Chicago’s Pants On Fire Detective Agency targets liars and cheats. But PI Cat DeLuca is once again up to her smokin’ skinny jeans in murder.
Cat is out running in a neighborhood park when she crashes over the faceless body of Bernie Love. Bernie was the finance guy to the scary Provenza family, with whom he grew up. And friend to Cat’s shady, Ferrari-wheeling-cop Uncle Joey. As she hauls out her phone, Cat is assaulted by someone with a Rolex, stun gun, and wheelbarrow. When the cops show up, the killer is gone. And so is the body.
Captain Bob, a stickler for habeas corpus, blows off Cat’s story. Stung by a chorus of snickers from the Ninth Precinct, home base for DeLuca men, Cat vows to make her case and goes after Rolex man. The murderer, desperate to silence the only person who can place him at the park, comes after Cat. She’s quickly on a collision course with the deadliest adversary she’s ever encounteredbut she has the help of her beagle partner, her gun-happy assistant, an ex-spy (or two), and her outrageous, interfering Italian family. Meanwhile her hot, FBI-boyfriend seems sidelined in Vegas.
In Bye, Bye, Love, K.J. Larsen delivers another nail-biting tale rife with unexpected plot twists, zany characters, fabulous food, and laugh-out-loud humor.
About the Author
One day three sisters, linked by a voracious love of mysteries, set off to write their own. Hunched over a mojito and bucket of steamer clams, the Pants On Fire Detective Agency was born. Julianne, Kristen and Kari Larsen, (horse trainer, minister and irreverent baker) deliver a sizzling read and easy smile. Liar Liar is the first book in the Cat DeLuca mysteries. The sisters live in the Pacific Northwest and Chicago area and are currently at work on Cat’s next, most fabulous adventure. http://kjlarsenauthor.com/
Read an Excerpt
Bye, Bye Love
A Cat DeLuca Mystery
By K. J. Larsen
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2015 K. J. Larsen
All rights reserved.
I was staking out the LeGrande Hotel on Asher and sucking the creamy filling out of a cannoli. My fingers absently drummed out a beat on the steering wheel while I kept an eye on a brunette in the hotel parking lot. Her name is Cookie Allen. Cookie's married to Jerry, a wiry man with a birdlike face and a wild nest of yellow hair. Jerry's an inquisitive kind of guy. He wants to know why his wife reeks of Brut Cologne.
It's not exactly rocket science. Cookie Allen has a lover. She left telltale signs and a big trail of cookie crumbs. A dumbass could figure it out. But not Jerry. He's hired me to spell it out for him.
I'm a great speller.
My name is Cat DeLuca and I'm a Private Dick—though I prefer Jane. I don't investigate for insurance companies or work for ambulance-chasers. I won't find your high school sweetheart. But if you're in Chicagoland and you suspect your partner is stepping out, call me. I kick ass at catching cheaters.
Last week Jerry showed up at my office, his brain in deep freeze. His wife's betrayal was slapping him in the face, but he was swimming in denial. It happens in this business. You know your relationship is in the toilet but you're not ready to go there. So your mind creates an alternative scenario as a coping mechanism. It's a temporary state of insanity.
That's where I come in.
"What do you think is happening with your wife, Jerry?"
His small, birdlike chin quivered. "What do you mean?"
"I dunno. The late nights, unexplained absences. A sudden disinterest in sex and all things you." "I think it's the change. I hear it affects women that way." "Your wife is twenty-six years old."
"It's not the change."
Jerry scrunched his face, searching for an explanation other than the obvious. I stopped him before he could decide his wife had a part-time job moonlighting for Brut.
"The Brut Factory is in Texas," I said.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
Jerry sighed and gnawed on beakish lips. "I don't wanna make no trouble."
"So what will you do?"
"I'm gonna shadow her."
His eyes flashed alarm. "If Cookie thinks I don't trust her..."
"She won't know I was there. It's what I do".
He dragged out a roll of antacids, popped a handful in his mouth, and chewed furiously.
"Here's the plan. I'll be in the hospital parking lot when your wife's shift ends on Sunday. I'll tail her—"
His eyes widened.
"Not to worry. I'm the queen of discretion. I'll keep a diary of her movements. Make a note of anyone she has contact with."
He nodded staring through me, his brain still on ice.
