Harvey Trent was prone on his bed in the totally dark room when he felt them crawling on his chest. He had problems before with bed mites and had sprayed the mattress with some god-awful smelling spray that forced him to sleep on the couch for a week. The crawling continued and he was determined to ignore the damn bugs. Harvey told himself he was probably dreaming and to snub the minuscule creatures, they would go away, but they didn't. Then he suddenly felt something like a large feather brush over his chest, causing the tiny creatures to act agitated and then it happened, the first bite. Then a couple more, then a lot of tiny bites. Now he was feeling pain and a burning sensation, so he got up and went to the bathroom. He flipped on the light and turned to the mirror above the sink, what he saw almost made his heart stop. A dozen or so spiders were hanging on to his chest and stomach still biting.
He screamed and ran to the shower, turned on the spray and jumped in brushing the damn beasts off off his body. He watched as a few went down the drain and managed to get most of them off of him in the stream of water. He batted at the ones still hanging on and finally flicked the last one off. He now was looking at the tiny welts that were forming from the bites and they were burning worse now.
He climbed out of the tub and did a quick drying with a towel, moving back to the mirror to see the red bumps were not going away. He knew he was in trouble as he looked closely to one of the spiders that had landed in his sink; it had a red lantern shape on its back, a Black Widow! He was feeling nauseous now and was becoming dizzy. The phone he thought, he needed help, so he staggered to the living room bouncing off the walls and fell at the table where the phone sat. He managed to push 911 and when the voice came on, he screamed, "I'm dying from spider bites, help!"
As he lay on the floor dying, a dark clothed figure stepped around him, closing the container that minutes before held the dozen tiny spiders. The figure put the container and a plume feather in a back pack and then took out a self-inking rubber stamp from the backpack and pressed it to Harvey's forehead, leaving an ink mark, then the person quickly left the house. Harvey never felt the ink stamp, he was dead.
It was now five in the morning and Joseph Lang, the Clark County-Las Vegas medical examiner, was trying to finish his sandwich just outside the house when Detective Lynn Carter along with her partner, both as a cop and at home, Deacon DeAngelo came up. "Hey Joey, whatcha got?" Lynn asked.
"Ham on rye with horseradish," he replied nonchalantly.
Lynn looked at him for a moment, "No, I mean what have you got for the crime scene?"
"Oh, guy died from spider bites," he mumbled as he chewed his food.
"Okay, why was homicide called in?"
"That's the fun part; he was murdered with spiders, Black Widows. Someone dumped a bunch of the buggers on him and they did their thing and bit him to death." He swallowed the last bite of the sandwich. "Now I can go back in." He crumpled the sandwich wrapper and put it in the pocket of his coat then walked to the entrance of the house.
Lynn stood there not moving and Deacon asked her, "Aren't you going in? I know you really hate spiders but I'm sure they have the crime scene secured."
She looked at him with a fear in her eyes that he had never seen before, even when confronting a gun toting madman. "One spider is bad; a bunch of spiders is not good. You go in and check it out; I'll wait here for you."
Deacon looked around the ground and said, "There's probably more spiders in this yard than there are in the house right now."
"You are a mean son-of-a-bitch." She said and forced herself to go forward into the house. She saw the body of the late Harvey Trent by the overturned coffee table, the phone still in his hand. He was totally naked and she bent down to see the red welts on his upper body. Joe Lang was checking the body. "I thought a Black Widow's bite wouldn't kill you right away." Lynn said.
Lang looked to her, "Well, one bite would take a short while to kill, but I counted fourteen bites, so you do the math."
Lynn straightened up on hearing the number of bites, looking around for all those spiders. Lang could sense her tension and said, "All the spiders are gone, either washed down the drain in the tub or smashed by Trent here as he attempted to brush them off. Just my expert opinion."
That didn't help Lynn's tension. Deacon came up behind her and said her name causing her to jump. "Do you want to see the bedroom?" he asked.
"Yeah, sure, we can do that." They walked down the hall and Deacon could see that Lynn was looking all around, checking for attacks from spiders. He was trying not to make light of it, knowing she really hated spiders.
They did a quick exam of the bedroom and didn't see much. "Has CSI been though this room?" she asked.
"Yep, about an hour ago," said Lang from the hallway as he was heading to the bathroom just off the bedroom. Lynn followed him in and they stood examining the sink to see the dead spider in the bowl. Lynn turned and went out after seeing the tiny creature, fearing it would come back to life and jump her.
Lang turned to Deacon still standing in the bathroom, "She doesn't like spiders does she?"
"Nope, I'm the one who has to kill the things if they get in our apartment. I hate them too, but not fear them like she does."
Lynn called to the ME while she was still looking around the living room, "So why do you assume he was killed by someone. Couldn't there have been a nest of them and they decided to attack?"
Lang was coming down the hallway again as she asked this. "I might have thought that too, but I decided he was murdered when I found this." He went to the body and turned the man's head so it faced upwards and Lynn could see the mark. She got closer and could see it was a Black Widow stamped on his forehead. Lang looked to her and said, "I'd say we have a killer."
Later in the morning, Penny was smiling at camera three as the stage manager signaled to her that her guest was ready. "Vegas, we have a treat this morning, that really funny entertainer, straight from his afternoon show at the Golden Nugget, comedy magician Magic Bob is going to be here live in a few moments." She went on about her guests for tomorrow, she was now having more celebrities willing to sign up for her show and she was thrilled. I was enjoying her happiness; it was good for me also. A happy Penny is a sexy Penny.
She finished the show and went to her dressing room finding me sitting in the make-up chair telling her staff about the crimes I solved in my brief career. She pushed at the chair causing me to stand, I kissed her and she sat to get her make-up removed. "Are you here to annoy or take me to a fabulous lunch at the Bistro?" She asked.
"I was thinking more along the lines of Sonic's." I gave her a smile and she stuck her tongue out at me. Her groupies worked on turning her into an ordinary everyday citizen of Las Vegas, removing her TV show face, but she still glowed in her street makeup.
The girls finished her make-up and I joked, "Can't you make her look like Sheena Easton?" She whacked my stomach and said to blow it out my ear. She stood and I went to pick up Willy from the couch where he was sleeping soundly. He looked dazed and licked my hand; I put him in his doggy purse and slung it over my shoulder. Penny hugged the girls and told them she was really glad they moved to Vegas to continue to do her make-up. Celeste said she was honored to be there and loved Vegas.
We left and went out into the blazing heat and quickly into the car. I flipped on the air conditioning and drove out of the parking lot. It was now just starting spring in the valley, but it was not like back in Michigan where the seasons were recognizable. It was now almost one hundred degrees out in the relentless sun. I wasn't complaining, I spent most of my time in air conditioned rooms. I did take Penny to Bistros for lunch and she was happy. Then we went to my office to find Lacey looking flustered. "I'm trying to get things organized and Buck keeps moving things on me." I said I'd talk to him and told her to organize the way she wants. I asked how her fingers were doing after the surgeries she had to fix the tendons cut by the criminal Merkins last month after he kidnapped Lacey, Penny and me during the Sin City case. She held up her bandaged hand and said it was better but still hard to move the fingers.
I went to talk with Buck and said, "Lacey is trying to run the front office, she's inexperienced at it so she has to learn, now leave her alone to set it up so she'll know where everything is."
Buck smiled, "I know, I was just messing with her."
"Well, quit it, she's young and I don't want her trying to commit suicide again." Referring to how we met her after she tried to kill herself because of a crime lord trying to set her up for murder. We solved the case but she was still fragile.
"Yeah, I guess I have a strange sense of humor. I'll be easier on her now." He smiled. "So any good cases coming up?"
"Nothing yet, I have more ads going out to the public but it will be a waiting process."
I heard the entrance door open since I installed a little bell on it and went out to see Lynn and Deacon in the lobby. Lynn looked to me and said, "Do you like spiders?"
Sometimes I couldn't figure Lynn out, as a detective she was hard and determined, but she was fragile in many respects. I never knew when she was being a cop or being a human. Not that cops aren't humans.
"Okay, I give, should I like spiders?" I asked.
"Well, do you?" she asked back.
"I have nothing against them, except those really tiny ones that usually bite when you annoy them. I had a pet tarantula back when I was in my twenties." I replied. I could see her shiver when I mentioned the tarantula, I had a feeling she didn't like spiders. "So, you don't like spiders I take it?"
"No, I hate them, worse than serial killers. Why did you have a tarantula? Weren't you afraid of being bitten?"
"Lynn, tarantulas do bite if really annoyed but the bite is not fatal to the majority of humans. I used to hold the thing in my hand and let him crawl on my arm."
She really had a fit on that, "You are one sick person. How could you even touch the thing?" I could see she was having the heebie jeebie shivers as her whole body was shaking now from an involuntary reaction to the thought of spiders. Deacon was standing behind her laughing quietly. She turned to him and said, "Stop that or you'll sleep with the spiders."
"So what brought this all up, did you find a spider in your unmarked car?" I asked.
She gave me a stare that said to shut up, so I did. "We had a new case this morning; a man was killed by the bites of a dozen or so Black Widow spiders. Lang, the ME says it was murder, they were dumped on him. Then the killer left an ink stamp of a Black Widow on his forehead."
I could hear both Penny and Lacey express their disgust. "So do you think this is a random kill or do we have a psycho serial Spiderman killer?"
Lynn gave me that look again, "I don't know, we'll see. I'm hoping this is an isolated case, I don't want to have to interrogate spiders around Vegas."
That broke the tension, even Lynn had to laugh. Changing the subject, Lynn said, "So how's business?"
"Well, ever since we stopped Merkins, the crime lord of Vegas, and Penny made a big deal of it on her new talk show; we've had a small number of people wanting their spouses followed. No murder cases yet, but I've got a couple billboards going up that have Buck and me looking tough and ready to deal with the underworld."
Lynn's cell phone rang and she answered, listened and hung up. "Crime just doesn't stop, more gangbangers shooting each other. Hopefully they will all kill themselves off and make our lives easier." She signaled to Deacon and they left.
Penny came to the counter now and looked to me, "You actually had a tarantula?"
"Yep, a Mexican Red-Legged Tarantula, and I had a little plastic cage for her so I could take her with me."
"Her, you knew it was a her?"
"Well, I named her Tilly the Tarantula, so she ended up being a she, I have no idea what its sex actually was."
Penny looked to Willy sitting on the desk next to Lacey, "Could Tilly have carried off Willy if you had her today?"
"Penny dear, she wasn't that big."
Buck, who was standing by hallway listening to us said, "We could get one of those big terrariums and a couple of tarantulas for the office."
"I don't think that's a good idea, Buck." Penny said firmly.
I turned to Buck and said, "Don't even think about buying rubber spiders to leave around the office." He smiled and winked, then went back to his office.
"Lacey, are you feeling better now that everyone from the Sin City case is dead?" I asked.
"Well, my nightmares have gone away and I'm not sleep walking anymore, or at least Mac says I'm not." She blushed when she said that.
"Lacey, it's no secret that you and Mac are living together, after all you are engaged." Penny added.
"And Buck told us when Mac changed his address in his personnel file. Penny and I lived together for almost a year before we married, so it's no big deal."
"It just seems strange to be living with someone; I've lived alone for so long. Mac was the only man I ever had a thing for so it's easy to have to live with him," she said wistfully.
"Okay Lacey, watch Willy for us, I have to go to the billboard company to approve the thing and I need to take Penny along to complain about how bad I look being twenty feet tall."
Lacey and Penny both laughed and I went to tell Buck we were leaving. He was making up a roster for his security guards at the new car lot he had been hired to have his guards watch. He smiled and said, "It's good to be boss."
Lynn and Deacon followed the two cops just about dragging a gang member into the holding cells. He was cursing and screaming about how he'll kill every cop he could. Captain Weber came out of his office and motioned to Lynn and Deacon to come to his office. He told Lynn to close the door.
"I heard about your spider case this morning and when a patrol cop told me the vic's name I did some checking. I thought I recognized the name, Harvey Trent. He's in, or was in, the WSOP big, big poker competition at the Rio Hotel this weekend. Trent was three games away from the big million dollar win. Sound to you like a motive for murder?"
Both Deacon and Lynn had blank looks, but Deacon said, "I watched part of that tournament on TV the other night, I remember that guy now. He took the lead from a couple Hollywood stars that were losing big. This puts a new spin on the killing. But why go to all the trouble to kill him with spiders and then leave a mark to show us it was murder?"
