Retribution: A Lew Fonesca Mystery (Lew Fonesca Novels)

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9780312874520: Retribution: A Lew Fonesca Mystery (Lew Fonesca Novels)
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Stuart M. Kaminsky, the veteran author of more than forty novels and the creator of such wonderful characters as Abe Lieberman, Toby Peters, and Inpsector Rostnikov, has created a new PI: Lew Fonesca, a world-weary guy who got in a car and just started driving after his wife died and wound up in front of a Dairy Queen in Sarasota, Florida.

He now makes his way amid bail jumpers and lost wives, people who want to be found and those who will do anything to stay under their rock. He spends his days solving cases both big and small and trying to get by, while attempting to figure out how to make the rest of his life make sense.

Retribution not only picks up where the first novel in the series, Vengeance, left off, but raises the bar big-time. Lew has solved his share of cases, and most of them-to his pride-have wound up having happy endings; in Vengeance, he saved a young runaway who has had a childhood nobody should ever have, and she finally seems to be turning her life around. But when she becomes involved with a reclusive best selling author and several valuable manuscripts disappear, Lew knows that young Melanie is in way over her head. And if he doesn't act fast, not only could a few reputations get tarnished--the bodies might start piling up.

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About the Author:

Stuart M. Kaminsky is the Edgar Award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Inspector Rostnikov, Toby Peters, Lew Fonesca, and Abe Lieberman mystery series. He lives with his family in Sarasota, Florida.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
 
