The funeral home was crowded with well-wishers. Abundant flowers surrounding the coffin gave the viewing room a sickly mixture of fragrances, as Penny sat on a chair while people huddled around her, expressing their condolences.
Buck was standing before the coffin looking down at the body of Jim Richards, looking like he was made of wax. He probably was, since the explosion of Jim's Crown Vic had thrown his body from the car, most of his face was damaged and Buck thought that the funeral people did a good job of filling in the missing pieces around his face. Buck couldn't believe his friend was gone. He turned away and went to sit next to Penny as she held up well for her loss.
The director of the home closed the coffin and the guests were allowed to take a little time to talk about the recently departed. Lynn and Deacon talked about the cases he helped the police with around Las Vegas, Trapper talked about how Jim and he first met, over murder of course. I suddenly realized I was in an enclosed place; I was claustrophobic and started to scream for help. The coffin suppressed my screams, no one heard me as they lowered the coffin into the ground.
I was still screaming while Penny was shaking me in our bed. Damn, I hated realistic dreams like that. I sat up in the bed as Penny stood next to me now; I was sweating profusely and shaking.
"What the hell were you dreaming about? That was worse than the time you dreamt you were going down on the cruise ship."
“Crap, it was worse. You know I’m claustrophobic, I was dreaming I was in my coffin, but still alive. Damn dreams anyway. You were there, mourning me and Buck was there along with our friends. After they closed the coffin, I guess I woke and found I was in the dark and in a closed box. I was screaming, but no one could hear me because of the coffin."
"A coffin? That's not good Jim, it's bad juu-juu to dream about a coffin."
"Bad juu-juu? Have you gone voodoo now? You know I just got back from being out in Area 51 and had to go to a funeral home to help take Mark Huston's body in. I was all over the funeral home including the embalming room where ME Joe Lang did the autopsy on Mark. I guess my mind put that experience together with me in the coffin. Not a good thing, okay, bad juu-juu."
Penny was laughing so I slapped her on the butt, causing her to jump on me and she made good juu-juu to me.
We went out to the kitchen about a half hour later and I did my morning toast ritual. The new toaster that we bought last month worked very well, I was happy with it. Penny made her oatmeal and I sat at the snack bar with my toast as our toy Yorkie, Willy, was eyeing my food. I broke off a piece and dropped it to him on the ground.
"So what do you have planned for today?" she asked me.
"I haven't the foggiest idea. I'm going into the office and just sit until someone comes in to hire me to solve their mystery. I'm not taking any cases about aliens or going to Area 51 again. One time was enough for me."
"Well, you can sit thinking about how you saved Las Vegas from total annihilation at the hands of a terrorist."
"The military said to keep that on a low key, but I guess I can revel in my thoughts."
Penny went out to get ready for work just as my cell phone rang and the caller ID said it was Deacon. "Hey, big guy, what's up?"
"I need you to settle a debate I'm having with Klein over in missing persons. If a body from a funeral home turns up missing does it go to missing persons, homicide or to robbery?"
I felt a very cold chill run up my spine; the dream crept back into my head at the mention of a body from a funeral home. Coincidence?
"Was the man murdered?" I asked hesitantly.
"No," Deacon said quickly.
"Well, that lets you out. The guy isn't alive so he's not a person, therefore he is a property now and his body was robbed from the funeral home. So I'd say Robbery Division should handle it."
"That's what I said, but everyone is passing the buck. Actually, the body wasn't stolen from a funeral home, he was taken from a mortuary that preps bodies for burial. A business I could never do."
"What did Lynn say about the buck passing?"
"She's not here; she's in LA to testify on a homicide we closed a year ago, it's coming to trial now. The machines of justice turn slowly."
"Well, keep me informed about your missing body. On second thought I don't want to know, it's grim to think someone would steal a body."
"Or he turned into a zombie and walked out," Deacon said with a laugh.
"Then you'd better hide. I'm going into my office to sulk and wait for crime to come to me. If you get bored you can stop by to visit."
"I'll think about it. Anything to get away from here before Weber finds me by myself. Talk later." He hung up and I put my phone back in my pocket and waited for Penny to go to work. If you can call it work, she sits and talks to people in front of TV cameras and has women do her hair and make-up. Four hours of sitting around, an easy life.
She came out, gathered her purse and briefcase, gave me a kiss on the nose, and said, "I may stop in to see you when I get done for the day. We can do lunch at Bistros."
"That's sounds good to me, be careful driving in." I didn't want to mention Deacon's call about the missing body from the mortuary so soon after my dream, she likes to put things together to make a big deal out of it.
After she left, I gathered my equipment to go to the office. I put Willy in his travel bag as I was calling it now, I didn't think it was appropriate for me to carry a purse. We went out to the garage, got the Crown Vic out and drove over to my building. I waved to the guard at the back parking lot gate and put the car into my reserved space.
I entered the building, let Willy loose and went by Trapper's office, he wasn't in. I stopped at Buck's door, he wasn't in. I was wondering if anyone was working today. In the lobby I found Lacey busy reading a woman's magazine.
"We have no work to do today?"
She about jumped out of her skin when she heard me, I had that effect on her. She calmed herself and said, "No, it's boring so far. Trapper took Sam and her brother to Denver for his surgery yesterday and Buck is home sleeping because he had to fill in for a guard last night at the new dealership."
"So it's just you, Willy and I today, huh?"
"Afraid so, unless someone comes in."
"Well, anyone wanting me to chase aliens, send them away," I said and went to my private office.
I spent the morning exploring the internet on my computer finding information about dreams, coming up with a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, and finally closed the internet down. I sat back staring at the poster I had made of Penny in her bikini from a picture I took on our mystery cruise. She didn't mind that I put it on my wall, she looked good in it.
I heard the front door bell tinkle and waited to see what was going on. Lacey came to my door and said, "You are needed."
I got up, went out, and found a very somber looking man in a black Brooks Brother's suit that must have cost him a week's salary. He was very straight-laced looking, pencil mustache, and his hair was slicked back, reminding me of a gangster from the old black and white movies. Adolphe Menjou, the "suave" and "debonair" star of Hollywood movies from the 20's to the 40's came to mind. He had that bearing.
"Hello, I'm Jim Richards, may I help you?"
"I hope so; the police officer who called about my missing body said you were the man for the job. His name was DeAngelo" he said clearly and with great pronunciation.
"Yes, Detective DeAngelo, we're friends. Please come to my office." As we went, I realized what he had said, about a missing body. I was getting chills again and asked him to sit when we entered the room.
"And you are?"
"I'm Thomas Hannigan. Mr. Richards, I hope you can be discreet about my problem, it looks bad for business to have a body come up missing."
"Just what is your business exactly?" I asked.
"I'm a mortician; I prep bodies for funeral homes and save them the trouble and expense of maintaining a mortuary in their funeral homes. It works well for me, but to have a body come up missing, this is not good for business."
"So you want me to find the body. Can't the police help you on that?"
"There would be inquiries and police snooping around my establishment. Besides the police can't figure who to send to handle the case, I told Officer DeAngelo to forget it, I would handle it myself. That's when he recommended you."
"It's Detective DeAngelo and I'll have to personally thank him."
Yeah, with a shot to the head.
"So you do the gory work for the funeral homes so they don't have to?" I said.
"Basically, yes. I started my business when a friend whose funeral home I worked for to embalm and prep bodies for viewing and burial, was having to cut back on expenses. People want to bury their loved one cheaply now, many are opting for cremation in lieu of burial. So I thought about starting my own business of just preparing the bodies for funeral homes, cutting out the extra expense. I can charge a lot cheaper than they could to maintain a mortuary and doing the embalming. Yesterday a body was delivered to me and this morning it was gone. I panicked and called the police before thinking it out."
"So now you decided to hire a private detective to find the body?"
"Yes, since it was a crime of stealing a non-living person, there was no real crime to involve the police if I didn't want to file a request. Your friend said you could do the job, so I'm here."
"I'm sure there must be laws about the proper disposal of bodies, aren't there? To involve the police."
"Yes, to dispose of a body, you can't just dump it. There are procedures for the burial of a body, but theft is not covered in the laws other than simple robbery. Which I'm not filing with the police. Hence, I come to you."
