Read an excerpt from Dead at Third, chapter one:
Billy reached underneath the bar and came up with the Florida Times-Union, removing it from the plastic sleeve, and tossing it on the bar. “Here you go. Last delivery from the paperboy.”
“Last delivery?” I opened it up and glanced over the day’s news. “I don’t think they call them paperboys anymore. Probably some old lady working the morning shift just to pay her medical bills.”
Billy stuffed a stack of cocktail napkins in the black plastic holder. “Well, whoever delivered it... it’s the last one.”
I looked up from the paper. “What’d you, cancel it?”
“Kind of a waste of money to pay for news that’s old by the time it lands at my door, don’t you think?” He stepped toward the coffeepot and poured himself a cup. “You’re the only one who reads it.” He turned to Earl, the old man seated down at the other end of the bar. “Well, besides Earl. But he doesn’t own a phone, so he’s excused.”
There weren’t any headlines that caught my eye, so I pushed the newspaper aside.
Billy said, “So where’d you go last night? I thought I’d see you in here with the team. A bunch of ’em were here celebrating the end of another losing season.”
“I was out and about,” I said, and left it at that. “I gotta admit, I was pretty happy when they lost. I’m looking forward to having the time off after such a long season.” I looked down toward the other end of the bar. “So how’s it going down there, Earl?”
He shrugged, raising his glass. “Well, I woke up on the right side of the ground.”
Billy laughed and walked toward him. “Did you hear what Henry just said?”
“He’s happy they missed the playoffs. You would think the director of security would at least—”
“He’s right,” Earl said. “They wouldn’t have gone past the first round. Not with a team like that. They don’t deserve it.”
Billy sighed and looked up at the TV with the night’s replays on Sports Blast, the local sports show.
Earl stepped off his stool and walked toward me, reaching for the newspaper. “You mind?”
I pushed it toward him. “You hear Billy’s not getting it delivered anymore?”
Earl tucked the paper under his arm as if he didn’t hear me. I was never really sure if he was hard of hearing or if he just chose to ignore half of what people said. I watched him walk back to his stool with a limp that was more pronounced than usual. He opened the paper. “I gotta be honest, I thought your boy Lance was going to finally get the big hit last night. Wishful thinking, uh?”
“I don’t remember the last time he had a hit,” Billy said. “August, maybe?”
I looked up at the TV when the reporters were discussing the game, as if right on cue. They mentioned Lance Moreau, the local kid who came home after a trade, and showed footage of his last at bat. I watched him at the plate, coming out of his shoes with his last big swing. He connected—something he hadn’t done at all lately—and drove the ball deep to left. Men on second and third were off with the crack of the bat.
But Lance didn’t hit it deep enough.
Warning track power.
Earl waved his hand at the TV in disgust. “Kid can’t hit to save his life. Another one with all the tools, but never figured how to use them. Or, I should say, he forgot how to use them. I just don’t understand how the brain trust over there at the Sharks organization thought he’d be worth more than the bag of balls they gave to the Pirates for him.”
Billy poured himself a coffee and leaned with one hand on the bar. “The trade just didn’t work out. It didn’t help that he’s not the most likable kid.” He held his coffee up to his mouth and looked at me. “I hear he’s not the most popular guy in that clubhouse.”
I looked up at him but didn’t respond.
Earl said, “Some don’t think chemistry matters on a team. But I remember living up in Boston, back in the late seventies. The Sox were good, had a lot of talented players. But one of the guys on the bench—I forget who—told a reporter up there, ‘Twenty-five men get off the plane; we take off in twenty-five cabs.’ Didn’t matter how good they were as individuals, no team can win when nobody gets along.”
I looked at my watch and thought maybe I’d order a drink and join Earl for one. It wasn’t quite noon, but it was close enough. And, for the most part, as far as I was concerned, I was close enough to being on vacation that I could at least enjoy a quick drink.
Before I said a word to Billy, he placed a Bloody Mary in front of me. "Fresh batch." He walked away when the phone at the back of the bar started to ring. “Billy’s Place,” he said, turning to look my way. “Yeah, he’s right here.” He handed me the phone. “Alex.”
Alex was the associate director of security with the Sharks. On paper, she was my assistant. But I’m not afraid to admit she was the brains behind our little operation.
I put the phone to my ear. “Hello?”
She said, “Why haven’t you answered your phone?”
I reached into my pocket and looked at the screen. “Oh, sorry. The ringer’s off.” I’d missed a handful of calls, including hers.
Alex was quiet on the other end.
It took her a moment before she answered. “It’s Lance Moreau,” she said. "His body was pulled from the St. Johns, off the pier behind Riverside Grille.”
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Gregory Payette has written over twenty-three books, and is the author of four mystery and crime fiction series, including the Henry Walsh Private Investigator series, the US Marshal Charlie Harlow series, the Joe Sheldon crime series, and the new Jake Horn mysteries. His standalone crime novels include Drag the Man Down, Half Cocked, Danny Womack's .38, Biscayne Boogie, and a number of published short stories.
He won his first award as a writer at ten years old, after sending a story to the Providence Journal about his pet husky being shot by a local farmer. The writing most likely wasn't very good, but the fact a young boy's dog was shot (true story!) tugged at the editor's heart strings just enough.
His dog, luckily, survived.
But that wasn't a paid gig, so years later he ended up in advertising. He eventually became a copywriter, specializing in direct mail and writing fundraising letters to help raise money for animals and children.
He didn't always spend his days at a desk, hunched over the keyboard. Burnt out from being in the office, he decided to go work with his hands, building decks and doing handyman work. He even designed and installed custom closets. But he couldn't stop thinking about the stories he wanted to write.
He eventually crawled back to the desk and decided it was time to write a book. It was later in life, but he finally became a published author.
Raised in New England, Gregory now lives with his wife, kids, and dog, Jake, in North Carolina.