The normal looking house on the far eastern edge of Las Vegas was dark this morning. A solitary light was burning in the hallway outside the bedrooms on the second floor, the light glowing into the open door of Jessica's room. She was an adorable nine-year-old child, who was huddled on her bed being severely beaten by her father, Leo Meyer. Her whimpering and cries only made it worse, as her father was even more enraged by her sobs, causing him to assault her tiny little body harder.
"Shut up!" he screamed close up in her face as she tried to bite her lip to silence the sobs coming from her bruised throat where moments earlier he near strangled her. "Shut the hell up or so help me I'll make you wish you were dead!"
"Maybe she isn't the one who should be dead," came a soft voice from behind Leo. He paused in his tirade on the girl and turned quickly to see a dark figure silhouetted in the doorway. The light from the hall shone brightly behind the man, his face darkened by the lack of light in the room. Leo reached over to turn on the small lamp resting on the child's bed stand, illuminating the stranger.
The person was dressed all in black clothing; black combat boots, black cargo pants and a black vest that made him look like he was part of a SWAT team. The man's face was hidden by a black mask reminding Leo of an executioner from medieval days.
"Who the hell are you?" Leo slurred from the over indulgence of alcohol he had consumed all night. "Get the hell out of here, this is my house, you have no business being here!"
The mystery man stepped backward into the hall and said softly, "Make me leave."
Leo stood the best he could and staggered towards the figure, more enraged than when he beat the girl. "I'll show you who will make you leave," he spit out the words.
The figure turned from the door and was gone; Leo ran out and saw him standing by the stairs. Leo charged the man, but when he got to him, the dark figure grabbed Leo and with a viscous swing, threw Leo down the stairs. Leo rolled and bumped downward until he came to a stop on the floor. The man came down the stairs and checked Leo, he was still moving. The stranger gave his head a sharp twist snapping it in an unnatural direction.
He checked Leo's pulse, there was none. Seconds later, the dark figure had vanished from the house.
The Las Vegas Metro 911 dispatcher answered the call and heard a small sobbing voice asking, "Please help me, I think my daddy is dead."
The sun hadn't even risen yet, as my darling Penny was having fits about what to wear for her talk show today. She was having three big name male hunks on her show promoting their movie filmed in Vegas. I sat on the edge of the bed as she flitted around the room pulling clothes from the closet over to what was Willy's chair. Willy, our ever-faithful toy Yorkie was still on the chair trying to finish his sleep, and didn't seem to be bothered by the ton of clothing piled on him.
I checked to see that he didn't suffocate and turned to my wife and said, "Why don't you just go on the show naked. I'm sure they would love that." My statement was followed by a shoe being thrown at my head, as I retreated to the kitchen. I was trying to make some toast when Willy came flying in. I wasn't sure if he was alerted by my presence in the kitchen or chased out by Penny.
I was sitting at the snack bar munching my toast as Willy munched on his kibble, when Penny came out wearing a short tight black dress, with a string of pearls and long dangling earrings. Around her waist was a wide gold belt and she had matching gold high heels, spiked.
"Are you going out clubbing or hoping to entice one of your stars today?" I asked.
She stuck her tongue out and said, "I have to project an image of glamour for my viewers." She bent down to get a pan from the bottom drawer in the stove riding her dress up and exposing her lace underwear.
"The only thing you're going to project is those great black panties you're wearing," I smirked.
She quickly stood realizing what she had done, looked to me for a moment and went back to the bedroom, whacking my arm as she passed.
She settled for a white silk blouse and a slightly longer skirt that wouldn't expose her to the lecherous panderings of her guests. I smiled at her as she stuck her tongue out again. She poured water in the pan and set the burner to heat the liquid. She then poured the oatmeal in as the water rolled and steamed.
"So what are you going to do today?" she asked me.
"I have a small case to find out if a wife is gambling the family savings away. Her husband can't quite seem to be able to follow her, since she only goes out while he works, or so he thinks. I have to sit out front of the house and follow her to see if she is playing games of chance with their life savings."
"Sounds like fun, don't get distracted by all the lovely women in the casinos."
"I keep my focus on the case, not the bevy of beauty found around the high rollers. Actually, most of the women in the casinos are ordinary wives or plain Jane types. The really good looking ones are in the private rooms for the big spenders, the whales."
"Well, remember the beauty you're married to. I don't want to ever find you chasing a skirt without a case behind it."
"Yes dear. Oh, Buck picked up a new account for his guards yesterday. They will be guarding all the Gas-N-Go stations around Vegas. It should be very lucrative for the firm."
"How do you guys split up the money from all your ventures?"
"All income goes into one account and then we get a salary. It's all for bookkeeping and taxes, but we are investing in a bit in property speculating on expansion of the casinos."
"You'll lose your shirts."
"Thanks for that nod of approval. Shouldn't you be going?"
She looked at the clock, wolfed down the rest of her oatmeal, grabbed her purse and briefcase, kissed my nose and then headed out. I heard the garage door open and her car drove out the drive, setting off the driveway alarm. I went over and reset the thing then returned to my toast.
I had dressed and was getting Willy ready for Lacey to pick him up and take him to our office. I had to go directly to the client's house to tail his wife, so I wasn't going into the office right away. About ten minutes later the drive alarm went off, it was Lacey. I reset the alarm again and then set the thing for twenty minutes to allow me time to leave.
The doorbell rang and I had Willy in his purse, his head sticking out of the opening watching the door for Lacey. I opened the door, Willy yipped at Lacey, and she yipped back. I know she's a little childlike sometimes but I really believe she can communicate with Willy.
"Good morning Lacey, how are you today?"
