When the lovely Carol Chambers asks Atlanta detective Jack Novak to investigate the two-year-old murder of her husband, Novak is more interested in her than in solving a very cold case. Her husband, Don, was found decapitated, and the police never named a suspect. But there's something she never told the police: apparently, Don was a B-52 pilot in Cambodia during the Vietnam War-and while overseas he came upon forbidden treasure.
Don and his crew found hundreds of precious stones in a temple guarded by a strange and sadistic Buddhist sect. The crew escaped with the stones and their lives, although several monks were murdered in the process. Carol believes the precious stones have something to do with Don's death; in fact, she thinks the monks have returned for revenge on Don and the rest of his crew.
The case piques Novak's curiosity, especially when Carol promises him a share in the stones if he solves the case. When things get hairy, though, Novak realizes this is no game; his life is in serious danger, and if he's not careful, he'll end up as another headless corpse.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.30(d)|
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By Reg Ivory
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Reg Ivory
All rights reserved.
She was perfect—a tall, slim redhead with a mouth that looked like Leonardo had found a way to improve the Mona Lisa. Green eyes, with maybe a far-off Latin hint, flawless skin. She looked about twenty-five or so and wore the casual but elegant tennis outfit that was almost a requirement for Roswell housewives. It had a classic new look on her. Diamonds circled her lovely neck. A very expensive emerald tennis bracelet was hard to miss too. All in all, a fine package. You could tell she was used to being admired, but it didn't seem to affect her. I saw her give me a quick appraisal and remain unimpressed. She was confident, not arrogant. She moved up to my desk and held out her hand.
"Mr. Novak? My name is Carol Chambers. I called earlier."
I stood and held her hand for as long as I could without seeming obvious. I failed.
"Yes. Please sit down."
She moved easily into a chair. "It was nice of you to see me. Roxanne Roden recommended you. Said you were a discreet detective and ..." She paused, smiling. "And wholesomely aggressive."
Roxanne had been a frequent sexual partner several years ago when we started seeing each other; she'd been in between husbands. I bailed her out of a blackmail jam, and she made it worth my while. In a lot of ways. We'd certainly been aggressive with each other; neither one of us wanted anything wholesome. Whatever else this Chambers woman was, her friendship with Roxanne meant she ran in rich-bitch circles. Roxie was a very clever woman who used men, drugs, and other women, sometimes simultaneously. I wondered what else she had told Carol Chambers about me: that I was a man who shunned commitments like the plague; an alcoholic; late thirties and looking older; obnoxious about his fondness for Bobby Darin? At least I was kind to cats.
"And how is the lovely Roxanne?" I said.
"She's still lovely. Remarried now."
"That's good to hear." I didn't care about her marriage, but it was conversation. "And what can I do for you, Mrs. Chambers?"
She stared at me for a moment. "I thought my last name might—well, I suppose Chambers isn't all that unique." She took a deep breath. "Do you recall the news story about my husband Don's death—murder-about two years ago here in Roswell? The body was found on Vintage Road." It was obviously difficult for her to talk about.
I did remember it—very well. Anyone in our area of Atlanta would have. It was a gruesome story and had a big play in the papers and on television for almost six months. Donald Chambers's headless body had been found in the woods off Vintage. He had been there about a week. His body was covered with at least a dozen deep knife wounds. The fingerprints weren't too far gone for an ID. His wallet and a few hundred bucks were intact, so probably not a robbery. There was speculation about a drug deal gone wrong, and the police hinted at some deviant sexual involvement that was never explained. He was a wealthy Delta pilot, well known. The whole thing was the talk of the Roswell tennis set for months. And the cops never found his head.
"Yes. I do remember. I'm sorry for your loss."
She nodded. "Thank you. I'm sure you can tell I'm not close to being over it. It's hard to bring it all back." She was either a great actress or really feeling it.
"I understand. I'm assuming the police have never found the murderer or we would have read about it."
"That's correct. There's hasn't been a word from them in almost two years. Frankly, I don't think they've ever really pursued the case." Her lovely mouth was grim as she touched her diamond necklace.
I wanted a cigarette but was into my third week after quitting cold turkey, and I ignored the craving for a while. I wanted a drink, too, but then again, I always wanted a drink. "I was a Roswell cop for two years. There are some good ones and others who are just putting in time, waiting to retire."
"Yes, I guess I had more of the latter."
"Mrs. Chambers, I don't know how I can help you after all this time. The police may have been slow, but they have access to many more avenues of research and investigation than I do. I'm sure they've covered every lead. How can I help?" I knew this was a cold, dead case, but it was worth watching her while she talked.
"There are things—things I never told the police. Things that may help."
"And why didn't you tell the police?"
"Donald—Don—told me—that is, he asked me ..." She stopped and folded her hands in her lap and looked up, trying hard to control herself. "This is where the discreet part comes in, Mr. Novak."
"Please call me Jack."
Another deep breath. "I met Don about five years ago. He was flying for Delta. He was older—thirty years older than I was—divorced, a genuinely nice guy." She looked up, staring directly at me. "I hadn't met many men like Don in my life."
