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Ten Things About People and Cars

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A versatile, edge-of-your-seat page-turner with a mosaic of ingredients that make it a tasty 'souffle' of words!

Synopsis

Who killed FBI Special Agent Larry Grimes? Former best friend and partner, Special Agent Boris Jacobson, was determined to find out. He needed answers, not only for himself but also for the most sensual woman he’d ever laid eyes on, the widow Grimes. Jacobson began looking for clues in Grimes’s massive collection of physical evidence, files, notes and exotic memorabilia.

For some years Grimes had used an unusual method to help him build a mental picture of his investigations. He folded genuine pieces of evidence into chunks of narrative fiction. Deliberately. That made Jacobson’s task somewhat more complex, especially as Grimes didn’t indicate which parts were the evidence, and which parts he’d simply made up.

Jacobson became obsessed. He tried to make sense of Grimes’s fact/fiction mountain by organizing it into categories. The first category, Ten Things About People and Cars, contained ten stories linked by people and/or cars that Jacobson hoped would lead him to Grimes’s killer.

It was a start, but Jacobson wasn’t sure if it was in the right direction. He felt a hankering to take a good look at Grimes’s things about people and food.

Stephen Batt, in the novel Ten Things About People and Cars (part one of 52 Things), ignites a spark in readers that won’t easily be extinguished as he leads us on a zig zag adventure of murder, mystery and romance.


FBI Special Agent Boris Jacobson doesn’t get it … He just doesn’t understand the how, why, who, when and what about the murder of his best friend/partner, FBI Special Agent Larry Grimes.


Batt doesn’t pen just an ordinary murder mystery here, he incorporates a trickery that only the expert of writers (Grisham, Christie, Patterson) have exhibited in past novels of the same genre. And it is that extensive use of wild descriptions and character development that Batt plays on in this novel.


Grimes’ unusual way of figuring out the answers of his investigations – through narrative fiction – may have made the research interesting for him, but for Jacobson, it caused several headaches. It took a while for him to be able to decipher the fiction from the non-fiction. In fact, Jacobson became like a dog with a bone – he became obsessed. The only way he could figure out how to start was to organize it all into categories, and just go from there.


The way Batt stirs in the craziness of Grimes’ plethora of evidence and methods that were used to put the pieces of an investigation together – through fiction writing - along with the beautiful widow Grimes, and Jacobson’s need for closure… well, you would think he was a master chef at a five-star restaurant in New Orleans.


Ten Things About People and Cars has the tart taste with the background story of Grimes and Jacobson’s past, the spice of the lustiness that Jacobson and the widow Grimes share, and the secret ingredient – who killed Grimes – which will make Batt’s stories the most requested “menu item” at any bookstore for sure.


After reading this one, I got a little miffed, because I know there is another installment somewhere. Hurry up, Stephen Batt! Book Clubs would enjoy having this as a monthly read, and to be honest, I think any reader, ages 25 and above would really get a lot out of this read. It almost reminds me of a Gregory Porter song – versatile, full of expression, and everyone can find their "beat" after reading it.

Reviewed by

Becky has had a 'serious love affair' with books since she was old enough to know what the word 'love' meant.

A former award-winning newspaper editor with a bachelor's degree in English/journalism and a master's in psychology, her goal is to help you get your book out there.

Synopsis

Who killed FBI Special Agent Larry Grimes? Former best friend and partner, Special Agent Boris Jacobson, was determined to find out. He needed answers, not only for himself but also for the most sensual woman he’d ever laid eyes on, the widow Grimes. Jacobson began looking for clues in Grimes’s massive collection of physical evidence, files, notes and exotic memorabilia.

For some years Grimes had used an unusual method to help him build a mental picture of his investigations. He folded genuine pieces of evidence into chunks of narrative fiction. Deliberately. That made Jacobson’s task somewhat more complex, especially as Grimes didn’t indicate which parts were the evidence, and which parts he’d simply made up.

Jacobson became obsessed. He tried to make sense of Grimes’s fact/fiction mountain by organizing it into categories. The first category, Ten Things About People and Cars, contained ten stories linked by people and/or cars that Jacobson hoped would lead him to Grimes’s killer.

It was a start, but Jacobson wasn’t sure if it was in the right direction. He felt a hankering to take a good look at Grimes’s things about people and food.

Little Red Corvette

 

On Wednesday, July the 8th, 2007, Barbra Ann Barber pulled up out front of Hair-O-Dynamic (Hair We Grow), a unisex hairdressing salon situated in the middle of a strip mall in Williamsburg, Virginia. The salon was owned by Shelly Kincaid, locally known for her love of bad puns as well as her chronic indecisiveness.

