Deadly Gamble (Charlie Parker Mystery #1)by Connie Shelton
What would you do if your former best friend, the one who had eloped with your fianc�, asked you to take a Deadly Gamble? Albuquerque accountant Charlie Parker doesn�t want to be an investigator. She�s a partner with her brother in a private investigation firm, but she�s only supposed to handle the financial matters. But Stacy North needs to locate her missing Rolex… See more details below
What would you do if your former best friend, the one who had eloped with your fianc�, asked you to take a Deadly Gamble? Albuquerque accountant Charlie Parker doesn�t want to be an investigator. She�s a partner with her brother in a private investigation firm, but she�s only supposed to handle the financial matters. But Stacy North needs to locate her missing Rolex watch, and Charlie agrees to help. It turns out that Stacy was seeing another man, and when that man is found murdered, things really heat up. Stacy is accused of the murder and Charlie feel she must try to find the real killer.
Read an Excerpt
Working on a case for Stacy North would have probably been the last item ever on my agenda. Stacy had been my best friend and roommate in college. My best friend, right up until the day she eloped with my fiance, Brad North. Although I came to realize later that it was all for the best, such situations do tend to put a damper on a friendship.
Brad went on to become a personal injury attorney, one of Albuquerque's most, shall we say, aggressive. They live in Tanoan, the new upscale community in town.
Now Stacy stood in my office with all the calm of a cat at the dog pound. She looked every bit of fifteen years older, a pity because it was only eight years since the last time I'd seen her. She wore a tailored linen dress the color of a fresh lemon, with black trim around the neck and down the front. Gold buttons trailed along the trim, buttons that looked like they'd been custom made to match the earrings that peeked demurely out of her soft blond hairstyle. A black ranch mink contrasted strikingly with her hair and with the dress, creating an elegant picture of black and gold. For just a second, I wondered why I felt sorry for her.
It was something in the eyes. And in the mouth. Those eyes, which had sparkled with clear blue fun in school. The mouth, always ready to laugh. Stacy had been the practical joker, the whimsical elf among us. All traces of that were gone now. Dull blue eyes, rimmed by puffy lids, darted around the room nervously. Once dear skin was now covered with layers of makeup to conceal the woman inside. Or perhaps to present an image, the image of a woman someone else wanted Stacy to be.
"Charlie, I need your help." The voice was low and cultured, and it only broke slightly on the last word.
A rush of ambivalent feelings flooded through me. I'd spent ten years making myself not care about Stacy, and I wasn't sure I wanted to start again now. She and Brad had hurt me - deeply. My first instinct was to toss her out of my office. The desperation in her eyes pulled me back, though.
"Sit down and tell me about it," I offered grudgingly. I gestured toward the room at large, giving her the choice of taking the side chair beside my desk or the sofa on the opposite wall. She chose the sofa.
She perched on the edge of the cushion making little adjustments to her skirt and coat before speaking.
"A valuable item has, ah, been lost. I have to recover it."
"I'm an accountant, Stacy. Unless it's your tax return we're talking about, I think you should be telling this to Ron. He's the investigator around here. I can have him call you when he gets back to town next week." My brother, Ron, and I are partners in RJP Investigations. Although I watch the cases that come through the door pretty closely, I prefer to stay with the accounting and let Ron do the dirty work.
"Oh, no. I can't wait until next week." Her eyes had grown wide, her breathing rapid. "I have to get this item back before tomorrow night."
"What's the item, and why the urgency?"
She squirmed in her seat a minute before answering. "My Rolex watch," she said.
"Was it lost or stolen?"
"Lost. No, I think it was stolen... Um, well, I'm not really sure.
"Couldn't it have been misplaced around the house somewhere?"
"No. It's not around the house somewhere." Her voice was firm, but her eyes wouldn't meet mine.
"Where did you last see it?"
"Umm... I'd really rather not say."
"Stacy!" I was losing patience fast. "How do expect us to find it? Give me some help here."
She stared at her hands, suddenly finding a cuticle that needed attention. I got up and closed the door softly. Pulling the side chair around to face her, I sat with my hands between my knees and waited. When she looked up, her eyes were moist.
"I first noticed it missing from the house." She gazed out the window as she spoke. "Someone must have broken in and stolen it."
"Did you report it to the police? To your insurance company?"
Her eyes touched mine for the briefest second, darted to the bookshelf, then the far wall. I waited.
"I don't want Brad to know. He already thinks I'm careless. I can't let him know I've lost the watch. It was a Valentine gift. I've only had it two weeks."
"Stacy, to put it bluntly, that's bullshit. How can Brad blame you?" I waited another long minute while she fidgeted some more.
"Well, um, it wasn't exactly a burglary," she said finally. "A man had been there that day, uh, doing some work. I think he must have picked up the watch from my dresser."
"Did you report this to the company he worked for?"
"Why not!" I felt like shaking her.
She pulled the edges of the mink together, retreating like a turtle into its shell. I reached out, laying one hand on her fur-clad knee.
"Stacy, come on. We used to be able to talk about anything." Before she and Brad eloped right under my nose. I realized I was feeling sympathetic toward her and pulled my hand back. I wasn't at all sure I wanted to rebuild a friendship with her at this point. However, her fear was evident. "I can't help you if I don't know the whole situation," I finally said.
