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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