"I'm great, Mac got home around six this morning from his guarding the car dealership and we had breakfast together. He said Buck may put him on the gas station detail, which would be nice, it's a day job so we can see each other more often," she bubbled.
"That's great, nothing like passing each other going to your respective jobs."
"Yep, we now get about two hours together evenings and mornings, not much time to do anything other than fool around." She blushed after she said that.
"I understand, sex is a healthy part of a relationship," I smiled.
"Yes, but Mac doesn't like to rush, so our times together are spent fooling around and not getting much else accomplished." She blushed even redder.
"Okay, go before you start looking like a tomato," I laughed.
She thanked me, took Willy in his purse, and went off. I gathered up my camera case and a few other things I would need, and then went to the door just as my cell phone rang, it was Lynn. Usually when she called me early in the morning, it was police business and she wanted to ask me for advice. Although she and Deacon were talking about getting married lately, so I wondered if it could be about that.
"Hello Dick Tracy, how are you this morning and what murder do you have for me to solve?" I said.
"You have a son, so you may know more about children then I do, how do you get a kid to talk when she's frightened out of her skull?"
"Okay, start at the beginning."
"We got a call this morning to 911; a child said her father was dead. When the first responders got there, they found him at the bottom of the stairs, dead, and the little girl was too frightened to talk. I would call child protective services, but I don't like those people. I have no experience with children and since you act like a child most the time, I thought you might help. Besides you're the grandfather type, so she might relax around you."
"Thanks for the grandfather comment, I'll remember you in my will. I have a follow the wife case but I can put it off one more day. Where are you?"
"In my office, we brought her here and I think it frightened her even more."
I thought a moment, and then said, "I have to swing by the office for something and I'll be in shortly." I hung up after she said she'd wait. I thought I might need a weapon to relax the child; I was going to pick up Willy.
I breezed into my building lobby finding it empty but found Lacey in Trapper's office, she was taking dictation. Trapper grinned when he saw me, and said to Lacey that he would finish the letter later. I picked up Willy who was bouncing around my feet.
"Sending letters to your Mom in Michigan?" I asked with a smirk.
"Got to keep her informed on all the goings on here in her hometown. I'm hoping she may convince her husband to move back here so she's not so far away."
"I'd like it if my mother would move here, but she doesn't like the heat, she prefers the cooler Michigan weather. I hated the freezing cold in the winter and the damp humidity in the summer. At least here it's dry and fairly constant."
"I thought you had a case to go on this morning?"
"I have to go to visit Lynn and Deacon; they have a small problem that needs my expertise. Are you doing anything for the next couple hours?"
"Nope, I'm free this morning. Whatcha got?"
I handed him a photograph and the address of the gambling wife, "I need to prove this woman, Alicia Barnes, is gambling away her food money, her husband needs proof. Can you tail her and get some photos?"
"I can do that." He studied the photo and I gave him the run down on when the husband leaves home for work. He said he'd take care of it. I went out to the lobby and stood looking at Lacey. She was frowning wondering why I was looking at her. "What? Did I do something wrong?" she asked.
"No, I think I'll need you for a couple hours. Get your purse and Willy's purse and follow me." I went to tell Trapper to lock up the office when he left since Buck worked last night filling in for a sick guard and wouldn't be in until later today. I took Lacey and Willy to the Crown Vic, driving over to Metro precinct.
We entered through the back entrance of the building and found Lynn and Deacon in her office just staring at the small girl sitting on a big chair in the corner of the room. Lynn saw us outside in the squad room and came out to talk to me.
"Thanks for coming, hi Lacey. Is she the reason you stopped at your office?"
"No, she was an afterthought, I went to get Willy. Lacey's young and maybe your girl will relax with her and Willy both."
Lynn smiled, explaining what little they knew about the case and took us to her office. We entered the room and I saw a little girl looking shy and frightened sitting quietly in the corner. I asked Lynn and Deacon if they could leave us alone with her, they agreed and left.
I pulled up a chair and asked Lacey to sit, then reached to the purse and took Willy out. I could see the girl's eyes growing at the sight of the pup and she broke a small smile. I sat on another chair that I pulled over and held Willy on my lap.
"Hi Jessica, my name is Jim and this is Lacey. My little friend here is Willy; he is a teacup Yorkie, a small version of a Yorkshire terrier. Have you ever seen a dog this small?" I asked hoping to get her to talk.
Her eyes were on Willy and she opened her mouth slightly then said quietly, "I never saw a dog like that."
"Would you like to hold him?" I asked.
She nodded her head and reached out. I carefully put him on her lap and she wrapped her arms around the pup. Willy was trying to lick Jessica's face and hands, causing the girl to laugh aloud.
The girl was adorable and had a face of a cherub, if I believed in cherubs. She had autumn brown hair and the bluest eyes I have ever seen on a child. It broke my heart to see the bruises on her neck and arms, how could any person be so cruel. We spent a few minutes letting Jessica play with Willy, and then I leaned forward and asked, "Jessica, may I ask you a few questions?"
She looked to me as Willy was lying on his back wanting attention from the girl. "What do you want to ask?"
"Well, can you tell me what happened this morning, if you can? We really need to know what happened. Why don't you tell Willy what happened," I said thinking maybe the dog may get better answers than I could.
She looked to Willy and said, "Hello Willy, my dad was being mean to me, no one is mean to you are they?"
"No, Willy is treated very well, Jessica. Can you tell him what happen to your father?"
She looked sad now and I could see a tear forming in her eyes. Lacey took a tissue from her purse and reached out to Jessica giving her the tissue. "Take your time Jess, may I call you Jess or do you like Jessica better?" I asked.
"I like Jessie, you can call me Jessie," she said quietly.
