In You Know Who Killed Me, by multiple award-winning author Loren D. Estleman, Amos Walker is at low ebb. Just released from a rehab clinic, the Detroit private detective has to marshal his energies to help solve a murder in Iroquois Heights, his least favorite town.
The area is flooded with billboards rented by the widow of Donald Gates, an ordinary suburbanite found shot to death in his basement on New Year's Eve: "YOU KNOW WHO KILLED ME!" they read, above the number of the sheriff's tip line. Complicating matters is a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderer, offered by an anonymous donor through the dead man's place of worship.
Initially hired by the sheriff's department to run down anonymous tips, Walker investigates further. The trail leads to former fellow employee Yuri Yako, a Ukrainian mobster, relocated to the area through the U.S. Marshals' Witness Protection Program.
Shadowed by government operatives, at odds with the sheriff, and struggling with his addiction, Walker soldiers on, in spite of bodies piling up and the fact that almost everyone involved with the case is lying to him.
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About the Author
Loren D. Estleman is the author of more than eighty novels, including the Amos Walker, Page Murdock, and Peter Macklin series. Winner of three Shamus Awards, three Western Heritage Awards, four Spur Awards and many other literary prizes. He lives outside Detroit with his wife, author Deborah Morgan.
Read an Excerpt
You Know Who Killed Me
An Amos Walker Novel
By Loren D. Estleman
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2014 Loren D. Estleman
All rights reserved.
"Mister? I've got a confession to make."
"Yeah? Try a priest."
"I'm not a Catholic."
"Then find a cop."
I leaned along the bar and whispered in his ear: "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die."
"You and Johnny Cash." He leaned the other direction, closing his hands around his glass.
"Reno's in Nevada."
"Last time I checked."
"What I can't figure out is why they put me in a California penal institution."
"You're drunk, pal."
"A non sequitur. I asked a simple question and I want a complicated answer."
He looked at me directly for the first time. He had a big face, red as a brick, a forehead stacked with wrinkles, and foreman written all over him. The saloon was a bare-bones affair across from the GM assembly plant in Highland Park; you didn't patronize it so much as wander inside because it stood between you and home. There was no pool table, no juke, and the toilet paper rolls in the men's room were padlocked. The bartender worked his way one direction with a pitcher of beer and the other with a bottle of Ten High. The job never ended. It was like painting the Big Mac bridge.
"Buddy, you don't stop breathing in my face, you'll get your answer."
"Show me your face and I'll breathe in it. I'm sick of looking at your butt."
He swung at me, but the joke was on him. I slid off the stool, but I never got as far as the floor. An angel dressed all in black folded her wings around me and bore me away from there.
* * *
They were pretty rough on me in rehab, but then they had to be: I was as hard as a hangnail and tough as suet. When after three weeks I was well enough to get dressed, I found a cigarette burn on my pants. Probably it had been there some time.
The physician who wound up in charge of my case was a tough little blonde with freckles, who spent most of the consultation in her office looking at my file on an Etch A Sketch in her hand.
"You're lucky to be alive, you know."
"I know. I should take this streak to Vegas."
"You OD'd on alcohol and prescription drugs. We pumped enough Vicodin out of your stomach to put down King Kong. You've got the constitution of an ox, I'll say that. It says here you favor your left leg."
"Actually, I'm disappointed in it."
"Which explains the scar on that thigh. There are others. A nasty one on your side, too high for an appendectomy. I think your skull was fractured once."
"Only once? I want a second opinion."
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a private eye."
"Fine, don't tell me. How are you feeling?"
"I could use a smoke."
"Is that supposed to be funny?"
"Am I laughing?"
"Mr. Walker, you were brought here instead of to jail, where you would've been booked for possession of a controlled substance without a valid prescription. The one you had expired years ago. You should have stopped taking Vicodin then, and you never should have drunk alcohol while you were taking it."
"I quit the pills over a year ago. I took them up again after I got into a foot chase that turned into the New York Marathon. I guess you could say I went into a tailspin after that."
"You were already in it. Look, I can approve your release, recommend you remain with us a while longer, or let the police do what the police do when someone breaks the law. It so happens we need your bed for someone who really wants to get better, and the jails are full of honest criminals, so I'll ask for assurance you'll seek professional help outside this institution to relieve you of your addiction. Yes?"
