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Chapter 4 - Bonus for a Cape

After Po Po’s interview, the police let them go. They weren’t told to stay in town, but Raina had a feeling they wouldn’t like it if she left the city with the grandmas. She wanted to linger, but the combined glares of Hendricks and the police officer changed her mind. Po Po went to check on Maggie, probably to regale her best friend with news of the body discovery.  

Raina returned to her suite, kicked off her shoes, and collapsed onto the bed. She lay there for several long moments, soaking in the silence. Even though the room was non-smoking, the air quality was only a tad better than the casino floor. After all, it wasn’t like they had separate ductwork for the non-smoking rooms. She took several deep breaths anyway.  

The Western theme hotel-casino was once considered top-of-the-line in its heyday thirty years ago. The cowboy theme continued into the rooms with colors of the desert—mute tans, beige, and accented with iron horseshoes. Now it was struggling to attract tourists against the more modern and expensive hotels on the Strip.

Given the age of the place, she had assumed Matthew was hired to modernize their security system, but she made the wrong assumption. Her fiancé was working on something else entirely. It was annoying that he didn’t tell her about it, but maybe he didn’t think it was worth going into the details. She reached in her purse for her cell phone and called Matthew. Just like last night, the call went straight to voice mail.

“Hi, love. I haven’t heard from you in a few days, and I’m starting to get worried. Things have gotten strange here.” Raina told him everything. “Like I said, strange happenings, and it makes me worry about you. Are you in trouble or something? Please call me back. I love you.” 

Raina hung up, feeling unsatisfied with the message, but she didn’t know what else to do about it. Normally they had a habit of speaking every night and usually got in touch a few times a day, depending on the case he was working. Matthew must have believed this gig was a cakewalk to suggest Raina and the grandmas joined him in Las Vegas. His absence and silence meant something went horribly wrong. 

And to top it off, she secretly worried that Claire Boucher’s murder might have something to do with his freelance gig. She had no reason to investigate the murder…except how could she explain to the police about chasing Claire down the staircase and onto the casino floor? Even now, Raina had no idea why the convention organizer was in her room in the first place. And if there was a possible link to Matthew... 

Raina sat up on the bed. She should call the front desk and find out who was paying for their suite. She grabbed the landline on the side table and dialed zero. The phone rang twice, and someone picked up.  

After the usual greetings, Raina asked, “What name is on the reservation for my suite? My fiancé handed me a key card when we checked in, but he didn’t say if his employer paid for the room or if we’re expected to pay when we check out.” 

She must have sounded plausible because she could hear the front desk clerk tapping on his keyboard. “The name on the reservation is Matthew Louie. He put down his Visa, but I can’t tell if it’s a business card or his personal card. Is there anything else I can help you with?” 

Raina thanked the man and hung up. Her heart sank. Yep, the security upgrade was a cover story. Probably told only for Raina’s and the grandmas’ benefit. In other words, he didn’t expect her to check up on the story…or his absence. 

She curled up into a fetal position on the bed and silently shook. She had about an hour to get her act together before meeting the grandmas for dinner. On the surface, she had to appear like nothing was wrong when everything might be falling apart.

Despite what Po Po said, the two grandmas looked to her to gauge whether or not to go into full-blown panic mode over Matthew’s absence. He wouldn’t appreciate her contacting the authorities if he were working undercover or hiding from the bad guys. And right now, she didn’t have enough information to act. But luckily, asking nosy questions was her specialty.

* * *

Raina walked Poe around the block and waited while he did his business. After checking to make sure the service dog had food and water, she scheduled a pick up with a rideshare app on her phone to a nearby Thai restaurant for dinner. The grandmas loved the idea of an outing since they were just as sick of the restaurant selection at the hotel-casino. 

A few minutes later, they placed their orders with the server. A middle-aged man came by to inquire about the empty chair at their table. 

“Sure, you can take it, but what do we get in exchange for it?” Po Po asked, her eyes twinkling with amusement. “Do we get a song and a dance?” 

The man started gyrating his hips and pumping his arms to some invisible beat. “This good enough?” 

“How about a little more booty?” Po Po said, clapping her hands.

The man promptly turned around and wiggled his flat butt. Half his crack was showing on top of his belt. 

Raina groaned and slid further down in her seat. There wasn’t enough bleach in this world to clean her eyes. A glance around the restaurant showed several people looking at them with open laughter.  

Maggie Louie didn’t say anything, but her open smile was enough to show her enjoyment of the scene. While Po Po was thin and hip, her best friend was well padded and looked like the proverbial granny who liked to bake and knit. Her long silver hair was pulled back into a bun and held in place with chopsticks. She opened her purse and handed Po Po several dollar bills. Raina could see why the two ladies had been friends for over fifty years. Maggie lived vicariously through Po Po.

