Release: The Honorary Jersey Girl

The Honorary Jersey Girl by Albert Tucher

About the Book

Criminal defense attorney Agnes Rodrigues got her client Hank Alves acquitted of a murder in the rainforest of the Big Island, but the victim was a cop’s wife, and a case like this doesn’t end with “not guilty.” When someone takes a shot at her client, and that someone looks like a cop, Agnes knows no one in Hawaii will take on the job of protecting Hank.

Agnes travels to New Jersey to hire ex-prostitute Diana Andrews and her crew of bodyguards, who have a reputation as the toughest in the business. But Diana refuses the job. The Jersey girl has been to the Big Island before, and it almost killed her. Diana’s own people persuade her, but her decision puts her in the crosshairs with Agnes.

The bodyguards are soon earning their payday, but nobody can be protected forever. Keeping Hank alive means finding the real killer, and Diana might know the answer from first career. And what Agnes has to do outside the courtroom will make her an honorary Jersey girl, if it doesn’t kill her first.

Praise

“A lean, mean confluence of complicated women and the seedier side of paradise, The Honorary Jersey Girl is suspenseful and plenty of fun.”

—Kristen Lepionka, Shamus Award-winning author of the Roxane Weary mystery series

The Honorary Jersey Girl has the kick-assiest cast of women — badass bodyguards, wily hookers, and a fierce attorney — who power this taut, relentlessly-paced novella that rips through the gritty underworld of Hawaii like a stray bullet, searching for flesh to pierce. This is deeply satisfying noir from a master of the craft.”

Kevin Catalano, author of Where the Sun Shines Out

About the Author

Photo by Mark Krajnak

Albert Tucher is the creator of prostitute Diana Andrews, who has appeared in eighty short stories in such venues as THUGLIT, SHOTGUN HONEY, and THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2010, edited by Lee Child and Otto Penzler. Diana’s first longer case, the novella THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE, was published in 2013. Supporting characters from her world, which includes the Big Island of Hawaii, are featured in THE PLACE OF REFUGE, THE HOLLOW VESSEL, and the forthcoming novella THE HONORARY JERSEY GIRL, all from Shotgun Honey. Albert Tucher recently retired from the Newark Public Library.


The Rule of Three

Agnes Rodrigues turned her back on the tenth hole. It deserved the snub, and she didn’t care if if her putt kept rolling all the way to Kona.

“Nice shot,” said Coutinho.

Where had he come from?

“Rule of three,” said Agnes. “The triple bogey is one. You’re two. What’s three?”

“Shad Heaukulani,” said the detective. “He’s out today.”

“And?”

“His cellie says he’s been blaming you for five years.”

“You mean Grimes?”

“I forgot—he’s a client too. I thought your track record was better than that.”

Coutinho never forgot anything, and her track record was fine when clients gave her something to work with. He just enjoyed messing with her.

“You might want to watch your back,” he said.

“Comes with the territory.”

Coutinho’s territory was the rainy Hilo side of the Big Island. He stood in the relentless sun of the Kohala side as if he expected his hair to ignite. Had he really come to protect a criminal defense attorney?

“I don’t need the aggravation,” he replied to her unspoken question. “Since when do you play golf?”

“I’m taking it up again. Haven’t played in ten years.”

“That’s why your game is off. Like your phone.”

He wasn’t the only one who knew her weekend routine. She came to the expensive Kohala resorts to pick up a man from the mainland. She spent Saturday night with him, sent him back to his life on Sunday morning, and then turned her phone on to find out which of her clients would need her on Monday morning.

This Saturday she had turned the phone off even earlier. The etiquette of golf demanded silence, and expeditious play. The three men in her foursome were doing a poor job of looking patient.

“Try it with your feet a little closer together,” said Coutinho.

• • •

Agnes made her entrance. Male and female heads all around the hotel bar swiveled. She had never taken a woman up on the challenge, but maybe someday she would.

One of the men in the room outweighed any two of the others. In this hotel, native Hawaiian men loomed like strangers in their own land. Agnes filed the insight away and steered straight toward the man at his table in the center of the room. She took the seat across from him.

“Shadrach,” she said. “You’re out.”

She knew he hated his Biblical name, but she wanted to seize the momentum.

“As of today,” he said.