"On one condition."
"What's that?" She flicked a varnished fingernail at the screen she was holding.
"You make eye contact with me just once."
She looked up from her gizmo.
"Blue," I said. "Just as I thought."
* * *
There'd been more to it than simple pain, of course. I'd passed a milestone birthday I thought I'd never see—I hadn't expected to die before it, just had never seen myself being that age—and the only other one to acknowledge it was the place that services my Cutlass, along with a reminder that I was due for an oil change. Right on top of that I took a job looking for a lost child that had ended in the basement of a registered sex offender. The girl would have been about the age of my grandchild, if my marriage had stuck. I told the first cop on the scene the homeowner fell up a flight of stairs. The blue-collar bar they'd shoveled me out of a week later was just down the street from the kid who ordered my pills from Canada by way of the Internet.
I thought of celebrating my coming-out with a meal, but the smell of the restaurant when I stepped in the door stuck a lever under my stomach and turned it over. I went to Twelve Oaks Mall instead and got fitted for a new suit.
The tailor, a good-looking young black man in starched cuffs and collar, draped his tape measure back around his neck. "Forty-two long."
"I take a forty-four."
He measured again; an accommodating type. "Forty-two."
"It's always been forty-four."
"'Always' isn't a word we use in my work. People gain weight and lose it. Have you been ill?"
"In a manner of speaking."
He rang up the sale. "We'll have the alterations done by the end of the week."
"By then it won't fit me. Where's the best place to eat around here?"
I was recovering, although not nearly as fast as I'd unrecovered.
* * *
I went to my office first. Rosecranz, the antediluvian super, was snapping new letters into the directory in the lobby. I read what he'd finished:
"I guess. The rest is 'E BOOKS.'"
"What's an e-book?"
"My great-grandniece has one. It's like a cell phone, only you read books on it. My day, you didn't need batteries to read."
"Those stone tablets are hard to lug around."
My olfactory sense had corrected itself. The two flights of stairs were haunted by the ghosts of nickel cigars, Black Jack gum, and forty rounds in the ring at the Kronk Boxing Club. A puff of stale air came out of my waiting room when I opened the door. I'd left it unlocked for the inconvenience of clients. That had been a month ago.
The rock-hard bench and chipped coffee table were still there, also the magazines with Leon Spinks and Molly Ringwald on the covers. I unlocked the door to the sacristy, scooped up the pile of mail under the slot, dumped it on the desk, and opened the window on raw February. Detroit was far behind on snow that season. All the sins of summer and fall lay exposed on the dead grass and the streets had the cruel gray polished look of a printer's stone. The trees the county jail inmates had planted to dress up the place looked like twists of wire. A miniature foil top hat left over from New Year's Eve was stuck on a branch.
I'd missed the party, also a presidential inauguration and Groundhog Day, but there was still St. Valentine's to get through. I should have taken the doctor up on her offer and gone to the clink.
The ceiling fixture dimmed, then brightened. Karaoke Press had opened for business, overloading the building's Taft-era wiring. If the economy got any better, the corporation that owned the joint would have to remodel.
I dialed my voice-mail number and put it on speaker while I sorted mail. Someone wanted to sell me a long-term mortgage that would be paid off by my ghost; the owner of a gravel voice wanted me to kidnap his neighbor's barking dog; an online detective school invited me to serve on its faculty, my commission to be based on how many students I attracted; a woman who lengthened her vowels like a native Canadian wondered if I'd consider taking my fee in Dominion currency; General Motors had issued a recall on a car I hadn't owned in ten years; Gravel Voice said, look, if I didn't want to risk kidnapping the dog, I could just shoot it; my high school reunion was coming up again, just like quack grass; a man who whispered wanted me to search his geriatric nurse's apartment for his watch, wallet, and upper plate; a postcard signed by somebody I never heard of had an arrow pointing to his room in a hotel in Belize; Gravel Voice said to hell with it, he'd shoot the mutt himself. I lifted one foot off my desk and positioned the heel to break the connection.
"Walker, this is Ray Henty. I know how you feel about Iroquois Heights, but I wonder if you can come up and give me a hand."
The robotic voice belonging to the telephone company told me the call had come in just that morning. I dumped the mail, cut off the rest of my messages, and called the number of the police department that had given me more trouble than all the others combined.
