Earl Daws crawled across the lawn of the house looking for an opening into the place where the woman was being held. He listened for anyone speaking, to determine if it was safe to enter the building, or any movement. He heard none and so stood up at the back door to the small house, standing alone on the road at the outskirts of Las Vegas. He looked into the back door window and saw nothing, no one moving. He carefully turned the knob on the door; it was locked. He pulled the small packet of tools from his back pocket to use to unlock the door. He worked carefully until the door lock gave way. He put his lock picks back in his pocket, pulled his Sig Sauer P250 from its holster and cautiously entered the building.
He stealthily went through the kitchen he had entered and came around the corner of an opening into the living room. He saw the missing woman tied to the chair in the middle of the room and started to go to her. He suddenly realized he wasn't alone in the room when he reached her and turned to see the shape of a man at the hallway. Earl raised his weapon and fired. The man went down just as another man came out from another room and started firing. Earl pushed the girl over to prevent her from being hit, and then dove towards the second man firing his weapon. They exchanged volleys of gunfire until the man was dead. Earl stood and went to the girl, cutting her bonds and took the gag from her mouth.
"Whatcha doin' mister?" came the small voice from my right. I was startled to hear anyone so close and turned my head to see a small boy about twelve, I presumed, since I had no concept of children's ages.
"I'm writing a story," I answered the child. He was looking at the netbook I was typing on. It was a compact Acer laptop that was smaller than most laptops and only good for simple things, like writing my book stories on.
"Are you a writer?" he asked.
"I like to think I am," I replied.
"Crime novels," I said.
"About serial killers?"
"Well, I have written about them."
"Are you famous?"
"I'd like to think so,"
"Don't let him fool you; he's a hack writer of pulp fiction." I heard the voice from my left. It was my beautiful wife Penny Wickens-Richards; lying on the towel in the sand of the Florida beach, where we were relaxing.
"Hey, I'm a famous author," I told her then looked to the boy, "Don't listen to her, I write bestselling novels that are well read and purchased around the world.
"Are you James Patterson, I've read a couple of his books."
"No, I'm Jim Richards, author of Classmate Murders and about four other books, and I'm a well-known private eye in Las Vegas," I said.
"Never heard of you, sorry," he said then ran off when he heard some woman calling the name Henry.
Penny was laughing on her towel and I said to knock it off. "He's too young to read my books anyways," I defended.
"Oh, but he reads Patterson. Probably all his Alex Cross books with all the guns and guts and danger."
"Go back to sleep and burn in the sun," I mumbled.
She sat up and looked around the beach, now going sparse with people. "It's getting late, shall we go eat?"
"Sure, I can use a meal. We've been out here all day and didn't even have lunch. You never made it into the water."
"With all that yucky salt water, eeyu. No thanks, and I'm not fond of sharks. Sharks don't come into my living room to bother me, I'm not going into their living room to bother them."
"Well, you can swim in the pool of our motel after we eat. Shall we try some nice seafood place?"
"Sure, that sounds good; somewhere that serves lobster and shrimp."
"And some good beer," I replied.
Penny stood and nudged our toy Yorkie, Willy, who was sound asleep under my beach chair. He growled and looked up.
"Hey mutt, don't growl at me." Penny scolded. "I'll throw you in the ocean for shark bait if you do that again."
Willy stood, shook the sand off and bounced around Penny's feet.
She bent down and picked him up. "Where did your admirer go off to?"
"His mother called him," I said as I put my netbook into the case and stood. I folded the beach chair and the umbrella I sat under as Penny was picking up her towel and put it in the basket with the rest of our beach stuff.
"That's what usually happens to most of your book fans, their mother calls them."
I stuck my tongue out at her and went off to the car sitting in the parking area, followed by my wife and dog.
We put our beach things in the car's back storage and I returned the umbrella and chair to the small rental booth, getting my deposit back. I pocketed the money and stood looking out to the water at all the boats jockeying for a good spot to anchor. We arrived in this part of Florida yesterday and I had a nice evening at a local bookstore signing my books. Today we just rested and enjoyed the beach before we went to the next stop. I heard Penny yelling about her being hungry so went back to the car, just after Penny drenched her body in the public shower to wash off the sand.
She was in and buckled safely, Willy on the seat next to her. The rental SUV was comfortable and paid for by my book publisher. They usually don't foot the bill for promotional book tour expenses now that the publishing world was hurting from all the new writers who were self-publishing their works with their electronic books, called eBooks. Even some of the seasoned bestselling authors were having their books changed to the new rage, ever since the Kindle reader came out. Sony had their own device and various other electronic book readers were now popping up for people to read the thousands of books out there.
I had my first book about the classmate murders converted to the Kindle and was available on Amazon. Sales were doing well for both the printed book and the ebook, so I was happy. So was my publisher, who agreed to foot the bill for the trip.
We were on the second week of my promotion tour around the country. We left Las Vegas and all our friends and journeyed up to Reno, then over to Salt Lake City, Denver, Kansas City then to St. Louis. We even stopped for a few bookstore signings in Michigan where we were able to see our family and friends there. Even though we both were from Michigan, we considered Las Vegas as our home. I was going to sign books for a month at various big box bookstores and a few independent bookstores, hopefully to promote my new book coming out, about the Strip Club Murders. The book tour was doing well, every store had enough people to make the trip worthwhile and make my publisher happy.
