The Martini Club Mystery
Martini Club Series, Book 1
mystery series · The Martini Club · amateur sleuths · suspense · face-paced
Eysen is a strong writer and terrific story-teller. As he takes us through the twists and turns of this debut novel he spices the story with generous helpings of homespun wisdom and insight. —★★★★★ Reader Review
Smart. Savvy. Retired. Bored.
The members of The Martini Club include a former CIA operative, a one-time Washington ad man, an ex-journalist, a retired brothel owner, an ex-airline pilot, and a non-practicing rabbi. This eclectic group assembles once a month to drink gin martinis, debate great issues and tell stories that may or may not be true. When an enigmatic financier offers them a chance to get “back in the game” and turn one-million dollars into untold riches, the retirees jump at the opportunity. But their plans are quickly stymied by the suspicious death of a local landowner, forcing The Martini Club to sober up and investigate potentially deadly hidden agendas.
— scroll down to read book sample —
“…[a] most excellent first novel.” —★★★★★ Reader Review
"I really, really enjoyed this very entertaining book. I was drawn in right away to a great story I found myself lost in. The Martini Club should build a large and loyal fan club. The quality of author Alan Eysen's storytelling skills has me looking forward to his next adventure with the Martini Club. Well done." —★★★★★ Reader Review
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alan Eysen wrote for many years about real-world financial and political corruption. At Newsday, he served as a prominent member of the investigative team that won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for exposing misconduct involving Long Island public officials. After more than thirty years in journalism, he became a political consultant and experienced the other side of the story. Today, Eysen resides in the lowcountry of South Carolina, where he continues to write and be inspired by the colorful characters and harrowing situations he experienced firsthand as a reporter. He can often be found crafting his strong fictional characters with the help of an equally strong dry gin martini.
SAMPLE FROM THE MARTINI CLUB MYSTERY
Chapter 1: Flying
Jay Corrigan flew lazy circles over the Parrot’s Caw subdivision. The sky was azure blue; the golf course below a winding strip of brilliant green. This was the time the retired airline pilot had been waiting for—no schedules, no responsibilities, just the pure joy of making lazy circles in the sky.
The tiny two-seat Cessna 152 responded instantly to Corrigan’s touch. He was hands-on flying in this little high winged bird. He and the plane were one body linked by touch. Corrigan no longer was managing a computer-driven commercial plane, responsible for hundreds of passengers. He was just having fun.
Oops, he thought, remembering he did have one responsibility today. He had promised the Parrot’s Caw Property Owners Association that he would take photographs of the fifteen-hundred-acre development, with its thirty miles of roads and drains, its seventy-five drainage ponds, its twenty-plus miles of walking and biking trails, and many acres of carefully trimmed flowers, bushes and trees. The association board had requested the photos as part of its preparation for negotiations with the property’s developer.
Yet he hesitated.
Instead of shooting photos, he climbed to thirty-five hundred feet to get a more panoramic view of the area. There was Parrot’s Caw, a complex of more than two thousand homes, town homes and condominiums. Its residents were upper middle class, mostly a mixture of successful businessmen and professionals—doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers. Of course, he had met some offbeat souls, retired college professors, an ex-CIA operative, even a former journalist. Good folks to drink with.
The neighborhood’s manicured lawns, landscaped gardens and rolling golf course painted a sharp contrast to what Corrigan saw when he looked to the southeast. There, he spotted a distinctly different neighborhood. It was made up mostly of rundown shanties and mobile homes sitting on concrete blocks. Poor blacks lived there. He could make out several of them riding bikes on the slender, two-lane roads—not for the exercise, he thought, but because they can’t afford cars.
To the south lay the city of Stuarton, known to many as The Miracle City because the colonial seaport town had survived a British siege and blockade during the Revolutionary War by trickery as much as grim determination. Its militiamen intermixed real and artificial cannons on their ramparts to give a more formidable appearance and poked numerous unmanned rifles out of windows and over parapets to further the impression of a greater number of defenders. Some of their dead were propped up behind these weapons to add authenticity. After weeks of bombardment, the British fleet withdrew rather than test Stuarton’s defenses further by landing troops.
