Six-foot-tall, redheaded ex-cop and Boston-based private eye Carlotta Carlyle is “the genuine article: a straightforward, funny, thoroughly American mystery heroine” (New York Post).
Struggling PI Carlotta Carlyle drives a cab at night to make ends meet. She’s almost done with the night shift when a fare tries to rob her, and her moonlighting gig becomes a crime scene. Unfortunately for the thief, nothing ruffles Carlotta. As she figures out why she was targeted, she uncovers startling information. Whether Carlotta is flying cross-country to safeguard a blues musician’s priceless guitar or stopping a killing at Fenway Park, this flame-haired, six-foot-one detective knows to never let a felony get in the way of a good time.
In these three stories—“Lucky Penny,” “Miss Gibson,” and “Stealing First,”—acclaimed author Linda Barnes demonstrates precisely what makes Carlotta Carlyle one of mystery fiction’s most distinctive and engaging private detectives.
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Further Adventures of Carlotta Carlyle
Three Mystery Stories
By Linda Barnes
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2015 Linda Appleblatt Barnes
All rights reserved.
Lieutenant Mooney made me dish it all out for the record. He's a good cop, if such an animal exists. We used to work the same shift before I decided — wrongly — that there was room for a lady PI in this town. Who knows? With this case under my belt, maybe business'll take a 180-degree spin, and I can quit driving a hack.
See, I've already written the official report for Mooney and the cops, but the kind of stuff they wanted: date, place, and time, cold as ice and submitted in triplicate, doesn't even start to tell the tale. So I'm doing it over again, my way.
Don't worry, Mooney. I'm not gonna file this one.
The Thayler case was still splattered across the front page of the Boston Globe. I'd soaked it up with my midnight coffee and was puzzling it out — my cab on automatic pilot, my mind on crime — when the mad tea party began.
"Take your next right, sister. Then pull over, and douse the lights. Quick!"
I heard the bastard all right, but it must have taken me thirty seconds or so to react. Something hard rapped on the cab's dividing shield. I didn't bother turning around. I hate staring down gun barrels.
I said, "Jimmy Cagney, right? No, your voice is too high. Let me guess, don't tell me —"
"Kill the lights, turn off the lights, okay. But douse the lights? You've been tuning in too many old gangster flicks."
"I hate a mouthy broad," the guy snarled. I kid you not.
"Broad," I said. "Christ! Broad? You trying to grow hair on your balls?"
"Look, I mean it, lady!"
"Lady's better. Now you wanna vacate my cab and go rob a phone booth?" My heart was beating like a tin drum, but I didn't let my voice shake, and all the time I was gabbing at him, I kept trying to catch his face in the mirror. He must have been crouching way back on the passenger side. I couldn't see a damn thing.
"I want all your dough," he said.
Who can you trust? This guy was a spiffy dresser: charcoal-gray three-piece suit and rep tie, no less. And picked up in front of the swank Copley Plaza. I looked like I needed the bucks more than he did, and I'm no charity case. A woman can make good tips driving a hack in Boston. Oh, she's gotta take precautions, all right. When you can't smell a disaster fare from thirty feet, it's time to quit. I pride myself on my judgment. I'm careful. I always know where the police checkpoints are, so I can roll my cab past and flash the old lights if a guy starts acting up. This dude fooled me cold.
I was ripped. Not only had I been conned, I had a considerable wad to give away. It was near the end of my shift, and like I said, I do all right. I've got a lot of regulars. Once you see me, you don't forget me — or my cab.
It's gorgeous. Part of my inheritance. A '59 Chevy, shiny as new, kept on blocks in a heated garage by the proverbial dotty old lady. It's the pits of the design world. Glossy blue with those giant chromium fins. Restrained decor: just the phone number and a few gilt curlicues on the door. I was afraid all my old pals at the police department would pull me over for minor traffic violations if I went whole hog and painted "Carlotta's Cab" in ornate script on the hood. Some do it anyway.
So where the hell were all the cops now? Where are they when you need 'em?