“I’m told you’re unhappy with me. Next time you discipline one of your people, maybe you shouldn’t do it with half the island watching.”

“I had five years to figure stuff like that out. That’s what I came to tell you.”

She gaped at him.

“My cousin got me a job here. Take care, Ms. Rodrigues.”

He heaved his bulk up from the chair and left. After a moment she decided she might as well go back to plan A.

Assuming she could close her flapping jaw.

Agnes looked around and decided to cut the usual process short. She selected a presentable man at the bar and crossed the room to him. Eyes followed her sleek dark progress.

“Buy me a drink, and we’ll see what happens.”

• • •

The warm, moist air of Hilo welcomed Agnes home. She parked in her reserved space and popped the hatchback. As she reached for her golf bag, a faint scuffing on the blacktop sent a charge up and down her spine.

She slid her putter from the bag and spun to the right. The club connected with the bony knob of the man’s right elbow. Shad would have shrugged, but Grimes screamed, and a nasty serrated knife dropped from his hand. He sank to his knees and cradled his elbow. Agnes stood over him.

“Now you’re making me call the cops, and I hate that. I’d tell Shad, but he doesn’t need trouble.”

Grimes kept sniveling.

“You understand I can’t represent you on this?”

She had never stored Coutinho’s number. If she got hit by a car, or stabbed, she wanted clean underwear and no cops in her contacts.

She gave him the details.

“Nice,” he said. “Feet together?” “Thanks for the tip.”


Dodging Bullets – August 3, 2018 – The Hollow Vessel

This week Shotgun Honey is proud to release The Hollow Vessel by Albert Tucher. It is part of the Errol Coutinho/Big Island of Hawaii series which includes last years The Place of Refuge.

Synopsis

The Hawaii County Police are used to Rotten Roger sleeping rough, but now the veteran tramp has a new tent. The bloodstains in it don’t bother Roger, but they are the last thing Detective Errol Coutinho needs to see.

Coutinho is already looking for Rhonda Cunningham, a young woman from New Jersey who was last seen in Hilo buying a high tech tent like Roger’s. Rhonda planned to live off the grid in the rainforest of the Big Island, but her wealth stands in the way. Too many people want a piece of her to let her disappear. Some wish her well, some want her dead, most want her money, and one wants the thing she will never give.

So whose blood is it in the tent? Coutinho’s investigation will send him up against a hit man from New Jersey, a bunch of wannabe local gangsters, and his own nephew. An old girlfriend wants the best for her son, but she complicates the case even more, and a legendary marijuana trafficker proves both real and deadly. It’s getting crowded in the rainforest, and the shakeout will be murder.

Early Praise

“Full of twists and turns, The Hollow Vessel is an entertaining ride into the underbelly of the Hawaii’s Big Island. Detective Coutinho and his sidekick Kim find themselves pulled deep into the jungle of drugs, family skeletons, and a little bit of old school New Jersey. With Tucher’s sharp prose, The Hollow Vesselis a fast moving story with a great set of characters.”

Jen Conley, author of Cannibals

“In his second outing with Detective Errol Coutinho of the Hawaii County Police, Al Tucher, ups his game. His eye for detail, sense of pacing, and gift for characterization and setting makes spending time in the rain forest of Hawaii a delight.”

Patricia Abbott, Edgar, Macavity, and Anthony-nominated author of 
Shot in DetroitConcrete Angel, and I Bring Sorrow

About Albert Tucher

Albert Tucher is the creator of prostitute Diana Andrews, who has appeared in more than eighty hardboiled short stories in venues including The Best American Mystery Stories 2010. Her first longer case, the novella, The Same Mistake Twice, was published in 2013. Her world includes the characters in The Hollow Vessel and The Place of Refuge. Albert Tucher is a librarian in his day job, but retirement beckons.


Catch up on our latest posts


The Caffeine Cure

“My brain cells aren’t working,” Tillotson said.

Diana stepped back and held her front door open. She let him handle the screen.

“I know what they need,” she said.

She led the way past the living room to the kitchen of her rented Cape Cod. By now she didn’t have to tell him to take a seat, or to put his briefcase on the table. She went straight to the range and started heating water for coffee.

At the first sip his face relaxed like a sheet of ice slumping off the roof of a car. She took it as a signal to start her report.

