Hotline to Heaven
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by Darrell Bain
Description: Darrell considers Hotline To Heaven one of his best books, and quite different from anything else he's ever done. Humor, chicanery, sex, betrayal and romance, along with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the end. It has such a fun plot that it will even have you wondering who you should be cheering for, the rascally villain Ed Tanner, or the innocent young Violet.
eBook Publisher: Twilight Times Books, 2002
eBookwise Release Date: January 2005
21 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [275 KB]
Reading time: 182-254 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
"Bain's characters march across the pages to his fast paced drumbeat to conquer and charm, despite their very human faults and foibles. Hotline to Heaven is a story peppered with the special wit and humor author Darrell Bain fans have come to expect, and spiced with the unexpected that is sure to have new readers joining the fan club."--Charlene Austin, Writers and Readers Network.
"...A delightful and funny tale of corruption, fraud and deceit mixed in with love, innocence and faith. Bain has written an excellent book with real-to-life characters and twists and turns that keep you wanting to read until you reach the satisfying end."--Iris Leach, Sharpwriter.
"...I thoroughly enjoyed this story and laughed at times so hard the family wondered what in the world I was crying over and hated to see the end. Hopefully Mr. Bain will continue with other misadventures of Ed and Violet. This book is my ticket into the Darrell Bain fan club!"--Jan Crow, Sime~Gen Reviews.
"The book is a quick read, with a wonderfully deft voice that leaves the reader quite satisfied by the end. Darrell Bain's cast of characters and fun plot will have the reader looking for more of his work!"--Cindy Penn, Word Weaving
It was the Christmas season, but Ed "Boilerroom" Tanner was having trouble getting into the spirit. His last trip to Las Vegas had a lot to do with that. It was hard for him to feel Christmassy when his bank account was as flat as an anemic tapeworm. He ambled slowly along the sidewalks of downtown Houston, shoulders slouched, with no particular destination in mind. He avoided bumping into the throngs of shoppers and lunch-hour pedestrians as he automatically scanned the passing faces, looking for that hint of innocence and gullibility that might be suborned into donating enough cash for another stake. He knew the look well, having made his living from it all his life, or at least since leaving home. It never occurred to him that perhaps he carried that same countenance on his own features when he was flush. He ascribed his losses in Vegas to pure bad luck, never supposing that the apparent accidental meeting with the bimbo there had been set up by his erstwhile partner after they'd concluded their last scheme.
Ed's thoughts drifted back to that operation as he walked, idly jingling the few quarters in his pockets against each other. It had gone well at first. Scrappie Brown had provided the new mailing lists they worked from and the up-front financing needed to get started, while he used his own expertise to run the swindle and supervise the phone operators. Like most of his operations, it worked beautifully. There was something deep in human nature that always made a certain number of contacts respond favorably to the idea of a free lunch or low-cost aluminum siding where you never have to paint again. In this case, the "free" award had been title to plots of land in the piney woods of east Texas in return for "title search" fees. The awards were legitimate enough, though a little after the fact, something the operators never disclosed. The initial income from prize recipients was used to purchase a number of useless swampy acres with a small down payment. An itinerant out of work landsman was induced to cursorily survey and subdivide the land into "ranchettes", then follow up letters were used to solicit more money in the form of "joint attorney's fees". Those still responding were preyed on again for assessments supposedly going for maintenance, lawn and garden care. They really did hire a gardener, although he spent more time fishing in lower levels of the acreage than mowing it. It was only one form of a timeless scam. Once money was invested in the free prize, the recipients generally hung in there, thinking each new payment would be their last.
It had been a good operation, well thought out and almost legitimate. It was the letters that got them in trouble. Damn it, they should have stuck to phones. There were so many boiler rooms operating in the country that it might have been years before the feds got around to them if they had just stuck to that, but no, Scrappie had to get greedy.
Ed conveniently forgot that he had gone right along with Scrappie, hoping to parlay the scam into a big enough boodle to think of getting out of phone solicitation and back into more direct swindles. He missed the direct human contact of first gaining a sucker's confidence then abusing it, like coaxing a reluctant kitten into jumping at a twitching string then jerking it away.
Actually, the final payout from the bogus property scam hadn't been that bad. After the postal inspectors began nosing around, they conveniently declared bankruptcy, took the agreed upon kickback from the attorney to whom they had funneled most of the money, and headed for Las Vegas in high good humor, ready to play a little before starting over in some other city far removed from Tulsa. Houston had seemed like a good bet. It was thriving again, having recovered from the great oil bust of the eighties. He made his reservations and bought his airline ticket before beginning to play. Sometimes it paid to have an escape hatch ready, just in case he got caught slipping an extra ace or his own dice into a game, something he was loath to do unless absolutely necessary. He did maintain some standards.
That hadn't been the problem this time. Ed thought about it and smiled ruefully. That little bimbo! She had looked as innocent as a Barbie Doll, and turned out to be as rapacious as a hungry shark beneath that bubbly exterior. He still couldn't quite figure out just how she had induced him to bring his whole nut with him that last night, "just in case" he needed to back up a big bet, but by that time the pull of his gonads had eclipsed his good sense. He never suspected a thing when, on cashing out, she offered to redeposit his whole wad with the cashier while he went back to the room.
