Vegas Nerve: A Sheriff Milt Kovak Mystery

Overview

Sheriff Milt Kovak, having joined his psychiatrist wife on a trip to a conference in Las Vegas, expects a welcome vacation, inspecting the casinos. He has left a capable second-in-command to watch over his small town in Oklahoma, but almost as soon as they arrive, Milt gets an S.O.S. call from his cousin Maida. Her pregnant daughter has been beaten by her husband, and Maida's husband, Burl, has thoroughly trounced his son-in-law. The young man is the son of a very powerful ...

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Overview

Sheriff Milt Kovak, having joined his psychiatrist wife on a trip to a conference in Las Vegas, expects a welcome vacation, inspecting the casinos. He has left a capable second-in-command to watch over his small town in Oklahoma, but almost as soon as they arrive, Milt gets an S.O.S. call from his cousin Maida. Her pregnant daughter has been beaten by her husband, and Maida's husband, Burl, has thoroughly trounced his son-in-law. The young man is the son of a very powerful businessman in Vegas, and the police want to lock Burl up.

Milt manages to talk his fellow cops into giving him custody of Burl until the trial and takes the still-steaming man to their hotel room; Burl reciprocates by disappearing. Milt doesn't think anything else can go wrong—-except it does. The next morning, the young man is found dead.

Now Milt must forego the wonders of Las Vegas to try to find Burl and clear him from the charge of murder. He expects to get some help from the young widow's several brothers, who descend on the town "volunteering to help." But they are more involved with quarreling among themselves than in finding the murderer.

Will Milt hit the jackpot? Susan Rogers Cooper has upped the ante with her latest, a fun-filled, adventure-packed addition to this consistently entertaining series.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In Cooper's amusing eighth Sheriff Milt Kovak mystery (after 2003's Lying Wonders), the Oklahoma lawman arrives in Las Vegas, Nev., for an overdue vacation, only to get embroiled in an assault and battery case. His cousin, Maida Upshank, in town visiting her daughter, Denise, begs Milt to bail out her husband, Burl, who's been arrested for beating up his son-in-law. It appears Denise's husband, Larry Allen, attacked his pregnant wife. Kovak gets Burl released under his recognizance, but Burl disappears just in time to be the prime suspect in Larry's subsequent murder. Maida summons her five geographically scattered sons to help Milt find Burl, but the brothers' personality differences cause friction and scant progress. Meanwhile, back in Prophesy County, Kovak's second-in-command, Emmett Hopkins, longtime widower, embarks on a not-so-graceful, midlife office romance. Between the Sin City shenanigans and Hopkins's humorous woes back home, this light romp should leave readers satisfied. (Mar.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312356033
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/6/2007
  • Series: Sheriff Milt Kovak Mysteries , #8
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.93 (w) x 8.44 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Rogers Cooper was an administrator for a medical malpractice company for many years. She also volunteered at a battered women's shelter in Austin where she set up a training program for new volunteers. She lives in Lockhart, Texas.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

First Thursday - Prophesy County

Okay," I said, more to myself than Emmett Hopkins, my second-in-command. "There's the monthly report, and there's the keys." I looked around my office, the office of the sheriff of Prophesy County, Oklahoma. "Maybe I should—"

"Milt," Emmett said. "You showed me everything. Now go."

I was on the verge of my first vacation since my honeymoon four years ago, and I was antsy. It wasn't Emmett; he used to be police chief of Longbranch, the county seat of Prophesy County, so he knew what he was doing. I guess I was just hoping he didn't do a better job than me and that, if he did, none of the voters would notice.

"Okay," I said again, taking a long, last look around. "You got everything you need? You know how to reach me?"

"I got your cell phone, Jean's e-mail address, the fax number at the hotel, and, if worse comes to worst, Milt, I can do it the old-fashioned way and just call you up at the hotel."

"Okay, then," I said and shook hands with Emmett, my best guy friend in the world, and hoped he wouldn't try to take my job while I was gone.

"Oh, Milt, wait," Emmett said, digging in his pocket and bringing out a ten. "On black fourteen," he said and grinned.

