Never Take a Shave at a Shop Named Delilah's
.
by Henry Mazel



This month, we're proud to present an excerpt from Henry Mazel's new novel, Murderously Incorrect, available from Crime and Again Press, which introduces New York P.I. Alex Rada.

There's a lotta good buzz about this one, with favorable reviews and comments from Publishers Weekly, Fox TV News, Library Journal, ForeWord, Midwest Book Review and Booklist, as well as Amazon.com.



Chapter Four

.....Katharine Raines dodged traffic and street trash as she made her way to the sidewalk on the east side of Avenue A. She glanced down at the paper in her hand and then up to the tenements nearby. Her gaze stopped at number 172. A faded storefront sign read, 'Ukrainian Freedom Party.' To the right of the storefront was an entranceway leading up a steep flight of stairs. Again she checked the paper and the tenement in front of her. The scowl on her face said she could do without this. For a long while she stood there debating whether to go in. Finally, she let out a small sigh, bent her head down and marched right toward the stairs.

.....Had Alex Rada peered through the plate-glass window of the Veleshka Coffee Shop, he could have spotted Katharine across the street-if he was looking. As it was he was more interested in breakfast and the not-so-subtle techniques involved in wolfing it down.

.....The Veleshka was a neighborhood hangout that cut across class and cultural lines. There was an old-style fountain with leatherette spinning stools-most of them slashed and then pasted over with tape a shade or two lighter than the original cardinal red. Behind the counter, a middle-aged man of vaguely Slavic origin actually jerked sodas, and you could pick up the newspapers: The Irish Echo or Swoboda, or even better, The Daily Racing Form. It was a place where Slavs, post-punkers, and aging yuppies occupied the same space, if not the same time-or maybe it was the other way around.

.....The Veleshka not only defined the neighborhood, but you could usually get a decent burger, and a passable bowl of potato soup.

.....Alex didn't actually hear Lesia until the third, "Good, Alex?"

.....He looked up at the stocky, gray-haired waitress and forced a smile. "Like always, Lesia. Home cooking." Yeah, and it would taste a hell of a lot better if people would just leave him alone to eat it. Suddenly his eggs looked runny and he felt slightly nauseated. He dropped his fork on the plate. Breakfast was over.

....."Yeah, yeah, home cooking," Lesia repeated affably. "More coffee, Alex?"

....."No, not for me."

....."Who else? We make some stuffed cabbage, Alex. I put some in a bag for you, okay?"

....."Early for the cabbage, don't you think?"

....."For cabbage?" She laughed as though he'd made a joke. "Really, from me, you take it right with you."

.....He succumbed. "Fine."

.....She poured him another cup of coffee just in case, and wiped down the table. "Alex, you see in the paper? They say a riot in Kharkiv."

....."Can't read Ukrainian like I used to."

....."They're writing New York Post in Ukrainian, now?" she asked.

....."I thought you meant Swoboda."

....."I'm making joke, Alex. Of course, Swoboda."

.....Alex thought for a moment and gave a tug on his knuckle. "Don't you, uh, think the print is kinda small in that paper?"

.....Lesia ignored the question. "Shouldn't lose touch with the homeland, Alex. Maybe comes a revolution."

....."How many do you need?"

....."Still too many Russians," she almost spat. "Ukraine for Ukrainians, that's true, Alex."

....."Cavalry charge by the Hetman, right? A few swipes of the old saber from the guys on horseback-no more Bolshi Russians, huh?"

....."Yah, yah, the Hetman," she repeated as she walked away from the table toward the counter.

.....As she did, Lesia brushed past Father Stupanyk, the rector of St. Barthelms who came in daily to buy a copy of Swoboda and sip on a Pepsi Cola, which he secreted in his flowing black robe as though it were a sin to drink anything so sweet and quenching. He glanced over at Alex, stroked his long gray beard and mischievously wagged a finger. Alex acknowledged him with a shrug-and the smile of the nearly just.