"Okay Jessie, that's a nice name. Now can you tell Willy what happened to your father?"
"My daddy was hitting me, he did that a lot. I tried to not cry but it hurt, he wouldn't stop. He was hitting me when this man came to the door of my bedroom. I couldn't see him, he was all black. He told my daddy that he should be dead and my daddy went after him, I couldn't see what happened in the hall but I heard a loud noise and waited to see if daddy would come back, he didn't. I went to the hall and then to the stairs and I saw daddy laying at the bottom. I went down and shook him but he didn't move. I knew to use the phone to call 911; they taught me that in school. I told the lady on the phone about my daddy and then sat until they came. They were all yelling and asking me loud questions. I was afraid."
"It's all right now, you're safe. What happened to the man in black?"
"I don't know; he was gone when I saw my daddy on the ground."
"Did your father hit you often?" I asked.
She nodded her head and looked down to Willy to avoid having to look back to us. "You couldn't see the face of the man at the door?" I asked.
"No, he had a black mask on, I didn't see his face. He was all black, his clothes. Did he kill my daddy?"
"Well, we don't know that yet, it's what the police will find out, with your help," I said.
"I'm glad my daddy is dead, he beat my mommy and made her go away." She started crying now, Lacey went to her and hugged her, letting her cry on her shoulder. I went to the door after saying I'd be right back.
I went out and found Lynn and Deacon in the squad room listening to a monitor from a recorder attached to what I guess was a wireless microphone in her office. "I didn't know your office was bugged," I said. She smiled and said it was something she set up for my questioning of the girl. "What happened to the girl's mother?" I asked.
"She's dead, under suspicious circumstances, died two months ago. They couldn't put it on the husband, he says was with his lover that night, or so the lover says. They say she was killed during a home robbery, but I have my doubts." She looked through the window into her office, watching the girl now petting Willy and not crying as hard. "That poor girl is an orphan now and will be taken away to be put in some foster home with people who don't give a rat's ass about her, just the money they'll make to take care of her."
"That sounds a little bitter. Do you have some experience with foster homes?" I asked.
"Yeah, too many years on the job taking depositions from abused and neglected children in foster homes. This town is built on gambling, many of these foster home parents would use the money they get for taking care of the children and gamble it away. I don't have any love for foster care or Child Protective Services; they don't do a very good job of qualifying these people. That girl shouldn't be lost in the system. I've got Warren checking to see if there are any relatives in the area, but until then CPS will shuffle her around."
I was watching Lacey and Jessie playing with Willy and had an idea. I excused myself, went back into Lynn's office, and sat back in my chair. "Lacey, if I were to pay you to take care of Jessie for a while would you be able to do that?"
Lacey look surprised and then turned to Jessie, "Would you like to stay with me and my boyfriend for a while? Until the police figure out what happened?"
Jessie looked to Willy and asked, "Would Willy be with us?"
"Well, Willy lives with me and my wife but you can visit with him often." I turned to the window; Lynn was smiling and gave me a thumbs up. I turned back to Jessie, "What school do you go to?"
"Martin Middle School, but I haven't been in school much; my daddy never let me go out much."
I thought probably because of the bruises on her, which would raise a flag in school, bringing in CPS. I asked Lacey if there was a school near her home and she said there was one within walking distance. Now I had to convince CPS to allow Lacey and Mac to take care of her.
I excused myself again and went back to Lynn and Deacon. "Do you think I can pull it off?"
Lynn smiled and said, "I'll do my best to make sure it will happen."
We were standing in the squad room watching Lacey and Jessie in Lynn's office when a rather portly woman with her mousy brown hair tied back in a tight bun stretching her face, came up to us. "I'm looking for Lieutenant Carter."
Lynn gave the woman a suspicious eye and said, "That's me. Can I help you?"
"I'm Doris Braco from CPS. I was told by my supervisor that you had a child here in need of attention." The woman droned on like a recording.
"How did you find out so quickly?" Lynn asked.
"I was told that a policeman from a crime scene called. I went there but the child was taken here, by you I was informed," she said in the same monotonous kind of voice.
"Yes, we needed to ask her some questions about the incident at her home and with all the people going in and out of the crime scene and the ME removing her father, I felt it was better to have a quiet place to talk."
"I see, so will she be able to travel so we can place her in a youth home until a suitable arrangement can be made for her?"
I stepped forward and said, "Hi Doris, my name is Jim Richards, I think we have a quick solution for the welfare of the child until the police can locate her relatives, which they are in the process of doing as I speak. So this may all be a moot point."
"I'm listening," she spoke.
"You see that woman in the office, she is my personal assistant and she has agreed to watch the girl until we find her family. Would that be all right?"
"What is her status, her home life, is she married?" the robot said.
"Well, she has a boyfriend she lives with, but they are engaged to be married. Her home is pleasant and there's a school quite close by."
"She's not married, they won't approve her," she said briskly.
I just stared at the woman, not liking her much. "So one would have to be married and have a good home environment to watch her until we find her family?" I kept mentioning the family aspect to be sure Doris knew that Jessie would be taken care of by her own people, hopefully soon.
"That's correct. If the young lady were married, it may be permissible."
"Well, I'm married and have a very good home, and there is a school bus that passes by my house every morning. I'd be willing to take her until such time as we find her relatives."
"I don't know you Mr. Richards, who are you?"
"I'm a private investigator, but you may know my wife, Penny Wickens?"
Her eyes got a little life in them; her tight lips were cracking a bit. "The talk show host of Vegas Alive, yes I know of her, you are married to her?"
"Yes I am, and she only works about four hours a day, so I could get the girl off to school in the morning, my hours are flexible, and then my wife would be home when she is dropped off. We have a dog as you can see," pointing to Willy, "and we have a stable environment in our home."
