The Gypsy Twist
Funny Bunny Hunts the Horn Bug
Brownstone Kidnap Crackup

Feature Films
Spy, The Movie

(co-written with Charles Messina
& Lynwood Shiva Sawyer)


A Max Royster Mystery

by Frank Hickey

Copyright © 2013 by Frank Hickey

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including manual re-input, photocopying, scanning, optical character recognition, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

This novel is a work of fiction. All characters and events described herein are fictitious and wholly the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to events or actual persons, living or dead, is unintentional and coincidental.

Library of Congress

Catalogue-in-Publication Data

Can Showbizzers Crush Crime? / Frank Hickey
1. Fiction – Crime 2. Fiction – Mystery 3. Fiction – Hardboiled

Published by Pigtown Books, an imprint of Hidden Pearl Books L.L.C.

ISBN: 978-0-9848810-5-5

For further information, please contact:

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

First Edition / First Issue

To Jim Mowat, U.S. Merchant Marine,
(Retired), and all my other good friends
in the High Desert town of
Barstow, California


New Yorkers did not get what they wanted this Christmas. I sure did not.
On the day after Christmas, I hobbled on a cane along Manhattan’s 86th Street subway platform. The station smelled of garbage and illegal cigarette smoke. The cold clawed.
A Dad in winter tweeds and a loud attitude followed his Son through the turnstile. He was wide and starting to soften in the middle.
The Son skittered onto the platform and towards the front end. The train would come in there – it was where suicide jumpers went.
The Son looked like a vessel about to break up on the rocks. His fair skin flushed from emotion under an expensive haircut. His body was pouching into fat already. Dad would not like that.
Sixty feet away by the turnstiles, out of their sight, an NYPD cop leaned against the wall and kicked his shoes free of the slush that lay above us on the streets. He had a narrow foxy face, pale skin and two moles sprouting hair on his neck,
“I’m Royster,” I said to the cop. “Off the Job. There’s a father-son act on the platform. Getting out of hand. He might be a jumper.”
“We can’t do nothing until he jumps,” the cop said. “You know that, being off the Job.”
I blew out a breath and leaned on my cane. My doctor wanted to operate on my knee today.
“Did you ever hear of Preventive Patrol?” I asked.
“Did you ever fricking hear of minding your own goddamn business?” he asked.
“Civil servant,” I said.
Then I limped back onto the platform and neared Dad and Son.
“Hey, hey,” I shouted. “You guys need a referee?”
I was trying to be a regular guy, all bluff and hearty.
It never worked for me.
A subway noise got louder. The train was coming.
“No money,” Dad said to me. “No spare change”
“I don’t want money,” I said. “What’s going on here with you and Junior?”
“That’s our business. Now leave us, please.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“I used to be with the Police Department,” I said.
The statement was the truth. But I mumbled the beginning of the sentence, stressing the words “Police Department.”
New York law could not arrest you for saying that you were a cop if you were a civilian. You had to show or wear something that looked official to get arrested.
They could not arrest me for mumbling.
“Show me your badge or else go chase yourself,” Dad said.
“That’s right,” the Son said.
Now they were united against me, the Common Enemy.
The train pulled in and stopped.
The danger passed.
We all got in the same car.
Dad glared at me until I left the train.

Chapter 1


“I’m operating on Wednesday,” the doctor said. “Then you’ll be on crutches for about three months.”
“I would rather sandpaper a monkey,” I said. “January and two more months in Manhattan, hobbling around? Why so long?”
“Because you put off this operation,” the doctor said through her lisp.
Dyed walnut hair fell over her tortoise-shell glasses. Her teeth gleamed, reminding me that she had munched sugar cane as a child.
“That always complicates an operation. And those kicks really mangled your knee.”
“How about waiting until spring?”
“By that time, you may be much worse off. You’ve waited too long already.”
“January here is ice-cold sleety windy hell,” I said.
An idea hit me.
I swiveled around on the exam couch.
“Doctor Viega, how healthy am I, generally?”
“Overall, better than you deserve. You weigh too much at two-sixteen and six feet tall. Redheaded people are supposed to be hot-tempered and choleric, but your blood pressure is okay. Your family had eye problems. Do you have anything like glaucoma or retinal detachments?”
“This sounds silly, but I don’t know how bad my eyes are,” I said. “Perhaps I’m legally blind. The cops were too lazy to check when they swore me in. DMV let me squint at the chart. Just to be safe, I walk a lot and avoid driving as much as possible.”
“How many times a week do you drink alcohol?”
“Sometimes not enough.”
“A cigar smoker, too. You should be more active. Get out running around Central Park.”
“I’m headed there now. I don’t run. I just ferry my fat around and pray for a belly miracle. What I mean is, when can I travel after I undergo this knife of yours?”
“You can’t. Traveling will be too painful.”
“Wintering and stuck in my cubbyhole apartment will be more painful,” I said. “So cut me Wednesday like you promised. And I’m fleeing this slush as soon as I come out of the ether.”
Somehow, that is what I did.