.....Katharine Raines had reached the top of the stairs, where she was confronted by an apartment door with a badly stenciled sign in black spray paint that read 'RADA INVESTIGATIONS.' She rang the bell and waited. There was no answer. She heard a sound, but it could have come from the apartment next door. She tried again and waited. Nothing. She knocked on the door and listened for the sound again before she turned the knob and pushed the door open.

.....Her jaw dropped like a token in a turnstile. She looked around at what someone might have facetiously called a living room. And it was one hell of a mess. Actually, it aspired to be some sort of office-but it was even further from an office than it was from a living room.

.....Katharine cautiously moved in a few steps.

....."Mr. Rada? Hello, Mr. Rada?" At the other end of the room the door that led to the bedroom was mostly ajar, but there was a closed door next to that. Katharine approached the closed door and slowly cracked it open. Then she screamed.

.....A grubby, bedraggled face of a man was behind the door. He half lunged, half fell toward her. Katharine blanched, held back a second scream, lost her balance and fell backward.

.....The man, with a stubbly beard and a wild eye, loomed over her. He wore a tattered sweatshirt with the words 'Thank You Paine Webber' emblazoned on it. He just stood over her with his one wild eye and glared.

.....The apartment door suddenly clattered open and Alex sauntered in swinging a brown paper bag from one hand. Without missing a beat, he walked over to the bum and handed him the bag-Katharine's presence on the floor barely noted. "Here you go, Victor, from the Veleshka. Stuffed cabbage."

.....Victor grinned as he unfolded the bag and sniffed inside. "Gee, thanks, Alex!" His upper plate practically clanked, making his words almost unintelligible. And he literally drooled in expectation-a few driblets hitting the floor.

.....Alex extended his hand toward Katharine who was struggling to get up. "And who might you be?" he asked.

.....She ignored his hand as she righted herself. Katharine was embarrassed and still a bit stunned. She gawked at them both as she tried to compose herself. "Doctor Katharine Raines," she said. The emphasis on the 'Doctor' was somehow meant to restore her dignity.

.....Alex was about to brush the dirt from her skirt, but she gave him a look that could have killed crows; he thought better of it. "Sorry about Victor, he's really harmless. Got no place to go. Likes closets-everybody's got their nutsness, right? Anyway, he's a good guy so I let him stay when he needs to."

.....They looked toward Victor, who was now sprawled out on the couch making a horrible mess of the cabbage with his fingers.

....."You're a good guy, ain't ya, Victor?" Alex yelled, as though Victor would have trouble hearing or interpreting what he said.

.....Victor looked up for an instant. "Yeah, Alex," was all he had time to say before he waded back into the stuffed cabbage with a vengeance.

....."Tell him not to drip," Katharine said as she straightened herself up a bit more. She gave Alex a less than tepid smile through clenched teeth.

"Why don't you haul it into the kitchen, Victor. I got a client here."

.....Victor wiped his wet hands on his faded trousers and reluctantly started to get up. "Alex, you got any gum balls?"

....."No, not today Victor." He turned to Katharine. "He likes gum balls, in all the different colors. I'll tell you, it's a mystery to me how he chews them without teeth."

....."Frankly, Mr. Rada . . . you are Alex Rada? You know, I don't really care if he like gum balls." She eyed Victor with a kind of abrupt antipathy. "He smells like a wet rug."

....."Well, whatever works for you, Doctor. Whatever works for you."

....."And it's a bit presumptuous of you, isn't it? What makes you think I'm a client?" Katharine asked.

....."Well, for one thing, you're wearing heels."

....."What?"

....."Look . . . uh, Doctor. I only get two kinds of people up here that I don't know-clients and bill collectors. The bill collectors don't wear heels. Besides, I'm not a detective for nothing, ya know."

....."Let's just say I'm a potential client, okay?"

....."Okay. You know, he fought Carmen Basilio once." He nodded toward Victor and watched him amble unsteadily toward the kitchen.

....."Who?"

....."Victor, he got knocked out in the twelfth."

....."No, I mean who's Carmine Basilio?"

....."We don't seem to be communicating here."

....."Well, maybe it would help if one of us sat down." Katharine said.

....."Hey, I'm sorry." Alex grabbed a straight back chair, pulled the soiled shirts off it, and set it down in front of Katharine.