We found a seafood restaurant easily enough; they were as plentiful in this area of Florida as Burger King. We went to a nice sit down meal, Willy in his travel bag watching some kids being annoying to their parents.
"I'm glad my son is all grown up and married; now he can enjoy my grandson's youth. I just don't want to have to go through it again," I said.
"Yeah, well, being senior citizens means not having children to take care of," Penny said with a smirk.
"Unfortunately, with the economy many people are moving back in with their parents and annoying the hell out of them."
"You would never do that, would you?" she said.
"You know I only lived with my parents to help take care of my dad." I defended.
"Sure, that was good of you, but then you moved in with me. I'm beginning to wonder about you."
I just sat staring at her as she read her menu. "I'm not some sponge, I carried my weight and did alright for myself."
"Yes Sweetie you did. Now let's get some food." She waved to the waiter and he came over to take our order.
"Where's your book signing tomorrow?" Penny asked.
"Some town called Palatka, just west of Gopher Ridge," I said with a smile.
"Why do I feel like we are in the middle of nowhere? When do we get to go to Miami?"
"In a few days, then we return the car at the Miami airport and fly on the corporate jet to Washington D.C. and then up to Maryland. All in due time babe."
Our food arrived and we were starving, finishing the lobster and shrimp off in record time. I sat back and took a drink of the one beer I was allowing before we drove back to the motel, where I would have a few more beers, for both Penny and me. I was watching the people in the restaurant and noticed the same kid who questioned me on the beach. He saw me and waved, I waved back. Penny caught my wave and looked back to see some gorgeous blond sitting facing me. Her head snapped back and gave me a glare.
"Hey, I was waving to the kid from the beach over just past the blonde." I defended quickly.
She looked back and saw the boy then turned and said, "Okay, but you did see the blonde."
"I couldn't help not seeing her; she's right in my line of sight to the boy."
"You better just keep her only in your line of site buster, or you are dead," she said with a small smile.
I leaned over and said, "Murder most foul, my dear."
We finished at the restaurant and headed back to the motel. Penny went straight to the pool and was swimming as Willy and I sat poolside. Willy looked up to me and then ran straight to the pool and jumped in. Penny was laughing at the pup, and swam around keeping an eye on him.
The motel was just about empty, only three other rooms occupied besides us. I watched as some older man in his eighties, I guessed, came out of one of the rooms and over to the pool. He stood on the edge and watched Penny swimming then turned to me.
"She yours?" he asked with a nearly toothless smile.
"Yep and she carries a gun, so be careful."
"I don't see where she carries it in that sweet bikini."
"That's all right, I have mine," I said as I lifted my gaudy floral shirt showing the Glock in its holster clipped to my belt.
"Oh, I see," he said, then turned to go back to his room, just as an overweight, mean looking woman came out and yelled to him to get the hell back in the room. Poor guy, maybe I should loan him my gun.
Penny swam over to me and asked, "What was that all about?"
"An admirer, don't ask for any more," I said. She got out of the pool helping Willy onto the concrete. She came over, plopped down on my lap and licked my ear.
"Hey not fair, I'm dressed, and I'm now wet," I protested.
"Well, let's go into the room and fix that problem." She stood and took Willy back to our room. Luckily, we were about six rooms from the old man; I didn't want to give him a heart attack.
We pulled out the clean bed sheets we brought with us and put them on the bed after I checked for bed bugs. I actually didn't like staying in motels because of the cleaning issue. I saw too many TV programs on sanitary conditions in motels and it scared me. Penny was worse than I was; she was very squeamish when it came to insects or bugs in the house or in this case, the motel. I checked the room carefully when we arrived and it looked clean, short of running a black light to see any blood or bodily fluids.
I tried to stop thinking about disgusting things and concentrated on Penny in her black teddy as she came out of the bathroom. Another breeding ground for germs, damn, was I getting so old I couldn't hold my attention on her great body.
We frolicked on the bed for a good long time. We were going for a record as to how many motels along the tour we could have sex in. This was number ten.
We cuddled after a while and fell asleep. It was a quiet night and there were no disturbances to wake us. We awoke the next morning and packed our things putting them in the car. I put the room keys on the dresser for the cleaning people to take and I left a good tip. I remembered the hotel housekeepers from our adventures in Vegas and how they helped us track down killers. I said after that I would always tip the housekeeping well.
We got into the car and drove down the 207 heading towards Palatka. I had explored Wikipedia last night and read about the colorful history of Palatka and the various takeovers by foreign countries and tribal nations. The town had about 11,000 people within the town borders and was the home to the St. Johns River State College. The town was well known for its local festivals, most notably the Florida Azalea Festival and the Blue Crab Festival.
We found a small motel on the edge of town, and went in to register. The place was half-full and we got a room away from everyone. The downside, there was no pool, Penny wasn't happy. But we would survive. I called my publisher and said we were in town, and to let me know where I was supposed to be signing my books.
He told me about the small independent bookstore on the main street and I took down the address. I finished and hung up. Penny was looking out the front window and said, "Kind of a quaint place, but I could be wrong."
I took her hand, lifted Willy and went out to the car, driving into town and found the main street area. I saw the bookstore I was to appear at later today and parked in front. We went in and there was a young girl behind the counter with a pile of my books on display. She looked to me and her eyes got large.
"Hey, you're Jim Richards! I'm so happy you are here. I'm Sissy." She emoted an exuberance that bordered on scary.
