Title: COOLER THAN BLOOD
Author: Robert Lane
Publisher: Mason Alley
Purchase at Amazon.
18-year-old Jenny Spencer is missing after a violent nighttime encounter on a Florida beach. Jenny’s aunt, Susan Blake, asks wisecracking PI Jake Travis to investigate.
Susan and Jake had only spent one dinner together, but both felt an instant, overpowering attraction. Jake walked away. After all, he was—and is—committed to Kathleen. But having Susan in his life again could be dangerous: dangerous in more ways than one.
As Jake and his partner, Garrett Demarcus, close in on finding Jenny, they uncover a shocking secret in Kathleen’s past. Even more shocking is that Kathleen and Jenny’s life are strangely intertwined.
For Jake, this case may hit way too close to home—and what started as a race to find Jenny could become a fight to protect Kathleen.
As the case heats up and the danger escalates, Jake is forced to examine his moral boundaries. How far is he willing to go for the woman he loves? At what cost? And what about that question that has dogged him since the beginning of the case: was there another person on the beach that night?
We paraded a block south to Dangelo’s condo and rode to the tenth floor. Like Kathleen’s, it had its own entrance off the elevator. The Tweedle twins didn’t enter the room—nor did my gun, which they confiscated at the door. I assumed they’d been instructed to make camp outside Dangelo’s door. Perhaps Tweedledum had brought along his music history textbook to study.
Dangelo sat at a desk that made him look big. He didn’t stir when I entered. I took a seat on a white leather couch and flipped through a magazine that told me about ten fantastic Caribbean restaurants I had to dine at before I jumped off the bus. I didn’t look at the article. I did look at the pictures of tan girls in white bikinis. The classics never go out of style. I helped myself to some salted cashews in a cut-glass bowl that rested on top of a glass-topped coffee table with a coral-reef base.
“Jacob.” It came out as he swiveled around in his chair so he could face me. “Have you found my missing funds?”
I finished my chew. “Working on it, Joe.”
“How? By going into one of my bars and informing the staff that I instructed you to talk to this missing girl whom you think I have? Such a childish game.”
“I just don’t see Special as staff.”
Dangelo stood. “Our arrangement, in the event that you’ve suffered short-term memory loss, is that you find my missing funds, then I do what I can to help you locate the missing girl, whom you erroneously think I possess.”
“That arrangement didn’t hold my interest. I find Jenny Spencer, and your money won’t be far behind.”
“You think?” He took a step toward me. “Then you are not thinking at all—for if that were the case, and I, as you have accused, am harboring the girl, why are we having this conversation?”
“I said, ‘far behind,’ not ‘with her.’ You didn’t bring me here for this.” I got up and dropped the magazine onto the glass table. “I’ll keep you posted.” I headed for the door.
“I did a little research.” His voice came from behind me. “You served for five years, but your trail gets cold the day you left the army.” I pivoted. He picked up the magazine from the coffee table and glanced at it. “I don’t think I even pay for this anymore. They just keep sending it.” He brought his head up. “Tell me—how does one get involved in your line of work?”
“A strange question from a man like you.”
“I’m curious…” He tossed the magazine, reached into the bowl, and grabbed a handful of cashews. “What chances did my two men have if you decided not to comply with my request for a visit?”
Dangelo nodded as if I’d given him the answer he’d wanted, but it was the wrong answer for me to give. I saw it too late. Arrogance is the first step toward self-destruction.
“No,” he said with a tone of resignation, “I suppose not. You know”—he popped a few cashews into his mouth—“we had an incident not far from here about a year ago. We lost four employees, and the locals expressed alarming disinterest in the situation—not, of course, that we pressed them. You understand?”
“Not a clue what you’re talking about.” I started to circle the room.
“Sort of like me, when you bring up your missing Ms. Spencer.” Another cashew met its fate. “It did occur to us, however, that even if we had pressed our cause, the law just didn’t care. As if someone had hushed up the whole scene. ‘Bad for tourism,’ I believe the line was.”