He told me to shove the cash through that little hole they leave for the passenger to pass the fare forward. I told him he had it backwards. He didn't laugh. I shoved bills.
"Now the change," the guy said. Can you imagine the nerve?
I must have cast my eyes up to heaven. I do that a lot these days.
"I mean it." He rapped the plastic shield with the shiny barrel of his gun. I checked it out this time. Funny how big a little .22 looks when it's pointed just right.
I fished in my pockets for change, emptied them.
"Is that all?"
"You want the gold cap on my left front molar?" I said.
"Turn around," the guy barked. "Keep both hands on the steering wheel. High."
I heard jingling, then a quick intake of breath.
"Okay," the crook said, sounding happy as a clam, "I'm gonna take my leave —"
"Good. Don't call this cab again."
"Listen!" The gun tapped. "You cool it here for ten minutes. And I mean frozen. Don't twitch. Don't blow your nose. Then take off."
"Thank you," he said politely. The door slammed.
At times like that, you just feel ridiculous. You know the guy isn't going to hang around, waiting to see whether you're big on insubordination. But, he might. And who wants to tangle with a .22 slug? I rate pretty high on insubordination. That's why I messed up as a cop. I figured I'd give him two minutes to get lost. Meantime I listened.
Not much traffic goes by those little streets on Beacon Hill at one o'clock on a Wednesday mom. Too residential. So I could hear the guy's footsteps tap along the pavement. About ten steps back, he stopped. Was he the one in a million who'd wait to see if I turned around? I heard a funny kind of whooshing noise. Not loud enough to make me jump, and anything much louder than the ticking of my watch would have put me through the roof. Then the footsteps patted on, straight back and out of hearing.
One minute more. The only saving grace of the situation was the location: District One. That's Mooney's district. Nice guy to talk to.
I took a deep breath, hoping it would have an encore, and pivoted quickly, keeping my head low. Makes you feel stupid when you do that and there's no one around.
I got out and strolled to the corner, stuck my head around a building kind of cautiously. Nothing, of course.
I backtracked. Ten steps, then whoosh. Along the sidewalk stood one of those new "Keep Beacon Hill Beautiful" trash cans, the kind with the swinging lid. I gave it a shove as I passed. I could just as easily have kicked it; I was in that kind of funk.
Whoosh, it said, just as pretty as could be.
Breaking into one of those trash cans is probably tougher than busting into your local bank vault. Since I didn't even have a dime left to fiddle the screws on the lid, I was forced to deface city property. I got the damn thing open and dumped the contents on somebody's front lawn, smack in the middle of a circle of light from one of those snooty Beacon Hill gas streetlamps.
Halfway through the whiskey bottles, wadded napkins, and beer cans, I made my discovery. I was doing a thorough search. If you're going to stink like garbage anyway, why leave anything untouched, right? So I was opening all the brown bags — you know, the good old brown lunch-and-bottle bags — looking for a clue. My most valuable find so far had been the moldy rind of a bologna sandwich. Then I hit it big: one neatly creased bag stuffed full of cash.
To say I was stunned is to entirely underestimate how I felt as I crouched there, knee-deep in garbage, my jaw hanging wide. I don't know what I'd expected to find. Maybe the guy's gloves. Or his hat, if he'd wanted to get rid of it fast in order to melt back into anonymity. I pawed through the rest of the debris. My change was gone.
I was so befuddled I left the trash right on the front lawn. There's probably still a warrant out for my arrest.
District One headquarters is off the beaten path, over on New Sudbury Street. I would have called first, if I'd had a dime.
One of the few things I'd enjoyed about being a cop was gabbing with Mooney. I like driving a cab better, but, face it, most of my fares aren't scintillating conversationalists. The Red Sox and the weather usually covers it. Talking to Mooney was so much fun, I wouldn't even consider dating him. Lots of guys are good at sex, but conversation — now there's an art form.
Mooney, all six-foot-four, 240 linebacker pounds of him, gave me the glad eye when I waltzed in. He hasn't given up trying. Keeps telling me he talks even better in bed.