“Just take the chair and go,” Raina said, her face flaming. This was so embarrassing. Could they get arrested for stuffing money down his pants? Disturbance of the peace?

The man gave them a flourishing bow that could have made a court jester proud. He grabbed the chair and went to join his friends at a nearby table. His friends clapped and whooped when he returned with his prize. 

After the server dropped off their meal, they went through the details of Claire Boucher’s murder. 

“So Brian Anderson is on the top of the suspect list, huh?” Maggie asked. 

“His motive is a stretch for me. Would you kill someone over a missing breakfast spread?” Po Po asked. 

“Yeah. I would kill someone if there’s no coffee in the morning,” Maggie said.

Raina’s eyes widened. It had been years since she had spent as much time as she did with Maggie these last few days. She had always thought her second grandma was a sweet old lady. 

At the look on Raina’s face, Maggie laughed. “Just kidding. I might throw a fuss like a child, but I would only stab someone’s hand with a fork.” She exchanged a look with Po Po and the two ladies burst into laughter. 

The ladies tried to explain the story. Something about a bacon shortage on a road trip decades ago, but Raina didn’t get it. But what she got was a longing for a best friend to share a history. And she hoped Matthew could fill this role in their future.

“What about the NASA girl? What’s her name?” Po Po asked. “I wonder if she’s a rocket scientist.”

Raina refocused on the discussion at hand. She pulled out a notebook and made some bullet points. She might as well get her thoughts organized. “Gloria Tanaka. She’s upset because Claire stole information from her workstation. She could lose her job and reputation.”

Po Po nodded. “That’s our killer. Now we just need her to confess.”

“I’m sure you can beat it out of her,” Maggie said. 

Raina shook her head. “No beatings. We’ll ask her some questions like a civilized person.”

The grandmas gave Raina a doubtful look. 

After dinner, they got a ride back to the hotel-casino. Raina walked the grandmas back to their suite and bid them good night, but she was too jazzed up with nervous energy to go back to her room. She grabbed her name badge for the convention and headed downstairs. From the program, she knew the exhibit hall was open for another half an hour. Maybe someone down there would be willing to talk to her about Claire Boucher.

* * *

The exhibit hall was one open space with pop-up booths in several rows. In the front of the hall was a raised stage with a rock band playing an ’80s song that Raina didn’t recognize. Her grandma probably could have named the band by the outfits they were wearing. To her right was a snack bar counter displaying pastries behind a glass case. For a moment, Raina wondered if leftover pastries would be served first in the morning. Groups in twos and threes still wandered among the booths—most of them in costume.  

Raina had a hard time identifying any of them. She glanced down at her outfit. Her dragonfly print T-shirt and shorts stood out in this crowd and not in a good way. Even the attendants in the booths wore a costume or a T-shirt advertising their favorite band. Her grandma was right. They would need outfits. 

She stopped at the nearest costume booth and searched the rack. Her criteria was simple—something that fit both her body and her wallet. 

The saleswoman came over. She was about five foot seven with emerald green eyes. Her white hair was braided and wrapped around the crown of her head. She had a pleasant, smiling face. “Are you looking for anything in particular?”

Before Raina could reply, a familiar voice cut in from behind her. “How about some sequined jumpsuits? Bonus points if there’s a cape.” 

Raina spun around. “What are you doing here?” 

Po Po wiggled her eyebrows. “I can’t let you have all the fun. I followed you down here. We could have matching outfits and carry guitars.” 

The saleswoman nodded. “What size are you looking for?” 

Po Po rattled off their sizes, and the saleswoman looked through another rack. 

“Guitars? Aren’t they big and bulky?” Raina whispered to her grandma. 

Po Po shrugged. “Yeah, but they look cool. Besides, if we need to, we can hide a machine gun in the case.” 

Raina squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Now she remembered where she got the idea about the mob burying people out in the desert—her grandma’s wild imagination at work. 

The saleswoman reappeared and held up two costumes. One was a white polyester jumpsuit with gold trim and a gazillion crystals sown on the jacket. The other one was a red jumpsuit with golden sequins in the shape of pinwheels. “If you get both of them, I’ll throw in the wigs for free.” 

Po Po’s eyes glittered with excitement, and she reached for the red jumpsuit. “Oh, yeah. My day just keeps getting better.” 

As if sensing an imminent sale, the saleswoman said, “Why don’t you try it on? I have a dressing room in the corner.” She pulled back the curtain to a dressing booth with a full-length mirror. Her grandma disappeared behind the curtain without further urging.  

