by Robert Lane
Mason Alley Publishing – Release date: September 20 2106
Available in trade paper (ISBN: 978-0692670446, $14.95) and eBook ($4.99) editions
“a consistently entertaining crime thriller…The plot crackles with energy and suspense. The writing is crisp…clever.” –Kirkus
“Charm and humor permeate the pages of the surprising thriller. There’s little chance that anyone will turn the last page before developing a craving for the next installment.” –ForeWord Reviews
Award-winning novelist Robert Lane, who has drawn comparisons to John D. MacDonald, has created one of the most compelling characters in mystery today. PI Jake Travis is tough, smart, wise and wisecracking. He’s hailed as “a winning hero”—and this time, Jake has an elaborate knot to untangle.
While trying to expose a corrupt Miami art dealer, Jake goes undercover for the FBI. The gallery’s owner, Phillip Agatha, is more enchanted with murder than he is with art. Aboard Agatha’s luxury yacht, the Gail Force, Jake is taken with Agatha’s hospitality—and with his alluring assistant, Christina, a woman who harbors her own secrets. Unknowingly, Jake plays into Agatha’s hands and initiates actions that could cause an innocent girl to die.
As Jake struggles to save the girl, unearth a rogue FBI agent, and bring Agatha to justice, his greatest challenge is to stay loyal to his girlfriend Kathleen—and to withstand the Gail Force. As Jake himself observes, “After all, everything’s a game. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you don’t know what game you’re playing.” This game is on…
The Gail Force is crime fiction writing at its finest. With a storyline that races from the opening page, characters that stay with readers long after the final page is turned, and the wit, wisdom, lust for life, and cynicism of Jake Travis, The Gail Force will leave readers breathless.
The Gail Force
The Fat Man
Karl Anderson knew he’d made a mistake when he got a sex change and neglected to inform his wife.
“It’s me, babe.”
“Hey, you know we talked about it and—”
“Karl, you dumbass. What—”
“Colette. You know, French. Thought we’d make a cute couple. Whatdaya think?”
“Oh, babe.” Riley Anderson put down her grocery bag of fresh produce, fish wrapped in white paper—she suspected the paper was not as fresh as the fish it wrapped—and a loaf of French bread. She strode over to her husband and combed her hand through his hair, tenderly tucking a few renegade strands behind his left ear. “You’re a blonde, babe. We talked about it? Remember? You’d look so much better as a brunette. Besides, a French blonde—they even make them?”
“Don’t know why not.”
“French blonde. Come on, Karl. They don’t exist. It’s like a happy Eskimo or—”
“Cather—OK, so you got one, but dead or alive, right? And look at your shoes. You got to start thinking differently.”
“I’ll be fine. Pretty sure she’s still alive. Born in forty-three.”
“You didn’t, you know,” Riley said with a coy smile, “touch the private equipment, right?”
They stood in a seaside bungalow, the late afternoon sun filtering through the slats of the venetian blinds, casting shadowed lines on the wall. A spiritual sea breeze swept through two sets of open patio doors, ushering in air that hung heavy with the gummy fragrance of saltwater. The front doors faced the Caribbean, and the side doors the courtyard and pool, one floor beneath them. “Some island south of Florida,” the government man in the buttoned dark suit had retorted in response to Riley’s earnest question as to where they were. That was three nights ago when they’d been dropped off at 2:00 a.m. in the middle of a weed-infested runway.
“No shit, Corky. Which one?” Riley had demanded.
“Gotcha. Hey, thanks for the heads up. Now give me my phone.”
“We’ve been over this. They can trace you. No phone.”
“How long am I gonna be here?”
“Until you leave.”
“Yeah? Well, let me tell you, if you come knockin’ and I don’t answer, it means I’m finally showing signs of intelligence. Got it, Corky?”
“Don’t call me Corky.”
Karl had stepped in before Riley got wound up. He was always calming her emotions and outbursts, like throwing a blanket on a fire. He believed his wife’s bravado stemmed from her diminutive stature, but he wasn’t the type of man who gave thought to such trivial things. He simply loved her every way times ten.