I was now part of LVMPD's attempt to pass the buck. I'd have to have a heart to heart with Deacon about this. I wasn't happy with taking on this case after my nightmare, it was too close and too annoying. But I never run from a challenge, so I said, "Well, Mr. Hannigan, if you agree to hire me, I'll take the case."
"Very good, do what you have to do for the return and I'll pay you promptly."
"Here's my rate card," I said as I hand the card to him, then said, "I'll also need some facts from you to start my investigation." I pushed my pad of paper and pencil towards him. "If you can write out all the information about where your business is located, the name and disposition of the body, funeral home that the body came from, and anything else you may think to help."
He took the pad and started to write. I glanced back to the poster of Penny to get my head back into more pleasant thoughts. He finished about five minutes later and I took the pad back.
"I can't guarantee speedy results, this is not television crime, this is real life, but I'll do what I can to hurry it along."
"I hope so; the body won't be very fresh after a day or two, unless the criminals put the body in cold storage. I'll be waiting for your call." He took out his wallet, pulled out five one hundred dollar bills and put them on my desk, "Here's your retainer as stated on your card, you can send me your final bill when finished."
He stood, held out his hand and I shook it. I guided him out to the lobby and we said our good-byes.
I turned to Lacey, "Now I'm chasing dead bodies for a mortuary. I think I'd rather have aliens."
I went back to my office and dialed Deacon. He came on and I said, "I do believe that you had something to do with convincing the mortician to hire a private investigator rather than involve the police, didn't you."
He was silent for a beat and then I heard him giggle, "Who me? Never, but you needed the work so I pushed him in your direction."
"Well, I'm going to have to call Weber and let him know you are on your own since Lynn's away and see if he has any good cases for you to take on."
"Weber is out of the office for the day now; he had to go to some big deal meeting with the police commissioner and the city council. Something about the President coming to Vegas and how the police are going to handle it. So you'll have to hold off on the call."
"Fine, but I won't forget this; I will get back at you. What do you know about the missing body?"
"Not much, we didn't go into detail about the report. The officers who responded to the call, turned it over to missing persons, who called robbery, who called me. For some reason everyone thinks I have nothing better to do."
"Well, you don't. What did the first officers on scene report?"
"Just that the mortician went in to this cold room to prep the body and found his drawer in the steel wall was empty. Someone took the body during the night, is all they could figure."
"Okay, I'm taking the case, reluctantly. I'll be calling you frequently to bug you about it. So be prepared."
He laughed and hung up. I sat back thinking about how I would proceed. I had to organize my thoughts more as I grew older. I hated to admit it but I used to be quick in the thought process, but lately I had to think twice about things. Damn I hate growing old.
Penny came in about ten minutes later. I really didn't want to mention my new case but she would know. She had this telepathy that could penetrate my mind. I just waited to see how long before she got it.
She came into my office, smiled and said, "Chasing dead bodies stolen from a mortuary now?" Damn, she was good.
"Lacey told you didn't she?"
She laughed and said, "Yes, and I see trouble in your future. You dream about being in a casket and then you get a case to find a missing body. Coincidence? I think not. Bad juu-juu."
"Will you quit with the juu-juu stuff, it is just coincidence that this came up. It happens."
"More so to you than others. So when are you going to start sniffing out the body?"
I stared at her for a moment, "Sniffing out the body, that's disgusting. The mortician said if the body is kept in a cold place it should be alright for a while. I have his info on the crime and I will do what needs to be to find the late person."
"Is this a man's or a woman's body?"
I was at a loss for that, I hadn't asked. Dumb. It could be important to know. "I didn't ask but I will when I go visit the mortuary. I'll form my opinion when I know."
"Just don't be fooling around if it's a woman."
"Hey I'm not into necrophilia, so don’t even start that. You can be so disgusting at times."
She sat with her evil little grin and said, "I just like to cover all bases."
We left to go eat at Bistros Restaurant and I sat most the time thinking about my case. For some reason I had a foreboding feeling about it. Like I may actually end up in a coffin. Not a pleasant thought since I already felt the panic of being in one, from my dream.
"So where in the world are you at right now?" she asked.
I gave her a blank stare then realized what she meant, "I was thinking about the case. This is a simple robbery, I just have to find the stolen goods and return them. Just like finding stolen jewelry."
"Yes, but you can't go into a pawn shop to see if your body was pawned."
"True, but I'll know more when I go to the mortuary tomorrow."
"Why tomorrow, the day is still early and I have nothing better to do than go casket shopping," she said with a big grin.
"We could go today, I suppose, but do you think you can survive a mortuary? This is not a funeral home with pretty flowers and beautiful furnishings."
"I can take it if you can big boy."
We finished our meal, paid and went out to valet parking. Penny's car was brought up since we took that instead of my Crown Vic. I was feeling wary since I knew Buck had said in my dream that I was blown up in it. Funny how you know what other people think in a dream. I would get back to my car when I felt safe, time will tell. Maybe I could drive the mini-limo I got from the mob family in New York, but that would look pretentious.
We drove out Maryland Boulevard and into a strip of buildings looking like industrial offices. At the end of one building, we found the front of the Hannigan Mortuary. I parked in front and we got out. I went to the front corner of the building to look down the side to see how it was laid out. There was a large overhead door big enough to pull a small service truck in, probably for delivery of the bodies.
Penny and I went to the front entrance and in to find a small anteroom with a woman behind a desk. She smiled and asked if she could help us.
"Yes, I'm Jim Richards and this is my assistant, Penny. We are here to see Mr. Hannigan, about his missing person."
She perked up when I said that and picked up the phone. Penny leaned to me and whispered, "Your assistant?"
"I'm maintaining my professional decorum. Would it look good if I had my wife tagging after me?"
"Assistant. I'll give you assistant. Just wait until bedtime, then see if your assistant is too tired to fool around."
"Fine," I said quietly as a door opened off the side and Hannigan walked out.
"Mr. Richards, so good you can get on this so speedily." He looked to Penny and said, "Why is this Penny Wickens, your lovely wife and host of 'Vegas Alive'? So good that you share your husband's interest in crime fighting. I watch you often."
"Thank you Mr. Hannigan, you know I'm not just some assistant, I help my husband whenever I can. We are a team, aren't we Sweetie?"
"Yes dear, we are," I said with a cringe.
Hannigan took us to his office where he removed a file folder from a nice wooden file cabinet. He handed it to me, "This is the file on the deceased, John Hall, who passed away two days ago. He underwent an autopsy at the request of the wife, to see what he died from. He was only fifty-one. Joe Lang, the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, said that he died from natural causes; they couldn't find anything wrong or in question. The body was released to Spenser Funeral Home and they had the body delivered here yesterday to have it prepped."
He led us back to a large room with many small doors in the wall, all holding bodies; I was a bit creeped out. He continued, "I was a bit backed up, so many deaths this week, so I put him in a drawer and would get to him this morning." He pulled one of the drawers and waved his hand showing the empty body tray.
I looked at the thin handle attached to the door; there could be no usable fingerprints there, beside it being handled by Hannigan. I looked at the metal tray that would have held the deceased; I looked closely at the metal to see if there were any smudges, but saw none. If Hannigan had let the police investigate, they may have pulled some prints. If Trapper was still around I could ask him to come in to dust the thing, he was experienced in that.
"I'm sure you checked all the drawers to be sure he wasn't moved."
"Oh yes, besides, I have only two others who help with the embalming and make-up, they say they hadn't moved him."
"Do you have any enemies, someone who would like to see you shut down?"
"No, there are two other mortuary services like mine; I was the first but imitators started moving in. It's a cut throat business." He smiled.
"You mean it's not a dying business." I joked, he looked at me with a strange expression.
"Yes, I've heard that many times."
"You'll have to excuse my husband, he just back from Area 51 where I think they scrambled his brain."
I gave her a look and she suppressed a snicker.
"Oh, I heard about your adventures in alien country. There were rumors about a virus attack on the city that you stopped. Is that true?"
"I'm not at liberty to say, according to the government."
"I understand, you just answered my question."
