Start with one Private Investigator who is afraid of fire, add a beautiful psychopath who gets her kicks watching people burn, toss in a former CIA agent accused of treason and top off the mix with a couple of successful but corrupt businessmen who got their start by smuggling opium out of Vietnam, and you've cooked up a deadly smorgasbord of violence and revenge enough to satisfy the most ravenous hunger for action.
Friends On Fire is the second novel in the Carl Jacobs Mystery series. Jacobs is a happily married family man with two young daughters. He is also a Private Investigator, living and working in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He tries to balance his home life with his increasingly dangerous caraee.
All three novels in the series are available in both trade paperback and Kindle versions frm Amazon.com
Sherry was near panic. Pam and Julie were trying to help, but at nine and eight years old, respectively, their wellmeaning efforts are limited. And Carl was beginning to think this would be a perfect time for him to go fishing for a few days.
The party wasn’t scheduled to start for six hours, but from the frantic activity level you’d have thought the guests were already knocking at the front door. Carl and Sherry were, to their credit, not known as social climbers. They seldom hosted large gatherings preferring to limit the size of their parties to one or two couples—informal affairs with close friends. But this was to be different. They were expecting no fewer than nine guests, and Sherry was still upset with the odd number.
Pam and Julie, as the only children present, would be dining in their room upstairs leaving eleven adults seated at
the table. Eleven. Not twelve, not ten, but eleven. The thought of a single male, sitting at her dinner table without a female companion was simply not acceptable to Sherry. That, combined with the self-imposed pressure of getting things ready had her running in circles.
“Sherry, will you relax?” Carl pleaded. “The house looks fine, and we’re going to have more food than we could put away in a week, let alone one dinner party.”
“Have you mowed the front yard yet?”
“Sweetheart, it’s February. The grass hasn’t grown since October.”
“Then go mow the damn leaves. Do something. Anything. Just get out of my kitchen. I’m busy. I’m doing this for you, you know. Pam, would you get the good wine glasses out of the china cabinet? They’ll have to be washed. They’ve been sitting in there for six months. Julie, it’s your turn to clean up after Jackson. Brush the dog hairs off the couch and pick up his stuff. I don’t want someone tripping over a chew toy.”
Jackson is a beagle pup, a gift from the girls’ grandfather, Carl’s father-in-law. Carl didn’t get along with his in-laws. They picked someone else for Sherry to marry some eleven years earlier, but she had a mind of her own. He didn’t get along with the pup either, which was probably what his father-in-law had in mind all along.
“What about something to eat?”
“Are we going to eat?”
“What do you think all that stuff in the fridge is for?”
“I mean now, for lunch.”
“Oh, lunch. Are you guys hungry?”
“Well, I don’t know... Carl, could you go for takeout?”
“Sure, what do we want?”
They finally voted on hamburgers. Carl grabbed a jacket, climbed into his van and drove to a nearby Burger Master.
Parking the van he went inside to place his order. Carl never trusted drive-throughs to get his order right. And he knew if he got home and found it was wrong, he’d never drive back to complain. By the time he got back to the house things had slowed a little, and they were just about ready to sit down at the table when the phone rang. Women can let a phone ring ten or fifteen times. Carl’s limit is about five, so he was the one who finally went to answer it.
“Carl? It’s Ted. Have you got a minute? It’s important.”
“Well, we were just... Sure, Ted. What’s up?”
“I think I’ve got it! After ten years of searching.”
“I think I may have something that will prove my father was innocent.”
“Well, good, Ted. I know how hard you’ve...”
“No, really, Carl. I know what you... what everybody thinks. That I’m nuts, that I’ve been looking for something
that’s not there, never was there. I used to think that myself, sometimes. But Carl, I’m sure this is it. I’ve got his diary!”
“Diary? Your father kept a diary?”
