"She closed the door, and I just sat there,
Not moving to go and bring her back.
She had enough of my lifestyle, and I can't blame her,
I wouldn't want a man like that."
The country crooner warbled the soulful tune into the mic of the honky tonk bar just off the western edge of Las Vegas. The crowd sat and was mesmerized by his heartfelt words, then the man in the big Stetson hat stopped singing and gave a pained look, then toppled off the stage onto the front tables spilling drinks and food all over the startled customers.
Someone screamed to get a doctor, but it was too late, the country singer was dead.
Two days later on a Friday morning, I was creeping through the dark halls of the Richards Investigations and Security office. It was around five in the morning and I wanted to get in to my office and do a little paperwork. No one else was in at that hour, so I was alone, I liked it that way. I entered my private domain and sat at the new desk that I had delivered last week. It was a nice mahogany and maple carved desk, with big drawers and a couple secret ones that only I knew about. I kept an extra gun in one of them.
I pulled a file and started going over it when my cell phone rang. I looked at the caller ID and saw it was Penny, my main squeeze, wife and Vegas TV talk show host.
"Hey babe what's up, I just left you at the house?" I said into the tiny hole of my cellphone and listened to the slightly bigger hole to hear her reply.
"Jim, I just got a call from my cousin, she's in need of help," Penny said sounding half-asleep.
"Your cousin calls you at five in the morning? What did she want?"
"Her husband died a couple days ago and she thinks he was murdered. She knows I was married to you and living here in Vegas and wanted to know if you could help her?"
"Well, tell her to call me when we open, I'll see what she has and go from there. Now go back to bed and meet me for lunch, just call first."
She said she would and hung up. I sat back wondering why her relative would call so early. I knew this cousin lived in Phoenix, Arizona, she was Penny's only cousin that she ever talked about. The cousin, Jenny Wayne, was married to some rising country singer that had modest record sales on the country charts. I tried to remember the singer's name, but was drawing a blank. The last name wasn't Wayne, that sounded too Yankee, so the singer took on a stage name.
I went back to my paperwork, trying get the cases that had been completed ready for Lacey to file. The last month had been busy for us; we had everything from chasing down missing grooms to foiling industrial espionage for a big pharmaceutical company.
Las Vegas was a good move for Penny and me, I felt. Back in Michigan we had many adventures starting with the infamous classmate murders. I had this strange thing about being followed by murder, and Penny loved to play up that curse. I didn't believe it, but being a private investigator, murder was bound to come up occasionally.
I heard a door open towards the front of the building. I glanced at the digital clock on my desk and it read just before six. Still too early for anyone to show up, I waited as I heard footsteps coming down the hall. I had disabled the building alarm so if it was one of my cohorts, they would know someone was in the building.
Buck suddenly appeared at my door and gave me a big smile.
"Whatcha doing in here so early Jimmy?" the big man asked.
"Paperwork, so we can get paid. What are you doing here so early, as you say?"
"Have to reschedule a few guards at one to the dealerships and call in a few to work. It's been more work than I thought there would be. Back when I was a security guard in Michigan, I used to just sit all night, no cares, now being the boss, just too much work."
"I can understand, how's business?"
"Good, we have over a hundred and sixty guards now, all spread out over Vegas, protecting properties from the bad guys," he said with a smile. "Don't work too hard, I got to make a few calls to get people out of bed to go to work. That's the part I enjoy." He went off to his office, leaving me to go back to my paperwork.
Around seven-thirty, Lacey came bouncing in and said good morning. "You're in early, good, got your end of the month reports ready for me?"
"Yes, boss, I do," I said with a smile and stood to give Lacey the files I had finished. She took them and went back to her desk up front.
I was still standing by my office door when heard her phone ring up front and then heard Lacey's voice over the intercom saying I had a call. I went back to my desk and sat, picking up the desk phone and hit the blinking button.
"Good morning, Jim Richards speaking," I said feeling more awake now.
"Jim, it's Penny's cousin Jenny, did she tell you I called?" came the voice on the phone, sounding like it came from a thirteen-year-old girl.
"Yes, Jenny, she did. You told her that you think your husband was murdered?"
"The police aren't telling me much so far, let me explain. Ricky is my husband, was, and he was in Las Vegas for the big CMA country music awards they have there every year. It's this weekend. He was performing two days ago at some little club in town and they say he just fell over and died. Jim, he was only thirty-one, a person of that age just doesn't just fall over and die. I'm in Phoenix and can't get out there to Vegas, we have a daughter in the hospital with a blood disorder and I have to be here for her. I didn't know what to do, but I remembered that Penny had moved to Vegas and you were a detective. Can you help me find out what is going on?"
"Jenny, let me make a few calls and see what I can find out. You can't come out here at all?"
"No, I'm the only family here and I have to be near my daughter. I really want to be out there but it's impossible."
"Okay, sit tight and I'll be back to you as soon as I can. Now what name did your husband go by?"
"Ricky Lawless, he thought it was a name that would get him some attention, I didn't like it but his agent and the recording company people thought it was a good hook. He was getting popular on the music charts."
"All right, I'll see what I can find out, I'll call you back later today," I said and noted the phone number off the caller ID and she thanked me.
I sat back thinking of how to attack the problem. I could call Lynn Carter and see if she has anything on it, she was homicide and may have something. I reached for his phone just as Trapper walked in.
"Hey Jim, what ya working on?" Trapper said then plopped down on my client chair.
"Just come in why don't you."
"Thanks, I'm already in. Got anything exciting?"
"Just finished our monthly reports and I got a call from a cousin of Penny's, seems her country singing husband was in town for the CMA country award show this weekend and he died while performing in some club a couple days ago. She can't come out so she asked me if I could help. I was just going to call Lynn Carter to see if she knows anything about it."
"Lynn is good people. Oh and Earl has flown the coop. He and Paula ran off and went up to the mountains. Seems Paula wanted to get away from all the bright lights and to shake off the big city. The media is still talking about the Elvis murders you know."
"Yeah, it was good that we caught the guy who killed the top Elvis in town and was murdering all the drug dealers. That will make a good book for later. Now do you have anything else to do besides delay me?"
"Nope, just wanted to let you know I was in the area, and will be all day."
"I'll note that in my appointment book, now beat it so I can go to work."
Trapper laughed and stood, "Someday you'll need me." Then he left.
I was laughing as I dialed Lynn Carter. She came on and I told her it was me, asked if she knew about the death of a country singer and gave her the name. She said she did and asked why I needed to know.
"He's a cousin of Penny's, the guy's wife called and wanted to see if I could help. I said I'd see what I could find out. Can you tell me what happened?
"Preliminary report says he died of a coronary attack, which was the ME's initial findings, but Joe Lang isn't so sure, no proof yet, but he's thinking it may have been murder."
"Is Earl around, I have to ask him something?" Lynn said.
"Too late, he and Paula went out to go camping up in the mountains somewhere," he replied. "They took off without telling anyone, except Trapper."
"Probably Mt. Charleston, where we camped back during the Sin City project murders. I'll try calling him on his cell. Anything else you need to know about the country singer?"
"Yeah, can I go talk to Joe Lang about him?"
"You can visit the morgue anytime you want, preferably on a slab," she said with a big laugh.
"Thanks Lynn, I love you too. Talk later," I said and hung up.
"Everyone's a comedian," I said to myself. Lacey was at the door and asked who I was talking to.
"No one, just talking to myself. You need something from me too?"
"Nope, just bringing you the Review-Journal. You usually get the paper last and by then it's all torn apart. Since you were here early this morning I wanted to see you get it first."
"Well, that's very nice of you Lacey, thank you. I'll read it and give it back to you."
"No, just toss it on Trappers desk and run. He likes to be the first to read it, but he has a tendency of getting it out of order and cutting things out."
"What would he be cutting out?"
"Coupons, articles that he finds interesting. Just enough to make the paper useless for the next person."
"Is that why I never see it?"
"Probably. Are you going to check on the dead cowboy now?"
"How did you know about that?"
"The woman who called identified herself and started to tell me about it, I just told her to talk to you. Plus, it's in the paper, so you can read about it. Section C, entertainment."
"Thank you," I said as Lacey left the room.
I laid out the paper on my desk. I hardly ever read it in the office and at home Penny usually had it spread out in the kitchen for our toy Yorkie, Willy. As much as I loved the dog, I'd rather have a ferret or a de-scented skunk. I guess I was a little odd like that. Willy was our baby now, so Penny had to see that when we left him home alone, he didn't do his business on the kitchen floor, so I rarely got to read the paper.
I found the entertainment section and flipped the pages until I found the small article on the death of the country singer.
The article gave the standard denials that the police give reporters to cover the facts. I could read between the lines but there was not much here to read. The singer had an attack on stage and toppled into the audience. That was all there was about his death. He wasn't up for any awards in the big yearly country music awards, but showing up was good for his image. He could hob-nob with all the biggies of country and maybe get an endorsement that his record label could use. Poor guy, I thought, so close.
Then I thought about Penny's cousin out in Phoenix, stuck with a sick child while her husband's body was back here on a slab in the morgue. I'd have to see what could be done to get the body back to her.
I finished the paper and then just for fun, started to rearrange the pages out of order. I stood and took the thing to Trapper's office and dropped it on his desk.
"Aren't you a little old to be a paperboy?" Trapper asked as he eyed the paper.
"Enjoy yourself," was all I said as I left the room.
I went back to my office and gathered the things I would need and went to the front to tell Lacey that I was going out.
"Where are you going to just in case anyone asks?" Lacey said.
"The morgue, for my annual health check-up," I said with a smirk and went out the front door.
I had only been to the Clark County morgue a couple times since I had been out in Vegas. It wasn't my favorite place to visit, but a necessity to help with cases. I remembered back to the mortuary murders and the bodies spread out there, not a pleasant memory, the Clark County morgue wasn't much better.
I drove into the parking lot of the building housing the morgue, went in to the front desk and asked to see Joe Lang. The big cop got on the phone and called ahead. Joe granted me a pass to get in and I found the medical examiner trying to crack the ribs of a rather dingy looking male body.
"Don't you just love the smell of guts in the morning, it smells like murder," I said with a smile.
Joe was silently laughing causing his body to pulse. "A homeless person found dead this morning on Tropicana, sad. What brings you here on a beautiful morning, when you should be out chasing criminals or women?"
"Penny would have me on this table if I chased women. I'm on a case of the death of one of Penny's cousins. What do you know about Ricky Lawless?"
"Number 23 with a bullet," Joe said.
"He was shot?" I asked in surprise.
"You don't follow music do you?"
"No, I have an MP3 player that Penny puts stuff on, most of it is good, newer stuff like New Kids on the Block."
