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A Dead Ringer (Stanley Bentworth, #2)

A Dead Ringer (Stanley Bentworth, #2)

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A Dead Ringer (Stanley Bentworth, #2)

223 Seiten
3 Stunden
Feb 3, 2013


Somebody has taken a shot at Stanley Bentworth and the soft-boiled detective doesn’t know who wants him dead or why. Then, when a stranger who resembles Stanley is gunned down in broad daylight, Stanley wonders which of them was the intended victim.

His investigation charts an unlikely journey through the worlds of online pornography, a legendary cat burglar, buried treasure, and a legacy that he never knew was meant to be his own.

Feb 3, 2013

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A Dead Ringer (Stanley Bentworth, #2) - Al Stevens


Chapter 1  

What a way to start the day. There I sat in the Walmart parking lot, hung over, needing to take a piss, and a prisoner in my own car. The windows wouldn’t open, the doors wouldn’t unlock, and I was hostage to a run-down station wagon.

The engine and air conditioning were running. But my pipes and muffler weren’t in the best of shape, either. How long would it be before somebody found me dead from carbon monoxide poisoning? I could shut it down, but then I’d die of heat prostration. If a ruptured bladder didn’t get me first.

Murdered by my own car. Like something out of a Stephen King novel.

This was a hell of a fix for a renowned private investigator. Once word got out that Delbert Falls’s most famous detective had expired after locking himself in his own car, I wouldn’t be able to hold my head up.

Oh, yeah. I wouldn’t anyway. I’d be dead.

I could hear my old pals down at the precinct. Did you hear what Stan did? A classic case of vehicular homicide. Then they’d laugh their fool heads off at my sorry-assed expense.

I suppose I could have broken a window. But how do you make a hole big enough in safety glass to pull through without tearing yourself up? Maybe I could break through the side window, reach out, and unlock the door with the key. Worth a try. I’ll sacrifice a window to save my life any day of the week.

I slammed my elbow into the side window. It bowed out and returned to its original position unharmed. I hit it again. All that did was make my elbow hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. One more time. The window made a crunchy sound, and spider web cracks splayed out from where my elbow had punched. But no hole. Wasn’t going to work.

I was going to die in here, my predicament a direct result of modern safety engineering. When the engine starts, the doors lock as required by an ill-conceived regulation that some well-intentioned government bureaucrat had written to protect children and detectives from falling out of cars.

Whatever happened to cars that let the driver decide when to lock the doors?

I couldn’t call nine-one-one. My cell phone was back in the office getting a charge. The car charger didn’t work because the cigarette lighter didn’t work.

The electric windows not opening was just a consequence of age. The old tub had about 170,000 miles on it. Nothing lasts any more.

I had always considered myself lucky that the windows were stuck in the closed position, weather being what it was around here. Now, I was not so sure.

Roscoe, my .38 Colt revolver, was standing by in the glove compartment. I could shoot the lock off, but even if I hit the right spot in the door panel with the first shot, the bullet would tear up the adjacent car. Collateral damage. My insurance wouldn’t cover that, and I wouldn’t be allowed in Walmart any more.

A half pint of bourbon nestled next to Roscoe in the glove box. I retrieved it from its stash and took a swig. Might as well die happy.

Then, as I screwed the lid back onto the bottle, I remembered. This was a station wagon. It had a raising rear hatch. Well, duh. I hit the release, and the hatch popped slightly ajar. Hot damn, problem solved. I shut the engine down, crawled back over the seats, and pushed on the hatch. It moved back and forth about an inch with a thump, bump but refused to open far enough for me to get out. Wouldn’t you know? It needed a pull on the outside handle to open, and I was inside.

I took another drink, lit a cigarette, left a beer fart, and pondered my next move. My bladder was about to burst, a condition that in a lesser man can make a fart untrustworthy, but I’ve been doing this for years, and I have control.

I needed out and I needed to piss in the worst way, which it would be if I didn’t get immediate relief. In desperation I grabbed a discarded cardboard coffee cup, the large size, and proceeded to unzip when a lady with a little girl approached my car. I yelled through the rear window glass, squatting like a duck with my dick in my hand, Ma’am, could you help me, please? I’m locked in.

