The Magic of Bob Dorough

For Bob Dorough, three is a magic number. For his legion of fans, it’s Bob himself who’s magic.

Whether he was singing times tables or scat, Bob made music and learning fun for adults and children alike. He died April 23, 2018, at his home in Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania, at the age of 94.

In the late 1970s, I wrote an article about him for DownBeat that was never published. Here it is at last, the story in his words of how he created Multiplication Rock, presented as a tribute to a most remarkable man.

* * *

It can be no accident that Bob Dorough included the song “Because We’re Kids” on his album Beginning to See the Light. The piece not only sums up his attitude toward children, which led to his job as composer of the ABC-TV series “Schoolhouse Rock!” It reflects the relaxed image he projects, the open smile that reaches you even before the soothing Southern twang of his voice.

Intoning the words of Dr. Seuss, Dorough sings, “But we’ll grow up someday, and when we do I pray we just don’t grow in size and sound and just get bigger pound by pound. I’d hate to grow like some I know who push and shove us little kids [sniff] around.”

No chance of that now. Dorough has spent the past several years scoring “Schoolhouse Rock!” in which he teaches children math, grammar and civics in a respectful and entertaining way. Listeners have long associated him with jazz, from his work as an accompanist to his own 1957 classic on Bethlehem records, Devil May Care. But that challenge met, he turned to producing popular artists like Spanky and Our Gang and writing advertising jingles.

After a decade-long hiatus from the jazz world, his career has come full-circle and he’s back to doing some of his favorite things. The veteran of swing and New York City jam sessions has returned to nightclub performing (including a recent stint at Bradley’s in New York) and has released a new album—a live performance recorded in California with longtime associate and bassist Bill Takas.

The duo recorded Beginning to See the Light on their own label, Laissez-Faire, to achieve the artistic freedom they desired. The track from which the album receives its name—a Harry James, Duke Ellington composition—finds Dorough swinging on piano around Takas’s strong walking bass lines. Throughout the rest of the recording, Dorough livens the recording with his unique voice, a reedy sound that’s soft and thin as a whisper, spiced with a drawl that echoes his West Texas roots.

Born in Arkansas, Dorough fell in love with music while in high school, to the point of going back to school another year after graduation to take advantage of playing with various bands. He picked up piano by ear after discovering he could compose and hold down more jobs by playing that instrument, then headed for North Texas State at Denton to polish his skills. “It was the first college to put jazz on the curriculum,” he says. “It was just a hotbed of jazz.”

His salesman father had other ideas for his son. “I was a natural mathematician. My father said, ‘You could be an engineer ‘cause your math grades are so good.’”

But New York City beckoned. “I played in different bands and combos and mostly we jammed. We were always playing. It was a way of learning. And I also liked singing. I got into my own style of singing. I guess I pretty much formulated my own style at a fairly young age, although I had what I thought was a late start in music. I was interested in serious music, too. Composition was my major.”

Dorough’s late start may account for his affinity for children and his long life in the business. “I always endeavored to think young, act young and live young, and take care of myself. As I say, I felt I got a late start in music. I was drafted and was in the Army. All that threw me way behind schedule. I dropped out when I was 28 or so, working on a master’s degree I never got at Columbia. And I’m probably one of the few American boys who took a high school post-grad course.”

When jobs in his field ran thin, he turned to producing popular artists—Chad Mitchell, Roberta Flack, Spanky and Our Gang. He tried advertising work. That move gave him an exciting job and a whole new audience—children. “It’s like anything else. You make a contact and get a job, and if it’s good, you get another one,” he says of his introduction to “Schoolhouse Rock!” and its creator.

David McCall, president of the McCaffrey and McCall advertising agency in New York, faced a problem that Dorough was soon to solve with twelve songs later released as Multiplication Rock. “His idea was to set the multiplication tables to music. He got it from his own child, who couldn’t memorize the tables but he could sing along with Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles and memorize all the words. So my partner, Ben Tucker, claimed I was the man to do the job.

“Apparently they’d tried other New York City composers and they had gotten a kind of result they weren’t looking for, sort of a simplistic writing-down-to-the-children insipid approach. So I went to see them about it and that was it. Even though they were in the advertising business, they seemed prepared to develop this idea, which was nothing new, actually. It was a little bit new in that he [McCall] wanted the multiplication tables set to rock music. Everything was rock music in that year.”