"The truth is, I was—I was working for an escort service in Houston. I made good money and really didn't care where my life was going. There were lots of men, drugs, and—other things. I was at a Delta Airlines party and happened to meet Don." Tears shone in her eyes. "The short story is—he changed my life."
She looked past my head, toward the ceiling. "Don accepted me as I was despite my ... background and previous lifestyle. He never asked me anything about myself, but I told him the whole story—everything. He never criticized or tried to change me. He and his son completely accepted me into their lives."
I had forgotten a son was involved. "Is his son still—does he still live at home?"
"Yes. Hank—Henry—is twenty and in his second year at Georgia now. He still comes home on weekends."
With a stepmother who looked like this, I wondered why he ever left for college. "Mrs. Chambers, I have to ask. Was there—is there—anything ...?"
"You want to know if Hank and I ever had a relationship. The answer is no. The police pursued that avenue for several weeks, along with other accusations I resented." She sounded bitter.
"It's an obvious angle in a murder case like this, especially when your ages are so close."
"I would never have done anything like that to Don—even after he was ... gone. Besides, Hank and I are just good friends."
I wondered just how good as I admired her body once again. "Mrs. Chambers, exactly what is it you'd be expecting me to do for you?"
"I want you to find my husband's murderer, or murderers. I don't care how long it takes." She paused and looked down at her folded hands. "And there's something else."
I waited, still wanting a cigarette.
"My husband was a B-52 pilot in Vietnam. Flew over two hundred missions, including the Hanoi bombings. He was very proud of his service."
"That's admirable, but I don't see how it—"
"Part of the time he was stationed at a small B-52 base in Thailand, on the Gulf."
"Yes, Utapao. I heard about it from some of the old timers when I was in the service."
"That's right. Toward the end of Vietnam, Don and his crew—they were very close—came into possession of a large number of precious stones." Again, she reached up to touch the diamonds at her throat. "Rubies and sapphires from a remote mine somewhere on the Thai border, he said."
That did it. She had me. The way she looked was enough, but the precious stones angle made her impossible to resist.
"What do you mean by 'came into possession,' Mrs. Chambers?"
"Don was reluctant to explain. I guessed it wasn't exactly legal." She paused again. "He told me some people were killed."
"Any idea how much the stones are worth?"
She stared at me for a moment. "Don said several million."
I doubted that. "Uncut stones are hard to value. How did he come up with that figure?"
"Don took them to a friend, an American appraiser retired in Bangkok—someone he had flown with and trusted. He said he only showed the man a few jewels, telling him he found them along the Thai coast. Evidently the man was quite impressed and gave him an estimated value. He said they were of a very high quality. Don got a more recent appraisal from a reputable man in Hong Kong, who valued them even higher. I don't know how many stones actually exist, but Don led me to believe there were quite a few. He did the math and came up with an approximate value."
"And who knows about all this?"
"His crew, of course, but four of them are dead now. A B-52 has six crew members. Me. And Hank."
She sighed. "Right before Don was murdered, he told me some Asian men had been following him. He was sure they were after the gems." This time she put her hands to her face. "I think they murdered Don for the jewels. I never told any of this to the police."
It was my turn to take a deep breath. "And where are the gems?"
"I don't know. Don was the only one who knew. He said he had hidden them somewhere in the area. He left some papers he said were clues in our safe at home. I've looked at them, but they mean nothing to me. The notes appear to be written in some Asian language."
"Mrs. Chambers, there are a couple of things that don't make sense to me. First, it's been more than thirty years since the end of the Vietnam War. Why didn't your husband do something about the gems for all that time?"
"He said he tried to sell them several times over the years but there were complications. He and most of his crew were still in the air force for several years after Vietnam and wanted to stay until retirement. And there was a formal investigation—because of the deaths in Thailand. Don and his crew were never charged, but they were under suspicion for some time."
"But surely the crew must have wanted some money out of this before now?"
"As I said, four of them have passed away. A few were fairly well off. Don was actually quite wealthy himself. He had inherited some substantial family money, plus his air force retirement and a good job with Delta. Part of the problem was the fear that doing something with the gems might trigger the old investigation. As I said, some people had been killed."
"And his crew was okay with this?"
"Yes. They agreed to let Don handle it when he thought the time was right. If any of them needed money, they came to Don. He was always very generous. You have to understand that the crew was fiercely loyal; Don had been their commander. He kept them safe through many tough missions. They were almost killed over Hanoi. But he was getting ready to do something with the gems when—"
"Is it possible the remaining crew members are involved in his death?"
"I can't imagine that could be true. I've met them. Some of them have been to our home. I never sensed any problems or disagreements."
"You said that no one else knew about the gems, but you also said there had been an investigation—by the air force."
"So could anyone from the air force be involved in this—in his murder—because of the gems?"
Her eyes widened slowly. "I never considered that. I suppose it's possible."
I shook my head. "Mrs. Chambers, I'm sorry, but this is a lot bigger situation than I usually handle. I do divorces and blackmails and political crap. Murders and Asians and gemstones are more than a little out of my league. My advice is to go to the police and tell them what you've told me."
