“Tough, taut and terse… literate without being lofty, not unlike the work of Hammett himself.” The Thrilling Detective
Korean War vet and ex-reporter Peter Bragg is hired by Armando Barker, a retired mobster, to find out who is targeting him and his eleven-year-old daughter with death threats. But after a gruesome killing of someone close to Barker, the threats become a bloody promise. Barker’s violent past in Sand Valley, a bleak, California desert town, has come back to haunt him with a vengeance. So that’s where Bragg goes, walking right into the vicious, bloody war that’s raging between the town’s factions…and becoming everyone’s target.
“First-rate, well-plotted. Bragg is a restrained and believable hero. The action scenes are excellent. The gangland gun battle that rages across Sand Valley is a superb.” 101 Knights: A Survey of American Detective Fiction
“Bragg is authentic, gripping, gritty.” San Francisco Examiner
Originally Published as “Bragg’s Hunch.”
About the Author
Jack Lynch modeled many aspects of Peter Bragg on himself. He graduated with a BA in journalism from the University of Washington and reported for several Seattle-area newspapers, and later others in Iowa and Kansas. He ended up in San Francisco, where he briefly worked for a brokerage house and as a bartender in Sausalito, before joining the reporting staff of the San Francisco Chronicle. He left the newspaper after many years to write the eight Bragg novels, earning one Edgar and two Shamus nominations and a loyal following of future crime writers. He died in 2008 at age 78.
Read an Excerpt
The Dead Never Forget
A Bragg Thriller
By Jack Lynch
Brash Books, LLCCopyright © 2014 Jack Lynch
All rights reserved.
The answering service woke me a little after nine o'clock one Sunday morning to tell me a man who called himself Moon wanted to talk to me about a job. He'd said it was urgent and wanted to see me as soon as possible. I'm working toward the day when I'll be rich enough to turn down jobs that begin on a Sunday, but that day hasn't come yet. So I asked the answering service to phone him back and tell him Id be in the office at 10:30 and then I took a shower.
The office is a sort of old-timey San Francisco suite of rooms I share with a couple of attorneys on the fifth floor of an old-timey sort of building on Market Street. The outer door of the reception room is of frosted glass, and when I went to answer the rapping on it at a little before eleven o'clock you would have thought maybe a hippopotamus had come calling, from the shadow it cast. When I opened the door it turned out I wasn't far wrong. He was a tall side of beef with slack jowls hanging on a face that would make dogs get up and leave the room. He had old knife scars along one side of his neck and trailing away from the opposite eye, and his nose had been shifted around some. He dressed colorfully in loose-fitting clothes. He wore a little white felt hat, white shoes, a pair of cream-colored flannel pants billowy enough to bring the Santa Maria to the New World, a pink shirt and a light blue sports jacket that made him look as if he played saxophone in an old dance band.
"No mister about it. Just Moon. You're Bragg?"
"That's right. Come on in."
I ushered him into my office off to one side of the reception area. He made it look smaller than it really is just by standing partway between door and desk to stare around at the Remington prints, the tall case filled with books of the trade and the maps of here and there posted on the walls. He sat, finally, with one elbow on the edge of the desk, and leaned in my direction. The man had a presence about himself. For whatever reason he'd come, it wasn't because the other kids on the block were picking on him.
"Care for a cup of coffee?"
"You got some whiskey to put in it?"
"I could probably find some."
"Okay, then. I don't usually drink in the mornings, but I figure you're going to make some money off the boss, so I might as well take some of your whiskey."
I went out and poured a couple of mugs from the pot behind the receptionist's desk, then returned to fetch a bottle out of a cabinet. "It's your boss who wants to hire me?"
"Maybe. I been sort of screening the field for him this last week."
"What sort of help does your boss need?"
"He doesn't say. I guess it isn't anything physical, what with me already on the payroll and all."
He honked something I took to be a laugh. "Yeah. I guess you're right enough there. But how can you screen the field when you don't know what it is that needs doing?"