"I don't know Mr. Richards, could you at your advanced age take care of a child?"
I wasn't crazy about the advanced age comment but went on, "I raised a son who I'm proud of and my wife adores children, just until they find the child's family. Besides, your agency would have to pay to have her taken care of; I have a good deal of money to afford her anything that she would need, and saving your budget a tidy sum." I think I hit a nerve, her smile cracked slightly. I have found that money talks in this town.
"Yes, it would be a relief on our tight budget; the government is cutting back on things that shouldn't be messed with. The idiots they elect and don't know their elbows from a hole in the ground... sorry, it's a touchy subject to me. All right, Mr. Richards, you can take her but I will have to come by to check and see she is taken good care of."
"I whole heartily agree, you can come by anytime. I'm sure you'd like to meet my lovely wife." Okay, I was spreading it on a bit thick but it was working.
"I'll need you to sign a few papers and it will be arranged." She turned to Lynn and asked if she could use a desk. Lynn guided her to the nearest empty desk in the squad room and Doris opened her satchel, took out some forms that she had me sign, fill in my address, and phone number. She finished up and stood, shaking my hand, "So good of you Mr. Richards, I'll look forward to meeting your wife." She turned on her heels and walked off.
"Now that was weird, they must thaw her out in the morning to do her job," Deacon said.
"Yep, but we are good to go now and saved one child from falling through the cracks. Do you think you can handle a child in your home, you know as old as you are?" Lynn spoke.
"Why is everybody making comments about my age, I'm young at heart, that's what counts."
"Okay grandpa, you should tell Jessie about her new move."
I stood looking at them, shook my head in resignation, and went into the office once more. I explained to Lacey about the marital problem and she was a little disappointed, but said she'd like to help take care of Jessie whenever we would need it. I thanked her and sat, "Jessie, would you like to come stay with me and my wife for a while, Willy would be there for you to play with? Just until the police can find a relative that you can live with."
She nodded her head happily and asked if she could get some of her dolls and stuffed animals from her house to bring. I turned to Lynn through the opened door and asked if we could take her things from the house, since it is a crime scene. Lynn said she and Deacon would go with us and help out. I went back out to them and asked, "How did you know that it was a homicide, not just an accident of her father falling drunk down the stairs?"
"When the first responders arrived Jessie was sitting by the stairs and they asked her what happened, she was frightened but managed to say that some man hurt her father. That's when we were called in and the crime scene was secured."
"I see; now I have to break the news to Penny that she's a mommy."
Lynn went in to bring Lacey and Jessie out of her office, Jessie was hanging on to Lacey and Willy for dear life, then when she got to me, she grabbed my hand and I could feel her squeeze it tightly.
"I don't think there is much more we will be able to get from her, so we may as well go get her things at the house. You can follow us," Lynn said.
We went out to our cars and drove over to Eastern and Sahara then into a small subdivision where we arrived at the house. There were still a couple police cars and a CSI SUV parked out front. Small groups of people were congregating out front watching, hoping to get a glimpse of something scandalous. Lynn and Deacon escorted us past the yellow tape barrier into the house, and then Lynn asked the lead CSI if they had the scene secured, he said we could take over; they were finished.
I asked Jessie where her room was and she pointed up the stairway. Lacey was holding Willy in his purse and Jessie was hanging on to Lacey's arm. We went up and Lacey helped Jessie pack a good number of clothing and toys to keep her for a while. I looked at the old and ratty clothes and could see that we would need to do some shopping for her; Penny would love that.
I was looking around the room and asked Jessie if she could tell me what had happened this morning. Jessie was silent for a moment and then said quietly, "I was on the bed, and daddy was standing here," she pointed, "then the man came to the door, he said things to daddy and then went down the hall. Daddy followed him and that's all I saw of the man."
Lynn spoke, "CSI found forced entry at the back of the house, but so far nothing to give us a clue as to who the mystery man was. He had to know the father and didn't approve of his actions towards the girl, that's all we have so far."
"Well, the father won't be brutalizing this child anymore," Deacon said.
We packed everything in my Crown Vic and I thanked my friends and drove Lacey and Jessie to my office. We came in to find Trapper sitting at his desk printing out pictures of the gambling wife.
"That was fast," I said.
"Yep, as soon as hubby was out the door the wife was barreling down to the strip. She stopped at one of the smaller casinos, better odds there for the local folks to gamble. I got a good number of shots of her at the blackjack tables and roulette. She lost a small bundle before I left; I have enough photos to satisfy the husband."
"Thanks for that. Now come out to meet the newest addition to my family." He gave me a puzzled look and followed. He saw Jessie sitting on a chair next to Lacey's desk holding Willy.
"Jessie, this is my friend and business partner Will Trapper, he used to be a police detective in Detroit." Jessie smiled and waved to him, he waved back. Trapper turned to me and quietly asked, "Does Penny know about this?"
I laughed and explained the whole story to him. He was watching Jessie as I finished. "Poor kid, not a good life." As he said that, the front door opened and in walked Penny.
"Hey babe, come on over and meet your new daughter." She gave me a look and then saw Jessie. She smiled and asked, "Where did you kidnap her from and is she worth a lot?"
I called Jessie over and she brought Willy with her. "Penny, this is Jessie Meyer." Penny said hello as I knelt down and said to her, "Jessie this is my wife, Penny Wickens, she has a talk show on TV in the mornings, maybe someday you can go with us to see a show being taped, would you like that?" She nodded her head; I said to go back to Lacey while I talk to Penny. We went into my office for privacy and I explained my morning to her.
