The Long Lavender Look (Travis McGee Series #12)

The Long Lavender Look (Travis McGee Series #12)


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From a beloved master of crime fiction, The Long Lavender Look is one of many classic novels featuring Travis McGee, the hard-boiled detective who lives on a houseboat.

A lovely young thing, wearing little more than a determined look, streaks out of the darkness and into Travis McGee’s headlights. McGee hits the brakes, misses the fleeing soul by inches, and lands upside down in ten feet of water—and right into the heart of a violent mystery.

“To diggers a thousand years from now, the works of John D. MacDonald would be a treasure on the order of the tomb of Tutankhamen.”—Kurt Vonnegut

McGee and his old friend Meyer are cruising along on their way back from a wedding when the girl darts in front of their car. They manage to emerge from the wreckage and are limping along the deserted Florida road when someone comes by in an old truck and takes a couple of shots at them. So much for Southern hospitality. McGee and Meyer head to a service station to regroup, but are there arrested and charged with murder.

It turns out a local thug has just been killed, and the lead suspects are Meyer and McGee. Someone’s obviously out to get them—and in this Twilight Zone they’ve found themselves in, they must gather their resources to fight for their lives against a deeply corrupt system.

Features a new Introduction by Lee Child

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812984026
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/16/2013
Series: Travis McGee Series , #12
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 151,067
Product dimensions: 5.22(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.76(d)

About the Author

John D. MacDonald was an American novelist and short-story writer. His works include the Travis McGee series and the novel The Executioners, which was adapted into the film Cape Fear. In 1962 MacDonald was named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America; in 1980, he won a National Book Award. In print he delighted in smashing the bad guys, deflating the pompous, and exposing the venal. In life, he was a truly empathetic man; his friends, family, and colleagues found him to be loyal, generous, and practical. In business, he was fastidiously ethical. About being a writer, he once expressed with gleeful astonishment, “They pay me to do this! They don’t realize, I would pay them.” He spent the later part of his life in Florida with his wife and son. He died in 1986.

Date of Birth:

July 24, 1916

Date of Death:

December 28, 1986

Place of Birth:

Sharon, PA

Place of Death:

Milwaukee, WI


Syracuse University 1938; M.B. A. Harvard University, 1939

Read an Excerpt

One late april.  Ten o’clock at night. Hustling south on Florida 112 through the eastern section of  Cypress County, about twenty miles from the intersection of  112 and the Tamiami Trail.
So maybe I was pushing  old Miss Agnes  along a little too fast. Narrow  macadam. Stars  above, and some wisps of ground mist below. But not much of it, and not often.
The big tires of the old blue Rolls pickup rumbled along the roughened surface. Big black drainage canal paralleling the road  on the  left side. Now and then an old wooden bridge  arching across the canal to serve  one of the shacky little frame houses tucked back in the swamp and skeeter country. No traffic. And  it had been  a long long day, and I was anxious to get back to Lauderdale,  to Bahia Mar, to The Busted Flush, to a long hot shower and a long cold drink and a long deep sleep.
I had the special  one-mile spots turned on. They are bracketed low on the massive front bumper. Essential for fast running  through  the balmy Florida nights on the straight narrow back roads, because her own headlights are feeble and set too high.
Meyer, beside me, was in a semidoze. We’d been to the wedding  of the daughter of an old friend, at the fish camp he owns on Lake Passkokee.  It is a very seldom  thing to be able to drink champagne, catch a nine-pound bass, and kiss a bride all within the same hour. Meyer had been giving me one of his lectures on the marital condition.
So I was whipping along,  but alert for the wildlife.  I hate to kill a raccoon. Urban Florida is using the rabies myth to justify wiping them out, with guns, traps, and poison. The average raccoon is more affable, intelligent, and tidy  than the average meathead who wants them eliminated, and is usually a lot better looking.
It is both sad and ironic that the areas where  the raccoon are obliterated are soon overrun with snakes.
I was alert for any reflection of my headlights in animal eyes in the darkness  of the shoulders of the road,  for any dark shape moving  out into the long reach of the beams.
But I wasn’t prepared  for the creature of the night that suddenly appeared  out of the blackness, heading from left to right,  at a headlong run. At  eighty, you are covering about a hundred and twenty feet per second. She was perhaps sixty feet in front of the car when  I first saw her. So half of one second later, when I last saw her, she was maybe ten inches from the flare of my front right fender, and that ten inches was the product  of the first effect of my reaction time. Ten inches  of  living  space instead   of  that  bone-
crunching, flesh-smashing thud which, once heard, lingers forever in the part of the mind where echoes live.
And I became very busy with Miss Agnes. She put her back end onto  the  left shoulder, and then  onto  the right shoulder. The swinging  headlights showed me the road once in a while. I could not risk touching the brake. This was the desperate game of  steering  with the  skid each  time, and feeding her a morsel  of gas for traction whenever  she was coming back into alignment with the highway. I knew I had it whipped,  and knew that each swing  was less extreme.
Then a rear tire went and I lost her for good.  The  back end came  around and there was a shriek of rubber, crashing of brush, a bright cracking explosion inside my skull, and I was vaguely  aware of being underwater, disoriented, tangled in strange objects, and aware of the fact that it was not a very good place to be. I did not feel any alarm. Just a mild distaste, an irritation with my situation.
Something started grabbing  at me and I tried to make it let go. Then I was up in the world of air again,  and being dragged up a slope, coughing and gagging, thinking that it was a lot more  comfortable back under the water.
“You all right,  Trav? Are you all right?”
I couldn’t answer until I could stop retching and coughing. “I don’t know yet.”
Meyer  helped me  up.  I  stood,  sopping wet, on the gravelly shoulder and flexed all the  more useful parts and muscles.  There was a strange glow in the black water. I realized Miss Agnes’s lights were still on,  and  she  had  to be ten feet under. The light went off abruptly as the water shorted her out.
I found a couple of tender places where  I had  hit the wheel and the door,  and a throbbing lump on my  head, dead center, just above  the hairline.
“And how are you?” I asked Meyer.
“I’m  susceptible  to infections  of  the upper respiratory tract, and  I’d like to lose some weight. Otherwise, pretty good.”
“In a little while I think I’m going to start being glad you came  along for the ride.”
“Maybe you’d have gotten out by yourself.” “I don’t think so.”
“I’d rather think  so. Excuse me. Otherwise I have to share the responsibility for all your future acts.”
“Do I ever do anything you wouldn’t do, Meyer?” “I could make a list?”
That was when  the reaction hit. A nice  little case of the yips and shudders. And a pair of macaroni knees. I sat down gently  on the  shoulder  of  the  road,  wrapped my  arms around my legs, and rested my forehead on my wet knees.
“Are you all right,  Trav?”
“You keep asking me that. I think I will be very fine and very dandy. Maybe five or ten minutes from now.”
It seemed  very very quiet. The bugs were beginning  to
find us. A night bird yawped way back in the marshland. Vision  had adjusted to the very pale wash of starlight on the road and on the black glass surface of the drainage canal.
Miss Agnes  was down there, resting on her side, facing in the direction from which we had come, driver’s side down. Sorry,  old lady. We gave it a good try, and damned  near made it. Except  for the tire going,  you did your usual best. Staunch, solid, and, in a very dignified way, obedient. Even in extremis, you managed  to keep from killing me.
I got up and gagged and tossed up half a cup of swamp water. Before he could ask me again, I told Meyer I felt much improved.  But irritable.
“What I would dearly like to do,” I said, “is go back and
find that moronic female, raise some  angry welts on her rear end, and try to teach her to breathe underwater.”
“You didn’t see her?” I asked him.
