Monday, 10:09 p.m.
Rebecca tried to force her eyes open. Her head was spinning. How long had she been asleep? She hadn’t felt this bad since the last time she downed a full bottle of tequila. But she didn’t remember drinking. She glanced over at her alarm clock, but couldn’t see it.
The door opened. Somebody was coming into her bedroom. She rolled to her side, opened the night table drawer, and reached for her pistol—but found a book instead.
A book? She wasn’t at home. She was in a motel room. Rebecca needed a weapon. But instead of a gun, all she had was a Gideon Bible.
“Take it easy. You’re going to be fine.” The man flipped the wall switch, and a lamp came on.
Rebecca’s eyes were still blurry. She threw off the covers, leaped out of bed, and ran blindly at the intruder with all her might.
“Whoa!” He backpedaled into the door.
Rebecca slammed into him at full speed, grabbed his wrists, and plowed a knee deep into his crotch.
He yelped, bent forward, and grabbed himself.
She pushed him hard to the floor, and went for the door knob.
He struggled to catch his breath. “Are you sure you want to go out dressed like that?”
Rebecca looked down. Her vision had cleared just enough for her to see she was wearing only a bra and panties. “Where are my clothes? What did you do to me, you pervert?” She kicked him in the ribs with her bare foot.
“Stop it. I didn’t do anything to you.”
She pulled the blanket off the bed and wrapped it around herself. “Then why am I here? And why did you take my clothes off?” She kicked him again—harder.
“Becca, stop! Please.”
“Yeah, Sweetie. It’s me. I rescued you. If it wasn’t for me, you’d probably be in jail right now—for murder.”
“I’m sure you had a good reason for killing him. Or maybe it was accidental.”
Now she remembered Big Bill breaking into her office and trying to bribe her…offering her a drink. She remembered how she began to feel drowsy. “Bill Smotherburn is dead?”
“Yeah. When I got there, you were passed out across your desk—with a gun in your hand.”
“I do remember having the gun. My dad’s old revolver. I was holding it when Big Bill broke into my office.”
“Well, by the time I got there, he was sprawled out across the floor with half his face blown off.”
“No. No way. I didn’t kill him. There’s no way in hell I killed that bastard. But now the police are never going to believe me—since I left the scene of the crime. What were you thinking?”
“Well, what was I supposed to do? Call the police? Let them see you there with a smoking gun in your hand?”
“It was smoking?”
“Well, maybe not smoking. But it was still warm.”
Rebecca racked her brain. She remembered getting drowsy…and then going completely under. No, wait. Right before she went under, she heard Big Bill say something…and then…a gunshot. She sniffed her right hand. It smelled like gunpowder. “Dammit. Maybe I should turn myself in.”
“How are you going to explain it to the police—if you don’t even know what happened?”
“And how am I going to explain why I ran?” She frowned.
“But you couldn’t have killed him if you weren’t there.”
“My fingerprints are all over the gun, Gabby. And the coffee cup.”
“The police don’t have the gun or the cups. We’ve got them. And I grabbed your backpack too. And don’t worry. I wiped off everything I touched.”
Rebecca let it all sink in for a moment. “I can’t believe this.”
“I’m sorry, Becca. Maybe if I had been on time for my appointment…”
“Why did you undress me?”
“I thought you’d sleep better. I remembered how you always hated to sleep in your clothes. You’ve been out cold for four hours. But I was a gentleman. There was no inappropriate touching.”
She believed him. In high school, kids assumed Gabby was gay. He denied it. But even as his best friend, Rebecca never knew for sure. “I guess you know they’re going to throw you in jail, too—for helping me.”
“I know. Aiding and abetting, tampering with a crime scene, and all that stuff. But none of that is going to matter once we catch the real killer.”
Poor Gabby, she thought. They make it look so easy on TV. “Where are my clothes?”
“They’re hung nicely and neatly in the closet over there.”
“Of course.” She let the blanket fall off her shoulders and drop to the floor as she walked to the closet and began to get dressed.
“Does it bother you at all that I’m watching you put your clothes on?” Gabby got up from the floor and started brushing off his clothes with his hands.
“Why should it? You’ve watched me get dressed a hundred times.”
He hesitated. “I’m not gay, you know.”
“I know,” she said too quickly.
“The whole high school was wrong about me.” He waited. But she did not chime in. “Just because I’m not super macho…”
“The drama club thing is what started it.” She took her pants off the hanger.
“I wasn’t the only boy in drama club.”
“No. But you were the only one designing costumes.”
“Yeah, but I couldn’t understand why everybody didn’t want that job. The beautiful fabrics against the magnificent form of the human body…”
“Bingo. That’s the kind of talk that earned you the nickname, Gabby Girl. At least you don’t have to deal with that stuff anymore.” Rebecca stepped into her pants and pulled them up.
“You’re kidding. Where do you work?” She zipped her pants.
“I have my own business.”
“Wow, that’s great, Gabby.”
“It’s a boutique.”
“Ever heard of Gabby G’Blee?”
She slipped into her blouse and began to button it. “It’s a women’s clothing store. Right?”
“Yes. My own original designs.”
“Well, what happened to Gabby Garnersdale?”
“I had it legally changed to G’Blee. Nobody wants to buy original designs by Gabby Garnersdale. It’s a boring name. And I needed pizzazz.”
Rebecca grabbed her shoulder holster from the closet shelf and strapped it on. “But now, with that name, and the fact that you own a women’s boutique, everybody in Dallas probably thinks you’re gay.” She checked her pistol and put it back in the holster.
“But now I don’t care. And what if I really was gay? Would you still want to be my friend?”
“Of course I would.” Rebecca picked up her backpack from the closet floor, set it on the bed, and opened it. She located her dad’s revolver at the bottom of the bag and took it out to examine it. “Damn.”
“You’re right. It’s been fired. One shot.” She put the revolver back into the bag. “I’ve got to get out of here and do some nosing around.” She slipped into her shoes.
“I’m your driver.”
“Oh, right. My car’s still at my office.”
“The old Lincoln, right? It’s just as well. The cops would have seen you coming from a mile away driving that battleship.”
“True. But I don’t want to get you into any more trouble than you’re already in.”
“Oh, believe me, Honey, I’m in just as much trouble as you are. Maybe more.”
“What do you mean?”
“I owed him money.”
“Big Bill? You borrowed money from Big Bill Smotherburn? Are you crazy? How much?”
“And every time I made a payment, he told me it was just enough to cover the interest. Becca, I was going to be paying him for the rest of my life.”
“Gabby, what were you thinking? Borrowing money from a loan shark?”
“I didn’t know he was a loan shark. I was three months behind on my lease. They were going to evict me. I was going to lose my shop. I couldn’t let that happen.”
“So, you had a motive to kill him.”
“Doesn’t look good, does it?”
“Is that why you were coming to see me?”
“Yeah. I thought maybe you would have some way to help me get out of the mess I was in.”
“Well…I did help you get out of it, I guess. Your loan has been paid in full—assuming Big Bill kept no records. Of course, you may end up in prison. Did you sign a contract?”
“No. He said a handshake deal was good enough for him.”
“This is too coincidental, Gabby. For him to show up at my office right before you got there. Did anybody else know about your loan?”
“His son, Wiley, knew about it. He’s the one who hooked me up with Big Bill.”
“What did you do with the money that was on my desk?”
“There was an envelope with fifty-thousand dollars in it. Big Bill tried to bribe me with it.”
“Why was he trying to bribe you?”
“One of my clients was about to file charges against him, and he thought he could buy his way out of it.”
“Well, I’m sorry, Becca. I don’t know what happened to it, but believe me—there was no money on your desk. No envelope.”
Rebecca sighed. “We’ve been framed, Gabby. Big time. I can imagine what the police are going to think after they talk to Wiley. They know Big Bill’s a son-of-a-bitch. And they know about my hot temper.”
“Not a good combo, huh?”
“Let me lay it out for you. My best friend from high school owes Big Bill Smotherburn thousands of dollars. The three of us meet in my office to discuss the loan. Big Bill is being unreasonable, then verbally abusive. He waves his big fat finger in my face, and throws a few insults. He laughs at us. I lose it and shoot the bastard. We panic and run.”
“You got that right.”
“But we’ll figure this thing out together, Becca. Just like in high school when we used to map out your new basketball moves. That’s how you won Most Valuable Player, three years in a row.”
“This ain’t basketball, Gabby. This is life and death. Whoever framed us is not going to like it when we start snooping around.”
“I understand. But I don’t care. I’m all in.”
Rebecca almost smiled.
“But, Honey, we’ve got to go incognito. We can’t go prancing around Dallas as Rebecca Ranghorn and Gabby G’Blee.”
“That’s for sure.”
“I’ve got a fine little outfit that’s going to be fabulous on you. It’ll give you a completely different look. And I’ll let your hair down. Even I won’t recognize you when I’m done.”
“What about you? What are you going to wear?”
“Well, the first question is whether I should go male or female.”
Rebecca hoped he was kidding.
He laughed. “Not really. I’ve got lots of possibilities for me too. And all of them are male.”