The Lowdown - Click To View
"Rader thought about what would’ve happened if Kovack had taken the case; but it wasn’t motivation enough for this problem. How did he solve it? He stood there frowning, a big man, deep-chested and dead-eyed, his thick dark hair upswept, and his slightly-creviced face long and sheer. The same question: how did he solve this? Rader stepped back and looked around, into the shadows. And then he thought of something. As he thought, he kicked the man’s leg again, and this time heard him grunt."
Stopping off for one night in Brink City on his way east, private investigator John Rader winds up becoming one of its citizens for a few months, at least. There’s always plenty of business for a man like Rader in a place like that, but the trick is avoiding any jobs that might connect him to the various crime syndicates that boss the town. Or to the police department, which in Brink City is almost the same thing.
Soon to star in his own spin-off series, you can follow his adventures for free right now in the novellas DEAD TO RIGHTS and DEATH AND THE CITY (both Brink City Crime dot com exclusives) by signing up for news on forthcoming books.
John Rader is an American antihero, and this is raw, tough American noir.
The Interview - Click To View
A Man for All Seasons - An Interview with John Rader, by Ian Quarry
When I arrive at Gramercy’s Bar that afternoon I’m over ten minutes early, but I notice that the man I’m here to meet, John Rader, is already sitting in a corner booth. I wonder, as I head over to buy a drink, why he felt the need to get here first. Did he really share anything of the concern that I’m currently experiencing about this interview - and have been since the deal was struck a week ago - to the extent of wanting to scope things out before I arrive? Or was he merely in the neighborhood? This neighborhood is a ratty street a block from Grove Boulevard, midtown Brink City. It is, from everything I’ve heard about Rader, the kind of street he walks every day.
Gramercy’s is a dive bar, and its denizens are mostly older guys who look like they got their hands dirty and their beaks broken at whatever they once did for a living. The barmaid who pours my drink has short, bottle-blond hair and meaty hands. She doesn’t talk or look up at me, and she spills the beer as she slams it on the bar top. I leave a couple of extra dollars and take a sip of Coors Light as I spend one last moment reminding myself of the kind of questions I want to ask. I have no interest in drinking alcohol in the afternoon, but somehow this is different. I take another sip and turn round, feeling eyes on me as I move across a large room of decrepit-looking fixtures and fittings towards that back booth where Rader is waiting.
There is no music in the room, but there is an endless drone of voices, and plenty of hoarse laughter. Rader selected this meeting place, so I assume that he’s either good with the level of background noise for whatever he plans to say, or else he doesn’t plan on saying very much.
As I place my glass on the table and slide into the seat opposite, I notice that Rader sits very straight, and is clearly of a substantial height and build. His gaze is at once detached and watchful, and his silence has the effect of making me want to talk and fill the air with words. Instead I reach for my drink and nod at him and say hello. Rader nods back and says nothing. I like that he isn’t holding a cellphone; the idea of him using social media is at once hilarious and absurd. He is wearing a black leather jacket, the zipper open far enough to reveal a dark-colored shirt. I find myself imagining a loaded gun in there, and a wallet stuffed with money. An unlicensed private detective, he has no office, no assistant, no web presence of any kind, and charges seventy-five bucks an hour for his expertise. Sometimes he’ll take a job, start work right away, and quit for the day at some point before dawn. There is no typical Rader job, but there are quite a few he won’t touch. He has no relationship with the Brink City police department, and relies on local contacts, including another unlicensed PI, for intel. I start by asking him about those jobs he turns down, but Rader immediately gives a shake of his head. I’m still holding my glass. I move on, fast.
‘What do you think of Brink City?’
‘It’s an okay place to be a criminal.’
