Cast loosely in the mold of such hard-boiled detectives as Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, Joe Gold is an old-fashioned kind of guy, adrift in a modern world he doesn’t fully understand, full of characters he understands all too well. Times may change, but people don’t. And being Jewish is just another hurdle.
Down on his luck and behind on his rent, he’s approached by his old mistress, Maureen, now married to the corrupt mayor of Central City, with a serious problem. Their daughter, seventeen-year-old Julie who has no idea that Joe is her real father, has been abducted from her summer camp in a blackmail attempt of some sort. Before she can give him any important details, Maureen is murdered, and Joe is left on his own to put together all the pieces of the puzzle and rescue his daughter. Complicating matters, it appears that someone is out to kill him too.
Threading the dangerous needle that takes him through the seamy underbelly of Central City and Mayor Bill Wagner’s corrupt administration proves to be a real challenge, and he’s totally unprepared for what he finds at the end. The surprises don’t end there, however, as he discovers in his next two cases: a man who believes he’s a vampire, and another who purveys murder through the comments sections of a newspaper. Through all this, he’s aided by Jenny Martin, his long suffering business partner and Girl Friday, who struggles to keep him on an even keel—and alive.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Pure Gold by Theodore Druch, Joe Gold is a private eye down on his luck. The author takes us through three of Joe’s cases: the murder of the mayor’s wife and the kidnapping of a seventeen-year-old girl; a murderous cult of vampires, or those who think they are; and a murderous blogger who selects his victims based on the comments section of a newspaper’s blog—cases that take Joe to within an inch of his life.
The book is well written, intense, and compelling, and the author uses humor to break the tension in just the right places. A really great read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Pure Gold ~ Three Cases of Gold by Theodore P. Druch is the story of Joe Gold, a Jewish PI, down on his luck and struggling to pay the bills, who has a propensity to get cases that threaten his life. When the corrupt mayor’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Julie, is kidnapped, her mother, Maureen, hires Joe to rescue her since she doesn’t trust her husband to do anything about it. Since Julie is really Joe’s daughter from an affair he had with Maureen before she married the mayor, he is highly motivated to find her. But before Maureen can give him any more details, she’s murdered, and Joe is left to ferret out the clues on his own, with the help of his able assistant, Jenny. Joe and Jenny take on two more cases as well—one in which a man who thinks he is a vampire is accused of murder and his parents want Joe to clear his name, and the other in which Jenny’s cousin is murdered by someone using a newspaper blog to select victims.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Druch has a wry sense of humor that is both natural and subtle, giving extra depth and character to the story. With wonderful character development, intriguing mysteries, and plenty of surprises, Pure Gold is one you will want to read again and again, just for the “pure” enjoyment.
The Case of the Mayor’s Wife
Sliced and spliced, I was crossing the street from the hospital when I saw Lieutenant Frank Gomez of the Twelfth Precinct walking toward me, looking, as usual, like he’d slept in his suit. Frank and I went back a long way, and I’d been surprised that I hadn’t heard from him. He had a worried look on his face.
“Hey, Joe, I heard you got shanked. You okay?”
I smiled. “And the intrepid gumshoes of the ever-vigilant Twelfth have finally heard about it, huh?”
“Well, your name isn’t high on the roster anymore, in case you hadn’t noticed—somewhere between the cleaning-lady and the bottom. I only know because, out of idle curiosity, I glanced over the weekly notice of criminal injuries treated at General. You get yourself iced, and nobody’ll know for days.”
I laughed. “And few will mourn either, right, Frank?”
“I know that. You—and Eddie.”
Eddie was Ed Logan, captain of the Twelfth, who had never believed that I was dirty. After I was exonerated, but kicked off the force as an embarrassment for going off on my own, half-cocked, “for the last goddamn time,” he and Frank were the only one’s who’d have a drink with me. Maybe the rest would have liked me better if I’d been guilty. Cops can be funny that way. The fact that I’m a Jew didn’t help either. Cops can be funny that way too.
