Talk Show Murders      

By Bob Moats

Attention, this page has chapters 1 through 11, I may add more as I write.

Chapter 1

Andre Parker was a home decorator, he would go into people's homes to give them a make-over and charge them exorbitant fees. Andre was tied to a chair at the moment and his mouth was obstructed with duct tape. He watched in terror as the man walked around Andre leering and waving the machete. He came close to Andre's face and spit at him, then raised the recently sharpened machete and did a beautiful arching swing at Andre's neck severing his head from his body. The man picked up the head and said "Alas, poor Andre we knew you well".

Earlier that morning, Penny was getting her daily sheets together to study the information for her guest on today's show. The guest was a well known home decorator named Andre Parker. He was big in the Midwest where he traveled to many states to renovate rich people's homes. Penny was happy that they had landed Andre for her show; she was hoping maybe Andre would take a look at her home. She also knew her husband, Jim, would probably razz her about having the flamboyant decorator flitting around her house putting down all her years of decorating the way she liked it. Maybe not a good idea.

Gordy, her producer, finally came in and asked if she had gotten over her sea legs from the ocean cruise that she and Jim had returned from the week before. Gordy had been out of town for the last week and Penny told him that the cruise was very relaxing other than the three murders that they had to endure. Jim caught the killer and everyone was happy, except the victims. She told him more about the cruise and the convention and how everyone worshiped her husband for being the greatest detective in the world. Then she let out a long and loud laugh.

She went serious and said, "Gordy, I need to talk to you some time soon, about the show and my future." Penny spoke while her groupies, as she often humorously called them, started to work on her make-up and hair, making her beautiful for the cameras.

"Penny, is this about you moving to Las Vegas again?" Gordy stood just out of the way of the women waving brushes and lipsticks around.

"Gordy, it's going to happen one day so we may as well deal with it now, are you going to help with a possible change of venues?"

"Penny dear heart, I know some people in Vegas at KLAS that would gladly sell an anchorman and a weather man to have your show. Do you think the networks would go for the change of scene? I mean your Midwestern homespun charm is what carries you everyday."

"Boy do I have them fooled." Penny laughed. "I would have more celebrities to pick from out there, you know that and damn my Midwestern sensibilities, I want to be a glamorous talk show host not Betty Bumpkin dealing with practitioners of home remedies."

Gordy slipped in between the flurry of hands and arms still beautifying Penny to give her a kiss on the forehead. Celeste, head of make-up, whacked Gordy on the back and told him to get out. She proceeded to fix the smear in Penny's make up cause by Gordy's kiss.

At the door, Gordy turned and said, "We'll talk about this, but not now." Celeste shot him a dirty look and he ran out as she threw a powder puff at him.

Celeste asked Penny if she really had thoughts of moving to Vegas. Penny just relaxed in the make-up chair and smiled. "I've been out there twice now with Jim and fell in love with it. We've talked about it but we just haven't gotten to the point of packing it in. Mostly because of my job. Jim's investigating business could easily move and relocate, but my job takes a lot of dealing and set-up to start over somewhere else.

"Well, we would all miss you something terrible if you went." Mary, the hair stylist, spoke now after listening to the conversation.

"Hey, I would take all of you with me if I went, I can't lose a great crew like you guys, you know how to make me look good for the camera."

They all laughed as Steve, the floor manager, called in to say they were ready for taping. The groupies checked Penny one more time and let her up from the chair. Penny gave each one of the women a hug and said she would always be with them no matter where she was. She left her dressing room and weaved her way through the studio to her set and over to the stage. She thought about how she had hosted her show for the last five years since she started her small cable talk show that went to national television after her and Jim's first trip to Vegas for the big television convention.

Steve came up and said that Andre had arrived and would be out shortly after he had make-up applied. Penny laughed knowing that Andre already wore a ton of make-up that marked him as a flamboyant figure in home décor.

A few minutes later, Andre made his grand entrance. He had a voice that penetrated stone and a laugh that bordered on being annoying to dogs. He approached the stage where Penny waited and then they did the one inch spaced fake kiss on each cheek that celebrities did to avoid actual contact.

Andre was seated and his lapel microphone was tested and adjusted low so his voice wouldn't destroy the sensitive device. The show started and Penny stood off by the counter where she always introduced her show from and talked a bit about things that she had on her mind.

She announced her guest and spoke a bit about his credentials and then walked over to the chairs where Andre was lounging. They spoke for about a half hour about his travels and about the places he had transformed for people. They showed numerous photos that Andre talked about in his trademark voice trying to joke about his accomplishments. Penny took questions from her audience that had earlier sat quietly while Andre droned on. The hour long show ended and she thanked Andre for coming out and the end credits ran on the monitor, as Steve yelled that was a wrap.

Penny thanked Andre for coming and they exchanged fake kisses again and he went off with Steve. Penny went back to her dressing room and found me sitting in a chair telling her groupies about the ship board murders. Penny stood at the door listening to me, the senior citizen sleuth, as the media was calling me. I turned my head to the door and smiled when I saw my lovely wife.

"I was just treating your gang to a few pleasantries about our cruise." I said with a sly smile. "I'm sure they are interested in hearing about the murders."

"Not everyone enjoys hearing about murders, Sweetie." She came and gave me a kiss as the women all expressed their desire to hear more about the grisly facts. Penny just shook her head and went to the make-up chair to have her face removed. Celeste was rubbing cold cream over Penny's face as she listened to me relate our adventures. I gave the Reader's Digest version and finished as Celeste was putting Penny's street make-up back on. I always marveled at how fast they were with a liner stick and face brush.

Penny was ready for the afternoon and we said good-bye to the ladies and took our leave. I drove Penny to Roma Paisano, our favorite Italian restaurant. The valet came out and took my restored '89 Crown Vic to the reserved parking and we went in. Nicky Petros, the owner, saw us and came quickly to seat us.

"Miss Penny, you look beautiful as always." He smiled as he pulled out her chair. "James, you look... well, you look no different, but no worse."

"Nicky, you have a great way of making people feel welcome to your establishment." He smiled and called a waiter over to take our orders. I ordered Veal Parmesan with a bottle of Miller. Penny had Scampi and a glass of wine.

She looked at the glass of beer as I poured from the bottle that was brought quickly and said, "A little early in the day to indulge?"

"I'm still on ocean time. I need to adjust." I said with a sly grin. "One won't hurt."

"How's Buck doing out in Vegas?" Penny asked.

"I talked to him earlier today, he's coming back later this week. He's bringing Maria back to play in the snow like they were supposed to do before we went on the cruise."

We enjoyed our meal and made small talk about her day, as Nicky came by often to make sure everything was perfect. We went to leave and I gave the waiter a generous tip and we said our good-byes to Nicky and drove home.

After Andre had left the studio he hopped into his classic '69 Ford Mustang and drove to his home in Sterling Heights. He pulled in the drive and into the garage, using the remote to open the garage door. He went into the house and over to shut off his home security alarm but found the thing torn from the wall and wires were cut. He panicked and started to turn just as a bag was put over his head and he was pushed to the ground. The attacker was strong; he couldn't get his breath as the person pulled his arms behind him and tied them together. He was then pulled up and made to sit in a chair in what he presumed to be his kitchen. He sat listening but heard nothing, then he heard a grinding noise, and realized it was his fancy professional kitchen knife sharpener. He wet his pants, just as the bag was pulled from his head, before him all he saw at first was the machete.


Chapter 2

I pulled into our drive and let Penny out by the porch before I parked, it was the polite thing to do. I parked the car and covered it with the fitted canvas cover to keep the snow from building up on it during the night. We returned from our beautiful Pacific Ocean cruise and came back to snow; unfortunately it didn't go away while we were gone. I hated the cold and mostly snow, even if it had let up a bit and was only a light covering of the crap, but it was still freezing cold.

I went in and found Penny feeding Willy, he wasn't happy to have been left alone but we made up for it with food. I came up behind Penny and wrapped my arms around her as she turned to face me now. I kissed her on the lips and then the nose, I was going for her eyes but she had a stare over my shoulder and let out a quick low scream. I had my Glock out and pointed in the direction of her stare, behind me. I saw the face at the window, it was scary. I had the gun pointed and the figure saw it and ducked to the side. After the mystery man had moved I realized that it was Trapper.

I went to the back door followed by Penny and looked out; Trapper and Becker were sitting on our picnic table laughing. They both looked like they stepped off the cover of Modern Fisherman all decked out in fishing gear, hats with hooks and feathered flies, and vests with stringers and bobbers attached. I had to laugh. Penny went around me and to Trapper; she whacked him on the arm and said, "That was mean scaring me like that."

Trapper smiled and said, "I had no intentions of scaring you, I was just seeing if you two were finally home. I saw Bumbles the clown here with his gun out and got out of the line of fire before he blew a hole in your window."

I went to Becker and held my hand out and said, "Congratulations Barry on making detectives. I had hoped Will would bring you over sooner so we could celebrate but he said you had a big case to take care of?"

Becker smiled and said, "It was a robbery at Harrison Elementary School, not the hard core case I would have wanted, but we caught the culprits, teenagers caught on video. I'm sure it's up on YouTube now."

"Why didn't robbery handle it?" I asked.

"They were short handed this week and being the low man on the totem pole I got roped into it." He made a face.

"Okay, but why are you two out here in those get-ups, fishing is not what I'd expect from either if you." Penny asked.

"We're actually casing a home just up the shore from here. We're watching a husband who may have attempted murder of his wife and he's at the home of his mistress now. So we are watching him and getting some good pictures."

Penny smiled and said, "That's probably Ginger Holmes. She's the neighborhood slut. I hear she has a new man at least once a month. Your guy must be the flavor of the month."

"So you were peeping into the windows hoping to get salacious photos of the criminal?" I said.

