In this follow up to Still Among the Living, a New York Times Notable, Matt faces demons from his past as well as a psychopath bent on killing him when he investigates two ominously similar deaths occurring twenty years apart in a rundown Boston neighborhood called The End.
- The New York Times
"Entertaining…Matt Jacob comes across as a heartfelt creation…A refreshing character in a genre rife with male posturing and two dimensional psychology."
- The Boston Globe
"A crackerjack detective. And an original and compelling fictional character."
- Kirkus Reviews
"[A] real payoff…The return of Matt’s whole entourage guarantees pleasure for fans of Klein’s
- Publishers Weeklyy
"Klein returns with another compelling tale featuring private detective Matt Jacob."
Read a sample chapter from Two Way Toll
Two Way Toll
The alarm sounded and I awoke already depressed by the day’s invitation to brain-death. I reached under the bed, pulled the ashtray onto my stomach, lit a cigarette, and eyed the leftover roach. It was too early for grass; better to shower and give last night’s high a fighting chance to dissipate.
The cigarette triggered my thirst, so I reluctantly pulled myself out of bed and trudged down the hall past the living room, past the office, and into the kitchen. By the time I arrived I had given up on the shower. I’d need one to slice through the numbness when I returned in the evening. One thing worse than doing something you don’t like is doing it twice.
I splashed cold water on my face, returned to the bedroom, and lit the damn roach. I considered calling in sick, but I had turned down this particular mall too many times to fuck with them again. Also, I really didn’t want to lay dead at home: before I’d hired Charles, a tenant, to replace me as the building’s manager I could always find something to fiddle with or fix, but when I did that now he panicked.
I looked out the window and watched the cold, nasty November rain puddle on the gravel in my back alley. Just beyond, the supermarket was stirring, its amber crime lights bathing the morning delivery trucks with a pale yellow glow. The scene resembled an aging photograph discarded in the street, abused by the elements. Unfortunately, the picture lost its poetry when I remembered I had to join it.
It took a patient explanation and the photostat of my PI license before the mall’s exterior security pronounced me fit-and-official. For yet another day I was a Mall-man. The show-and-tell at the mall’s back door rain-logged my container of coffee, and I traipsed through the deserted shopping womb sharp-nosing chainlinked doorways, looking to smell something brewing.
My interest in the coffee turned sour after a sip, so I walked upstairs to an out-of-the-way john and dumped the stuff. Enveloped by pastel-tiled lavatory quiet, I squeezed into a stall and sucked on my personal public concession to the raging war on drugs: a single toke, smokeless pipe.
Fortified, I ambled toward the detaining room, idly hoping that someone from administration couldn’t sleep and was on time, ready with my assignment.
Someone was there but he wasn’t from admin. Fat and balding, a tie squeezed up against layers of chins, he sat like a dangling-legged Buddha on the desk at the far end of the room.
“Turning yourself in? I didn’t think there was anything open to steal from.” He enjoyed his joke and laughed along with my grimace.
“Warren here?” I knew better, but felt uncomfortable just wearing a painted grin.
“Are you kidding? You a new dick?”
“No, but I could use one.” I saw him get ready to laugh so I quickly added, “I fill in occasionally.”
“Another hired gun?”
“I don’t think of it that way, but yeah.”
“I call myself a consultant. You?”
I was treated to another ripple of belly, jowls, and chins as I moved across the room and tried to twist my body into the one-armed wood-and-metal elementary school desk.
“Well, Matt, you’ll never get comfortable in one of those. They don’t want the sticky fingers to relax. That’s why I’m parked here.”
He was right. I stood up and wandered around the room until I came to the bulletin board.
“Listen, my name is Harry. Check out that board. Lists assignments. They figure if they do it the night before they can sleep guilt-free and we’ll be good little drones and take our spots. I say, fuck ’em.״’
I read my location and looked back at Harry. “Beats waiting around.”
“I suppose.” He pushed his way off the desk and waited for his belly to stop bouncing. “How much you getting”—he paused—”if you don’t mind the length of my beak?”
“I don’t mind,” I lied. “Forty.”
He looked at me with a little surprise. “Forty, huh?” He winked. “You’re either good or you know the Old Man’s wife?”
“I know the wife.” But I should have known better as his laugh squeezed the air out of the room.
“Matt, huh, you’re all right!” He peered at me intently. “You look sort of familiar. You got a face that reminds me of someone.”
I nodded. “I get that a lot. Usually it’s the Pillsbury Dough Boy.”
Everything in his clothes started to shake, and we waited until he caught his breath. “You’re a funny guy. Don’t usually find a sense of humor in our line of work. You remind me of some dead actor. One of those English guys.” His voice dropped and became conspiratorial. “I get paid by the head.”
“For every collar?”
“That’s right.” He puffed out the top half of his belly. “Not many consultants do that. You either, I bet?”
What we had here was a True Believer. “I like to eat.”
He walked toward me rubbing his belly. “Hell, does it look like I miss many meals? They didn’t hire a one-eyed Dick Tracy when they hired you, did they?”
I smiled at his lousy joke. “Not one-eyed, but not twenty/twenty either.”
