“Burnsworth nails the voice of new Southern noir. This talented author will win you over with his engaging and multi-faceted hero, then keep you turning pages with his suspense.” – Hank Phillippi Ryan, Mary Higgins Clark Award-Winning Author of The Other Woman
Lowcountry Private Investigator Blu Carraway needs a new client. He’s broke and the tax man is coming for his little slice of paradise. But not everyone appreciates his skills. Some call him a loose cannon. Others say he’s a liability. All the ex-Desert Storm Ranger knows is his phone hasn’t rung in quite a while. Of course, that could be because it was cut off due to delinquent payments.
Lucky for him, a client does show up at his doorstep—a distraught mother with a wayward son. She’s rich and her boy’s in danger. Sounds like just the case for Blu. Except nothing about the case is as it seems. The jigsaw pieces—a ransom note, a beat-up minivan, dead strippers, and a missing briefcase filled with money and cocaine—do not make a complete puzzle. The first real case for Blu Carraway Investigations in three years goes off the rails.
And that’s the way he prefers it to be.
Related subjects include: Private investigator books, suspense, whodunit mysteries whodunnit, murder mystery series, Southern fiction.
Books in the Blu Carraway Mystery Series:
BLU HEAT (Prequel Novella)
IN IT FOR THE MONEY (#1)
Books in the Brack Pelton Mystery Series:
SOUTHERN HEAT (#1)
BURNING HEAT (#2)
BIG CITY HEAT (#3)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you’ll probably like them all.
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Read an Excerpt
Lowcountry, South Carolina, early June, Thursday morning
The old rotary phone sitting on the desk refused to ring. No matter how much Blu Carraway wanted it to. He looked out the window of his makeshift office at the surrounding marsh and sighed. Crumpled up in his right hand was the latest tax assessment, in his left was an electronic cigarette. Without thinking, he took a hit off the vaporizer, which replaced Camels as his only vice. Well, that and pirated satellite TV.
And still the receiver remained silent.
One more good job.
It was all he needed.
Then Charleston County would be happy for another year, and he'd get to keep his little island home. Just. One. Good. Job.
The hula girl on his desk a Desert Storm buddy had given him when he first hung out his PI shingle bobbled at him as if to say, "How long did you think you could keep this up, tough guy?"
He swatted her off the desk with the tax bill. "At least another year, Dollie."
As the plastic figure skittered across the old plank flooring, Blu heard the sound of tires on his crushed shell drive. With the sole air-conditioning being a ceiling fan and open windows, he heard everything happening on his little slice of paradise. But he suspected his tenure there was on borrowed time. The house and land, which had been in the family for next to forever, were his free and clear. Except nothing was free and clear. He still had his yearly rent payment to the county, which seemed to think nine acres of mostly sand and marsh with a small herd of free-roaming scraggly horses was worth one helluva lot. Even though they neglected to consider it relevant enough to route the mosquito sprayers anywhere near the place.
A black Mercedes, the new big one, sliced between two live oaks and rolled to a stop beside his ancient Land Cruiser. Blu watched as the driver's door opened and a man in a suit and tie exited the car. Just as Blu was about to run outside to greet him, he noticed the man walk around the expensive German machine, open the rear door, and extend a hand to assist whomever was in the backseat.
A pale white hand grasped the driver's. After a moment, a woman with shoulder-length gray hair and sunglasses stood beside the car as the driver shut her door. She was not unattractive — in a wealthy, snobby kind of way. Her pose accentuated thin, but not frail, limbs and a torso hinting at personal trainer visits. Her crème-colored sleeveless blouse, tailored slacks, and shoes his daughter had once told him were called wedges exuded confidence. The woman held what looked like an expensive pocketbook.
Blu walked outside and approached the pair. "Can I help you?"
The woman, who was more attractive up close with high cheekbones, a small nose Blu guessed was natural, and a perfectly-proportioned neck adorned with modest pearls, said, "I'm looking for a Mr. Carraway."
"You found him."
"Good." She turned to the driver, who upon closer inspection had an athletic build with a slightly visible shoulder rig beneath his suit coat. "Told you this was the place."
He said, "Yes, ma'am."
It didn't sound like the man was convinced.
Two of Blu's horses, at least he called them his because they wouldn't leave his property even though there was no fencing, clomped around the house and approached. These were the curious ones from the herd, and not the brightest. He'd named them Dink and Doofus.
The woman's mouth opened in surprise.
Her driver, apparently startled, reached inside his jacket where the shoulder rig was.
Blu said, "Don't mind these two. They're harmless. But if you see a black stud, best keep your distance."
The woman watched the horses approach. Dink, the brown male with a tangled mane, lowered his head and sniffed. Doofus, his coat best described as dirty snow, lumbered up to the woman. In a past life, these two must have been canines.
Blu said, "Come on, guys."
As if the horses just noticed he was there, they both raised their heads and snorted. Doofus gave his mane a quick shake.
The woman reached out and touched Dink on his nose.
The horse granted her hand a big lick before she could retract it.
Dink and Doofus didn't approach just anybody. Blu had recognized this trait in them a long time ago. They liked this woman. Or else they just thought she had a treat for them.
