Criminal Mischief: Episode #19: SUNSHINE STATE Is Coming
From Publishers Weekly:
In Lyle’s ingenious third mystery featuring retired major league pitcher Jake Longly (after 2017’s A-List), Jake, who runs a restaurant in Gulf Shores, Ala., is again roped into working for his father Ray’s PI firm. An attorney has contacted Ray on behalf of Billy Wayne Baker, a convicted serial killer. Though Baker pleaded guilty to strangling seven women, he insists that he killed only five of them, and wants that assertion validated. When Jake meets Baker in prison, the murderer refuses to name the other killer, claiming that doing so would lead to accusations that Jake’s inquiries were biased. The investigator’s task is made even harder by Baker’s not even identifying which of the dead women were killed by someone
else . (To his credit, Lyle makes this complicated scenario credible.) Along with his girlfriend, Jake travels to Pine Key,
Fla., the scene of three of the strangulations, where the couple pretend to be researching a documentary examining the impact of the killings on the small community. The clever plot twists will surprise even genre veterans. This entry is the best in the series so far.
Here’s the deal. Ray thinks I’m a wimp. Has for years. The best I can remember it began around the time I left major league baseball. For several years, I pitched for the Texas Rangers. Could really bring the heat. A hundred miles an hour. Zip, pop. Loved that sound. Loved that the catcher would often shake his hand out after snagging one of my fastballs. That was me. Jake Longly, baseball stud. Everybody said so. Even the ESPN folks.
Not so Ray. He never actually used the word wimp. Pussy. That’s the one he preferred. Four weeks ago being his most recent assessment.
Nicole Jamison, my current girlfriend, love interest, whatever she was, I wasn’t sure yet, had laughed. Rude, but she does love getting her shots in. Besides, she just might’ve agreed with him. Mostly. Not in bed, mind you. I’m freaking Godzilla in the sack. Really, I am. I think she would agree. In fact, just last night, if I remember correctly, there was tequila involved, she invoked God a couple of times. Or it could’ve been my echo. Lord knows I called on Him a couple of times.
Okay, I added the zilla part. So, sue me. No, wait, don’t. The best attorney in town, Walter Horton, is married to my ex-wife, Tammy the Insane. He’d already done a colonoscopy on my wallet. Probably wouldn’t hesitate to encore that performance.
So, let’s just say Nicole and I have fun.
Regardless, she and Ray conspired to enroll us in martial arts classes. Actually, some craziness based on Krav Maga and several other disciplines mixed into a soup of pain, mayhem, and considerable bodily harm. Taught by an ex-Mossad guy that Ray knew from back in the day. Ben Levitsky. Six-two, lean and muscular, the body fat of a distance runner, and no nonsense. No wonder he and Ray got along.
Ray Longly. My father. Owner of Longly Investigations. An outfit that, depending on your definition, employs Nicole. Speaking of employing, Ray has used every trick in his considerable bag of mischief to drag me into his business. But, I prefer Captain Rocky’s, my just dive-y enough bar/restaurant on the sand in Gulf Shores. I’d much rather hang out there with Pancake, who really does work for Ray. He also thinks I should sign on with Ray. Not going to happen. At least, not officially.
Seems like despite this resolve, I repeatedly get dragged into Ray’s world. And end up throwing baseballs at hitmen, or whacking alligators with baseball bats, stuff like that.
Captain Rocky’s is much safer.
Back to Krav Maga. It’s a system of combat that is aggressive and can be lethal in the right hands—and feet—or whatever might be handy. Ben Levitsky ended his career with Mossad nearly ten years ago. I suspected he had done things that weren’t nice, or legal, or even Kosher. Now, he owned a studio in Orange Beach where he dispensed his knowledge to folks of all ages and skill levels. Nicole and I had already taken a gazillion lessons. Actually, three a week for four weeks, but my hands felt like a gazillion. They ached and making a fist was a process not an event. No way this was a healthy pursuit. I mean, I could hardly wrap my fist around a beer.
Nicole felt otherwise. She loved it. Her hands were fine. Fact is, all of her was fine. But that’s another story.
We had completed our morning session of bag punching and kicking and spinning and thrusting and had downed a couple of breakfast burritos my cooks had whipped up for us, when I sat down at an umbrella-shaded table on the deck at Captain Rocky’s with Carla Martinez, my manager. The one who really ran the joint. She had a stack of stuff for me to go over, checks and papers to sign, invoices and orders to review, inventory lists that blurred my vision. Paper work is not my thing.