She moved closer and stared through the dirty window. Then she gasped, tugged at the little girl’s arm, and hurried away. It was worth a try.

I pissed in the cup, almost filling it, and set it carefully on the floorboard behind the rear seat.

The beer fart, a holdover from the previous night’s festivities, and the worst kind of fart there is, wafted up to fill the small space and mingled with the scent of fresh urine to exacerbate my discomfort.

My car stank like the men’s room at a truck stop.

Nobody was near enough to hear my calls for help, so I didn’t bother. I took inventory of the trash scattered on the floorboard, and my eyes came to rest on my salvation, a wire coat hanger. I grabbed it lovingly, bent it into a hook, wedged it into the space at the bottom of the door, and popped the latch. The hatch swung up.

Heavy sigh of relief. Free at last. I climbed out, kicking the cup of piss over and saturating the carpet. Oh, well. I lowered the hatch but didn’t let it close completely. I might have to do this again. I brushed the dirt off my knees and jacket, walked to the side of the car, and glared at the door lock.

I didn’t see the silver SUV creeping toward me between the rows of parked cars until it was alongside my position. A man’s hand reached out of the passenger’s side window and aimed a semi-automatic pistol at the back of my car. That was not a good sign. You almost never want that to happen. Particularly with Roscoe still in the glove box.

I ducked under the car and squirmed over to the middle of the undercarriage. Whoever they were, they must have thought I was still in the driver’s seat. Maybe if I’d wash the car more often, shooters and other people could see in the windows. The shot sounded, echoing throughout the parking lot. Glass shattered followed by the squeal of tires and an engine’s roar, and from the pavement I saw the lower part of the SUV speed out of the parking lane and toward the exit. In the dust and exhaust fumes, I couldn’t read the license plate.

What the hell was that all about? Why was somebody shooting at me? I hadn’t pissed anybody off in over a week.

And why did they think I was still in the car? My only guess was they saw me drive in and park but didn’t see me climb out the back. They concluded that I was still sitting in the driver’s seat, and that’s what they shot at.

Saved by a dirty window.

I crawled out from under the car and looked around. A few people in the lot and in front of the store stared in my direction. I was far enough away from the store that they couldn’t see the shattered window and probably thought they’d heard a backfire. Either that or they didn’t care that somebody was using the parking lot for a firing range. When nothing more happened, they turned and went back to whatever they had been doing.

I tried to brush the pavement tar and chassis grease off my suit with my hands. No such luck. My efforts just smeared the sludge and made it worse. Damn. That was my second-best suit. And the best one was at home bearing ravioli stains. There was no third-best.

Would the shooters come back, and did I have time to get Roscoe? Was I about to engage in a gunfight in the Walmart parking lot? Who’d play me in the movie?

I looked at my damaged car. The rear window was shattered and the windshield had an exit wound, a hole surrounded by a web of cracks reaching out like the spokes of a malformed wheel in a Salvador Dali painting. A puddle of urine was soaking into the carpet. That would leave a stain. Mercifully, the beer fart had dissipated, but the piss would linger on for days.

The windshield of the facing car in the adjacent lane was wounded too. I wondered how many cars back I’d have to go to find the bullet.

I wasn’t going to do that. I’d get caught up in an official investigation into your average random drive-by shooting. Just gangbangers from the projects staging an initiation ceremony.

Having a revolver in my car would only drag out the time I’d have to entertain the cops. I know how that works. I used to be one.

I left the rear hatch dangling and moved my car to another parking space some distance away. Naturally, the doors locked me in again. As I crawled over the seats to get out, a man walked by. Need some help? he asked.

No thanks, I said. I do this all the time.

I went into the store. The elderly greeter stared at my clothes. I thought he might think I was a bum and throw me out, but he just shook his head and let me pass. I bought a tube of quick-drying glue and the pack of cigarettes that had brought me to Walmart in the first place. I came out, opened the driver’s side door with the key, and glued the door lock open.

Take that, you piece of shit, I said to the old heap. Try locking me in now.

Then I took a breather. Until now I’d been busy dealing with the situation and hadn’t had time to consider the danger. Now it hit me. My heart started pounding, and my knees started wobbling. I held onto the door so I wouldn’t drop to the pavement. I got the bottle out and took another drink.

