Suspicious Mimes

Suspicious Mimes
Virginia Brown

July 2012 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-099-2

The third book in the Blue Suede Mystery Series.
 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

"Back Cover


The Elvis impersonators were dead ringers for the King. Very dead.

Harley Jean Davidson’s job as a Memphis tour guide is about to get even stranger than usual.


"Hey,” she called, "last stop for all Elvi. This is it, sir. Sir?”

He didn’t respond, just remained in his seat on the bus, staring out the window. Maybe he’d gotten cold feet about the Elvis contest. With a sigh, Harley walked to the back.

"Hey, buddy,” she said when she reached his seat, "we’re here. Time to go on stage and sing your heart out. Knock ’em dead.”

When he still didn’t respond, Harley put a hand on his shoulder to give him a slight shake. He slumped forward, his head hit the back of the seat in front of him, and she jumped into the aisle. The hilt of a knife protruded from his back. She froze. This couldn’t be happening. Not to him, not to her, again.

She leaned closer, and the rusty smell of blood made her stomach lurch. Backing slowly away, she fumbled at her waist for the cell phone that she now kept tethered to her with a chain, and hit speed dial. The police dispatcher answered quickly.

"Nine-one-one?” Harley said in a voice that sounded a lot calmer than she felt. "We have another dead Elvis.”


Virginia Brown is the author of more than fifty novels, including the bestselling Dixie Divas Mysteries and now, the Blue Suede Memphis Mysteries, starring Harley Jean Davidson. Look for new books in both series, coming in 2012 and 2013.

Reviews

"Suspicious Mimes is a rockin' good time with more mirth than murder - a definite fun and funny homage that could make the King himself roll over in his grave with laughter." -- Maxine McLister, NetGalley

"This book touches all of the most important cozy bases. It has an excellent feel for place. . .authentic Memphis atmosphere" -- Joel Smith, NetGalley

Excerpt

One


"Elvis lives.” Harley Jean Davidson didn’t really mean that, but what else could she say when her father was looking so expectant, waiting for her to comment nicely? "I’m sure he’d be pleased if he could see you dressed up like him,” she added.

Yogi grinned and twirled so that his jeweled white cape flashed in a glitter of green, red, and blue stones her mother had carefully sewn into what looked like eight yards of satin. Sunlight coming through the front window gleamed off the stones, almost blinding her. Good Lord.

"This year, I’ve had to turn down gigs. I’ve been practicing.” Yogi struck another pose, this time with one leg behind him, the other bent at the knee in a half-crouch, his arm flung out in front like he was trying to hail a taxi.

Harley barely kept from rolling her eyes. She dreaded Elvis Week. It came every year in August, the momentum building up to a climactic frenzy of Elvis-related activities downtown and at Graceland. Perhaps she wouldn’t dread it so badly if Yogi hadn’t made a habit of tugging on a white jumpsuit and impersonating The King, whom he still admired more than twenty years after Elvis’s death. It’d been greatly humiliating when she was younger and more concerned with the opinion of her peers. Now it registered a lesser blip on her radar screen.

Over the years, she’d learned there were far worse humiliations her parents could generate than an unnatural attachment to a long-dead celebrity.

When she looked over at Diva, her mother said to Yogi, "This is the year you’ll be famous.”

Strong accolade, considering Diva’s uncannily accurate predictions. She might miss some of the details, but lately she’d been right more times than not. That should please Yogi.

"Of course,” her mother added, "it won’t be quite as you expect, but your name will be linked with Elvis’s in a spectacular way.”

That was a little unsettling. In light of the past few months of unwanted publicity, Harley would have preferred anything but spectacular. "Our family has been in the news quite enough, thank you verra much,” she said, her accent on the last phrase a really bad imitation of Elvis. It made Yogi smile, as it always did.

"This is the year I’ll win first prize,” he said jubilantly. "Always a runner-up, but now I think I have a real shot at it. Preston Hughes dropped out.”

Preston Hughes was Yogi’s archrival in the Elvis impersonator contests. His rendition of Love Me Tender brought down the house every time. The judges loved him.

While Yogi could imitate Elvis fairly well, he didn’t have the vocal range Hughes did.

"I’ll do what I can to be there,” Harley said, "but August is our busiest month, you know. All those tourists wanting to do Graceland means we have every van full. It’s still July, and I did eight runs yesterday in twelve hours. I’d take a load out there, drop them off, go back for another one, bring another group back, take another one. I don’t know how Tootsie kept it all straight, who went where, and when, but he did. He’s amazing.”

Diva smiled. "The candlelight vigil this year will be interesting. Perhaps you should skip it, Harley.”

Harley looked at her. "I’d love to, but that’s our busiest night. All drivers are needed. Mr. Penney would fire me if I missed it. And I’m on shaky ground as it is after all that’s happened.”

"I know. But I have a feeling that you should miss it anyway.”

"I wish you hadn’t said that. I’m already committed. Tootsie would get into a snit if I tried to change on him now. I’d really like to keep my job.”

