Because he couldn’t keep his fly zipped, former Staff Sergeant Raymond Youngblood had gone from being a respected Drill Sergeant, United States Army, to bouncer at The Golden Pole, a strip club located on West Highway 98 in Panama City. It was the seedier part of town, with rundown motels that rented by the day, week or month, and hookers roaming the area shopping their wares.
It was easy duty. All I had to do was show up by eight when Ray’s shift began, and stay awake and alert until the joint closed at two in the morning. My biggest worry was finding a suitable parking spot each night where I could watch the front, and the side door that exited into the parking lot. A local cop pulled up behind me the second night, wanting to know if I was a john on the hunt. After I showed him my PI license and explained what I was up to, he put out the word that I was okay.
For the first week Ray was as well-behaved as a Boy Scout. Shortly after closing time he’d exit the building through the side door and stand watch over the parking lot, making sure the departing customers behaved themselves until they vacated the premises. His duties also included seeing that the female employees made it safely to their rides home. If he’d treated Bonnie with half the respect and courtesy he showed these young women, I would’ve been out of a job.
Usually by three he’d climb into his dark green Chevy Blazer and head home, with me on his tail. Traffic was light, so I’d stay a good distance behind and use another vehicle as a blocker. It was only a couple of miles to the house they rented in an older neighborhood near St. Andrew Bay. After Ray turned onto their street, I’d drive past the turnoff and double-back a few minutes later. When I saw the Blazer parked in the drive, my day was done. I was beginning to think that if Ray had been fooling around, the fling might be over. But Bonnie wanted me to keep bird-dogging him, sure that he’d trip up sooner or later.
Then things got interesting.
It was the Wednesday after Labor Day, and things were slow at The Golden Pole. Around midnight the side door opened and Ray stepped out into the parking lot, his arm wrapped around the waist of a young dancer I’d noticed before. Hot pink hair and spiked-up bangs will stick in your mind that way. I knew she was a dancer because there was a photo of her hanging upside down on a pole in the strip club’s show window I’d scoped out earlier with my zoom lens.
I was parked across the four-lane in front of an out of business pet store. I cranked the engine, but waited until they were a couple of blocks away before switching on the headlights and pulling onto 98 heading west. Less than a half mile from the club he slowed and hung a right into the parking lot of the Panama Motor Court, a single-story concrete block structure whose heyday probably dated back to the 1950s or ’60s. Ray drove past the office and its fluorescent sign with a flashing red palm tree announcing Vacancy. He brought the Blazer to a stop in front of the right wing of the upside down U-shaped structure. The Blazer was hidden in the shadows of a burned out security light and was barely visible from the highway.
There wasn’t time to stop and try to snap a photo of the two as they exited the Blazer and entered the second room from the wing’s end. I’d have to wait them out and give it my best shot when they left. I hoped to hell it wasn’t an all-nighter. I checked the mirrors and made a U-turn and parked in the lot of a twenty-four hour MacDonald’s a block and a half away. I grabbed my camera, a new Canon digital SLR I’d laid out big bucks for. I locked the Silverado, checked traffic both ways and hustled across 98.
I cut across the parking lot of the Mini-Mart next door to the Panama Motor Court, being careful to keep the camera against my left hip in case any customers might wonder what the hell a man with a camera was planning to shoot at this hour of the night. There was a drainage ditch between the two establishments, and then an overgrown hedge skirting the Motor Court’s property line. If I could work my way through the hedge, I’d probably have a good vantage point to snap away when Ray and Hot Pink exited their love nest.
In the darkness behind the Mini-Mart I underestimated the width of the ditch and landed short, my right foot finding water and mud that sent me sprawling to my knees. A sharp pain jolted through my left kneecap when I landed, but I managed to hang on to the camera. Struggling to my feet, I wondered if Frank carried workers’ comp.
I limped out of the ditch and faced my next obstacle. The hedge looked like it hadn’t been trimmed in years. I walked along the length of it, searching for an easy way through. No such luck, so I bit the bullet, picked a likely spot and plowed in. A couple of minutes and several scrapes and scratches later, I found myself on the other side, no more than fifty feet from the end of the motel’s right wing. Keeping in the shadows, I crept along the hedge closer to the motel and found a spot where the growth bulged outward enough for concealment and provided a good view of the target room. I checked the ground for sharp objects and ant beds and settled down to wait.
I killed the next hour or so by putting a dent in the ranks of the mosquito horde that wasted no time finding my hideout. A couple of minutes before two the door swung open and the girl stepped out, closing it behind her. She leaned back against the concrete wall, propped a foot against it and lit a cigarette. I trained the camera on her face and zoomed in. She took a drag and blew a long stream of smoke toward the overhang. In the glare of the bare bulb outside the door I was able to get a good look at her. Despite the wild hair and enhanced boobs bulging over the top of her low-cut blouse, she was a looker— almond eye, full lips painted a matching hot pink, high cheekbones, and a slightly upturned nose. She didn’t look a day over eighteen, but I figured she had to be legal to pass muster to work at The Golden Pole.
The camera was set on silent mode and low-light conditions, and I snapped several shots of the girl before Ray Youngblood stepped out into the night to join her. He locked the door, and then reached down and pinched Hot Pink on the butt through the tight miniskirt she wore like a second skin. She reached down and grabbed his groin, and then they both laughed and hugged. While all the grab-assing was going on, I was firing off shot after shot of the two lovebirds. I made sure to get a few wide angles also, so anyone looking at the photos would have no doubt that the location was a motel, namely the Panama Motor Court.