Joe stopped cracking the ribs and stared at me. "Boy you don't know music. No Jim, 'with a bullet' is a term meaning a recording by a singer is moving up the charts fast. Lawless had a couple good records out and they were doing well on the country music charts."
"Okay, that still means little to me; I don't listen to or care for country music. Well that's not totally true; I like Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Sugarland. Do they count?"
"Yes Jim, they do count. Now Lawless was a new crossover country performer, which means his music could be enjoyed by both country and popular music listeners. He was brought in the morgue and I performed the autopsy, finding nothing extraordinary but it looked like heart failure. I'm still waiting for the tox report to see if he had anything in his system that may have caused his heart to burst. We're so backed up I'll be surprised if I get word by next week. Are you going to claim the body for Penny's cousin?"
"I hadn't thought about it, his wife can't come to get him, she's nursing a sick daughter in the hospital and can't leave Phoenix."
"Well then, you may have to take the body to her. Since Penny is a legal relative, she would have to sign a few papers and then you can claim his remains."
I hadn't thought about taking the body to Jenny, but there weren't many other options. "I guess so, let me talk to Penny and her cousin to see how they want to handle it. Can you get me word if you find anything hinkey in the tox?"
"If I find anything hinkey, I'll let you know. Give me a couple days to finish processing the body."
"You got it, I'm in no rush to put a body in my back seat and drive him home."
Joe was laughing silently again, "There are procedures for that, I'll fill you in when you are ready."
"Thanks Joe, keep me informed," I said as I went out of the cutting room and taking a big clean breath outside of the building. I had seen a good number of dead bodies in my career, even made a few myself, but it always affected me.
I drove back towards the office but called Penny to see if she wanted to go to lunch earlier than we originally planned. She said she was ready, so I changed directions and drove back to the house and picked up my favorite girl.
"What did you do with the dog?" I asked when she got in the car.
"I put him in the kitchen and blocked the door. I hope he stays in there. I think Willy is rebelling when we leave him alone."
"Well, we could have taken him with us, you know you'll have to clean up the poop or the food dragged all over the floor."
"I thought I could be stronger with the poop, but I won't give in. I accept it, he's such a cute dog."
"He's not a dog, he's a dish rag with ears. Being a toy Yorkie, he's so small he shouldn't get into much trouble. It's like having a gerbil. You could look into one of those if you get tired of Willy."
"No way I could ever get rid of him. Where are we going to eat?"
"I was thinking Arturo's, I could use some good pasta. We also need to talk about your cousin's body. And what we are going to do about it."
"Can we talk about that after we eat? It's not conversation for food."
"Agreed, I just came from the morgue and I'm not wanting to think about it while I eat. Crap," I suddenly said.
"Pasta resembles intestines; I don't think I want pasta now."
"Okay, I'd settle for burgers, does that offend your senses?"
"Sonic it is." I steered the car in the direction of the nearest Sonic Burger, pulled into a parking slot and ordered through the remote box. I liked Sonic, the waitresses on roller skates took me back to my younger days when they had lots of carhops. We got our food and ate, then putting the remains back in the tray hooked to the door, waiting for the carhop to come get it.
"Now shall we discuss about getting your cousin's hubby back to Phoenix?"
"So there's no word about his death, other than heart failure?" Penny asked.
"Not according to Joe Lang, yet. He's waiting for more results. I'd like to know if this is murder or not. I don't want to have to chase down false leads if he wasn't taken out."
"Sweetie, I know you, you're still going to investigate it," Penny said with a smile and stroked my head. I loved when she did that and we usually ended up in bed. We were still out in public so that option was not immediately on the table.
"Can you call your cousin and tell her to make arrangements for the funeral home and burial? Oh and ask if Ricky had life insurance."
"I'll do that when I get home. Now what are we going to do?"
"Feel like visiting the office?"
"Sure, I haven't been there since last week."
I waited until the girl on skates had taken the tray from the car and rolled off to the building. I pulled out and drove back.
We were coming down the hallway from the back entrance when Lacey came from the front.
"Jim, you got a call from Joe Lang, he needs to talk to you. I was just going to call you but I saw on the spy camera that you were coming in the building."
I thanked her and smiled about the reference to the spy camera. When we first moved into the new building, I found that all the offices, lobby and both front and back doors had security cameras on them. They all fed into a small room in the back where there were monitors and recorders. Hey, this is Vegas, where they have video watching your every move. Lacey also had monitors at her desk so she could keep an eye on the comings and goings of people.
"Thanks Lacey, I'll call," I said, then Penny kissed and thanked me for lunch, then went off with Lacey to discuss women things, I figured.
I went into my office and sat, picking up the phone I thumbed through the contact list in the book I kept on the desk and found Joe's number. I was waiting for Joe to come on and then he answered.
"Joe, it's Jim, you have something so soon?"
"Just after you left I got a call from a friend in tox and he said that he personally processed Ricky Lawless because he was a country music fan and he found high levels of muriate of potash AKA potassium chloride. High enough dosage to cause heart failure. I'm calling this a homicide unless Ricky committed suicide by ingesting it."
"The guy had too much to live for, I doubt he would kill himself," I said thinking about this new info. "Where does one get potassium chloride?"
"It's not sold in the local grocery store in it's pure form, but it can be bought. Potassium chloride makes up 70% of Ace Hardware's vegetation-friendly "Ice Melt", though it's inferior in ice melting quality to calcium chloride. It's also used in fertilizer and mixed with table salt in small dosages. Potassium chloride is used as a third of a three-drug combination in lethal injection for death row criminals. Lots of uses and the worst is death."
"Did CSI investigate the scene when he died for anything he could have ingested it from?"
"Yep, and I checked while waiting for you to call, they found no glass he could have been drinking from near the body. Either someone took it after he crashed or he drank the liquid before the show."
"I may need to take a look at that club and see what I can find. Thanks Joe. Have you informed Lynn about this?"
"Of course, it's her case, and she stays around where I can reach her."
"I'll give you my cell phone number next time," I said with a laugh and hung up. I sat back in my chair and thought about the next move. Time to go boot-scootin and have a look at the club where Rick sang his last song.
I found Penny and Lacey watching the huge LCD TV in the lobby, and since Penny was taking a few days off from her show, it was a rerun of her talk show with guest, Julio Iglesias. The man may be getting older, but he still had the look. Penny reached her hand out to me and pulled me to the couch where she and Lacey were sitting on.
"What's the word, Sweetie?" she asked.
"Joe says it's murder, so I'm on the case. I'll call Jenny and break the news to her then you two can talk about transporting the body back and funeral arrangements. If we have to, we can take Ricky's body back to Jenny if it will save a few dollars for her. I'm sure a funeral parlor would charge a fortune to bring him home. We'll make sure to find out about insurance, and if his recording company had a policy on him. They'd be crazy not to if his records were climbing the charts."
"We can call her from home," Penny said, half of her attention to me and the other half to Julio. I tilted my head around Penny's and smiled. She told me to move and I did, up and back to my office.
I pulled my desk phone closer and dialed Lynn, waited as she answered.
"Jim I was going to call you. You said Ricky Lawless was Penny's cousin?"
"Yep, he was and I talked to Joe Lang already"
"Joe told me he did, is Penny going to arrange to have the body taken back to his wife?"
"We talked about it, I have to call her first to break the news about how he died. I remember Trapper telling me the worst thing a cop would have to do was to tell a family that a loved one was murdered. Natural causes was bad enough but murder… not good."
"I hear you. So you guys are going to take the body?"
"So far, yes, why?"
"Since the man was poisoned, we may need to do further tests, just to be sure."
"Doesn't the tox prove this?"
"It does but we need to be sure. Just a formality. As soon as more samples are taken, we'll release the body to you. Make arrangements with the morgue for the transfer permit then you can take him."
"Will do. Now was there anything from the crime scene that can corroborate the cause of death?"
"Corroborate? Now you are sounding like a TV detective, no, CSI hasn't came up with anything to connect to his murder. Are you going to be investigating now?"
"The wife asked me to look into it, I won't step on your toes, but we can share info as we get it, if that is good for you?"
"Sure, it's good to have a second opinion on cases, I'll let you know if we come up with anything, and you do likewise."
"Yep, so I have to go call the grieving widow, I'll talk to you later." I hung up and looked to Penny now standing in the doorway to my office.
"Shall we go call Jenny?" I said.
"Let's call from here, I don't want to go see the damage the dog has done on our home yet."
"Sure, let him totally destroy the place before we get there. Okay, close the door and I'll call her."
Penny closed the door and sat in the client chair next to the desk. I hit the intercom button and told Lacey that I didn't want to be disturbed for at least a half hour. She agreed and I picked up my phone again, dialing the number I had written on the pad of paper from my caller ID of Jenny's phone call.
The phone rang about four times before Jenny answered. "Hello?"
"Jenny, this is Jim, I have some bad news," I said to prepare her for the worse. "The coroner's report is going to say that it was a homicide. He was poisoned. That's all they have for now, they're still going to be running some tests and then we can bring Ricky home. Do you have a funeral parlor in town that you can make arrangements with?"
She was silent for a bit too long, I figured she was composing herself. Maybe I could have been a little less brisk about it, but she needed to be told the worse.
"There is one parlor I have been to for a friend's funeral, I'll call them. When will Ricky be coming home?"
"I'm not sure, but tell the funeral home that we will be bringing him out, so they don't have to charge you for that. Did Ricky have a life insurance policy?"
"He did, I'll call the insurance man and tell him about this."
"Since Ricky was murdered, the policy may have a double indeminity clause for benefits, not trying to take advantage of the situation, but every dollar counts now. Did Rick's recording label have a policy on him or any death benefits for survivors?"
"I don't know about that, I haven't even heard from his agent or the label people, they haven't called about his death, I'm not happy."
"Do you know if Rick's portion of the royalties from his songs will go to you now?"
"Jim, I'm not very good with all that stuff, I'm just trying to be with my daughter and keep my head above water."
"Okay, don't worry, Penny and I will help you to get through this, just be patient and I'll let you know what's happening." She thanked me and we finished the call.
I turned to Penny and said, "I'm seeing a big mystery coming."
"We can't take the body until they release it, so the investigation goes on. That gives me time to check out the club where he died. You want to continue watching TV with Lacey or go with me?"
"Sweetie, I prefer you, Lacey is cute but, well you're cuter," she said with a smile. "Let me get my things."
I told Lacey that we would be at the bar where Ricky Lawless died and to hold my calls.
"You don't get that many calls to worry about it," Lacey said with a smirk.
"Just take messages and be nice."
Penny came up as I was calling Lynn to get the name of the club where Ricky expired.
"It's called Shindigs and it's over on Rainbow Boulevard, east side, one block south of Tropicana. We already talked to everyone there; do you think you can get better intel?" Lynn asked.
"I'm sure I can beat the truth out of a few waitresses. If you look away."
"I'll do that if you get a suspect for me."
