Title: THE RIGHT WRONG NUMBER
Author: Jim Nesbitt
Publisher: Spotted Mule Press
Purchase link: www.amazon.com/author/jimnesbitt
About the Book:
When the phone rings long after midnight, it spells trouble of the lethal kind for Ed Earl Burch. A cashiered homicide detective with bad knees, a wounded liver and an empty bank account, Burch has been hired to protect an old flame after the disappearance of her husband, a high-flying Houston financier who ripped off his clients, including some deeply unsavory gentlemen from New Orleans.
It’s a simple job that goes wrong fast, plunging Burch into a ruthless contest where nothing is as it seems and no one can be trusted. Money and sex— twin temptations served up by the old flame, a rangy strawberry blonde with a violent temper and a terminal knack for larceny and betrayal—tempt Burch to break his own rules. But when his best friend gets murdered by hired muscle in Dallas, Burch blames himself and grimly sets out for vengeance.
Bristling with relentless action, a pulse-racer of a plot, a solid storyline, and a colorful cast of characters, The Right Wrong Number is hard-boiled detective fiction at its finest. With his pitch-perfect voice and keen eye for detail, Jim Nesbitt uses the skills honed over decades of deadline journalism to create an extraordinary story centered on a protagonist like no other: the deeply flawed but wildly compelling Ed Earl Burch. A taut, tense, uncompromising tale of revenge and redemption, The Right Wrong Number is a damned good story exceptionally well-told.
THE RIGHT WRONG NUMBER
An Ed Earl Burch Novel
It wasn’t San Francisco or London, but the fog was thick and flowing — like tufts sucked from a bale of cotton, carrying the muddy tint of a used linen filter. It made him think of trench coats, lamp posts and the low warning moan of a ship’s horn sounding somewhere out on the water. Rolling across the flat fields, it made dark gray ghosts of the trees that huddled along the far fencelines and left cold beads of moisture on his skin and memories of old black-and-white movies in his mind.
But there were no ships in the harbor, no waterside buckets of blood, no Rick or Ilsa. Just lightless farmhouses, barns, open-sided equipment sheds and squat corrugated feed bins for cattle, all cloaked by the fast-moving fog, glimpsed only if the wind parted the curtain of stained white wetness as you rolled by.
And it wasn’t the Left Coast or Britain. It was Texas and the scrubby coastal country north of Houston, beyond the Intercontinental and its roaring planes. Take a left off the farm-market road with the four-digit number. Find the third dirt road on the left, take it for three miles. Splash through the potholes and set your teeth against tires juddering across the washboard track. Hit the T of another dirt road. Look for a faint gravel trail at your 10 o’clock. Rattle over the cattle guard. Close the gate behind you.
Easy to remember. Hard to do with visibility down to zero. Even with the window rolled down and the Beemer’s fog lamps flipped on. Nice car. Leather seats the color of butterscotch taffy. Mahogany inserts flanking the instruments and fronting the glove box. Killer sound system and a cellular phone. Shame to bang this baby along back roads, splashing mud and gravel against its polished flanks of forest green.
Not his car. Not his problem. Fog and time were. He was already a half hour behind schedule when his contact finally drove up with the car, the briefcase of bills and directions to the meet. Fog was adding more minutes to his travel time. He had to double back when he missed one turnoff and that made him slow and leery of missing another.
Not good. Not good. Patient people weren’t on the other end. They never were. But they would wait because he had the money, they had the product and both sides wanted this deal closed tonight. And if they were pissed and wanted to wrangle, he could deal with that; a matte-chrome Smith & Wesson Model 6906 with thirteen rounds of 9 mm hollow point nestled in a shoulder rig underneath his black leather jacket.
Always the chance of a wrangle on a run like this. Rip-offs were a run-of-the-mill business risk, even between long-time associates. But on this deal the probability of gunplay was low. He was just nervous about running late. It wasn’t professional. He thought about using the cellular phone but shook the idea out of his head. Not something a pro would do.
And not something his people would appreciate. They were security-conscious and worked the high-dollar end of the street. No cowboys. Pros only. Running a well-oiled machine. Not that he knew them well. He was strictly a cutout man, a well-paid delivery boy who made it his business to stay ignorant about those who hired him and their business partners.
