Welcome back Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. There’s something to be said for anticipation, and even more to be said for a Robert Crais book in our hands. The 19th title in the Cole and Pike series is helping to fill out a bumper crop of Mystery/Thriller favorites for November 2022. (Here’s looking at you, Robert Crais, Louise Penny, AND Janet Evanovich!)
Private investigator Elvis Cole and his enigmatic partner, Joe Pike, are back on the case in this brilliant new thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Robert Crais.
Adele Schumacher isn't a typical worried mom. When she hires Elvis to find her missing son, a controversial podcaster named Josh Shoe, she brings a bag filled with cash, bizarre tales of government conspiracies, and a squad of professional bodyguards. Finding Josh should be simple, but Elvis quickly learns he isn't alone in the hunt—a deadly team of mysterious strangers are determined to find Josh and his adult film star girlfriend first.
With dangerous secrets lurking behind every lead, Elvis needs his friend Joe Pike more than ever to uncover the truth about Josh, corrupt politicians, and the vicious business cartels rotting the heart of Los Angeles from within. And when Elvis's estranged girlfriend, Lucy Chenier, and her son, Ben, return, he learns just how much he has to lose...if he survives.
Written with the heart, humor, and relentless suspense for which Crais is famous, Racing the Light delivers Elvis Cole's most dangerous case yet.
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About the Author
Hometown:Los Angeles, California
Date of Birth:June 20, 1953
Place of Birth:Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Education:B.S., Louisiana State University, 1976; Clarion Writers Workshop at Michigan State University
Read an Excerpt
My office occupied a two-room suite four floors above Santa Monica Boulevard on the western edge of Hollywood. Most of my business came by referral from attorneys or satisfied clients, but Do-It-Yourself parties often found me online. Prospective clients usually reached out by phone or email, most to inquire about price or learn whether I could help with their problem. Some only wanted to vent. Making an appointment was encouraged. Venters were not. Walk-in business was rare.
On the day she came to my office, the sky was unnaturally clear, a clarity so abnormal the City of Angels seemed bathed in a nuclear glow. The French doors to my balcony offered an unobstructed view to the sea, but the glare was so bright I found myself squinting. The French doors were usually open, but that day they were closed. The heat.
By ten-oh-seven, I had filed two reports and returned three calls. Another backbreaking day at the office.
I said, "How about we grab a sandwich and fight crime tomorrow? Sound good?"
The Pinocchio clock on the wall beside the door to my partner's office had a long nose, a jaunty yellow cap, and bulging eyes. The eyes slid side to side, but Pinocchio didn't answer. He never answered, but he always listened.
I said, "Okay, then, let's do it. I'm starving."
At ten-oh-nine, I was packing up when the outer door opened and a woman in a tailored navy pantsuit stepped in from the hall. She was tall and square-shouldered, and her sleek black hair was pulled into a short ponytail. A man in an expensive, summer-weight gray suit followed her. The man was maybe six-three, broad, and sported hands the size of catcher's mitts. They wore their suits like uniforms.
The woman eyed me with a casual curiosity.
I leaned back and considered her.
"He's downtown with the mayor. Was he expecting you?"
The woman drifted closer as her friend circled to the French doors. He looked outside, opened the doors, stepped out, and raised a hand to shield his eyes. He peered over the rail, then checked overhead as if he expected Spider-Man to swing down from above. When he looked up, his jacket opened and a holster peeked out. I made them for federal agents or bill collectors.
"If you guys aren't building inspectors, I charge for my time."
The man stepped inside and went to my partner's office. The door was closed.
The man said, "Anyone home?"
I leaned farther back until my chair squeaked.
"Marines. Go in. Say hi."
The big man peeked inside and glanced at the woman.
I leaned forward and touched the edge of my desk. A Dan Wesson .38 Special revolver waited in the drawer, but the drawer and the pistol were a mile away.
"Are you going to tell me what you want, or do I have to guess?"