Weber waved his hand and said, "That's what you two are going to find out, I'm getting a little pressure from the commissioner to solve this. We don't need murder to ruin the fine reputation of our world class poker tournaments. Besides there is a lot of money at stake here, people attending and betting on the outcome of the games, it's good for everyone concerned. Now do something about this quickly, the next round of games is in three days." He sat at his desk and started shuffling papers; Lynn knew that was their queue to leave.
Outside Webber's office Deacon said, "Three days doesn't leave us much time."
"Maybe we could bring Spiderboy in on this to help." Lynn mumbled to herself.
"Spiderboy, who's that?"
"Tarantula man, you know Jim, he loves spiders, so he can cover for me... us when it comes to the logistics of the case."
Deacon smiled and said, "You'll do anything to get out of investigating spiders won't you?"
"Damn skippy, let's go see if we can intrigue him into taking up the cause."
I was looking up at the amazingly huge picture of me standing with my arms crossed back to back with Buck doing the same. We looked tough. Penny was laughing, not helping my mood. "Do you have to make fun of my projects?" I asked.
"Well, I always said you were a big man in town. Life size even." She had tears coming now from laughing. I happened to like the thing, it looked... well, tough, and I told her so.
"Jim, you are supposed to be smart and clever to solve crimes, not the terminator."
"Well, it says that we will do the job, we are ready for action."
"Watching spouses from outside a house, snooping in back alleys to take pictures of business theft. Hardly a tough man job."
"Yes, but we will be getting more dangerous cases once the word is out. This city has an underbelly of crime that we will take down."
"The only underbelly I see is your gut sticking out from under your arms."
I studied the picture by going back a good ways and she was right, the picture did make me look a bit paunchy. I asked the production manager if they could run it through their image processing software and make me a little less beer belly. He smiled and said he would. I approved the billboard with changes and took Penny out to the car. We drove over to the office again and pulled in to see Lynn and Deacon standing in front of the building. I parked and we went to them.
"What's up troops?" I asked.
Lynn spoke, "We came over to see if we could interest you in a position as civilian advisor to the Black Widow case."
"You really don't want to get near spiders do you?" I joked.
"Now you sound like Deacon. We got here and were waiting for you to get back; Lacey said you went to look at a billboard."
"Yep, me and Buck standing twenty feet tall. So what do you want from me on this case."
"Well, you may have another case, one waiting in your office. We came in and this woman was there talking to Buck in the lobby, we stood listening but we didn't identify ourselves as police detectives on the Harvey Trent case."
"So what the problem?"
"She's Harvey Trent's wife and she wants to hire you to find Harvey's killer because she knows that the police will suspect her, which we will now that we know she exists."
I looked through the front window and I could see her standing with Buck. "Well, let's go kill a few spiders with one interview."
Lynn just stood for a moment, then said, 'We have to take this cautiously, we can't question her properly without taking her in, so we'll just have to let you do your thing and we'll listen for now. Maybe you'll ask the right questions and save us some time."
"Don't worry; I'll handle it like you would. Do you have the rubber hose with you?" I said.
She gave me her stare again, so I just went in. Buck smiled and introduced me to the lady. "Mrs. Trent, you were married to the late Harvey Trent, who was murdered this morning?"
"Yes, how did you know?" she asked.
"I'm a good detective." I said using my favorite line, Penny snorted. I gave her a look and continued, "This is a little awkward, these two people are Homicide Detective Lieutenant Lynn Carter and her partner Detective Frank DeAngelo, they are the primary investigating officers on your husband's murder. They are also friends of mine who happen to be here to talk to me about their case and found you here. Now if you've come in to hire me to find out who killed your husband, I can do that. But Detectives Carter and DeAngelo are going to want to talk to you about your involvement in the case."
"That's why I'm here, to have you keep me from being a suspect and prove my innocence." she said.
Lynn spoke, "I'm sorry Mrs. Trent, but you already know that we will consider you a suspect and all we need to do is find out a few facts to exonerate you. Since you are here, I'll let Jim talk to you, it may save us a little effort and time. If that is all right with you if we just observe?"
"Anything to find out who killed my husband." I could see she was tearing up a bit and Penny got a tissue from the counter and gave it to her. We had tissue boxes all over the place, they came in handy.
"So if we could go into my office we can start." I pointed the way and she went in, followed by Lynn and Deacon. Penny went around the counter back to Lacey and sat next to her desk, probably to joke about my billboard. I went in my office and closed the door.
We all were sitting comfortably. Mrs. Trent in my client chair by the desk and Lynn and Deacon sat in two other chairs by the door. I took out a pocket recorder from a drawer and set it on top of the desk. "You don't mind if I record this, it helps keep me straight in my investigations?" She agreed. "Now the police could do their job and solve this for you, why come to me?"
"I want an independent investigation to keep me clear of this. When certain facts come out, I'm going to be murder suspect number one." She glanced to my friends sitting quietly by.
"Okay, start from the beginning, how long have you been married?"
"We married here in Vegas two years ago after one of his poker tournaments that he lost, but he said I was his special win. Lately I was finding that my life was not so glamorous being always second to his gambling. At first I thought he just enjoyed the game, but after these years of following him around the country from poker game to poker game, I realized he was addicted to it. He was good, yes, but not great. He had a flair for being without a tell, hard to read him, which was good in poker. But he was just being himself; he had no feelings, just a desire to win at all cost. I am still married to him, or as I should say now, was married to him, but we were separated, living apart. He was wanting to reconcile but this poker tournament was the big score, a million bucks if he won, and he was getting so close. We have a small apartment here but reside mainly in California, so if he won, I was entitled to half of his winnings in property. So I was all for keeping him alive as you can understand." She looked again to Lynn and Deacon, they gave no response.
"So if he is dead, what do you stand to gain?"
"That's where it gets sticky. He had an overinflated view of himself, he thought he was golden. So he had a life insurance policy on himself, if he died I would get two million dollars, which of course I wouldn't receive if I murdered him. If he was murdered by someone else and I had nothing to do with it, I would gain. So either he dies and I get two mil or lives and I maybe get a half mil. If we were to divorce, I'd get half of what he has now, nothing. Doesn't take much to figure my best advantage or a motive."
"Was there anyone else who may have wanted him dead?" I asked.
"Yeah, six other people in the tournament, both male and female. They had a million reasons for him to be dead." she replied.