She smiled when I finished, "You just love bringing home stray women don't you, first Lacey now Jessie. As long as they're too young for you, it's okay by me. So what's this I heard you mention about needing to shop for clothes?"
"Yep, her clothes are pretty sad looking, I watched as she packed. I figured you'd like to take her shopping for a new wardrobe."
"Is the sky blue? Of course I'll take her shopping, do you need her right now?"
"Nope, she's just here because I was bringing Lacey back to work then you showed up. So go have fun, I'm sure Jessie will love the outing, her father didn't let her out of the house much." I stood and went to the door and called Jessie in. She came in with Willy and I asked her to sit. "Jessie, Penny is going to take you shopping for new clothes, how does that sound?"
Her eyes went wide and she gave me a big grin nodding her head. Penny reached over and petted Willy, "I see Willy has a new friend now, so you are going to be staying with us for a while, do you swim?"
I knew Penny would get around to the pool question. Jessie opened her mouth and said, "I never learned to swim."
"Well, we have a real big pool and I'm going to teach you to swim. Willy knows how to swim so you and he can swim together."
Jessie looked to Willy and smiled. I said, "You better pick up some water wings or a life jacket until she gets proficient at swimming."
Penny stood and told Jessie to go out to the other room and they would leave. She looked to me and said, "Do you need Lacey? I'd like to take her to help with our shopping."
"No, go and have fun, do you need any cash."
"I always need cash but I have enough to handle the situation. Thanks." She went out as I followed her.
Lacey was at her desk putting make-up on Jessie. She smiled and said, "Can't send a woman out into the public without a little make-up now can we."
I figured Lacey was trying to cover up the bruises on Jessie's neck, which was good of her. Lacey finished the cover up make-up, with a hint of eye shadow and light lipstick, Jessie looked quite cute for a nine year old. She looked at herself in Lacey's hand mirror and got a huge smile on her face. Penny asked Lacey if she'd like to go with her to help shop for clothes for Jessie, she asked me if she could leave work, I said there wasn't a whole lot going on so she could go. They gathered themselves up and left.
I sat with Trapper in his office talking for a while when Buck came in. "Hey guys, what's happening?"
"Not much, I had a murder case come in this morning, but I ended up with a nine year old girl to take care of," I said with a big smile. Buck gave me a puzzled look so I explained the whole story to him.
"Wow, do you think you can handle a child running around your home, you might hurt your old body," he said with a grin.
"Why is everyone getting on me about my age, I'm actually a thirty year old in a mature body. So leave it at that!"
Buck winked at Trapper and went to his office. My cell phone rang and Penny said she was dropping off Lacey then heading home, so she asked me to pick up a pizza or some other good food. I said I would and hung up.
A few minutes later, the front door opened and it was Lacey. She came back and said, "Wow, did we get clothing for Jessie! It took two shopping carts to haul it to the car."
I smiled and said, "It's late so go home to see Mac off to work."
I could hear Buck yell from his office, "Mac isn't working tonight; I'm starting him on the gas stations tomorrow morning."
Lacey made a silent whoop, and gave me a big smile as she left. I went to Buck's door and said, "You just made a young girl very happy."
About an hour later, I arrived at the house with two big pizza boxes and went in to find Penny and Jessie with clothing all over the living room. I couldn't believe how many items they had. Jessie was bouncing all over the place holding clothes up and then she would disappear into the guestroom to change.
"I hope you left some clothing for the other little girls," I said as I kissed Penny hard on the lips.
"Well, that was nice, are you expecting something in return. You know we have to be discrete with a child around the house."
I hadn't thought about that little fact, even though our bedrooms weren't that close, we could get loud sometime, especially Penny. "Well, we'll just have to improvise. Besides, we can go out to the guest house."
We ate our pizza, had our refreshments, and watched a little television, Jessie was on the floor playing with Willy, and we looked like a happy family. Later Penny tucked Jessie into bed and came back to me in our bedroom. "She went right to sleep as I was folding her clothes for her, she's a quick sleeper."
I grabbed on to her and pulled her on the bed with me kissing her hard and long. "Watch that buster; it could lead to things you may not be able to handle." She gave me her evil little smile and I just said, "Try me."
Willy was missing from his chair as I went to the bathroom after we quietly made love; Penny said he wouldn't leave Jessie's room. "I guess we know where his loyalties are." I finished my business and got back into bed, "See, we can still fool around as long as you don't yell a lot," I joked. About a half hour later, we were both asleep.
It was four in the morning when I heard the screams. Penny was out of bed before I even sat up; she was heading to Jessie's room. I threw on a robe and followed. Jessie was sitting up in bed crying as Penny was holding her. She looked to me and said, "She had a bad dream about... well, you know what."
I had a feeling this would be hard on Jessie, with all the abuse and then seeing her father dead. It may take a little professional help for her, I would call Lynn and asked if she knew anyone, but I would call later. Penny sat with Jessie for a while longer, they were talking and I had gone out to the kitchen to get a glass of water for Jessie.
We were all back in bed by five and I nodded off quickly for once.
Hector Ramirez had just returned from the bar he frequented and was staggering through the apartment looking for his wife, who was hiding in the bathroom. He banged on the door loudly and was screaming for her to open up. He had a Bowie knife in his hand and was driving the point into the door, just stabbing and stabbing at the wood, leaving deep cuts in the veneer.
"Open this damn door, Celeste! Open it or I swear to god I'll break it down!" He started pounding harder as the thin-skinned door started to crack in the middle. He had managed to break an opening in the door as the wood gave way. He peeked in and gave a grin, yelling the line from 'The Shining', "Here's Hector". Celeste was watching in terror as he tried reaching in to unlock the bathroom door.