“You know I didn’t,” Karl replied to his wife’s question and gave her their last kiss. “It’s just another precaution. We might even have fun with it.” Their first kiss had been outside the prefabricated junior high classroom in Marion, Indiana, when they were fourteen years old. It’d been building for three days until finally, on the fourth day, Karl nearly knocked her head into the side of the building before attacking her lips with his own.
He folded her, all five feet and one inch, into his chest. She jerked back. “Boobs?”
“Little fakies. I’m thinking this might be a pristine opportunity for you to see if you swing both ways, you know, snuggle up to Daddy Big Tits, might find it rocks your boat. Make a real sorority girl out of you.”
Riley smiled, glanced up at her husband, and said, “I don’t think so, baby. You’ve been rocking my boat ever since the day you grabbed my shoulders, banged my head, stuck your lips on mine, and then dashed off like the Easter bunny being chased by a pack of starving coyotes.”
While not poetic, and certainly not the finely crafted lyrical notes she would, if presented the opportunity, have chosen, nonetheless, it was a fine thing for Riley Anderson to say to her husband, as they were the last words he would hear her say. The last words she ever heard him say were coming around the corner like a downhill runaway truck.
Karl Anderson, who towered over his wife, gathered her back in his arms. He faced the open patio door. Riley, before looking up to his face, eyed the grocery bag on the kitchen counter. She wondered how she should prepare the fish but knew that Karl would likely step in and cook dinner. Maybe she’d slice up the French loaf, make garlic bread and croutons. Karl Anderson loved crispy croutons. Later, she would wonder if she hadn’t glanced at the damn groceries if she would have seen the panic—the sadness—in her husband’s eyes a split second sooner, and if that split second, of all the seconds the screwed-up world had ever known, would have made a difference in their lives.
When she did glance up, Karl Anderson was not looking at the object of his heart, but at the open patio door where a rotund, unwelcome guest stood blocking the salt air, the sun, the view, their future.
Karl, like a Polish weight lifter, jerked his wife over his head, took a giant leap toward the side patio that fronted the pool below, and heaved her over the patio rail and, with luck, into the pool’s deep end.
“Run, baby, run,” he screamed, praying that for once in her life, the little fireball would do the sensible thing and listen to him. That was assuming he didn’t miss and Riley went kerplat on the concrete pool decking. Karl spun and dove for the shelter of a desk. Like a runner on third knowing he was cooked, he closed his eyes, thinking it would be less painful when the bullet found him.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” the Fat Man said on entering the villa. He glanced behind him. “Find her. Go.” Two men were with him. The one who had shot Karl sprinted down the concrete stairs.
“Mr. Anderson.” The Fat Man took several steps into the room. “Might I be mistaken or have you sprouted a pair of shapely—although the right one seems to be slightly off-kilter—breasts since our last meeting?”
“Yes, yes, yes. If only you knew. Why not now, Johnnie, while he’s still breathing?”
Johnnie Darling, who resembled the product of an incestuous relationship, slithered around his boss and snapped away with a Nikon D810.
“Fat little twerp,” Karl Anderson blurted out. His left hand grasped his Tommy Bahama shirt that Riley had sprung on him yesterday as a present. He tried to stem the bleeding that was turning the gold silk shirt into a rust-colored premonition of death.
“Why the animosity?” The Fat Man tapped his cane on the floor. “Is that what the end brings you, tied up in a bow? It is different with all of us. You should understand. Our minds are so similar in some departments, but apparently—and this, most unfortunately does not bode well for you—sadly different in others. But what a marvelous picture you make, especially now that you’ve made yourself such a conflicted creation. You know how I feel about art. It stimulates our senses. That which we are rarely exposed to, that which we dream about and participate in only through the voyeurism of our dreams, stimulates us the most. So considerate of you and, I might add, so utterly unselfish, to be our objet d’art.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
“Hmm…yes. Imagine the disastrous effect on the survival of the species if one could indeed finagle such an act.”
Click. Click. Click.
The Fat Man prodded Karl Anderson’s shirt with his cane. He nudged the blond wig off to the side, taking care to keep a piece of it on Karl’s head.
Click. Click. Click.
“This is exquisite. Exquisite indeed. Death comes to what? A man? A woman? We don’t know, Johnnie, what Mr. Anderson is trying to be. Perhaps one of your own. Death does not care, does it Mr. Anderson?”
Click. Click. Click.
