Rebecca Ranghorn – Texas P.I. 4

Monday, 10:47 p.m.

Rebecca and Gabby jumped into his Honda Civic and he drove out of the motel parking lot. “So, I can understand why somebody would want to kill Big Bill. But why frame us for it?”

“The bigger question is how they framed us. They must have bugged my office. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have known the precise time to kill Big Bill and get out of there before you arrived.”

“Maybe they got lucky. Maybe they had no idea I was coming, and just happen to leave before I got there.”

“Are you sure they left? Did you check my closet?”

“No. I didn’t even think about it. I was too freaked out by the whole thing. My first thought was to get you out of there before the cops showed up.”

“Because you figured I shot him.”

“No. I mean—I wasn’t sure. I just knew you were in big trouble.”

“You were in trouble too, since you owed him thousands of dollars.”

“That was my second thought.”

“I believe the killer knew everything. He heard me talking to you on the phone this morning. That gave him all day to convince Big Bill to pay me a visit.”

“I don’t know, Becca. I realize this is your line of work. But that sounds pretty far-fetched.”

“Okay. Why were you late for our meeting?”

“I told you when I called. I had a flat tire.”

“What kind of flat? Did you have a nail in your tire or what?”

“No. It was leaking on the side.”

“As though somebody stabbed it with a knife?”

“Oh…yeah. I see what you mean,” said Gabby. “It was to hold me up. To make me late.”

“And to give the killer enough time to wait for the drug to work, and then shoot Big Bill with my gun—with it still in my hand.”

“Oh, my God.”

“He must have followed him into my reception area, and waited for just the right moment.”

“Big Bill drank the drug too. Although, his cup was still half full. And he had three times your body mass.”

“So, he might have just been drowsy,” said Rebecca.

“Which would have made him slow to react when the killer came in and pointed my gun at him.”

“Or,” said Gabby, “if he knew the killer, Big Bill might not have suspected he was going to shoot him.”

“Then you walk in, see the dead body and call the police. You and I both had motives to kill him.”

“But I didn’t call the police. The killer miscalculated that part.”

“Yeah. But eventually we’re going to be right where he wants us: in jail. Unless we can catch him before the police catch us.”

Neither of them spoke for several minutes.

Rebecca said, “It could have been his wife, Kimberly. She’s a trophy wife. He was 60. She’s 29. But apparently even that’s not young enough. He’s out there screwing teenagers.”

“I wonder if there was a prenup?”

“If not, I’d put her at the top of my list. Next, would come any business partners who stood to gain.”

“Could have been one of those teenage girls.”

“Maybe. But they had sex with him willingly. After two of his waitresses were discovered by a Hollywood agent, the word got out: get a job at Big Bill’s Café Nue, and first thing you know—you’ll be a star. Some girls will do anything to be famous.”

“Some do it just for the money. Those waitresses make a fortune in tips. Ever been there?”

“No.”

“It’s three blocks from my shop.”

“Good. After you do our makeovers, let’s go down there and nose around.”

Gabby stopped for a traffic signal. “Well, there it is. My baby. What do you think?”

It was smaller than Rebecca had imagined. The bold neon letters were spread diagonally across the entire width of the storefront: Gabby G’Blee Boutique. “Very nice, Gabby.”

“It’s bigger than it looks. I keep the high-priced stuff on the second floor, which is adults only—since the accident.”

“Somebody got hurt?”

“No. But one of my dresses did. I don’t allow food or drinks in my shop. But some girl pulled a bottle of grape soda out of her backpack.”

“And spilled it on one of your dresses?”

“The very thought of it makes me cringe. It was completely destroyed. Unsalvageable.”

“Well, I guess when something like that happens, you just write it off your taxes.”

“Oh, Honey, they won’t let me write it off. The IRS doesn’t understand the value of my creations.”

“What was the value?”

“The sales price was ten-thousand dollars.”

“Whoa. You can get that much for a frigging dress?”

“Not a dress. A Gabby G’Blee Original.”

“Then you must be loaded.”

“I’ve only sold two at that price. Most of my designs go for under a thousand. But lately, business has really been picking up. I think I’m finally becoming known.”

“Well, I’ve heard of Gabby G’Blee. So I guess you’re right. I just didn’t know it was you.”

Gabby drove around to the alley. They got out of the car, and she followed him into the back of the building. He flipped on the lights and locked the door behind them.

“Can you see these lights from the front of the store?”

“Worried about the police getting suspicious? That won’t be a problem. I’m always here at night. They’re used to it. And they know my car.”

“So, they won’t bother us.”

“Nope.” Gabby led her to the back stairs. “We need to go up to the third floor.” He began to attack the stairs, two at a time.

Rebecca followed suit. It brought back high school memories. She could almost hear Mrs. Mattison fussing at them for their enthusiastic, but illegal climbing of stairs. Right now she longed for those days— when the only laws she was breaking were in the school handbook.

They walked through a work room, past several large tables and industrial grade sewing machines, to the doorway of his office. “It’s not much, but—”

“—at least it doesn’t have a bloody corpse in it.”

“Yeah.”

Rebecca noticed the pillow and blanket on his couch. “You sleep up here?”

“Yeah. I had to give up my apartment. Couldn’t make the rent.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Hey, it’s not that bad. I’d do anything to keep my shop. Whatever it takes.”

“Don’t say that to the cops.”

“Oh. Right. So, let’s see…” He walked across the work room. Gabby’s Originals hung all over the walls. “Oh, this would be marvelous on you.”

She followed him to a pink, low-cut dress.

He took it off the wall and held it up in front of her. “Try it on.”

“Oh, no, Gabby. I don’t really do pink.”

“Which is why this will be perfect. We need something your best friend wouldn’t recognize you in,” said Gabby. “Do you have a best friend?”

She hesitated. “Melanie. She’s dead.”

“Oh, wonderful. Don’t you have any friends or family that are still breathing?”

“Just you, I guess.”

“That’s sad, Girl. But don’t worry. I’ll be like five friends.”

“You always were.”

“That’s right. Now try it on.”

“Is there a dressing room?”

He put his hands on his hips and cocked his head to the side. “Really?”

“Oh, what the hell.”

She stripped down to panties and bra.

“You always did have lovely legs. And, Honey, your butt is still nice and firm. Good job.”

“Will you quit looking at me?”

“It’s just that I admire the human form…particularly when it’s so damn perfect.”

Rebecca frowned at him.

“A little over the top?”

“Yeah.”

“That bra won’t work. Hang on.” He scurried into his office and came back with a bra in hand. “Here’s what you need.”

“You’ve got a selection of bras in your office?”

“I like bras.” He grinned and shrugged.

Rebecca reluctantly unhooked her bra and took it off.

“Oh, my. You always had perky breasts. Probably from all that weight lifting and basketball.”

“Stop it!” She covered herself with her hands, and turned her back to him. “All those times in high school when I let you watch me get dressed—I thought you were gay.”

“Why? Because everybody else thought so? I told you I wasn’t. And you said you believed me.”

“I did. Sort of.” She spun around. “Well, if you weren’t gay…if you’re not gay, then why didn’t you ever make a move on me? Was I not pretty enough?”

“Not pretty enough?”

“I had zits all over my face. And because I was a tall basketball player who liked to get physical on the court, some of the kids thought I was gay too.”

“I knew you weren’t.”

“Then why didn’t you ever try to kiss me?”

“Because…I wanted to be the strong one in the relationship. And that was never going to happen with you.”

“So, I never even turned you on?”

He smiled. “Oh, I didn’t say that.” He gave her body the once over with smiling eyes.

“Quit looking at me that way.”

“Okay. I’ll try to restrain myself.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“No.”

“Ever been married?”

“No.” He hesitated. “Okay, I know how that looks. But I’ve been busy. How about you?”

“Have I ever been married? No. I’ve had a few boyfriends. In fact, I moved here to Dallas to be closer to a guy I was dating. I really thought we had something. But it didn’t work out. I always seem to scare them off.”

“I’m sorry, Becca.”

“It’s no big deal.”

“Now…the ponytail has got to go. You wear it up most of the time, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“Good. Let it down. Nobody will recognize you.” He went into his office and came back with a brush and a wig. He handed her the brush. “Here you go.”

Rebecca took the brush. “Is that for you?”

“Yep. This is all I need.” He positioned the wig on his head.

“So, you’re going to be the one with the ponytail. You look like Paul Revere.”

“I was going for hippie. Alright, we’ll grab you a pair of shoes on the way out. They’re on the first floor. You still wear a 10B, right?”

“I can’t believe you remembered.”

“Are you kidding? How many times did you throw your smelly basketball shoes at me?”

Rebecca laughed.

“Okay. Let’s go to Café Nue and do some investigating.”

“You like to go there because of the sexy young waitresses.”

He grinned. “Sure. As well as the food. It’s exquisite. I love their chateaubriand with pommes de terre truffée and the Cabernet Sauvignon.”

“I’d rather have a burger with fries and a diet Coke.”

“They have that too.”

As they went down the staircase, Gabby said, “I love the name of the place. Café Nue. It’s French, you know. It means—”

“—I know what it means. Nude Café.”

End of Excerpt
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