I had to change the subject. "How much do you know about the deceased? Anything that may lead to his demise?"
"I really know nothing. I just get the bodies in and push them out. I don't get involved in their personal histories. You probably can talk to the widow, although I haven't told her about the disappearance yet. I was hoping to resolve this before I had to tell her.
"Well, to get to the bottom of this I may have to, but I'll hold off on it until I exhaust all other avenues."
"Thank you. Do you have any other questions?"
"How many funeral homes do you service?" I asked.
"I have seven homes I do pre-burial work for and I'm in negotiation with two more for their inquiries about saving money by using my service. I have been in business here for four years and never lost one body, this is not good."
"Well, there's a difference between losing a body and having one stolen. So I wouldn't beat yourself up too badly."
"Thank you, Mr. Richards, I appreciate the thought."
"I don't have any more questions for now, I may be in touch again and I'll let you know my progress."
"Thank you Mr. Richards and it was a pleasure to meet you Miss Wickens," he said.
"That's Mrs. Wickens-Richards; I just use the singular Wickens for the show, too much trouble to change my image." She laughed.
We left the mortuary and I was reading over the file that Hannigan gave me as we sat in Penny's car. There were a number of things in it that I would have to check.
"So, where to now?" Penny asked. She insisted on driving now, I yielded, since the whole assistant thing, I wasn't pressing my luck.
"I think we should go visit the Spenser Funeral Home, maybe they have some answers. It's now just before two o'clock so they probably would still have business hours going." She asked for directions and I gave them to her.
We arrived and parked, going into the funeral home. The sight of the viewing room gave me the willies, I still had the memory in my brain of the room. Penny took my hand and said, "Be a brave little boy and I'll give you a lollipop to suck on."
"Can I have a breast instead?"
She gave me a dirty look and let my hand go. I was on my own now. A very strange looking woman came up to us and asked if she could help us.
"Yes, can we speak to Mr. Spenser?" I asked for the name from the file of the person who authorized the transfer to the mortuary. The woman smiled and said to follow her. She turned and led us to a room outside an office. On the Door was printed, 'Michael Spenser - Director'. She knocked and waited, there was no answer. She knocked again. Nothing. She smiled to us, opened the door and went in. A few seconds later, we heard a scream, which startled me, and then I went into the room followed by Penny.
We found the woman standing over the body of Spenser with his head on his desk and a knife covered in blood next to his head. I pulled my cell phone and dialed Deacon. He came on.
"Hey Deacon, you are in homicide correct?"
He was quiet then said, "You know I am, why do you ask?"
"I got a murder to report. Now you have to go to work."
I asked the woman to carefully vacate the room to preserve the murder scene as we waited for Deacon to arrive. About ten minutes later, he walked into the room followed by the crime lab people and a couple uniforms. CSI started to do their work as Deacon questioned us and the woman who identified herself as Agnes Hawthorn, the assistant director of the funeral home.
"Miss Hawthorn, did you hear anything from the office to give you a hint of what may have happened?" Deacon asked her.
"No, I was told by Mr. Spenser to leave him alone for the afternoon, I don't question him. He had no visitors that I saw, I'm always aware of visitors. The home viewing times weren't open yet, so there was no one in the house. That I saw."
"Ok, please give your statement to this officer," he said as he pointed to the uniform and he took the woman to the chairs in the lobby to get the info.
He turned to me and Penny then asked, "You guys heard nothing?"
"Nope we just got here about five minutes before we found him."
Joe Lang came out of the office and said, "TOD was about an hour ago, his throat was slit from behind, the perp probably snuck up behind him and did the deed."
"Snuck up, is that a medical examiner term?" I asked.
"Richards, I hear you are looking for a dead body, can't go after live people now?" he shot back.
"Funny. I need to talk to you about that body; you did an autopsy on him, John Hall?"
"Oh yeah, the wife was hot to prove something killed him, I couldn't find any signs of foul play. Now he's missing, strange. Is that why you are here?"
"Yep, he was scheduled to be on view here after they embalmed him at the mortuary. His body was taken from there this morning some time."
"Maybe he turned into a zombie and walked out?" Lang laughed.
I looked to Deacon and asked, "Do you guys share your comic writers? No Joe, he had help, I just need to find the people who walked him out."
The assistant ME was guiding the body out on the gurney so we had to move. They went out and I asked Joe, "Did you know this guy? I ask since you knew the funeral director up by Area 51."
"Nope, didn't have the pleasure, I don't know all of these guys, just a couple. We get together around Halloween and dig up bodies to set up in front of the morgue."
Penny was standing by listening and then I heard her laugh saying to us, "You guys should go on TV, I'll ask my producer if he can arrange it," and then she walked away.
"I think she doesn't appreciate the male humor," Deacon said.
"You call us humorous? I think our show would suck," I said as I went after Penny.
She turned to me and asked, "Can you get a ride back with Deacon, I need to go rescue Willy from Lacey and go home to dip in the pool to wash off all this death."
"You said we were a team, now you're punking out?"
"Better believe it hotshot. I'm out of here."
I yelled back to Deacon asking if he could drive me to my office. He waved and nodded his head, I turned to tell Penny but she was gone. My wife doesn't wait for the world to follow.
Deacon was talking again to Miss Hawthorn as I stood with Joe Lang, "You said that the widow of my missing body was trying to prove he was done in and not by natural causes?"
"Yep, she insisted that her husband was fit and not prone to any ailments that would cause him to keel over and die."
"Where did he keel over?"
"As I understand, the husband was some big shot in the unions that govern the hotel workers. He was at the Flamingo Hotel for a meeting in a hospitality suite for the big shots that ran the union. He took a dive onto the serving table and landed in the chip dip. I had to clean him off, one dip to another." He laughed at his lousy joke and then said, "I took him in and the wife was right there wanting reasons for his demise. I found nothing out of the ordinary other than he drank a little too much, liver was in bad shape."
"Hotel workers union? I guess that would be a stressful job. Did you turn him over to Hannigan Mortuary or did they come and get him?"
"Our recently deceased funeral director here sent a wagon for him and I guess he delivered the body."
"Thirty minutes or it's free," I said. Joe stared at me, I said never mind.
"You're right, our comedy show would suck," he said and went out to take the coroner's wagon back to the morgue.
I went to Deacon as he sat with Hawthorn. I stood watching her expressions, she reminded me of one of her departed guests. It seems like the undertakers I had experience with in the past all looked like death warmed over. This woman reminded me of a spinster school teacher of olden days. Her hair was in a bun, lace blouse and cuffs, black business style outfit and those clunky shoes that laced up the ankles. She had a pallor about her face that needed make-up, otherwise she wasn't bad looking.
"Miss Hawthorn, again, did your boss have any enemies?" Deacon asked.
"None that I knew of, he was a good man, kind and gentle. He cared for the mourners and their needs.
Yeah, he probably cared for their money too, I thought. My mother paid a small fortune to put my father in his crypt. The funeral home tried to talk her into all of the little extras that added up to big bucks. But my mother was satisfied and happy with the arrangements even if there was no viewing, just the interment into the crypt, but it still cost more than I wished she had paid. I had seen programs on television about the high cost of dying, so I didn't feel sorry if people were cutting back on expensive things like fancy wood coffins or what kind of fancy padding to put in the coffin. I insisted that I was going to be cremated quickly when I die and put in a coffee can with no ceremony other than my friends having a wake for me, with plenty of beer and chips.
I left them talking and went into a deathly quiet viewing room where there was a casket set up containing a rather waxy looking man. I wasn't going near the thing, I had this dislike of seeing people in their coffins. I refused to view my father that way. I wanted to remember him as he was alive, not prone in a box looking lifeless. I studied the way they had the room setup and then left quickly as Deacon was coming down the hallway towards me.
"Well, not much more we can do here until forensics comes up with something. I'd say this was a pro hit, the man was killed while sitting in his chair at his desk and didn't hear someone come up behind him and slit his throat. The killer left the knife, but I'm sure there will be no prints."