“I finally located an old friend of his, someone who worked with him out of the same office. He had a box of
personal things that had been in Dad’s desk when he... when they charged him. All these years this guy kept the stuff in his garage, afraid of having it, but not knowing what to do with it. And Carl, he always believed Dad was innocent, too. So, when I spoke to him he told me about the box, and he shipped it to me. And the diary was in it, along with some other stuff. I think the diary may have information in it that will prove he was framed.”
“What sort of information?”
“Hell, I don’t know. I can’t read it, It’s in some sort of code. That’s why I called you.”
“Code? Ted, why would he keep a diary in code?”
“Exactly! Why? Unless there was something in it he didn’t want anyone else to know. Maybe something that would be enough motive for them to frame him for treason and have
“Well, okay, I’ll grant it’s possible. But what am I supposed to do about it? I don’t know anything about codes.” He was thinking about his lunch getting cold.
“What about that kid who does some work for you, the computer guy. Couldn’t he use his computers to translate it,
or decipher it, or whatever-the-hell they do?”
“I don’t know, maybe. But he usually just does research stuff for politicians and corporations, things like that.”
“You could ask him for me, couldn’t you? Could we get in to see him Monday?”
“I’m really tied up, Ted. I’m in the middle of an arson investigation that’s driving everyone nuts. Could it wait till later in the week? Or, I guess I could ask him just to see you. I don’t have to be there.”
“No, I want you there, Carl. I really would like your help with this thing.”
“Okay, I’ll see what I can do. And we’ll see you and Helen tonight?”
“Tonight? Oh, sure. We’ll be there. Thanks Carl.”
Carl hung up and hurried back to his rapidly cooling hamburger and fries. Sherry and the girls had waited.
“Pam, I think it’s your turn,” Sherry prompted, as they bowed their heads.
Before closing his eyes Carl took the opportunity to fondly glance around at his little family. Sherry, sitting across from him, with her long dark hair somewhat in disarray, a dusting of flour on her cheek, and two broken fingernails showing on one of her clasped hands, was in his opinion still the loveliest woman he had ever known. Julie, on his right, had her mother’s coloring and bubbly personality, while Pam had her father’s blonde hair and more reserved nature. At better than 6’2” he sometimes felt huge and clumsy in their presence, and had a tendency to think of the three of them as somehow fragile.
“Father in Heaven, thank you for this food, and watch over us and keep us safe, and God if you would, please make Jackson well again. Amen.”
“What’s wrong with Jackson?”
“He has a tummy ache, Daddy,” said Julie.
“How do you know?”
“He won’t eat. He hasn’t eaten in two days,” Pam explained.
Julie added, “The last thing he ate was your...” She abruptly stopped talking and glanced at Pam, who was shaking her head.
“My what?” Carl wasn’t sure he really wanted to know.
“Your black leather gloves,” Sherry spoke up to save the girls from confessing.
“My Christmas present?”
“Actually, he only ate one of them,” Sherry said, trying not to smile.
“Oh, well, that’s okay then.”
“He didn’t mean to,” Julie said anxiously.
“That’s okay, sweetheart. It’ll be spring soon.”
“Was that Ted on the phone? Is everything all right? Sherry asked.
“Yeah. He’s hot on the trail again.”
“Well he’s your brother-in-law. Why don’t you talk him out of that obsession of his?”
“I have tried, but I can’t. Nobody can. That’s why they call it an obsession.
When Sherry was finally satisfied with the dinner preparations, the cleanliness of the house and the liquor
supply, it was time to get themselves ready. While the girls were getting dressed in their room, Carl suggested to Sherry that they shower together to save time but she didn’t fall for that, and instead suggested that he get his mind off sex, at least until after the guests had left, and take a cold shower by himself.
He chose a dark blue suit and red paisley tie, thinking the combination was appropriate for a party. It only took him three attempts to get the tie properly tied. He was sitting on the side of the bed, putting on his best dress shoes when Sherry came out of her dressing room wearing a short, black, very low cut strapless dress that had him thinking about the shower again. He watched her as she stood in front of the full length mirror, patting a few stray hairs into place.
