Kate Ayers, Author
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A WALK OF SNIPES (Book 2, Mysteries With a Wine List)




Chapter 1



           Most days don’t start like that bitter Monday in February. For one thing, missing persons cases don’t often come my way.  Last summer, I had brought to light the problems of a local runaway, but not a genuine missing person who was feared to be missing as in dead.  And the runaway wasn’t quite the celebrity as the subject of the case who walked through my door that morning.

            Now, I’m rarely in the office before the sun rises, which it actually does little of during Oregon winters. But there I sat, tucked behind my mahogany desk, feeling very Northwest in my Pendleton wool, with Jiggs at my feet and Irene Adler nipping at my ear. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the second-floor window and thought, “Handsome group.” Well, that could be attributed at least in part to Ms. Adler, a dazzling Harlequin Macaw, sitting on my shoulder. She is simply one good-looking bird, and my right shoulder is just about her favorite place to hang out and natter – or, if you want to be totally accurate, scream. Normally, I enjoy listening to her, but she had recently learned (as in made up) a new song. Jiggs already hated it, and I was getting real close myself, but I hadn’t yet turned on the stereo, preferring the crackling of the fire instead.  If Irene kept this up, though, I’d have to put on some Dave Brubeck real soon.

            And Jiggs? He’s a gorgeous blonde guy with lots of wrinkles all over his body, a black tongue, tiny little ears, and a tightly curled tail, or a creature commonly known as a Chinese Shar Pei. Jiggs is an especially arrogant example.

            As a general rule, I’m not real fond of Mondays, but mornings don’t get much better than that one. My girlfriend Lauren had seen to its excellent start. Personally, I believe that waking up like that should be a requirement. The only bad part was the hour at which she woke me – 5:30.  I mean, 5:30 on a Monday in February. That’s just cold. Fortunately, though, she warmed me up. Quickly.

            I wrapped my hands around the steaming coffee mug that said “World’s Greatest Detective” (a gift from myself) and inhaled the aroma of extra bold Kona before pouring some down my throat, then leaned back in my chair.

            Beyond my reflection, huge snowflakes swirled and cavorted in the looming dawn. I could sit and watch it snow all day, especially with Jiggs snoring contentedly on the deep plush rug, his fawn colored jowls spreading out over the maroon nap wide enough to double the size of his face. (Shar peis do that; it’s part of their charm, at least if you like folds and wrinkles and lots of loose skin.)

            The downside of weather like this is that I have to leave the Lamborghini at home and drive my trusty old Jeep, instead. Well, technically, since the Lambo is all-wheel drive, I could take it out, but why chance it, especially when there are other people on the road without traction, some without driver’s training even? I would argue that the Murcielago deserves optimal driving conditions.  I mean the car’s a six-speed rocket ship, sleek and sexy, with more horsepower than the Triple Crown. It looks like a yellow sun streak whooshing down the road. The best part of the Jeep is that it has a killer sound system. Even with its 92,000 miles, that truck purrs like the day I bought it seven years ago.

            The phone rang and I glanced down at my watch. 7:26. Really? People actually call at such an hour? I supposed it was possible that it happened every day for some folks, but I wouldn’t know. I’m usually home at that time, standing under a hot shower, anticipating a nice, big breakfast, which rarely happens. What I normally get is some earthy granola stuff or watery low-fat yogurt. Lauren thinks I need to drop a couple of pounds. Naturally, I disagree, but she doesn’t play fair, what with her long legs and blonde hair. She has some other things I like, too.

            I hit the speaker button on the phone and said, “Blackstone Investigations.”

            “Wow, don’t you sound official. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were a real professional.”

            Shit. Cassandra York. She’s about the quickest way to ruin a perfectly good day, even though I had been expecting her call. I sighed. Mondays, ugh.

             “Cassandra. What do you want so early?”

            “Oh, come on, Cade. I told you I’d be calling.”

            “Well, yeah, but I thought you’d wait until office hours.”

            “Hey, you answered.”

            She had me there.

            Cassandra York and I had once endured a short-lived relationship, if you could call what we had a relationship. It felt more like an extended wrestling match. Whatever one defined it as, I came away with my freedom after two months, and she went away, which would have been fantastic except that it was only to a town a couple dozen miles off, a rather nondescript place called Cornelius. She also went away with my dog, for which I thank God every day. The little pugahuahua had been a gift from a previous girlfriend for my 30th birthday a little under four years ago, and it couldn’t have been a more horrid one. Chico, or whatever she’d named it, was a scrawny Chihuahua/pug mix with a penchant for chewing holes in my underwear. Good riddance. To both of them.

