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 Missing and the Dead
A Bragg Thriller
By Jack Lynch
Brash Books, LLCCopyright © 2014 Jack Lynch
All rights reserved.
I agreed to look for a young man named Jerry Lind only because I owed a couple of favors to Don Ballard, who runs the publicity department for one of the local television stations. Ballard had asked me to speak with the missing man's sister and to do what I could to help her. The sister was a station personality of the sort that made me feel radio is going to make a big comeback some day. Her name was Janet Lind. She was one of the new breed of "happy talk" deliverers of the day's events, a member of the station's Now News Team. She had developed a flair for it, along with a repertoire of about thirty posturings, and she managed to trot out each of them at least once while we chatted in a small inverview room in the bowels of the station out on Van Ness Avenue.
She was a tall woman in her late twenties wearing a trim pantsuit the color of weak red wine. She talked about her brother as if he were one of her feature stories. If she wasn't flashing a smile she was giving a wink, heaving a sigh, snapping her fingers, fluffing her hair or arching an eyebrow. It took a while to be able to ignore the nonsense and concentrate on her story. That, at least, stirred my interest.
Her brother Jerry was twenty-six and married to a young woman his sister didn't approve of. The couple had no children. Lind lived north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, but he worked in San Francisco for Coast West Insurance Co. He had dropped out of sight nearly two weeks earlier, on a Sunday. Lind had told his wife he had some things to clear up at the office, and after that he'd probably leave on an out-of-town assignment. His wife had gone to a movie with a girlfriend and when she got home later that evening some of Lind's clothing and toilet articles were gone, so she had assumed he'd left town.
So far as Janet Lind knew that was the last anyone had seen of her brother. Lind's wife, when she hadn't heard from him for two days, telephoned her husband's office, but nobody there knew where he might have gone. Lind's wife called Janet to see if she knew his whereabouts, then called the police and reported her husband missing. According to Miss Lind's story and my pocket calendar, Lind had dropped out of sight on a Sunday, June 8. This was Friday, June 20.
"I kept hoping he would turn up," said Janet Lind, showing me the palm of her hand. "Now I've decided I'd better get somebody working on it."
"How come his wife hasn't hired somebody to look for him? Or has she?"
"She says not. In my opinion, Mr. Bragg, she is not terribly mature. She did say that in addition to the police, she spoke to Jerry's boss about it, urging him to look into the matter."
"Have you spoken to Jerry's boss?"
"Yes, but he wasn't too helpful. He did suggest we meet for cocktails some evening and talk about it if I wanted. I haven't wanted. His name is Stoval."
I made a note of it. "What does your brother do for them, sell policies?"
"I don't know."
"Are you serious?"
"It never came up in any of our conversations." She blinked her eyes and stared at something over my head.
"How old is your brother's wife?"
"Marcie? Twenty-two or -three, I think."
"Did they seem to get along all right?"
"I couldn't tell you. I can't stand his wife."
"She's a cheap little sexpot."
"That's blunt enough."
"So I avoid her. Jerry and I meet for lunch once or twice each month. He never indicated that anything was wrong between them. We seldom spoke about her."
"What did you speak about?"
"My work, mostly. Jerry found it nearly as fascinating as I do."
"Did he seem to like his own job, whatever it was?"
"He seemed content."
"What did he do before he worked for Coast West?"
"He was in the Army. Before that he was going to school in Santa Barbara. That's where he met Marcie."
"Hardly. She's more the sort you would meet at juvenile hall."
"Then it could be possible your brother is missing on purpose. And if he is, he could be hard to find."
"I don't believe he's missing on purpose, Mr. Bragg. He might drop out of the lives of other people, but not mine."
"That sounds as if you haven't told me everything."
"It's nothing mysterious. Jerry and I have been orphans since we were very young. Our parents died in an automobile accident. After that we were raised by our father's brother and his wife. Uncle Milton had land holdings in Southern California. Aunt Grace died five years ago. Poor Uncle Milton had a stroke and died last week. They had no children of their own. The estate is valued at well over one million dollars."
"And you and your brother are the beneficiaries?"
"For the most part, yes. That's why..."
She dropped her stagy shenanigans for a change and leaned forward. "Please don't get me wrong, Mr. Bragg. I hope that nothing has happened to my brother. I love him as much as any sister could love her brother. We were through some pretty grim times, emotionally, right after our parents died. We didn't accept our aunt and uncle at the start. For a time we had only each other to cling to.
"However," she continued, sitting straighter, "if the very worst should have happened — if Jerry is dead, I would want to know if he died before or after our Uncle Milton died."
"If your brother died first, you get the whole million dollars plus."
"But if he died after your uncle did, half of the estate would go to Jerry, and in the event of his subsequent death, to his wife, who you can't stand."
