Sweet Justice is Herbert Caliste's second Greg Darrell detective mystery. When his buddy's wife asks Darrell to check up on her wayward sister Diane, he decides to have a chat with Diane's probation officer, Lonny Mullsby. As they talk Darrell senses that all is not right with Mullsby, and quickly finds himself immersed in a strange universe of body builders, illegal steroids, and murder. As with his first novel, Biloxi P.I., the story is set in Biloxi, Mississippi, and the deeply authentic local color is as integral to the novel as the violent intrigue.
Excerpts from SWEET JUSTICE
Excerpts copyright©2000 by Herbert Caliste
Thursday morning I dragged myself out of bed at seven thirty. After pacing most of the night and watching the rebroadcast of the news at one in the morning, I managed about two and a half hours sleep. I changed back into the same clothes I had worn yesterday, light brown khaki slacks, brown and gray pullover long sleeve shirt and tan loafers, left the apartment about seven forty five and drove to Biloxi.
I stopped at Mary Mahoney's and had three beignets with milk and two cups of coffee. I walked to my office downtown, and waited until about nine o'clock to call Jameson. He was busy, but could see me in about a half hour. I walked back to my car and drove east down Howard Avenue and slowly turned north onto Cartman Street. The beignets churned in my stomach as the car crawled down the street. Half way towards the railroad track on the western edge of the road lay the residue of police tape and a large dark blotch that extended from the grass into the street.
"My god, what did they hit him with, an ax?" I shouldn't have come. My mind raced back to when I was eleven years old and my mother answered the phone, screamed and turned towards me with an anguished look I'd never seen before. One of her closest friends, my godmother, had just been murdered. On this street. I drove to the railroad, turned west and made my way to Caillavet Street. From there I turned south to Highway 90, and took Interstate 110 to I-10 west. Then I just drove, eighty miles an hour flat out until I calmed down. I made it into Gulfport before I u-turned and drove back to Biloxi to see Jameson.
I parked in front of the DPS building, entered and walked around the corner and through the double doors to Jameson's cubicle office. He waved me in as he finished a phone call. I sat in the chair directly in front of his desk.
Jameson and I had always been first class wiseasses and usually we're a joke a minute. He took one look at me and frowned.
"No sleep huh?"
"Donna told me you knew the victim."
"Yeah. Up until I was about twelve we pretty much grew up together. I was best friends with his older brother."
"You know any family he had?"
"As far as immediate family, everybody's dead-mom, dad, brother. That's it."
"When's the last time you saw him?"
"Let me think. About a year ago I guess. I, well, I . . . "
"What's wrong, Greg?"
"I guess I'm feeling like I let Ben down. I mean I've been real successful, pretty much living a carefree well-to-do life and I guess I didn't give much thought to what was going on with Ben."
"Hey Greg. Ben was an adult. If you guys grew up and went your different paths in life, you can't blame yourself for . . . "
I interrupted him. "You don't understand."
"How can I put it? His parents and my parents were all lower middle class blacks living here in the late sixties and early seventies. Both sets of parents were college-educated church-going people, trying to get ahead in a time and place that was just starting to tear away from segregation. Both our dads were civilians teaching at Keesler Air Force Base. Neither one of them reached sixty. My mom's still with us but Ben's mom died in her early thirties, his brother before he was thirty. Ben was the only one left."
"We used to hang out and play together, us three boys. We should have been bonded, but I grew up and went off to college and he didn't. I prospered and he drifted, and then started to decline. I wouldn't see him for months at a time. When I did, he would put on a prideful face. But it was obvious he was struggling to make ends meet. He always had the most menial jobs. His clothes were raggedy and his shoes would be literally worn out."
Jameson shook his head.
"Once I was driving downtown and I spotted him but he didn't see me. He was sneaking down a little side street next to some doctor's office. When I looked to see what he was up to, I saw him drinking beer out of a large bottle. He looked like one the homeless guys you see at the rescue mission."
I stopped to catch my breath.
"He wouldn't let anyone help him?" Jameson asked with a tone of voice that gave away that he already knew the answer.
I left my apartment right at seven o'clock, drove to Highway 90 turning west and made it to the Ocean Springs bridge as traffic became congested. The Biloxi casinos played havoc with traffic; it seems to take at least ten minutes longer than it used to getting anywhere.
At seven twenty-five I turned north onto Porter Avenue and pulled into Jameson's driveway. Donna stuck her head past the living room drapes, saw that I had arrived and opened the front door. She gave me a smile but it was of the polite rather than happy variety, which let me know that there really was something of a serious nature on her mind. She offered me a seat and something to eat. I accepted the former and declined the latter.
We sat on stools at the kitchen counter and Donna just looked at me as if she did not know what to say and opted for silence.
"Uh, where's Jimbo?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. He's in the back feeding the dogs. He'll be here in a minute." She looked embarrassed. I wondered what could be happening to get her this discombobulated.