"Mrs. Trent, where were you this morning from about..." I looked to Lynn she finished, "Between midnight and four A.M."
"Please call me Stacy, I was in bed."
"Well Stacy, anyone to verify that." I asked.
She sat quietly and then said, "I do have a special friend, who stays with me on lonely nights. He was with me this morning."
"Of course, we'll need his name so we can verify this. My question is, if you had an alibi, I still don't understand why you came to me?"
"The alibi is the problem. He's one of the other competitors in the tournament, so he would be suspect also." She sat back and went silent. I handed her a pad and pencil and asked her to write out any names and contacts I may need to check on this case, she took about a minute to write a few names and phone numbers and handed the pad back. I handed her my rate card and said, "If you still want me to investigate, these are my fees." She said money is no problem and hoped I could help her.
Lynn was smiling and said to her, "Mrs. Trent, we will need you to come in to make a formal statement on this matter. I've heard enough for now but we need to have the name of the man you were with to verify your where-a-bouts this morning. We are just starting to investigate and will need some more information. Can you come in on your own or shall we drive you?"
"I have my car; I will come in peacefully and cooperatively." Lynn stood, followed by Deacon. Mrs. Trent stood as I did and Lynn told her where to go and she would meet her there shortly.
She went out saying she would be there. I turned off the recorder and looked to Lynn. "This is totally weird; I'm still not sure why she wants me to investigate this. It's all police matters as far as I can see."
"I don't like her, about as much as I like a Black Widow Spider. She's up to something." Lynn said.
"You still want me as an advisor?"
"I think I will, I need someone to wrangle the spiders if we get another murder, I hope not."
I laughed and said, "Just give me a call. When you are done with the Black Widow, let me know and how your questioning went."
Lynn said she would and then went out followed by Deacon. They went to their car after saying good-bye to Penny and Lacey and drove off.
"So what have you two been up to?" I asked cautiously as I came around to the desk.
"This came in the fax while you were grilling the spider lady." She held up a copy of the changed billboard for me to inspect. I had a nice washboard abs look to me now, I liked it, Penny just laughed. "You will be insufferable now every time we see this on the road."
"I've got one going up by the county buildings and one by the freeway and Tropicana, just down the road from here. I can admire myself every morning on the way to work."
"Yes and your head will be about as big as your billboard self." She made a face and taped the picture on the wall.
Buck came out of his office and said, "It's a good likeness wouldn't you say."
I smiled to him and said, "We do look tough don't we?"
The dark figure went into the small room off the basement; it was more of a cellar. The man had on an outfit that looked like a diving suit, rubber and form fitting. He wore a mesh hat with screen like those that bee keepers wore, but this was not an outfit for bee keeping, it was for keeping the Black Widow spiders from biting the man as he gathered the tiny creatures that he raised in the room. He took good care of his babies, catching insects and letting them loose in the room to feed his flock. He couldn't count the numbers of the arachnids that lived there, the count would change frequently as the creatures would battle amongst themselves and when the egg sacs hatched half of the little ones would eat the other half to survive. It was a room in constant change and battle. The man admired the tiny creatures, devoted himself to them. Now he had to gather a few to go out in the world to fight the good cause, extermination of evil men.
The container had a dozen of his babies, and he was ready to go.
I was in my office going through my laptop to find a note I had written with a story idea for my latest book I was starting to write, Mistress Murders, since I had finished the book about my adventures with the Dominatrix case. Penny and Lacey had gone down the street to a sandwich shop to bring lunch back and Buck went out to talk to a new client at the car dealership he had just gotten for his guards to watch. Willy was sitting on my client chair watching me with his head down, trying to stay awake.
The bell on the entrance door had rang and it couldn't have been the girls, Penny would have called out to me, so I figured it was a client, hopefully. I walked out of my office after putting Willy on the floor, he pranced out behind me. There was a youngish man standing by the counter, who looked to be in his mid-twenties, blondish hair and tan, kind of like a surfer from California. He had on a tank top showing off fairly well developed muscles and shorts that bagged down around his knees.
"Hi, can I help you?" I asked.
"Yeah, you're the P.I. dude right?"
"Yep, I'm the P.I. dude fer shure." I mugged.
He looked at me with a strange expression, then the light bulb went on in his head, "Oh, hey, ya fer shure. I get it now, funny. I need help, you available?"
"I may be, what does it involve?"
"I think I may be in danger, I think someone wants to kill me."
I wondered if he was serious and said, "Okay, let's talk. Come into my office." He followed me in and then saw Willy.
"Wow, a miniature dog. Does he guard the place?"
"He's an ankle biter, be careful you don't make any fast movements." I joked but I think he believed me as he slowly went to my client chair, stepping carefully. I was trying not to laugh; this guy must have indulged in a bit too much medicinal weed.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah, I'm Freddie Norris, pleasure to meet you." He said holding his hand out, I shook it. "I saw your little detective and security business sign on a taxi at my hotel and came looking for you. I figured you might help me."
"Okay Freddie, why do you think you're going to be murdered?" I asked.
He pulled a business size card from his pocket and handed it to me. I took it and was surprised to see a black widow spider stamped on it.
"That was slid under my hotel room door. I heard about Harvey dying from spider bites this morning, the news didn't say how or why he was bitten, but this card made me think. With Harvey out of the competition, it was better odds for one of us to win. So I thought maybe he was murdered and this card worried me."
"You're going to have to back up a bit. I'm presuming you are in the poker tourney and knew Harvey?"
"Yeah man, I'm in the contention to be one of the winners now that Harvey is gone; he was an awesome poker player, no expressions to give him away. Super primo card player. Now I'm not liking this spider card thing, it's creepy that I get it so soon after Harvey bit the dust, oh, pardon the pun." He gave out one of those goofy giggles you hear in the movies from a stoner. "The news said he was bit by a spider and died, but with this card I think there was more to it."
"I'm not at liberty to discuss the police's case on Harvey's death but I will be happy to look into this for you." I handed him my rate card, figuring I better get this out of the way to see if he had any money. He looked at it and then reached in his front pocket of his shorts and pulled out a wad of cash. He peeled off a couple of hundreds and put them in front of me.
"Man, I'm so close to winning the million, a few dollars is worth it to keep me alive till this thing is over."