"Now you know all there is to know, Mr. Bragg. Jerry is as aware of the estate as I. Uncle Milton was eighty-seven. He was an old and feeble man. Jerry and I — we discussed it the last time we had lunch together. Neither of us expected him to live out the year. So while Jerry might disappear from his wife..."
"You have a convincing argument, Miss Lind. When did your uncle die?"
"Monday morning, the ninth."
"Just a day after your brother disappeared."
"When was the last time you spoke to Jerry?"
"We chatted on the phone about the middle of the week before he disappeared."
"Did he seem in normal spirits?"
"What did you talk about?"
"I had phoned to tell him about an exhibit of new paintings at the Legion Palace Museum. They were modern works, quite unusual for the most part. I had helped do a feature report on them for the news shot. Jerry is a weekend painter himself. I urged him to see the exhibit."
"Does your brother have many close friends in the area?"
"Not that I'm aware of. He mentioned people at work occasionally, but nobody outside of that."
"Is he a gambler?"
"I doubt it, Mr. Bragg. He's a cautious man with a dollar."
"Does he drink much, snort coke or things of that nature?"
"He drinks a little. That's all I know about."
"Did he run around with a lot of girls before he got married?"
"I really don't know," she said with the first blank expression of the day. "I was away at school by the time he would have been doing that sort of thing."
"Okay, Miss Lind. Give me your brother's address and I'll get started on it."
"You're going to see his wife?"
"Of course. What's wrong with that?"
"I just don't want to pay for any time you might spend — making friends with her."
"Don't worry about it. Why, do you figure she might cheat on your brother?"
"I believe she might do anything. Even murder."
It wasn't the best interview I'd ever conducted, but I doubted if there was much else she could have told me about her brother. Up to now Janet Lind had been mostly interested in her own career, not her brother's. Now it was Uncle Milton's money at the head of the parade. I couldn't blame her for it. It just made my job a little tougher, but she would pay for that.
After she wrote me out a check and gave me the unlisted telephone number at her apartment in a highrise building overlooking the Golden Gate, I went upstairs to a public telephone booth in the station lobby. My first call was to the Hall of Justice on Bryant Street. I knew several San Francisco police officers on a nodding basis, but only a couple of them well enough to ask favors of. One was John Foley, an inspector on the homicide detail. It was the romantic branch of the force, but not one especially helpful to most of the jobs I had. On the other hand, the police don't maintain an information bureau for private cops, and a friend is a friend. Foley was in, listened to my story and said he'd check it out with Missing Persons when he had the time.
Then I phoned Carol Jean Mackey, the receptionist-secretary I share with a couple of attorneys named Sloe and Morrisey in offices on Market Street. I asked Ceejay to make some calls to postpone some things, then I looked up the number of Coast West Insurance. The main office was over on California Street, just above the financial district. I dialed the number and asked if there were a Mr. Stoval working there. I was put through to a secretary.
"Mr. Stoval's office ..."
"Hi, my name's Peter Bragg. I'm a private investigator working on something I think your Mr. Stoval might be able to help me with. It's pretty important, Miss ..."
"Miss Benson. I'd like to see him for a few minutes, before he goes to lunch, if possible. I could be over there in about ten minutes."
"Ummmm. He is one busy man today, Mr. Bragg. Maybe if you could give me some hint as to what it's about."
"The missing Jerry Lind."
"I see. Please hold the line."
It took a couple of minutes.
"Mr. Bragg? It's all set. He can see you at twenty to twelve."
"Thank you very much. Was he on another phone or did you have to talk him into it?"
"I had to do some talking. We're on the fourth floor."
"I'm in your debt, Miss Benson. By the way, what end of the operation is Mr. Stoval concerned with?"
"The same as you, Mr. Bragg. Investigations."CHAPTER 2
Jerry Lind worked out of a wide, carpeted office with desks on the left for girls and desks on the right for the fellows. At the deep end of the room, denoting where the power was on the fourth floor, were glass-enclosed individual offices overlooking California Street. The receptionist summoned Stoval's secretary. Miss Benson turned out to be a woman about Janet Lind's age. She had longish legs and a pleasant face, but her hair was done up in a severe bun and she wore eyeglasses with sensible frames.
"I'm Miss Benson. Will you follow me, please?"
"Sure. And thanks again for the help earlier."
She gave me a little smile over her shoulder. Miss Benson was dressed conservatively, in a dark blue skirt and a loose-fitting, high-necked blouse. But she had a pretty smile and a lilting swing to her walk.
About a third of the men's desks and all of the women's were occupied. Some of the fellows were on the phone, others riffling through folders. An older guy with gray-streaked hair and a tube of stomach hanging over his belt stood to stretch. He sat back down and stared at his desk top with faint distaste.
"Here we are, Mr. Bragg." She ushered me into one of the glass cubicles and quietly closed the door behind me. The man behind the desk half rose and extended his hand.
"Bragg? I'm Stoval." The sign on his desk said his first name was Emil. He didn't look like an Emil. He looked younger than Miss Benson. He had a strong grip and a round face with an alert expression. Some of his hair was missing.