"Well Ginger has very big windows and no curtains, so it was easy." Trapper said with a sly smile.

In all the excitement I had forgotten that it was cold and snowy out. "Are you two nuts, it's freezing out here and you're fishing?"

"Ice fishing is legal around these parts; beside our shanty has a good heater." Trapper said. I looked out to the water down the shore and saw the small fishing hut they must have come from. There were a few more spread out but theirs was closer to the shoreline.

"Well, let's get inside before we freeze, or are you going to be deserting your post?" I said.

"Nope we're done, got plenty of good shots of our culprit, and a cup of hot coffee would be nice right now." Trapper grinned. We went in and Penny put on the coffee maker. I didn't drink the stuff and Penny might have a cup or two in the morning, otherwise she didn't really care for it much. The coffee maker was mostly for guests.

We all sat in the family room, Trapper and Becker with their coffee, Penny and I with our beer. Willy finally came out from feeding himself and looked surprised by our guests, he came to me and I picked him up. "I'm sorry we don't have any donuts officers. We may have some cookies though." I said as Trapper gave me a quick finger.

"Well, we're going to have to throw Barry a big party now, just to celebrate his promotion and a good reason to get wasted." I said.

"You don't need a party for you to get you wasted." Penny said with a smile.

I ignored her comment and asked Trapper how was LA after we left him and Earl out there after we came back from the cruise. He laughed and said, "We went to see a couple of his old CIA buddies at the LA branch and we had a good time, that's all I'll admit to."

"Hookers and alcohol I'm sure." Penny spoke.

"Well, those were part of it. Did you give that extra flashdrive to your publisher yet?" Trapper asked figuring it's what I would do with all the information that would take down a good number of politicians and mobsters. I had made a copy of the flash drive that contained Valeria Brookson's tell-all book that had come into my possession on our ocean fun cruise and murders. The FBI had the laptop and the original flashdrive, but the book was still Valeria's property even in death.

"I may have slipped it to my agent to peruse the contents. Maybe they will do something with it, maybe not. The royalties go to Lydia Kanaro in Sweden, Val's assistant and lover. I'm sure you remember her, you and Earl were tripping over each other to be with her. We did have a good time on the cruise didn't we?" I laughed and Trapper agreed.

Trapper's cell phone rang and he held up his finger to his lips for silence and answered. He listened for a bit then hung up. "Well, Barry, you may have a chance for a real murder now." He said then looked to Penny. "And it may be connected to you Penny."

Trapper and Becker went to close up the fishing shanty and get their car and said they'd meet us at the precinct. Penny was quiet as we drove over, she held tightly to Willy in his purse. Trapper explained that they got a tip from an anonymous caller than there was a bomb in a box outside the Clinton Township police station. They had the bomb squad come in and after working their magic on the box to see if it was dangerous, they found it contained a human head. With a note. Trapper didn't say what was in the note just that it mentioned Penny by name and we were all being called in.

We pulled into the parking and went in to find Trapper and Becker getting out of their gear and talking to another officer. We held back till they were done and then Trapper's Captain, Josh Barrow, came out of his office and called us in.

We went into the office, Barrows pointed to the seats and sat himself. Barrows was a big African-American and he made Captain early in his career, he was tough. Trapper wasn't fond of Barrows, but respected the man. Barrows eyed Willy but didn't say anything about him.

"Here's the poop, the head in the box was identified by the note as being one Andre Parker," he said as Penny made a quiet gasp, having just talked to him this morning. "The note said it was in protest to poor programming by Miss Wicken's show." Penny corrected him saying Mrs. Wickens-Richards. He continued, "what ever, the note identified you by name and said there had better be an improvement in the quality of guests or more deaths would occur."

"What the hell does that mean?" Penny burst out. "How do we determine quality guests and by who's standards!?" She growled.

Captain Barrows sucked on his cheeks for a moment making puckering noises, he did that when he was thinking, and then said, "The note had suggestions, you can read them later. Andre was murdered in his home in Sterling Heights, but the head was dumped here, so Sterling Heights dropped the ball in our court. Not that I want it. Trapper, you and your new boy are assigned to it, and if a certain private investigator happens to keep an eye on the case and his wife, I won't object. Now get out of my office and go find this nut job."

We all went out and over to Trapper's office. We sat and Penny was looking pale, Becker got her a cup of water and offered it to her. She thanked him and asked Trapper what the note said. Trapper opened the file folder he was given by the officer he was talking to when we came in and read, "Warning, this is just the start, I'm going to murder each stupid guest that appears on the Penny Wickens show unless changes are made. I want to see better quality people speaking on topics of importance, global warming, oil spills, health reform, abortion and whatever it takes to enlighten the idiots who watch this mindless drivel that is going on now. Take heed, you have been warned." Trapper put the copy of the note down and looked to us.

"Well, I have been saying to Gordy we should get into more social commentary from our guests, but I'm not going to be dictate by this asshole." she said sadly. "I'm not happy, Jim, can we move to Vegas now?"


Chapter 3

It was Friday night and Penny wouldn't have to go back to the studio till Monday. She would be depressed the rest of the night knowing someone she respected had been brutally murdered and it was because of her show.

"It's not your fault that some psycho took offense to your guests, nothing you could do. Does Martha Stewart worry about her guests dying?" I asked as we drove back to our home. "I don't have any cases right now, so I'll come to the studio with you and just nose around, okay?"

Penny gave a half-hearted smile and said that would be nice. I pulled in the drive and saw a car in front of the house, it was Earl Daws. I let Penny and Willy out then Earl came up to her and they went to the door. I parked and went in to find the two of them in the kitchen, Penny was making coffee again.

"So, what brings you to our humble home?" I asked. He took the cup Penny offered and said he needed to talk to me, in private. "No offense Penny, but I have some business to talk about with your husband."

Penny waved her hand and said, "No problem, I'm going to take a dozen aspirins and go take a nap." She kissed Earl on the cheek, picked up Willy and went out. I was hurt that I didn't get a kiss but held my tongue.

"Trouble in paradise?" Earl asked.

"No, I'll explain it to you later, there was a murder and it was in regards to Penny's show. So come on into my home office I set up for just these occasions." I took him to the porch where my desk sat in the corner. I used it to write my stories at home, when the mood struck me. I pulled over a chair and had Earl sit.

"So, what's on your mind?" I asked.

Earl took a sip of coffee and made a face, I said Penny wasn't the best for making coffee and he laughed. He paused and then spoke.

"Well, after Trapper and I got back from LA, I went back to the precinct and before I got to my desk I was called into the Chief's office. He sat looking like the fat ass he is and told me to sit. I did. He then started to tell me our case closings on homicide were appalling and we weren't getting more criminals caught. I told him most of our cases were cold and we had no further leads. He gave me his smug ass smile and said that wouldn't do. He told me I had to close all my cases before the holidays or else I could be reassigned to robbery."

Earl took another sip and made the face again. I asked if he would like a beer, he beamed at that and I went to get us a couple cold ones. I came back and handed it to him, then he continued, "Then the asshole says to me, this doesn't work for him, it makes him look bad. I was getting pissed about then and said that his off the rack suit made him look bad."

Earl smiled at the thought of it, I laughed. "He got all hot and said I better change my attitude or be suspended. I stood, took my badge and gun, plopped them on his desk and said, no I'm changing my job thank you, and walked out. He was bellowing something about getting back there, but I kept going. I grabbed a box from storage and cleaned out my desk. He never came around to bother me. I went to HR and filled out the forms for retirement and walked out on being a cop." He sat smiling.

"So what are you going to do now?"

"Well that all happened last week and I went right over to county and I managed to slip in the licensing paperwork and I am now a licensed P.I., how about that?"

"Must be nice to be an ex-cop to get the paperwork shot through the papermill. I had to go to school for months to get my license."

"Well you were a rookie, but I have to say since I've known you, you have seasoned well. I've been honored to work with you, so shall we go into business together, like we talked about before?"

His question took me by surprise. I should have seen it coming but he did it so quick, I wasn't ready. "You know many times I thought about hooking up with you and even Trapper. I guess we could give it a go and see if we don't shoot each other." I smiled and held out my hand, he took it and we shook on it.

"Of course, you'll have to get your own business cards and I'm not changing the name of the firm, I like Richards Investigations."

"I don't care what you do, just find me some easy cases to follow and I'll be happy. After everything I have gone through in my law enforcement career, I need some slow time without the heavy thinking. Got a good spousal peeping job for me?"

I laughed and said, "I don't right now, but we could go to my office in the morning and get you set up with a desk and maybe something will come through the door."

"That would be fine, just to sit back and wait for crime to come to me for once. Now what is this thing with my girlfriend?" He smiled widely and downed the beer. I offered him another which he gladly accepted and then I told him what happened at the studio and after.

He sat shaking his head, "As long as Penny wasn't directly threatened, sounds like he wants to punish Penny but not kill her, or he would have made an attempt."

"See you're sounding like a P.I. already." I said. He laughed out loud just as Penny came into the porch and over to plop on my lap.

"Are you two plotting crimes?" she asked. I told her about Earl quitting his cop job and that we were now partners.

"Wow, Mutt and Jeff, comic crime fighting characters. Did Jim tell you about my problem?" She asked Earl.

"Yes he did, I'm sure your life isn't in danger yet, but we'll need to see where this leads before it can become dangerous."

"So you and chuckles here really going to team up? Become the A-minus team?"

"Depends on what his office looks like. I expect luxury in my surroundings, much better than the squad room I had to suffer with."

"Well, we'll have to do a little redecorating before you'll be happy." I realized what I had said about decorating, since the incident with Andre, but the comment luckily went by Penny.