It was August and the daily temp, which was projected to reach well into the nineties, had begun to climb. I had already downed two glasses of sweet tea and was working on a third.
Nicole opted for a walk on the beach. In a red string bikini. Not enough material to wad a shotgun. An exhibitionist’s dream. Which was another of her outstanding qualities. All that exposed flesh garnered a lot of attention. As she disappeared up the beach, every male head turned in her direction. Most of the women, too. She even brought a touch football game to a halt. Now, as she walked back our way, I saw she had attracted a couple of followers. Two old dudes with metal detectors. I don’t think their focus was on finding coins any longer. Pervs.
Speaking of focus.
“Are you listening to me?” Carla asked.
“What did I just say?”
“That we needed to order more ribs and chicken.”
She smiled. “And here I thought you were daydreaming again.
Glad to know you can multitask.”
“I can. I’m a multitasking freak.”
“You’re a freak, all right.” She smiled.
Like Nicole, Carla enjoyed giving me a ration. Come to think if it, so did Ray and Pancake.
She twisted in her chair and looked up the beach. The direction of my gaze. Where Nicole was leaving a trail of footprints near the waterline. “I should’ve known.”
I smiled. “Never get tired of that view.”
“Definitely. But she is beautiful. If I swung that way, I’d do her.” I shook my head. She laughed and turned back toward me.
“No worry there though. I do like my dudes.”
“That you do.”
“Well,” Carla said, “you can put all your awesome multitasking
talent away, because that’s all I have.” She stood and gathered up the papers, stuffing them into a folder. “What’s on your agenda today?”
“This. I think I’m done.”
“It’s ten o’clock in the morning.”
“Long day.” I smiled.
She gave me a look I’d seen all too often. The one that said I was incorrigible.
“Don’t strain anything,” she said. “I’ve got work to do.”
Like I said, she really runs the place.
She started to walk away but stopped. “Oh, I forgot. Pancake
called a little while ago. Wanted to know if you guys were here. Said he’d drop by.”
“Any idea what’s on his mind?”
“No one knows what’s on his mind. What little he has.”
That was true. Not that Pancake was dumb. Far from it. One of
the smartest people I’ve ever known. But, for lack of a better word, he’s quirky. And that’s being kind.
Carla continued. “I asked but he said he wanted to see your face when he told you.”
That didn’t sound good.
“Guess you’ll know soon.” She laughed and headed toward the bar.
Nicole climbed the stairs to the deck and walked my way. And
what a walk. Runway perfect. The murmuring of the late breakfast crowd dropped to near silence and gazes followed every stride and sway.
She slipped on the flimsy coverlet she had left hanging over one of the chairs and sat. “Did you get your homework done?”
Boy? I expected her to pull out some treats and pat my head. A
reward for a job well done. She didn’t.
That’s when Pancake arrived. All six feet-five and 280 lumbering
pounds of him. His red hair looked wind blown. His left cheek sported what looked like road rash.
“What happened to you?” I asked.
“Three Wild Turkeys and a bicycle.”
No further explanation offered. I tried to picture him on a bicycle.
Sure, he and I had terrorized the neighborhood on our bikes as kids, but he outgrew the tensile strength of a Schwinn before we reached high school. The only thing that could safely transport him now was his massive dually pick-up. Apparently, a bicycle couldn’t.
“Did you smear on any antibiotic ointment?” Nicole asked.
“Rubbed some dirt on it.” He smiled. “That’ll do.” Worked when we were kids, so why not?
“Ray’s headed this way,” he said.
“Really?” I asked. “Why?”
Ray avoided Captain Rocky’s like it was a toxic waste site. Something must be up.
“He has a job for you guys,” Pancake said.
“I don’t work for Ray.”
“I do,” Nicole said. “What is it?”
Pancake laughed. “You’re gonna love it.”
“What?” I asked, not really wanting to know, even as a niggle of
curiosity rose. Or was it dread? Whenever Pancake said something like “you’re going to love it” or “wait till you hear this” or “here, hold my beer and watch this,” what followed was never predictable, and often led to chaos and mayhem.
“I think I’ll let Ray handle it. Wouldn’t want to spoil it for him.”
“That bad?” Nicole asked.
Pancake nodded. “Oh yeah. We’ve done a bunch of crazy shit, but
this’ll beat all.”
“Cool,” Nicole said.
No, probably not close to cool.
Fifteen minutes later, Ray arrived. He took a seat. Didn’t say a word. Carla plopped down a cold can of Mountain Dew in front of him. Ray and Mountain Dew had a close relationship. Almost pathological. I think he drank a dozen a day.
“Anything else?” Carla asked.
“This’ll do,” Ray finally spoke. “Thanks.”
“Give me a wave if you change your mind.” She headed back inside.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Got something I want you two to check out.”
“I don’t work for you,” I said.
He shrugged. “Nicole does. And you’ll pretty much follow her
wherever she goes.”
I had no response for that. Mainly because it was true.
“So, what do you have for us, boss?” Nicole asked. Boss?
“Damnedest thing I’ve ever heard of,” Ray said.
Pancake laughed. “All that and a passel of howler monkeys.”
“The suspense is killing me,” I said.
“Me, too,” added Nicole.
I guess I neglected to add enough sarcasm to my question. For
her. Not for Ray. He gave me a look before continuing.
“I got a call from an attorney over in Jacksonville,” Ray said.
“He wants us to sit down with his client and see if we can help.”
“With what?” I asked, immediately regretting it. I had no idea why I was engaging in this. Better to stay in the foxhole and hope Ray blows over.
“Prove he only killed five people instead of seven.”
“What?” Nicole said.
Ray took a big slug of Dew. “You know the name Billy Wayne
Nicole looked at him, then me.
“Sounds familiar,” I said.
“A convicted serial killer,” Ray said.
I nodded, his history starting to take root in my head. “I do
remember him. Vaguely. Murdered some folks over in Florida.”
“That’s him. Seven victims. Doing multiple life sentences.”
“Not the death penalty?” I asked.
“Part of the bargain. He confessed to all the killings. Saved the state a bunch of money. Got seven life sentences. No parole, of course.”
“He’s the client?” Nicole asked.
“How does a lifer have the money to pay you?” I asked.
“He doesn’t. But according to his attorney—guy named Winston McCracken—there’s a benefactor who’s paying the freight.”
Nothing about that sounded right. “Serial killers now have benefactors?”
Another slug of Dew. “Apparently Billy Wayne does.”
“Who is it?” Nicole asked. “The money man?”
“Don’t know. That’s part of the deal. He stays completely
I couldn’t quite wrap my head around that. A serial killer, who
confessed, now wants to back track, and he found someone to pony
up the cash to re-open the investigation. Who the hell would do that? And why?
“That makes no sense,” I said. “He wants us to prove he didn’t kill two of the people he confessed to killing? What? Five life sentences is better than seven?”
Ray balled one fist and then opened it, spreading his fingers, examining them. “All I know is what McCracken said. That’s why I want you to check it out.”
The situations Ray had dragged me into in the past were quirkily weird. Or was it weirdly quirky? Same difference, I suspect. Ray had roped me into things like staking out the adulterous Barbara Plummer. Who, of course, did get murdered right under my nose. Okay, maybe not my best day. Or trying to figure out how Hollywood, A-List actor Kirk Ford woke up with the co-ed niece of a New Orleans mobster dead in his bed. Those were indeed quirky and odd, but I had to admit this was something else entirely.
“I am intrigued,” I said.
“I see a screenplay in there somewhere,” Nicole added.
I shook my head. “Of course, you do.”
She slugged my arm. My already sore arm from all that Krav
Maga crap. Not to mention that my hands were too tender to hit anything. Apparently, not so for Nicole.
“Besides keeping Jake in line, what’s the plan?” she asked.
“Me? In line?”
“No small task.” She ruffled my hair.
“I can’t help you with that,” Ray said. “Lord knows I’ve tried. But on the case, the first order of business would be a sit down with McCracken. See what’s what. He said he could get you in to see Billy Wayne.”
“Who is where?” I asked.
“Union Correctional Institute. Over near Raiford.”
“We’re on it,” Nicole said.
Of course, we are.
“When?” I asked. “Tomorrow afternoon. His office in Jacksonville.”
“Short notice,” I said.
“What? You got something else to do?”
I was sure I did but I couldn’t think of a single thing.
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