"Yes I am, and this is my wife Penny Wickens-Richards."
The girl's eyes got even larger now, "Yes, you are the TV talk show woman. I used to watch you all the time before you moved to Vegas. We can't pick up your new show from there, which is a disappointment. I'd love to visit Las Vegas."
"It's a great place; you should go there at least once," Penny said and shook her hand as the woman held it out.
I asked, "Is Ken Parker here, I was told he was my contact."
"Ken is in the back, I'll call him," she said then got on an intercom and called for the man. About three minutes later he came out. He was an older man, probably in his sixties, like me. He had a good head of hair but it was a snowy white and he walked with a cane.
"Jim Richards! How great to have you here. We have a good number of crime lovers in our town and they are all waiting to meet you. Hope you are ready to sign a lot of books. I ordered two dozen more in case."
I thanked him and asked how business was. "It's been good, for an independent bookstore, we do well. Thankfully, the big stores haven't cut us out of the picture, our customers like the personal service we provide."
"I'm glad, I always like the corner bookstores. More friendly and homey," I said.
"Have you settled into a place to stay?" he asked.
"Yes, we are all checked into our motel and anxious to meet the people."
"Well, they are anxious to meet you."
The bell on the door rang as an older woman in her late fifties came in. She came up to the counter and looked to me. "Aren't you that murder novel writer?" she asked.
"Yes, I am, thank you."
"I hate murder novels; give me a good romance book filled with gratuitous sex and some violence, that's my cup of Joe." She said with a straight face and asked Ken, "Has my book came in yet?"
Ken came to the back of the counter and reached up to the shelves marked "Hold" and brought down a small paperback handing it to the woman. "Here it is Martha, just came in today. That will be $6.99."
"Put it on my account, Kenneth." She turned to me, "I'm not against you Mr. Richards, I just don't care for murder novels and detectives. But you have a nice day now." She turned on her heels and went out as quickly as she came in.
Penny leaned to me and said, "That was one strange woman."
Ken heard her and said, "She is part of the Bible Belt Baptists that inhabit this area. They don't like murder novels but they sure do like sex and romance books. One of the main landmarks for finding your way around here is a sleezy looking, faded red barn, it's a porn shop with peep shows and no windows. I'm from the north, New York, and I thought I got away from all the sleaze up there."
I laughed and asked where we could go get a good meal, he told us were to go. I said I'd be back later for the signing and we went out to our car. I stood before getting in and looked around to the brick buildings that were built years ago to replace the wood buildings that burned down in a big town fire. Penny asked what I was doing.
"I'm just studying the architecture of the street," I said as I got in the car and we drove over to the restaurant Ken recommended. We pulled up to the building and got out. The place was half full of people who all seemed happy and talkative. We sat in a booth looking out on the vehicle we rented and then a slim woman reminding me of Flo from the TV show 'Alice' came up to take our order.
"How y'all both doin' folks?" she said with a drawl that could be sliced and served on toast. "Watcha all havin' for today?"
I looked to her nametag and, honest to God, it said Flo. I stifled a laugh and said, "How are you doing today, Flo?"
"Ah'm fine, how's about you?"
Penny realized that I was trying not to laugh out loud and said, "Well, Flo, we're good and would like your breakfast special."
"You betcha, honey. Two orders of our eggs and bacon coming right up," she said and went off.
"You're going to get us in trouble yet," Penny said to me.
"I'm sorry, I suppose people from the South think we're weird too."
"No one is weirder than you my sweets," Penny said and patted my hand.
Flo brought our breakfast to us and stood looking at me. I was concerned that she caught my finding humor in her name, but she smiled and said, "Ah know y'all. You're that writer fella, ain't ya?"
"Yes, I'm a writer; I hope I'm the writer you're thinking of," I said.
She looked to Penny and said, "Yes, you are that writer fella, and this here's y'all sweet little wife, the famous Penny Wickens. Ah'm delighted to meet y'all."
Penny smiled and said, "Thank you Flo, it's nice to be recognized. Do you read my husband's books?"
"Ah shore do, Ah'm going to y'all book signing tonight, to get ma copy signed." She said then went off to help another customer calling for her.
Penny grinned and said, "See the South does like y'all books."
"Don't you start talking like them. I'm trying to get the speech patterns out of my head from just listening to Flo," I said as I started to eat my eggs and bacon.
Willy was on the seat next to me half in his travel bag, and I slipped him a couple pieces of bacon, since they piled it on the plate pretty full. Flo came back again and spotted Willy.
"Why, what a cute puppy. Is this Willy?"
"Yes it is." Penny answered.
"Ah read about him in one of y'all books. Don't rememba which one. Ah'll go get him a plate of something he maht like." She went off and I started to laugh again to myself.
"Quit that, she's being nice."
"I know, Ah'm just enjoying this whole thing."
"You can stop with the accents, you butcher it."
"Sho nuff, honeydew."
Willy gulped up his food and we said thanks to Flo, I dropped her a fiver for a tip and we left to go back to the car. We drove around town and passed the red porno barn. "Want to go in and see if they have Tandy Messner's videos?" I said referring to the porn actress who was kidnapped while being bodyguarded by our friend Angelo, the mob enforcer who moved into our guesthouse. We saved her from harm and now we left Angelo in our guesthouse to watch our home while we were on the tour. I called him almost every night to see how everyone was doing back home.