I wanted to shake him, but I put a hand on his arm and flashed an encouraging smile.
"I got this, Jerry. You're going to be OK. I'm armed with spy-eye binoculars and my super, high-powered camera. I'll snag some steamy 8 by 10 glossies and when I deliver them to you your brain will thaw."
He nodded and then his head did a double take. "Huh?"
* * *
A horn blared from the street in front of the hotel. Cookie was too busy fidgeting with her hair to notice. She was primping for Brut Boy. I popped the newest Pink album into the CD player, stretched my legs, and waited.
Cookie Allen works as an X-ray tech at Mercy Hospital and I was waiting when her shift ended at 2:30. At 2:31 she bolted out the door and barreled to her car. She gave her face a five-minute touch up and perked up the girls before pulling the red Mazda Miata out of her parking spot. I was on her like sauce on spaghetti. She headed down Twenty-sixth and hit the Dan Ryan toward the west end, hell and gone from her house in Bridgeport.
Her first stop was a dry cleaner's on South Ashland. Cookie dropped off a small bag of clothes, then took a quick spin by Lovers Package. Next stop was Walgreen's for a Snickers bar, some mints, and a copy of Soap Opera Digest. And like a cherry on top, a can of whipping cream. I didn't have to be a top-notch detective to know one thing. Some Mama's son was gonna get lucky tonight.
The G in the neon LeGrande Hotel sign sputtered, making it quiver almost hypnotically. I mentally slapped myself and opened my surveillance cooler. It was stocked with Tino's pizza, sausages, and Mama's Mediterranean chicken. As well as her unrivaled cannoli. It will drop you to your knees.
I tossed a sausage to the beagle in the backseat. Inga is my partner at the Pants on Fire Detective Agency. She has soulful brown eyes and an ever-joyful tail. She's fiercely loyal and better company than most people I know.
I poured a cup of coffee and let the steam warm my face. I get what Jerry's going through. My brief marriage to Johnnie Rizzo was a crash course in infidelity. It was like a knife to the gut. Johnnie was a serial cheater, scoring like an Olympic athlete. But then, love can be brutal.
Sometimes you gotta get up, brush yourself off, and take your life back. You go out with your friends and exorcize your lying ex with shameless quantities of tequila and chocolate. You listen to the voice inside you that says you'll create a better life than you ever imagined. Even if it's the tequila talking.
A cool late autumn breeze blew off the lake. I hunched down in my silver Honda Accord and tugged my coat tighter around me. I didn't want to fire up my engine and draw attention to myself. I figured this gig wouldn't last long. The LeGrande is known for renting rooms by the hour. I doubt the sheets change as often as the guests.
Inga kissed my cheek and jumped into the passenger seat to negotiate for more sausages. A beat up blue construction van pulled into the hotel parking lot. Cookie leapt from the car, feet dancing, before Brut Boy killed the engine. Her husband, Jerry, may look like a bird. But her lover was a big burly bear of a guy with dark curly hair exploding from his neckline. Cookie seemed to be exploring a wide spectrum of the animal kingdom.
They ran into each other's arms and held tight for a long time. When they pulled back, they gazed deep in each other's eyes and laughed.
I've been in this business a long time. And I've found people are driven to cheat for a variety of reasons: for the thrill, revenge, self-undoing, conquest, boredom, emptiness, or a sense of loss. Sometimes, it's just for a lack of good sense. Some people cheat because they think they won't get caught. Others just wanna get busted.
I'd probably never know how the affair between Cookie and her bear of a lover began. But I believed she was here today because they were in love. I aimed my camera, knowing I'd hate passing the pics on to Jerry. Cookie's lover wore a wedding ring. I knew Cookie and Jerry didn't have kids. It would be too much to hope her lover's marriage would dissolve so cleanly.
She put an arm around his waist and they drifted my way. I buried my face in the latest O! Magazine. The lovers ambled past me and into the hotel, his hand resting on her bum.
I tossed another sausage into the backseat. "Back in a flash, Inga. This won't take long."
I grabbed my flower print handbag with the hidden camcorder and strode to the heavy oak and glass doors. I was locked, loaded, and ready for love.
Or at least ready to expose it on 8 by 10 color glossies.
