Lew Fonesca is a guy just trying to get along. When his wife died in a senseless auto wreck, he got up and left his old life--and when his car gave out in sunny Sarasota, Florida, he stayed. He takes small process-serving gigs and various odd jobs helping people out, and he tries, although maybe not as hard as he should, to fix the gaping hole in his heart.
But for a man who just wants to ease through life without any complications, Lew has a pretty full plate. The shrink that Lew's been seeing for more than a year wants him to finally dump all the grief that he's carrying around so he can have more than a half-life. And Sally, the pretty single mom and social worker who has helped Lew in the past, wants to deepen their friendship. On top of that, a local minister asks him to find a town council member who has gone missing just before a crucial vote that could ruin a struggling community, and a distraught father comes to Lew to track down his wife and two kids, who Lew suspects ran off with the man's best friend.
When people start showing up dead, Lew knows he's in way over his head--and this time he may not be able make it all come out okay.
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About the Author
Stuart M. Kaminsky is the Edgar Award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Inspector Rostnikov, Toby Peters, Lew Fonesca, and Abe Lieberman mystery series. He lives with his family in Sarasota, Florida.
Stuart M. Kaminsky was the author of more than 60 novels and an Edgar Award winner who was given the coveted Grand Master Award by the Mystery Writers of America. His series include the Lew Fonesca, Inspector Rostnikov, Toby Peters, and Abe Lieberman mysteries, which includes such titles as Terror Town, The Last Dark Place, and Not Quite Kosher. He passed away in the fall of 2009.
Read an Excerpt
A Lew Fonesca Mystery
By Stuart M. Kaminsk
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2003 Stuart M. Kaminsky
All rights reserved.
"NO AMOUNT OF SUNSCREEN will save her," Dave said, shaking his head.
I nodded and looked up at the jogger passing in front of the DQ, headed downtown. She wore shorts and a tank top, a Walkman singing in her ear, a serious look on her pretty face, her sun-bleached blond hair bouncing against her back in a long ponytail.
She made a left turn and headed out of sight toward Towles Court, a collection of small shops and homes owned by painters, sculptors, jewelry makers ... people who had once been successful in business or raising a family and now were retired and wanted to change the label they wore from no one in particular to Artist. Few of the community in Towles Court, mostly women, had illusions about breaking out and getting famous and wealthy. They enjoyed what they now were and what they were doing. They had peace, time, and identity.
I cannot paint, sketch, sculpt, or draw, and I have no urge to try. Unlike the artists of Towles Court in their brightly painted houses, I have as little identity as possible.
Dave owns the Dairy Queen franchise across the parking lot from where I live and work in a walk-up office building with peeling paint and crumbling corners of concrete. The building had begun life as a two-story, 1950s motel and had gradually gone downhill till it was ready for me. I'm not supposed to live in the back room of my office, but the landlord doesn't care as long as I pay my rent on time and don't complain. I don't complain.
Dave looks like a dark, deeply weathered mariner, which he is when he's not handing out Dilly Bars, Blizzards, and burgers. He owns a boat and is out in Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico whenever possible. The sun has leathered him. The boat has given him muscles and kept him trim.
Dave is about my age, early forties. I like to think that with his face and bleached-out hair he looks older than I do, but I'm dark with a rapidly receding hairline that makes me look every minute of my age.
My name is Lew Fonesca. I live in Sarasota, Florida, where I drove a little over three years ago when my wife was killed in a hit-and-run "accident." "Accident" is in quotes because the police couldn't find out who the driver was. My wife was a lawyer in the Cook County State Attorney's office, where I worked as the head of legal research. She had prosecuted a lot of people, made a lot of them and their relatives angry. Maybe it wasn't an accident, a drunken driver, a panicked kid who had just gotten his or her license, someone on a cell phone not paying attention.
When the funeral was over and I had nothing left to weep, I got in my 1989 Toyota in the cemetery parking lot and started to drive. I headed south, in the general direction of oblivion and the tip of Florida. I had no idea of what I would do when I got there. I wasn't sure where "there" was. In those four days, I listened to the voices of conservative talk-show hosts, Don Imus, Rush Limbaugh, Neal Boortz, Michael Savage, and the advocates of the unknown like Art Bell and Whitley Streiber, anybody who was talking. I didn't want music. I wanted company, a voice, anyone speaking whom I didn't have to answer. I listened but I heard nothing.
My car had given out in the DQ parking lot in Sarasota. There was an "Office For Rent" sign on the office building. I sold the car for twenty-five dollars to a couple of kids eating hot dogs and drinking Blizzards and made the first month's rent on the office overlooking the DQ parking lot and heavily traveled Route 301, which was named Washington Street for the stretch through Sarasota.
Now I sat at the white, chipped enamel table with the sun umbrella with Dave talking about the sun and pretty women joggers. Dave was drinking water. I was working on a cheeseburger and a chocolate-cherry Blizzard, my copy of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune folded on the table in front of me.
The ultraviolet index, which I could never understand, was close to ten, which meant that if you stepped out into it you'd probably die of skin cancer faster than you would of exposure in the middle of winter at the North Pole. I pulled my Chicago Cubs baseball cap down about an inch.
