Lanyon, josh - adrien english 04 - death of a pirate king

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(An Adrien English Mystery)





Josh Lanyon











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Death of a Pirate King (An Adrien English Mystery)

Josh Lanyon


This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference mightbe made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names,characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’simagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirelycoincidental.



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Copyright © September 2008 by Josh Lanyon

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Coincidence, if traced far enough back, becomes inevitable.




Chapter One


It was not my kind of party.

Sure, some people might think the dead guy made it my kind ofparty, but that wouldn’t be a fair assessment of my entertainment needs -- ormy social calendar. I mean, it had been a good two years since I’d last beeninvolved in a murder investigation.

I sell books for a living. I write books too, but not enoughto make a living at it. I did happen to sell one book I wrote to the movies,which is what I was doing at a Hollywood party, which, like I said, is not myscene. Or at least, was not my scene until Porter Jones slumped over and fellface first into his bowl of vichyssoise.

I’m sorry to say my initial reaction, as he keeled over, wasrelief.

I’d been nodding politely as he’d rambled on for the past tenminutes, trying not to wince as he gusted heavy alcoholic sighs my way duringhis infrequent pauses. My real attention was on screenwriter Al January, whowas sitting on the other side of me at the long, crowded luncheon table.January was going to be working on the screen adaptation of my first novel,Murder Will Out. I wanted to hear whathe had to say.

Instead I heard all about deep-sea fishing for white marlin inSt. Lucia.

I pushed back from the table as the milky tide of soupspilled across the linen tablecloth. Someone snickered. The din of voices andsilverware on china died.

“For God’s sake, Porter!” Mrs. Jones exclaimed from acrossthe table.

Porter’s shoulders were twitching and I thought for a momentthat he was laughing, although what was funny about breathing soup, I’d no idea-- having sort of been through it myself recently.

“Was it something you said, Adrien?” Paul Kane, our host,joked to me. He rose as though to better study Jones. He had one of thoseBritish public school accents that make insignificant comments likeWould you pass the buttersound asinteresting asFire when ready!

Soup dripped off the table into my empty seat. I stared atPorter’s now motionless form: the folds on the back of his thick tanned neck,the rolls of brown flab peeping out beneath the indigo blue Lacoste polo, hismeaty, motionless arm with the gold Rolex watch. Maybe twenty seconds all told,from the moment he toppled over to the moment it finally dawned on me what hadactually happened.

“Oh, hell,” I said, and hauled Porter out of his plate. Hesagged right and crashed down onto the carpet, taking my chair and his own withhim.

“Porter!” shrieked his wife, now on her feet,bleached blonde hair spilling over her plump freckled shoulders.

“Bloody hell,” exclaimed Paul Kane staring down, his normallyunshakable poise deserting him. “Is he --?”

It was hard to say what Porter was exactly. His face wasshiny with soup; his silvery mustache glistened with it. His pale eyes bulgedas though he were outraged to find himself in this position. His fleshy lipswere open but he made no protest. He wasn’t breathing.

I knelt down, said, “Does anyone know CPR? I don’t think Ican manage it.”

“Someone ring 911!” Kane ordered, looking and sounding likehe did on the bridge of the brigantine inTheLast Corsair.

“We can trade off,” Al January told me, crouching on the otherside of Porter’s body. He was a slim and elegant sixty-something, despite thecherry red trousers he wore. I liked his calm air; you don’t expect calm from aman wearing cherry red trousers.

“I’m getting over pneumonia,” I told him. I shoved the fallenchairs aside, making room next to Porter.

“Uh-oh,” January said and bent over Porter.

* * * * *

By the time the paramedics arrived, it was all over.

We had adjourned by then to the drawing room of the oldLaurel Canyon mansion. There were about thirty of us, everyone, with theexception of me, involved one way or the other with movies and moviemaking.

I looked at the ormolu clock on the elegant fireplace manteland thought I should call Natalie. She had a date that evening and had wantedto close the bookstore early. I needed to give Guy a call too. No way was Igoing to have the energy for dinner out tonight -- even if we did get away inthe next hour or so.