Dorough calls the assignment “a rare opportunity, one of the most exciting commissions I’ve ever had, a chance to communicate with the younger generation. I didn’t know if it would be on record; I didn’t dream it would be on TV.

“I sort of laid back a couple of months. I didn’t want to go popping out obvious rhythmical tunes. So I just studied my math books. It’s strange. I’m a collector of mathematics books. I’m a mail-order freak. I’d see Fun with Games and Numbers and Mathematics for the Millions, well I would order the book. Maybe I wouldn’t even read it. When I got this assignment, I just came home and started cracking all these books. I was prepared for the job.”

He also received some help from his daughter, Aralee. “My daughter was just entering the grades where they studied math. It gave me a chance to try some things on her.”

While the outcome was supposed to be rock, Dorough found he had created a gentler sound. “Some of my friends said, ‘That’s not rock, that’s jazz. You snuck it in on them.’ I don’t know. It’s neither rock nor jazz.”

The advertising agency originally tried to market Multiplication Rock as a record and a book, but the agency’s animation department worked up a better deal for another client, ABC-TV. To date, the network has produced 25 3-minute films. Dorough makes several a year and works as the show’s musical producer and arranger.

Until now, Dorough has concentrated on writing and recording for some of the legends of jazz. His 1957 release, Devil May Care, featured himself and Miles Davis. The trumpeter later invited Dorough to compose and sing a number for The Sorcerer. Mel Torme and others have recorded Dorough’s “Comin’ Home Baby,” and the Fifth Dimension covered his “Winds of Heaven.”

Now he takes life easy on his 3-acre farm in the foothills of Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, playing piano and flute duets with his daughter, lounging in flannel shirt and wool socks in his sparsely furnished home, an easy hour from the studios in New York. “I sort of fell in love with this part of the country. This reminds me a little of my boyhood in Arkansas. It’s similar terrain. Matter of fact, my grandfather used to be this far from the river there,” he says, pointing to the Delaware River.

As for the future, Dorough is enthused about the rerelease of Devil May Care, out of print until it was reissued as Yardbird Suite. His plans include performing, finishing the TV series, composing and working on a grander scale with an orchestra. He will continue to compose along traditional lines, even though he embraces jazz-rock fusion

“I think it was inevitable jazz and rock would gravitate toward each other.” The musicians in both camps, he says, were using improvisation. “I think music is just coming together. It’s like the whole culture has been fused by communications. I myself was always in love with exotic music of all kinds. I liked Indian music from India and I liked African music. And naturally I liked some classical music, too, what you would call modern classical or modern contemporary.

“Culturally, I can see this fantastic blooming of all elements and styles. I’m definitely all ears.”

Jeff Widmer is the author of the CW McCoy and the Brinker series of crime novels.

Bob Dorough entertaining children in the late 1970s (photo by Donald S. Fisher)

What’s my (opening) line?

I was sitting next to NPR science correspondent Christopher Joyce when he challenged the group to recall a favorite first line of a book. His was the opening of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. “Many years later, as he faced a firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

We went round robin. My contribution was the epic opening of John Mortimer’s introduction to his titular character in “Rumpole and the Younger Generation,” a line (it stretches half a page) too long to reproduce here, let alone remember in full at the time.

I hadn’t thought about that conversation until last week, when I came across the short story “The State of Nature” by Camille Bordas in The New Yorker. The story opens with the line, “I slept through the burglary.” Now, who could possibly do that? I thought. It’s a provocative lead, one that introduces the unique voice of a singular character. I read the story in one gulp.

There are many well-known openings, from Moby-Dick (“Call me Ishmael”) to the Tale of Two Cities (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”) to the oft-parodied line from Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

I’m sure you have some favorites, maybe Nabokov’s “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins” or Tolstoy’s opening to Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Just so.

And then there are the lesser-known kickoffs, the ones that brim with promise, that say, if you keep reading, you shall discover new worlds with a companionable guide.

Here, in no particular order, is a collection of my favorites, a mix of contemporary and classic lines from male and female authors alike:

“Woman’s lying in bed and the bed’s on fire.” Don Winslow, California Fire and Life.

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups.

“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.” Gillian Flynn, Dark Places.

