthal, aka Cecil Bloome, his former financial advisor. Cecil, as the FBI and several other law enforcement agencies only recently made Raygene aware, had advised Raygene and the three other pro athletes on his client list right into bankruptcy court, all his many highly touted investment schemes having been specifically designed to enrich Cecil himself before anyone else. In the wake of Cecil's arrest on federal racketeering charges, Raygene was left with the remnants of a personal fortune that was now equivalent to, his agent and lawyers said, a quarter of a million dollars.
Which didn't seem possible to Raygene because, well, he was Raygene Price. Gene the Dream. Pro athlete, Nike pitchman, Sports Illustrated cover boy, and sex machine to Playboy playmates, movie starlets, and Victoria's Secret lingerie models everywhere. How the hell could he not be a millionaire? If the Ferrari and Rolls were still in his three-car garage, wasn't that evidence enough that his wealth remained as inextinguishable as ever?
Prone to such backward thinking as he was, it was easy to dismiss Raygene as an idiot. Just another poor black man from the projects who could turn a lob pass into a reverse slam dunk, or a four-yard loss into a ten-yard gain, but could not add two and two without the aid of a calculator. And yes, a lack of smarts was indeed one of Raygene's most glaring deficiencies. But what hobbled him far more than his underdeveloped intellect was his readiness to give love to those around him indiscriminately. Raygene, Shirelle had observed, dispensed trust and compassion like a drunken fireman wielding a full-on water cannon. No smile was too artificial, no plea for help too hollow or contrived for him to question their authenticity. He was soft in the head, but softer in the heart, and the combination of the two made him the most vulnerable rich man a thief like Cecil Bloome, or a gold digger like this Clarice Germaine woman, could ever hope to encounter.
Clarice — or "Reece," as Shirelle understood her friends liked to call her — was the third woman Raygene had unwittingly impregnated in less than thirty-three months, and the only one who'd refused to go away. The first, a Florida State junior Raygene had been dating off and on while in school, had stupidly taken $20,000 just weeks before the NFL draft and agreed to have an abortion. The second, a legal secretary Raygene had met in a Dallas nightclub three months into his rookie season, had given birth to their son, Princeton, demanded $7,000 a month in child support, then settled for a meager $1,500 a month when Raygene's lawyers promised to make her penchant for getting knocked up by fat-cat pro athletes like Raygene — who was, apparently, the fourth in a series — a cornerstone of any defense they would bring to bear against her if she forced them into court.
A similar arrangement had been offered to Reece Germaine, but she'd declined. Flatly. She wasn't asking for seven grand a month in child support, which was excessive, but she did want three, which was merely fair, and she was showing no signs of ever caring to negotiate for less. Prior to Shirelle taking charge of Raygene's money, his lawyers had been pushing him toward a settlement with Reece, whom they'd determined was a major player in the field of entertainment public relations, and could therefore, at least in theory, afford to fight for what she was seeking indefinitely. But Shirelle had said no, to hell with that. Fair or not, she didn't want her new client setting any precedents by paying somebody in excess of $24,000 annually simply to feed and clothe one of his illegitimate children. She had an idea that Reece Germaine wouldn't be the last pregnant lady to come knocking at Raygene's door, and those to follow would probably prove easier to deal with if they could be shown a consistent pattern of previously negotiated support settlements.
Raygene himself, of course, disagreed. He wanted to give Reece what she was asking for, and more. Raygene was not at all insulted by the indifference she had openly shown toward his ever participating in the raising of their as-yet-unborn child. Reece, he told Shirelle, was by far the most together woman he had ever been with, even if it had only been for three crazy days in Las Vegas last May, and he didn't want to treat her in any way that might cause her to think badly of him. He wasn't in love with her or anyone else, but Reece's opinion mattered to him. She was unique. She was special.
"She gets eighteen hundred a month," Shirelle said, "and not a penny more."
Sitting in Shirelle's office now, long legs splayed outward from the leather chair his giant form was sinking into, Raygene shook his head at the woman's resolve, almost beginning to regret having hired such a hard-ass to save him from himself.
"Aw, damn, Momma," he said.CHAPTER 2
"His mother?" Aeneas Charles asked.
"Yeah. Can you believe that?"
