Friday was #NationalReadABookDay, as I found out this morning. From my POV, every day should be #InternationalReadABookDay. This could keep us out of so much trouble, assuming we made good reading choices.
Not coincidentally, I’ve arranged to have both of my Detective Red Shaw novels on sale – $1.99 each for the Kindle eBook editions – for today and Sunday. Maybe a little longer…
Earlier this summer I had a chance to visit Beaverdale Books, a for-real independent book store in a Des Moines neighborhood where I used to spend a lot of time. The neighborhood is also home to a fictional bicycle shop / taproom that I made up for my second Detective Red Shaw novel.
When you’re in Beaverdale, you can actually buy both of those crime novels at Beaverdale Books. However, you won’t find the bike shop Red Shaw and Phil Vega visit in the following excerpt from North of Grand.
In which detectives visit a Beaverdale beer & bike shop…
…while investigating the murder of a cyclist.
Beaverdale Bike-n-Ale sold bicycles in the same spot for
twenty years before new owners came along with a new business model. They
thought they could draw in more cyclists, many of whom liked good, trendy beer,
if they also attracted a share of the growing numbers of craft beer drinkers
who didn’t necessarily give a rat’s ass about bicycles, resting heart rates, or
power-to-weight ratios. The bicycle side of the shop sold custom-fitted road
machines and mountain bikes that cost more than Shaw’s first two cars put
together. The taproom offered an ever-changing menu of craft lagers, ales,
stouts and other concoctions as long as they came from anything other than a
brewery that had even the faintest whiff of international consolidation.
A chalkboard behind the bar caught Shaw’s
attention. “If you want Bud Light, leave now,” read the top line. The day’s
list of carefully selected brews on tap filled the rest of the board.
A bearded twenty-something behind the bar
sported a red farmer bandana and a tattered Tour de France t-shirt. He was
rinsing pint glasses and four-ounce tasters in hot water before setting them on
a mat to dry. Clean glasses hung in rows from an overhead rack. Vega eyed a
pair of patrons at a nearby table and nudged Shaw, nodding to indicate where he
“That’s a man bun, Phil,” Shaw said. “You’d look good with one.”
Bun Man overheard the comment and turned
to the detectives. “I can see that,” he said, pointing at Vega’s black waves.
“Let it grow a couple more inches and you could definitely rock a bun.”
“Yeah, and Rosa would definitely snatch it
off in a second.”
Bun Man’s companion commiserated by
rubbing his shaved head and laughing. “Sssssnatch
you bald,” he slurred.
Shaw flagged down the bartender, who
looked over after putting up the last beer glass.
“What can I get you, sir?”
Shaw caught a name on the whiteboard that
told him the Ale Agent on Duty was James. “Nothing right now, James,” he said
as he held out his badge, “but we need to ask you a few questions.”
Vega produced his own shield and James
yawned as he glanced at it then looked back at Shaw. “What?”
“Do you know a Zachary Costa?”
“Yeah, I knew Zach. He used to come in a
lot. Every few days. Not lately, though.”
“So you heard about his death?”
“Who hasn’t? It’s all over.”
“Fuck that, the newspaper,” he said as he
snatched a smartphone from a back pocket and held it out. Shaw saw Vega twitch
toward his Glock before catching himself and relaxing. “It’s all over the
internet, man. Where you from, fucking 1990?”
Vega pulled his own smartphone out and
laid it on the bar. “Nice attitude, James. When’s the last time you saw Zach
James took a deep breath and exhaled,
slowly. “Week ago. He had a couple of pints with Emma, his girl, and they
“Did you know him outside of here? You
guys hang out or anything?”
“No, we just talked beer and bikes when he
came in.” He nodded toward Bun Man and Bald Guy, who were heading for the door.
“Those guys probably knew him better.”
Shaw caught Vega’s eye and nodded their
way to send him after them.
“You know their names?” he asked James.
“Yeah. And I’ve got one of their credit
cards. Tab’s still open.”
“It looks like you need to close it out
and call a ride for them.”
James grabbed a rag to wipe down the bar.
“No, I think Gav’s okay, and he’s driving. Jeff has probably had enough,
Shaw picked up Vega’s phone. “My partner
has some pictures of Zachary Costa’s bicycles we’d like to show you.”
James smiled. “To hear him talk, he had
some nice rides.”
“He had a couple of higher-end Treks that
he raced, and another one he called his ‘investment.’”
“What was that one?”
“A Paramount from like the sixties. He
thought a collector might buy it for four or five grand.”
Bun Man and Bald Guy were back soon, after
a quick smoke in the alley, with Vega trailing behind.
“Detective Vega, can you show James Mr.
Costa’s bicycles?” Shaw asked.
Vega took the phone and flipped through
the images one by one as James provided a running commentary. “That’s one he
probably raced … that’s a beater … another beater … yeah, that’s a time trial
bike he talked about.”
“Thank you, James,” Shaw said. “That’s
“What about the other one?” James asked.
“The Paramount? No picture of that one?”
