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When Dead Cats Bounce
A Nick Schaevers Mystery
No cats were harmed in the writing of this novel.


Outside Jacket blurb:
Nick Scheavers' expects to make a mint on the high tech company he helps go public, and he feels lucky in love. Everything is wonderful until a venture capitalist does some high-speed bouncing on the sidewalk before posing for the crime scene photographs. How quickly the high and mighty have fallen, or in this case, were launched.

On news of the death, the company's stock price fell fast too. Market analysts say that stocks, like a dead cat, will bounce if they are thrown at the ground hard enough. Hopefully the stock would quit falling, bounce, and then come to life again. On the other hand, the stock could also join the venture capitalist in a bounce to oblivion.

Nick now needs to save the company, himself, and if possible, his love life, but not necessarily in that order. It would be a lot easier if he weren't a suspect. This time, Nick needs more than a trick to avoid being a spot on the pavement.




Inside Jacket Blurb:
My eyes opened. The rooftop view of St. Louis at night is gorgeous. I might have noticed, but I was a little distracted. Like the wild Missouri River, panic flowed through my mind, while adrenaline surged into my blood.

My hands were tied tight behind my back. Twelve feet of rope tethered my feet to the rooftop. Head down, I watched the ground gyrate ninety feet below, except that it was stationary, and I was the swinger.

My apogee was nearing horizontal, and my goose was nearly cooked. When I swung high enough, the perp would cut me loose, entering my body in the triple jump event of the deadman Olympics.

I did the only thing I could do. I screamed in terror. I didn't care if I woke the dead; if I was about to meet them, then they could damn well answer the door when my body knocked on the pavement below.




Prolog

San Mateo, California, two years ago...

Tunk! The judge's gavel banged on its wood block.

"Quiet, or I'll hold you in contempt."

Family Court Judge Takeshita looked to the bailiff. A uniformed officer against the wall strode to the defendant's table.

"One more outburst from you, and I'll add thirty days in jail," the judge said.

He sat stunned. They're insane. Everyone except me is insane. Even the judge can't follow simple logic. He dry swallowed. I shouldn't have raised my voice, but they wouldn't listen! The bitch's lawyer kept interrupting, too.

"Do you understand what I am saying?" the judge asked.

I have to get out of here. If I play along, she won't lock me up. He nodded.

The judge looked at the bailiff, who motioned the uniformed officer to resume her post against the wall.

"This court, and your wife and children are not responsible for your bad judgment. Your reliance on the vague promises of a venture capitalist and company executives was foolish."

Takeshita is just like the rest, content in her misperception of reality.

"Your own risky behavior led to the IRS troubles and subsequent bankruptcy. It all could have been avoided if you would have listened to the financial advisor your wife found. Trying to list your former employer on stock market may have been a bad idea, but it is not of our concern. Your complaint against this Mr. Tate is immaterial to these proceedings."

Now, she's conspiring against me, with the others.

"I'm setting alimony and child support at four thousand seven hundred fifty dollars a month."

"But that is almost what I make!"

"That is not the courts' concern. If you do not pay, you may receive jail time. Do you understand?"

"Yes," he nodded. The rest of the hearing seemed a blur to him.

Judge Takeshita banged her gavel. "This court is adjourned."

The Bailiff stood. "All rise," he said as the judge left through a rear door.

I'm screwed. He couldn't feel his hands as they stuffed paperwork into his backpack. Ignoring the startled people that he pushed through, he burst outside. He took two deep breaths, but they didn't calm him. He hurried to his car, without a clue where to go.

He started the car and drove. Anywhere was better than where he was, broke, homeless, and unemployed, with a huge alimony judgment fresh in his in basket. Hills with traffic lights broke his stupor. He found himself in San Francisco's financial district.

Garry Tate's office is here. Tate, the venture capitalist who destroyed the company I had worked for--the one that owned my inventions. He sold everything to our competitor. My designs are owned by a company that won't give me an interview.

He parked, and walked to the front of Tate' building. Inside, the directory gave a destination.

I'm going to kill him. This time, I'm really going to kill him.