"I don't really think it's good for your image to be seen going into the porn shop. I'll pass."
"Okay, but I hope the motel has an adult channel on TV."
"Why are you getting so fixated on porn now?"
"Ah'm sorry ma'am, but y'all sexy body makes me think ah nothin else."
"Will you quit that. Let's go back to the motel and get ready for your book signing."
"Yes ma'am," I said and headed back to the motel. I drove around trying to find it, but happened to come down a road and saw the sign ahead. We pulled into the lot and parked, getting out and going back to our room.
There was a note taped to the door, I pulled it and read, "Jim, I'm Val Brookside, your book editor. Your publisher told me you were in the area, so I came to meet you in person. I'm in room 34, please come down with Penny and meet me."
I showed it to Penny and told her, "Val has been editing my books since just after the first. Morty, my publisher hooked me up with her, but I never met her. I knew she lived in Florida but not where. This is a pleasant surprise. Shall we go visit before we get ready?"
"Sounds good to me. I may need her to edit my book when I get further into it."
"You're still working on that, I thought you gave up?"
"I'm just taking a break, I'm not done yet. I need a professional to look at it and see if I'm doing a good job."
"Well, Val would be able to take on that task. Let's talk to her."
We went around the building and found the room, I knocked and after a minute, the door opened. I was surprised. The woman looked a lot like Penny, same body size, hair and facial features were the same. If I didn't know, I'd say they were separated at birth. People wouldn't mistake her for Penny, face was a bit too different, but on first look, she could pass.
"Jim, I recognize you from your book picture, and you are Penny, I've watched your show. Come in please." She stood back so we could enter.
"I understand that you live in Florida?" I said.
"Yes, about eighty miles from here, I didn't want to take a round trip drive all in one day, so I checked into this motel for the night. Morty said you were here when I called him. I'm glad to finally meet you. I enjoy editing your books."
"Well, Penny is working on a book also, an autobiography. Maybe you could edit her book also?"
She looked to Penny and said, "Sure, send me the file like Jim does and I'll take a look at it."
"Thanks, Val, I appreciate that. I'll send it when we get back to Vegas."
"Please sit and we can talk. Just let me know when you have to leave for the book signing."
We sat and then Penny asked, "How did you get into this business?"
"I had a friend who was a writer and I had taken a number of courses in literature, English, grammar and so on. My friend asked me to check his book for him and I got involved. I enjoyed working with words and my friend's publisher asked me to help them with a few of the books they were working on. The rest is history; I've been doing this for about five years."
"So Jim's books aren't the only ones you edit?"
"Oh no, I have about six I'm working on presently. Sometimes it gets blurry when I have so many books to read, they all blend together."
"Well you must enjoy it enough to put up with that," I said.
"Yes, it's a challenge sometimes though, but I get through."
We talked for about an hour and then I said that I had to get ready for the signing. "Are you going to be there? We can all go in the same car if you don't mind," I said.
"No, I don't mind, that would be nice." She gave me a business card with her cell phone number. "Just call when you are ready to go and I'll come down."
We said our good-bye for now and went back to our room. I just wanted to rest for about an hour and then get my mind into talking and signing. Penny was in the bathroom with Willy, getting her hair done up and then came out and said, "Why don't you lie down for a little, I'll wake you in time to go."
"Thanks babe, I may do that. The signing is around six so get me up by five so I can be fresh and awake."
I went to the bed and reclined. Penny turned on the TV low and sat with Willy watching some show about Ireland on the Discovery Channel. I drifted off finally.
Around five Penny gently woke me and I sat up on the edge of the bed, shaking the cobwebs in my head. I wasn't crazy about napping, because I always had dreams that were too real and they would upset me if it was a strange story in my head. I had always been a vivid dreamer; I would create places and people that were so real I couldn't tell sometimes if I was awake or dreaming. I think it helped to write my stories though.
I went into the bathroom and washed up then changed into nicer clothes. Penny was still watching the Discovery Channel, now in Greece. I came up to her and gave her a big kiss, then said, "Shall we go?"
We called Val and she came around to our room, then we went to our rental car. I drove them over to the bookstore, called Books Dreams are Made Of. We arrived and there were already people starting to gather. I found Ken and he took me to a table where I was to sign from.
I was standing by the table waiting for six o'clock to arrive so I could start. The room was filling up now, I saw Flo, she waved and gave me a big smile as she held up three of my books. Penny and Val were by the counter and seated in two chairs that Ken brought out. We had introduced Val to Ken and he was happy to meet a real book editor.
I was getting ready to start when this woman or rather an older girl came up and said, "Mr. Richards, I really love your books, they are so real to me. I have read all of them at least three or four times. I almost know the words."
"Well, thank you…"
"Oh, I'm sorry, I'm Bonnie Richner and I'm from Atlanta. I missed you when you came through the one day. I was in a hospital, for a minor illness. But I found out where you were going and followed you here."
I was wondering if her illness was physical or mental, by the way she was looking at me. I thanked her and said I had to start. Ken came forward and got the crowd settled and introduced me.
"Ladies and Gentleman, book readers, I really don't have to introduce our guest if you are a follower of his books, but I'll say his name anyway, please welcome Jim Richards."
