Farrah Graham and Jimmy Doubts, hosts of the Uncorking a Murder podcast, are back in Michael Carlon’s new comedic mystery Motel California.
Unlike the song of a similar title, the Motel California isn’t a lovely place—a fact that Jimmy learns the hard way when he’s framed for the murder of an outlaw country artist hellbent on distancing himself from his past.
Farrah has her own cross to bear as a patent troll has surfaced looking to put an end to Uncorking a Murder unless their outrageous demands can be met. The stakes couldn’t be higher as Jimmy races against the clock to prove his innocence and Farrah fights for their future.
Identical twin detectives who incessantly argue about glam rock, a sociopathic cowboy with an axe to grind, an adult film actress running away from “Silicone Valley,” and a mob boss addicted to home improvement television round out the cast of Motel California, a tale that could only be told in the backdrop of a city as colorful as LA.
Readers who appreciate the vibrant characters of Carl Hiaasen, the wit of Jonathan Tropper, and the humor of both should check into the Motel California; there’s plenty of room.
Host of the Uncorking a Murder podcast. She’s in LA with her producer to promote the latest season.
Tech entrepreneur and Jimmy’s cousin.
Foot soldier in the Carbona crime family and aspiring writer.
Producer of Uncorking a Murder who’s framed for the murder of an outlaw country musician.
Aspiring actress who’s been manipulated into joining the adult film industry.
Outlaw country star trying hard to distance himself from his past as a children’s musician.
Peaceful Easy Feeling
Joe Feld was disgusted by the fat man’s use of bread to sop up the remaining Francaise sauce from his plate, an action that was accompanied by a slurping sound that Feld found both unnerving and distasteful. Ordinarily, the topic of breaking a man’s legs isn’t usually discussed over a plate of chicken Francaise. Conventional mob wisdom dictates that such a discussion be held over something with a red sauce such as chicken Parmigiana or, better yet, Cacciatore, but this was South Florida and that meant conventional thinking could be thrown out the window.
A graduate of MIT, Joe Feld just inked a deal to sell his tech company, Fast Lane, for twenty-five million dollars to an LA-based conglomerate looking to the mobile sector as a path to growth. While the money wasn’t yet in his account, he had plans to invest in a new venture, one closely tied to a childhood dream. To realize it, though, he needed the fat man’s help and that’s what brought him down to Pompano Beach.
Gianni’s restaurant is a Pompano staple, a town where the fat man, mob boss Anthony Carbona, spent the winter months. At sixty-six years old, Carbona’s blood was thinner than it used to be, and he simply couldn’t take the New York winters any longer. The fact that the mercury in the thermometer had only climbed to the fifty-six-degree mark had him in an extraordinarily foul mood.
The restaurant was named after his oldest son, who had an important role to play in the family business. Carbona was involved in racketeering, loan sharking, and illegal gambling and needed a way to clean his money. A cash-only restaurant was perfect for that purpose, and the oldest Carbona boy was more than happy to help his father wash his cash. He couldn’t be any more different than his younger brother Michael, whose proficiency in math and science propelled him to the halls of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a degree in astrophysics. Michael was the reason Anthony was having the discussion he was having over a plate of lightly pan-fried chicken in a lemon and white wine reduction.
“Let me ask youse something,” the mob boss said with a mouth full of food, “how comes you scientist types keep talking about global warming and it’s not even sixty degrees in South Florider?”
Even if he wanted to hide his New York accent, Anthony couldn’t. It was as much a part of him as his pinky, which was adorned by a diamond-encrusted ring commemorating his April birthday (though Anthony privately wished he was born one month later as he felt emerald green was more his color).
“Personally, I think global warming is a hoax created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Joe Feld didn’t believe the words that just came out of his mouth. In fact, they were posted on social media by the current president of the United States back in 2012 when he was still a reality TV star. Feld said it because he thought it’s what the mobster wanted to hear; he had a knack for telling people exactly what they wanted to hear.
“Smart answer, kid,” Anthony said while tearing a piece of bread in half. Joe noticed the man had hands like baseball mitts and didn’t have a hard time believing they could pulverize another man’s bones.
“My son Mikey tells me you are about to sell your company for a mint, so why is it some soon-to-be Internet rich guy is having lunch with a guy like me at a restaurant in Pompano Beach that is technically closed on Mondays?”
Joe was a classmate of Michael’s. After graduating, Michael went on to further his education in a doctoral program while Joe started Fast Lane. They graduated number one and number two in their class, respectively.
On the surface, Fast Lane was similar to ride share competitors Uber and Lyft—people used the app to arrange rides from other users willing to turn their cars into taxis. While Joe majored in computer science and engineering, he minored in behavioral psychology and built operant conditioning principles into the app as a way of differentiating it from the competition. Software randomly gave users free rides—a feature that explained its growth trajectory, but that’s not all. It also doubled or tripled the fee paid to drivers on a random basis (at the company’s expense). This led to a glut of drivers eager to service the fast-growing user base. Anthony took the meeting with Joe as a favor to his youngest son.
“Mr. Carbona, I have a business proposition for you.”
Carbona put down the piece of bread he was using to clean his plate of the last remnants of sauce and stared Feld right in the eyes.