Blu said, "What can I do for you fine folks?"
"Mr. Carraway," the woman said, maneuvering around Dink and offering a business card. "I'm Cynthia Rhodes."
Blu held the card. "That's exactly what this says." It also gave a Charleston, South Carolina address. South Battery, no less. Big money.
Real big money.
She said, "Yes, well, I'd like to talk to you about employing your services."
Tapping the card on his open palm, he said, "I appreciate your effort to get here, Ms. Rhodes. I would have gladly met you somewhere closer to Charleston. Saved you the forty-minute trip."
The driver stepped forward and the horses retreated to the other side of the vehicles. "There must be something wrong with your phone."
An image of a stack of unpaid bills came to mind, specifically the one marked "third and final notice." Blu didn't reply.
Cynthia Rhodes said, "Is there someplace we can sit and talk?"
Coming to his senses, Blu said, "Of course. I'm sorry. I don't normally receive clients out here. Please come this way." He ran through a mental checklist: the office was one chair short for this group, the desk was a mess, the hula girl was on the floor, and the bathroom hadn't been cleaned in, well, he couldn't remember when.
Ms. Rhodes and her driver followed him, all of them crunching on the shell drive, up the porch stairs, and into the office he'd created out of the living room of the one-story bungalow his great-great-grandfather had built.
His guests didn't comment on the disheveled appearance.
The driver pulled out the single client chair in front of Blu's desk and Cynthia Rhodes sat.
Blu made an assumption the man would prefer to remain standing seeing as how his role could best be described as armed chauffer. Walking around his desk, being sure to step over the hula girl on the floor, and noticing the crumpled tax bill flittering in the wind of the ceiling fan, Blu sat on the ripped cushion of his ancient captain's chair. It gave a long, un-oiled squeak. "Okay, Ms. Rhodes, tell me why you think you need my services."
Cynthia Rhodes removed her sunglasses and held them in her lap.
She looked at him with deep blue eyes. "Mr. Carraway, I have a situation I'm not sure how to handle."
The horses' intuition and this woman's bold and transparent acknowledgement of uncertainty regarding her situation had him trusting her almost immediately. Well, those reasons and the big tax bill he had to pay.
"Can I get either of you something to drink?" he asked. "I've got tap water or cold — I mean iced — coffee." Cold was a more accurate statement, but he didn't think it sounded sophisticated enough.
Cynthia Rhodes said, "No, thank you."
Meeting her deep blue gaze, he guessed she was mid-fifties, about ten years his senior. He asked, "How can I help?"
"I was told you could be trusted."
"By whom?" he asked.
With the name, Blu immediately understood the depth of her need, if not the specifics.
She continued. "He said you got his daughter back for him when those awful men took her."
"More or less." Kincaid's daughter was returned to her father intact, physically if not emotionally, without paying any ransom. And the world had lost a half-dozen kidnappers. "Has your daughter been kidnapped?"
With a tight-lipped smile and a slight headshake, she said, "I have a son."
He said, "What is it you think I can do for you?"
"How do you know?"
She looked down. "My son and I have a strained relationship, to say the least. The only way I know he's okay is because he makes withdrawals from his trust fund."
Blu said, "He hasn't made any in a while?"
"Two weeks." She looked at him. "I was told you handle unique situations. That they were your specialty."
Her driver smirked.
Blu said, "You don't want the police involved?"
"No," she said. "I mean, not yet."
He sat back. "What would you like me to do?"
"Isn't it obvious?" she asked, her voice breaking.
"You'd like me to find him?"
It sounded more like a question.
He said, "I can do that."
"My son is a sweet boy. He likes art — painting. If something's happened to him, I'm not sure what I'd do."
Blu had a hunch the real reason she was here was about to surface.
She said, "Mr. Kincaid told me you made the men who took his daughter pay for their sins."
"You think someone did something to your son?"
Folding her arms across her chest, she said, "I hope not."
Blu shook his head. "Anything that may or may not have happened in Mexico was a by-product of the goal of the job, which was to get his daughter back." It was a true statement, but not really the truth.
Cynthia Rhodes reached into her pocketbook, removed a check, and handed it to Blu.CHAPTER 2
The amount written in neat, precise cursive would do a lot more than just pay his property tax for the year. He handed the check back, trying hard not to show any reluctance to do so. "I don't take on blood jobs." Another true statement which wasn't the truth.
Sometimes they ended up that way — bloody.
Her eyes were wide. "But you're my last hope."
Blu laced his fingers together and placed his hands on the desk. "That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy." With a slight head jerk, he motioned to her driver. "Why not send trigger-happy Rick, here?"
Blu already knew the answer. The man was mostly show. He appeared to be in shape. But he did not have a killer's gaze.
She looked at her driver who shifted his weight between his feet as if he were nervous.
Holding a hand up, Blu said, "You don't want to have things too close to home. I understand. Better to hire some schmuck and make him do the heavy lifting."
"You're mistaken," she said. "I heard you were the best."
"I am the best," he said. "Can't you tell by the crowds of folks lining up for my services?"
With a smile breaking the tension in the lines of her face, she said, "Adam also said you had an odd sense of humor."
