Dex Morneau is a self-described long-haired heap of sinew and gristle, with too few clients, and too much drinking time on his hands. He’s comfortable in his own skin, uncomfortable around anyone else’s – tired, apathetic, and generally resigned to both, due to his propensity toward circumspection. He supplements his private detective work with process serving, and is none too happy about that fact.
Six months ago, Carla Danning sauntered into his life, all tits, temperament and testicular torture, and she’s been an invective-spewing shackle around his tackle ever since.
In book two of the Dex Morneau series, the private detective and his assistant come face to face with Carla Danning’s past. (Chapter One excerpt below)
I’m sure there have been worse Thursdays in the history of the world, but right now I can’t think of any. I’m getting damn tired of the mosquitoes, the tics, the horseflies, never mind the goddamn snakes. When I set up my private detective agency twenty some-odd years ago, nowhere in any thought about sticky situations I might find myself in did snakes enter the picture — nor did being tied up and left in what amounted to an oversized outhouse with an eight-foot long reptile chained to the wall a few feet away.
For all the above I blame Carla — my assistant and former stalker — who is, at this very moment, a silent obelisk, bound at the wrists and ankles, seated on the floor a few feet away, refusing to look at me.
My name is Declan Morneau; Dex to some, Morneau to everyone else. General description for those interested in such things: tall, in perpetual need of a haircut, permanent scowl, liver on the decline. I supplement my income as a process server when things get tight and my general mien is considered gruff, tired, and resigned to taking life as it comes because there’s no way to get around it.
Since I have an odd form of synesthesia where I can see people’s emotions in color, I’m able to verify Carla’s current truculence by the misty purple rage swirling around her, intermingled with dark red glassy shards of hate. At least I know the red isn’t for me. That’s all for Laurencio Rios, her estranged husband. It’s muddying her natural yellow aura to a flame orange and it’s been there for months, seething just beneath the surface.
Even with all we’ve been through in the last forty-eight hours, it’s hard not to be amused by her current state of disrepair. Carla’s normally tidy red hair is a sunburst of electric shock waves around her face. The ponytail that once sprouted perkily from the back of her head is now a halfhearted clump held back by a pink rubber band drooping near the nape of her neck. Her face is a scene of mass destruction, dirt in the crevices of her frown lines and a smudge of mud across her forehead. But the purple bruise under her left eye gives me no measure of amusement, mainly because I gave it to her. Though by the feel of it, the twin shiners I’m sporting have her dainty little injury beat by a mile. Not to mention the combination chemical and alcohol hangover that’s settled around my temples and is throbbing incessantly. Top that off with a general all-over feeling of thickness and it’s safe to say I’m not in a particularly jovial mood.
Also, I’m thirsty. “At some point, we’re gonna have to—”
“Stuff it, Sailor Jerry.” These are the first words Carla’s said to me since we were dragged into this a-frame shamble of wood somewhere in the musty armpit of the Florida Everglades.
Let me digress and get you up to speed, since it doesn’t seem like my assistant is in any hurry to chat. The day Carla decided to return to work after quitting in a snit was the day it all went down. Or, as the kids say: shit got real. Because she’d already been attacked once and been the victim of a failed second attack wherein I was forced to shoot the assailant, I’d spent the week leading up to our kidnapping trailing her every move. Carla doesn’t take kindly to authoritative guidance of any kind so my constant suggestion that she lie low for a while fell on deaf ears. Pretty little stubborn deaf ears.
I hate stakeouts, mostly because I’m forced to substitute drinking until I pass out with massive amounts of caffeine in order to stay awake. Switching from liquid depressants to liquid stimulants tends to further aggravate my general cantankerous disposition. So even though I wasn’t pleased about my former assistant becoming my on-again assistant, it did make keeping tabs on her easier. Unfortunately, that was also the day — well… we’ll get to my neighbor Trudi later. That’s another bruise I’m not interested in jabbing a stick at right now.
On the night in question, I headed over to The Meanwhile — my local watering hole of choice — in the hopes of forgetting the previous few hours. I managed to knock back half a bottle of Johnnie Walker and a couple beers before Carla entered the scene, I assume at the behest of Mugs the bartender.
Mugs Lusky: stout as Irish lager, bald, half-Irish, half-Italian, contemplative without being brooding, and as pragmatic as they come. We’re friends, the quiet kind that don’t need all the idle chatter and socializing. I order, he fills my glass and we exchange words.
