Programmed for Love
The second Tommy Case mystery.
Can a straight man be turned gay? One scientist thinks so and he doesn’t care who dies to prove it.
Ex PI and cop Tommy Case has a new sailboat, NOMORR II. Soon he’s sailing off into the sunset and nothing’s going to stop him. Except maybe a call for help from his ex-wife Bonnie who’s about to be arrested for murdering her husband, the man she left Tommy for.
Tommy still holds a grudge against her, nevertheless, he agrees to “look into it” because he mostly believes she’s innocent. His investigation spans the high and low of Orange County, California social elite. It becomes personal when he is injected with something that may reverse his sexual preference. Several other men have died in this experiment. Tommy’s told there is an antidote, if he lets Bonnie be convicted.
Tommy’s girlfriend, Lucy, a former call girl, won’t let him be changed. Friends – Lucy, Wash, a millionaire marina owner, Fumio, a high-tech geek, and DEX 4, a robot with a DNA/silicone artificial intelligence brain, help Tommy with in depth internet search, computer hacking, B&E, lying to the police, and boat theft. A high speed boat chase into Mexican waters brings justice, leaving Tommy one big question – Will Lucy sail away with him?
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Programed for Love
Santa Ana winds came up off the California desert with a vengeance. Tommy Case had to tack up the quarter mile entrance to Newport Bay. His thirty-five-foot cutter, NOMORR II, was relatively new to him and he had to scramble some as he short-tacked into the dust-laden, ion-charged wind. Once he turned the corner and fell off to a broad reach, the sailing turned glorious.
Tommy grinned and his green eyes sparkled with pleasure as NOMORR II scooted past the moorings, past Balboa Island with its million-dollar waterfront houses on tiny lots, past Harbor Island with its multi-million-dollar houses on bigger lots, and into the channel north of Lido Isle. NOMORR II balanced easily, was responsive and comfortable. Important characteristics for him, because in November, less than two months away, he planned to sail for the South Pacific and beyond.
A year ago, in a different boat, he had had the same plans. Behind his grin lurked the fear that some circumstance would prevent him from leaving again. As he approached the Leeward Marina, his eyes flicked to shore where a year earlier someone had been waiting for him with a problem he, a very ex-private investigator, hadn’t wanted to get involved in, but had.
Today, no one waited. Yet, after a smooth return to his slip under sail, performing a “TaDaa” to an invisible audience, the chirp of his phone tensed his shoulders and he sucked in a quick breath.
Tommy sank down onto the tiny navigation station seat when he heard his ex-wife’s voice. Memories, good and bad, flooded him. He knew he should mumble, “Wrong number,” and hang up. He didn’t. Couldn’t. “Hello, Bonnie. It’s been a while.” Keep it neutral, and noncommittal, he told himself. “What’s up?”
“Tommy, I need your help.”
The pit of his stomach clenched. He closed his eyes and bowed his head. Maybe she just needed a flat tire changed, or advice on a new yacht.
“What kind of help?”
“I think they’re going to arrest me for murder.”
Oh, man. “Who’s dead?”
Bill Adams. Son-of-a-bitch. Tommy had little sympathy for the man. The guy had a reputation for hating everybody: blacks, Hispanics, gays, Jews. Except for business purposes – then he loved everybody, until the ink dried. Adams espoused a convenient Christian ethic to the public, one that omitted the one about “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and allowed him to buy another man’s wife with a big house, a fancy car and a full-time maid.
“I’m sorry,” he said. Hypocrite. “What happened?”
“Oh, Tommy, it was terrible.” He heard the catch in her voice that signaled coming tears. Pretty soon she’d start to hiccup. All she could get out was, “They… they’re going to arrest me,” before the hiccups started.
He listened to her breathe through the hiccups. Another voice came on the line.
“Tommy, buddy, this is Dave Maxall.”
Ah, a reasonable person, even if he had been her divorce lawyer. “Dave, what the hell is she talking about? Is Adams really dead?”
“Jesus, don’t you watch the news, read the papers?”
“Not if I can help it, only the comics.”
“You’re already in Bora Bora, aren’t you, buddy?”