“It began, as the greatest of storms do begin, as a mere tremor in the air, a thread of sound so distant and faint, yet so ominous, that the ear that was sharp enough to catch it instantly pricked and shut out present sounds to strain after it again, and interpret the warning.” Ellis Peters, The Sanctuary Sparrow.

“On my forty-ninth birthday, I decided that all of life was hopeless, and I would eat myself to death.” Anne Lamott, Plan B.

“It was a put-up job, and we all knew it by then.” Anna Quindlen, Miller’s Valley.

“The night Vincent was shot he saw it coming.” Elmore Leonard, Glitz.

“This really happened, this story.” Laurie Lynn Drummond, Anything You Say Can and Will be Used Against You.

“I was living with a woman who suddenly began to stink.” T.C. Boyle, “Descent of Man.”

 “Her body moved with the frankness that comes from solitary habits.” Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer.

“Joe lived, but it wasn’t something he was particularly proud of.” C.J. Box, Open Season.

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” William Gibson, Neuromancer.

“There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever.” Janet Evanovich, One for the Money.

And lastly, my all-time favorite, a slight deviation from the pattern we’ve established here in that the quote needs a second sentence to complete the punchline. It’s from Jennifer Crusie’s breakout novel Tell Me Lies. “One hot August Thursday afternoon, Maddie Faraday reached under the front seat of her husband’s Cadillac and pulled out a pair of black lace underpants. They weren’t hers.”

Now that’s a keeper.

What are you favorite opening lines? Leave a comment here, or on your social medium of choice.

‘What’s not to like about this new novel?’

What’s not to like about a good review?

No, they’re not uncommon. Most writers can find something positive to say about a book. But unqualified praise? It’s rare.

That’s why I’m so pleased to see Ryan G. Van Cleave’s assessment of Curb Appeal, the latest in the series of mystery/thrillers featuring detective-turned-real-estate-agent CW (Candace) McCoy. (No, that’s not her in the photo on the left.) The piece appears in the October edition of Scene magazine.

For those of you who don’t feel like following the link, here’s an excerpt:

“What’s not to like about his new novel by Sarasota resident Jeff Widmer? Most of the things I look for in a mystery are right there. Hot new cop boyfriend faces assault charges—check. Rival real estate agent is strangled by a lacy black bra in chapter 1—check. Back-to-back hurricanes—check. Seriously, Widmer understands the value of pacing and creating a driving forward momentum. But he still knows how to sprinkle in telling details. Widmer’s Curb Appeal presents the image of an intriguing book—and the reality matches.”

I’m especially pleased to see the review combined with one of Patricia Gussin’s latest books, Come Home. Dr. Gussin is a former executive with Johnson & Johnson who specializes in writing medical mystery/thrillers. She and her husband Robert run the independent Oceanview Publishing on Longboat Key, Florida. I’ve read her work and heard her speak at the annual Venice Book Fair, and she’s as informative in person as she is in print.

Ryan has a raft of publishing experience, too. He is a poet, editor, and teacher who lives in Sarasota, Florida, where he heads the creative writing program at The Ringling College of Art + Design. An Amazon.com best-selling author and co-author, he has penned and edited a diverse field of books, including Memoir Writing for Dummies, Contemporary American Poetry and Unplugged, My Journey into the Dark World of Video Game Addiction.

He’s a writer who is generous with his time and praise, as is the person who brought Curb Appeal to his attention, fellow author and teacher Eric Sheridan Wyatt.

What’s not to like about that?

Stormy weather

Starting a new project is never easy. Working during a storm that threatens your entire state makes it even harder to concentrate.

Now that Hurricane Irma has swept through Florida and spared our home, I’m trying to refocus efforts on a new novel, tentatively titled Born Under a Bad Sign, although The Peaceable Kingdom might provide an ironic description of the theme.

Set in 1969 just before the historic Woodstock Music & Art Fair, the book pits the residents of eastern Pennsylvania against the government in a battle to save or dam the Delaware River. It introduces two young people, a budding photographer named Elizabeth Reed and a prodigal musician called Hayden Quinn, who struggle with their own personal conflicts as they weigh the risks and rewards of love and fame.

For Elizabeth, the peace of the Minisink Valley is a form of paradise. For Quinn, whom Rolling Stone calls the next Jimi Hendrix, Eden lies to the north, at Max Yasgur’s farm. Whether they realize their dreams is an open question.

