Authors: Steven Womack
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Private Investigators, #Hard-Boiled, #Nashville (Tenn.)
|Way Past Dead|
|Random House Publishing Group (1995)|
|Tags:||Private Investigators, Mystery & Detective, Nashville (Tenn.), Hard-Boiled, General, Fiction|
Former Nashville police reporter turned private investigator Harry James Denton has problems: his cash flow isn't flowing, his girlfriend is among many held hostage by a fanatic religious group, and his pal from down the hall, songwriter Slim Gibson, is in jail for murder. It seems Slim's ex-wife but current singing partner, Rebecca, was found beaten "way past dead" shortly after a gig with Slim, whose car was seen leaving Rebecca's driveway. Slim had plenty of motive--including the fact that Rebecca's considerable portion of their songwriting catalog reverts to Slim upon her death--but there are plenty of other suspects lurking on the fringes of the Nashville music crowd. This third Denton mystery is a little jewel. Denton is a Rockford-like private eye who'd like to avoid danger but has just enough integrity to follow his cases through to the end. Toss him into the colorful Nashville musical milieu, and you get a mystery in which the mournful wail of a pedal steel guitar represents death as well as heartbreak.
With his cash flow down to a slow drip, times are tight for Nashville gumshoe Harry James Denton. Things are tough all over Music City, U.S.A. And in some instances, they're murder, as Harry finds out the hard way when he lands a case he'd rather not touch.
When rising country singer Rebecca Gibson is found viciously beaten to death in her home, a heap of damning evidence points straight to her ex-husband, Slim Gibson -- half of the struggling songwriting team with whom Harry shares office space and an occasional beer. Slim and Rebecca were last seen making beautiful music at a local club just hours before the killing. Yet while probing beneath the sweet harmony, Harry discovers the dark history of a marriage made somewhere south of heaven -- and delves into the cutthroat world of the C&W music business, where deceit, betrayal, passion, and vengeance are sung about . . . and ruthlessly performed.
"A rising star among the current crop of American novelists." -- Nashville Banner
From the Paperback edition.
Praise for Steven Womack
and his Harry James Denton
DEAD FOLKS’ BLUES
“A deft, atmosphere-rich novel: smart, funny, and filled with a sense of wry heartbreak. Steven Womack’s Nashville stands out—it is a beautifully drawn backdrop.”
TORCH TOWN BOOGIE
“A sure winner … Many critics … have lauded Womack’s sense of setting. In
Torch Town Boogie
, his rendering of Nashville is almost palpable.”
Also by Steven Womack:
The Jack Lynch Trilogy:
THE SOFTWARE BOMB
Published by Ballantine Books
Copyright © 1995 by Steven Womack
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States of America by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 94-96478
I’m grateful to all the people who have helped me with this novel, both with research and with endlessly patient readings of the book in manuscript. As always, my wife Cathryn was chief among the patient readers. Dr. James Veatch of Nashville State Technical Institute read the manuscript with an effective and sharp critical eye as well. Gratitude and affection go out to my friends and colleagues in the Nashville Writers Alliance who provided input and support: K. Cheatham, Martha Hickman, Nancy Hite, Amy Lynch, Madeena Nolan, Sallie Schloss, Michael Sims, Alana White, Jim Young, and Ronna Wineberg-Blazer.
I also want to thank Scott Faragher, not only for his face-to-face insights into the nature of the country music business, but for his wonderful book,
Music City Babylon
And to Nancy Yost and Joe Blades, my unending appreciation and affection.
The night the fundamentalist redneck zealots assaulted the morgue, I was hauling butt down I-65 from Louisville back to Nashville after spending three days lying in the grass videotaping a disabled, wheelchair-bound bricklayer shooting hoops on his brother-in-law’s patio.
It was my first big insurance-fraud case, and I was feeling pretty good. The object of my surveillance was a contract bricklayer who had taken my client for a bundle, claiming a hundred percent disability as a result of a fall off a scaffold. The fact that he drank a six-pack of tall boys at lunch didn’t seem to matter. I borrowed a van and a video camera from my friend Lonnie, threw some clothes and my old Nikon into a duffel bag, and followed the guy and his wife all the way to Louisville.
For three days it rained like fury. I got soaked as I plopped down in a field overlooking the house and hid underneath a stand of peach trees maybe a hundred feet from the brother-in-law’s back door. I slept in the van, lived off cold burgers and french fries slathered in congealed grease, and shivered under a poncho. On the fourth day, Saturday, the sun broke through, the temperature went up about twenty degrees, and a gorgeous spring day erupted out of nowhere. Other than the chiggers, surveillance was a delight. Even the boredom seemed tolerable on such a beautiful day.
It was too beautiful; the bricklayer couldn’t take it anymore. He drove his electric wheelchair through the
open sliding-glass door onto the patio and watched his brother-in-law and a teenage boy—his nephew, I guessed—sinking baskets in the sun. He sat on the edge of the patio, whooping as he watched the two run around each other, bare-chested and sweaty, in a vicious one-on-one. I pulled the camera up and stared through the viewfinder. I was so close I had to back off the zoom.
Suddenly the boy bounced the ball a few times and tossed it toward his uncle, who caught it in the wheelchair and cradled the ball longingly in his lap.
My hand automatically hit the red button. I felt the gears inside the camera engage. There was the whirring of a motor in my ear to match the buzz of mosquitoes.
I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I know body language when it jumps out at me. Even from this distance, I could see the boy and his father standing in front of the wheelchair making
The camcorder whirred on.
The bricklayer bounced the ball a few times on the concrete patio. The snap of the basketball next to the right wheel of his chair was staccato and sharp. The guy must have been good. Back when he could walk, I mean.
Then I saw him look around nervously, palm the ball, and lay it back on his lap. He hand went to the toggle switch and he threw the wheelchair into reverse, skating smoothly off the concrete and onto the grass. He reached down in his lap, his back to me, and released the safety strap that kept his useless body from falling out of the chair. Then he shoved the ball toward the boy, put his hands on either side of the wheelchair, and leaped onto the patio.
The brother-in-law applauded and cheered. The bricklayer ran to one end of the patio, whipped around, and took two long strides just as the boy bounced the ball in front of him. He became airborne right in front of the
goal, did a three-sixty in midair, then slam-dunked the ball with a rim-shaking clatter.
The camcorder whirred on.
“Praise Jesus,” I whispered. “It’s a miracle.”
So life was good and business was terrific that Saturday night on my way back to Nashville with a solid hour’s worth of sports highlights featuring the miraculously cured bricklayer. Monday morning, I’d head over to the insurance company, give them the tape and my invoice, then settle back to await that nice fat paycheck—with bonus—I needed so badly.
Down around Bowling Green, I flicked on the radio in Lonnie’s van and started searching for the Nashville radio stations. Voices from home and all that. I tuned to the AM band and searched for the all-news station, the one that plays the audio feed off Cable Headline News twenty-four hours a day. The signal was scratchy, full of static, and a bit irritating over the noise of the van. What the hell, I figured, a little aggravation might keep me pumped up for the last hour and a half down I-65 to the city. I needed something to keep me awake after the week I’d had.