"Go ahead and get yourself a nice hot shower and order us an extra bottle of champagne so you'll be all ready for me when I get there," she said.
Six hours later, he finished the last of the champagne by himself and went to bed by himself. He didn't even try to get dressed and go looking for her, knowing in his drunken misery it would have been useless. The next morning he checked his luggage at the Southwestern Airline terminal and headed for Houston.
Ed continued to muse and walk, wishing that the last of his money spent the previous night in the hotel bar on a likely looking old biddy had paid off. But it turned out that she had to go back to New York that same night and was evidently just amusing herself with the attentions of the good-looking younger man until it was time to leave for the airport. Now he really was broke. Unless something turned up, he was going to have to cash in the one remaining night he had paid for at the hotel just to raise enough money to eat. Where he would sleep and store his luggage, he didn't know.
As he drifted east along Louisiana Avenue it seemed that every likely spot sported a Salvation Army Santa Claus, ringing a bell to draw attention to the big red pot of money he guarded. As Ed approached a major intersection, there was another one. This Santa was accompanied by a young woman shaking a tambourine. Ed didn't see her at first. He felt of the quarters in his pocket, wondering whether to toss one in the pot, just for luck. He had kind feelings for the Salvation Army, having accepted their overnight hospitality on occasion, though only as a last resort. He didn't mind the bare furnishings of their missions nor the stale pastries and weak coffee they sent vagrants off into the mornings with; it was the praying over the recipients of their largess he could hardly abide. Nevertheless, he had to admit they were always there when he needed them. The thought cemented his decision. A spare coin wouldn't get him prayed over. He pulled a quarter from his pocket and tossed it into the pot, wishing at the same time he owned the heap of bills and coins it joined.
"Thank you, sir." The voice was pure honey, as light and sweet as a chord from an angel's harp.
Ed's eyes tracked up to the source of the voice. He beheld a young woman with a face as beautifully sweet and saintly as the voice, framed by golden wavy hair falling to the shoulders of her uniform dress. Below the shoulders rose high young breasts, pushing at her blouse as if they were straining to be let free. Ed looked no further. So much unsullied beauty above the waist would almost have to be accompanied by matching wonders below. If she ran a mission, he wouldn't mind being prayed over.
"You're welcome, ma'am," he said. "I only wish I could give more, but that was the last quarter to my name." Almost immediately, he wished he hadn't told the lie, even though it was very near to the truth. Why, he couldn't say. In his business, lies came to his lips as easily as Vodka to a Russian's.
"Why, how generous of you, then. God will surely reward you," the young woman said, taking full notice of Ed for the first time. She beheld a slim, medium-tall man who appeared to be in his early thirties, dressed in a conservative gray, expensive looking suit. A breeze tousled his wavy dark hair and caused a lock of it to fall to his forehead. She thought it a very nice forehead, the better to go with his pleasant, even-featured face and alert brown eyes.
"Yes, I'm sure He will," Ed said. "Perhaps He will help me find a place to sleep tonight." It was just idle chatter, meant to keep her talking and him in her presence for a few moments. He couldn't help staring at the angelic face. Yes, it was innocent and probably gullible, but he had learned that when those characteristics were associated with religion, there was seldom enough money to go with them to make a scam worthwhile. He wondered why such a beauty was working for the Salvation Army. Didn't she realize what she had?
"God cares for the homeless, as you must surely know. If all else fails, come to us tonight. Our mission is on Alabama street, three blocks over and one down." She smiled, causing faint dimples to appear, making her look as refreshingly pure as a teenage girl in her first prom gown. Her intentions were pure, but inside, she felt a little tug of attraction toward the attractive, well-dressed stranger, a pull that had induced the invitation. His appearance was far removed from the usual homeless males she dealt with, or any other male, for that matter. A very strict upbringing, combined with an education at an all girls school left her vulnerable. She felt color rising to her cheeks and dropped her gaze, hurriedly bringing it back up after it descended to the level of Ed's pants.
Ed couldn't help it. He felt the same strange attraction and his body was responding like a well-trained soldier on maneuvers. He tried to picture cold showers and freezing blizzards, but his mind insisted on remaining in concert with his groin. He said, "If I should have to look for help tonight, should I ask for you?"
"Why yes, you could, though it isn't strictly necessary. I'm sister Violet. Violet Smith."
"My name is B--" Ed faked a cough, then backed up. Damn it, why had he ever let himself be saddled with that nickname?"--Ed Tanner. I'm very pleased to meet you." A passerby dropped a bill into the pot, jostling him closer to Violet. He didn't mind a bit, though he wondered what on earth he thought he was doing. He had as much business coming on to this angelic creature as a peasant did sitting down to dinner with a king.
Apparently someone else thought the same. Santa stopped ringing his bell and stared suspiciously at him. Ed managed a guilty, little-boy smile. He shuffled his feet in a good imitation of a farm boy facing a preacher who suspected him of using haylofts in more ways than as a repository for cattle food. "Sorry," he said. "I'm keeping you from your business. Nice meeting you, Miss Smith." He held out his hand.
Copyright © 2002 by Darrell Bain