Today, Stuarton residents were largely middle class, earning their living from small businesses that catered either to the tourist trade or the sale of farm products. A small section was filled with venerable mansions, some still occupied by the heirs of their original builders. Most of these architectural jewels, however, were now in the hands of successful entrepreneurs and celebrities who enjoyed a certain anonymity among Stuarton’s polite, look-the-other-way citizenry.
Flying in a slow turn to the north, Corrigan was able to peer out his window far to the west. There he saw miles of farms and small ranches. Damn, he thought, I think I see some cattle and real cowboys down there. Now it’s time to play. With that, he pushed the throttle in to full power and pulled the control wheel into his gut. The Cessna’s engine roared as its nose pointed straight up to the sky. For a tantalizing moment, the plane remained motionless, stalled, as if hung on an invisible string. Then, its left wing dropped precipitously, and the plane began to spin— slowly at first, then more rapidly. It looked to Corrigan as if the earth, not the plane, was spinning more and more rapidly as it rose up toward him. He laughed, shoved the control wheel forward, leveled the wings, pressed hard on the right rudder and reduced power. As the spin stopped, he eased off the right rudder and gently pulled back on the control wheel, putting the plane back in level flight. Fun’s over. The altimeter indicated he had lost 150 feet.
He turned back to the southeast toward Parrot’s Caw and began a slow descent. He reached for his camera, an old German Leica, banked the plane over to a forty-five-degree angle, and began shooting. By the time he tied down the little rental plane, he was ready for a drink. Where the hell are Brady, Smyth and Ginsberg when you need them?
Chapter 2: In the Beginning
Many of Brody Brady’s personal daily rituals were the result of his creative imagination. There was, for example, his Tuesday and Thursday walking schedule. On those two days, Brady wore a towel around his neck and a headband that said FEDERER. He would start his walks at precisely 10:00 a.m., which allowed him to reach his halfway point, the development’s tennis courts, a half hour later. This coincided with the conclusion of the regular women’s doubles tennis matches. Brady would offer his towel to any attractive lady who seemed in need of such assistance. Soon the players expected Brady to arrive, and some struck up an acquaintance with “that charming man.”
On Wednesdays, Brady would borrow his neighbor’s Yorkshire Terrier for a walk. He had learned that women were attracted to small, fluffy dogs. Though the Yorkie was a male named Brute, on their walks Brady called him Lover Girl. A heavy coat of hair concealed the distinguishing male member until the dog was picked up to be cuddled. This made for lengthy conversations with women concerning male and female anatomy. After each walk, Brady returned the dog promptly to its owner, borrowing it off schedule only if a Yorkie-loving woman decided to pay him a personal visit.
Mondays and Fridays were set aside for what Brady called “conversation walks,” strolls with a special group of men more or less his age. He was seventy-eight. All the men invited on these walks were bright, well educated, mostly retired, and above all interesting. They also shared a kindred taste for martinis.
The Brady walkers, as they began calling themselves, met at the entrance to the Parrot’s Caw Clubhouse, an English Tudor structure that fed and lubricated golfers, pinochle players and those interested in spending a day away from their spouses. It was after one such conversation walk that The Martini Club was born. To say it was formally created would be an overstatement. Best to say it simply evolved from a discussion between Brady and Nathan Ginsberg on the merits of drinking, and their inability to do so while walking.
Ginsberg was slightly younger than Brady, and could discuss anything from philosophy to baseball scores with wit and wisdom. He was tall, nearly as tall as Brady. Unlike Brady, though, Ginsberg was broad shouldered and muscular with a perpetual three days growth of beard. He could have passed for one of those mature male models featured in erectile dysfunction commercials.