"You seem very content these days. I’m glad.”

"I am content. While I admit driving a tour bus isn’t the best-paying job around, it does pay my bills. I like doing it. The hours are flexible, the people are usually nice, and when they aren’t, I soon get rid of them and never have to see them again. Look in your crystal ball again. Are you sure that warning isn’t meant for someone else? I’d hate to bail on Tootsie now.”

"Whatever you think best, Harley.”

Harley hated it when her mother said things like that. It always felt like she’d made a bad decision when Diva tranquilly agreed with her.

"Okay. I have to ask. Why do you think I shouldn’t go?” By now Diva was headed to the kitchen and Harley followed along behind her, something she could have done even in the dark since her mother liked wearing tiny bells sewn into her loose, flowing skirts. Diva still dressed much as she had in the late sixties and early seventies, with her pale blonde hair long and down her back, tunic tops and skirts to her ankles, sandals and bracelets and necklaces that she made herself out of crystals and beads and leather. Diva and Yogi lived in their own era, and it didn’t much matter to them that time had moved on.

Diva’s reply drifted back over her shoulder. "It’s your choice, Harley.”

"Yes, I know it’s my choice. That doesn’t mean I’ll make the right choice. Come on. Give me a clue here. You know something I don’t, apparently.”

"Rama and Ovid are concerned.”

Harley couldn’t help it. She rolled her eyes. "What do Rama and Ovid have to do with me? They’re your spirit guides, not mine.”

"What you do affects me. You’re my daughter. But perhaps it’s best that you do go. It will help your father feel so much better.”

"Oh, good lord. That sounds ominous. I’m not going to have to get up on stage at one of his shows and throw my panties or anything like that, am I?”

Diva laughed. "I’m sure not. Oh, will you let King in? The pet door is broken.”

Recognizing she wasn’t going to learn anything else until her mother chose to tell her, Harley went to the back door and opened it. King, her father’s black and white Border Collie named for Elvis, trotted inside. His paws were muddy, and seeing as how there’d been no rain lately, that no doubt meant he’d been up to mischief again.

"I thought the higher fence Yogi put up kept King from getting out,” she said as she gave the dog a pat on the head that promptly elicited an ecstatic wiggle of his entire body.

"It does. Why?”

"His feet are wet. I’ll bet he’s been fishing in Mrs. Erland’s pond again.”

"Perhaps he’s just been in the garden. Yogi hooked up a watering system. King likes to go back there and sample tomatoes on occasion.”

That explained the glazed look in King’s eyes. Yogi’s illegal tobacco grew right next to the tomato plants, and the crop of both had a relaxing effect on those who indulged. Since King couldn’t roll his own and smoke, he’d obviously found eating the tomatoes a nice substitution. Well, whatever kept him from being the neighborhood scourge had to be an improvement.

"He seems much better behaved now,” she remarked. "Maybe he’s settling down.”

"The obedience classes helped, I think. How kind of the Border Collie Rescue to help out.”

"They just didn’t want to get stuck with him. But I’m grateful for anything that keeps me from having to go looking for him at three in the morning.”

"You have an affinity for animals, Harley. I don’t know why you resist it. That’s a lovely talent to have.”

"Right. If you don’t mind pet hair over all your clothes, on the floor, on the furniture, in your food—”

"So how is Sam?”

Harley sighed. "He’s fine. I can’t believe I let Cami talk me into keeping that cat. I had to pay Mr. Lancaster a pet deposit. A hundred dollars just so I can clean out a litter box and pay good money for a scratching post and toys that I use more than he does. He looks at me like I’m crazy when I try to get him to play with them. I think I’ve been had.”

"We don’t often choose animals. They choose us. They’re on a higher spiritual plane than we are and can sense people with good hearts.”

"Which explains why Sam is so picky about who pets him, I suppose. It’s rather nice having a cat that’s smarter than people.”

"He’s not necessarily smarter, just isn’t burdened with preconceived ideas about how things are supposed to be. He sees with all his senses. Just like King.”

While Diva smiled at the dog, who seemed to know good things were being said about him and wagged his tail so hard it should have flown across the room, Harley reflected on the simple truth that animals had some kind of pipeline to objectivity. They never let anything like concern about their next meal interfere with behavior patterns that bordered on criminal. If it wasn’t for the cuteness factor, dogs would never have been allowed into that first cave. And she wasn’t at all sure they were domesticated. Cats were definitely still undomesticated, despite the popular belief that they were house pets. They weren’t. They just had good PR agents.

"Listen to this,” Yogi said from the kitchen doorway, and Harley turned, wincing a little at the sight of him still in his Elvis getup. At least his pot belly had shrunk, and with his long sideburns, once he got his annual haircut he’d resemble Elvis pretty closely—if closelyincluded cherubic cheeks and a nose that was a bit short, lips that were a little too thin, and height a couple of inches below six feet. The Elvis contest was the only time he ever cut his hair; the rest of the time he kept it in a ponytail.