While her grandma dressed, Raina asked the saleswoman, “Do you know Claire Boucher? I’ve been looking for her all day. I’m having issues with my pass for the convention.” 

The saleswoman shook her head. “No, this is her first year putting together the show. Brian Anderson has been organizing the convention for over a decade, but he got pneumonia a few months ago. Claire was filling in for him. So I’m not surprised if there are issues. It seems like everyone is complaining about something this year.” 

Raina’s ears perked up. “I know there was something wrong with the breakfast in one of the convention rooms yesterday. What other issues are there?” 

“Some money from the ticket sales disappeared. No one knows what happened to it. That’s why there’s so much tension about the shortage of food and booze. As you know, the tickets for this event are not cheap.” 

“Did somebody embezzle funds?” 

The saleswoman shrugged. “Who knows? Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money. They had to raise the booth prices in the exhibit hall to make up for it. I paid an extra two hundred dollars this year. It soured the weeklong festivities for us old-timers. I’ve been coming to this convention with my husband for over ten years.” 

“Are people blaming Claire?” 

“I don’t know. No one has seen her since last night. We tried calling her, but it went straight to voicemail. And someone said she lost her phone yesterday.” The saleswoman shrugged. “Who knows what’s going on? She could be on her way to Mexico with the money.” 

Raina’s eyes widened. Was Claire killed because she stole the money? “What about Brian Anderson? Is he at the convention? What does he say about all this?” 

“He’s around here somewhere,” the saleswoman said. “And of course he’s not happy with what’s happening. But there’s nothing he can do about it. Claire had access to all the accounts while he was in the hospital.” 

Po Po came out and whirled in front of them. “What do you think?” 

Raina wanted to push her grandma back into the dressing booth so she could continue her conversation. 

The saleswoman gave her grandma two thumbs-up. “It looks great on you. I even have a red cape to go with it.” She dug in a cardboard box underneath the display table and pulled out a mini cape. She draped it over Po Po’s shoulders. The bottom rested at her grandma’s waist. 

Po Po stroked the fabric of the cape. “Ohhh! It’s velvet. I like it.” 

“I don’t know. Maybe you should try the white jumpsuit,” Raina said, hoping her grandma would take the hint to go back into the dressing booth.

The saleswoman shook her head. “The red looks good on your granny. You should try out the white jumpsuit. It’ll look smashing with your black hair.” 

Raina sighed. It looked like her info gathering session was over. She tried on the jumpsuit. When she turned her head, she had to do it slowly, or the big stiff collar might poke her eyes.

When Raina came out of the dressing booth, Po Po clapped. “We’ll take them.” 

As Po Po paid for the outfits, Raina studied the program. Tomorrow morning, Brian Anderson would be hosting guitar troubleshooting lessons in the Sunset Room. It looked like her grandma might have her wish after all.  

“Where can we rent guitars around here?” Raina asked, glancing up from the program. 

Po Po did a fist pump. “Oh, yeah.” 

The saleswoman handed back Po Po’s credit card. “Go straight to the front, the third booth on your left has instrument rentals. We get a lot of new guitar players in these events. The minimum rental period is three days.” 

They thanked the woman and made their way to the instrument booth. Raina told Po Po a summary of her conversation with the saleswoman and her plan to look for Brian in the morning.  

“Yikes, it sounds like there is more afoot than just the missing money,” Po Po said. “I wonder if she hid the money in your room.” 

Raina considered the idea and dismissed it. “I would have noticed a wad of cash around the entertainment unit. Tomorrow will be interesting. The police might start questioning the convention attendees. Claire Boucher’s death will be public knowledge by then. I wonder how Brian will react to the news.” 

“Then we better get to the seminar bright and early with a bowl of popcorn to watch the show,” Po Po said. 

They passed several booths selling authentic rock-and-roll memorabilia. Po Po almost made a detour inside a booth, but Raina held onto her grandma’s arm. “We’re here to work, not load up our suitcases.” 

Po Po harrumphed. “I don’t have time at my age to work anymore. Everything I do is for pleasure.” 

Raina rolled her eyes. “I thought you were sixty this week. You still have plenty of time to become a hoarder. Come on.” 

At the instrument booth, her grandma put down a deposit and her credit card information. Luckily, Raina was able to convince her grandma to rent one guitar instead of two. As she lugged all the purchases to the elevator a few minutes later, she wondered if seeking out Brian Anderson in the morning was a good idea. After all, if the police showed up when Raina was at the seminar, the detective might want to question her too.

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Chapter 3 - Dirty Laundry

It took Raina and her grandma fifteen minutes to find the service hall. They had to pretend to be new employees looking for the general manager. The first uniformed employee they asked gave them a suspicious look and directed them to one of the casino floor supervisors. The second employee was more trusting and gestured at the rear wall next to the buffet. 