“What I admire about you, Nathan,” Brady said, “is that you can hold your liquor so well. In my ethnic persuasion, that would be considered a badge of honor. In yours, probably not so much.”
“True, especially since I am a rabbi.”
“A rabbi?” Brady responded in disbelief. “During my days in Washington, I ran into lots of Jews who could drink with the best, but none of them was a rabbi.”
“A heavy drinking Jew is the quintessential assimilationist. If he can drink like a goy, he can pass for a goy, so deep is the Jewish inferiority complex,” Ginsberg replied. “But passing for a goy doesn’t work well in the rabbi business. Congregations want rabbis not only to be Jewish, but to look Jewish and smell Jewish. That means, horseradish on your breath…yes; liquor on your breath… no. Fortunately, I am retired. I took up drinking after my working years. All that being said, there is precedence for having a drunken leader in the Bible.”
“Is this going to be a sermon on the virtues of drinking?” Brady asked in expectation of some witty Talmudic offering. “Being of Irish heritage and having labored in some of the best bars in D.C., I can say I need no conversion.”
“In your case, no conversion, just a little Jewish perspective,” Ginsberg responded. “I think you already understand the sins and virtues of alcohol. In Genesis, God decides he doesn’t like the life He has created on earth with Adam and Eve, so He tries again. He floods the world, and drowns everybody except for one righteous man, his family and a bunch of animals—there is some dispute as to their number—but in the end, all are saved, and life begins again on this lonely planet.”
“Touching. So what’s the point?”
“The point is this: the one righteous man He picks to lead the little band of start-overs is a vintner named Noah. Immediately after he finds dry land, what does Noah do?”
“I know.” Brady responded with a wink. “He lets all those creatures off the ark to go copulate.”
“My question was rhetorical, smart guy. The Bible says, ‘And Noah, the farmer, began and planted a vineyard. And he drank of the wine and was drunken.’ Things get a little sloppy after that, but Noah lived nine hundred and fifty years and started a whole line of descendants, including you and me. My point is that if it weren’t for a drunken pre-Jew, none of us would be here.”
“Hallelujah,” replied Brady. “And that explains why Jesus turned water into wine. He just wanted to keep the party going.”
Before Ginsberg could reply, Gerald Smyth joined them with a healthy clap on both their backs. “So boys, what are we going to argue about today?”
It was then that Brady had an epiphany. “The three of us love to drink martinis, tell wild stories and argue about everything from politics to women. Why don’t we meet at each other’s homes instead of on the street, so we can imbibe while we altercate? The host will supply the martinis and some food. We can call it The Martini Club. Each of us can bring in an additional member as long as he is a kindred spirit.”
“There must be only one rule,” Ginsberg responded, “that there are no rules, no passwords, no secret handshakes or special number cards with our faces on them, nothing that will bring order out of the chaos we are seeking.”
“Agreed,” Smyth said.
“Whoa,” Brady objected. “You have suggested a rule that cannot be put in place unless there are rules for voting a rule in or out of place. Without such formative rules, there can be no way to adopt primal rules for barring rules.”
“I would suggest that does not have to be the case,” Ginsberg countered. “The religious and scientific laws that govern us did not require an a priori mechanism to put them in place. These laws are givens. They are inherent to the universe, like gravity and magnetism. God made them all out of nothing, a void.”
“Are you, rabbi, suggesting that God created gravity and magnetism?” asked Brady.
“Yes, exactly. Science can’t explain what set this all in motion. I am suggesting that God is our convenient name for the universality that put all these laws in place without benefit of outside jurisdiction or requirement of a majority vote. When Moses stood before the burning bush and asked God his name, God answered, ‘I am what I am,’ or as the Greeks translated it ‘I will be what I will be.’ How much more universal can you get? How can that be challenged?”