He stepped into the elevator and pressed eleven. In the hallway, he found the stairwell and descended a floor. He peaked around the corner. Nobody was there.

Where are they? It's during business hours in the middle of the week.

His enraged kick broke the door lock from the wooden door jamb. From the reception area to the executive suite in the rear, every room was empty. Packing materials and empty boxes sat in neat piles near the front. The floor had been vacuumed and what furniture remained had been cleaned or polished. He left, closing the door as best he could.

People in the elevator gave him a wide berth. At street level, he stumbled to the sidewalk. For a moment he was silent, but then he screamed. It hardly registered over the bus and car traffic mixed with high-rise construction noise. He slumped to the pavement and cried. Except for the suit he had worn to court, he blended with the derelicts on the streets of San Francisco.

I'll show the judge. I'll be homeless. Let her try to get her four thousand seven hundred fifty dollars a month out of a vagrant.

You'll never get revenge that way, a voice said in his head.

What are you talking about? Who are you?

I'm Gin, your other you. Do you want revenge on Tate?

Yes.

Then here's how to get it.

Gin turned and went to his car, deep in a conversation with himself.




Chapter One

Now, Thursday, 1 March

Dawn's early light poured through thin window blinds into the cubicle, painting parallel lines of light on whiteboard walls covered with hand drawn engineering diagrams. I rubbed my eyes and leaned back in my chair. Except for the computer and chair, the cubicle was bare. It was just a spot to work. The stint wasn't long enough to warrant personal effects.

PolyTexNiche's gadget had been broken enough to need months of late-night overtime to redesign, but I had done it in three weeks. I was more tired than a cliché. My job almost complete, I reminisced.

PolyTexNiche was spawned by the Government's push for civilian applications of Pentagon-funded inventions. Jack Brell and Peter Tornquist were from St. Louis' McAir Phantom Works where I had my start. They figured that there had to be something to market from the many projects McAir had done over the years.

Have you heard the one about the optimist digging in a room full of horse manure, searching for the pony? Jack and Peter found a few. Pam Cahalan left her KPMG partnership, and with Jack and Peter, started PolyTexNiche with a detailed plan of product launches stretching into the next decade.

Their first product was a full-feedback robotic control glove. Other virtual reality gloves could read hand position and movement, but they couldn't provide "feeling." A simulated stone felt the same as a simulated strawberry--like empty air.

PolyTexNiche's new glove used an exoskeleton to provide the feeling of holding solid objects. The gloves were covered with the low-pressure micro-valves that I had patented after leaving McAir. They were almost ready to launch the first product and take the company through an initial public offering--an IPO.

The only problem was a design flaw that had lurked unseen until the prototype revealed it. McSweeney, Poole, & Tate--the venture capitalists backing PolyTexNiche--directed them to seek my help.

I knew the job would be hard when I took it; I'm Nick Schaevers, Consulting Engineer and Private Investigator. In each generation, some young engineers are in the right place at the right time to acquire a lifetime of experience in a quick decade. The few who survive the education become CEs, the high-priced elite of the engineering world.

Companies usually don't call for our help until they're in deep trouble. PolyTexNiche's project was a perfect example; the design flaw had threatened to wreck the company, and then they called me.

I took the challenge. St. Crispian--patron saint of glove makers--must have prayed for me. Like a mad Orin Scrivello, I drilled and filled the teeth in the jaws of defeat. My design worked, and wouldn't price the product out of the toy market. I was worth the princely sum I was charging. My stock options were looking good, too.

PolyTexNiche's glove project was a big deal for me. Most of my jobs in the past few years had been PI work. The glove work placed me once again at the bleeding edge of engineering technology, restoring my alpha-geek bona fides.

It was even better on a personal level. Bottom Line LLC was performing the SEC-required audits prior to PolyTexNiche's IPO. That made it easy for me to see a lot of Wendy Brooks, Bottom Line's Chief Financial Officer.

I took the glove gig to make Wendy happy. She didn't like being romantically involved with someone who dodged bullets for a living. I prayed to St. Boniface of Tarsus--patron saint of bachelors--my PI work had cost me in kisses.