They turned without a word, returned to the outer office, and the big woman opened the door. A small, older woman clutching an enormous brown purse entered. She wore no makeup or jewelry, and looked to be in her seventies. Her wispy hair was more gray than not, and her thin, flower-print dress looked shabby. She glanced at me, glanced quickly away, and turned to the woman in the blue suit. She appeared uncomfortable.
The woman in the blue suit gave her a gentle smile.
"We'll be right outside, Ms. S. Take as much time as you like."
"Thanks so much, Wendy."
Wendy and her partner left, and Ms. S finally looked at me. She raked threads of hair behind an ear, but they floated free and drifted toward the ceiling.
"You're Mr. Cole? The detective?"
I stood, hoping she couldn't hear my stomach grumble.
"I am. And you?"
She came to my desk and held out a weathered hand. She was one of those people who should've avoided the sun, but hadn't. Faint spots and fine creases covered her skin.
"My name is Adele Schumacher. Forgive me for not phoning first. I don't care for phones."
I glanced toward the hall.
"Wendy and Kurt?"
She frowned as if my question was odd.
"They're my helpers."
I nodded. Helpers.
"I apologize for showing up without an appointment. If now isn't a good time, I could wait or come back later if you'd-"
I held up a hand, stopping her.
"I think I can fit you in. Please, sit."
She sat in one of the leather director's chairs across from my desk. I took my seat again, facing her.
"All right, Ms. Schumacher, how can I help?"
"You find missing persons."
A statement of fact.
"Among other things, yes. We offer a wide array of services."
We. This was the detective presenting himself as a multinational corporation.
"My son was kidnapped. I'd like you to find him."
I pulled a yellow legal pad close.
"Are we talking about a minor child?"
"Josh is twenty-six. Joshua Albert Schumacher."
She spelled his first and last names. She probably figured I was smart enough to spell Albert.
"If you believe he was kidnapped, you should call the police."
"I filed a missing persons report four days ago. The first detective referred me to a second detective, but I haven't heard from her since."
I nodded. She probably filed the report at her local division station, but division dicks don't look for missing people. The division dick would have passed the case downtown to a detective at the Missing Persons Unit.
"Uh-huh. Have you received a ransom demand?"
"I have not and don't expect to. I believe Josh was kidnapped to silence him."
She drew a 9x12 manila envelope from her purse and placed it on my desk.
"I have pictures of Josh here, and information you'll need. Address and phone, a key to his home, and so forth. The second detective's card is here, too. She was smug."
I made another note. Smug.
"Why would someone want to silence him?"
"He's an investigative journalist. He was going to expose them."
"You may have heard of his show. In Your Face with Josh Shoe. It's a very popular podcast."
"Sorry. I'll look it up."
"He's becoming quite famous."
"I'll give it a listen."
I tapped the pad with the pen, encouraging her to continue.
"So who is it Josh was going to expose who kidnapped him but hasn't demanded a ransom?"
She raked the hair behind her ear again, but it still didn't stay.
"He's likely being held at a secret facility. If so, your job will not be easy."
"In Nevada. They might be holding him at Site 4 or Area 6, but he definitely went to Area 51. He's been there several times."
Pinocchio's eyes slid from side to side. Their unchanging precision was reassuring. I cleared my throat.
"Area 51. Where the government develops stealth aircraft."
Her eyes grew bright, like bits of mica catching the sun.
"Stealth technology is the least of their projects."
I jotted another note. Aliens.
I wondered if Wendy and Kurt were outside, laughing.
"Uh-huh. And did you explain this to the police?"
Adele Schumacher sat a bit taller.
"They dismissed me just as you have. The difference between them and you is you work for hire. You are my last best hope, Mr. Cole. I need you."
She fished a white envelope from her purse. The envelope was thick and held closed by pink rubber bands. She peeled off the bands and showed me the contents. The envelope was fat with hundred-dollar bills.
She said, "How much would you like?"
I wet my lips.
"You shouldn't carry so much cash, Ms. Schumacher. You could lose it."
"Electronic transactions are not secure. Cash is secure. How much?"
She pushed the envelope toward me.