"We’re listening,” Harley said as her father hit a few chords on his guitar.

Yogi launched into a pretty good imitation of Elvis singing.

Suspicious Minds. He really wasn’t bad. Even his guitar playing had improved.

"I’ve been taking guitar lessons from Eric,” he said when she complimented him on how good he sounded. "This is the year I’ll win. I just know it.”

Harley couldn’t help a big smile. Yogi was always so certain he’d win, and when he lost, always so determined to win the next time. "I’ll just bet you do win this year.”

He did another Elvis stance. "Thank you. Thank you verra much.”

Time to go. Harley left after the usual farewell rituals and stood on the front porch a minute before heading to her car parked at the curb. Huge oaks hung over the street on both sides, shading it save for a few patches of sunlight.

Her parents’ house was only a few blocks from the University of Memphis—formerly known as Memphis State, and before that, Normal State, the latter no doubt changed when it became obvious it was a more hopeful than realistic name. The Normal neighborhood had gone through many transitions over the years. In the thirties up to the fifties it’d been full of young families, then older families. In the sixties, college kids and hippies painted flowers everywhere, grew pot in closets with sophisticated lighting, then melded like chameleons into yuppies and left it all in a shabby air of neglect.

In the past decade or so, the transition had started all over again. Some of the older families like hers had stuck it out, but some of the houses were divided into rented rooms for university students. Now younger families had started buying and renovating the older homes in the area. Most of the families at this end of Douglass Street were older. On the other end, swing sets and kids’ toys littered yards like some kind of plastic nuclear blast.

A wide front porch ran the length of her parents’ bungalow-style house. In summer it held chairs, in winter it held hardy plants. Now it held Harley’s younger brother. Eric was just coming up the steps onto the porch. Tall, thin, and nearly always dressed in black, he smiled when he saw her. "Hey, cool chick.”

"Hey, dude.” Standard greetings over, she asked him about his art classes the coming year at the University of Memphis, the heavy metal rock band he was in, and if he’d be going to the big Elvis finals competition with their parents. Provided Yogi made it that far.

He shook his head, and afternoon light glittered off the earring in one ear. "Not this time. We’ve got a gig that night. Thank god.”

Harley completely understood. "Yeah, I have to work. I hope. What color do you call that on your head? It looks pink.”

He brushed a hand over the gelled hair standing four inches high on his scalp. "Fuchsia. It didn’t turn out quite like I wanted.”

"That’s a relief. I’d hate to think you were going for that look.”

"I’m thinking of shaving my head and tattooing the hair on.”

"Now there’s a look guaranteed to break a mother’s heart. I’ll be glad when you grow out of this difficult stage. Think it’ll be any time soon?”

Eric just grinned. "Maybe. Maybe not.”

That was the thing about her family. They just drifted along at their own speed, heedless of convention or opinions, happy to just exist. Why couldn’t she be like that? No, she had to be in this phase where she questioned everything about her life: her job, her direction, why she was still unmarried at nearly thirty, and even if she ever wanted to get married.

Not that she did without male companionship. While she refused to think of it as a bona fide relationship, she certainly enjoyed all the perks of keeping company with Mike Morgan, the hottest undercover cop in Memphis. Three months, and things just got hotter. She liked to tell acquaintances that they’d met over murder. It was certainly a conversational icebreaker. And very nearly true.

So what if the beginning of their relationship had been a little rocky? It’d smoothed out. Perseverance and tolerance helped. Given his line of work, the sharp edges were understandable, if not always desirable. While most of the time, she saw only a killer bod, electric blue eyes, dark hair that was usually a little shaggy around the edges, and a grin that made her stomach do funny flips, he had another side that she wouldn’t want to confront in a dark alley. Or even at high noon. She’d only caught a glimpse of it a few times, and wasn’t especially eager to see it again. She liked him much better when he was agreeable, even if a little intolerant about her stumbling over corpses.

Later that evening, Morgan reminded her about his intolerance of her new direction in life. "Over two months without you finding a body or two lying around.” He blew into her ear and she shivered. "I’m glad to see you’ve reformed.”

"I like to think of it as keeping better company, thank you.”

"No jewelry thieves, no smugglers—what do you do with all your spare time?”

She slanted her eyes at him. "When I’m not being asked annoying questions by a naked man in my bed, I knit scarves for the homeless and hang out on street corners. It’s not like I tried to find bodies, you know.”

"So you say. Baroni must be delirious with relief.”

"Bobby,” she said, "is a jerk.”

"That’s not a nice thing to say about an old friend. How would he feel if he heard you?”

"He’s already heard it and didn’t seem too bothered. We’re not speaking at the moment. Sometimes we do that.”

Mike laughed softly. "Do I want to know what happened?”

"Probably, but I’m not going to tell you.”

He rolled over on top of her and pinned her arms back to the pillows. "I have ways of making you talk, y’know.”

She looked up with a smile and whispered, "Do your worst, copper.”