We were in front of the office where the murder occurred, CSI was finished with the room, so we went in. I walked to the back of the chair where the man was killed and looked around. "He could have come in through that door," I said pointing to a door just off the back of the desk. I went there and opened the door realizing there was still powder on the knob from when CSI had dusted. I wiped my hands on a curtain next to the door, framing the opening, and then stepped out into a hallway followed by Deacon. We looked both ways in the hall and there were four other doors. I went to the closest and opened it. It was a storeroom of sorts, with vases on stands for flowers and wreath holders. I noticed there were no windows, so I closed the door as Deacon checked another room. They were all offices or sitting rooms. Only one room had windows to the outside. One door led to the lobby right by the entrance where the killer most likely came through.
I said, "He would have to know the layout to navigate the doors and hallways to get to Spenser's office. Either the killer was hired and given the info or the killer is someone who knew the deceased and is good at killing. Either way, you should look into unhappy clients of Spenser, ones who felt they were taken for a ride by the cost. One death in the family wouldn't be a problem for some people, so to kill the guy who over charged may be a cinch."
"You think it comes down to an unhappy customer?" Deacon asked.
"Nope but it's some place to start. You got any other ideas?"
"No, I'll put Williams on it, he likes to waste time going through files for leads," Deacon said with a laugh.
"When is Lynn coming back?" I asked.
"She called and said the trial is going on longer than she expected. Maybe until next week. I'm holding up the best I can after that month she spent out at the FBI academy."
"You know there are plenty of hookers out roaming the streets, to take care of your needs."
"Hell no, Lynn would kill me if she found out. She's dangerous with a gun," Deacon said with a laugh.
"Yep, women are like that. So, I'm wondering if this murder has anything to do with my missing body. I need to find out more about my stolen property's background. I think I'll go visit his wife, even though I told the mortician I would hold off but it has to be done. I'll call him and let him break it to the widow and then I'll make my attack."
We left the building, Deacon drove me to the office and I went in to see what was going on. Buck was now in his office looking a bit tired. "Burning the midnight oils for your guards now?"
"Yep, good employees are hard to find and as many as I have, about half of them are worthless. They call in sick or Mac and I catch a number of them goofing off or sleeping on the job," he said with a groan.
"Gee, sounds familiar."
"I never goofed off on the job, I may have slept occasionally but never goofed off," he defended.
"I'll leave it at that. Good luck with your team. I have to call a mortician about a body." I saluted him, went to my private office, and sat at the desk. I picked up the phone and dial Hannigan's number.
He came on after four rings, must be busy with bodies. "Mr. Hannigan, it's Jim Richards, I need to talk to you. Are you busy?"
"I can make time; do you have anything for me?"
"I'll explain all that when I get there. See you shortly." I hung up and went out to the lobby; Lacey was deep in paperwork. I said quietly, "Busy I see."
She screamed in surprise throwing some papers in the air. I jumped back waiting for her to throw something at me. "Do you have to keep doing that!" she yelled.
"Okay, from now on I'll call from the hallway letting you know I'm coming, all right?"
"If you don't I'll have a heart attack the next time. You are evil!"
"So I've been told by Penny numerous times. I just wanted to let you know I'm back but I'm leaving again. Any messages for me?"
"No, you can go and don't do that again."
I smiled and left the lobby, going out the back door to my car. I drove over to the Hannigan Mortuary and parked. The same woman who greeted Penny and me was at her desk and smiled when I came in.
"Mr. Hannigan is expecting you, go right in."
I thanked her and went to the door and in, going to the room where he worked on the bodies, to find Hannigan slumped over a body on a table. My heart skipped a couple beats and went to him quickly. I touched his arm and he jumped, he was alive.
"Mr. Richards, I was just listening to the body's insides for gas before I cut into him for the embalming. He's a little riper than most and gas can sometimes build up inside if the ME hasn't performed an autopsy. This body was one whose family refused an autopsy, so I have to be careful when I start inserting needles and removing organs. I can put him back in his cold drawer so we can talk." He pushed the table to the open drawer and slid the body over then pushed him into the opening. He closed the door with a slam, sending chills through me. He smiled and asked me to follow him.
Trapper and Samantha had checked into the bed and breakfast on the outskirts of Denver, north of the city. They had taken Sam's brother, Phillip, to the clinic where he was going to have the surgery to reassign his sexual body from male to female. He was put happily into a private room that Sam had arranged for and they said their good-byes for the night.
"This is a nice place," Sam said as they settled into the quaint room of the century old gingerbread style house. Sam had gotten the name of the place through one of the pre-op transsexuals who worked for her in her hair salon front for her bookie operation in back.
Trapper dropped down on the bed, smiled and said, "At least the bed is new."
"You would notice that out of all the antiques surrounding us. Speaking of antiques, how are you feeling?" she laughed and opened her suitcase. "We are going out for a good meal at some nice restaurant to celebrate our being here. My treat."
"I'm not arguing. Where shall we go?"
"We can ask the nice lady who checked us in. Let's go, I'm hungry." She pulled him from the bed and they went back downstairs to the small desk in the tiny lobby. There was an elderly woman sitting behind the desk, she smiled as Sam and Trapper approached.
"Is your room agreeable?" she asked.
"It's prefect, Mrs. Walters. We would like to go out to eat at a nice restaurant. Can you recommend one?" Sam said.
"Of course, dear. There is a real nice one just down the street; you can even walk to it. It's called the North Denver Eatery. It's not real fancy, you don't need a tie, but it has great food and the price is right.
As they stood there, a young couple came down the stairs and they were arguing loudly. Trapper turn to protect Sam as they were starting to fight. Trapper grabbed the man and held him, "Hey cut it out! Now!"
The woman was standing still and then she popped the guy in the mouth with her fist. Trapper let him go and grabbed her as she squirmed and kicked out at her partner. "Come on guys, cut it out before I call the cops."
She stopped and was silent when the mention of cops came up. "He's a bastard!" she finally spoke. The man spit at her and said, "I should never have come here with you, you're a psycho bitch! I'm outta here!" He turned and went out the front door, slamming it hard. Trapper let the girl go and she stood looking shocked. Then she turned and went back up the stairs leaving the lobby in silence.
"Well, I'd say they were married," Trapper smiled.
"No they aren't, they are engaged but it looks like the engagement is over," Mrs. Walters said.
"Well, if they start again, just call the police quickly," Trapper said and took Sam's arm and led her to the door. They went down the front stoop and to the restaurant.
Hannigan and I went to an office next to the embalming room and we sat. "Now what do you have for me?"
"You knew Spenser of Spenser's Funeral Home?"
"Of course, we were acquainted through work, we never socialized. Why?"
"He's dead, killed about two hours ago in his office."
Hannigan looked shocked and stared at me, waiting for more.
"He had his throat cut from behind while he sat at his desk. I went to him about your missing body and we found him dead. The police have already been to the scene."
"I can't believe that, he was such a nice person. Does this have something to do with my body?"
"That's what I was wondering, anything you might know?"
"No, I just received the body, Spenser never talked to me about it, and he had some young man bring the body here."
"Do you know the young man's name?"
"He introduced himself as Harry, no last name. I took the body and he left. That's all I know."
"Well, I have to talk to the wife to see if there's a connection. I have to find out more about his background so I can figure out why he was taken. There is a reason and I think I can find out by talking to the widow. Can you tell her about the body so I can talk to her?"
He sighed and said, "It was bound to come, if you don't mind we can go to her home and I'll talk, then let you. Is that alright with you?"
"Works for me, shall we go?"
He excused himself to change out of his work smock and then came back. We left and I said we could go in my car. He had the paper with her address and I followed his directions. We arrived in an upper scale neighborhood, mostly money people live there. I could tell that Hall must have had a good paying job with the union. I parked in the drive behind a new Cadillac and we went to the door.
Mrs. Hall was an attractive woman, medium height, thin, well built and had puffy blond hair. Built up on her head reminding me of the women from the Jersey Shores show. She stood and asked, "May I help you?"
"Mrs. Hall, I'm Thomas Hannigan, I'm the person who is preparing your husband for burial. This man is private detective Jim Richards. May we come in?
She gave us a wary eye; I pulled my ID and badge and showed her. She smiled and said to come in. She led us to a living room and asked us to sit.