There was a good amount of applause and I waved to start. "Thank you Ken and I glad to be here. I hope I can answer any questions you may have and then I will sign your books if you have them. If not Ken has a few available to sell I'm sure." It got a laugh and then one woman in front asked how I started as a writer. I talked about how I got through the Classmate Murders and thought it would be a good book to tell people about the incident, so I sat down and started writing.
I talked for about forty minutes answering questions and then finally said I would sign books now. People lined up and I sat at the table ready with about ten pens in front of me in case one ran out, I came prepared and hopeful.
Flo came up next in line and gushed about my signing her books. She said aloud to the crowd, "Everyone, Mista Richards ate in mah diner this mornin' and he'all left me a five dollar tip, Ah was impressed." She smiled at me then went off with her treasures.
I was trying not to laugh again, I looked to Penny and she was holding her finger to her lips, telling me to shut up, I did.
Bonnie Richner came up finally and was gushing again. "Mr. Richards, may I call you Jim?" she asked, I said sure. "I love your books and you are just the greatest detective in the world."
"Well that's a bit of a stretch I would say. I may be good but not great."
"Oh no, you are so great, I'm always impressed. I really have all your newspaper clippings about you on my wall and I taped anything that you interviewed on TV. I am your number one fan. Really, no one is more devoted to you than I. Really!"
"Well, thank you. I'm touched. Really." Actually I thought she was touched, but was afraid to say it. I didn't know what this girl was capable of.
"Thank you so much for the signing, I'll treasure it along with all my other treasures." She gave me a big sigh and a smile and went off. I wasn't crazy about hero worship, this was my first book stalker I figured.
Penny came over and said, "I could hear all the way over there and you should be afraid, very afraid." Then she laughed and went back to Val.
I saw Bonnie walk up to Penny say something to her then walk off and out the front door. Penny looked a bit surprised and pulled Willy in his bag a little closer and then reached for her purse. I knew she was carrying her .38 Smith and Wesson in it. I hoped there wasn't any cause for concern.
I excuse myself from the signing table, went to Penny and asked, "What did that loony say to you?"
She looked up to me, and said, "Nothing I can't handle myself."
"I want to know what she said." I was insistent.
"She said it was too bad I was married to you, or she would be. Then she said to watch myself."
I turned to Ken standing at the end of the counter and asked him if he knew anyone in the local police.
He asked, "Is there a problem?"
"I'm not sure, I hope not. I'm going back to finish signing, just have someone in the police come in so I can talk to them," I said and went back to the table.
About a half hour later, there was a big cop standing talking to Ken. I saw them go over to Penny, standing next to her as she was explaining the situation. The big cop was nodding and then stood looking to me.
I had one more person to sign a book for then the evening came to an end. I stood and put the pens in a box and went to where my people were. I came up and the big cop held out his hand to shake mine.
"Mr. Richards, ah'm Lieutenant Travis Maybell, Palatka police, my wife is a big fan of yours. She was telling me about how y'all came into her diner today and she waited on you."
"Your wife is Flo?" I said surprised.
"She is and ah'm happy with her liking crime novels. Now what is the problem here?"
"I had a very overly responsive fan who made what I consider subtle threats to my wife."
"Yes, your wife told me what this person said, I think there is a case for watching this woman, but we have to be careful. There was no overt threat; just a hint but I can put a man on watching her, if we can find her."
"I just met her tonight and have no idea where she came from. Well, she did say she was from Atlanta and she just got out of a hospital, but didn't say for what. I can call a friend of mine in the FBI and see what he can find out."
"That may help, ah'm wondering if we aren't getting too worked up. Your wife said she was young, maybe she just has a crush on you and it could be nothing."
"I'm a bit suspicious when any person approaches my wife for any reason. As your wife knows from reading my books, Penny has been the target of a number of threats and they usually end up in a kidnapping or worse. We have saved her on too many occasions and I don't want to be lax in this. I don't know what this woman is capable of, but when she tells Penny to watch herself, that is a threat to me. Now we both carry weapons, and we are both registered to carry, but I'd like some support from the police on this."
"Mr. Richards, if ah let you or your wife get hurt, ah better not go home, my wife will shoot me. So ah will take care of this. Ah know of your reputation as a P.I. and I respect your abilities, otherwise I would ask you to back off on this, but ah think you can handle yourselves."
"Thank you Lieutenant, I'll keep you informed of any occurrences we come up against. I will try to be diplomatic before using my weapon."
"That would be real nice, and save me a ton of paperwork, thanks."
I turned to Penny and Val and said, "Shall we go find a place to have a drink and a bit of food?" They both agreed and I turned to the Lieutenant, "Can you recommend a nice place for a drink and food, maybe some nice music?"
"Well there's the Crossroad Saloon, it's a bit rough but nice, just look for the motorcycle up on the pole, out on Highway 15 by West River Road. I can have one of my patrol cars to escort you out there. If y'all need a ride back to y'all motel, I can have someone drive you and your car back."
"Well thank you Lieutenant, real nice. I'll let Flo know she has a great husband."
"She won't believe you but the thought is nice." He tipped his hat and said he'd be around.
I asked Ken if he'd like to join us and he accepted. We all went out to my rental and followed the patrol car out to the small square white building with Crossroads Saloon painted in big letters on the front. There was a motorcycle on a pole which worried me a bit, if this was a biker bar. Too bad Buck wasn't here. The patrol officer got out of his car and came in with us. He identified himself as Officer Blake Shelby.
"You don't have to follow us Officer Shelby," I said.
"Ah was told by the Lieutenant to keep an eye on you folks, so ah will. Besides, ah like to enjoy myself here. It's a favorite place of mine," he said.
"Well come on in and enjoy," I said and we entered the place.
We had a bit of food and a couple pitchers of beer and enjoyed the atmosphere of the place. Our cop sat at the bar talking to the waitresses, who I'm sure he had a personal interest in. No one bothered us when they saw us come in with our cop, so we had a nice time.
Val was loosening up and Penny was being Penny. They were having fun singing to the music and dancing in the aisles. Most of the rough looking customers were a bit afraid to approach the women, as I didn't look like I was tolerating any nonsense. Besides my Glock poked out a few times from under my jacket. It helped. About two hours of partying later, we all finally gathered outside the bar, Ken went off to his car and left and Blake, as we were calling him now, said to follow him back to the motel. We did.
Back in the motel we parked and Blake said he was to sit outside for a while until he felt it was safe. I thanked him and Val headed to her room. I was standing outside our room as I watched Willy do his thing on the lawn when I heard a scream. Penny had the door open and came out to see what it was. Officer Shelby came running over from his patrol car and we all went around the building to see where the scream came from. We arrived around the back and found Val lying on the ground, blood coming from her abdomen.
Shelby got on his radio and called for an EMT. I was holding on to Val and trying to keep pressure the wound.
We were all standing outside the ER waiting for word on Val's condition. Officer Shelby was talking to Lieutenant Maybell who was called right after we arrived at the hospital. Penny was sitting on a couch looking upset and bookstore Ken came in after Maybell called him to ask a few questions. The two of them went off to talk in private, Maybell used his cellphone and then they came back to us. Ken went to sit on the couch next to Penny.
I wanted to get out and asked the Lieutenant if he could come with me outside. He followed me out of the ER and through the entrance doors into the black of the night. As soon as I stepped outside, I took in a lungful of air and nearly inhaled about a gallon of humidity. The air was still and dripping in the Florida humidity, I really wanted the dry heat of Vegas right about now.
"I got an APB out on the girl from your description and from Ken. She has to be in a motel around the area, since she's from out of town. We'll find her."
"Thanks Lieutenant. I've been thinking on this and I am wondering if Val was attacked because of her similarity to Penny. In the near dark the attacker may have thought it could be my wife."
"Ah was thinking that very same thing. Ah noticed the sameness of the two. It's a possiblility."
The ER lobby doors opened and Officer Shelby came out. "Lieutenant, ah take responsibility for the woman being attacked. Ah shoulda escorted her to her room. I'm regrettin' it now."
"Don't beat yourself up Blake. The threat was on Mrs. Richards not this woman, so we didn't think she would be attacked. Just keep an eyeball on Mrs. Richards now, will ya?"
"Yes sir, sorry Mr. Richards for this."
"As the Lieutenant said, don't worry about it. Help now by watching my wife."
He forced a smile and went back into the ER. I turned to Maybell, "I never had someone so focused on me, it's a scary feeling."
"Hero worship has its price. Ah feel for all the celebrities who end up with stalkers and the police can't do much unless something like this happens."
The ER door opened again and a doctor came out and over to us. "Hey Travis, how's Flo doin'?"
"She's doin' mighty fine Doc, thank ya kindly. What's the word on the woman?"
"Well, she's stable but in a coma. We got most of the wounds sewed up and stopped the blood draining into her body, she lost a lot of it."
"Can y'all give me any preliminary opinion?"
"Well, it looks like she was hit on the back of the head with a blunt object first. From cleaning the blow area, we took a good deal of dirt from the wound. Ah'd say it was a heavy flat rock she was hit with. Then when the woman was down the assailant kept hitting her in the abdomen with some kind of knife. Can't say for sure, but ah'm thinking it was possibly a small thin hunting knife. The blow put her in the coma and the shock of the attack didn't help much either. Ah've seen a good deal of knife wounds come through these doors, ninety percent were inflicted by a woman. Men use fists or guns to do their dirty work. That's just my opinion."
"Thanks Doc. It helps, keep me informed as to her condition. Ah hope this doesn't end up as a murder case."
I spoke, "Doc, I'll take care of Val's hospital expenses and appreciate all you've done so far."
"You're welcome Mr. Richards. Ah have to say I have perused your books, very well written. Must have been scary on a few of your cases."
"They're all are scary when you are in the middle of some killer on the verge of shooting you." I looked to the Lieutenant, he nodded knowingly.
"Well, I have to get back to check on the woman, I'll keep you both informed."
We thanked him and he went back into the building. A few seconds later, Ken came out hobbling on his cane. It was a nice looking cane, shiny black with a dragon's head on the top. It reminded me of the cane Deacon used for a while when he was shot in the hip by the Classmate killer.
"Lieutenant, if you don't need me anymore, I'd like to go home," Ken said.
"Why sure, Ken, you can go and ah thank ya for coming out to answer my questions."
"No problem. Sorry about this Jim, it's tragic. I hope they catch the person who did this." He hobbled off and I looked back to Maybell.
"I'm wearing down too. Long day, I think I'm going back inside to get out of this humidity and rest on a nice soft couch."
"You do that; ah'll keep you informed as to our search for the girl."
I handed him my card with my cell phone number and he went off.
I came back in to find Penny dozing on the couch and Blake sitting in a chair reading a magazine. He looked up as soon as I came in and nodded. I went to another couch and laid back. Luckily the ER waiting room was vacant so it was peaceful. I must have dozed off and then I suddenly felt someone gently waking me.
"Jim, get up it's morning." It was Penny and I was shocked to see sunlight coming in the windows.
"Wow, I guess I was more tired than I thought." I sat up wiping the drool from my mouth and looked over to Blake. He was still in the chair I last saw him in. "Did you stay up all night?" I asked.
"No, someone came and took my place last night after you were asleep; I just got back here a half hour ago. The Lieutenant called and said he'd be in to check on us in about an hour."
"Any word on the perp?"
He looked at me funny and asked, "What's a perp?"
I smiled and said, "It's a term, short for perpetrator, the person who committed the crime."
"Oh, that's a good one, I'll remember that," he said with a goofy smile.
I know this is partly country backwoods, but I would think TV would educate him as to cop terms. I stood stretching and asked Penny, "Any word about Val?"
"The doctor came out about an hour ago and said she was still in a coma. But she's stable for now, they're watching her closely. Poor woman came out to enjoy herself then this crap happens. I'd like to get hold of that little bitch myself."
"I understand your feelings but it's not proven that this Bonnie did it."
"Don't defend her, you weren't the one threatened."
"I know, I'm her hero."
"Well, stop being a hero, it's getting too dangerous."
The entrance doors from the outside of the ER opened and in walked Maybell with his wife Flo. The woman came over to me and grabbed my arm gently, "Ah'm so sarry for what happin'd. How's she doin'?"
"Well she's stable but still in a coma. Thanks for coming down."
"Travis was takin' me to work and I said to stop in to see."
"Well thanks again."
Maybell turned to Blake and said to take Flo to the diner, he wanted to visit here a bit longer. Flo gave her regrets again and left with Blake.
"The wife was concerned. So on the way to the diner she wanted to stop and say something. She's not much on words, which I like. So any further word from the Doc?"
Penny said, "The doctor said she's stable but still in the coma."
"Well we haven't found the girl yet, she's hidin' good."
I thought about my book tour and said to Penny, "I need to call Morty and let him know what happened." I looked to Maybell and said, "Morty is my publisher, Val was a book editor for my books and works for Morty. I should go call and tell him, excuse me." I went out to the sunshine and humidity and pulled my cell phone.
After a few rings, he came on. "Jimmy, how's the tour going, sell lots of books?"
"Morty got some bad news, Val Brookside came to visit and she was attacked last night, she's in a coma."
"What the hell, who did it?"
"We're not sure but they have a suspect. They are looking for her now."
"A woman did it?"
"Again, we're not really sure but it looks that way. I have a stalker now and we think this girl did it."
"Stalker? That's not good Jim. I've had a few other authors who had stalkers, it can be dangerous. Let me know how Val is doing. Does she need any help with the hospital expenses?"
I know I said I would help with that, but why not let the corporation take care of it. "Yeah Morty, that would be good, shall I tell the hospital to contact you?"
"You bet, I'll contact accounting and set up a fund for her. She's our best book editor; I don't want to lose her."
"Morty, I'm staying here until Val is either better or… well, I don't hope that doesn't happen. So cancel my tour until this is settled."
"I understand, I'll just move everything back a week for now, how's that?"
"Good, that should work for us. I'll talk later."
"Keep me informed," he said.
I said I would and we finished the call. The sun was starting to get a little intense so I went back into the hospital to be with Penny.
About a half hour later Officer Shelby came back. "Are you assigned to us now?" I asked.
"Yep, until further notice or the woman is caught. Ah'm going to shadow y'all to keep y'all away from the perp." He grinned as if he was proud to have used the term properly.
"Well, I feel safer already." I smiled as Blake went to sit in his chair and picked up another magazine. The patrol officer was young, probably around twenty-something and had light blond hair, cropped close. He was tall, almost six feet and thin. He was a rather handsome man and I could see that the women would like him.
Penny came over to me standing in the middle of the waiting room. "I'm hungry, and I don't want hospital food. Can we go get a bite to eat?"
I called over to Blake and said, "Can you lead us to Flo's diner, we need to get breakfast."
He jumped up and said he'd be happy to. We followed him out to our cars and drove the distance to the diner.
We arrived and there weren't very many people in the place, must have just missed the breakfast crowd. We sat in a booth and I insisted Blake sit with us. He was happily seated as Flo came over.
"Ya'll here for breakfast?"
"Yes, please. This number four looks good, I'll have that and Blake is eating with us, so pick something," I said to him, he grinned and asked for a number three. Penny asked for the number four also and then Flo went off.
Blake finally asked, "What's it like to be a big city private eye, especially in a city like Las Vegas? I've never been farther away than Gainesville."
"Well you have to come out sometime to visit. Being a P.I. is like any other police work, just bigger crimes in a city like Vegas. More people making it harder work to track down a serial killer or a terrorist. But we have smaller crimes also, like any other city. Have you ever had a big crime here?"
"Oh, we have our share. Lots'a poor folk here. They get a little testy when they drink and have no money to pay their bills. We don't get the serial killers or terrorist but we have our share of killings. Mostly spouses killing of spouses."
"How long have you been a cop and why?" Penny asked.
"My father was a cop here, he made Captain just after I got on the force. He was shot and killed in a shoot out with some bikers that came into town and figured they could tear up the place. The rest of our men managed to take down most the bikers. We only lost my dad." He went quiet, and I gave him the time to reflect.