"How about,” he whispered back as he moved over her in a most intriguing way, "I do my best instead?”

"I’m up for it.”

He smiled. "So am I.”

Oh yeah.

Tootsie looked a bit frayed when Harley showed up for work a little earlier than usual the next morning. The phone was ringing, and paperwork had piled up on his desk.

"You look like you had a bad night,” she said, plopping the leather backpack she used as a purse down atop his desk. "Want me to help out?”

"Grab the phone. Take a name and number and tell them we’ll call back.” He looked up at her, frustration in his eyes.

"This time of year is always a bitch.”

"Isn’t it?” She answered the phone for a few minutes, and when it finally stopped ringing, blew out a breath of relief. "I don’t know how you do it. Some of these people are downright rude if they don’t hear what they want to hear.”

Tootsie batted his eyelashes. "I use my Southern charm. Works every time.”

She grinned. "Must be why I’m not very good at it. I failed that class.”

"You just spent too much time in California. It was all that commune living as a child. Southern charm is usually a requirement here.”

"Not for everyone. You do recall my Aunt Darcy and cousins?”

"Ah yes. There are those who don’t show up for class. What’s up?”

She got up from the chair and perched on the edge of his desk while he got back to the computer. "I don’t suppose you’d schedule me for airport runs during the candlelight vigil? Or taking tourists to Beale Street? Or Victorian Village? Or AutoZone, or—”

"I’d be happy to, but Charlsie already put in for the airport, and Jake got Beale Street, and Sharon took Victorian Village. Since your time off, they have seniority. I did have a Dixon Art Gallery run, but you’re still banned from there so I sent Lydia. Sorry, baby.”

Harley sighed. "I understand. I don’t like it, but I understand. Of course, if any of them get sick, I get first chance at their run. Deal?”

"Deal.” Tootsie laughed. "Just don’t get any ideas.”

"You know me so well.” She smiled. Thomas "Tootsie” Rowell was really one of her best friends. He’d hired her immediately when she’d answered the ad in the paper, and they’d gotten along famously ever since. She even attended his shows at times, where he dressed up like Cher or Madonna or Liza Minnelli, or whoever caught his fancy.

Hard to admit, but Tootsie was more gorgeous as a woman than most women. He wasn’t much taller than she, only about five seven to her five six, and borrowed her dresses from her corporate days of wining and dining. She hated to admit he looked better in them than she ever had. But then, she was much more comfortable in jeans and a tee shirt anyway.

Evening dresses had never been her style, and it probably showed every time she wore one. Most of the time liked her job as a tour driver and occasional taxi service. That depended on where she was needed most, since the company had recently branched out into offering short runs as well as the regular tours. It’d taken a while to get the licensing and regulations straight, and required more training for the drivers so everyone could get their piece of the financial pie. But more vehicles were added to the fleet and all the drivers qualified.

It wasn’t like her former job in corporate banking. If she disliked the clients, she got rid of them at the end of the day, where before she’d had to deal with them on a regular basis. Not to mention several tiers of former bosses, some of whom were nice but most of whom were stereotypical jerks.

Maybe she should have finished college, but at the time it hadn’t seemed nearly as important as it did now. Ah, her shallow youth was behind her. She was now entering the halls of maturity. Things could be worse.

Tootsie snapped his fingers in front of her face. "Hello? You in there?”

"Sorry. Just thinking how lucky I am to still have a job.”

"Baby, you just don’t know.”

"Sure I do. You went to bat for me. I’m convinced you’ve got something on the ogre. If you didn’t, I’d have been out the door back in May.”

"Don’t get too comfortable. And for pity’s sake, don’t go around finding any more dead bodies.”

"Which makes me wonder—is there such a thing as finding live bodies?”

Tootsie rolled his eyes. "Sometimes you act so blonde.”

"I am a blonde.”

"I know. But you’re usually a smart blonde. There’s a run you can take this afternoon. I know it’s one you’ll like. Elvis impersonators.”

"A taxi run? I thought I was scheduled for Tupelo.”

"They cancelled at the last minute. Fortunately for you, we have this one.”

She sighed. "I’m in hell.”

"Not until two o’clock, baby.”

By two-thirty, Harley was rethinking the entire tour guide thing. Just getting around town was a feat of luck and persistence. But now her ears hurt as well. All the Elvises sang at the same time—is the plural of Elvis called Elvi? she wondered, then winced at a particularly loud mix of Blue Christmas, Don’t Be Cruel, and Kentucky Rain.

Normally—and separately—she liked those songs. All at the same time, however, they made her want to ram the van into the nearest telephone pole. As soon as she dropped these guys off at the hotel for their contest, she intended to go to the nearest drug store and buy ear plugs.

When she pulled into the covered parking area to unload her passengers, she managed a smile as she told them she’d be back for them at eight, and reminded them that if their schedule changed they were to call her cell phone or the offices at Memphis Tour Tyme.