....."This a house call, Doctor?"

....."No, Mr. Rada, this is not a house call."

....."What's the doctorate in?"

.....Katharine carefully studied the room and avoided Alex. "Well, I suppose I should be impressed, Mr. Rada," she said, as she finally looked at him. " . . . Okay, I'll bite, how did you know I'm not a physician?"

....."The nails. Your nails are too long."

....."How clever. Well, you are one impressive guy, aren't you? . . . It's in political science." Katharine tilted her head, taking his measure. "Tell me something, why isn't there a message on your answering machine?"

....."I'm not mechanically inclined."

....."You mean not mechanically inclined like Richard Nixon, or not mechanically inclined like your basic village idiot?" The smile through the clenched teeth again. "I had to come all the way down here."

....."Generally, my clients feel more comfortable insulting me after they've given me a retainer."

.....She nodded. "All right. Yes. Yes, Mr. Rada, I would like to hire you."

.....Alex moved toward an institutional metal desk, sat, and after a bit of rummaging through a pile emerged with a pad and pen.

....."Okay. For . . . ?"

....."I'd like you to find someone. A woman. My graduate assistant actually, and I'm concerned about her."

....."What's your interest, doesn't she have relatives, parents?"

....."No." Katharine glanced down at the floor as she spoke. "No relatives that I know of. Just some friends at N.Y.U., that's where I teach. They're worried about her, too. She was very special, Mr. Rada, and I'd like to help. I just want to know what happened to her, I feel responsible, that's all."

.....Alex studied her, realized how beautiful she was. The pen in his hand began tapping, then-perhaps matching his thinking pattern-it began to drum rapidly on the desk. He wasn't quite sure he was buying all this. There was an awkward silence, as though they both knew what the other was thinking. Alex lost the game of chicken.

....."Yeah, well I've been meaning to get it fixed . . . the answering machine. Tried the police, have you?"

....."Yes. She's not in any of the hospitals or the morgue. The party line is that anyone over twenty-one can pack up and leave, and they can't do anything. But she didn't." Alex continued drumming the pencil on the desk. "She liked to hang around the clubs and bars down here. Your bailiwick, I understand," Katharine added, with more than a smack of sarcasm.

....."You said, she was special. Was?"

....."Oh, come on." The sarcasm had turned to annoyance. "Look, no one's seen her for almost three weeks. This isn't some game."

.....Alex stopped drumming, made a note, tossed the pencil aside. "Okay, I get $350 a day plus any expenses. If there are any. . . ."

.....Katharine tilted her head a little, surveyed the 'office' and stared at Rada skeptically. It was Alex's turn to be embarrassed.

....."All right, how about $300?" he said, completely resigned.

.....Katharine's glare was unwavering.

....."You know, Dr. Raines, this must be your lucky day. Just so happens it's Ukrainian Flower Day. So we're havin' a sale . . . $250 a day, and I'm not gonna come down from that." He waved his hand in the air as though he were brushing away a fly.

.....Katharine nodded almost imperceptibly in agreement. "But just for the record, Mr. Rada, I think I'm paying you more than you're worth. So just make sure there are no cost overruns, okay?"

Alex couldn't quite look at her when he spoke. "Hey, you know, fine, as long as, uh, we understand each other." The fact that he felt second-rate wasn't lost on either of them.
....

Copyright (c) 1998 by Henry Mazel.



Henry Mazel has enjoyed a career as an award-winning filmmaker, playwright, and screenwriter. His written work for film and stage includes Life and Other Games of Chance, Thugs, Favoring Harry Gold, and Primary Evidence. A past recipient of the Cine Eagle award, he is a member of The Writers Guild of America and The Mystery Writers of America. Mostly, he divides his time between Manhattan and Chinese restaurants too numerous to mention. This is an excerpt from his first novel.

Want more? Head to Henry's site, and read another excerpt, Road To Burma: Over the Hump, and while you're there, check out the rest of The Author's Homepage, Henry's bridge to the 21st century, which he's going across going across kicking and screaming. Interviews, excerpts, links and news on the author and his various projects..

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"And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man that likes to talk."

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