Thursday’s Sampler: The Green Pearl Caper
June 30, 2016
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Thursday’s Sampler features an excerpt from The Green Pearl Caper by Phyllis Entis. It is a fun, quick read! Author Phyllis Entis has created an appealing hero in Damien Dickens, a down-on-his-luck private investigator. You care about what happens to him.
As one reviewer said: Wonderful mystery novel that somehow seems familiar but with unpredictable twists and turns. Great characters that you can relate to but with suspense and surprises at every turn.
Celine Sutherland is dead – her body half-hidden under the Atlantic City Boardwalk – and Damien Dickens, P.I. killed her. Detective Lt. James Holmes found Damien’s gun and wallet near the crime scene, and discovered Celine’s cash-filled, emerald-studded evening bag hidden in Damien’s apartment.
Sylvia Sutherland, Celine’s older sister and CEO of the family’s tobacco empire, insists that Dickens pulled the trigger. And the Sutherlands carry a lot of influence in Atlantic City. Even Damien’s secretary has deserted him – gone to work for the Sutherlands. Only Celine’s younger sister, Susan, believes in his innocence.
After Susan bails him out of jail, Damien follows his gut and a series of clues in order to clear his name. His quest takes him to several Atlantic City landmarks, inland to Everettville, a small New Jersey town, and north to Vermont, where he confronts Celine’s killer.
, set in the summer of 1979, is the first in a series of Damien Dickens mysteries.
I killed Celine. A couple of teenagers found her body last Sunday morning, half-hidden under the Boardwalk, a single bullet hole through her chest. The bullet came from my Smith & Wesson 29, the gun found on the beach not far from where Celine lay.
It wasn’t my finger that pulled the trigger. I wasn’t there when she died. Even so, I killed her. She came to me for help; I had bailed her out of a tight spot in the past, and she trusted me. But, this time, I let her down. I didn’t believe she was really in danger. I screwed up, and Celine paid the price. She was murdered, and it’s my fault.
Celine walked into my office on July 16, 1979. Less than one week later, she was dead.
I was sitting at my desk late that Monday afternoon, the Sunday edition of The Press, Atlantic City’s daily newspaper in front of me. I had the paper open to the Personals section of the classified ads and was staring at a display ad that read, ‘Dickens Detective Agency. We find what you’re looking for.’ The ad was Millie’s idea. Her hobby is taking Adult Education classes at the local community college. This semester, the topic was Marketing. “Run it for a week,” she had urged me. “It will help to bring in new business. You’ll see.” I looked at the dateline at the top of the page. Sunday, July 15, 1979. The ad had run for a full week without generating anything more than a few crank calls.
The detective business is an unpredictable racket. Sometimes feast, most times famine. Over the past year, the Dickens Detective Agency had been experiencing a drought. The economy was dicey. With inflation running at more than 13%, consumers weren’t buying, and companies were trimming staff, making a severe dent in the demand for employment background checks, a major source of income for us. To make matters worse, a dearth of divorce actions meant that the surveillance business had gone missing, too.
My name is Damien Dickens, and I am a Private Investigator, licensed by the State of New Jersey. I keep an office suite on the second floor of a three-story building on the southwest corner of Atlantic and North Carolina. It’s not much of a suite – just an outer office with a filing cabinet and a reception desk for Millie, a small private office for me, and an adjoining washroom. My office overlooks the street; when I open the window, I bask in the aroma of Happy’s Bar and Grille, located right below. And there’s a parking lot behind the building where I stash my ’71 ice-blue Toyota Celica.
Millie Hewitt takes care of the front office. She’s about 5’5” tall; her blond hair, china-blue eyes, manicured fingernails, slender build, and fashionable way of dressing scream ‘bubble brain’ to those who don’t know her. But under all the fluff is a spine of steel, a loyal heart and a sharp – if somewhat off-center – intelligence. She walked in one day – I still don’t know why – took one look at the stacks of loose papers that tumbled over every horizontal surface, and told me that I was hiring her. We didn’t discuss her credentials or her salary. She just sat down and went to work. After about an hour of shuffling papers, she came over to my desk, introduced herself, and we shook hands. Millie is more than an employee. She has become a friend, a companion and a confidante. I feel good in her company, even though we must look like Mutt and Jeff together.
I’m six inches taller, ten years older, and a few pounds overweight, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Nor does it appear to bother her that my sport jacket is always rumpled, my shoes scuffed, and my necktie usually askew. I used to ask Millie from time to time what she saw in me. She would give me a Mona Lisa smile in response and say, “Just because the cover isn’t pretty, doesn’t mean that the book is not worth reading.” Lately, I’ve stopped asking; I don’t know what I’d do if Millie decided to exchange me for a book with a prettier cover.
It was a few minutes after five. Millie had already gone for the day – she had a class that evening – leaving the newspaper behind on my desk, with a note that read, ‘Please renew the ad. One week is not a good test.’ I had already chucked the note into my waste basket and was about to do the same to the paper, when I heard a gentle tap on my open office door followed by a soft, hesitant voice. “Mr. Dickens?” I looked up and caught my breath. She was beautiful. Not just pretty. Any woman can be pretty with the right hairdo, make-up, and clothes. But this woman was beautiful: silky auburn hair tied in a simple ponytail that swayed gently between her shoulder blades with every move of her head, a long, pearl-smooth neck that disappeared into a simple white tee-shirt stuffed into the waistband of faded blue denims, and a pair of penny loafers on her otherwise bare feet. Her hands and arms were empty of jewelry, though each earlobe sported a small green pearl on a platinum stud. Her fingernails were well-shaped but unpolished. She carried a slender calfskin portfolio case under her right arm, and held the Personals section of the Sunday paper in her left hand. I could see the words ‘Dickens Detective Agency’ peeking out from between her fingers.
“Mr Dickens?” she repeated, a little more insistently. I looked up into a pair of limpid chocolate brown eyes, gently veiled by a generous endowment of auburn eyelashes, and accented by matching eyebrows. The bridge of her once straight nose had a small bump – the result of one of her youthful indiscretions; the slight smile on her full lips did not extend to her eyes. I suddenly realized that I had been staring, and that Celine knew exactly the effect she was having on me. I cleared my throat and found my voice. “Celine?” I managed. “Sorry. You caught me by surprise.”
“Mr. Dickens,” she began.
“Damien,” I interrupted, “or Dick, if you prefer.”
“Damien,” she nodded in acknowledgment. “You saved my life when you dragged me out of that
Ensenada dive eight years ago. I was furious with my father for sending you after me, and I hated you for bringing me home, even though I knew all along that I needed help.” She stopped, took a deep breath and carried on. “Mr. Dickens – Damien – I need your help again.” She looked straight at me, her poise contrasting sharply with the urgency in her soft voice and the anxious, almost hunted, look in her eyes.
I did my best to appear detached and business-like. “Go on,” I nodded.
She opened her mouth, then hesitated; her eyes filled with tears, and her entire body shook with enormous sobs. I stood as if on cue, walked around my desk, and touched her on the shoulder. And, before I knew it, she was in my arms, her tears soaking through my shirt. I held Celine until I felt the sobs subside, then guided her back into her seat, handed her a box of tissues, and took my place across the desk from her. I waited while she struggled to regain her composure. When I thought she was ready, I leaned forward. “What’s wrong, Celine? How can I help you?”
She thought for a moment, then began with a question. “How much do you know about what happened after you delivered me back to my father?” she asked.