"I'm thinking you need protection and I may be able to help you with that." I had seen Buck walk by coming from the back door and excused myself. I went to Buck's office and he gave me his big grin and said howdy. I told him about the man in my office and asked if Mac was doing anything, I wanted to hire him for protection. Buck said he'd call him and have him come in; he only lived a short distance away. I thanked him and went back to my office.
Freddie was now reaching down and scratching Willy behind the ears, he looked up and smiled, "This is one cute dog you got here."
"I like him and he keeps my wife happy." I said that just as I sat and then heard the front door open and Penny yelled that it was her and Lacey. She breezed into my office and saw Freddie sitting and stopped saying, "I'm sorry, I didn't know you had company."
She put a bag on my desk by me, my sandwich I presumed. I introduced Freddie to Penny and he got this look on his face and said, "I know you, you're on TV aren't you?" She said she was and he said he watched her this morning on TV in his hotel room. He was excited over meeting her and I let him ask her questions about her show as we waited for Mac to come in.
About ten minutes later Mac came in and stopped to give Lacey a kiss before he came to see me. Penny was just going out to eat her food and said hi to Mac as he came to my door. Mac is a big guy and nearly fills the door frame as he enters, the kind of guy you want protecting you. He looked a little like a cross between a mob enforcer and a bouncer at one of the swank clubs in Vegas, big and tough. Tough, my kind of image for the firm, I smiled.
I stood, "Mac, this is Freddie Norris, I'd like you to protect him for a few days, just until his poker tourney is over. I'll explain the circumstances about the case, it may be dangerous. You do have your weapon?" He pulled back the opened shirt he wore over his t-shirt to reveal his .38 tucked into his belt. Buck made sure his men were all licensed to carry for various functions he wanted them to guard.
"Good, Freddie this isn't going to be a problem for you to have Mac or a back-up around all the time?"
"Hell no, as I said I want to get through the tourney to win. Not to die here in this desert."
"Okay, I'm going to keep this card; I'll have to show it to the police to let them know that this may be a problem." I turned to Mac, "Take him in the conference room and work out a schedule for watching him and talk to Buck about a back-up for you when you need a break." Mac said he would and they went out. I sat and pulled out my cell phone, calling Lynn. I knew this would just brighten her day to know that the spider killings were only beginning. She came on, I told her it was me and said, "It's not over."
I spent a few minutes explaining the situation, hearing her groan every so often and then she said they'd be over in a while, she had finished with Mrs. Trent and she wasn't convinced of her innocence. But with this new information it may be deeper than we thought. I said I'd be in the office till about five and would see her shortly. I put the card in one of the small plastic envelopes I keep in my desk, in case forensics could pull prints off of it, but I doubted it.
Mac and Freddie were ready to go out and I told Mac to call me if any little thing happened, he said he would. They left and I went to Buck's office and asked if he had worked out his deal with the new car lot and he said it was a piece of cake. "No more problems with Retcho guards?" I asked.
"Nope, they're staying away from us now. I'm not going to fall into his traps again. My men are armed and dangerous now."
That worried me a little but I figured it was Buck's job to keep them in line. We talked until my phone rang and I went to get it. I answered and I heard a voice on the line saying that I had better stay out of it or there would be problems. I asked what 'it' was and the voice said, "just stay out of it," and hung up. This was getting annoying, threats on the phone now.
I went to the SD card recording device I had installed on the phone to record my calls and played back the voice. I listened to it a couple of times then I pulled the SD card from the recorder and put in a new one. I put the card in an envelope to give to Lynn; I had an idea what 'it' was. The Black Widow Spider killer did not like my involvement, but how could he know so soon. Freddie was just here and couldn't have told anyone or could he have? I'd have to ask. I called Mac and asked if I could speak to Freddie, he came on and I said I had to know if he talked to anyone about the spider card or coming to see me.
"Yeah man, I told a bunch of people in my group about it and that I was going to see you. I wanted people to know I was being threatened, safety in numbers, ya know."
"Okay, sit down and write out every name of every person who may have heard you talk about it, everyone, it's important and give the list to Mac, I'll send someone to get it." He agreed and I hung up after telling Mac what was going on.
Penny came to the door and asked how it was going. I looked to her and said, "We got spiders crawling out of the woodwork now."
Freddie Norris was enjoying the comforts of the Rio Hotel luxury suite as Mac was resting on an easy chair looking out to the Vegas strip from the tenth story window. Mac was also looking at the list of names Freddie had written of people he had told about his situation with the spider card and seeking me out to investigate. I sent Lacey over to pick up the list, I figured she knew her way around Vegas and she'd be happy to see Mac, since he was going to be away for a few days protecting Freddie from spiders.
Freddie was sitting at a poker table he had the hotel bring up for him. There were three other younger men playing cards with Freddie and Mac had insisted he check the men for ID and weapons. They didn't like it but Freddie reminded them of Harvey Trent and they were pacified.
Lacey knocked at the door and Mac had warned Freddie that he was the only person to answer the door. He peeked through the hole and could see the top of Lacey's head standing there, he open the door and let her in. Seeing the cute young girl gave rise to all kinds of excitement from the geeky card players but Mac shot them a warning look, they shut up and went back to their cards.
"Hey baby, I got the list here that Jim wanted. You got any time to visit?" Mac asked.
"I said I'd be right back, I think Jim has his police friends coming to look at the card and he needs the list. But I could come back later after work if you aren't too busy." She gave him a quick kiss and took the list from his hand.
"I'll call you to let you know, I'm still not sure how dangerous this is going to be if the killer does decide to hit Freddie."
Lacey looked worried, "I don't want you hurt."
"Hey, I survived two tours of Iraq; I think a luxury hotel is a little safer. I'll talk to you later." He kissed her and she went off. The geeks at the table were still snickering and Mac walked by saying, "Eat your hearts out."
A half hour later Lacey arrived back at the office, list in hand. Lynn and Deacon had just gotten there and I was showing the card and filling them in on the phone call. I had played the recording for them and said, "I tried the callback number but it came up nothing, may have been a disposable phone. But I do get the feeling that the killer may not like people nosing in on his killing."
"He'd have to know that the police would stick their noses in it, so why worry about you doing that?" Deacon asked.
"Probably because he knew of my superior detecting abilities and was worried I'd expose him." I smiled.
"Dream on Sherlock, he's exerting his authority over the crime, sort of beating his chest that he is the clever criminal." Lynn added. "He probably could care less about you, no offense, but he likes the thrill of getting close to the people hunting him. His call made it a challenge to you. This may just turn into a serial case."