Unlike its predecessors, the CW McCoy and Brinker novels, this work is more mainstream, an exploration of the baffling mysteries faced by a sixteen-year-old woman on her emotional journey to adulthood.

I started working on paper (hence, the image of the notecards) before graduating to Word, with its document-view feature that uses headers to provide a visual outline of the manuscript. Less onerous than outlining, it’s a system I recommend to fellow writers who want flexibility as well as organization.

 

Author Anna Schmidt on why she writes

“There is only one reason to write,” says Sarasota author Anna Schmidt. “That is because you can’t not write.”

Anna, known to her friends as Jo, has written for therapy, but for most of her career, she’s written for publication. She is the author of several series of inspiration and romance, including ones set during World War II (All God’s Children), in Sarasota’s Pinecraft Mennonite community (A Sister’s Forgiveness) and in the Southwest (The Lawman).

She shared her experience this week with members of Sarasota Fiction Writers.

Her advice for emerging authors?

  • Build a track record in your genre and develop a following
  • Don’t chase trends (unless your agent and editor tell you to)
  • During dry spells, attend events and conferences outside your area of expertise (for Jo, that’s mystery and suspense)
  • Join book clubs and writers’ groups
  • Read outside your genre.

She ended the program by giving away copies of her latest book. Surprised by her generosity, the moderator asked why. With a sly smile she said, “The publisher sent me forty copies. What else am I going to do with them?”

Back to the Future

Working on Curb Appeal, the third novel in the CW McCoy series (after Peak Season and Tourist in Paradise), I realize that I write backwards.

In school, we learned to organize our material using an outline. I’ve adopted that technique to sort large amounts of material when writing nonfiction. The tool came in handy when I worked for Mack Trucks and had to find a lead buried in hours of interviews. I used a highlighter and flagged passages that were important to the telling of the story, writing subheads for those highlights and prioritizing them so they flowed in a logical way.

curb-appeal-summary-editsDigging out the nuggets from a pile of information seemed a more organic process than writing an outline. The process allowed the structure of the piece to grow from the material, the research and interviews from primary sources. But when it comes to fiction, I seem unable to follow that scholarly advice.

I write backwards.

Yes, I have a solid idea of the nature of the characters and the arc of the story, but I don’t know the exact scope and sequence of the work. I discover that as I write.

And then I write the outline. In fiction, it’s called a synopsis, a summary that’s written with the same flavor as the novel. It’s longer than a logline and shorter than a chapter-by-chapter description of character and action. But, like a GPS device, it can keep me on track.

Do you write forward or backwards?

Thinking Out Loud

I met Anna Quindlen at a video store in Snydersville, PA. We were feeding cassettes into the drop-off box. It was after hours and getting dark. I think I startled her. She used to live in New Jersey and was living in Cherry Valley, not far from my home, near Stroudsburg. Maybe she still lives there.

I worked for the local newspaper. She worked for the New York Times. I’d written a corporate history. She’d won the Pulitzer Prize. Now she writes novels with an eye a detective would envy.

millers-valley-coverMiller’s Valley is her latest book. At times the novel sounds like the saga of the Tocks Island Dam. At times it sounds universal, as if the flooding and evictions take place everywhere, all the time.

In a passage near the center of the book, the narrator, a high-school student named Mimi Miller, is talking to her brother Tommy, who’s just back from Vietnam.

“I didn’t know exactly what Tommy did with himself all day, but he was still in basic-training condition. All the other guys at the VFW had big bellies sloping over their belts. ‘Baby likes beer’ they would say, rubbing their midsections like a genie would show up and they would get three wishes.”

I wish I could write like Anna Quindlen. I wish I could see like Anna Quindlen.

Just thinking out loud.

The locus of murder

In fiction, when does setting become a character? When does location move from background to foreground?

Readers from Pennsylvania to Florida have called out locales they recognize in both the CW McCoy and Brinker series of crime novels. Even with altered geography and names, those places seem to resonate like the voice of a friend.

As they did with me while doing research for Tourist in Paradise, Peak Season and Mr. Mayhem. Here, then, are some of the images that inspired the characters that inhabit those books. As well as the writer.