“I was dreaming that I, personally, Meyer, had solved the gold drain dilemma, and I was addressing all the gnomes of Zurich. Then I woke up and we were going sideways. I found the sensation unpleasant.”
“She  ran across in front of us. Very close. If I hadn’t had time to begin  to react, I’d have boosted her with the right front fender, and she would  be a piece of dead meat in a treetop back there on the right side of the road.”
“Please don’t tell me something.” “Don’t tell you what?”
“Tell me she was a shrunken  old crone. Or tell me she looked exactly like Arnold Palmer.  Or even tell  me you didn’t get a good look at her. Please?”
I closed my eyes and reran the episode  on my little home screen inside my head. Replay is always pretty good. It has to  be. Lead the  kind of  life  where things  happen very quickly and very unexpectedly,  and sometimes lethally, and you learn to keep the input wide open.  It improves  the odds.
“I’d peg her at early  to middle  twenties. Black or dark brown hair, that would maybe have been shoulder length if she wasn’t running  like hell. She had some kind of ribbon or one of  those plastic bands  on her hair. Not chunky, but
solid.  Impression of  good health. Not  very tall.  Hmm. Barefoot? I don’t really know. Maybe not, unless she’s got feet  like rhino  hide. Wearing a short  thing,  patterned. Flower pattern? Some kind of pattern. Lightweight material. Maybe one of those mini-nightgowns. Open down the front and at the throat, so that it was streaming out behind her, like her dark hair. Naked,  I think. Maybe  a pair of sheer little briefs, but it could have  been just white hide in contrast to the suntanned  rest of her. Caught  a glint of something on one wrist. Bracelet or watch strap. She was running well, running  hard, getting her knees up, getting a good swing of her arms into it. A flavor of being scared, but not in panic. And not winded.  Mouth closed. I think she had her jaw clamped.  Determination.  She was running like hell, but away from something, not after it. If she started a tenth of a second earlier, we’d be rolling east on the Trail by now. A tenth of a second later, and she’d be one dead young lady, and I could have racked Miss Agnes  up a little more solidly, and maybe you or I or both of us would be historical figures. Sorry, Meyer. Young and interestingly put together, and perhaps even pretty.”
He sighed.  “McGee, have you ever  wondered  if  you don’t emit some sort of subliminal  aroma,  a veritable dog whistle among  scents? I have read about the role that some scent we cannot even  detect plays in the reproductive cycle of the moth.  The scientists spread some of it on a tree limb miles from nowhere,  and within the hour there were hundreds upon hundreds of. . . .”
He stopped as we both saw the faraway, oncoming lights. It seemed  a long time before they were close enough  for us to hear the drone of the engine.  We stepped  into the road-
way and began waving our arms. The sedan  faltered, and then the driver floored it and it slammed  on by, accelerating. Ohio license. We did not look  like people anybody would  want to pick up on a dark night on a very lonely road.
“I was wearing my best smile,” Meyer said sadly.
We discussed  probabilities  and possibilities.  Twenty miles of empty road from there to the Tamiami Trail. And, in the other direction, about ten miles back to a crossroads with darkened store, darkened gas station. We walked back and I tried to pinpoint  the place where  the girl had come busting  out into the lights, but it was impossible  to read black skid marks on black macadam. No lights from any house on either side. No little wooden bridge. No driveway. Wait  for a ride and get chewed  bloody.  So start the long twenty miles and hit the first place  that shows a light. Or maybe get a ride. A remote maybe.
Before we left we marked Miss Agnes’s watery resting place by wedging a long heavy broken limb down  into the mud and jamming  an aluminum  beer can onto it. Miracle metal. Indestructible. Some day the rows of glittering cans will be piled  so high beside  the roads that they will hide the billboards which advertise the drinkables which come  in the aluminum cans.
Just before we left I had the final wrench of nausea  and tossed up the final cup of ditchwater. We kept to the middle of the road and found  a fair pace. By the time our shoes stopped making sloppy noises, we were swinging  along in good style.
“Four miles an hour,” Meyer said. “If we could do it without taking a break,  five hours to the Tamiami Trail. By
now it must be quarter to eleven.  Quarter to four in the morning.  But we’ll have to take a few breaks. Add an hour and a half, let’s say. Hmm. Five-fifteen.”
Scuff and clump  of shoes on the blacktop. Keening  orchestras of tree toads and peepers. Gu-roomp of  a bullfrog. Whine  song of the hungry  mosquito  keeping pace, then a whish  of the fly whisk improvised from a leafy roadside weed. Jet going over, too high to pick out the lights. Startled caw and panic-flapping of a night bird working  the canal for his dinner. And once, the eerie, faraway scream of a Florida panther.
The second car barreled by at very high speed, ignoring us completely, as did an old truck heading north a few minutes later.
But a good old Ford pickup truck came clattering and banging along;  making the anguished  sounds  of  fifteen years of bad roads, heavy duty, neglect, and a brave start on its second or third trip around the speedometer. One headlight was winking on and off. It slowed down as if to stop a little beyond us. We were over on the left shoulder. I could see a burly  figure at the wheel.
When  it was even with us, there was a flame-wink at the driver’s window, a great flat unechoing bang, and a pluck of wind an inch or less from my right ear. When  you’ve been shot at before, even only once, that distinctive sound which you can hear only when you are right in front of the muzzle, is unmistakable. And if you have heard that sound  several times, and you are still alive, it means  that your reflexes are in good order. I had hooked Meyer around  the waist with my left arm and I was charging like a lineman when I heard the second bang. We tumbled down the weedy slope