Penny stood and said, "Let's go into the family room to get more comfortable." I asked what was wrong with my lap. She gave me an evil little smile and said, "It was getting a little lumpy if you get my drift." Then she went out. I grinned at Earl and we followed.

We sat and relaxed and talked about Tahiti then Earl related a few of the fun things he and Trapper got into in LA before coming back to Michigan.

Around 11, Earl said he had to go, he'd see me in the morning and we could go get him settled into the office.

I said, "Trapper is going to have a field day with this news. If he quits too, we can make him the receptionist and he can take calls all day."

"I like that. But Trapper is more of the peeping type; he will be good for surveillance of cheating spouses."

Penny laughed and said she was going to tell Will what we said. I kissed her and said it wasn't anything we wouldn't say to his face. I reached out to shake Earl's hand and said it was going to be good working with him. He smiled, said good-bye and left.

Penny went into the kitchen and came out with two cold ones and handed me one. I popped the top and took a sip. She had already gone back to the couch with Willy jumping up on her lap and we sat quietly for a bit then she said, "I like the idea of Earl working with you, he'll keep you from getting killed."

I tried to ignore her and turned on the television. The news was on and there was the face of Andre Parker starting at us. I heard Penny take a sharp breath and I asked if she wanted me to turn it off, she said no, turn it up. I did.

"Earlier today the decapitated head of the renowned home decorator, Andre Parker was found in a box outside of Clinton Township Police headquarters on Groesbeck Highway, after a false bomb threat was made. Instead of a bomb, the box contained the head of Mr. Parker and a note that we managed to obtain. Mr. Parker had appeared as a guest on the Penny Wickens show earlier this morning and the note stated that if the Penny Wickens' show didn't change their programming to more social conscience topics, more killings of guest would continue. No comment from Miss Wickens or her station has been issued. We will be following up on this breaking news as it progresses."

I shut the TV off and looked to Penny, she was pale again and I said, "Son of a bitching news. Don't take it to heart."

"I have to, these are my people, and I'm not going to let the bastard screw with them."


Chapter 4

For the first time since Penny and I shared a bed, she didn't sleep well. I'm not good at sleeping anyway so I stayed up with her most the night. She finally drifted off around 3 A.M. and I followed shortly after. I woke around 6 A.M. and found Penny already up and dressed.

"Where are you off to this morning?" I asked as she flitted around the kitchen getting cereal for herself. I don't eat breakfast generally, but I felt a bit hungry so I grabbed a fruit bar Penny had in the cookie jar.

"I'm going into your office with you. I'm going to play receptionist while you get Earl situated." She replied happily. I guess the little sleep she had was good for her.

"That sounds nice, considering you've only been in my office about three times since I've had it."

"Well, your office is depressing, too sterile, not enough pictures on the walls. Or posters of women in bikinis."

I just stared at her and wondered if she was losing it. "Why would I put posters of bikini babes on the walls of my office?" I asked carefully.

"To cheer the place up or you could put up posters of hunky men, then I would visit more often." She looked to me with her devilish smile and I knew she was yanking my chain. I went to her and slapped her butt and said to behave. She went to the snack bar and ate her cereal, as I went to get dressed. About ten minutes later the phone rang and Penny answered it after checking the caller ID.

"Hello, Gordy. Yes I was at the police station yesterday about it... yes, they showed me the note and I don't like being pushed around... yes I'm concerned about my guests... Who's on Monday?" She was quiet as she listened then had a disturbed look, I came over to her. "Oh, crap, I don't suppose Aunt Jennie could talk about nuclear proliferation? No, I understand, but she's such a sweet woman, I don't want her on the show if it means her life is in jeopardy. Yes, find someone else, someone who will bore the hell out of me and my viewers but won't die because if it. Get some politician to talk about baking a cake, then see what happens. Yes, I'll be in early to have a meeting. Okay, talk later. Oh and Gordy, I'm still moving to Vegas." She hung up and looked to me.

"Aunt Jennie Billson was scheduled to appear talking about her line of cake mixes made here in Michigan, but Gordy is nervous about having her on. She may be a shrewd business woman but I'd hate to be responsible for her demise. This is crap! I really hate being told what to do for my guests."

I gave her a kiss on the cheek and said, "You have another day to mull it over, let's go have a bit of fun with Earl now and get our minds off it." She agreed, put Willy in his purse and we got ready to go.

I pulled into the parking lot of my modest office building and we went in to find Earl sitting in one of the lobby chairs by my office, he turned his head and grinned. "Good morning, fellow detectives." He called out pleasantly.

"How long have you been here?"

"About an hour, the building owner was in cleaning up a vacant office and we had a nice talk. It's upstairs and it's big, two office rooms and a reception area, perfect for an investigation firm." He gave Penny a wink and I said he was trying to run things already.

"Well, from the looks of the size of your office from out here, I'd say we'd need something more sizable."

I unlocked the door and we went in. "Well this is a nice closet, where's the offices?" Earl commented. I stood looking at the one room and a separate bathroom and felt inadequate. "It has suited my needs since I started here, but it is a bit small as I now see it."

"The owner offered us a good rental fee; it's about one third more of what you're paying now." He smiled.

"Boy, you are just into everything aren't you?" I laughed. "Did he say if they furnish it too?"

"Well we did discuss that, the place still has desks and file cabinet from the last renters, we'd have it all thrown in he said."

"Do you know what the office was from the last renters? A call girl service. They had hookers floating in and out of here all day."

Penny gave me a look and said, "You never mentioned that to me?"

"Well I didn't know they were until Trapper turned them in and they got closed down." I defended.

"Damn Trapper, he never could keep quiet about hookers." Earl said.

Penny gave me a poke in the ribs and said, "What else aren't you telling me?"

"Nothing, that's all, no more hookers, can we get off this now and discuss the office arrangements?"

Earl held up some keys and said, "Well, we could go look at the place."

I started out the door glaring at him, "I'm not going to regret taking you on am I? You didn't put down a deposit did you?"

"As a matter of fact..." he didn't finish, he ran ahead and led us up the stairs and into the office, and I had to admit silently that it was nice. There was a small glass enclosed vestibule with the receptionist window and opposite that was a door going into the main waiting room and there were two offices that I could see just off the main room. Each office had a great view of Garfield Road and the surrounding area. Earl gave us the nickel tour and I had to admit it was impressive. There was another smaller room off the side that could be used as another office or for storage and the restroom was huge.

"Okay, did the owner say when we could move in?" I yielded.

Earl pulled out a folded paper and said, "Just sign here and it's ours." He was really like a big kid with his first car. I took the paper and saw the rent wasn't bad for what we were getting; I took out my pen and signed. Earl took the paper and refolded it and said, "Good doing business with you. Shall we move in?"

We spent the rest of the morning moving stuff up to the new office. Earl brought in his box of stuff from his office at the police station and was putting everything in a place. I stood in the hallway thinking about making a sign to say we moved. I went to a box of things I had collected since I had been there and found a good sheet of poster board and a felt pen, then made a moving sign and taped it to the door of my old office. I would miss the place, good memories, but I needed to expand and with Earl it was good.

Earl and I each had private offices now and I yelled to him to stay out of mine. Penny was sitting at the reception desk with Willy on her lap and I remembered that we needed the phone lines moved up here from the old office. I took Earl out to the junction box for the phone service and we did a little hacking by moving the wires around. I called my office number with my cell and Penny picked up, she was surprised it was me. We closed the box and I said, "I'll call the phone company Monday and make it legit and get another line put in for your office, so we aren't fighting over who get to use the phone."

We went back upstairs and into the vestibule and I nearly ran into a man standing looking at Penny behind the open sliding glass window. Penny smiled and said that the man was looking for a private investigator. Earl and I took our first customer into our new office and we had him sit at the round table in the main area we set up for conferences with clients.

"I'm Mitchell McCoy, my wife is missing and I want her found." He spoke quietly.

"Have you been to the police?" I asked.

"No, they said on the phone that they couldn't do anything till she was missing for at least forty-eight hours." He said.

Earl said, "That's standard policy to make sure the missing person isn't just off doing something else, why do you believe your wife is missing and not visiting someone?"

"My wife never goes anywhere without telling me. She's not a brave person; she clings to me until it chokes the life out of me. For her to be gone overnight is just not her."

I looked to Earl and asked him if he wanted to take this since I had to deal with the murder of Penny's guest. He said he'd be happy to and asked McCoy to come into his office and he'd get more information. McCoy stood and asked me, "Is your receptionist Penny Wickens?"

I laughed slightly and said, "Yes she is, she comes in to help us out once in a while." Earl was holding his laugh back and repeated his request to go into the office. They did.

I heard Penny laughing at the desk she sat at, she said to me, "I just started a new career."


Chapter 5

Earl and McCoy came out of his office about a half hour later and shook hands. McCoy waved to me as I was taking files out of boxes and putting them in the new file cabinets. He went by Penny and said, "I love your show." Then he went out the door.

"So what do you think?" I asked.

"He murdered his wife and hid the body." He said like it was no big deal.

I stared at him for a moment and then he said, "What?"

"Are you being serious? You really think he whacked his wife?"

"I'm just making an educated guess, his answers weren't very good as I questioned him, he reminded me of another case I had years ago. The husband hacked his wife into little pieces and froze the parts in their upright freezer, then claimed she was missing. Do you know how many claims of missing persons are actually murders by the person filing the report?"

"So then you're going to take the case; you got a retainer I presume?"

He smiled and pulled out a check from his jacket and waved it till I took it and read the thing. It was a fairly good amount, I said, "guilt money maybe?" and I took it to the reception desk and put it in an envelope to deposit.

"We have to talk about how we divide up the fees." He said.

"You get your pay from your cases and I get paid mine from my cases, only fair way. Just don't jump any of my cases. Oh and we split the bills down the middle." I smiled.