Raina and Po Po strolled through a set of unattractive double swinging doors and into the service hall with its own freight elevator. The carpeted floor became a beige tile. The wood wainscoting disappeared, and the walls were a drab off white. Even the lighting appeared dimmer as if someone in management was trying to save costs by cutting corners. 

As Raina and Po Po approached the laundry room, there wasn’t anyone in the hallway to keep out busybodies. From the doorway, Raina saw two industrial size washer and dryer sets and white laundry bags stacked in front of them. One bag was partially opened, revealing the victim’s face.  

Raina gasped. She staggered forward, grabbing onto the door frame for support. The victim was Claire Boucher. Raina’s gaze shifted down from the face to the neck. Deep bruise marks circled her neck. Someone had strangled the poor woman. 

She blinked several times, but the scene in front of her didn’t disappear. The harsh fluorescent light of the laundry room washed out all the colors in the world, except for the victim’s red hair. Stainless steel, white floors, white light, and red hair. Bile rose in her throat, and she swallowed several times but couldn’t get rid of the taste in her mouth.  

Po Po patted Raina’s back. “Maybe we should get out of here.” Her grandma’s voice was unsteady. The hand on Raina’s back shook. 

Raina dragged her gaze away from the victim to glance at Po Po. Her grandma’s ashen face snapped Raina out of her frozen position. They had to get out of here before her grandma passed out from the shock. She held onto her grandma’s arm, and they turned away from the doorway of the laundry room.  

“What are you two doing here?” someone snapped from behind them. 

Raina’s head jerked up.  

Willie scowled at them. Next to her was a man in a crisp white shirt, black tie, and black suit. Everything about the man was square—square nose, square jaw, and a square tank of a body. He towered over the tawny blonde in her three-inch heels. His hooded dark brown eyes hid his emotion and thoughts. He would have made a good bouncer. 

“We were heading out to my car.” Raina pointed a shaky finger at the side entrance of the hotel-casino.  

“Why…why is that woman in a laundry bag? Who…who was she?” Po Po asked. There was a tinge of hysteria in her grandma’s voice.  

Raina blinked at a sudden thought. Her grandma didn’t recognize Claire Boucher, but the security team would have seen Raina chasing Claire on the video surveillance before the discovery of her body. The whole thing would make Raina a suspect. In the eyes of the security team, it would look like she had returned to the scene of the crime. Yikes! Coming down here was a serious mistake.

Willie eyed them and spoke over her shoulder. “Hendricks, I thought you posted a guard.”

Hendricks pulled out his cell phone and tapped on it. “Let me find out.” His phone chirped, and he glanced at the message. “She had to go to the ladies room.”

“The pregnant one?”

“Yes.”

Willie pressed her lips into a thin line.

Hendricks gave an apologetic shrug. “She’s the only one available.”

Willie rubbed the temple of her head. “Put Miss Sun and her grandma in the room with the maids. They can’t leave the crime scene until after the police speak with them.”  

Hendricks gestured for Raina and Po Po to follow him. His dark hooded eyes regarded them without any emotion. This was just business for the man. For a moment Raina wondered what other messes he might have cleaned up for the hotel-casino. 

Raina straightened and stood her ground. She didn’t want to be held in a cell like a criminal. After all, this was Las Vegas. How did she know this casino wasn’t run by the mob? They got rid of problems by burying them in the desert sand. No siree. She was staying out here where someone could hear her scream.

“You have no authority to detain us,” Raina said. She didn’t want to sound confrontational, but she wasn’t willing to be a chump either. “We’re more than happy to cooperate with the police, but we’ll stay right here.” 

“How do we know you’re not connected to the mob?” Po Po asked.  

Though Raina still didn’t like her grandma’s pale coloring, at least her voice sounded more like her normal self. 

“We don’t want to disappear.” Po Po made air quotes around the last word. “I’ve seen the movie Casino.” 

Raina suppressed a smile. It looked like her feisty grandma was back, and on the same wavelength with Raina.  

Willie rolled her brandy-colored eyes. “I don’t have time for this nonsense. Just stay here and don’t disturb anything.” 

Willie and Hendricks turned and went into the laundry room. They came outside almost immediately. Willie closed the laundry room door with a napkin from her pocket. Both of them were frowning with that determined look of professionals taking care of dirty business.  

“Get someone to stand guard and wait for the police, Hendricks,” Willie said. “And have someone posted outside the entrance to guide the police back here without going through the casino floors. I don’t want to alarm any of our guests. Text me when the police get here. I need to call corporate.”  

