Lush Life

Lush Life

by Dallas Murphy


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Artie Deemer and his celebrity dog Jellyroll, the heroes of Dallas Murphy's triumphant, Edgar Award nominated mystery Lover Man, are back in a rollicking sequel.

“A wild, winsome new adventure…sparkling from the very first pitch.”
Kirkus Reviews

Artie falls hard for sexy pool player Crystal Spivey, whose sleazy ex-husband Trammel Weems abruptly topples off his fishing boat and disappears, along with $14 million of his company’s assets. Soon Artie and Crystal find themselves at the center of a deadly caper involving crooked corporations, CIA spooks, and Mafia bankers. They’ll be lucky if their romance can survive…if they aren’t killed first.

“Murphy joins the ranks of authors like Carl Hiaasen and Donald Westlake, writers who can roll suspense and comedy into the same package and leave you wanting more.”
Albuquerque Journal

“Lively entertainment cover to cover….Murphy delivers crisp, clear prose, and original comedy at the hair-raising pace of a Domino’s delivery car.”
Tulsa World

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781941298046
Publisher: Brash Books LLC
Publication date: 06/01/2014
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.61(d)

About the Author

Edgar Award Nominee

Dallas Murphy is the author of the acclaimed three-book series Lover Man, Lush Life, and Don't Explain, about the reluctant sleuth Artie Deemer, who lives off his dog Jellyroll, star of screen, TV, and dog-food boxes; and the stand-alone crime novel set in Florida, Apparent Wind. Lover Man was nominated for an Edgar for Best First Novel and named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times. Murphy has also written nonfiction books about the ocean, including Rounding the Horn, To Follow the Water, Plain Sailing, and, most recently, To the Denmark Strait. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Lush Life

By Dallas Murphy

Brash Books, LLC

Copyright © 2014 Dallas Murphy
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-941298-04-6


Owning a wealthy dog frees up one's schedule. While other poor sods who don't own wealthy dogs must work for the man, I can devote my days to any endeavor that takes my interest.

That was my trouble. None did. I remained uncommitted. I felt guilty about that. I listened to hours of jazz and played a lot of pool. While jazz uplifts the spirit, listening can't be called doing in the participatory sense, and playing pool can't be called productive, even if one wins a lot of money. I don't. I was languid, torpid, depressed.

I had retreated inside my head. That had always been my way. As a child, I had thought of that solipsistic retreat as "going into the tree house." My father got killed in an airplane crash when I was still an infant, and my mother, as I look back on it, launched herself on a quest to marry, then divorce, as many fighter pilots as possible. They were a swaggering lot, full of certainty and self-confidence. The absence of a shooting war was the most vexing problem in their young lives.

One high-ranking type with whom we shared a year in a sultry southern climate before he got transferred to Goose Bay, Labrador, was called Spider. Spider had brush-cut hair and boozy breath. He lived off base in a decaying mansion surrounded by live oaks already mature when Sherman's army passed. In one of these, dripping Spanish moss, was a duplex tree house with a rope ladder and complete privacy. Up there, I fashioned my own reality. I've been doing that ever since.

But now solitude had degenerated into discontent, an itchy longing for something I didn't have. What did I long for? I spent many an evening listening to bebop and musing on that question. Did I long for a job of my own?

Job ...

The very sound of the word, its hard monosyllabic poke, filled me with dread. Besides, who would hire me? I wouldn't hire me.

As he lay at my feet dreaming (paws flexing, tail thumping) I wondered whether Jellyroll would miss his career if I decided to retire him. Say I decided to chuck it in and move us to the rural regions, there to take up organic farming, or to the coast of Maine, say, to experiment in mariculture, would he grow dull and dispirited? (Would I?) The limelight's hard to kick over, even for dogs. Yet lately his career had been making me feel absurd. Take, for example, the day the Space Traveler broke his tibia:

Intergalactic music swelled from out of the cosmic darkness. A pinpoint of light appeared, approaching, enlarging as it spanned imponderable distance at unearthly speed. What could it be? A spaceship, of course. It whooshed overhead.

