Dick Moonlight can’t help himself. Moonlight, the private detective known as the head case with a bullet lodged in his brain, should be grateful for his current job. But when it becomes clear the cash-starved brain surgeon he’s been hired to drive around is protecting his son from a rape conviction, Moonlight is disgusted. Worse, when the charges turn into a case of “reckless murder,” Moonlight’s the only one trying to keep the kid from the electric chair though the girl—a state senator’s daughter—clearly committed suicide. Then Moonlight and his unwilling assistant, a fat Elvis impersonator owing him money, stumble into a much bigger plot and are soon dodging Hollywood obsessed drug-running Russian thugs, corrupt government officials, and the specter of Moonlight’s recently diseased girlfriend. New York Times bestselling author Vincent Zandri delivers another fast-paced, grizzly thriller in the Dick Moonlight series, offering readers plenty of wry humor, bullets, car chases, and Scarface references.
According to my schedule, I’m to meet Roland Hills, aka Elvis Presley, at the coffee shop in North Albany at eight in the morning. I would have met him at seven but, like the great Hound Dog in the sky, he’s been hitting the booze a little too hard as of late. So, like a good employee, I let him sleep in.
That’s me—Moonlight the teddy bear.
Pulling into a parking lot overcrowded with pickup trucks and cars, and even an eighteen wheeler parked diagonally across the lot so people are forced to drive around it, I find Hill’s old Honda motorcycle and glide up beside it. I’m just about to get out and head inside to grab a coffee when I spot the big, black-haired, forty-something Elvis impersonator coming toward me, gripping two very large coffees. Electronically thumbing down the passenger side window on Dad’s old 1978 hearse, I lean over the empty seat, ask him to get in.
He stops, shoots me a bulging-eye look, like he’s seen his own ghost.
“Moonlight, I ain’t gettin inside that thing.”
Like his 1977 Fat Elvis beer gut, his Oklahoma accent sticks out like a sore thumb in Albany, New York. It’s a cool May morning, but he’s only got on a T-shirt, the words “Your Momma Lied” in big black letters expanding and distorting over his bloated belly.
“What’s to be afraid of? It’s not like sitting inside a hearse is gonna kill you, Elvis. Kinda works the other way around.”
“You ain’t hung-over like I am.” His hands shake so badly the coffee is spilling out the little sippy holes punched into the plastic lids. “I’m already near death.”
“Just get in. The stuff I have to show you is better revealed in private.”
“The stuff you’re paying me to find out about your girlfriend.”
He just stands there, his thick black hair and pork chop sideburns looking pasted onto his round face, his big gut hanging off his belt, hands shaking, coffee spilling.
“It’s bad, ain’t it?” His south-of-the-border twang raises up an octave. Like he’s about to cry. “Think I’m gonna be sick.”
“If you’re about to be sick, Elvis, blow your chunks in the lot right now. But hand me my coffee first.”
“I’m okay.” A beat passes. “Just not used to the love of my life cheating on me is all.”
“Guess now you know how her husband and your wife must feel.”
He attempts to smile at that. But apparently he can’t work up the strength. Reaching across the seat, I open the door for him. He gets in, stinking of old booze.
I take my coffee in hand and at the same time, catch my reflection in the rearview mirror. I haven’t been sleeping so great lately, what with being single and therefore free to roam the gin mills of my choice at all hours of the night. Worse, I’ve got a bank account that is so below zero it brain freezes me even to think of it. Peering into my own brown eyes I spot a round face that needed a shave five days ago, and a head of hair so short you can see the scars crisscrossing my scalp like a road map—including the small dime-sized scar beside my right earlobe where, once upon a time, a piece of .22 caliber hollow-point bullet penetrated my skull. Standing up the collar on my leather coat with my free hand, I look away from the mirror, and begin to muse over my worn combat boots and dark, beatup Levis.
Suddenly, I smell something bad.
“Christ, Elvis, when was the last time you showered?”
