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Authors: Jack Batten

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Straight No Chaser

Jack Batten, after a brief and unhappy career as a lawyer, has been a very happy Toronto freelance writer for many years. He has written thirty-five books, including four crime novels featuring Crang, the unorthodox criminal lawyer who has a bad habit of stumbling on murders that need his personal attention. Batten reviewed jazz for the
Globe and Mail
for several years, reviewed movies on CBC Radio for twenty-five-years, and now reviews crime novels for the
Toronto Star
. Not surprisingly, jazz, movies, and crime turn up frequently in Crang's life.

STRAIGHT NO CHASER

A Crang Mystery

STRAIGHT NO
CHASER

Jack Batten

THOMAS ALLEN PUBLISHERS

TORONTO

Copyright © 2011 by Jack Batten
Macmillan edition published September 1989
Seal edition published October 1990

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means—graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or information storage and retrieval systems—without the prior written permission of the publisher, or in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Batten, Jack, 1932–

Straight no chaser : a Crang mystery / by Jack Batten.

First published: Toronto : Macmillan of Canada, 1989.
ISBN 978-0-88762-747-7

I. Title.

PS8553.A833S8       2011 C813'.54       C2010-908132-3

Cover design: Sputnik Design
Cover image: Steve Buchanan/Getty Images

Published by Thomas Allen Publishers,
a division of Thomas Allen & Son Limited,
390 Steelcase Road East,
Markham, Ontario L3R 1G2 Canada

www.thomasallen.ca

The publisher gratefully acknowledges the support of
The Ontario Arts Council for its publishing program.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $20.1 million in writing and publishing throughout Canada.

We acknowledge the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Media Development Corporation's Ontario Book Initiative.

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund for our publishing activities.

11 12 13 14 15    5 4 3 2 1

Text printed on 100% PCW recycled stock
Printed and bound in Canada

For
Howard Engel
and
Eric Wright

STRAIGHT NO CHASER

Contents

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1

D
AVE GODDARD
was asking me to tail a guy he said was tailing him.

I said, “At law school, Dave, when I went, I don't recall they taught a course in close and surreptitious pursuit.”

“The reason I flashed on you for the gig, man, you're a criminal lawyer.”

“You got that part right, Dave.”

“So dig this, you're a criminal lawyer, and the thing going down, this dude on my case, it's a crime.”

“Watching and besetting maybe.”

“That's no jive, man.”

“Dave, when I said watching and besetting, that's what we lawyers call legal wit.”

Dave wasn't in the mood for legal wit. He had a cup of coffee in front of him. I was drinking vodka on the rocks. It was a few minutes after midnight, and we were sitting at the table in Chase's Club reserved for musicians. The table was next to the door into the kitchen.

“Here's the deal, man.” Dave leaned six inches over the table. “The dude follows me to my pad. You follow the dude. I fall into bed.”

Dave stopped talking. He was still leaning.

I said, “That seems to leave me and your alleged tail all by ourselves on the street.”

“Wait for it, man,” Dave said. “What this dude's gonna do, me down for the night, you dig, he's gonna head back to his own pad. You with me, man?”

I said, “And I keep him company at a discreet distance. Which gets us the gentleman's address and eventually his name.”

Dave signified his pleasure.

“Solid,” he said.

“I'm a quick study, Dave.”

I let a beat of silence go by. Dave swallowed from his cup of coffee. Black with enough sugar to give an ordinary man diabetes.

“What if I have a doubt or two?” I said.

Dave put down his coffee cup.

He said, “Crang, the dude's not how you said. Alleged? Last two days, he's right there. I look, dude's back there. Yesterday afternoon, I'm in my room at the hotel, TV's on, I'm laid out on the bed watching my soaps, somebody starts working on the lock from out in the hall. ‘Hey', I holler. Whoever's out there splits. It had to be the same dude.”

“Sounds persuasive, Dave.”