He wasn’t totally in the dark about his paymasters; no prudent pro ever was. But he kept his curiosity in check and his focus on the amount of money he was paid and the demands of the night’s job.
It was a relaxing way to make a living. A phone rings. A voice on the line gives him the name of a bar or cafe. A man meets him with an envelope and instructions. And he goes where he is told — to deliver money, to pick up a truck or car loaded with product, to put a bullet through the skull of someone he doesn’t know.
Command and control. Just like the Army and those over-the-border ops in Cambodia. Project Vesuvius. Studies and Observations Group. Words both grandiose and bland to cover what he and his comrades did. Slip over the fence, gather the intel, slit a few throats along the way. Set up the Big Death — from the air and on the ground. Operation Menu. Operation Patio. Operation Freedom Deal. Cambodian Incursion. More bland words for killing the enemy in his safest sanctuaries. Parrot’s Beak. The Fishhook. The Dog’s Face.
A sputtering string of electronic beeps startled him. The car phone. He glanced down and saw a red pin light flash to the time of the beeps. He pulled the receiver out of its cradle.
“Talk to me.”
“Where the hell are you?”
“You don’t want me to say.”
“You’re late and that’s making some people nervous.”
“Your man was late and this phone call is making me nervous. It’s not very smart.”
“We decide what’s smart. We pay you to get things done and be on time. How long till you get there?”
He snapped the receiver back in place and shook his head. Not good. Not good. Lots of snoopers scanning these cellular circuits. A pro would know this and wouldn’t risk a call unless the other side was making a ruckus. Made him wonder if the players in this game were as big league as he thought they were.
Those thoughts rode with him as he wheeled the Beemer down the dirt road, looking for the T intersection. There it was. He looked for the gravel trail, slowly turning the car to the left and letting the fog lamps cut a slow sweep across the far side of the road. There. At his ten o’clock. Just like he was told. He stayed alert, but his nagging nervousness and doubts started to fade.
The trail led from the gate and crossed the field at a sharp angle. He crept along, easing the car through ruts and washouts. He saw the shrouded form of a tin shed and weaved the car so the lights would pan across its open door. The yellow beams caught the wet metal of an old tractor and two men in dark slacks and windbreakers — one tall, bald and lean, the other short, squat and slick-haired.
He stopped the car, fog lamps still on. He pulled his pistol, letting his gun hand drop to his side and rear as he stepped out, keeping his body behind the car door.
“Wanna cut the lights, guy?”
A purring voice from the short guy, coming from a full, sleek face that made him think of a seal.
“Not really. Let’s keep everything illuminated. Makes me feel safe.”
“You’re among friends, guy. Nobody wants monkeyshines here. We just do the handoff and the call and we can all get the hell out of this fog. You’re late and we’re cold.”
“No arguments from me, my man. But let’s do this by the numbers.”
“Numbers it is, guy.”
He stepped away from the car.
“Money’s in the front seat. Have your buddy do the honors.”
A nod from the talker. His companion walked to the passenger side of the Beemer and leaned in. He heard the latches of the briefcase pop open.
“Looks good to me.”
“Make the call. That okay with you, guy?”
“By all means. Make that call. Tell Mabel to put a pot of coffee on.”
A laugh from the talker. He could see the other guy reach for the cellular phone. Somewhere across town, a phone would ring. Assurances the money was in hand. Somewhere else another phone would ring. Product would change hands. Then the Beemer’s cellular would ring again and the night’s business would be done.
He was alert but relaxed, ready to wait, the screw-ups behind him and the deal running smooth and professional now. He had a clear view of the talker and his companion. He had his gun in hand. He was thinking about a cup of coffee when the baseball bat cracked across the back of his skull.
“Cut those damn lights. Secure the money.”
A nod from the companion. The talker moved toward the third man, the man with the baseball bat, a hulk with the arms and shoulders of a lineman and the on-the-balls-of-the-feet stance of a third baseman. They stood over the slumped body.
“Give me a hand with this sumbitch. He’s heavy. Get that gun, Jack.”
