Double Up by Gretchen Archer is the 6th Davis Way Crime Caper (available March 21, 2017).
On behalf of USA Today bestselling author Gretchen Archer and the entire Henery Press crew, welcome aboard flight Double Up. Fasten your seatbelts for non-stop action as stiff competition blows into town and the resulting turbulence threatens to take down the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. Super Secret Spy Davis Way Cole, who lives on the twenty-ninth floor of the hotel with her CEO husband and newborn twins, takes it hard. If the casino goes belly up, she won’t be a stay-at-home mom because she won’t have a home. Not to mention her husband won’t have a job.
Davis can’t find a way to stop the inevitable end of the Bellissimo life she loves until her ex-ex-mother-in-law shows up, unexpected and definitely uninvited. Davis makes the best of a bad Bea Crawford situation and recruits her for a little corporate espionage work, which would’ve been great, had Bea not turned out to be the world’s worst spy.
Seatbacks and tray tables in their upright positions as we prepare for a bumpy ride with babies, bankruptcies, besties, and shrimp. (Shrimp?)
Enjoy your flight.
Just like that, the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, went broke.
It was my fault.
My name is Davis Way Cole and I take full responsibility for a seven-hundred-million-dollar corporation going belly-up. And when it’s official, any minute now, my husband Bradley, who’s president and CEO of the Bellissimo, will be out of a job. Not only that, we live on the twenty-ninth floor of the hotel and I doubt the new owners will let us stay. Which means we’ll be homeless too.
And it was all my fault.
Eighteen months ago, a limited liability partnership out of Rhode Island paid a large fortune for fifty-two acres across the Back Bay of Biloxi in D’Iberville, three miles north of the Bellissimo.
I could see it from my terrace.
The LLP, Blitz, Inc., had the deepest of pockets, because the fifty-two acres weren’t sitting there waiting to be bought. The Rhode Island company paid double, quadruple, and in one case—the holdout: a barbecue shrimp shack operating out of a 1980Airstream on a postage-stamp-sized swampy back lot—a thousand times what the property was worth. Included in the sweeping buyout of the Bay was the crown jewel, the most coveted strip of property in all of D’Iberville, maybe in all of Harrison County—twenty perfect waterfront acres owned by a blind preservation trust that had been, for as long as anyone could remember, notoriously not for sale. Until Blitz somehow acquired it. One day the Back Bay was homes, fishing docks, and a twenty-acre wildlife sanctuary. The next it was a long clean stretch of prime commercial property with a new landlord—Blitz, Inc.
In my four years as lead Bellissimo Super Secret Spy, my job responsibilities had grown to include telepathy, clairvoyance, and turning water into wine, so obviously my team, not to mention my husband, looked to me to stay ahead of events that could impact operations at our beachfront resort. A Rhode Island company buying up half of D’Iberville certainly fell under that heading, so I’d done my due diligence and looked into it. For all of ten minutes.
Blitz, Inc. was a division of the Johnsung Corporation. Talk about diversity. Johnsung owned shipyards, hotels, banks, shopping malls, a cable network, amusement parks in Hong Kong and integrated circuit technology companies in the San Francisco Bay area. At the helm of the conglomerate was a man named Elias Johnson. Elias was eighty-four years old, had outlived four wives, was worth a blue bazillion dollars, and in addition to having twelve design patents under his belt, including the technology behind television remote controls—someone had to invent them—he was the founder of the SPFLA, the Semi-Pro Football League of America. SPFLA was publicly listed as a subsidiary of Blitz, Inc., a division of the Johnsung Corporation.
Elias had seven daughters, two by his first wife and five by his third, and the daughters produced twenty-two sons. With the exception of grandson number four, the one with dreadlocks who moved out west to attend theological seminary and wouldn’t wear pants, and grandson number twelve, who graduated from the Air Force Academy and spent the next two decades in the military, the other twenty grandsons went to work for their grandfather. Half were accountants and attorneys, the rest were CEOs of various divisions of the megacorporation that was Johnsung.
Christmas at their house had to be incredible.
