Ever since the cops revoked his private investigator's license, Charlie Bradshaw has been adjusting to life as a regular senior citizen. But reading, sitting around the house, and making amateur home repairs is a far cry from his past life as Saratoga Springs' most successful everyman detective.
So when Charlie discovers the sprawled corpse of Saratoga Springs' biggest nuisance on his sidewalk, the ex-P.I. is torn. Should he risk asking questions of his own, knowing he could easily be prosecuted for doing P.I. work without a license? Or should he avoid the trouble and spend his twilight years in peace? Well, the case was practically delivered to his doorstep...
Saratoga Payback, the latest installment in Stephen Dobyns's critically praised Charlie Bradshaw Mysteries, follows Charlie as he toes the line between concerned private citizen and practiced private eye. As he begins to look into the murder of the town pest, Charlie also finds himself entangled in problem that is purely Saratogian--a mission to rescue an old acquaintance's kidnapped horse. Wry, entertaining, and adroitly written, Saratoga Payback is an immensely satisfying addition to Dobyns's popular mystery series.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Mickey Martin had what an acquaintance called “urinous” breath: a potent alkaloid whiff mixed with the aroma of rot-ting meat, which caused those whom he had snared in conversation to stumble back in search of relief. He had a square head, a fringe of short graying hair and wore a pair of thick horn-rimmed glasses, which magnified his eyes, giving him an owl-like expression more suggestive of cunning than wisdom. Apart from his small insurance and realty business, he specialized in gossip, slander and scandal, as well as back biting and stabbing. It was assumed to be a mix of these traits that led him into terminal difficulties, because at an hour or so past midnight during an October cold snap, someone had slashed his throat on a quiet street in Saratoga Springs, leaving his body sprawled on the sidewalk. Then, before disappearing, the killer had reached into Mickey Martin’s mouth and sliced out his tongue. Mickey’s urinous breath would trouble no one any longer.
It was Charlie Bradshaw’s misfortune to discover the body. He had gone to sleep at eleven thirty, nodding off over a book about Sacco and Vanzetti; then, at three thirty, he woke with a start to realize he hadn’t taken out the garbage. The truck rumbled past between seven and seven thirty every Tuesday morning, and more than once Charlie had been forced to run down the street in his pajamas and slippers holding out a black bag of trash like a belated Christmas gift toward the truck’s green and rusted maw. Usually, when the driver saw Charlie, he would accelerate and his reflected grin in the side mirror would diminish to a gray speck as the truck proceeded down the block.
So at three thirty-five, Charlie unpeeled himself from his cocoon of blankets—being careful not to wake Janey—put on his robe and slippers and headed downstairs. The two trashcans were at the rear of the driveway, filled with the accumulated detritus of husband, wife and teenage daughter. Then there were two recycling bins. On this night, however, the bins never reached the street, because as Charlie dragged out the trashcans he caught sight of Mickey Martin lying at the juncture of the sidewalk and the concrete path leading to the front steps, though he didn’t at first realize it was Mickey. The only streetlight was half a block away, which made the figure more resemble an oversized parcel than a corpse, but Charlie had spent enough time investigating the darker side of human behavior to guess the nature of this particular parcel.
Leaving the trashcans, Charlie made his way across the grass while holding his robe closed at the neck as protection against the chill. A dark stain made an irregular circle on the concrete and half surrounded the dead man’s head like a shadowy halo. Mickey wore a long, dark overcoat, dark pants and small dark Italian shoes with tassels, for he had been vain about his feet. Charlie pondered them briefly and sucked his teeth. Then he walked back to the house to turn on the porch light.
When he returned a moment later, the dark stain had taken on a red shimmer and he saw that the man’s glasses were lying in the grass. Bending over with his hands on his knees, he identified the corpse as Mickey Martin. The slash across his neck was like a lipsticked, tooth- less smile. He didn’t notice Mickey’s tongue was gone—that discovery would come later. Mickey’s eyes were open and he wore a dreamy, somewhat confused expression.
Charlie straightened up and massaged the back of his neck. The neighboring houses were dark and he heard no sound beyond the distant yowl of a cat. For a moment he wondered if it would be possible to drag Mickey out to the curb or even a few houses down the street to be left on someone else’s front walk. It was not a thought he entertained for long. The spilled blood on Janey’s sidewalk marked Mickey Martin as Charlie’s very own dead man. But as someone who’d disliked Mickey and who had been the victim of his slander, Charlie felt no great grief for his passing; rather, he believed, as would others, that the course of Mickey’s life had made early and violent death close to inevitable. Still, it was murder, and no matter how much Mickey might have deserved his fate, such conduct couldn’t be permitted in the Republican community of Saratoga Springs. The trouble for Charlie was that Mickey had apparently been on his way to see him. Although Charlie hadn’t laid eyes on Mickey for at least six months, he could foresee a range of personal disruption, the least of which being that he’d get no more sleep that night. Along with turning on the porch light, Charlie had grabbed his cell phone from the hall table. Once more sucking his teeth, he punched in 911.
Victor Plotz also woke up shortly after at three a.m., opening his eyes with a start. But it wasn’t because of garbage. Years before, in what he thought of as another life, he had been super in a Lower East Side tenement in New York and garbage had occupied a large portion of his time, lugging out thirty cans of it once a week, then lugging them back and cleaning up the messes left from the passive- aggressive and overpaid hulks who worked on the garbage truck— spilled plastic bottles, splops of unrecognizable food and containers redolent of sour milk. Victor had had enough of garbage. It was for him a religious conviction. And a benefit of living with the Queen of Softness, his long-term fiancée, was that he could leave the garbage to her or to one of the men or women employed at the lunch counter—“Family Eats Can’t Be Beat”—attached to her house. Vacuuming, washing clothes, refreshing the cat box, Victor would do it all. But not garbage. And, thanks to his New York tenement, he had finished life’s requisite burden of manhandling garbage cans at a relatively young age.
No, what woke Victor was a guilty conscience, a phenomenon experienced so rarely that he had lain awake for a minute wondering what the problem was. Beside him on the king-sized waterbed, the Queen of Softness made soft purrs and grunts. The room was dark except for a mural of Elvis on black velvet on the opposite wall, which soaked up the glow from the bathroom nightlight, giving the late singer’s open mouth and ruby red tongue a ghostly iridescence.
Then Victor remembered why he felt guilty. It was Dave Parlucci, who had accosted him earlier in the evening at The Parting Glass as Victor had been chatting up a waitress, Paula Something, trying to catch a glimpse between the open top buttons of her man’s white shirt, down, down to the pink wonder of cleavage dividing her humongous breasts. Circus high divers, Victor felt sure, had leapt into smaller spaces.
Parlucci had slapped him on the back. “Hey, Vic, don’t you rubnoses with Charlie Bradshaw, you know, the busted gumshoe, or whatever he calls himself?”
The interruption was annoying on so many levels that Victor hardly knew where to begin, except that Charlie was his best friend. “Hunh,” he said, as he searched his mental repertoire of derision for a suitable response. Parlucci bounced on the balls of his feet in front of him, a red-haired young man with close-set eyes wearing a Harley motorcycle jacket. Lobster eyes, thought Victor. Parlucci was a day bartender someplace and at night he worked as a bouncer at a kids’ bar, the Tin and Lint, where he was known for tricking out Skidmore cuties with promises of grass.
“I was out at his place on the lake,” continued Parlucci, “and some colored family was living there. Bradshaw don’t have any colored blood, does he?”
Here were more verbal provocations to deal with. In the meantime, Victor was aware of Paula Something drifting away and taking her humongous breasts with her. Soon somebody less deserving would be chatting her up.
“He’s renting the place,” said Victor. “The guy’s a doctor.”
“Jeez, who’d go to a colored doctor? How’d you like him to shove his fingers up your ass?”
“If you don’t get lost, I’ll spit in your drink,” said Victor as politely as possible. The doctor was in fact Victor’s own doctor and he had recently warned Victor that losing his temper was bad for his blood pressure and might lead to a paralyzing stroke.
“Touchy, touchy,” said Parlucci.
Verbal insult wouldn’t rid him of Parlucci, while the bloody alter- natives could land him in jail for what he called the duration—Victor admitted to being on the cusp of seventy. So he struggled to content himself with the compromised path. “What’s on your mind?”
“I’m looking for Bradshaw. I already said.”
“Why are you looking for him?”
Parlucci was drinking a green concoction with a maraschino cherry. Ducking two fingers in his glass, he drew out the cherry by its stem. A lime-green sludge clung to his fingernails. “Have I ever shown you how I can tie the stem of one of these suckers in a knot just with my tongue?” He stuck out his tongue, the same green color as his drink, though a shade lighter.
Victor repeated his question and Parlucci tossed the cherry in his mouth. “Maybe it’s none of your business. I mean, I got business with Bradshaw, not with you.”
Victor turned back to his Guinness. “Then forget it.”
“Hey, don’t be so sensitive. I owe him a hundred bucks going back a few months. I hit a lucky horse at the simulcasts this afternoon and thought I’d pay what I owe him. It’s easier than avoiding him all the time.”
Victor didn’t necessarily believe Parlucci, but he wanted to end the conversation without further delay. “Why’d he lend you the money?”
“Come on, Vic, I needed a coupla tires for my truck.”
Although an irritant, Parlucci seemed harmless. Let Charlie deal with it. “He’s married now and living with his wife in town. Over on the west side.” He gave Parlucci the address. As he did so, Victor swore he’d have to remember to tell Charlie about it. In fact, he knew he should have asked Charlie before he gave Parlucci the address. Still, Parlucci could have just used the phone book, except, as Victor then realized, the phone was in Janey’s name.
“Did he ever get his detective license back?” asked Parlucci.
Charlie had lost his license, or so the district attorney had claimed, for constantly sticking his nose into police business.
“No, he’s retired.”
“He’s doing nothing?”
“He’s thinking of opening a bar.” This possibility had just occurred to Victor. Charlie himself had never spoke of such a thing.
“That’s what I’d like—free drinks and waitresses scared of losing their jobs. You pinch ’em and they can’t complain.”
After Parlucci left, Victor turned his attention to luring Paula Something back into his immediate environment. She had breasts the size of a pair of Maltese pups and Victor imagined throwing him- self into their pink gully and wiggling his feet in the air—a fantasy that sped the blood through his geriatric veins. Soon he forgot all about Parlucci; that is, till three o’clock that morning when he woke from a sound sleep to realize he had forgotten to call Charlie.
Excerpted from "Saratoga Payback"
Copyright © 2017 Stephen Dobyns.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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.