Rushmore McKenzie agrees to go undercover to help the ATF track a cache of stolen guns—after all, what could possible go wrong?
Rushmore McKenzie is both a millionaire and an unlicensed PI, which means he can afford to do the occasional favor and, as a former detective for the St. Paul (Minnesota) Police Department, he's got the necessary skills and connections to do them right. But this time, he's really stepped in it.
When the ATF gets a lead on a much sought-after cache of illegal guns near the Canadian border, they call McKenzie in to help them track down the elusive gunrunners. Their only lead is a guy who is part of a small-time gang of armed robbers working north of the Twin Cities. Their idea is for McKenzie to infiltrate the group and wait for them to lead him to the guns. Their plan is to fix McKenzie with a false identity as a serious bad guy and then fake an escape with the captured gang member. Which seemed like a bad idea to McKenzie at the time, but even he had no idea just how bad things were going to get.
Last Kind Word is a Twin Cities P.I. Mac McKenzie novel from David Housewright.
About the Author
DAVID HOUSEWRIGHT has won both the Edgar Award and the Minnesota Book Award (twice) for his crime fiction. His books include The Devil May Care and Curse of the Jady Lily. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
DAVID HOUSEWRIGHT has won both the Edgar Award and the Minnesota Book Award (twice) for his crime fiction. His recent books include The Devil May Care, The Last Kind Word, and Curse of the Jady Lily. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Read an Excerpt
The Last Kind Word
By David Housewright
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 David Housewright
All rights reserved.
The handcuffs weren't particularly tight, yet they pinned my arms behind my back, making it impossible to get comfortable. Eventually I was able to maneuver until one shoulder was leaning against the rear door of the deputy's patrol car, the other rested against the back of the seat, and my hands hung in the cramped space between them. I wiggled my butt, but it didn't help. The seat was made of hard vinyl so that it could be easily cleaned — it wasn't meant to be cushy. My fellow prisoner, his hands also cuffed behind his back, balanced on the edge of the seat and stared straight ahead with glassy and unseeing eyes. He looked walking-dead drunk. However, since he had spent the past few days in the Ramsey County jail being interrogated by FBI and ATF agents, I was betting on mild shock.
I turned my head to look out the window and watched a chunk of real estate whiz past, mostly forest. We weren't in the North Woods of Minnesota quite yet, although we were headed that way.
"Deputy," I said. He glanced at me through his rearview mirror. "What time is it?"
His smile made me think he used one of those teeth whiteners advertised on TV.
"What do you care, Dyson?" he asked. "Got somewhere you need to be?"
"Humor me," I said.
I continued staring out the window.
She's late, my inner voice told me.
I have a thing about punctuality, which means I spend a lot of time being annoyed. Waiting makes me grumpy if not downright angry, depending on whom I'm waiting for and how long. Nina says if I were less prompt myself I'd be a more agreeable companion. I suppose there's something to that. On the other hand, if you say you're going to be in a specific place at a specific time, then you should damn well be there. If I were wearing a watch, I'd be tapping the face with my finger by now. Only I had no personal possessions on me at all — just the orange short-sleeve jail scrubs and a pair of ill-fitting canvas tennis shoes furnished by the Ramsey County Detention Center.
I glanced at my fellow prisoner while pretending not to. He leaned forward until his head was pressed against the steel mesh curtain that separated the backseat from the front. He was muttering to himself. "Going to prison ... never let us out ..."
"You say something?" the deputy asked.
"No," Skarda said — that was his name, David Skarda. We had never met; still, I knew everything about him. For one thing, I knew he wasn't actually headed for prison, at least not yet. He was merely being transferred from one pretrial lockup to another — he was going to be tried in Grand Rapids, about 180 miles north of the Twin Cities, since he committed his armed robbery in Itasca County. He had originally been conveyed to the Ramsey County jail in St. Paul after he was apprehended as a convenience to the ATF and the FBI, which wanted to question him about the gun he was carrying at the time of his arrest. If he had been smart, he would have told them everything he knew. But he wasn't and he didn't.
Deputy Ken Olson — I wasn't supposed to know his name, either, yet I did — drove effortlessly, like a man who had spent many hours behind the wheel. We followed U.S. Highway 169 as it hugged Lake Mille Lacs going north. There were far better, faster routes that led from the Cities to Grand Rapids, yet none of them was as scenic. And none of them narrowed to a single lane in just the right spot.