Friday morning, I rolled over in agony, trying to ignore my left knee bandage. I punched in Pat’s number and waited for him to pick up.
“Y’hello?” Pat had crafted this New York combination of “Yeah” and “Hello” into one word.
“This TV reporter lady hit me up in Carlow’s East Bar,” he breathed. “She wanted to know about us Playpen Irregulars. How we help you handle cases just like Sherlock Holmes used his raggedy bunch of kids, the Baker Street Irregulars. She says that you must be a great motivator to get us knockaround guys like me to help you.”
“Yeah, Pat, I’m a great motivator.”
“You’re ignoring me again.”
“You still flying skiers down to Pennsylvania on the weekend?” I asked. “You got room for a broke-down ex-cop on crutches? I been putting off your seaplane ride offer too long.”
“The mountain is really frozen this year,” he said in his whiskey and tobacco morning voice. “You hate the cold weather.”
“That’s why I’m taking Amtrak west from there.”
“Going where?”

That afternoon, I fought slush with the tips of my crutches and dragged myself over snow crusts to York Avenue.
The cab brought me to the seaplane dock near Wall Street. My crutches clattered into the motorboat that ferried me out to Pat’s seaplane.
The choppy East River tossed the seaplane on its pontoons. Waves lapped.
“You look dead” was Pat’s greeting.
“This wind is cutting,” I said. “Slush soaked my feet. They’ll stay wet all night. Let’s fly before the painkillers make me hurl again.”
Pat looked like an aging leprechaun.
He sported blue eyes of an innocent babe. Reddish whiskey cheeks flowed down to a softening neck and hard round beer belly.
Four skiers slouched in the back.
Pat started singing “Come Fly with Me," copying Sinatra’s style. The skiers stared.
“Ready?” he asked. Pagan joy lit up those eyes.
The plane’s prop started spinning. Water skittered. I could feel myself grinning.
Singing with him, I watched the river water speed past us.
“Now, we’re up!” I breathed. “California or bust!”

We swooped down over icy-looking pine trees onto a lake where ice formed near the shore. The sky was colored like lead pencil shavings. White water crested up from our pontoons as we landed. More cold knifed down past my collarbones and shriveled me.

The next day saw me headed west on Amtrak. My crutches nestled against the metal-rimmed seats.
Drugs kept me sleepy.
My fingers speared out my contact lenses so that I could sleep. The eyeglasses that I wore instead had lime-green colored frames with lenses shaped like hearts.
The train headed west under oyster-colored skies.
“Car accident?” a florid-faced man under a pure white crew-cut asked somewhere in Pennsylvania.
“Pretty near,” I said. “Between the pain and the knockout drugs, I’m trying not to think about it.”
That was Pennsylvania.
I ached to get West.

Ohio formed an ice-storm that rattled and chilled the

window. My cheek rested on the seat back near the glass.
“Going straight through to Los Angeles?” the conductor asked. He sported gold-rimmed eyeglasses and a brushy black moustache. Old acne scars pitted his cheeks. The hair around his temples was silvering and the moustache looked a bit too black. He probably dyed the moustache in order to preen for the passengers.
“I’ll probably get off before then,” I said. “Someplace warm and friendly, where I can crutch around without a rental car.”
“Maybe Houston?”
“Bad memories in Houston.

In Illinois, a golden-haired college-type young woman duffle-bagged her way on. She sat in front of me and drawled to different boyfriends on her cellphone. She stared at my glasses.

