Books, Pop Culture and Political Humor from J.D. Rhoades, best-selling author, attorney, and award-winning newspaper columnist.
"Like [Lee] Child, Rhoades dishes out one airtight action scene after another, mixing in just enough character-building moments and holding our interest in a full cast of nicely developed supporting players."-Booklist
(In our last installment, Sluice Tundra, Private Eye, was pulled out of retirement by a mysterious woman and hired to find out who killed the Republican Party.)
I decided to start right at the top, with the chairman. I found him in his office, looking as nervous as a cat at the Westminster Dog Show.
“Thanks for seeing me, Mr. Prius,” I said.
His expression changed from anxious to annoyed.
“It’s Priebus,” he said. “Reince Priebus.”
“Right,” I said. “So tell me, Raunch …”
“Reince,” he corrected me.
“OK, Rinse. I was seeing if you knew anything about who might have killed your party.”
“Killed?” he said, sweat breaking on his brow. “It’s not dead.” He took out a hankie and wiped his face. “It’s fine. Everything’s going to be fine. Really.” His right eye started to twitch. “We’re going to unite behind the nominee. Mr. … Mr. …”
“Trump,” I said.
He visibly flinched. “Yeah. Him.”
I could tell I was getting nowhere with this guy. He was deeper in denial than a Sanders supporter looking at the delegate count. “You have a nice day, Mr. Peebles.”
He stopped shaking and looked at me with narrowed eyes. “Are you doing that on purpose, or are you just an idiot?” he said.
“You’ll never know,” I said.
Next, I decided to pay a visit to the governor. He was seated on the veranda at his palatial Massachusetts mansion. I was startled to see a short, balding guy standing behind him, running a comb through his perfect hair.
“William Kristol?” I said. “What are you doing here?”
Kristol gave me a contemptuous look and whispered something in the governor’s ear.
“Bill here is talking to me about running as a protest candidate,” the governor said.
Kristol whispered again. “He says you’re one of the takers. The 47 percent. Why should I talk to you when you’ll never vote for me anyway?”
“Whatever,” I said. “If you want to run, all I can say is what another guy said to you last time.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?”
“Please proceed, governor.”
“Get out!” he bellowed. I did.
Next, I headed down to Texas to talk to The Cowboy. I found him hard at work on his ranch, engaged in his favorite pastime: clearing brush.
“Wow,” I said. “I would have thought you’d have cleared away all the brush after this many years.”
“No problemo, amigo,” he said. “I have new brush trucked in every night.”
“Amazing. So, what do you know about who might have killed the Republican Party?”
He stopped clearing for a moment and eyed me suspiciously. “That sounds like the kind of traitoristical talk that risks emboldenating our enemies.”
“Remember, muchacho, you’re either with us or with the terrorists. Hey, would you like to see one of my paintings? I have a new self-portrait of me in the bathtub.”
“Um … thanks, but no thanks.”
I got out of there as quickly as I could. I felt like I was running out of options. I had one more visit to make.
Suddenly, everything clicked into place. I had the answer. I dialed the woman who’d hired me, who I knew only as “dollface,” “kitten” or “precious” — at least until now. I got her voice mail.
“Meet me at my old office,” I said. “I have the answer.”
She arrived just as I was pulling the dust covers off the furniture. “Take a seat, angel,” I said. “Or should I call you … Gov. Palin?”
She hesitated, then pulled the mask off, revealing the face of the half-term governor of Alaska. “Guess you think you’re pretty smart, doncha, big fella?” she sneered. “Well, smart don’t feed the bulldog there sonny, not in the real America where we’re gun-clingin’, Bible-slingin’…”
“Can it, sister,” I said. “I know you did it. But you didn’t do it alone.”
She looked confused. Maybe she always looked like that. “I didn’t?”