He leaned back and shrugged as I handed the mug full of coffee and bourbon to him. "I know I look like a pug, but I'm pretty good about people. The boss just said he wanted someone good at his stuff. Versatile."
He held the mug of warmth in both hands and lifted it to his mouth, as if his table training had been interrupted. He took a gulp, rolled it around in his mouth and swallowed with a nod of approval.
"I never knew private dicks specialized so much," he continued. "There's a guy here in town who does nothing but trip around the world tracing boats. Yachts. Things that been stolen, or just sailed off when a guy gets behind in his payments — all his payments. This guy goes out to nice places in the Pacific, or down to Baja. Finds the boats. Sees the world. Makes a nice living."
He took another slug of stuff and wiped his mouth with the back of one hand. "Your name's come up a couple times while I been poking around. Then I guess something new came up. The boss said we didn't have any more time to screw around. He wanted to get someone on things today. He said maybe we'll take a chance and go with you, only I should come see you first to make sure you ain't got three arms or something."
"Can you tell me who your boss is?"
"His name's Armando Barker. Heard of him?"
"He owns the Chop House on Grant, just up from Broadway."
I nodded. "I've eaten there. It's a good restaurant."
"Yeah. He has a couple other things going too. But what about you? How long you been in the business?"
"About eight years."
"Anything I figure I can handle. I've spent a lot of time going through court records and land deeds, running background checks, tracing people — a lot of that — trying to recover stolen property, guarding people and things, finding heirs. The list goes on."
"You ever been shot at?"
"Yes, I've been shot at. And hit. And beat up and threatened and sued and a lot of other things, and when those things happen my rates go up like a bad window shade. But the answer is still yes."
"Were you ever a regular cop?"
"How'd you get into the business?"
"Sort of through the side door. I used to be a reporter. Here and in Kansas City and Seattle before that. Then a lot of turmoil took place. I was fed up with the way the job was going and my marriage fell apart. I quit the paper and spent a while getting things out of my system. Took a job tending bar over in Sausalito. It shocked a lawyer friend of mine. He finally talked me into doing things on the side for him. Digging up background stuff for use in court. Finding witnesses. Things not all that different from being a reporter, only without a lot of people sitting back in the office waiting to second-guess me. I began working more for my lawyer friend and less at the bar. One thing led to another."
"Do all your own work?"
"Pretty much. I've got a loose arrangement with World Investigators. When they get a little overburdened locally I help out. In turn I can have their people find out things for me in most places in the Western world."
"Sounds okay, Bragg. Can you come along and meet the boss?"
"I guess so. But you don't have any idea what the trouble is?"
"No. But he isn't any cream puff himself. And whatever it is has been bothering him a lot lately, so if you take the job, you'll probably earn your money."
He said parking was bad up at the Barker place and suggested we both go in his car, a long, black Chrysler that was manufactured about the time the Chinese came across the Yalu River.
Barker lived in a stately old home on the northern slope of Pacific Heights. It's not a bad address in San Francisco. Moon clanged open a tall metal gate and went up a concrete walk flanked by scrubby lawn. We entered a dim, carpeted hallway and went down it to the main living quarters. I'm not an interior decorating bug, nor am I all caught up in San Francisco nostalgia, but what we stepped into was enough to make anybody wince. Somebody had taken out a wall or two and converted the back end of the place into something resembling a Las Vegas lounge without the gambling paraphernalia. It was split-level. The upper room had furniture made of leather hides stretched across chrome tubes, a bar to one side nearly as big as the one I used to work behind in Sausalito and a lot of paintings of nude girls on the walls. The lower level had more leather-cup furniture, a pool table, a pinball machine in one corner and more nude girl paintings on the walls. It also had a wide window overlooking the Marina and Golden Gate, floors graced with polar bear skins atop thick wall-to-wall carpeting and to one side, a girl surrounded by the morning newspaper.