I’m not sure whether this is some kind of desert-dry wit or if he’s serious. I wonder who he’s talking about, but I don’t ask. His dark, brooding eyes show nothing. His face, which is long and unsmiling, has no visible scars, just a few crevices; these are not laughter lines, and I find myself concluding that John Rader has known some bad times in his thirty-plus years. I don’t know his age, but I’m certain he’s not yet forty. His hair, which is dark, thick, almost rough-looking, is upswept today, and shows no gray at all. His skin has the hint of a natural tan, and since this is December and we’re in Pennsylvania, I tell him that I’ve heard he likes to fly down to Mexico to get away from things.
Rader is frowning, and I’m beginning to wonder what he expected from an interview. He agreed, according to the journalist who set it up, because he was curious about the sort of person who’d want to know more about him. The journalist, Stanley Bellows, had assured me that it would take place somewhere very public during daylight hours. I take no comfort from the idea that he’d felt the need to say this, but as I look around the bar right now, with John Rader a few feet in front of me, I do feel relatively safe.
‘Mexico - Bellows mentioned this.’ I stop, and watch him for a few seconds.
He says, in that deep, tough, austere-sounding voice that offers no clue to his earlier years, other than that he is American (if not as apple pie), ‘A lot of people fly down to Mexico. Tijuana, for instance. There’s a lot of doctors.’
I smile at this, thinking about boob jobs, and wondering if this is what he means, even as I recognize that he’s shifting me away from where I want to go. For the first time he cracks a smile too, and I take a sip of beer and try not to gulp. I want to remember some of the questions I’ve worked out over the last week, and glance across into the rain for a moment.
Rader is very still, and when he places one of his large fists on the table I find myself looking back and thinking that he reminds me of a heavyweight fighter who isn’t carrying any extra weight. That he’s all lean muscle, but thick-boned and supple, as though there’s a fitness regime somewhere in his life. Does he go to the gym? I don’t even bother to ask. Does he run? Maybe, I think; that’s a possibility. I can see him pounding a bag in some dank basement, a look of grim intent in his eyes as he barely breaks sweat. Right now I scramble for some subject that he’ll feel at ease with, but begin to wonder if he’s the sort of man who would rather lie than actually give anything away about himself. Why do people like talking about their lives so much? Egotism seems a harsh judgement, but what else could be the motivation? John Rader, though, strikes me as a man who feels no need to brag, or to bond: this guy does not hunt in a pack. I’ve been told that he likes women, which isn’t saying very much. Somehow I can imagine that women, at least certain kinds of women, will like him. You get a sense sitting across from Rader that the stillness doesn’t mask a hidden fury, but that if sufficiently provoked he would be as cold-blooded as it took to deal with anyone that dumb.
‘Why Gramercy’s Bar, John?’ I ask him, and realize I’ve used his first name to his face.
Rader gives a shrug with his big shoulders. ‘Seemed convenient for both of us.’
I don’t bother to question the logic of this. I sip some more Coors and say, ‘You come here occasionally?’
‘It serves a purpose.’
This is revealing, or so I think. A guy like John Rader likes a sense of purpose. A watering hole where a group of buddies played pool and got loaded would be as alien to him as anything I can imagine. I see his elbow resting on the back of the seat. He cracks another smile. ‘What else?’ he says, and I begin to ask myself if he’s been playing up to my expectations. I’ve been told that he doesn’t open up to strangers. I change my strategy, and shift talk to an area where he’ll feel more comfortable.
‘You don’t plan to stay long here in Brink City? I’m aware that you’re seeing a local girl.’
‘No way. I’ve stayed longer than I thought I might. That was down to a woman. Actually two women. Everything runs its course.’
‘Where to next?’
Rader shakes his head. ‘No idea. I like it that way.’
I nod and lean forward, wondering why he’s opening up at this point. ‘You didn’t even intend to work here, did you?’
Rader sighs. ‘Look, I was seeing a woman, and so I stayed an extra day, an extra week. I figured I might as well keep busy while I’m in town. I took a job. A favor, really. And from that, I took another job. And so on.’
Rader is silent now, and I move away from this question.
‘That car you drive, the Shelby - that’s kind of conspicuous.’