"I'll try my best, thanks Lynn." I hung up and put the phone in my pocket.
Penny asked if I was ready to go country, I laughed and said, "Sho'nuff, cowgirl."
We drove out Tropicana and down Rainbow into the parking lot of the bar. There weren't very many cars in the lot, it was well after noon, so the lunch crowd probably had left, even if they served a lunch. What would they serve, buffalo burgers, rib of cow with beans? Didn't sound appetizing. I parked and we went in the front door that had some kind of bullhorn for a door handle, it was well used.
The place was dark at first until our eyes adjusted, then it was just strange. To the right was a very long bar, from almost the front of the building to just past half way down the room. There had to be every kind of liqueur and beer available in the world on the back bar. I guess cowboys love their drinks. There were two cowgirls behind the bar wearing off the shoulder frilly blouses and tight white shorts, which showed a lot of butt cheeks. I guess cowboys love their women in skimpy clothes.
All over the middle of the room were four-top tables and along the left wall were longer banquet type tables for the ranch hands I presumed. Behind the long tables were framed posters on the walls of every beer available. Way to the back of the room was a stage, built up about a foot off the ample dance floor in front of it. On the stage were tons of amps, speakers, microphones and a steel guitar. There were guitars on stands waiting for their masters to stroke them into music. The banner on the wall behind the band equipment said, "Nashland Band". There were two waitresses walking the floor cleaning the tables of plates and drinks left by people who had lunch and left.
Penny and I went to the bar where I sat us next to the wait station. It was the small space at the bar with rails where the waitresses would order drinks for the patrons. Whenever I was in a bar, I usually sat by the station so I could talk to the waitresses while they waited for their drink orders.
The busty blonde behind the bar asked what would be our pleasure, Penny whispered in my ear to be careful what I said. I smiled and said a draft, Penny requested a wine spritzer. The waitress looked at Penny like she was from another planet, so Penny changed it to a Jack red on the rocks. That got a better response; she went off to fill our order as I surveyed the room.
One of the waitresses came up to the station with an armful of plates and glasses on a tray. She plopped it on the bar and started to take the glasses off placing them on another tray for washing. I smiled and she gave me a big smile back. Penny poked me in the back.
I turned and said, "I can leave you home while I investigate. I'm just being friendly to get them to talk, okay?"
She gave me a smirk and said, "Do your thing, Mickey Spillane."
I turned back to the girl and asked, "Excuse me, were you here the night that Ricky Lawless died?
"No, I was off that night, but Linda was here," she said pointing to a brunette walking towards the bar with a tray of glasses. She went off and I waited for Linda to bring her tray up.
She came up and gave me a smile, I asked again, "Hi, can you tell me if you were here the night Ricky Lawless died?"
Her smile dissolved and she looked sad now. "Yes, I was here. I was standing on the sidewall watching Ricky sing when he suddenly fell down and died. It was tragic. I couldn't believe he was gone. He said he was going to marry me when his record went up to the top ten."
I glanced to Penny who had a surprised look on her face, probably the same look I had. "Ricky was going to marry you?"
"Yes he was, as soon as he divorced his wife, Mary Lou. She lives in LA and he had started divorce proceedings on her."
"He told you he had a wife in LA? Did he ever mention a wife in Arizona?"
"Arizona? No, he never mentioned that his wife was from Arizona. Should this be something I would know?"
"Well, his wife is in Arizona, his real wife. He told you she was in LA, right?"
"Yeah he did. She wasn't?"
"Well, the wife we know lives in Arizona. This is news to me. What else did he tell you?"
"He never said he lived in Arizona, he said he was from Nashville, and moved to LA when he got married to Mary Lou. They had a home near Echo Park. She even came in here one night, I didn't say anything, I just held back while he dealt with the psycho bitch."
"She was a psycho bitch, why?"
"She was screaming about how he was spending the money from his records for things he didn't need."
"Did she say what kind of things?"
"Clothes, drugs, anything that he liked, she didn't approve."
"How did she happen to be here, did he bring her or did she arrive by herself?"
"That I couldn't tell you, she came in about a week ago when he was working and started on him, screaming about this and that. I felt sorry for him. Listen, I have to finish my tables," she said looking antsy.
I gave her a twenty and thanked her. She went off to finish her section. I turned to Penny, "Well, this is interesting. We need to find this Mary Lou wife and find out what the deal is. I'll call Lynn and see if she can get into her system to track a motel where this woman could be. If Ricky registered under his stage name."
"I'm afraid to call Jenny and tell her about this," Penny said.
"No, don't bring it up until we find out what's going on."
We sat slowly sipping on our drinks, it was too early for me to drink beer, but this was acceptable for now. It was difficult for me to be in a bar without a beer in hand.
Linda came back up to us and stood, I turned, smiled again and asked, "What's on your mind?"
"You said he had a wife in Arizona?"
"Yes he did, my wife is a cousin. I'm sorry, this is my wife, Penny Wickens. It's her cousin who was married to Ricky."
Linda's eyes went a bit larger when she realized who Penny was. "Oh wow, you're the Vegas Alive host?"
Penny smiled and took her hand that the now excited waitress held out. "Yes, I am, and my cousin Jenny said she was married to Ricky. But now you say he was married to some woman in Los Angeles. We're investigating his death, is there anything you may know that can help us?"
The woman looked to me, then I could see the recognition in her eyes, "You're Jim Richards, the P.I. aren't you. I've read about you in the RJ."
"Well, the Review-Journal has been kind to me. Do you know if Ricky had anyone mad at him other than his LA wife?"
"No, everyone loved Ricky, he was kind and gentle, a real person. He wrote great music, which was going to make him rich when the records took off. Now it doesn't matter."
"Has this LA wife been in here since his death?"
"No, she just disappeared after that."
"What were Ricky's habits, did he drink heavily? Did he drink anything the night he died?"
"Ricky never drank alcohol, he only drink soda. He always drank a glass of water before he would get up to sing, to clear his throat he said."
"The night he died, did he have a glass of water and where did he get it from? I mean did he get it himself or did someone bring it to him?"
"I brought him the glass; I got the water from the tap on the bar. He drank a little to clear his throat then put the glass on his stool behind him. He would drink from it after every song to moisten his throat or so he would say."
"I don't suppose you saw anyone go near his drink?"
"I wasn't really watching the glass, just Ricky and the crowd. He had a good following building up here."
"How long was he performing here?"
"Three weeks up to the CMA show, then he was going back to LA he said. I don't know what I'm going to do without him."
I turned to Penny and said quietly, "Neither will his wife."
Penny took a sip of her drink and made a face. I smiled and said, "You don't care for whiskey, why'd you order it?"
"I didn't want to look like a wuss to the bartender. I just ordered something I heard on an old movie," she said with a smile.
I kissed her cheek and said, "You are something, I guess I'll keep you."
I turned back to Linda, "How did Ricky get around, did he have a car?"
"No, he had a Chevy pick-up. A big S-20 that he loved."
I looked to Penny again, "Pick-up truck, part of the country dream." I turned back to Linda and asked, "Where is his pick-up now?"
She looked a little puzzled, "I'm not sure, last I saw it was in the parking lot when he arrived the night he died, I didn't look for it afterwards."
"Where was it parked on that night?"
"In the back. I don't think the police ever asked about it. It should still be there unless someone took it."
"Thanks Linda, we'll check it." I gave her another twenty, she thanked me and went off. I turned to Penny and said, "Shall we go break into a pick-up?"
"Anything's better than this drink."
I laughed and stood. "Shall we go boot-scootin out the back way?"
We went through the door going out to the back parking lot. It was dirt and gravel, with a large empty field behind the lot. Weeds had grown up hiding the back forty probably needing to be plowed.
I looked around at the few cars probably owned by the employees and spotted a pick-up truck with Arizona plates.
"I guess Linda didn't check out his plates. But this doesn't explain the LA wife if he's driving an Arizona truck. I really hate mystery."
"That's a fine thing to say for a P.I., even if you aren't the best one in the world."
"Thank you, I happen to be a very good investigator, just ask any of my loyal fans."
"All three of them," she said with a smirk. We went to the truck and luckily it wasn't locked up.
"I guess country folk trust people," I said as I opened the driver's door. "I'm really surprised that Lynn didn't find this truck. Of course she has been a bit distracted lately. She and Deacon are not having a good relationship at the moment; I think they both are suffering for it. We need to have an intervention for them."
"Sounds good to me, if they fail in their relationship where is there hope for the world?" Penny said.
"The world will have to use us as a shining example," I said with a short laugh.
"It helps that we don't have to put up with each other all day long, like Lynn and Deacon do. They need to separate their jobs."
"I mentioned that to Deacon a while back, he agreed. Now let's see what we have here." I looked into the truck and it was a mess. Papers everywhere, soda pop cans and a few beer cans strewn around the cab. I opened the glove box and found a plastic bag with some white powder, I deduced it to be some drug. Penny snorted and said, "Brilliant Holmes."
I pulled my cell phone and speed dialed Lynn. She came on after a few rings, "Jim, got me a killer?"
"No, but I got some info for you. Can you meet me in the back parking lot of Shindigs?"
She pulled in about twenty minutes later as Penny and I sat on the tailgate of the truck waiting.
"Where's Deacon?" I asked.
"We've separated," she said nonchalantly.
Penny sucked air and said, "I'm so sorry."
"No, it's good, we are still together but we've just gone different direction in the job. Deacon is now in vice, even though I'm not happy about it, but we needed to get away from each other on the job. It's too hard to have to bring home our work when we are on the same cases. We got to arguing too much about our opinions of the case."
"I'm glad you are at least hanging in at home," I said.
"Are you kidding, we're joined at the hip when it comes to relationships. Just needed to separate our professional lives. Now what do you have?"
I pointed to the truck, "It's Ricky Lawless' truck, and he supposedly has a second wife in LA. Can you do the search to find her?"
"I'll try, I just need some background."
I explained everything that Linda had told us, Lynn was smiling all the while I related my story.
"What's so funny?" I asked.
"It just sounds like a country song, pick-up truck, two women, and a honky tonk bar. I wonder where the dog is?"
Penny and I both got a laugh out of that and Lynn got on her cell to call CSI in to check the truck. "I screwed up by not asking about this vehicle. Thanks for that. The bag looks like drugs, I hope for your cousin's sake he wasn't dealing."
"It's bad enough that he may have been a bigamist, drug dealing would be a step up," Penny said. I had to agree.
Two techs from CSI showed up about twenty minutes later and the three of us went back into the bar. Lynn flashed her badge and said to Linda that she was going off duty until they could hash over a few details. Linda looked to the manager who was out from his office now and he had to agree to let Lynn talk to her. We all went to a table up front by the large windows that let the afternoon sunshine shine in.
"Linda, I'm sorry if I was brisk with you this last week, but I had a lot on my plate, now can you relate everything that happened again that night lawless died."
Linda pretty much told her the same as she told us earlier, Lynn looked to Penny when Linda mentioned about the LA wife. Lynn thanked her and she went off.
"So Penny, your cousin says Ricky was her husband?"
"This is nothing new, Jenny and I talked about it a couple years back when his recordings were being made, nothing big yet, he was just starting. So I knew that he was married to Jenny. But who's to say he didn't have a wife in LA too?"
"I'll check on it and see what I can find." Lynn called Linda back over, she came right away. "Did you get a name of this wife from LA?"
"I heard Ricky call her Mary Lou one time, that's all I know. She's probably Mary Lou Lawless," Linda said.
"Ricky's last name wasn't Lawless, it was Wayne. He used a stage name," I said.
"Well, I don't know about that. I never heard her last name mentioned."
Lynn thanked her and she went off again, "I'll check on both Mary Lou Lawless and Mary Lou Wayne to see what pops," she said to us. Lynn gave us a big smile and said, "I'll be back at the precinct, call if anything new develops." She went out to her car and drove away.
Penny and I went back to sit at the bar and ordered another drink, we both needed it. There was a show on the TV about the CMA award show coming up at the MGM Grand concert hall. We sat watching as I looked down the bar to see a woman in an animated conversation with the barmaid. Linda was standing nearby and then came down to us hurriedly.
"Mr. Richards, we got a problem, that woman at the bar claims to be Ricky's wife; she wants to know what happened."
I guess I had the same surprised look that Penny had and told Linda to have the woman come to us. She went to the agitated woman and said something to her, pointing to us. The woman came down the bar and up to Penny and me.
I said as she stood next to me, "Hi, I'm Jim and this is my wife Penny. She happens to be Ricky's cousin, did he mention her to you at all?"
The woman looked a little surprised at the news and was silent for a beat. "No, he never mentioned her, but we weren't married that long for him to open up about his family. Good to meet you. Do you know what happened to him?"
"How did you find out he was dead?" I asked.
She was silent again, as if she was trying to get her facts straight. "I called here yesterday and was told he died this last week, I had to come and find out what happened, do you know?"
"How long have you been married to Ricky and where are you from?"
"Shouldn't I be the one asking the questions?"
"Well, you can answer my questions or you can answer Vegas homicide's questions. They just left here, now who are you?"
She looked to Penny, "Are you really his cousin?"
"According to Ricky's real wife I am, now answer my husband's question, who are you?"
She looked a little shook, but kept her composure. She reached back and took out a wallet and opened it to reveal an ID stating she was an investigator of the Western Life Insurance Company.
"Now who are you?" she said to me.
I pulled my ID and showed her. "I'm owner of Richards Investigations, my wife is actually Ricky's cousin and his wife asked me to investigate his death. You were sent here by the insurance company?"
She gave me a slight smile and said, "Looks like we are on the same side."
Penny mumbled, "Don't go taking sides yet." Not loud enough for anyone to hear but me, I just gave her my look.
"So you're an insurance investigator?" I asked trying to ignore Penny's comments.
"Yes, I've been with the company for about two years. It's an interesting job, finding people who try to cheat the system and I save the company money."
"Do they give you a bounty for cheats found?"
"I wish. No, I get paid a salary, but the perks are good, they pay for my travel and lodging, I get to choose which hotels to stay in. Vegas is a treat for me."
"Oh, I'm Jim Richards and this is my wife…"
"Penny Wickens, I used to watch your talk show on the CW while I traveled the country living in the occasional lousy motel. Sorry I didn't mean to interrupt, nice to meet both of you. I'm Buffy McCabe."
"Buffy the cheat slayer?" I said.
She laughed and said, "Thanks, I've heard worse. I'm the only female investigator in the company, so I have to try harder, and having a name like Buffy doesn't help."
"Why don't you use an alias?"
"I would have, but my bosses didn't give me a chance. I think they want me to fail, this is my sixth case and I haven't proven much and this case could help."
"So why are you investigating Ricky and why pretend to be his wife, isn't that a little risky?"
"I knew his first wife was not with him, the one in Arizona, now the one from LA, that's another matter. I was trying to shake up the LA wife into doing something stupid, so if I claimed to be his wife she may tip her hand as to why she is here. As for why I'm investigating Ricky, he had a three million dollar policy with us, and with double indemnity, his wife is a rich woman. The real one at least. We want to be sure the second one doesn't try to claim the cash. And find out how he actually died so we can determine the proper payout or if anyone even deserves the money."
"How did you know about the LA wife?"
"I've been on this for two days, I keep my eyes and ears open. I have an assistant in LA hunting up a marriage license on the second wife. I don't know how bigamy will affect the policy, but the Arizona wife is listed as beneficiary. The LA wife could cause trouble."
"Six million dollars, that's a good cause for murder," I said.
"If the first wife didn't do it, which would nullify the policy in her favor. The second wife doing the deed would just be a cause for putting her away for good. Now do you have anything to share with me?"
"No more than you already mentioned. Did you know he was poisoned?"
"I kind of figured that, but how is the question."
"He ingested the poison; we just need to figure out when he drank the fatal drink. Linda, who gave him a glass of water that night, says she was supposed to get married to Ricky, when he divorced his LA wife. She didn't know about the Arizona wife. If the LA wife knew this, then she may have felt threatened enough to murder him. Either way, Linda wouldn't have benefited from his death."
"Unless she was mad enough if she found out that he was married to two woman, if she knew." Buffy turned to look at Linda, "She doesn't look the type to commit murder but I've seen meeker murderers."
As we sat talking, the stage was being populated by band members, getting their amps turned on and their guitars tuned. I hadn't realized it was getting so late. I turned to Penny and said, "Shall we hang around to listen to the band?"
"Sho'nuff cowboy," she said with a smile.
My cell phone buzzed and the ID said it was Trapper. "Yes, Mr. Trapper, what can I do for you?"
"Just seeing how you're doing on your country case?"
"I'm finding all kinds of lyrics for a good country tune, why?''
"I'm just bored, where are you at?"
"The country bar where Ricky was murdered. Penny and I are sitting here with a lady investigator for Ricky's life insurance company, just waiting for the band to start."
"I'll be there in twenty minutes," he said and hung up. I wondered if he knew where we were, but Trapper is resourceful. I put my cell phone away as Linda came up and stood in front of Buffy looking like she wanted answers.
"Who are you and why are you saying you were married to Ricky?" she demanded. I had to stifle a laugh as Buffy looked a bit surprised.
"Girl, we need to talk." Buffy took Linda to a table and I presumed she was going to question her and break the news to her. I had everything I needed from Linda for now; Buffy can get what she can from her.
About fifteen minutes later, Trapper showed up. "You must have broken a few speeding laws?"
"Traffic was light, and I knew where you were. Now where is this lady investigator?"
I pointed to Buffy and Trapper eye balled her. She was a looker, dark blonde hair, tall, well built, wearing tight jeans and a silk blouse. She was just perfect for Trapper. He grinned at me and said hi to Penny.
"Pull your tongue in, Will," Penny said. "And close your mouth."
"What's her name?"
"Buffy McCabe," I answered.
He looked to me and said, "Buffy?"
"Yep, and she's no bubble-head. So be careful. She's also a lot younger than you."
"Age means nothing to me, if she's smart enough I can get to like her."
"If she can get to like you." Penny put in.
"Hey, what's not to like, I'm good looking, smart, a private investigator and a good lover, what more can she want?"
"Someone who is not you," Penny said with a laugh.
"Yes and I love you too Penny."
"Either way, she'll have to decide. Ah, she's done with the waitress," I said. Buffy stood leaving Linda looking sad. I presumed Buffy gave her all the gory details that I had spared her from. Buffy came back to us.
"Buffy, this is Will Trapper, an old friend and partner in my firm. He's a retired cop from Michigan and working with me here now. He also is originally from Las Vegas, so if you need to know anything about the city, he can help."
I was sure Trapper was a bit put off by my references to him being an 'old friend' and 'retired', but he smiled and turned to her and said, "Good to meet you, I'm at your disposal."
"Will, I'm glad to meet you. Are you on any case right now?" she said with a smile.
"No, I happen to be free and open to suggestions."
"I could use someone to guide me around the city if you are interested?"
"I'd be more than happy to. When do you want to start?"
"We just did, now can you guide me to the dance floor?"
The band had started with a slow song, a belly rubber as I called it. They went to the dance floor and did their thing. I looked to Penny and she was smiling.
"Will is so smooth, but I don't think Buffy is so stupid to fall for his smoothness," I said. "She's going to use him."
"But he'll love it," Penny laughed. "What ever happened to Samantha?"
"They're taking some time off from each other. Trapper felt like she was getting too close."
"Will is going to be an old man with no one to love. He's never been married has he?"
"Nope, but he had a big love back here in Vegas years ago, she was killed in a traffic accident. I guess he never got over it."
"That's sad, I really hope he finds someone."
"Yep, but someone closer to his age, Buffy would probably kill him," I said with a big grin.
The band was now getting into a more lively country tune, something by Brooks and Dunn. Trapper and Buffy lasted on the dance floor for a couple more tunes, but Will was looking a little winded, he held up. They came back to us and sat.
Trapper leaned back and turned his head to me, "I guess I'm getting a bit old for all this."
"Will, you're only fifty-nine and in good health, dancing shouldn't kill you."
"I spend too much time fighting crime by the seat of my pants," he laughed.
Buffy must have good hearing, she said, "Will, we need to get you out doing some cardio and exercise. Tomorrow we start you on a regime of getting back into the shape I think you once were. Agreed?"
He looked back to her and had a surprised expression, "Okay, anything you say. I'm putty in your hands."
I leaned to Penny and said, "Smooth."
We hung in for about another two hours, boot-scootin the dance floor. I was surprised that Penny could do the line dance; she explained it was part of one of her shows a few years back. She had a country line-dance team on her show and they gave her a few lessons. Trapper and Buffy seemed to be enjoying each other, I had to admit it looked like a father and daughter out for a night. But he didn't care.
We were at a table now when Linda came rushing up and whispered in my ear, "Ricky's wife is here."
I turned my attention to Buffy and said, "Do you know what Mary Lou looks like?"
"I've only heard about her, haven't had the pleasure to meet her yet, why?" she replied.
"Well, she's here. Shall we go greet her?"
Buffy looked surprised, not a good look for an investigator, we have to always be prepared for surprises and not show it. She had a lot to learn. "Where is she?" Buffy asked.
"I don't know yet, but Linda told me she was here, so I assume we ask Linda to point her out," I said as I stood and went to Linda waiting on a table. Buffy followed.
"Linda, where is Mary Lou?" I asked.
Linda pointed to a woman standing at the end of the bar in the corner. I turned to see a heavyset woman, about thirty-some, ratty hair and generally scary looking. I couldn't see what Ricky saw in her if he really was married to her. I didn't know what Jenny in Arizona looked like, I hoped better than Mary Lou.
Buffy followed me to the end of the bar and around it to the corner where Mary Lou was now sitting on a stool. "Excuse me, are you Mary Lou?" I said to start a conversation.
She gave me a dirty look and said, "Maybe, who's asking?" she growled, just enough to cause shivers in my back.
I pulled my wallet with my investigator's license and the LVMPD auxiliary police badge that I had from back when I helped chase down the Bridezilla killer. Captain Weber had told Lynn to deputize me and she did, giving me the badge. No one ever asked for it back so I just figured it would be handy someday, or until I got caught.
I flashed both and said "I'm investigating the murder of Ricky Lawless, I understand that you are claiming to be his wife."
She gave me an evil-eye look and snarled, "I don't claim it, I am, or was, his wife. What's it to you?"
"As I said I'm investigating his murder, I'd like to talk about you and Ricky. How long were you married to him?"
"Are you a real cop, that badge said auxiliary."
"I'm a private investigator and an auxiliary police officer, now I'm being nice here. I just need some answers, and I'd like to have a nice talk with you about it. Either here or I can have you taken in to Metro headquarters for questioning, your choice."
She mulled that over a bit, probably wondering how far my powers go with the badge. "Alright, we can talk. I was married to Ricky for about a year, since he started recording. He was on the road a lot, and I only saw him when he was close enough for me to drive from LA to where he was working. He was in Vegas and I come up to see him a couple times in the last three weeks."
"You were here the night he died?"
"I wasn't in the bar, I was out exploring Vegas, I took in a couple shows. I missed the incident, and I didn't know about it until the next day."
"Witnesses say they saw you arguing with Ricky a couple nights before he was murdered, what was that about?"
She looked like she was chewing on something, I hoped gum and not chewing tobacco, she looked like she could. She took a drink from her glass then set it down. She looked to Buffy who was standing just behind me to my right.
"What's she, an auxiliary cop too?"
Buffy moved closer and said, "No, I'm an investigator for the company that insured Ricky's life. I'm here to investigate his death for payment of the policy."
"Well, I should be a rich woman, shouldn't I?"
Now I spoke, "Not really, Ricky's real wife, the one in Arizona may have something to say about that. She's listed as his beneficiary."
Now Mary Lou showed a crack in her composure, "What wife in Arizona?"
"The woman he's been married to for the last sixteen years and has a fifteen year old daughter with; that wife in Arizona. You didn't know?"
"Buster, if I knew I would have killed him myself, which I didn't. The rat bastard married me when we met in LA while he was performing at a dive there. I took a shine to him and let him stay at my house near Echo Park. We got married in a fever, as the song goes. He stayed with me until he had to tour. I paid for most of his expenses and tour equipment; I had quite a bit of money from a former husband in a divorce settlement. Son of a bitch, he used me." She took a good swallow of her drink.
"Want to know what we were arguing about? Money. He was spending what I gave him to get his records made, but in the wrong places. I was complaining that I wasn't seeing any return on my investment from his record sales. He bellyached that his company was hanging on to his royalties; he would pay me back when he got them. But he was spending my money like he was some rich bastard and I called him on it."
"Did you know of anyone who may have wanted to kill him?" Buffy asked.
"Lady, I couldn't tell you about any of his friends, let alone enemies. He didn't share much with me. I often wondered why I even married him. But I knew it was for my money." She slurped up the rest of her drink and slammed the glass down calling to the cowgirl behind the bar for another and continued, "I just figured he be a big country star someday, he was good, that's what attracted me to him.
"Did you know any of the people at his record company?" I asked.
"Just two, Jeb Hawley and Sam Casper, they were his reps at the Circle Four Records. They were in a club in LA when he came back to perform in town and they showed up while I was there. They seemed to be snake oil salesmen to me, but I didn't care as long as they could make him a star. I did hear them talking about insurance against his not fulfilling the contract. They had him sign some papers for it too. Ricky bragged to me later that he was worth about ten million dollars in record sales even if he couldn't perform, just on his record sales. Want to investigate killers, I'd look to them." Her second drink arrived and she belted it down.
"If you don't need me, I think I'll go buy a fifth of whiskey and retire to my motel room."
I asked where she was staying and she told me, then she went off and out the front door.
"I'll call my friend in Vegas homicide to go check her out." I turned to see Trapper standing behind us, smiling. "You probably loved that didn't you?" I asked him.
"That was some great interrogation techniques. I learn so much from you." He said with a grin.
I turned to Buffy and said, "Get him out of my sight." I went back to Penny who was relaxing in her chair with about five people sitting with her. Fans I hoped. Penny smiled up to me as I stood next to her.
"I think we are done here, shall we go home to see if Willy has destroyed the house?"
She gave me a frown and stood, thanking her fans and we went out the front door to the van. I sat in the seat as I pulled my cell phone and called Lynn. I explained what had happened in the bar and gave her the name of the motel where Mary Lou was staying. She thanked me and said she would look into it. I hung up and put the phone back in my pocket. I turned to Penny and blew her a kiss.
"You didn't marry me for my money, did you?" Penny asked after listening to my detailed report to Lynn.
"I sure did, if you remember I was broke and living with my parents. So what did you expect?"
She reached over and slapped my arm and said, "Let's go home, I'm beat."
I drove out and into our driveway letting Penny out at the front door. The security lights came on so Penny could see if there was anyone lurking by the front door, there wasn't. I parked the van on the side and could see Angelo in the guesthouse, his front windows weren't covered. That would bother me in the dark of the night.
I locked up the van, went in the side door directly to the kitchen and was expecting a mess. I was surprised to see Willy sitting quietly in the middle of the room, tail wagging furiously. Penny was standing at the kitchen door from the front smiling.
"He didn't even poop on the floor. Take him out before he explodes." Penny said and went off from the room.
I picked up Willy and took him out the back door to the side where he relieved himself. I smiled and said, "You are being good for some reason? Maybe you want us to take you with us more often?"
"Who you talking to Mr. R.?" came a gruff voice from the gate in the fence, it was Angelo. He startled me.
"Hey Angelo, I was talking to Willy, how's things going with you?" I said recovering from my surprise.
"Good, Buck has me guarding some country singer from Nashville. I start tomorrow morning, when she comes into McCarron Airport. I'm not much for country music but it's still a job I will do."
"And I know you will do it well, my friend."
Willy had finished his business and I picked it up with the plastic bag I brought out with me. Angelo was standing nearby and laughed as Willy bounced around his feet.
"Dis dog is so cute, I may be wanting to get one of my own, but I'm kinda busy most da time." Angelo said slipping back into his mob talk. He had been improving his speech, but occasionally it was nice to hear the vernacular from his former life.
"Well you can babysit Willy anytime you have nothing to do. It gets a little hard to take him out on a case, I'm afraid he might get hurt."
"No problem, be glad ta watch him."
"Thanks, my friend. Well, I need to go get some sleep. I'm investigating the murder of a country singer, so we may run into each other over the weekend at the country music awards show. You sleep well yourself, those country female singers can be a handful, just don't take any guff."
"I'll keep a tight fist on them, thanks, sleep good." He went back to his little house and I took Willy back inside to call it a night.
I was lying in bed, Penny was already asleep, she was a fast sleeper. Me, I just couldn't nod off as fast, I thought too much in the quiet of the night. I was going over the events of the day and came up with a few observations that I should have checked earlier. First, how did Ricky's insurance company know so soon after he died, and how did Buffy get there the day after it happened? Who called them and why? I also thought about talking to the band that performed with Ricky that night; I should have talked to them earlier. I guess I'm getting old and forgetful to not come up with such basic questions. But I had to admit there were a lot of distractions tonight, hard to concentrate on the details when the bigger picture was glaring in my face.
I must have finally dozed off, because Penny was shaking me in bed telling me to get up. She went off to the kitchen, I presumed, because I could hear pans being used. Angelo was making one of his famous breakfasts for us. I got up slowly, letting my body and bones creak into place. I stood slowly stretching my body into an upright position, it hurt briefly. Damn, I hated getting old.
I showered first before going to breakfast, then ambled out to the snack bar where I found a plate of pancakes waiting for me.
"Good morning Mr. R., I hope ya gotta good night's sleep," Angelo said as he put the syrup in front of me.
"Yes I did Angelo, slept through the night. I didn't even get up to use the bathroom, which means I slept soundly. What time do you have to go pick-up your client?"
"Da lady is coming in around noon, so I gots some time left."
Penny was just finishing her pancakes and asked me, "So where are we investigating today?"
I swallowed the food in my mouth and said, "I need to call Jenny in Arizona to ask a few questions first that came to me last night. Then I'll figure out where to go from there."
Angelo had finished putting the pots and pans away and said he was going to get ready for his job. He went off leaving Penny, Willy and I still finishing our breakfast.
"You don't think we're taking advantage of Angelo with these breakfasts, do you?"
"Penny dear, he is living in our guesthouse rent free; I don't think he minds the payback."
"I guess so, it's nice having him nearby, for company and protection. If I had to have any person protecting us, it would be Angelo."
"Hey, I'm good at protecting too, you know."
"Yes dear, but you're getting slow at moving, we'd be tied up and the house robbed before you'd have your gun out."
"Yeah, well, you'd have your gun out before crooks would even get a chance to tie us up."
"Count on it Sweetie," she said with her evil little smile and went off to get dressed.
I looked down to Willy and said, "Women, it'd be a far better world without them. Beer and TV every night, not having to clean up after ourselves and there'd be no murders committed in the name of love. Nasty thing love, makes people do stupid things. Don't you agree?"
Willy was doing his shaking thing and yipped to me. I smiled and threw the pup a piece of pancake.
About an hour later, I was fully dressed and in my home office at my desk. Penny was sitting in the chair facing me as I picked up the phone to call Jenny. I didn't know how to tell her that Ricky was not a faithful husband, even to the point of marrying another woman.
"Ricky was a bastard," Penny said, surprising me with her outburst. I paused in my dialing and asked why.
"He was married to my cousin for sixteen years and had a daughter, but he married this woman from LA just for her money, so he's a bastard," she said with a bit of disgust.
"You won't get an argument from me. I guess that makes it easier to tell her, but I don't want to hurt her."
"Let me break it to her, then you can ask your questions."
I liked that idea, Penny was better at talking to people about unpleasant things. I finished dialing and put the thing on speakerphone, so we could both listen.
The phone on the other end rang a number of times before Jenny answered. She said hello and Penny moved closer to the phone base.
"Jenny, this is your cousin Penny. Do you have some time to talk?"