“I asked around,” she said. “Nobody’s even heard of him. If he’s paying for it, it’s not with anybody I know.”

“Or with you.”

“Or with me.”

She didn’t take offense. He needed to know whether his suspect was leading a secret life with the local hookers. She was one of them, even if roles got a little fluid here in her kitchen.

“We can’t find any trace of him having an affair,” said Tillerson. “No life insurance on her. He was the big earner in the marriage.”

“No motive? How about his alibi?”

“He says he was working late, but he’s the boss. Any number of ways he could have slipped out, killed her, and come back.”

“So basically what you have is, she’s older, and she’s dead.”

“That and this itch I get when something just doesn’t look right.”

“Does caffeine cure it?”

“Never has yet.”

“So what’s the itch about?”

“They met twenty-some years ago. He was thirty-two. She was fifty. Okay, I get it. A beautiful, sophisticated older woman. But now she’s seventy-three. Maybe the magic went away.”

“It usually does at some point.”

Diana made a face. Who was she to talk about marriage? She knew only what clients told her, and they might or might not be a representative sample.

“That’s true,” he said. “But maybe he blamed her for getting old.”

“Could be. I read that he broke up her first marriage.”

“Yeah. I interviewed some friends of hers. At the time they thought she was crazy, throwing away a solid guy for a boy toy. They were surprised when it lasted this long.”

“Do you have any pictures? You know, besides what was in the newspaper?”

He opened his briefcase and removed an old-fashioned photo album, which he pushed across the table. Diana started turning pages.

“Damn,” she said. “If that’s seventy, sign me up. I mean, not yet, but she’s doing it right.”

“How does he strike you?”

“Client material.”

“Ouch.”

“Now I’m getting the  itch.”

She flipped a few more pages.

“You know what it makes me think of? ‘Granny porn.’ Ever heard of it?”

“I can guess.”

“It’s a niche, but it’s popular. Or so clients tell me. The basic scenario is a young guy and a hot horny woman with a Medicare card. Maybe he’s a delivery guy, maybe a friend of her grandson. Spoiler alert—they get it on.”

“No shit.”

“I could actually refer a fair amount of business to a woman like that. It comes up.”

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Yeah. There was an affair, but she was the one. And the guy was younger than her husband.”

“That’s gotta hurt.”

Tillotson thought.

“I’ve still got nothing. That means I need a confession.”

“Get him in a room and needle him until he snaps.”

“I’ve done this before.”

But he was grinning as he got up to go.

As Diana got home from an afternoon client, she opened the door and heard the phone ringing.

“It worked,” said Tillotson.

She sometimes wondered what kind of risk he was running by reporting to a civilian, and not just any civilian.

But that was up to him.

“What, the caffeine?” she asked.

“Yeah. The itch is gone.”


Dodging Bullets: We’ve Got You Covered Blacky!

Welcome to the relaunch of Dodging Bullets where I will talk shop about all things Shotgun Honey related, plus a few odd and ends that I find interesting.

What do I find interesting this week? Shotgun Honey turns 6 years old this month and we still churns out some of the best crime flash fiction on the web. That wouldn’t be possible without the editors who read stories good and bad seven days a week as they flow through our submissions manager.

Kent Gowran, Sabrina Ogden and I started the gauntlet back in 2011, and it was a solid format for selecting the best stories and to guide those that were good to be better. Those early selections lead to our replacement editors in Chad Rohrbacher, Christopher Irvin, Erik Arneson, Joe Myers, Angel Colón, Nick Kolakowski and Jen Conley. Jen really deserves a medal. Not only is she a great writer, but an outstanding teacher, and she has been part of the gauntlet longer than any other editor. I really can’t thank any of them enough for being part of Shotgun Honey.

If you are looking for an incredible collection of stories, I highly recommend Cannibals by Jen Conley from our publishing partner Down & Out Books.

Speaking of books, I have a lot of books to talk about. First off, just look at the cover for Blacky Jaguar Against the Cool Clux Cult by Angle Luis Colón. Click the cover. Purdy isn’t it? It is the long awaited follow up to The Fury of Blacky Jaguar, and the second book in the Song of Piss & Vinegar series, originally published in 2015 and to be re-issued later this month. Keep an eye out for One Eye Press re-releases over the next few weeks. If you missed them the first time, you’ll get a chance to pick them up again.

