When Skylarks Fall
By John Robinson
Joe Box Series Novel #2
River Oak Publishers
“Ruthless … with a streak of madness, full of unusual twists and turns”
Joe Box is asked to investigate the stalking of country music star Kitty Clark — one of the richest women in America. The investigation leads Joe to discover not only the shocking identity of the stalker, but a heartbreaking revelation about himself … and Kitty Clark.
Death by drowning is never like it’s pictured in the movies. On the screen it’s mostly a matter of keeping the actor’s makeup straight as they struggle and gasp. What the camera fails to capture is what I was experiencing right now. Panic, confusion, and mindless pain.
The old saw about feeling your heart hammering against your ribs is true. I know mine was, as I hopelessly tried to find a way off this boat. I was trapped below deck in the dark in a sinking cabin cruiser, and all around me the pitch-black room bulged with water, side-to-side, top to bottom. The cabin’s roof forced itself hard against my skull, and except for what was in my lungs, the air in here was gone for good. Outside, the howling, crazy monsoon that had doomed the craft—and me—raged blindly on.
Frenzied now, I frantically began seeking an exit, any exit, out of here. That’s when I felt a light tap on my leg. I reached down, only to find it was the hand of the other man in the water next to me. What he wanted, I wasn’t sure, but he couldn’t have been much help.
Him being dead and all.
Somehow I kept from screaming in animal fear and desperation. Unless I could find a way out of this floating coffin, and right now, I’d be joining him in short order.
I started swimming hard and fast away from the corpse, through the dense blackness toward what had to be the only opening left down here, the hatchway I’d come down.
My lungs blazed with the heat of excessive CO2 buildup, and if I could have seen anything, I would have bet my vision was darkening around the edges. My mouth wanted to open wide to pull in something, anything. It was all I could do to not let it.
The seconds I had left were inexorably ticking down to zero. Part of me almost laughed then in gallows humor. On my last case, I’d very nearly been burned alive. Now it appeared I was going down to a watery grave, for reasons that still eluded me.
Well, that’s not quite right. How I got into this mess bears telling…
Somebody once said that blind dates are only for those in the very peak of mental health. How is the person you’re meeting going to look, sound, smell? Are they going to be a witty conversationalist, or as dumb as a post? Will they know who Andrew Weyeth is, or play Skittles with the escargot shells? I’m past blind dates now that I’m approaching the fifth decade of my life, but meeting a new client carries much of the same baggage.
I gazed across my desk at Tom Parker… Colonel Tom Parker, as he was calling himself. Yes, I was aware of who the real Colonel Parker was (Elvis Presley’s manager, in case you didn’t know), and this guy wasn’t him.
He also wasn’t my client — yet — but that didn’t lessen the man’s zeal. Two minutes earlier he’d snagged me at my door as I was leaving the office on my way to salvage a little last minute Christmas shopping. Since then Parker had been pitching me non-stop that I was “tailor-made” to solve his problem. Which he’d yet to let me in on.
All he’d done was yammer that I came highly recommended; who’d done the recommending I was hoping he’d get to eventually.
But it didn’t look like that was going to happen anytime soon. I held up my hand to stop him. “Mr. Parker, I — ”
“It’s Colonel Parker, son,” he grinned. “Remember?”
He was refusing to look me in the eye while we spoke. Besides being creepy, I’ve never liked that. It always strikes me like the person is trying to hide something.
But there was another reason not to like him. Ever since Parker had accosted me he’d been speaking in some weird, Georgia-cornpone accent that was as brassy as anything I’d heard. In truth, he sounded a lot like the guy that played Boss Hogg on the Dukes of Hazzard TV show. Looked like him, too, only taller, fleshier, and with more hair. And like that actor, Parker also wore a white linen suit, which to me was complete overkill. It was December 22nd in Cincinnati, Ohio, for crying out loud.
“Whatever,” I sighed. “I just wish you’d called ahead for an appointment.”
“Couldn’t wait for it. Miss Clark’s only gonna be in town for a coupla days.”
I frowned. “Who?”
“Kitty Clark!” Parker boomed. “Who you think I’m talkin’ about?”
“That’s what I’m trying to determine.”
Now it was his turn to scowl. “You have heard of Kitty Clark, ain’tcha, son? Country Music Hall of Fame inductee? Wrote Release My Lonely Heart And Let It Fly? Sang duets with both Little Jimmie Dickens and Porter Wagoner?” He shook his head. “Maybe you ain’t the man for the job after all.”
“Maybe not,” I allowed. “You’re telling me you’re somehow connected with Kitty Clark?”
“Connected?” Parker snorted the word. “Well, I should say! I’m her manager!”
I shook my head, leaning back in my creaky old cracked black leather desk chair.
“Come on. First you tell me you have the same name as Elvis Presley’s manager, and now you’re saying you work for Kitty Clark.” I smiled at him. “Did my buddy Nick Castle put you up to this? Even for him it’s pretty lame.”
Parker looked affronted. “It’s for real, son. I’m neither jokin’ nor jestin’. I know my name’s the same as the other Tom Parker, but Tom Parker’s who I am, and I really do run Kitty Clark’s business affairs.”
“And you’re a colonel.”
“Well, honorary.” His reply was sheepish. “I’m a Kentucky Colonel. Got me a paper from back when Bert Combs was governor. Figured it couldn’t hurt.”
Great. Another fake colonel. My fifteenth summer I’d clerked in a paint and hardware store in my hometown, and one of the things I learned to do there was custom picture framing. That also happened to be the summer the state’s governor (not Bert Combs that year) decided to give out Kentucky Colonel certificates in case lots. I must have framed more than thirty of them in our town alone. Ever since, that title has meant little to me.
I glanced at my watch, then back up at my guest. “Sir?” My tone was even. “Why are you here?”
Parker must have sensed my patience was wearing thin as he dropped his blustery veneer. “Miss Clark is scared. Somebody’s been doin’ some weird things, and she needs a bodyguard. I’ve heard tell you’ve done that a time or two.”
‘A time or two’ didn’t quite cover it. Back in my early twenties, shortly after my wife’s death, I’d gone into a twelve-year alcoholic slide. During that time I’d done some bodyguarding stints, along with other things I’m less proud of, to keep me in Scotch. But that was over twenty-five years ago, and I told Parker as much.
“Don’t matter a lick, son,” he said. “Miss Clark gave me direct orders she wants you, and that about covers it.”
“Mr. Parker,” — I couldn’t force myself to call him colonel, and it didn’t look like he was going to press it — “there are a dozen other PI’s in Cincinnati, most of them younger than me, and in better shape. Besides, you never said how she knows who I am. My name isn’t exactly famous.”
Parker gave me a look. “After that GeneSys thing you broke last August? Exposin’ them neo-Nazi test-tube guys and rescuin’ all them girls? Heckfire, it was all over the news. You’re bein’ too modest.”
“Maybe. So you’re saying Kitty Clark asked for me personally?”
“By name. Her exact words were, ‘Tom, this craziness has gotta stop, and I know the man for it, a local private investigator. Joe Box is who he is, and I want him.’” Parker shrugged. “And it’s like I said. What Miss Clark wants, she most usually gets.”
I gave him a lazy grin. “But what if I’m not for sale?”
My Review: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
I give When Skylarks Fall my highest recommendation. Joe Box is at it again. He has a mystery to solve about who’s stalking Kitty Clark and what secret she’s holding. But this isn’t the ordinary case he’s expecting. It has more twists and turns than ever before, and one of those secrets involves Joe.