Raina never gave much thought to the business side of the hotel-casino. Was corporate a code word for the mob or did Willie mean a head office somewhere like your average Fortune 500 company? This thought made Raina feel better. A corporation surely didn’t bury bodies in the desert? So they were probably safe enough from the mob. And who put the idea of the mob in her head in the first place? 

Willie strolled away, her heels clicking on the tile floor. Hendricks stood in front of the laundry door, feet spread, hands tapping on his cell phone. Probably to carry out the instructions issued by his boss. 

Raina glanced around at the ceiling and noticed two security cameras in the middle of the service corridor, one pointing back to the main area and one pointing toward the laundry room and side entrance. Hopefully, the cameras recorded who was in the service hall with Claire at the time of her death.  

But if the killer approached this corridor with his or her head ducked down, the second camera would only capture the person’s back. If the person wore baggy clothes, security might not even be able to tell if the killer was male or female. Not much use in a murder investigation.  

Raina shivered at the thought. There was no doubt someone had strangled Claire Boucher and stuffed her in a laundry bag between 5 AM when she was last seen running out of Raina’s room and a few minutes ago. Would she have died if Raina didn’t chase her out into the open? There was no way to tell, but Raina could not help but feel guilty for her contribution to Claire’s demise.  

At this point, the only thing she could do for the poor woman was to help track down the killer. She gave Hendricks a sideways glance. She whispered to her grandma in Chinese, “Distract him for me. I want to look around outside.” 

“I’m on it, Sherlock,” her grandma mouthed.  

Po Po staggered toward Hendricks, flapping a hand on her face. “Young man,” she called out in a reedy voice.  

Hendricks glanced up from his smartphone.  

Po Po took two more steps and rolled her eyes upward. “I feel faint…” 

Hendricks reached out automatically and caught Po Po before she could collapse on the floor. Her grandma must have started acting lessons. As he turned to settle Po Po onto the ground, Raina slipped out the side entrance.  

Once outside, she sidestepped to get away from the glass cut-out on the door in case Hendricks looked around for her. To her right was the loading dock where deliveries must come in daily to keep the restaurants and shops stocked. On the left was the concrete enclosure hiding the commercial trash bins. Next to it, a small concrete footpath led around the building. To escape, the killer wouldn’t have gone toward the loading dock or the trash bins.  

Raina followed the footpath, scanning the ground. Around the corner of the building, she found a white card poking up from the hedges next to a patch of towering holly oak trees. She got down on her hands and knees to peer underneath the bushes, reaching into her purse for a tissue. She pulled out the white plastic card. It was still attached to an orange lanyard. Did someone from the convention pass through here? 

She flipped the card around. Brian Anderson. The man who confronted Claire about the missing breakfast spread. While this seemed like a weak motive for killing someone, if this animosity had gone on long enough, he could have snapped. 

Raina returned the name badge to its original location underneath the hedge. She glanced around but didn’t see any security cameras. What were the odds of Brian losing his name badge in this remote part of the hotel-casino on the same day Claire’s body was discovered?

* * *

Raina followed the footpath until she found another entrance and slipped inside. The cool blast of the air conditioning greeted Raina, and her curly black hair fanned out behind her like she was on a photo shoot. She glanced up at the ceiling to find several security cameras. There probably weren’t enough human resources to monitor every screen, but she assumed the security team was following her every move. 

She headed to the nearest restroom and did her business. If Hendricks asked, she could truthfully say she was in the ladies’ room. As she made her way across the casino floor and back to the service hall, she passed several women in tight white tops and short black skirts, holding out trays of drinks. These servers ignored Raina even though she could have used a cold drink.  

Raina licked her parched lips. What she wouldn’t give for a nice cold drink and maybe a nap back in her room. And as quickly as the thought flashed across her mind, a stab of guilt twisted her stomach.  

Claire Boucher would never feel the summer heat on her skin again or taste a refreshing drink. Whatever she did to cause the killer to snap, Claire surely didn’t deserve to die, not when hardened criminals walked among innocent people. 

As Raina stepped through the double doors and approached the laundry room, Hendricks glanced up from his cell phone. From the set of his mouth, Raina knew he was annoyed with her. “Where have you been?”  

“I had to go to the ladies room,” Raina said, which was technically true. “Hendricks, my fiancé told me your security team hired him to help with your computer system. Is he watching us now?” She waved at the cameras on the ceiling, pretending like she was a bimbolina wanting to catch her man’s attention.  

“We don’t hire contractors,” Hendricks said. 

“I thought a contractor for upgrades is cheaper than a full-time computer guy,” Raina said. She cringed inwardly. Now she was really fishing. Someone had to know about Matthew in this place. Her fiancé wouldn’t have lied to her. She just hoped he wasn’t in a hole out in the desert. 