A rather portly Elvis paused in the door and said, "Thank you, thank you verra much” as he got out. If she had a nickel for every time she’d heard that or would hear that in the coming month, she could retire.

However, she just said, "You’re welcome, Elvis. Good luck.”

As always, she glanced back to make sure everyone was out before she left, and only one guy remained in the van. He was in the very back on the last seat.

"Hey,” she called, "last stop for all Elvi. This is it, sir. Sir?”

He didn’t respond, just remained in his seat staring out the window. Maybe he’d gotten cold feet. She didn’t blame him.

Grown men dressed up like Elvis and sweating on a stage had to be daunting. She should know. After all, Yogi went every year. It was his only brand of religion, other than his government conspiracy theories. The last she understood, but the first she found inexplicable. "Sir? Hey, Elvis?”

He still sat there staring out the window, and with a sigh, Harley got out of the van and went around. She’d get him out with a can opener if she had to, but dammit, he was getting out. She deserved someplace quiet for a while before she had to deal with the ride back to their hotels.

"Hey, buddy,” she said when she reached his seat, "we’re here. Time to go on stage and sing your heart out. Knock ’em dead.”

When he still didn’t respond, Harley put a hand on his shoulder to give him a slight shake out of his trance. He slumped forward, his head hit the back of the seat in front of him, and she jumped into the aisle. The hilt of a knife protruded from his back. She froze. This couldn’t be happening. Not to him, not to her.

Maybe it was a mistake. A bizarre, cruel joke. She leaned closer, and the rusty smell of blood made her stomach lurch. Backing slowly away, she fumbled at her waist for the cell phone that she now kept tethered to her with a chain, and hit speed dial. They answered quickly.

"Nine-one-one?” she said in a voice that sounded a lot calmer than she felt. "We have another dead Elvis.”

Two

"Give me a description of all the other passengers.”

Harley stared at the uniformed officer. "Black hair, long side burns, white jumpsuits—you’re kidding, right? They all looked like Elvis.”

This was crazy. She had twelve passengers listed on her schedule of pickups, but there had been thirteen on board. None of the twelve remaining passengers on her list of pickups knew the extra, or so they said. Somehow, he’d slipped in on her. She should have counted heads as they boarded. Then maybe she’d have noticed an extra passenger.

Shivering despite the afternoon’s heat, Harley once more gave the officer a run-down of her schedule. The crime scene unit white van and a van from the morgue had arrived, and the area swarmed with police cars. Yellow tape screened off her MTT van, flashing blue lights cordoned off the parking lot, and there she stood in the middle of it all. It was just too familiar.

"Dammit, Harley.”

She sighed. That was familiar, too. Unfortunately. She turned, managing a smile as Bobby Baroni approached. As a homicide detective, he always found things out too quickly. As a childhood friend who’d been party to—and often instigator of—one too many pranks in their old neighborhood, he knew her too well. Not only that, Bobby had that Italian macho thing going on, where he always had to be right. Or maybe that was just a male thing.

Even in the heat, he had on a suit and tie, a world’s difference from the clothes he’d worn as a teenager. Somehow, the suit made him seem more remote, almost like a stranger instead of a guy she’d hung around with all through junior high and high school. College really did change some people. Or maybe life did the changing.

When he reached her, she tried to sound casual and asked, "Hi, Bobby. How’s it going?”

He shook a cigarette out of a pack he took from his pocket, lit it, and squinted at her through the smoke. "Funny you should ask. I was sitting at my desk, happy I’d gone nearly two months without you being involved in a murder, and then came the phone call. I should have known better.”

"Really, Bobby. I’m not involved. I’m just the unlucky—and I’d like to point out unwilling—witness.”

"Yet you are here. With a dead man in the back of yourvan. How do you explain that?”

"You have such a suspicious nature. Does your mother know you’re smoking again?”

"I get paid to be suspicious. And there are things my mother is better off not knowing. Can you tell me how the vic got stabbed in a van full of people without anyone noticing?”

"A bomb could have gone off and no one would have noticed. They were singing. All at the same time, and all different songs. It was horrible.” She shuddered again. This time it wasn’t because of the singing, but the memory of the dead Elvis slumped in the back seat of the van.

Bobby looked at her a little more closely. His family was Sicilian, a long line of shopkeepers and merchants who’d immigrated to America for a better life sometime in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was entirely possible her Irish ancestors had done business with them way back then, since many of the early Italian and Irish immigrants to Memphis had first settled along the river front. Her Irish ancestors had branched out to become farmers, and his family had done well with grocery markets and liquor stores. Both had no doubt dabbled in bootlegging. It’d been quite profitable during Prohibition.

"You okay?” Bobby asked, and she shrugged.

"I should be getting used to dead bodies by now, but somehow, I’m not.”

Bobby nodded, took a last puff off his cigarette, then dropped it and ground it into the hot pavement. "Don’t leave town,” he said as he walked off to interview the other passengers.