He chuckled, reached up, and patted me on the shoulder. “That’s okay. In this racket no one is.” He yanked at his pants in a futile attempt to get them up over his belly. All he got for his effort was a flash of white socks. “Come on,” he said, “let’s get out of here. I’ll see this room enough today.” He strode out the door and called over his shoulder, “No one showed you the holes, did they?”
“I never show ׳em either, but hell, I don’t usually start my day laughing.”
Harry led me to the upper floor. I hoped the dope pipe had worked as advertised since we walked through the same bathroom door. Just in case, I lit a smoke. “Want one?”
“Nah, that shit’ll kill you. Finish it and I’ll show you the holes.”
I threw the cigarette into the toilet, flushed, and watched as Harry opened what looked like a closet door in the back of the bathroom. He motioned for me to follow. “Stay close. There’s not much light.”
For the next twenty minutes I followed him through a labyrinth of connecting tunnels, pausing occasionally to look through one-way mirrors into the stores. At one stop a clerk was preening in front of the mirror. Harry gave him the finger. “I hope to Christ he don’t pop that fucking pimple on my window.”
“Let’s keep moving, Harry. How come they didn’t tell me about this?”
He bellied through the dark corridor past a few more mirrors. “They think it bothers the yuppies to see someone walk out of the wall holding handcuffs.
Not classy enough.” He yanked on my leather jacket. “Look at this one,” and pointed toward another mirror.
I looked, but all I could see were early morning customers browsing around a lingerie shop. “Who are you looking at?”
“That tall lady fingering the panties. She’s warming up for someone, and I guarantee it ain’t for the little mister at home.” He glanced at me from the corner of his eye. “You work the holes long enough you see what life is really like because no one knows you’re watching. That’s the fun part of this job. The busts are for the money.”
His eyes returned to the full-length mirror as the lower part of his body rocked gently back and forth. Dimes to dollars his hand would have had company if I hadn’t been there. “Harry, man, I gotta go to my spot. How do I get out of here?”
“Keep going straight until you get to the stairs. Go down and use the door on your right. Takes you into the sporting goods store. Anybody asks, tell ’em you were with the Mole.” His eyes never wavered and his mouth never completely closed. Harry was falling in love.
“Thanks for the tour.”
“Yeah, sure, no problem. See you later.”
I followed his directions and finally stepped into bright fluorescent lighting, took a moment to regain my vision, then looked at a broad-shouldered kid by my side.
“Sir, may I see your identification? No one is allowed back there.”
I fumbled for my wallet. “I was with the Mole.”
His eyes widened. “The Mole showed you his tunnels?”
“Yeah. I’m a substitute shamus.”
The kid shook his head and waved at my wallet. “Don’t bother.”
Harry the Mole had groupies. I wondered glumly whether I’d eventually have them too if mall work remained the pinnacle of my PI career.
In the concourse I found a bench from where I could see most of my area. Someone had left the Herald and I got busy with the sports pages. Hourly rates had certain advantages.
And serious disadvantages. I spent most of the day strolling into stores choking back ennui and its sidekick, lethargy. I never understood why I got repeat mall assignments since I rarely made any arrests, and the arrests I did make were invariably on some high priced klepto released before I finished the paperwork. Maybe admin wanted Caucasian bust stats.
It was close to the end of my shift. I was hiding in the bathroom trying to escape the sweaty smell of aftershave and perfumed buying madness, when I decided to sniff around the holes instead. The sharp lighting from the stores fought its way through the irregularly placed, one-way mirrors and the pale glow cast a gloomy, checkered effect into the narrow, twisting passageway—a surrealistic path for a demented Jimmy Durante hat waving farewell.
But I was coming, not going, so I started down the weaving walkway wondering whether I’d find the Mole in a compromising position. I hoped not.
Once I’d gotten over the sneaky thrill of playing lead in The Invisible Man, watching people shop became a bore. I was sure Harry saw things I didn’t.
I was peering into a record store when someone—I thought it was a he—parked in front of the mirror, catching me unexpectedly. The middle of my view was suddenly blocked by a tall, thin, threadbare peacoat with hair on the top. After my initial surprise, the endless day’s frustrations caught up with me, and I became irrationally annoyed because Peacoat placed the sole of its shoe on the wall, its heel catching the bottom of the glass. I decided to wait it out.
Twice, I almost quit the game. His/her torn, jeaned butt was no Rubens, and I was near the end of my day. But before I finally decided, the coat, hair, and fanny slid off the mirror just out of my sight. I pressed my cheek against the glass, but all I saw was a shadow pass through the store’s doorway.
I raced down the corridor in the direction I’d been moving, pausing briefly at each window for a quick, fruitless search. Then I decided to quit: no reason to work late on an unpaid, quixotic gender identification mission.
Retracing my steps toward the bathroom I stopped three mirrors short of home. Right before the window stood the front of the Peacoat. The top didn’t look much different than it had from behind. He, and it was a he, stood staring directly toward me; the slit passing for his mouth opened, displaying brown, cracked teeth in a forest of hair.
It wasn’t the teeth that bothered me, nor the look of insolence no amount of hair could cover. What bothered me was the reverberation deep inside my own waste dump of memories.