I paused a moment beneath the quivering neon G and taking a deep, heady breath of Brut, tromped into the hotel behind them.CHAPTER 2
The old man puffing on a pipe looked out of place behind the registration desk. He had the rugged, sun-etched face of someone who'd spent his life at sea.
Cookie filled out the registration card and her lover paid for the room in cash. When she was finished, she shoved the card across the smooth surface. He picked it up and looked at it.
"Mr. and Mrs. Smith," he said.
Yeah. That's original.
The man removed one of the keys from a hook behind him and slid it across the desk.
"Room 222. Need a receipt?"
"No," Cookie said hastily.
The front desk clerk palmed the money, not bothering to ring it into the cash register.
I hung around the gumball machine in the lobby until the couple disappeared down the hall.
The old man was packing fresh tobacco in his pipe when I approached the desk. He slid the registration card my way.
"Hourly or overnight rate?"
I didn't ask for the five-minute special.
I checked out the available keys on the wall. "Room 224 please."
His eyes narrowed warily. "You follow Mr. and Mrs. Smith in here? Cuz, lady, I don't want no trouble."
"Ditto." I signed the registration and passed it back.
"Yes. Taxes, you know."
He begrudgingly rang up the sale and I dropped the receipt in my bag.
I tossed him a wink. "I'll take that key now."
* * *
The decades had not been kind to the LeGrande Hotel. If there had once been "grandness" here, time had long since stripped it away. And no amount of fresh paint and carpeting would bring it back.
I rode a groaning elevator to the second floor and ambled down a long, threadbare carpet that screamed for a cleaning. My room was smack next to Mr. and Mrs. Smith's tête-à-tête. In passing, I pressed an ear to their door. I could make out a faint murmur. But I couldn't decide if they were breathing hard or talking. I decided to give them a few minutes to tear each other's clothes off.
My key opened the door to a stale-smelling room with a bed and nightstand, a rickety table, two chairs, and a boxy television from the previous century. A mirror hung on the wall over the headboard: a featured bonus for a sleazy flophouse. The bedspread was a mosaic print designed to camouflage dirt and a host of bodily fluids. The thought of seeing this room through a black light made me shudder. I hugged my bag close and steered clear of the furniture. Visions of bedbugs danced in my head.
An adjoining door connected our rooms. I opened my side and heard a definite moan. Enough talk. I tried the knob on the connecting door but 224 was locked from the inside. Plan A would've been too easy.
Plan B was to climb out the window and crawl along the ledge to capture that perfect Kodak moment. I unlocked the window, swung the bag over my shoulder, and heaved. The window opened six inches and stopped. Shit. But I got it. I'd been here five minutes and I already wanted to jump.
I had been hoping to avoid Plan C.
The coast was clear in the hallway. I switched on the video camera hidden in my bag and removed my lock pics from their wallet. Then I scooted to 222, knelt at the door, and did my magic.
With a steadying breath, I twisted the knob, positioning my camera purse for an unobstructed recording of the romp and circumstance. My plan was to enter unnoticed, snag my 8 by 10 glossy, and run like hell. It happens.
But not today.
Cookie was on top. Our eyes met in the mirror.
I positioned my camera purse and gasped, mortified. "I'm so sorry. The guy gave me the wrong key."
Cookie twirled around and snagged a sheet around her.
"I know you."
"No you don't."
"You're following me!"
"You were at Walgreens when I bought the aspirin."
Psycho woman. My gaze fell to the tube of ForPlay on the nightstand. I moved a bit, positioning the camera bag to pick it up.
"So, how's the aspirin working for you?"
The grizzly guy's face went pale. He shoved Cookie aside and she almost hit the floor.
He choked. "My wife knows?"
"She was following me, you idiot. She works for Jerry."
Relief flooded his face.
Cookie smacked him.
I backed up to the door.
"Stop her!" Cookie yelled. "There's a camera in her bag."
He lunged and I ran.
I hauled ass, scooting past the elevator and flying down the stairs. Hot on my heels, Grizzly guy shouted obscenities.
"Potty mouth," I threw back at him.
The guy could run—I had to give him that. His body was a study in hair but he didn't look that scary. God knows he wasn't hiding a weapon.
I hit the ground floor and dashed across the lobby.
The old man moaned behind the desk. "I don't want no police."
"Then don't call them!"