Penny said, "Why not, Jim loves serial killers." I smiled at her and blew her a kiss. "I do this all for you, my love." I smiled. She replied, "Don't go out of your way for me, sweetie."
I took the list from Lacey and she went back to the reception area to work on her filing and sorting of the security guard's personnel files. Willy came bouncing over to her and she put him on the desk by her and rummaged through folders. Buck had left her alone now, he liked having fun with people, but Lacey was too young and innocent to mess with.
Lynn was looking the list of names, all people staying in the Rio Hotel and most of them involved in the poker tourney. "Play the voice recording again," she asked. I did.
I spoke, "Well, it definitely was a man's voice so we can rule out women, unless they're working with the killer, but I think he works alone. This was a fantasy killing, using spiders instead of just shooting or stabbing the victim. A little more dramatic and weird."
"Weird for sure. Why did he have to use spiders? Black Widow spiders at that." Lynn asked.
"Maybe he was frightened by Toby McGuire in Spiderman." Deacon laughed.
Lynn shot him a look; she was doing that a lot lately. This case was going to stress her out until it was solved. "So what shall we do about the list?" I asked.
"Let's go listen to a few voices and see if any fit." We all stood and went to the lobby. Penny said she was getting tired and wanted to go home, I asked Buck if he could run her home for me, he said he would. I had driven Penny to her station for her show this morning, otherwise she would drive herself, but I wanted to take her to lunch so I drove. I kissed her and said I'd be home in a while.
I followed Lynn and Deacon in my Crown Vic over to the Rio Hotel and into the parking structure. We went into the hotel and I had to call Mac to find out what room they were in. He told me where they were, so we went to the elevators and up to the tenth floor, finding the room. Lynn knocked on the door and it was opened by Mac smiling at us. Freddie was still with his companions playing cards and he stood as we came in. I went to introduce Freddie to Lynn and Deacon and Lynn said, "May I ask you a few questions?"
"Sure, let's go sit over there," he said and pointed to the area that served as a living room in the huge suite. We went to the plush couches and sat; Freddie's friends watched us but were far enough away to not hear us.
"Freddie, how long have you been involved in playing poker?" Lynn asked.
"I've been at it ever since my uncle taught me to play when I was twelve. He said I had a natural ability for the game, he said I was good. So I kept at it and entered a number of competitions around the country, I played online a lot and then came to Vegas for the big World Series Of Poker, the WSOP tournament that they would hold at either Caesar's Palace, the Rio or Harrahs. I had built up a good amount of cash and had enough to enter. I'm finally in the running for the grand prize. Finally after all these years, the cards held good for me."
"Did you know Harvey Trent?"
"Sure we all knew each other, we were a crew, friends and still rivals when it came to Texas Hold-em. I was shocked when I heard about Harvey, then that card came and it wigged me out, man, I didn't like being threatened. I saw that little billboard on the taxi out front for Richards Investigations and Security and figured they'd have someone who could watch me to keep me safe, so went there. I'm not about to die this close to the win." He sat back and smiled.
"Where were you early this morning from about midnight till four A.M.?" Lynn asked.
"I was here with my peeps, playing cards of course, these fine gentlemen right here as a matter of fact." He said pointing to the geeks still hunched over the table watching us. When Freddie brought the attention to them they pretended they were intent on playing cards.
"Are they on your list of peeps you told about the card and going to Richards Investigations?"
"Yeah, they were here when the card was slid under the door."
"What time was that?"
"Oh hell, it had to have been around five A.M. give or take." he replied.
Lynn looked to Deacon, then to me, "Just after Harvey got it. He's moving fast." She turned back to Freddie, "I need to talk to your peeps, call them over."
Freddie called the others and they sauntered over, looking like a gangsta clan, hoodie tops and backward ball caps, all hip-hop and cool acting for lily white boys. I bet they'd crumble if I came at them with my Glock.
Lynn held her badge out and told them to sit. "Freddie says you pulled an all nighter here playing cards?" They quietly acknowledged her with head bops and grunts. "He mentioned that he was going to see someone about that spider card he got, any of you remember that?" Again with the head nods. "Any of you make any phone calls about the card or his visit after he left?" Now they swayed their heads side to side. "So, if I check the phone records of this room, there would be no calls going out?" Again the sways. "Now I can get a warrant for your personal cell phones to see if there were any calls made, how about that?"
Two of the boys did the head sway, but one just sat still. I saw this and so did Lynn. "What's your name, sport?" she said to the boy in the hoodie. He sat looking blank, not saying anything. Lynn turned to Mac and asked, "Mac, would you escort everyone but this fine young man out of the room for a moment while we talk?" Mac came over and motioned to the group to vacate the room and they did, slowly, watching back to their friend.
The boy sat, now looking a bit worried. Lynn leaned over to Deacon and asked him to sit next to the boy to help him remember any calls he may have made. Deacon sat next to the now frightened boy, sitting about a head taller that the kid. I was trying not to laugh.
"Now you want to tell us something?" Lynn growled. I wasn't sure, but think the boy peed his pants.
"What's your name, sport?" Lynn said.
He was quiet for a minute before Deacon cleared his throat, then he sat up and said, "Johnston, Harry Johnston."
"Well, Harry Johnston, talk to me, you made a call about Freddie going out to see a private eye?"
The boy nodded his head after looking up to Deacon, "Yeah, I did."
"Who did you talk to Harry?"
"I don't know who he was; I just had a phone number to call him if anything goes down with the guys."
"How did you come across this person?"
"He was hanging behind the table where we were playing Hold-em yesterday. I took a break, well, I was eliminated actually and went to the can, he followed. I thought at first he was some pervert but he introduced himself as a reporter and wanted some good dirt on the players. He told me he'd give me $100 to call him anytime something happens with us, any little detail that we do. He said there would be more money later if I did good. I needed the cash so I said I would. He gave me a card with a number on it and left. I didn't care who he was, he just offered me money, so I took it."
"Could you describe him?"
"Wouldn't do much good, he had on sun-glasses and a full beard that covered most his face. I think it was fake. He had no scars or marks that I could see and he had on a hat, like they wear in the Bahamas, you know hemp with a wide brim. His clothes were plain, nothing to make him stand out. I really don't think his description would help."