I caught the flash just as I was turning to see his face better in the glare of the late afternoon sun.
I grabbed his shoulder and dragged him to the pavement even as the crack of the rifle sheared the air. I thought I heard the hiss of the round as it went by above, definitely high velocity.
Frank was a seasoned cop, and it took him no time at all to shimmy, with me, behind the nearest car that would block any further shots. The gash in my side erupted in fire, and I hoped that I wasn’t bleeding through the stitches. The doctor had told me that any violent activity could do that.
There were no more shots.
Frank looked at me. He was breathing hard.
“What the hell have you gotten yourself into now?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “You know me. I can’t resist a redhead.”
“I should have figured. You just can’t lay off the babes.”
“Not this one. She’s my daughter, and she’s been kidnapped.”
He gazed at me with an uncomprehending look all over his face. “When the fuck did you get married?”
“I never said I was married.”
He thought for a while. I could see that he was going through a list of names in his mind. “Anybody I know?”
I shook my head. “It was a long time ago. Before I came to the precinct. She’d moved on up and didn’t want to have anything more to do with me. But I’ve kept up with Julie’s progress, and now she’s been kidnapped.”
“Why the fuck didn’t you come to me?”
I gave him the fish-eye. “Give me a break. I’ve seen too many botched kidnappings by the cops, and so have you. I have to do this myself.”
“Not anymore. A shot’s been fired. It’s a police matter now. I can’t ignore this.”
Frank was more right than he knew. I was about to plead with him when someone shouted.
“Help, somebody, please, there’s a woman in a car. She’s been shot. I think she’s dead.”
All bets were off.
I didn’t know how off until I heard Frank, who’d raced to the sound of the shout, cursing, “Holy Mother of God and Jesus Christ our Savior, it’s the mayor’s wife.”
I’d been trying to get back to my feet when I just sat down again, hard.
Maureen Wagner was Julie’s mother.
I put my head in my hands. Now the shit was really gonna hit the fan.
I don’t know how long I just sat there, on the sidewalk, behind a red Chevy, thinking about Maureen and all those years ago. It would’ve never worked out, of course. I was just a little guy, and she had bigger fish to fry. The mackerel she finally landed was Councilman William “Bill” Wagner, who she’d been hooking up with the nights she wasn’t with me. She’d been diddling a few others on her booty-baited hook too, but he was first in the big fish-little fish race, so she told him it was his kid, and he married her. A beautiful wife would be an asset to him. He didn’t even care who she slept with, as long as she was discreet.
She was discreet with me several times those first few years, but, as our paths diverged, mine to disgrace and hers to power, the fire just went out. I hadn’t seen her in years. When she came to tell me of Julie’s abduction, she’d been as beautiful as ever.
“What are you still doing here?”
Frank’s gravelly voice broke through my reverie, like a tractor plowing through a field of daisies.
“I thought you were long gone. Why the hell are you sitting there?”
It gratified me to see the real worry that painted his face.
“Are you okay? Do we need to get you back to the hospital or something?”
I just looked at him for a short while. Then I said, “Sit down.”
He looked at me like I was crazy. “Like hell I will, you get your ass back up here,” he barked, but he must have seen something in my face because his got even more worried. He reached down and hauled me up, all six feet, two inches, and 220 pounds of me. It was almost dark, and the colored lights on all the cruisers and emergency vehicles nearly blinded me. The strobe effect made me feel like a seizure was coming on.
“What the fuck’s going on? Why is Maureen Wagner sitting there dead, and you’re hiding behind a car?”
His question brought me back to grim reality and my head stopped vibrating.
“Maybe she was an innocent bystander?”
He gave me a sharp look. “Nah, not a chance. I can feel it in my bones that you know something about this, and maybe that bullet wasn’t meant for you at all.”
I actually hadn’t even considered that possibility, but the sudden flash was lighting up some doors in my mind.