"Sounds like a marriage made in heaven. Okay, I have a couple places to check for my new client, just to see if he's handing me a bunch of bull." He put on his overcoat and as he headed to the door, he said to Penny, trying to sound tough, "Hold all my calls, doll." He winked and went out.

"This is fun." Penny said with a chuckle.

"Are you planning on being our permanent receptionist now?"

"Oh hell no, but I'm going to interview them for you, just so you don't hire some buxom blonde bimbo."

"But dear, all P.I. offices have buxom blonde bimbos working for them. Don't you read the pulp fiction books?"

"Well not this one." She stood and put Willy on the floor. "I'm tired and it's getting late, so let's go grab a couple burgers at the drive thru and go home to cuddle. I need loving right now."

"Well then shall we skip the burgers?"

"No, I have better sex on a full stomach." She went into my office to get our coats, as I stood surveying the room. We had brought up the couch I had purchased to take naps on and we put the LCD TV on one wall so we could see it from the couch. It was a good office and I was happy.

We drove through Burger King and then back home. Willy was eyeing the bag of burgers and onion rings and Penny kept telling him to wait. We pulled in the driveway and Penny went inside to give the cheese burger we bought for Willy to him. I came in a couple minutes later after covering the car and we sat at the snack bar eating.

"So what are you going to do about the show critic?" she asked with a mouth full of onion rings.

"Show critic? I guess he could be called that, critics are all killers as far as I'm concerned. I thought about it today, I'll come to the studio and talk to that girl who lines up the guests, what's her name?"

"Joy, she took over for Davey Morgan after he was killed by you during the classmate murders."

"Trapper said to never mention that I did the actual shooting, they claimed Deacon did it, just to protect me."

"Fine; it's Joy who schedules our guests now."

"Okay, I'm going to have a talk with her and see if I can set up a little trap for the Critic. I just need to talk to Trapper and Becker. Do you think Becker would do a good job of talking about his magic show as a guest?"

Penny looked to me and smiled. "You're going to put Barry out as bait for the Critic to attack? That's dangerous."

"Barry wanted to get his feet wet in homicide, this is a good way and Trapper and I will be watching."

"You let Barry get murdered and I'll never forgive you." She said with a bite of burger.

"If he were murdered, I'd never forgive myself, so we'll be protecting him carefully. If Trapper and Becker agree to my plan."

"And if they don't?"

"Well, I thought about putting myself on your show, but if he knows you then he knows me, so that won't work."

"You could use Earl." Penny offered.

"True, we'll see if Becker is up for it first. Are you almost full?"

"Why, getting anxious for sex?" She said with her devilish smile.

I crumpled the burger wrapper, tossed it to the wastebasket and smiled while heading towards the bedroom, "Whenever you're ready, I am."

After a good night's sleep and some good love-making, we started our Sunday morning. "Feel like coming with me to the office to do a bit more arranging?" I asked Penny as she came out of the bathroom looking all refreshed.

"Sure, are you going to hang bikini babe pictures?"

"I do have one that I'll put on the back of my office door." I went to a closet and took out a rolled up poster and opened it. Penny was watching me unroll the thing, and then I turned it to her. She let out a quick little squeal as she saw it was a blow-up of a photo I took of her on the cruise ship in her skimpiest bikini.

"I had this made last week from the picture I took of you and I was going to save it for just the right occasion, I think this is as good a time to put it up." I laughed.

She just stood there looking at the poster and said, "Okay, you can put that up in your office."

We arrived at the building a short time later and found Earl sitting at his desk writing on a pad. Penny let Willy go to run the new place and we went into his office to see what he was up to.

"Good Morning fellow crime fighters." he said as he stood.

"Did you stay here all night or get here early?" Penny asked.

"Got here early, had a talk with the building owner and gave him the paperwork, we are now official."

"I hope you gave him the deposit." I said.

"Nope, he just transferred your deposit from the old office to this one. He was very nice about it."

"So did you find out anything about your client?"

"Well, all the leads he gave me didn't pan out, no one was home. I'm re-grouping and going back out today. Anything on your case?"

"I got a couple of ideas. I called Trapper on the way over and he's meeting us here to see the new place and talk about my plan."

As if on cue, Trapper and Becker blew in the door and stopped in the vestibule looking at us through the glass window. I waved to them and they came in to the main room.

Trapper surveyed the place and said, "Well, crime fighting must be paying better now. Hey, Earl I hear you're out of the club." Trapper smiled as he shook Earl's hand. "Feel good to be away from fighting all the dirty crimes?"

"Yes and not having idiots looking over my shoulder. I do feel good, when you quitting?"

"Not till I get Junior here all broke into my mold. Then I can turn him loose and I can retire happily." Becker smiled at what Trapper just said and Earl gave him congratulations on his promotion.

"So Jim, what sort of devious plan do you have in your mind for catching the killer?"

"Penny gave our perp the handle of the Critic. I like it and if we could all sit I'll explain my idea."

We gathered all the chairs we could and put them around the table in the main room and sat.

"Okay, Barry how good are you about talking on the topic of magic, have you learned enough from me and our late friend Marty to talk for an hour?"

Becker looked at me little blank in the face then a light bulb went on in his noggin. "Ah, you want me to be a guest on Penny's show and hopefully draw out the killer. I can do that." He said it a little too anxiously and Trapper could see it.

"Barry, this isn't like tracking teenagers who robbed a school. We're talking about a crazed killer who decapitated his victim. Do you really feel up to the task?" Trapper was concerned for the young man.

"I guess if you guys are behind me, I'm sure I could do it. I just hope I can talk about my magic for an hour, I've never been on television before."

Penny piped in, "There's nothing to it, you don't see the people at home and the show is recorded so if you screw up we just retake the scene. I think you could do it."

Becker took in her words, thought about it and then flashed a big smile, "Great, let's catch us a critic."


Chapter 6

We sat working out the logistics for the plan; I said I'd talk to Joy, the guest scheduler, in the morning. I asked Becker to bring his magic props with him and be prepared to make up his back story in magic. I said I'd work with him on that, although he knew enough about the history of magic, but he was too honest to make up a lie about his life. He had to be someone else, he couldn't be Barry Becker, cop.

Trapper said he'd work with him on his back story later and I said that would work for me. I said, "I'm going to call a magic shop up in Clinton Township and ask them if we could say Barry worked there to have a place for the Critic to find Becker. Then we put him in the store after the show and watch the place. Any suggestions?"

"Do you have a GPS tracker that you can put on Barry, in case you lose him?" Penny asked. I looked to her and smiled.

"Very good idea, babe. Trapper, do you have anything like that we can use?" I asked.

"Yep, I can get him bugged in the morning. Nice call Penny." Trapper said.

"Good, that's all I wanted to say, we set up at the studio tomorrow morning at 6 A.M. if everyone can get out of bed that early." I said.

They all nodded that they would. We finished and I gave Trapper and Becker a quick tour of the place and Trapper asked if the small room off the side was his office?

"I was thinking maybe we could put a desk in the restroom for you." I laughed. We stood around talking for a while then Earl said he had to go do some investigating and he left. Trapper, Becker and I sat working on a story for Becker to tell Penny tomorrow. Penny sat in and made some good suggestions and we finished up. Trapper and Becker left after we agreed to meet tomorrow morning at the studio.

Penny, Willy and I were alone in the office now and I went to put up the poster of Penny on the back of my door so I could admire her great body during the day. She took the car and went out to Kmart's to buy some plants while I organized my desk. She came back with a car load of various fake foliage and potted trees which we brought up from the car. I had to admit the plants made the office look good and being fake, they wouldn't die. I wasn't great when it came to keeping plants alive.

We worked around in the office for a couple more hours then decided to pack it in and go get some rest for the long day tomorrow. We closed up and went to Subway this time to get food then back home.

We were both keyed up about tomorrow so we just had our meal then crawled into bed. Willy jumped up on his favorite chair, did his ritual circle and plopped down to sleep. I had the television on as Penny dozed off and watched it for a while till I dozed off. I woke around 3 A.M. and shut off the TV and rolled over on my side and slept again. The alarm went off at 5 A.M. and I heard Penny groan. We dragged ourselves out and took turns in the bathroom, then dressed. Penny was nervous, which I could understand, she had two days of wondering what was going to happen to her show.

We took separate cars and drove out to her station, past the guard booth as he waved us in and parked. She used her door card to pass through the locked entrance and we went in and over to her dressing room. Gordy was coming down the hallway and saw us. He came up and greeted us then said he wanted to talk, Penny gave me a look, one I could tell was dread. We went into her dressing room and Gordy asked if the groupies could leave for a few minutes. They all went out and Gordy closed the door.

"I got two cops in my office who are here to set up a sting for the killer; I intercepted them in the lobby waiting for you two. I'm a bit leery of using fake guests for the show; it's a matter of the show's integrity even though I understand the purpose for the subterfuge."

"Actually Becker is a magician and is going to be talking about what he knows, so he isn't a fake guest, just a non-social issue kind of guest, one the Critic will not like." Penny said with a touch of huffiness.

"Okay, he's legit, I'm all for it if it catches the killer, but I hope we don't get bit on the ass. The network got wind of the murder and they are concerned and suggested that we pull the show until he is caught."

"Well I hope you backed me up on this, canceling the show only proves he won. I don't like yielding to this asshole."

"The network told us to handle it for now and I hope your little plan works so we can get back to homespun interviews."

Penny scrunched up her nose and agreed. I told Gordy that I felt our scam would work if it all goes the way we planned.

"There will be no danger to the people here since the killer wants to grab the victim and make his statement. So he'd have to wait to get to the victim away from people, we are arranging that. Officer Becker has volunteered to be the bait and we will be watching him closely."