Hannigan began, "Mrs. Hall, I'm sorry to tell you but someone broke into my mortuary and removed your husband's body. Mr. Richards has been hired to find him."
She sat in silence and just stared at Hannigan, like she didn't believe what he was saying.
I spoke up, "Mrs. Hall, you did come in contact with Michael Spenser of the Spenser Funeral Home when you arranged for the funeral, correct?"
She finally changed her facial expression and turned to me. "Yes I did speak to him. How was my husband's body stolen and why?"
"That's what I'm trying to find out. Mr. Spenser turned up dead today and I think it may have something to do with the disappearance of your husband's body. Can I ask you a few questions?"
"Mr. Spenser is dead? What is going on?"
"Again, that is what I'm trying to find out; may I ask you some questions?"
She composed herself and said I could.
"You wanted the autopsy to find more than just natural causes in your husband's death, why?"
"Because he was a healthy man and there were threats against him. I put the two together and they came out to murder. But the medical examiner said he could find nothing to prove he was. Natural causes possibly created by stress and a bad liver was the findings. I don't believe it but the ME was convinced. So my husband is now missing. This is getting very interesting."
"What was your husband's occupation?"
"He was a negotiator for the Culinary Workers Union of Las Vegas, they represent a wide range of job classifications including cocktail workers, bell department, kitchen workers, cooks, housekeepers, porters, and many more."
I thought of Angelo, my mob connected friend from New York who helped me in Vegas back during the Bridezilla murders. He got the union people in the casinos to help us track the killer. Maybe I would call him if necessary to see what he knows.
She continued, "He was in talks to get an increase in wages and health benefits from the owners of the casinos. There would be a big standstill in this town if they went on strike. My husband was not well liked by management in the gaming community. That's why I think he was murdered to upset the talks."
"Wouldn't they just have someone else take his position to continue the talks?"
"There's one idiot who would take over, but I believe he's in the pocket of the bosses. My husband was untouchable for kick backs and payoffs."
"Did your husband know Mr. Spenser?"
"They had been in contact for negotiations of burial benefits for the union workers and my husband was asking him for help with the arrangements for contract terms and legal information. That's why I went to him for the burial. I can't believe he's dead."
"So there was a connection between your husband and Spenser, I wonder why it would result in both their demises," I said.
"Well, I can't help you on that, my husband rarely spoke to me about his work. I just enjoyed and reaped the benefits of his occupation. I belong to a good country club and everyone in the union and its members knows me and takes care of me when I'm in any casino or hotel. Now I hope that doesn't end with his death."
I could see where her loyalty lies with her marriage. I knew she was more upset about losing her position than losing her husband. Sad state of affairs this world is in.
"Mrs. Hall do you know anyone in particular that threatened your late husband?"
"I can list you about four people who wanted him dead. I'll get a pencil and paper and write them down." She stood and went out of the room. I looked to Hannigan and said, "She took that well didn't she?"
We left Mrs. Hall standing at her front door, yelling, "I hope you find the bastard who put me into poverty." She slammed the door as we got into my car.
Hannigan smiled and said, "I'm glad I'm not married."
"Couldn't find a good woman?"
"No, I couldn't find a good man," he said with a grin. "Yes, I'm gay, and I don't hide it. People don't associate with a person who embalms bodies, so it doesn't matter to me if they know I'm gay also."
"I have no problem with it either, the gay thing or the embalming thing. But I do have a problem with you being Irish," I joked.
He laughed and said, "I'm only half Irish, my father, Milo Hannigan came from County Cork, Ireland but my mother was full blooded Italian, from Palermo, Italy. So I'm what I call Italish."
"I like you then. An Italish, gay embalmer, now what man wouldn't want you?"
"One who had any brains," he said with a laugh.
I dropped him back at his mortuary, and decided to go visit Deacon to see if he had anything. Then I would attack the list Mrs. Hall had given me. I arrived at Metro PD and parked, going through the back door to Lynn's office.
Deacon wasn't there, but Warren was at his desk and said to me, "Deacon was snatched by Weber and taken to his office. Poor bastard. Weber is in a mood today so most of us are trying to avoid him." He looked down the hall and saw Deacon coming towards us. "Here he comes now. I don't see any bruises."
Deacon saw me and came over, "This murder of Spenser is now a priority for me. At least until Lynn gets back. Captain knew Spenser from the burial of his brother so he wants me to find the killer fast."
"Well, I have a little info to give you about the connection between my body and your body," I said.
"We're close friends Jim, but not that close, keep your body away from mine and we'll be just fine" Deacon smiled.
"Funny, but you're not my type. Can we talk?"
"Well, shall we go sit while I still have a butt to sit on?" he said with a grin. "Weber didn't chew on it totally."
We went back to the office and sat, "I talked to the widow of my body and she said he was a big negotiator for the Culinary Union. He was in talks for better pay and health benefits for the workers. The wife thinks he was murdered because of it, and gave me a list of suspects." I handed him the paper with the list; he studied it.
"Well, you have a few heavy hitters here in the management world of Vegas gambling. The wife thinks one of these guys may have killed him?"
"That's what she believes; I'm going to talk to a couple of them today. Now, the connection to your body was that Hall was getting Spenser to help him with the death benefit details for contract talks. I wonder if they could have been plotting more than that."
"Could be a reason to murder both. I'll have to deputize you into helping me solve both the murders," he said with a grin.
"You just love pushing off your work on others don't you? I don't know why Lynn let's you hang around."
"Because I'm so cute and cuddly. Where do you want to start, I'll just tag along. Good things happen when I follow you."
"You mean death and destruction? Let's hit the list."
Deacon looked at the first name and said, "This is Morton Hackenbush, he's the big shot lawyer for the Boyd and Harrahs group of owners. These others are involved with MGM, Station and Sands groups."
"Hackenbush? Shades of Groucho Marx."
Deacon gave me a funny look, "Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush, played by Groucho Marx in 'A Day at the Races'," I said.
"You're just a fountain of useless information aren't you?"
I didn't respond, he was right. I just sat grinning.
We were on the road again, I let Deacon get a car out of the motor pool, we had the Dodge Charger again. It was sleek and hot and it had power that we probably wouldn't be able to use, but it was handy if we had to chase bad guys.
We went to a building off Sands Avenue and parked. The building was a nest full of lawyers, all for the gaming industry. Lots of lawsuits and contracts and buyouts around Vegas, so they needed many lawyers to sort out all the legal aspects.
We went into a lobby that looked to be gilded in gold; it screamed money and big retainers. We made our way through the potted plants and to the reception desk, where sat a gorgeous brunette in a skintight lame dress that showed her attributes quite well.
She smiled and asked if she could help us, I fantasized about what she could do for me. I stopped thinking that because Penny would interrogate me when I got home about the thoughts she could read from my mind.
"We'd like to see Hackenbush," Deacon asked flashing his badge.
She looked closely at the ID and said, "One moment." She took her phone and made a call. Shortly after, another stunning female came through a set of glass doors and up to us.
"May I help you officers?" she asked.
"It's Detective and we need to talk to Morton Hackenbush, about a homicide."
"Well, follow me please." She turned and went back through the glass doors as we followed admiring her behind. She had to know we were, she used it well.
We arrived at an office and went in to an anteroom where the girl sat back at her desk and asked us to have a seat. We went to the very plush couch and sat, as I sunk into the cushion feeling the luxury of the trappings. About ten minutes later, a man came out from behind fancy trimmed oak doors of his office.
"Gentlemen, I have a few minutes to give you if we can hurry along." He turned back and returned to his office.
I had to give an extra push to get up out of the couch, Deacon pulled me up and we went in. The office was just as luxurious as the rest of the building. I hoped this lawyer was worth every penny he put into the decorations of the room.
"Now what can I do for you gentlemen?" he said with a snug look on his face.
"I'm Detective Frank DeAngelo of LVMPD homicide and this is Jim Richards, private investigator. We are investigating the murder of Michael Spenser, owner of Spenser Funeral Home and the possible murder of John Hall, Culinary Union rep, who I'm sure you knew," Deacon said.