Earlier that morning I had biked the five blocks to the downtown YMCA, locked up my bike, showed my card, got my things out of my locker, and worked out. Pounding the step machine, fighting the leg weights, pumping, running, stretching muscles, straining arms and legs, pushing. I needed it. Not because I treasured my body but because I could lose myself in the burn, the edge of physical pain, the satisfaction of starting at A and completing stages that took me through to Z, if I decided to go that far. At the end I could feel what I had accomplished or had done to myself. It was finite. It was satisfying. When I was finished working out, I always showered slowly, the water as hot as I could take it, letting it beat into my head and body drowning out voices, light, the world. It never fully exhausted me, though. That would have been an additional benefit. One of the many blessings or curses of Lewis Fonesca was that nothing exhausted me for very long: not working out, not working, not too little sleep or too much sleep.
I had pedaled back past the Hollywood 20 theater, the city and county buildings on Washington, past the small shops and to where I sat now, early burger and Blizzard in hand, newspaper in front of me.
I sat quietly digesting my burger and Dave's observation. Dave drank his water and accidentally spilled a few drops on his white apron.
"My kids are coming Saturday for their annual two weeks," he said. "My ex is going to Guam to study brown tree snakes. What do you do with an eight and ten year old? I'll take them to Busch, Universal, Disney. Saturday I'll take them to First Watch for breakfast. They love it. Another year or two and they'll outgrow it. Maybe."
"Maybe," I said, finishing the burger and giving my full attention to the Blizzard, working at the chocolate that stuck to the side of the cup, careful not to break the red plastic spoon.
"Das es shicksall giveren," he said. "It's fate."
Dave spoke five languages, all picked up when he traveled in Europe for five years when he got out of high school over twenty years ago. Dave was a quick study with not much ambition. I didn't know what "fate" or whose he was talking about.
"You know Christopher Lee speaks Russian and Greek?" he asked.
"No," I said, finishing my drink.
I checked my watch. I had an appointment I wanted to skip but knew I wouldn't.
"And Kobe Bryant speaks French?" Dave said.
I didn't answer.
"Kobe Bryant, the kid on the Lakers. I talked to him once on a plane. In French. Kid had a great accent. Never finished high school."
Dave was like one of the radio voices that had accompanied me when I drove, only Dave sometimes required an answer and deserved attention, which I tried to give.
"You Fonesca?" a deep voice behind me said.
Dave squinted up over my shoulder. I adjusted my baseball cap and turned around.
I recognized him.
"I'm Fonesca," I said.
"Went to your office," the man said, nodding toward the open space on the bench between Dave and me. "Man up there pointed you out."
I looked up at the second-floor landing just outside my office. Digger, a homeless man who used the building's rest room as a frequent refuge, waved down at me. I waved back.
I invited the man to sit. After all, he was a distinguished local figure, a minister, a leader of the local civil rights movement, a high-ranking official in the Florida ACLU, and a member of the County Commission, the only African-American in the city or county government.
The Reverend Fernando Wilkens was in the newspaper and on the local television news almost every day. I almost never watched the news but I did read the Herald-Tribune. Well, that's not exactly the truth. I looked at the headlines, checked to see how Sammy Sosa was hitting, and examined the obituaries year-round to see who had died and left a small or large hole in the world.
I knew almost nothing about local politics, but Reverend Wilkens was a hard man to miss.
Wilkens was big man, running toward the chunky side, in tan slacks and a white pullover short-sleeve shirt with a little green alligator on the pocket. He was about fifty, had good teeth, smooth brown skin, an even smoother bass voice, and a winning public smile, which he was not sporting at the moment.
"Can I speak to you privately?" Wilkens said, sitting down without looking at Dave.
"Customer at the window," Dave said, getting up. "Want a Dilly Bar or something?"
"No, thank you," Wilkens said, folding his hands on the table."
Dave shrugged and moved toward the door at the back of the DQ. A young, frazzled-looking woman lugging a heavy baby was at the window. The baby was trying to squirm out of her arms.
"You know who I am?"
"Yes," I said, tapping at the Local section in front of me, which featured an article on the mysterious death of more manatees. Manatees seemed to be constantly dying mysteriously just as red tide seemed to roll in once a season and linger in the warm water and hot sun over the Gulf of Mexico. It gave the Local-section reporters surefire story material and once in a while made the front page.
The doings of both the City Council and the County Board of Commissioners, on the other hand, made the front pages only when there was a controversy so major that at least fifty citizens protested with marches and placards and complaints before the open hearings of the council or board. Few people went to these meetings with any real hope of convincing the council or board of anything. Few people when addressing the council for their allotted three or four minutes even expected their elected officials to listen to them. In the middle of an impassioned speech by an ancient resident, members of the council or board would pass notes on the latest Florida State or University of Florida football or baseball scores, hand-carried to them by a Manatee Community College intern.
Most of these meetings were on television for those who chose to watch, which was few. I sometimes tuned in and found myself dozing unless there was a new issue and lots of complaints such as whether to build another high-rise hotel like the Ritz-Carlton to block out more of the sun and the view of the Gulf.
