Loren D. Estleman is the quintessential noir detective writer, and Amos Walker is his quintessential noir detective. The hardboiled Amos Walker series continues with Retro.
Walker has made a lot of friends--and a few enemies--in his years as a detective in Detroit, but he has never had to deal with quite the trouble he finds when he agrees to grant the death-bed wish of Beryl Garnet. Beryl was a madam, but she had a son a long while ago, and asks Walker to make sure that her son gets her ashes when she's gone.
He finds her son, who has been in Canada since the 1960s, evading the law since he was a Vietnam War protester. A simple favor, melancholy, but benign. Except that before he can get settled back in Detroit Garnet's son is dead, with him as the prime suspect.
He has little choice but to find out who might have done the deed and tried to pin the blame on him. . . and in the process he discovers another murder, of a boxer from the 1940s, Curtis Smallwood, who happens to have been the man's father. If that wasn't bad enough, his task is made much more complicated by the fact that the two murders, fifty-three years apart, were committed with the very same gun. And in a place where it was impossible for a gun to be.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
Loren D. Estleman was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a BA degree in English Literature and Journalism in 1974. In 2002, the university awarded him an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters for his contribution to American literature.
He is the author of more than fifty novels in the categories of mystery, historical western, and mainstream, and has received four Western Writers of American Golden Spur Awards, three Western Heritage Awards, and three Shamus Awards. He has been nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award, Britain's Silver Dagger, the National Book Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2003, the mammoth Encyclopedia of Detective Fiction named him the most critically acclaimed writer of U.S. detective
Loren D. Estleman is the author of more than eighty novels, including the Amos Walker, Page Murdock, and Peter Macklin series. Winner of three Shamus Awards, three Western Heritage Awards, four Spur Awards and many other literary prizes. He lives outside Detroit with his wife, author Deborah Morgan.
Read an Excerpt
An Amos Walker Novel
By Loren D. Estleman, James Frenkel
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2004 Loren D. Estleman
All rights reserved.
What do you do with an old madam when she's peddled her last pound of flesh?
They never had any ambivalence about it in the old days. If she'd saved her money, they propped her up in a gondola bed piled high with satin pillows, parked her opium pipe among the crystal atomizers and pots of face cream and scent, and when the time came they carried her downstairs in a white coffin and buried her in a Protestant cemetery, Presbyterians and Methodists being notorious for their democracy. If her circumstances were straitened, the sisters of charity drifted to and fro past her bed in a ward smelling of quicklime and carbolic, put a damp cloth on her forehead when she moaned, and at the end gave the gravedigger's boy a coin to dump her in Potter's field.
That was in the old days. The new belonged to the self-employed, and whorehouse matrons had no more place than gondola beds or nuns in stiff linen. Why spring for a parlor and a bouncer when streetcorner space is free? Beryl Garnet was the last of her kind, and her reward for outliving all her contemporaries was the Grenloch Assisted Living Village in Farmington, an eighth of a tank of gas north of the house she'd run on John R in Detroit for nearly forty years.
The facility sprawled over six acres of greensward, with a retention pool — the Grenloch that had given the place its name — in front, where overfed ducks and geese paddled their feet and littered the surrounding walk with their waste. The building's faLade had been made to resemble a Scottish hamlet, steep-roofed, half-timbered, and girded round with decorative ironwork for fat lairds to lean on and direct the monthly whipping of the serfs. The Dutch doors were plastered to solid brick. In order to get inside, I had to park in a half-empty visitors' lot and tug open a faux chapel door with a steel core.
The foyer was large, with shining black-and-white checkered ceramic tile and a white baby grand piano waiting for some old fish to sweep aside his tails and plunk himself down on the padded bench and trundle out Chopin's Sonata No. 3 in B Minor. Meanwhile the residents had to make do with the Dixie Chicks. The P.A. was cranked up to hearing-aid level.
I found Beryl's room number on a wall directory, black with white plastic lettering that snapped in and out, suitable for discreet editing when rooms turned over. It beat erasing names from a blackboard.