Only barely, Aeneas thought. He had seen a lot of momma's boys in his time, but he couldn't recall ever hearing of one worth millions who'd put his mother in charge of every dime. Usually, homeboy would buy his Number One Girl a new car or build her a home somewhere, and leave her and the old man, if he was still around, to live the rest of their days in relative leisure. See the world, play golf. If he hired his mother to do anything at all, it was to open his mail, or head his fan club, something entirely innocuous like that.
"Does she know what she's doing?"
Stanley Winston shrugged, a gesture almost completely lost behind his giant maple desk. "Who knows? She's got a business degree from someplace back east, if that means anything."
"So did Cecil Bloome, as I recall."
"Yeah. From Syracuse, yet. When the hell did Syracuse start turning out confidence men?"
Stanley sounded hurt because he was. Like everyone else, he'd been fond of Cecil. As Raygene Price's beleaguered agent, he had advised his client against trusting the self-proclaimed president of Blumenthal Enterprises, Incorporated, with any substantial cash, but only because Stanley was incurably paranoid, not because he really thought Cecil would rip Raygene off. When the Feds first came to him with all their allegations about the "investment advisor," Stanley had damn near cried a river.
"Well," Aeneas said, "look at it this way. At least anything Raygene loses now will be more the result of incompetence than greed. Assuming his mother's not a thief too, that is."
Stanley smiled forlornly and nodded, using the tip of one finger to slide the thick black frames of his eyeglasses back up the lengthy slope of his nose. Aeneas couldn't remember the last time he'd seen somebody actually wearing such old-school, Buddy Holly-ish spectacles for something other than effect on Halloween. But Stanley Winston was an original. Short, pale, and as soft around the middle as a jelly roll, he was a man so busy making millionaires out of high school ballers he couldn't be bothered with the trifling variances of fashion. Stanley was the sports agent of sports agents, and his thinning brown hair and weak chin didn't mean a damn thing when he entered an NFL owner's office to negotiate a client's contract. In there, from everything Aeneas had heard, Stanley looked and behaved like Rambo in search-and-destroy mode.
"So how can I help you, Mr. Winston?" Aeneas finally asked, deciding not to wait until nightfall for Stanley to broach the actual purpose of this alleged job interview himself.
Stanley paused, choosing the most precise route for his answer. "Raygene's in a pretty deep hole, as I've already explained, Mr. Charles. Cecil Blumenth — Cecil Bloome" — the agent corrected himself painfully — "didn't break him, by any means, but he set him back financially a good five years. So we can't afford any more financial indiscretions. Raygene needs to get his house in order, and keep it in order, and it all starts with getting a new contract out of the Cowboys this spring. His present deal expired this past season, as you probably know, and we're looking to get him re-signed for somewhere in the neighborhood of seven-point-five over four years."
Aeneas didn't whistle, but the numbers in millions Stanley had just dropped impressed him nonetheless. Full-service private investigators, even high-end operators like himself, only saw money like that in the movies.
"Needless to say," Stanley went on, "the Cowboys will only ante up if the market demands they do so. And right now, thankfully, it does. But should anything happen to Raygene's value between now and then."
"They'll offer you substantially less."
"Yes. The Cowboys, and any other franchise that might choose to bid for his services. At the moment, Raygene's the best tight end in football, bar none, and he deserves to be paid accordingly. But nothing is forever. Things change. Until a new deal can be reached with somebody, he has to take care of himself. Watch his weight, lay off the pickup basketball."
"And stay out of trouble."
"You read my mind."
"Only up to the point of what kind of trouble, in particular, you think he might get into. Drugs, women.?"
"Raygene doesn't use drugs, as far as I know. They're against his religion."
"'The Church of the Immaculate Raygene.' His mind is the deity, his body the temple. I think he'd chug a can of acetone before he'd smoke a joint. And as for women.if making babies with strangers still offended people the way it used to, Raygene would be burned at the stake. The man just doesn't take the necessary steps to protect himself. It's not so much irresponsibility as it is a Pollyanna complex. Raygene's a good guy, and he expects the gods to protect good guys from all misfortune, even when they're behaving somewhat recklessly." He shrugged. "He sounds like a dummy, I know. But he's really just an overgrown kid who's yet to learn you've got to look for water in the pool before diving in headfirst."
Aeneas was tempted to say that Raygene was a big boy, and only looking for good things to happen, rather than the bad, was no excuse for not slapping a condom on when circumstances demanded it. But such observations would only have digressed from the real subject at hand.
"Okay. So he doesn't do drugs, and he doesn't abuse women. So what is his problem?"