“You’re wearing that, huh?”
“Yes, why? What’s wrong with it? I bought it just for tonight.” She said it with only a hint of a smile.
“Well, nothing. I mean... nothing.” He paused for a moment, and added, “Your black sweater would go well with
She turned from the mirror and crossed to stand in front of him, her hands resting on her hips as she bent slightly forward. When she spoke her voice was soft and suggestive. “I just wanted to look sexy for you. Don’t you want me to look sexy anymore?”
“Sure, but just for me. What keeps that damn thing up, anyhow?”
She smiled, and patted his cheek. “Willpower. I’ll show you how it works later.”
The first guests to arrive were Mr. and Mrs. Kellog. J. W. Kellog is not exactly Carl’s boss. He does, however, run Underhill Insurance, one of Carl’s largest clients—Carl being Carl Jacobs, of Carl Jacobs Investigations. As a licensed private investigator, he specializes in insurance fraud, a five billion dollar industry. The fraud, not Carl’s business. He makes much less than that.
Carl was the in-house fraud investigator for Underhill Insurance when Sherry was hired as a secretary. They more or less ignored each other at first. Carl’s previous romantic involvement had come to a sudden and unexpected end, and Sherry’s first impression of Carl was that he was a jerk. It took them almost two years to fall in love and marry. After that, Carl left the company to start his own agency. Kellog agreed to use Carl almost exclusively, on a trial basis. The arrangement worked out for all concerned, and in the years since then, Carl managed to pick up many other clients. He still, however, gave Kellog preference, partly out of a sense of obligation, but primarily out of respect for the man. Carl has been heard to compare Kellog to a bulldog—
short legs, solemn expression, soft spoken—but he was the only man Carl ever met who could lead people and drive them at the same time, and do it well.
Kellog introduced his wife, Charlotte, who did not look like a Charlotte. She looked more like a Maude, or maybe a Claude—tiny, gray and prudish. She was wearing a very conservative blue pantsuit and a pillbox hat. Kellog was
wearing the same gray pinstripe double breasted suit he always wore. The people at Underhill were still trying to guess whether he just had one suit, or he had several identical suits. Carl introduced Charlotte to Sherry, who already knew J. W., having been his secretary for two years. Following that she had worked her way up to insurance adjuster, a position she held for more than eight years. Sherry resigned after having been kidnapped and beaten and generally mistreated by some very nasty people Carl had been investigating. They both came out of it okay, but Sherry decided she needed to spend more time at home with their two daughters, and the pup, and her favorite chair in front of the fireplace. And her husband too, of course.
“It’s nice to meet you at last, Mrs. Kellog, and good evening sir. I’m so glad you could come.” Sherry was always a gracious hostess.
“It’s our pleasure,” Kellog was almost as gracious a guest. “Besides, I was hoping for an opportunity to talk you into coming back to work for us. We miss you downtown.”
“Well I appreciate the compliment Mr. Kellog, but I’m very happy staying home with the girls.”
“You have a lovely house, Mrs. Jacobs,” commented Charlotte Kellog.
“Thank you. It’s been in Carl’s family for almost a hundred years. We had to make a few upgrades, but we love
it. Please, let me show you around.”
As Sherry led away the tour, the doorbell rang again and Carl greeted Cornelius Latham. Mr. Latham was one of the most powerful men ever to walk the halls of the White House without having held public office. He was also a major stockholder in Underhill Insurance.
This was his second visit to Tulsa in the last year. He had been trying to talk Carl into moving to the East coast to work for an Underhill office there.
When Latham had phoned a week earlier and said he wanted the two of them to get together, Sherry jumped at the chance to have a party and invited him. It was also her idea to invite Kellog and his wife, advising Carl that if they didn’t, and the word got back to Kellog, he might have his feelings hurt and might decide to hurt Carl’s feelings somehow. Carl agreed, since he’s convinced Sherry is as smart as she is beautiful.
