Cover image for Vengeance : a Lew Fonesca mystery
Title:
Vengeance : a Lew Fonesca mystery
Author:
Kaminsky, Stuart M.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Forge, 1999.
Physical Description:
254 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780312869274
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Three years ago Lew Fonseca quit his job as a process server with the States Attorneys office in Cook County, Illinois, and drove his rattling Toyota south to escape the memories of his beloved late wife. The Toyota broke down in Sarasota, Florida. Buoyed by the friendship of a few trustworthy souls, Lew settled there, making ends meet by doing some investigative work. Now Lew is hired by Carl Sebastian, to find his missing wife Melanie. Following up on a few leads, Lew finds himself being trailed by a mysterious man, and saddled with another missing person case. With the help of friends, Lew seems to be getting closer to Melanie, but will he find her before the unthinkable happens?


Author Notes

Stuart M. Kaminsky is head of the radio/television/film department at Northwestern University in Illinois. He is also a writer of textbooks, screenplays, and mystery novels.

The more popular of his two series of detective novels features Toby Peters. Set in the 1930s and 1940s, the Peters books draw on Kaminsky's knowledge of history and love of film by incorporating characters from the film industry's past in nostalgic mysteries. Murder on the Yellow Brick Road (1978), for example, features Judy Garland while Catch a Falling Clown (1982) stars Emmett Kelley as Peters's client and Alfred Hitchcock as a murder suspect.

His other critically acclaimed series chronicles the cases of Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov. Kaminsky's detailed studies of Russian police procedure combined with aspects of life in Russia have earned the Series an Edgar nomination for Black Knight in Red Square (1984) and the 1989 Edgar Award for A Cold Red Sunrise (1988).

Stuart Kaminsky was born in Chicago in 1934 and died in 2009.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Lew Fonseca was a process server for the state attorney's office in Cook County, Illinois. Then his wife died, and Lew, unable to bear living his former life without his mate, drove south until his car died in a Dairy Queen parking lot in Sarasota, Florida. Now he squeezes out a living as a freelance process server and avoids his emotions as much as possible. One of his lawyer's wealthy clients, Carl Sebastian, hires Lew to conduct a discreet inquiry into the disappearance of his trophy wife, Melanie. At the same time Lew picks up the search for a teenage runaway who may have been sold to the local vice king by her abusive father. The first episode in a new series by Edgar-winner Kaminsky is a very satisfying, exciting read. Fonseca is a decent, troubled man hoping to recover his emotional focus, in part by forcing himself to care more for his clients than he does for himself. Kaminsky surrounds him with a unique, carefully drawn cast of secondary characters, including a seventysomething former rancher who is handy with guns and lives by the code of the Old West. Readers will be demanding the sequel before they've finished the debut. --Wes Lukowsky


Publisher's Weekly Review

The versatile and prolific Kaminsky introduces his fifth series hero, Lew Fonesca, in this outstanding mystery. Fonesca is a middle-aged, widowed process server, a transplanted Chicagoan who has made a new home in Sarasota, Fla. He joins a distinguished and varied stable of his Edgar Award-winning creator's other protagonists: a Russian policeman (Porfiry Rostnikov); a Chicago police detective (Abe Lieberman); a private detective to the stars (Toby Peters); and, of course, Jim Rockford. Fonesca is a friendly, unassuming, slightly depressed fellow who makes a meager salary working for several Sarasota lawyers. Occasionally he uses the investigative skills he developed while employed by the state attorney's office in Chicago to do a little ad hoc sleuthing. In his debut, his skills and fortitude get stretched to the limit as he tries to locate two missing persons: a teenage girl whose sexually abusive and violent father has lured her away from her poverty-stricken mother, and a woman who has run away from her wealthy husband. As always, Kaminsky's sense of place is faultless, and he skillfully captures a parade of lively, credible characters, including psychiatrists, truck drivers, pimps, teenagers and social workers. With an early hook, he grabs readers and takes them on a memorably tumultuous ride of violent dips and turns, careening from Sarasota's most squalid shacks to its richest condos. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Lew Fonseca is a middle-aged, balding, classic-movie lover, and morose freelance process server in Sarasota, FL. His office is above a Dairy Queen, and he lives a rather solitary life after the death of his wife in a winter auto accident back in Chicago. In addition to his process serving duties, he also dabbles in finding missing persons, and as his luck would have it, two cases fall into his lap on the same day. The first comes from the mother of a teenage girl who is worried that her daughter has become a prostitute under the tender care of her louse of a father. The second one deals with a husband's desperate search to find his wife. With the help of some rather colorful secondary characters, Fonseca soon finds out that there is a tenuous link between the two seemingly disparate cases. Kaminsky has been adept at creating realistic literary characters in his previous mysteries, and if Vengeance is any indication, we'll be hoping to see a lot more of mopey Lew and his merry band of misfits. Scott Brick brings life to these characters without resorting to phony voices or unbelievable accents. All in all, this will be a solid addition to public library collections. Joseph L. Carlson, Lompoc P.L., CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Vengeance 1 "HOT IN HERE." She looked around my tiny office, trying not to show uncertainty and disapproval. "Air conditioner doesn't work," I said. "Then why do you leave it on?" "Fan makes the air move a little. Your daughter is missing?" She nodded. So far all I had from her was that her daughter, Adele, was missing and that the woman's name was Beryl. She hadn't given a last name yet. She was holding that back till she decided if she was going to trust me with it. Beryl was about forty, with dark hair cut short, on the thin side, and she was wearing a serious but slightly shabby loose-fitting blue dress with a belt and no style. She kept her purse on her knees and her knees tight and together. She had nice blue eyes and had probably once been very pretty. She also had a blue-yellow bruise on her cheek the size of a large peach. I had somewhere I had to be in a little over an hour, but I couldn't bring myself to hurry this woman. She needed to take her time. She needed someone to listen to her story. "I have a picture," she said, opening her purse. I waited. The air conditioner buzzed and I pretended it wasn't hot. "Here." She handed me a little photograph that looked as if it were taken in one of those automatic camera booths you find in malls. The girl was definitely pretty. She had blond, straight hair, was wearing a green sweater and showed a fine set of white teeth. She looked grade-school young. "Adele," Beryl said, looking toward the window as if her daughter might suddenly appear. It was my turn to nod. "How'd you get hurt?" She touched the bruise on her check and said, "Fell in the bathroom of the motel." "Tell your story, Miss ..." "Mrs.," she corrected looking down at her purse. "Husband moved out when Adele was little. Driver." "His name is Driver?" "No," she said with a sigh. "His name was Dwight. Tow truck driver." "He was a tow truck driver," I prompted. "Still is, I think. Few minutes back, I lied." "You lied?" "To you. Said I fell in the motel." She started to raise her hand to the bruise on her face and changed her mind. "He did it." "Your husband?" She nodded and sighed, lips tightly together. "You live in Sarasota?" "No, but it looks like he does. Not sure." I glanced at my watch, pretending to be considering the situation. I now had less than half an hour to get where I had to be. "Adele and I live in Brisbane, Kansas. Dwight left when Adele was seven. I can't say I was all that unhappy to see him go. He sent a letter two months back," she said. "To Adele. Don't know what it said. She didn't show it to me, but I did see the return address. Don't remember the address, but it was from here." I nodded. "I think she ran off to be with him. I raised Adele alone. Not much to do for a child in Brisbane after school. I worked days and a lot of nights at the restaurant, Jim and Ella's Good Food. Truckers welcome. Most nights Adele would watch the TV, look out the window of the apartment at the oil rigs in the field. At least till she got older and got in with the crowd." "Bad crowd?" I asked. "Only crowd in Brisbane, if you count four or five kids as a crowd." "Go on." "Not much more to tell. She's smart. Good grades, always good grades, but she got into a little trouble once in a while. She's got a temper like Dwight." "Her father," I said. "Got on the junior cheerleaders but didn't go to practice and they cut her," said Beryl with a sigh. "In a couple of school plays. One she had a lot of things to say. How do they remember all those things to say?" I ignored the sweat on my scalp. "I don't know," I said. "Well," Beryl