 
The left side of face hurt.
A woman named Roberta Dreemer, affectionately known to her few friends and many enemies as Bubbles, had filled the doorway of her rusting trailer in the mobile home park just across from the Pines Nursing Home seconds after I knocked. Bubbles Dreemer was a very big woman.
She had been easy to find. She had a phone and it was listed in the Sarasota phone directory. It seemed like a quick, easy job for Richard Tycinker, attorney-at-law in the firm of Tycinker, Oliver and Schwartz with offices on Palm Avenue who needed Big Bubbles's testimony in an assault case.
I handed Bubbles the folded sheet. She looked at it for a beat and hit me. Then she slammed her door.
It was a Thursday. Still morning. I was sitting by myself in a booth at the back of the Crisp Dollar Bill, almost directly across from my office/home on Washington Street, better known as 301. I was doing my best to forget Bubbles Dreemer. I'm not good at forgetting. That is one reason I see Ann Horowitz, the shrink treating me for depression.
I had bicycled to the trailer park and back to save the cost of a car rental. From where I lived and worked I could bike or walk to almost anything I needed or wanted in Sarasota. Before I went into the Crisp Dollar Bill I had stopped at the Main Street Book Store, the largest remaindered bookstore in Florida, gone up to the third floor, and bought a two-videotape 1940 serial of The Shadow starring Victor Jory. It took six dollars of my fifty. I was using some of what was left on a beer and a Philly steak sandwich that, thanks to Bubbles, was a little painful to eat.
My name is Lew Fonesca. When people look at me, they see a five-foot-seven, thin, balding man, a little over forty years old with a distinctly Italian, distinctly sad face. That's what I see when I look in the mirror, which I do my best to avoid.
I came to Florida five years ago from Chicago after my wife died in a hit-and-run accident on Lake Shore Drive. I was headed for Key West. My wife, whose name I've spoken only twice since she died, was a lawyer. I was an investigator in the office of the state's attorney of Cook County. My specialty was finding people. I'm not a cop. I'm not a lawyer. I'm not a private investigator. I'm not even an accountant.
My car had died in the parking lot of the Dairy Queen that I could see from the booth in which I was sitting at the Crisp Dollar Bill if I leaned to my right and looked through the amber window. Thirty feet from where my car died, there had been a "FOR LET" sign on the run-down two-floor office building at the back of the DQ parking lot. I had rented a small two-room office on the second floor, converted the small reception room into an underfurnished office and the equally small office behind it into the place I slept, read, watched television and videotapes, and thought about the past.
My goal in life was simple. To be left alone. To make enough to keep me in breakfast, burgers, videotapes, an occasional movie, and payments to my shrink.
Almost all my meals were eaten within a few hundred yards of where I lived, worked, and watched old movies on tape. There was Gwen's Diner at the junction of 41 and 301 where a big photograph of young Elvis in white smiled out in black and white with a proud sign under it that said, "Elvis Presley ate here in 1959." There was the DQ owned I by a sun-weathered man named Dave who spent most of his time alone in his small boat in the Gulf of Mexico. And there was the Crisp Dollar Bill where the bartender and I owner Billy Hopsman played an endless series of tapes and CDs he loved that seemed to have nothing in common. There was Mel Torme, Verdi operas, the Pointer Sisters, Linda Ronstadt, Ruben Blades, B. B. King, Blue Grass, Dinah Washington, Sinatra, and odd German stuff that sounded like Kurt Weill gone into a depression not far from my own. You never knew who you might hear from the I Bose speakers when you entered the Crisp Dollar Bill. Right now it was Joe Williams singing "Don't Be Mad at I Me." Billy had been a hippie, a cabdriver, and for a brief time a minor league catcher with a very minor league Detroit Tigers farm team. Best of all, Billy was not a talker. He wasn't much of a listener either except for his large collection of tapes.
The door of the Crisp Dollar Bill opened and in walked Marvin Uliaks. Actually, you couldn't call Marvin's mode of transportation "walking." It was much closer to a shuffle. In this case, a nervous shuffle.
Marvin had brought an unwelcome blast of sun behind him reminding me that there were hours to go before I could call it a day.
"Close the door," Billy said automatically without looking up from the copy of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune laid out on the bar in front of him.
Marvin shifted the weight of the oversized book under his arm, pulled himself together, and closed the door. Then he squinted, blinked, and tried to adjust his eyes to the amber darkness.
Marvin's nose was pushed to one side as if his face were permanently pressed against a store window. His large popping eyes made him look amazed at even the most inconsequential contact with other human beings. Marvin was short, had an unkempt mess of brown hair beginning to show gray at the temples, and was so thin that you wondered how well he could stand up against an evening breeze off the Gulf. I imagined Marvin in a hurricane, arms out, hair blowing as he went spinning in the air, a startled look on his face as he passed the same cow Dorothy had seen on her way to Oz.
Marvin had the kind of face that made people say, "He'll never win a beauty contest." As I was soon to discover, people were once again wrong. The great "they," the ones we mean when we say "they say," were often wrong but completely protected by being someone other than you and me.
Marvin's eyes adjusted quickly and he headed straight for my booth. He dropped the huge book in front of me and sat facing me across the table. The pockets of his well-weathered denim jacket were as bulged out as his eyes. He folded his hands in front of him on the table and looked at me.
"Look at it," Marvin said.
He was harmless and quiet, two levels below minimally bright. I pushed my Shadow videos aside and opened what was clearly an album of photographs and newspaper clippings. The first item was a newspaper clipping that said Marvin Uliaks, age three, had won the annual cutest child contest at the county fair in Ocala in 1957. The article, wiltingly Scotch-taped in the album like every other item, had a photograph of a smiling blond kid with curly hair wearing a sailor suit. The kid was pointing at the camera and beaming. Flanking the little boy were a thin, sober-looking man with a baby in his arms and a pretty brunette who was holding Marvin's free hand. The woman wore a little hat and held her free hand up to shield out the sun. The man and woman were identified as the proud parents of Marvin.
"That's me all right," Marvin said, tapping a finger on the newspaper clipping. "My mother, my father, and my baby sister.
"My sister, Vera Lynn. She was named for a singer."
"'Till We Meet Again.'" I said.
"Don't know where, don't know when," Marvin sang. Vera Lynn, the British singer during World War II, was a favorite of my father's who made it through the ware with all his organs and body parts except his right eye.
"Look at the next one," Marvin said with excitement.
In the photograph, Marvin's father was holding the little blond boy upside down by the ankles. The father had a little smile. The boy was grinning.