Latham did present a problem, however. He was the single male for whom Sherry had been unable to provide a dinner companion. Latham was not married, had never been married. And, since he was from out of town, Sherry had no
idea whether he currently had a woman in his life. As a matter of fact, Sherry had no idea whether Latham was even interested in women any longer, or if he ever had been, for that matter. But she insisted that Latham would be a terrific catch for any woman who was willing to settle for a tall,
sophisticated, impeccably well groomed gentleman approaching seventy, who had just a touch of gray at the temples, who’s attire on any given day would no doubt ring up at a little over a thousand dollars, and who carried an
ebony walking stick—definitely not a cane, mind you—with a silver and jade handle.
“Good evening Mr. Latham. I’m glad you could come.”
“My pleasure. Thank you for having me.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Kellog are already here. I think they’re in the dining room, right through there.”
“Is that also where the bar is?”
“It is indeed.”
Latham nodded and left in a thirsty hurry. The doorbell rang again. Carl opened the door to admit Connie Buchanan, a long time friend of Sherry’s. Connie had been selected as the sacrificial dinner partner of another single male who was expected, but not yet on the premises, one Detective Samuel Fry.
“Am I too early? Is he here yet? Do I look okay? Damn, I hate this dress. Maybe I should go home and change, you
Carl waited patiently for her to run down. “You look great Connie, relax. No you are not too early, and no, he’s not here yet. Your dress is perfect—just enough leg and too much cleavage. You’ll knock his eyes out. Sherry’s in the kitchen. Go fix yourself a drink.”
The rest of the guests arrived shortly after. First came Detective Sergeant Albert Sweet, of the Broken Arrow Police
Department, and his wife, Crystal. If Carl had never met Sweet before he wouldn’t have opened the door. Sweet is possibly the meanest looking human in the State. He’s big—really big—and standing next to Crystal, who wore heels to reach five feet, he looks enormous. He is also square—head,
nose, chin, shoulders, hands, everything square, with no softness showing anywhere. Carl was very glad to have Sweet as a friend, instead of something else.
They had met while Carl was on a case a few months earlier, a case which resulted in Carl being shot a couple of
times, beaten and stabbed—the same case during which Sherry had been kidnapped. Needless to say, it had not been a fun time for either of them, but with Sweet’s help, they persevered.
“Come in, darlin’,” Carl greeted Crystal. “Don’t look now but there’s a big ugly guy following you.”
“Honey, he’s been following me around for years. I just can’t seem to get rid of him.” She removed her jacket
uncovering a saucy blue party dress, and threw a glance over her shoulder at Sweet, who looked very uncomfortable in his one-size-too-small suit coat.
“She don’t try all that hard,” Sweet rumbled in a voice reminiscent of a rock slide.
“I just keep him around ‘cause the kids are used to him,” she grinned. “Where’s that pretty wife of yours?”
“She’s in the kitchen, where a woman belongs.”
“Don’t you go strutting around me, Carl Jacobs,” she said with a laugh. “I know who runs this household.”
Crystal headed for the kitchen, a woman with a purpose. Carl introduced Sweet to everyone and tried to keep the small talk going. After the Sweets came Carl’s sister, Helen, and her husband Ted. Ted and Helen had met in college back east. They had moved to Tulsa after graduation. Carl thought his
brother-in-law was okay, but drank too much.
“Hi Sis. You’re looking terrific, as usual.”
“Thank you, Carl. Sherry has you very well trained, I see.”
“I let her think so. Where are the kids?”
“We managed to get a sitter at the last minute.”
“The girls will be disappointed. Hi Ted.”
“Hi. Are we late?”
Carl noticed Ted’s eyes were bloodshot and he could smell the bourbon on his breath. “No, not at all. You’ll find
everyone either in the kitchen or in the dining room. Go on back.”