went on. "Life is a puzzle." "Yes," I said. "She ran away a little over three months ago. No note. Just packed up and left a message taped to the TV saying she was going and she would call. I toldJosh Hamilton, the sheriff, that she had run and he took a picture just like the one you're holding and said he'd follow up and maybe get her on milk cartons and paper bags if she didn't show up in a few weeks. I told him about the letter from her father." "And you ... ?" "Worked, waited. She didn't show up. Josh suggested I get one of those things you put on your phone that shows the number someone is calling you from in case she called. I did-couldn't really afford it-but ... but no call from Adele till two weeks ago. I wrote down the number. Adele sounded bad, scared. Wouldn't tell me why. I told her to come home. She said she couldn't, that she'd be all right." Beryl reached into her purse and came up with a sheet of paper. She handed it to me. It had an 941-area-code number. "I called her back," Beryl said, fingering the little silver latch on her purse. "Called back maybe fifteen times. No answer. Little over a week ago a man answered, said I was calling a pay phone outside a motel on Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, Florida. I got a ride from Ellis to Wichita, bus here. Adele is fourteen, just barely. She's pretty, smart and in trouble. I've been wandering around for the last week looking for her, but I don't know how to do it or what to ask." "Did you go to the police?" "Yes," she said. "First thing. They took a picture of Adele and the phone-booth number and said they'd look into it. Nice man, a sergeant, said it would get it posted and go in the computer. I got the feeling Adele was going in a big box with a thousand or more other lost children." "I think you're right." I placed the phone number right next to the photograph of the smiling girl on my desk. "How did you find me?" I asked. "Motel I'm staying at, the Best Western, is just down the street. Came here for a Dairy Queen fish sandwich just maybe fifteen, twenty minutes back. I showed the man who served me the sandwich Adele's picture. Told him my story. He said maybe you could help." "Anything else?" I asked. "Yes," she said, looked down and then straightened up. "Who are you?" "My name is Lewis Fonesca. I used to work for the state attorney's office in Cook County, Illinois. Investigations. One morning my wife took the car to work. She died in a car accident on Lake Shore Drive. It was winter. I wasn't going any further up in my job and I'm not ambitious. I was cold and too many places and people reminded me of my wife. Am I telling you too much?" "No." There was more but I didn't see the need to share it with Beryl. I had come to Sarasota a little over three years earlier, just drove till my car gave out and I felt safe in the sunshine after spending my life in the gray of Chicago. I drove away from the dead-end investigator's job with the State's Attorney's office. Now I made a sort of living finding people, asking questions, answering to nobody. I had a growing number of Sarasota lawyers using me to deliver a summons or find a local resident who hadn't turned up for court or a divorce hearing. I had a county process server's license, complete with a full-color card with my photograph on it. It was the same face I saw in the mirror: sad, balding. A short, thin man who definitely looked Italian. Occasionally, I would turn up some street trade, a referral like Beryl from Dave at the Dairy Queen. I lived in and worked out of a second-floor office in a two-story office building behind the DQ parking lot. Entrance to each of the offices was through a door to the outside. My door, like the others, needed a coat ofpaint. The metal railing on the balcony was starting to rust seriously. I had a deal with the building manager. The landlord lived in Seattle. By giving the manager a few extra dollars a month beyond the reasonable rent for a seedy two rooms he referred to as a "suite," he ignored the fact that I was living in the "suite." The outer room where I now sat with Beryl was designed as a reception room. I had turned it into an office. The room behind it was a small windowed office, which I had turned into a living space. I had fixed it up to my satisfaction. The clothes I had brought with me from Chicago would hold out for another year or two. I had a narrow bed, an old dresser, a small closet, a television set-with a VCR picked up at a nearby pawnshop-and a low bookcase, which stood next to the dresser and was overflowing with paperbacks and videotapes. To get to the bathroom, which had no bath, I had to walk outside past five offices, accepting whatever the weather had to offer. I showered at the downtown YMCA every morning after I worked out there. Normally, I