Smyth raised a large, hard hand, silencing the debaters. “Enough,” he cried. “It is clear we are standing atop Mount Sinai at this very moment—though there isn’t a hill in sight—and we have just received revealed truth. The Martini Club has been called forth as a revelation. The first meeting will be held at my place within the week.”
The Martini Club was born and grew to ten members, each bringing a special personality and branch of knowledge to the assemblage—the theater arts and fine arts, politics, business, aviation, journalism, espionage, sex and psychology.
Chapter 3: Brody Brady
Sam Grieger’s first encounter with the manipulations of Brody Brady came as he was unpacking boxes and placing items where his wife Sheila had dictated—dishes in the cabinets near the refrigerator, toaster oven on the counter near the coffee maker, automatic can opener to be screwed into the base of the cabinet overhanging the dishwasher. If I let my mind go blank, he thought, I won’t remember that I failed shop in high school and that my teacher called me tool disadvantaged. I have twisted myself like a circus contortionist into the twenty-two inches between the dishwasher and the overhanging cabinet and am trying to rotate screws into remarkably hard wood.
Someone began aggressively banging on the front door.
“Who is it?” Grieger called.
“Your neighbor, Brody Brady. It’s an emergency.”
“Hold on a minute.”
“I don’t have a minute. It’s an emergency.”
“What’s the emergency?”
“Hold on.” Grieger untwisted himself carefully off the dishwasher, mindful that his skull could be penetrated at any moment by partially driven steel screws.
He opened the door to see Brody Brady looking like a gaunt parody of the Statue of Liberty, right hand held high, wrapped in a towel sodden with blood. As a retired newspaper reporter, Grieger had seen his fill of bloody bodies, but Brody Brady looked different. Probably because he’s still alive. “I’ll call 911.”
“No time for 911,” Brady replied. “Do you have some large bandages?”
“Yes, somewhere in one of these boxes,” Grieger answered, pointing at a hallway filled with half-opened boxes. “My wife would know where, but she isn’t home.”
“Then you will have to do. Start going through the boxes,” Brady commanded.
Grieger began rummaging through them without success. He looked up to see Brady dripping blood. “You are bleeding on my boxes and on my new parquet floor,” Grieger shouted.
“I don’t want to bleed on your boxes and floor, so get me some bandages quickly,” Brady snapped back.
In desperation, Grieger grabbed Brady by his blood tipped arm and rushed him to the kitchen sink. At least now he won’t bleed to death on my new floor. He pulled away the blood soaked towel revealing a gash that ran from Brady’s middle finger, across his palm nearly up to his wrist. “This needs stitches. A bandage won’t do it,” Grieger said, trying to feign compassion.
Grieger recalled the cops slipping on plastic gloves and booties before touching the victims of mob hits. What if this guy has AIDs or hepatitis? Am I going to die from a horrible disease I haven’t even derived in some perverse pleasure? Aloud, he said, “Why don’t you go to the emergency room? There’s a hospital nearby. I’ll drive you.”
“I can’t go,” Brady replied. “See the 18-wheeler down at the end of the block. It’s full of my stuff. They’re unloading it into my place right now. I have to tell them where to put things.”
“I still think you should go to the emergency room. Just let them dump the furniture wherever. My wife will be home soon, and I’ll tell her to tell the movers where to put things. She knows that sort of stuff. She puts things in all the right places. Her mother taught her.”
“She doesn’t know where I want to put my things, nor does her mother,” Brady responded, agitation creeping into his voice.
“Sheila has great instincts about that kind of stuff,” Grieger replied knowingly. “It’s in women’s genes. When we lived in caves, they put all the rocks in all the right places. That’s how we learned to sit down. By the time we come back from the emergency room everything will be right where it should be.”
“No,” Brady replied resolutely. “I will stay with my furniture to the end, even if I bleed to death and it’s your fault.”
Grieger realized his situation was hopeless. Brady was prepared to die just to make sure his furniture was properly placed, and would blame him with his dying breaths. He rushed to the closet and grabbed a large beach towel emblazoned with the image of a very large crab. He twisted it around Brady’s wound and secured it with several turns of packing tape. The flow of blood was slowed but not stopped.
