Housepainter Toby Rew has few ambitions. He's marking time, giving a facelift to a house in a low-rent district of Syracuse, New York, to earn his next meal, next six-pack, and next month's rent. One sweltering day, Toby is slaving away on his ladder when he witnesses a fight in a house across the street. Curious, he investigates and discovers a dead man in a ransacked room. Like a good citizen, Toby goes off to call the cops. But when he returns to the scene of the crime with police detectives, the homeowners are present, there's no body, and everything looks normal. When the police leave in disgust, Toby finds himself embarking on a mission that gives his dull life new purpose. Playing amateur sleuth to find out who the dead man was, why he was killed, and what happened to the body, Toby soon finds himself entangled in a mystery involving mobsters and a rare manuscript. When the situation turns to threats on himself, Toby's got to avoid painting himself into a corner with his investigation, or risk becoming the next victim.
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Untreed Reads, LLC
August 13, 2012
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Excerpt from Primed for Murder by Jack Ewing
"Dixon and French waited for Toby halfway down the walk leading from the Puterbaugh house. The three men ambled towards the detectives' car. "That was a big nothing." French scratched an armpit, exposing a holstered gun.
Toby considered reporting Mr. Puterbaugh's implied threat but vetoed the idea: Just one man's word against another's. The words themselves were harmless enough--it was how they'd been said. There was a cold spot on his arm where strong fingers had pinched. "It's plain as the nose on your face. Everything's been tidied up."
"You still singing that same tired song?"
"There's no pile of books, like you told us," Dixon said reasonably. "No slashed furniture. No bloody rug or spatters. Everything's normal."
"Most of all, no body, like you claimed." French's voice had a nasty tone.
"They put the room back in order," Toby said. "But they were careless. Did you look at the books? Some were shelved upside down. Pictures on the walls didn't match spots on the wallpaper where other things once hung, and--"
French stopped and Toby almost ran into him. "Know what I think?"
"Who cares what you think? I know what I saw." Toby's face, inches from the detective's, felt hot. French's breath stank as though he'd had pizza heaped with pepperoni and garlic for lunch. The odor clashed with his pungent shaving lotion.
French went on as though Toby hadn't spoken. "You're in trouble. It's illegal to file a false crime report." He huffed through his nose like an accelerating locomotive.
"To knowingly file a false report." Dixon stepped between them. "Mr. Rew is only guilty of having a few too many, of impaired judgment."
Toby rounded on the older detective. "You think I dreamed it all up, too?" Dixon shrugged. "I didn't have a drink until later."
"Then you made up for lost time," French cracked.
Toby ignored him. "I was sober when I witnessed the crime and found the body." The beer buzz had worn off and now he just felt tired. "Look, I'm a law-abiding citizen. I'm trying to do the right thing."
French waved it away. "You're so full of crap, it's coming out your mouth."
"Try to see it from our point of view, Mr. Rew. We deal in evidence. Facts." Dixon slung an arm in friendly fashion around Toby's shoulders. "Here are the facts, as we see them." He made a fist of his free hand, except for a slender forefinger. "One: no evidence of a crime, much less murder, at the Puterbaugh's--"
"How many times do I have to tell you? They cleaned it up!" Toby ducked from under the detective's arm and faced the two men. "They had a couple hours between when I found the dead man and when we got back here. Plenty of time to get rid of a body and do a little housekeeping."
"And whose fault is it they had so much time?" French asked.
"I explained all that." Behind Dixon and French, Toby saw slight movement at the open blinds in Puterbaugh's den window as someone flashed into and out of sight. "Maybe the body is hidden in the cellar. Maybe it's in the attic."
"Maybe it's all in your mind," French said. "Give you credit: you got a vivid imagination."
"Everything I said is true! I gave lots of details--"
"They didn't pan out. Sure, it's apparent you've been in that room before. But we're missing the main attraction: a corpse. Or evidence there ever was a corpse."
"What's the problem? Take apart the house, you'll find it. Or spray some stuff that glows where blood's been. What's it called?" What was wrong with the cops? Why didn't these lummoxes want to do their job?
"Luminol," French said.
"Problem is, Mr. Rew, to search the place thoroughly, we'd need a warrant," Dixon said. "And to get a warrant, we need probable cause."
"We haven't got probable squat. Everything's kosher." French's eyes, the green of a cat's, glinted with anger. "We haven't got anything but a colossal waste of time. And you, the guy who's wasted it."
"That's the second important fact, Mr. Rew." Dixon made a two-fingered V. "The fact you've been drinking. And the two facts sort of cancel each other out." The fingers were snapped up by Dixon's sharp-knuckled fist.
"We should run you in for public intoxication." French fingered handcuffs looped at his belt. "Making us come out on a wild-goose chase."
"But we won't," Dixon said. "I'm sure it was all an honest mistake."
Toby fumed, biting his tongue. How could these blockheads, investigation specialists, supposedly professional observers, be so blind?
Dixon patted his shoulder like a father chastising a son. "You sober enough to drive?" Toby nodded, unable to speak. "Hope so. I'd hate to see you arrested for DUI. Go straight home, sleep it off and we'll forget about this little incident, okay?"
"And don't let it happen again." French shook a finger in his face. "I'll keep an eye peeled for you, Rew." He sniffed once more, with feeling, climbed behind the wheel, fired a parting shot: "Get some help for that drinking problem." Dixon smiled at Toby sympathetically and slid in on the passenger side. The car pulled smoothly away.
Toby stared after them a moment, then crossed to his truck. He mused briefly about getting out paint and brush again, and having at Mrs. Cratty's house. But the sun was lower in the sky. It had been a long, trying day. He'd never be able to focus on the job, knowing the Puterbaughs were watching him.
He unlocked the truck door. The cab was stifling. The seat covers seared his legs through the coveralls and the plastic steering wheel burned his fingers. Toby rolled down both windows to let in air and slumped back to think. At the angle he was sitting, the blue house across the street filled the outside mirrors of the truck. Questions crowded Toby's head--questions the police couldn't be bothered to ask. "