“I don’t know what Mikey has told you about the family business, kid, but I ain’t what youse might call a traditional businessman.”
“Let me explain,” Joe said smugly, clearly not intimidated by Carbona’s change in tone. “I’m looking to take some of my money and fund a comeback tour for a band I loved when I was a kid.”
“Good for youse, kid, but I ain’t exactly the Make-a-Wish Foundation.”
“I’m not asking for your money, Mr. Carbona, but I do need a man with your type of connections to see that the deal goes through.”
“The band I want to bring on tour was very popular in the 90s. There were four members: Glenn, Donnie, Randy, and Bernie…”
“Sounds like a fuckin’ boy band,” Carbona interrupted.
“Not quite,” Joe replied, but held back the true nature of the band. “When they disbanded twenty years ago, they signed a contract stipulating they could never tour again unless they all agreed to it. Three of the guys are on board, but one is refusing to participate.”
“Let me guess, you need my help in getting one of these pussies to see the light.”
“Bernie was their guitarist and wrote all of their songs. He’s reinvented himself and has a new album to promote. He’s adamant about keeping as far a distance as he can from the old days.”
“I gotta ask, kid, why do you give a shit? Find another band or something else to invest in.”
“Mr. Carbona, nostalgic acts like theirs pulled in tens of millions of dollars on tour last year, and every other band is already doing something. I’ve been in discussions with their former manager and I’m pretty sure I can double my investment. It’s a license to print money.”
Carbona contemplated what Feld just told him. The mob boss could certainly empathize with wanting to make some quick cash and, given the kid was a friend of his son’s, decided to help him out. Plus, Carbona had his own connections in the music business and knew that what Feld said about nostalgia acts was true.
“Whaddya need from me?”
Joe smiled. “Bernie is going to be in LA this week promoting his new album. On Thursday night, he’ll be attending a party at a suite in the Hotel Palomino…”
Carbona interrupted, “How come youse know so much about his schedule?”
“Because I arranged the party and hired him to make an appearance.”
Carbona was satisfied with Feld’s answer. “Continue.”
“I just need you to send a guy over to the hotel to have a chat with Bernie and tell him it’s cool if he doesn’t want to reunite with his former band, but that it would be in his best interest if he allows them to tour with a new guitarist.”
“And if he turns my guy’s offer down?”
Feld looked at the mob boss square in his eyes. “Your guy breaks his fucking legs.”
“You’ve seen way too many movies, kid. How’s about you leave the method of convincing to me.” It was a statement, not a question.
“You’re the boss,” Feld said.
“Now there’s another matter we need to come to an agreement on.” Carbona let his last word hang until Feld caught his drift.
“Fifty large oughta do it.”
When Feld didn’t blink at the number, Carbona countered his own offer. “Make that seventy-five. Yeah, dat sounds better. Now I usually ask for half now and half after the job is done, but since youse friends with Mikey you can pay me afterwards. Deal?” Carbona extended his hand across the table. Feld shook it.
Carbona started to relax. “Gianni,” he shouted, “I’m done. Take my plate and bring me an espresso.”
Almost immediately, a tall and painfully thin man with shoulder-length hair and a beard came and removed a plate.
“Joe, you ever meet Mikey’s brother Gianni?”
“Can’t say that I have.”
“Gianni, Joe here went to college with your brother. In my day, college meant something else.” Carbona laughed. Old-time gangsters like him referred to doing time as going to college.
“Nice to meet you,” Gianni said, avoiding eye contact.
“You want espresso too?” Gianni asked.
“No, thank you.”
“I don’t trust a man who doesn’t drink espresso,” Gianni said to his father.
“That’s enough, Gianni,” his father said. “Joe’s a friend of mine now.”
Gianni left, and Anthony looked Joe in the eyes. “You seem awfully comfortable for a man that just asked me to potentially break another man’s legs.”
“I gotta peaceful easy feeling about it, Mr. Carbona.”
In Feld’s mind, he was a master of the universe and was in complete control over his destiny. Nothing could go wrong with a plan that someone with his brains and talents concocted. He wasn’t blinded by hubris, he bathed in it.
Motel California is ultimately about how extreme jealously can fuel the desire to kill. It’s a fun ride Rock-and-Roll ride through LA that has as many twists and turns as Laurel Canyon.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Carlon is marketing professional, author, and the host of the Uncorking a Story podcast which features depth interviews with A-List authors as well as personal, motivating reflections from conversations Mike has had with the people he meets. He’s the author of the successful Farrah Graham series of books as well as stand alone novels inlcuding Return to Casa Grande, Winning Streak, and the hilarious All the F*cks I Cannot Give.
When he is not writing a novel, a magazine article, or a piece for his local newspaper, Mike earns his living as a marketing consultant traveling around the country interviewing people about their experiences with and attitudes towards his clients’ products and services. He is an expert at understanding what makes people tick and translating those insights into intelligence his clients can use to make better decisions.
Mike lives in Stamford, CT with his wife Nicole and their college-aged triplets Grace, Patrick, and Maggie. He holds a BA in Psychology from the University of Connecticut and an MBA with a concentration in marketing from Fairfield University.