"I knew of Hall, he is, or I should say was, a bulldog for union rights. We had negotiated a number of times in committee. I never dealt with him personally, sorry to have heard he is dead. Spenser was a person I only knew by reputation, he was part of the union's attempt to gain extra benefits for burial of union members."
"What was your personal opinion of either of these men," I asked.
"I have no opinions to say, I knew of these men and that is the extent of my contact with either of them. Are you questioning me in regards to their deaths? Do I need to get one of the partners in the firm to represent me?" he spoke with a smirk.
"No sir, we are just gathering information to help us find the killer. Mrs. Hall suggested we contact you since she felt you may know something of this case," I said.
"Well, Elizabeth is a fine woman, but she couldn't know much of my interest in her husband's affairs."
"Affairs? Sexual or business?" I asked.
"Please Mr. Richards; I don't feel my knowledge of Mr. or Mrs. Hall is anyone's business."
"It can be our business if you are involved in his murder," Deacon replied.
"Gentlemen, my time is precious, you need to leave. I have no answers for you in regards to either man's death, so take it at that. Thank you and have a pleasant day." He stood and went to another door in his office and went out.
We sat there surprised by his abrupt reaction. "Touched a nerve I would say. You think he may know something more? Interesting he referred to Mrs. Hall by her first name. He evidently knows her well enough," I said to Deacon.
"Interesting that Mrs. Hall sent us to him, think she may be trying to get back at him for some reason by implicating him?" Deacon replied.
"Could be, she was not happy about losing her status in the community, so he may have something to do with his death and she's not happy about it. Don't you just love a mystery?" I said.
Deacon just gave me a stare then stood and went out of the room, I followed. He went to another door in the large building, it was marked, 'Office of Harold Kepling, Attorney at Law'. I realized it was the second name on Mrs. Hall's list.
"Well, that's convenient, we don't have to travel very far," I said.
We entered the office and did our greetings to the receptionist and she called in to Kepling. I was amazed that all these men were in their offices, did they work any court cases or just for corporations, giving them the time to sit around all day.
Kepling came out and greeted us a little warmer than Hackenbush. "Gentlemen, what can I do for Las Vegas' finest. I am a big supporter for our police; I think they take a bad rap all too often."
We went in and sat, introduced ourselves and Deacon asked, "Mr. Kepling, we're here about the death of John Hall, do you know him?"
"Hell yes, he and I golfed together twice a month, shame about his demise, really is. I have a theory as to the murderer, it was his wife."
I sat blinking in amazement, as did Deacon.
"Why do you believe that Mrs. Hall killed her husband?" Deacon asked.
"They hated each other! He called her a gold digging bitch and she leeched off him for prestige. I tried to talk him into a divorce but he didn't have a pre-nup, idiot. Besides, she wouldn't have given him a divorce, she had too much to lose if he left her. He did have a big time life insurance policy so she'll be set for a while, plus she can sell the house for a cool mil and buy a condo on the strip. That was a marriage waiting for disaster. Too bad Johnny got the short end of the stick."
Deacon was taking all of this in; I had some things running through my mind and looked to Deacon as he asked, "How would she have killed him? Coroner says he died of natural causes."
"She was a natural cause for his death. She kept him drunk hoping he would have an accident in his car. I don't know how she reached out while he was at the union negotiations, I saw him take the dive into the guacamole, messy stuff. Poor bastard. I gave my statement to the police, but they didn't investigate when it came up that he died of natural causes."
"Was her whole life revolving around her social contacts?" I asked.
"Of course, John said it himself many times. You want to know what I think? I have the feeling she was whoring around. I can't prove it, she knows I was friends with John, so I wasn't in on her playmates. Check that out, she may have hired someone to kill him with some fast acting poison that hides in the body, undetectable to an autopsy."
I thought that this guy had a great imagination, which makes him a good lawyer. If you don't have the facts, make it up. Deacon was now taking notes in his little black book, I probably should carry one, with my memory, but I keep forgetting to buy one. I'll have to remember the untraceable poison idea and talk to Joe Lang.
"Mr. Kepling, what happens to the union and management talks now that Hall is out of the picture?" I asked.
He sat for a moment and then said, "Todd Cramer will take his spot, he's the second in line to handle negotiations and I think he'll drag out the talks. I've never liked him, most of us don't. Not because we are the enemy on the other side of the war lines, he just has too many irons in the fire. He is on the take from what I hear, nothing to be proven, but the word is there. I don't trust the man and neither should you."
"Why would anyone want the talks to drag on?" Deacon asked.
"Well, the word is that Culinary may go on strike if the talks stall. Do you know what that would do to this city? Just about every hotel and casino will have to be serviced by management. Can you see some upper management boss cleaning rooms? Not to mention that food service would take hours to get people fed. John Hall played hard ball and he threatened a strike; Cramer will kiss ass and keep the talks going forever to please the casino owners."
"So someone wanted Hall dead because he could kill business around town due to a strike." I said.
"Bingo. As a representative for management and the owners, I can't say what my personal feelings are about this, I'd like to see this drag out myself. But we aren't too close to finalizing anything."
"A motive for murder would be to get Hall out of the way to prevent the city from shutting down. Do you think anyone in your camp would stoop to murder?" I asked.
He laughed, "I think half of these corporate owners would have been glad to murder him, but no, I can't say I could pin this on any of my clients."
"What about lawyers?" Deacon asked with a smile.
"I can give you names of every lawyer in these talks who would have loved to murder Hall, but I don't think they did it either. I have no idea why he was murdered, if he didn't die of natural causes."
"Spenser was just a funeral director and he was only involved in helping Hall set up the details for burial benefits, have any idea on his death?" Deacon asked.
"I only saw Spenser once when he came into the talks to explain the burial benefit details to management. He was there for a couple hours and then left. I can't put any speculation on his death."
Deacon handed him his card and said, "Thanks for your candor, please call if you think of anything that may help us find the murderer."
"My pleasure gentlemen, if you ever need a lawyer, I'm open to all aspects of law defense. Thanks for listening to me prattle. I hope you find the killer, John was a good friend."
We stood and Deacon and I went out. I looked at the next two names on the list and asked Deacon, "Think we'll find anything from the other names?"
"Since we're here, may as well talk." He turned and went to a door down the hall, the next name on the list.
We got nothing out of the them, they clammed up when we started talking murder. The last man was actually rude, but we didn't think he had anything to tell anyway. We left the building and sat in the car.
"So we have a lot of information that really tells us not much. Okay, he could have been snuffed for the sake of saving the city from loss of revenue for the corporations and their stockholders. Is preventing a strike really enough for murder?" Deacon said.
"The joys of detecting. Seeking out the clues and piecing them together, to find a killer. Now don't you wish Lynn were here?" I said with a grin.
"Yes, mostly to get Webber off my butt. Lynn has a better butt to chew," he said.
I looked at him and grinned, "You would know about chewing her butt."
"Let's not go there. Now where shall we check out next?"
"You’re the official detective, you tell me. I'm thinking we go talk to Hall's replacement, Todd Cramer. Maybe we can rattle his tree to see what falls out."
"Sounds like a plan," Deacon said and put the car in gear, drove out and then said, "Just where do we find him before I put on more mileage?"
I pulled my cell phone and called Lacey. She came on and I asked her to look in the city phone book for Todd Cramer. I heard her moving around and then could hear paper rustling. She was quiet for a moment then gave me a number and said the address was not listed. I thanked her and hung up. Deacon had pulled into a Carl's Jr restaurant and parked.
He wrote down the number in his book and said, "It's almost dinner time, let's grab a bite to eat and finish in the morning. I'm tired out."
"You're always tired out, but food sounds good, I didn't have much for lunch with Penny at Bistro's today." We exited the car and went in to grab some burgers and fries. We sat at a table by the window so Deacon could watch the car. I didn't think anyone would steal a cop car, but it was a hot Dodge charger. We wolfed down our food and sat back relaxing.
"So, Hall was negotiating contract talks with management. He threatened to strike and shut down the city. Management definitely didn't want this, so one of them, or more, would have wanted him out of the picture, enough to murder him. I can see that, but why Spenser?" Deacon was mumbling as he sat back in the hard wooden chairs.