Bare feet slapped the floor behind me. I threw a look over my shoulder. Grizzly man was closing fast, a pillow recklessly covering his groin. I hurled the gumball machine to the ground in passing and flung a coat rack to the floor. Maybe obstruction techniques work for James Bond. But the glass globe didn't break and a gazillion spinning gumballs didn't pitch my pursuer on his face. He vaulted over the coat rack, riding air and swallowing the distance between us.
My heart sank. I wasn't going to make it. I would lose precious seconds at the door and he'd rip the purse from my shoulder and crush it.
Dammit. I love that camera bag.
"Gimme the pictures," he roared and I felt his wheezing breath on my neck.
I hit the brakes and threw my arms up in a show of surrender. I faced him, my heart pounding in my chest.
"You win. You can have the film but I get the camera back."
He hacked a smoker's cough. "You might want to think twice before sticking your nose where it don't belong."
"Yeah, yeah. You sound like my mother."
I plunged a hand in my bag, dragged out my pepper spray, and painted his face with it.
He screeched at an ear-shattering pitch.
"And you, sir, might want to lower that pillow."
I hightailed it out the door to the Silver Bullet and didn't slow down until I landed behind the wheel and cranked the engine.
Inga kissed my cheek. She had sausage breath. I ruffled her neck.
"And that is exactly why I hate Plan C."CHAPTER 3
I wanted to wrap up this case and give Jerry a heads-up before Cookie came home. She would almost certainly be in a twit. I hadn't exactly been the queen of discretion as promised. Tonight could be brutal for my client.
I pointed the nose of the Silver Bullet toward my home in Bridgeport. Bridgeport is a tight-knit community and one of Chicago's most vibrant and diverse areas. It's home to a thriving art scene, and nightlife, and a staggering number of DeLucas. The neighbors know you and will tell you your business whether you want them to or not.
My immediate plan was to print up some 8 by 10 glossies and deliver them to my client. I liked Jerry. He was a sweet guy with a rough patch ahead. I was confident he'd make it through and find happiness again.
I was halfway home when "Your Cheatin' Heart" blared from my cell phone. Oh, Hank.
I flipped the lid. "Pants on Fire Detective Agency. We catch liars and cheats."
"Caterina. Is that you?"
"You know it's me, Mama. You dialed this number."
"It doesn't sound like you."
"I'm out of breath. I was, uh, running."
"Good you should run fast. This job you do, this hootchie stalking, it's dangerous."
"I'm not a hootchie stalker, Mama."
"You're not a policeman. You piss people off."
"I'm a private investigator. I'm licensed to piss people off."
Mama gave a soft groan. I knew she was clutching her chest.
"My heart," she choked.
"Take some Tums, Mama. Your heart's fine. The doctor says it's gas."
"It's not gas. It's an ungrateful daughter who should marry that nice FBI agent and give her Mama her last dying wish."
"You're not dying from gas, Mama. And you're too young to make that wish."
"Grandchildren. My dying wish is grandchildren." Mama's voice was faint. "Is that so much to ask?"
The truth is Mama already has an alarming number of grandchildren. Thanks in part to my sister Sophie, the walking, talking baby machine.
"Spasm," she choked.
"Mama, take your Tums."
"Please God, don't take me before I marry the father of my children."
I took a deep breath and did a full ten-count. "You're already married, Mama. God got the memo. And on Saturday, you're getting married again."
Mama and Papa were married thirty-five years ago at the Bridgeport Cook County Courthouse by the Justice of the Peace. Recently, some loud-mouthed, bitter old church lady told her God doesn't know you're married if you weren't married in the church. When Papa came home, Mama was moving his clothes, shoes, and pillow into the guest room.
The truth is my parents are as happy as any couple I know. They do what works for them. A long time ago Papa decided to let Mama be right. And thirty-five years later, Mama still lights up like Christmas when he enters the room.