“Why would anyone want to kill her?” I thought I had a pretty good idea myself, but I wanted to see if Frank knew anything.
“Well, there’s plenty of rumors around that she’s not the nicest girl on the block, if you get my drift?”
“You mean she’s a whore.”
“Well, not to put too fine a point on it.”
“She always was.” I was just being factual but he gave me another hard look until sudden realization broke over his face. The mayor had a daughter named Julie, and Frank was a terrific cop.
“Oh, Holy Mother of God—No.”
“Yes.” I hoped my smile was rueful as I said it.
Frank dragged me back up the steps to Central City General and, flashing his badge, demanded that I be looked after immediately. The admitting nurse was a big, black woman who, for all his weight, could have taken him with one hand tied behind her back—if she could get it there. She just gave him a withering stare and pointed to the crowded waiting room.
“Siddown,” she growled and the sound carried real menace.
The waiting room was buzzing with talk about the cops outside and a dead woman, who might or might not be the mayor’s wife. I was happy to sit down and let the pain in my side return to the familiar dull ache as I listened to snippets of conversation.
Frank had asked me if I wanted to see her before they took her away, but when he told me that the slug had made a mess of her face, I declined. I wanted to remember her as she’d been.
The nurse must have been somewhat impressed by the badge, though—it couldn’t have been Frank—and before too long, we were ushered into a cubicle. The doctor checked out the stitches, pronounced them sound, and rebandaged the gash in my side.
From there, Frank steered us to the cafeteria. The din was intense. Everyone was talking about the shooting. We sat down at an isolated table in a corner. Nobody would be likely to overhear our conversation. Frank ordered us coffees and cheeseburgers with fries, but I didn’t have much of an appetite, so he finished off mine too. I smiled. You could almost see him getting fatter by the bite.
“One day you’re gonna drop dead of a heart attack.” I told him.
He looked up between bites. “My wife tells me that all the time. I should be so lucky. Her voice will likely be what finally knocks me off.” He didn’t even smile but attacked the last of my cheeseburger. “Now—” He looked at me straight. “—I want the whole goddamned story, from beginning to end, or I might be tempted to run you in as an accessory to murder.”
I had to hold my side, but I laughed out loud.
“A material witness, anyway.” He backtracked, but he wasn’t smiling. “And who the hell knows what else? Also, if the mayor’s kid’s been kidnapped, how come nobody knows anything about it?”
I was as much at sea about it as he was. I couldn’t really figure why anyone would be shooting at me, and why they wanted her dead was a complete mystery. It didn’t make any sense, and the wheels were spinning around inside my head even as I tried to explain what I knew to Frank.
Julie had been away at camp when she was abducted. Apparently, someone claiming to be Maureen had called the camp saying that there was a family emergency and that someone would be coming to pick her up and bring her home. About a half-hour after Maureen got the call from the kidnappers, the camp director called her, wanting to know if Julie had gotten home safely.
“I was too stunned to think,” Maureen had said, “but the guy on the line said that if any word of this got out, they’d kill her, so I just told the camp director that she was fine. I called you right after that.”
“What about your husband?” I’d asked, wondering why she had come to me first. Her face went kind of blank then, and I knew from experience that meant a clam-up.
“God, Joe, he can’t know anything about it. It’s my problem. I have to solve it and keep it out of the papers.”
I’d looked at her hard. Seventeen years and it all came flooding back, the tangled web of her life; the constant lies and excuses; the hot sex that kept me coming back for more, even though I knew she was bad for my health. What had she gotten into this time? I’d stopped giving a crap about her a long time ago, but Julie was in danger, and I couldn’t say no.
Frank seemed puzzled. “Couldn’t she give you anything to go on at all?”
I lied to him. “I figured that I’d question her at length after she’d calmed down, maybe get some idea of where to begin, but the next day I ate the shank, and I never heard from her again.”