"I'm sorry to hear that Blake, I'm sure your father would be proud of you." Penny offered to the man looking lost now.
He smiled at Penny's comment and said, "I'm sure he would be, my mother is certainly proud but wishes I was in some other profession."
"I'm sure," I said. "I've had many times that I wonder why I do what I do, with all the death threats and near death attempts on my life. I worry everyday about Penny, she has been kidnapped more times than any woman should be. But she has saved me a few times."
"Well Jim has this curse that murder follows him. Every time he is involved in a case someone dies," she said then suddenly realized that Val was still uncertain for her life. "I'm hoping Val isn't the one who dies. I mean I hope no one is murdered, this was supposed to be just a simple book tour."
"Yes, dear, and it will be," I said.
We talked a bit more then Flo came with our food. I had eggs, bacon, ham and hash browns. That would tide me over for a while, the plate was full. We ate in silence then Ken came in the diner and stopped at our table.
"I was heading in to open the bookstore but saw you from the window. Nice to have a diner so close to my business," He said. "How's Val doing?"
"Same as last night, we're hoping she pulls through," I said.
"Well, please call me if she comes around," he said and asked Flo for a coffee to go. She went off to get his beverage.
"So how did you do with book sales last night?" I asked.
"We sold all but four of your books, it was a success I would say."
"Good, I'm glad someone is making money on my books."
Flo came back with the coffee and Ken handed her a dollar and thanked her. "Well, keep me informed," he said then went off and out the door.
Penny leaned to me, "I didn't want to say anything earlier but Ken was really hitting on Val last night at the bar. She was being nice but shot him down. He looked crushed."
I was munching on a piece of bacon and thought for a minute. "How crushed was he?"
"Well he sort of moped a bit then he just ignored her. But Val was so busy drinking and having a good time she didn't pay much attention to him. She could get loose after a few drinks I found out."
"I don't know much about her other than she is a very good editor. Her personal life is a mystery to me. I wonder how hurt Ken was being shot down?"
"Why? You think it may have something to do with the attempt on Val?"
"It's a thought, but I could be wrong."
"Don't start that again, I'm not getting into a discussion as to whether you are always right. You didn't win last time we went around about it."
I just smiled and finished my meal. Blake was wolfing down his grits and eggs, I didn't even want to try grits, it just sounded so disgusting. Then I thought of the TV Flo yelling to 'kiss ma grits' to people and wondered if our Flo ever yelled that.
We finished and Flo cleaned our table. I was watching people on the street all going about their business and thought about going to the bookstore again. We stood and I put another five on the table and waved to Flo behind the counter pouring coffee for a customer.
We were in the parking lot and I said to Blake, "The bookstore is just down the street, let's take a walk to work off the food."
He smiled and followed us down the block giving us the tour guide explanation of the main street. In the couple blocks we walked I learned a lot about the area, Blake was a good tour guide. Penny was holding on to Willy in his bag as the pup's head was sticking out and looking around. I almost forgot we had him. He can be real quiet at times, I just worried we never left him somewhere.
We arrived at the bookstore and went in. Sissy was at the counter and beamed when she saw us. "Good morning Mr. and Mrs. Richards. Hey Blake, good to see you too."
He went a little red and I figured he had an interest in the girl. He went to the counter as Penny and I went over to where Ken was setting up a book display. "Hello again Ken, ready for the new day?"
"Sure am Jim. I received a new shipment of books, I always like when they come in. It's like Christmas Day for me opening the boxes. All the bright shiny books packed inside. It's a good feeling."
I picked up a new Robert B. Parker book, "Blue-eyed Devil" published after his death a few years back. I wish I could have met Parker, his Spenser books inspired me to become a P.I. and I enjoyed reading all the books I purchased when I was finally taking in money for my own books.
"Ken, I don't have this book in my Parker collection, I've never been into westerns very much but Parker makes it interesting. I'll take it please."
"For you, no charge. I made enough off you last night."
"Well thank you Ken, appreciate that."
"Are you still going on with your book tour now?"
"No, I called my publisher and we are pushing the tour back a week, hopefully Val will come around by then. I plan on taking care of her until she's well enough."
"That's mighty nice of you."
"You said you were from New York, why'd you leave to come down here?"
"I got tired of the big city and my bookstore there was being forced out by the big box bookstores. Hell, Barnes and Noble put up one of their super stores about four blocks from my store. It was just too hard to compete."
"I can see that. How did you find this place, Palatka I mean."
"My wife and I used to come down through here on our way to Marineland on the coast. We stopped a couple times and really liked it."
"Where's your wife?"
"She passed away a couple years ago, just after we moved here. She at least got to enjoy it for a while. She had cancer, it took her quick, thankfully."
"I'm sorry to hear that. So you've been alone for a few years then?"
"Yep, I couldn't find another woman to compare to my wife."
I looked to Penny who had an expression on her face that made me wonder. I'd ask her about it later.
"No one woman in town could peak your interest? There must have been one or two?"
He paused and smiled, "Yes, there was one woman, a school teacher last year that I was interested in but she disappeared one day. They couldn't figure what happened to her, she just vanished and they never found her. Shame, she was someone I could have been interested in for more than just an acquaintance."
I was now wondering how he considered a woman as more than an acquaintance.
To be continued in the book...
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