"I'm wondering if Spenser had anything to do with Hall's murder. Maybe it's just a coincidence that some disgruntled customer killed him around the time Hall took a dive into the guacamole," I replied.
Could be, it's just a hook that they both had dealings with each other. But you're right it may be a coincidence. Either way, I'm going back to the precinct to sign out for the day, avoid Weber and go back to my lonely little apartment, thinking about Lynn sitting in her luxury hotel in LA. Life is unjust at times."
"Well, you won't go for a hooker so you'll just have to take matters into your own hand."
"You're disgusting. I'm outta here." He stood as I was laughing and we went out to the car. Deacon dropped me off to my car and I said I'd see him in the morning and got into my car. I carefully turned it on hoping it wouldn't blow up, sending me to my funeral like in my dream. I still got chills thinking about being in the closed coffin, I wasn't good at confined spaces, so I definitely wasn't happy about it.
I drove back to my humble home and thought about Mrs. Hall, and what Kepling said about her screwing around. He also said that she probably wouldn't murder him to keep her social standing, but the insurance money and the property was a good motive. I'd have to check on her a little more.
I pulled into the garage and parked, going into the house finding Willy gulping down his kibble. Penny came bouncing out from somewhere when she heard me, latching on to me with a big wet kiss.
"Guess who I have on my show tomorrow?"
"I have no idea, who?"
"I have the Las Vegas Funeral Directors Co-operative Association. To discuss the cost of funerals and options for burial. Would you like to come in to model a coffin or two?"
I just stood there in wonderment at my wife's sense of humor.
"You are one sick puppy," I said as I pushed her back carefully, "I'm not even going to go there when it comes to coffins. I've had a day of enough death and lawyers, two of the same thing, by the way. I want to crash on the couch, open a couple beers and fool around with my wife. Have you seen her? Good-looking woman, natural golden brown hair, well built for sex. She's not one who messes with her husband's head. If you see her send her to the couch," I said and went to the living room and plopped on the couch. Willy jumped up and plopped down on my lap.
Penny was humming as she nuked a couple beef meat pasties in the microwave, my favorite, especially smothered with ketchup. She was good with a microwave, cooking was a task for her, but she could throw a good microwave dinner together in just under twenty minutes.
She set up a couple folding tables and put a plate with my food in front of me and an open can of beer. I loved this woman.
She sat with her food and we watched television, a good comedy that I really needed, "Evan Almighty". It was a goofy movie, but I was misty-eyed happy as it progressed. I didn't like "The Office" with Steve Carell, but he was funny in this movie. Around eleven we went to bed, Willy jumped up on his Bate's motel chair that I bought for him from the magic convention murder case. He circled and then flopped down with a huff.
Penny crawled under the covers and cuddled me. We lay there in each other's arms and she whispered to me, "I am happy every day to be with you. I would never put you in a coffin; I know you don't want that. I wouldn't want that either. Please don't dream about death tonight, I want you alive in the morning to kiss me before I go to work."
I smiled and kissed her forehead as we both fell asleep.
It was late when Trapper and Sam returned to the Denver Hills Bed and Breakfast and entered the small lobby finding Mrs. Walters asleep in her rocking chair behind the counter. Trapper and Sam stood at the desk as he softly cleared his throat, bringing Mrs. Walters out of her sleep. She brought her grey-haired head up from her slumber, looked surprised and stood as slowly as her eighty-some year old body would let her.
"My goodness, I don't usually fall asleep at the desk, but I was concerned about the young couple who fought earlier, so I waited here to see if he would come back, but the young man didn't come back, or I didn't see him. It's been quiet this evening. Did you two have a good meal?"
Sam answered, "It was fantastic, and your recommendation was spot on. Afterwards we went to a very nice bar down the road from the restaurant and listened to some good jazz music. It was a very enjoyable evening for our first night in Denver. Thank you."
"Well, I'm glad you kids enjoyed yourselves. We serve a continental breakfast in the dining room at exactly eight-thirty in the morning, so don't be late."
Trapper said they would be there, then they left Mrs. Walters as he and Sam went up the stairs to their room. As they reached the floor, they headed down the hall towards the end, where their room was, Trapper noticed a slightly open door. He stopped and pushed the door with his finger and saw something that he didn't want to see. A bloody dead body stretched out on the bed, it was the young woman.
He carefully pushed Sam back so she didn't see the body and told her to go down and call the police, quickly. She stared at him, then realized he was being serious and quickly ran back downstairs to call the police, trusting Trapper's request. He yelled to her before she was all the way down to say there was a murder. She felt a chill when she heard that.
About an hour later the Denver police, their medical examiner and the forensic people were on the scene. Trapper, Sam and Mrs. Walters were in a sitting room off the lobby talking to a Detective Scott Peters of the Denver Police.
"So, getting this straight, you went to dinner after the couple came down the stairs arguing, so you didn't see what transpired after the blowout?"
Trapper answered, "They fought, I tried to intervene but they stormed off, she went back upstairs, he went out the door. We arrived back later and I found the body through the open door of their room."
"You were a homicide cop up in Michigan, correct?" Peters asked Trapper.
"Yep, homicide Detective Lieutenant, retired; now I'm working private out in Vegas. With a firm there run by a friend," he replied.
"I've always wanted to go to Vegas, never found the time. Is it as good as they say?" he asked.
"Better," Trapper said with a smile. "I grew up there, until I moved to Michigan. You should try it sometime."
"I will, now back to the murder; you didn't know the couple before tonight? The male is identified as Terrence Rice and the woman is, or was Linda Foster."
"No, we just came across them in the lobby when they fought. We left shortly after, as I said, and didn't see either one after that. At least until we came back and I found the woman dead in the room."
"Why did you look in the room?"
"Well, being an ex-cop I was curious about an open door, I carefully pushed the door open and saw her on the bed, blood all around her. I asked my girlfriend to call the police, she did."
"Well, I have all I need. Mrs. Walters, my mom is a friend of yours, so I don't figure you would murder anyone," he said with a smile.
"Scotty, you tell your mother that I said hello and you can never tell if I could murder anyone," she said with a sly smile.
Trapper liked this woman. Detective Peters stood and said, "Okay, I'll wait and see what CSU comes up with, but I would recommend that you stay alert in case Rice comes back again. Although I don't think he will."
Peters was heading out of the sitting room followed by Trapper, Sam and Mrs. Walters just as the front door opened and in came Terrence Rice. Trapper moved Sam and Mrs. Walters back with his arm and called to Peters that he was the man. Peters pulled his service revolver and told Rice to drop to the floor. The young man looked shocked and dropped to his knees after seeing a gun pointed at him. He had his hands up in the air as Peters pulled them back and cuffed him. Peters called for his uniforms and told them to watch him until he said to take him in.
Peters knelt down to Rice and asked, "Where have you been tonight?"
The shocked looking young man said, "I was at a bar, getting drunk."
"Yeah, some hooker I picked up, I spent the last couple hours with her."
"I don't suppose you can give me the name of this hooker?"
"Yes sir, her name was Brandy."
Sam smiled and whispered to Trapper, "Odds are that it's a fake name."
The next morning I awoke feeling strange, I thought about Trapper for some reason. I would have to call him to see how his trip was going.
I kissed my wife as she stretched to wake. She kissed me back and said good morning. We both got out of bed and went to our own bathrooms to get ready. That was the nice thing about having our own bathrooms; we can get ready for the day without having to stumble over each other. Although I liked to join her in her shower when the mood was right, this morning it wasn't. I was shaved and ready for the world, as I went out to get my morning toast I could smell something delicious. I entered the kitchen and found Penny making French toast. I was amazed.
She smiled and put a plate of French toast in front of me as I sat at the snack bar. "Boney appetite, my love," she said with a smirk now.
I liked French toast so I dug in. It was good.
"So are you going after your killers today?" she asked.
"I'm going to see Deacon, then we will go chase after killers, or so I hope."
"Well, be careful. I'm not ready to be a widow," she laughed
I got my things ready after Penny left to go to her show. I had custody of Willy, so that meant I had to go to the office to drop him off for Lacey to watch him. I took him to my car and started it up with trepidation, wondering when it would blow up, if at all. Willy sat next to me as I drove to the office and parked. I let Willy follow me into the building; he was being carried too much and needed the exercise.