Saucer-shaped, a stupid-looking dome in the center, the spaceship wheeled, turned, and reappeared, hovering. The engines didn't roar or whine like you would expect spaceship engines to; they went, "R-r-ruff, r-r-ruff." Steam and smoke swirled. The intergalactic music built to a crescendo. Red, green, and blue spotlights probed the ground before they converged — on a big yellow bowl of dog food.

Then a disembodied voice reverberated from the spaceship:

"Contact. We have contact-tact-tact. We're beginning our approach-approach-approach."

The music was intolerable, of course, the engine noise ludicrous, but the landing effect worked okay, and the lighting disguised the spaceship's cheesy, cut-corners construction as it appeared to settle beside the bowl of dog food. "NEW & IMPROVED R-r-ruff" was painted in glossy red letters on the bowl.

The hatch creaked open. A gangplank emerged, but then it wedged in its track and stuck fast. It retracted and tried again. Nope. Again it stuck in the same place, poking out like a vandalized diving board.

"Cut, for chrissake!" Brian Thornbough, our director, bellowed from the control room. "What town is this? Hickberg, Indiana? No? New York City? Oh. You'd think in New York City, the capital of the stinking world, I wouldn't have to be saddled with a rickety pile of pus for a spaceship!" His words reverberated around the soundstage like the Space Traveler's.

Work lights came on. Sullen technicians — it wasn't their fault, it was the budget cutbacks — scurried from the shadows. They braced their boots against the hull of the spaceship and, on three, heaved at the gangplank, but it was no use. The gangplank was stuck.

"It's stuck," somebody said.

"No shit?" boomed Brian from the booth.

"The whole frame has shifted," said the floor manager, glowering up at the booth, "so the gangplank's pinched."

"Grease the slut!"

Chips flew as the floor manager took a hammer and chisel to the gangplank, pretending it was Brian's brainpan. His crew waited to grease the slut.

"Are we about ready?" Brian wanted to know. Brian had tried to make a go of it in Hollywood, but he was pegged as a dog food commercial director, and nobody would give him a smell. That had made Brian bitter.

Work lights went off. Landing lights came back on. "Stand by, steam," said the floor manager. "Go, steam." The steam went. Music recrescendoed. They cued the plank. The plank worked perfectly. Its foot settled onto the floor right beside the bowl of New & Improved R-r-ruff.

Then Jellyroll, a cute brown-and-white mutt, ran happily down the gangplank toward the bowl of dog food exactly as rehearsed. (He doesn't need rehearsal for a move that simple. In fact, I think it bores him.) Jellyroll enjoys everything, except baths and vacuum cleaners, and his delight with life is apparent on his face. That smile has made him a star and me financially, if in no other way, untroubled.

The Space Traveler wore a transparent bubble helmet, like an inverted goldfish bowl, over his head. His gleaming white suit was so bulbous and heavy he had to bounce stiff-legged down the gangplank. He stopped halfway and pretended to look around the landing zone. His helmet fogged up. The techies had drilled holes in the back to alleviate that problem, but apparently they were too small. He tried to do a double take when he spotted the dog food, but the move got lost in the costume. It just looked like someone had goosed him —

"Look, Ruff!" he said. "After all these intergalactic light-years we've found a planet that serves New Improved R-r-ruff. This must be earth!"

But something was wrong with Jellyroll ...

He slunk up to the bowl and wrinkled his muzzle in repulsion. That pause, the silence, was terrible. We held our breaths. I thought for a moment he was going to puke.. Jellyroll hated the New & Improved formula! He searched for me with confusion and alarm in his soft brown eyes. Why was I doing this to him, putting this shit in his face after years of loyalty?

It seemed days before Brian bellowed, "Cut!"

The technical folks tried to quell their giggles. A couple of them had to leave the set. Strangled titters bounced around the studio as Brian marched onto the floor. Christ, the spokesdog hated the New & Improved formula!

"Uh, since we've stopped, Brian," said the Space Traveler, further fogging his helmet, "let me ask you this —" I had seen the Space Traveler do Robespierre in Danton's Death off-Broadway, and he seemed to be a real actor. I felt sad for him up there in that helmet. "I don't exactly understand the line, 'After all these inter- galactic light-years —' Isn't a light-year a measure of speed, not —"

The gangplank snapped. The Space Traveler plunged from sight like a hanged man.