            The other bad thing about Cassandra is that she’s a private investigator, which would make her my competition, except that I’m way better than she is and I live in the way cooler town of Carlton, a wine Mecca – if you like pinot noir– about thirty-five miles outside of West Coast Portland. (Just kidding about that, except for the part about Carlton. Cassandra’s actually a pretty good detective.) She had said she’d call, though, so curiosity got the better of me and I decided to be civil, at least for a little while.

            “So how can I help you, Cassandra?”

            The line stayed quiet for so long, I thought we might have lost the connection. Before I got impatient and repeated the question, she cleared her throat and said, “I got a call from a good friend of mine, Tiffany Jones.” She didn’t continue, so I figured she thought it was my turn to talk.

            “Should I know who that is?”

            “She was my maid of honor and my best friend.”

            Cassandra had been married?

            As though she’d read my mind, she went on, “It was a long time ago, and a huge mistake. He was, well, a nasty man. None of that matters, though. Tiffany is beyond desperate. Her brother was on an outing to the coast a few months ago. It was supposed to be just an overnighter, but he never came back. They were always very close. Tiffany is convinced that someone – probably his new wife – murdered him. Probably for the money. He was pretty rich.”

            “Uh-huh.” And this involved me how?

            “Uh-huh? That’s all you can say?” Cassandra’s red hair seemed to have gained control of her attitude.

            “What, you want to consult with me on this?”

            “No, I don’t want to consult.” Her exasperation was clear. Her reason for calling still wasn’t.

            “Course not.” The protracted silence left me time to think. Then it started to dawn on me. “Wait. You’re referring your best friend to me?” This was unbelievable. Cassandra York covets every case I get, even the ones that involve petty crimes like missing Girl Scout cookies. (The Girl Scout’s cousin had nicked them when she’d turned her back. Took me about three minutes to squeeze a confession out of the little brat.) I could almost hear Cassandra chewing on the inside of her cheek. I know her well enough to say that she hates to ask for anyone’s help. Double that for mine.

            She finally squeaked out a quiet, “Yes.”

            When I got done laughing, I inquired, “Okay. I just have to ask: Why?” You bet I had to ask. Let’s just say that a referral from Ms. York is highly suspect. It could be akin to walking into quicksand. Why else wouldn’t she handle it herself?

            “It’s not what you think.”

            “Did I say anything?”

            “I’d do it myself but I broke my ankle in three places and I don’t think I can hobble around the cliffs over at Whale Cape on these crutches.”

            That sent an unwelcome mental image to my brain: This tall redhead with a large, um, chest hopping around on long muscular legs in her customary miniskirt. Or, since it was the middle of winter, jeans. Skintight black ones. Geez, I needed to get that out of my head. I quickly formed a mental picture of Lauren. Wearing pretty much nothing. There, that took care of it.

            “How did you do that?” Nosy, I know, but I love the details.

            “Doesn’t matter.”

            “Don’t tell me you tried dancing with Rollie again.”  A queer little yelp on her end validated my guess. Cassandra’s latest boyfriend, ex-deputy Rollie Hansen, is worse at the Bugaloo than he is at handling his police weapon. His ineptitude on the dance floor is legendary, even more so than his reputation for poor gun safety. “Score one for the world’s greatest detective!”

            “Oh, cut it out, Cade. Do you want the case or don’t you?”

I wanted to gloat, is what I wanted to do, or return to gazing at the fire and patting my dog’s head, but to be honest I had become a little restless. A new case sounded entertaining. As long as Rollie wasn’t involved in it. 

            “Yeah, I want it. Have your friend give me a call. She can make an appointment.”

            “Great. And keep me in the loop.”

            "Sure." Like that would happen. I hung up before Cassandra could change her mind, and sat back with a smug grin on my face. Jiggs looked at me with a worried expression, but I reassured him with a stroke of his ginger blonde head. Irene Adler barreled forth with her new song. Again. Neither the dog nor I could deal with one more iteration of her tune, so I got up and switched on the stereo. The first CD turned out to be a compendium of Barbra Streisand Christmas carols. Obviously, I hadn't yet changed out the holiday music. Since we were over a month into the New Year, somebody really ought to get around to that.

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