I could almost hear her thoughts churning. After she sifted through the entire thing, I wondered what little sprinkling she'd give me. She worked again at the errant cuticle for a couple of minutes.
"The man's name is Gary Detweiller. He wasn't at the house doing work."
This time her eyes met mine firmly. I felt my mouth open, but it dosed again.
"Can you help me, Charlie?"
"Brad's coming home tomorrow night, and you need to be wearing the watch, is that it?"
"Stacy, can I be blunt? Why would you want to tell anyone else about this? I mean, you obviously have plenty of money. Why didn't you just go out and buy another watch?"
She gave a short humorless chuckle. "For one, I don't personally have any money. I get a hundred dollars a month cash spending money. Over several years I've been able to stash away a little. Everything else is in joint accounts, which Brad monitors like a hawk. The clothes, the furs, the jewelry he bestows them like rewards. Secondly, the watch was half of a matching pair. Brad bought himself one at the same time, and he made a big point of telling me how they matched exactly, down to the color of the watch face and the size of the little dots that indicate the hours. I've only worn the thing two weeks. What if I picked out a new one, and some little detail was off? He'd know in an instant."
What a mess.
"What can I do, Charlie?"
"You want to hire a private investigator to find the watch. Right?"
She nodded. I sucked on my lower lip.
"Like I said, Ron's gone until next week. Could you tell Brad you took the watch in for cleaning?"
"It's only two weeks old," she sensibly pointed out.
"Maybe, if I had to. I'm just worried that he might call the jeweler to find out what the problem is."
This poor woman really did live under the gun.
"Let me see what I can do," I said, wishing I'd gone out of town, too. "Can you tell me anything about this Detweiller? Confidentially."
"Not much. I met him at the club. He flirted, talked me into letting him come over for a drink."
"He's a member of the country club? Does Brad know him?"
"I don't think so. I'd never seen him there before last week."
I wanted to ask whether having a drink was all they'd done, but didn't figure it was any of my business. I did ask for a five hundred dollar retainer, though. She could explain it at home any way she wanted.
Stacy left a few minutes later, the worry lines around her mouth only slightly less pronounced than when she'd walked in here. I picked up the phone book and looked up Gary Detweiller. There was only one listed. The address was in a low-to-middle income area, a place I didn't imagine produced many Tanoan Country Club members. I decided to take a drive over there.
Outside, the weather was nearly balmy - bright blue sky, temperature near sixty. Spring is an unpredictable time here. Tomorrow could very well be thirty degrees with wind, rain or sleet. In the car, I shed my jacket, debating the quickest route to Gary Detweiller's neighborhood.
Albuquerque has become a sprawling city, thirty miles in diameter, something the Spanish conquistadors probably never imagined back in the 1500s. Early city planners divided the town into quadrants - north valley, south valley, northeast heights and southeast heights, as they are commonly called today. As the population approaches the half-million mark, the outlying towns - Tijeras and Cedar Crest to the east, Bernalillo to the north, Rio Rancho on the west side, and Belen and Los Lunas toward the south - have become suburbs with thousands of daily commuters. Very few of us ride horses, wear spurs, or carry pistols on a daily basis. We do speak English and we consider New Mexico one of the fifty states, although it seems outsiders have to pause to remember this sometimes.
I left the peacefulness of our semi-residential, semi-commercial office neighborhood and joined the flow of traffic on Central Avenue. Opting to bypass downtown, I cut over to Lomas and headed east. The Sandia Mountains stood out in high relief on this clear day, like a guardian sentinel protecting the city from the ravages of the eastern plains.
Detweiller's address was in a quiet residential neighborhood between Lomas and Central that had boomed in the late fifties. Some of the places were occupied by their original owners while others had been sold and resold and converted to rentals. The condition of each house and front yard generally indicated which were which.
Detweiller's house was a stucco box placed in the middle of a gray river-rocked square of land wedged between two other similar squares of land. This one had benefit of a few shrubs. Jumpers that looked like they hadn't been trimmed in a dozen years lined the empty driveway. Scraggly pyracantha flanked the front porch. Two windows faced the street, each curtained in a different color. Brown paint peeled off the front door and two newspapers lay on the step. The whole place exuded emptiness. I pressed the bell anyway and was almost glad when no one answered.
If Gary Detweiller had stolen a Rolex watch yesterday, he'd obviously used the proceeds to go elsewhere. I pictured a quick sale at a pawn shop, with the next stop Vegas.
I wasn't far off the mark. Detweiller's house was two blocks off Central Avenue, the famed old Route 66, which used to be the main drag through Albuquerque. Now it's lined with seedy motels, mobile home dealers, and plenty of pawn shops. I started with the closest one. The third stop yielded the Rolex, easily identified by the serial number Stacy had given me. I choked a little at the price I had to pay to get it back, but figured Stacy would find a way to come up with it.
When I called her scarcely two hours after our first meeting, she was astounded. We met, exchanged watch for money (she gave me an inch-high stack of tens and twenties), and that should have been the end of it.
In fact, I'm sure that would have been the end of it, had it not been for the news item three days later announcing that Gary Detweiller had been murdered.
Excerpted from Deadly Gamble by Connie Shelton. Copyright © 1995 by Connie Shelton. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
What People are saying about this
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >