Rebecca Ranghorn is a private investigator. Her specialty: cheating husbands. They can run, but they can’t hide from her. But now she’s on the run after being framed for murder. A lowlife Dallas businessman is on the floor of her office with a bullet in his head. Her bullet. The police would probably thank her for killing the creep, but they would still have to arrest her. So, she goes undercover, taking a job in the dead man’s sleazy topless bar to track down the real killer.
Read the four-chapter excerpt…
Monday, 5:43 p.m.
Rebecca Ranghorn stared at her noisy wall clock. Each tick felt like a little hammer pounding at the back of her skull. The four aspirin had done nothing for her headache.
She commanded the clock to be silent.
It ticked on.
Her sanity hanging by a thread, she jumped up from her chair, ready to quick-draw her pistol like a Wild West gunfighter, and blow the damn thing to kingdom come.
Rebecca was an imposing figure: a lean, six-foot frame, long brown hair pulled back tight, steely eyes, and a kick-ass attitude.
Her desk phone rang, and her head nearly exploded. “Rebecca Ranghorn Investigations,” she barked.
“Becca, I’m so sorry. I had a flat tire, and—”
“—it’s okay, Gabby.” She sat down. “But instead of you coming here, why don’t we just meet for dinner? I’ve got an errand to run in a few minutes. But I could meet you someplace at around 7:00.”
“I really need to talk to you privately, if you don’t mind. I can be there in fifteen minutes.”
“Okay. I’ll wait. But my secretary has already gone home. So, just knock, and I’ll come out and let you in.”
Maybe Gabby had something stronger for a headache. Like opium. Rebecca was no druggy. But right now she couldn’t think of anything over-the-counter that would do the trick.
She got up, and snatched the battery out of the wall clock. Ah, silence. But after a few seconds she realized the silence might be even worse than the ticking. She sat back down at her desk, took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly.
Rebecca was excited to see her old buddy. But why wouldn’t he tell her what this was about? They’d had no contact whatsoever since high school. She had no idea what he’d been up to for the past fifteen years.
Maybe he had a cheating wife. Surely he hadn’t killed somebody. Was that why he didn’t want to meet in public? Was he running from the cops? Didn’t sound like the Gabby she knew. But, then again, a person can change in fifteen years.
Rebecca no longer worked murder cases. Not since college, when she was partnering with her dad.
She caught cheaters, all over Dallas. That was her thing. Snooping. Gathering evidence—usually with her video camera. A little movie, starring the husband and the other woman, usually gave the wife all the leverage she needed in divorce court. The husbands hated Rebecca for it, and sometimes threatened her.
“Bitch, I’ve got half a mind to jam my fist right down your throat.”
“Try it, and I’ll pull my gun and blow your damn balls off.”
In truth, she had never shot anyone, and didn’t even know if she could. She was impressive at the shooting range. But those targets weren’t breathing. Good thing Rebecca was a stone-cold bluffer. Randy Ranghorn had taught his daughter well.
She leaned back in her rickety office chair, and tried to relax her headache away—imagining a steamy hot bubble bath. Soaking for an hour. An occasional toe to the faucet handle, releasing an influx of heat when needed. Reading a romance novel in the soft light of a dozen scented candles.
Someday she would take that bubble bath. But tonight would probably end like most other nights. Five minutes under the showerhead. Collapsing into bed. Too tired to even turn off the lamp.
Most women would be skittish about hanging around an empty office after hours. Particularly in a mostly vacant strip mall. But the rent was cheap. And Rebecca had learned to ignore the slight stench of mildew in her office.
If she screamed for help, nobody would hear her. But Rebecca wouldn’t scream. She’d reach under her suit jacket for the blue steel pistol snuggled inside her shoulder holster.
She unlocked the bottom desk drawer, picked up the handcrafted wooden case, and placed it on top of her desk. Her dad’s old Smith and Wesson Model 27 revolver held such strong memories. She took it out of the case and aimed at an imaginary criminal.
But the good memories were always followed by the bad: that horrible night when she found him in a pool of blood, on the floor of that abandoned old house.
His gun was still holstered. The drug dealer had caught him by surprise. Three shots to the back. Damn coward.
But her dad’s old revolver was for more than just memories. Rebecca cleaned it regularly, and kept it loaded, as a backup weapon. It gave her the feeling that her dad was there with her. That he always had her back.
She heard a noise from the reception area. Perhaps her young secretary had forgotten something and come back for it. Wouldn’t be the first time. “Wendy?”
Her door swung open, and Big Bill Smotherburn stepped into her office, turning sideways to clear the doorway. At 6-foot-3, 350 lbs., he could knock down a door, frame and all, just by bumping into it.
She pointed the revolver at him. “You son of a bitch. How did you get in here?”
He seemed no more threatened by her gun than if she were holding a lollypop. “So, this is the office of Rebecca Ranghorn, Private Investigator.” He looked around as though he were actually interested. “What a dump.” He grinned. “Mind if I have a seat?”
“Mind if I blow your damn head off?”
“Now, now, Rebecca. You’re not gonna shoot me, and we both know it.” He walked over to the metal chair sitting in front of her desk.
“Wanna bet?” She released the safety, and aimed the gun at his head.
“Look, I didn’t make it this far in life without being a pretty good judge of character.” As he eased himself down onto the chair, it groaned in protest.
“What do you want from me?”
He set two cups on her desk. They were from her coffee bar in the reception area. “I want you to get your client to back off.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Her head was still throbbing.
“Yes, you do. Carly Cinaway.”
She hesitated. “I don’t tell my clients what to do.”
He reached into his suit coat pocket.
She cocked the gun. “Careful.”
He pulled out a flask and unscrewed the lid.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“It’s tequila. Your favorite brand.”
“I don’t have a favorite brand. I don’t drink…anymore.”
He poured a few ounces into each cup. “I’m here to celebrate with you.” He picked up one of the cups.
“Really? What are we celebrating? The fact that you’re headed for prison?”
“I’ll be happy to tell you as soon as you join me.” He held up his cup and nodded to hers.
Rebecca knew she shouldn’t. It could be drugged. And, besides, she was afraid she was becoming an alcoholic. Her mind said No. But her pounding headache said YES, PLEASE. “You first.”
“You think I’ve come here to poison you?” He laughed. “My dear, if I had wanted you dead, your cute little ass would already be in the morgue.” He drank half of the tequila in his cup. “I don’t do business that way.”
Rebecca picked up the cup with her left hand, and took a sip. It didn’t taste funny.
She gulped it down. It was so good. Better than sex. Although, it had been a long time.
“That old beat-up Lincoln sitting out front is a piece of shit.”
“Hey! That was my dad’s car.”
He held up his hands. “I apologize. It was a great automobile—in its time. But not anymore. And it’s just not you, Rebecca. Picture yourself in a brand new shiny convertible. Imagine how hot you’d look driving around town.”
“What’s your point?”
He carefully and slowly reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a thick envelope, and dropped it on her desk.
“You’re not seriously trying to bribe me?”
“Of course not. I’d like to make a purchase.” He pointed to the envelope. “Go ahead. Count it. Make sure there’s fifty thousand in there. I think that’s more than a fair price for an amateur movie.”
“Carly told you about the video.”
“Wasn’t that foolish of her? She even admitted she didn’t have a copy yet. Obviously, my offer is for the original and all copies.”
Rebecca slammed her empty coffee cup down on the desk. “You’re disgusting. I can’t get it out of my mind—you and her young daughter. How do you sleep at night?”
“We were two consenting adults having a little fun.”
“She told me she was 21. It’s not my fault she lied. How was I to know?”
“You’re a dirty stinking pig.”
“Can I help it if women throw themselves at me?” He laughed. “Look, the truth is she wanted a job.”
“She’s a high school student.”
He shrugged. “What can you do? Girls lie to get what they want.” He wagged his long, fat index finger at her, as though it were a magic wand. “But don’t you think for one minute that Mrs. Cinaway is going to win this thing. I have some very expensive lawyers. All she’s going to do is humiliate her daughter in open court. And for what? Nothing.”
“If you’re so sure about that, why are you here offering me fifty thousand dollars?”
“Look, Rebecca, I’m a practical man. By handling it this way, everybody’s happy. Once I have all the copies, I’ll give you another fifty thousand—for your client.”
“What about her daughter?”
“I’ll take care of her myself.” He grinned.
Rebecca began to feel very drowsy. “You did put something in my drink.” She tried to point the gun at him. But she could not raise her arm. Her whole body went limp and her torso fell forward, onto the desk. She couldn’t find the strength to even open her eyes. But she could still hear him talking.
“Put that thing down,” he said.
The last thing she heard was a gunshot.