The Drop Dead Blonde: An AJ Harker Mystery (AJ Harker Mysteries Book 1), страница 1
The Drop Dead Blonde
An AJ Harker Mystery
To Emma Lukasha, an awesome and willing cover model who is not afraid to get messy for the sake of art. To editor extraordinaire, CLC Editing~Cheryl Castela, and to my children with love.
Copyright 2017 by Bill Craig. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American copyright conventions.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by information storage or retrieval system without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locales, incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons is entirely coincidental.
THE BLAZING KEYBOARD
OF BILL CRAIG
Bill Craig is a Renaissance man. He’s also one of my writing heroes. Teaching himself to read by age four, he started writing his own stories when he turned six…Six! I was a precocious little sod, but it still took me until age ten before I began scribbling my own tales. You all remember the standard homework assignment of using the week’s vocabulary words in a sentence? Apparently, I was the only one in the class who strung all those sentences together to make a story. However, while I was messing around with vocabulary words, Bill was putting me to shame by writing full-blown stories springing unprompted from his imagination.
While he started creating early, Bill was forty before his first novel was published. He made me laugh once by telling me, it only took me 34 years to become an overnight success. But what a success he has become. In the twenty years since the publication of his first novel, Bill has released almost ninety novels—each one being snapped up by fans hungry for the next installment in one of his many series.
A more versatile writer working in the current market would be hard to find. Like his own writing heroes—the wordslingers who wrote prolifically for the content hungry pulp magazines back in the day—Bill writes in numerous genres, most often in the mystery, western, science fiction, and pulp adventure arenas. Like the pulp writers before him, Bill is constantly putting words on paper—every day without fail.
I first discovered Bill’s work in the adventures of Hardluck Hannigan, a pulp-style hero who puts Indiana Jones to shame. For me, Hannigan’s escapades brought back the pleasant days when I first discovered Doc Savage and Tarzan. I was hooked.
I soon discovered there were many more series flowing from Bill’s blazing keyboard—each one unique from the others. I started off these new series with classic hardboiled private eye, Sam Decker. Mitch Cooper, a retired Naval Intelligence officer turned San Diego security consultant, caught my eye next. Then there were the thrilling espionage tales of Caribe; the fantastical, over the top, adventures experienced by Chicago cop Jack Riley; the exploits of Indianapolis private eye, Philip Chandler; the cases of private eye Rebekah McCabe; and many more.
However, Bill’s Key West Mysteries, which chronicle the cases of Rick Marlow, ex-NYPD cop turned chief investigator for powerful attorney Walter Loomis, have been my favorites among his many novels—until now...
Drop Dead Blond, the novel following this brief introduction, brings to life Miami Beach private cop A. J. Harker—and a sharper, tougher, operator to handle a case would be hard to find. He has all the earmarks of Bill’s best characters, but he has an attitude all his own. Having walked some mean streets myself, I recognize Harker’s attitude as belonging to a dangerous predator—but Harker’s prey is never those who are weaker than him. Harker takes on the big game, those who do violence and kill without mercy. I’m only glad Harker is on the side of the guardian angels—even if his wings are dirty and God could catch him grabbing a smoke and taking a slug of booze at any second.
Drop Dead Blond will suck you in from its opening line: It wasn’t every day that AJ Harker came home to find a beautiful dead woman on his door step. How could you not read further? How could you not know you need to hold on ‘cause a hell of a ride is coming?
I now have a new favorite among Bill’s great characters to follow. I can’t wait for you to read and enjoy Drop Dead Blond, as I did. And I can’t wait for Harker’s next case...Come on, Bill—get back to your blazing keyboard and start writing...
Novelist, screenwriter, and television personality, Paul Bishop is a nationally recognized behaviorist and deception detection expert. A 35 year veteran of the LAPD, he was twice honored as LAPD’s Detective of the Year. He currently works as a deception detection consultant for private companies faced with potentially damaging in-house data breaches, industrial espionage, or corporate sabotage. Paul is the author of fifteen novels and has written numerous scripts for episodic television and feature films. A regular speaker at writing conferences, Paul’s latest book, Lie Catchers, is the first in a new series featuring top LAPD interrogators Ray Pagan and Calamity Jane Randall. The sequel, Admit Nothing, is due in 2018.
It wasn’t every day that AJ Harker came home to find a beautiful dead woman on his door step. Or, more accurately, on the sidewalk in front of his house. She had once been a very pretty young woman, but not so much in death. Her hair was long and blonde. Her face was waxy looking, what he could see of it through her hair. Blood was pooled underneath her and there were at least five wounds in her torso. Whoever had killed her wasn’t playing around. Her purse was on the ground, just beyond the blood. Harker pulled out his phone and started snapping pictures. The crime lab boys would do the same when they arrived, but he wouldn’t have access to their shots, so he was taking his own.
