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Authors: Matt Witten

2 Grand Delusion

BOOK: 2 Grand Delusion
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Praise for
GRAND DELUSION
and the Jacob Burns Mysteries

 

“Witten delights with his charming characters, especially Burns himself.” –
Publishers Weekly

 

“GRAND DELUSION
is a funny, satirical novel, peopled with enjoyable characters… The self-deprecating Burns is a delight.” –
Romantic Times

 

“A success.  Fast…lighthearted… Witten presents his characters and plot twists in a straightforward and believable manner.”

Albany Times-Union

 


Interesting characters, a substantial plot, and a subtle sense of humor.” –
The Mystery News

 

“Matt Witten’s second Saratoga-based mystery is a witty, fast-paced read for mystery lovers who appreciate an engrossing puzzle.” –
The Chronicle

 

“A winner.  Mystery fans are going to love this guy.” –
Laura Lippman, author of
The Most Dangerous Thing

 

“Jacob Burns is a welcome addition to crime fiction.” –
Don Winslow, author of
Savages

 

"Jacob Burns is a wise-cracking, write-at-home dad with a nose for trouble.  While solving mysterious deaths in Saratoga Springs, he manages to see into the heart of his community with a great deal of humor and tenderness." —
Sujata Massey, Agatha Award-winning author of the Rei Shimura mysteries

 

AUTHOR'S NOTE

 

WARNING:
This book is fiction! The people aren't real! Nothing in it ever happened!

 

In particular, I in no way mean to impugn the fine name of the Saratoga Springs police force, which protects its citizens with honesty and zeal.

 

For Nancy

 

1

 

I walked out my door into the silent one a.m. darkness. Had I dreamed those tortured screams, or were alley cats fighting in my neighbor's backyard?

Neither. I heard a desperate, low-pitched moan. And then I saw him.

In the dim light of a distant street lamp, a man was lying on the cold, dark ground. He was motionless—except for one arm that jerked around convulsively.

I moved closer, then stopped and stared in shock. It was my nemesis, Pop Doyle.

His eyes were shut. A gun lay on the ground beside him, and blood oozed out of a hole in his ripped-up neck.

I fought off nausea and leaned down toward him to see what I could do. His arm jerked and hit me on the nose. I jumped back, startled.

Pop opened his eyes a little. His breathing was raspy, and when he opened his mouth, blood spilled out.

But then two words spilled out, too. "Shot me," he gasped.

I waited for more, but he just coughed weakly. So I asked, "Who?
Who
shot you?"

Pop started to answer. But then his eyes met mine, and he recognized me. He got a pained, disgusted look on his face, like he was thinking, "Jesus H. Christ, the last face I see before I die is
this
clown?"

And then Pop closed his eyes and died.

 

* * * * * * * *

 

It took me about half a nanosecond to realize I was in deep trouble. Any cop with any brains would immediately suspect me of killing this foul fiend.

You see, Pop Doyle was the landlord for the house next door. For years we'd been sniping at each other about the endless parade of scuzzbag tenants he rented to. Then, during the past twenty-four hours, our skirmishes suddenly exploded into all-out open warfare.

The war was triggered at three a.m. the previous night, when my wife and I were awakened from a deep sleep by Pop's latest drug-dealing tenants and their horn-honking customers. A carful of guys roared up in a black Trans Am, and the driver leaned on his horn for a solid two minutes. Finally one of Pop's tenants ambled lazily out of the house, stuck a small packet into the driver's hand, and took a couple of bills in exchange.

I couldn't understand it. Me, if I were buying drugs, I'd do it quietly. No fuss, no muss. But these folks were always honking, screaming, and pounding the living daylights out of each other. During the entire two months since the drug dealers had moved in next door, Andrea and I hadn't slept through the night once.

So we called the cops, like we'd done so many times before. "I'm reporting a disturbance at 107—"

"107 Elm Street, right," the dispatcher interrupted, sounding like she was stifling a yawn. "Okay, we'll send someone out."

The cops went through their usual, utterly useless routine. By the time they arrived half an hour later, the Trans Am was long gone. The cops didn't even bother to get out of their patrol car, just hung around for a few minutes and then left.

Eventually Andrea and I were able to get back to sleep. But before dawn had a chance to break we were awakened all over again. This time the noisemakers were Pop's tenants themselves, a black guy named Zapper and a white guy named Dale who lived in the two adjoining front apartments.

Zapper was huge and sullen looking, with the biggest muscles I'd ever seen this side of WWF wrestling. No doubt he'd acquired them in prison. In contrast, the almost albino Dale was hollow chested, with arms and legs thinner than mine. But even so, he frightened me far more than Zapper did. The man
twitched
too much. He was always smoking cigarettes, and my guess is he smoked a lot of his own product as well.

Despite these unpleasant personal characteristics, the two men had no lack of girlfriends. One of them was sleeping over that night, and now, at 4:30 a.m., Dale was loudly threatening to do a variety of unspeakable things to her body. Meanwhile she was screeching, "I just took one little blast, that's all, I swear!"

So we called the cops for the second time in one night. They came by eventually, and as far as we could tell from looking out our window, did exactly what they always did. Which was nothing.

Why were the cops being so infuriatingly blasé? We lived on Saratoga's West Side, so we were used to the city treating us like second-class citizens. But still, this seemed extreme. Andrea and I were pretty sure we knew the real deal: The cops didn't want to mess with Pop's tenants because they didn't want to mess with
Pop
.

See, Pop was a cop, too. And lest you be misled by his nickname into thinking Pop was some kind of beloved Spencer Tracy-type father figure, worshiped by all the local prepubescent boys, let me set you straight. Pop Doyle was not exactly the fatherly sort. At least, not any sort of father you'd ever want.