I was headed out, stopping at Gladys's desk—she's our civilian clerk—giving her some last-minute instructions, when she slipped me a quarter and said, "Any slot will do. I was gonna give it to Maida when her and Burl went, but I didn't get a chance to see her before they took off."

Maida Upshank was Gladys and my cousin-in-common. Me and Gladys were no blood relation, I'm happy to say. Maida was my third or whatever cousin on my mama's side, Maida's daddy's side, and Gladys was a first cousin on Maida's mama's side.

"When'd they go?" I asked.

"Couple a days ago. They're staying with Denise," she said, who I knew was Maida and Burl's youngest child and only daughter. "You got Denise's number?" she said, while jotting it down on a while-you-were-out slip. "You should call 'em while y'all are there."

I took the number offered with no intention of calling, since Maida and me had been only wedding-and-funeral cousins for the last decade, and was headed out the door when it slammed open, almost knocking me down. Harriet Barstow barged in, which was quite a feat considering she was using a walker. By my reckoning, Miz Barstow was in her early eighties. She was wearing a lime green polyester pantsuit, Nike running shoes that had seen better days, and carrying a purse that had to weigh at least ten pounds. She was hunched over her walker and scowling fit to beat the band. Seeing me, she yelled, "Sheriff! I want you to arrest my husband!"

"What seems to be the problem, Miz Barstow?" I asked, guiding her toward one of the benches.

She shoved my arm away and stood her ground. "He's been trying to crawl into my bed! And I just won't have it! You hear me, Sheriff? I won't have it! He's been running around with that Carson woman and I won't have him come climbing back into my bed!"

"Well, Miz Barstow, why don't you have a seat while I look into this?" I said, trying again to usher her toward the bench.

"See that you do, young man," she said, again brushing off my arm but at least taking a seat on the bench.

I left Miz Barstow under Gladys's watchful eye, and went back into my office, sat down, and picked up the phone for my last official call before my vacation. When the lady answered, I said, "Rochelle, this is Milt Kovak. Your mama's here."

"Oh, Lord," Rochelle said. "What now?"

"She wants me to arrest your daddy for crawling into her bed."

"Milt, my daddy's been dead for ten years."

"That I know, Rochelle. If you recall, I did the eulogy."

Rochelle sighed. "I'll come get her as soon as I get the grandkids off to school. Can you hold her for a few minutes?"

"Sure, but don't be too long."

"Or you could just lock her up," Rochelle suggested.

I laughed. "Don't think that would be exactly constitutional."

"Who'd she say he's been messing with this time?" Rochelle asked.

" 'That Carson woman' is the quote."

"The only Carson woman I know is that one on the local news."

"Don't think she's your daddy's type?" I asked.

"My daddy never looked cross-eyed at another woman in his whole married life, Milt."

"That I know, Rochelle."

"You know, Mama's gonna kill me one of these days. She's gonna blurt out something awful during church or something and I'll drop dead of a heart attack," Rochelle said.

"We all got our crosses to bear, Rochelle," I said.

"Well, Milt, there are crosses to bear—and then there's my mama."

"I see your point," I said.

Rochelle sighed. "I'll pick her up in a few minutes."

I left Miz Barstow sitting on the bench giving Gladys what-for, and headed home to my house on the mountain I share with my wife and son.

See, here's the deal. My wife, Jean McDonnell, Dr. Jean McDonnell, is a psychiatrist, and a good one to boot. She'd been asked to speak at this year's neuropsychiatric something-or-other convention, which was being held in Las Vegas, and had invited me to go with her. She invited me to go with her last year, too, but it was held in Houston, and that just wasn't much of a pull. I've been to Houston and the best thing about it was seeing it in the rearview mirror.

But Las Vegas? Sin City? Oh yeah, honey, I'd be happy to join you there.

We'd made arrangements weeks in advance with my sister Jewel Anne to take care of Johnny Mac for the three days we'd be gone, so that was all settled. We went to bed that night, Jean probably going over her speech in her head, me thinking about how much "mad" money I could blow.

First ThursdayProphesy County

Emmett Hopkins walked in the front door of his apartment that evening after work, and for some reason saw it for the first time. It was Jasmine made him notice it. He'd thought about inviting her over. But how could he do that? He looked at the place. He'd given away all his furniture when he'd moved out of the house he'd shared with Shirley Beth for so many years. With her dead, with her blood and brains all over the dining room, no way he'd ever go back there. No way he'd ever want anything out of that house. So here was the apartment, complete with rented furniture. A cheap Scandinavian knockoff sofa, a rickety coffee table, and an easy chair that wasn't very easy on his back—he could say that for sure. A pine dinette and matching chairs. And he wouldn't even think about the bedroom. A single bed, a press wood chest of drawers, and a living room end table doing duty as a bedside table. That was it. And he didn't own any of it. How could he ask a woman to come into this?

Jasmine had flirted with him some a while back, but he hadn't responded, didn't remember how. So he'd blown that opportunity. But this afternoon, after Milt left, she'd smiled at him. Jasmine didn't smile a lot, so he knew that she meant it. The smile was for him.

Jasmine came with a lot of baggage, he knew that. Just like he had baggage. They were the walking wounded, except maybe he was a little more wounded than she was. Hell, he was the walking dead.

Maybe he wouldn't invite her over, Emmett thought, but that didn't mean he couldn't invite her out. Take her to the Longbranch Inn for dinner. No, people would see them. Maybe to Bishop. They had that nice Mexican restaurant in Bishop. But Bishop was still in the county, and people would know them there. Maybe take her out of the county? Maybe to Tejas County? Surely they had restaurants there.

But so what if people saw them together? They were both single now, unattached. But the rumors. Oh, yeah, he thought, there'd be rumors. Prophesy County would have them married in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

He went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Nothing much in there. Four beers left from a six-pack of Bud Lite, some cold cuts, and one of those bags of salad he bought last week on a whim. Why, he didn't know. Never could abide salad. He took out one of the beers and took it with him back into the living room. Turned on the TV. Maybe he should get a cat, he thought. Milt had a cat. Then Emmett remembered he didn't like cats. Maybe a dog, he thought. Then he thought a dog would be too much responsibility.

Hell, asking Jasmine out was too much responsibility. What if they hit it off? What then? He'd have to ask her out again. Then what if he slept with her? Shit, he couldn't imagine that happening. He tried to remember the last time he had sex, and couldn't. Shirley Beth had had her problem for so long, sex just wasn't a part of their life those last, long years.

He turned the TV to ESPN and found something that wasn't golf and wasn't soccer. That's all he really asked for out of life these days.

First FridayProphesy County

Emmett was standing at Gladys's desk when Jasmine walked in through the back door in her street clothes. He liked looking at her. She wasn't supermodel pretty, but she fit him. She had a big butt, and he liked that. She was shaped sort of like an avocado—big on the bottom, small on top. And she had freckles. He liked that, too. A good smile, when she used it, which wasn't often. Shiny brown hair, pulled back in one of those french braids.

He said "hi," and she said "hi." Now was the time to do it if he was going to, he thought. Gladys was in the ladies' room. So do it. Nobody around. Just do it.

Jasmine said, "Well, I better get in the locker room and change," and turned to do so.

"Hey, Jasmine," Emmett said.

She turned and looked at him, a small smile on her face. "Yeah, Emmett?"

"Ah, there's a new Chinese restaurant over in Tejas County. Thought about trying it out tonight." He'd looked that up—the Chinese restaurant. Wasn't really sure if it was new, but it was new to him. He swallowed. Way too much spit in his mouth. "Ah, you wanna come?" he finally got out.

She smiled big this time. Teeth and all. She had a little overbite, just like that actress he and his daddy had both liked—Gene Tierney. He liked that. "Sure," she said. "That sounds good. Haven't had Chinese in a long time."

"So, ah, meet you here after work? Take my truck. Bring you back here?"

She turned toward the locker room again, but over her shoulder she smiled at him and said, "Sounds like a plan."

First FridayLas Vegas

It was mid-September and the temperatures in our part of Oklahoma had finally begun to drop a little—mid-eighties during the day, mid-sixties at night, if it wasn't raining—cooler then if it was.