“No. All of you did. You pretended to be pushing low taxes and limited government, but all you were really selling was fear. Fear and resentment. Fear of Scary Brown People, and resentment of anyone you could convince people was getting something they weren’t. You also promised people things you couldn’t deliver. You were going to ‘deport all the illegals’ and repeal ‘every word of Obamacare.’ But you couldn’t. And after a while, someone came along who did fear and resentment better than anyone. You all created this monster, and now he’s going to eat your party alive while he takes it over a cliff.”
“Wow,” Palin said. “I thought I was bad about mixing metaphors.”
I got up and showed her to the door.
“I got a million of ’em, toots. Now scram.”
If I hurried, I could still make the Early Bird Special at the Retirement Home for Private Eyes.
It was a bright and sunny day at the Home for Retired Private Eyes. The smell of newly mown grass filled the air, and the birds were singing.
I hated it.
I’d spent my professional life as an honest gumshoe, plying my trade in the dark alleys of the mean streets, where life was cheap, the dames were cheaper, and hot lead waited for a man around every corner. …
It was the nurse. She was shaking me by the shoulder. I squinted up at her. “That’s me, dollface. Sluice Tundra, Private Eye. An honest gumshoe, working …”
“Yes, sir. Mean streets, hot lead. You were muttering it to yourself again. But you need to wake up. There’s someone here to see you.”
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know. But they say it’s about a case.”
“A case!? I’ll be right there!”
The woman standing in the dayroom had the kind of face and figure that made more promises than a hedge fund prospectus, but I knew that any sucker who took her up on it would soon be going to Capitol Hill for a bailout. Half of me knew I needed to be careful, but the other half was hungry for some action. A private eye can only live so long on prune juice and a weekly gin rummy game in the Multi-Purpose Room.
“What can I do for you, sweetheart?” I said. “Other than the obvious.”
She gave me a tolerant smile and dodged my grasping hands as deftly as Hope Solo shaking off a defender in the World Cup. “Mr. Tundra,” she said, “Your country needs you.”
“The last time I heard that, sugar-lips, I ended up spending two years scraping garbage cans on an Army base in Killeen, Texas. You’ll have to do better than that.”
“Well, how about …”
She pulled out an alligator hide checkbook and named a figure with a lot of zeroes in it. It got my attention.
“You have my attention,” I said. I even stopped trying to grab her.
She nodded, tore the check out of the book and handed it to me. “I need you to solve a killing.”
I took the check and stuffed it in the pocket of my beat-up trench coat. “You came to the right place, angel-britches,” I said. “Sluice Tundra’s the name, murder’s my game. Who’s the stiff?”
She sighed and tears sprang to her eyes. “The Republican Party.”
Suddenly, there was a dramatic, crashing organ chord. The girl jumped a foot in the air. “What the heck was that!?”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s just Doris. She gets a couple of early afternoon cocktails in her and passes out on the keyboard of her Wurlitzer. Pay her no mind.” I tightened the belt on my trench coat. “So, are you sure it’s dead?”
She sniffled. “It might as well be. That awful man Trump is going to be the nominee. He’s going to kill it. Just kill it, I know.” The sniffles turned into a wail of despair. “How could this happen?” she sobbed as she fell into my arms.
Now this was more like the old days. “Don’t worry, punkin,” I soothed. “I’m on it.”
She looked up at me, her eyes brimming with hope along with the tears. “Really? You’ll take the case?”
“How could I turn you down, precious?” I said. “I’ll start interviewing suspects right away. I’ve got some ideas.”
“The Governor. The Other Governor. The Cowboy. Maybe even that guy who shoots his buddies in the face.”
“Oh, Mr. Tundra,” she said earnestly. “Do be careful.”
“I don’t need to be careful,” I said. “And you can call me Sluice.”
“If you don’t remove your hand from where it is, I’m going to break it off. And if you call me one of those stupid pet names again, you’ll be eating your next meal through a straw. Now, don’t you have work to do?”
I sighed and stepped back. Yep, just like the old days. “Yes, ma’am.”