A maintenance worker installing a wall rail directed me to the nursing wing, where residents who needed a little more than just assistance were sequestered. This was separated from the rest of the facility by a fire door with a gridded window set into it. There the carpeting and potpourri ended and the linoleum and disinfectant began.
"Who you here for?"
I looked down at the man seated in a vinyl-upholstered armchair in the corridor. I'd have had to walk around him to ignore him. He was thin and bald, with long arms and legs in an electric-blue jogging suit zipped to his wattles. His withered-apple face was bright-eyed and he appeared to have most of his teeth, unless he'd had them made crooked on purpose. I told him who I was there for.
He shook his head. "Don't know her. I ran the Detroit Edison office downtown for twenty-seven years. Took a hundred thousand in a lump sum to retire. That was in nineteen seventy. If I knew I'd live this long I'd have taken the pension. You make your choices in this life and you stick with them. As if you could do anything else."
"I guess that's true."
"Don't just yes me because I said it. You don't know me. I might be a liar."
"You might be, at that."
"Well, I'm not. Back in seventy, a hundred thousand was so big you couldn't see around it. I've seen around it now, and there's nothing in back. What do you do?"
"I came to tune the piano."
"Horseshit. You look like a cop to me."
"It's the gum soles."
"Who'd you say you're here for?"
He looked at the wall across the corridor. It was finished in corkboard, with childrens' pictures drawn in bright crayon thumbtacked all over it. He mouthed the name a couple of times. Then he shook his head again. "Don't know her. You make your choices in this life and you stick with them."
"As if you could do anything else."
He squinted up at me as if he'd just realized I was there. Then he pointed a finger at my chest. "You're pretty smart for your age. You take the pension when they offer it."
I said I would and left him. I turned a corner and stopped at a nurses' station. A plump, sweet-faced redhead in her twenties smiled when I told her who I was visiting. She wore a floral smock and had a blood-pressure indicator draped around her neck. Another nurse twice her age sat on a low turning stool speaking in murmurs on the telephone to someone she called Mortie. Lines 1 and 3 kept on flashing all the time I was standing there, and an oval glass fixture mounted above one of the doors in the hall glowed on and off with a querulous buzz. It didn't have anything to do with me.
"She'll be happy to see you," said the redhead. "She doesn't get many people."
"I think a gentleman around the corner may be in the same boat."
"You must mean Wendell. He stakes out that spot every day about this time. Did he tell you he used to run the Edison office in Detroit?"
"He advised me to take a pension."
"He tells everyone that."
"I don't get a pension," I said. "No one's ever offered me a hundred thousand, either."
"You should tell him. It might make him feel better."
I was tired of talking about Wendell. I'd expected the visit to depress me, but not before I'd made it. "How is Beryl?"
Her smile turned noncommital. "Are you a friend or a relative?"
"She's in good spirits. She tells the most outrageous lies about her past."
"Any of them involve the old mayor?"
She looked down suddenly at a chart on the desk. I felt a little better then. It isn't every day you make a trained health-care professional blush.CHAPTER 2
The room was just a little larger than the handicap toilet that accompanied it, with the added advantage of a window looking out on a crew excavating a septic tank.
The walls were painted a cheery apricot, and a bulletin board had been bolted to the wall opposite the single bed for posting pictures of grandchildren and Get Well cards from friends and family. The only thing pinned to it was a black-and-white snapshot with pinked edges of a petite woman in her early twenties wearing chunky heels and a dress with padded shoulders, one hand resting on the radiator cap of a 1940 Packard. That was forty years before I knew Beryl Garnet, but I accepted it as evidence that she'd been young once and slim.
A woman with a puffball head of white hair with pink scalp showing through sat in a folding wheelchair, watching a couple in overalls spackling drywall on a sixteen-inch TV. The old woman had on trifocals, a pilled white sweater over a house-dress mottled with explosions of orange and green, and a man's brown loafers with slits cut in the sides. I hadn't seen Beryl Garnet in twenty years, but I accepted this as evidence that she was still here and eighty.