Leaving the airport in Las Vegas, though, it seemed we'd stepped back a couple of months. It was hotter than Hades. And dry. And when people say these desert areas are hot, but it's a dry heat (like that's a good thing), I'd like to mention that an oven is dry heat also. I could barely breathe between the doors of the airport and the air-conditioned mini-bus to our hotel.

I hadn't really paid much attention to where the convention was being held—I left all those details up to Jean; after all, it was her business. But I was a little taken aback when the taxi pulled up in front of the hotel—the Lonestar. In a city built on gaudy, this one stood out. There was a replica of the Texas State Fair's Big Tex, a huge guy in a cowboy hat and boots, in front of the portico. This Big Tex was about twice the size of the one in Dallas, and that one's pretty damn big. There was a huge star on the top of the hotel and hay bales lined the drive that circled up to the front door and back out to the street. I thought I might puke, but decided to keep that to myself.

"Oh, how cute," my wife said. It takes all kinds, I thought.

As we got out of the taxi and the driver handed our gear over to the attendant, the attendant said to me and Jean, "Howdy, pardners, welcome to Texas."

I didn't hit him. I think that showed what a mature and restrained fella I am.

Three things assaulted my senses when I walked in the front doors of the Lonestar: the overpowering smell of roses mixed with cigarette smoke, the sound of the bells and whistles of slot machines, and the sight of more Texas crap than I'd seen on any trip to that actual state.

Okay, I have a problem with Texas. They act like Oklahoma is their retarded third cousin. They make jokes about us, even when OU beats UT, repeatedly. Like they have something to joke about. Everything's bigger and better in Texas. Well, I beg to differ. And here I was stuck in a place that was gonna just plain rub Texas in my face.

Jean and I followed the bellhop to the check-in desk, which was designed to look like a Western bar, with a brass foot rail and brass spittoons at intervals. All the poor people working behind the counter were dressed in cowboy outfits, and looked just plain silly and some of 'em a little pissed off.

Our room was on the nineteenth floor and I unpacked while Jean went down to the mezzanine to register for the convention.

After I'd unpacked, in my fashion (I opened the suitcases and hung up the dress Jean was gonna wear for her speech and put my Dop kit in the bathroom), I called Jean on her cell phone and left a message, saying I'd be in the casino, then went down to the slots. I took out the quarter Gladys had given me—I knew which one it was because she'd put her initials on it—and stuck it in a slot and got three cherries. Thinking she'd probably want to reinvest part of it, I took another quarter and stuck it in, but got nothing. So I figured Gladys did all right, getting fifty cents over her twenty-five-cent investment.

I wandered over to the roulette tables, but there was nothing much going on, so I took a walk around the hotel, seeing what kind of restaurants they had. The first one I found was called "Chicken Fried's" and they had the menu posted. And it lived up to its name: everything from chicken fried steak to chicken fried ice cream, with chicken fried vegetables thrown in for the health conscious, I suppose. The next restaurant I found was called "Maria's TexMex," and the posted menu lived up to its name, too. I hate to admit it but reading all this stuff was making me real hungry. Jean had had me on a low-carb, high-protein diet for about two years, which probably would have made me lose weight if I didn't eat my lunch every day at the Longbranch Inn, which has the best chicken fried steak in Oklahoma or Texas. But that's another story, and one we won't tell Jean about, okay?

I decided to head up to the mezzanine where I saw some shops, but when I got there I saw my wife talking to someone and just stopped and watched her. I like to do that, watch her when she doesn't know I am. I guess that would be stalkerish if I wasn't married to her, but I like looking at my wife, and that's not a bad thing.

She's as tall as me, about five-ten, and she's not skinny. She's not fat, either, just a nice, big woman. She's got dark brown hair peppered with silver—a lot more of the pepper since Johnny Mac entered our lives—and the greenest eyes you ever saw. She's got a scattering of freckles on her nose and cheeks, and a smile that'll make you catch your breath. She's got large breasts, a small waist, perfect hips, and she probably would have had real shapely legs if it hadn't been for the polio she contracted as a baby. Her mother had refused to get any of her kids vaccinated when the Salk vaccine came out; all of 'em made it okay except Jean. She's been on crutches and leg braces her whole life. But since she's been doing that since she could walk, the lady can move faster than most people. The only time she had a real problem was late in her pregnancy, when her belly got so big she lost her equilibrium and had to take to a wheelchair for the last two months.

