Sam Turner is on the track of a serial killer, with the help of a street kid and a retired English teacher.
Sam Turner has always had a romantic yearning to be Sam Spade. So he tells his men's group in York that he's a private-eye. It's better than admitting he's an unemplyed alcoholic.
But then one of his friends ask for help in tracing an errant wife. So, suddenly, Sam is a PI. And the next thing he knows, he's on the track of a serial killer, with the help of a street kid and a retired English teacher.
There was this freak in the men's group. Well, Jesus they were all freaks, including Sam Turner, but there was this one stood out. Terry Deacon he was called, and he stood out from the rest because he didn't wear an ear ring. He'd just turned forty. The time when all the guys who were younger than him were just going out and having it done, he'd been wondering if it was too effeminate. Then a few years later after he'd missed the boat, he was thinking he'd really like to wear an ear ring but if he had it done now people'd think he was trying to be younger.
Sensitive sort, that was Deacon. He was also rich. And that made him stand out.
Anyway, it was him told Sam Turner about Hemingway and the first true sentence which got Sam reading again. And after Hemingway he read Chandler, and they became his favourite dead writers. His favourite living writer was Elmore Leonard. He was only interested in class stuff.
Sam went to the men's group because it was winter and cold in the flat, and because he was off the booze, and because another marriage had gone bust. There's this place runs groups of all kinds, every night of the week. It cost ninety pence to get in, and that particular night Sam had the choice of Esperanto or the men's group or going back on the booze. He walked in on them and sat down in the circle. They were talking about fairy stories and Iron John and about how women were in touch with the earth and men in the twentieth century were alienated. Sam thought about switching to Esperanto or walking fifty yards down the road for a beer and chaser. But he stayed put.
Two of them were gay, or playing with the idea, and bought their earrings together. That night they were wearing tiny silver and black guitars, but other nights they would wear large hoops or love hearts or a couple of J's. They were called John and Jeffrey. Most of the others wore small gold rings, except for Deacon who didn't wear anything, and a guy called Bock who had nine rings in one ear, three in the other, and two up his nose. The guy looked like a Christmas tree.
Before they started they all said their name and what they did for a living. When it came to him Sam said he was called Sam Turner and he was a private detective and they all said that was really interesting.
What Sam thought was interesting was where the name came from because he'd just plucked it out of the air some years before, while travelling round California. The bit about being a private detective was nearly true. He'd been thinking about it all his life. It was a song he knew well, no reason not to sing it.
The only Iron John Sam'd ever known had been in Hull Prison, serving twenty years of a life sentence for a cop killing. When Sam told them this they stopped talking about fairy stories and turned their earrings to him. This was really interesting, they thought. Their little eyes lit up like sparklers. What was he like? Did he show remorse? And the Hull Prison, what were the conditions like? Jesus Christ these guys were unbelievable. Forty five minutes and Sam had them eating out of his hand. Like the man said, you've got to serve somebody.
He went to that place nearly every night. Monday he went to AA. Tuesday was a Solo Club. Wednesday the Men's Group. Thursday another Solo Club. And Friday an Electronics user group. When you're on the wagon you can't afford to stop.
Sam thought the Solo Clubs would help him keep up his sex life without much effort, but they were really hard going. People frightened of getting hurt again. Jesus, where've they been?
Brenda, his last wife, she used to say, If it don't hurt a bit it's not worth having. She found a guy running a Merc and three houses and it was love at first sight. Sam told her he wouldn't stand in her way, and she said: "Who's asking you?" and went. He still couldn't remember all the best things she said. Living in Tadcaster with the Merc guy. But he didn't mind too much. Life soon went back to normal. He drove to Sainsburys and spent a hundred and seventy pounds on their good whiskey. He packed a tent in the car and drove up to the moors, pitching about a mile and a half above the Blakey Head pub. Then he drank himself unconscious. Next day he walked to the Blakey and got a beer with a chaser. He stayed there until closing time and went back to the juice in the tent. It took about three weeks altogether. He lost twenty pounds, and stopped dreaming about Brenda.
Back in York he was dry for a month, then three weeks on the hard stuff. He was dry again. Hitting it again. Still managed to get a flat together, ground floor job of course, save himself breaking bones when he was on the juice. He'd go dry, feed himself up, take all his clothes to the launderette. He'd stock the cupboards with food, clean the carpets, do a month's washing up, start shaving again.
Then he'd be in a bar with a glass in front of him and he might sit there all night and not touch it until closing time. The next time he looked in a mirror he'd have lost several weeks. After a year he woke up one afternoon in a pool of spew and said to himself: You're worth more than this.
That's when he went to the AA and the Men's Group and. . .
chapter 2 Deacon rang him one night as he was going out to the Solo Club. "I think I'm going to need your services," he said. Deacon spoke quietly, rhythmically. He was a composer and a Buddhist as well as a successful businessman.
"What?" said Sam. He didn't have a clue what the guy meant.
"It's my wife," Deacon explained. "I think she's having an affair."
"Dump her," Sam told him. "A woman starts an affair, she's finished with you."
"I don't know for sure," Deacon said. "I'd like you to check it out."
"Oh, I see." Sam did a double take into the telephone. He sat down and reached into his pocket for tobacco, papers. "Detective work."
"Yes. I know you do commercial work. But I thought you might be able to help out."
"Sure, Terry," said Sam, rolling with one hand, lighting up, thinking fast. "I'm a bit tied up at the moment, but I think I can fit you in. When were you thinking?"
"Now," said Deacon. "It's happening now. Can I come see you?"
"I'm doing a surveillance job at the moment," Sam said, still thinking. "I could meet you tomorrow. I'll be in Bettys about two. And Terry?"
"This isn't going to be cheap."
"Oh, I know," said Deacon, eager to smooth over any misunderstanding. "I didn't mean. . . I hope you didn't think I was asking. . ."
"Don't worry," said Sam. "I won't break you. But I have to make a living."
"I really wasn't," Deacon continued. "I really wasn't expecting you to work for nothing. I'm very happy to pay the going rate. I hope you don't think. . . "
"It's Okay, Terry. Don't worry about it. Bettys at two. Don't be late." Sam rang off and stubbed his cigarette in the ash tray. He looked at the phone. He'd been great. He'd handled it smoothly. Bettys was a nice touch. Bettys was a wonderful touch. Just the sort of place Deacon would fall for. Quiet, mirrors everywhere, waitress service, good strong coffee. And it would be money for old rope. Just following some woman about all day. Sam reckoned Deacon must be good for forty a day. Plus expenses, of course. You have to be professional about these things. He'd always known that life was ups and downs. This was the beginning of an up.