Once when I was fixing lunch at the Saratoga soup kitchen, a homeless man with a face full of purple bruises gave me the lowdown on Pop. "Damn cop caught me sleeping in the park last night, said, 'I'm gonna pop you one.' Only he don't pop me
one
, more like
one hundred. Pop, pop, POP
. Wish I had it on video, I'd git me twice as much green as that fool Rodney King ever got."

But so far no one had ever gotten Pop on video, so he just threw his weight around and did whatever the hell he wanted. Though he was the worst absen
tee slumlord on the whole West Side, his decrepit firetraps never got cited. No one had the balls to take him on.

And as a result, Andrea and I were turning into basket cases with permanent large bags under our eyes.

After Dale, Zapper, and the girlfriend who "just took one little blast, I swear!" quieted down, Andrea and I did manage to fall asleep yet again that night as dawn started sneaking through our window. But then Babe Ruth and Wayne Gretzky, our two sons—their real names are Daniel and Nathan, but they prefer Ruth and Gretzky—came into our room to cuddle with us. We were so tired we yelled at them. Sleep-deprived parenting, I'm convinced, causes more misery than any neurosis Freud ever dreamed of.

Looking for a little sanity, I walked the boys downstairs and threw their favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles video into the VCR. I know the Ninja Turtles are hopelessly passé, but our kids somehow discov
ered their old videos and can't get enough of them. "Hurray for Daddy!" they called out ecstatically when I took the video out of the box. They'd only seen this one about two hundred times, so they weren't tired of it yet. I silently hoped the electronic babysitter would make sure they didn't light any matches or run outside, and stumbled back to bed.

But then Andrea and I overslept, so we yelled at the kids all over again to hurry through breakfast. Of course, yelling at our kids to hurry only puts them into molasses mode. They spent an hour or two just putting on their sneakers—and we're talking Velcro here, not big-boy shoestrings. After Andrea microwaved a bagel, picked up the screaming Gretzky, and hauled him off to preschool, and after the Babe and I dashed madly to his elementary school bus stop and made it, gasping, barely in time, I was so irate at the drug dealers who had caused all this aggravation that I wanted to string them up by their toes and make them watch endless
Teletubbies
episodes until they begged to be put out of their misery.

On a less satisfying but more realistic level, should I simply knock on their door so we could discuss this problem like regular, rational people? After all, it was in their best interest too, not just mine, for them to follow their criminal pursuits more quietly.

But I didn't exactly share a great rapport with these guys. When they first moved in, I went over to say hi and do the drop-by-if-you-ever-need-a-cup-of-sugar routine. But Zapper and Dale just stood there staring blankly over my head until I finished my Welcome Wagon
shpiel
. Then they went right back in the house without saying a word to me. Probably muttering "fucking yuppie scum" under their breath.

With two neighbors like these, I was grateful that the third rental unit at the back of the house was temporarily unoccupied. But if there weren't any tenants I could go to for help, and the landlord and cops just ignored me, then how in the sam hill was I supposed to stop these late-night horror shows?

To add insult to injury, right across the street from the dealers lived Dave—and Dave was a cop himself, for God's sake. Why didn't
he
put an end to their nefarious activities?

As I dragged my tired self back home from the bus stop, I heard the whine of weedwhacking coming from Dave's backyard. In the past, whenever I ha
rangued Dave about Pop's tenants, he sloughed me off. But today, by gosh, I was mad as hell and I wasn't going to take it anymore. I decided to go back there and confront him.

Dave was an uptight type of guy, and even his lawn looked uptight that chilly October morning. There wasn't a single cedar chip or blade of grass out of place. In his defense, I suppose Dave had to be on the cautious side to survive as the only black cop in Saratoga.

After a brief obligatory compliment of his yard work, I got right down to brass tacks. But Dave responded with an incredibly irritating shrug. "What makes you so sure they're dealing?" he asked.

"Give me a break! Cars drive up in the middle of the night, people go in for one minute, then they come out again. What do you think they're doing in there—playing speed chess?"

"Look, what do you want from me? I can't just break into their place without a legal reason."

"How about the empty vials on the sidewalks? What are you waiting for—a red neon 'Crack for Sale' sign on their front lawn?"

"My suggestion is, if they get noisy, start honking their horns or whatever—"

"They
do
honk their horns—at three in the morning. You must hear it!"

"No, my bedroom's at the back."

"Well, bully for you!"

"You know, no one's ever complained about them except you—"

"Because the old lady on the other side of them is stone deaf! And the elderly couple behind them are scared that if they open their mouths, these guys will come in their bedrooms with sharpened screwdrivers!"

He held up his hands. "Hey, as I was trying to say, if they get noisy, call the cops."

"That's what I'm doing! I'm calling
you!"

He didn't speak for a moment, just rubbed a hand through his closely cropped hair as he gazed up at the autumn sky. Sometimes Dave's exaggerated carefulness made me want to shoot him. "Is it because Pop owns the place?" I challenged him. "Is that why you're not doing diddlysquat?"

His grip tightened on his weedwhacker, but he still didn't answer me. "Come on, Dave," I pleaded angrily, "do you
enjoy
having crack dealers across the street? We've got to
do
something."

Dave was my friend. He snow blowed my driveway in the winter, and I trimmed his hedges in the summer.

I even solved a murder for him once. Got his picture on the front page of the
Daily Saratogian
. If that's not friendship, what is?

But I guess friendship has its limits. Because Dave just squared his jaw, turned on his machine, and got back to weed whacking.

At the time I thought he was being a typical stonewalling cop, protecting a fellow man in blue against even the most righteous civilian.

It didn't hit me until later that actually, Dave might be scared of Pop.

Scared to death.

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