Hendricks grunted and returned to tapping on his phone.  

Raina didn’t think he was on Facebook chatting with his friends. He was probably directing his staff to do something and used the text app for privacy.  

Po Po was perched right next to his side. She squinted at his screen, but Raina couldn’t tell if her grandma could actually read the tiny display. Since her cataract surgery a few years ago, she had better vision than Raina.

Every once in a while, Hendricks scowled in her grandma’s direction and took a step sideways as if to put some distance between the two of them. Po Po pretended to blink at the ceiling and ignored his look. The senile old lady act again. And when he wasn’t looking, she would inch closer to reduce the gap between them. 

Wait a minute, Raina thought.  

Her grandma thrust her chest at Hendricks’s phone screen. Was the locket on Po Po’s neck a tiny camera? Or maybe the sunflower pin on her designer T-shirt was the camera? Was her grandma taking pictures of Hendricks’s screen to capture the conversation? One of Po Po’s hands was tucked inside her pants pocket. She might be activating the camera’s shutter with a remote. 

There was a commotion behind Raina, and she spun around to see the police approaching—four uniformed officers and a detective in plain clothes. Raina thought they got here much too quick. Maybe the hotel-casino had some influence with the police department. After all, the city did have a history of misconduct in the police force. 

Would they cover up this murder? No, it would be hard to cover something like this. Claire Boucher had probably been organizing the Rock and Jam Convention for years, so the attendees would notice and demand answers at her sudden death. 

Or would the police do a slapdash investigation so the hotel-casino wouldn’t get any bad publicity? This seemed the more likely route. Mishandling or contaminating the evidence could shelve the investigation pretty quickly. It seemed strange the forensic team wasn’t dispatched with these officers. After all, didn’t the security team from the hotel-casino tell the dispatcher that Claire Boucher was dead? 

Hendricks glanced up from his phone and slipped it in his pocket. “Officers, I’m so glad you’re here. When the general manager and I came downstairs, we found these two”—he jerked a thumb at Raina and her grandma—“in the laundry room with the victim. I don’t know if they are witnesses or suspects.” 

Po Po glared at the security guard. “Witnesses, you big ape.” 

Hendricks ignored the comment and gestured at the laundry room. “The body’s in there.” 

“We were supposed to meet with security about a separate issue,” Raina said. “We heard he was down here, so we came down hoping to catch him. It sounds like we’re not the first one to arrive on the scene. The maids found the body first.”

Hendricks pulled out his walkie-talkie. “Let me know when you’re ready to interview me.” He stepped aside, probably to inform his boss the police had arrived. 

An officer approached Raina and Po Po, and the rest filed into the laundry room. Raina wanted to groan out loud. Why would all four police officers need to go inside? It wasn’t like the killer was still hiding inside when there was an exit a few feet away. All their shoes tracked in who knew what, and the extra skin cells would contaminate the entire crime scene.  

The officer questioned Raina first, asking her to step toward the exit so her grandma couldn’t hear Raina’s answers. 

“Tell me what happened,” the officer said.  

Raina started with the walkie talkie in Willie’s office and their discovery. She mentioned going around the building. 

“Why did you go outside?” 

“I was so cold after discovering the body.” Raina shivered at the memory. “I needed to feel the warmth of the sun.” The words rang true. She hadn’t realized she had unconsciously sought out the heat. “Then I went to the ladies room.” 

“Have you seen the victim before?” the officer asked. 

“Yes,” Raina said reluctantly. “Her name is Claire Boucher, the organizer for the Rock and Jam Convention. I spoke with her yesterday about getting my grandma a ticket.” Should she say something about chasing Claire down to the casino floor? It sounded so incriminating, though Raina had done nothing wrong. 

Sometimes Raina wondered if her ancestors had a wicked sense of humor. They were supposed to look out for her, but she seemed to always end up in situations where dead bodies turned up. 

She gave her grandma a sideways glance. Maybe Po Po had been praying for a distraction like this to get her through the week. Raina groaned at the thought. She needed to stop this circular logic. It was getting her nowhere. 

The officer moved on to another question, and the moment passed for Raina to say something about chasing Claire. She wasn’t withholding information, just organizing it in her head until she had her facts straight. Besides, the detective in charge would probably want to speak to Raina again once the investigation was in full swing.

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Chapter 2 - Time to Rock and Roll

After breakfast, Po Po took Maggie Louie back to the hotel suite they shared. Matthew’s grandma was sight impaired and preferred to spend time in front of the TV—listening to the Chinese drama shows streamed through her tablet and knitting—than to wander around in unfamiliar places.  