“You are still bleeding,” Grieger said hopelessly.
“I take Coumadin. It’s a blood thinner. You see, I have a bad heart,” Brady explained like some patient teacher. “It’s very hard to stop the bleeding.”
“I think we should go to the emergency room,” Grieger answered.
“I’m already scheduled to go in tomorrow for some minor heart surgery. I’ll have them stitch up my hand at the same time, a kind of two for one,” Brady countered, smiling.
“Heart surgery tomorrow?” Grieger questioned, no longer surprised at his neighbor’s answers. “I don’t think they combine such things.”
“I’ll talk to them,” Brady said confidently. “I can be quite persuasive. Besides, I have Medicare. It’s all covered.”
Grieger knew Brady had won. It was time to soldier on. Grieger marched him to the door. “Keep your arm elevated. As soon as my wife gets back we’ll find some real bandages and bring them over to your place,” he said. “By the way, how’d you get this cut?”
“They were bringing in a case of my very good wine, and they dropped it. I reached inside the case to check the damage and was stabbed by a bottle of Argentine Malbec,” Brady replied with a grin.
“What a waste of good wine,” Grieger sympathized, smiling back.
“I knew I’d like you,” Brady answered as he left, towel and hand held high.
And thus their friendship began.
Chapter 4: The Chant
The next time Sam Grieger saw Brody Brady was at the get-to-know you meeting of the newly formed Parrot’s Caw Condominium Owners Association, or PCCOWA, as it came to be known. The event was held in an all-purpose ballroom at the development’s central building, quaintly called The Domain. The ballroom itself was named The Dunk since it also served as a basketball court. The backboards were pulled up on this occasion, serving as anchors for the strings attached to large red, white and blue balloons that caromed off the coffee-colored ceiling. Periodically, they would snag on the folded hoops and make gaseous sounds as they pulled free. Their flatulence was overwhelmed now by the powerful voice of Chris Bideau, the property manager and developer’s son.
“I personally want to thank each of you for being the first settlers in a row of unique condominium structures that RB&S Homes hopes to fill with comfortable retirees from the north, just like yourselves.” Recalling his religious education at Goodness of God College, he added, “You are on the frontier of the Promised Land. Thanks to RB&S Homes, you have at long last escaped the cold, the shoveling of snow, the driving on ice, the wearing of heavy winter coats, the chill of icy winds and the huge heating bills…and you deserve it.” Mixing his biblical geography, Bideau went on to proclaim, “You are no longer East of Eden. You are in Eden. Amen, brothers and sisters!”
His audience responded to his revival meeting oratory with polite applause, but not a single Hallelujah.
Unshaken, Chris Bideau switched to a more down-to-earth approach. “Each table has bottles of wine and delicious chocolate chip cookies. And there is more to come. We have chicken wings waiting in the kitchen oven and ice cream in the freezer.”
Warming more to his master of ceremonies role, he added, “But before we get to the eating and drinking, RB&S Homes is going to treat you to something really special. We have created a Parrot’s Caw chant,” he shouted. “Chant it with me. It goes this way: PEE-SEE-SEE-OH-WHO-WAWA. The P not only stands for Parrot. It stands for perfect,” he yelled into a crackling microphone. “Remember, accent on the first PEE and the WHO.” He began rocking and rhythmically shouting:
A scantily dressed female, clearly wearing little or no underwear, jumped on the stage next to Bideau and began wiggling her bottom and waving pom-poms. She was slender, bosomy and pretty, but clearly years beyond her high-school cheerleading days.
“PEE-SEE-SEE-OH-WHO-WA-WA,” she cheered. “C’mon, folks,” she cried out. “Let’s all join in.”
