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"W.I." Rebecca Page read the acronym out loud. "That has to be Wolfe International."
She gently turned the tattered page and read the names and information enclosed there.
Don't worry. Will dec. gibberish at earl.con. unless you get it done first.
DB dead. Removed plant. Kid clean.
Execution confirms suspicions. KCPD will need different kind of proof, however.
Pursue lead to bus locker. DB promised disk. Should name names. Someone on Econ Dev Comm in it up to his eyeballs. Influence certain. Too much money floating around KC. It's here at the docks. My nose can smell a ratand he's a big one. They're watching me, so I know I'm onto something.
Stay away from this one, kiddo. Just play bookkeeper for me.
Will copy you as soon as able. See you at Mizzou.
"Love you, too." Rebecca turned to the back of the small notebook and looked at the boxes and letters she'd copied herself. It was the last cryptic message her father had left for her. DBD->COM.AF A1/2 AS . Over the last several months, she'd added a spiderweb of names and possible interpretations. "What were you trying to tell me, Dad?"
As always, the answer toyed with her thoughts but escaped her.
She tenderly closed the notebook and lifted it to her nose, inhaling deeply. If she closed her eyes and imagined hard enough, she could still detect her father's familiar scent on the soft, well-worn leather. She could hear his throaty laugh and feel his arms wrapping her up in a warm hug.
But she was long past sitting on the sidelines and playing bookkeeper. Rebecca wasn't a woman given to fanciful notions, nor did she waste her time when there was a story to pursue. She had big footsteps to fill as a reporter for the Kansas City Journal. This wasn't just about living up to her father's reputation and making a name for herself in her chosen career. This was about living up to her father's love. This was about proving his faith in her hadn't been misplaced.
Her artificially long lashes tickled her cheeks as she opened her eyes and steeled herself for the task at hand. The only thing that warmed her tonight was the muggy summer heat. The only scents were the faint, seaweedy smell of the Missouri River and her own spicier perfume. The only laughter she heard belonged to a few of the lucky customers outside the Riverboat Casino complex, waiting for a cab or valet service. The players who'd been less fortunate filled the night air with damning curses and desperate ramblings.
Rebecca watched them all from the front seat of her cherry-red Mustang. Was he the one? Was she?
Who were the big guns with money-laundering and murder on their minds? And who were the innocent bystanders, unaware of the big money, big influence and big cover-up hidden beneath the Riverboat Casino's polished-steel facade and glitzy excitement? They'd all come to the shiny steamship that had once been the rusted wreck of the Commodore riverboat. Renovation and expansion could only mask the Commodore's secrets. A new name and facelift didn't change the fact that her father's life had ended here.
And where the trail of clues he'd left for her ended, her investigation would begin. If she could unlock the details of that last exposé her father had been working on, she just might be able to piece together the rest of the puzzle and find out who'd murdered him. Which was a hell of a lot more than those pathetic all-talk, noaction bozos at KCPD had been able to do over the past three years. They'd relegated Reuben Page's murder to their unsolved cold-case files.
Rebecca had no intention of giving up on her father. His memory was all she had left. With her nerve firmly set into place, Rebecca locked the precious notebook inside the glove compartment and inhaled a deep, fortifying breath. Squeezing the university class ring that hung from a white-gold chain around her neck, she whispered, "This one's for you, Dad."
She bussed the man-sized ring with a quick kiss and tucked it inside the décolletage of her little black dress. Once out of the car, she paused for a moment to adjust the swingy hemline that stopped several inches above her knees. Any day of the week she preferred the practicality of jeans and khakis over a dress and three-inch heels. But what was the point of standing five-foot-ten if a girl couldn't show off a little leg when the occasion called for it?
Tonight's game plan definitely called for it.
As did the free fall of curly brunette hair that tickled the bare skin between her shoulder blades. Rebecca paused to open her tiny purse and pull out her compact, ostensibly to check the subtle pout of her ruby-tinted lips. In reality, she was verifying that the miniature recorder she carried would be ready at the push of a button should she need it. Tonight was more about identifying the players she'd been researching rather than finding any meaningful facts. If she could ingratiate herself into the casino crowd, get the layout of the place and the faces memorized, then she'd be in position to start digging beneath the surface. Deck by deck. Suspect by suspect. Clue by clue.
The Journal hadn't sanctioned this assignment. Her editor had no idea of the personal nature of this investigation. He probably wouldn't have granted her vacation if he'd known what she was really up to. But blessing or no, she intended to approach this job with the same diligence she'd use on any other story she was reporting. She intended to be just as prepared, just as thorough.
Rebecca snapped her bag shut and let the masquerade begin.
She curved her mouth into a subtle pout at the appreciative glances and outright stares that followed her across the wide, fixed gangplank leading over the water to the Riverboat's light-studded entryway. Good. She didn't have the money to throw around at the gaming tables necessary to garner the attention of the men she was here to investigate. And she couldn't exactly flash her press pass or use her real name, in case someone connected her to her father or the paper.
But there was more than one way to get herself invited into the back rooms and private offices on board. And though it stuck in her feminist craw, Rebecca Page was relying on the long legs she'd inherited from her father and the dramatic sculpt of cheekbones she'd inherited from her mother to get her inside that inner circle to the secrets hidden there.
The noise of bells and whistles, chatter and music assaulting her ears nearly sent Rebecca back out the sliding glass doors. But, seeing the wine-red carpet and refined appointments of an Old South cruise ship as some sort of surreal memorial to her father, she curled her toes inside her stilettos and refused to retreat. Bright lights and false fronts aside, this was where her father had died. It was where he might have hidden a disk or notebook before taking a bullet and plunging into the river.
His killer worked here. Or played here. Had rebuilt the place from below the waterline on up to the brightred smokestacks. Someone here knew something or mecca was tainted. Her father had known that and had been silenced for that knowledge.
If she couldn't find the actual killer, then Rebecca was certain this place would provide the clues to lead her to him.
"WELCOME to the Riverboat." A young woman wearing a mini version of a dance-hall girl's costume pressed a brass coin into Rebecca's hand. "We're giving a token to every new player who comes in tonight. It's good for one game at the quarter slots, or a free drink at the Cotton Blossom bar."
Rebecca glanced at the token in her palm, arching an eyebrow with skepticism. "How do you know I'm a new player? You've been open since the Memorial Day weekend, haven't you? Maybe I've been in here before."
The hostess's blank expression told Rebecca she'd interrupted the girl's memorized spiel. Then the young woman laughed.
"Okay." Rebecca waited for a "like, totally" to pop out of the blonde's giggly mouth. "So we're really giving a token to every customer who comes through our doors all summer long, whether it's your first time or not. We want you to play the games and feel at home."
In the enemy's camp? Not likely. Rebecca returned a smile to the two men who entered behind her and who walked past before she dropped the token into her purse. Her questions had only just begun. She scanned the bubbly golden girl's nametag. "Who's "we', Dawn? You and the other dance-hall girls?"
"Of course, us. Oh, you mean, who's in charge?" Rebecca nodded, gesturing around her and acting this extravaganza."
She knew the names on public record, but it wouldn't hurt to know who the employees felt they really had to answer to. And if the perky blonde was willing to chat