This is the fourth book in the Cigars and Legs series, and to start us off, here’s the description and preview samples from each story in the book:
Ron Cavanaugh is back in this collection of short stories and a novella, which finds him investigating four different crimes starting with Ron finding himself up against an old, familiar face — and meeting up with his flying buddies from the war in a high stakes game he isn’t ready for, in Blue Skies.
A man will eventually have some part of his past that he’d run from if given the opportunity. My life came with two of those moments: the first took me across the world to fight a war rather than face it, and the second stopped my ability to fight cold and now breathed down my neck again like the a mugger in the night. Despite enjoying the day so far and being in the middle of lunch with my best girl and soon to be wife, one leggy Audrey Carmen, the phone rang and brought with it the ill tidings of the past.
“Cavanaugh,” I said. It was as non-committal as I could be without being rude.
“Answering your own phone, huh, Razor?” came the voice down the line.
No one had called me Razor since the last time I’d been flying a fighter jet. This guy hadn’t since well before that.
“Never thought I’d hear your voice again,” I said.
“I bet, kid. Listen, I don’t have time for pleasantries. Greg and Matt have both met their doom in the last few days, and I think their doom is gunning for one of the two of us.” My stomach dropped as he spoke. He referred to Greg “Ghost” Hoover and Matt “Maddog” Magellan. The two of them had been wingmen at the start of the war and, as near I could tell, made it out as wingmen at the end without ever losing a plane. They were good — the best I’ve ever seen.
“What are you talking about, Royal?” No, Royal wasn’t his call sign — that’s honest to God what his mother named him. It turned out to be the misnomer of all misnomers. “How’d they die?”
From there he’s hired to look for two missing girls when the cops aren’t acting fast enough — and as it’s freezing outside and there’s an escaped mental patient on the loose, he is up against time. Time the girls don’t have, in Skies Fall.
In my business seeing a familiar face can be great or it can be awful — depending on the case where I ran across him and what my job did to his life. The worst of all is the spouse outed cheating. Doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman, the hatred is all the same.
My door was darkened in a literal way by the massive form of former boxer, current coach Lem Strader. I’d ran into him on a case: his girlfriend’s husband showed up dead and that made him a suspect. The man was honest about his intentions and feelings toward the dead man and he turned out to be innocent, which was great for my nose. We’d gotten along well enough that grabbing my shotgun was only the third thought when he came in.
“Well, if it isn’t Lem Strader,” I said as non-committal as I could muster. Non-committal is my preferred way to start any conversation that may lead to business.
“Ron,” he said. The man wore a pair of nice dress slacks and a dress shirt struggled to contain the muscles of his arms. He went without a tie, but wore a trilby hat that matched the pants. Somehow it made him more intimidating. “I could use your services,” he said.
“Someone stealing punching bags?”
His beat up face managed to break with a smile. “Nah, nobody hates their fingers that much. No, this is a serious case. May I sit?”
I nodded. Lem sat and the chair cried out in pain. He’d been a heavyweight in his day and didn’t appear to be any lighter now.
“Ronno,” a version of my name I’d never heard, “I got this kid. Name’s Paul Cassidy. He comes into the gym like it’s church, he does everything I say. But he’s got no talent for boxing. Still, he’s got heart, and his parents pay for the lessons. Even if he can’t be a champ, he can learn to knock heads, y’know?”
I nodded again, wanting Lem to be positive I paid him full attention.
“Well, he comes to me this morning. He’s one of two kids, and his sister and her best friend never came home from the movies. The cops are on it, but… the cops aren’t making any progress. It’s been a week, Ronno. His parents are a mess, he’s a mess. You think you could help me out?”
The third short, Blue Falls, puts Ron in a tight spot: he’s asked to help investigate a murder while the small-town homicide detective is out of town. But not just any murder: several teenagers, brutally slaughtered while camping and echoes of a man from the mayor’s past — a man known as the Butcher of Biloxi.
The lay of the land in southern Mississippi doesn’t lend itself to hills, and as a consequence there aren’t any destination spots that could be called waterfalls. The remains of an old corn mill nicknamed Blue Falls is the only place in the county that qualifies. But the water is far from blue — it’s either clear to the golden sand or the darkest shade of tea known to man. The land and mill were owned by a family named Blue before my time, using the flowing creek to turn the mill and grind the corn into meal.
The mill is long gone but not the concrete structure. On the west side stands a wall and supports that allowed for flood overflow while on the east side the ruins of the entrance remained. The submerged dam formed the falls and forced Wright’s Creek to power the mill remained in the creek. Over the years, floods and the natural flow of the creek had deposited enough silt behind the overflow control to produce a muddy bog of stagnant, odoriferous water.
North of the mill the creek struggled to break free of the earthen dams built to channel it, eating away at the mounds Old Man Blue installed. Over the man-made falls — less than my height from the water below — the water turned clear with touches of green where the algae growing on the concrete showed through. That flowed into a deep pool of black-brown water. Most of the free-flowing parts of the creek were sandy-bottomed, flowing at about waist height. Leaves and all sorts of detritus made it hard to see the bottom where the water broke away from the flow to become deep, slow-flowing pools.
Rope swings hung from the oaks that reached across the creek, like lovers straining to touch their fingers together as a train pulled out of the station. In this particular pool the remains of an old cedar tree jutted up in the middle and provided another jumping off point for swimmers in the spring, summer, and fall — and occasional warm winter. Wide sandy banks mostly free of vegetation and animal life provided ample space for camping and sun bathing, and the creek lay in its own valley, between earth that rose about a dozen feet. We were below sea-level. The trees surrounding the sandy banks provided spotty shade and some privacy from the white sandy access roads.