Porter’s wife, who looked young enough to be his daughter,was sitting over by the piano, crying. A couple of the other women wereabsently soothing her. I wondered why she wasn’t being allowed in there withhim. If I was dying I’d sure want someone I loved with me.

Paul Kane had disappeared for a time into the dining roomwhere the paramedics were doing whatever there was left to do.

He came back in and said, “They’ve called the police.”

There were exclamations of alarm and dismay.

Okay, so it wasn’t a natural death. I’d been afraid of that.Not because of any special training or because I had a particular knack forrecognizing foul play -- no, I just had really, really bad luck.

Porter’s wife -- Ally, they were calling her -- looked up andsaid, “He’sdead?” I thought it was pretty clear he was a goner from themoment he landed flat on his back like a harpooned walrus, but maybe she wasthe optimistic kind. Or maybe I’d just had too much of the wrong kind ofexperience.

The women with her began doing that automatic shushing thingagain.

Kane walked over to me, and said with that charming,practiced smile, “How are you holding up?”

“Me? Fine.”

His smile informed me that I wasn’t fooling anyone, butactually I felt all right. After nearly a week of hospital, any change ofscenery was an improvement, and, unlike most of the people there, I knew whatto expect once someone died a public and unexpected death.

Kane sat down on a giant chintz-covered ottoman -- the roomhad clearly been professionally decorated because nothing about Paul Kanesuggested cabbage roses or ormolu clocks -- fastened those amazing blue eyes onme, and said, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. Violent death in the dining room?Generally not a good thing.

“Did Porter say anything to you? I couldn’t help noticingthat he had you pinned down.”

“He mostly talked about saltwater big game fishing.”

“Ah. His passion.”

“Passion is good,” I said.

Kane smiled into my eyes. “It can be.”

I smiled back tiredly. I didn’t imagine that he was coming onto me; it was more…an actor picking up his cue.

He patted my knee and rose. “It shouldn’t take much longer,”he said with the optimism of inexperience.

They kept us waiting for probably another forty minutes, andthen the doors to the drawing room opened silently on well-oiled hinges, andtwo cops in suits walked in. One was about thirty, Hispanic, with the tightlycoiled energy of the ambitious young dick, and the other was Jake Riordan.

It was a jolt. Jake was a lieutenant now, so I didn’t see whyhe’d be here at a crime scene -- except that this was a high-profile crimescene.

As I stared it was like seeing him for the first time -- onlythis time around I had insider knowledge.

He looked older. Still ruggedly good-looking in that big,blond, take-no-prisoners way. But thinner, sharper around the edges. Harder. Ithad been two years since I’d last seen him. They didn’t appear to have been ablissful two years, but he still had that indefinable something. Like a youngSteve McQueen or a mature Russell Crowe. Hanging around the movie crowd, youstart thinking in cinema terms.

I watched his tawny eyes sweep the room and find Paul Kane. Isaw the relief on Kane’s face, and I realized that they knew each other:something in the way their gazes met, linked, then broke -- not anything anyoneelse would have caught. I just happened to be in a position to know what thatparticular look of Jake’s meant.

And since I was familiar with the former Detective Riordan’sextracurricular activities, I guessed that meant the rumors about Paul Kanewere true.

“Folks, can I have your attention?” the younger detectivesaid. “This is Lieutenant Riordan and I’m Detective Alonzo.” He proceeded toexplain that while the exact cause of Porter Jones’s death was as yetundetermined, they were going to ask us a few questions, starting with whoeverhad been seated next to the victim during the meal.

Paul Kane said, “That would be Valarie and Adrien.”

Jake’s gaze followed Paul Kane’s indication. His eyes lit onme. Just for a second his face seemed to freeze. I was glad I’d had a fewseconds’ warning. I was able to look right through him, which was a smallsatisfaction.

“I don’t understand,” the newly widowed Ally was protesting.“Are you saying…whatareyou saying?That Porter wasmurdered?”

“Ma’am,” Detective Alonzo said in a pained way.

Jake said something quietly to Paul Kane, who answered. Jakeinterrupted Alonzo.