One could argue that Carla’s insistence on driving me home was to blame for everything that transpired thereafter. Had she not been trying to load me into her car while nattering on and on about how the exploitation of my liver amounted to bodily treason, in addition to how I’d totally mishandled the Trudi situation, I might’ve been paying attention. The two masked thugs had very little trouble pulling up next to her red Honda, grabbing us both and shoving us into an equally compact car on top of one another before hopping into the front seats and taking off. I doubt the altercation took more than thirty seconds but I have no facts to back that up since I was highly inebriated at the time.
We were quiet on the ride to the abandoned airstrip somewhere outside Detroit, mainly because the guy in the passenger seat clocked me in the face twice in quick succession as I tried to climb between the front seats. Here, one could further extrapolate that the lack of elbow room in the clunky foreign export was the reason for her shiner. My elbow made contact with her face as I fell into the back seat with the force of the second punch. I do remember the second shot being particularly hearty. But that’s one of the last things I remember before being dragged out of the back seat by my ankles and onto the tarmac sometime later. Carla was already outside the car, wrists bound in front of her with zip-ties and a dirty towel tied over her face. I have no idea where it came from or when it was applied. One of the men tied a bandana around my eyes and it wasn’t removed until the four-seater plane began climbing to an altitude that had my stomach rolling.
It should be noted that Carla has trouble shutting the hell up when she’s riled. Actually, she’s inclined to being mouthy even under the best circumstances, but I assume her pithy remarks regarding the size and girth of our captors’ Johnsons is what made them chloroform her within the first fifteen minutes of our flight. I further assume that doping me was less an afterthought than a requirement borne of their desire to keep me from getting a handle on our destination.
When I came to, Carla and I had been loaded into the cab of a rusted-out pickup truck parked in some swampy area that looked like it hadn’t seen much traffic since the Paleozoic era. I have no memory of being offloaded from the airplane and into the vehicle, or arriving in the dense copse of mangrove trees surrounded by the smell of the moist earth and stifling humidity. Our current location coupled with the fact that it was early November was a small clue. We were much further south than our departing point of Detroit, Michigan. I can only assume we’d been drugged a couple of times in order to make it that far without waking.
I hadn’t been lucid for more than two minutes when a snake shot off a low-hanging branch and through the cab of the pickup, its spring-loaded trajectory passing within an inch of my nose. It slithered through the driver’s side window toward our captor, who stood outside muttering into a cell phone. It took me a moment to process what was happening, what with all the screaming coming from Carla and chuckling coming from “Jim-Bob.”
“Jim-Bob” looked like something out of central casting from Deliverance 2: When Mullets Attack; greasy rust-colored hair and a grimy t-shirt under denim overalls. The man had approximately half his top teeth, none on the bottom, and he spoke with a thick drawl I couldn’t attribute to anything other than a lack of schooling and probable inbreeding. His aura was a muddled brown fog and every once in a while, a star-like jolt of blue or dark green would fade almost as quickly as it had flashed. He was a mass of synaptic misfires that were failing miserably at making any true connections.
“Aw, tha’s justa baby ‘condie. Ain’t gonna hurt nobody.” Jim-Bob watched the snake disappear into the thick brush as he shoved the cell phone into his pocket. I had to wonder how he was getting reception in the middle of nowhere.
Jim-Bob hopped back into the truck and swatted Carla’s head with a meaty paw, presumably to get her to can it. Her horrified screams, which began when the snake flew past her face, had taken on a guttural moan that was syncopated with an unruly case of hysteria-induced hiccups.
“Quiet. I ain’t got no patience for whiny women.”
Carla scooted closer to me and buried her face in my shoulder. When he swatted her head again, I told him to knock it off.
Jim-Bob’s response was a wet, burbling chuckle. He started the truck and slowly made his way through the darkness, the headlights barely illuminating a few feet in front of us. A deer shot from one side of the path to the other, its right eye glowing for an instant before it disappeared into the thick muddle of trees. There was no point in trying to get my directional bearings. Everything looked the same — dark path, dense forest, bleating wildlife and a shaft of iridescent moon in the sky above the canopy of trees.
Eventually the path opened to a huge marsh covered in sawgrass. To our right an airboat sat tethered to a tree stump. The ride took about twenty minutes. Carla and I sat back-to-back on the gutted floor of the shallow boat as the loud propeller whirred behind its protective metal cage. After being offloaded, during which time Carla had the wherewithal to keep quiet, we made a ten minute trek over mucky terrain through the jungle to the shack where we now sit.
Jim-Bob said little, other than to let us know his shotgun was loaded. Once he secured our ankles with duct tape and deposited us at opposite corners of the room - each tethered by a short length of rope to toggle bolts in the walls – he wound the rope around the zip-ties and knotted it between our wrists tight enough to chafe and suggested we “…might ‘oughta think twice about pissin’ off the gator.”