"Lieutenant," I said, when I got Henty's extension. "Or is it captain now?"
"I'm lucky it isn't deputy, with a beat out in Deliverance country. You sound rough. Got a bug?"
"No. Just a monkey on my back. What's so important I have to go up there and get my head mailed back to me?"
"You know that's all changed since they gave the police department the boot. We're still chucking out the rotten eggs, but if anybody gives you grief, I'll have him up on charges so fast his pants will be down around his ankles."
"I've heard that before. You know how you can tell an egg's rotten? It always comes floating back to the top."
"Look, if you're afraid—"
"I'm afraid. I've only got one more concussion coming and I'm saving it for a woman in Eastpointe who works under the professional name Madame Mayhem."
"Okay. Jesus. As it so happens, this isn't something I want to talk about in the Heights. Will you come to my house? It's outside trigger-happy pistol range."
"You know who killed me. That's what's up."CHAPTER 2
Ray Henty lived in a bedroom community as old as Iroquois Heights; at some point in the era of whistle-stop campaigns, it had taken itself out of the running for county seat, and dodged the stink of suburban politics. There was a hardware store downtown that sold nails by the pound and old-growth oaks flanked the residential streets. A brew pub had opened in the old neighborhood movie theater since the last time I drove through. That would have made the front page if the place still had a newspaper.
Yet another mayor of the Heights was under federal indictment, and a petition to dissolve the police department had put the issue up to the voters. This time, even the disappearance of three ballot boxes had failed to maintain the status quo. The county sheriff's department set up a substation in the old city hall, with Lieutenant Henty in command. The situation was desperate enough to waive the ordinance requiring residency inside the city limits.
He'd earned the appointment. I'd worked with him a couple of times when he headed the Missing Persons division at headquarters; for a cop he was friendly to a plastic badge, and he had a talent for getting various branches of law enforcement to cooperate. He'd never once fired his sidearm except to qualify, which working that close to Detroit said something about his ability to contain a situation.
Henty didn't waste time. Before he sat down at his new desk, he brought in an outside firm to recalibrate the parking meters so that they didn't shave five minutes off every hour and sent deputies to confiscate the gadgets that changed all the red lights to green for cars driven by wives of petty city officials. Of course he made enemies: Someone dug up a former suspect in a chain of burglaries who said Deputy Henty had ruptured his eardrum during an interrogation fifteen years ago, a female corrections officer in the county jail announced that he'd made unwelcome sexual advances to her when he was a sergeant. They later recanted, and a former member of the local police commission was charged with suborning to commit perjury.
Soon he had company. Henty personally swung a sledge against a wall in the old police evidence room and found the priest-hole containing all the cash and confiscated heroin that had vanished from inventory due to an error in accounting. That had led to more indictments, an extradition from Uruguay, and an invitation to the lieutenant to speak at a national criminologists' convention in Las Vegas.
Which he declined. "Too busy." Translation: "I don't want to walk into my suite and find a hooker waiting for me with her press agent."
The house was a small brick mansard with a fake widow's walk on the roof and a brick carriage house in back. He called to me from there after I slammed my door in the driveway. Dusk was drifting in; yellow light framed him where he stood holding open one of the double doors.
"Where's Mister Ed?" I sank my paw deep in his, sparing my fingers.
He gave me his iron grin. He was a U.S. Marine vet and looked the part, jarhead and all, in an old white dress shirt rolled up past his biceps, corduroys, and scuffed sneakers. He was fifty, but could pass for midthirties in the right light. "You look like shit. You ought to give up red meat."
"Also booze, cigarettes, painkillers, and all other forms of entertainment. I hit into the rough. I'm all right now."
"Keep telling yourself that. Maybe you'll buy it. Show you something." He stepped aside to let me come in, closed the door behind me, and made sure of it with a hook-and-eye. Then he took three steps and snatched the blue tarp off a white 1966 Ford Fairlane with red vinyl seats, russet in patches where the primer had worn through.
"Is that what I think it is?"
"See for yourself." He jerked his square chin toward the hood.
I rapped on it, got a dull thud.
"Yep. Fiberglass cold-air hood. Only fifty-seven ever built. Soon as I find a trans, I'll match it to that piece-of-crap Cutlass of yours mile for mile."
"Don't underestimate that piece of crap. I keep all the dirt and rust on the outside for show. They're going to say you grafted to get this."