“Mrs. Jones, why don’t we move next door?” He guided hertoward a side door off the lounge. He nodded for Alonzo to follow him in.

Despite Detective Alonzo’s “undetermined causes” it seemedpretty clear to me that if the police were interrogating us they had prettymuch ruled out accidental or natural death.

A uniformed officer took Alonzo’s place and asked us toplease be patient and refrain from speaking with each other -- and immediatelyeveryone started speaking, mostly protesting.

After a few minutes of this, the side door opened again andeveryone looked guiltily toward the doorway. Ally Porter was ushered straightout.

“The performance of a lifetime,” Al January commented next tome.

I glanced at him, and he smiled.

“Valarie Rose,” Detective Alonzo requested.

A trim forty-something brunette stood up. Rose was supposedto directMurder Will Out, assumingwe actually got to the filming stage -- which at the moment felt unlikely. Shewore minimal makeup and a dark pantsuit. She looked perfectly poised as shepassed Detective Alonzo and disappeared into the inner chamber.

She was in there for about fifteen minutes and then the dooropened; without speaking to anyone, she crossed into the main room. DetectiveAlonzo announced, “Adrien English?”

Kind of like when your name gets called in the doctor’soffice:That’s right, Adrien. This won’thurt a bit. I felt the silent wall of eyes as I went into the side room.

It was a comfortable room, probably Paul Kane’s study. Heseemed like the kind of guy who would affect a study. Glass-fronted bookcases,a big fireplace, and a lot of leather furniture. There was a table and chairsto one side where they were conducting their questioning. Jake stood at a largebay window that looked down over the back garden. I spared one look at hisstony profile before sitting down at the table across from Detective Alonzo.

“Okay…” Alonzo scratched a preliminary note on a pad.

Jake turned. “That’s Adrien with ane,” he informed his junior. His eyes met mine. “Mr. English and Iare previously acquainted.”

That was one way to put it. I had a sudden, uncomfortablyvivid memory of Jake whispering into my hair, “Baby, what youdoto me…” An ill-timed recollection ifthere ever was one.

“Yeah?” If Alonzo recognized there was any tension in theair, he gave no sign of it, probably because there’s always tension in the airaround cops. “So where do you live, Mr. English?”

We got the details of where I lived and what I did for a livingout of the way fast. Then Alonzo asked, “So how well did you know Mr. Jones?”

“I met him for the first time this afternoon.”

“Ms. Beaton-Jones says you and the deceased had a long, longtalk during the meal?”

Beaton-Jones? Oh, right. This was Hollywood. Hyphens were afashion accessory. Ms. Beaton-Jones would be Porter’s wife, I surmised.

I replied, “He talked, I listened.” One thing I’ve learnedthe hard way is not to volunteer any extra information to the police.

I glanced at Jake. He was staring back out the window. Therewas a gold wedding band on his left hand. It kept catching the light. Like asunspot.

“What did he talk about?”

“To be honest, I don’t remember the details. It was mostlyabout deep-sea fishing. For marlin. On his forty-five-foot Hatteras luxurysport-fishing yacht.”

Jake’s lips twitched as he continued to gaze out the window.

“You’re interested in deep-sea fishing, Mr. English?”

“Not particularly.”

“So how long did you talk?”

“Maybe ten minutes.”

“Can you tell us what happened then?”

“I turned away to take a drink. He -- Porter -- just…fellforward onto the table.”

“And what did you do?”

“When I realized he wasn’t moving, I grabbed his shoulder. Heslid out of his chair and landed on the floor. Al January started CPR.”

“Do you know CPR, sir?”


“Ms. Beaton-Jones said you refused to administer CPR to herhusband.”

I blinked at him. Looked at Jake. His tawny eyes were zeroedin on mine.

“Any reason for that, sir? Are you HIV-positive by any chance?”

“No.” I was a little surprised at how angry I was at thequestion. I said shortly, “I’m getting over pneumonia. I didn’t think I coulddo an adequate job of resuscitating him. If no one else had volunteered, I’dhave tried.”

“Pneumonia? That’s no fun.” This also from the firm’s juniorpartner. “Were you hospitalized by any chance?”