bicycle to the Y. My bike was standing in the corner behind my new client. There was nothing but my name printed on the white-on-black plastic plate that slid into the slot on my outer door. The plate didn't indicate what service I provided. "Man at the Dairy Queen," she said, nodding at the door, beyond which was the concrete landing overlooking the Dairy Queen on Route 301, which was also Washington Street, though in my two years in town I never heard anyone call it anything but 301. They also called Bahia Vista "Baya Vista," and Honore Avenue. was usually referred to as Honor Avenue. "He said you had feelings." She looked at me for about the third time and saw a sad-looking forty-two-year-old man with rapidly thinninghair and reasonable dark looks wearing a short-sleeved button-down blue shirt and gray jeans. "You're a detective, like on television," she said. "Rockford." "More like Harry Orwell," I said. "I'm not a detective. The only license I have in this state is a card with my picture on it that says I'm a process server. But any citizen can make inquiries. That's what I do. I make inquiries." "You ask questions." "I ask questions." "What do you charge?" "Fifty dollars a day, plus expenses." "Expenses?" "Phone calls. Gas. Rental car. Things like that. I report to you every night if you want me to. You can stop my services anytime before the next day. My guess is I'll find Adele in two or three days or tell you she's not in Sarasota." "Okay," she said, opening her purse once again and pulling out a wallet, from which she extracted five tens. "I will need a receipt." I took the money, found a pad of yellow legal-sized paper and wrote out a receipt. She took it and said, "I told you I'm staying at the Best Western. I'm in Room Two-o-four." "Well," I said, handing her my card. There was nothing on it but my name, address and phone number. "You can call me here day or night." Beryl took my card, looked at it, put it in her purse, and snapped her purse closed. "I am not a warm woman," she said. "I do not show my affections. I did not do so with Adele, but I do love her and I think she knows that. Please find her." "I'll do my best to find her." I said. "A few more questions. What's your last name?" "Tree. My name is Beryl Tree. My daughter is AdeleTree. Took my maiden name back when Dwight walked out, took it back and gave it to my daughter. His name is Handford, Dwight Handford." "And he knows you're in town and where you're staying." "Didn't tell him where I was stayin'. Just ran into him on the street, coming out of the Waffle House across from the motel. He looked scared, then mad. I asked him where Adele was. He hit me, told me to get back to Kansas or the next time he saw me he'd ..." She stood looking at the humming air conditioner. She had something more to say. I waited. "He, Dwight, was married before me. Said he divorced her. Had a daughter before he married me. Josh, he's the sheriff ..." "I know." "Josh came checking on him once. Didn't know what it was about till Adele ran off. Then Josh told me. Dwight spent prison time for ... for doing his first daughter when she was twelve." I knew what "doing" meant. "Adele's a pretty girl," she said. "Too pretty maybe." "I'll find her," I said. And she was gone. I pulled some Kleenex from my drawer, wiped my head, face and neck, and threw the used tissues into my Tampa Bay Bucs wastebasket. My shirt was sweat-blotched and clinging wet to my back. It was a hot December day in Sarasota, probably about eighty-four degrees and humid-hot for winter, but not unheard of. It was the middle of the snowbird season. Tourists and winter residents rented or owned overpriced houses and apartments on the mainland in Bradenton, Sarasota and all the way up the coast to Pensacola and down the coast to Naples. The winter crowd with real money were in the resorts and condos on the beaches of Longboat and Siesta Keys. All in all, there were about200,000 people in Manatee and Sarasota Counties combined during The Season. In Sarasota, south of the airport, there is a strip of low-cost motels on Tamiami Trail. The strip stretches for a couple of miles to downtown and stops just before the theater district. The primary residents of the motels are small-time pimps and prostitutes, mostly runaways like Adele, though in the winter unknowing French and German tourists wander into these motels with their families, swimsuits and cameras. This was where I'd start looking for Adele's phone booth. If that failed, I'd go south of Bay Front Park and downtown and start my search among the malls, restaurants and shops. Sarasota has hundreds of restaurants catering to retirees, tourists and full-time working residents. It could be a long day or two of work. If she was still in town, I didn't think Adele would be that