"That's why I keep receipts, and have myself audited every year. If they want me off the job they'd better use a gun. Don't tell Vicky I said that. She's superstitious."
"Then don't say it." I looked around. He'd lined the place with pegboard and hung it with stainless steel tools: bling for the gearhead. An electric chain fall perched in a cross-timber above the car and he had a roll of industrial transparent plastic stored in the rafters, to seal off the vehicle when it came time to spray paint. A redhead gripped a welding torch in a picture on a calendar on the wall, wearing knee-high boots and a welder's helmet with the visor tipped up, nothing else.
"You could bottle the air in here and sell testosterone."
He replaced the tarp, rolling it carefully from rear bumper to front: so much for small talk. I took out a pack of cigarettes, raising my eyebrows.
"Go ahead," he said. "Burn yourself down from the inside. Just don't touch off the gas tank."
"Thanks. I was afraid I'd get a lecture." I lit up and blew a plume of smoke at Miss February. "What did you mean, 'You know who killed me'?"
"Where you been since the beginning of the year, under a rock?"
"Christ, I wish you had company."
He led me outside and pointed his chin at a tall floodlit billboard a hundred yards away from where we were standing, faced away from us at a slight angle. It had a giant blow-up photograph of a smiling middle-aged man under a legend six feet tall:
"YOU KNOW WHO KILLED ME!"
At the bottom, in letters and numerals nearly as large, was the tip line for the sheriff's department.
The man was wearing a cable-knit sweater embroidered with reindeer.
We went back inside. The heat from the oil stove in the corner felt good after the dank cold.
"Taken over Christmas. They don't come much fresher. That sign faces the expressway. There are four more just like it, scattered around like Easter eggs, only a damn sight more visible. Paid for by the widow."
"Who is he?"
"Donald Gates. Thirty-eight. We scraped him out of his basement New Year's Day, shot twice in the head."
"If he was pushing, he was craftier than any dealer I ever heard of. No sign of drugs on the premises, nothing showed up at the autopsy. I had to bet? No. No out-of-the-ordinary deposits or withdrawals in his banking records, no history of gambling. The only one he owed money to was his mortgage lender, and he was on top of his payments. Anyway Fifth Third isn't employing strong-arms this year."
"What's the status?"
"We're following up on some promising leads."
"I'm not a reporter, Lieutenant."
Excerpted from You Know Who Killed Me by Loren D. Estleman. Copyright © 2014 Loren D. Estleman. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As the 24th Amos Walker novel opens, our hero is on sorry shape. His penchant for painkillers and booze landed him in rehab, and he is not a happy camper. An old cop friend offers him a job hunting down phone tips about an unsolved murder and, since Amos is more or less broke, he takes the case. Many hard-boiled authors would have taken their detective through a hundred pages or so of soul searching. Loren D. Estleman has other plans for Amos. He soon is involved in a tangle involving a lady minister, the grieving widow and her son, the Ukrainian mob, a Federal marshal, and more bodies. Estleman slips in Detroit vistas to add authenticity to his taut story. The ending will surprise long time fans although new readers may see it coming.
An Amos Walker novel is more about atmosphere, smart-alecky dialogue, the deterioration of Detroit, and the hard-boiled persona. In this chapter, the plot is complicated by his addiction to painkillers, and the doctor’s condition for his release from rehab: get counseling. He does, with extremely unlikely results. Meanwhile, what’s an Amos Walker novel without a mystery? And he is presented with one in his somewhat desperate shape by his friend in the Sheriff’s department, albeit as a charity case and limited in scope. The real mystery is who killed Donald Gates just before or after the start of New Year’s Day. Detroit is flooded with billboards with his picture and the message: “You Know Who Killed Me.” The idea was his 10-year-old son’s, and it was paid for by his widow. Amos’ assignment is limited to chasing down phone tips resulting from an anonymous $10,000 reward which brings out all the crazies, which the limited Sheriff’s staff has no time to investigate. Amos is warned not to contact the widow or look into the case itself. But that never stopped him from going against orders. All the attributes of previous novels in the series, e.g., the dialogue and attitudes, are present in this one. The prose is equally cynical, a trademark. While the conclusion may not be up to one’s expectations, it works for Amos. And that’s all that counts. Recommended.