"What time is it?" I asked again.
"Why?" Olson said.
"Lunch. I hear they serve a nice buffet in the Itasca County jail."
The deputy thought that was funny. "Relax," he said.
"Relax, relax," Skarda muttered.
"What's this?" The deputy spoke while watching the action unfold through his rearview. A red Honda Accord came up fast until it was hard on his bumper, swung wide despite the double yellow line, and passed him on the left. He laughed as it pulled ahead.
"A blonde," he said. "Some blond bimbo driving. Who else would be dumb enough to pass a police car illegally, and look at this — she's going fifteen miles over the speed limit. If it weren't for you two, I'd have me some fun."
"Don't mind us," I said.
A moment later I could feel the car surge forward. Itasca County was in the process of retiring its fleet of Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors in favor of the more economical Dodge Charger the deputy was driving — if he had put the pedal to the metal, as the cowboys say, there would have been no contest. I saw Olson's eyes flicker down and to his right, and for a moment I thought he might be running the blonde's license plate on his onboard laptop. But then he sighed deeply, the Charger slowed, and he brought his full attention back to the road.
"Protocols," Olson said. He spoke as if it were the saddest word in the English language.
The Accord followed the highway into a sweeping curve and disappeared from view. A few seconds later, however, we caught up to it. The red car was fishtailing in the lane, and my first thought was that it blew a tire and the driver was trying to bring it back under control. The red taillights flared, and the car pulled to the side of the road and stopped, its nose on the shoulder, its rear on the highway, blocking us. The deputy brought the Charger to a halt several car lengths behind the Accord and watched intently.
"What the hell is she doing?" he asked.
Forget what you've seen on TV and in the movies about inattentive guards who regularly ignore barking dogs; sudden, unexplained noises; and the odd behavior of complete strangers. In reality, most are trained to react — hell, overreact — to anything out of the ordinary, and they are never, ever taken out by a single punch or karate chop. The deputy, however, wasn't one of them. When the blonde stepped out of the Accord he smiled brightly, showing all his teeth. I didn't blame him. She was wearing the longest hair, shortest skirt, and highest heels I had ever seen. She tottered toward us, carrying a highway map that hid her chest.
"You've got to be kidding me," Olson said. He put the Charger in park, opened his door, and slid out. "Lady, what are you thinking?"
The lady dropped the map. She was carrying an M26 Taser gun. She squeezed the trigger and two barbed electrodes exploded from the bright green nose, imbedding themselves into the deputy's chest and flooding his body with 50,000 volts, all before the map fluttered to the ground. The deputy's muscles locked up. He fell to the pavement like a square of shingles tossed from the roof of a two-story house.
The woman dropped the Taser, kicked off her heels, and went quickly to the deputy's side. She squatted next to him, her short skirt riding up high on her thighs, and searched his pockets for the key to the handcuffs. She took the key, removed the Glock from the deputy's holster, and padded purposely in bare feet to the Charger, where she found the latch that unlocked the back door. She moved as if every step had been carefully choreographed.
I slid out of the backseat and turned around. The woman unlocked the cuffs and gave me both the key and the Glock. I shoved the Glock between the waistband of my scrubs and the small of my back and followed her to the deputy. Olson was just starting to regain his senses as I cuffed his wrists behind his back. He said, "Huh, what?" while the woman and I dragged him to the patrol car.
"What are you doing?" Skarda wanted to know. His mood had switched from depressed to manic just like that. "What's going on? Is this an escape? Are you trying to escape?" His eyes were bright with the possibility even as he flattened against the far door. "Take me with you."
We ignored him, shoving the deputy inside; Skarda swung his legs up and away to give us room. The deputy shook off our hands and turned painfully until both his knees were planted on the floor of the car and his torso was folded over the backseat. His forehead was pressed against the hard vinyl as if he were using it to push himself upright.
"Stop this, stop it right now," Olson said.
I slammed the door shut.
"Luck," the woman said.
It was the only word she had spoken during the seconds — yes, seconds — it took to disarm the deputy. She gathered her shoes and ran to the Honda Accord. A moment later, she was motoring down the highway at a speed that invited arrest.
I slid behind the wheel of the Charger, shut the door, and put the vehicle in gear.
"You'll never get away with this, Dyson," the deputy said. His voice was hoarse and low.