Once he had the pics that he needed, he dialed 9-1-1. When the operator came on line, Harker explained that he had come home to find a dead body on the sidewalk leading up to his house. Harker had no idea who the young woman was, and he was not about to dig into her purse. He would let the cops handle that. Once the police knew who she was, he would take a more active interest. It took less than twenty minutes for detectives to show. They actually beat the uniforms to his address in Coconut Grove. He lived in the seedier side of the Grove where the hookers worked the corners.
Detective Sergeant Manello Mendez was the first man out of the unmarked squad car. Harker knew Manny because the man’s sister was his secretary.
“Hey, Manny,” AJ greeted the man.
“What have you got, AJ?” Mendez asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine. I got home and saw this young woman dead and bleeding all over my sidewalk. I don’t recognize her,” AJ explained.
“So, tell me what you know, was she one of your clients?”
“Not yet. But I think she might be now.”
“AJ, you know you can’t work an active homicide,” Mendez said.
“She died on my sidewalk, Manny. I can’t exactly let that go.”
“This time, you gotta,” Manny said.
“The hell I do.”
Once again, Harker wondered who the young woman was. She was certainly well dressed so looks as if she could have afforded his fees if she could have been a potential client, or she may have been there for some other reason. At the moment, there was no way to tell. So, he shook out another cigarette and lit it, blowing the smoke into the hot afternoon air. By now, the uniforms had arrived and were starting to string crime scene tape around his walk. He wondered if he would be allowed to enter his house.
Harker watched as Manny knelt down and poked a hand into her designer purse, coming out with a clutch wallet. It was red and looked expensive. The detective opened it and pulled out a driver’s license. He walked over to where he could read over Manny’s shoulder. The picture matched the face of the dead girl. Harker squinted so he could read the name, as he leaned over his friend. Emma Cain. The address was on Miami Beach. Harker stood up, filing the information away. Harker pulled a notepad out of his blazer and a pen and wrote down both the name and the address. Then he put them both back into his pocket.
When the cops were done, he’d do some checking on his own. The dead girl had come to him for a reason. He owed it to her to find out what that reason was. Once he knew that, he would do anything he could to take care of whatever it was. Harker walked back and leaned against his car. It was a late model snazzy Jeep Compass that he had picked up after a particularly lucrative case.
He had spotted the shell casings on the sidewalk around the body. They looked like they had come from a .40 caliber like the one he carried. The good news was that he hadn’t fired his gun lately, and not at all since he had cleaned it after going to the range to qualify last month. But if Manny wanted to check his gun he would let him. He had a 9mm that he could carry in its place. Harker pulled out his cell phone and dialed his office. Tina Mendez picked up right away, even though it was nearing five o’clock and quitting time.
“Harker Investigations,” she said.
“Hey Tina, it’s me.”
“What’s up, AJ?” she asked.
“I’m sitting in front of my house with a dead girl on my sidewalk. Your brother is here but he’s not exactly being cooperative with me,” Harker told her.
“And what do you want me to do about that?” Tina asked.
“Nothing you can do. I was just letting you know. Can you run a computer search for me?” he asked.
“Sure thing,” Tina replied.
“See what you can find out about Emma Cain,” Harker told her, and then he read her off the address.
“Right away, boss” Tina replied.
“Call me when you have something,” Harker told her. He looked at Manny. The detective sergeant was not going to be happy about this. Harker tossed the cigarette butt. Making Manny happy was not on his to-do list.
“Can I go into my house now?” Harker asked.
“Yeah, go on in. I’ll let you know when I need to talk to you,” Manny replied.
Harker made his way around the body to his front door. He unlocked it and went inside the medium sized ranch style house. It was a three-bedroom, two baths, with a large living room and a kitchen family room combo and another room for storage. Harker stripped off his jacket and took the notepad and pen with him to his home office.
The cops would canvas his neighbors, but AJ would go around later. His neighbors were more likely to tell him things than they would share with the cops. There was a good chance that one of them had seen something. Harker wanted to know more about Emma Cain, and he wanted to know why she was at his door when she was shot and killed. He owed her that much at the very least.
Although the dead girl looked familiar, he had no real idea of who she was. He knew that Tina would find that out and e-mail him the information. She was good about things like that. Plus, he knew that her own curiosity would be aroused by what had happened and why it had happened. He knew that Tina would have him a full report on Emma Cain when she called, but he wanted to see what she had on social media. She looked young enough to be into Facebook and twitter and all those social sights.
