Cover image for Midnight pass
Title:
Midnight pass
Author:
Kaminsky, Stuart M.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Tom Doherty Associates, [2003]

©2003
Physical Description:
269 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"A Forge book"--T.p. verso.
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
Electronic Access:
Publisher description http://www.loc.gov/catdir/description/hol032/2003046856.html
ISBN:
9780765304629
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Lew Fonesca is a guy just trying to get along. When his wife died in a senseless auto wreck, he got up and left his old life--and when his car gave out in sunny Sarasota, Florida, he stayed. He takes small process-serving gigs and various odd jobs helping people out, and he tries, although maybe not as hard as he should, to fix the gaping hole in his heart.

But for a man who just wants to ease through life without any complications, Lew has a pretty full plate. The shrink that Lew's been seeing for more than a year wants him to finally dump all the grief that he's carrying around so he can have more than a half-life. And Sally, the pretty single mom and social worker who has helped Lew in the past, wants to deepen their friendship. On top of that, a local minister asks him to find a town council member who has gone missing just before a crucial vote that could ruin a struggling community, and a distraught father comes to Lew to track down his wife and two kids, who Lew suspects ran off with the man's best friend.

When people start showing up dead, Lew knows he's in way over his head--and this time he may not be able make it all come out okay.


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

Kaminsky's newest detective hero (following Depression-era Hollywood gumshoe Toby Peters, Russian inspector Porfiry Rostnikov, and Chicago cop Abe Lieberman) is almost paralyzed by grief over the death of his wife. He leaves his job as a researcher with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office and consciously seeks to bury himself in a Florida town where he knows no one and where his human contact is limited to those he tracks down as a process server. If this were a writing contest to come up with Most Unlikely Detective, Kaminsky's latest protagonist would win hands down. Incredibly, though, the result is a psychologically acute and fast-moving crime series. The Lew Fonesca mysteries (this is the third) interweave the hero's pared-down existence with characters who are desperately seeking, or desperately hiding, from others. This time out, Fonesca is on two trails: a husband wants him to find his wife, his kids, and her new boyfriend at Disneyworld, and a high-powered Sarasota politician needs him to find another politician, whose vote he needs to block the reopening of Midnight Pass. This issue pits profitmongers against environmentalists in a volatile, murderous mix. Kaminsky confines the action to five days and three murders in a tour de force of economical plotting. Series readers will appreciate the ways in which Fonesca, who has sworn off life, keeps getting drawn back--in ways that hint at his salvation. A wryly written parable set in an old-time detective context. --Connie Fletcher Copyright 2003 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

The prolific Kaminsky cleverly uses Lew Fonesca's struggle to reclaim his own life as a counterpoint to his clients' problems in the third novel (after 2001's Retribution) to star the emotionally wounded sleuth, who's retreated to Sarasota, Fla., in the wake of his wife's death in a hit-and-run car accident in Chicago. Fonesca's therapist, Ann Horowitz, encourages him to face the deep, nearly crippling depression that keeps him in limbo. Sporadic work as a process server helps to pay the rent. The trouble starts with an upcoming proposal in the Sarasota City Council to reopen Midnight Pass between two small islands. Councilman Rev. Fernando Wilkens persuades Fonesca to locate a missing colleague for the decisive vote, a mission that turns fatal. Meanwhile, a frantic man begs him to find his missing wife and children. For a man studiously avoiding social contact, Fonesca's almost hit overload, but a strong sense of fairness keeps him from hiding out and watching old movies. Friends Flo Zink, a big-hearted recovering alcoholic; social worker Sally Porovsky, who wants to be more than just a friend; and Ames McKinney, the older gentleman riding backup, draw him out, inch by inch. Kaminsky's decent, damaged man brings closure for his clients and perhaps solace for himself. He's got a long way to go, which is great news for eager readers. (Dec. 15) FYI: Kaminsky is also the author of Mildred Pierced (Forecasts, May 19) and other novels in his Toby Peters Hollywood mystery series. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Anyone who has ever lived in Florida knows that the pace is a bit slower there than in other parts of the United States. The heat seems to make people a bit lethargic, which appears to apply to writers as well. In the third Lew Fonseca novel, Kaminsky takes his time in building up the story. Midnight Pass refers to a path between two small islands off the coast of Sarasota. People are divided on the issue of whether to open up the waterway, and when a councilman fails to show up at a critical meeting, Lew is hired to find him. Listeners of the Fonseca titles know that Lew is slowly, but gradually, dealing with personal demons that emerged following the death of his wife. There's plenty of action in this book; you just have to be patient in getting to it. Scott Brick is just laconic enough to make the whole thing work. Recommended. Joseph L. Carlson, Allan Hancock Coll., Lompoc, CA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

1 No amount of sunscreen will save her," Dave said, shaking his head. I nodded and looked up at the jogger passing in front of the DQ, headed downtown. She wore shorts and a tank top, a Walkman singing in her ear, a serious look on her pretty face, her sun-bleached blond hair bouncing against her back in a long ponytail. She made a left turn and headed out of sight toward Towles Court, a collection of small shops and homes owned by painters, sculptors, jewelry makers…people who had once been successful in business or raising a family and now were retired and wanted to change the label they wore from no one in particular to Artist. Few of the community in Towles Court, mostly women, had illusions about breaking out and getting famous and wealthy. They enjoyed what they now were and what they were doing. They had peace, time, and identity. I cannot paint, sketch, sculpt, or draw, and I have no urge to try. Unlike the artists of Towles Court in their brightly painted houses, I have as little identity as possible. Dave owns the Dairy Queen franchise across the parking lot from where I live and work in a walk-up office building with peeling paint and crumbling corners of concrete. The building had begun life as a two-story, 1950s motel and had gradually gone downhill till it was ready for me. I'm not supposed to live in the back room of my office, but the landlord doesn't care as long as I pay my rent on time and don't complain. I don't complain. Dave looks like a dark, deeply weathered mariner, which he is when he's not handing out Dilly Bars, Blizzards, and burgers. He owns a boat and is out in Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico whenever possible. The sun has leathered him. The boat has given him muscles and kept him trim. Dave is about my age, early forties. I like to think that with his face and bleached-out hair he looks older than I do, but I'm dark with a rapidly receding hairline that makes me look every minute of my age. My name is Lew Fonesca. I live in Sarasota, Florida, where I drove a little over three years ago when my wife was killed in a hit-and-run "accident." "Accident" is in quotes because the police couldn't find out who the driver was. My wife was a lawyer in the Cook County State Attorney's office, where I worked as the head of legal research. She had prosecuted a lot of people, made a lot of them and their relatives angry. Maybe it wasn't an accident, a drunken driver, a panicked kid who had just gotten his or her license, someone on a cell phone not paying attention. When the funeral was over and I had nothing left to weep, I got in my 1989 Toyota in the cemetery parking lot and started to drive. I headed south, in the general direction of oblivion and the tip of Florida. I had no idea of what I would do when I got there. I wasn't sure where "there" was. In those four days, I listened to the voices of conservative talk-show hosts, Don Imus, Rush Limbaugh, Neal Boortz, Michael Savage, and the advocates of the unknown like Art Bell and Whitley Streiber, anybody who was talking. I didn't want music. I wanted company, a voice, anyone speaking whom I didn't have to answer. I listened but I heard nothing. My car had given out in the DQ parking lot in Sarasota. There was an "Office For Rent" sign on the office building. I sold the car for twenty-five dollars to a couple of kids eating hot dogs and drinking Blizzards and made the first month's rent on the office overlooking the DQ parking lot and heavily traveled Route 301, which was named Washington Street for the stretch through Sarasota. Now I sat at the white, chipped enamel table with the sun umbrella with Dave talking about the sun and pretty women joggers. Dave was drinking water. I was working on a cheeseburger and a chocolate-cherry Blizzard, my copy of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune folded on the table in front of me. The ultraviolet index, which I could never understand, was close to ten, which meant that if you stepped out into it you'd probably die of skin cancer faster than you would of exposure in the middle of winter at the North Pole. I pulled my Chicago Cubs baseball cap down about an inch. Earlier that morning I had biked the five blocks to the down-town YMCA, locked up my bike, showed my card, got my things out of my locker, and worked out. Pounding the step machine, fighting the leg weights, pumping, running, stretching muscles, straining arms and legs, pushing. I needed it. Not because I treasured my body but because I could lose myself in the burn, the edge of physical pain, the satisfaction of starting at A and completing stages that took me through to Z, if I decided to go that far. At the end I could feel what I had accomplished or had done to myself. It was finite. It was satisfying. When I was finished working out, I always showered slowly, the water as hot as I could take it, letting it beat into my head and body drowning out voices, light, the world. It never fully exhausted me, though. That would have been an additional benefit. One of the many blessings or curses of Lewis Fonesca was that nothing exhausted me for very long: not working out, not working, not too little sleep or too much sleep. I had pedaled back past the Hollywood 20 theater, the city and county buildings on Washington, past the small shops and to where I sat now, early burger and Blizzard in hand, newspaper in front of me. I sat quietly digesting my burger and Dave's observation. Dave drank his water and accidentally spilled a few drops on his white apron. "My kids are coming Saturday for their annual two weeks," he said. "My ex is going to Guam to study brown tree snakes. What do you do with an eight and ten year old? I'll take them to Busch, Universal, Disney. Saturday I'll take them to First Watch for breakfast. They love it. Another year or two and they'll outgrow it. Maybe." "Maybe," I said, finishing the burger and giving my full attention to the Blizzard, working at the chocolate that stuck to the side of the cup, careful not to break the red plastic spoon. " Das es shicksall giveren ," he said. "It's fate." Dave spoke five languages, all picked up when he traveled in Europe for five years when he got out of high school over twenty years ago. Dave was a quick study with not much ambition. I didn't know what "fate" or whose he was talking about. "You know Christopher Lee speaks Russian and Greek?" he asked. "No," I said, finishing my drink. I checked my watch. I had an appointment I wanted to skip but knew I wouldn't. "And Kobe Bryant speaks French?" Dave said. I didn't answer. "Kobe Bryant, the kid on the Lakers. I talked to him once on a plane. In French. Kid had a great accent. Never finished high school." Dave was like one of the radio voices that had accompanied me when I drove, only Dave sometimes required an answer and deserved attention, which I tried to give. "You Fonesca?" a deep voice behind me said. Dave squinted up over my shoulder. I adjusted my baseball cap and turned around. I recognized him. "I'm Fonesca," I said. "Went to your office," the man said, nodding toward the open space on the bench between Dave and me. "Man up there pointed you out." I looked up at the second-floor landing just outside my office. Digger, a homeless man who used the building's rest room as a frequent refuge, waved down at me. I waved back. I invited the man to sit. After all, he was a distinguished local figure, a minister, a leader of the local civil rights movement, a high-ranking official in the Florida ACLU, and a member of the County Commission, the only African-American in the city or county government. The Reverend Fernando Wilkens was in the newspaper and on the local television news almost every day. I almost never watched the news but I did read the Herald-Tribune . Well, that's not exactly the truth. I looked at the headlines, checked to see how Sammy Sosa was hitting, and examined the obituaries year-round to see who had died and left a small or large hole in the world. I knew almost nothing about local politics, but Reverend Wilkens was a hard man to miss. Wilkens was big man, running toward the chunky side, in tan slacks and a white pullover short-sleeve shirt with a little green alligator on the pocket. He was about fifty, had good teeth, smooth brown skin, an even smoother bass voice, and a winning public smile, which he was not sporting at the moment. "Can I speak to you privately?" Wilkens said, sitting down without looking at Dave. "Customer at the window," Dave said, getting up. "Want a Dilly Bar or something?" "No, thank you," Wilkens said, folding his hands on the table." Dave shrugged and moved toward the door at the back of the DQ. A young, frazzled-looking woman lugging a heavy baby was at the window. The baby was trying to squirm out of her arms. "You know who I am?" "Yes," I said, tapping at the Local section in front of me, which featured an article on the mysterious death of more manatees. Manatees seemed to be constantly dying mysteriously just as red tide seemed to roll in once a season and linger in the warm water and hot sun over the Gulf of Mexico. It gave the Local-section reporters surefire story material and once in a while made the front page. The doings of both the City Council and the County Board of Commissioners, on the other hand, made the front pages only when there was a controversy so major that at least fifty citizens protested with marches and placards and complaints before the open hearings of the council or board. Few people went to these meetings with any real hope of convincing the council or board of anything. Few people when addressing the council for their allotted three or four minutes even expected their elected officials to listen to them. In the middle of an impassioned speech by an ancient resident, members of the council or board would pass notes on the latest Florida State or University of Florida football or baseball scores, hand-carried to them by a Manatee Community College intern. Most of these meetings were on television for those who chose to watch, which was few. I sometimes tuned in and found myself dozing unless there was a new issue and lots of complaints such as whether to build another high-rise hotel like the Ritz-Carlton to block out more of the sun and the view of the Gulf. "There's a commission meeting Friday night," Reverend Wilkens said, soft and deep, as I pushed away my empty plastic cup and glanced up at a couple of shirtless boys with lean bodies and a desire to be killed by the sun. I heard them order large Oreo-cookie Blizzards. "A commission meeting," I repeated. Reverend Wilkens nodded. "There's going to be an open hearing about six items," he said. "The last one is whether to open Midnight Pass." I nodded, not knowing where this was going. Midnight Pass was a hot issue every few years in Sarasota County. Cars with bumper stickers reading "Open Midnight Pass" had been common when I first came to town. There were fewer now, but the Pass had become an issue again. "What do you know about the Midnight Pass controversy?" he asked. I told him what I thought I knew, which wasn't much and was probably half wrong. There had once been a narrow waterway separating Siesta Key and Casey Key, two of the high-priced islands off the Sarasota coast. The Pass was closed now, creating one long island and cutting off access to the mainland unless a boater went down to the end of the Casey Key and came up the inlet. People on the mainland coast, realtors and land developers, wanted the Pass open so mainland property prices would go up because pleasure and fishing boats could have direct access to the Gulf. People who owned property on the Gulf side of the island wanted it left closed so their property would be worth more because there would be less shoreline with direct access to the Gulf. Then there were two additional groups of people who fought over what would be best ecologically, no Pass or an open Pass. From what I could tell, however, about ninety-nine percent of the population of Sarasota County didn't care either way. "A bit oversimplified," Reverend Wilkens said with a smile that indicated I was woefully uninformed on the issue but that he was a tolerant and patient man. "Before 1918, Siesta and Casey Key were separated by Little Sarasota Inlet. In 1918, a strong gale broke open Musketeers Pass about halfway down Casey Key and created Bird Keys, a small and a tiny island formed by wash-through sand. In 1921, Little Sarasota Inlet was partially closed by another storm. Property owners finished filling it in." "Leaving only Musketeers Pass between Casey and the south end of Siesta Key," I said to show I was paying attention. "That is correct, but without going into more of the Lord's manipulation of the land and elements, let it suffice that Musketeers Pass was renamed Midnight Pass, a fifty-foot inlet separating Casey and the south peninsula of Siesta Key and providing direct access to Little Sarasota Bay and Bird Keys. The Pass began to grow smaller as the keys drifted toward each other or nature just filled it in. In 1983, two homeowners received permission from the state and county and closed what remained of the Pass. Result? Little Sarasota Bay became stagnant, creating a new ecological system." "And that's bad." "No," he said, "that is good. Little Sarasota Bay has become a unique plant and animal sanctuary, a relatively tourist-free nature haven. The Lord allowed those homeowners to close that Pass for a reason. They simply finished the work He had begun. If He wants it open, He'll do so without the Corps of Engineers and many millions of dollars the county can ill afford. He parted the Red Sea. I trust he can part a narrow fifty-foot stretch of filled-in land if He so chooses. I wish the Pass to remain closed until the Lord chooses to open it. The Army Corps of Engineers has indicated the cost to reopen will be as much as ten million dollars, and then the cost of keeping God from closing it again after that will be a million or more each year." He started at me with sincerity and unblinking eyes. He was good, but I could see there was another reason for wanting Midnight Pass left closed lurking behind those deep, brown eyes. "It will be the last item on the agenda and probably won't come up till after midnight on Friday. I've got the feeling that a few of my fellow board members whose views differ from mine will have lots to say on the earlier items such as tearing up Clark Road again or replacing blighted trees on Palm Avenue. We'll listen to the public and then discuss and vote on Midnight Pass. The vote won't be subject to review unless there's a violation of the state or federal constitution." Wilkens basically represented Newtown, the African-American ghetto in Sarasota running about four blocks or more in either direction north and south of Martin Luther King Jr. Street. The far south end of what could be called Newtown was within walking distance of downtown. A curious man might have wondered what the Midnight Pass business in another district forty minutes south had to do with Newtown. I wasn't curious. I was about to say, "What's this got to do with me?" when Fernando Wilkens told me. He leaned over and whispered, "I've got the votes." "The votes?" "To keep the Pass closed," he said. "There are five members on the County Commission. Votes involving contracts for millions of dollars are routinely decided by simple majority." I nodded to show him that I was paying attention. "I have your assurance that this is a privileged conversation?" he asked softly, though no one was listening. He looked around to see if we were being watched by anyone. Cars drove by but on a day like this only teens, joggers, and the homeless wandered the streets of Sarasota. It's privileged. How did you find me?" I asked. "And why?" I'm not listed in the phone book, either in the white pages or in the yellow pages. I'm a process server with even less ambition than DQ Dave. I work as little as I can, live as cheaply as I can, and have as little to do with people as I can. I checked my watch and glanced at my bicycle leaning against the side of the DQ. If I didn't get going in the next five minutes and pedal hard, I'd be late. "My lawyer, Fred Tyrell," Wilkens said. "He told me about you." I nodded. Tyrell was the token black in the downtown law firm of Cameron, Wyznicki, Forbes, and Littlefield. No "Tyrell." Tyrell's job was to take minority clients and even drum them up. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes even the most committed African-American activists wanted a smart white lawyer, preferably a Jewish one. Cameron, Wyznicki, etc., had one of those too, Adam Katz. I think the firm took him in about a decade before I came simply because of his last name. I had done work for both Katz and Tyrell. The partners had their own short list of investigating and process-serving private detectives and process servers, though I got most of my business from another law firm, Tycinker, Oliver, and Schwartz on Palm Avenue. I nodded again, looked at my empty cup. I'm what is usually called medium height and probably seen as being on the thin side, but I pedal to the downtown Y every day, work out for at least an hour three times a week, and have grown hard in a town of white sand beaches and lazy hot days. I grew hard to stay away from my own desire to turn into a vegetable. "Parenelli will vote with me," said Wilkens. I nodded a third time. This was no surprise. Parenelli was the closest thing we had to a radical liberal on the council. He was old, crusty, had moved down from Jersey thirty years ago, and would have gladly voted for Eugene V. Debs for governor if Debs were alive and eligible. Sometimes the other council members kept certain issues until late in each session in the hope that Parenelli would be too tired to protest or might even doze off. Parenelli was too crafty an old socialist to let that work. He sat with his thermos of black coffee, did crossword puzzles while he pretended to take notes, and waited for the big vote. Three commission members always voted together on money issues. They would furiously debate for hours whether they should approve an unbroken or broken yellow line down the middle of the recently widened Tuttle Avenue, and you would never know how that one would go, but on expenditures, they were closer together than the Statler Brothers. That left Wilkens and Parenelli together on social issues. Votes of three to two were common, but it was even more common to have unanimous votes because most issues were without controversy and without interest to even the commission members. "The way I count it, you're one vote short." "Trasker," the Reverend Wilkens whispered, leaning even closer to me. I thought delusion had set in on Wilkens and considered advising him to wear a hat and stay indoors. I had a University of Illinois baseball cap I could offer him, but I didn't think he'd accept the gift or use it. I even considered inviting him across the parking lot to my barely air-conditioned office and living closet, but decided that whatever confidence he might have in me would be gone with his first view of my professional headquarters. "William Trasker is one of the block of three," I said. Wilkens smiled. Nice teeth. Definitely capped. "William Trasker is dying," he said solemnly, though I had the feeling that Trasker's impending death didn't completely displease him. "Trasker came to my church office day before day before yesterday," Wilkens went on. "Told me, said there was nothing they could do to him now and that he'd enjoy surprising the commission by voting with me. It was to be a done deal." "Still two questions," I said, pitching the empty cup toward the white-plastic-lined metal mesh trash basket and sinking it for a solid two points. "First, what did Trasker mean by saying there was nothing 'they' could do to him now? Second, what do you need me for?" "Trasker wouldn't say much," said Wilkens, "but we were either talking past payoffs or things someone had on him for some of the less than legal deals he might have made for his contracting business. Since Trasker is up to his kneecaps in money, I'd say it was the contracting deals. We've got buildings in this town that crumble after a decade. Trasker's company put up a lot of them, some of them public buildings. It doesn't cost him anything to go out on the side of righteousness. Get him some good headlines and maybe a ticket to heaven, though I think the good Lord will look hard and long at the scales of this man's life before making a decision to let him enter the gates." "And me?" "I can't comment on your chances of eternal peace," he said with a smile. "I can tell you what I want from you. William Trasker is missing. I want you to find him, get him to that meeting on Friday so he can vote. If he doesn't show up, we deadlock. If Trasker dies, we have an election fast, and I have no doubt given the constituency and the inclination of both parties, the new member will probably not vote with us. In addition, Parenelli stands a good chance of being defeated himself in the next open election." "You don't?" "I'm the token everything with Parenelli gone," said the Reverend Wilkens. "The token black, the token liberal, the token clergyman. I am the exception that supposedly proves fairness. Every hypocrite in the business community will support me, even those who don't live in District One, which I represent." "How do you know Trasker is missing?" "I called his office," said Wilkens. "He hasn't come in since he came to see me. I called his home. His wife didn't want to talk, but said Trasker was out of town on a family emergency and she had no idea when he would be coming back. I called the police and they asked me what the crime was?" "You think he's in town?" I asked. "I pray he's in town," said Wilkens. "He led me to believe that he didn't have very much time and that even coming to the meeting Friday would be against his doctor's recommendation. I find it difficult to believe under the circumstances that he would go out of town for any reason. I want you to find him." "I'm sorry," I said. "But I can't do it. I can recommend a good private investigator in Bradenton, Wayne Barcomb. He's in the phone book. I've got to go now. I'm late for an appointment." I started to rise. He put his hand gently on my arm. "The money we save can be put to good use to support improvements in the African-American community. My dream is a renovated Newtown with decent housing and safe streets. We've started but we've got a long way to go, and I don't want limited resources going to projects that make the rich richer. I'm asking only that you do your best for a few days to find a sick man so he can do one final decent thing." "I've got some papers to serve and something I've got to do that'll take me out of town for a few days. Today's Monday. If I go out of town tomorrow and Wednesday, that'll give me what's left of today, Thursday, and Friday till midnight. Not much time." "But it can be done," said Wilkens. "You can do it." "I don't know." "How can I persuade you?" I thought about that for about five seconds. "Can you get someone's driver's license back for them?" I asked. "DUI?" "Yes, more than a couple, but she's clean and sober now. Needs her van because she's taking care of a baby." "Her baby?" "Flo's in her sixties," I said. "The baby belongs to an unmarried student at Sarasota High. Girl's mother was murdered by her father. A prominent member of this community, now in jail, gave her heartbreak and a baby." "Girl is black?" "Girl is white," I said. "So is Flo." "Last name of this Flo lady?" Wilkens said. "Zink. Florence Zink. Lives in the county." "Are you a Catholic, Mr. Fonesca?" "A lapsed Episcopalian." "But I understand your word is good." "My word is good," I said. My "word," my few pieces of furniture, a pile of prescreened videotapes, an old television and VCR, and a bicycle were all I had. The only "good" thing in that list was my "word." "She will not lapse?" he asked. "If she were to and it was discovered that I had helped her get her license…" "She will not lapse," I said. "It can be done," he said, sitting back. He had done his best and now his eyes were fixed on me, waiting. "Let's say Flo gets her license back, and I get three hundred dollars flat fee for the job plus the cost of car rental," I said. "I've got a deal with the low-cost place down the street so a three-day won't be much. Give me your card and I'll have them bill you for the car. The other business I have to do will take care of two days on the rental." "That will be satisfactory," he said, holding out a large right hand and a smile. "Florence Zink?" "Florence Zink." We shook and he immediately reached into his pocket and counted out four fifties and five twenties. He handed the money to me along with his card. On the back in dark ink was his home number. "Want a receipt?" I asked. "Under the circumstances, I would prefer as little in writing as possible," he said, rising. "For a change, if necessary, Parenelli and I will stall on other issues on the agenda on Friday. Members of my congregation will also be present to speak out at the open forum. I would guess that we can keep the meeting going till at least midnight. I would also guess, if they truly don't know yet, that the block will want to wait for Trasker, assuming he will vote with them. They don't want a deadlock any more than we do." The Reverend Wilkens stood, shading his eyes and looking toward the sun almost overhead, and then grasped my right hand in both of his. I felt as if I had just been baptized again. "Find him, Lewis," he said. "I'll pray for you to find him." He got into a clean, dark green, five- or six-year-old Buick about a dozen yards away in the small parking lot and pulled out, waving at me. This wasn't going to be easy, but it was probably only a day's work and I had just pocketed three hundred dollars. If I hurried, I could rent a car and get to my appointment on time instead of pedaling and being late. Adding the three hundred to the five hundred my other client had given me Friday and the two hundred I had saved, the cash in the toe of my other pair of shoes in my office came to a thousand dollars. I was suddenly a rampant capitalist and I had papers for two summonses to serve. There was a small flush through the broad gray hush of my existence, trying to lure me toward wanting even more, toward a sense of tomorrows to come. I did not want to think about tomorrows to come. I brought my bike up to my office, locked it inside, and went down the street to the EZ Economy Car Rental Agency, where Fred, large of belly, nearing retirement, constantly eager, stood talking to his partner, Alan, large, forties, hard to convince. They played good agent and bad agent with their customers. I was used to it and suffered it to keep from hurting their feelings. "Social call?" asked Fred. "Bring us some donuts and coffee from Gwen's so we can sit around and talk about the economy." "Need a car," I said. I wanted to add that I had an appointment and was in a hurry, but I knew that would lead to delaying mode to make me easier to manipulate. "How long?" Alan said, as if I had said something that aroused his suspicion. "Till Saturday afternoon," I said. "Taking it on the road?" asked Fred with a grin. "Get away. Over to Fort Lauderdale, down to Key West?" "Orlando," I said. Alan shook his head as if I had given him the wrong answer. "Got a good road car," said Fred. "Olds Cutlass Sierra, 'ninety-five. Special rate, two hundred. You get a full tank of gas." "Something newer," I said. "The man's talking serious business here, Alan," Fred said, moving away from the desk. Alan was still leaning against it. "The Nissan," Alan said. Fred clapped his hands and said, "The Nissan," as if his partner had just discovered a new moon around Jupiter. "Why didn't I think of that?" Fred told me it was a 'ninety-eight with mileage too good to be real. "One hundred and forty-five," Alan said. Fred looked sadly at me and shrugged a what-can-I-do-with-him shrug. "One hundred," I said. Fred looked at Alan hopefully. "One-twenty-five," Alan said. "You return it full of gas." "Deal," I said. "Bill it to him." I handed Fred Wilkens's card. He passed it to Alan, who said, "Moving up in the world, Fonesca." "We'll need a credit card," Fred said apologetically. "Call him," I said. "He'll give you one." "Not our policy," said Alan. "Alan, this is Lew Fonesca, a regular client," Fred pleaded. "He's good for it. We know where to find him." Alan folded his arms across his chest. I tried not to look at my watch. "All right," he finally said. "Great," said Fred. "Let's fill out the papers." "We've got some coffee," Alan said, while his partner moved out of earshot to the rear of the small store, which had once been a gas station. "How is he?" I asked softly. Fred had had a heart attack the year before. It ranged, according to Alan, somewhere between medium and not too good. In the time Fred had been gone, Alan had been a different person. He had played Fred's good-guy role, holding the job open for him when he returned a month after his attack and bypass surgery. "Doing good," said Alan. "I watch what he eats when he's here. His wife, Dotty, watches him at home. He takes his pills. Likes to stay busy. Business has been slow. When Fred retires, I'm selling out. The land is worth more than we bring in in four years. Fred will have a cushion and I can move back to Dayton." Fred came hurrying back with the papers and the car keys. I signed and initialed in all the right places. "Rides like a dream," Fred said, a hand on my shoulder. "A dream." Car rides in my dreams were not something I thought of as selling points. My dreams were usually bumpy, lost, and dark with basements, which don't exist in Florida, and ghosts who wouldn't accept that they were ghosts. I was thinking about my wife. There was a reason. I was about to deal with it. Copyright © 2003 by Stuart M. Kaminsky Excerpted from Midnight Pass by Stuart M. Kaminsky All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. 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