"Where's the card he gave you?"
"I threw it away, I have a good memory for numbers, it helps with counting cards, but I didn't say that. I didn't need it, so tossed it."
"Did you give him any information about Harvey Trent yesterday?"
"No, Harvey was in a different part of the auditorium, I didn't see him at all yesterday."
"Okay Harry, you're going to do us a favor so we can catch us a killer, I'm going to have our electronic techs put a trace on your phone and we'll have you call him. Maybe we can track him down, unless you know anything more about him?"
"Nope, just what I told you."
"I'll need your cell phone number to get this started," Lynn said and Harry gave her the number and handed her his cell phone. She called the forensics department and asked for someone in electronics. She explained what she wanted and gave them the phone number and they said they'd see if they could do it. Lynn waited and then the person came back and said they had gotten the tower links to his phone and to try calling a number. Lynn looked to me and said she was calling my number and dialed it on Harry's phone. My phone rang and I answered, the tech told Lynn to hold on and then came back saying the cell tower triangulation pointed the call to a cell in the Rio Hotel. Lynn smiled and said to hold on.
"Harry, I want you to call the number and tell your friend that Freddie got a bodyguard to watch him, but didn't like the guy so he fired him and is now alone, think you can do that?"
Harry nodded his head and took the phone back and dialed the number. He put the call on speaker phone and a few seconds later the person answered. Harry identified himself and told the person on the other end of the phone what Lynn told him to say. The person asked a few more questions and Harry made up a few things he thought sounded good, Lynn was nodding her head approvingly. The person said that Harry did good and would be in touch with some more money and hung up.
Lynn went back to her phone and asked if they got anything. The tech said that it looked like the call was received in the Rio hotel again; he asked if we had made the same call as before, Lynn said it wasn't. The tech said then the person was also in the Rio.
Lynn hung up quickly and called for back-up of just her detectives, no sense getting the Hotel upset by SWAT rummaging through the building. She told Warren where to meet and then hung up. She looked to Harry and said, "You, my friend are going to lead us to find this guy, understand!" She stood and Deacon helped Harry up by his collar. I followed them out the door and told Mac to take the guys back in the room and be on guard, the killer may be near. He said he would and I ran after Lynn and Deacon pulling Harry along.
We got to the ground floor and waited at the entrance for Warren and his men to arrive. Harry was looking around nervously, probably hoping the killer didn't see him with the cops. About ten minutes later they showed up and Lynn explained her plan that they would walk around the WSOP auditorium to see if they could find him there first.
Lynn led Harry out front into the auditorium where people were still playing Texas Hold-em and they walked around the perimeter. Lynn could feel Harry was shaking as they stalked the floor, he suddenly stiffened as they came around to a group of people cheering on one man at a table who must have won his game. Behind the people stood a man with a beard, sun glasses and a straw hat. Lynn signaled to her men and they spread out around the table.
Deacon came up behind the man and held his weapon up to the man's back as the rest of the detectives moved close to his sides. Deacon whispered in his ear, "It wouldn't be a good idea to do something stupid, you are surrounded by police and we need to take you out of here quietly. Do you understand?"
The man stood frozen but started to nod his head. Two detectives took his arms and brought them behind his back as Deacon handcuffed the man. Lynn asked Harry again if this was the man, he nodded his head vigorously and she told him to hang back but to follow them. The man was led out of the auditorium and taken to a waiting unmarked car out front and put in the back. Lynn told her men she would meet them back at the precinct. They drove off and we went to get our cars, Lynn taking Harry along. I drove over to the precinct and parked, going into the back entrance and found them standing by the interrogation rooms. Lynn waved and signaled me to go in observation. I did.
She and Deacon went into the room as Harry and I sat on the backside of the mirror watching. The man was seated at the table now and looking nonchalant about this all. He had a cool expression from what I could see under the beard that did look fake. Lynn sat across from him and Deacon stood silently by as Lynn leaned forward and spoke.
"You like spiders? Maybe you used a dozen or so to murder a man this morning?" She paused. His smile slowly faded and he took off the sunglasses and put them on the table. He reached up and started to pull at the beard removing it from his face. A few seconds later he had it all off and laying on the table.
"I'm not sure what you are talking about, I killed no one. If you are talking about spiders, I presume it has something to do with Harvey Trent, I heard he died from a spider bite."
"Try a dozen spider bites, all put on him by you." She picked up his wallet laying with his other possessions and said, "So Mr. Harcourt, you know nothing about spiders, Black Widow spiders. I have men at your apartment now checking it to see if your hoard of the creatures are there. Come on Harcourt talk to me. You had a kid keep tabs on a few players and one of them was murdered and another was threatened."
"I'm not who you think I am, I'm not a killer. I'm a reporter for the Las Vegas Exposed magazine. I had the kid feed me info about the players, you know, kinky stuff, illegal activities if any, the good stuff. When that other kid got the spider card and I got a call from Harry about it, I started to put things together. Murder by bite, my next byline. I was hanging around the casino to see if I could pick up on anything else that may tell me more about the killing. That's all I have for you." He sat back.
Lynn just stared at him and stood. "You better be telling me the truth, or I will have Detective DeAngelo here, take you apart for subjecting me to spiders." She walked out of the room; Deacon followed her leaving Harcourt alone with a cop watching him. Lynn took the wallet to her desk and made a call to the LV Exposed magazine after she called information. She asked for the editor after identifying herself and when she came on Lynn asked if they had a Paul Harcourt on staff. The editor laughed and asked if he was arrested again. Lynn said he is in custody and if she could just verify that he worked there. She said he did. Lynn thanked her and hung up.
Lynn looked to Deacon and me and said, "Crap, we got a reporter."
"This isn't finished Harcourt," Lynn said as she burst through the door to the interrogation room. I went back into observation; Harold was taken back to the Rio Hotel by a patrol officer at Lynn's request.
Harcourt had a smirk on his face, "This is going to be a great piece for my magazine, the killer and the cops who chase them, but get the wrong people."
"You know if we didn't question a few people we wouldn't be able to catch the real criminals, and you are wasting my time to find him. Now shut up and talk." Lynn was looking frustrated. "I meant stop blowing hot air and tell what you know."
"What could I know?"
"Well, after you got the call from Harry about Freddie going to see the P.I. a threat was made to the man. Now you were the only person other than Harry to know this, who did you talk to?"