And finally, bringing up the rear, was Detective Samuel Fry, Tulsa Police Department Homicide Division, who
completed the guest list. Sherry had chosen her friend Connie to be Fry’s dinner companion. She had demanded that Carl not warn Fry of the ambush. Since she had demanded very little during their very happy marriage, he relented, but he was worried. Fry had never impressed Carl as being particularly sociable. When he talked at all it was almost certainly official business. Carl couldn’t remember ever seeing him smile.
But the dinner was a great success, with Sherry playing hostess and Carl tending bar. Pam and Julie put in a brief appearance, wearing their favorite party dresses, then retired
upstairs to their room to play video games. Connie and Fry seemed to be at least somewhat compatible, and Latham kept the dinner table conversation going with amusing stories about everything from his favorite restaurants around the world to hunting lions in Africa.
After dinner the ladies moved to the living room and Carl led the men to the library where Kellog and Latham could
talk shop and enjoy their cigars. Sweet and Fry also swapped stories and brought each other up to date on current
homicide investigations, while Ted and Carl stood around trying to think of something to say. Ted thought of
“Mr. Latham, I think I’ve read about you in the paper a few times. Aren’t you in politics?”
“Well, I know a lot of politicians, but no, I’ve never run for office, or been appointed to anything.”
Latham and Kellog were having some of Carl’s brandy, a particularly good brandy which had been a Christmas gift
from Kellog. Carl was drinking scotch and Sweet was on his third or fourth beer. Ted was well into his sixth bourbon and it was beginning to show in his belligerent tone of voice.
“But you’re one of those advisor types, aren’t you? One of those guys who tells the dumb ones what they should do, or
say, to keep them out of trouble?”
“Something like that, I suppose.” Latham was a gentleman and he held his temper well.
“And you’re on a lot of those committees, aren’t you? Intelligence committees they call them.”
“A few,” Latham admitted, then turned to his host. “I’ve had a wonderful time, Carl, but I really have to go. I’m
catching an early flight tomorrow. I’ll call you next week.”
After Latham said his goodbyes all around and Sherry and Carl escorted him to the front door, the party started
breaking up. Kellog and his wife left almost immediately, and Sweet and Crystal soon after. To Sherry’s delight, when Fry discovered Connie had
arrived in a taxi he insisted on giving her a ride home.
Helen joined Sherry in the kitchen to help with cleaning up, while Ted and Carl, at Sherry’s insistence, had coffee in the front room.
“I guess I ruined the party again, didn’t I?” Ted said, though not exactly apologizing.
“Maybe not. Maybe he really did have to leave. He’s a busy man.”
“Yeah. He’s busy all right. They’re all busy, screwing up people’s lives. Or killing them outright.”
“Now what the hell does that mean, Ted?”
“You know what they did to my father. He was one of them. He was CIA, for God’s sake! And they framed him and
then killed him.” The coffee wasn’t having the desired effect. His voice was harsh and a bit too loud. His eyes were on the verge of tearing up, and his face, round and puffy, was even
more red than when he arrived.
“Ted, how old were you thirty years ago? Six? Seven?”
“What the hell difference does that make? You think I don’t know what really went on? I’ve been studying the
records for ten years. At least the records I can get access to. I tell you, I know my father never did the things he was accused of. And as for him dying in a traffic accident on the way to prison, that’s a lot of bullshit. They killed him!” He was really getting worked up, and Carl was trying to figure out how to change the subject, but he couldn’t get a word in.
“Carl, with the...” He stopped and looked around as though afraid he might be overheard. “When we get the diary
decoded, if it’s what I think it is, I’m going to need help getting it to the right people. I’ll need your help, your connections.”
“What connections? I don’t know anybody who could...”
“Of course you do. He just left a few minutes ago.”
“Cornelius Latham? How could he possibly be of any help? He’s an old man, retired.” Carl wasn’t sure whether he was confused, or Ted was drunk.
“Retired, maybe, but still involved. They’re never completely out of it.”
