A hot new Amos Walker mystery by a master of the hard-boiled detective novel. "Loren Estleman is my hero."Harlan Coben, New York Times bestselling author
Detroit entrepreneur Carl Fannon hires Walker to trace Emil Haas, his partner, whose sudden disappearance has jeopardized their firm’s plans to purchase the historic Sentinel Building. Almost immediately, the missing man shows up and asks the detective to meet him in the empty Sentinel to discuss a top-secret concern. Walker complies, only to find not Haas, but Fannon’s suffocated corpse locked in a basement vault.
When Gwendolyn Haas, the partner’s adult daughter, enters the picture, the client number rises to three, including one missing and one murdered. But the worst is yet to come: Emil Haas’s “concern” is that Fannon’s been buying up depressed real estate on behalf of Charlotte Sing, the international fugitive Walker knows only too well as Madam Sing. Madam Sing is believed to have been executed in Asia for capital crimes without number, but instead may be engaged in rebuilding her fortune to relaunch her assault on civilization.
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The Lioness is the Hunter
An Amos Walker Novel
By Loren D. Estleman
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2017 Loren D. Estleman
All rights reserved.
The receptionist parted her cranberry-colored hair in the middle and showed a gap between her front teeth when she smiled. I'm a sucker for little imperfections like that. I wanted to feed nickels into that slot all day, just to watch her lights blink on. Instead I gave her a card.
"Mr. Fannon asked me to meet him here. He's catching a plane or something after the interview." Important people are always catching planes. Why they have to chase them at all is a mystery I'll have to solve on my own time.
She read the card, but all she got from it was my name. I have another set with my contact numbers and the service I provide for when I'm drumming up business. She didn't strike me as a customer.
She glanced at the big electric clock on the wall. "He should be free in a few minutes. Please take a seat."
I found one upholstered in orange vinyl opposite a city councilman I'd helped out of a jam once involving an aide who got caught carrying an unregistered revolver through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. The councilman was wearing an empty holster on his belt when they were pulled over, but I knew someone in Customs and that part didn't get as far as the MacNamara Federal Building.
The councilman, a skinny jasper wearing a heavy gold U-of-D class ring and hair implants, was too busy reading papers from a briefcase to look up and recognize me. He probably wouldn't have anyway, without someone to whisper my name in his ear.
A thick glass partition separated us from a round table where two men wearing headsets were leaning into lozenge-shaped microphones. That room was soundproof, but a square speaker mounted on a wall piped their voices into the waiting room.
"Carl Fannon, scuttlebutt says you're planning to add our home to your holdings. Would you care to confirm that for our listeners?"
"Paul, all I can tell you right now is we're in negotiations."
"You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen. How about a raise, boss?"
The man seated across from the radio host chuckled. He had a smooth baritone designed for gentle humor in public, and blistering dressings-down in the privacy of some corner office. He wore a mulberry-colored suit with a thin silver stripe that matched his hair where he cropped it close to the temples. His eyes were gray ball-bearings in a narrow face as tan as toast.
The suit hung well no matter how he moved. Just sitting there he represented six months' income for me.
The host's tone darkened a shade. "Correct me if I've lost track, but I think this will bring Velocity Financing's properties in Detroit to seventy. How do you and your partner, Emil Haas, respond to accusations you're fronting for foreign interests, selling out our city overseas?"
"Now you sound like Cecil Fish." Fannon's voice retained its silken tone, but now a steel thread ran through it. Even the councilman looked up from his papers.
"Heaven forbid. Here we endeavor to strike a positive note in all things."
"You succeed, regardless of the subject matter."
The host beamed as if he'd been complimented. "We have to check in on the news. Thank you, Carl Fannon, and Velocity Financing for your efforts to bring back Detroit."
"Well, that's what we're here for, isn't it."
A molasses-voiced newsman ticked off the day's tragedies, punctuated by traffic updates and ten solid minutes of varicose veins and auto dealerships. In a bulletin, the host reported a murder, smacking his lips over a bowl of free ice cream from a sponsor.
Bottled water filled a basket on a coffee table in front of me. It tasted like drool. The same brand filled a cooler in the corner and ten percent of the advertising slots. All the place lacked was a glad-hander in a straw hat out front, slapping backs and roping in customers.
I rose simultaneously with the city councilman when Carl Fannon emerged from the fishbowl. The entrepreneur stopped briefly for a word with the receptionist, who passed him my card. The next interviewee took a moment to shake Fannon's hand with both of his.
"Hack." Fannon pocketed my card while the councilman went into the inner sanctum. "You're Walker?"
"That's the rumor. You give good PR. How's chances you've really got this place in inventory?"
"None whatsoever. It's too healthy. We specialize in hopeless properties; if nothing comes of them, we can always write them off, and say the deal fell through. Meanwhile we've sucked all we can out of the headlines. Do you mind walking and talking? I'm on my way to Metro."
Out in the hall we passed a row of framed blow-up photographs of the station's stars. None of them looked like they sounded.