"That's the boss, on the phone," Moon told me.
He was referring to a thickset man in his middle forties, talking on a phone behind the bar. His complexion was olive and his hair thinning, but it still fell in tight ringlets over his forehead. The hand that held the telephone receiver had a large diamond ring on its little finger. He spoke with a voice at low, loose ends with itself, as if he smoked too much, and had to keep clearing his throat.
"And there," said Moon, in a tone approaching reverence, "is Bobbie"
He pointed at the girl on the lower level with her long legs tucked up beneath her. She cocked her head and squinted in my direction. From where I stood I couldn't tell what gave Moon the big turn on. She had a cute enough face, more narrow than round, and might even have had a nose job. It looked delicate, with a slight bob at its end. She had a wide mouth that looked ready to break into a grin, and light hair clipped short. She got up and came toward us. She wore light blue bell-bottoms hitched low on her hips. She had long legs, this one, and the way she moved reminded me of a young colt. She was a little spare in the chest, but she had on a thin T-shirt and didn't wear a bra. What she had didn't hang, and the overall effect was kind of cute. The T-shirt didn't reach all the way down to where her pants started, so there was a flash of pale skin around her naval to correspond with the light coloring of her face. Maybe it was her fresh youth that gave Moon the ding-dongs. She came up the stairs slowly, smiling at me with a slight contraction of her brow, as if she should know me.
"Who's your friend, Moon?" she asked. Her voice had a brassy ring that seemed wrong for her.
"Somebody to see the boss," Moon said, his eyes lapping over her.
"Peter Bragg," I said. "You're Mr. Barker's daughter?"
She giggled and leaned back against the stair railing. "I'm more what you'd call a paid girlfriend."
She winked at me and I realized she wasn't as young as she appeared or sounded. "I took you for somebody not quite old enough for that yet."
"I'm old enough," she said flatly. "I give a terrific back rub too. Want one?"
"No thanks. Is Mr. Barker apt to be on the phone that long?"
"Sometimes he's on long enough so we'd have time to go upstairs and start a family."
Barker hung up and cleared his throat. "You the guy Moon brought?" he asked, coming from behind the bar and crossing to shake hands. He had a grip harder than he looked.
"That's right. The name's Bragg." I gave him one of my cards. The girl edged over trying to get a look.
"Go somewhere," Barker told her. He gestured Moon away with his head.
Bobbie made a little face at everybody and went down the stairs and back over to the morning Chronicle. Barker worked a control unit on the bar until vapid mood music came out of speakers hidden around the room. He gestured me to a chair and settled himself onto a sofa behind a marble coffee table. He picked up a humidor, took out a cigar and held the container in my direction.
"From Cuba," he told me. "Want one?"
He lit up, having no truck with the finer points. He just stuck one end into the flame of a lighter and sucked until his head nearly disappeared in smoke, then put down the lighter, coughed a couple of times and knocked off any ash he might have had. "You know Frisco pretty well? The forces that make the town move?"
"I think so. I've lived here about fifteen years now. Several of those I spent at the Chronicle"
"Handy with your dukes, are you?"
I had to smile.
"What's funny?" He coughed and cleared his throat.
"Nothing much. It's been a while since I heard that expression is all. To answer your question, I've never been a professional fighter, but I haven't done too badly on the street."
"You can use a gun?"
"What kind do you carry?"
"When I carry one it's usually a .45 automatic"
"Kind of bulky, isn't it?"
"Kind of. But I figure if I have to stop somebody I don't want to stand around pulling the trigger all afternoon"
"They got lighter ones now. Them Magnums..
"A friend gave me this one. It satisfies me. But I don't go out of my way looking for jobs where I have to carry it."
"I'm not that hotheaded now. When I'm working on something that calls for hanging a gun under my arm I find myself looking over my shoulder a lot. It isn't worth the bother, so maybe you'd better tell me what needs doing, and I can tell you whether I'm interested. Might save us both time."