"Okay, the other thing is, we have another guest on today, he is an expert on environmental causes, he'll be talking about recycling. Before you bite my head off, it wasn't my decision, it was the station owners, they want to have this guy talk because they think it will appease the killer. I argued but they were firm. I haven't told them about your plan because I didn't know about it till a half hour ago. So we have to sneak it by them."

Gordy stood, said good luck and went out. I could see Penny was steaming, I just kept quiet.

"Son of a bitch! I'm not happy that they are fucking with my show!" She started to boil, which I've seen her do only one time before this and back then I got as far from her as possible. This time I had to stick by her and calm her down.

"Look we will catch this guy and you can get back to doing what you do best. So relax and let's just get through this day, okay?"

She looked at me, still mad, but I saw a slight yield in her eyes. Her groupies came to the door and asked if it was all right to come in. Penny smiled and said to get to work making her beautiful. I said I was going to gather Trapper and Becker and get things set up.

I went by Gordy's office and found the guys sitting on his couch. "This is no time to relax, let's go!" I led them to Joy's office and found her typing up something on her laptop. "You're not twittering are you?" I asked.

She had a surprised look then said, "No, I'm trying to work out a schedule to appease the gods of TV." She smiled and I introduced her to Barry and Will.

"Joy, please make out a daily sheet for Penny on Barry's background so she has something to go with. But he's not going under his real name and the info will be a bit exaggerated."

I could see her wheels turning and she beamed, "Ah, a sting! To catch the killer, I like it. Okay, Barry let's make out your fake info." She started to type on the desktop computer filling in the form that Penny would use to interview her guest, now known as Larry Decker, magician. She finished the forms and printed them out and called for a runner to take the sheets to Steve, the stage manager.

We thanked her and went to the studio where they taped Penny's show; Steve saw me and came over. I explained the plan to him and he said, "Do you think this will work, the killer won't figure out your guy here is a cop?"

"Well, we're hoping he won't, if Barry, uh, Larry can act the part. I understand you have a snooze guest on?"

"Yep, that's what I hear, talking about recycling paper and cans. Nice and ecological for our murderer."

"Put Barry, Larry on after him. I want the killer to think he has won with Mr. Ecological, then we'll hit him with the fluff piece that should get his attention."

"You got it." He received a call on his headphone from the control room saying they were ready to tape, so Steve excused himself and went to get everyone ready.

I saw Penny come out of the hallway from her dressing room and I had told her to ignore us in case the killer may be in the audience watching the show. We stood off the side as Steve got everyone placed and they coached the audience when to applaud and then Steve called the control room and turned it over to them.

Penny started the show and did her little monologue before introducing her first guest. "I'm sure everyone has seen the news about the unfortunate murder of Andre Parker; this was a despicable act and I am appalled. This is America and a television talk show should be allowed to pick its own guests without being threatened by a terrorist whose agenda is warped. I have to yield to the heads of the station and the networks in regard to who we have as guests now, but I guarantee this bastard killer will be brought to justice soon. I'll get off my soap box now and bring on our first guest, Mr. Kenneth Ripley, from the United States Department of Agriculture who will be speaking on recycling. Please welcome our guest."


Chapter 7

Earl sat in front of the tiny home in Shelby Township, watching for curtains to move or some other sign of life. This had been the third time he was at the house and he was getting tired of the wait. The home belonged to his client's missing wife's parents and he wanted to talk to them about his client's relationship to his wife. Earl still had a feeling that McCoy did away with his wife, Margret, and was reporting her missing to cover his tracks. He had seen a number of past cases that were very similar to this one, so the alarm in his head went off early. He had called McCoy when he got up this morning to see if Margret had returned; she hadn't.

There are parts of Shelby Township that are more country than city, homes still spaced out far enough so you couldn't hear your neighbors. This house was in just such a neighborhood and looked to be built in the early 40's as it still had the hard grey asbestos shingles on the sides, the kind that most homes of that time were built with before the EPA banned asbestos from homes. It looked to have only two bedrooms and a tiny living area, as Earl had scouted out the building yesterday and had peeped in the windows and saw that it was a scene from out of his childhood, all frilly and filled with knick-knacks on the walls. Earl's mother loved knick-knacks.

Earl lit up the first cigarette of the week, since he vowed to cut back, then he would finally try to quit them all together. He started smoking around 19 years old, now 32 years past, and had smoked up to two packs a day while he was in the Army. After the Army he joined the CIA as a communications specialist, being in on all the secret dealings going on in private phone conversations from one corrupt politician to another. The persons involved were never accused, just subtly blackmailed by his superiors for favors that the CIA was best known for during the strained relationship with the soviet bloc. His smoking increased caused by the pressure to keep quiet about all the things he knew. It was a strain on him and he lasted about two years before he requested a transfer. He ended up in the elite "Black Ops" team and trained to do things that they didn't write about in the newspapers. Things that caused Earl to smoke even more. He traveled the world on missions that were never spoken in the halls of congress, although the White House was aware of the clandestine activities of their commando raids in parts of the world to gain a foothold for the CIA activities. Earl finally got out of the business and became a law enforcement officer and his smoking waned a bit as he worked up to Lieutenant in Homicide, he slowed up the smoking even more. Now as a private investigator, the pressure was lifted and he decided to quit the habit. Or try at least.

He was reminiscing about his illustrious past in protecting America from itself, when the car pulled into the drive. He tossed his cigarette out the car window and got out. He watched two elderly persons struggling out of their car and cautiously went to them.

"Mr. and Mrs. Bremer? May I have a word with you; it's about your daughter." Earl asked politely.

The couple looked suspiciously to Earl and then the man came around the car towards him, "What's it about and who are you?"

"My name is Earl Daws and I'm a private investigator hired by your son-in-law to find his wife, your daughter. She's been missing since Saturday. Can we talk in private?"

The man just stared for a moment and looked tired, then said, "Come on in. We just got back from the store, if you could help bring in our groceries, that would be real nice."

Earl helped take the paper bags from the trunk of the car as Mr. Bremer said, "Don't abide by plastic bags, bad for the environment."

They all carried their share and went into the house. Earl was right about the quaintness of the interior, like it was stuck in time. He put the groceries on the small counter and then Bremer invited him into the living room. He pointed Earl to a rocker that was covered by a quilt and Earl sat carefully afraid the thing might break under his weight, it look like an antique. Most of the furnishings look to be antique. So did the Bremers.

They looked to be in their late seventies or early eighties, and both had grey hair. Mr. Bremer was a tall gaunt man looking like he lived hard. Mrs. Bremer reminded him of the woman on the box of cookie mix only heavier.

He surveyed the room and saw a number of photographs in quaint frames of the family; Mom, Pop and their baby girl. He didn't see any pictures of Mitch with their daughter, just a lot of the three of them. Strange there were no photos of their wedding or anything else to even suggest that they had a son-in-law. Mrs. Bremer sat on an easy chair and Mr. Bremer sat on the Lazy-Boy recliner, but didn't recline.

"I don't know if you are aware that your daughter has been missing, are you?" He asked.

"Mitchell had called yesterday to ask if she had been here, we told him she hadn't been. He said he was concerned that she was gone so long."

"Have you heard from her in the last two or three days?"

Mrs. Bremer spoke now, "She called me Friday saying she and Mitch had an argument and she was upset, we didn't talk long since he was just getting home, so I said I'd call her later. I never did. I hope she's all right." She took on a very sad face and Earl was not liking Mitch now.

"Well, I'm going to do my best to find her, hopefully she may have just gone off with a friend and she'll return on her own. May I ask a few personal questions?"

The both nodded and Earl continued, "Mrs. Bremer, you said that your daughter and Mitch were arguing, do you know what about?"

"Oh, it's always the same, she didn't like Mitch staying out so late and his drinking, and it was causing problems for the two of them. One time Marge mentioned that they were having financial problems." Mrs. Bremer said and then had another distressed look on her face. Earl could tell it was not a happy marriage for Mitch and Margret.

"Does Margret have any close friends locally that she may have gone to, someone she could trust to keep her safely away?"

"Well, there's Libby, Margret's friend since early on. She lives here in town; I can give you the address if you want?" The woman asked with a smile now, like she had something that may help.

"That would be great, and if you have any other places she may have gone, that would really help." Earl smiled back.

"Oh, goodness, where are my manners, would you like some lemonade, Mr. Daws?" The woman asked.

"Why that would be real nice, Mrs. Bremer." The woman went to the kitchen to get the address book and some lemonade.

Mr. Bremer waited till his wife was out of the room and leaned forward, "I think Mitch is a bastard, I never liked him. Always drinking up a storm and the way he treated my daughter, well I would have told him off but I feared he might hurt her."

"Do you think he may have done something to her?" Earl asked cautiously.

"I do, and I want you to find out and get his ass convicted. I'll pay you good to do that; I have some bonds put away for the future I can cash."

Earl smiled, "That won't be necessary Mr. Bremer, Mitch is already paying me well enough. I'll take him for more if possible." Bremer smiled and said, "You do that sonny, I'd appreciate it."

"I need to ask a delicate question, did your daughter have a life insurance policy on her?"

"I couldn't tell you if she did or not, but I know our family insurance man may help out with that information. I can call him and have him give you what you want to know." He offered.

"That would be fine, Mr. Bremer." Earl spoke as Mrs. Bremer came back in the room with a piece of paper and a tray of glasses filled with lemonade. She handed the glasses to her husband and Earl and sat.

"I wrote down a few friends that I know of who Margret may go to if she had problems, they all live nearby." She said.

"If they live nearby, wouldn't your daughter get in touch with you?" Earl asked.

"I can't speak for Margret, but she may have been embarrassed to call, she knew we didn't approve of Mitch." She answered.