"Turn the album upside down," Marvin said, turning the album. "See, now I look right side up and my father looks upside down."
"You're the right," I said, turning the album around again.
"Marvin, what...?"
"Keep looking, Mr. Fonseca. Keep looking," he urged, turning the page."
"Fonesca,r; I corrected.
"Yeah, oh, sorry. My name's Uliaks."
"I know." I said, looking at several pages of photographs that meant nothing to me.
"I went to your office," Marvin said. "You weren't there. I went to Gwen's. You weren't there either. I went..."
"You found me," I said.
"Yes," he said, shaking his head once with pride.
"Why?" I reached for my beer.
"I want you to find Vera Lynn."
"You want me to find your sister," I said, putting the beer down. "I'm a process server. I find people to give them orders to appear at court or in a lawyer's office for a deposition, or to produce documents. I'm not a private investigator."
"You find people," Marvin said. "I heard. Old guy at Gwen's told me."
"A few times," I said. "A few times I found some people."
"There, there she is," he said, tapping on a photograph on the page I had just turned to. He was tapping on the color photograph of a very pretty and very well sculptured blonde in a blue dress. The girl was smiling. Her teeth looked white and perfect. I guessed she was no more than eighteen. Another girl about the same age stood next to the blonde. She was pretty, thin, wearing a red dress and no smile.
"Who's the other one?"
Marvin craned his neck awkwardly to get a better view at the photograph with a look of amazement as if he were seeing it for the first time.
"Sarah," he said. "She's been dead a long time. I need to find Vera Lynn."
He was looking at me and rocking back and forth.
"When was the last time you saw Vera Lynn?" I asked.
He bit his lower lip considering the question.
"Twenty, twenty-five years maybe. I got a letter."
He reached over and turned the album pages quickly past yellowed notes, withering photographs, cracking postcards, matchbooks, and some candy wrappers.
"Here," he said, triumphantly slapping the page he was looking for with the palm of his hand.
I was looking down at an envelope.
I had come to the Crisp Dollar Bill to have a sandwich, a beer, and to feel sorry for myself, not for Marvin Uliaks. I removed the letter from the envelope.
Marvin fidgeted around and leaned forward getting nearly on top of me.
"Letter's from Vera Lynn," he said, pointing to the neatly scripted name in the corner of the envelope I had laid aside. "She's not in Ocala no more. She's not in Dayton no more. I called, asked. Long time ago. I looked for her couple of times. Took the bus or a car out of Ocala after the wedding."
I was tempted to ask Marvin about Dayton and whatever wedding he was talking about. I didn't. Instead, I said, "This letter's almost twenty-five years old."
"I know. I know. I just want you to find her. Tell me where she is, is all."
"Why?"
"Family business," he whispered as he rocked. "Important family business. All I can say about it. Family business is all I can say."
"Why now after all this time?" I asked.
"Somethin's come up. Family business. I don't want to talk about it. Please just find Vera Lynn. Let me talk to her, like just a minute. Converse."
"Fresh beer?" Billy called from the bar.
"No, thanks," I said.
"On me, Mr. Fonesca," Marvin said. "On me."
"You want privacy, Mr. F.," Billy said from behind the bar. "I've got a job out back Marvin can do, cleaning out the cabinets."
Marvin shook his head "no."
"No, thanks," I told Billy. "Marvin and I are old friends."
Actually, I had known Marvin for a couple of years, but we weren't friends. He did odd jobs in the three-block stretch of stores on 301 from Main Street to the Tamiami intersection, basically my neighborhood. Marvin washed windows, ran errands, swept up in exchange for food from the restaurants, an old pair of shoes or pants from a shoe or clothing store, a dollar from other businesses, and a place to sleep behind the sagging Angela's Tarot and Palm Reading shop down the street from where I worked and lived.
I was now engaged in the longest conversation I had ever had with my friend Marvin.
"I got a confession, Mr. Fonesca. I got drunk. Just a little. To get up the nerve to come find you. Then I was ashamed of being drunk so I sobered. So now my head is hurting fierce."
I gulped the last of my beer, patted Marvin on the shoulder, slid out of the booth, and got up.
"She's gone, Marvin," I said. "Get some sleep."
"I've got money," he said, digging into the pockets of his old denim jacket. Crumpled singles, fives, and tens appeared in his gnarled fists. He dropped them on top of the open album and kept digging into his pockets.
"See, I can pay."
Like a kid doing magic tricks Marvin continued to produce bills from his pants pockets, shirt pocket, the cuffs of his socks.
Lincoln and Washington looked up at me from the top of the heap of bills.
"We got a discrepancy there?" Billy called.
Marvin was hyperventilating now, his large eyes fixed on my face waiting for the answer to all his prayers.
"Almost all my life's savings," he said, his face pressing against an imaginary window of expected failure. "Just about all I've got. I'm not asking for favors here. Oh, no. I'm hiring you just like any other Joe. You too busy now? Okay, but I'm a...a..."
Marvin wasn't sure of what he was and I wasn't going to tell him.
"Billy," I called. "You have a paper bag?"
Billy looked over at the pile of bills.
"For that?"
"Yes."
"Paper or plastic?"
"Paper," I said.
Billy pulled a paper bag from under the bar, came around, and handed it to me. I shoved Marvin's money into it and handed Marvin the bag. He pushed it back at me.
"I'm saying 'please,'" Marvin said. He looked as if he were going to cry.
"Twenty dollars a day," I said with a sigh. "If I don't find Vera Lynn in five days, I give it up and you promise to give it up. Deal?"
Marvin went stone still.
"Give me forty in advance for two days," I said. "Most it can cost you is a hundred. I'll need the album and the letter."
He nodded and smiled.
"That's business," he said, holding out his hand. We shook and he dipped into the paper bag to pull out four tens. He handed them to me. "All's you got to do is find her, tell me where she is. I'll do the rest. It's important."
"I'm closing up for an early lunch, Mr. F.," called Billy, closing the newspaper. "Meeting some people at Longhorn. Place's like a morgue this morning anyway."
I assumed both Marvin and I were prime contributors to the funereal atmosphere.
I closed the album, tucked it under my arm, went to the bar, and handed Billy one of the four tens Marvin had put in my hand. Billy nodded and Marvin followed me into the street.
Traffic was moving slowly, but there was a lot of it. I wanted to cross the street, go to my room, and watch The Shadow, but I knew I'd be looking at Marvin Uliaks's album.
"Anything else you can tell me about her?" I asked.
"All in the book," he said, tapping the album. "All the answers I got. Like the Bible. Got the answers. You just have to figure out what they mean. I never could, not in the album, not in the Bible, not in any book pretty much even when I was a kid. But you know how to find me. Right now I'm going to Lupe's Resale to do some work unless you want me to come with you."
"Go to Lupe's," I said. "I'll find you if I need you."
He stood on the sidewalk while I waited for a break in traffic and jogged across the street, past the DQ, through the parking lot, and up the stairs to my office. When I turned around, Marvin was stand...

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