‘Depends on the job. Sometimes there’s no need to stay hidden. I have other cars for other situations.’
‘A Shelby is a very nice toy.’
When Rader just grunts, I want to tell him what I’ve heard - that someone gave him this car, which stickers around the six figure mark.
‘Next question,’ he says. ‘You were talking about work.’
‘I heard there was a job you worked where…’ I begin to wonder what he might do if I get too specific about a delicate matter. I sit back. ‘There was a kidnapped girl. A tragic case.’
Rader gives a nod. His shoulders seem loose, his arm resting there on the top of the banquette. ‘I worked that case. I can’t talk about it, though.’
I find myself thinking that Rader might possess a slightly less icy side than most people will ever see. I smile and tell him, ‘I hear that you’re pretty low-tech in how you tackle cases. I’d be disappointed if that weren’t true somehow.’
‘I don’t rely on gadgets,’ he says, ‘but I do get results.’
‘What’s your success rate?’
‘I do okay.’
‘What attracts you to a case?’
‘Okay, first a couple of things are out,’ he says, and starts counting with his thick fingers. ‘One, I don’t like mob ties, which limits things in this town. Two, I don’t do any matrimonial stuff. The cases I take? Maybe I want something that’ll eat up no more than a few days. Or maybe the client interests me. There’s no pattern.’
‘Is money a motive?’
He frowns, but his arm is back resting along the top of the banquette and he’s showing an open enough posture that I sense he’s ready to take any question I want to ask. ‘Sure, money’s a motivation, but it doesn’t cloud my judgement.’
‘You ever figure something is just too dangerous?’
‘Plenty of times.’
‘It’s too dangerous, but it’s too late - you’re already in that situation.’
Rader nods. ‘I’m still here, aren’t I? I made it back.’
The word back hits me, and I study his gaze for what hellish roads he must’ve walked. Not just those that made him the man he is, but those other places too, the really dark ones that do no one any good. I glimpse nothing though, only the blackness of his eyes.
Dead air in an encounter with John Rader has an intensity that makes you want to fidget. I return to the idea that he’ll field anything I’ve got to offer.
‘Do you ever think about a sidekick? Someone to handle low-key questioning, maybe?’ He just watches me, and I add, ‘Someone gentler, I mean.’
Rader grunts again and moves his head, and I’m left unsure whether he does think about this or not. I approach from a different angle, knowing that I’m closer to the exit than he is.
‘You have kind of a brooding, dangerous air. Taciturn. More action, less talk. Very Charles Bronson, maybe Clint Eastwood. Not looks, John. Persona. You know?’ When Rader doesn’t react, I realize that I don’t really see him as any kind of movie fan: his excitement comes from real life, not from fantasy. Maybe he barely knows what I’m talking about. I add: ‘So, someone mild could be useful, in certain situations.’
‘Are you applying for the job?’
I laugh immediately, and feel a sense of relief. Still laughing, I say, ‘Maybe that’d be a good time to say it’s a wrap.’
‘While the going is good,’ Rader says, and cracks that stony smile again.
He rises up, and steps away from the table, looming over me. I grin and reach up to his hand and we shake. This is no eyeballing bone-crusher, but I get an instant sense of being in his mind now. Will he remember me in a week or month or in six months, and decide that he’s not comfortable with the idea of a freelance journalist from out of state thinking about him?
I look down and thank him for his time, and tell him good luck on whatever he’s got going on this month. Rader nods and lets go of my hand and walks away. Behind me I hear the door open. My eyes swivel to the rain-soaked street, but of course he’s gone. That means he turned right, away from the boulevard. I take a drink, and find a few of those unasked questions tumbling through my mind. I’m wondering where he’s gone to, and why. For a few seconds I actually think about following him through Brink City - just one more glimpse of his world. But I’m much too sensible for anything like that. And if I’m being honest, too afraid. I also have places to be - business, personal - and people who’ll worry if I don’t get there. Unlike John Rader.