Sarasota marina, similar to one where Walter Bishop berths his sailboat in CW McCoy novels

Sarasota marina, similar to the one where Walter Bishop berths his sailboat in CW McCoy novels

 

Sansara condos in Sarasota, one of models for DeSoto Park complex in “Tourist in Paradise”

Sansara condos in Sarasota, one of the models for the massive DeSoto Park complex in Tourist in Paradise

 

Farmers Market in downtown Sarasota, where CW and Tony Delgado meet in “Peak Season”

Farmers Market in downtown Sarasota, where CW and Tony Delgado meet in Peak Season

 

The Sarasota skyline inspired creation of CW McCoy’s Spanish Point

The Sarasota skyline inspired creation of CW McCoy’s Spanish Point

 

Sarasota Police Dept. inspired Spanish Point’s PD where Cheryl, Oz, Delgado work

Sarasota Police Dept. inspired Spanish Point’s PD where Cheryl, Oz and Delgado work

 

Drumming the sun down at Siesta Beach, where CW finds second body in “Peak Season”

Drumming the sun down at Siesta Beach, where CW finds a second body in Peak Season

 

Key Breeze stands in for galley of Mary Beth, where CW finds an unconscious Walter Bishop

Key Breeze stands in for the galley of the Mary Beth, where CW finds an unconscious Walter Bishop in Tourist in Paradise

The Real McCoy

Many places have informed the CW McCoy crime series. While the books are set in the fictional Florida coastal town of Spanish Point, both Sarasota city and county provided much of the inspiration for Candace and her cast.

Over the past five years, I’ve taken hundreds of photos throughout the region, focusing on the places where CW, Walter Bishop and others might live, work and do their worst. From the office building of One Sarasota Tower to the Sunday night drum circle on Siesta Beach, they illustrate the lives of people struggling to adjust to a changing world. (Full disclosure: I didn’t take the photo of kd Lang, although I did see Tony Bennett in concert at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center in Sarasota.)

I’ve enjoyed reviewing the images that inspired Peak Season and Tourist in Paradise. I thought you might enjoy them, too.

Tony Bennett and kd lang make their debut in crime fiction in “Peak Season.”

 

Anna Maria Island City Pier, one of the models for Spanish Point Fish Camp in both CW McCoy novels

Anna Maria Island City Pier, one of the models for Spanish Point Fish Camp in both CW McCoy novels

 

Mascot of the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office Animal Services unit, Sugar Bear is the model for the abandoned dog in “Tourist in Paradise”

Mascot of the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office Animal Services unit, Sugar Bear is the model for the abandoned dog in “Tourist in Paradise”

 

Sarasota’s Bayfront Park, where Bobby Lee Darby meets his fate in “Peak Season”

Sarasota’s Bayfront Park, where Bobby Lee Darby meets his fate in “Peak Season”

 

One Sarasota Tower, model for offices of Mitch Palmer and Casey Laine in CW McCoy novels

One Sarasota Tower, model for offices of Mitch Palmer and Casey Laine in CW McCoy novels

 

Bradenton Riverwalk, the inspiration for Baywalk in “Peak Season”

Bradenton’s Riverwalk, the inspiration for Baywalk in “Peak Season”

John Ringling’s Cà d’Zan, site of attack on Tommy Thompson’s condo project in “Tourist in Paradise”

John Ringling’s Cà d’Zan, site of attack on Tommy Thompson’s condo project in “Tourist in Paradise”

 

 

Darkness descends on the Sunshine State

Someone has declared war on Florida’s tourists. And caught in the crosshairs is CW McCoy, the retired female detective desperately trying to lead a normal life as a real estate agent in tony Spanish Point.

She does, until that someone comes gunning for her.

As if a midnight carjacking isn’t enough trauma, CW must deal with savage punks, corrupt politicians, an errant lover and a disease that is rapidly obliterating her beloved grandfather.

Welcome to Tourist in Paradise, the sequel to Peak Season, the book that kicked off the CW McCoy series of crime novels. The sequel debuts this week in trade paper and ebook formats through Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble. But fans of the spunky sleuth who are eager to read about her troubled past and doubtful future won’t have to wait. They can read the full first chapter of Tourist in Paradise here.

Enjoy.

1.

THE AIR FELT THICK and wet. Lightning slashed the clouds and thunder detonated over the Gulf of Mexico. In the rental lot of the Spanish Point International Airport, palm trees swayed like frat boys. Mercury vapor lights buzzed. The sky dropped another foot.

A hard rain was gonna fall.