"Nice of you to see me, Mr. Stoval. I've been hired by Jerry Lind's sister to find him. She said he's missing."
"Either that or he's being damn secretive about his work. I haven't heard from him in nearly two weeks."
"Has he ever done anything like this before?"
"What's his job?"
"Standard insurance investigation. We review death policies, run checks on bonding applicants, look into theft, fire and auto accident claims."
"Did Lind have a background for it?"
"Not really. He spent some time with Army intelligence, but that was mostly code work. This isn't a top-dollar job. We can take any reasonably bright young man and train him ourselves. People with too much experience, ex-cops say, don't always project the image the company tries to maintain."
"Do you think he could have been on company business when he disappeared?"
"Why should I think that?"
"I understand he said something to his wife about leaving town on business."
"A man tells his wife many things, Bragg."
"When you smile like that, Mr. Stoval, are you implying there's a reason to believe Jerry wasn't telling the truth?"
The smile went away and Stoval leaned forward. "I'm not implying anything. All I know is that the man's AWOL. He has been for two weeks. When he shows up he might have a perfectly good explanation for staying out of the office. Until I hear from him I'm not judging one way or the other."
"Has he gone out of town on business in the past?"
"When he did, would he phone in from time to time?"
"Up until now he did."
"Have you tried tracing his movements?"
"I've phoned his wife a few times asking about him."
"Listen, Bragg, you seem very determined to place the company and myself in some position of responsibility in this matter."
"It might work out that way."
"But Lind's job is a standard nine-to-five, five-day-a-week job. He dropped out of sight over the weekend. Until somebody proves differently, I have to assume it's a personal matter."
"Does the company carry a policy on him?"
"Yes. The same as it does for all the employees."
"What sort of salary does he make?"
"That we keep confidential."
"What are you doing about his pay, since he's not here to pick up his check?"
"We mail it to his wife."
"How long will that go on, provided he stays missing?"
"That's not for me to decide."
I shook my head with a smile. "You're sure as hell casual about it."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean one of your men is missing. A man in one of the occupations allied to cops and robbers. He's not a peddler or a tuba player, Mr. Stoval, but an investigator. Now if I were in your place and one of my men dropped out of sight for even two days, let alone two weeks, I'd be off and looking for him."
"Very heroic, Bragg, but I think it's nonsense. As I said, there's nothing to link his disappearance to his job. Therefore, under company policy, my hands are tied."
"Maybe so, during working hours."
"That's not fair. Besides, Lind wouldn't get himself into anything of a dangerous nature. This is an old and conservative company. Our men have orders to avoid anything that even smells of danger. If they have any suspicion of illegal activity they report back here and we bring in the police. And believe me, we impress our people with the firmness of that policy. There's no reason to think young Lind would have ignored it."
"What sort of man is he?"
Stoval shrugged. "Pleasant enough. He dressed well, spoke well. Was a team player. That's another thing. Jerry wasn't too adventuresome. If anything, he was a bit more conservative than most men his age today. I don't think he'd take any gambles in his work."
"I hope you're right. Can you tell me what he was working on two weeks ago?"
Stoval looked at his watch. "I'll just have time to show you before my luncheon appointment."
"It would be kind of you."
The insurance man rummaged through a lower drawer of his desk and brought out a slender folder. He lifted out three forms. I thought I saw a fourth that he left in the folder.
"It was a light caseload at the time," Stoval said. "These are all minor matters."
"Mind telling me about them?"
Stoval went through the three sheets. "One was an auto theft out in the Sunset. Victim's name is Jonathan Thorpe. Twenty-nine twenty Klondike. The car was a new Mercedes. It was reported missing three weeks ago."
I made notes.
"Then there was a small painting stolen from a traveling exhibit at the Legion Palace Museum. Owner of the painting is a man living in Santa Barbara, but the policy is carried by the museum people."
"How much was it insured for?"
Stoval tilted his head and pinched one lip. "We're out a thousand if it isn't recovered. The work itself isn't appraised that highly." He studied the third sheet with a frown. "This is a home fire claim, but hell, I think I had one of the other men handle it." He went back into his file drawer and extracted another folder. He took a sheet from it and clipped it to the one from Lind's folder.
"Yes, that's closed. So there's really only the two." He looked at his watch again. "Afraid now I must leave, Bragg. Nice to have met you."
Excerpted from The Missing and the Dead by Jack Lynch. Copyright © 2014 Jack Lynch. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
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
A first-rate detective story with a cast of characters that Damon Runyan would have been proud of. I was pleased by the level of development for all characters, minor as well as major. The hero is a weak man who does heroic things. The villain is an evil man who masquerades as a good old boy. As people become missing and dead, the mystery deepens, and the reader chases the clues along with the hero. Nothing is hidden, but the ending stills comes as a surprise. I highly recommend this book.