I rolled out of bed, stretched and started shadow boxing. It was a habit I formed many years ago during my years of training for a foolish belief of getting a chance to fight for the heavyweight championship. I was just cocky enough during those days to think that my skills would be enough for the color line to the belt to be withdrawn. But it didn’t matter how good you were, the country was not ready back then to accept another colored heavyweight champ.
With bitterness and resentment brewing to the surface like bile, I threw more punches into the air. If you would have asked my older trainer, that was the answer to everything. You caught your wife sleeping with another man in your own bed, throw more punches. Your machine breaks down on the way to work, throw more punches.
I laughed. If it was only that simple to solve my problems by such means today. But I was no longer William Fletcher the top heavyweight contender of the world but William Fletcher the colored private investigator of New Orleans. My youth went with the Roaring Twenties and now here I was middle age trying to make a buck during The Depression. I could only take on colored clients, but few of them had any money, so my case load had been dry for months. To make matters worse, yesterday a white man from my past who I did not care to ever see again shows up and wants me to find his long lost daughter.
I showered, dressed and went to a diner down the street from my flat to get breakfast. The food wasn’t great but the hospitality made up for it. By that, I mean they allowed coloreds to eat there. The place was what you would expect. Not wanting to sit on one of the rusted fountain stools that ran along a greasy counter top, I took a seat at an empty table and waited for the middle aged Creole waitress to take my order.
“What can I get you, handsome?”
I smirked. If I had ever been handsome it was many years ago. The life in the ring had made my mug look like it had been ran over by a heavy treaded tire a few times.
“Eggs, bacon and some coffee. Black!”
She left. I pulled out a cigarette and sat looking at the fly that was buzzing around my table. When it landed, I hit it with such force I nearly knocked the table over. The few patrons at the bar looked over as I wiped the remains of the fly on a napkin. I gave them a big grin that almost sent them out the door.
“You’re like a bull in a china shop, ain’t ya?” the Creole waitress said when she arrived with a pot of coffee.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a china shop in my life.”
“You don’t say,” she said as she poured the coffee. “Now, you just take an easy. Your food is a comin’. Don’t go takin’ down the rest of the joint. A girl’s got to work, see.”
My food came shortly later. The eggs were over cooked and so was the bacon. How the hell do you overcook bacon? I broke a piece in half with my thumb and sent it across my plate. The waitress gave me the kind of look a mother gives their kid when they dump sugar down pop’s gas tank.
I stood up, dropped some change on the table, and grabbed my lid as I headed to the door. I could already tell it was going to be a long day.
Red Storm is the author’s first novel published by Minotaur, December 2015
Winner of the Minotaur Books/Private Eye Writers of America Best First Private Eye Novel Competition introducing a black ex-boxer P.I. working in 1930s New Orleans
Newly-minted private investigator William Fletcher is having trouble finding clientele. He’s not the only man out of work, but his past as a former heavyweight contender with a few shady connections-not to mention the color of his skin in race-obsessed New Orleans-isn’t helping lure clients to his door. Stuck without any viable alternative, he takes a case from an old criminal acquaintance, Storm. His only client assures him that the job is simple-locate his missing estranged daughter, Zella, no questions asked.
But when Fletcher starts knocking on doors, he sets off a catastrophic chain of events that turn the city into a bloody battleground between two rival syndicates. Then Storm is murdered and Fletcher finds himself caught between the police and dangerous mobsters. With Zella’s safety in the balance, the unlikely private detective finds himself with a lot more than he bargained for.
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Meet the author
Grant Bywaters has worked as a licensed private investigator and is currently finishing his Bachelor’s degree in psychology at Portland State University. Bywaters lives outside of Portland, Oregon. The Red Storm is his first novel.
Giveaway: Leave comment below for your chance to win a print copy of Red Storm. US entries only, please. The giveaway will end March 18, 2016 at 12 AM EST. Good luck everyone!
All comments are welcomed.