"What did you say?" I asked. I accelerated down Highway 169 until I was going the speed limit and then set the cruise control.
"You'll never get away with this." This time he was shouting.
"I bet you say that to all the escaping prisoners," I said.
"Do you think the police are asleep up here? You think they don't know what you're doing?"
"No, actually, they don't know what I'm doing. That's why I took your car instead of hightailing it with the babe in the red Accord, so some citizen wouldn't see you parked in the middle of the highway and call it in. Time is my friend. It'll be hours before the county sheriff knows what happened, and by then I will be far away from here."
"This car is equipped with a GPS tracking device."
"It is?" Skarda asked.
"Cops want to make sure they can recover their vehicles if they're stolen," I said. "Did you know some guys started a cab company in Detroit a while back using nothing but stolen police cars? God's truth."
"Dyson, listen to me," Deputy Olson said. "We can still work this out. It's not too late."
I glanced at him through the rearview mirror and smiled. "Of course it is," I said.
"Hey, hey, hey — use your indoor voice."
"What about me?" Skarda asked.
"What about you?"
"Take me with you."
"The plan is for one."
"Then, then you can, you can just let me go."
I shook my head slowly. "The cops'll pick you up in about ten minutes, and then you'll be screwed even worse than you are now. Isn't that right, Deputy?" "That's right," he said.
"Believe it or not, I'm doing you a favor," I said.
"I'll pay you," Skarda said.
"Pay me what?"
"Fifty thousand dollars."
That made me turn in my seat. I stared at him briefly through the steel mesh before returning my eyes to the road.
"Where would a punk like you get fifty thousand dollars?"
"That's my business," he said.
"Fifty thousand dollars." I said it as if the number impressed me. "Who are you?" I asked, even though I already knew the answer.
"What did they bust you for?"
"Armed robbery," I repeated slowly. "I won't ask if you have the money on you ..."
"Where is it?"
"My gang. Deliver me to my gang and they'll pay you."
"Uh-huh. Whaddaya think, Deputy? Think Dave here has a crew?" "I think he's a wannabe gangster who's going to spend the rest of his life in Stillwater State Correctional Facility if he steps one foot out of this car."
"Hear that, Dave? Best keep your seat."
"Bullshit." He said the word as if he had invented it. "Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. I'm not messing with you, Dyson. Fifty thousand dollars. On delivery. You have my word."
"Don't do this, Skarda," the deputy said. "It'll only be worse for you later."
"Shut up, just shut up," Skarda said. "Fifty thousand dollars, Dyson. I promise."
"If I take your word and you don't keep it — if you're lying you better say so now and no harm done cuz later's going to be too late."
"I'm not lying. Trust me."
Whenever anyone says "trust me" I automatically think the opposite, but I didn't tell Skarda that. "Okay," I said. "Okay. It's always good to have a Plan B."
"What does that mean?"
"It means — just be quiet for a while. Both you kids, be quiet. Daddy needs to think."
While I was thinking I maneuvered the patrol car north on 169 until it intersected Minnesota Highway 18 and I went east. Traffic was not heavy. It was June in Minnesota, and you usually get an inordinate number of city dwellers heading to lake cabins and other getaways "Up North." But it was also early afternoon on a Wednesday. I followed 18 until it merged with Highway 47 and I went south, effectively driving around the northern half of the enormous Lake Mille Lacs, where I had often fished for walleye. It was a pleasant drive, and I probably would have enjoyed it if I weren't on the run. Eventually 18 and 47 forked and I went east again. That's when the radio came alive. The signal was surprisingly strong and clear.
"Six-twenty-one," a voice said.
It was the patrol car's call sign. I heard the deputy use it when he cleared St. Paul.
"Hey, Dave," I said. "Keep the deputy quiet for a minute."
"Six-twenty-one," the voice repeated.
I took the microphone from its holster and spoke into it.
"Six-twenty-one, what's your twenty?"
Before I could click the SEND button and reply, Olson started screaming, "Ten-ninety-eight, ten-ninety-eight, officer needs assistance."
"Dammit, Skarda, what did I say?"
Skarda used his legs to brace himself against the door and then lunged to his side so that his elbows and shoulders fell on top of the deputy's head. The deputy screamed again, but this time Skarda's body muffled his voice.
"Six-twenty-one, say again," the voice said over the radio.