“My Lord, whatever happened to you?” she said.
“Do I look that bad?”
“Well, I don’t mean bad. But those crutches and all. What happened?”
“The strength of a tiger is incredible,” I said.
“What’s that?”
“One of Ace Hume’s best pick-up lines.”
She regarded me.
“Have you been to the club car?” she asked. “The bar?”
“Not on crutches. You can’t get there from here. I’ve been living on this jumbo bag of Mediterranean food of hummus, cracked-wheat crackers, feta cheese going bad, breadsticks, olives, halvah and dried sausage. I need the bottled water that they sell here in the car.”
Her lipsticky mouth formed a moue.
“Now, if you don’t want to talk about your foot,” she said.
“Knee,” I said. “A marker of my horrible past.”
“How did you hurt your knee, then?”
“Fighting with a murderous sex deviate who was schooled in the killing arts –”
“Well,” she said. “If you’re going to make up stories.”
When I woke up again, she had gone.
The wind howled outside.
It chilled my palm against the window.
“Make up stories,” I muttered, trying to copy her drawl.
The train kept lulling me to sleep.

My cellphone buzzed.
“Max, this is Jody,” a womanly voice said on the phone. “How have you been? We haven’t talked in a while.”
I stretched out on the seat, feeling warm from hearing her voice. My left knee banged the wall but I did not care.
“Hearing you makes this day happy, “
I said, struggling to get clear of the pain-killers. “How is Firenze?”
“Actually, I’m down in Capri now. Semester break from school.”
“Me, too,” I wisecracked. “But I do miss you, my dear.”
“Max, I had to take this job. Just like you had to stay in New York and fight your way back into the Department. How is that going, by the way?”
“The other side is winning.”
“Max, the reason that I’m calling is that I think that I’ve fallen in love.”
My body jackknifed in the seat. The trees whipped past my

railroad car window. I tried to concentrate on counting them.
“By your tone,” I said, “you probably don’t mean that you’ve fallen in love with me.”
“Max, can’t you give up the smart-alecky talk right now?”
“Now is when I need it.”
“I thought that I should notify you of this,” she said. “So that we could open a dialogue and make an informed decision about our course of action.”
My head shook back and forth.
Wisecracking felt impossible. But I tried.
“You make it sound like my father’s appendicitis operation,” I said. “I love you, Jody. At the same time, you have to be happy in your Italian life.”
“Max, your ideas are just too much for me right now.”
My breath jerked inwards.
“I’ll call you later,” she said.
The cellphone face looked back at me.
A noise came out of my mouth.
It was a small, pained noise.
As usual, I had over-bought on food. My bag bulged.
I gorged on the feta cheese.
“Eating against heartache never works,” I muttered. “It just gets me fatter.”
My chest drew in and out painfully, slowly.
In the dark window, I could see my throat pulse beating too fast.
“Let the body ease up,” I went on. “Avoid Amtrak heart attacks.”
Sleep kept slipping away from me.

The train pulled me across Texas.
“Dallas didn’t interest me enough to get off,” I said to the conductor. “Ditto San Antonio. Waco was raining, so that killed my spirit. I want to go where there is no rain or snow.”
“Then you should try El Paso, Albuquerque, Phoenix or Basta, California,” he said. “Seems like you’re running out of towns. Why didn’t you fly?”
“On three days notice? Too expensive. I’m on your special fare, Anywhere, U.S.A. for two-fifty round trip. As long as you keep this car heated, I’m in no hurry.”
He looked at me as if I needed special care. It was a look that I knew pretty well.
“Sir, just where do you want to go?”
“No big cities,” I said. “What is a ‘Basta’? In Italian and other languages, it means ‘enough’!”
“Railroad town,” he said. “Kind of a sleepy place. Pretty country, if you like dry desert.”
“Make sure you wake me before we get to Basta,” I said. “That sounds just like what I want.”
The pain kept buzzsawing around my left knee.
Stretching out in half-sleep, I dreamed that Jody was curled warmly beside me.