Stanley's office window afforded him a decent view of Central Park, and he studied it now for several seconds before acknowledging Aeneas's question. Though the tall, strikingly handsome black man had come highly recommended, and seemed physically fit enough to tackle any endeavor — Aeneas was damn near as big and buff as Raygene himself — Stanley was still not convinced the investigator was the right man for the job the sports agent had in mind. The assignment was that delicate.
"His problem — or more accurately, mine — is a man named Thomas Stiles," Stanley said at last, finding just the utterance of the name distasteful. "People call him 'Trip.' Maybe you've heard of him."
Aeneas shook his head.
"He's a thug. A deeply disturbed white man who suffers the delusion he's black. He wears big gold chains and fist rings, tattoos on his throat, even a black leather duster with a matching porkpie hat. None of which would bother me, particularly, except that he didn't come by any of it making bad rap records. He's a drug dealer, if my information is correct, and not a very nice one."
"And he's a friend of Raygene's?"
"They grew up together back in Florida. Raygene says Trip used to eat half his meals at Shirelle's table, right up to their freshman year in high school, when Trip went into lock-down on an assault charge of some kind. That was the last Raygene saw of him, until one day last fall. Trip showed up at a personal appearance Raygene was doing down in Dallas, the grand opening of a sporting goods store, I think it was, and they've been fucking inseparable ever since. If you'll excuse my French."
Aeneas allowed himself a feather-light smile, amused as always by the endearing delicacy of gentlemen like Stanley who could never utter a genuine curse word without begging the indulgence of anyone who might choose to be offended by it.
"So far, I have no reason to believe Trip has involved Raygene in anything illegal," Stanley said. "But I know it's just a matter of time before he does. Raygene's an easy mark, as Cecil so ably demonstrated, and sooner or later a player like Trip Stiles is going to take advantage of that. Correct me if I'm wrong."
"If Stiles is the man you say he is? You can pretty much count on it."
"Then you understand why you're here."
"Well, I get that you're afraid of this Trip's influence on your client. But I'm not sure I know what you think I can do about it."
"Do about it? You don't have to do anything about it. All I want you to do is monitor the situation for me. Keep an eye on Raygene and let me know the minute you think he's about to engage in something stupid or dangerous. Or both. At least, until we can get a new contract for him out of the Cowboys, or whomever. After that, he can become an axe murderer, for all I care."
Aeneas knew Stanley didn't really mean this last, of course. Anything Raygene did to seriously tarnish his image would void any future contract he were to sign with the Cowboys or anyone else, personal conduct clauses being as commonplace in such contracts as they were these days. But Stanley no doubt figured it would be better to fight for the enforcement of a pact already in hand than to try to negotiate one in a diminished marketplace, which was precisely what he'd be forced to do if Raygene created any scandals now.
"How close can I get to him?" Aeneas asked.
"As close as you want. He already has a bodyguard, so that cover's out. But my intent is to tell him you're a writer doing research on a book about him who needs total, twenty-four-hour access, and the man's just egomaniacal enough to give it to you. He'll probably let you in the shower stall with him if he thinks there's a bestseller with his face on the cover in it for him."
Aeneas endorsed Stanley's plan with a small nod and asked when the agent wanted him to start.
"The sooner the better. We'll give him a couple of days to think about it, get used to the idea of having you around, then fly down to Dallas together so I can introduce you."
"I understand your regular rate for this kind of work is three hundred a day, plus expenses. Is that right?"
Aeneas nodded his smooth, clean-shaven head again, the tiny gold hoop fastened to his right earlobe swaying faintly to and fro.
"Well, I'm prepared to double that. I need this job done right, Mr. Charles, and I don't mind paying a little extra to get it. Do we have a deal?"
"I think so."
"Good." Stanley stood up, Aeneas followed suit, and the two men shook hands. "There's just one more thing."
Aeneas waited for Stanley to explain himself, doing nothing to ease the man's sudden, somewhat comical discomfort.
"As you might imagine, I've put a great deal of time and effort into researching candidates for this assignment. Doing background checks and such. So I knew quite a bit about you before you ever came in to see me today." Stanley cleared his throat. "For the most part, what people have to say about you is extraordinarily positive. But ..." Now the sports agent actually squirmed on his feet. "Several did mention something to me they thought I might find worthy of note."
Excerpted from Firecracker by Gar Anthony Haywood. Copyright © 2014 Gar Anthony Haywood. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
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