Two weeks ago I hosted Eric Beetner and today I’m hosting JB Kohl--the other half of the very talented duo that writes the Dean Fokoli and Ray Ward detective series set in the noir world of 1940s Kansas City and Los Angeles. The most recent book in the series, Borrowed Trouble, was released to terrific reviews this month.
JB Kohl and Eric Beetner also wrote One Too Many Blows to the Head and she’s published another on her own, The Deputy’s Wife. She lives in Virginia with her husband and three children.
Figuring anyone who can create Fokoli can handle the tough questions, I threw this week’s question at her. Here is Fokoli’s intriguing and hardboiled reply.
Imagine you're at your high school reunion. Set the scene. How would you describe what you do? How would you answer the questions about the gruesome aspects of death or the too interested positing about how to kill a spouse?
You come to me on this, the last day of February, and ask me how Dean would handle his high school reunion. What would he do? How would he handle the curious folks who wanna know about offing a spouse?
Dean knows a thing or two about losing a spouse. His wife drank herself to death. And the real tragedy? It was Dean’s fault.
It just so happens Dean did attend his 25th high school reunion in 1941. And it went a little something like this:
My name’s Fokoli. Dean Fokoli. I don’t normally go in for things like social gatherings—where a guy’s expected to get his date a serving of punch in one of those tiny little glass things only old ladies use. I don’t like the perfume or the hair spray or the questions.
Laura was long dead and it was time to move on, time to show the world I was sober, in control, on my feet. True, my knees were shaking, but my feet—flat on the ground. It’s funny how you can walk into a high school gym, smell the floor wax or whatever the hell it is they use to make the shoes squeak when basketball players run up and down the court, and bam! Just like that you’re back in phys ed, knock-kneed and tongue-tied.
I stood to the back, behind the punch bowl with its tiny cups, near the drinking fountain. We’d all changed in 25 years. I watched ‘em all for awhile . . . Vinnie Carmichael, who played football and was pretty good. He graduated and became a doctor. Then he came home and married Faye Campbell. I don’t know why I honed in on Vinnie. Maybe it was my cop instinct. Maybe it was the way he held his wife while they danced—something insincere in the fingers around her waist—like maybe they wanted to be around her neck instead.
A few people passed me and nodded. “Hello Dean.”
Fuck you. “Yeah. Hi. It’s been awhile.”
“Sorry about Laura.”
Yeah. Laura. I don’t talk about her. So fuck you all over again. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”
It went on that way for awhile and I got to thinking I should leave, should head back to the car and go home. But Vinnie caught my eye from the dance floor and waved at me like he wanted to talk. He whispered something to his wife. She smiled, kissed him on the cheek, and disappeared into the crowd. Vinnie made his way over to me.
“Dean,” he said, shaking my hand, “it’s been awhile.”
I shook his hand.
“You’ve seen Faye?”
He asked me what I’d been up to, which got my neck to tingling. Everyone knew about Laura.
Everyone knew about my lost job, my past, my ruin. The one thing I didn’t lose after Laura died was my cop sense. And Vinnie was lighting it on fire.
I didn’t answer his questions. I picked up a miniature cup of punch and drank it in one swallow. Then I picked up another. He didn’t go away.
“What’s the strangest case you ever worked?” Vinnie asked after awhile.
“They’re all strange. Nothing normal about murder.”
“Even when you work homicide for a living?”
“Routine. Not normal.”
He scratched his chin. “No perfect murder? Never?”
I slid my eyes over to him. Vinnie had a strong chin. There wasn’t much else about him that stood out, but he’d always had a good chin. Laura would have called it a movie star chin.
Vinnie wasn’t looking at me. His eyes were on Faye. Over in the crowd, her head was tossed back and she was laughing, exposing the long white line of her throat. Her laugh was soft and although her head was back and her mouth was open, there was delicacy in her movements. The word refinement came to mind again.
I think anyone who looked at Faye that night would have admired her. She wasn’t a woman to be envied, just admired. Because she was kind and funny and pretty. She had been that way in school and it was obvious while watching her laugh that she hadn’t changed. Or maybe I was just romanticizing everything since Laura died.
As I watched, she patted Lucille Williams on the arm and whispered something in her ear. Lucille hugged her.
Faye was a class act.
But Vinnie wasn’t feeling the same. His eyes were narrowed and his fists were balled into tight fists at his sides.
“Hey Vinnie,” I said after a minute.
He kept his eyes on Faye, but he grunted so I knew he was listening. “I had this case once. A guy killed his wife.”
He was interested now. He didn’t speak, but he looked away from Faye for an instant.
“Yeah,” I continued. “He stole a car and backed over her. Wore gloves, hat, sunglasses. There were no fingerprints because of the gloves and because of the disguise, no witnesses could be sure it was him who did it. Plus it was the weekend and he said he was in the backyard snoozing in the hammock while she was out shopping. Ran her down in front of a crowd. Boy, we had a hell of a time with that case.”
“How’d you catch him?”
“We didn’t.” I was tired of holding the tiny cup so I put it on the table and pulled out my cigarettes. Vinnie was all ears now and he waited impatiently while I lit up and took a long, slow drag. “He got off. No proof. No witnesses. We had to let him go.”
Vinnie’s eyes lit up. “Where is he now?”
I blew a cloud of smoke in his direction. “Dead.”
He swallowed hard. “Dead?”
“Drowned in his bathtub.” I dropped the cigarette on the gym floor and crushed it with my shoe. Before Laura died—before I turned over a new leaf, I had friends in lots of places. They were the sorts of friends who greased my palm and in return I kept them out of stir. I’ve done a lot of bad things in my day, but I never raised a hand to a woman. And anyone on my beat who hurt his wife didn’t last long. At all. “There were a couple of other cases that went down like that,” I said. “I can’t remember their names right now, but they all ended up dead. Car accidents, muggings gone bad, that sort of thing.”
I watched him to make sure he got the message. After Laura died, I went straight. I swear it. No dirty money. No off the books jobs. I was straight. But I couldn’t let Vinnie go around thinking he could get away with hurting someone as lovely as Faye.
A year or so later I heard through the grapevine that she left him. I don’t know what his story was. Maybe he wanted her dead for insurance money. Maybe his dick was tiny and she threatened to tell. Who knows? Who cares?
I don’t go out much anymore. Too many losers in the world.
***So there you go. A night with Dean Fokoli.
I enjoy reading all the posts on this blog. Thanks for the invite!