"There's a commission meeting Friday night," Reverend Wilkens said, soft and deep, as I pushed away my empty plastic cup and glanced up at a couple of shirtless boys with lean bodies and a desire to be killed by the sun. I heard them order large Oreo-cookie Blizzards.
"A commission meeting," I repeated.
Reverend Wilkens nodded.
"There's going to be an open hearing about six items," he said. "The last one is whether to open Midnight Pass."
I nodded, not knowing where this was going.
Midnight Pass was a hot issue every few years in Sarasota County. Cars with bumper stickers reading "Open Midnight Pass" had been common when I first came to town. There were fewer now, but the Pass had become an issue again.
"What do you know about the Midnight Pass controversy?" he asked.
I told him what I thought I knew, which wasn't much and was probably half wrong. There had once been a narrow waterway separating Siesta Key and Casey Key, two of the highpriced islands off the Sarasota coast. The Pass was closed now, creating one long island and cutting off access to the mainland unless a boater went down to the end of the Casey Key and came up the inlet. People on the mainland coast, realtors and land developers, wanted the Pass open so mainland property prices would go up because pleasure and fishing boats could have direct access to the Gulf. People who owned property on the Gulf side of the island wanted it left closed so their property would be worth more because there would be less shoreline with direct access to the Gulf. Then there were two additional groups of people who fought over what would be best ecologically, no Pass or an open Pass. From what I could tell, however, about ninety-nine percent of the population of Sarasota County didn't care either way.
"A bit oversimplified," Reverend Wilkens said with a smile that indicated I was woefully uninformed on the issue but that he was a tolerant and patient man. "Before 1918, Siesta and Casey Key were separated by Little Sarasota Inlet. In 1918, a strong gale broke open Musketeers Pass about halfway down Casey Key and created Bird Keys, a small and a tiny island formed by wash-through sand. In 1921, Little Sarasota Inlet was partially closed by another storm. Property owners finished filling it in."
"Leaving only Musketeers Pass between Casey and the south end of Siesta Key," I said to show I was paying attention.
"That is correct, but without going into more of the Lord's manipulation of the land and elements, let it suffice that Musketeers Pass was renamed Midnight Pass, a fifty-foot inlet separating Casey and the south peninsula of Siesta Key and providing direct access to Little Sarasota Bay and Bird Keys. The Pass began to grow smaller as the keys drifted toward each other or nature just filled it in. In 1983, two homeowners received permission from the state and county and closed what remained of the Pass. Result? Little Sarasota Bay became stagnant, creating a new ecological system."
"And that's bad."
"No," he said, "that is good. Little Sarasota Bay has become a unique plant and animal sanctuary, a relatively tourist-free nature haven. The Lord allowed those homeowners to close that Pass for a reason. They simply finished the work He had begun. If He wants it open, He'll do so without the Corps of Engineers and many millions of dollars the county can ill afford. He parted the Red Sea. I trust he can part a narrow fifty-foot stretch of filled-in land if He so chooses. I wish the Pass to remain closed until the Lord chooses to open it. The Army Corps of Engineers has indicated the cost to reopen will be as much as ten million dollars, and then the cost of keeping God from closing it again after that will be a million or more each year."
He started at me with sincerity and unblinking eyes. He was good, but I could see there was another reason for wanting Midnight Pass left closed lurking behind those deep, brown eyes.
"It will be the last item on the agenda and probably won't come up till after midnight on Friday. I've got the feeling that a few of my fellow board members whose views differ from mine will have lots to say on the earlier items such as tearing up Clark Road again or replacing blighted trees on Palm Avenue. We'll listen to the public and then discuss and vote on Midnight Pass. The vote won't be subject to review unless there's a violation of the state or federal constitution."
Wilkens basically represented Newtown, the African-American ghetto in Sarasota running about four blocks or more in either direction north and south of Martin Luther King Jr. Street. The far south end of what could be called Newtown was within walking distance of downtown. A curious man might have wondered what the Midnight Pass business in another district forty minutes south had to do with Newtown. I wasn't curious.
I was about to say, "What's this got to do with me?" when Fernando Wilkens told me.
He leaned over and whispered, "I've got the votes."
"To keep the Pass closed," he said. "There are five members on the County Commission. Votes involving contracts for millions of dollars are routinely decided by simple majority."
I nodded to show him that I was paying attention.
"I have your assurance that this is a privileged conversation?" he asked softly, though no one was listening. He looked around to see if we were being watched by anyone. Cars drove by but on a day like this only teens, joggers, and the homeless wandered the streets of Sarasota.
It's privileged. How did you find me?" I asked. "And why?"
I'm not listed in the phone book, either in the white pages or in the yellow pages. I'm a process server with even less ambition than DQ Dave. I work as little as I can, live as cheaply as I can, and have as little to do with people as I can. I checked my watch and glanced at my bicycle leaning against the side of the DQ. If I didn't get going in the next five minutes and pedal hard, I'd be late.
"My lawyer, Fred Tyrell," Wilkens said. "He told me about you."
Excerpted from Midnight Pass by Stuart M. Kaminsk. Copyright © 2003 Stuart M. Kaminsky. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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