The elevator was a Deco affair like the rest of the building, bronze-plated with a faux marble floor no car would have supported if it were genuine, and the building itself reproduced in mosaic tile on the back wall. The hydraulic mechanism hummed like a factory hybrid under a steady stream of White Stripes covers. "I've got a town car," Fannon said. "Okay if we continue this on the way to the airport? I'll have the driver take you anywhere you want afterward."
"Vegas would be good. I've got the morning free, Mr. Fannon."
He dealt himself a miniature cigar from a foil-covered box and played with it. "I got your name from Lieutenant Stonesmith in Missing Persons. She was honest enough not to offer any guarantees the regular force could keep this under wraps. The whole town's drunk on transparency since the Kilpatrick Administration."
"Just the print media," I said. "The guy who just interviewed you handled that crook with oven mitts."
"And all that time he couldn't turn a corner without hearing the rumors. That's why stations like this are where we take our trade. I can keep lobbing those Nerf ball questions over the net in my sleep." He smoothed the cigar between his fingers. "What do you expect? It's not their town, for all the flag-waving. They finish up their four-hour shift and go home to their gated communities in the suburbs. They can't even vote here."
"Don't be too hard on them. They've got people to answer to."
"You don't. I got that from the lieutenant; not that it sounded like any kind of compliment."
"I'm not popular down there. I'm not popular at all, Mr. Fannon."
"Thank God for that. That dodo who shook my hand upstairs won reelection by better than sixty percent, and I wouldn't trust him to check my overcoat."
The doors slid open and we passed down a cool marble corridor — the real thing — that smelled of buffed wax and disinfectant like vanilla extract, then out into a parking lot roasting under a brutal Michigan summer sun. The parked cars shimmered in streamers of heat reflecting off the asphalt. A chauffeur leaning his hips against a polished black fender came alive, ditched his stub, and swung open a rear door for his passengers. I caught a whiff of cannabis off his blazer. We climbed into a backseat upholstered in tan glove leather. "Delta terminal," directed Fannon.
Tinted Plexiglas separated us from the driver. Fannon rapped on it lightly, and when the man behind the wheel didn't act as if he'd heard, sat back and set fire to his cigar with a gold butane lighter, which he offered me. I shook my head, leaving my pack of Winstons in my pocket; the exhaust from his smoke saved me the price of a butt. We passed my Cutlass baking in its slot. At that hour of the morning the dusty interior wouldn't be any harder to take than a tour of Cairo; but it was a ninety-minute round trip from Detroit Metropolitan Airport to a parking lot on Grand. For the hundredth time I considered investing in one of those foil windshield screens that are all the rage in Arizona.
On Michigan, Fannon pointed his cigar through the window on his side at a pile stretching eighteen stories high, all fluted granite with a spire on top that had been designed to moor dirigibles during the lighter-than-air craze of the 1930s. The spire had never been used, thanks to the Hindenburg. Most of the mullioned windows were boarded over, with gang signs spray-painted as high as the eleventh floor. An unsightly black smear showed where a scrap rat had electrocuted himself trying to strip copper wire from a light pole on the corner three months ago. A motorist on his way to work had reported the charred corpse dangling twenty feet above the pavement.
"The Sentinel Building," Fannon said. "Know much about it?"
"Built during the construction boom of the twenties, on twenty millions on margin on the New York Stock Exchange, with pink Carrara in the restrooms, a waterfall in the lobby, and brass cherubim peeing off the roof. All those stories of stockbrokers throwing themselves from the top floor on Black Friday are myth; but urban legends tell more truth than the facts."
"It's had its moments. Studebaker kept some of its corporate offices there until it went belly-up, and there was a rumor the first female president of GM's Oldsmobile division would relocate there with her staff. Anyone could have predicted the model was doomed when the board of directors relented and put a woman in charge. You can always blame a skirt when the potbellied brass drops the ball."
I powered down the window on my side; the smoke from his cigar was making me woozy. "Is this history lesson going to take long? There was so much less of it to learn when I was in college."
Fannon twirled his cigar between his fingers like a baton, then extinguished it in the chromium tray set into the armrest on his side. Immediately he broke out another, but he didn't fire it up.
"We're going to buy the building," he said, fingering his lighter without flicking it into flame. "Turn it into high-rise condominiums. Or we were, until Emil Haas dropped off the face of the earth."
"People do, Mr. Fannon. That's how I pay the rent."CHAPTER 2
"There are competing bidders," he said, "including an emir, a pimply dotcom fatcat, and that bleeding-heart back East who says his kind doesn't pay enough taxes and runs a stable of tax lawyers to make sure he doesn't. But the papers are all drawn up and okayed by both sides; even the unions are on board. All it needs is Emil's signature, and he's chosen now of all times to go dark."
"He's done it before?"
"Six years ago. But he was going through a rotten divorce, and who can blame a man for keeping a roomful of family-service attorneys cooling their heels while he sits drinking in some dive?"
"Is he an alcoholic?"