Raina took the service dog for several walks around the block and made sure he did his business. By the time they went upstairs, the dog was ready for his chew toys and TV. She set a bottle of water and several chewy granola bars on the side table next to her future grandma-in-law and kissed her cheek. She checked the food and water bowls in the mini kitchen area. 

Po Po was beckoning at the open door of the hotel suite. “Come along, Rainy. Adventure waits for no one.” 

The two of them took the elevator down to the casino floor and made a left toward the convention area. Outside the main hall, several Elvis Presley impersonators were playing together to a small crowd of other rock star impersonators that Raina didn’t recognize.  

Po Po made a beeline for the crowd. “Come get me when you’re done,” she called out over her shoulder. 

Raina rolled her eyes. So much for her wing woman.  

As she approached the plastic table on the side, her gaze scanned the area, looking for Claire Boucher. There was no sign of the convention organizer, but the woman who bumped into her yesterday was handling the table. She was still dressed in the Cher costume. For a moment, Raina wondered if the convention attendees wore their costume the entire week. Yuck.  

She smiled at the Cher impersonator. Now, what was her name? Anne? Gloria? Yes, that was it. “Hi, Gloria, I’m looking for Claire Boucher. Is she around?” 

Gloria straightened the stack of brochures advertising rock-and-roll collectibles. She was in her mid-thirties, and her almond-shaped brown eyes were heavily shadowed with white glitter makeup. She towered over Raina in her platform boots. 

When she spoke, she showed yellow-stained crooked teeth. “No one has seen Claire since dinner. I volunteered to fill in for a bit, but it’s almost my turn on the stage. I’m a dancer.” 

Raina blinked. How much dancing could someone do in four-inch platform boots? “Claire left a message on my phone. Two spots opened up after everyone checked in yesterday. I paid for the tickets online as soon as I heard the message. I thought she would have my welcome packet here.” 

“Like I said, no one could find her this morning.” 

“Did someone check her room? What room is she in?” 

Gloria shrugged. “No idea. I’m not part of the inner circle of the planning committee.” She dug under the table and pulled out two blank name badges. She slid them across the table with a permanent marker. “I don’t know where the welcome packets are, but at least you can get inside the convention rooms now.”  

Raina’s grin widened. This was as easy as taking candy from a baby.  

“Do you have the confirmation email?” Gloria asked. 

Raina cringed inwardly. She pulled out her cell phone and scrolled through her email until she found a PayPal receipt for a pair of shoes she had bought online. She flashed the phone display. “Here’s the PayPal receipt.” 

Gloria flicked a perfunctory glance at the screen and returned to straightening the table. “Don’t forget Talent Night is Saturday. There is a thousand-dollar cash prize for the best impersonator show.” 

Raina thanked Gloria and turned to search for her grandma. This was amazing! Now both she and her grandma could wander through the convention to search for Claire. She was probably inside one of the conference rooms, hoping to avoid Raina. After all, she had to expect Raina would come looking for her. 

As Raina and Po Po wandered the exhibit and various convention halls, they scanned the crowd, though it was hard to recognize anyone in the sea of sequins, wigs, and flashy guitars.  

Po Po grabbed Raina’s forearm. “Look!” She pointed at a dark-skinned man with a thin mustache. 

Raina squinted. Must be pretty good makeup to turn a woman into a man. “Are you sure that’s Claire?” 

“No, that’s Little Richard.” Po Po’s eye glowed. “I must get his autograph.” She made a beeline for the impersonator. 

Raina tugged at her grandma’s hand. “Whoa! This isn’t a sightseeing expedition. Besides, these are wannabes, not the real deal. We’re here to look for Claire Boucher.” 

“I don’t even know what the woman looks like. When she ran by, I only got a glimpse of her dry hair. She needs a deep conditioning.”  

Raina suppressed a sigh. Trust her grandma to notice the most irrelevant detail. “This is like looking for a bean in a rice bin. Let’s find the general manager. Maybe we can sweet talk him into giving up Claire Boucher’s room number.”  

“Or he could tell us where in the world Matthew is,” Po Po said, giving Little Richard a longing glance. “And then we’ll need disguises to blend in with this crowd.” 

* * *

Raina had expected Willie Machado to be a big beefy guy, someone that could be the bouncer at a nightclub. Yes, she was stereotyping, but this was Las Vegas. 

Instead, the general manager was a busty five-foot-six tawny blonde with eyes the color of brandy. She wore a tight black pants suit, the kind a model might wear at a photo shoot, and three-inch stiletto pumps. When she spoke, she had the gravelly voice of a senior citizen who had been chain-smoking her entire life even though she was not a day over forty. 

“What did you say his name was again?” Willie asked, her hands folded in front of her on the desk. The talon-like nails looked like a formable weapon a la Wolverine. A walkie-talkie and a closed file folder were the only two items in front of her. 

“Elliott Matthew Louie,” Raina repeated for the third time. She suppressed the urge to sigh. She didn’t believe Willie was being difficult on purpose, but the general manager might have some unacknowledged hearing loss.  

Raina reached into her purse and pulled out one of Matthew’s business cards and slid it across the desk. “He’s a homicide detective for Gold Springs, California, but sometimes he freelances. Someone contacted him a few weeks ago to hire him to check the security system for this hotel-casino. We’ve been here for three days already.” 

Willie picked up the card and studied it, flipping it over to look at the back. “Never heard of him. We don’t hire people off the street to work on our security system.” She slid the card back across the desk. 

“Matthew isn’t someone just off the street,” Po Po said. There was a hint of defensiveness in her voice. “He is an ex-Marine, worked for the FBI, and this security job came from a friend.” 

Raina patted Po Po’s knee. When did Matthew work for the FBI? She dismissed the thought for another time. There was still so much she didn’t know about her fiancé. 

As much as she loved the defensiveness in her grandma’s voice, she didn’t want to irritate Willie. The general manager didn’t believe the hotel-casino hired a consultant to check on their security system, and short of whipping out a signed contract, Raina didn’t see how she could convince Willie otherwise. Time to explore a different path. 

“One of the perks for the security job was the two suites. If the hotel-casino didn’t hire Matthew, who paid for the rooms?” Raina asked.  

Matthew had checked them in and handed Raina and the grandmas their key card, so she had no idea who booked the suites.  

Po Po gave Raina a nod of approval. 

Willie glanced at the smartwatch on her wrist. “Ladies, I have twenty pounds of fish sitting in ice chests outside the kitchen, a broken water main, and I have over eight hundred Elvis Presley impersonators walking around the hotel. I have to go.” She stood and gestured at the door. 

“Someone came into my room at five in the morning using a key card,” Raina said, staying put on the chair. She wasn’t leaving without some answers. “Does your front desk give out keys without checking identification?” 

Willie’s eyes narrowed. “Miss Sun, we always verify the identity before issuing key cards. You said five AM?” At Raina’s nod, Willie’s frown deepened. She picked up the walkie-talkie and spoke into it. When she finished her conversation, she addressed Raina. “My head of security will meet you outside my office. He can go through the video feed of the corridor outside your room.” 

Raina stood. Well, at least this was something. “Would the front desk be able to help me figure who booked our suites?” 

Willie walked around her desk and stood next to the doorway of her office. “Their computers would have the information. And once they verify your identity, they should be able to help you.” 

As Raina and her grandma stepped out into the hallway, Willie’s walkie-talkie crackled to life. Willie returned to her desk and turned up the volume knob. Raina and Po Po lingered at the doorway, waiting for security as instructed.   

“...dead body…laundry room...call the police...” 

Raina’s pulse jumped at the message. A stranger in her room, and now a dead body in the service hall. What were the odds? She hoped these events had nothing to do with Matthew, and until she had more information, it wouldn’t hurt to keep her eyes and ears open.  

Willie grabbed the walkie-talkie and pressed a button. “Willie here. Can you repeat what you said?” She glanced up to see both Raina and Po Po staring at her. As the message came through a second time, she closed the office door. 

Po Po pressed her ear to the door. “I can’t hear a thing.” She scowled at the door. “Who do you think is dead? One of the employees? Or maybe the Mafia knocked off someone for the casino.” 

Her grandma’s eyes glowed with excitement. Any minute now, her grandma would insist on checking out the laundry room. There were only so many hours a person could spend in front of the penny machine and the buffet line before the brain turned to mush.  

Raina strolled toward the elevator. She was doing this for Matthew. After all, when he surfaced again, he might like to know what was happening in the hotel-casino.  

Tell yourself what lies you need, girl, said a small voice inside her head. 

Raina ignored the comment. She knew what she was doing. She didn’t want to be the woman left behind waiting for her man. Any action was better than picking her belly button lint. And it wasn’t like she was committing to investigate the death. She was just another lookie-loo. There were plenty of those at the scene of an accident. 

“We should go check out the laundry room,” Po Po said, trotting to keep up. “If Willie gets there before we do, she’ll make us leave. We can always check in with security later. Claire Boucher isn’t going anywhere with the convention in full swing.” 

“Why do you think we're power walking to the elevator?” Raina asked. 

Po Po gave Raina a wide beaming smile. “That’s my girl.”

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