"Nice hat," was all he said, his big fingers pecking at the typewriter keys.
I took it off and shook out my hair. I wear an old slouch cap when I drive to keep people from saying the inevitable. One jerk even misquoted Yeats at me: "Only God, my dear, could love you for yourself alone and not your long red hair." Since I'm seated when I drive, he missed the chance to ask me how the weather is up here. I'm six-one in my stocking feet and skinny enough to make every inch count twice. I've got a wide forehead, green eyes, and a pointy chin. If you want to be nice about my nose, you say it's got character.
Thirty's still hovering in my future. It's part of Mooney's past.
I told him I had a robbery to report and his dark eyes steered me to a chair. He leaned back and took a puff of one of his low-tar cigarettes. He can't quite give 'em up, but he feels guilty as hell about 'em.
When I got to the part about the bag in the trash, Mooney lost his sense of humor. He crushed a half-smoked butt in a crowded ashtray.
"Know why you never made it as a cop?" he said.
"Didn't brown-nose enough."
"You got no sense of proportion! Always going after crackpot stuff!"
"Christ, Mooney, aren't you interested? Some guy heists a cab, at gunpoint, then tosses the money. Aren't you the least bit intrigued?"
"I'm a cop, Ms. Carlyle. I've got to be more than intrigued. I've got murders, bank robberies, assaults —"
"Well, excuse me. I'm just a poor citizen reporting a crime. Trying to help —"
"Want to help, Carlotta? Go away." He stared at the sheet of paper in the typewriter and lit another cigarette. "Or dig me up something on the Thayler case."
"You working that sucker?"
"Wish to hell I wasn't."
I could see his point. It's tough enough trying to solve any murder, but when your victim is the Jennifer (Mrs. Justin) Thayler, wife of the famed Harvard Law prof, and the society reporters are breathing down your neck along with the usual crime-beat scribblers, you got a special kind of problem.
"So who did it?" I asked.
Mooney put his size twelves up on his desk. "Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick! How the hell do I know? Some scumbag housebreaker. The lady of the house interrupted his haul. Probably didn't mean to hit her that hard. He must have freaked when he saw all the blood, 'cause he left some of the ritziest stereo equipment this side of heaven, plus enough silverware to blind your average hophead. He snatched most of old man Thayler's goddamn idiot artworks, collections, collectibles — whatever the hell you call 'em — which ought to set him up for the next few hundred years, if he's smart enough to get rid of them."
"Yeah, they had one. Looks like Mrs. Thayler forgot to turn it on. According to the maid, she had a habit of forgetting just about anything after a martini or three."
"Think the maid's in on it?"
"Christ, Carlotta. There you go again. No witnesses. No fingerprints. Servants asleep. Husband asleep. We've got word out to all the fences here and in New York that we want this guy. The pawnbrokers know the stuff's hot. We're checking out known art thieves and shady museums —"
"Well, don't let me keep you from your serious business," I said, getting up to go. "I'll give you the collar when I find out who robbed my cab."
"Sure," he said. His fingers started playing with the typewriter again.
"Wanna bet on it?" Betting's an old custom with Mooney and me.
"I'm not gonna take the few piddling bucks you earn with that ridiculous car."
"Right you are, boy. I'm gonna take the money the city pays you to be unimaginative! Fifty bucks I nail him within the week."
Mooney hates to be called "boy." He hates to be called "unimaginative." I hate to hear my car called "ridiculous." We shook hands on the deal. Hard.
Chinatown's about the only chunk of Boston that's alive after midnight. I headed over to Yee Hong's for a bowl of wonton soup.
The service was the usual low-key, slow-motion routine. I used a newspaper as a shield; if you're really involved in the Wall Street Journal, the casual male may think twice before deciding he's the answer to your prayers. But I didn't read a single stock quote. I tugged at strands of my hair, a bad habit of mine. Why would somebody rob me and then toss the money away?
Solution Number One: He didn't. The trash bin was some mob drop, and the money I'd found in the trash had absolutely nothing to do with the money filched from my cab. Except that it was the same amount — and that was too big a coincidence for me to swallow.