I went by Trapper's office but I knew he would be out, then to Buck's office, but he wasn't in either. I went to the lobby and before I realized I forgot to announce my arrival and totally scared Lacey when I popped out of the hallway and said, "Hi."
"Damn it! Do you have to do that to me! It was so deathly quiet in here, and then you jump out on me!"
"I didn't jump!" I defended myself. "I just came out of the back."
"Yes, do you realize that hallway opening is so dark, it is spooky? I don't like spooky!" she lamented.
"Okay, I'll have a light and an alarm installed to let you know when someone is approaching."
"Fine! Now Deacon called and asked you to meet him at the Hannigan Mortuary, he said he called your cell phone but it went to voice mail."
I must have been in the shower when he called. I thanked her, ruffled Willy's head and went back to my car.
As I drove out, I checked my cell phone for the voice mail and found my phone was shut off. Strange, I don't remember shutting it off, but the joy of forgetfulness was plaguing me more every day. I just hope I never got Alzheimers. I don't think I would like to forget who Penny was or Deacon and Lynn. I felt for the families of people who had the disease, it must be tough.
I turned the phone on, found Deacon's voice mail, and listened to it. He explained that since he was now putting Hall's disappearance together with Spenser's murder, he got CSI to go to the mortuary and check it out. I pulled into the parking lot and went into the building finding the same pleasant woman at the reception desk. She waved and said to go in, the police were still there.
I went in the door I had gone through a number of times in the last couple days and I went back to the cold room, as I called it, and found Deacon talking to Larry, the supervisor of the CSI techs. There were a couple of forensic people working on the drawer that Hall had been in. Deacon saw me, smiled and waved me over.
"Good morning, I tried to wake you but got your voice mail, not answering your phone in the mornings now?"
"No, it was turned off for some reason, I didn't do it, at least I think I didn't."
"Not a good sign, Jim, memory loss. You need to carry a note pad and write everything down."
"Like you do, are you suffering from memory loss?"
"I have many facts to process, so I need to write things down."
"Okay, whatever you say, now what have you found so far?"
Larry said, "We have pulled a good number of prints from the drawers and luckily the bag that the body was brought in was still here. Hannigan did some checking and found that he is missing a couple body wraps so we know what to look for. The door was jimmied at the back and the thief left a couple good prints on the door, we just need to compare them to our database. I'll give you a call when we have something," he said to Deacon and went off to do his work.
"So you are taking over my case now?" I asked.
"No, just gathering facts for you to investigate, but I'll tag along and help. You may turn up something to help me catch my murderer."
"Sounds good. Now I'm a substitute for Lynn, she leads, you follow. But you can't have sex with me."
Deacon leaned in and started making smooching noises; I pushed him away. "Don't be that way honey," he said.
"Screw you, no I'm not."
Hannigan walked in and saw me, coming over he said, "Mr. Richards, thank you for getting the police to help with this."
"Well, much of the credit goes to my friend Detective DeAngelo."
"Now you'll have to excuse me I still have bodies to process. The work never ends."
"As long as they keep dying, you'll be busy," I said.
"Yes, there's an endless supply. Thanks and if you need me I'll be up to my elbows in body parts." He left the room and Deacon turned to me and said, "Shall we go back to Metro?"
I followed him out and into the precinct parking. We were walking towards the building when Warren came out the back entrance door.
"Hey Greg, What's up?" Deacon asked.
"It's good in there; Weber is at another meeting about the President coming to Vegas next week. The place is full of Secret Service all explaining and checking out our operation. We've done well enough in the past protecting dignitaries coming into town. Hell, Paris Hilton feels safe here, doesn't she?" He laughed out loud and went off.
"Why is the President coming here?" I asked.
"He's stumping for Senator Rose, trying to get him re-elected. And showing Vegas that he cares about our economic crunch."
"Most of these casino owners could keep this country going for years with their cash flow. Maybe the President needs a loan from the Maloofs."
Deacon shook his head and walked away from me, "Or he wants to gamble using the national debt as collateral, he may be able to play one hand of twenty-one," I yelled to him and followed.
We went into Lynn's office, "Any word from Lynn about her return?" I asked.
"Trial is going into overtime; she's a key witness and has to stay till the end. I'm holding up better, I'm getting used to her being away."
Deacon picked up his phone and dialed a number, waited, then asked for Larry. "Hey Larry, its Deacon, any hits on the prints?"
He listened and then hung up, turned to the fax machine in the office and waited. After a few minutes, two sheets of paper came out and Deacon pulled both. He read the papers and handed them to me.
"There were two distinctive prints and two people using that door. I was told by Hannigan that no one used that door, so any fresh prints would have to be the thieves and possibly murderers."
I saw the pictures, neither of them looked like thugs, and neither looked familiar, but why would they? One was named Harry Brinkley and the other was Mercer Thaning. "Are we going to go after them now?"
"We have the addresses on the papers, I'll call for a couple warrants to search for bodies and we'll go." He made a couple calls and we waited. About an hour later, Warren came in and gave Deacon some papers, "These were just delivered, shall I get a team together to make an assault?"
"Sounds good, have them meet in the back parking in a few minutes." He turned to me and said, "Let's go bust some grave robbers."
"Technically, they didn't rob a grave yet," I offered.
"Do you always have to be so literal? Let's go."
We went out to the back as a few cops were gathering and Deacon went over the plan. Everyone headed to their cars and the stragglers caught up. I went with Deacon and we drove out to Valley View and into a neighborhood that didn't look poor. I thought that crime was paying well, at least for criminals.
Everyone congregated in front of the first house on the warrants and then Deacon went to the door, pounding on it and yelling to open up. No answer. Deacon tried the door, it was locked so he signaled the uniform with the ram and he took out the door in one hit. Everyone flowed into the building and started to clear the place. They found no one in the residence and then Deacon called in the rest of the uniforms to search the house for a body. I wasn't sure if they would stash the body here, or just dump it out in the desert. But then I didn't know what the intent of taking the body was for.
"It's clear and we found no body," one of the uniforms reported to Deacon after about a half hour of searching.
Deacon said, "Okay, three uniforms stay here to see if the perp returns, if he does, bring him in. Let's go to the second location."
We arrived at the second house and Deacon did his door pounding, then the door opened and a woman of about twenty, looked shocked to see so many police.
"Is Mercer Thaning here?" Deacon asked.
The woman was visibly shaken and said, he was out. Deacon handed her the warrant and told one of the uniforms to watch her as everyone went into the building. The woman was stammering about this being illegal and the cop watching her told her to read the search warrant, she did and shut up.
About ten minutes later, one cop yelled from the basement and we all went down. He pointed to a huge freezer in one corner and opened it to show the body all stuffed in it, frozen like a side of beef. Deacon read the toe tag, it had Hall's name and it read "Hannigan Mortuary" on the bottom of it.
"Looks like we found Hall, now we need to find Thaning," Deacon said. "Get the coroner down here to take the body out." Deacon turned to me, "You can call Hannigan to let him know the body was found."
I went off to the side of the basement and called him, he came on after a couple rings and I told him the body has been recovered. He was ecstatic and asked when he could get it back. "Well, it's been frozen, and kind of all in a fetal position, they've called the coroner down to take the body out, so call Joe Lang for the disposition of the corpse." He thanked me and we finished the call. I went back to Deacon.
"I put a BOLO out for Thaning, we need to talk to the woman." We went upstairs and the cop watching the woman had her in the living room. She looked scared as Deacon sat next to her on the couch.
"What's your name?"
"Lana," she replied.
"Are you related to Mercer Thaning?"
"I'm his housekeeper. I was here to clean today, that's all I know."
"Do you know where Mr. Thaning is at the moment?"
"I assume he is at work."
"Where does he work?"
"Wittly, Danner, Thaning and Benson, Attorneys at Law. Up on Sands Avenue."
Deacon turned to me, smiled and said, "The same building we were at yesterday. Kepling was so close when he said there were murderous lawyers."
CONTINUED IN THE BOOK - Available at Murdernovels.com