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Book Jacket

1589190327
Trade Paperback
320 pages
Aug 2005
River Oak

Double Take: A Mike Connolly Mystery

by Joe Hilley

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt

Excerpt:

Chapter One

Mike Connolly sat alone on the hard wooden pew and stared at the stained-glass window behind the altar at the far end of the chancel. St. Pachomius Church had been around almost as long as the city itself. Built in the 1840s, it looked old and felt old, but it had aged well and had a regal aura. Far from being musty and decayed, it was alive with mystery and wonder.

Connolly soaked himself in that wonder.

The sanctuary had been dark when he arrived for morning prayers. Dawn came as he knelt with the others to receive the Eucharist. By the time he rose from the altar rail, brilliant sunlight streamed through the stained-glass windows along the walls. One by one, the others had filed out to join the day, but Connolly had lingered, reluctant to trade the quiet, tranquil sanctuary for the demands of another busy morning.

Finally, at a quarter past eight, he rose from the pew and made his way up the aisle to the rear of the church. In the vestibule, he pushed open one of the massive doors and stepped outside to the portico.

St. Pachomius Church was located in the heart of downtown Mobile. The oldest Protestant church in the state, it now found itself surrounded by an expanding courthouse, boxed in on three sides by the sheriff’s office, the probate court, and a new high-rise government complex. It was an unusual place, a unique blend of architecture, liturgy, and tradition.

Connolly ambled down the steps from the church to the sidewalk. At fifty-six he was still trim and athletic, but he found it harder to move with agility in the morning.

From the church, he crossed the street to the rear of the courthouse and cut through the first-floor lobby to Government Street on the front side of the building. He crossed Government in the middle of the block and walked up Ferguson Alley to the service entrance at the back of the Warren Building. He checked his watch. No point in hurrying.

Mrs. Gordon was already at the office. Plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee before anything important happened. He exited the building on Dauphin Street and turned left.

Port City Diner was in the middle of the second block.

A few yards from the diner, he crossed Dubose Alley. As he strode past the alley, a voice called to him in a raspy whisper.

“Mike.”

Startled, Connolly stopped in midstride and turned to see who spoke.

Buildings on either side cast a shadow over the alley, but from the street the morning sun covered the sidewalk with a glare. From where he stood, Connolly could see only the figure of a man standing a few feet down the alley, peering from behind a garbage Dumpster. He stepped to the edge of the sidewalk.

The man behind the Dumpster looked familiar, but Connolly couldn’t quite place him. He wore wrinkled blue pants and a gray sweatshirt. The legs of the pants were shiny from wear and the dirt of living on the street. The front of the shirt was stained. The neckband was grimy and black. His hair was oily and clung to his head in strands. His face was covered with a dark, three-day beard. Even from a distance, Connolly could see his hands were filthy, his fingernails caked with dirt.

Shielding his eyes from the morning sun, Connolly crept into the alley. As he drew near the Dumpster, he moved beyond the glare. Engulfed by shadow, he recognized the man.

“Harvey Bosarge. Is that you?”

“Come here,” Bosarge insisted. He waved his hand in an urgent gesture.

Connolly lowered his hand from his eyes and moved up the alley.

Harvey Bosarge was a retired detective from the Mobile Police Department, where he had enjoyed a long and distinguished career. When he retired, he moved to Bayou La Batre, a small fishing village in the heart of the low country on the coast at the southern end of the county, his childhood home. He continued to use his detective skills and vast network of friends and connections working as a private investigator for some of the largest law firms in the city. Since Bosarge was always dapper and well groomed, Connolly found his appearance and demeanor that morning disturbing and out of character.

“Harvey, what are you doing here? You look terrible.”

Bosarge placed his finger to his lips for silence. He stepped away from the Dumpster and motioned for Connolly to follow. Farther up the alley, Bosarge opened a door to a building on the right and nodded for Connolly to enter. Reluctantly, Connolly stepped through the door.

Inside, the building was dark. The air was heavy and humid. Connolly hesitated. Bosarge nudged him. Connolly moved a few feet from the door. He waited there, hoping his eyes would adjust to the dim light.

Bosarge stepped inside and closed the door. He dug a match from his pocket and struck it against the top of a metal drum that stood nearby. The bright flash lit up the room.

From a crack in the wall, he produced a broken piece of candle. He lit it and dripped hot wax onto the top of the drum, then pressed the end of the candle into it to hold it in place. The glow from the candle lit their faces.

Connolly frowned.

“You going to tell me what this is all about?” He glanced at Bosarge’s clothes. “You don’t look so good, you know.”

Bosarge slumped against the door.

“Haven’t slept in three days.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I got trouble. Big trouble. We gotta talk.”

“Let’s go up to my office,” Connolly suggested. “You can get something to eat, maybe clean up a little.”

Connolly turned to leave. Bosarge stuck out his arm to stop him.

“No,” he snapped. “Can’t take the chance of being seen.”

Connolly gave him a puzzled look.

“Well, then, what do you propose we do?”

“Where’s your car?”

