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The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (Travis McGee Series #10)

The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (Travis McGee Series #10)

by John D. MacDonald, Lee Child

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From a beloved master of crime fiction, The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper is one of many classic novels featuring Travis McGee, the hard-boiled detective who lives on a houseboat.
He had done a big favor for her husband, then for the lady herself. Now she’s dead, and Travis McGee finds that Helena Pearson Trescott had one last request of him: to find out why her beautiful daughter Maureen keeps trying to kill herself. But what can a devil-may-care beach bum do for a young troubled mind?
McGee makes his way to the prosperous town of Fort Courtney, Florida, where he realizes pretty quickly that something’s just not right. Not only has Maureen’s doctor killed herself, but a string of murders and suicides are piling up—and no one seems to have any answers.
Just when it seems that things can’t get any stranger, McGee becomes the lead suspect in the murder of a local nurse. As if Maureen didn’t have enough problems, the man on a mission to save her will have to save himself first—before time runs out.
“The Travis McGee novels are among the finest works of fiction ever penned by an American author.”—Jonathan Kellerman

Featuring a new Introduction by Lee Child

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307826718
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/08/2013
Series: Travis McGee Series , #10
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 15,863
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

John D. MacDonald was an American novelist and short-story writer. His works include the Travis McGee series and the novel The Executioners, which was adapted into the film Cape Fear. In 1962 MacDonald was named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America; in 1980, he won a National Book Award. In print he delighted in smashing the bad guys, deflating the pompous, and exposing the venal. In life, he was a truly empathetic man; his friends, family, and colleagues found him to be loyal, generous, and practical. In business, he was fastidiously ethical. About being a writer, he once expressed with gleeful astonishment, “They pay me to do this! They don’t realize, I would pay them.” He spent the later part of his life in Florida with his wife and son. He died in 1986.

Date of Birth:

July 24, 1916

Date of Death:

December 28, 1986

Place of Birth:

Sharon, PA

Place of Death:

Milwaukee, WI


Syracuse University 1938; M.B. A. Harvard University, 1939

Read an Excerpt

It is one of the sorry human habits to play the game of: What was I doing when it happened?
After I heard that Helena Pearson had died on Thursday, the third day of October, I had no trouble reconstructing the immediate past.
That Thursday had been  the fourth and final day of a legitimate little  job of marine salvage. Meyer made a lot of small jokes about Travis McGee,  salvage expert,  actually doing some straight-arrow salvage. He kept saying it almost made my cover story believable. But he did not say such things for any ears but mine own.
Actually it was not my  ball game. Meyer gets himself involved in strange  little projects. Somewhere,  somehow  he had gotten interested in the ideas of a refugee Cuban chemist named Joe Palacio. So he had talked a mutual friend of ours, Bobby Guthrie, a damned good man with pumps and pressures and hydraulics, into listening to Joe’s ideas and going to Joe’s rooming house in Miami where Joe had set up a miniaturized demonstration in an old bathtub he had scrounged  somewhere.
When Bobby got high enough on the idea to quit his regular job, Meyer put in the money and they formed a little partnership and named  it Floatation Associates.
Then Meyer, in one of his mother hen moods,  sweet-talked me into donating my services, plus my houseboat, The Busted Flush, plus my swift little  Muñequita boat to the first actual salvage operation. So I had to take the Flush down  to a Miami yard where they winched aboard a big ugly diesel pump with special attachments rigged by Bobby Guthrie, some great lengths of what appeared  to be reinforced fire hose, and several fifty-fivegallon drums of  special  gunk mixed up by Joe Palacio, plus scuba tanks, air compressor,  tools, torches, and so on. Once I had topped  off the water and fuel tanks and laid aboard the provisions  and booze,  the old Flush  was as low in the water as I cared to see her. Even with all her beam, and that big  old bargetype hull, she had  to react to what Bobby estimated as seven thousand pounds of extra cargo. She seemed  a little discouraged about it.
“If she founders,” Meyer said pleasantly, “we’ll see if we can raise her with Palacio’s magic gunk.”
So we took  off down Biscayne Bay with  the Muñequita  in tow, heading for the lower Keys. We got an early  start and kept waddling along, and by last light we were far enough  down  Big Spanish  Channel to edge cautiously over into the shallows off Annette Key, in the lee of a southwest breeze, and drop a couple of hooks.
The immediate forecast was good, but there was an area of suspicion over near the Leeward Islands, and there was an official half month  of the whirly-girl  season left. Also the girls are known  to come screaming up through hurricane alley after the season is over.
Later I learned that Helena  Pearson  had written the letter to me that same Saturday, September 28th, the day after she guessed she wasn’t going to make it, the letter the attorney mailed,  still sealed, with his cover letter. And  with the certified check.
That  evening at anchor  aboard  The Busted Flush the   three Floatation associates were edgy. For Meyer it was simple  empathy.  He knew the risks  they  were  taking. Joe Palacio  had a chance to make a new career in his adopted land. Bobby Guthrie had a wife and five kids to worry  about. The three of them had periods of contagious enthusiasm,  and then they would get the doubts and the glooms  and the hollow laughter. If it worked on a very small scale in the scavenged  bathtub, that didn’t mean it was going to  work out in Hawk Channel, in the Straits of Florida, in seventy-five  feet of ocean.
In the morning  we went south down Big Spanish, past No Name Key, and under the fixed bridge between Bahia Honda Key and Spanish Harbor Key. Then the overladen Flush was out in the deeps, and we had a nine-mile run at about 220 degrees to lonely little Looe Key, across a slow heave of greasy swell. Soon I was able to pick up the red marker  on Looe with the glasses. On the way, while on automatic pilot, I had figured out the quickest and best way to run if things blew  up too suddenly. I would pour on all the coal and run just a shade east of magnetic north, perhaps  8 degrees, and if I could manage  to make eight knots, I could tuck the Flush into Newfound  Harbor Channel in maybe forty minutes,  and find a protected pocket depending on the wind,  maybe in Coupon Bight or close offshore by Little Torch Key.
Bobby Guthrie had the coordinates on the sunken  pleasure boat. She lay a half  mile southwest  of Looe Key. She’d been down  there for two months.  She was the ’Bama Gal, owned  by a Tampa hotelman, about ninety  thousand dollars’  worth of cabin cruiser, only six months  old. Forty-six  feet, fiberglass hull, twin diesels. The hotelman and his wife  and another couple had been out fishing and the hotelman had keeled over with a heart attack while fighting a billfish. Nobody else aboard knew how to run the ship-to-shore  radio. They barely knew how to run the boat. There was a tug with a tow of three barges about a half mile  farther out, so they figured that the tug would have a radio they could use  to call a Coast Guard helicopter and get the man to a hospital. The guest ran the boat over toward the tug and cut the engines and they all started  waving their arms. Maybe they thought  that tugs  and barges have some kind of braking system. The tug captain tried evasive  tactics, but mass and momentum were too much. The forward port corner of the lead barge  put a big ugly hole in the cruiser, but the crew launched a skiff and got the people  off in good order before she went down. By the time the Coast Guard  arrived,  the owner was as dead as the other fish they had caught, which had gone down with the cruiser.