“Yeah. Five fun-filled days and nights at HuntingtonHospital. I’ll be happy to give you the name and number of my doctor.”

“When were you discharged?”

“Tuesday morning.”

“And you’re already back doing the party scene?” That wasJake with pseudofriendly mockery. “How do you know Paul Kane?”

“We met once before today. He’s optioned my first book for apossible film. He thought it would be a good idea for me to meet the directorand screenwriter, and he suggested this party.”

“So you’re a writer?” Detective Alonzo inquired. He checkedhis notes as though to emphasize that I’d failed to mention this vital point.

I nodded.

“Among other things,” remarked Jake.

I thought maybe he ought to curb it if he didn’t wantspeculation about our former friendship. But maybe marriage and a lieutenancymade him feel bulletproof. He didn’t interrupt as Detective Alonzo continued toprobe.

I answered his questions, but I was thinking of the first timeI’d met Paul Kane. Living in Southern California, you get used to seeing “moviestars.” Speaking from experience they are usually shorter, thinner, morefreckled, and more blemished than they appear on the screen. And in real lifetheir hair is almost never as good. Paul Kane was the exception. He wasgorgeous in an old-fashioned matinee idol way. An Errol Flynn way. Tall, builtlike something chiseled out of marble, midnight blue eyes, sun-streaked brownhair. Almost too handsome, really. I prefer them a little rougher around theedges. Like Jake.

“Hey, pretty exciting!” Alonzo offered, just as though itwasn’t Hollywood where everyone is writing a script on spec or has a book beingoptioned. “So what’s your book about?”

A little dryly I explained what my book was about.

Alonzo raised his eyebrows at the idea of a gay Shakespeareanactor and amateur sleuth making it to the big screen, but kept scribbling away.

Jake came over to the table and sat down across from me. Myneck muscles clenched so tight I was afraid my head would start to shake.

“But you also run this Cloak and Dagger mystery bookstore inPasadena?” Alonzo inquired. “Was Porter Jones a customer?”

“Not that I know of. As far as I’m aware, I never saw himbefore today.” I made myself look at Jake. He was staring down. I looked to seeif my body language was communicating homicidal mania. In the light floodingfrom the bay window my hands looked thin and white, a tracery of blue veinsright beneath the surface.

I folded my arms and leaned back in my chair, trying to looknonchalant rather than defensive.

We’d been talking for thirty minutes, which seemed like anunreasonable time to question someone who hadn’t even known the victim. Theycouldn’t honestly think I was a suspect.Jakecouldn’t honestly think I’d bumped this guy off. I glanced at the grandfatherclock in the corner. Five o’clock.

Alonzo circled back to the general background stuff that ismostly irrelevant but sometimes turns up an unexpected lead.

To his surprise and my relief, Jake said abruptly, “I thinkthat’s about it. Thanks for your time, Mr. English. We’ll be in touch if weneed anything further.”

I opened my mouth to say something automatic and polite --but what came out was a laugh. Short and sardonic. It caught us both bysurprise.

Chapter Two


“Gosh, you look terrible!” Natalie exclaimed.

I batted my lashes. “You always know the right thing to say.”I flipped through the day’s sales receipts.

I’d acquired Natalie two years ago when Angus, my formerbookstore employee, split for parts unknown. After a string of temps I let mymother -- against my better judgment -- persuade me into hiring Natalie.

Natalie, at that time, was my brand-new stepsis. Afterthirty-odd years of widowhood, my mother Lisa had suddenly decided to remarry,and with Councilman Bill Dauten had come three stepsisters, in order ofappearance: thirty-something Lauren, twenty-something Natalie, andtwelve-year-old Emma.

The Dautens were the nicest family in the world. I kept a watchout for the insidious undercurrents, the clues that all was not as it shouldbe, but nope. Nothing. Okay, maybe Bill overdid the Jägermeister on theholidays and got squirm-makingly sentimental, and I could have done withoutLauren and her many crusades -- and Natalie had the worst taste in men I’d everencountered outside of my own -- but Emma was a pip.

“Where’ve you been? I was getting worried.”