Earl tasted the lemonade and it was good, fresh squeezed from good lemons, complete with pulp and just the right amount of sugar. He really liked it here, and the lemonade was great but he drank it down with haste and apologized for having to leave, but he had to get moving. Earl gave Bremer his new business card that he had ran off on his computer the day before and asked Bremer to call him about the life insurance. Mr. Bremer stood and shook Earl's hand and walked him to the door.

Earl went out to his car and sat in the driver's seat looking at the addresses on the slip of paper. What he didn't see was a car parked down the road, with a man sitting watching Earl through binoculars.


Chapter 8

Penny walked over to her guest with trepidation; she had always wanted her show to be light, happy and fun. In the past she had numerous celebrities on, along with strippers who showed how to exercise by pole dancing. She dreaded talking about things like recycling, not that those topics weren't important, but it was not what she wanted for her show; leave that to the "View" or Oprah.

Her guest, Kenneth Ripley politely stood as Penny approached the easy chairs where Penny interviewed her guests. She asked him to sit, he did and Penny sat on the chair next to him but on the edge of the seat, leaning forward. "Mr. Ripley, you are here to talk about recycling, it's that correct?"

"Oh please, call me Ken; yes I will be explaining how people can save the planet by turning waste into useful items." Penny winced at the thought of garbage being useful.

"Well, Ken, go ahead and tell us." She said, with not much enthusiasm from her voice. Ripley went into what sounded like a canned spiel for the USDA and their efforts to clean up the planet one empty can at a time. I could see that Penny's eyes were glazing and once during a commercial when Ripley wasn't looking she held her finger, pointed like a gun, and shot her brains out.

Back from commercial, they talked some more and Ripley showed slides of landfills that had been cleaned up and made into parks. I imagined the smell from the ground as children played.

After a half hour, Penny signaled Steve to get Ripley off and on with our plan, so Penny thanked him for coming and announced that after the station break she would bring on a special guest. They cut away and Steve came to get Ripley and led him off the set. Barry was bouncing; I asked him what he was doing. He said he was nervous and probably needed to pee. I pointed to a rest room off the side just for stage hands and he ran in. Steve came over and I told him where Barry was, he smiled. A few minutes later Barry came out and Steve had a lapel mic attached to him and then took him to the stage. Penny smiled at him and whispered to just relax as Barry sat in the chair.

Steve went back to his podium and called the count down, "Places everybody, in 4... 3... 2..." and pointed to Penny on the silent one. Penny smiled at the camera and said, "Welcome back, I am delighted to introduce our next guest, Larry Decker, who at the age of twenty-four has been into magic for a good number of years. He has been out to the magic convention in Colon, Michigan where we ran our show from for five days last year, and he is here today to talk about, what else, magic. Welcome Larry."

I was just as nervous for Barry as he was for himself; I hit the restroom after he came out. Trapper just stood viciously chewing on a toothpick, I had never seen him do that, but it was something to help with his nerves, I presumed. Barry was holding up to Penny's questions and he did very well on the brief history of magic that he related. Penny had Barry do a couple of close-up tricks and he performed flawlessly, I was proud of him. I had been performing magic for over forty years and yet Barry was a natural in the year I had worked with him, building up his talent ever since we got back from the magic convention. He was doing great and Penny was finishing up his segment by announcing, like we arranged, that Larry worked at Fun Fair Magic Shop on Gratiot just north of Fifteen Mile in Clinton Township and to stop in to talk magic with him. She said good-bye to Barry AKA Larry and then good-bye to her home viewers. The credits ran on the monitor and Becker came over to us with a stupid grin on his face.

Trapper leaned to me and said, "Now he'll be unbearable." Penny was heading to her dressing room and gave me a wink as she passed by. She knew I would be taking Becker to the magic shop and Trapper and I would be watching for the Critic. We thanked Steve and headed out to our cars; Becker, Trapper and I all had our own vehicles and we followed each other closely. Trapper had taken out three walkie-talkies from his precinct, one for each of us to keep in communication. I tested mine and both of them answered the call.

We drove up and over to Gratiot Avenue and up to Fun Fair, Becker parked in the back parking lot followed by Trapper. I parked in front of the next building on the street parking. I could see the front of the magic shop and the front of the alleyway going between the buildings to the back parking lot. Trapper called and said he was situated where he could see the back of the building and the alley as it emptied to the lot. Becker called one last time, carefully in case he was being watched and said he was going inside. He exited his car and walked through the alley to the front entrance of the magic shop building. He caught a quick glance my way to see where I was and then went in. I sat back waiting for a long night ahead.


Earl pulled into the driveway of the address he was given by Mrs. Bremer and walked up to the door of the townhouse, knocking with the fancy brass door knocker. He waited a minute then knocked again. He could hear a female voice yelling to hold his horses and the door flew open. Before him was a leggy redhead in a t-shirt and no pants, the t-shirt went down below her crotch showing just her well-toned legs. She was well built and looked to be in her late forties, but still very attractive and youthful, reminding him of Penny. Earl was a bit taken by her looks and then had to shake himself back to reality.

"Miss Garver?" Earl asked.

The woman looked at Earl and broke out in a big smile, "Yes handsome, I am, and who might you be?"

Earl pulled out his card and handed it to her and said, "Earl Daws, private investigator, may I speak with you?"

She looked at the card, grinned and said, "Wow, good looking and a private dick, I like that." Earl was concerned about the dick remark. It was an old term for a detective, not used much anymore since J. Edgar Hoover passed on.

Earl cleared his throat and said, "Are you a friend of Margret McCoy?"

She gave him a concerned look now and said, "I am, is there something wrong with Margie?"

"She's been missing for the last three days and her mother gave me your address. Have you seen Marge in the last week?"

"Come in please, we'll talk." Earl went into the townhouse and she led him to what he presumed to be her family room. Earl was behind her and was reading the printing on the back of her t-shirt, "I have the vagina, so I make the rules!" Earl grinned. She pointed him to a chair and she sat on a straight back wooden chair across from him. She wasn't being modest about having her legs spread a bit giving Earl a nice view of her pink panties. She wrapped her feet around the legs of the chair causing her panties to be exposed even more. Earl tried to maintain eye contact with her.

She smiled and said, "I'm sorry, am I embarrassing you?" She pulled her feet from the chair legs and then crossed her legs so to close up the view. She grinned.

"Miss Garver, if you have any information about Margret, I'd like to hear it."

"Please call me Paula, and I talked to Margie last Friday, she was really upset. Seems she and the ass she's married to had a big fight and she wanted to get away somewhere from him." Earl perked up hearing that.

"Where might she have gone if she did get away from him?" Earl asked.

"Who exactly are you working for Mr. Daws?"

"I'm not at liberty to say who my client is, let's just say it's a person who's concerned about her."

"If Mitchell is looking for her and she ran away, I wouldn't try too hard to find her Mr. Daws."

"Please call me Earl. Why do you say that?"

"Well, Margie was afraid of Mitchell, he could be such an ass and mean. I've tried to get her to leave Mitchell for a long time now. I hope she has finally left him."

"So, Paula, you think she may have run out on him and she's was not harmed?"

"Oh, I didn't say that, she might have been harmed, I hope not, but it would be a good reason that she is missing. If you know what I mean?"

"No I don't, please tell me."

She leaned towards Earl and said quietly, "He was capable of killing her, and he has threatened her in the past."

Earl took this in to consideration and thanked her for her candor. "You have my card if you hear from her, have her call me." He stood and she slowly got up from the chair.

"May I call you anyways?" She asked with a grin.

"Well, I don't see why not, but I'm pretty busy for the time being."

"Well, I'll call until you aren't busy, if that's good for you?"

"If I don't answer, leave a message." He grinned back and they went to the door, she gave him a kiss on the cheek and said there's more if he liked. Earl smiled and left.

Earl reached his car and looked back, he could see her standing at the window, her T-shirt was now gone and she was just in her pink underwear, with a big smile and threw Earl a kiss.

Earl made a mental note to watch out for her. What Earl didn't see, again, was the man in a car watching out for him.


Chapter 9

I felt like I did back when Buck and I worked security at the car dealership. Sit around and wait for something to happen, boring then, boring now. I thought about Buck and wondered how he was doing out in Vegas. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Maria's number, she came on.

"Jim how are you doing? You survived the cruise yet?" She said after seeing it was me by the caller ID.

"I'm fine, is the big guy there?" I asked.

She laughed and said he was, Buck came on the phone and yelled, "Jimmy, wazz up?"

"Oh I'm sitting out in the snow and cold doing surveillance on Barry Becker." I smiled.

"Becker, what did he do to deserve surveillance?"

"He didn't do anything, but he is part of a little set-up we have going to catch a killer." I said and then explained the whole story to him.

"Wow, Penny must be upset."

"To say the least. We hope the Critic goes after Barry and Trapper is out back of the building watching for him." I was scanning the cars that pulled in and out of the alleyway to and from the parking lot. I tried to keep track of them and wrote down their plate numbers just in case.

"You need help? I was planning on coming back next week but I can cut it short if you need me."

"I can always use you to help, but just enjoy your stay away from the hell hole of cold here, and if I need you I'll call. Oh and I forgot, we have a new office and a partner, Earl Daws." I explained what had gone on with Earl joining and our moving upstairs.

"I like! Earl is good people and it would be easier for me to start our security business like we talked about awhile back with him helping the investigating part."

"Yep, we can still do that, or I should say you can, that's your baby. I have to cut this short, it's almost time for Becker to leave the shop so I'll keep you informed and talk later." I said as we finished. I watched the front for a bit, and then saw Becker coming out. He didn't acknowledge me but I could see he was looking my way. He walked to the alley and turned into it to go to the back parking. I called Trapper and told him Barry was on his way back, he acknowledged. I waited as a car pulled out from the alley, there was one person in the thing, I noted the plate number as I had for all the vehicles coming and going, just as the car pulled out onto Gratiot and headed south on the divided highway. I was watching the car going away when Trapper called and asked where Becker was.

"He went down the alley, he didn't come out?"

"No, I'm pulling over to see up the alley." He clicked off and seconds later, he came back on, "He's not in the alley, where the hell did he go?"

I thought about the only car that pulled out after Becker went into the alley and asked Trapper if a car had left the parking and went into the alley a few minutes ago, he said a car had left, but it was about ten minutes ago.

"Crap! Get up here now, the Critic has Becker!" I started the Crown Vic and pulled over to the front of the magic shop just as Trapper tore up the alley. I jumped out, locked the car and ran to Trapper's unmarked squad car. I yanked open his door and got in, yelling to turn right, down Gratiot. I said to get the GPS device up and running, he flipped on the switch on his dash and the thing lit up with tiny dots showing our location and Becker's as they were moving ahead of us.

"The Critic must have been waiting in the alley for Becker to walk through, then somehow got him into his car and drove right past me, shit! The car was a late model dark brown Chevy sedan, license number RJM-3849." I said as we sped down the road. Trapper got on his police radio and called for assistance. The blips on the screen were almost converging, just as the red blip representing Becker's location turned off the highway ahead. Our green blip got up to the turn off and Trapper ran a stop light to follow. We were coming up on the side street, to the red blip where it had stopped. Trapper was calling our location to the back-up that we hoped would get here quickly and then Trapper had to stop his car.

We were staring at the GPS locator and saw the red blip was still stationary. We looked around but saw no cars on the side street we turned on to. The city doesn't allow street parking during the winter, so all cars were off the road and the only cars we saw were in the drives of the homes along the street. We were almost right on top of the red blip but didn't see the car in question. I looked back to see the flashers of the patrol cars coming down the street and pull up behind Trapper. I looked over to the house next to us and could see a light on in the garage window and told Trapper about it. Everyone exited their cars and gathered, as Trapper related what had happened. I was watching the garage and saw movement in the light; I said he's on the move. Everyone ran to the garage with guns drawn and came up just as the small entryway door opened and a man stepped out.

"Freeze, hands up now!" Trapper yelled and the man looked startled. The patrol officers grabbed the man and cuffed him, I ran into the garage and found Becker lying on an old couch bound and gagged. I pulled the tape off his mouth but he didn't respond, although he was breathing. Then I saw a small dart stuck in his side and pulled it out. Trapper was standing next to me watching, he kneeled down and was carefully slapping Becker's face. After a few minutes Becker started to come to. I had his wrists and legs cut loose and we sat him up.

He looked at us through glazed eyes and asked where he was. Trapper and I just laughed for happiness that he was all right. The Patrol cops had the man in back of one of the squad cars as we came out of the garage, Becker still a little weak.

We had all gathered back at Clinton Township precinct and had the man in the interrogation room, just sitting looking rather stupid. He just sat looking around the room and making faces at the mirror. Becker had told us that he was walking down the alley past the car when he heard a popping noise and felt a sharp pain in his side, which was all he remembered until we woke him. I said the man was waiting in the alley and hit him with a tranquilizer dart and then must have pulled him in the car.

We watched the man for a bit then Trapper said it was time to go question the guy. Becker and I stayed in the observation room as Trapper entered the other side of the mirror. The man was sitting in a daze and jumped when Trapper burst through the door.

"Mr. Herman Kepler, as your driver's license says you are, you are here for kidnapping an officer of the law and possible murder charges in the death of Andre Parker. How's that sound so far?"

"I never killed no one, yeah, I grabbed the magic guy but just to protect him, that's all. He was a cop too, wow, I didn't know." The man was rolling his eyes as he talked; he looked to be either on drugs or having a mental problem.

"Protect him from whom?" Trapper asked.

"That nut guy who killed the gay decorator. Man, there are all kinds of nuts running around out there." He mumbled.

Trapper look to the mirror and shrugged. He turned back to Kepler and asked, "Please explain your mission to protect the magic guy?"

"Yeah... uh, I saw that the nut killed that gay guy and he said he'd do it to any other crappy guest on that woman's show. I saw the magic guy and said to myself... Herman, that guy is going to die. So I got my tranq gun from a job I had at the Detroit zoo and went to the magic place he worked at. When I knew he was coming out, I waited in the alley and popped him with the dart. I pulled him in the car and went home. I was only trying to protect him." He was whining about it now.

"Where were you last Friday around noon to 3 P.M.?" Trapper asked leaning over because Herman had his head on the table now. He didn't respond so Trapper whacked his hand on the table causing Kepler to jump again. Trapper repeated the question.

"I was in the free clinic down off Chene in Detroit all day for observation; they said I had an episode that I could have harmed other people while I was in a bank on Cadieux Avenue. The cops took me there; I was a bit drunk then." He smiled and put his head back down on the table.

Trapper stood and sighed. He left the room and came back to us saying, "I don't think he has the brains to murder Parker, but after pulling this stunt with Becker, I'll run his alibi and see what it comes up with."

We walked out of the observation room when another detective came up and whispered something to Trapper. He got a pained look on his face and turned to Becker and I, "Seems we were watching the wrong victim, they just found that agriculture guy, Ripley, over in Warren, hanging from a tree in a park."


Chapter 10

It was almost eleven in the evening and I was wearing down from the long day and early rise. We had spent the last hour and a half with the Warren police watching them process the body and crime scene of Kenneth Ripley. Trapper was given cooperation by the Warren police since the murder spree started under his jurisdiction. He got a copy of the note left in Ripley's pocket, making new demands and I finally told Trapper and Becker that I was going home to crash for the night. Trapper managed to get me an extra copy of the note so I could examine it and he had one of his patrol officer's drive me to get my car at the magic shop.

I thanked the cop and went to my car, noticing a note under the windshield wiper. I pulled it out and read it under the street light. My blood chilled and not from the cold.

It read, "Richards, clever of you to try and divert me from my quest to improve your lovely wife's show, but it doesn't matter, I am too clever for even you, the great detective. Just watch out or someone you care for may be the next victim."

I pulled out my cell and called Trapper and read it to him. He was not happy.

"I don't like his reference to hurting someone I care about, that could be any number of people but I'm thinking Penny, so I'm going home to check on her and call Buck back to help. I'll talk to you in the morning." I hung up and got the car going toward home, I called her just to make sure she was all right. She came on sounding sleepy and I apologized for waking her. She said she wasn't sleeping, just sitting with Willy waiting for me; I told her I was on my way and hung up. Damn this bastard!

I got to our drive and dreaded having to tell Penny about Ripley, and I would have to mention about the note on the car. I couldn't keep an important piece of information like that from her, she deserved to know and be prepared for the worse. I pulled in and parked, covering the car. I was looking around, if the killer knew where my car was at the magic shop, he would have to know where we lived. I didn't like it one bit.

I came in and went to the couch where Penny was resting, the television was off so she hadn't seen the news yet. She sat up as I came to her and I sat next to her not knowing where to start. She saw something was wrong, took a breath and asked, "Is Barry all right?"

"He's fine but, well you're going to hear about it anyway, Ripley, your guest today, was murdered over in Warren."

Penny took a big breath of air and looked stunned. "Hell, we put him on the show because he was someone the Critic would like, why the hell did he have to kill him?" She was stressing now and I waited till she stopped breathing heavily.

"The note we found on him said he wasn't good enough, the Critic wants more social issues, more political. Hell, I don't know why he just doesn't watch "Face the Nation" or "Meet the Press" if he wants political. Why pick on your show? He said that recycling was good but not what he wanted to see. He wanted more social issues, whatever that means."

I could see tears rolling down Penny's cheeks; I took a tissue from the box on the coffee table and gave it to her. "Did he say anything about Barry?" She asked.

"Well that brings up another touchy subject. The Critic left a note on my car saying he knew what we had tried to pull off today. I don't think he would have tried anything with Barry since the Critic knew he was a cop and not just a guest." I thought I would wait till tomorrow to tell her about the incident tonight with Barry's kidnapping. "It still doesn't excuse the death of Ripley, but this guy knows things we are doing, and I don't like that." We were quiet for a moment then I said, "He also threatened someone I care about, no names mentioned, just someone. I don't like not knowing, so I'm calling Buck back to watch you while I help Trapper find this scum."

Penny didn't say anything, just nodded. I think she was still a little stunned by all of it and was not feeling much right now. I hoped she wasn't giving up on everything she worked so hard to build up and I told her so. She looked to me, kissed my cheek, was quiet for a moment and said she wasn't giving up on anything; she would be fine in the morning after she had some sleep.

Although she tried, she couldn't sleep, so she took a couple sleeping pills we had for nights I couldn't sleep and she finally drifted off. We were in the guest bedroom, I told her it was to throw off the killer, just in case he came around, and had my Glock on the bed stand next to me.

We awoke around 6 A.M. and were getting dressed when the house phone rang, I looked to the caller ID, it was Penny's studio. I just felt it was going to be bad news. I answered and Gordy asked if Penny was available. Penny was standing in the doorway from the kitchen and she had a look in her eyes that I could tell she knew. She took the phone and said hello.

She was listening and then said, "So they aren't even going to give us a chance to put on the guests he is demanding?" She listened more then said, "Fine, call me when they get their heads out of their asses Gordy." She slammed the phone down and gave me a look that reminded me of when she had stomach cramps from a bad bowl of chili.

"Damn station owners have pulled the show and they want to put a cooking show in its place until the killer is found. The station told the network that they wouldn't be liable for more murders from here on. The networks are saying the ratings for the show are way up after the first killing, the media news has been building the murders up, blood thirsty fools, so now the network is arguing with the station owners over who gets the say as to whether the show is pulled or not. Gordy says the network is going to show reruns for now until they talk to the lawyers about the contracts."