The insurance  company had paid off  on the cruiser,  and Meyer had gotten  a release from  them, so any recovery  was going to be profit—if we could bring  it up, tow it in, and find something worth money.
So on that Sunday I worked the Flush into the most protected water that Looe provides. It is shaped like a backward “J” that has fallen onto its back,  and I put the hooks out in shoal water, as close as I could get without risking being hard aground  at low tide. We took the Muñequita out and located the ’Bama Gal after about forty minutes  of skin diving and looking. We made a bright red buoy fast to her, and then I ran the Muñequita  upcurrent, put the anchor down in about seventy  feet, and let her come  back to the buoy before snubbing  her down, almost at the end of my four hundred feet of anchor line. Not enough scope to be sure of holding.
We had just the two sets of tanks aboard the Muñequita, so I went down with Joe Palacio to get a good  look at what condition she was in. She lay on a little slope, bow higher than the stern, and she was on about a fifteen-degree list to port,  making the hole in the starboard side, a little aft of  amidships, easy to see. She was picking up new grass and weed and green slime, but it wasn’t too bad yet. We had expected  to find her picked clean of everything the skin-diver  kids could lift, but by some freak of chance they hadn’t found her. The big rods with their Finor reels were still in the rod holders. Binoculars, booze,  cameras, tackle boxes, rifle, sunglasses—all   the toys and gear and gadgets  that people take to sea were either stowed or lay on the cockpit, cabin, or fly-bridge decking. While Joe busied himself with studying  the hatches and the interior layout, and measuring interior spaces,  I kept assembling  bundles of goodies and, with a couple  of pulls on the dangling line, sending them  up into the sunlight.
When we went up, I found  that all the stuff had looked better down  in the depths, green and shadowy, than up on the deck of my runabout, all sodden, leaking, and corroded.
Monday we took the Flush  out and anchored her over  the wreck and worked   all day, in shifts, beefing  up those places where  Palacio thought the floatation might come busting out, and also cutting through some interior bulkheads  to make a free
flow of water through all the belowdecks  areas, and fastening some plywood against the inside  of the hull where  the big hole was. Whenever we came across anything we could tie a line to and  lift to the surface, we did so.
The weather held on Tuesday and by noon Joe was satisfied that we were ready to try. We took the reinforced hose down and clamped   it securely  in place,  leading  it through  the hole we’d cut into the damaged  side above the waterline.  We had made no attempt  to  make her watertight. That  was the  last thing Palacio wanted.
Bobby  Guthrie   got  his funny-looking  pump   going. It throbbed, smoked, and stank, but it pulled water up through the intake hose dangling over the side and pumped it down  and into the wreck and out through dozens of small openings  here and there. Palacio  was very nervous. His hands shook  as he clamped the small hoses  that led from three drums  of separate kinds of gunk  to the brass nipples  on a fitting on the big hose that led  down to  the  wreck. He had flow  gauges and hand pumps on each drum. As Meyer had explained  it to me, Gunk One reacted with the water, raising its temperature. Then Gunk Two and Gunk  Three interacted with the heated water as they went swirling down, and when they were released inside  the hull  down below, they  separated  into big blobs and, in the cooler water,  solidified into a very lightweight  plastic full of millions of little bubbles full of the gases released through their interaction on each other and the heated water. Palacio had the three of us manning  the hand pumps and he hopped back and forth from one flow gauge  to the other, speeding one man up, slowing another down.  There was, after about ten minutes,  a sudden eruption about forty feet down-current, and a batch of irregular yellow-white chunks the size of cantaloupe appeared and, floating very high on the water, went moving  swiftly away in the slight breeze.
Palacio stopped us and cut the flow. Guthrie  turned off the big pump. We went down and found that the ventilator on the forward deck had blown out. By the time it was secure,  it was time to quit. All day Wednesday there was pump trouble of one kind or another. We thought Palacio would break  down and start sobbing.