I spoke her name. The old woman didn't turn her head or blink. I raised my voice and tried again. For her I wasn't there, and neither was the couple on the TV. She was staring at them with the detached fixity of a cat watching fish swim in an aquarium.
"There you are, Lettie. We were about to call out the National Guard."
A woman younger than the redhead at the nurses' station, wearing a similar flowered smock and slacks, crept in, swung the chair toward the hall, and pushed it out. The old woman responded with a stammering squeal, like a bad pulley.
Beryl Garnet came in a minute later. I didn't know how I could have mistaken anyone else for her. She was still short and round and her hair was arranged in the soft, blue-rinse waves I remembered. Her complexion was paler, less like an enameled doll's, and she was using a walker, but apart from that, the last two decades seemed to have gone right around her like water around a snag.
"Turn that off, please. I wouldn't mind people wandering in and out if they wouldn't leave that thing yammering when they left."
I switched off the TV set. What sounded like the same program spilled out of several other open doors into the silence. Either home improvement was popular among the elderly or Grenloch got only one channel off cable.
She made her way over to the bed, sat down on the edge of the mattress, and spun the walker out of the way. I might have helped her if she'd asked. Maybe I should have anyway. You never know with old people. I did move over and push the door shut. That made the silence complete, if you ignored the crew jackhammering at the concrete outside.
She looked at me. She wore a dress of some pale green material like crepe, cinched at the waist with a wide belt of shiny red plastic or patent leather that matched her shoes, flat-heeled with tiny silver buckles on the sides. She was as tidy as a little girl in dancing school. When she was sixty, her back parlor had been the main payoff point for the old city vice squad.
"You're getting gray," she said. "But then so is the rest of your generation. How do you like it so far?"
"I like it fine. You look about the same."
She laughed. I'd forgotten that laugh; like Tinkerbell on crank.
"How would you know? We only saw each other that one time. How long has it been? On second thought, forget I asked. Who's keeping score?"
"You're hard to forget. You set your bouncer on me with a Great Dane chaser."
"Dear old Ulysses. I had to put him down finally. His hip went out."
I couldn't remember if Ulysses was the dog or the bouncer, so I didn't say anything.
She went on looking at me. I didn't know what she was seeing. Her eyes were still like bits of bright glass buttoned into her face. Her mouth was small and delicately curved, tinted Titian pink. She was Mrs. Claus, Martha Washington, and the Marquessa de Sade all rolled up into one lump of Silly Putty.
"I was surprised you were still listed," she said. "I thought you might be retired by now."
"I thought you were dead."
"Still the diplomat. Did you ever find that girl you were looking for?"
"She took a shot at me. It wasn't one of my more restful cases."
"I thought detectives thrived on danger."
"That's the gas company. Why the call, Mrs. Garnet? You can stroll down Memory Lane anytime with the clerks in Records and Information."
"They wouldn't remember me. I closed up shop when the police stopped arresting prostitutes and started arresting customers. That was an open invitation to every streetwalker and call girl between here and New Orleans. With my overhead, I couldn't compete."
"You can confiscate a john's car if he uses it to cruise for hookers. More money for the city."
"I'm not complaining. I made a good living, and I spread it around."
"You and Magic Johnson."
She sighed. She was too good an actress not to have worked her way up from the bedsprings. If they all looked like Elvira there'd be no reason to leave home.
"Now you sound like a reformer. They were most of my overhead. Excuse me one minute."
There was an oxygen set-up next to the bed, with a pair of torpedo-shaped tanks and a pressure gauge. She turned the dial, placed the transparent plastic mask over her nose and mouth, and took two deep gulps. Then she put the mask back on top of the contraption and turned it off.
She looked embarrassed, and she hadn't the experience to put it over. "I have a touch of emphysema. My blood pressure would kill most people half my age, and three operations have failed to locate the source of my internal bleeding. I wear diapers, to put the comic point on it. It's all been very dreary so far and not at all the adventure I'd been led to believe."
