Frank Too Few and I are having lunch at the buffet, see. We’re undercover, keeping an eye peeled for Betty de Boop, who owns the joint. She comes in drunk sometimes, you know, lookin’ for a solo at the piano bar. We’re just waitin’ here ‘cause we know she always shows up sooner or later. My partner and I got questions about her sister, Belly. You see, Belly’s the last person to see the D.A. alive.
This table up front in the buffet offers us good cover for surveillance on the main lobby. Our plates are full of late breakfast and early salad bar. The Gold Digger, like most casinos, sponsors a lot of sin, and some of it comes in the form of food. Aren’t many buffets in these mountains. While we keep our kids away, we slip in for some adult entertainment and always the buffet. What made the food a sin was how much was grown on stolen ground.
A deviled egg is a slippery devil, shoots off my plate right into my lap. I get looks from people. That’s not good. I’m on stake out. Don’t want to be drawing any attention. Always some mug doesn’t like what he sees when he sees me. So I’m cleanin’ up the spill when Frank spots Betty coming in off Hollywood. She’s showin’ a lot of leg in a glamor gown, shimmering all Mae West on a high wire, walking the red carpet. She invested well and her ears show it, dazzle over diamonds. Her bare shoulders are adorned with a dead wolf that lays his muzzle into her cleavage.
I met her sister, Belly, once when she was a dancer. That was before the recording contract, or should I say the record deal: soliciting, fraud, selling love without representation. Belly was living with this animal rights activist who broke into this aquarium and stole a dolphin. When he got caught, he said, “I was going to let it loose but couldn’t find enough water.”
Morning light in the Gold Digger lobby makes a spot that finds Betty shivering in sequins, one hand on her hip, the other holding a traveler mug, from which she takes small sips. Frank can’t take his eyes off her. Too Few staggers like he’s had too many. He turns into this ‘toon , his tongue lolling in and out of his mouth, eyes popping ga ga like the ringmaster. I’ll have to do the talking. His mind ain’t on the job.
“The D.A.?” you say.
“Yeah,” his eyes start to clear, coming back to the reason for our being there.
This big black beetle bodyguard shuffles over from Betty’s entourage. He doesn’t like the way Frank’s lookin’ at Betty. The Bug’s bigger than he looks, I say, bigger than from a distance. He raises a crooked dung beetle claw and presses it against Frank’s rattling throat, backing him into the wall. Frank’s starin’ up at the ceiling: afraid to look the Bug in any of his eyes.
“Whatya lookin’ at?” says the Bug in a low bug growl.
Frank shakes his head, keeping his eyes averted.
I blow my cover. This Bug’s got a thousand eyes so he sees me comin.’ He sticks an elbow into my face like the broken stick with a really sharp point, holds me off until he finishes his business on Frank. No use calling security since Betty owns the place. The Bug backs off and thunks his carapace wildly, clicks and grinds as if he didn’t know any English. I smile and show my hands. I don’t want any more trouble.
Betty’s eyes dance our way with more trouble. Frank’s still starin’ at the ceiling. “You can come down now,” I tell him, “he’s gone.”
Don’t get me wrong. I like Too Few, but the bonehead draws too much attention even when he’s sober. Today he’s shooting straight without blinkin’, trackin’ Betty’s ass like radar. If he gave that much attention to his job, he’d get a promotion before me.
I’m ready to cash in and call it a shift when I make this mug in a green toupee, gold golf shirt and cocky khakis. He’s all huddled over a stack of $10 chips at the blackjack table. I recognize him, that coyote—that boozer, liar, cheat and irredeemable loser who once went out with my wife. I arrested him six months ago and the court just let him out. He didn’t hurt anybody, the judge said. I know better. So I go fishing on the floor, wander in his direction to maybe give him a jump start. He makes me and then makes a break. He wouldn’t startle that easy if he wasn’t guilty of something. Security catches up to him in the main lobby. The mug gets busted some in the process.
I did Gold Digger a favor. So Betty agrees to meet me. Her bed bugs won’t let Frank inside so he stays back. One false move and her bodyguards could rip me into shreds. I respect their loyalty. It’s not uncommon these days for a common man to end up with a bug. They escort me upstairs to her opulent office. Betty sits all official-looking with her slipper offs, behind a glass desk, showing plenty of thigh in a skirt slit up the side. She looks up, eyebrows dancing, an e-cig puckered in her red lips. She hasn’t aged a day since she took over the joint. Some say it’s just good makeup, but I say it’s because she’s a ‘toon. Ain’t none of us getting any younger and these days I seldom get this close to ‘toon to tell she’s not wearing much under that gown.
Nothing unusual here, I keep telling myself, my eyes wide, my radar turned down.
It might have been a coincidence that her sister, Belly de Boop, disappeared after we found the D.A. dead in his car. We ruled out accidental death immediately, I’ll tell you that. Coincidence can almost certainly be ruled out when you find the suspect’s phone number inside a matchbook cover found on a dead body. Now maybe I’ve been watching too many movies, but someone could have planted it, okay? There’s more story here that needs to unfold. What if the D.A. came to the Gold Digger around midnight to meet Belly at the bar—just the way the bartender says? It gets to be around midnight and the late rush dies down. Bartenders remember things that happen in their bar. Still, there must have been other folks eating a late/early buffet, playing the slots, watching cards fall from a deck onto green felt, a white ball spinning on a wheel.
So my partner, Frank Too Few, and I go down to the Gold Digger to catch Belly’s act. She’s a no-show for the chorus line. That’s bad for Betty. She’s already down a dancer and will be disappointed if Belly skipped town again.
I tell Betty Belly doesn’t answer her cell. We pinged and recovered it from a low hedge near the parking lot, not far from where we found the D.A. in the backseat of his classic Cherokee on which he’d recently installed a lift kit. They’re unlocking it now. We may know more soon. When things start adding up, I’m betting the math puts Belly in the middle of it, but she’s nowhere to be found. She’s a person of interest.
Now, the parking attendant who found the D.A. the morning after the victim met Belly at the bar is also a person of interest.
“So what ya think?” Frank asks when I get back to him.
“Belly’s layin’ low,” I say. “She’s living in some cabin on the edge of a national forest. She’ll be out the back door and up the wash if she even hears a car pull up the driveway.”
We put out feelers through the sheriff’s department. They agreed we have reasonable cause to suspect this person of interest might be a suspect. That was a firm ground on which to continue our investigation.
Frank and I decided to bipedal up the driveway at twilight and surround the place. The moon was coming up on the ridge and pounded the ponderosa into silhouette. I knocked on the thick pine door. A dog started barking. Frank caught them barreling out the back door of the log house right into our custody.
The two them made an unlikely Bonnie and Clyde. More like beauty and the beast, I’d say. War Baby was a local musician who played with the Crooked Comix. He had a reputation as a blues poet and vagabond. He was something like forty-five with gray flecks in his black beard and he was running off with Belly, forever twenty-five.
I asked Belly why she was running. She claimed she wasn’t. She just met this nice guy at the casino and went home with him. Was that against the law? So I’m wondering aloud why a murdered D.A. might have her number scratched on the inside of a matchbook, shoved down into his front right pocket?
“How should I know?” she said. “I didn’t write it. At least it wasn’t my social security number.”
Belly explained that she never met the D.A. The bartender must be mistaken. I open an evidence bag, pull out the matchbook and flip it open with tweezers. “Is that your handwriting?”
She nodded. “Yes, but I can’t explain why he had it.”
The sheriff stood beside War Baby, whose hands were cuffed behind his back. “Can we charge him with anything?”
I shake my head.
The bartender left her job at the casino and took a Greyhound to Portland. That’s where we lost her.
David Memmott has published six books of poetry. His most recent book is the novel Canned Tuna (Redbat Books, 2017). A Rhysling Award winner, Spur Award finalist, Fishtrap fellow and Playa resident, his work with Wordcraft of Oregon earned three fellowships in publishing from Literary Arts. Inc. (Portland). He founded and now serves as a contributing editor for Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism. A special feature on his digital art appears online at Serving House Journal and a gallery can be viewed on his website, www.davidmemmott.com.