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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