Foul Play Novel Sample Chapter

Foul Play, the sixth novel in the Malone series is slated for release in March 2019. Enjoy the sample first chapter now.

Synopsis:  Private eye Ben Malone’s search for a sweet young thing’s estranged husband leads him south of the border into deception, fraud, and murder.

“It was one of those clear, sunny afternoons we get in Los Angeles in the early spring after a rain. There was still snow on the peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains, but the Hollywood Hills

were green, and the jacaranda trees were blooming in Beverly Hills.”

So begins Foul Play, the sixth novel featuring Los Angeles private eye Ben Malone. Business is a little slow, and Malone is feeling restless until L.A. attorney Liz Harper calls with a job: a young, beautiful, and desperate woman wants Malone to find her estranged husband, a man named Keaton Douglas.

Malone sets out on his search, almost immediately discovering Douglas’ whereabouts. But that is merely the first in a series of bewildering events. Soon he is tangling with a trio of ruthless people and quickly learning just how far they are willing to go to protect their confidence scheme.


A Malone Private Investigator Novel (Book 6)

Copyright © 2018 by Larry Darter

Chapter 1



It was one of those clear, sunny afternoons we get in Los Angeles in the early spring after a rain. There was still snow on the peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains, but the Hollywood Hills were green, and the jacaranda trees were blooming in Beverly Hills. I was sitting in my office with my jacket off and my feet up on the corner of the desk, reading a book called T. S. Eliot’s Collected Poems 1909-1962. Bridgette Carpenter, my unofficial foster daughter you might say, had given me for my birthday.

I was reading the poem “Portrait of a Lady” when the phone rang. My secretary Rhonda answered the phone most of the time, but she was off on another cruise in the Caribbean somewhere. I reached for the phone, lifted the receiver, and said in my best Bogart imitation voice, “Sam Spade, here.”

At the other end a voice I knew sighed and then said, “Ben Malone, please.”

I said in my Bogart’s voice, “Hold the line a moment, sweetheart.” Then in my normal voice, “Hello.”

The voice on the phone said, “Malone, did you really expect to fool anyone with that nonsense?”

I said, “You want to hear me do Bill Clinton?”

“No, I do not. I don’t have the time, Malone. This is Liz Harper. I assume you recall me.”

“All the time,” I said. Liz Harper was an attractive attorney with very nice legs I worked for from time to time.

Liz laughed a little and said, “I have work for you.”

“Who do you need killed?” I said.

“It’s nothing that exciting I’m afraid,” Liz said. “I want you to find a man for me.”

“You’ve needed no help in that department before.”

“Hilarious,” Liz said. “You’re a laugh a minute, Malone. Care to be serious for thirty seconds so I might offer you gainful employment?”

“If you insist,” I said. “What is it you want done?”

“The man I want found,” Liz went on, “is Keaton Douglas, formerly of Boston. He is thirty-five years old, five feet ten inches tall, well built, and fair-skinned, with light brown hair and brown eyes. Four years ago, he was a typical clean-cut Bostonian man. He may not look it now because the last four years have been hard ones for him, I’ve been told.”

“What has he done?” I asked.

“Keaton Douglas isn’t a criminal, as far as I know,” Liz said. “I want you to find him for Mrs. Cara Douglas, his wife. Four years ago, the Douglases were living together in Boston. Cara Douglas it seems was of a very jealous disposition, and he was rather temperamental. Cara Douglas also had a great deal of money she inherited from her parents while her husband had only the income from his employment. Keaton had always been sensitive about being married to a wealthy woman and inclined to go out of his way to show he wasn’t dependent on his wife for his living. One evening, she accused him of paying too much attention to another woman at a party they had attended. They quarreled, and Keaton Douglas packed up and left the marital home.”

“Did they divorce?” I said.

“No,” Liz said. “Within a week of the incident, Cara Douglas learned that her suspicions had been unwarranted and only the product of her own jealousy. She was repentant over having accused her husband of infidelity. She tried to find him, but he had disappeared. When it became clear that Douglas had left Boston, she hired a Boston private investigations firm to mount a nationwide search. They traced him from Boston to Seattle, and then to San Francisco. An operative of the investigations agency found Douglas living in a sleazy hotel on the western side of the Haight-Ashbury District across the street from Golden Gate Park. The operative informed Douglas that his wife had been searching for him and gave Douglas a copy of a handwritten letter from her asking him to call or email her to discuss a possible reconciliation.”

“Did she get any response?”

“Not right away. After the contact from the investigations agency operative, Douglas dropped out of sight again until he appeared in Los Angeles six months later. On February 11, 2018, he shot and killed a burglar in his hotel room on South Grand Avenue. The Los Angeles police found the shooting suspicious, but it appeared the man he killed was a burglar. They had nothing to hold Douglas on. After the police released him, Douglas disappeared again, and nothing was heard of him until three months ago.”

“What happened then?” I said.