Excerpted from Bye, Bye Love by K. J. Larsen. Copyright © 2015 K. J. Larsen. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Looking for a good beach book? You can't go far wrong with Bye, Bye Love, especially if you like funny women private investigators with a bit of an edge. And don't despair if you haven't read the first three books in the series; it won't take you all that long to get up to speed. As with the earlier books, a lot of the pleasure for me is in the secondary characters. I do like Cat very much, particularly her snarkiness, but her cop relatives, the interactions with family "acquaintances" who happen to be on the shady side of the law, and her assistant, the hilarious Cleo Jones, make the whole story so much fun. Best of all is Inga, Cat's sleuthing partner, who just happens to be a beagle. Yes, a beagle, and a most charming one at that! This time, Cat is running against the tide---which, actually, is not so different for her---because the body she and Inga found is missing and the cops, especially her own relatives, think the whole thing is just Cat being Cat. That means she and her cohorts have to get to the bottom of things because no one else is going to. Naturally, Cat finds herself in more than one close call. Oh, and she has to contend with her loud, crazy eccentric Italian-American family getting ready to throw her parents' vow renewal. Just another day in the DeLuca family. You'll come across the occasional flub, the head-scratching "wait a minute" interludes, and much of this will remind you of other popular humorous private eye series but, you know what? You'll still have a good time with Cat and the gang, I promise ;-)
This is the fourth book in a series and even thought I have not read any of the rest of the series I was able to read this one just fine. The story was full of some good characters that I had fun getting to know. This book was a little more harsh than the cozy mysteries so if you expecting something mild than you will be disappointed. It was a very fast book to read and kept your attention right up until the end of the story. The author did a good job of keeping you guessing and to me that makes a good mystery. Cat was my favorite character in the book and I liked how she went after what she wanted and she was good PI. I loved the name of her company as well. The author did a good job with her descriptions in this book. You could almost taste the great Italian food, feel as if you were a part of the family and laugh along with them. All in all a good book.
PI Cat DeLuca has a habit of annoying the police while in pursuit of cheating spouses. She owns the Pants On Fire Detective Agency that is known for catching lying, cheating spouses. Cat seems to stumble into trouble and over dead bodies routinely. Lucky for her she has a long family history of Chicago cops to help her even when she doesn’t think she needs it. After a particularly hairy stakeout situation, Cat decides to unwind with a run. Even though it is late, she feels safe running in the park with her partner Inga – who happens to be a beagle. Cat literally lands face first on a dead body. The only problem is the bad guy is still around and zaps her before she can get her tazer out. By the time she is able to call the police the body is missing. Even though her father is an ex-cop, her brother is a current cop and her uncle is quite probably a dirty cop, Captain Bob of the Chicago police department doesn’t believe Cat. He makes the big mistake of letting Cat know how little he thinks of her detective skills. She vows to find the killer herself and hopefully the body that went missing and made her the laughing stock of the Ninth Precinct. Lucky – or unlucky for her – she saw the guy she thinks is the killer. But of course that means he saw her also. Now she is hunting for the killer, looking for the corpse and trying not to get killed herself. Zany circumstances force her into predicaments that include going to a biker bar, being ambushed by a mobster and into dead people’s homes to search for clues. Her assistant Cleo tends to make things worse, but her heart is in the right place even though she often ends up in the wrong place. While all of this is going on, her pushy mother keeps trying to guilt her into marriage and starting a family. To complicate matters more, her boyfriend’s parents are coming in to meet her parents. It is planned to be one happy family dinner. The question is how will ex-hippy vegetarians get along with meat loving Italians? Cat can see the impending train wreck and tries everything she can think of to not be on board when it happens, but nothing works. She is going to have to have dinner and hopefully make it through the evening without losing her boyfriend in the process. This is K.J. Larsen’s forth book in the Cat DeLuca Mystery series. It read great as a stand-alone novel, just enough background info to let people new to the series get up-to-date, but not so much as to become repetitious to readers of the series. This witty read kept me laughing with one-liners and outlandish situations that could actually happen if a PI had bad luck and crazy friends, foes and family. K.J. is actually three sisters, Kari, Julianne and Kristen Larsen. This award winning trio writes under one name and if you didn’t know it was more than one person, you could not guess by the writing. The sisters brilliantly combine their efforts to create a fun series with quirky characters both human and animal. If you are a fan of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum Mysteries, you will love K.J.’s Cat DeLuca. There is a perfectly plotted mystery among the poker games and car chases. The twist at the end was masterful; I totally did not see it coming. Bye, Bye Love is a fast paced, fun book. I especially liked all of the Chicago references since I live in the burbs and have seen many of them myself. DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review. Copyright © 2015 Laura Hartman