Maybe she should leave town. Bad things seemed to happen to people in her vicinity. It was as if she was a murder magnet lately. She’d gone nearly thirty years with no trouble at all, and suddenly poof!Bodies began popping up everywhere around her. It was crazy.

Sitting glumly on the edge of a concrete planter overflowing with petunias, she had to bite her nails instead of smoke a cigarette, which she really would have preferred. But she’d quit before she’d started her new career as a cadaver dog.

When her cell phone rang, she hesitated. It wasn’t going to be a good conversation, and it didn’t matter who was on the other end. Maybe she shouldn’t answer it. No point in getting even more depressed. But Dixie played louder and louder, so she finally gave in and answered the persistent caller. It was Tootsie.

"Harley, what the hell?”

"I take it you’ve been notified.”

"You could have called to warn me, you know.”

"I could have... should have... would have, but it was kind of a shock finding him like that with a knife in his back.”

"Hon, it seems to me you should be used to that sort of thing by now.”

"Well, perhaps, but does anyone ever really get used to finding bodies? Except maybe the coroner? Or the police? Or soldiers, they must be used to it. Oh, and doctors—”

"Focus, baby, you’re sounding a little hysterical.”

Harley took a deep breath. "I’ve bitten my nails down to the first knuckles. I have nubs for fingers. If I don’t stop it soon, I’ll consider bumming a cigarette.”

"Don’t. Too hard to hold with nubs. Listen, I’ll send someone to pick you up as soon as you’re released by the police.”

"What should I do about the other Elvises... Elvi? What’s the plural? I was wondering about that just before... before I found a dead one in the back seat.”

"Jesus. You really are a basket case. Don’t worry about the other Elvises. I’ll get someone else to take your return trip. I don’t think you need to be driving right now.”

"I’m just fine.”

"Darling, not even close. Stay there. I’m sending someone to get you.”

Maybe Tootsie was right. Her hands were shaking, and she curled her fingers into her palms. Violent death had no resemblance to peacefully laid out bodies in funeral homes, with the soft music and sweet-smelling flowers, the hushed voices and cushioned furniture. This was ugly, abrupt, and seemed a lot more final than lying in a plush walnut coffin wearing make-up and best clothes. She tried not to think about the Elvis’s face, that vacant, sightless stare into eternity.

Another shiver trickled down her spine. She clasped her hands together, crossed her legs at the ankles and waited for someone to arrive to take her away from death.

Just her luck, Mike Morgan showed up as her ride. What was Tootsie thinking? He should know that Morgan had much the same view on her being in the same vicinity of a body as Bobby had. It was terribly inconvenient and very annoying that they now viewed her as some kind of lure for murder.

Mike was in his own car, a vintage red Corvette that he left parked by one of the squad cars. She watched him saunter over to Bobby Baroni and talk to him for a few minutes, and both of them looked toward her. They were talking about her, of course. She had no desire to know what they were saying. It was never complimentary when this sort of thing happened.

It’d be so much easier if Morgan didn’t make her stomach feel all squishy inside when he looked at her. He had that lean-hipped, dangerous look going on, dressed in a black tee shirt, faded black Levis, and what she called his SWAT boots. Somewhere on his body—close to all the masculine equipment he’d been born with—he had probably stashed a few weapons of the lethal variety. Tools of his trade, he called them. She liked his natural tool best.

When he finally started toward her, she got up from the concrete planter. She put her hands on her hips and watched him walk across the driveway. As did a few other women. She didn’t mind. They couldn’t help it. Morgan seemed to have that effect on women.

The best defense is a good offense, she thought, and said aloud, "Damn, what took you so long? My butt’s asleep from sitting on this concrete for the past three hours, and the only thing I’ve had to eat is my fingernails.”

He didn’t smile. "Are you going to make a habit of this?”

"Biting my nails?”

"No, Harley, finding bodies. Baroni thinks you may be a serial killer.”

"Bobby’s still mad because I told him to stay away from Cami unless he was serious. She takes things to heart and he’s a serial boyfriend.”

"Stay out of Baroni’s love life. Dammit, what the hell is going on with you?”

She stared at him incredulously. "You’re mad at mebecause some Elvis got stabbed in my van?”

He looked frustrated and angry. "Has it occurred to you that one of these days I’ll show up at a crime scene and find you laid out? Do you ever think about that?”

"No,” she said sarcastically, "I’m just always happy to see you, too.”

Blowing out a harsh breath, he looked away from her, raked a hand through his dark hair and obviously struggled for control. When he looked back at her, his voice was reasonable but his eyes were still dark blue with frustration.

"How do you think this looks to the department? Next thing I know, internal affairs is going to be breathing down my neck, wanting to know why I’m seeing someone who leaves behind a trail of bodies wherever she goes.”

"Isn’t that your line of work?”

Morgan said grimly, "Most of my arrests are of live bodies, not dead ones. You’ve found more corpses in four months than I’ve found in four years.”