“In front of the office. Down the block.”

Bosarge brightened.

“Good. Go get it. Pull it up here in the alley. Make sure the back door is unlocked. We can ride around and talk.”

Connolly gave him a sarcastic smile.

“Oh, that’ll keep people from suspecting anything. A bum and a guy in a suit going up the alley in a 1959 Chrysler Imperial. They’ll never notice us.” The smile melted into an amused grin. “Let’s just talk here.”

“No,” Bosarge insisted. “Not here. All kinds of people hang out in these buildings. Never know who’s listening. Just go get your car.”

Connolly sighed and reached for the door. Bosarge once again stuck out his arm to stop him. Connolly looked exasperated.

“What?”

Bosarge blew out the candle, then withdrew his arm.

Connolly opened the door and stepped outside. Bosarge stuck his head out as Connolly left. He looked up and down the alley, then retreated back inside.

Connolly walked past the Dumpster to the end of the alley. At the street, he turned right and walked back to the Warren Building. Across the street from Bienville Square, his office was on the third floor. Windows near his desk afforded a view of the square and the street below. He glanced up at his windows. Mrs. Gordon would be there by now, wondering where he was, preparing to grill him when he finally arrived. He sighed and turned away.

His car was parked out front. A 1959 Chrysler Imperial. He had taken it years ago as his fee for helping a client settle her husband’s estate. It was the one thing in his life that had remained constant. He got in and steered it away from the curb.

One block down the street he turned right onto St. Joseph Street and made the block, coming back to Dauphin at the next corner up. From there, he negotiated through the crowded morning traffic into Dubose Alley and eased the car forward.

Just past the Dumpster, the door to the building flew open. Bosarge darted into the alley, jerked open the rear door of the car, and dove onto the backseat.

“Go!”

Connolly slipped his foot from the brake. The car rolled forward at little more than an idle.

“Let’s go!” Bosarge shouted. He banged his fist against the back of the front seat. “We can’t hang around here like this. Someone will see me.”

“Relax,” Connolly grinned, amused at Bosarge’s antics.

“Stay low in the seat. No one will recognize you. Especially not the way you look.”

At Conti Street, Connolly turned right and drove away from downtown. A few blocks beyond Broad Street, he turned onto Springhill Avenue. A mile or so later, he slowed the car and turned through the gates at Visitation Monastery.

“What are we doing here?” Bosarge turned to look over his shoulder, checking to make sure they weren’t followed.

“Great,” he muttered as he faced forward, his voice laden with sarcasm. “We’re hiding out with a bunch of nuns. No one will notice us now.”

“Relax,” Connolly soothed once again. “Nobody will find us here. And if they try, we’ll see them before they see us.”

Connolly drove the car along a narrow driveway that wound through the grounds toward a cluster of three-story buildings. Made of brick with red tile roofs, they were an imposing contrast to the lush, green landscape. Connolly brought the car to a stop beneath a large oak tree a hundred yards from the entrance. He switched off the engine and turned in the seat to face Bosarge.

“Okay. What’s this all about?”

Bosarge looked about nervously.

“You sure no one can find us here?”

“They can’t find us.”

Bosarge glanced around once more.

“Start talking,” Connolly insisted.

Bosarge leaned back and rested his head on the seat. He closed his eyes.

“This is all confidential, right?” His eyes popped open and stared at Connolly. “I mean, can’t nobody make you tell what I’m about to say, can they?”

The question struck Connolly as an odd one, coming from a former detective.

“No.” He was curious about where this conversation was headed. “Not if I’m your lawyer.”

“All right.” Bosarge nodded. “You’re my lawyer. We need to sign something to make it official?”

“No.” Connolly was exasperated. “Look, Harvey. Either tell me or don’t. I don’t care. But if you’re going to talk, get started. I’ve got a hundred things waiting on me back at the office.”

Bosarge took a long, deep breath, then let out a long, loud sigh. He pulled a crumpled cigar from his shirt pocket.

“Mind if I smoke?”

Connolly hesitated. The smell of tobacco smoke irritated his sinuses, but three days on the street without a bath left Harvey smelling rather foul. Cigar smoke was nothing compared to the stench rising from the backseat. He shrugged his shoulders.

“I guess not.”

Bosarge shoved the cigar in his mouth and dug a soiled box of matches from his pocket. The match flared a bright orange, but went out. A second match fared no better.

“Forget it,” he grumbled.

He snatched the cigar from his mouth and tossed it out the window. He leaned back in the seat once more and closed his eyes.

“You heard about that guy Steve Ingram?”

“Yeah.”

“That guy was incinerated.” He glanced at Connolly.

“Garage went flying across the county.”

Connolly raised his eyebrows.

“You were there?”

Bosarge nodded but did not reply. Connolly pressed him for more.

“Doing what?”

“Ingram was seeing a … a woman … named Ann Grafton. A waitress at Jake’s Social Club out on the causeway. Her husband thought she was fooling around. Hired me to follow her. I was standing on a pier next door taking pictures of her and Ingram when the garage blew up.”