"Six-twenty-one," I replied. "Sorry 'bout that. I'm north on U.S. 169, just shy of State 210."
"Six-twenty-one, running a little late, aren't you?"
"Six-twenty-one, there was some traffic in Aitkin."
There was more muffled shouting from the backseat.
"Six-twenty-one, are you sure you didn't stop for a beer?"
"Six-twenty-one, I thought I'd wait until I got closer to home."
"Six-twenty-one, what's your ten-seventy-seven?"
"Six-twenty-one, ETA is one hour."
I took a deep breath and returned the microphone to its holster.
"It's okay," I said.
Skarda managed to roll off the deputy and sit up again.
The deputy sputtered his anger. "You're screwed, Skarda," he shouted. "I'm going to have your head on a plate."
"You have to take me with, now," Skarda said.
"We'll see," I told him.
"What does ten-ninety-eight mean, anyway?"
"Standard police code. It means prison break in progress."
"You two are totally fucked," the deputy said.
"I believe the basic code for that is ten-forty-five-F."
* * *
Less than an hour later we crossed Interstate 35, still heading east.
"My friends are up north," Skarda said.
"Mine aren't," I replied.
Deputy Olson didn't say anything. He simply sat in the back of the Charger and made angry breathing sounds.
We ended up on County Road 30 and followed it toward the Wisconsin border. Near the tiny town of Duxbury it turned from pavement to gravel; a giant plume of yellow and orange dust followed us down the road. This was no-man's-land, thinly populated, little traffic.
The radio crackled, its signal not nearly as vibrant as it had been.
I ignored it.
"Six-twenty-one, do you copy?"
"Aren't you going to answer?" Skarda asked.
"Nope. Let 'em wonder."
The turnoff came up so fast that I was fifty feet past it before I could stop safely. I put the Charger in reverse, backed up, and then turned in. It was a logging road used so long ago that now it was little more than an overgrown trail with plenty of potholes that made the Charger bounce like a carnival ride. I followed it deep into the forest until we reached the edge of a small river — it might have been the Lower Tamarack; I didn't know for sure and never cared to ask.
When I turned off the engine, the radio went with it.
Trees — poplar, birch, and fir — surrounded us. The only noise came from the wind in the branches and the low gurgle of the slow-moving water. The sun was high in the sky, and there were few shadows on the forest floor. It was the kind of place where a guy might pitch a tent and try his luck with a fly rod, where most people dream of escaping to and Minnesotans generally take for granted.
"Gentlemen, this is where I leave you," I said.
Excerpted from The Last Kind Word by David Housewright. Copyright © 2013 David Housewright. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am always on the watch for David Housewright's new books and this one was great. A fast start and lots of twists and turns. I highly recommend this book.
Holy crap, where did you come from David Housewright? I mean, I must have been in a coma for the first 33 years of my life to miss your sweet butt. Being an avid reader is a humbling experience, because every time you open a door, you have six more doors waiting for you. And when I hear someone say, “Well, that particular author must not be that famous if I haven’t heard of him” makes me want to shake my head and sigh, because that kind of comment doesn’t even really warrant a response. As for me, I feel like I need to hang my head in shame, because this is the tenth book in the Rushmore McKenzie series, and I had no idea what I was missing. THE LAST KIND WORD is not a kind novel, but it’s a damn good one. The hard-boiled voice made me want to stand up and cheer; I felt like I was picking grit and grime out of my teeth; the plotting proved twitchy as it clipped along at a steady pace; the pages flew by like I was hitchhiking on I-35; the small Minnesota towns filled the pages to the point that I felt like I had visited Minnesota on more than one occasion (other than the Minneapolis – Saint Paul International Airport I have not); and Rushmore McKenzie is one damn fine character. Even though this is his story, the other characters helped fill the pages to the point that they were bursting at the seams. I must say that Josie was probably one of my favorites, and that I developed a somewhat unhealthy crush for her over the course of the novel, but I blame the author for his excellent character portrayal, not any limited shortcomings of my own. And with a smile on my face, I’ll find myself cursing Mr. Housewright, since there are nine other books in this series that I now feel I need to read sometime before I die, and between now and my deathbed, I’m sure there’ll be even more installments. The butthead. If you’re looking for a new hard-boiled series, or you’re already a McKenzie series reader, I have a feeling you’ll find yourself enjoying this one. I received this book for free through NetGalley. Robert Downs Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator