Authors: Loren D. Estleman
Tags: #Mystery: Thriller - P.I. - Hardboiled - Detroit
|Loren D. Estleman - Amos Walker 18 - Nicotine Kiss|
|Number XVIII of|
|Loren D. Estleman|
|Forge Books (2006)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Thriller - P.I. - Hardboiled - Detroit|
|Mystery: Thriller - P.I. - Hardboiled - Detroitttt|
Roses Are Dead
Any Man’s Death
Motor City Blue
The Midnight Man
The Glass Highway
Every Brilliant Eye
Sweet Women Lie
The Hours of the Virgin
A Smile on the Face of the Tiger
City of Widows
The High Rocks
Aces & Eights
Journey of the Dead
The Rocky Mountain Moving Picture Association
The Master Executioner
Something Borrowed, Something Black
Little Black Dress
The Undertaker’s Wife
A Forge Book
An Amos Walker Novel
Loren D. Estleman
The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied so that you can enjoy reading it on your personal devices. This e-book is for your personal use only. You may not print or post this e-book, or make this e-book publicly available in any way. You may not copy, reproduce or upload this e-book, other than to read it on one of your personal devices.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.
NICOTINE KISS: AN AMOS WALKER NOVEL
Copyright © 2006 by Loren D. Estleman
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
Edited by James Frenkel
A Forge Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Estleman, Loren D.
Nicotine kiss : an Amos Walker novel / Loren D. Estleman.—1st ed.
“A Tom Doherty Associates book.”
1. Walker, Amos (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Private investigators—Michigan—Fiction. 3. Missing persons—Fiction. 4. Counterfeiters—Fiction. 5. Michigan—Fiction. I. Title.
PS03555.084 N53 2006
First Edition: April 2006
Printed in the United States of America
0 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For John and Mary Ann Verdi-Huss:
patrons of the arts, with the patience of saints
omeone had disinterred “Big John” from the back of the vintage Rock-Ola. Jimmy Dean’s bass struck bedrock on the big, bad refrain, buzzing the speakers and rippling the surface of my Carling Black Label, the muscatel of bottled beer. The neon tubing behind the bar cast rose-petal light over everything.
Spike’s Keg o’ Nails smelled of beer and cedar and mothballs, the last from the blaze-orange and red-and-black-check coats that had hung in upstairs closets from January to November. Two hunters with sooty eleven o’clock shadows taught body English to the shuffleboard table and some smoke-cured campers from outside town trumped one another at euchre with loud oaths every time a card smacked their table. A graying couple danced, dressed identically in jeans and flannel, and a waitress built like Johnny Bravo fox-trotted between crowded tables hoisting a cityscape of longnecks on a round tray. It was opening day of firearms deer season in Grayling, Michigan, where they close the schools as if it’s the Fourth of July, and I was the only relatively sober customer on the premises. Even the ninety-year-old moose head on the wall was listing slightly to the left.
Spike’s hadn’t changed a tick since I was fourteen and hunting
with my father and his friends, and he’d said then it hadn’t changed in twenty years. He’d pointed out the corner where he’d once seen Cesar Romero, grinning dazzlingly in his three-day whiskers and ordering rounds for his rumpled party. What might have been the same rickety table and captain’s chairs were now occupied by a heavyset blonde with a map of every motel in the northern Lower Peninsula on her face and three National Guardsmen in fatigues from Camp Grayling, plying her with beers. She was older than any two of them combined and looked as if she could drink off a case with one hand and arm-wrestle all three of them with the other. She’d practiced on Cesar and his friends.
I wasn’t hunting deer, although I’d dressed for the part in a woolen shirt and lace-up boots and let my beard grow for two days to fit in. A lawyer in Royal Oak had hired my agency of one to find a man named Hegelund and keep him in sight until an officer could arrest him on a warrant for nonpayment of child support. He’d quit his job, canceled his credit cards, and left town, and his ex-wife was at the top of the list of people who hadn’t heard from him since June. But he hadn’t missed an opening day in Grayling in seven years. Going after deadbeats is a lot like deer hunting: You pick your spot, sit tight, and wait for your trophy to come along. Sooner or later everyone passed through Spike’s on his way to the woods.
My heart wasn’t in it. The lawyer’s client had gotten the house, the car, and the dog, and the sixteen-year-old daughter had moved in with her thirty-seven-year-old boyfriend in Clarkston. Hegelund had walked away from the marriage after years of stagnant counseling, giving up grounds, and hadn’t contested a single claim. The picture in my pocket showed a tired face with white flags all over it. Hunting him was like cutting the weak and aged from the herd. But I had winter taxes to pay and deadbeat dads are 15 percent of my income.
An hour before closing, the hardcore sportsmen who got up at 5:00
. started evaporating, the juke ran out of dead country singers and sausage tycoons, and the clinking bottles and loud card tournament became the only ambient noises in the room. Then the piano began to tinkle.
I hadn’t even known the place had one, but there it was, a basic upright no one had tuned since the moose had reached the age of consent. The party seated on the bench was built close to the ground and wide across the back, like the concrete stop at the end of a railroad. He had a full head of chestnut-colored hair, razored carefully at the nape, and wore a brown leather Windbreaker too thin for the North Country and tan cords rubbed shiny in patches, scuffed white high-tops on his feet. He wasn’t my man, but I recognized him from behind. I got up and carried my beer over.
“I wouldn’t wear that outfit into the woods.” I parked the bottle next to his glass on top of the piano. “You could wind up on the buck pole downtown.”
Jeff Starzek didn’t look up. His glass wasn’t for drinking. It was filled with clear liquid, probably water, and reflected most of the room like a convex mirror. That wasn’t any more an accident than his fingering. He was playing Rachmaninoff. I could tell, because there were too many notes and they were batting away at one another like hockey players. “They better shoot fast. I can do eighty on those sand trails.”
“Still driving that Charger?”
“Challenger.” His stubby fingers scampered across the bridge. “Not anymore. I cracked the block in Kentucky. It’s hard to read a ‘Water Over the Road’ sign when you’re topping a hill at a hundred and five.”
“You must’ve been running hot for some time.”
“Still am. How about you, Amos? Still climbing trellises?”
“I’m climbing one now.”
“Not mine. I wouldn’t have seen you coming.”
“You’re federal game,” I said. “I can’t meet their dress code.”
“I can outrun the feds okay. These days they’re spread pretty thin. It’s the troopers I have to watch out for. That new tax hike’s got them all angling for commander.”
I asked him what he was driving. He smiled at the keys. He had a moon face and a delicately curved mouth with hard muscles at the corners. A lock of hair broke over his left eyebrow. No face or body looked less like Ben Affleck’s, yet women responded to him. It wasn’t the danger, because he didn’t tell them what he did for a living. He didn’t talk much at all, in fact, which may have been the secret. People who don’t have a lot to say get the reputation of being good listeners. In his case it was true. But he could always talk about cars.
“Hurst Olds,” he said. “Sixty-nine.”
“Four fifty-five. I’ve got that in my Cutlass.”