I replied vaguely, “It took longer than I expected.” AnythingI told her would hit the familial newswire within the hour, and for now Ineeded this to be an exclusive.

“Did you have a good time?” She really wanted to know; shereally hoped I’d had a good time. This was one of the things that I found hardto get used to in having an extended family. All this friendly interest wasnice but it was strange.

After years of it being just Lisa and me -- okay, actuallybeing mostly just me -- all these interested and involved bystanders made meuneasy.

I glanced without favor at the boyfriend du jour: WarrenSomething. He lolled in one of the club chairs near the front desk, lookingbored. Straggly hair, emaciated body, and one of those wispy goatees that mademe yearn for a sharp razor -- and not so that I could give him a shave. He worea T-shirt that readChicks Hate Me.Supposedly he was some kind of musician, but so far all he seemed to play wason my nerves.

Hiring Natalie turned out to be one of my better decisions.My only problem with her was she kept trying to persuade me to hire Warren.

“It was okay,” I said. “Aren’t you two going to a concert orsomething?”

Warren showed signs of life. “Yeah, Nat, we’re going to belate.”

“Lisa called four times. She’s really upset you went out sosoon after getting discharged. You better call her.”

I muttered something, caught Natalie’s eye. She chuckled.“You’ll always be her baby.”

Warren laughed derisively.

Yep, I was definitely getting tired of old Warren.

“I’ll give her a call. Lock up, will you?”

Natalie assented, and I went upstairs to my living quarters. Yearsago I bought the building that now houses Cloak and Dagger Books with money Iinherited from my paternal grandmother. At the time I thought it would besomething to tide me over until my writing career took off.

I turned on the lights. The answering machine light wasblinking red. Eight messages. I pressed Play.


Lisa. I fast forwarded.


Fast forward.


Holy moly. Fastforward.


Jeeeesus. Fastforward.

Fast forward.

Fast forward.

Fast forward.

Guy’s taped voice broke the silence of the apartment. “Hello,lover. How’d it go?”

Guy Snowden and I had met a couple years earlier, and we’dbeen seeing each other since Jake and I parted ways. I hit Stop on the machine,picked up the phone, but then considered.

If I called Guy now it wouldn’t be a quick call, and I didn’thave the energy to deal with what I was feeling, let alone his possiblereaction.

I replaced the phone and went into the bathroom, avoidinglooking at my hollow-eyed reflection in the mirror. I didn’t need a reminderthat I looked like something the cat dragged in. I felt like something the catdragged in -- after he chewed on it for a few hours. My chest hurt, my ribshurt. Coughing really hurt, but suppressing the cough was a no-no because mylungs had to clear. A truly delightful process.

I took my antibiotics and stretched out on the couch. Fifteenminutes and I’d call Lisa, and then if I had strength left, I’d call Guy andtell him about the party and Porter Jones and Jake. Guy wouldn’t be happy aboutany of it, especially the part about Jake. Not that I’d ever really gone muchinto my relationship with Jake; but Guy, who taught history and occult studiesat UCLA, had been a suspect in one of Jake’s murder investigations, and it hadleft him with not very friendly feelings toward cops in general and Jake inparticular.

I thought about the party at Paul Kane’s. Not thatpartywas exactly the word for theafternoon’s events. I tried to pinpoint exactly when I’d met Porter Jones. PaulKane, who had been mixing cocktails behind the bar, had introduced us. He’dhanded me a glass that had been sitting on the bar for a few minutes, and said,“This is for Porter. My secret recipe.”

I’d handed the glass to Porter.

Of course Porter had had a lot of drinks that afternoon. Alot of glasses had passed his way…

* * * * *

When I woke, the buzzer was ringing downstairs.

I sat up, groggy and a little confused by a series of weirddreams. The corners in the room were deep in shadow. Just for a moment itlooked like someplace else, someplace strange, someone else’s house. It lookedlike the home of whoever would live here years after I was gone.

The clock in the VCR informed me that it was nine o’clock.Shit. I’d stood Guy up for dinner.

The buzzer downstairs rang again, loud and impatient.

