Authors: Shelley Singer
Tags: #murder mystery, #Shelley Singer, #mystery series, #Jake Samson, #San Francisco, #California fiction, #cozy mystery, #private investigator, #Jewish fiction, #gay mysteries, #lesbian fiction, #Oakland, #Sonoma, #lesbian author
Praise for FULL HOUSE, the THIRD novel in the Jake Samson mystery series:
“…one of the nicer guys in the private eye business, who operates in a relaxed, casual style without need for macho posturing.”
“Breathtaking action is offset by the wise-cracking Jake and Rosie. The tension will keep you reading all night long. Compelling characterization by Singer makes this series a must-read, with authentic details and witty dialogue.”
“Jake remains his loyal, intelligent and quirky self, which is plenty to rejoice about.”
Contra Costa Times
A Jake Samson Mystery
New Orleans, La.
Copyright 1986 by Shelley Singer
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Cover by Andy Brown
eBook ISBN: 9781625173362
Originally published by St. Martin’s Press
First booksBnimble electronic publication: December, 2013
Digital Editions (epub and mobi formats) produced by
If I half-closed my eyes, I could pretend it was a movie set.
These were Vikings swarming all over the hull of a ship they were building so they could loot England or discover America before Columbus got there. The dark-haired guy was Tony Curtis; the blond was Kirk Douglas.
But I couldn’t maintain the illusion. I had to open my eyes or risk tripping over the strewn building materials. This was the semi-vacant lot on the corner of my block, and I was there on a mission I could have lived without. I had to tell the Vikings they were making too much noise.
This particular lot had been the site of disputes for years. Zoning hassles. Permit fights. The owner kept trying to sell it— once to a fast-food chain, once to a less-than-reputable church— and the neighbors, who wanted nothing but low-density, high-priced housing, kept stopping him. Now the owner, in a fit of despair and possibly in the spirit of revenge, had rented it to some people for what was supposed to be a temporary building project.
Back in foggy July, when they’d started, my neighbor Rico had asked them what they were working on. “A ship,” they’d told him. But nobody believed that. Rico, a seventy-six-year-old patriarch who spoke just enough English to pick up and relay slightly skewed local news, must have gotten it wrong. A ship. Several miles from San Francisco Bay, in the middle of the North Oakland flatlands. Now, in hot September, they were far enough along so you could see he hadn’t gotten it wrong. It was a ship. At least 150 feet long and 40 feet wide. On a vacant city lot. Lately, they’d been working longer hours seven days a week, speeding the project along.
That was the problem, and that was why I was there. Rico again. The old man lived right next to the lot. And, he told me piteously, they were keeping him awake with their hammering, sawing, and, worst of all, cheerful singing, from about six in the morning until ten or so at night. Rico liked to take naps, and he liked to go to bed with the sun.
I told him they were close enough to legal noisemaking hours so we wouldn’t get much help from the law. I suggested Rico might want to talk to the Vikings and ask them to be quiet in the evening.
The corners of his mouth drooped depressively. “Come on, Jake,” he said. “You think they gonna listen to an old man?” He shook his head sadly, watching me out of the corners of his eyes. “You talk to them. You the tough guy on the block.”
Which didn’t say much for the block. But Rico’s a good neighbor. He has fed my cats and kept an eye on my house a number of times when I had to be away.
So there I was, down at the once-vacant lot, trying to look friendly but firm, approaching the ship. More than a dozen sweating, sunburned workers were crawling around on the scaffolding. I hailed the nearest one and he jumped to the ground from a plank about five feet up. Like a cat. Better than my cats, who are getting soft with age.
He was a young man, shirtless, muscular, with light brown hair and eyes the color of the blue in my blue and white 1953 Chevy Bel Air.
“Yes sir? What can I do for you?”
I don’t like being called sir. I’m only thirty-nine.
“Nice looking ship you’ve got there. Big.”
“Yes, sir.” I could tell he was anxious to get back to the crew, which had begun singing. It wasn’t “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or anything else I recognized. Something about “The Sea on That Day.”
The hull was framed and largely finished, at least from the outside, and the framework of the superstructure was in.
“What kind of engine would you put in a thing like that?” I don’t know much about engines; I was just leading up to my main question.
“It doesn’t need one.”
I was impressed. “Sails?”
“It doesn’t need those, either. It will go where it’s supposed to go.”
Which brought me to the one thing that had been bothering me. “Uh huh. Well, I live in the neighborhood, just around the corner here, and some of us were wondering about this being a temporary project. What we were wondering was how you’re going to get this ship to water.”
“Don’t worry about that,” he said. “When it’s finished, it will be afloat.” His attitude was still polite, but it had somehow gotten a little superior. While he’d been talking, a slight, short man in a white shirt gray with sweat and dirt had marched busily over to us.
“It’s just a building project, a training project,” he said, casting a stern eye toward the young man. “There’s no question of it being afloat.”
“Whatever,” I replied. “Meanwhile, though, some of the people in the neighborhood have been a little upset by the noise. I’d like to talk to whoever’s in charge.”
The little guy looked distressed. “The man in charge isn’t here, but I’m his administrative assistant, Arnold Wolfe. Exactly what is your complaint?”
“I’m Jake Samson. And it’s more of a request than a complaint.” I jerked a thumb toward a small generator housed in a three-sided shelter. “The power tools, especially at night. The hammering, the singing. There’s a lot of old people around here. They need their rest. Maybe you could knock off earlier.” I kept my tone amiable, but tried, by the slightest hint of inflection, to live up to Rico’s tough-guy image. Not quite Widmark or Cagney. I was trying for a combination of Bogart and Cooper.