"Sure, Kelly is still sleeping now," she replied. I presumed Kelly was the daughter, I hadn't asked before. She continued, "Did you find out anything about Ricky?"
"Well, we found out a number of things. First I have to ask something and I hope you'll be honest with me, how was your marriage to Ricky going?"
There was a long awkward pause from the phone; we waited. Finally, Jenny said, "We were having problems, him being gone way too long at a time, and with Kelly being sick he was hardly there for her. I was doubting our relationship, he was distant when he was home, like he wanted to be on the road. I know he loved the singing and the performing, but it hurt me to have him not want us in that life." She took a breath and paused again.
"Take your time, Jen. I'll wait," Penny said softly.
"Penny, you have a good marriage from what I hear, but my marriage hasn't been. I was almost on the verge of divorcing him, but then his records started to take off, I figured he'd at least pay the hospital bills for Kelly. That was the only reason I put up with his crap."
She was sounding a bit bitter now, making it easier for Penny to announce the final blow.
"Jen, I have something to tell you, it's not easy for me to say to you, so I'll just tell you. Ricky had married another woman out in Los Angeles about a year ago. It turns out he just married her for the money she gave him." Penny paused for a reaction.
"I'm not surprised, I could tell he was up to something. I just didn't think he'd do something so stupid as to marry another woman. Thanks for telling me."
That was easy, now I need to ask a few questions. "Jenny this is Jim, can I ask you a few questions?"
"Sure, go ahead, this is all a big mess anyways, I hope you can straighten it out."
"How did you find out Ricky was dead?"
"I got a call from one of the guys who played in his band, Buster Jones. He was a good friend to Ricky and I, so he called to tell me."
"Did you call his insurance company right away?"
"No, I still haven't talk to anyone there until I heard from you."
"Well, could Buster have called them?"
"I don't know why he would, I don't even know if Ricky told any of his band who he was insured through."
"Does this band travel with him?"
"Just Buster and another man named Geech Goodwin, his drummer. Buster played bass and Ricky was lead guitar. They would hire a steel guitar player while in towns that had good musicians to fill out the sound. Just Buster and Geech traveled with him."
Buster and Geech, sounds like a country team I thought. "There is an investigator from the insurance company in town to investigate the cause of death, so if we find Ricky hadn't committed suicide, there should be a double payout on his policy. Did you know how much he was insured for?"
"No, he never talked about that, he said it creeped him out to talk about death."
"Okay are you sitting?"
She paused, "Yes I am."
"Ricky's basic policy was a death payment of three million dollars, with double indemnity it will be six million."
We heard what sounded like the phone dropping and then could hear some coughing sounds. The phone was picked up again and Jenny said loudly, "Six million dollars! Oh… my… God, how can that be?"
"It's what he felt he was worth, now you are a wealthy woman."
We calmed Jenny down enough to explain to her that she should call the insurance company to arrange for a payout, after Buffy finished her investigating that is. We could tell Jenny was crying, probably thinking about how she was going to be able to take full care of her daughter now.
"I'm still not finished checking a few things here, but I'll let you know what is going on. Now we have to discuss getting Ricky's body back to you. Have you contacted the funeral home?" I asked.
"Yes, I call yesterday; they said they'd take care of burial after he is brought out. Are you still going to do that?"
"Yes, we can. Is Ricky's recording label in LA?" I asked.
"No, they have a studio in Phoenix. Ricky recorded all his songs there. His agent is there also."
"Have you talked to them at all?"
"No, and as I said before they haven't even called to express their regrets. I never liked them anyways."
"Okay, I have to find out the final outcome of his body then we'll get him back to you."
"Jim, I was thinking about it, I think I want him cremated and then brought back. Right now, with what you told me, I really don't want to see him laid out. Kelly's health is too bad to even leave the hospital to see him anyways. I want her to just remember her father when he was alive. Can you see about cremation out there?"
That would make things so much easier to take him home. "I'll call a person who I know at a mortuary here and arrange it. I'll let you know how it works out."
"Thank you Jim and Penny, I appreciate your help." She sounded like she was choking up again.
"Go rest now and we'll take care of everything for you," Penny said and we hung up.
I sat back thinking how this woman must be a wreck now with everything going on. I hoped six million dollars would help her. Penny was sitting back also and smiled at me. "You're going to call Hannigan Mortuary aren't you?"
She knew I would, Hannigan was the man who started my case on the missing body from his mortuary that led to tracking down a dirty bomb and a hired assassin bent on killing the President while he was visiting Vegas. Fun times, I mused.
"Yes, I'll have him take care of the details. Now I have to see what Lynn may have come up with talking to Mary Lou. Care to go for a ride?"
"Sure and I think we need to take Willy out for a ride too."
"Works for me, but you get to carry his bag," I said as I stood and came around the desk. We went out to the kitchen and Willy was sitting in the middle of the room, next to his travel bag. I was startled.
"How did he get that down from the counter?" I asked.
"He's our baby, he's resourceful." Nothing much seemed to faze Penny; she took most unexplained things in stride.
I picked up the bag and Willy was bouncing. I picked him up and put him in the opening and handed the bag to Penny. We went out the front door after I set the time delay on the driveway alarm.
We drove out to the LV Metro police precinct where we found Lynn sitting in her office typing on the computer. She looked to us and grinned.
"Why did I have a strange feeling you two would be here soon?" she said.
"We radiate warmth where ever we go, what do you have on Mary Lou?"
"Nothing, she flew the coop last night by the time I got there. I got a BOLO out for her and called the LA police to watch for her. She just put herself up high on my list of suspects for murder."
"I probably should have called you from the bar when we knew she was there," I said sheepishly.
"That would have been nice, but I realize you are getting senile. So I'll forgive you this time. Did you get anything from the insurance dick?"
"Not much, she was about as clueless as we were. I know Trapper may have some more information from her. They hung in at the bar after Penny and I left."
"You left her with Trapper, was that wise?"
"I think he'll survive. She seems to be pretty aggressive. I'll find out when I see him later. So your case on Ricky hasn't much more than I got?"
"Nope, we talked to everyone who was there that night and no one saw him take any drinks other than the water glass on the stage. CSI found the glass and they said it was good old tap water, no sign of poison. The only answer is that someone switched the glass after he keeled over. There was such confusion it could have been easy for someone to grab the glass and switch it out."
"Are you done with Ricky's body yet, I have directions to have the body cremated before taking it back to Arizona."
"Cremated, eh?' I was always suspicious of cremations, the body is then long gone for further examinations. Was this the wife's idea?"
"Yes, but I think she had good reasons for it. Besides you got all the samples you need from such an open and shut case of the cause of the murder."
"Yeah, we do know he was poisoned by ingestion, that's pretty much determined, but I'm always suspicious of cremation. Who you going to have do it?"
"Hannigan Mortuary, I'm sure you remember them."
"No, not really, your memory is slipping if you don't remember, I was in LA testifying on a trial, Deacon helped on most of that case."
"Right, how is Deacon doing, by the way?"
"I passed him in the hallway, we snuck a kiss and he said he was going out to bust a few hookers. I hope he doesn't catch anything."
"Is your relationship doing better now?" Penny asked.
"Oh, yes. We are so glad to see each other now when we get home, makes for more pleasant evenings."
Penny laughed and said, "I can imagine what your pleasant evenings entailed."
"Deacon chasing after hookers stirs his libido too," she said with a laugh.
Captain Weber popped in the door and said, "Richards, and Mrs. Richards, good to see you, I hear you are investigating our country singer's death also?"
"Yes, the singer's wife is Penny's cousin, she asked us to look into it. Are you a big fan of country?"
"If you consider Elvis to be country I am. But I admire the sound of a good country tune, so carry on," he said and flew out the door.
"I've said it before and again, that is one strange man," I said again.
"So what are you going to do now?" Lynn asked.
"Heading to the mortuary and see Hannigan, then later we might go back to the bar and talk to a couple friends of Ricky's. Care to join us and bring Deacon?"
"We just might do that, we haven't been out in a while and this way I kill two birds with one line dance."
"Great, I'll call when we are ready to go." I turned to Penny still holding a very quiet Willy in his bag and said, "Shall we go to the death house?"
"Not when you put it like that, fool."
"Okay let's go visit Mr. Hannigan."
"Better, see you later Lynn," she said and we went out.
I remembered where the mortuary was since Penny and I first went there, back when I called Penny my assistant and she wasn't happy about it. We parked and went in to find the same receptionist as before and she smiled when we entered.
"Mr. and Mrs. Richards, good to see you again, are you here on a case?"
"Sort of but this doesn't involve your business. We have a body that needs cremating; you do that here don't you?"
"Oh yes, we are licensed to cremate bodies, and we have the best technology to prevent the foul smoke from our crematorium," she said with a sense of pride.
"Is Mr. Hannigan in?" I asked.
"I'll get him," she said as she picked up her phone and made the call.
About five minutes later Thomas Hannigan came through the door and welcomed us. We went to his office and he had us sit.
"What can I do for you today?" he asked.
"We have a body that needs cremating," I said
"Someone you killed?" he said with a grin.
"No, but I 'm investigating his death. He's a cousin of Penny's and we are going to take him back home to Phoenix, after you cremate him."
"Where is he now?"
"Clark County Morgue, he'll be released soon, I'll let you know. Can you have someone pick him up?"
"I sure can," he said as he pushed a pad of paper and pencil towards me. "Just put his name down and I'll arrange the rest. What type of container do you want him in?"
"Coffee can would be fine," I joked, Penny whacked my arm and I winced. "Sorry, what do you have?"
He pulled out a booklet and showed us the selection. I moved it to Penny and told her to pick one. She thumbed through it like it was a Sears' catalogue and then pointed to one that looked nice.
I saw the price and said, "Remember dear, you said he was a bastard."
She gave me a stare that told me to shut up, and said, "He left my cousin six million dollars, we can at least inter his remains with dignity."
She showed Hannigan the one she liked and said to go with it. He smiled and said he had a few of them on hand, so it was no problem.
"How long after you pick him up will he be ready for transport to Phoenix?" I asked.
"Well, you'll have to sign a few papers at the morgue to release the body and for a transfer permit; it would be the next day after we take him in. I can call you when it's done. I still have your business card from our adventure with the missing body, thank you so much for your help on that."
I almost thought about asking for a discount on the urn for helping him, but I knew Penny would just whack me again, so I kept quiet about that and said, "No problem, that was a definite adventure." We finished and left the building.
I sat for a moment in the van until Penny finally asked what I was doing. "I'm organizing my thoughts."
"That shouldn't take this long," she said with a sigh.
"Sorry, but I like to have a plan before I just stumbled blindly into the fray."
"Fray? Are you trying to be poetic now?"
"I'm trying to figure out my attack on this. Do you have a better idea?"
She sighed again, "Why don't you go to the morgue and see what Joe Lang has for you?"