tough to find, and I needed the fifty dollars. My backup was to find Dwight Handford. From what little Beryl had told me about her husband, I had the feeling he wouldn't be found by simply looking in the phone book. I was right. I'd find him if I had to, but I'd go for that phone booth first. How long it would take to find Adele Tree depended on what happened at my meeting in less than half an hour. I had gone three weeks with no work but serving papers twice, thirty-five dollars for each job. Both servings had been easy. They're not always easy. People who took the court order I handed them tended to see me as the enemy, the messenger for the system, the first step in doing them in. I've been slapped, threatened and hit a few times. Usually, though, the recipient was stunned. I always dressed casually, spoke politely and asked if I was speaking to the person I was looking for. If I was, I handed the papers to him or her. If I wasn't and the person admitted that I had come to the right place, I gave that person the papers. It was legal. I could simply drop the papers on a table or on the floor. There are servers who simply tear up the papers they are supposed to serve and swear that the deliveries were made. There are others who carry guns and push through doors and face a knife or a rifle to get the job done. Pride, not money, for these people. I carried no gun. If things looked really bad on a job, I turned the papers back in and said I couldn't find the person I was looking for. That didn't happen much. The money was running out and I needed Beryl Tree's fifty or a hundred dollars, and there was a good chance I was on my way to another job. I knew Sarasota and Bradenton reasonably well now. They were still small towns where a pretty young girl might be remembered. There was also that chance that Adele had used a phone near where she was staying. I put Adele's photo and the phone-booth number in my wallet and changed into a clean white shirt and my only sport jacket, a solid navy blue a little too heavy for Florida. My gray jeans didn't look too bad with the shirt and jacket. This was a casual town. I went down to the Dairy Queen with my bike. It was a few minutes before noon. I was hungry. I bought a large chocolate-covered-cherry Blizzard and a deluxe burger and thanked Dave for sending me a client. "Lady needs help," he said. "Kid running away like that. I see a lot of those kids." Dave was probably around my age, but years in the sun working on boats in the bay had tanned his skin dark. His body was hard and strong, but his face had gone to sun-fried hell. "I think I can find her," I said while he prepared the burger and shake. "Kids," Dave said with a shake of the head. When my order came up I showed Adele's photographto Dave. He looked at it for a while and squinted in thought. "Yeah, the lady showed it to me. I don't think I've seen her," he said, "but who knows? She cuts her hair, maybe dyes it, puts on a lot of makeup, orders a Dilly Bar and off she goes. I could have her picture right in front of me and not recognize her. Who knows?" "Thanks, Dave," I said, taking my Blizzard and burger. "Who knows?" he repeated. "You know what I mean?" * "I know," I said. "You know anything about a guy named Carl Sebastian?" "Know of him," said Dave. "Big money, property, real estate, all over the Herald-Tribune society pages, always in Marjorie North's column with his wife, a real looker." "You read the society pages?" Dave shrugged. "What can I say? I'm a reader. I read the Wheaties box in the morning. Read an article in some magazine this morning about the history of cod fishing. You know the Basques used to be great cod fishermen. Read the label on the jar of Dundee marmalade while I was having breakfast this morning. You know, the white jar?" "Yeah." "History of the company right there on the little jar. I read." I ate fast and figured that if I took some shortcuts I could pedal the mile or so to the high-rise, high-priced condominium on a quiet street a few hundred yards from Sarasota Bay and maybe be there on time. I made it with about three minutes to spare. A woman with white hair and a white dog looked at me while I chained my bike to a tree. She looked and then turned her attention back to the dog, who watched meas I walked past and then, assured that he was safe, lifted one leg and aimed for a thin tree with round green fruit that might be oranges. I stepped into the blue polished granite-floored lobby, pressed the button next to Carl Sebastian's name and was buzzed in almost instantly. A quiet elevator with well-polished dark-wood panels brought me up seventeen floors, to the penthouse. The door to the only apartment on the floor was wide open. I stepped in and a man's voice called, "Out here." The living room was big, light but tasteful, with neutral, luxuriously textured furniture as a foil for colorful abstract paintings on the walls. I crossed the room and headed for the man standing at the railing of the balcony beyond. He turned to me. "How old would you say I am?" I looked at the dark handsome man standing next to the railing of the balcony overlooking the bay. He was bigger than I am, about six feet and somewhere in the range of one hundred and ninety pounds. His open blue shirt, which may have been silk, showed a well-muscled body with a chest of gray-brown hair. The hair on his head was the same color, plentiful, neat. And he was carefully and gently tanned. He had a glass of something that looked like tomato juice in his hand. "V8," he said. "Great drink." He offered me the same. I settled for water. There was a slight accent, very slight, when he spoke. He reminded me of Ricardo Montalban. "Just guess." "What?" "How old you think I am." He looked away from the boats bobbing in the bay and the cars going over the bridge to Bird Key and beyond to Lido and Longboat Keys. He was giving me his profile. Answering a question like the one he asked could lose me a job, but I hadn't come to this town to go back to saying "Yes, boss" to people I liked and didn't like. All I wanted was to make as much money as I needed to stay alive and well supplied with used videotapes. Besides, I had a sure fifty dollars coming from Beryl Tree. "Sixty," I guessed, standing a few feet away from him and looking him in the eyes when he turned his head and smiled. "Closer to seventy," he said with satisfaction. "I was blessed by the Lord in many ways. My genes are excellent. My mother is ninety-two and still lives in good health. My father died two years ago at the age of ninety-four. I have uncles, aunts ... you wouldn't believe." "Not without seeing them," I said. Sebastian laughed. There wasn't much joy in his laugh. He looked at his now empty V8 glass and set it on a glass-topped table. "Lawrence told you my problem?" he asked, facing me, his gray-blue eyes unblinking, sincere. "Your wife left. You want to find her. That's all." Lawrence Werring was a lawyer, civil cases, injury lawsuits primarily, an ambulance chaser and proud of it. It had bought him a beautiful wife, a leather-appointed office and a four-bedroom house on the water on Longboat Key. If I knew which one it was, I could probably have seen it from where Sebastian and I were standing. "My wife's name is Melanie," Sebastian said, handing me a folder that lay next to the empty V8 glass. "She is considerably younger than I-thirty-six-but I believed she loves ... loved me. I was vain enough to think it was true and for some time it seemed true. And then one afternoon, four days ago to be exact, she ..." He looked around as if she might suddenly rematerialize. " ... she was gone. I came home and clothes, jewelry, gone. No note, nothing. That was, let me see, last Thursday. I kept expecting to hear from her or a kidnapper or something, but--" "The police," I said, holding the unopened folder in front of me. He shook his head. "I'd like to keep this quiet for now," he said. "There is the distinct possibility that my wife has left me for ... She may not want to be found." I opened the folder. There was a description of the missing jewelry, a list of credit cards, and the names, addresses and phone numbers of two people. And then there was a neatly typed one-page summary of Melanie Sebastian's life. I skimmed the biography as Carl Sebastian stood watching and drinking a fresh glass of V8. Melanie Lennell Sebastian was born in Ogden, Utah, earned an undergraduate degree in social science at the University of Florida and moved with her parents, now both dead, to Sarasota, where she worked for a Catholic services agency as a caseworker till she married Sebastian four years earlier. There was a photograph of Melanie Sebastian in the folder. She was wearing red shorts, a white blouse and a great smile. Her dark hair was long and blowing in the breeze. She had her arm lovingly around her husband, who stood tall, tanned and shirtless in a pair of white trunks, looking at the camera. They were standing on the white sands of a Gulf Coast beach, probably a few miles from where we were standing. "Pretty," I said, closing the folder. "Beautiful," he corrected. "Exquisite, charming." "Any guesses?" I said. "About what happened?" He shrugged and moved from the balcony into theliving room. I followed, folder in hand. We stopped in front of a painting of his wife on the wall over a big comfortable-looking pale suede sofa. In spite of the sofa and the tasteful contemporary look about the place, it wasn't my kind of home, but I could appreciate what it cost-which, I think, was the point. "Another man perhaps, but I doubt it," he said. "At least I hope it isn't, but ... We have had no major quarrels. I denied her nothing, nothing. I am far from a poor man, Mr. Fonesca, and ..." He paused and sighed deeply. "And," he continued, composing himself, "I have checked our joint checking and savings accounts. Most of the money has been removed. A little is left. I have my corporate attorney checking other holdings, which Melanie might have had access to. I find it impossible to believe she would simply take as much money as she could and just walk out on me." "You ever done any acting, Mr. Sebastian?" The look on his face changed and there seemed to be a definite tinge of pink in the perfect tan. "What the hell do you mean?" he said. "There was a little hitch in your voice when you mentioned another man," I said, having decided that none of the chairs in the room were designed for sitting in, at least not by me. "I thought you might want me to pick up on that." "Maybe I made a mistake in calling you," he said. "Maybe," I said. I didn't like the Carl Sebastian I had seen so far. Maybe there was a real Carl Sebastian under the Ricardo Montalban imitation. I might lose the job, but I didn't need the money that badly, not with a bit of Beryl Tree's life savings about to go into my wallet. "What's your fucking problem here, Fonesca?" This was much better. He was in my face now. "I want to talk to whoever Carl Sebastian was beforehe became Carl Sebastian in capital letters," I said. "You want the folder back?" I stood waiting. I didn't smile. I don't smile much. He was making a decision. "Okay," he said, his shoulders dropping a little, the blissful all-white-toothed smile fading. "I came out of the army, poor family back in Dayton. My father worked as a bagger in a supermarket. My mother was home with a bad heart and diabetes. I never went to college. Got a job with a construction company. Union apprentice. Worked up, into the office. Look at my hands." He held out his hands, palms up. I looked. "The cuts, the calluses, don't go away, not ones like this. I used these hands to climb over the backs of men and a few women to get where I am. Some of those backs had razors growing out of them. I've been cut, but I haven't fallen. Melanie is smarter than I am, not street smart, but smart. And she wasn't for sale. I didn't buy her to show her off like some of the people I know who say they're my friends. There are razors under those thousand-dollar sports jackets and regret under the beautiful faces of their wives. Melanie is real." "The hitch in your voice," I said. "You don't give up." "You want me to." "No, no." He shook his head and smiled. "I want someone who doesn't give up. I ... She has a good friend. This is very difficult for me." "A good friend?" "For about the last year, Melanie has been seeing a psychiatrist, nothing major, problems to be worked out about her childhood, her relationship to her parents. The psychiatrist's name is Geoffrey Green. That's Geoffrey with a 'G,' but I'll bet my ass he started off with a 'J,' and I know that there was a 'berg' at the end of that 'Green' a couple of decades ago. I checked. He'sgot an office over one of those antique shops on Palm Avenue. I'm not a young man. I'm not immune to Jealousy. Green is both young and good-looking. There were times when I couldn't make up my mind whether my suspicions were simply that of an older man afraid of losing his beautiful young wife or they were reasonable worries." He looked up at the painting of his wife. "I'll check it out," I said. "If I'm still on the job." "You're on the job," he said, his voice low as he turned away from me. "Melanie is a bit of a loner," he went on. "But because of business connections we belong to a wide variety of organizations. Selby Gardens. Asolo Theater Angels, Opera Guild, charity groups, and we're seen at balls and dances. Melanie said that in the past two years we have been on the Herald-Tribune' s society page eleven times. In spite of this, Melanie had no really close friends, with the possible exception of Caroline Wilkerson, the widow of my late partner. Her address and number are in the folder along with Green's." "And what do you want me to do?" "Do? Find my wife, of course," Sebastian said, turning from the painting to look at me again. "Has she committed a crime? Stolen money from you, money she doesn't have the right to take?" "I don't know. I don't think so. The money in the accounts was both of ours. The jewels are hers." "So she's free to go where she wants to go, even free to leave her husband, take money out of your joint accounts and wander away. It may be a boyfriend. It may be a lot of things." "I just want you to find her," he said. "I just want to talk to her. I just want to know what happened and if there's anything I can do to get her back." "She could be halfway to Singapore by now," I said. "Your expense account is unlimited," he answered. "I just want you to keep me informed if you leave town in search of Melanie and I would expect you, as a professional, will keep expenses to a minimum and give me a full accounting of all expenditures when you find her." "If I find her," I said. "I'll do my best to find out why she left. If I find her, I'll have to ask her if she's willing to talk to you. I'll tell you where she is if she gives me permission to tell you." "I understand," he said. "Come with me." I followed him into an office, where he moved to a desk and picked up something that lay next to a computer. The office was bright, with large windows and another angle on the bay, going north. The walls were "decorated" with about a dozen large, framed photographs, black-and-whites: Dust Bowl, toothless men with caps and overalls, scrawny women with their arms draped over the shoulders of scrawny children standing in front of clapboard shacks. "If I find she's left the area, it'll have to wait till I finish a job I've got," I said. "How long will this other work take you?" He had a checkbook in his hand, a red leather checkbook. "Few days, no more, probably. Can't be sure, but not long." "Would a bonus persuade you to put this other work aside?" he asked, tapping the checkbook against his side. "No." "Anything could have happened to Melanie," he said. "Doesn't that mean something to you?" "I can recommend someone else you can contact about the job," I said. "There are about eight licensed private investigators in Sarasota. Another handful in Bradenton. A few in Venice. Maybe three of them are reasonably good." "Are you independently wealthy, Mr. Fonesca?" "No, but I don't have to be wealthy to be independent." "Do you have any idea of what it's like to lose a wife?" he asked with a catch in his voice. "Yes," I said. "Okay," he said without pursuing the loss of my wife. "I'll give you a chance. Larry said you're good. He also said your fee is negotiable. I'll write out a check. If it's acceptable, you have the job. If not, hand it back, give me the folder and the name of a reliable private detective and we'll shake hands and go on about our business." He put the checkbook on the desk, opened it, pulled a glistening gold pen from his pocket and wrote. He wrote fast, tore out the check and handed it to me. I looked at it. Five hundred dollars. "Consider that is for your fee and expenses. If anything is left, you can apply it to a daily payment of one hundred and twenty dollars a day. Of course I'll want an itemized bill before final payment. If you run out of money, come back to me and we'll work it out." I nodded to show that I agreed and put the check in the folder. "How long do I keep on looking? I can probably find her but it might be hard and it might be easy and it might even be impossible if she's really smart." He touched my arm fleetingly and directed me back into the living room. "Let's say we reevaluate after three days if it goes that long," he said. "But I want her back if it's at all possible. I want to find her soon. I'm too old to start again. I don't want to be alone and I love Melanie. You understand?" I nodded, tucked the folder under my arm and let him lead me to the front door. Usually in a situation like this I would have to ask for some information,numbers of any credit cards they shared, the tag number and make of her car and various other things to make my job easier. But Carl Sebastian, or maybe his friend and attorney Lawrence Werring, had anticipated well and the information was in the folder. "My card is in the folder," he said, opening the front door. "My office phone and cell phone numbers are on the front. My home number is written on the back. Keep me informed. Call anytime. As often as you like." He waited with me at the elevator. "Anything else I can tell you?" he asked. "Your wife have any living relatives?" "No, it's all in the folder. Her background. All she has is me. And I don't think she's gone far. We've traveled all around the world, but she considers the Gulf Coast her home. I could be wrong. Where will you start?" The elevator hummed to a stop and the doors opened silently. "Her friend Mrs. Wilkerson or maybe the psychiatrist, Green." "Good," he said, putting out a hand to keep the door open while I got on. "I don't know what Caroline can tell you that I haven't. Yet, maybe there was something said, some ... I don't know." I stepped into the elevator, turned to face him and did my best to smile confidently at Carl Sebastian as the doors closed. He looked a little older than he had when I first saw him on the balcony. Copyright (c) 1999 by Stuart M. Kaminsky Excerpted from Vengeance by Stuart M. Kaminsky All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.