I went to Penny and put my arms around her, she grabbed on to me and buried her head in my shoulder and I could tell she was crying. I didn't know what to say to make her feel better; I was never good at comforting people.

"Why don't you come into the office today and you can play receptionist. I can treat you like a dame and have you take dictation." I said and I could hear her giggle a little. She pushed back and held her head up, wiping the tears with her hand and said, "Can I wear a short skirt and put on the Marilyn Monroe wig I have?"

"Sure, but you'll have to put out for the boss." I smiled to her as she looked into my eyes. She kissed me on the nose and said, "Only if he gives me a raise, I don't put out for nothing."

"Deal, now let's get ready, and feed Willy before we go so he isn't begging us all day." I went to finish getting ready and pulled out my cell phone, dialed Maria's number again and Buck answered this time.

"Jimmy, it's all over the news here about the killings from Penny's show, you want I should come back?" He said sounding concerned, Buck had a good heart.

"I'd really appreciate it if you could, I'll make it up to you."

"Don't even think about it. Besides, Maria is coming back with me to enjoy the snow she missed when we went on the ocean cruise. She and Penny can keep each other company while I watch the both of them. I presume you want me to protect Penny now."

"You are a psychic, my man. Yes, and this morning the station pulled Penny's show until the killer is caught, so he may not like that and decide to go after Penny. That's my guess for now. Penny is a bit miffed about being pulled off the air, I really understand the station's point, they don't want to be liable for putting people up to be slaughtered. But it's going to be hard on Penny. I'd really appreciate you coming back to watch over her."

"No problem, my friend, we'll grab a flight back ASAP and I'll call when I know."

I thanked him and we cut the call. I told Penny that I had called Buck and he and Maria are coming back. She smiled and said, "Good, Maria and I can go shopping to help forget all this crap."

I had to laugh to myself, Penny always thought of shopping when things were going crazy. We gathered our things along with Willy and drove over to the office and up the stairs. We entered the place, the door was unlocked, I figured Earl was in early and then found an attractive red-head sitting at the reception desk.

She smiled and said, "May I help you?"

Chapter 11

I looked to Penny and winked. I turned back to the girl and said, "Yes, we need to hire a private detective, do you have one here?"

"Oh, we have the best," she said as she turned her head towards Earl's office and yelled, "Hey, Earl got some people here looking to hire you."

I couldn't see Earl in his office through the vestibule window overlooking the main room. Suddenly I saw Earl's head pop up from behind his desk and gave us a half awake look, then he focused and saw me grinning at him. He jumped up and came staggering out of his office pulling his shirt together and buttoning it up. He looked like he had a rough night.

"Uh, Paula these people belong here, this is Jim Richards and his wife Penny Wickens." Earl said as he opened the vestibule door for us. Penny breezed into the room as I walked past Earl grinning. He closed the door and said, "Guys, this is Paula Garver, a friend of my missing woman."

"Were you interrogating her?" I asked with a big smile.

"Ah, Paula could you go into my office and wait for me?" Earl asked the stunning red-head, she smiled, stood and headed to the office but stopped, turning she said, "I know you, you're that woman from the TV, a talk show right?" Penny just said yes and Paula went off without another word. Earl grinned and said, "She's some woman, we hit it off real fast."

"What you do, is your business." I was really trying to hold back a laugh. Penny smacked the back of Earl's head, gently but firm; he yelped slightly then smiled at her.

"You're a horndog Earl." She laughed and went to sit at the reception desk. She put Willy down and the dog ran straight for Earl's office and stood looking at Paula. I watched Willy wondering what he was doing when she pulled out a donut and broke off a piece and gave it to Willy. He was no dummy.

Earl pulled me away from both the women and said, "I didn't think you'd be in this morning, what with the murder last night I figured you'd go to see Trapper."

"Penny's show was pulled from it's time slot because of the murders so I brought her here until I figure out what to do today. How's your case coming?"

"Yesterday I talked to a whole lot of people who knew my client McCoy and every one of them said basically the same thing; he was a prick and probably did away with his wife. I just need to prove it now."

"How'd you get hooked up with the flaming babe?" I asked.

"She was the first one I talked to and the last one, she is some wild thing and I like red-heads. I think I could get used to her, as a girl friend only, nothing serious. I need my space."

"Yes, and you need to take her to your place, not the Richards Investigations motel."

"Well it wasn't planned, she came here looking for me and what could I do, and she attacked me."

"You mean to tell me, Mr. Black Ops boy was caught with his pants down?"

"Yeah all the way to my ankles." He grinned.

"Well, we'll see how Penny and her get along before you make her a permanent fixture here. Are you thinking of making her the receptionist?"

I looked over and Penny was gone, I walked to Earl's office followed by Earl and found Penny sitting in the client chair next to Earl's desk, Paula was sitting in Earl's chair, they were just laughing. Willy was on Earl's desk sitting up for Paula.

I stepped into the room as Penny turned and said, "This is for women only, you men go play detective or whatever it is that you two do."

I nodded to Earl and he followed me to my office. I sat at my desk, Earl took the client chair. "I hope this isn't going to bite us, if the two of them get to plotting." I reached for the phone on my desk and dialed Trapper. He came on after a few rings and asked if Penny was all right.

"Yeah, her show was pulled and she's not happy but I got her relaxed for now. Do you have a spare officer you can have come to my office to watch her while we play detective? Buck is flying back from Vegas and I want her watched until he gets here."

He said he did and would have him over in a short while. I said, "I'm concerned that the Critic may come after Penny now that he has no guests to kill. After your guy comes by I'll be over and we can work out something. I don't know what, but maybe we can figure something out." He said he'd wait for me then hung up.

"I looked to Earl and asked, "What does the hot tamale do for a living besides doing you?"

"She doesn't do anything, she has a generous alimony check each month from her ex and she lives well. So I thought she could hang around here and watch the office while we are out, she likes the idea."

"Do we have to pay her?"

"That's the beauty of it, she doesn't care to be paid, just to get out of her place and be in the exciting world of criminal investigations. And also to see me, she is one wild woman."

"Yes, you already covered that. Did you did tell her this can be a boring job?"

"Oh, yeah, I gave her the whole talk about the business, she didn't care, there's the couch and the TV, she says she'll be happy."

"Okay as long as Penny has no problem with her, I'm fine with it, besides she is an eye full."

Penny came to the door and said that she wanted Paula for the receptionist. I asked if she wasn't going to interview anyone else, she simply said nope, and went back to Earl's office. "Well I guess that answered that."

Penny and Paula went back to the reception desk and Penny was giving Paula instructions on what to do. Earl and I sat around for about twenty minutes talking about the murder last night and Earl's case when the door opened and in walked Becker and Trapper.

Paula smiled and said "May I help you."

Trapper just looked stunned and then said, "Yeah, I'm here to see Mr. Richards." He started to break into a smile as he saw Penny sitting off to the side. Penny introduced Trapper and Becker to Paula and they came in.

The two of them came to my office as they pulled a couple chairs with them. Suddenly Paula appeared at the door and asked if any of us would like some coffee. Earl and Trapper accepted, Becker and I declined. I reached over to the corner of my office where I had put in a cube refrigerator and pulled out a Pepsi for me and asked Barry if he wanted one, he nodded his head and I got one for him.

Trapper was looking out the door at Paula, she had on a dark, short, tight skirt, spiked high heels, purple silk blouse open at the neck and also opened two buttons precariously lower, allowing a slight view of her black lace bra. Her hair was long, straight and a bright reddish auburn. Most of all she was beautiful and built for power.

I snapped my fingers at Trapper and he shook his head back to me, "Were did you find her and is Penny letting you keep her?"

"She's Earl's squeeze and Penny likes her so we may keep her." I laughed.

Earl snarled at Trapper, "Just keep your hands off, she's not a hooker, she's a real classy woman. The kind you don't like."

Paula came back with a carafe of coffee and two mugs all on a tray that Penny had bought earlier in the week. Penny knew I didn't drink coffee but thought we should have the equipment in case. Paula put the tray on my desk and said to enjoy and went out. I winked at Earl and he grinned.

Trapper put a tan folder on my desk, "This is a copy of the Warren police reports on the killing last night of Ripley. There's not a lot to go on. The copy of the note the Critic left was examined and found to be the same as the one on the first vic. Both from the same typewriter and not from a computer printer, this guy is old fashioned. Forensics says he was murdered by blunt force and strung up for show. He was killed between 6 and 9 P.M. last night, hard to get a fix since it is freezing out there. Damn winter." Trapper turned pages in the folder and said, "Warren police are going over Ripley's apartment this morning so we will have more to look at." He read a bit more.

"The vic had plenty of cash and jewelry so this wasn't a robbery which we already figured, and he was missing a finger, the middle one of his right hand. Cut off cleanly, forensics says looks like maybe a branch cutter. I presume the Critic cut off his middle finger so he can give it to us." Trapper gave a little smile and closed the folder. He brought up another one from the floor where he dropped them and opened that saying, "Now our investigation of Andre Parker came up about as empty and the house was clean of prints. The security alarm was disabled, so the perp had to know about the set-up and which wires to cut. Parker's body was still tied to a chair in his kitchen and the machete was stuck through his chest, after the beheading, no prints on it. Guy must have been gloved."

Penny and Paula came to the door and asked if Trapper had her bodyguard, Trapper grinned and looked to Becker then back to Penny. "He's all yours."

Penny said, "Ok Barry, we girls want to do some shopping, come along. We're taking Paula's car." and they turned to go. Becker stood, gave a pained look and said to Trapper, "I'm not going to forgive you for this."