"Just what I was thinking," I said with a sly glance to her.
I drove over to the morgue and we went in, leaving Willy in the van. The morgue was no place for a dog, with all the doggy maladies that could be caught. A morgue is not the most sanitary place. At least that was our excuse for not bringing him.
Joe Lang grinned when he saw Penny; I got a stare. "What? You aren't happy to see me too?" I said.
"Don't push it, you make me work," he said finally smiling.
"Is Ricky's body ready for transfer?"
"Yes he is. If you'll follow me we can get the paperwork finished for you to take him. You got a mortuary to pick him up, oh wait, you got Hannigan to take him didn't you?"
"Only mortician I know personally. I'll call him and say we did the paperwork."
"How are you transporting the body to Phoenix?"
"He's going in a seven inch square urn."
"You're having him cremated?"
"That's the widow's wishes and it's easier to haul him back home."
"I don't remember any country songs about being cremated?"
"I thought they always had a way of sending a cheating husband to hell."
Joe laughed and gave me the papers to sign. We finished up and were back to the van. Willy was sitting in my driver's seat and wouldn't move. "You aren't old enough to drive, now get to the floor."
He huffed and jumped down. I slid in and Penny was already buckled in. "I think he understands you, Sweetie."
"Too bad his mother doesn't."
"I'm not his mother, I'm more of a younger sister."
"Dream on," I said as I started the van and drove out. We went by the office, I saw Trapper's Jeep in the parking lot next to a Subaru. I presumed it was Buffy's.
"What's Will doing here on a Saturday?" Penny asked.
"I'd hate to imagine. I think the Subaru probably belongs to Buffy."
"And they are here? What's wrong with Will's apartment?"
"Well, lets go find out," I said with a smirk.
We came in the back door quietly and could hear nothing. We went up to Trapper's door and I peeked around the doorframe. They weren't in there. I signaled to Penny to follow and went up front. We found them sitting on the couch in the lobby watching TV. I had to laugh which made Trapper jump.
"What are you two doing?" I asked.
"Just watching the Great American Country station about the CMA awards tomorrow night. Why are you two here?"
"Just slumming. How was your night?" I said quietly as Penny went to sit with Buffy.
"Well, I'm not in love but I enjoyed her company," he said with a grin.
"You are a letch, you know that."
"Yes, and proud of it." We went to the couch and sat. Trapper squeezed in between Penny and Buffy. Penny grinned and moved over next to me.
"So Buffy what's your report going to say?" I asked.
"I don't see anything out of the ordinary, he was poisoned by a killer, so the policy's double indemnity is standing. We just need to find out who was the killer before we can release the funds."
I knew that was coming, they had to be sure the beneficiary didn't murder the policy holder, or arrange it. Now I had to work harder to find the killer so Jenny could get her money. Damn, I hated pressure.
"Okay, are you going to be hanging around for the finale?"
"Of course, I have to prove my worth to the company. This may be my last job if I don't bring home something."
"Are they threatening you?" Penny asked.
"Not really, but I probably will end up in actuary filing cases if I don't come back with the goods."
I could feel both Penny and Trapper looking at me after she said that. "Okay, stick close and we'll help you beat the system," I said.
"Thank you, I was hoping you would help."
"I have a question, how did your company find out so quickly that Ricky was dead?"
"They got a phone call from an anonymous person that he had been murdered. Since the policy involved so much money, they jumped quickly to cover their butts. I was sent out since I was the only agent who wasn't already on a case. I drove out the next day and here I am."
A mysterious caller? I thought about Buster again, he was probably the only person who would have called, but what did he hope to gain? Well, I'd have to ask later when we talked to the band.
"So now what do we do? Mary Lou has flown the coup, and we have no other suspects. I need to talk to Ricky's band members to see what they have to offer. In a day or two, I'll be taking the body back to Phoenix and I'm going to inquire at his recording company and his agent as to their interest in his death." I leaned forward and asked Buffy, "If you'd care to tag along. It's okay by me."
"Thanks, if you think it will help, I'm for it." She looked to Trapper and he smiled and said, "I guess I could escort you out to Arizona if you'd like."
She said quietly but we could hear, "I like."
There was nothing much more to do until the bar had the band in to play later tonight, so I invited everyone to our home for a barbecue. They all agreed and we drove out to the house. I was wondering how Angelo was doing with his country client and would have to give him a call later.
I fired up the incinerator as we call the B-B-Q grill and cooked the steaks we had for special occasions. Penny and Buffy worked on some side dish and then we had a picnic in the back. Life was good.
Penny talked Buffy into swimming in the pool; I swear she was going to get everyone into it. Trapper and I just sat admiring the women swimming about. Around six, I said we should get ready to go talk to the band. The women got dressed and I took Penny in the van, Trapper took Buffy in his Jeep to the bar once again.
We entered the bar and I saw Linda working the tables. She smiled when she saw us and came over to seat us. She took our drink orders but before she left she said, "The police were here a little while ago asking about Mary Lou. She's missing."
"Yes we know, you don't know where she may be?" I asked.
"Like I told that lady detective, I don't. Does this mean she murdered Ricky?"
"No, but she is a suspect now."
"Okay, I'll get your drinks," she said and went off.
I was watching the band getting their equipment set up and decided to wait a bit before questioning them. I had called Lynn about meeting us here for some dancing and relaxing, maybe they needed it. About twenty minutes later Lynn and Deacon came in and sat with us.
"I hear you were in here earlier questioning Linda about Mary Lou?" I asked.
"Yes, that was a lot of nothing, too. Still no word about her, she's still odds on for the crime. She probably found out Ricky was married and he was taking her for her money, so easy to see she did it."
I looked to Buffy, "There, your case is solved."
She asked Lynn, "Can I get that in writing?"
"No, not until we find her and beat her into confessing, then you'll get your written statement. By the way who are you?"
"I'm sorry Lynn this is Buffy McCabe, insurance investigator for Western Life. She's making sure Ricky wasn't murdered by his wife, the real one."
"Nice to meet you Buffy, this is my partner Deacon DeAngelo. I hope you're not trying to learn investigation techniques from Jim."
"Hey, who is it that you call on when you can't get a handle on your cases. Me, that's who."
"Don't flatter yourself. Now who is this person in the band who called your cousin?"
"His name is Buster Jones. He plays bass guitar." I looked over and the only man with a bass was just putting his instrument on the stand, picked up a glass and went to the bar. He ran some water into the glass from the bar spritzer and took a drink. I stood and went to him.
"Yep, what can I do for you?"
"My wife is Ricky's wife's cousin. Can I talk to you?"
"Jenny's cousin? Sure I can talk."
"Follow me," I said and went back to my table. He followed.
I pulled up a chair for Buster to sit next to me and he sat.
"Buster this is my wife, Penny, she's Jenny's cousin. This woman is homicide Lieutenant Lynn Carter from the Las Vegas Metro Police and she is investigating the murder of Ricky. I was asked by Jenny to look into his death, so if you could answer a few questions about the night Ricky died, it would be helpful."
He sat looking a little surprised, then said, "I don't know much about that night, I just saw him fall off the stage and then they said he was dead. That's all I know."
"Well, you called Jenny the next day to tell her and I believe you called Ricky's insurance company to tell them. How am I doing?"
He sat staring at the floor and then quietly said, "Yes, I did."
"I can see calling Jenny, but why did you call the insurance company?"
"I knew Jenny was having money problems with Kelly in the hospital and Ricky wasn't sending much money to her, so I figured seeing as Ricky was dead, rest his soul, she could use the cash. Ricky once tried to get me to sign up for insurance through his insurance man, but I didn't. That's how I knew what company it was."
Lynn spoke up now, "Very noble of you, Jenny will benefit now. Of course, this makes you look like a suspect too, trying to help Jenny. Maybe you didn't like Ricky that much?"
"Hey lady, I loved Ricky like a brother, I'd never do anything to hurt him. Okay, I took advantage of a bad situation, but Jenny needed the help. Unless you're arresting me for something, I need to get ready for my set." He stood and went back to the stage.
"I think I hit a nerve," Lynn said. "I need some more information from him. I'll let him coast for now, but tomorrow I'm hauling him in for more questioning."
"You're just such a softy aren't you?" I said. I turned to Buffy and said, "Now you know who placed the call, you can put that in your report."
"Well, it's something," she said with a half smile.
I looked over to the bar and saw the drummer, Geech, getting a glass of something from the bar's drink hose. I excused myself and went to him.
"Excuse me, you're Geech?"
"So I've been told, whatcha want?" He had a slight southern drawl not as bad as what I had heard from my book tour through the south.
"I'm a cousin to Jenny, wife of Ricky Lawless, I'm also a private investigator hired by Jenny to find out what happened to her husband. Got a minute to talk?"
"The police have already talked to me, but if you think it will do any good, sure." He followed my lead to the table and I had him sit in the chair that Buster had sat in moments ago.
He looked to Lynn and smiled, "You're that lady cop I talked to the other day."
Lynn smiled back and said she was. "We just need to follow up on a few more details, if you don't mind?"
"I don't mind at all, if it helps catch the bastard who killed Ricky."
I spoke now, "Tell me, what happened that night Ricky died?"
He turned his body towards me in the chair with his back now to Lynn; I saw that as an expression that he may not like women in authority, or cops, but I'm no psychiatrist.
"Well, we got up on stage to perform and Ricky was into the second song, a great number he wrote hisself, and then he just leaned forward and fell off the stage. I knew he didn't drink the hard stuff to be drunk, so something was wrong. I got up from behind my drum set and went around to him. I checked him but he was dead. Buster yelled to the waitress to call someone, we didn't know who to alert, the cops or an ambulance, seeing as he was already dead. I guess the waitress called 911 and they sent both the cops and the medical people. I just stood back and watched."
"The police know that he was poisoned, did you see him drink anything before he started to perform?"
"Just his water he always had on the stool behind him, it was the only thing I saw him drink that night."
"What happened to the glass of water after Ricky died?"
"Couldn't say, I wasn't watching for it. The police told us not to touch anything, so we didn't. Then all those crime scene investigators came in and were checking everything on the stage. I guess they may have taken it."
"Did Ricky have any enemies?"
"Hell, Ricky was loved by everyone. I can't name a single person who would want to harm the man. He was kind, friendly and would do anything for a friend."
"What do you know about this wife named Mary Lou?"
He got a little stiff on that question; he looked down to the floor and then said, "I thought it was the only thing Ricky did that wasn't right. He took on that woman as a wife when he was already married to Jenny. Wasn't right, but he explained it was just for the money, to help us get established in the recording business. I hoped Jenny would never find out, it wasn't right."
Lynn said from behind him, "Did that make you mad?"