AJ lit another cigarette as he walked into his kitchen. He pulled a bottle of Jim Beam out of the fridge and got an 8-ounce tumbler out of the cabinet. He dropped an ice cube in and added two fingers of bourbon. He tossed it back and poured some more. Harker sipped at his whiskey. Emma Cain. Why had she come to see him? Who had murdered her before she had the chance to talk to him? It was something to consider. What had Emma known that had brought about her death?
“Is the job done?” the man asked. Clip Callahan nodded.
“Speak, I can’t fucking hear the rocks rattling in your fucking head.”
“I got it done. You were right, she ran straight to Harker, but I nailed her on the sidewalk before she got to the door. Nobody saw me,” Callahan said proudly.
“Thank God for small favors. Okay, I need for you to head up to Jacksonville, stay gone for as few weeks. This deal is too important, and I don’t want anybody tying you to this.”
“I can do that,” Callahan nodded.
“Then, why are you still here?” Raoul Cervantes asked. He watched Callahan leave and shook his head. It was hard to get good help these days. Harker was going to be a problem. If Emma had gone anywhere else, he wouldn’t have been as concerned. But he knew AJ Harker’s reputation. The man was a fucking bulldog and wouldn’t give up. Callahan had fucked up killing the girl in front of his house.
AJ watched Manny Mendez leave, along with the CSU people and the coroner with the body. A young woman had been murdered on his door step. He needed to know why that had happened. Somebody had not wanted her to talk to him. But why? He needed to find out more about her. He had a name. He would use that as a starting point. He would find out everything that he could about the dead girl. She had come to him for a reason, and he needed to know what that reason was.
Two hours later, Harker was hitting the street, heading for the apartment that Emma Cain called home. He had never met the woman, but she had come to him for a reason. He had to know what that reason was. Once he knew that, he could find out who was responsible to for her death.
Most people think of Miami as a place of glamour and glitz, skyscrapers and sunny beaches. They rarely think about the darker side of the city. The part where drug dealers and human traffickers ply their trade, where developers do whatever they can to ram their projects through despite the environmental damages to the Everglades. Murder is an everyday thing in Miami, but it is not what the Tourist Board or the Chamber of Commerce want people to read about in the newspaper, or worse, see on the television. But that was the Miami that AJ Harker lived in.
Miami Beach is actually a collection of natural and man-made barrier islands that separate Biscayne Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. To get there, Harker had to take the MacArthur Causeway. It took about 45 minutes to get from his house to the condo where Emma Cain had lived. Harker was hoping that he got there before Manny called and notified the Miami Beach Police Department about what had happened to one of their young citizens.
AJ had a lot of questions about the dead girl, but nothing so far in the way of answers. He meant to change that. He had no idea who Emma Cain was, but he meant to find out. She had been coming to see him for a reason. Somebody had been willing to kill her to keep her from talking to him. Why? What was so important that Emma Cain had to die?
There were no police cars when he pulled up in front of her building. He took that as a good sign. He parked in a visitor’s slot and got out and used his key fob to lock and alarm his Jeep. Harker headed to the front door of the building and walked inside, glad for once that the place didn’t have security or a doorman. There was a directory on the wall listing what apartments were on each of the six floors. He went to the elevator and took it to the fourth floor where according to Emma Cain’s driver’s license, she had an apartment. He hoped to find something there that would tell him why she had been coming to see him.
He was almost to the door of her apartment when he noticed the door was open and he could hear noises from inside. Harker drew his Ruger .40 SRC from his holster and thu
The two men spun towards him, one pulling a gun. Harker shot him and sent him spinning back the other way. That galvanized the other man into action. He scooped up a vase and threw it at AJ’s head, causing him to duck just as the man charged. The guy hit him like a linebacker on a blitz and the force of it carried them both into the hallway.
Harker jammed his elbow into the guy’s throat, forcing him back. Harker raised his hips and tossed the guy off, but a booted foot caught him in the ribs before the guy was up and running for the stairwell. Harker retrieved his gun, but the guy was long gone. He stepped back into the apartment. The man that he had shot was still down and blood was pooling underneath him. Harker leaned down and felt for a pulse. There was none.
Holstering his gun, Harker did a quick search of the place. Somebody would have heard the shot and called the cops. He wanted to be finished looking around before they got there. The guys had been tossing the living room when he had surprised them, so he figured to check the bedroom first. That seemed to be a place where women kept their secrets. He could hear sirens approaching when he found it. He had pulled out a dresser drawer and a thumb drive fell to the carpet. Harker stuck it in his pocket and stepped into the hallway to wait on the cops.
Harker knew the detective that showed up at the scene. He was a hard-liner from way back and there was no love lost between Harker and Pete Gentry. Gentry was a detective sergeant bucking hard for a lieutenant’s bars, and he looked like he was sure this would do the trick for him.
“What the hell are you doing on this side of the Bay, Harker? We don’t want your kind on the beach,” Gentry growled at him.