Two: The cash I'd found was counterfeit and this was a clever way of getting it into circulation. Nah. Too baroque entirely. How the hell would the guy know I was the pawing-through-the-trash type?
Three: It was a training session. Some fool had used me to perfect his robbery technique. Couldn't he learn from TV like the rest of the crooks?
Four: It was a frat hazing. Robbing a hack at gunpoint isn't exactly in the same league as swallowing goldfish.
I closed my eyes.
My face came to a fortunate halt about an inch above a bowl of steaming broth. That's when I decided to pack it in and head for home. Wonton soup is lousy for the complexion.
I checked out the log I keep in the Chevy, totaled my fares: $4.82 missing, all in change. A very reasonable robbery.
By the time I got home, the sleepiness had passed. You know how it is: one moment you're yawning, the next your eyes won't close. Usually happens when my head hits the pillow; this time I didn't even make it that far. What woke me up was the idea that my robber hadn't meant to steal a thing. Maybe he'd left me something instead. You know, something hot, cleverly concealed. Something he could pick up in a few weeks, after things cooled off.
I went over that backseat with a vengeance, but I didn't find anything besides old Kleenex and bent paperclips. My brainstorm wasn't too clever after all. I mean, if the guy wanted to use my cab as a hiding place, why advertise by pulling a five-and-dime robbery?
I sat in the driver's seat, tugged my hair, and stewed. What did I have to go on? The memory of a nervous thief who talked like a B movie and stole only change. Maybe a mad toll-booth collector.
I live in a Cambridge dump. In any other city, I couldn't sell the damned thing if I wanted to. Here, I turn real estate agents away daily. The key to my home's value is the fact that I can hoof it to Harvard Square in five minutes. It's a seller's market for tarpaper shacks within walking distance of the Square. Under a hundred thou only if the plumbing's outside.
It took me a while to get in the door. I've got about five locks on it. Neighborhood's popular with thieves as well as gentry. I'm neither. I inherited the house from my weird Aunt Bea, all paid for. I consider the property taxes my rent, and the rent's getting steeper all the time.
I slammed my log down on the dining room table. I've got rooms galore in that old house, rent a couple of them to Harvard students. I've got my own office on the second floor, but I do most of my work at the dining room table. I like the view of the refrigerator.
I started over from square one. I called Gloria. She's the late-night dispatcher for the Independent Taxi Owners Association. I've never seen her, but her voice is as smooth as mink oil and I'll bet we get a lot of calls from guys who just want to hear her say she'll pick 'em up in five minutes.
"Gloria, it's Carlotta."
"Hi, babe. You been pretty popular today."
"Was I popular at one-thirty-five this morning?"
"I picked up a fare in front of the Copley Plaza at one-thirty-five. Did you hand that one out to all comers or did you give it to me solo?"
"Just a sec." I could hear her charming the pants off some caller in the background. Then she got back to me.
"I just gave him to you, babe. He asked for the lady in the '59 Chevy. Not a lot of those on the road."
"Trouble?" she asked.
"Is mah middle name," I twanged. We both laughed and I hung up before she got a chance to cross-examine me.
So. The robber wanted my cab. I wished I'd concentrated on his face instead of his snazzy clothes. Maybe it was somebody I knew, some jokester in mid-prank. I killed that idea; I don't know anybody who'd pull a stunt like that, at gunpoint and all. I don't want to know anybody like that.
Why rob my cab, then toss the dough?
I pondered sudden religious conversion. Discarded it. Maybe my robber was some perpetual screwup who'd ditched the cash by mistake.
Or ... Maybe he got exactly what he wanted. Maybe he desperately desired my change.
Because my change was special, valuable beyond its $4.82 replacement cost.
So how would somebody know my change was valuable?
Because he'd given it to me himself, earlier in the day.
Excerpted from Further Adventures of Carlotta Carlyle by Linda Barnes. Copyright © 2015 Linda Appleblatt Barnes. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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