Like Federales by Christopher Irvin which will be available next Friday with a brand new cover. Click it. I know you want to.

2017 will be a year of new books, 7 in total, and re-issues, 6 or 7 as well, and a possibly a couple bonus books. And 2018, wow, I can’t wait to share what we’re hoping to do then. I’m excited, but let’s look at the new books in a nutshell.

  • Hardway by Hector Acosta (2/17/2017)
  • The Place of Refuge by Albert Tucher (3/31/2017)
  • A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski (5/12/2017)
  • Blacky Jaguar Against the Cool Clux Cult by Angel Luis Colón (6/23/2017)
  • Les Cannibales by DeLeon DeMicoli (8/4/2017)
  • Dead Clown Blues by R. Daniel Lester (9/16/2017)
  • Knuckledragger by Rusty Barnes (10/27/2017)

I call them my sexy seven because you know you want them. You did pick up The Place of Refuge last week? It’s not like you’re going to make it to Hawaii on your own, so why not read about it as Detective Coutinho tracks down a serial killer on the Big Island? Need more convincing? Read some more about Albert Tucher and the The Place of Refuge:

Show your support for Shotgun Honey authors by buying a book today. And if you can’t swing a book, be sure to read our weekly flash fiction offerings and leave the authors a comment. A little praise is invaluable.

In Case You Missed It

A Jump In the Dark by James Pate

That summer, Paul and Suzie would drink during the day, watching old movies on TCM and talking about their favorite actors and directors. And they would drink at night, having a few Jim Beam-and-cokes before stumbling out to The Lampshade, the bar a few blocks from their gray-brick duplex. Paul had lost his job as a cashier months before, when the manager of the Kroger’s near downtown Memphis caught him sipping tequila from his thermos. Suzie had been out of work even longer.

Read More

Fame by Michael Snyder

For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted was to be famous. It was not a whim or passing fancy. There was no special talent I was pursuing. It’s not like I wanted to be great at something. I just wanted people to whisper and point when I walked into a room. I wanted them all to want a piece of me, to want to be near me, to want to be me.

Read More

And the story that started it all on April 6, 2011…

Two-Phones by Daniel B. O’Shea

Smart-ass in front of Slim in the security queue at Midway couldn’t keep his mouth shut, guy dumping his shit in the plastic box, two fucking cell phones and a PDA coming off his belt like he was Batman or something, a fat money clip with a Franklin on the outside.

Read More

We are always open to submissions. So if you want to be like one of the folks mentioned above, hit us up at the Submissions Manager.

Until next time, all the best.


Excerpt: The Place of Refuge – Chapter 1 -3

CHAPTER ONE

“Now that,” Coutinho said, “is not what the Chamber of Commerce wants to see.”

As soon as said the words, he wanted them back. It wasn’t his style to get flippant over a body.

He had seen death before. Even in paradise people had fatal accidents. Bar fights could end as badly in Hilo as anywhere else, and Hawaii had its share of unfortunates with no one but the police to find them in the end.

But this kind of butchery was something new. Even in Honolulu the cops didn’t see much of it, and the Big Island wasn’t the big city.

His partner circled the body at a distance to get a look at the woman’s face.

“Gladys Robles,” said Kim. “Can’t say she deserved to go like this.”

“Who does?”

Coutinho found the odors of death, of blood and bowels, more oppressive than usual. A glance told him that Kim felt the same.

Here was the vulnerability of prostitutes, spelled out in smears of blood on the wall and puddles of it on the floor. The body’s position suggested that Gladys had slid down the wall as she lost consciousness. There were some distinct handprints among the streaks of blood, but they were probably hers.

If they were lucky, some of the blood would be the moke’s. He might have cut himself in his killing frenzy.

Coutinho didn’t feel lucky.

The crime scene techs obviously wanted the detectives out of the way. Coutinho turned and left the hotel room with Kim behind him. In the hallway the Filipino housekeeper who had found the body leaned against the wall as if grateful for its support. She was new enough on the island to be wondering whether this kind of thing came with her job.

“Did you see the young lady arrive?”

“Yes, I see her. She give me forty dollars.”

To clean up after the day’s work and keep an eye on things as much as she could.

“How about her gentlemen callers?”

“I see a couple of them. I have my work to do.”

“So you didn’t see the last one?”

“No, Sir.”

If she had, Coutinho might be working a double murder.

“Thanks. You can go back to work.”

Or back home to Manila, if her nerve failed her. He wouldn’t blame her if it did.

He would have to talk to the desk clerk and the maintenance workers, but he expected similar answers from them.

Right now he decided to get a breath of air. Outside it was misting a little, but real rain had been scarce for months. From the sidewalk in front of the hotel he could see a piece of Hilo Bay, with the usual dark clouds on the horizon. They seemed to warn coastal dwellers to head for higher ground.

Coutinho lifted the hem of his aloha shirt and took his cell phone from his belt. Lieutenant Tanaka answered the second ring.

“How bad?” said Tanaka.

“I hope they don’t come much worse.”

“Anything to work with?”

“Doesn’t look like he cooperated by dropping his driver’s license or anything.”

“So if the techs get no fingerprints or DNA, we’ll have to wait for the moke to do it again.”


Shotgun Honey Joins Down & Out Books

Today Shotgun Honey is thrilled to announce a new partnership with Eric Campbell and Down & Out Books (downandoutbooks.com), an independent publisher of literary  and crime fiction. Shotgun Honey joins the Tampa, FL based company as a new imprint focused primarily on short length crime fiction: collected short stories, novellas and short length novels.

Shotgun Honey has a history of bringing quality flash crime fiction to the web, and in 2013  the online magazine expanded slowly into print and digital publishing under the One Eye Press masthead. We believe our books have been well produced and well received, but our lack of marketing and reach have limited our full potential. The experience that Down & Out Books brings is invaluable and will be a tremendous asset to the Shotgun Honey Imprint, not to mention the additional production resources.

In February 2017, Hardway by Hector Acosta will be the first release under the new imprint, with 6 additional books scheduled for 2017. Among those are The Place of Refuge by Albert Tucher, A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski, and Blacky Jaguar Against to Cool Clux Cult by Angel Luis Colón.

Aside from the new releases, the majority of our previous publications will be released as second editions under the new imprint, with some including expanded content and new covers. This will mean that these books will be temporarily unavailable until their new releases are complete as all current One Eye Press releases will become unavailable as of January 1, 2017.

Shotgun Honey is looking forward to 2017 and working with our new partner Down & Out Books, as well as our sister imprint ABC Group Documentation headed by Jeremy Stabile.

For more information about the company and its books, or to request an interview with the Eric Campbell or Ron Earl Phillips, contact lance@downandoutbooks.com.


The First Rule

This was the part she didn’t like.

Diana could usually convince herself that she had come to terms with her job. A hooker went where she had to go, and a certain number of bystanders would guess what she was doing.

But this situation left no room for doubt. Diana walked across the shop floor, past the three lifts, each of which held a car aloft. The three mechanics looked everywhere but at her.

They were still taking in every detail. Her T-shirt, jeans and athletic shoes weren’t fooling them.

The walk of shame took her to the boss’s office in the far corner. Under the circumstances, she appreciated the grimy blinds that covered the equally dirty windows. She knocked and pushed the door open. The client was sitting behind the desk.

“Hi, Vern. I’m Diana.”

She thought he had the perfect name for a fifty-ish man who looked like the dictionary definition of a mechanic.

Diana closed the door behind her and locked it. Her eyes went to the only corner of the desk that was clear of paperwork and boxed auto parts. There it was—the white envelope that justified this ordeal.

Next to it sat a grease gun. She made a mental note of it.

“Should I get ready?”

“Sure.”

She went to the elderly padded chair in the corner and put her bag down. She stripped off her outer garments and dropped them next to the bag. Underneath she wore Victoria’s Secret, which put the usual smile on his face. She performed the practiced balancing act that let her exchange her sneakers for four-inch heels from her bag without touching the dirty floor with her feet.

He kept watching and smiling, as she made a production of slipping the bra and panties off.

She knew what he wanted next. Most women would have overlooked the grease gun, but Diana had seen similar things before. This kind of man often had her come to his shop because he thought it was hot to watch a naked woman playing with his tools

All of them.