He still looked puzzled. “Didn’t the kid create a fuss?”
“Apparently not. She must have known whoever came to get her. Otherwise, the director would’ve said something.”
He thought for a bit. “Smells like an inside job to me. Anything else?”
“Not a whole lot. Maureen was really agitated. She begged me to check it out, said she’d get back to me with more information.”
“Maybe she was coming to the hospital to see you with something, but why were either of you targets? It doesn’t make sense. Why would kidnappers kill the only one who could pay them off, unless they really were aiming at you, and she was just an innocent bystander, after all? But why would they be shooting at you?”
I smiled. “My reputation for getting the job done precedes me, I guess. They must have been tailing her and knew when she came to me.” I stopped and thought. “Right now, that’s the only explanation I can come up with, other than that some pissed-off sore loser just tried to take me out. Somebody sure as shit knifed me when she wasn’t there.”
Frank looked skeptical. He always did. He was a cop. “Too damned much of a coincidence for me. Tell me about the knifing.”
“Not much to tell. I came out of the can at Arturo’s and a guy bumped into me. I felt the knife go in at the same time and, before I could do anything, I was on the floor bleeding like a stuck pig, and he was gone.”
“Did you get a look at him?”
I shook my head. “It all happened too fast. All I can tell you is that he was big, bigger than me. It felt like I’d run into a bear.”
Frank laughed. “Know any bears?”
“Several, but I can’t think how any of them might be involved. I had a couple of days in the hospital to think about it, but nothing makes any sense.”
“How far did you get in your investigation?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Nowhere. I got shanked instead. Did I tell you that the knife just missed my liver?”
Frank said nothing for a minute. “When did this all go down?”
“A week ago.”
“Was there a ransom demand?”
“Not that I know of. Maureen said that they would call in a few more days with instructions.”
“A good reason why she might have been coming to see you. But why didn’t she just call?”
I didn’t say anything, and Frank shut up too. I could see the wheels turning around in his head like they were connected to his eyeballs. They were moving around this way and that, never focusing on anything. Finally, he heaved a great sigh. “I don’t get it. Nothing makes any sense, but the mayor is going to have to know about this now, and since you’re the only one who knows anything. You’re going to have to be there.”
I could almost smell the shit on the fan blades.
“He doesn’t know about me. She never told him. Neither does Julie. She thinks that slug is her daddy.”
He thought that one over. “How the hell can you be so certain the kid is yours? Maureen was doing the dirty with a lot of guys, according to the rumor mill.”
“My name didn’t come up?”
“Who the fuck are you?
“So, how can you be so sure?”
“I followed Julie to the mall one day, parental curiosity, I guess. She and her friends left their soda cups on the table after lunch, and I got an idea. I took her cup to a guy I know in forensics, and he did a DNA analysis on both of us. She’s mine, all right.”
Frank pulled the silent bit again, then he busted out laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“You, a father? That poor kid.”
I had to agree with him. Then I said, “Living with that bastard Wagner and her slut of a mother couldn’t have been a bed of roses either.”
Frank drove me home, and I flopped into bed, fully clothed, without even a taste of my non-Haig Brothers swill. Imagine me, too distracted to drink. Well, that, and the massive doses of the Vicodin I was on. I may be stupid, but I’m not suicidal. Until now, anyway.
Too many thoughts were rolling around in my head, and they all ended with Julie.
I hadn’t been totally honest with Frank for a good reason. Maureen had given me several possible angles to cover, but I wasn’t quite feeling like sharing at the moment. I smelled some unsavory shenanigans going on in the mayor’s mansion, and I couldn’t trust the cops to do anything but sweep it all under the rug. I was certain that if Julie were to come out of this alive, it would have to be me to make it happen.
I didn’t have anything but a feeling, but I always trusted my feelings.
I should have made an exception when it came to women.
Especially twisted ones, like Maureen, but it was the twisted ones I fell for the most.
© 2018 by Theodore P. Druch