I lied. Dave wasn't persuading me to take part in his dingbat enterprise. But just because it was Dave, I was willing to sit at the table in Chase's while he tried more persuading.

Dave was a tall, reedy guy in his late fifties, about fifteen years older than me. His face was oval-shaped, the kind you usually see on a woman. It looked fine on Dave. He had a head of hair that was still dark, still full. One of his eyes was a fraction off-centre. I think it was the right. When he talked to me, the left was the eye that seemed to be staring into mine. Dave had on a lightweight brown sports jacket and a pale-brown shirt. The jacket had no lapels, and the shirt had a roll collar like the kind Billy Eckstine used to wear. Maybe Mr. B still wears them. A thin leather strap was looped around Dave's neck and hung almost to his waist. A metal clip was fixed to the end of the strap. It held Dave's tenor saxophone when he played. Dave was a jazz musician. In my value system, that gave Dave a status close to heroic. Should a grown man have a hero? Soft spot maybe. I had a soft spot for Dave, and it made me more patient than I'd otherwise be with the talk about trailing a stranger who was trailing Dave.

I said, “Let me suggest something else, Dave, an alternate plan.”

Dave focussed his left eye on me.

I said,“Why not step up to the gent and ask how come the fascination with you?”

Dave raised both hands and made shooing motions.

“Definitely no eyes for that, man,” he said.

“Understand, Dave, I'm doing what a lawyer's supposed to do.”

“Man?”

“Ask questions.”

“I'm hip.”

“So what's wrong with the frontal approach?” I asked. “The guy may be about as threatening as a shy fan.”

“Not this dude.” Dave went into his leaning routine. “See, the amount of years I been on the scene, I can suss when a cat's not cool. This dude isn't. Maybe I crossed him somewhere a long time back. You remember what I was like ten, fifteen years ago, juicing, sticking needles in my arm, all that shit. I did far-out numbers I didn't know I was doing. Maybe this dude, he's somebody I ripped off. Who knows? Cat could be pissed at me from way back.”

“Getting even?” I said. “That's what you think the guy doing the following is all about?”

Dave shrugged.

A waiter in a black bow tie and a red jacket with stains down the front put a tray of drinks on the table at my elbow. I moved my elbow. It was a protective measure. I was wearing my Cy Mann navy blue. Twelve hundred dollars of suit, the most extravagant garment in my wardrobe. The waiter mused over the tray and selected a glass from the collection. He placed it in front of me. I hoped it was vodka and ice. The waiter performed his duties in slow motion. Probably didn't want to get more stains on the jacket. I tasted the drink. The vodka was the bar variety, sweet and lacking in punch. The ice was the genuine article.

“How I read it,” I said to Dave, “you may have things wrong way round.”

“You don't want another vodka?” the waiter said to me.

“Not you,” I said to the waiter. “Fine with the drink.”

“First was a vodka. You ask for another, I figure you mean same as before.”

“I was talking to the other gentleman.”

“Something wrong with the coffee, Mr. Dave?” the waiter asked Dave.

Dave said, “Kinda chilled out now you mention it, man.”

The conversation was getting away from me. Not that I had much grip on it from the time I arrived at Chase's to keep the appointment with Dave Goddard.

“You want me to top it up?” the waiter asked Dave.

“You don't mind, man?”

“A pleasure.”

The waiter needed twenty seconds of slow-mo lifting to reclaim the tray of drinks and amble in search of fresh coffee.

“You were laying something on me back there, man?” Dave said to me.

“I was.”

I intended to offer Dave a couple of reasons for excluding me from his scheme. Dignity, for one reason. It wouldn't be dignified for a lawyer like me, not precisely a pillar of the bar but still a criminal counsel with eighteen years' worth of plucky service in the courtrooms of Toronto, to do a Philip Marlowe. That's what I intended to say. But I couldn't get the words out, not with Dave Goddard the jazz musician asking me for this favour. The hell with dignity.

“Okay, Dave,” I said, “what's the gent on your case look like when he's on your case?”

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