Her low-cut top and mini skirt had awakened interest among the male condo owners. “Not since my high-school basketball days have I seen a wiggle like that,” shouted a recently retired Wall Street lawyer sitting close to the stage. “But I left the cheering to the cheerleaders. I just tried to score—one way or the other.” His remarks drew a round of applause and whistles from the men in the audience. His wife whacked his arm with her handbag.
Nobody joined in the chant. The pom-pom girl stopped wiggling.
“Ah, c’mon folks,” a frustrated Chris Bideau pleaded into the microphone. “We’re all on the same team here. We should have a cheer. We’ve got to have a cheer.”
“We’d rather have the chicken wings,” someone yelled from the back of the room.
Then Brody Brady jumped up. “In the meantime, why don’t you let the young lady play some music and do some singing. I understand she’s a got a great voice.”
“Okay, okay,” Chris Bideau responded, getting Brady’s message. “RB&S Homes wants you to have a good time tonight.” He signaled for the waiters to start bringing out the chicken wings. Turning to the pom-pom girl, he announced, “Get your other equipment on the stage, honey. It’s time for you to entertain us.” The girl quickly put two turntables, an amplifier and two speakers on the stage.
Bideau was about to hand her the microphone when a big man with a heavy beard walked in and shouted, “Hold it! She don’t sing. She don’t play music. She don’t strip. And she don’t wiggle, unless I say so. And I ain’t said so, so I’m taking her home.”
“Who are you?” Bideau asked.
“I’m her manager, her boss and her pimp,” the big man said as he walked passed tables of gawking condo owners on his way to the stage.
“What the hell is going on, Brody?” Chris asked. “I thought you paid her.”
“I did,” Brady answered from his seat only a few feet away. Some heads turned toward him with curiosity, but most remained fixated on the big man in the T-shirt, leather vest and large tattooed arms as he headed toward the girl.
“Just a moment, sir,” Bideau said as he stepped between the two. “If this is about money, we can straighten this out.”
The big man stopped and looked at Chris, who at six feet four inches stood two inches taller than the big man and at two hundred and forty pounds was twenty pounds heavier.
“This ain’t about money. The broad tried to go into business on her own. She needs to be taught a lesson,” he said. He attempted to move around Bideau, but Bideau moved with him.
“Out of my way before I bust your skull,” the big man said, pulling out a sharpened steel rod from a side pocket in his leather pants. Within seconds, Bideau smashed his knee into the thug’s groin. As the big man doubled over, Bideau brought his right fist down on the back of his head, seized his right wrist in an iron grip and spun him around. The steel rod went flying. The bearded man screamed as his shoulder snapped, and he collapsed in a moaning heap on the floor. This would be the last thing the big man remembered before waking up in the Stuarton Hospital emergency room.
Bideau seized the microphone. “This is all some kind of misunderstanding, folks. Just stay seated and we’ll go on with the evening. We still have ice cream sundaes coming.” The image of sundaes didn’t change the mood. The condo owners were streaming toward the doors.
The pom-pom girl was packing her equipment hastily and crying. “He’ll kill me!”
“If he comes near you, tell him he’ll answer to me,” Bideau responded.
He saw Brody Brady leaving with the crowd. “Brady, we have to talk, now!”
Brady stopped and turned to face Bideau, who was stepping over the big man.
“You sold me on the chant. You sold me on the girl. You sold me on the night, Mr. Public Relations Man. And look what’s happened. The condo owners are fleeing; some pimp tried to kill me, and I have to explain all this not only to the cops but also to my dad. I’m also out the five hundred bucks I paid you for your ideas and another two hundred and fifty for the cheerleader.”
“They would have come around to chant after a few more glasses of wine and some dancing,” Brady replied in a reassuring voice. As for the girl, I met her at a strip club downtown. She was pole dancing, playing music and singing. Seemed very talented, so I set her up with you. I didn’t know we were supposed to go through her manager. You’d better call 911,” Brady added as he headed for the door before Bideau decided to put him next to the big man.