"Deemer!" shouted Brian. Brian always shouted. "Get me Artie Deemer!"

"Right here," I said.

"Did my eyes deceive me, or does that dog hate the New and Improved formula?"

"He didn't seem to relish it, did he?"

"Relish? Are you kidding, relish? He about barfed at the stink of it!"

The Space Traveler began to keen in agony beneath the gang-plank's remains.

"I think he's injured, Brian," I pointed out.

"Space Travelers come a dime a dozen. He liked the other shit — the regular formula, right? Somebody get me a bag of the regular shit."

"No," said a somber voice from the rear of the studio, "we can't do that." It was Mr. Fleckton, the poor sod who had conceived and spearheaded the introduction of New & Improved R-r-ruff.

"Christ! She's gonna go!" screamed a technician.

The spaceship was wavering on its landing pad, creaking and groaning, its structural members cracking. The Space Traveler cried out in terror. Techies scurried in all directions, but they knew exactly what to do. They ran back onto the set with wood and heavy hammers, shoved two-by-four bracing beneath the ship, pounded and kicked it into place.

"Why not?" Brian wanted to know.

"My leg!" wailed the Space Traveler. "I can see my leg bone!"

"Because I'd be a laughingstock, that's why," said Mr. Fleckton. He shuffled up beside Brian and me. He held his hands in a strange prayerlike posture under his chin. Beads of sweat sprouted from his upper lip. The man was watching his standard of living diminish to homelessness before his very eyes. He looked at me pleadingly and said, "Does he really hate it, Artie?"

"He hates it," said Brian. "What can I tell you, he hates it."

Mr. Fleckton kept removing his glasses, blowing on the lenses, and replacing them. "Our own spokesdog ... hates it. Is there nothing you can do, Artie?"

The Space Traveler whimpered from out of sight beneath the spacecraft. "I can see my leg ... bone!"

"I'll try to hand-feed him," I said.

"Food! Get me fresh food!" demanded Mr. Fleckton. One of his assistants hurried over with a twenty-pound bag of it.

"Come here, pal," I said gently.

"God help us," said Fleckton.

I scooped a few pieces of kibble from the bag and petted Jellyroll with the other hand so he'd know I wasn't mad at him. I held a single kibble under his nose. He turned his head. He blew out his lips as if to expunge the stink of the thing. "He hates it, all right."

Mr. Fleckton wavered like the spaceship. His assistants supported him. The R-r-ruff honchos would probably have him executed gangland style and dump his body in the Meadowlands beside that of the guy who invented New Coke.

"I think I'm gonna ... pass out," said the Space Traveler weakly.

"Fuck it, let's just stick a steak under it," said Brian.

As I mused subsequently in my morris chair, Brian's words, "Stick a steak under it," struck a metaphorical chord with me. That's what I should do with my life, I decided. But what was the real-world equivalent of this metaphorical meat I'd stick under my life? I pondered that question, Jellyroll at my feet, listening to Ben Webster's assertively erotic version of "Love Is Here to Stay," when the answer struck me like an epiphany.

I needed to fall in love.

I had been in love before, and I remembered how love took the edge off the hideous, how it brightened the world and made one feel all warm and runny inside ... But whom would I love? Where might I meet my new lover? I had read in a magazine that the two best places to meet a lover were at work or at recreation. I didn't work, and for recreation I hung around a pool hall. I wondered what the third best place was.

Shortly thereafter, I met Crystal Spivey — in the poolroom.


My disbarred Attorney, Bruce Munger, introduced us.

"Don't call me Bruce," said Bruce.

"Who are you today?"

"Viscount Pitt." He also went by the names Mr. DeSoto, Special Agent Rock, Captain Jacoby, and Samuel Beckett. There were others. "Never mind that now, just back me for fifty bucks. I can beat this guy. This guy is a no-talent bum. Besides, what's fifty bucks to you?" My attorney was talking about Too Louis, who stood, cue in hand, grinning greedily, hoisting his seeds from between crushing thighs.

"Wha' chu wan' do, Bruce?" cooed Too Louis.

"Don't call me Bruce."