Needless to say, teenagers loved this creek and so did fishermen and hunters looking to skirt the rules. Teenagers were why myself and Chief of Police Coleman stood there on those sandy banks, swatting at eager mosquitoes and evil horse flies. The latter came in various sizes, from smaller than a dime to the size of a man’s thumb and their colors varied from yellow to black. They had other names, but were most often called sonofabitch. These fuckers didn’t stick people with a straw like a mosquito but used their scissor mouth to cut their flesh open. It hurt more than a bug had a right to. The only other bugs were in the water trying to stay out of the mouths of fish, and a solitary cow ant walking along the exposed roots of a live oak.
“I can’t believe you called me in on this,” I said.
He puffed at his cigar. “Elmira is on his first vacation in years. Harmon is in the hospital with kidney stones. You’re my honorary homicide detective this week.”
The scene before us wasn’t serene like the creek in my memories. Two bloody torn up tents surrounded by the remains of three youths. They were beat and cut. One dragged herself to the creek, her hair just touching the water as she lay lifeless, face down in the sand. They were all fully dressed except the shirtless boy. His body bore the signs of putting up a mighty struggle.
“You think the boy that lived did it?” I asked.
Finally, in Blue Skies Fall, Ron’s law enforcement ties bring him in to investigate a brutal sexual assault out in the sticks — and he finds himself between two families doing their best to become the next Hatfield and McCoys!
Certain crimes draw me in the way a porchlight on a warm summer night draws in moths. I don’t often choose which crime to investigate — a client comes to me with a concern — there are a few I take more seriously. Finding out if a spouse is cheating is important to the client. After a few years of catching men and women working out their energy outside of marriage it doesn’t catch my interest . But when someone is missing or being blackmailed the work changes, it becomes more important on a personal level. If the person is dear to me that gives it more priority in my thoughts. When I know my client I invest myself fully. It isn’t necessarily fair or helpful but that’s the way my mind and heart work.
This time the case was a true crime, against the victim and society in general, and the client hiring me was the county sheriff, Al Edwards. Al and I got along well because I didn’t often stick my nose into anything outside city limits — to him I was Chief Coleman’s problem. Coleman liked me well enough outside of the job but from eight to five the man wanted me to stay holed up in my office and out of the hair of his men.
“Explain it to me again,” I said to Edwards. We were standing at the end of a driveway made of nothing more than two parallel lines of white sand between overgrown grass. Edwards had parked his car on the grass along side a ditch near a yard wide and half that deep, filled with muddy water, tadpoles, and the occasional crawfish. It hadn’t rained much lately which told me the ditch was being fed by regular runoff, but that wasn’t relevant to anything other than the tadpoles. I’d parked across the dirt road from Edwards, leaving my car in the shade of the dense woods opposite the house.
Down the winding driveway sat a yard of occasional live oaks surrounded by random weeds choking out the grass, and finally an all-wood house built up about waist-high from the ground with a dangerous looking set of steps leading up to the covered porch. The outside of the house was in shambles, having been replaced in patches with mismatched wood, and the windows all had that fogged out look even in the day time. To either side of the steps there was a patch of weed-filled flower garden with a few roses and azalea bushes holding the line against what appeared to be milkweed.
This sort of house was common out in the county. Pines had grown up in the back yard to provide near constant shade for the house — the owner would enjoy that up until a hurricane knocked those pines down. A single magnolia grew off center in the backyard, dwarfing any other nearby trees and drowning all the smells out as its flowers were in the fullest bloom for fifty feet straight up.
“Old man Vance lives here,” Edwards said. “Randall. He’s of some distant relation to Detective Elmira, I think. His flock is made up of his brothers, his sons and daughter, the wives of his adult sons, and the children and spouses of his brothers’ kids, plus cousins. There’s probably fifty of them total.”
“Sounds like a fun family reunion.”
“Well, they hate their distant cousins — the Harman family. Definitely related to our friend Detective Harman; they’re why he moved to Jackson to start with. Randall’s only daughter, Roseanna, was raped by two or more men unknown to her the other day. Randall is on a fire-spitting mission from hell to kill all the Harmans. The Harmans insist it wasn’t them.”
My stomach twisted itself into a new and fascinating sort of knot. “Why am I involved in this?”
“We’re outside Coleman’s jurisdiction by more than one literal country mile, and I can’t investigate anything the Harmans might have done.”
“We have a history,” Edwards said. His tone carried a weight of finality. “It would cause a headache at trial. Lisewsky is in the hospital from breaking up a fight between these two and that puts him out of the running, too — you’re all we’ve got.”
“Tell me about Roseanna,” I said.
“Eighteen, pretty girl, but a little on the mixed side. Her momma, Willeta, was a friend of my wife’s in school, and she died when Roseanna was a baby. She’s grown up without that motherly influence and until recently was almost pure tomboy.”
Edwards nodded. “Caused a bit of a stir when she was born. Vance and his kin are all lily-white, and Willeta looked it — but apparently there was a surprise in the woodpile somewhere.” Edwards held out his hand. “One more thing.”
Sitting in his palm was a silver, six-pointed star decorated with a picture of the state, an eagle, and the words “DEPUTY SHERIFF” wrapping around the top of Mississippi in a semi-circle. My eyes darted from the badge, not newly minted by any means, to Edwards, then back.
“I’m not a deputy.”
“You are now,” Edwards said. Without so much as letting me object again he hooked it onto my belt. “This makes it official, the paperwork is already signed. I can’t have you out here on a tear without official power.”