“Nice,” she said, as she took the tool from the desk and sniffed the nozzle. “State of the art synthetic grease.”

She enjoyed his look of surprise.

“I’ve met a few mechanics.”

“I guess so.”

“You know what might be fun? Have me come after hours, and I’ll fix a car for you. Like this.”

She indicated her nakedness with a wave of her hand.

He shook his head regretfully.

“My wife would never believe I was working late.”

Diana heard a key turn in the lock. In an instant she did the arithmetic. Who would have a key? Her money was on Vern’s wife. Had his mention of her summoned her like some horror film character? Or had she intimidated one of the mechanics into keeping her informed?

A blonde forty-something stood in the doorway

“Asshole. Think I can’t read your mind?”

The gun in her hand was doing the talking that mattered. The muzzle shifted from Vern to Diana.

“I suppose you’re a customer.”

Diana knew that silence was the best reply, but Vern didn’t.

“Alison, it’s not what you think.”

The gun swiveled toward him. Diana felt free to wince at the lameness of his words.

“It’s exactly what I think. Did you think I was kidding last time?”

Alison aimed, but she didn’t pull the trigger. She must know that even this distance was too great for a snubnose revolver. She took a step toward her husband, and then another.

Diana pumped the grease gun. The first rule of hooking was get paid, and murder interfered.

She laid down a squirt in the woman’s path. Before Alison could stop herself, she put her stylish boot in the glob of goo. Her feet flew up, and she fell hard on her back.

Dazed, she let her gun hand go slack. Diana plucked her envelope off the desk as she kicked the weapon away. She pointed at the slick spot with her toe.

“That’s going to be hard to get up. But you two can work that out.”


Wrinkles

“That’s easy,” said Diana, “he was on top of me.”

“As alibis go, that’s as good as it gets,” said Tillotson.

“Thanks, I guess.”

“No wiggle room?”

“Not the way you mean.”

He gave her a look.


The Retching Bush

It would have made a great nightmare.

Standing in front of the dark gray-encrusted lava flow, Coutinho thought it looked like the head of a crocodile the size of an Airbus. But instead of just two baleful eyes, this beast had dozens of glowing orange windows into its pitiless soul.

A puddle of water hissed, as it turned to steam and vaulted into the air. Ferns and bushes sizzled as the monster fed on them. Heat and fumes spread like the vile breath of a carnivore.

In a dream Coutinho’s feet would have weighed a ton and kept him rooted in place for the lava to overwhelm him. He knew he was awake, because he could stroll back and forth while he watched the crime scene technicians at work. The flow had slowed overnight. It was moving only a few inches per hour, but that still left his team with a short deadline.

One of the Tyvek-suited figures looked up at him.

“I think we’ve got all we’re going to get. Should we pull?”

“Let’s do it,” Coutinho said, a little too fast. He was dreading the moment.

The topic under discussion was the naked body pillowed in the lush grass that covered much of the Puna region of the Big Island. The dead man lay face down, but the back of his head looked familiar.

Coutinho knew what was coming. When the techs grabbed the dead man and pulled, the top half of him would come loose. The longer they waited, the more of him they would lose to the natural crematorium.

Two technicians, both young men, grasped the corpse by the armpits. They pulled. Nothing happened. They dug their heels into the ground and yanked harder. A sucking sound warned Coutinho to clamp down on his gag reflex.

The upper half of the body came loose, releasing the odor of barbecued meat. The two techs staggered in unison but stayed on their feet. A uniformed officer, another young man, turned and ran for a nearby bush. He vomited as if he would never stop.

Coutinho caught himself thinking that the young cop was lucky. The lava would soon consume the evidence of his professional lapse, along with the bush that gave him some privacy.

The techs flipped the half corpse over.

“I thought so,” said Coutinho. “Zeke Balaguer. His wife is a nurse at Hilo Medical Center.”

“Oh, my God,” came a horrified voice from the designated retching bush. A fresh round of vomiting followed.

“Let’s go see what that’s about,” said Coutinho.

Two hours later he was knocking on the door to a whitewashed box of a house on 130 outside Pahoa. He had told two uniformed officers to wait in their car behind him.

Melanie Balaguer opened the door and stepped out onto the packed dirt in front of the house. Coutinho could forget about an invitation inside.

“Melanie, you know why we’re here.”