As he was reaching down, Celeste saw that a black gloved hand came around his mouth and he was yanked back from the door. Celeste sat on the floor in wonder as to what just happened. She carefully got up, went to the door hearing a struggling noise and muted screams. She looked through the opening and saw a black clad figure strangling Hector with his hands. Hector's eyes were bugging out and his tongue was sliding in and out of his mouth. After a moment, Hector gave up the struggle and went limp. The figure dropped him and turned to look to the opening in the door. Celeste took a deep breath as she saw that the man had on a black mask, he saluted her then disappeared down the hallway. She looked down to the lifeless body of Hector, afraid to come out of the bathroom until she felt safe.
She waited about fifteen minutes listening for any sign that someone was in the apartment. She went to the door and unlocked it, coming out slowly, seeing Hector still on the floor; she went to the phone dialing 911.
Being Mexican, she mustered up her best English and said, "I need police, someone has murdered my husband."
Deacon arrived at the crime scene about twenty minutes after Warren called him. Warren had determined that this murder possibly had something to do with the Meyer murder yesterday morning. Both victims had been abusers of either women or children and were killed by a dark-dressed man.
"Hey Greg, whatcha got?" Deacon asked as he entered the apartment.
"Same MO as your vic yesterday. Hector Ramirez was an abuser of his wife, had numerous calls to this address previously when he would kick the crap out of her, but she would never prosecute. Looks like someone decided to do it for her. So far it's shaping up to be a vigilante, at least it looks that way to me." He bent down, pointing to the bruises on Ramirez's neck where he was strangled. "The perp had to be strong to do this to his beefy neck. Joe Lang told me after he examined the body that the vic had enough muscle to fight off the attacker, but evidently couldn't."
Joseph Lang, Clark County-Las Vegas medical examiner walked up as they were looking at the body. "Where's your partner Deacon?"
"Lynn got called into the Captain's weekly meeting. You know crime has to stop when the Captain needs to let everyone know how we're doing in fighting crime. Our closure rate is up, which is good, but the Captain wants it closer to a hundred percent rather than seventy-six. Lynn hates the meetings but has to be there."
"When are you going to make an honest woman out of her?" the ME asked.
"We've been talking about marriage, but if we do they may separate us, I'd get a new partner like Warren. I dread that." Warren gave Deacon the middle finger. "So far we've been discrete about living together, the Captain is so scattered I don't think he knows. But Lynn has been having wedding blues lately so it may happen soon. What's the word on the vic, Joe?"
"Well, as Warren already filled you in, he was strangled. The vic had a thick neck, mostly fat, so the perp would have had good strong hands to squeeze his windpipe shut. Ramirez weighs in about 280 to 300 and is built for construction, which he does for a living, so he could have fought off his attacker. The alcohol probably slowed him down; he was stinking drunk as you probably can smell."
Deacon was examining the bathroom door as the ME was talking; he was running the scene through his head, visualizing what may have happened. Warren came up to him and said, "We were able to talk to the wife through a translator, she's pretty new from Mexico, Hector brought her up about six months ago, illegally of course, but married her in a quickie Vegas wedding ceremony, so she's good to stay here. She says Hector came in from his favorite bar and she heard him yelling before he even got into the apartment. She didn't want to be beaten again, so she locked herself in the bathroom. He broke through the door as you can see, but as he was trying to unlock the door a hand grabbed him from behind and pulled him away. She went to the door and saw a man dressed all in black killing her husband. Whoever it was left in a hurry, that's all she said."
"You may be right Greg, could be the beginnings of a vigilante, and I have a feeling there'll be more. This town is full of frustrated, mean people who need to be taken down a peg." Deacon smiled as he looked down to the vic.
"You're not condoning murder are you Deacon?" Warren asked.
"No, that's illegal, and immoral, but sometimes I root for the good guy to win once in a while. I suppose CSI didn't turn up anything?"
"Nope, nothing definite so far but they won't know till they get everything back to the lab."
Deacon's cell phone went off and he saw by the caller ID that it was Lynn. He answered and heard her say, "You won't believe what the Captain is making me do!"
It was Thursday morning so I told Penny that we could wait until Monday to take Jessie to register for school. "Give her a few days to relax before throwing her to the wolves. She can visit with Lacey and Willy at the office or go in and annoy Buck for a while. He's not crazy about children."
"Just don't teach her any bad habits, and keep her away from Trapper, he'll have her pulling pranks on everyone." Penny smiled, as she was getting ready to go to her studio to do her show. "I have some knights and kings from the Excalibur Hotel show coming in tomorrow, I'll take Jessie with me, and she may get a kick out of the horses they'll be bringing."
"Sounds good," I said as Jessie entered the kitchen where Penny was making a big pot of oatmeal. She made extra for Jessie and set two bowls on the snack counter. I helped Jessie get up on the stool as she said good morning. She dug into the oatmeal as if she was starved.
"My father didn't cook and I wasn't very good at it, so I usually ate dry cereal in the mornings. This is good, thank you." Jessie and Penny both wolfed down the food after Penny sprinkled a little cinnamon on their oatmeal. I was holding in a laugh watching the two of them, they looked so much alike.
Penny had gone off to work and I gathered Willy in his purse, which Jessie asked if she could carry, I let her. We drove over to the office and went in to find Lacey already at her desk.
"Good morning to both of you," she beamed.
"So did you enjoy having Mac around the house last night?" I asked.
"Yes, it was very nice and we got a lot accomplished." She started to blush again.
"Okay, take a breath and relax. I've never seen a person turn red as fast as you do. You can baby sit Willy and Jessie for the day. I have a client coming in to discuss a case with me."