I was trembling all over. I’m not used to being shot at. That’s not part of a private dick’s daily routine, cop shows on TV notwithstanding.

If the shooter persisted, I’d have to find out who was behind it and why. Finding out wouldn’t be pleasant. The best and often only way to flush an assassin is to put yourself back into his line of fire. Being live bait is not my favorite pastime.

I drove the newly-ventilated station wagon to my office and thought about how my humdrum life had just become more complicated and more expensive. I needed a new suit and a new car, and I had a new mystery to solve. The first two would cost money. The last one could cost my life.

Chapter 2  

My office is in Delbert Falls, Maryland, between Philadelphia and Baltimore in the poor part of town, a good place for me because I’m a poor private eye. Poor as in broke, not as in incompetent. I’m actually pretty good at being a detective. Just not very good at making money.

I pulled the worn-out, shot-up, pissed-on vehicle into the alley behind the office, went in the building, and tested the elevator. Every morning I pushed the up button, and every morning nothing happened. Maybe if I’d pay the rent, they’d fix the elevator.

I huffed and puffed and climbed the stairs like I had every morning for the past three years. I wondered with each step how many overweight, out-of-condition clients I had lost because they couldn’t make it to the third floor.

Willa gave her usual cheery greeting when I went into the office. Good morning, boss man.

Willa was my gal Friday—and Monday through Thursday too. Not glamorous like secretaries in detective movies, but efficient. She took care of the books, the office, the files, the appointments, and the coffee pot, which was her most important duty, particularly on mornings when I had a hangover, which was most mornings. This morning was like most mornings.

Do I still have car insurance? I asked.

Nope. Due two months ago. Cancelled.

So much for asking the gecko to fix my broken windows.

She looked at my disheveled and greasy appearance. What happened to you? Did you have a wreck?

Not exactly.

Well then, what? Looks like you lost a mud wrestling match.

I won.

I poured a cup of coffee and went into the office I shared with my nephew Rodney. My sister’s kid and the other Bentworth in the Bentworth Detective Agency LLC, Rodney was already at his desk pounding on his laptop’s keyboard.

Working alone had always been one of the benefits of self-employment, a consequence of my involuntary retirement from the force when the Lieutenant and I disagreed about how often, how much, and when and where I should drink.

I hadn’t expected to share an office in my new career as a loner, but the arrangement with Rodney wasn’t all bad. He stayed to himself and hacked websites when I didn’t have him working on something. When I needed him, he was willing and available, and he didn’t complain about my drinking. The perfect officemate.

Good morning, Rodney. What’s that you’re working on? I hoped it was something that would bring in some money.

Good morning, Uncle Stanley. Checking out gun prices.

Rodney would be twenty-one in a few months, old enough to get a carry permit. He couldn’t wait. Well, he could, but you couldn’t tell him that.

What do you think? he said. A Glock? Or maybe a Beretta? So many choices. How did you choose your Colt?

Took Roscoe off a suspect when I was on the force. Kept it as a drop gun back then. I never had to drop it, and now it’s my carry piece.

Why’d you name it Roscoe? he asked.

My father’s middle name. With no rug rats to name after him, the piece was all I had.

Why not his first name?

You ever meet a gun named Marion?

I never met a gun with a name.

Old school, I said. You name your equipment. B.B. King has Lucille. Willie Nelson has Trigger.

Those are guitars.

I don’t play guitar.

So you named your piece after Grandpa. I never knew him. Mom said he was a drunk. Was he?

He was.

The family’s closet skeleton. Our dad drank, and I guess I inherited that behavior. I didn’t know it was in one’s DNA, but what else could account for it? The Bentworth men were drunks but not the women. Maybe it had something to do with Y chromosomes, whatever they are. Rodney hadn’t taken up the family tradition yet. I hoped he wouldn’t.

That Colt is kind of old-fashioned, Uncle Stanley. Rodney clicked through page after page of handguns. Wouldn’t you rather have something a little more up-to-date?

I’d rather have a job where I didn’t get shot at, I said. "Just make sure you take a gun-handling

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