"Don't get hot about it. I just wanted to know." He picked up the lighter and spent another few seconds laying down a gray screen. I heard the girl cough down on the lower level. She got up and did something to a box on the wall, and the smoke over us began drifting away.
Barker got up and crossed to behind the bar again. "Come on over, Bragg. I wanna show you something."
Behind the bar seemed to be where his office was. He poked around beneath the countertop and laid an envelope before me. "Somebody's trying to agitate me. This came in the mail about a week ago. Take a look."
I picked it up and turned it over. It was a stiff, white envelope of the sort graduation or wedding announcements come in. It had a San Francisco postmark and was addressed to Barker in block printing with a ballpoint pen. Inside was a sympathy card, the kind you send when there's been a death. There also was one of Barker's business cards, identifying him as proprietor of the Chop House on Grant. I held it up.
"This was included?"
"Yeah." He coughed a couple of times. "I thought it was some kind of dumb joke and tossed it into a waste can back here. Then a couple nights later I was leaving the restaurant after closing. I park in a private drive alongside the place. It dead-ends against a bank on Telegraph Hill. I was unlocking the car when somebody pumped six or seven shots in my direction. A couple slugs tore through the topcoat I was wearing. The others went zinging all over the place."
"Could you tell where the shooting came from?"
"Yeah. There's another street, about fifty, seventy-five feet up the embankment. The shooting came from somebody leaning over the railing up there. There's a streetlight you can usually see up there, but it was out. Course, I was too busy ducking and dodging to get much of a look."
"Was anybody with you?"
"No. I stayed late going over some invoices with the young lady who runs the place for me. She left about a half hour ahead of me. I closed up alone."
"Can you remember how the shots came? Random? In groups?"
He frowned. "Now that you mention it, I guess in groups. Two at a time, I think. It was during the second pair I started diving behind the car. Why? What does that mean?"
"It's more apt to be somebody with training that way. What did you do next?"
"I stayed pretty still for a couple minutes. When I didn't hear anything more I ran back inside the restaurant and got a gun I keep in the office. Then I went up Grant to the corner and circled around to where the shots had come from. Like I say, the streetlight was out. I couldn't find anything."
"What did you do then?"
"Got in my car and came home."
"You didn't call the police?"
"Any special reason not to?"
"I just don't like dealing with cops."
"I see. And you've been spending a week looking for somebody else to look into it."
"I hadn't made up my mind. I just had Moon go through the preliminaries, in case I decided to."
"And now you've decided."
He coughed and nodded at the same time. "Yeah." He grubbed around behind the bar some more, then handed me an envelope similar to the first. "This came yesterday."
I opened it. It was another bereavement card, accompanied this time by a photograph of the moon clipped out of a magazine. He cleared his throat. "I take that naturally to mean a threat to Moon."
"Have you told Moon about it?"
"Not yet. I hadn't figured out just how to move."
"I think if I were him I'd want to know."
"He can look out for himself. And I got my reasons to keep it quiet till I know what's going on. I didn't even tell him about the shooting."
"The girl?" I asked, glancing toward the lower section of the room.
"What day of the week did you get the first card?"
"Same as this time," he told me, stuffing card and clipping back into the envelope. "Saturday."
"What exactly does Moon do for you?"
"He's sort of an all-round handyman. Bodyguard, companion, errand boy. We been together a lot of years. Anyhow, what do you make of it?"
"Sounds like a bad practical joke. As you say, Moon strikes a person as being able to shift for himself. Still, I think I'd tell him, if I were you. Maybe suggest he stay inside with a good book for a couple days."
Barker dismissed that with a wave of his hand. "I guess it wouldn't hurt to let him know, but he'll do what he wants. I give everybody the day off on Mondays. The restaurant's dark. People do what they want. Even Bobbie."
Excerpted from The Dead Never Forget by Jack Lynch. Copyright © 2014 Jack Lynch. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
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