Vega dodged the question. “Let us know if
you hear anyone else asking about it, okay?”
I think I’ve led an interesting life so far, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to buy a book about it. Most of my writing has been nonfiction based on research and interviews on various topics. Still, I’ve made use of what I know from experience in my Detective Red Shaw novels. The following excerpt from North of Grand is one example, which draws on my love of bicycling as well as other lived experience. It’s my favorite way of writing what I know.
In which Detective Red Shaw visits a bike shop…
…while investigating the murder of a cyclist.
Half an hour later he was parked outside the place watching a middle-aged couple load two new bicycles on a brand-new rack on the back of a shiny, black SUV. They chatted with a young blonde woman who he guessed had just made the sale. The scene took him back to the time he and Sally bought new bicycles at a discount store and rode them three times one summer. He wasn’t sure where they’d ended up.
Inside the store he took a few minutes to browse, inspecting the lines of sleek, pricey road bikes and rugged, shock-equipped mountain bikes. He wondered how many of them ever actually saw a mountain. Assorted helmets hung on one wall near displays of water bottles and gloves and seat bags and other paraphernalia. There were hard, narrow saddles that weighed nothing or close to it. He could buy balm and padded shorts for his butt to ward off pain and chafing, then spend more bucks on tight, techno-wonder jerseys to keep him cool as he sped down some road in the sun. He picked up a coffee-can-size container of powder from a nearby display. The label claimed it would keep his electrolytes in balance and help him stave off dehydration if only he would mix it properly and drink the proper amount every hour during a long ride, then mix and drink more later to make sure he’d gotten enough.
The only employee in sight was adjusting
the brakes on a bicycle in the shop area. A surly type with long, graying hair,
he looked over once then turned back to the brake job without saying a word. He
seemed to assume that Shaw wasn’t going to buy anything. He was right.
“Can I help you with something, sir?” The
young woman from the parking lot appeared beside him. Up close, he guessed
she’d be in her thirties, a little older than she looked outside. Attractive
and obviously fit. Tess, her ID tag
“Thanks, but I’m just kind of looking
around. Some people I work with swear that riding a bike has been all kinds of
good for their health, mental and otherwise.”
She smiled at that. “I’m sure it has. It’s
a great way to spend some time, get some exercise, get to work, whatever. I
ride here every day, eight miles each way, unless there’s snow and ice.”
“You’re kidding,” Shaw said. “That’s a
long way, isn’t it?”
“Not really,” she said. “If I wasn’t
working I’d be out with my club for about fifty miles, and we’re doing a metric
“A metric century?”
“A hundred kilometers. Sixty-two miles or
Shaw grimaced. “That doesn’t sound like
all that much fun.”
Last week at a Meet the Author event, I read some excerpts from North of Grand, my second Detective Red Shaw novel. What follows is one of my favorites, in which Shaw gets a phone call that ends in a little extra mystery.
The sun was still up but Shaw turned in early after dining on what remained of a four-day-old pepperoni pizza and downing a Leinenkugel. He lay awake in bed for an hour, appreciating the AC, replaying the day in his mind, then trying to shut his brain down so he could sleep. The phone rang. Cheryl. Again already? He answered.
“Hello, Detective,” she said. Her voice was a
bit deeper, sexier than in her voicemail or how she had sounded in person.
“Hello, Ms. Massey.”
“Okay, hello, Cheryl. What can I do for you?”
“Can I call you Ed?”
Shaw hesitated. “Is this about police
“No … I hope not.”
“Well I hope not, too. Ed is fine, please.”
“How about Red?” Her voice was lighter,
playful. He had to laugh.
“You can call me whatever you like.”
When she didn’t respond, he tried to wait her
out, as he had with countless suspects. He broke first, and quickly. “I’ve
thought about calling you.”
“So why didn’t you?”
“Well, I guess I assumed you’re married or
otherwise involved, and I didn’t have your number … until a few hours ago.”
“The detective couldn’t find my phone number?”
“Well, I suppose I could have, but I hadn’t
yet. Besides, there’s that thing about not knowing if you were married … or
She laughed, and he imagined her reaching out
to touch his arm.
“You’re funny,” she said. “I like that. Otherwise involved.”
“It covers a lot of possibilities,” Shaw said.
Again, she fell silent. He broke, again. “So … which is it, Cheryl?”
He heard a voice, faint in the background.
“Otherwise involved,” she said. “I have to go,
Mrs. Smith and I don’t often get back to our former stomping grounds in Iowa’s capital city, but we’ll be there Saturday, June 8. It’s a multi-purpose trip, including a “Meet the Author” event the nice folks at Beaverdale Books so generously arranged on rather short notice.
If you’ve read some previous posts (like this one), you already know that both my fictional detective, Edward “Red” Shaw, and I are from Des Moines. Some of the action in North of Grand even takes place in Beaverdale at a taproom/bike shop I made up out of thin air.
Really looking forward to this trip. Join us at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 8, at Beaverdale Books if you’re in the area: 2629 Beaver Avenue.