Daylight colored on my window.
The painkillers kept me sleeping.
The window grayed and darkened.
The window showed daylight.
I shook my face around, crutching down the steps.
It was a train station platform that ran along the tracks. The platform ended and the scrubby pale gold desert started.
The sky shone blue jean colors overhead.
Basta showed blocky adobe buildings with the same desert all around it.
My crutches wheeled me along the platform.
A few cabs clustered near the platform.
Ten minutes of fast New Yorker talk got me riding towards a residence hotel on the outskirts of Basta. The broken and dried wooden sign read “Route 66 Tumbleweed Arms - Residence Rooms by Day, Week or Month.”
“Excuse me extremely,” I asked the shaved-head, reedy joker behind the desk. A scar cut crossed his face from eyebrow to chin. “But what do you have here?”
“Rented rooms. One, two or three bedrooms. Privy in back that everyone shares. But you might not be able to handle it. The house next door is already full. I rent it to some nuts. But you’re all stove-in, crutches, and we get some rough waddies here.”
“Sure you do,” I said. “Naturally you do. Stands to reason. ‘Rough waddies.’ Just what is a ‘waddie’?”
“Drifter. Just moving on. Something like you are.”
Dignity required me to lean on my crutches.
Even to me, I sounded like a wiseguy big city fast-talker.
“Gee, I sure hope that I can give you some money for a single-bed apartment,” I said.
“Five-seventy-five a month,” he said. “Cash, no checks. I’m Chick, the boss of everything here. Rooms and the houses.”
Twenty minutes later, I was staring at a large butter-colored room with three huge windows showing the night desert outside.
The room smelled of spilled beer, cigarettes and fast food grease.
“Our hero finds himself in grim circumstances,” I said aloud. “I wonder what Professor Jody would say about this.”
As I spoke her name, my head eased down and my shoulders hunched up.
“In order for our hero to stay jolly, he should promenade somewhat.”

I hauled my beef on crutches in between my building and the one next to it.
Twenty feet of desert ran between them.
A smell like parched grass mixed with dirt flowered the evening. I supposed that it was the scent of the desert.
Last streaks of purpling reddish skies filled the sky.
Through the next building’s window, the one Shaven-Head said he rented, an Asian woman frolicked with a thick white dog. She looked beautiful to me. She buried her face in the dog’s ruff, caught me looking at both of them and frowned.
Classical music played in her room.
I tried to look harmless. But my whiskers were coming white through my skin and my crazy green glasses bobbed on my nose. I did not look dapper.
I crutched away.
A road sign read “Main Street, Part of the Original Route 66.”
Route 66 had its own mythology. It ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. Nat King Cole had sung about it. Other singers followed him. I hummed the lyrics now. Cheering up was needed.
A long stone bridge arced to my left.
A dozen railroad tracks tangled underneath it.
This looked like the oldest part of town.
When the first railroad line came into Basta, the roughnecks probably had slithered off the freight cars to build shanties near the tracks,
A century later, I was copying them.
A stone statue and scrappy yellowed grass formed a kind of square. Locals in cowboy hats and bluejeans hung out there, talking. Guitar music played from somewhere.
As I hobbled onto the square, I breathed in deeply, taking the clean cool air into my Amtrak-ed body.
A bearded ragamuffin with a crown of pure silver hair limped in front of me. He looked about sixty.
“Mister, the sergeant told me to waste some Iraqi civilians,” he said. “But I wouldn’t do it. He run me up to a court martial.”
“You look kind of old for it, sir,” I said.
Watching his wide grimy hands, I moved away.
“It was a moral decision,” he said.
I stopped.
“Yessir, soldier,” I said. “I’m listening to you.”
“Now I’m paying for it,” he said. “Stockade, Dishonorable Discharge, six years hard labor-”
“Okay. You win.”
My fingers slipped my wallet from my bluejeans back pocket.
He came in closer and bumped onto me.
“Hey!” I said.
His boot hit my shin and then the crutch.
I went sprawling down onto the square. Both crutches hit my ribs. My head slammed against the statue’s base.
His foot smashed my face.
He yanked the wallet from my hand.
“Give me a hand here!” I shouted, not thinking.
None of the locals moved.
They watched.
“People!” I said from the ground. It sounded like pleading.
The ragamuffin with my wallet looked like someone’s grandpappy. He was not dangerous.
But nobody moved to stop him or help me up.
The ragamuffin and my wallet went down a lane.
“Basta is afraid of harmless grandpappy muggers?” I said out loud. “This town got trouble.”

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