“Got it. Who’d this guy piss off?”
“Nobody you need to know about, guy. Or me. He’s just a poor soul somebody wants whacked.”
“Awful lot of trouble just to whack a guy. What the fuck are we stagin’ this thing for, Louis? Why not just pop him and get it over with?”
“Not your worry, guy. Just muscle him into the driver’s seat and let me dress him up pretty. Bill, did you wipe your prints?”
“Does it matter?”
A glare from Louis. The companion shrugged, pulled a bandana from his back pocket and leaned into the Beemer. When done, he hoisted the briefcase and walked back toward the shed.
Louis kept his eyes locked on the bald man as he walked away, his head swiveling like a table-top fan, his eyes popped with anger. He broke the stare and fussed with the body, pulling the head back, reaching into the mouth, then his pocket, then back into the mouth. Jack watched and shook his head.
“Get me that bundle, guy. The jacket and the trench coat. And bring that bag with the stuff in it.”
Bill hustled to the car. Louis patted him on the shoulder, thanking him in that purring voice, his face soft and placid again. He turned back to the body, peeling off the leather jacket and unfastening the shoulder rig. He fished through the pockets, pulling wallet, keys and a checkbook, leaving loose change. He replaced these items with wallet, keys and a checkbook he pulled from a crumpled brown paper bag. He pulled a ring from the right hand and a fake Rolex from the left wrist, digging a wedding band, a class ring and a real Rolex — an Oyster Perpetual Datejust — from the bag.
The jacket and trench coat came next — a nicely tailored Burberry, pity the waste. Louis started to sweat as he pulled and smoothed the clothes onto the body. He unbuttoned the shirt down to the navel, then reached into the bag and pulled out a squeeze bottle, the kind with the thin nozzle that could poke through the bars of a footballer’s facemask. He squeezed water onto the body’s chest then reached under the dash to pop the hood of the Beemer.
“Jack — hook up those cables, guy.”
“I know it’s unpleasant, but just do it for me, guy.”
Louis fired up the Beemer’s engine then waited for Jack to hand him the twin clamps. Clamps to the body’s chest. The smell of burning flesh and electrified ozone.
Again. Again the smell.
And again. Clamps to Jack. Engine off.
“Bill. The acid, guy.”
A glass bottle of sulfuric acid. A small glass tray. Fingers and thumb from one hand in. Then the other hand. He handed the tray to Bill.
“Careful with that, guy. Dump it.”
Louis turned back to the body. He pursed his lips as he lined up the shoulders, the head and the arms to stage the proper angles of a kill shot.
The head was the difficult part. Without a helping hand to hold it in place, it rolled about and wouldn’t stay upright. Louis pulled the hips forward then shoved the shoulders deep into the folds of the leather seat, pressing them into place. The head was now resting lightly against the butterscotch leather padding of the headrest.
That’s how it would line up. He stood up and pulled a snub-nosed Colt Agent in .38 Special from the paper bag with a gloved hand. He eyed the angle for another second then nodded Jack away.
Louis eased the pistol barrel into a sagging mouth, eyeing the angle one more time. He pulled the trigger, blinking at the pistol’s flash and sharp report. He dropped the gun to the floor.
The bullet had blown off the back of the man’s skull, obliterating the pulpy mark of the baseball bat and spraying a dark stain of brains, blood and bone shards across the light-colored leather seats. The impact canted the body across the console and gearshift, head and shoulder jammed between the seats.
“Christamighty, it’s one thing to whack a guy up close like that, another to do all that shit with the battery cables and the acid. But to have to fish out his dentures first? They’d have to pay me double to do that.”
“They are, guy. They are.”
“Whadja have to do it for?”
“They were making his gums sore. He needed a new pair.”
“Like he’ll need ’em where he’s going.”
“You never know. Blow the car, Jack. We gotta get us back on home, guy. Get us on the outside of some gumbo down to Tujague’s.”
“I’m for that. A shame though. This is a nice car.”
“That it is, guy. Blow her just the same. Make it burn pretty.”
“Lotta noise. Lotta flash. Cops’ll be here like flies on a dead fish.”
“Do it quick then, guy. So we can be long gone.”