Detroit PI Amos Walker attempts to clear the name of a woman accused of murdering her husbandConstance Thayer probably isn’t a nice woman. If she was, she wouldn’t have shot her husband to death. But just because she has a taste for nightlife—drinking, clubbing, and the finest hard drugs—doesn’t mean her husband didn’t deserve it. An automobile magnate in a city where internal combustion still reigns supreme, Doyle Thayer Jr. was a wife-beater with a collection of assault weapons that could furnish an army. At least that’s the story spun by Amos Walker’s new client, a large investigatory outfit hired by Mrs. Thayer to clear her name. Walker’s job is to get the dirt on her late husband, to learn enough about him that her shooting looks like an act of heroism. And please, his new bossbegs, don’t make any waves—a sure sign that the man doesn’t know Amos Walker. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Loren D. Estleman including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Loren D. Estleman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1989 Loren D. Estleman
All rights reserved.
Ernest Krell loathed windows. The warehouse on the Detroit River that he had converted into offices with his wife's money didn't have any, and the house the Krells shared in Bloomfield Hills, a large brick splitlevel with an acre of slick lawn and decorative shrubbery masking the broken glass atop the brick wall that encircled it, was equipped with those tricky amber panels that allow light in but won't let you see inside or out. Every journalist who had ever written him up in Detroit Monthly and Guns and Ammo had hauled out his vest-pocket Freud to explain the aversion, but the plain fact was Krell had been with the United States Secret Service for seventeen years and had grown tired of warning people away from windows.
I rang his doorbell on the first lush day of summer. You know the one: You go to bed with rain rattling against the siding and when you get up, the trees are fat with leaves and the sky is so blue it hurts your eyes. The birds are in good voice, the breeze is like a lover's breath on your cheek, and even in the city, under the soft asphalt and sweet auto exhaust, you can smell fresh-cut grass. It's always a weekday, when you have to go to work.
The door was opened by a small mouse-faced woman with short brown hair curling all over and graying at the roots. Her dress was just a dress and the clear buttons in her ears were just something to keep the holes from closing. She wore no make-up.
"Are you Mr. Walker?" Her mouth was arranged in one of those fevered smiles that look as if their owners expect to have them slapped off their faces at any moment.
I said I was.
"I'm Mrs. Krell. Ernest is waiting. Please come in."
I followed the slightly stooping Mrs. Krell down two carpeted steps into a large sunken room with a stone fireplace the size of my garage. The walls were done in burled walnut and a carpet with an Oriental design lay on the floor on a pad as thick as a gym mat. Over the mantel hung an oil portrait in a baroque frame of Ernest Krell at twenty in an army lieutenant's uniform, painted just about the time he had been wounded in Korea. He had a pale face and very black hair cropped too close and stood with one booted foot propped up on a leather dispatch case. His eyes were as blue as eyes get anywhere.
"You're late. The woman will be here any minute."
I blinked, as anyone would when addressed by a picture. "Sorry," I said. "I thought you'd prefer me dressed. You called me at ten to seven."
It wasn't the picture, of course. Across from it, like an image in a clouded mirror, stood its subject, forty years older in everything but hair color. The hair was a little longer now and not as thick, but every bit as black, and suspiciously so. His face was still pale but creased at the eyes and from the nose to the mouth, the way faces become when their owners spend seventeen years scanning the rooftops for snipers. A big man—he went six-three and two hundred—he had on a black suit with lavender fleurs-de-lis to soften its starkness and a magenta tie held in place with a steel clasp. Scuttlebutt said he had had the clasp made from the shrapnel that had gone into his hip in Pusan.
There was a pause while he waited for me to come forward and shake hands and I wasn't going to do it. "Well, sit down," he said then. "I want to brief you before Mrs. Thayer arrives."
I took a seat on a soft leather sofa the color of gray chalk. Mrs. Krell, who had disappeared, returned while I was crossing my legs and placed a saucer containing four lemon cookies on the glass coffee table. That was a disappointment. I'd gotten home too late to eat supper the night before and had missed breakfast.
"Coffee, Mr. Walker? I'm afraid decaffeinated is all we have. Ernest's doctor—"
"Decaffeinated will be fine, Esther. I'm sure Mr. Walker isn't interested in hearing about my medical condition."
When she had left, I said, "Who's Mrs. Thayer?"
"In a moment. How long have you been working with Reliance now?"
"Eight years off and on. Whenever things get slow down my street."
"All that time, and you haven't been offered a permanent position?"
"It's been offered."
"Oh." He went over to the fireplace, where the sunlight filtering in through one of the panels made his black hair and white skin look more painted than the painting, and spent some time studying Lieutenant j.g. Krell. "I built Reliance out of nothing. When I came to this city, people who needed an investigator had to depend on filthy little hacks who worked out of the backs of tattoo parlors. They'd as soon strike a deal with the party you wanted investigated as with you. I introduced integrity and science."
"They do go hand in hand," I said. "Like bread dough and bicycles."
