Oh Lord, Won’t You Steal Me A Mercedes Benz

A widow, a car thief, a nanny, a mob boss and a pregnant stripper walk into a bar…

The car thief stole a car with the widow’s dead husband in the trunk, and the cops found his fingerprints on the rearview mirror. A female homicide cop (whose husband has left her) and a lifeguard join the crew at the bar. The private eye hired to clear the car thief of murder learns that the dead man was embezzling—but where’s the money? And why did he buy an expensive electric guitar he never played?

The widow was cheating on her husband before he died, so now it looks like she had a motive for wanting him dead: the dead man fathered the stripper’s baby.

Now things start to get weird.

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Chris Guthrie couldn’t remember when he first met Hot Rod Lincoln. He knew he was with the Detroit Police, and he thought he’d busted Lincoln for stealing a car owned by somebody who was friends with somebody he knew in high school. And that guy dated somebody who slept with
someone who went through the Police Academy with Guthrie, and who was once married to somebody else who knew somebody who had played on a recording session with Megan Traine, Guthrie’s present girlfriend. Or something like that. Kevin Bacon had something to do with it.

Now, ten years later, Hot Rod still resembled an out-take from The Dukes of Hazzard, his pompadour and 70s porn-star sideburns the color of furniture polish, but wrinkles ringed his eyes as though he was staring into the sun.

Unless Guthrie could help, what he was really staring at was twenty years to life.

“Why do they think you did it, Hot Rod?”

“Mr. Fillmore was miles away at the time,” the attorney said.

Guthrie remembered William “Bill-able Hours” Powers, too, the most expensive defense attorney in Detroit. They were on the same side now but Powers’s type A-squared personality would make espresso beans twitch.

“What’s the victim’s name again?”

“Fortunato,” Powers answered. “Anthony Fortunato of Weingarten, Montesori and Fortunato, LLC. They’re CPAs in Grosse Pointe.”

Guthrie’s office was in Ferndale, north of Detroit. Grosse Pointe was east and still housed money from the dawn of the auto industry a century before.

“Counselor, should I repeat my original question?” Guthrie kept his face neutral and his voice soft, but he visualized Powers’s fingers in a shredder.

Powers hesitated. “Fortunato was found in the trunk of his Mercedes.”

Hot Rod Lincoln earned his nickname by stealing high-end vehicles. Like, say, a Mercedes. Powers hesitated again. “Of course, Lincoln’s…reputation certainly didn’t help.”

Guthrie sipped his own coffee. “Billable, I get the feeling you’ve left something out.”

Most of the world’s problems wouldn’t be problems if people could just sit down and talk. But now there were so many lawyers that there weren’t enough hours in the day to kill them all. Guthrie reminded himself that they also brought him a substantial amount of his business.

“Lincoln has every reason to walk the straight and narrow now.” Even in the horrible August humidity, Powers wore a three-piece suit that bore not one single wrinkle. He made Guthrie think of a game show host. “He has a good job and a fiancé. He has a happy and meaningful life ahead
of him and certainly wouldn’t throw it all away for a car.”

Guthrie saw Hot Rod’s lower lip move.

“Hot Rod, where was the car?”

“Near the river,” Powers answered. “Behind the old Grande Ballroom. A couple of kids saw it, wanted to check it out. When they got close, they smelled something and called the police. They found the body in less than pristine condition.”

“I almost hate to ask. How long?”

“His wife reported him missing eleven days ago. The kids found the body in the car five days later. The ME thinks he was dead for most of that five days.”

Summer in Detroit. Five days in the trunk. Guthrie tried not to imagine the stench.

He looked at his phone and hoped the others thought he was typing notes. He was really texting his secretary:

“Whn lwyr cms out keep hm busy.”

He hit “send” and the reply came back in mere seconds.

“I dnt do lp dnces NEmr, mr G.”

“I no,” he typed. “gt kreAtv.”

He looked up.

“Billable, I’m willing to take this case, so why don’t you go out and fill out the paperwork with Valerie. We’ve got a boilerplate contract you might want to amend a little.”

Powers opened the door and Guthrie heard Valerie’s lilt. She had butter-blonde hair, sky-blue eyes the size of dimes and a near-genius IQ. Guthrie figured he had a good fifteen minutes.

“Hot Rod, how did you get Billable as your defense? He charges more an hour than you could’ve sold that Mercedes for, if you took it, of course, which we both know you didn’t, right?”

Hot Rod leaned forward and stared at the carpet.

“He’s taking me on pro boner. Says he’s got to do some of that.”

“Pro bono.”

“Yeah, that.” Hot Rod locked his fingers in his lap. The nails were huge and lined with black. He stared at them until Guthrie wondered if he remembered the original question.

“They found my fingerprints in the car. They say.”

“Could it be true?”

“Um, maybe. See, I…found that car somewhere else and decided to, um, see how it ran.”

“Hot Rod, work with me here, OK?”

“OK, it was over on the Cass Corridor. About eleven-thirty, maybe a little later.”

The Cass Corridor was Detroit’s porn district. “What night?”

“Um…Thursday? I guess the same day the guy went missing. But I didn’t know he was in the trunk, honest.”

“So you took the car. But you didn’t kill him.”

“Well…something like that. See, Billable’s right, I’m getting married—but the diamond my girl picked out is a biggie, and my credit rating’s not exactly what the banks are looking for, you know?”

“Whose is?”

“Right. So anyway, I saw this car and I figured, who’d leave a nice car like this in a place like that, you know?” Hot Rod ran his tongue across his lips. “I figured nobody in his right mind would leave a car there unless he wanted it to go away, maybe insurance or something, so I thought I’d help out a little, you know?”

Guthrie bit his tongue.

“Uh, I figured the guy gets his insurance, I can sell the car for the parts, put the cash toward the diamond, everyone makes out.”

Guthrie had to admit that once you got past the stealing part, it sounded pretty good.

“When did you find the body?”

“At the chop shop. I pulled in and we started going through the car to see if there was anything else we could…sell. So we popped the trunk…”

Hot Rod closed his eyes. Guthrie watched him replay the scene.

“They told you to dump the car somewhere else so they didn’t get stuck with the body, right?”

“Yeah.” Hot Rod looked out the window at the restaurant across the street. “We go back a long time, this is the kind of thing that can ruin a good relationship, you know?”

“I’ll bet.” Guthrie waited for Hot Rod to look at him again. “Have you got the ring yet?”

“Uh-uh. Haven’t boosted another car, either. Finding a body, that really dents your karma, know what I’m saying?”

“So you dumped the car by the river. That same night? What time?”

“Late, around three.”

“And nobody saw you, right? Or the cops would be leaning heavier.”

“Yeah.” Hot Rod shook his head. “I’m losing my touch. Leaving a print somewhere. Can’t believe I’d do that.”

“But you usually sell the parts, so you don’t have to worry about that, right?”

“Well, yeah. But still…” Hot Rod shook his head again. “Getting old. Time to settle down.”

Guthrie hated to point out that wanting to settle down got him into his this mess.

“You said the car was in the Cass Corridor when you found it? A Mercedes?”

“Yeah. Vanity license plate. TONY F” Hot Rod’s eyes widened. “Hey, I just thought of something. The keys were in it, right in the ignition. And it wasn’t even locked.”

They understood at the same time.

“Someone wanted that car stolen, all right.” Guthrie said. “They wanted someone to help them get rid of the body.”

“Shoot,” Hot Rod said. “So now they’ll want to make me an accessory.”

“Not if we can help it.” Guthrie ushered him to the door.