“You can’t have four dead bodies in the sand in a beach town.”
“I never said they were on the beach,” Dangelo said.
“I read the papers.” I passed the front door and with my right hand turned the deadbolt. I kept circling. The distance between us shrank. Time and distance.
“They were good men. One of them was our best. They must have encountered someone who was highly trained, a professional, and not acting alone either.”
We paused. I wasn’t going to lead. At that point, I could do more harm than good—and already had. “There was a lady involved.” Dangelo said it cautiously and in a different tone, as if we had entered the demonic final movement of a musical score. My neck stiffened. My hand tightened into a fist. “Tragically she died on that beach.” His eyes rested on mine. A car honked. “Did you read that as well? In the papers?”
“I seem to recall something about that.”
“We…how shall I put this? We possibly overreacted. We thought at one time that the deceased lady might have knowledge of certain nonpublic aspects of our business. In retrospect, she probably had no knowledge at all. Our judgment was rash, but not nearly as bombastic as our adversary’s.”
Dangelo waited, but I remained silent, until the silence was self-incriminating. I asked, “Why are you telling me this?”
“After your sophomoric theatrics at the Winking Lizard, I had you followed. The car you were driving—”
I was on him in two steps and slammed him into the wall. His head snapped back with a thud then bounced forward so his forehead struck mine. A half-eaten cashew flew out and landed on my shirt. I choked his throat with my right hand. His neck was fat. I wanted to rip off a chunk and stuff it in his mouth. The door behind me rattled.
“What about the car?”
Dangelo took a second to get his breath. He smelled like cashews. The last time I smelled him, it was Swiss cheese and ham. “It’s double-parked, Mr. Travis.” His voice was tight. I loosened my grip. “Find my money, and you were never here tonight. This conversation never took place.”
I dug my fingers into his neck. “What about the car?”
“N-nothing.” I eased up even more on the pressure. “We thought—that is, my associate thought—he might have recognized it from the around the neighborhood.”
“Are you threatening me?” I was ticked that I’d been followed. I should have been more alert. Too bad for Dangelo. I swung him around and pressed his face against the window. “Because I’ll drop you through this window right now. Do you understand that?” His eyes widened in the reflection of the glass. I leaned into his ear and repeated what he’d told me at the deli. “Look elsewhere, Joe. The beach scene wasn’t me.” I gave the lie my best conviction. I like lies. Judiciously applied, they can help your cause more than a standing army. “And,” I continued, “here’s the new plan: find your own goddamned money.” I gave him a shove and stepped back.
“Certainly,” he started and then paused to catch his breath, although he tried not to show it. “Certainly you understand that if we had our money, we would be inclined to fully—no, permanently—support any decision made for the benefit of tourism. Whether or not, or not, you…um—”
“Save it. I have no idea what you’re talking about, and I’m not making any deal with you.”
“We say such things in times of—”
“The man you had lunch with the other day—he give you the script tonight?”
“No.” He regained his posture far faster than I’d thought he would. Dangelo might have been all dressed up, but he clearly had spent some of his youth on the street. “I’m not the puppet you seem to think I am, and spying on me certainly won’t advance your cause. Your reaction, Jacob, was totally uncalled for. All we’re—all I’m saying is that perhaps you can help us out. I didn’t mean to imply any threat. I apologize if you took my comments in that manner.”
But he knew. And he knew that I knew that he knew. Still, his earnest conciliatory tone caught me off guard. I couldn’t get a read on Joseph Dangelo—perhaps, though, through no fault of my own.
Regardless, I’d blown it. It wasn’t my first mistake and wouldn’t be my last. He had no way of knowing my elephant gun was loaded. I didn’t trust myself to say anything else—I’d already behaved foolishly. Dangelo called off the dogs, and I marched out of the room.
“Lewis Carroll would be proud of your career choice,” I said to Tweedledum as he handed me my gun.
“You mean Charles Dodgson?”
Screw this guy.