Bruce was partly right. Too Louis was a bum. He lived with his mother, and together they sold cheap stolen goods on St. Mark's Place. Too Louis was ugly enough to break your heart. He took the aesthetics right out of the game. But he had talent. It was my attorney, already down $150, who lacked talent. Thus far the games had only seemed close.

"Come on, Artie, I got this fish right where I want him," my attorney whispered. "He's overconfident. He's ready to give me the seven ball. The seven! I can stomp him with the seven ball."

"Not if you continue to dog the six," I pointed out.

"Look, I'll tell you what. If you place Jellyroll's financial might behind me to the tune of fifty bucks, I'll introduce you to Crystal Spivey. Don't think I don't notice how you moon over Crystal Spivey."

"I don't moon."

My attorney called to Outta-Town Brown, who sat on the bench in the corner with a group of regulars: "Hey, Brown, does Artie moon over Crystal Spivey or what?"

"Moooon River, wider than a mile," sang Outta-Town Brown. Ted Bundy and Chinese Gordon giggled. "I'm crossing you in style sommmmeday."

I ignored that.

I had tried to meet Crystal on my own. Once, when she was practicing alone, I strolled by her table with Jellyroll. He is so cute, friendly, and famous that most women fall all over themselves to pet him, thus leaving me an entrée to introduce myself. Crystal was no different. She had just stroked the cue ball with that lovely, languid follow-through of hers. It was a tricky sharp-angle shot, but the object ball split the pocket and the cue ball softly caressed three rails with running English, then stopped precisely where she wanted it to. "Isn't that the R-r-ruff Dog?" she asked.

I smiled. "Yes, he's —"

Crystal knelt and ruffled his ears. I admired her stately neck below boyishly bobbed black hair. Jellyroll smiled at her and began to lick her cheek.

I envied him that. "I'm Artie Deemer. I —"

"Oh, you are wonderful!"

For a giddy instant I had thought she meant me.

She presented her other cheek to Jellyroll and mewed over him. They carried on like that for a while. I stood shifting my weight from one leg to the other. She nuzzled his muzzle; he kissed and kissed.

"I'm Artie Deemer."

"Uh-huh," she said without looking up. Then she straightened, picked up her cue, and resumed sinking balls as if she could do it in her sleep, with me mooning around or off visiting business associates on Baffin Island. Only recently have women pool players come into their own as professionals, but most still maintain a guarded pose, because there's always somebody waiting to hit on them in poolrooms.

"You don't know Crystal Spivey," I said to my attorney.

"I do indeed. In fact, we were an item once."

"You were not."

"Well, we almost were. She wanted me, but I had to demur in the interests of my practice. She hung around poolrooms with those of questionable character. That would have given the appearance of infelicity. Felicity is bad enough. Infelicity is out of the question. C'mon, Artie, fifty bluchers. I can beat this cretin, after which I'll take you and Crystal out for an eau de vie."

I gave my attorney fifty bucks. Jellyroll looked up at me. His eyes seemed to say, "You are a true chump." Then I sat down on the regulars' bench to wait for Crystal to come in. Outta-Town Brown, Ted Bundy, and Chinese Gordon sat with me. I tried not to watch my attorney lose, but fifty bucks isn't such a high price to pay to meet the woman you moon over, if you don't have to watch.

"Hey, Artie," said Ted Bundy out of the side of his mouth. Ted's real name was Albert Bundy. Naturally, everybody called him Ted. "You ain't backing that fish of a viscount, are you?"

"Do you think I'm a chump?"

Ted didn't reply.

Pool has changed. The game is enjoying a prosperity and wide interest it hasn't known since the twenties. With that, there has arisen something entirely new — the upscale poolroom. Now, instead of in grotty dives where your shoes stick to the floor, you can play in refined rooms with attendants who empty the ashtrays. Now respectable contributors to the GNP, real citizens who have checking accounts and pay income tax, play pool on double dates. In some poolrooms today, you can order herbal tea and veal sandwiches with Mornay sauce, and no one will question your sanity or sexuality.

I had spent many years in grotty, preboom poolrooms. I could hear my mother's voice from out of the murk of the past: "Arthur, where are you going? You're going out to play pool with bums, aren't you?"


Excerpted from Lush Life by Dallas Murphy. Copyright © 2014 Dallas Murphy. Excerpted by permission of Brash Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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