Blu didn't know what to say, so he kept quiet. Filling voids in conversation only gave away too much.
Cynthia Rhodes filled in the void for him. "If it isn't enough money, I'll double it."
The Kincaid job had netted enough to keep Carraway Investigations solvent for three years, with only a modest contribution from an insurance or surveillance job here and there. And lately, some day laboring. The offer in front of him was eerily similar. Of course, Blu and his business partner, a biker and fellow Ranger named Mick Crome, had barely made it out of Mexico alive with Jennifer Kincaid. Blu was three years wiser now, and he enjoyed the cliché "getting older by the minute" more than the one about "being worm food."
He ignored one of his golden rules: Decisions made under duress were usually tainted. "Okay. I'll look into it. But if all you want is a trigger puller, I'm out."
And then he lied to himself about it not being because he needed the money.
After Cynthia Rhodes signed a standard, boiler-plate contract, which had jammed Blu's ancient printer twice in the process, and gave him a picture of her son, she and her driver left. Happy to be working again, Blu headed into town, taking the decade-old photo of Jeremy Rhodes with him, the most recent one his mother had. It showed a good-looking, normal kid with clear eyes and a boyish smile and dimples.
The drive into Charleston gave Blu time to think. A few things about this new job already bothered him. First: Cynthia Rhodes, the kid's supposed mother, didn't have a current picture of her son. Second: For all he knew, Jeremy could be trying to run away from dear old mom.
Cynthia Rhodes had no idea where her son was and couldn't remember the last time she'd seen or spoken with him. When Blu asked about drug use, she seemed flippant. All she knew was Jeremy had gone to the College of Charleston and majored in Liberal Arts, graduating two years ago.
Frankly, if it weren't for the money and his lack of it, Blu wouldn't have been so eager to take the job. The fact she'd doubled the offer erased any hesitation he might have had.
When he turned onto King Street, he found a parking spot at a meter in front of Willie's Music Shop. He put some change in the meter and walked inside. His friend Willie Day had owned and run the place since the eighties, weathering Hurricane Hugo and urban blight. Willie always seemed to know what was going on no matter what Blu asked about. After Willie had passed on to the other side not too long after 9/11, his daughter took over, running the store during the city's current rejuvenation. And, like her father, she had connections all over town.
Billie Day stood beside a wall display of Fender guitars, talking to a very early twenty-something white male. A black tank top and a short crop of hair exposed Billie's light brown arms and neck. Her jeans accentuated curves that always put Blu in a good mood. She gave him a slight nod but kept her main focus on the customer.
Blu rotated his sunglasses to the top of his head and pretended to browse while he waited for Billie to make the sale. Desert Storm had done a number on his hearing, but he distinctly heard the sum "thousand even" and silently congratulated Billie.
After the kid had paid and walked out with his purchase protected in a nice case she'd talked him into buying, Billie walked over to Blu.
With hands on nice hips, she said, "What can I help you with?"
What she said was a little more formal than Blu had been looking for in a greeting. Apparently, Billie was more than a little pissed at him for not calling. It had been six months, right about the time his tax situation derailed him.
He said, "Hi, Billie."
"Hi, Billie? Is that what you're going with?"
She put a finger to his lips. "Don't even try to dig yourself out of this one, Blu."
He looked into powerful, deep brown eyes and almost winced.
Her gaze lightened. "Why didn't you just tell me your tax troubles?"
Blu looked down. He should have assumed she knew.
She lifted his chin. "Friends help each other. They don't shut each other out."
"It's my problem to fix," he said.
"But it doesn't have to be, baby. You made it so."
A lot of thoughts ran through his stubborn head. Like how someone five years his junior had it so much more together than he did. And how someone could care about him so much after all these years.
He said, "I've got another job now. A good one. Hell, the retainer alone is enough to pay off Charleston County and then some."
"You've got a job now, huh? Is that why you're here?"
"Not the only reason."
She patted his chest. "Before we get to that, you've got to make this up to me."
With a nudge from her hip, she said, "I don't want to hear excuses. I want you to take me out and treat me proper. Everything has a price. My price for being ignored is a date. Take it or leave it."
He'd always loved this woman. The timing was never right. He'd come back from the war all screwed up and she'd just turned eighteen — bad timing.
By the time he'd gotten his head screwed back on straight, she was twenty. And he married someone else — bad timing.
When he'd been about to get a divorce, his wife turned up pregnant. They stuck it out another five years before ending it just in time for Billie to marry someone else — bad timing.
And then Billie divorced, she and Blu were set to be together, and his money problems started — bad timing.
But now he had this new job, his money problems abated, and she was still available. He just hoped he wouldn't mess it up this time. So, in answer to her request for a date as restitution for him being a complete moron, he said, "Okay. I'll take it."
"Good," she said. "Pick me up at eight."
He thought about going ahead and asking her if she knew Jeremy Rhodes, but he decided not to push his luck. She wasn't his only source, just his favorite.
He smiled and gave her a peck on the cheek.
She said, "Are you going to call Crome?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "In It For The Money"
Copyright © 2017 David Burnsworth.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
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