Not Guy, because he had a key.

No way, I thought. I started coughing like I’d inhaled amouthful of dust. Dusty memories maybe.

I got up, adrenaline zinging through my system like someone hadflipped a switch. Heading downstairs, I turned on the ground level lights. Icrossed the silent floor of towering shelves and strategically placed chairs,my eyes on the tall silhouette lurking behind the bars of the security gate.

Somehow I knew -- even before he moved into the unhealthyyellow glow of the porch light. I swore under my breath and unlocked the frontdoor. Pushed the security gate aside.

“Can I come in?”

I hesitated, then shrugged. “Sure.” I moved out of the way.“More questions?”

“That’s right.” Jake stepped inside the store and staredaround himself.

The previous spring I’d bought the building space next door,and between the bookstore and the gutted rooms was a dividing wall of clear,heavy plastic. Otherwise it didn’t look too different: same comfortable chairs,fake fireplace, tall walnut shelves of books, same enigmatic smiles of thekabuki masks on the wall. Everything as it was. Me excluded. I had certainlychanged.

I remembered when I’d first met Jake, when he’d beeninvestigating Robert Hersey’s murder. He’d scared the hell out of me, and Iwondered now why I hadn’t paid attention to that first healthy instinct.

His stare came at last to rest on me. He didn’t say anything.

“Déjà vu,” I said, and was relieved that my tone was just aboutright.

It seemed to annoy Jake, though. Or maybe he was annoyed atbeing forced to remember there had ever been anything between us besidescriminal investigation.

He said flatly, “I want to know what you were holding backwhen we interviewed you this afternoon.”

That caught me off guard. “Nothing.”

“Bullshit. I know you. You were hiding something.”

Now that really was ironic. “You think?”

He just stared, immovable, implacable, impossible. “Yeah.”

“I guess some things never change.”

“Yeah,” he drawled. “Two years later I find you smack in themiddle of another homicide investigation. Coincidence?”

“You think not?” I started coughing again, which wasaggravating as hell.

He just stood there watching.

When I’d got my breath again, I rasped, “If I were hidingsomething I guess it was the realization that you and Paul Kane are alsoalready…acquainted.”

He didn’t say a word.

“Same club, old chap?”

He raised an eyebrow. “You sound jealous, Adrien. Andbitter.”

Did I? The thought startled me.

“Nah. Just curious.”


I shrugged. “Not really my business.”

“You’ve got that right.” He was curt. After a moment he saidslowly, “So that’s all it was? You guessed that Paul and I…knew each other.”

“In the Biblical sense?” I mocked. “Yeah.”


After we’d parted company he’d called twice when I hadn’tbeen there to take his call. Or maybe I had been there, but just hadn’t pickedup. Anyway, I knew from caller ID who the hang-up calls were from.

And then, eleven months after the whole thing was over, he’dcalled and actually left a message.

It’s Jake.

Like, did he think I’d forgotten his voice along with hisnumber?


It’d be nice to talk toyou sometime.

As he himself would have said:Uh-huh.


Dial tone.

What did he think we’d talk about? His marriage? Work? Theweather?

“So are we done?” I heard the tension crackle in my voice andknew he heard it too. I didn’t have the strength to keep fencing with him. Ididn’t have the energy to keep standing there pretending this wasn’t getting tome, that it wasn’t opening up a lot of wounds that weren’t as well healed asI’d believed.

He said flatly, “Yeah, we’re done.”

Chapter Three


“I don’t believe it,” Guy said. “There’s something wrong withmy karma.”

“Check the expiration date,” I suggested.

He paused in setting out little white cartons of rice andshrimp in lobster sauce to give me the British two-finger salute.

“Two words,” I said. “Sounds like duck flu.”

His smile was reluctant. His eyes, green as the curl of awave, studied my face and narrowed. “You overdid it today, lover.”

“I’m out of shape. I find murder tiring.”

This reminded him of the thing I kept hoping he’d forget.“And of all the cops in all the world, why the hell would that assholeRiordanshow up today at Paul Kane’s?It’s fucking unbelievable. I thought he was a lieutenant or something?”

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