Douglas Rigby, attorney-at-law, is bankrupt. He’s just sunk his last $200,000—a clandestine “loan” from his last remaining client, former bigshot TV exec Glenn Haskill—into a cocaine deal gone wrong. The lesson? Never trust anyone else with the dirty work. Desperate to get back on top, Rigby formulates an art forgery scheme involving one of Glenn’s priceless paintings, a victimless crime. But for Rigby to pull this one off, he’ll need to negotiate a whole cast of players with their own agendas, including his wife, his girlfriend, an embittered art forger, Glenn’s resentful nurse, and the man’s money-hungry nephew. One misstep, and it all falls apart—will he be able to save his skin?
Written with hard-knock sensibility and wicked humor, Scott Phillips’s newest novel will cement him as one of the great crime writers of the 21st century.
|Publisher:||Soho Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
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Heading up the 5 and in a hyper-enervated state, he stopped in Mission Viejo at Manny’s Liquor and Variety Store, where he knew a working pay phone was attached to the brick wall outside. Scored and pitted, covered with graffiti and rust, for all Rigby knew it might have been the last one in Southern California. Next to it stood a skeletal derelict with a week’s growth of beard and stiff, ancient jeans gray with filth, looking as though he was waiting for a call. Rigby decided to go inside and buy a celebratory bottle, in case the tweaker decided to shove off on his own.
This might be the seedier side of Mission Viejo, but that still meant a fine selection of champagnes and a patronizing sales clerk. “We have a nice Veuve Clicquot here for sixty-four ninety-nine,” he said, nostrils flaring, eyeing him sidelong. “I imagine that’d do you nicely.” Minus the condescension, that would have been fine for Rigby’s purposes, but he felt compelled to put the salesman in his place.
“That’s white trash booze,” he said. “How much for the Krug?”
“That’s vintage. 2003.”
“Swell. How much?”
“Three hundred nineteen dollars and ninety-nine cents.”
“Great, and stick a bow on it.”
Outside, the stick figure was still standing by the phone. Rigby would have preferred not to have to interact with anyone in the context of this particular call, but the man gave no sign that he intended to get lost. Once Rigby had placed the champagne in the car, he walked up to the phone, jingling the quarters in his pocket.
“Phone’s in use right now,” the tweaker said.
“Doesn’t look that way to me.”
“Waiting for a call. Urgent.”
“That’s not the same as in use.”
“This is my phone, buddy.”
His initial instinct was to ratchet the conflict up, preferably ending with his throwing the tweaker into an arroyo somewhere, but making the least possible impression was important here, so he reached into his wallet and pulled out a ten. “Here. I need privacy for ten minutes.”
The tweaker snorted and looked away. “Ten bucks. Jesus, last of the big fuckin’ spenders here.”
Rigby crumpled the ten in his fist and focused on calming himself. He could easily lift this man over his head, snap his spine in two, could in fact do any number of things that would attract attention and ruin his chance to make an untraceable phone call.
“What you want, then?”
“Fuck you. A Benjamin or I ain’t moving.”
Again he resisted his natural impulse to escalate the situation, instead reaching back into his wallet and extracting a beautiful new hundred-dollar bill. The tweaker took it with a demented, near-toothless grin and scooted away across the parking lot and down the sidewalk before disappearing into a copse of dried-up trees. Just as Rigby was about to pick up the receiver, the phone rang and he picked up.
“Jason,” said a raspy voice on the other end of the line. “The Brewster.”
“Jason’s not here.”
“The fuck? He was supposed to be waiting.”
“Yeah, last time I saw him he was talking to some cops. Looked like narcs to me.” He hung up, then picked up again and waited for a dial tone, then started filling the thing with quarters. He punched in the number from memory, having burned the paper he’d written it down on.
“Yo, Crumdog’s phone.”
“This ain’t Crumdog. I answer his phone for him. The fuck is this?”
“This is Lancer. Pooty was supposed to tell Crumdog I was calling.”
There was a silence of fifteen or twenty seconds, and then a hoarse voice came on. “Yeah?”
“Pooty tell you I was calling?”
“Don’t know anybody named Pooty.”
“I did some work for Pooty a while back, got some charges dropped and it didn’t cost him a cent. Now he’s doing me a favor.”
“Might have heard about that.”
“He didn’t tell you Lancer was going to be in touch?”
“He might have mentioned something.”
“Look, I got something I’d like to unload. Pooty thought you might be glad to get it.”
“Pooty thinks a lot of things don’t necessarily jibe with reality.”
“Should I go somewhere else, then?”
“I didn’t say that. Fuck. All right, if it’s what Pooty Tang says it is, and I’m not saying I believe that, then we could do some business. You send someone and I’ll send someone and we’ll have them meet halfway. How far you at from Topeka?”
“Topeka? I’m on the West Coast.”
“Shit. All right, I don’t want a civilian crossing the whole fucking country with product.”
“I heartily agree.”
“Yeah. My man’ll meet yours in Needles, know it?”
“I know it, but why don’t we meet, you and me?”
“Jesus fucking Christ, you’re making me wonder if you’re too fucking green to do business with. You’re talking on a burner, right?”
“Where’d you find one of those? Fuck it, don’t matter. Get yourself a burner next time you wanna talk.”
“I’ll have my man in Needles tomorrow night.”
“What the fuck ever, ‘Lancer.’ Just know that if you fuck me over I will learn your real name and the Devil’s Hammers will make your slow death the fucking party of the decade.”
“Your reputation precedes you, Crumdog.”
Crumdog gave him the name and address of a suitable motel in Needles and hung up. Pulling out of the parking lot, Rigby saw Jason the Tweaker across the street hopping up and down on his left leg and exhibiting such childlike delight he almost regretted what he’d told the Brewster. But he consoled himself with the knowledge that Jason’s greed had cost him an extra ninety bucks at a moment when he could scarce afford to negotiate, and he didn’t think about him again the whole way back to Ventura.
Heading up the 5, Rigby gunned it. He was saved. Stony Flynn, a former client who owed him a few favors and knew that his finances were shaky, had let him know that if he could procure two hundred grand in cash, there was an accountant in La Jolla with a desperate need to get rid of a great deal of purloined coke, worth a great deal more than the asking price. Stony hadn’t meant to suggest that Rigby do the buying and selling himself, just thought he might supply the seed money and take a cut, but he underestimated both Rigby’s taste for risk and the depth of his current financial woes. Another former client, a serial arsonist named Pooty Tang (known in court documents as Desmond Tutwiler), had a connection with the Devil’s Hammers motorcycle club of Topeka, Kansas, and for a thousand-dollar bribe had arranged the introduction.
That afternoon, Rigby had met with the accountant in Carlsbad to make the exchange. He turned out to be a perspiration-soaked man with a tiny head in proportion to his body and a birdlike way of jerking his head around to check for threats. At the end of the meeting, he’d left the bar carrying the brand-new attaché Rigby had bought to hold the money and gone out to an old red Ford Focus and driven away. Neither knew the other’s name.
And now there was two hundred thousand dollars’ worth of uncut powder in the spare tire compartment, ready to convert into maybe half a million dollars without so much as cutting it. He couldn’t wait to tell Paula. Of course, there was no need for her to know the details. Hell, she didn’t know half of what had gone wrong in the last year and a half anyway. He’d managed to keep that from her; all she needed to know was that they were solvent again and weren’t going to lose the house. He wasn’t always a perfect husband, but when things got down and dirty, he always came through for her.