“Cara Douglas received a rather formal email from her husband. He asked her to stop looking for him and indicated a reconciliation was impossible because he had become addicted to heroin and was no longer the man she had known.”

“But she didn’t give up?”

“No, she replied to the email asking him to come home and to allow her to help him get the help he needed to beat the addiction. He replied to the email, refusing to come home although he seemed less bitter toward her. Douglas wrote that the little pride he had remaining would not allow him to return to her unless he beat the heroin addiction. They exchanged several more emails, and she persuaded him to accept enough money from her to get the treatment he needed to get clean. Cara sent him money each month thereafter in the form of a bank draft mailed to an address on South Figueroa Street which it turns out is a private mailbox at a commercial mail and shipping service.”

“So, he is taking her money but isn’t giving her any sign he intends to reconcile with her?” I said.

“It appears so,” Liz said. “They continue to exchange emails, and she remains hopeful he will come back to her even though he has repeatedly refused to see her or speak to her by telephone. His emails are evasive and contradictory─filled with accounts of his struggle with the addiction, making progress one month, but slipping back the next. Yet she felt so hopeful since he was staying in contact. She sold her home and wound up her affairs in Boston and came here to Los Angeles, to be close by when her husband was ready to return to her.”

“Sounds like he is using her as a steady supply of cash to pay for his heroin habit,” I said.

“Yes, she suspects as much by now, and believes he has no intention of giving up the heroine and coming back to her. I advised her to stop sending him money for a while to see if that motivated him to meet with her so she could learn his intentions with certainty. But she refuses to do that. She blames herself for the breakup, and his circumstances because of her petty jealousy four years ago. She wants her husband back, and off the heroin. But, even if there is to be no reconciliation, she intends to continue sending him money. She fears that stopping the payments might hurt him or induce him to hurt himself.”

“If she has faced reality at long last, why does she want him found?” I said.

“She wants closure,” Liz said. “She wants to end the cloud of uncertainty she has been living under for the past four years. She wants to see him one last time to hear from his own lips he is never coming back to her.”

“She’s a friend?”

“More of an acquaintance. We met at a charity gala last week and since have met for lunch. That’s when she told me of the situation with her estranged husband. I told her about you, and that you might help her with this.”

“What would you like done?”

“What we want is for you to find Douglas. We want to know whether there is any likelihood of his ever beating the drug addiction, or whether he is beyond redemption. Your job is to find him, learn whatever you can about him, and then Cara will decide whether it seems wise to force a face-to-face meeting between them where she might persuade him to return to her. Will you do it?”

“I’ll try, but I need more details,” I said. “When does Mrs. Douglas send her husband his monthly allowance?”

“It’s set up with her bank to arrive on the first of each month.”

“Today is the thirtieth,” I said. “That gives me two days to come up with a plan to intercept him and have a chat when he goes to collect the check from his mailbox. Got a photograph of him?”

“I’m afraid not,” Liz said. “During the jealous rage after their quarrel, Cara destroyed all the photographs of him. She didn’t want them to remind her of him. A photograph wouldn’t likely be of much help, anyway. Because of the heroin addiction I expect his appearance has undergone a dramatic change by now. Before speaking with me about her situation, Cara had staked out the mail and shipping service on the first of the past two months to watch for her husband but did not see him.”

“Could be someone else picks up his mail,” I said.

“That’s a possibility I hadn’t thought of.”

“The job sounds easy enough,” I said. “I should be able to wrap it up in a day. See you on the first or second of the month, and I’ll let you know what I find out.”

“I’ll see that you’re paid your regular fee and reimbursed for any expenses. Perhaps you would like to meet me for a drink at Tom Delaney’s with your report in person. By the way, are you still seeing what’s-her-name, the mousy little psychiatrist?”

“If you’re referring to Sara Bernstein, the girl of my dreams, then yes we’re still an item,” I said. “And, were I you I wouldn’t call her mousy to her face. Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

Liz laughed a little. “Too bad, handsome. I was thinking after we met for drinks perhaps I could show you my appreciation for taking on the job in a more substantial and intimate way we would both enjoy.”

“No doubt it would indeed be enjoyable, but I fear we will have to settle for drinks,” I said. “But, as someone wise once said, we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

“You’re so full of it, Malone,” Liz chuckled. “Call me big boy.”

“All right, big boy,” I said. But the line had already gone dead.

I hung up the phone, stood, and looked out the window. Below, at the corner of North Cahuenga and Hollywood Boulevard, good-looking women in short dresses and skirts crossed at the light. I loved springtime. It was April, seventy-five degrees, with clear blue skies. A lot of men wore suits. I looked at my watch. Four-thirty. Sara was attending another psychiatric seminar in Chicago. Bridgette was at school for the week. It was time to lock up and head home to check on Trixie, the Terrier mix Sara and I shared custody of.

Sara had left strict instructions not to leave the dog at home alone, but I figured what Sara didn’t know couldn’t hurt me much.

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