The back door slammed shut and Jameson entered the kitchen. He looked at her. "Told him yet?"
I interrupted just as she shook her head. "No, she was waiting for her tag team partner so you guys could gang up on me."
Nobody even smiled. Uh oh. Jameson sat down in the remaining stool and took a deep breath.
"Donna's baby sister is locked up in the adult detention center in Jackson County," he said.
"The one in Pascagoula?"
"Right. That one. She called Donna late last night after you talked to her. Obviously she's in trouble, again. And, well maybe this time we'd like to deal with her at a more , um discreet level."
"You mean you guys want to help her but take a more arm's length approach?"
"Yeah, that's pretty much it."
I looked at Donna who had spent the last few minutes either staring into space or gazing at the floor. "Well Mrs. Jameson, what trouble is your sister in this time?"
She cleared her throat but spoke as if it was still constricted. "Well, she didn't make a lot of sense on the phone. But what I got out of her was that she apparently violated her probation."
"By doing what?"
"I'm not really sure. Look Greg, you've got to understand. With Larry being a cop and her in trouble again, it's really been hard. Part of us want to wash our hands of her and let her take her medicine."
"That might not be a bad plan," I interjected. "That's the only way some people grow up and learn how to fly right."
"I know, I know," she said rubbing her eyes. "But she's only twenty and the thought of her actually doing serious time is really tough. On the other hand we don't want to get into a pattern of bailing her out every time she gets into a jam because that might never end. I don't know what I'm really trying to say."
Jameson piped in. "Donna's worried about my reputation. I mean, you know how close knit the law enforcement communities along the coast are. Everybody talks to everybody. We're friends and colleagues. I've already heard about gossip concerning the last time she was in trouble and I minimally intervened. We don't want to hang her out to dry, but we really don't want her to see us as all day suckers either."
"Okay, I think I understand both your points of view. Now what do you want to do? Or more precisely, what do you want me to do?"
It was Donna's turn now. "We want you to look into whatever mess she's gotten wrapped up in this time. If she's really screwed up and there are felonies involved then she'll just have to take whatever punishment she's earned. But if it's something that can be taken care of more informally, we're hoping you could help."
"And try to initiate her on that famous road called 'straight and narrow' right?" I asked.
"Well," Donna said, "we thought there was an outside chance that she might respond differently if she wasn't dealing with us directly. You're an only child Greg, so maybe you wouldn't understand, but I often feel that no matter what we do or how good our intentions are Diane resents the hell out of us, especially me. Maybe it's the sibling thing, even though I'm a good bit older than she is. Hell, maybe it's that Larry and me have a stable relationship and a decent home. I don't know.."
"We just want you to check into her situation and see how it stands. If there's nothing you can do then that's the way it is. If you think you can help things and get involved, we can pay whatever you charge to cover.."
"I can't take your money."
"First of all Jimbo here is a good friend and we've done enough favors for each other over the past few years. I'd put myself out for him without a thought. But secondly, if you really are concerned about his career and how things look, a formal business relationship between the two of you and me regarding Diane could be traced. Someone could try to make hay out of that."
"But we wouldn't want you to put in a lot of time on this case for free."
"You don't have a choice. Let me give you a worst case scenario. Let's say that you paid me and I did the job. Sometime down the line Diane gets into serious criminal trouble, the same people who might give Jimbo grief about intervening in her problems directly would make the same argument about hiring a P.I. to do the same thing. Also, an enterprising and unscrupulous journalist on an anti-police crusade could falsely use this as an example of abuse of police power. How's this for a headline: When it comes to crime it's not what you did, but who you know. It could happen. People talk, and gossip blows things out of proportion."
Jameson smiled and took a deep breath. "So what do you propose?"
"I'll do what I can for Diane. If she's really blown it, well then she's got some hard lessons to learn. If I can help then I will. You don't owe me anything. There won't be any records or notes, in case someone comes asking questions at a later date. Nothing to trace, no accountability. Agreed?"
Donna looked at her husband and then they both looked at me and nodded affirmatively. Donna arched her shoulders and tilted her head back as if an enormous weight had been lifted off her back.
"Now if one of you would be kind enough to get me some coffee we can go over just what citizen Diane's history is so I'll know when she's lying to me when I talk to her." Donna started to get up but Jameson tapped her on the shoulder and he opened the cabinet for the coffee.
"Well Jimmy, I see the little woman's got you trained properly."
He chuckled. "You and my sister are the only people on earth who call me Jimmy or a derivation of Jimmy."
"Haven't we been down this road before? Part of your last name is 'James', so you get 'Jimmy' and since you're such a big lug 'Jimbo' is just well, automatic. And since you mentioned your sister, she's not in any trouble is she?"
"No man, she' fine," Jameson responded with just the slightest tinge of annoyance.
"Thank God for that," I said.
And Donna finally cracked a smile.