"Well, pardon me if I’ve inconvenienced you. It’s not like I go around looking for them, you know.” She glared at him. Her throat hurt. This was their first real fight since becoming a "couple,” and with her nerves already shredded, tears would be just too humiliating.

"Don’t bother giving me a ride. I’ll call a taxi,” she said stiffly, and turned to walk away.

Mike grabbed her arm right above the elbow and turned her around. "Christ, let’s not argue about it. I’m giving you a ride.”

She pushed his hand off her arm and squared off from him, bristling. "Touch me again and I’ll punch you.”

His brow shot up, but he didn’t reach for her again. "O­kay. So it’s going to be like that. If I say I’d like to take you home, please, does that sound better?”

"That depends. Is this an ‘I want to take you home because you’re upset’ thing, or an ‘I have to take you home to make sure you don’t find another body’ thing?”

"Mostly the first one. Some of the second one.”

She thought about that for a moment, and then nodded.

"Okay. That sounds fair.”

The ride home was quiet, except for the radio. Uncle Kracker sang Follow Me, and Harley drummed her fingers to the beat and stared out the window. Fortunately, it wasn’t too far to her apartment. Pea gravel crunched under the Corvette’s tires when he came to a stop in back of the red brick house divided into four apartments.

"You don’t have to come up,” she said, opening her door and putting her feet out before he even had the brake set. "I’m fine.”

"I’m sure you are. I’m coming up anyway. Unless you tell me I can’t.”

"No, I’m not saying that. I have a feeling it wouldn’t do me any good if I did.” She looked at him over her shoulder.

He turned off the ignition. "You know better than that.”

"Yeah. I guess I do. Okay. Come up if you want.”

It felt so awkward and stiff, when she really wanted it to be like it’d always been before. She wasn’t good at this kind of thing. She did just fine as long as things went along smoothly, but the first bump in the relationship road, and she came unraveled. There was a string of past boyfriends to prove that. Only one long-term love in her life before Morgan, if she didn’t count George, the fish she had released in the Audubon Park koi pond. And, of course, Sam the cat, who’d wheedled his way into her life with a pair of big blue eyes and a few moves that had twice saved her from disaster.

But she’d begun to think Morgan might just be The One. She should have known better. Her track record of failed relationships was nearly as bad as Bobby’s.

Sam greeted her at the door with a disapproving miaoowthat escalated into a chorus of complaints until she poured more dry food into his bowl and added a little canned food to the top of it. Siamese cats could be very vocal, not that she minded too much. She and Sam made a nice duet.

"I have leftover takeout,” she said to Morgan, "if you want anything to eat.”

"If it’s Taco Bell, no thanks. That’s better fresh.”

"Chinese.”

"Sounds good.” He seemed to feel as awkward as she did, and she didn’t know quite how to take that. Was he working up to a break up or just still upset about the dead Elvis in her van?

Only one way to find out.

"So,” she said when she put the heated plate of fried rice and egg rolls in front of him, "is this a break up?”

He gave her a startled look. "What are you talking about?”

"Me finding bodies. You not liking that. Us. Maybe we need to talk about it.”

"Yeah. Well. I’m not really good at that kind of conversation.”

"Me either.” She sat down in the chair opposite him, and Sam immediately jumped up on the cushioned arm to sniff her plate. He purred. Little beggar. She gave him a piece of rice and he gave her a horrified look. Then he leaped down to cross to Morgan, who had chicken fried rice.

Morgan obliged the cat with a piece of chicken, and then looked over at Harley. "Maybe we just need a break from each other. Just for a couple weeks or a month. Something like that. Give us time to think about... things.”

Her throat got tight, but she nodded casually. "I think you’re right. I don’t want you to feel like I’m jeopardizing your job, and lately I can’t seem to stop tripping over bodies. I don’t know what it is. Some kind of murder magnet, I guess.”

One corner of his mouth tucked into a wry smile. "Any chance you can get rid of it?”

"Always a chance, but since I don’t know how I got it, I don’t know how to get rid of it.”

After a moment of heavy silence he said, "It’s just that we’ve got this big case going on, it takes a lot of time and all my concentration. Sometimes it’s a good thing that you’re a distraction. This isn’t one of those times. I think about you when I should be thinking about the case. Now you’re mixed up in another screwy murder case, and I’ll be worrying about you. If I knew—”

"No, it’s okay. Really. I understand. And I don’t blame you. I worry about you, too, and when you’re on an undercover assignment, you don’t need to be thinking about anything else. I couldn’t stand it if I caused you to be hurt or killed.”

It was even more awkward after that, and when he left, she gave him a kiss on the cheek and closed the door behind him. Sam, perched atop the back of the off-white cushioned chair in the living room, paused in washing his face with his paw to look up at her quizzically.

"Looks like I blew another one,” she said, but it didn’t seem to make any difference to the cat. He went back to washing his face. She threw out the rest of the Chinese, washed up the dirty dishes, cleaned cat hair off the chair and poured herself a glass of sweet tea from the pitcher she kept in the refrigerator. Then she went out to sit on the small balcony that overlooked Overton Park and the zoo. White concrete banisters curved into graceful knots next to red brick walls. She sat in her chair, propped her feet up on the railing, and sucked down nearly half of the tea in one or two gulps. Early evening silence began to settle on the neighborhood. Rush hour traffic had eased, joggers and mosquitoes came out, and people walked their dogs in the park.

It was a great place to live. A stately, dark-red brick structure that looked more like an old house than an apartment building because it had once housed a single family, it now held four separate apartments. Concrete balconies and curvy masonry trim were kept a bright white, and the magnolia tree in the front yard looked to be at least thirty feet high. It had survived all storms so far, and creamy blossoms that smelled lemony sweet grew big as dinner plates every year. Oak trees shaded the back, and hedges along each side of the green front yard muffled noise from the street and provided shelter to so many birds it sounded like an aviary most of the time.

The neighborhood was a mix of one-family homes and apartment buildings like this one, a quiet area of Memphis, or as quiet as it could be with the busy thoroughfare of Poplar Avenue only a stone’s throw away. At night, she heard the shriek of peacocks and the roar of lions and tigers in the zoo. During the day, the grumble of city bus engines drowned out other sounds. In the summertime, the nights held the busy whine of mosquitoes looking for their next meal. She slapped at one on her arm and thought about going inside.

Her house phone rang. Suddenly, going inside wasn’t that appealing. Phone calls these days rarely held good news. There was the chance it could be a harmless call, but why be foolish? While she debated, it rang again and her answering machine clicked on. Diva’s husky alto drifted out the open doors. "Harley, nothing is forever, not even the bad times.”

That was so Diva. She always seemed to know things.

Very disconcerting. Of course, Diva could mean anything from Sorry you found a dead body to Sorry you can’t find that ten dollars to balance your checkbook. But knowing Diva, it was about the other calamity in her daughter’s life. Morgan.

Sighing, Harley got up and went inside to pick up the phone. "I know,” she said into the phone.

"This will pass, Harley. Then all will be well again.”

Sam jumped onto her lap when she sat down in the chair, and she started stroking his soft fur with her free hand. He began to purr loudly and, oddly enough, it made her feel better.

"Any chance I can hold you to that?” she asked her mother.

Diva laughed softly. "See? You’ll be fine. The circle must be completed.”

A soft throb started behind her eyes, and Harley put her fingers to her temples. "What circle? Or do I want to know?”

When Diva went off into her talk of mantras and chakras and chi and spirit guides and all that other stuff she believed in, Harley thought about the baker’s dozen of Elvises that had been on the van. One of them had to be the killer. The guy didn’t stab himself in the back. If she went over the list of passengers to be picked up at the hotels, maybe she could remember who got on where. The odd man out would be the killer. This time, though, she intended to give the info to Bobby and not go off on her own. It only caused more trouble.

And right now, that was the last thing she needed.

Maybe she should go on vacation. Get some fresh air, see new sights, leave town for a while until this all blew over.

"Harley?” Diva said, sounding like she’d said her name a few times before.

"Sorry. Just focusing on what I should do instead of what I did do.”

"You didn’t cause anything. It’s just that your life force is so strong it generates energy that attracts negative as well as positive. There’s a reason for that.”

"What is it? I’d give a week’s pay to know.”

Diva’s laugh was soft. "It will come to you.”

"Right. Let’s hope it comes in time.”

"It will. Your spirit guides are keeping you safe.”

"I think my spirit guides took a flight to Vegas. How come they never show up when I need them?”

"But they do, Harley. They’re always with you.”

"Today they’re on a winning streak at the blackjack tables. Looks to me like it’s time to get them back on the job.”

"No need. It was the Elvis who died today, not you.” Diva had a point.

Harley thought about that while she was brushing her teeth before bed. There had been some narrow escapes lately. Bobby had said it was sheer dumb luck that kept her alive, but what did he know? He never gave her enough credit. And Morgan—well, obviously he didn’t give her much either.

Not that she could blame him. A brief inspection in the bathroom mirror was reason enough for any man with half-decent eyesight to run the opposite way. The gelled blonde spikes of her favorite hairstyle had gone limp. She looked like a drowned hedgehog. Her hair was a little too long to stick up like it should, anyway. Maybe it needed to be cut again. Or grown out. Such a major decision required another opinion. She turned to look at the cat sitting atop the closed toilet lid.

"What do you think, Sam? Should I let my hair grow out or get it cut?”

Sam offered no opinion either way. He continued to clean his face with a paw and ignore her plight. Just like a male.

Never there when you really needed them.

That made her think of her latest purchase. A sexy pair of red silk panties she’d bought at Victoria’s Secret and tucked into her underwear drawer for a special occasion. She’d planned on wearing them for Morgan. A surprise for him since her usual choice was plain white cotton bikinis and a sports bra. Not exactly sexy, but she’d never heard any complaints.

Now, of course, he’d miss the red silk panties. Damn him.
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