Jessie spoke up, "I don't need a babysitter, I'm nine and I have been taking care of myself for a while. My father never spent much time around the house." She choked a little, so I changed the subject.
"Lacey why don't you tell Jessie about what we do here, the investigating and security. Tell her all about how we met you and the crime we solved. Just don't be too graphical," I smiled and went to see if Trapper was in, he was.
"Nothing better to do around Vegas than sit in your office?" I asked.
He was writing something and looked up, "I'm making my report for your client about his wife's gambling excursion yesterday. I thought when I left the police I wouldn't have to do reports again, oh well."
"I think the paperwork here is going to be a lot less than you had back at your old precinct," I said as I heard the front door bell tinkle and looked out to see Lynn come storming down the hall followed by Deacon.
"Son-of-a-... " she started to yell, but paused looking around, "Where's the kid?"
"You passed her in the lobby. What's got your back up?" I asked.
"The Captain wants to send me to FBI training for law enforcement officers at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia! They take police in to train them in various things like terrorism and kidnapping and whatever else the FBI does. I have to go for a month, do you believe that!" I could almost see steam coming from her ears.
"It may be good for you, and to get away from all of us nuts here," I said. "Change of scenery."
"I don't like scenery, I don't like change! I don't want to go!" Deacon came up and started rubbing her shoulders, her eyes rolled back and she gave a big sigh. "Oh, keep that up. I needed to get the tension out."
"When do you go?" I asked.
"Tomorrow morning, do you believe that, not even a couple days to get ready? They have a new class registration starting late tomorrow and the Captain didn't think to schedule it earlier," she moaned.
Deacon guided her to Trapper's client chair and pushed her to sit as he turned to me, "We got another abuse killing this morning."
"It was similar to the murder of Jessie's father, an abuser who beat on his wife killed by a man in black. Warren says he thinks it's a vigilante."
"See, I'm needed here, not in Quantico," Lynn said from her chair.
"Go have fun, I can handle it." Deacon was probably glad that he could take lead for once on a case. Lynn was always in the front of everything; Deacon was the guy in the rear.
"I know you can handle it. I just hate to be out of the loop. I need to go home to pack, let's get out of here. Say so long to Penny for me."
"You're only going to be gone for a month, you'll be back," I offered.
Deacon smiled and said to me, "I'll keep you informed about this vigilante, maybe Jessie can remember something that may help." He helped Lynn out of her chair and they went out of Trapper's office. Trapper and I followed them to the lobby where they said their hellos and good-byes to Lacey and Jessie and went out.
I saw a car pulling in a parking space out front as Deacon drove off. It was my gambling wife client. I warned Trapper and he went back to his office. I said I'd bring him back there to discuss his wife. The man entered the front door and I greeted him, "Good morning, Mr. Barnes. I have some information to give you, if you'll just follow me." We went back to Will's office and Trapper stood and asked him to sit.
"Will, this is Chester Barnes, Mr. Barnes, this is Will Trapper, my associate and he followed your wife yesterday. He has everything you requested as to your wife's activities," I said.
Trapper took out the folder he had prepared and opened it, placing it in front of Barnes. He said, "After you left for work yesterday, your wife was out of the house and drove first to the Terrible's Hotel and Casino, where she proceeded to gamble away about two thousand dollars. She then proceeded to the Silver Dollar Casino and lost another thousand. I stopped following her there, I had all the evidence that you requested."
Barnes leaned to the desk to study the pictures closer. He was frowning and then said, "I don't know where Alicia's getting the money, her bank account is almost drained, but you say she dropped almost three thousand dollars that you witnessed, she doesn't have that kind of cash. How could she be doing this?"
"Well, we found out about her gambling, how she accomplished the funds is another matter," I said.
"I'd like to retain you to investigate how she could be affording to drop this kind of money, can you do that?"
I looked to Trapper and he nodded, "I think we can help you, or at least try to find out about your wife's activities. I'll let Trapper get some information from you about your wife's financials and anything else he will need to proceed, if that is all right with you?"
"Of course, I need to know where the money is coming from before I confront her about the gambling. If there is anything illegal, I need to know."
"We'll do our best to find out quickly and quietly as possible," Trapper offered.
Barnes took out his checkbook and said he was writing out the retainer fee as we had agreed on when he first came to request my help. He handed me the check and I put it in my jacket pocket. "We'll get on this as soon as possible. I'll leave you two to work out the details." I thanked him and went out to the lobby to give Lacey the check to deposit. I looked into Buck's office but he wasn't in, I figured he was out getting the gas stations set-up for his guards.
I was standing in the lobby ruminating on how busy this morning was becoming and thinking about Lynn going off to train with the FBI. I remembered back in Michigan when there was a flap about sending a couple of cops from a local precinct to train, the city said it didn't have the budget to pay for the training, but they yielded and sent just one of the officers.
Barnes was now coming out of the hallway followed by Trapper, they shook hands and then Barnes shook mine, thanking us and left. "He gave me a number of leads I can check on, but I'll have to follow the wife more now. I'll start in the morning, since I have no idea where she is right now. Barnes works as a manager at an Albertson's grocery, so he has long hours, giving the wife plenty of time to wander. I hope she wanders in the right directions." He headed back to his office.
I was watching Jessie playing with Willy by Lacey's desk thinking about her dead father and the new murder this morning of another abuser. Could this be a serial vigilante, or just two connected murders of people someone didn't like? I guess if there are anymore, we would know. I went into my office to look busy and wait for something else to happen.
About an hour later, Penny came into the building and stopped to say hi to Lacey and Jessie. Willy ran around the counter and was bouncing at her feet. "Oh, now you want attention, you ignored me this morning," she said to the dog. She picked him up and nuzzled him as I came out of the office.