She finished her conversation with the man and turned, seeing me. She smiled and I smiled back. When we got to each other, she said, "I don't have anything until the opening ceremonies tonight. They're serving dinner, you want to come?"

I thought about the rubber chicken and limp vegetables they usually serve at convention dinners, then thought about Chicken Fried's and Maria's TexMex. I thought about all the speeches that would come with dinner (Jean's not being one of them) and the lure of the slots and the roulette wheel. Then I put on my best hangdog expression.

"Honey, I'd really like to, but I didn't bring the right clothes."

"You brought something to wear when I give my speech, didn't you?"

"Well, of course, but you don't want me to wear that twice, do you?" I figured, being a woman, Jean could respect that.

She grinned. "Honey, you are so full of shit." She leaned over and kissed me. "Go ahead and ruin your diet, but don't lose too much money, okay?"

I grinned back and patted her cheek. "You're a good wife," I said.

Then we both headed downstairs to see what all the fuss was about Vegas.

What can I say? It was bright, it was loud, and, in the right frame of mind, I suppose it could be fun. Jean and me played the quarter slots and I got less enchanted with the place as my paper cup of quarters began to dwindle. Then Jean, who had moved down three stools from me, let out a very uncharacteristic whoop, and I ran to her side.

"I won three hundred dollars!" she cried, grabbing me by the lapels of my blue jean jacket. "Three hundred dollars!" she shouted.

"That's great, honey," I said. "We can pay a bill with it."

My ultra-practical wife said, "Are you out of your mind? Let's go shopping!"

I'm not much of a shopper, but it didn't take long to blow three hundred bucks in a Las Vegas hotel. She bought a Little Lord Fauntleroy-looking outfit for Johnny Mac—that I swear he'll never wear, not if I can help it—and a very small, very black, very see-through teddy for herself. That I swore she'd wear in about five minutes, if I had my way about it. Then she decided to buy something for me.

"Honey," I said, looking at the teddy, "you already did."

She had a few bucks left and insisted that I deserved a treat—I kept mentioning the elevator to our room as a way of getting my treat, but she ignored me. I ended up buying a Swiss Army knife I didn't need, spending about three times what I would have paid for it at my local army-navy store. Finally I got her on the elevator.

Just let me say that my wife looked real good in that teddy. We had three hours before her evening meeting/dinner was to start, and we put that teddy to real good use.

Copyright © 2007 by Susan Rogers Cooper. All rights reserved.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fun down home mystery

    Although Sheriff Milt Kovak loves his life in Prophecy County, Oklahoma he is looking forward to going to Las Vegas with his wife, who is attending a psychiatric conference. He knows his third cousin Maida Upshank and her husband Burl are up their visiting their pregnant daughter Denise. Milt figures he doesn¿t have to see them because they have different agendas but when Burl is arrested, he goes to the sheriff¿s office to see if he can help. Burl saw his son-in-law beat up his daughter and punch her in the stomach. He beat up his daughter¿s husband and since the man is pressing charges he is arrested. Milt gets the sheriff to release Burl into his custody but when his son in law is found murdered, shot at point blank range, Milt is ordered to bring Burl in. He would but he skipped out forcing Maida to call her sons to come to Vegas to help Milt clear Burl¿s name. Milt believes it easier to find the real killer and he uses the help that is at hand even if they are unorganized and not too bright. --- This is a down home mystery that gives readers an interesting look at Las Vegas from a first time visitor. Susan Rogers Cooper creates interesting characters and the audience will have many chuckles following the exploits of Milt on a second honeymoon that winds up in the middle of a homicide looking for a killer. Vegas Nerve is a fascinating and creative mystery that makes readers want to stay up and finish this book. --- Harriet Klausner

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