He ignored the comment, if indeed he'd heard it, which he probably had; it's always a mistake to confuse pomposity with density. "Reliance now has two hundred operatives in four states," he said. "They trace everything from computer fraud to threats endangering the national security. We almost never have to go outside the organization to satisfy a client's needs."
"I live on 'almost.' Also cookies." When Mrs. Krell came with the coffee I ate one and washed it down with the castrated liquid. The cookie tasted like the label from a bottle of ReaLemon.
"Thank you, Esther. When Mrs. Thayer comes, have her wait in the foyer."
She went out. I had started to think it was the maid's day off, but the way Krell's requests sounded like orders and the way Mrs. Krell obeyed them without comment said that no professional menial had ever set foot inside the household's three thousand square feet. The uninitiated would have been hard put to guess which was the retired civil servant and which the last survivor of the great industrial family that had invented the carburetor. The frequency with which the Ernests of this world latch on to the Esthers is one for Darwin.
"Who's Mrs. Thayer?" I asked.
He stopped looking at the portrait and looked at me. Either the artist had gotten carried away with blue or Krell's eyes had faded in four decades, to a zinc gray. "I spent yesterday going through the records, Walker. You've done the agency some favors. I deplore the way you operate, of course; but I suppose every grand army must have its Marshal Ney, charging the guns again and again and having his horse shot out from under him every time."
"I don't guess the horses approve either. Who's Mrs. Thayer?"
"A woman who shot her husband to death."
"Oh. That Mrs. Thayer."
"You know the case?"
"Just what they told in the papers."
The News and Free Press had been full of it for a while, and the national tabloids still were, despite a request by the attorneys involved to avoid trying the defendant in the media. Constance Thayer, after a night of clubbing, drugs, and alcohol, had seized an automatic pistol from the collection of husband Doyle Thayer Jr. and emptied it into his back as he lay naked and unconscious on his stomach in the bedroom of their Iroquois Heights home. The drugs and charges of wife-beating, together with the fact that Thayer was the heir to Thayer Industries, which specialized in the manufacture of the fuel solenoid that went into every recreational vehicle made in the United States, had kept the story fresh for weeks, and when it began to fade, the news that Constance Thayer had appeared in triple-X films before she met Doyle had breathed new life into it for another month. Depending upon who was telling it, she was either an abused woman pushed beyond endurance or a gold-digging slut who had seized her opportunity to inherit millions.
"Mrs. Thayer's attorneys have engaged Reliance to investigate her late husband's affairs," Krell said. "They feel that when the truth comes out about what kind of man he was, she'll be acquitted on grounds of justifiable homicide, if not out-and-out self-defense."
"Like he didn't wear pajamas, so he deserved to eat lead?"
"Like he was a monster who enjoyed degrading his wife in public and private as a vacation from his dealings with pushers and traffickers in contraband weapons. Like if she didn't stop him when she did, it could be Doyle Thayer Junior facing the charge of beating his wife to death, and likely getting off because of his father's influence. I thought you fancied yourself a protector of the weak."
"She seems to have done a pretty decent job of protecting herself. And a private gun collection doesn't make Thayer Muammar Qaddafi."
Krell's brows—they were black, like his hair—went up. "You haven't heard? I suppose they are keeping it under wraps. Still, it's difficult to explain away all those crates they've been removing from Thayer's basement."
"Crates?" I helped myself to another cookie.
"As of yesterday—and they're still counting—agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms had carried away from that mansion the largest number of illegal munitions ever seized from a private citizen. The man had everything from light assault rifles to howitzers. They're still emptying the place."
"Was he expecting trouble?"
"Only from his insurance company. Give some people money without their having to work for it and they're bound to spend it on all kinds of outlandish toys." He leaned against the mantel of the fireplace of the house he had built with his wife's inheritance.
I wanted a cigarette, but I remembered Krell didn't allow smoking around him. Instead I crossed my legs the other way. "Sounds like the Feds've done half the job. Why call me?" "I forgot. You're the man who asks why." He touched his tie clasp. "There are certain disadvantages to being big, as I'm sure the government men assigned to the case are learning. When you have a hundred people working on something, everyone knows you're involved and goes underground; but you need a hundred people to trace the origins of an arsenal as large as Thayer Junior's. That's not what I'm interested in. All I want to do is gather enough dirt on him to make my client look clean by comparison. If I'm going to do that, I can't afford to stampede the scum he dealt with when it gets out Reliance is investigating his associations."
"I get it. You want a ground mole."
"Does that offend you?"
"I'd be in the wrong business if it did. I just wanted to hear you say it."
"We'll pay two thousand a week, first week in advance. Can you start immediately?" "I haven't said I'll take the job."
"I don't know yet."
He came away from the fireplace and stuck his hands in his pockets. He didn't look even a little like Lincoln. "Your opinion of Reliance and the way I run it is no secret. I could tell you what I think about dog-and-pony shows like yours, but there wouldn't be any point in it. We need each other from time to time."
"So why are you being coy?"
I drank coffee in place of the third cookie I wanted; which was a placebo for the smoke I really wanted. There were only two left in the dish, with another guest coming. "I'm as coy as a breed bull, Mr. Krell. I just want to meet the lady before I commit myself. For all I know she may have shot her husband because there wasn't an axe handy."
"Dear me. If lawyers felt as you do, the prison population would outnumber civilians ten to one."
"If we're talking about the Wayne County Jail, I think it already does." My cup came up empty. As there didn't seem to be any refills coming I returned it and the saucer to the table. "I don't own much. One house, a couple of suits, a partnership with my bank in a two-year-old Chevy. And a big fat illusion about myself that I'd hate to lose. I want to meet the lady."
"I see," he said, sounding like he didn't.
We were looking at each other when the doorbell rang. It works that way sometimes, even outside of novels.CHAPTER 2
At Krell's request Mrs. Krell brought her in a few moments later, and nobody ever looked less like Lizzie Borden. She went medium height and not much past a hundred and ten in a tailored pink suit with a grayish cast—ashes of rose, I think they call it—over a blue silk blouse, the jacket pinched at the waist. Her hair was of that shade that can't decide to stay blond or throw away caution and go red. She had a tan she hadn't gotten in jail and hazel eyes, if eye color means anything in this time of tinted contact lenses. The thin chain around her neck was gold and from what I could see it was the only jewelry she wore. She looked Irish.
"Constance Thayer, Amos Walker," Krell said.
She lent me her hand long enough to feel coolness and an instant of pressure, then called it in. Her perfume reminded me of wildflowers growing on the other side of a hill.
"Mr. Krell told me you're a capable detective," she said. Her voice was light, without a regional accent of any kind. "You look big enough to do the job."
"Not next to Mr. Krell."
Krell made a burring noise in his throat that passed for a chuckle. Large men always respond positively to comments about their size. "Let's sit down. Can Esther get you something? Coffee?"
"Some bourbon would be nice."
"Water? Ice? A mixer?" If a drink order at 9:00 A.M. surprised him, he didn't show it.
"A glass will do." She was looking at me when she said it, and I thought I saw something; but it was still early and I was out of my head with hunger. The lemon cookies had only made it worse.
I shared the sofa with Constance Thayer while Krell made easy work of filling the love seat adjacent. She opened her purse, a blue clutch the size of a poker chip. "May I smoke?"
Krell didn't pause five minutes. "If you must." He shoved an empty saucer at her.
I watched her pluck a cigarette out of a gold Pall Mall package and get it burning with a slim platinum lighter. Tipping her head back to inhale she exposed the long line of her throat. There were no creases in it. I counted her rings mentally and came up with thirty.
"Before we begin," Krell said, "and regardless of whether you decide to represent Reliance in Mrs. Thayer's behalf, I need your promise that everything that's said in this room will be held in absolute confidence."
"'Courtesy, efficiency, confidentiality,'" I quoted.
He winced. "I'm considering changing that motto. It sounds old-fashioned."
"It always has been. And I made the promise when I agreed to come."
"Since technically you'll be working for Mrs. Thayer's counsel, the privilege is legal. Of course, you might cool your heels in jail forty-eight hours waiting for the judge to agree."
"It wouldn't be the first time. I've got two of the coldest heels in town."
"The Pirates' Oath," Constance Thayer said. "Pass the dead cat. He didn't move, you know."
I said, "He didn't?"
She shook her head minutely and used the saucer, although there weren't any ashes yet. "I guess I saw it on TV too many times. You see it so much there you get to think you've really seen it. I expected him to jerk or try to get up. Well, he did jerk the first time, but it might have been just the bed swaying under him. There wasn't that much blood. The bullets made little blue holes."
"I heard you were bunged up at the time," I said.
"Not so much I didn't know what I was doing. That's not the defense we're using. Leslie wanted to use it, but I said no, it wasn't true."
"Leslie Dorrance," Krell offered. "Mrs. Thayer's principal attorney."
"I read that. I just never heard anyone call him Leslie before. Not bad."
She looked at me, and there it was again. "Is that all you can say? Most people seem to want to genuflect whenever I mention him."
"He writes a lot of books and sells a lot of books and nobody seems to notice that most of his clients go to jail anyway. Maybe not for as long as if it was any other attorney, so I say not bad. Perry Mason spoiled my generation for the real legal profession."
"As a matter of fact, he is planning to write a book about this case. He had me sign a release when he offered his services. What's funny?"
She'd caught me grinning. "It's just that if I were up for murder I wouldn't think of it as 'this case.'"
"That's how long I've spent cooped up with lawyers lately. You start to talk like them."
"How soon before you shot him did Mr. Thayer beat you the last time?" "An hour."
Excerpted from Silent Thunder by Loren D. Estleman. Copyright © 1989 Loren D. Estleman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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.
Table of Contents
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Summer is a slave girl with a Silent Thunder for reading. Her brother Rosco has a Silent Thunder for the going in to war. A toching story which will fill your heart with excitment saddnes and happnes