D’Iberville wound up with grandson number nineteen, Hyatt Johnson, President and CEO of Blitz. General speculation had it that Hyatt was Elias’s favorite because he played football and because he wore the last name. Which was a fluke. Hyatt’s mother, Evelyn née Johnson, married one Roger Johnson, making her Evelyn Johnson Johnson, which I thought was nice for her in terms of the DMV and monogrammed pillows. Regardless, when the other twenty grandsons tagged Hyatt on Snapchat (the monk wasn’t on social media), it was with the hashtag #chosenone.
I wasn’t football crazy by any stretch, but I got it—Blitz. It was a football maneuver. (I thought.) (I was pretty sure.) Nothing in Hyatt Johnson’s resumè raised a flag: Iowa Hawkeye Hall of Famer, All-American safety, Heisman Trophy runner-up, firstround NFL draft pick, blew out a knee in the second quarter of his first home game in Dallas. Everyone assumed, with his Sports Illustrated good looks, A-list girlfriend, and his billionaire grandfather, Hyatt Johnson would go into broadcasting at ESPN or the Football Channel. (Was there a channel just for football?) (It felt like there were twenty channels just for football.) But after a meniscus transplant and three microfracture surgeries followed by six months of unsuccessful physical rehabilitation, Hyatt limped home to Rhode Island to head up Blitz selling minor-league football franchises all over America in cities just like Biloxi, i.e. not large enough to support pro teams. Which I, and everyone else, assumed they were doing here. On the Back Bay.
“What’s going on in D’Iberville, Davis?” My immediate supervisor, Jeremy Covey, a tank of a man—former Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, then head of security at the Bellissimo, future unemployment-benefit recipient—took his seat at our weekly roundtable on that long ago fateful Monday morning.
“Football,” I announced. “We’re getting a football stadium.”
“Stadium?” No Hair asked. (Jeremy Covey was egg bald, which is why I called him No Hair.) (He said bald was the new black.)
“Just a stadium?”
“Well, surely a team too,” I said. “What do you think they’ll name it? The Biloxi Gamblers?”
“Has it been announced we’re getting a football team?” My husband, Bradley Cole, didn’t look up from his P&L statement, which, at the time, was all P. “I haven’t heard a word about a football team. That’d be big news, Davis.”
I dug for the thin notes I had somewhere in my spy bag and introduced them to Elias Johnson, the Johnsung Corporation, the Semi-Pro Football League of America, and Blitz, Inc. Then I rattled off Hyatt Johnson’s vital and record-breaking statistics.
“Football,” I said. “What else would it be?”
“I remember that Dallas game.” A goose walked over No Hair’s grave. “The bottom half of that boy’s leg was going the wrong way.”
Bradley looked out the conference room window and across the Bay. “Football?”
The room grew still as we quietly contemplated tailgate parties. At least that’s what I quietly contemplated.
“Anything out of the ordinary on the land purchase?” my husband asked.
“The blind trust is still blind.”
“How’s that out of the ordinary?” he asked.
“Don’t you want to know who owned it?”
“Does it matter?”
“I think it does,” I said. “A mystery man sits on a prime tract of land for decades, turns down a thousand offers, then for some reason, up and sells?”
“What if it was a mystery woman?” No Hair asked.
Bradley was back in his P&L. “Obviously, the seller wants to remain anonymous.”
I poured myself a cup of coffee. “A woman would never sell a bird sanctuary to a football team.”
“If she needed the money, she would,” No Hair said. “Whoever sold that property needed cash. Find someone around here who needed a quick ten million, Davis, and you’ll find the person we can thank for a football team. We’re going to need sky boxes.”
He jotted himself a note. “And a corporate suite.”
“We don’t need a corporate suite.” Richard Sanders, owner of the Bellissimo, blew in the door and around the conference table dropping thick glossy folders in front of everyone. “We need deck shoes.” He took his seat and smiled. “We’re going on a cruise.”