Barbra was driving a red Corvette. She didn’t shut it off. Instead she sat there revving the engine until her colleagues came outside. Barbra gave it a few more revs then killed it and hopped out. The girls were mostly impressed, but immediately wanted to know how Barbra could afford such a thing. When Barbra told them Jim Tuck had given it to her, Shelly was quick to suggest that wouldn’t be the only thing Jim Tuck had given her. Barbra denied there was anything more than friendship between them.

Jim Tuck was 37, 16 years older than Barbra and an old friend of Barbra’s uncle Billy. Jim had had a soft spot for Barbra for a long time but he hadn’t let anybody know about it while Billy was still around. Now that Billy had been gone so long that it seemed like he wasn’t coming back, Jim saw no reason to hang back. Especially as Barbra was all grown up now and a full adult in any state of the union.

Shelly noticed the car had California plates. Barbra didn’t know why. She supposed that Jim hadn’t gotten around to changing the paperwork over.

It may seem like coincidence that Barbra Barber cut hair for a living but there was more to it than that. Barney, Barbra’s dad, often tried to engineer conversational situations where the phrase Bond, James Bond, would come up so he could counter with Barbra Ann Barber, Barber Barbra Ann, enunciated in a sing-song manner intended to remind folks of an old Beach Boys song. The meter didn’t quite scan but it always got a laugh, often just his own.

Barbra couldn’t accurately guess how many times she’d been told that one day, when she gets her own place, how great “Barbra Ann Barber, Barber Barbra Ann” will look over the shop front.

Barbra loved her dad but he did get on her nerves. Talk, talk, talk. There was no silence too small for Barney to fill. Which is why Barbra spent so much of her after school time over at her uncle Billy’s custom trike shop. She’d even do her homework at Billy’s desk, which was in the same room as Jim Tuck’s desk. Jim did his best to conceal his lustful thoughts about Barbra, even from himself. At least until she was sixteen or so, then he just did his best to conceal them from others.

When Jim asked her about her plans for life, Barbra didn’t know the answer. She knew that she wanted to get a place of her own. Or get out of town. That was it really. To travel. Maybe head out west. California. There might be opportunities for a girl like her out there. But she didn’t really have a plan. One day she might get a car and just hit the road. Like Thelma and Louise. It would be more fun with a Louise. A car and a travelling companion was what she needed. When she had that, her life could begin.

But mostly she didn’t think about it too much. She just got on with whatever needed to be done next. There was always something. She almost graduated high school, but in the end it didn’t matter, because college was never a consideration. A trade was far more practical. She’d never given serious thought to a career in hairdressing but one day, when someone suggested it, the oft-repeated words of Barney, lodged somewhere deep in her brain, must have taken hold, and before she knew it, Barbra found herself at the New Image School of Hair Design. Her next few years were set.

Half the time she was more or less content, but the other half was too often filled with an urgent scream in her head to get the hell out of this place and get on with some form of life. One of the things that kept her at home was her little sister. Barbra couldn’t leave her behind. Not yet anyway. Ali still needed her. Fairly often. Ali had relied on her for years. Barbra wasn’t sure why Ali’s life was so much more complicated than her own, but it always seemed to be. Anyway, one day soon, the time would come when she could leave.

She knew she’d miss her friends and her family, especially Ali, but though she loved her, she knew she’d be an impossible liability as a travelling companion. Barbra thought that maybe, eventually, she’d even miss the sound of her father’s voice. Although the thought of hearing it less often was more of a motivating factor.

Barney was a regular at his local bar, and, as well as suggesting new names for the establishment, he also never tired of mentioning his missing brother, the Barber black sheep of the family, which always got a laugh. Usually just the one. Barney was unaware of his own nick name, “the most boringly stupid man in Williamsburg”, but he would have been disappointed that it contained no rhyme or pun of any sort.

If Barney had any regrets, it was naming his youngest daughter Alison, and calling her “Ali Barber” throughout her childhood. From an early age Ali showed all the signs of becoming a kleptomaniac. Barney had hoped that her name would somehow cause her to discover a source of great wealth, but was dismayed when her actions were more in line with those of the forty thieves.

By the time Ali Barber was 13, she had been brought home by the police seven times and Barney Barber realized that his fascination for A Boy Named Sue had come full circle on him. Giving his children amusing names was not a good idea after all.

As well as being a solo kleptomaniac, Ali Barber had taken to running with a gang of thieves that she’d met at Juvenile Detention Center. They’d vary their action between preying on tourists and shoplifting en masse, deliberately blocking security cameras for each other as they did their thievery.

Barbra was finishing up with her third customer of the morning, when she got a call from Ali. She needed her help urgently. Ali had just turned 18, and if she got caught by the cops now, she could go to prison. Barbra agreed to help, but for the last time. The very last time.

Barbra dashed out of the salon, jumped into the Corvette and roared off. She pulled into the parking lot of a 7-Eleven across the road from the mall where Ali and the gang had been sprung on a major shoplifting mission. Cop cars were cruising the area, looking for members of the gang. Ali came out from where she’d been hiding behind a dumpster. Barbra told Ali to get down low and cruised out of the parking lot. She turned away from the mall and stopped for a red light at the first intersection.

A patrol car drew up alongside. Barbra looked straight ahead. The cop looked over. He recognized Barbra. He called out to her. Barbra pretended not to hear. The cop leaned over for a closer look, and caught sight of the top of Ali’s head.

Barbra glanced across. She told Ali that she’d been sprung. They were done. Ali said no way. Not in a car like this. Gun it. I can’t go to prison. Barbra was torn. She was still tossing up what to do as the light changed to green. Ali screamed. Go, go, go! Without really comprehending the consequences of her actions, Barbra slammed her foot to the floor.

Since 1953 the Corvette has been America’s sports car. Iconic. Grunty. Muscular. Sexy. Worthy of a Prince song. As the Corvette evolved over the years, there were good ones and not so good ones. The 1980 Corvette 305 was the worst. It was GM’s cynical response to California emission standards. The bean counters at Chevrolet figured that most Californian Corvette buyers were poseurs who were mainly interested in being seen on Sunset, or their local strip, and who would rarely, if ever, use the full performance potential of the car. They figured they wouldn’t lose many sales by hobbling the Corvette rather than trying to engineer their way into good performance with acceptable emissions.

So they grabbed the puniest V8 off the shelf, hooked it up to a torque-sucking, 3-speed, auto slush box and said to California, here’s your sports car and hey, it’s got the added bonus that the breeze won’t muss up your hair, on account of the fact that it doesn’t go very fast. These days, if you can find a California spec 1980 Corvette that hasn’t had an engine transplant, it should be really, really cheap. Jim Tuck didn’t know much about Corvettes, but he knew cheap when he saw it.

The 305 put out 180 horsepower. That’s about the same as a modern family sedan, such as a Camry, with the weakest 4-cylinder engine option. Except that a modern family sedan will get off the mark a lot faster than a 305 Corvette on account of a much more efficient auto with 5, 6 or even 7 gears.

Also, cars are a bit like people. They lose power as they get older. A 27-year-old engine that’s done a few miles will be down on power by at least 20 percent, possibly a lot more. You could put a Camry on a trailer behind your Camry and it’d still be quicker off the mark than the Corvette Jim Tuck identified as a bargain.

Barbra gunned the Vette as hard as it would go, but the patrol car pulled across in front of her a short distance beyond the intersection, slowed down and brought both cars to a halt. Ali cussed out Barbra for not trying to outrun the cop. Barbra said she had her foot to the floor but Ali didn’t believe her.

Both of them were relieved that they knew the cop, a guy that had been in school with Barbra. He questioned Barbra about her involvement but accepted that she was not part of the shoplifting gang and had merely come to pick up her sister when she called. He hadn't even noticed that Barbra had attempted to outrun him and almost apologized to her for having to arrest Ali, but he had no option.

Barbra drove back to the salon in a state of disbelief bordering on shock. Before getting out of the car, she called her dad to tell him that Ali Barber was going to jail along with her gang of thieves.

When she walked inside the salon, the girls could tell that Barbra was agitated and sad. They asked if there was something wrong with her new car. Barbra said she was going to tell Jim Tuck to shove that piece of shit right back up his ass. She also said it was as useless on the road as Jim Tuck was in bed.

On hearing that, Shelly held her hand out to Maureen, who went to her purse, pulled out a twenty and slapped it in Shelly’s palm.


About the author

Stephen Batt has been a truck driver in Britain, a chairlift operator in Canada, a bricklayer and punk rock guitarist in Germany, a film and TV director and award-winning screenwriter in New Zealand, and a painter in France. He currently lives in Auckland. view profile

Published on August 28, 2020

30000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Mystery & Crime

Reviewed by

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