I said nothing again. This conversation was outside my specialty.
She scratched the back of one plump pink hand. It had a Band-Aid on it. "I've made all the arrangements except one. I'd like my son to have my ashes."
"So call him."
"If it were that easy, I wouldn't have called you. We haven't had contact in thirtyfour years."
I added backwards. Everything in my life seemed to add up to that year.
"What happened in nineteen sixty-eight?"
"Vietnam. You might have heard of it."
I said I had. I dreamed about it now and then, but not as often as I used to. "Draft dodger?"
"Such an ugly term. You can't say it without sneering."
"I didn't coin it. I didn't coin amnesty, either. He could have come back anytime in the last twenty-five years."
"There's a little more to it than that. The FBI has been looking for him all this time."
She laughed again, scraping a nerve.
"It's funny. Del was a sickly boy. He missed a lot of school and only managed to graduate at the bottom of his class. No one would ever have predicted he'd place among anyone's top ten."CHAPTER 3
Delwayne Garnet had worked his way onto the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list by default. The two bottom slots opened up when a pipe bomb went off prematurely in a car headed toward the Federal Building on West Fort Street in November 1968. Forensics experts scraped together enough organic material to identify a pair of fugitives sought in the bombings of recruitment centers on the campuses of Wayne State University and the University of Detroit, struck off their names, and added Delwayne's. He had already been known to the Detroit field office as the one the local urban guerrillas sent out for coffee. Whatever else he knew about the internal organization besides who took sugar and cream and who drank it black was more important to Washington than Delwayne himself.
He'd been adopted by Beryl Garnet in infancy. She wouldn't say who his birth parents were, but accidental pregnancies were as common in her work as cavities, so I didn't press her for an answer. I'm not as curious as I once was about things I can't use. There are worse ways to be brought up than in a brothel; there is always someone to babysit, and you get to have your own room outside business hours. Sometimes several of them. Possibly his early life had contributed to his choice of associations later — you can't watch your foster mother hand a fat envelope once a month to the officer on the beat without forming specific opinions about the nature of authority — but that was happening all over, with a lot less personal exposure to explain it. Whatever the circumstances were, at eighteen, Delwayne's senior picture moved from the Murray-Wright High School yearbook to the nation's post offices.
Beryl gave me a print of it from a drawer in her nightstand. It was a narrow, dusky, sullen face, possibly part black or east Indian. The expression looked furtive, but that's not unusual in school. I didn't think I'd like him, although not for any of those reasons, or even his background. To hell with what modern science says about the practice of physiognomy; certain faces belong in the dictionary next to trouble.
He'd moved out of the house on John R several weeks before the blast. Beryl didn't know where to, but he'd been around to borrow money on a semi-regular basis, showing up each time with longer hair, scruffier whiskers, and less pleasant manners than the time before. The visits stopped about the time his picture appeared in newspapers. The prevailing wisdom was he'd fled to Canada under an alias with falsified documents to match, but that was just speculation because Windsor was only three minutes away by bridge or tunnel. That was the story on Delwayne Garnet so far as I could obtain from his next-of-kin. I'd found people on less, but not after the largest intelligence-gathering organization in the world had failed.
"I can get right on this if you want to hear from him," I said, slapping shut my notepad. "No guarantees on whether I turn him or if he'll do anything about it if I do. He might think it's a trick to lure him into U.S. jurisdiction."
"That won't be necessary. Whatever we had to talk about would only depress me, and that isn't how I intend to spend my time." She took another hit of oxygen, bigger than before. Her age had begun to etch itself into her pallor.
"What do you want done with the ashes if I don't find him?"
"Suit yourself. I just don't want the State of Michigan disposing of them. I've stayed out of their hands this long."
I looked at Delwayne's face again, not liking it any more than I had the first time, then stuck it inside my notepad and put the pad in my pocket. "I charge five hundred a day, not counting expenses. They promise to go high on this one."
Excerpted from Retro by Loren D. Estleman, James Frenkel. Copyright © 2004 Loren D. Estleman. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.