The Fat Man stepped around Karl and toddled into the kitchen, his back to Karl. “I thought we were getting along splendidly. The beauty of numbers—their simplicity and brutal honesty. It’s disappointing when those we trusted, our confidants, turn and drive a spike into our hearts. So sad. All of this, brought about by you.”
The Fat Man picked up the bag of groceries. He positioned a chair before Karl, sat, and bent over, his face close to Karl’s.
“Look at me,” the Fat Man said.
Karl did not. Karl Anderson decided to go deep inside himself, to choose his place of death, to envision the dimpled face of his sweet Riley as the last thing he would see. Did I throw her too far? I was afraid of coming up short. A short putt never goes in—oh God, please, I hope she hit the water.
The Fat Man poked Karl’s chin with his cane. “I said look at me.”
Karl did not.
“Very well then.” He leaned back and propped his cane against the side of the chair.
Click. Click. Click.
The Fat Man gave a dismissive gesture with his hand, his fingers trilling the air. “Be done, Johnnie, until the closing shot. Why, Mr. Anderson? Why couldn’t you let me go? I told you that if you kept our secret, you would live. If not, you would create this egregious situation. What part of that simple statement did you not comprehend?”
Karl curled into a fetal position and coughed up blood.
“Now you understand, don’t you?” The Fat Man continued, undaunted by Karl’s lack of conversational participation. “And your little Riley? My! What a throw that was. My guess is that she’s bleeding out on the pink pool paver bricks. Pink. Pool. Paver. Bricks. What do you think, Karl? Or is it Pink. Paver. Pool. Bricks? Do you recall our number games? Of course you do. I got it right the first time, didn’t I? Words with the fewest letters lead the way. We resort to the alphabet for a tiebreaker. ‘Pink’ before ‘pool’ as ‘I’ comes before ‘O.’ Remember? We constructed whole sentences in such a manner, although paragraphs were beyond the scope of even our advanced minds. I will miss your stimulating company. I digress—Riley.
“Perhaps that wasn’t her fate; there’s always the cabana, a somewhat softer ending. You know which one I’m talking about, don’t you, Karl? Yes, that’s right. The one where the lady in the black bathing suit was spreading oil on her breasts yesterday as if she were making love to them. Remember now? Judging by the trajectory, I think that is where your little trinket might have landed. Johnnie, would you be so kind as to glance out the door. Take a few shots of Mrs. Anderson. Show them to Mr. Anderson in your viewfinder.”
Johnnie Darling went to the side patio door and peered down. He shook his raisin head at the Fat Man.
“Not there? Really—quite an amazing throw then. I’m sure Eddie will rope her in. Pity for her that she didn’t hit the bricks. Didn’t think of that, did you Karl? Really, have you nothing to add?”
Karl tightened his position, his arms and legs drawing into his center, as if in death, life compresses into you, growing small, dense, and close. Then, like a flickering flame reacting to a kindly puff, it was no more.
The Fat Man picked up the grocery bag. “I greatly admire your courage to control your last moments. Superb, actually. One never knows until the bitter end what kind of strength lies dormant in a man. With you, it is bottled animosity and structured silence. Think of the picture in his mind right now, Johnnie. The greatest art is that which we never see. Pity. Karl, are you tuned in?”
He reached into the bag and rummaged through the items. “I shall dine on your wife’s shopping tonight. Let’s see, Johnnie, French loaf, fresh produce, kiwi—excellent—such an integral component for a Caribbean salad.” He unwrapped the fish. “Yellowtail snapper. Enough for two, which means just enough for me.” He discarded the fish and stood, as if he’d instantly lost interest in it all. “I fear we’ve overstayed our visit, and we do want to be going before the police arrive; although I told them to give me an hour. One shot, Johnnie. With both instruments. Don’t cheat and rely on the camera.”
The Fat Man turned to leave.
“Shwell ill you.”
He turned and was surprised to see Karl Anderson’s eyes nailing his own. “Pardon me.”
“Riley,” Karl said with the greatest of effort, for he recognized his last breath. With that breath, he said, “She’ll kill you.”
“I think not. Johnnie.”
Johnnie circled the corpse twice and settled on a position. He took his time with the Nikon. Johnnie Darling always took his time with the last shot.