He didn't turn, just brought his head up and said to me, "I wasn't happy about it, it wasn't legal, or right, but he did it anyways. The money did help us get new equipment and get the records made, so I just bit my tongue and went along with it. I figured God would punish him for it, not with death, but he'd regret it in the afterlife."
"You believe in the afterlife?" I asked him.
"Sure, don't you?" he replied.
"I'll form an opinion if I ever get there. Do you think Mary Lou may have had something to do with his death?"
"Could be, she was in town on that day and was arguing with him just before we were to perform. She left before we got on stage, I don't know where she went, but she wasn't here. I haven't seen her since."
"Who did you get to replace Ricky?"
"We had a kid who followed us and he did some roadie work too. He has a good voice and knew all the songs, so we gave him a shot and he did well. He's singing tonight with us. I have to go get ready for the first set so if you don't have anything more, I need to go."
"No, I'm fine for now, but I may have a few more questions later, if you don't mind?"
"Nope, just catch the bastard who did it, I'll be glad to help string him or her up." He stood and went to the stage as we sat watching him go.
"We got a few more suspects now, wouldn't you say?" Lynn spoke first.
"The waitress could be a killer too; Ricky said he was going to marry her after he divorced his LA wife. I'm not believing that Ricky was all as nice as people make him out to be. And there's the kid singer who took over for Ricky, he may have done it for the job. We may find a lot more skeletons in his closet before we finish." I took a long swig of my beer and turned to Penny. "Still with us?"
"How can I ignore such an intriguing plot? All the elements of a great country song." She leaned over and kissed my nose.
I looked to Buffy and said, "So what do your investigating skills tell you?"
She smiled and said, "Well, you got Mary Lou who was angry with Ricky for spending her money foolishly, she may have even found out about Jenny. Then you got Buster who didn't like the treatment Jenny was getting back in Arizona. Geech wasn't happy with the arrangement Ricky had with his sinful lifestyle. Now you got a waitress who may have been mad enough at the promise of marriage to a bigamist that she could have poisoned his drink and some kid who may have wanted to take Ricky's place. So I have no idea who to say did it."
"Welcome to our world," Trapper said. "Don't forget the wounded wife back in Arizona, she may have found out about Ricky's lifestyle and hired someone to do him in."
"Hey, that's my cousin you're talking about," Penny said.
"Just saying," Trapper defended.
"Besides, she didn't have any money to hire a killer," Penny added.
"Six million dollars is enough to hire any killer," I said.
"Now don't you start too," Penny said as she whacked my arm.
"Hey, you didn't hit Trapper when he brought it up."
"I'm not married to him, so I can hit you," she said with her evil little smile.
The band started playing and the kid got up and sang well. I had never heard Ricky so I couldn't compare. I figured that Lynn hadn't spoke to the kid, so we'd catch him on the break. We just sat for now enjoying the music. I wasn't a big fan of country but many of the songs were crossover nowadays and could be enjoyed by everyone. The music of Shania Twain started the big jump to pop music by a country singer that paved the way for more groups to embrace both sides of the music stream.
About forty minutes later the band finished and I went to the kid and asked him if he could join us. He looked a little skeptical, but Geech came up and told him that he should talk to us. The kid followed me to the table and I offered him a chair. I was getting tired of thinking of him as the kid, so I asked his name.
"Jericho Lane, but you can call me Jerry. What do you want to talk to me about?" he said with a wary smile.
I introduced everyone to him, leaving Lynn and Deacon last as I told him that they were police, and we were investigating the death of Ricky Lawless.
"I don't know anything about Ricky's death, but I think the wife did it," he said quickly.
A little too quickly I thought.
"So you think the wife did it, why?" Lynn asked.
"She was a royal bitch, she threatened him a few times too. I was setting up the band's equipment one night in the last club we worked at a few months ago; she came by and started to scream at him for the amount of money he was spending on his lifestyle. Ricky defended himself saying he had to keep up a front for his image. You have to look good to do good. She was mean to him and I think she was mean enough to do the murder."
"Did you see her here the night Ricky died?" I asked.
"Sure, she pulled the same shit she always did, screaming and putting him down. She wasn't very supportive of his music. She thought it was a joke and was saying she wanted her money back or else."
"Or else what?" Lynn asked.
"She didn't say, she just stormed off and that was the last I saw of her, the night Ricky died."
"So if Ricky was poisoned, how could Mary Lou have poisoned him if she wasn't here?" I said to both Jerry and Lynn.
They thought about it for a moment, Jerry finally said, "I guess I could be wrong about her. She really didn't have the time to spike his drink." He went silent, thinking about that.
"Okay, so we may rule out Mary Lou as the killer," Lynn said.
"Doesn't say she didn't arrange it," Deacon said.
"Yeah, she had money to hire someone, maybe," I replied.
There came a voice over the band's speakers, it was Buster calling for Jerry to report to the stage. He stood and I thanked him for talking, than he went off.
"I think he did it," Deacon said.
"Why?" Lynn replied to his rather quick judgement.
"I just feel it, big rising star and the young newbie. He wanted the lime light and bumped off Ricky to get it," Deacon retorted.
"That may be, but this is not the band rising, it was Ricky and his voice, talent and he alone can't be replaced by a new person without that person rising up like Ricky did. Ricky's songs were his own so a new singer may sing the songs but may not be as popular." I said.
"I just think he still did it."
"Time will tell dear," Lynn said to him.
"I'm going for Mary Lou," Penny said.
"I thought we ruled her out, Jerry said she wasn't even here," I said.
"She had money, she could have hired someone poison him."
"Okay babe, that is possible." I kissed Penny on her cheek and she smiled. I looked around to everyone, "We all have our favorite killer now, shall we start a betting pool?"
"You're disgusting, a man was murdered and you want to bet on who was the killer? I'm in for twenty on Buster, he seems the type." Lynn grinned and sat back.
I looked to Penny, "Are you in?"
"Sure, twenty on Mary Lou," she replied.
"Who shall we have hold the money?" I asked.
Trapper said, "I think Buffy should, she's honest enough not to run off with the funds."
Buffy turned to Trapper, "Are you're really sure about that. I could use the extra cash."
The band started up loud, drowning out the rest of our conversation, which wasn't much. I sat back taking in Jerry's vocals and thinking he could go far with a bit more experience. He didn't work the audience very well, but he had potential. They finished the first number and then did a tribute to Ricky and his songs. People were up on the dance floor, doing the two-step and boot scooting to the music.
I noticed that Jerry was nervously watching us, probably hoping we would leave. Lynn and Deacon got up and did a couple turns on the dance floor. Trapper and I kidded about being too old to try to boot scoot, mostly because we'd look stupid trying it.
The band finished the set and everyone took their seats. We were making light conversation about country-dances when Lynn's cell phone played the theme from the old TV show 'Dragnet', one that she put it on her phone to let her know that murder was afoot. She answered and listened for a moment then hung up.
"Well, I guess Penny lost her bet, Mary Lou's body was just found in a dumpster off Maryland and Rochelle. Jim, isn't that the area you used to live in?"
"Yes, it is. How was she killed?" I replied.
"Throat cut, wide and deep. Body had to be dumped there, no amounts of blood around in the trash or by the dumpster." She looked to Deacon, "Well, you're in vice now, so I don't have to take you, but you can come just to give me moral support."
"Can we all come to give you moral support?" Trapper asked.
"Only if you stay out of my way. Shall we go?" Lynn stood and headed towards the back door followed by Deacon. The rest of us gathered our things and ran after her, she was in a hurry.
As Lynn had said, I lived in an apartment complex around Maryland and Rochelle Street years back. It was a large place, just one of a dozen apartment complexes in that area, mostly occupied by Mexicans and low income Americans. I was one of the low income Americans who lived there back when I worked for Nick North's show at the Flamingo Hotel.
I drove Penny out in the van followed by Trapper and Buffy. Lynn was long gone, but I figured where she'd be by all the police black and whites infesting the place. We arrived and found the black and whites along with the coroner's van, with ME Joe Lang presiding over the body.
I parked the van on the street; Penny got out and followed me to the scene with Trapper and Buffy behind us. There was now a yellow tape border protecting the area, but the cop watching the barrier recognized us and let us pass. We stood just away from where the dumpster was and Mary Lou's body was now on the ground in front. Deacon saw us and came over.
"A resident of the building came out to dump her trash and discovered the body. She called 911 and waited here." He pointed to a short, wide Mexican woman talking to Lynn. "Joe's prelim estimate says that Mary Lou had to have been murdered sometime last night, over twenty four hours ago and just after we put out the BOLO on her. Whoever did this, brought the body here in a small tarp, but she wasn't covered very well. I'm surprised it took all day for someone to find her. I guess not many of the residents throw out trash on weekends."
"She had her throat cut?" I asked.
"Yep, cause of death, she bled out, but where? I'm sure it will come out eventually."
"So, how's it feel to be off the murder team, Lynn running solo now?" I asked.
"It feels wrong, but it's good to know I don't have to worry about who the killer is now, Lynn can handle it alone," Deacon replied.
"Has she said anything about it yet?"
"Nope, I think it's good that we aren't arguing about our feelings as to who and how the murder came about. She's a strong woman, she has her own opinions and I have mine. We just weren't good working together, then taking our work home with us. All is good now," he said with a happy smile on his face.
"Sex is good now too?" I asked quietly.
"Oh yeah," he replied with a slight blush. I laughed.
Lynn came over to us, "Well, we don't have much until Joe does the autopsy and forensics checks everything out, but I don't think we are going to get much from here. She still could have set up the murder of Ricky by someone else, but that person decided to take her out too."
Penny said, "She did it, I'm sure."
"You're really hoping it was her for Ricky's murder; just don't want to lose the bet, eh?" I said.
"Hey, twenty is twenty, besides, I don't like to lose," Penny replied.
Lynn turned when she heard her name called by Joe Lang, she went to him. We watched Lynn leaned down to Joe, still at the body as he handed her one of those evidence bags with what looked like a small piece of paper in it. She stood up and was studying the paper, then came back to us.
"I guess whoever murdered her didn't check all her pockets. Joe found this in that little watch pocket that some jeans still have, you know the one above the regular front pocket. It's an unsigned note, all it says is, 'I know what you did, meet me in the Monte Carlo parking structure at 11pm.' Nothing more. Okay, I'm still good for Mary Lou for the murder." Lynn gave the evidence bag to a CSI and instructions for it. "There's nothing more here, shall we go search the parking structure?"
Once again we all piled into our vehicles and drove over to the Monte Carlo and around to the parking garage. Lynn stopped out front and told all of us to take different levels and see if we can find anything, blood especially. She had me go up to the second level and Trapper taking the third. I drove up and then slowly drove around the sea of cars watching between them for anything.
My cell phone buzzed, it was Trapper, he said to call Lynn and get everyone up to the third level, he found the crime scene.
Read the book for the rest.....