“What did Zeke do?”

“Don’t try it. How did you get Zeke to go out there with you?”

“Don’t know what you mean.”

“Or did you kill him here and lug him out there?”

Her silence was as good as a confession. She was big and strong in the way of native Hawaiians, and she was used to hefting patients a lot heavier than a bantamweight like Zeke.

“You remember telling me what you were going to do the next time he stepped out on you?”

She still gave nothing away.

“Getting rid of him out there was a good idea, but the lava slowed down last night. It left half of him for us.”

He turned and signaled. Officer Jenny Freitas, his go-to cop for thinking outside the box, got out of the car and approached. As Coutinho had instructed her, she held a small Styrofoam cooler up for Melanie to see.

“Actually, a little more than half. You threw his junk too far.”

Melanie shrugged.

“It’s not something you can practice,” she said.

“Amen to that.”


Cast Iron

“Got one for you,” said Mary Alice. “How many clients does it take to change a light bulb?”

“Hooker jokes,” said Diana. “Okay, I’ll bite.”

“Just one, but he has to tell you he’s never done this before.”

Mary Alice seemed so proud of herself that Diana felt obligated to chuckle.

“Why do they always have to say it?” said Mary Alice.

“I don’t know. Every guy has one first time. It must be true once in a while.”

“Hah.”

Diana slid out of their booth at Rosen’s restaurant. It was Mary Alice’s turn to handle the check.

“Back to the trenches,” said Diana.

“You’re going to that guy’s house?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, you know what I think about that.”

After a couple of bad experiences Mary Alice had stopped going to private homes.

“I know this guy,” said Diana. “It’s okay.”

It was a short drive to neighboring Witherspoon Township. The place used to confuse her, but now she knew her way among the identical McMansions on identical lots. In ten minutes she was knocking on the client’s door.

“Hi, Joe.”

He was his usual fifty-ish, overweight, unthreatening self, but something was off. She looked around. Her envelope wasn’t where he always placed it on the small table in the foyer. She raised her eyebrows and gave him a cool look.

“Oh,” he said.

He groped for his wallet and started thumbing out bills.

“Put the money away,” said a harsh male voice from the kitchen down the hall. Diana looked past Joe and saw the owner of the voice step into view in the doorway. “I told you, I never pay for it.”

She didn’t know the new man, but she had encountered the type. He was so lean in his wife-beater undershirt that she could see individual muscle fibers under the skin. The standard bushy prison mustache hid half of his face, and tattoos climbed up both arms.

“It’s my treat, Frank,” said Joe in a tone that said he didn’t expect to prevail.

“She wants to walk out of here in one piece. That’s the deal.”

“When did you get out?” said Diana.

Her level tone pleased her.

“Yesterday.”

“How long?”

“Eleven years. I got a lot of catching up to do.”

Ouch, she thought.

It must have been for something heavy.

“This is my brother,” said Joe. He spread his hands in a helpless gesture.

“And I don’t use condoms,” said Frank.

“How do you know I don’t have HIV?”

“I don’t give a shit.”

Meaning he had it.

Great, she thought.

Frank came past his brother and confronted her.

“Suppose I pay you to use one?” she said.

Was she really going to be that pathetic? She might have no choice.

“You’re going to pay me anyway. Let’s see the bag.”

Diana knew she would have to make some kind of move, but in her confining skirt and heels she wasn’t dressed for running or fighting. In her bag she had nothing more formidable than hairspray, and how could she get to it?

And where the hell was Joe? Was he really that useless?

Joe must have read her mind. He reappeared in the kitchen doorway with a cast iron skillet in his right hand. He started coming toward her, but slowly, as if he couldn’t believe what he was about to do. Diana had her doubts also, but she knew what she had to do to help him.

“Let’s get it over with,” she said.

Frank gave her a pitiless grin. She started to unbutton her blouse from the top down. She held his eyes with hers. She wanted to make him forget everything but her.

Joe came up behind his brother and raised the skillet. For a moment it looked as if he might chicken out and retreat, but then he brought the skillet down on Frank’s head with a clang.

Frank fell so hard that his face bounced on the bare wood floor. Joe stood over him with disbelief on his face, along with a whole lot of family history.

“Let me guess,” said Diana. “You’ve never done this before.”