The look on Connolly’s face turned to a frown.

“He had a woman with him? Paper didn’t say anything about anyone else being killed.”

Bosarge shook his head.

“She wasn’t in the garage. She was in the house.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Somebody must have seen me. Police have been calling. They want to talk to me. Came by the house a couple of times. I wasn’t there and I ain’t been back, either.”

“How do you know they want to talk about Ingram?”

“I made a call.” Bosarge smiled at Connolly. “I got a friend down at the city jail.”

“Who came to see you?”

“Somebody named Robert Batiste the first time. Second time it was Anthony Hammond. You know him?”

“Yeah. Batiste is a patrolman. I don’t know why he’d be coming to your house. How did they find out about you?”

Bosarge glanced away.

“I … I don’t know.”

The tone in his voice made Connolly uneasy. Something inside him seemed dissatisfied with what Bosarge had to say. He thought about it a moment, then moved on.

“You know, if Hammond is handling this case, you’re going to have to talk to him. Probably sooner rather than later. He’s not like some of those other guys they have. He won’t just let it drop. Especially not if he has your name.”

“I know.” Bosarge sighed. “Think you could talk to him? Maybe find out how much he knows about me? What he wants?”

“I’ll call him. But he’ll want to see you himself. Where have you been staying?”

“On the street.”

Connolly shook his head in disbelief.

“It’s no fun, either,” Bosarge continued. “I don’t care what those guys on the park bench say.”

Connolly chuckled.

“All right. We need to find a phone. I’ll call Anthony. I imagine he’ll agree to let you come in instead of having you picked up.”

Bosarge turned away again and stared out the window. Connolly hesitated.

“Something you’re not telling me, Harvey?”

“Nah.”

“I can’t do you any good if you don’t tell me everything.”

Connolly’s voice was stern and serious. “The advice I give you is based on the information you give me. Understand?”

Bosarge nodded, still looking out the window.

“Yeah.” His voice sounded quiet and subdued. “I understand.”

Connolly turned around in the seat and started the engine. He drove the car down the driveway and out the front gate. A few blocks toward town, he turned into the parking lot at the Quick Stop convenience store. He parked the car at the edge of the lot as far from the building as possible and switched off the engine. He glanced at Bosarge in the rearview mirror.

“Wait here.”

Bosarge looked worried.

“Where you going?”

“To call Hammond. We can’t let this wait, and I don’t want to talk about it on a cell phone.”

Connolly stepped out of the Chrysler and walked across the parking lot to a telephone booth. He inserted two quarters in the pay phone and punched in a number. In a few minutes, he was talking to Hammond.

“I’ve been hired to represent Harvey Bosarge. I understand you want to talk to him.”

“Yeah,” Hammond replied. “We’ve been trying to find him. You know where he is?”

“What do you want to talk to him about?”

“Uhh … Steve Ingram.”

“What about him?”

“I don’t think I can …”

“Come on, Anthony,” Connolly interrupted. “You know I’m not going to help you if this is just a fishing expedition.”

“I want to talk to him about that explosion over at Point Clear.”

“Shouldn’t police over there be working on this?”

“Yeah, well, we’re helping them out.”

“Do you just want to talk, or is he the target of an investigation?”

Hammond was silent for a moment.

“I … ahh … can’t say.”

His voice sounded strained and distant. Once again, Connolly felt uncomfortable with what he was hearing.

“You can’t tell me whether my client is a suspect?”

“No.”

Connolly felt frustrated and perplexed.

“Anthony, you know I can’t let him talk without knowing whether he’s a suspect.”

“Do whatever you have to.”

“If I bring him in like this, he’s only going to refuse to talk.”

“Like I said …”

“I would tell him not to …”

Hammond cut him off.

“Mike, do what you have to do.”

Connolly banged his fist against the phone. Hammond had never been this difficult.

“Any chance you and I could meet and discuss this further?”

“I … ahhh … can’t talk about our investigation while it’s still going forward.”

Connolly hung up the receiver and walked back to the car. What he heard on the phone was just as unsettling as what he heard from Bosarge. He had dealt with Hammond a long time. He was as eager to make a case as anyone, but he was always straight. If someone was a suspect, he didn’t play around.

He’d say so up front.

By the time he reached the car, Connolly was sure there was more going on than Bosarge had told him. He opened the door and got in behind the wheel.

“Well?”

Connolly shook his head.

“He wants to talk to you, but he won’t tell me whether you’re a suspect.”

“They think I did it?”

“I don’t know. Sounds like they don’t know, either.”

Bosarge leaned his head against the window.

“So now what?”

“I take you home, and we wait to see what they do.”

“Wait?”

“Yeah. Wait.” Connolly made it sound more like an order than a suggestion. “Hopefully, they’ll call first and give you a chance to come in on your own. If not, don’t put up a fight. Let them take you in, and then call me.” Connolly started the car. “In the meantime, I’ll see what I can find out.”

Bosarge sighed and slid low in the seat. Connolly backed the car away and steered it toward the street.

 

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