By midday Thursday everything seemed  to be working well for about forty minutes.  My arm began  to feel leaden. Palacio was gnawing his knuckles. Suddenly Guthrie gave a roar of surprise. The hose began to stand up out of the water like a snake and a moment later the big cruiser came porpoising up, so fast and so close that it threw a big wave aboard, drenching us and killing the pump. She rocked back and forth, streaming  water, riding high and handsome. We stomped and yelled and laughed like idiots. She was packed full of those lightweight brittle blobs of foam, and I tried not to think of how damned  foolish I had been to never  even think of what could have happened  if she had come up that fast and directly under  the Flush.
We wasted no time rigging  for towing.  We were  getting more swell and I did not like the feel of the wind.  Between  periods of dead calm there would come a hot, moist  huff, like a gigantic exhalation. I set it up with short towlines, the Flush in the lead, of course, the salvaged ’Bama Gal in the middle,  and Bobby Guthrie aboard the Muñequita in the rear. I broke out the pair of walkie-talkies because the bulk of the ’Bama Gal made hand signals to Bobby back there impossible. The system was for him to keep the Muñequita’s pair of OMC 120’s idling in neutral,  and if  our tow  started to swing, he could give the engines a little touch of reverse and pull it back into line. I knew the inboard-outboards  could idle all day without overheating. Also, when I had to stop the Flush down for traffic, Bobby could keep it from riding up on our stern.
It was early Saturday afternoon before we got her to MerrillStevens at Dinner  Key, and we had to work her in during a flat squall, in a hard gray driving rain, the wind gusting and whistling. I’d phoned a friend via the Miami marine operator earlier in the day, so they were waiting  for us. We shoved  the ’Bama Gal into the slings  and  they picked  her out of the water and put her on a cradle and ran her along the rails and into one of the big sheds. Palacio wore a permanent, broad, dreaming grin.
The dockmaster assigned me a slip for the Flush and space in the small  boat  area  for the Muñequita.  By the time we were properly moored, hooked into shoreside power, and had showered and shaved and changed, heavy rain was drumming down, and it  was very snug in the lounge  aboard  The Busted Flush, lights  on, music on, ice in the glasses, Meyer threatening  to make his famous beef stew with chili, beans, and eggs, never the same way twice running. Guthrie had phoned his wife and she was going to drive down from Lauderdale  to pick him up Sunday morning. They were  tapping the Wild  Turkey bourbon we’d found aboard the Gal, and I was sticking to Plymouth  on ice. Meyer kept everybody from going too far overboard in estimating  profit. He kept demanding we come up with “the minimum expectation, gentlemen.”
So we kept going over what would probably have to be done and came up with a maximum  fifteen thousand  to put her in shape, and a minimum forty-five thousand return after brokerage commission.
That is the best kind of argument,  trying to figure out how much you’ve made. It is good to hear the thunder of tropic rain, to feel the muscle  soreness  of  hard manual   labor when you move, to have a chill glass in your hand, know the beginnings of ravenous hunger, realize that in a few hours even a bunk made of cobblestones would feel deep  and soft and inviting.
They wanted me to  come into  the fledgling  partnership, with twenty-five  percent of the action. But struggling ventures should not be cut too many ways. Nor did I want the responsibility, that ever-present awareness of people depending on me permanently to make something work. They were too proud— Guthrie and Palacio—to accept my efforts as a straight donation, so after some inverted haggling we agreed  that I would take two thousand in the form of a note at six percent, payable in six months. They wanted  to put their take  back into improved equipment and go after a steel barge sunk in about fifty feet of water just outside Boca Grande Pass.
I was sprawled and daydreaming,  no longer hearing  their words as they talked excitedly  of plans and projects, hearing only the blur of their voices through the music.
“Didn’t we make it that time in an hour and a half ? Hey! Trav!”
Meyer was snapping his fingers at me. “Make what?” I asked. “That run from Lauderdale  to Bimini.”
They had stopped  talking business.  I could remember that ride  all too well. “Just under an hour and a half from the sea buoy at Lauderdale  to the first channel  marker at Bimini.”
“In what?” Guthrie asked.
I told him what it had been,  a Bertram 25 rigged for ocean racing with a pair of big hairy three hundreds in it, and enough chop in the Stream  so that I had to work  the throttles and the wheel every moment, so that when she went off a crest and was airborne, she would come down flat.  Time it wrong  and hit wrong, and you can trip them over.
“What was the rush?” Bobby asked.
“We were meeting a plane,” Meyer said.
And I knew at that moment he too was thinking of Helena Pearson and a very quick and dirty salvage job of several years back. We were both thinking of her, with no way of knowing she had been dead two days, no way of knowing  her letter was at Bahia Mar waiting for me.
Even without the knowledge  of her death, Helena was a disturbing memory . . .

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