"Can I get a little of that too?" I asked. She held out the dog and said, "Sure go ahead and hug him too."
"I meant hugging you," I smiled and gave her a kiss. "How was your show?"
She looked to the TV in the lobby, "Don't you people ever watch me?"
"We've been busy. But I'll make sure Lacey turns it on from now on," I laughed. "Oh and Lynn is leaving us for a month to go train with the FBI in Quantico. She's going to come back a super spy."
"Wow, can I go too?"
"If you want, but you'll have to pay your own way."
"I can afford it. Will there be any good looking Feebies?"
"Don't say that in front of Deacon, he'll fret about her till he ends up flying out there."
Penny turned to Jessie and said, "Jessie, you're going with me tomorrow morning to watch me tape my show, we're going to have knights in shining armor and horses. How's that sound?"
Jessie's eye grew and she broke out in a big grin. "I'd love that!"
I saw that Lacey was looking excited too and I asked Penny, "Would it be all right if Lacey went too?"
"Sure, she and Jessie can sit together while I do the show." That was my point, Lacey could watch Jessie so she'd be safe and I think Penny caught that.
Lacey was now as excited as Jessie and I told her to be at our home early. She agreed. I took Penny in my office and we sat.
"Deacon had another case this morning; a man who habitually abused his wife was murdered by a man in black."
"Hmm, sounds familiar. You haven't said anything to Jessie?"
"No, I don't feel that bit of info needs to be relayed to her. I'm trying to keep the subject of her father to a minimum."
"They have any leads so far?"
"Not that Deacon told me. I think he is a little happy that Lynn is going to be gone, he can run a case by himself now."
"Ah, a little jealousy on his part that he's always the second banana."
"Yeah, something like that. Deacon is a good cop and was very helpful back when we ran together solving crimes. I know he can handle it."
Trapper came to my office door and said hi to Penny. "I'm going out to see a few friends in law enforcement to get some info on my client's wife."
I smiled and said, "Gee, the shoe is on the other foot now, you the P.I. calling in favors from the cops. Sound familiar?"
"Yes and you were a pain in the butt always asking for information, but I enjoyed it. I'll be back later." He said his good-byes and left.
Penny spoke, "How's it going working with Will?"
"It's been good, I like having him here to do the leg work and he loves it."
Buck came in through the back door and stopped by my office.
"Hell man, this gas station gig is going to be rough," he said.
"You should see all the nut cases coming in for gas, supplies, beer and cigarettes. Up at the north end stations I saw enough lower class people looking suspicious, as if they could rob the place. I don't know why they don't install those Plexiglas booths around the cashier; it would be a lot safer. I got all my guards armed in these stations, they'll need it."
"I hope no one gets hurt. Where did you put Mac?"
"I got him patrolling the stations, checking on the guards, sort of as a supervisor. That should keep him safe, and Lacey won't shoot me if he gets hurt." Buck gave his big walrus smile and excused himself to go to his office.
Nothing much was going on up to five o'clock, so I turned Lacey loose to go see Mac and gathered up our stuff to go home. "Buck, we're taking off, you staying?"
"Yep, Maria has an early show tonight, the Tropicana expects their dancers to be there so she'll be gone most the night. I'll just sit here working on the schedule for the stations."
"Okay, we'll see you tomorrow." I left him to his business and took my girls out to the Crown Vic. "Anyone feel like Sonic burgers and onion rings?" I asked. That met with an enthusiastic response, so I drove over and we had our meal.
Back at home, we relaxed and I put on a Wii game of bowling I bought a couple months back to play when friends came over. Penny and Jessie were having a ball with it as I went to work on my next book in my home office. Around seven I looked out my back window to the pool and saw Penny and Jessie in swimsuits as Penny was explaining the finer points of swimming to Jessie. They spent about an hour getting Jessie used to the water and then they came back in the house. Penny came to my room and said, "She'll do fine in the water, just a few more lessons." Then she went off. Around ten, we decided to head to bed.
"Are you two going to be making noise again tonight?" Jessie asked.
"What do you mean?" Penny asked but figured to what she was referring.
"Last night I got up to get a drink of water and could hear you in your room making funny noises."
I looked at Penny with a smile, "We were goofing around, that's all. Just play acting."
"Oh, I thought you were having sex," she said casually.
Penn got big eyed and whispered to me, "We'll have to leave a bottle of water in her room from now on."
Four-thirty in the morning was a time for children to be asleep in bed, but not so for six year old Noel Hendricks. Her father, Murphy, was in her room doing things to her that no father should be doing. She was on the bed, not moving for she knew if she did, it would result in a beating. The father was about to slip her pajama gown up when he heard a knocking noise, like someone tapping on the wall outside of the room. He stood and went to the door slowly, and when he reached the door it flew open and there stood a man all in black. He reached out to Murphy and grabbed him by the shirt pulling him out of the room. Noel heard muffled screams and a banging noise. It was from Murphy Hendricks' arms and legs flailing around hitting the walls, as the man in black was hoisting him up by his neck, hanging him.
Murphy ceased moving when his neck snapped, and the man dropped him. He then undid Murphy's belt and pulled down his pants. The man pulled out a knife, castrated the dead man, and stuffed the parts into his mouth. Noel was watching from her bedroom door as the man looked up to her, putting his finger to his masked mouth signaling her for silence, then he turned and went out of the hallway and out of the house. Noel went to her mother's room where the woman hid when her husband was doing things he shouldn't, but she was too afraid to stop him. Noel knocked on her mother's door and when the woman asked what she wanted, Noel just said quietly, "I think daddy's sleeping."