He was quiet for a moment; he looked to Deacon standing by the door, "I didn't talk to anyone, maybe Harry told someone else. It didn't come from me."
"You may be a reporter, but that doesn't let you off for the kill. You could be raising spiders to murder people, and using your magazine as a cover. As soon as my men are done at your place we'll talk again." She opened the door and called the guard to take Harcourt to his cell until she needed to talk some more.
"What are you holding me for?" he demanded.
"Suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder. Or for further questioning, whichever you like. It's up to you. I believe you are a link to the killer. Your sleaze rag is not my concern, report what you want, the public will decide when it comes out you impeded a murder investigation and aided the killer. I have friends in the legitimate news reporting media. Maybe they'd like my side of the story. Now when you want to tell me about whom you share your information with, we'll talk."
Lynn told the cop to get him out of the room, and then she and Deacon came to my room. "I hate reporters; they do more damage to good people and cops than the criminals do."
It was now around five P.M. when Mac let room service enter with the cart load of food that Freddie had ordered. Mac checked under the covered food to be sure there were no small crawly creatures riding for free. Freddie's friends had left the room to go get some gambling time in before bed time, leaving Freddie and Mac alone.
Freddie invited Mac to join him in the food, since Mac hadn't eaten lunch so they pulled the cart over to the center of the room and pulled two straight backed chairs to the cart and sat. Freddie had taken off his tank top and shoes and just had on his baggie shorts.
Mac lifted the cover over the burgers that smelled tasty and put one on his plate. He reached for the fries that were under another cover as Freddie filled his plate with whatever food was in front of him. Freddie greedily wolfed down the food and reached for the silver plated decanter of what he figured was wine. He removed the top and went to drink from the decanter just as something popped out of the bottle. Mac was watching Freddie and saw the tiny black dot drop to Freddie's face, he jumped up and knocked the bottle from Freddie's hand and was beating his face to smash the spiders that had followed the first one out.
Freddie was screaming bloody murder as Mac knocked the last of the tiny creatures from Freddie. Mac stood and looked to the decanter on the floor to see more of the creatures coming out. He reached into his cargo pants pocket and brought out a small aerosol can he bought on the way to the Hotel earlier. It was a Pyrethrum aerosol that would kill spiders, so he took aim at the decanter and let loose the spray. Watching the spiders curl up and slowly die, he turned to Freddie and checked him for any spiders that he may have missed. There were a few on the table and on the ground by Freddie, so Mac sprayed the area. Freddie had now retreated to the suite's door and was just watching Mac work, his eyes about popping out of his head.
"Fuck man! I could have swallowed the bastards! And the ones I didn't swallow would have been all over my face! Shit!"
Mac quietly checked the area and saw no movement now. He pulled his cell phone and speed dialed me. "I think you need to get over here and bring your friends. We just had a spider infestation."
I told Lynn what had happened and we drove over to the Rio and up to the tenth floor. Mac was at the door now, and we came in to see the scene just as Mac had left it. Lynn had Warren and three other detectives along and told Warren to go down to room service and track the person who brought the cart up. He left with one of the other detectives and Lynn cautiously went to the decanter still on the floor surrounded by dead spiders. Mac explained what had happened and how he had picked up the pesticide spray for protection. I told him he was in for a bonus for his actions and he smiled, "It's all in a days work."
"How could the killer know that Freddie would drink from the decanter?" Lynn asked.
I looked to the food cart and then pointed, "What do you see here?" I asked.
She studied the cart and suddenly said, "No glasses. The killer left the glasses out. He probably figured Freddie would want the wine and being a kid, just drink form the decanter, like milk from the carton."
"Very good Dick Tracy." I smiled.
Freddie was still shaking, "Why would anyone want to kill me? I didn't do anything to anyone, other than win at cards. Is this a reason for murder now?"
Deacon spoke, "There has to be a connection between Trent and Freddie. Something that someone didn't like."
Lynn walked around the decanter still on the floor and called CSI to come and get the evidence, glad that they would take the dead things out. "Yep, there has to be a connection, so Freddie lets talk about it. Did you know Harvey Trent very well?"
"Just by reputation and we hung a little, just like everyone else. We were poker buddies, we spent a lot of time together," he answered.
"Where are you from Freddie?"
"I'm from Santa Barbara, California. I lived there for sixteen of my twenty-four years, started out in Palatka, Florida. My parents moved to California due to my dad's job."
"What did he do?" Lynn asked.
"He was a civil engineer; he decided what roads got paved and how the stop lights were timed. Nothing spectacular, no one had a beef with him."
"I could have disliked him if he set up the stop lights here in Vegas." Deacon said.
"What about your mother?"
"She sold beauty products, but she was a tough woman, no one messed with her."
"Okay, what about you? Do you only play poker or have you another job to fund your addiction?"
"I had a trust fund from my Mom's dad, when I turned twenty-one I was given half the money and when I'm twenty-five I get the other half."
"How much are you talking about?"
"A cool hundred grand already, hundred grand next year."
Lynn looked to Deacon and me, "Not much to kill for."
"How much do you know about Harvey Trent?"
"He was some kind of computer software designer, mostly games for PC's. I talked to him about it one time and he wasn't very open about his work. All top secret, hush-hush stuff. You know corporate espionage stuff. I didn't care, I don't like computer games, the cards are my draw."
Lynn told me she knew most of Harvey's past from talking to his wife, but wanted to see if he shared information with his poker competitors. He did. Lynn turned to Mac, "Do you think you'll be able to stop the killer again? He's not going to be happy that you prevented his kill."
"Let the fucker try something again, I'll be ready." He held his aerosol can like brass knuckles and shook his fist.
I said, "I may have Buck send another man to help, doesn't hurt to have back-up." Mac said that would work for him. I went off to the side and called Buck to tell him about the incident and send another man.
He said, "I'll call someone and have them there before long and I'm still at your home. Penny asked me to hang in until the pest control people get here. She started looking at the shrubs and bushes around the house and found a number of spider nests; she got a bit freaked, so she called the exterminators."
I had to laugh and Deacon looked to me wondering what was funny. I told Buck I would be there shortly and hung up. I told Deacon and Lynn what Buck had told me and Lynn said, "Smart woman." She looked to Deacon and asked, "Find out if our apartment building sprays for spiders." Deacon winked at me and said he would.