“Been sleeping at the phone company.” Elvis’s day job consists of fixing broken computers at the local Verizon. “Ain’t got no where’s to go.” He tries to sip his coffee, but his hand is trembling too much and most of it lands on his chin. Reaching into his the side pocket on his baggy blue jeans, he withdraws a small fifth of Jack. Then, shooting me a look with his brown puppy dog eyes, “You mind?”
“It’s your liver, Elvis.”
I assist him with removing the coffee cup lid. Spilling some of the coffee out the window to make room, he then pours two or three shots into the cup, filling it back up. I help him once more with pressing the lid back down onto the paper cup.
“Go ahead. Drink. Those trembling hands are making me nervous.”
He steals a generous drink of the whiskey-laced coffee. After only a few seconds, you can feel him deflating. As for his hands, they stop shaking. Reaching around into the back seat, I grab a manila envelope and open it. I pull out the pictures I snapped yesterday afternoon across the river in Columbia County. The rural town of Kinderhook, to be precise. The town where Mr. Hill’s current illicit love is still living with her husband inside a doublewide trailer set on a two acre streamside parcel, while spending her mornings balling the mailman and her late afternoons getting it on with the present and accounted for facsimile of Elvis Presley. Fat Elvis.
“Read ’em and weep, Elvis. She ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog anyway.”
He sets his spiked coffee onto the dash, snatches the pics from my hand, slaps them face-down onto his lap. He lifts the first one, and with his right hand having resumed its trembling, turns it over. The photo reveals his girlfriend’s heart-shaped naked posterior. It’s pointed up in the air while she bends over in preparation for rear-entry by the mailman, whose blue uniformed pants and tighty-whitey BVDs are wrapped around his white tennis sock-covered ankles. I have to admit, it isn’t a bad live shot for an amateur photographer. The focus is perfect and I even snapped the pic as the blond bombshell is looking over her shoulder, no doubt saying something profound to the mailman. Something like, “Do me . . . Do me . . . I can’t wait any longer.”
The rest of the photos are simply different versions of the same shot. You seen one pic of an over-sexed thirty-something blond taking it doggy style in her backyard from the mailman, you’ve sort of seen them all. But that doesn’t prevent Roland Hills from studying each and every single one of them like he’s looking at the most recent issue of Penthouse Magazine. You know, holding them only inches from his face, turning them one way, then the other.
When he’s done, he slaps the pics back down onto his lap. It’s then I see he’s crying like a baby. Tears streaming down his fat cheeks, he opens his mouth wide and begins to sing at the top of his lungs, “We’re caught in a trap . . . I can’t walk out . . . Because I love you too much baby!”
I’ll be dipped. He’s starting to make a scene. But I gotta give him credit. If I close my eyes, it really does like sound like I’m blaring the late king of rock ’n’ roll on the hearse’s old eight-track stereo system. Hills is so good, a group of blue-jeaned construction workers gather around the black hearse. They clap and cheer as soon as the crying, fake Elvis issues his last tearful note. One big guy with a brush cut even raises up his cigarette lighter, thumbing a flame.
“You’re building your fan base, Elvis.”
He wipes the tears from his eyes with the back of his meaty hand.
“I don’t want new fans. I want my Betty back.”
Betty Reddy. That’s his cheating girlfriend’s name and it’s no joke. ’Course, if you close your eyes and say it out loud, you get the full effect.
Betty Reddy . . . Bet all the guys called her Betty Reddy Beaver in high school. Or maybe Betty Reddy for cock . . . No wonder she’s addicted to sex.
“She wasn’t yours to begin with. Go back to your wife.”
“Lorraine won’t have me back. She filed for divorce three days ago.”
“Beg for forgiveness. Tell her you strayed if only to realize what you had right before your eyes. Works like a charm every time.”
He’s quiet for a minute while sad-faced workers stroll in and out of the coffee shop. Then, “You have a girlfriend, Mr. Moonlight? Someone special in your life?”
I shake my head, sip my coffee.
“No,” I say, the long brunette haired vision of my now dead ex, Lola, filling my head. “Not at present.”
“Funny you giving me advice. Man with a piece of fuckin’ bullet in his brain and no woman.” Slamming his barrel chest with his fist. “You could drop dead today. But I got my whole life to live. And I wanted to live it with Betty.”
My eyes lock on his.
“You have a real way with words, Elvis.” Leaning down, I gather up my pics, stuff them back into the envelope. “Don’t lose your day job.”
He opens the door, grabs his coffee, proceeds to step on out. But I take hold of his arm. It’s skinny, bony even. Totally out of synch with the rest of his body.
“I believe you owe me something, Elvis. An even grand, plus expenses. You can deduct the coffee if you want.”
He turns to me, his big brown eyes blinking.
“I’ve sort of run into a bit of problem.” His teary eyed frown turns upside down. “You see, Mr. Moonlight, since the telephone company found out about me and Betty, we both been handed our walking papers.”
“You telling me you can’t pay me?”
There it is again, the minus zero bank balance, the account getting colder and colder as it becomes emptier . . .
“Not now anyway.” Then, perking up. “But hey, I’ve got an idea. You got any party plans in the future? Elvis and the Teddy Bears does parties, weddings, and bar mitzvahs. You’d get yourself a half price off deal.”
“You kidding me, Elvis?”
“Half price is at least worth one thousand.”
And that’s when my entire blood supply spills out onto the hearse floor. I see her. Through the windshield. Walking into the coffee shop. I see her.
I. See. Her.
A tall woman. Her brunette hair is rich and long. Her body is taller and leaner than I remember. But not skinny. She’s wearing tight jeans, sandals, a long sleeved loose-fitting shirt with a deep V-neck, exposing the tan skin that covers her firm breasts. Two or three silver necklaces drape down from her neck, and further draw my attention to the exposed skin on her chest. Her lips are thick and red. They form a heart when she presses them together. Her nose is so perfect, it seems as though it were carved out of stone by a master artist. Covering her eyes, dark aviator sunglasses.
But how can it be Lola?
I left Lola lifeless, laying on highway cement between New York City and Albany. She had breathed her last and the spark had exited her body. I saw it happen. I was there. I walked away from her death, and I never looked back. Not even once.
Maybe I should have.
“You okay, Mr. Moonlight?”
Elvis talking, prodding me with his index finger. Like I’ve suddenly gone catatonic. And I have.
“No. I’m not alright.” I hold out my hand. “Whiskey.”
He hands me the bottle. I uncap it, take a deep drink, hand it back without capping it.
He takes it in hand, then grabs the cap, screwing it back on. “Jeez, that was supposed to last me all day.”
I want to get out of the hearse. I want to head into the store. I want to see if my eyes are deceiving me. But I can’t fucking move.
“You want me to get you a drink of water, Moonlight?”
I turn to Elvis.
“Take your pictures. We’re done here.”
“You okay with an I.O.U.?”
“Yeah. Just go. I’ll call you if I need something.”
The door opens and Elvis gets out. Several of the onlookers who heard him singing issue him a second round of applause. Elvis bends at the waist, bows to his new peeps. Then, straightening himself back up, he reaches into his jean pocket and proceeds to hand out business cards.
“The King is back in town,” he barks in his best trembling imitation of Elvis’s voice. “Available for birthday parties, weddings, retirement parties, bar mitzvahs, and a whole lot more.”
The door to the store opens again. She walks out. My heart beats in my throat, adrenalin pumping through the veins in my head. I want to get out of the car, but I’m glued to the seat. Glued because I have to either be seeing things, or my judgment is entirely off. Like I said, I’ve got a piece of .22 caliber bullet lodged in my brain. It causes me problems from time to time. Brain problems. I’m not just a head-case. I’m Captain Head-Case.
But there she is. Lola. In the flesh.
She briefly holds the door open for an elderly man who limps on through. Then, turning her back to me, she walks away in the opposite direction.
My Lola walks away.