"I've never seen him take a drink. I'm just saying I'd understand if he got drunk under those circumstances. His daughter finally found him in an Internet café, reorganizing the company's computer files on his laptop."
"Check the place this time?"
"I tried his loft on the river first. The neighbors haven't seen him. The café had closed, but I sent people to all the others in the area: No one there recognized him from his description. I'm worried. He always gets keyed up just before a closing, as many times as we've been through it, but he's never run out on one of those before."
I asked when he saw Haas last.
"Friday, four days ago. We'd just left a meeting with the owners of the Sentinel and their lawyers. They were going to have the papers drawn up over the weekend and we'd be back in their offices yesterday for the signing. Emil shook my hand outside the office. He said he was taking his daughter out to lunch. They had reservations at the Blue Heron, but she says she waited in the restaurant for him an hour and a half and he never showed. She was pretty unpleasant about it; I take it he'd stood her up before.
"I had to cancel the signing," he went on, "and the owners weren't pleasant about that. The lawyers think we're stalling to whittle down the price we agreed on."
"What's the daughter's name?" I got out my pad.
"Gwendolyn Haas; at least I think she went back to her maiden name after her own divorce. I doubt she can tell you anything she didn't tell me, but Brita will tell you where she can be reached. Carl and I have adjoining offices in the Parker Block. Brita keeps us from tripping over our own shadows." He switched hands on his cigar and broke a slate-colored card out of a leather-bound case with his initials embossed on it.
I fondled the heavy pebbled stock. The V in Velocity Financing, sans-serif in outline, leaned radically to the right with wind-lines running through it. I stuck the card in the pad.
"I'll need more."
"Brita can give you everything you require. I'll be in Beijing the rest of the week." He looked sideways at me. "That pest Fish thinks anyone who ever got within spitting distance of the Great Wall is selling us out to the reds. China's our country's creditor, for God's sake. Give it a rest."
"I know Fish. You could buy him off for less than the ground floor of that wreck on Michigan."
"Why should I?"
"No reason, Mr. Fannon. What I don't know about your business would fill every vacant lot in this city."
We followed the oval track around the airport to the Delta terminal, where Wayne County Sheriff's deputies were directing traffic six deep. The driver slid into a loading zone on the rear bumper of a minivan wheeling out, pulled a two-suiter on rollers and a leather duffel from the trunk, and opened the door on Fannon's side. He let the driver wait while he got out a long flat wallet that matched his card case and handed me a cashier's check with the amount of my retainer spelled out in perforated characters.
"I'm beginning to think I made the right choice." He put one foot on the pavement. "I like a man who says, 'I don't know.' Do you have any idea how many people I meet who'd never admit that?"
"I don't know."
He frowned, got out, and shut the door in my face. I got the impression I'd said the wrong thing; but then I wouldn't know.
Back on I-94 the driver ran down the partition and asked if I wanted to stop anyplace on the way back to town. I caught a strong whiff of reefer from the front seat. I inhaled deeply, grinned, and said, "No, thanks. Just keep the window open."
* * *
The work sounds interesting, but the pattern's as steady as a square dance: I deposit the check, keeping a couple of hundred out for bail and gasoline, and go back to the office to make arrangements to see the people I need to see in order to earn it. The people in Carl Fannon's set are never impressed by calls made over cell phones that break up when you drive under a low-flying pigeon, so I passed through the stale air lock that is my reception room, unlocked the door to the Holy See, and used the landline on the desk. Sitting back waiting for someone to answer I contemplated the dark smear of extinct arthropods in the bowl of the ceiling fixture. The cleaning service came with the rent or I'd raise a stink about the way the Dustbusters never got higher than the chair rail.
A cozy little box, inside the larger box of a building that should have been torn down under Woodrow Wilson, in the larger box yet of a city that should have been condemned after the '67 riots and replaced with a theme park devoted to the Underground Railroad. It came with my entire working life contained in ten green steel drawers, a fiberboard-framed print made from a historically inaccurate painting of a military disaster that could have been avoided with a little more firepower and a lot less ego, a Native American rug woven in the Republic of Indonesia, and a leatherette-upholstered chair mounted on a screw behind a desk that still contained the holes from where a pencil sharpener had stood on it in what was probably the same grammar- school class where I'd flunked Algebra; and what of that? So had Einstein. A rotary fan danced on the sill of the open window and made visible wrinkles in the air; it was that thick in Michigan in housefly season.
But even a steady pattern can throw you a curve now and then. A crisp feminine voice with a West End accent came on the line, asked if I could hold, and before I could answer handed me over to a Baroque concert. I was adding up the counterpoints in a fugue when someone knocked.
I called out an invitation. He opened the door just wide enough to sidle in around it, as if he were afraid it might bump into someone standing on the other side. That made him the brains of the outfit, probably; the really smart ones spend their lives in a constant state of apology.
Excerpted from The Lioness is the Hunter by Loren D. Estleman. Copyright © 2017 Loren D. Estleman. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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