“Out of what?”
“Didn’t you know? Carl, he’s... he was CIA.”
“CIA? That is utterly ridiculous. I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, but Latham was in banking or finance of
some kind. In politics, too, to some extent, but primarily in banking. I know, Ted. He was a good friend of my father’s, and my father was in banking.”
“And your father told you all about their business relationship, I suppose?”
That caused Carl to stop and think. His father never talked business with the family and had never mentioned
Cornelius Latham. Thinking back, he remembered the first time he had met Latham, just the previous year. Carl had
been called to Mr. Kellog’s office at Underhill Insurance. He was working a fraud case for Underhill. When he arrived at the office, Latham was there, visiting. To Carl’s surprise, Latham had indicated a strong bond
between himself and Carl’s father. He also inquired, casually, whether the senior Jacob’s death had been from “natural causes.” That certainly started Carl thinking, since it was the
second time in less than a year that someone had asked that question. Carl was beginning to wonder if he knew the kind of man his father had been. He was a wonderful father, but as for his work...
“No, Ted, he didn’t tell me everything about his business. He said very little, in fact. But if he had known a CIA man personally...”
“Maybe he knew more than one. For that matter, what if he was with the agency himself?” Ted was beginning to sound
“My father? Nonsense. My father was a banker. And he was active in politics. But as for being a spy… that’s
“You may be right” Ted said, relaxing a little. “I’ve gotten to the point where I see government agents around every
corner.” He paused then said, “That’s all right. Forget it. I know someone else who should have connections. But Carl, I really need your help with this diary.”
Of course before Ted and Helen left, Carl promised him he would do what he could to help, but he also cautioned Ted
not to expect too much. Later, when they were getting ready for bed, Carl was surprised to learn Sherry knew more about it than he did.
“It’s really been a problem for Helen.” She sat at her dressing table brushing her dark hair while Carl lay on the
bed in his pajamas, watching her in the mirror and thinking again how lovely she was. “He’s been trying to prove his
father was innocent for years. He picks up some scrap of evidence, tracks it down, and when it proves to be nothing
helpful, he starts drinking again. He writes nasty letters to various government officials, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he were on some sort of ‘subversives list’ by now. If you
haven’t noticed, he has a drinking problem. It worries Helen.”
“Yeah. I noticed. What does Helen think? Was his father innocent?”
“She doesn’t know, Carl. And she really doesn’t care. It all happened so long ago. She just wants Ted to... well, to pay more attention to her and the children, and stay off the sauce.” She hesitated then asked, “This diary thing—are you going to help him?”
“I said I would. I’m not sure what I can do.” He noticed, not for the first time, how the band of see-through lace
around the bodice of her white nightgown taunted with promises of fulfilled expectation. She interrupted his train of thought.
“Fry and Connie seemed to hit it off, don’t you think?” she asked.
“I suppose. They talked, anyway. He was probably telling her about the last homicide he solved.”
“They did more than talk,” she grinned at him in the mirror. “From where I was sitting I could tell he had his hand on her thigh half the time.”
“And she liked it, I could tell that, too. So, do you think he took her home, or do you think she took him home?”
“You know her better than I do. But I imagine she’s been around. How old is she, forty?”
“No, she’s not forty! She’s thirty-four. And if by ‘been around’, you mean that she’s loose or easy, well you’re way out of line.”
“So, she’s not sleeping with him tonight?”
“Don’t be silly. Of course she’s sleeping with him. Didn’t I just say she let him play with her leg?”
“But she’s not loose, or easy.”
“No. She’s just lonely.”
“So am I, right now. Are you almost through?”
“Almost. Why?” she asked, without missing a stroke.
“No reason. But it’s getting late and we should be in bed. I’m really not tired at all.”
“I know, poor baby. It’s been a long day and I’m not tired either.”
“Then turn out the lights and come to bed.”
“Prude,” she murmured, smiling, and put away the hairbrush.