"I don't want your money. Please put it away."
"I don't expect you to find him for free, Mr. Cole. How much?"
"Have Wendy and Kurt tried to find him?"
"They did what they could before we went to the police. Joshua has not been admitted to a hospital in Los Angeles County, nor has he been arrested."
The envelope was heavy with cash, but she didn't seem to be tiring.
"Have you asked his friends? His friends might know."
She glanced at the manila envelope.
"I have. They don't. But I've included a list of Joshua's three dearest friends, so please follow up. Ryan has known Josh the longest, and even Ryan can't reach him. I assume you'll want to see Josh's home? He rents a bungalow in Los Feliz."
The big-time detective laid out his game plan: Maybe.
"Ryan is there, now, waiting to help however he can."
I wrote Ryan on the pad and drew a box around it.
"Have these people all tried to reach your son?"
"Yes, and he hasn't responded. I've also left messages. I can't know if the calls have been blocked or his phone was taken, but Josh would have responded. If he hasn't, he can't. Quod erat demonstrandum."
"Yes. It means the proof is-"
"I know what it means, Ms. Schumacher."
She lowered the cash. Adele Schumacher seemed like a nice person. She was a delusional conspiracy theorist at worst or a gullible eccentric at best, but her fear was genuine. I chose my words carefully.
"Does Josh have a girlfriend or boyfriend?"
Her eyes grew vague and she didn't respond. I hadn't accepted her money. She was afraid I wouldn't. I tried to sound reassuring.
"He's twenty-six, Ms. Schumacher. He's single and self-employed, which means he's mobile. I go to the Sierras each year. There's no cell service, my phone doesn't work, and nobody can reach me. Josh probably left with a friend and didn't think to tell you. It happens."
"Josh hates the outdoors."
"It was only an example."
Her eyes focused, and she placed her palm on my desk.
"Josh and I meet for lunch every two weeks. If Josh can't make it, he lets me know, and we meet the following day. Always. Joshua never misses our lunch."
"But this week he did. Things like this happen."
Ms. Schumacher leaned forward, and her mica eyes grew sharp.
"Mr. Cole, my son makes very little money. When he moved out to live on his own, we began meeting for lunch. At those lunches I give him cash. It's what he lives on. So when I tell you Josh has never, not once, missed our lunch without calling, he hasn't. But this past week, he did. He did not call, nor reschedule, and he has not responded. Therefore, he cannot."
We stared at each other.
"Is his father in the picture?"
"His father-my ex-husband-refuses to support him. They barely speak."
She leaned so far forward she gripped my desk for support.
"Josh was working on an exposé. He had an inside source, he said, and proof, but he wouldn't say more. Josh has done shows about classified programs before. I'm certain the two are connected."
"An exposé about aliens."
She sat back.
"Does it matter? My son is missing. I want you to find him."
She counted out twenty one-hundred dollar bills, hesitated, and counted another ten. She pushed the stack toward me.
"Three thousand dollars. If he's with a friend as you say, finding him should be easy. Find him, and I'll double this amount."
I told myself it couldn't hurt. I could swing by his bungalow and maybe have a line on her son by the end of the day. And even if I didn't, Adele would feel better knowing I was looking.
I picked up the bills, kept ten, and pushed the rest back.
"Let's start with this."
"I'd like a receipt, please."
She tucked the receipt into her purse, stood, and offered her hand.
"Please find him."
"Try not to worry. I'm sure he wasn't abducted."
She looked at me as if I were slow.
"Are you, Mr. Cole? I'm not. I've seen things you can't imagine."
Adele Schumacher went to the door and let herself out. Wendy stepped in a moment later, and came to my desk.
"You'll do it?"
"This is me, twenty-four-seven."
Wendy gave me a plain, cream-colored card bearing her name, phone number, and email. Gwendolyn Vann.
I raised my eyebrows.
"I went with a Sherlock Holmes motif, myself. The magnifying glass. The deerstalker cap. People seem to like it."
Wendy tipped her head at the Mickey Mouse phone perched at the end of my desk.
"Sit tight. Mickey will ring in three minutes."
"Who's calling? Aliens?"
Wendy ignored me.
"When the mouse rings, answer."
Wendy walked out and closed the door. I waited. Three minutes later, the phone rang.
Elvis Cole Detective Agency. If we can't find it, it can't be found. To whom am I speaking?"
The man's voice was cultured and reasonable. He did not introduce himself nor greet me. He began as if we were in the middle of a conversation.
"So you agreed to help. Good, I'm pleased, but I'm surprised a man with your credentials took the job."
People who didn't introduce themselves were usually top-tier corporate executives or self-absorbed celebrities. I went with corporate.
"Surprises are my business. To whom am I speaking?"
He went on as if I hadn't spoken.
"So tell me, I'm curious why this nonsense about aliens and secret projects didn't put you off."
I carried the phone out to the balcony. The Mickey phone didn't have a remote, so I'd bought a twenty-five-foot extension. The line was tight as a bowstring when I reached the rail, and tighter when I peered down at the street.
I said, "Pretend I just answered and let's begin again. Elvis Cole Detective Agency, this is Elvis Cole. To whom am I speaking?"
He muttered so softly I barely heard him.
"No, not the Lord. Elvis. Who is this?"
Four floors below, Wendy, Kurt, and Adele crossed the sidewalk to a cream-colored Mercedes sedan. A red-haired man by the Mercedes opened the rear passenger-side door for Adele, helped her inside, and climbed in behind the wheel. Wendy saddled up in the front passenger seat. Kurt slipped into a white Lincoln SUV waiting behind the Mercedes. The Mercedes pulled away. The Lincoln pulled out behind the Mercedes. Trail car. The shabby housedress and wispy hair didn't go with a top-of-the-line Mercedes and personal security detail, but people were often surprising.
They drove away as the caller responded.
"This is Corbin Schumacher. Adele is my ex-wife."
I watched the Mercedes disappear and returned to my desk.
"Making you Joshua Schumacher's father?"
"As much as it pains me, yes. I'm also the person who suggested Adele contact you."
"Do we know each other?"
"We do not, but I had you vetted. Your reputation for this kind of thing is excellent."
"Uh-huh. This kind of thing being?"
"Finding people. When I hire someone, I hire the best."
"Let me stop you, Mr. Schumacher. Adele hired me, not you, so everything she and I discussed is confidential."
"Adele knows I'm calling. Please confirm this with her. I'm not snooping behind her back."
"Then why the call?"
"First, to make sure you don't take advantage of her."
"I thought you had me vetted."
"Let's be frank. The woman came to you with an outlandish story and a bag of cash. Her claims would make most people doubt her sanity, yet you took the job. One type of man might refuse. Another might see an opportunity to take advantage."
I made my hand into a gun and fired at Pinocchio's nose. The puppet didn't flinch. He was a helluva puppet.
"Luckily for Adele, I'm a third type. Is there a second reason you called?"
"Yes. To explain the true reason you were hired."
"You don't believe the men-in-black kidnapped your son?"
Corbin Schumacher hesitated. When he spoke again his voice was softer, but somehow more threatening.
"I'm speaking difficult truths, Mr. Cole, but let's be clear. I will not allow you to take advantage of her. I also will not allow you to demean her."
The pain in his voice left me embarrassed.
"I apologize. I was trying to lighten what's clearly a painful subject, and I made a mess of it. I'm sorry."
He sounded tired when he continued.
"Josh hasn't been kidnapped. This is Josh being Josh, ignoring her."
"Why would Josh ignore her?"
"Because he can. He's self-absorbed, arrogant, irresponsible, and rotten with privilege."
"Oh. The usual reasons."
"He's probably in his hobbit hole right now, playing video games or wasting his life with one of his degenerate friends. If he's out of town, well, since he has no job and lives off his mother, he might be gone for days."
"His mother told me he's a journalist. With a successful podcast."
"If you call pandering to fools on a homemade talk show no one has heard of journalism. I don't. He isn't. Period."