As soon as they climbed in the Blazer and headed back toward The Golden Pole, I beat feet across the parking lot to the office. When I stepped in I was greeted by a cold blast of air coming from a noisy window unit, and a thick cloud of cigarette smoke coming from an overweight, balding man sitting behind the counter. He was dressed in a pair of old gray slacks and a dingy white tank top T-shirt, and was staring down at a girlie magazine spread across his lap.
He looked up when I leaned on the counter. “Need a room?”
“No, what I need is information.”
The man set the magazine on a lamp table beside his ragged-out chair and stood. He scratched his big belly and yawned, showing a cavernous mouth with several missing teeth as he stepped to the counter. “Yeah? What kinda information?”
“Who’s renting Room 38?”
The overhead light reflected off his head when he tilted it back a little and looked down his nose at me. “Who’s asking?”
I grabbed my wallet and slipped out a twenty and laid it on the countertop. “Andrew Jackson.”
The man glanced down at the bill for a second, and then back at me. “Never been much of a Jackson fan.”
I pulled another twenty out and dropped it next to the first one. “Andrew Jackson and his twin brother.”
He reached for the bills but stopped short. “You a cop?”
“No,” I said, wishing I had a twenty-dollar bill for every time I’d been asked that in the past year.
He scooped up the forty bucks and opened a register filled with dog-eared pages. After flipping through a few pages he ran a chubby finger down a column of names. “Room 38. That would be Mr. John Smith.”
“Not the John Smith?”
The man scratched an armpit and grinned. “I reckon so.”
“Does Mr. Smith pay by the day or week or what?”
“Mister, I can’t go giving out that kinda information. It’s against regulations, ’less you the law, that is.”
I opened my wallet and flashed him my PI license and pinched out another twenty. “Just so happens those Jackson boys are triplets. That do?”
He took the bill out of my fingers and looked down at the registry again. “Says here your Mr. Smith’s been renting by the month.”
✯✯✯✯✯An apparent suicide, a missing map, a dead client, Mac’s latest case (and his first as a full-blown PI) takes him from the earliest history of modern Florida to a present day murder in his own backyard. The story grabs you on page one and the twists and turns won’t let go until the end.
I was breathless. Read it in three sittings did not want to put it down and did not want it to end. I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of this book, and I want to put my name in the hat right now for the next in the series. Kait Carson via Goodreads
✯✯✯✯✯Deadly Dunes is from the Mac McClellan Mystery series by E. Michael Helms. Private Detective Mac McClellan decides to continue his investigation after his client, Jessie, dies shortly after hiring him to investigate her brother’s death. Jake was an archaeologist who unearthed artefacts and a coded map to an alleged camp of famed explorer, Hernando de Soto, and Jessie was convinced he was murdered.
Mac learns that a construction company wants the site to build a resort and would do anything within their means to acquire it. The people who were close to the siblings also have ulterior motives for wanting them dead, and Mac hopes he can find the data Jake hid before the killers do. He knows they are ruthless enough to remove all obstacles in their way, including him.
Deadly Dunes is a sleuth mystery with good action and suspense. The story is an interesting one that sees its main character and narrator, Mac, constantly forgetting his P.I. training and resorting to doing things in his own amateurish way. I think the dialogue is witty and I like Mac’s dry sense of humour that seemed to irk some characters.
The story catches one’s attention with a beginning that made me curious to read on, as well as being amusing at times while Mac continues his sleuthing. E. Michael Helms writes well and I want to read other books from his Mac McClellan Mystery series, whose protagonist is compelling. Michelle Stanley via Goodreads
E. Michael Helms grew up in Panama City, FL. He played football and excelled in baseball as a catcher. Turning down a scholarship offer from the local Junior college, he joined the Marines after high school graduation. He served as a rifleman during some of the heaviest fighting of the Vietnam War until wounded three times in one day. Helms discounts it as “waking up on the wrong side of the foxhole.”
Helms’ memoir of the war, “The Proud Bastards,” has been called “As powerful and compelling a battlefield memoir as any ever written … a modern military classic,” and remains in print after more than 20 years.
A long-time Civil War buff, Book One of Helms’ two-part historical saga, “Of Blood and Brothers,” was released September 2013. Book Two followed in March 2014. Seeking a change from writing about war, Helms decided to give mysteries a try. The first novel of his Mac McClellan Mystery series, “Deadly Catch,” was published in November 2013 and named Library Journal’s “Debut Mystery of the Month.” The second Mac McClellan Mystery, “Deadly Ruse,” premiered in November 2014. It was awarded the 2015 RONE Award for “Best Mystery.”
While concentrating on his mystery series, Helms dusted off a manuscript dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that sat in his desk drawer for over two decades. “The Private War of Corporal Henson,” a semi-autobiographical fictional sequel to “The Proud Bastards,” was published in August 2014.
With his wife, Karen, Helms now lives in the Upstate region of South Carolina in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. He enjoys playing guitar, hiking (when his body cooperates), camping, canoeing, and is an avid birdwatcher. He continues to listen as Mac McClellan dictates his latest adventures in his mystery series.