Arnold Wolfe bit his thick lower lip. “We want to respect your wishes and your peace,” he said, looking like he didn’t want to, not at all. “But we have a very short deadline as it is… Can I get back to you in a couple of days? I need to consult…” he waved his hand vaguely, as if he’d gotten lost in his own words.
“Okay,” I said doubtfully. “But you understand I am representing…” I left the sentence unfinished, and scribbled my address and phone number on the back of an old hardware store receipt I found in my pocket— before I stopped to think that I was giving them to a guy who was building a ship on a vacant lot in the middle of Oakland. “I’ll stop by again tomorrow if I haven’t heard from you.”
“Thank you,” he said. Then he turned and walked toward a pile of lumber a few feet away. I had gone no more than a few paces myself when a female voice said, “Aren’t you Jake Samson?” I turned around. The small-featured, pale face was only slightly familiar. I didn’t remember the name that went with it.
“Yes. Right. Samson. How’s it going?”
She smiled dreamily. “Perhaps you don’t remember me? My name is Beatrice. From the Earthlight Meditation Center?”
I had it then. I’d met Beatrice once, and not formally, when I’d been tracking the killer of a woman artist who had belonged to Beatrice’s meditation group and a few other groups as well.
“Yes, sure. Nice to see you again. How’s the meditation center doing?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m into a more integrated life-style now.”
“You’re a writer, aren’t you?”
“In a way.” In no way. I had credentials from
San Francisco investigative monthly, but I’d gotten them from a pal, one of the editors. It was a trade off. I needed to cover my tail when I was running around doing things I had no business doing, like tracking killers. My friend figured he might get a story out of me once in a while. I need some kind of paper; I don’t have P.I. credentials. I don’t even have a license to catch fish.
“Are you here to find out about Noah?”
Wolfe, who’d been measuring one of the boards he’d been fiddling with, looked up. “Excuse me, Beatrice,” he said. “Could you help me with this?”
It sounded like an order, and she responded as if it were.
“I must go now, Jake,” she said sweetly. “I hope I see you again.”
Walking home, I wondered briefly how much more time my little good-neighbor chore was going to take. Briefly, because I had other things on my mind. In a couple of hours, the peace and privacy of my home was going to be lovingly shattered by the arrival, for a visit, of my father and stepmother. She had a niece in the Bay Area; he had me. They had decided to take a vacation and “kill two birds with one stone.” They would be staying with me. And since my house has no spare bedroom, I had given them mine. I would sleep on the sofa bed in the living room. The sofa an ex-girlfriend, back when it had been my only bed, had called “the steel trap.”
My father had been sketchy about the length of their stay. I was meeting their six o’clock plane at Oakland International.
I walked up my driveway, past the vegetable garden that my tenant, Rosie Vicente, and I struggled sporadically to maintain. The tomatoes needed watering. Rosie, whose cottage is tucked behind some trees just back of the garden, wasn’t home from work yet. Too bad. It would have been nice to have a beer together.
Tigris and Euphrates, in the way of cats, heard me coming and demanded food. I met their demands, pulled a beer from the refrigerator, and settled back with an Ellery Queen I’d read three times before, front door open, hot sun painting a bent yellow rectangle on floor and wall.
I hadn’t read more than a chapter when I heard someone coming up my front steps. A tentative rap on the doorframe.
“Mr. Samson?” It was Arnold Wolfe. “I’m sorry to disturb you…”
“You want to talk about the noise problem?”
“Not exactly. Beatrice tells me you do investigative reporting or something like that.”
“Would you like a beer?”
“No, thanks. Beatrice says you might be able to help us.”
“Look, Arnold, I’m not exactly a reporter.”
“Beatrice says some friends of hers were very impressed with some work you did once. Something about a murder you investigated.”
“I didn’t write a story about the murder.”
“Exactly,” he said. “She says she heard you solved it. Could you solve something for us?”
“I’m not a detective.”
“Well, then, what are you?” His voice went up an octave. This man was not in good shape. I ignored the question, because I never know how to answer it.
“What is it you want, Arnold?”
“Would you work for us if we paid you?”
“I don’t even know who ‘us’ is, for Christ’s sake.” I was getting irritated, but the part about paying me was filtering through the irritation.
“Do you have a glass of wine?” he asked. I brought him a glass of California red. The man was so shaky I was afraid he’d drop one of my good supermarket wineglasses and stain my garage-sale rug. He took a healthy slug before he spoke.
“It’s about Noah.”
“I’ve heard that name before.”
“Noah is our leader. Our spiritual leader and our leader in the work we’re doing.” He hesitated. “He’s disappeared and the police won’t help because they say he went off on his own. But we know he wouldn’t. We know something terrible has happened, and we need him.”
“For this work you’re doing? Something to do with building that ship?”
“Yes, and I suppose that’s the first thing you have to know. It’s not just a ship.”
The Bel Air skimmed south along 580, its rebuilt engine humming, its driver mumbling to himself.
I’d accepted Arnold Wolfe’s advance of $500 on the offer of $150 a day plus expenses. I’d also accepted the stipulation that if he wasn’t satisfied with my progress in a week the arrangement would terminate. If he was more than satisfied, on the other hand, the per diem would go up to $200. We’d also reached a tentative agreement on that other matter: He would see if he could get more people to work during the day so they could stop a little earlier; I would see if that arrangement would be acceptable to “my people.”
The plane from Chicago was late. I had half an hour to spare. The plastic seats at gate 15 didn’t look inviting but I sat down anyway.
Wolfe had hesitated a bit at my demand for an advance, but I had refused to start without it once I’d heard his story.