into  the  muddy shallows  of  the canal. The truck  went creaking and thumping along, picking up laborious speed, leaving a smell  of  cordite and hot half-burned  oil in the night air.
“Glory be!” said Meyer.
We were half in the water. We pulled ourselves up the slope like clumsy alligators.
“They carry guns and they get smashed  and they shoot holes in the road signs,”  I said.
“And they scare hitchhikers and laugh like anything?” “The slug was within an inch of my ear, old friend.” “How could you know that?”
“They make a little  kind of  thupping sound, which would come at the same time  as the bang,  so if it was farther away from my  ear, I wouldn’t have heard it. If he’d fired from a hundred yards away, you’d have heard it, too. And if it had  been a sniper with a rifle from five hundred yards, we’d have heard a whirr and a thup and then the shot.”
“Thank you, Travis, for the information  I hope never to need.”
He started to clamber the rest of the way up and I grabbed him and pulled him back. “Rest awhile, Meyer.”
“If we assume it is sort of a hobby, like jacking deer, he is rattling on out of our lives, singing old drinking songs. If it was a real and serious intent, for reasons unknown,  he will be coming back. We couldn’t find where  the young lady busted out of the brush, but we didn’t have headlights. He does, and he may be able to see where we busted the weeds. So now we move along the slope here about thirty feet to the south and wait some more.”
We made our move, found a more gradual slope where we didn’t have to keep our feet in the water. Settled down, and heard the truck coming  back. Evidently he had to go some distance to find a turnaround place. Heard him slow down. Saw lights against the grasses a couple of feet above our heads. Lights moved on beyond us, the truck slowing down to  a walk. Stopped. The engine  idled raggedly.  I wormed up to where I could part the grasses and look at the rear end of the truck. Feeble  light shone on a mud-smeared Florida plate. Couldn’t  read any of it. Engine  and lights were turned off. Right-hand wheels were on the shoulder. Silence.
I eased back down,  mouth close to Meyer’s ear. “He better not have a flashlight.”
Silence.  The bugs and frogs  gradually  resumed  their night singing. I held my breath, straining to hear any sound. Jumped at the sudden  rusty bang  of the truck door.
I reached cautiously down,  fingered up a daub of mud, smeared my face, wormed up the slope again. Could make out the truck, an angular shadow in the starlight, twenty feet away.
“Orville! You hear me, Orville?” A husky shout, yet secretive. A man shouting in a whisper. “You all alone  now, boy. I kilt me that big Hutch,  right? Dead  or close to it, boy. Answer me, Orville, damn you to hell!”
I did not like the idea of announcing that there was nobody here named Orville. Or Hutch.
Long silence. “Orville? We can make a deal. I got to figure you can hear me. You wedge that body down good, hear? Stake it into the mud. Tomorrow you call me on the telephone, hear? We can set up a place we can meet and talk it all out, someplace with enough people nearby neither of us has to feel edgy.”
I heard  a distant, oncoming  motor  sound.  The truck door slammed  again. Sick slow whine of the starter under the urging of the fading battery. Sudden rough roar, back-
fire, lights on, and away he went. Could be two of them, one staying behind and waiting,  crouched down on the slope, aching to put a hole in old Orville.
I told Meyer to stay put. Just as the northbound sedan went by, soon to overtake  the truck, I used the noise and wind of passage to cover my sounds as I bounded up and ran north along  the shoulder.  I had kept my  eyes squeezed tightly shut to protect my night vision. If anyone were in wait, I hoped they had not done the same. I dived over the slope just where the truck had been parked, caught myself short of the water. Nobody.
Climbed back up onto the road. Got Meyer up onto the road. Made good time southward, made about three hundred yards, stopping  three or four times  to listen to see if the truck was easing back with the lights out.
Found a reasonably open place on the west  side of the road,  across  from  the  canal.  Worked into the  shadows, pushed  through a thicket. Found  open space under a big Australian pine. Both of us sat on the springy bed of brown needles, backs  against the bole of the big tree. Overhead  a mockingbird was sweetly, fluently warning all other  mockingbirds  to stay the  hell away from his turf, his nest, his lady, and his kids.
Meyer stopped breathing as audibly as before and said, “It is very unusual to be shot at on a lonely road. It is very unusual to have a girl run across a lonely road late at night.
I would say we’d covered close to four miles from the point where Agnes sleeps. The truck came from that direction. Perfectly reasonable to assume  some connection.”
“Don’t upset me with logic.”
“A deal has a commercial implication. The marksman was cruising along looking for Orville and Hutch. He did not want to make a deal with both of them. He knew they were  on foot, knew they  were  heading south. Our sizes must be a rough match. And it is not a pedestrian area.”
“And Hutch,” I added, “was the taller, and the biggest threat, and I moved so fast he thought he’d shot me in the face. And,  if he had a good, plausible,  logical reason for killing Hutch, he wouldn’t have asked Orville to stuff the body into the canal and stake it down.”
“And,” said Meyer, “were I Orville, I would be a little queasy about making a date with that fellow.”
“Ready to go?”
“We should, I guess, before the mosquitoes  remove the rest of the blood.”
“And when anything comes from any direction, we flatten out in the brush on this side of the road.”
“I think I will try to enjoy the walk, McGee.” “But your schedule is way the hell off.”
So we walked. And were euphoric and silly in the jungly night. Being alive is like fine wine, when you have damned near drowned  and nearly been shot in the face. Perhaps  a change of angle of one degree  at the muzzle would have put that slug through the bridge of my nose. So we swung along and told fatuous  jokes and old  lies  and sometimes sang awhile.

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