“Yes, he’s dead, murdered, and they think she did it. I know you’re probably in no mood to do her any favors, but I know you wouldn’t let an innocent person go to jail. I know Bonnie did not kill Bill.”
Tommy had to admit that the idea of Bonnie murdering someone was ludicrous. She might inadvertently hurt your feelings when she had an attack of arrogance or greed, but physical violence – no way.
“How was he killed?” Tommy asked.
Dave hesitated. His voice dropped as he said, “He was beaten to death with one of his civic awards. A big glass thing.”
“None, really. Christ, she saw him having sex with a guy in his office. She left without saying anything and drove around for two hours. The cops were waiting when she got home.”
“Shit, Dave. Bill Adams with a guy? You believe that?”
“I know that sounds completely off-the-wall, but will you at least come over and talk to her? Listen to what happened before you turn her down?”
Tommy sighed, knowing he’d go. To Tommy, “turn her down,” equated to “let her down.” Dave would know that Tommy did not … let people down.
Still, maybe he could manage not to get involved. “Bonnie’s got tons of money,” Tommy said. “She can hire the best help. She doesn’t need me.”
“Hey, buddy, she trusts you,” Dave said.
Tommy was dead and he knew it. “I’ll be there in an hour,” he said. “But I am not getting involved. I’m not.”
He spent five minutes feeling sorry for himself. Why couldn’t he be a selfish, insensitive bastard and tell her to fuck off like she did to him seven years ago? Because he wasn’t and couldn’t. It just wasn’t in him to abandon her.
A half hour later, after squaring the boat away, Tommy met Wash, the balding, barrel-chested owner and dockmaster of the Leeward Marina, at the top of the gangway.
“Hey, Tommy. Nice landing. You’re learning how to handle your new home pretty well.”
Tommy was in no mood for compliments. “Yeah, I guess.”
A heavy gust of hot Santa Ana wind dropped down from the bluff. Tommy staggered to keep on his feet. Wash didn’t notice the wind. It would take a tornado on one side and a hurricane on the other to budge him.
“What’s bugging you?” Wash asked.
“This damn wind’s not bringing anything good with it.”
“That so? You been reading Chandler again?”
“Nah. I just got a call from Bonnie.”
“She hasn’t been my Bonnie for seven years.”
“What’d she want? To get together again?”
“That would’ve been a lot easier to say no to. She thinks she’s going to be arrested for murdering her husband.”
“Whoa.” Wash’s broad forehead wrinkled in thought. “Isn’t she married to Bill Adams, the real estate guy?”
“Damn, Bill Adams dead. I wonder who’ll take over the company?”
They walked toward Tommy’s car.
“Did you know him?” Tommy asked.
“I’ve met him. Made some money on a couple of his projects.”
“What was he like?”
Wash knew Tommy as well as anybody. He knew that getting dumped for an older rich guy still rankled. Wash, divorced twice, held the opinion that Tommy should get over it. He cut his friend little slack on that subject.
“You want to hear what you want to hear?” Wash asked. “Or the truth.”
Tommy shot him a look. Big sigh. “Truth.”
“Adams was ruthless, brilliant – and tactless if you were any sort of minority, unless there was business to be done. But he was basically honest. He did what he said he’d do and his projects were top quality. No shoddy shit.”
Tommy got in his car – an aging BMW 2002 – started it and pushed the convertible top down. He’d bought the BMW after he lost his Mustang 5.0 a year ago. A pickup truck would have served him better, but a few years of amateur car racing had imbued him with a permanent case of automotive need-for-speed. Hardly on par with the Mustang, the old BMW had a tweaked engine and suspension, so it still had some zip. On the other hand, lazy sailing around the South Pacific was his ultimate goal, and not being in any way involved in murder.
“Who’d want him dead?” Tommy asked.
Wash didn’t hesitate, “Any non-WASP you can think of.”
Tommy looked up at his friend so he’d know it was a serious question. “Ever hear that he might be gay?”
Wash scoffed at the idea. “Gay? He’d rather be dead than be gay.”
“He is,” Tommy said, and drove off.
An excerpt –