She frowned. "What good would that do? They accomplished nothing the first time. And I don't want the publicity starting up again. Please. Please at least try. I know how difficult this is, and I'm not expecting miracles. Those gems are mine now and I want them, dammit. You don't know—it's been so hard with Don gone. I get these feelings ..." Suddenly she stopped and smiled strangely at me; she crossed her legs slowly. "In addition to your usual fees, we can come to some agreement about the gems, if you find them. Call it a commission. Perhaps twenty percent of their value?" She leaned slightly toward me. "And call me Carol."
As if millions of dollars in gems weren't enough, she definitely knew how to motivate men. Especially men like me. Our mutual friend Roxanne must have tipped her off. Roxie got high on whatever the drug of the month was. I got high on women. And Jameson. And I hadn't gotten high in quite a while. I kept staring at her mouth. And her legs. It was easy to make up my mind. Besides, I had nothing else going on.
"Let's do this, Mrs. Cham—Carol. I'll give it two weeks. My fee is $250 a day plus expenses. At the end of that time, we can assess where we are and whether or not it makes sense to keep going. If we do continue and I locate the gems, we can discuss a further commission. Is that satisfactory?"
She smiled as if she knew she had me. She was right.
"That's fine. Thank you."
"In the meantime, please make me a list of people who were close friends of your husband's, both here in Roswell and others from the service that you may know about. I'll need addresses and phone numbers if you have them. I'm especially interested in his former crew members, of course."
"I'll have the list tonight. If you'll stop by the house, you can pick it up, along with a check. Say about eight?"
She reached out for my hand, and this time she let me hold it as long as I wanted.
Roswell police headquarters were only a couple of miles from my office. With the traffic the way it was—always bad—I could have walked there faster than I drove it. The building hadn't changed a bit. Square, gray, three stories, flag at the entrance. The architecture had no imagination at all. Neither did most of the cops. For a while it had been home. And there were still a few good friends.
Sgt. Homer Kenney, with the inevitable nickname of "Homes," was in his office, a pile of papers centered before him and a large cup of coffee beside the pile. Homes had been my training officer during my ninety-day rookie break-in period, and we hit it off. Turned out we had a lot in common. He liked the ladies, the Braves, and beer. We kept the friendship going after I left and had shared some tough times together. Homes was the only cop in Roswell who had been shot three times in the line of duty. He claimed one of them was because of a jealous husband, but we all knew better. I would trust him with anything. Now he handled some cold cases but was still active on the street. He was also one of the most respected officers on the force and knew everyone in town. I knocked on the open door. "Hey, Homes."
"Jack, my favorite alcoholic. How's the private peeper business? Have a seat." He looked grayer and heavier. Must be fifty now.
"Fair, Homes. Just fair. I need a favor."
He smiled and tilted his chair back. "I ought to get a ten-percent cut of your business, but I'd take a ten-percent cut of your women."
I laughed. "You'd come out on the short end either way. But I do have kind of a woman problem."
"Your only problem is listening to that goddamned Bobby Darin all the time. It's poisoned your mind. Probably why you drink so damned much." He gave me that straight-on, no-shit look he had. "And how's that going, by the way—the drinking?"
I grinned at him. "Not a drop in nineteen months and seven days."
"Sounds like you might have it licked, buddy."
"No way, Homes. I can feel it every day. Every hour."
He straightened his chair and took a sip of coffee. "Well, how about some coffee? Want a cup?"
"No thanks. You're probably still reheating the stuff you made two years ago. Homes, you got anything I can see on the Chambers murder from a few years back?"
His eyes widened a little. "You mean the headless guy we found out in the woods? The one with the hooker wife?"
"Yeah, that's the one. Why do you call her a hooker?"
He sighed and smiled. "Jesus, Jack, don't tell me you're dating the Chambers broad. Aren't you ever attracted to any normal women? There's that Darin influence again. Christ, listen to some Sinatra, for God's sake."
"Yeah, like Sinatra was attracted to normal women. Carol Chambers looks pretty normal to me, Homes. Super-normal. Perfect, maybe." I winked back at him.
"Well, I'll give you that. She's a babe, for sure." He got up from his desk and walked to a series of file cabinets along the wall. He opened one, flipped through some tabs, and finally pulled one out.
"It goes without saying that I'm not supposed to do this, right?" He handed me the file.
"Right. I'll just sit here and look through it; maybe make some notes. Unless I'm keeping you from something?"
Excerpted from HEADLESS by Reg Ivory. Copyright © 2013 Reg Ivory. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reading Headless reminded me how things that happen in our youth— whether from our own poor choices or by someone else's — come back to haunt us. It certainly did for Don Chambers and his B-52 crew. As young men in the trenches of war, they could never imagine the long arms of a sadistic Buddhist sect would reach them for payback a generation later. As a former resident of Roswell, Ga., I was drawn to the book's setting and immediately hooked by the mystery and suspense surrounding Chamber's gruesome death. This novella by Reg Ivory is well written and well researched with characters that are not always likeable but are certainly clever and interesting. Detective Jack Novak reminded me of John Sanderford's Virgil Flowers. I hope Novak, too, returns to solve more crimes.