It was the first we’d heard of a cruise and the last we heard of football for a long time, because from that moment on, our energies, waking hours, and capital gains were devoted to the Bellissimo’s quarter-billion-dollar investment in a luxury floating casino, the S.S. Probability. That’s a quarter billion. But it was Mr. Sanders’s money. And he could spend it however he wanted, or, as it turned out, lose it however he wanted.
The cruise ship experiment almost put the Bellissimo under, and it wouldn’t go away. In the aftermath of the maiden, and only, Bellissimo-sponsored voyage, the books bled red. We were operating at a loss for the first time since the doors opened. The adventure was behind us, thank goodness, but far from over, because we were defendants in a class action lawsuit opposite forty-eight plaintiffs suing the Bellissimo for “abstruse winnings.” And the irony there was that the forty-eight plaintiffs could buy our operation with the loose billion-dollar bills they pulled out of their pockets and threw down with their Rolls Royce keys at the end of the day. Yet they were suing us, because we couldn’t verify what they’d won or lost in the Probability casino. Thus the abstruse winnings.
Which, ahem, also turned out to be my fault.
My point? We’d known for a year that Blitz bought the Bay.
Three months after the papers were signed, we lived in a dust cloud when they brought in fifty bulldozers and cleared the land. A month after that, it was the lead story at five for a week when Blitz bought every Katrina Cottage the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency had been trying to unload for ten years, shipped them in, dropped the mini-houses in the parking lot of a long-defunct Kmart in the next-door town of Gautier, then moved in a construction crew of twelve hundred.
Blitz built a Company Town.
They put La-Z-Boys, Netflix, and pool tables in the empty Kmart.
I couldn’t begin to answer that question before Blitz made their most disconcerting move: They closed the construction site. They built a twenty-four-foot-tall privacy fence around the fifty-two acres, and another interior privacy fence near the waterline at—I assumed—the stadium site. Visibility zero, guards posted around the clock, and the property just happened to be in a thin strip of nearby Keesler Air Force Base’s no-fly zone, so we couldn’t even get an aerial peek at what Blitz was doing behind the black fences. We never saw it coming because we couldn’t see it coming.
And now the Bellissimo was going under.
Thanks to me.
If I’d been doing my job, I could have stopped it. Or at least slowed it down. At the bare minimum, we could have been prepared. To say I felt responsible was to say there were stars in the sky, the desert was hot, and Bill Gates had a little money in the bank.
There was a reason I’d dropped the ball so hard. In fact, there were two.
The day my husband and I stood on our terrace and watched through binoculars as bulldozers mowed down the Bay was the day we found out we were pregnant. The day the news broke that Blitz bought hundreds of tiny houses from MEMA was the day after Bradley and I learned we were having twins. The day the construction crews rolled in from all over the southeast to occupy Kmart Estates just happened to be the day our general operations and casino manager, Bryant Ramsey, walked off the job. He left a note on his desk: Sanders, Cole, and you too Covey, I’m thrilled to inform you I’m resigning as of this minute. Consider this bridge burned. And when the fences went up, which was when I should’ve dropped everything, I couldn’t drop anything, because I was six months pregnant with twins cruising the Caribbean on the S.S. Probability.
What happened next would prove to be the worst day ever for the Bellissimo Resort and Casino and the very best day ever for Mr. and Mrs. Bradley Cole. The day the privacy fences came down and the scaffolding shot up, the day Blitz could no longer hide the fact that they weren’t building a football stadium, was the very day our twins were born. Bradley and I became parents to two perfect babies on a Friday morning in July, and the Biloxi Sun Herald headline read, “A Forty-Story Football Stadium? We Don’t Think So.”
From my living room on the twenty-ninth floor of the Bellissimo, I spent the rest of the year breastfeeding, truly, around the clock, and looking through my Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker telescope watching Blitz build out their hotel-resort-casino.
Billboards went up across the Southeast: Blitz. The Best Play.
Copyright © 2017 Gretchen Archer.
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Gretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher educations, ran off and left her. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, son, and a Yorkie named Bently. Double Whammy, her first Davis Way Crime Caper, was a Daphne du Maurier Award finalist and hit the USA TODAY Bestsellers List. Double Up is the sixth Davis Way Crime Caper.