By the time Walter Bishop dropped me off at the car rental counter, the display on my cellphone read 12:01 a.m. Despite the hour, the rental agent looked crisp in white shirt and black slacks. Tall, early twenties, with black hair slicked forward in a rapper quiff. His nametag read Ken. No Barbie in sight.

The agent stood at a computer terminal in front of a banner that read, “Spanish Point—Welcome to Paradise.” The photo showed a man in a white shirt, striped tie and madras shorts leaping through the surf with a smiling woman and young girl, both in swimsuits and sarongs. At least the women had dressed the part.

Ken handed over the keys and a copy of the paperwork. “Here you are, Ms. McCoy. You’re in Number Three. Enjoy your stay.”

He smiled. He had a right to look happy. This was Southwest Florida after one of the worst winters on record, when tourists had fled south like refugees. I should have been happy, too, because I’d moved to this beach town two years ago, although trouble with money and men had thrown a bit of sand in my face.

I considered correcting Ken’s assumption that I was a visitor—he should have known, he’d looked at my license—but I kept that thought to myself. Score one for self-restraint.

Walter had the parking lot to himself. Leaning against his gold Mercury Grand Marquis, arms folded, jaws snapping gum, he looked every inch the former state police commander and proud owner of a forty-one-foot sloop. Not exactly your typical beach bum, he still carried a weapon. Louie, his vintage black Labrador Retriever, stood on the passenger seat with his head hanging out the window. All this time in the South and Louie didn’t know better than to wear black.

I walked to slot number three and beeped the remote of a white car that could have passed for a Hyundai, Toyota, Ford or an enameled rickshaw. The front looked like the helmet of an imperial storm trooper. The back bore a Florida license plate.

Walter walked to the car. Last winter, while helping me take down an enraged investor in a bank-fraud scheme, he took a bullet in the thigh. He still walked with a slight limp, but when I’d asked how he felt, he’d always say, “Fine.”

I slid into the seat and started the car. “Why is it that half the rental tags in this state begin with the letter J?”

“They used to begin with Y and Z, until the governor banned the practice.”

“Why?” Even after midnight, the August heat made my clothes feel like a sausage casing. I cranked the knob for AC. The system fought back with a blast of hot air.

“Carjackings and robberies near Miami International.”

I adjusted the mirrors. “How’d that work?”

“Gangs would tail a tourist out of the airport based on stickers and tags. They’d bump the car from behind. Tourist pulls over, puts up a fight, gets popped.” Walter snapped his gum for emphasis.

In the distance, thunder rolled off the horizon. “When was this?”

“Nineteen ninety-two, right after Hurricane Andrew.”

The air blowing out of the vents smelled like the wrong end of a vacuum cleaner. I adjusted the fins and clicked on the headlights.

Walter leaned on the doorframe. “So tell me why you need a rental.”

“I’m showing a house.”

“You always rent cars at midnight?”

The sky crept closer to the ground. I looked for the stalk that controlled the windshield wipers and sighed. “I got a last-minute call to show a condo on Spanish Key and had to return Cheryl’s car. You’d think the cops would let her take a patrol wagon home for the night.”

He crossed his arms and grinned. “You’re diligent.”

“I’m broke, remember?”

“What happened to the SUV?”

“I loaned it to someone.”

“To whom did you loan it?” His grin tempered the mocking tone, but only a bit.

“Chet.”

He smiled to reveal a gap in his top teeth and curled two fingers in a “come on and spill it” gesture.

The car’s clock read 12:06 a.m., the temperature gauge eighty-six. I sighed. “You’re not going to let go of this bone, are you?”

He shook his head.

“Chet, my auto body guy.”

“Ah.” His smile grew wider. “And what did you hit this time?”

“A pole, all right? I was pulling out of the marina lot—you know they won’t let you back in—and this sign came out of nowhere and clipped the bumper. Totally did not look where it was going.”

He laughed and walked to the Merc. “I’ll follow you home. Wouldn’t want you to get ambushed by a traffic light.”

Tourist in Paradise cover 3DI slammed the door with enough force to fly the rivets back to South Korea and headed down the access road to University Parkway, one of the main East-West highways in Spanish Point. We sailed across the railroad tracks and into the northern part of the city, encountering little traffic at this time and season, when well-heeled residents traveled to cooler climes and the tourists headed back to Canada and the Continent.

The few houses here stood far apart, guarded by cement-block walls with peeling white paint. Not the sign of a prosperous neighborhood. I rarely showed property this far north. The rich retirees preferred gated communities and five-acre ranches east of I-75. I preferred them, too, since I worked on commission.

At the cross street I hung a right onto Orange Avenue and headed south into a fist of rain. Fat drops smacked the windshield, then ratcheted up the volume. I checked the mirror. Walter hung back so far his headlights had disappeared.

The street numbers had dropped from the fifties to the thirties when a car fell in behind me. I glanced in the mirror and saw its glittering image edge closer. When I slowed to let it pass, the car lurched forward and rammed the back of the rental, not enough to set off the airbag but hard enough to jar my teeth.

I jammed the brakes. “What the . . .” I yelled as a black Honda with tinted windows and dual exhaust pipes spun a hundred and eighty degrees and came to rest twenty feet in front of the car, blocking the road and blinding me with its high beams.

A short black kid in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans bounded from the passenger side, raising a handgun as he ran. Hands and eyes, eyes and hands, I reminded myself. Watch the eyes and hands. My heart thundered, my vision narrowing to focus on the weapon. Ducking beneath the dashboard, I searched my ankle for the Beretta .25 only to remember I hadn’t carried since I’d shot that officer in Pennsylvania. I came up to see the black kid pointing the gun at my head and screaming for me to get out of the car.

Things happened fast. I heard Walter yell “Freeze!” and the black kid fired a round that splintered the windshield. Another shot slammed the kid’s shoulder and took him to the pavement. I looked for the driver, a light-skinned male, his features obscured by the blinding headlights. He glanced at his buddy, ground the gears and barreled north, forcing Walter into the ditch.

The kid on the highway rolled in pain. Walter climbed onto the crown of the road and kicked the boy’s weapon out of reach, then backed away and asked, “You all right?”

“Yeah,” I said. My breath felt ragged. I inhaled deeply, willing my heart to slow. “You get the tag?”

“Enough,” he said.

My stomach clenched as Walter moved his gun toward me but he must have changed his mind about asking me to hold the weapon. Flipping open his cell phone, he called 9‑1‑1, asked for police and fire rescue and disconnected.

The kid hugged himself and moaned and rocked on the double yellow line just as the sky opened wide, the rain mixing with blood as it soaked his clothes.

“We need to help,” I said.

With his weapon trained on the boy, Walter tossed his keys to me. “There’s a first-aid kit in the trunk.”

Arms shaking, I grabbed a checkered blanket and red plastic box marked with a white cross and knelt near the boy. He looked about fifteen with a scraggly mustache and a burst of acne on his forehead. With his high top fade, he resembled Will Smith in the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”

As shock set in, the kid stopped yelling and stared at me with eyes the size of quarters. Walter had shot him in the meaty part of the right shoulder, as far away from the heart as he could and still hit body mass. I cut away the shirt and, using scissors, tape and a large square of gauze, pressed the makeshift bandage to the wound. He groaned when I tipped him onto his side. The exit wound looked worse. Cutting away the shirt, I stretched the remaining gauze over the hole and taped it to his skin. The patches wouldn’t stop the bleeding but they’d slow it.

Leaning back on my heels, I glanced up at Walter. He stood ramrod straight, gun at his side, a living shadow backlit by the headlights. Between us, rain pelted the pavement, turning the stones to shards of glass.

I bent my head toward the kid. “Why’d you come after us?”

He stared over my shoulder, eyes glazed, blood trickling from a bitten lip. I pulled the blanket over his torso, propped his head on the plastic case and tucked the cloth underneath. Then I backed up to where Walter stood.

“He’s not going anywhere,” I said and heard a faint tremble in my voice.

“Trust but verify.”

“You going to toe him in the ribs to make sure?”

Without taking his eyes from the kid he holstered his gun. “How’s the car?”

“Drivable, if you don’t mind bullet holes.” Rain streamed through my hair and soaked my collar.

He shook his head. “You know what this is about?”

“Robbery for drug money?”

He glanced at me. “Anyone after you?”

I shook my head. “Does he look like a pro?”

“They had to pass me to follow you.”

In the distance, sirens split the air. I leaned against the rental to steady my legs and felt the water soak my pants. “What do you think?”

He stared over my shoulder into the dark. “It’s starting again.”