I used to enjoy being just an engineer. Perhaps Wendy was right; maybe I should hang up my guns.

She still told people that we were an item, but the evidence was getting scarce. She says she's working late. Maybe I was just a fling, and she was hinting that I should hit the bricks. I'd traversed those slopes before. The off-track odds were probably paying even on seeing me get taken for a cleaning, and ten thousand to one on me finding true love. I had less faith in that than I had in a dead man getting elected to the US Senate. Wait, we already did that in Missouri. Maybe I had a chance. On the other hand, Wendy was a woman. All bets were off.

I pitied the fools who ripped their wallets to shreds trying to wow a woman. No one can talk one of them into love, she needs a return on investment study first. True love can't be measured in carats, but diamonds are easier to show off to girlfriends than other assets. Money can't buy you love, she will let you try like crazy until she clears enough loot to meet her needs. Then comes the "let's just be friends" talk.

When it comes to emotional usury and betrayal, it's definitely better to give than receive, and I had the delivery invoices to prove it. Would Wendy play out any different? I didn't know enough about her to hazard a guess.

I wanted love, but it was easier to bury myself in work. My acquired cynicism kept me focused on the only thing I was really good at: making hard problems--like the design flaw--go away. There went three weeks; at least the design was flawless.

"Nick."

I broke my reverie and saw Tomas Zach holding two cups of coffee. The wiz-kid was 5' 4" with wide shoulders, narrow waist, long black hair in a braid and pale Anglo skin. The morning sky slotting through half-open blinds framed his head, rendering his steel gray eyes black. "Tomas."

His grin was smooth over his drier-wrinkled golf shirt. "Aren't those the same clothes you wore yesterday?"

I ignored his question and eyed the second mug in his hand. "You brought me coffee?"

He gave me one. "When I came by earlier, you didn't answer my question whether you needed one. I figured that qualified as a 'yes.'"

My fingers tapping on keys must have told him that he didn't need to check me for a pulse. "Thanks, and yes, these are the same clothes. I didn't go home last night."

Tomas looked away. Was he looking at a painting on the wall, or for a cure for my eccentricity?

Still facing away, he said, "Again? What's with you?"

Tomas reminded me of myself a decade ago, except he had his PhD, was engaged to a complete babe, and enjoyed happy hours. He was statute miles ahead of me at any age.

I tried the truth. "Have you seen the movie 'Big Wednesday'?"

"No. What's it about?"

"It chronicled the lives of some Malibu surfers. One Wednesday, a huge south swell came in. The surfers rode waves that ravaged the coastline, pushing property damages into the major millions."

His deadpan was colder than a stiff in the morgue. "You talk like a fried-eyed philosophy prof. Is Wednesday important, or is it the sleep deprivation talking?"

"The movie's message is that everybody is good at something, even if it isn't understood or valued by others. Those surfers rode huge waves while the normals hid in their homes. Last night I rode my brainwaves while solving the sub-assemblies. It was my Big Wednesday, the best work I've ever done."

His eyes were full of disinterest. Allegory must not be his cup of tea.

"You need rest," he said. "Did you put your work into configuration control?"

"Yeah, they're '3.2 Final Alpha.' Shall I stay and walk you through it?"

"No. You should pull out of the ozone while you can still hold a steering wheel."

I looked at the kid. He was too young to know the infamous green golf ball joke. Soon I would be eligible for the Grey Havens.

He met my eyes. "Get out of here, old man, and leave the design tests to the living."

I left in a state of euphoric nostalgia, remembering other times I had driven home at the top of my game. I wondered how long this high would last. If history was a guide, an anvil or piano lurked in my future, waiting to drop on my head.





Chapter Two

Sunday, 4 March.

Alone, Gin sat in a suspended bamboo basket chair opposite the only window in the one room apartment, reading the San Francisco Chronicle. The window faced the wide El Camino Real in Redwood City, California, affording a view of the endless parade of humanity that had somewhere to go at every hour of the day. Pale morning light filtered into the room, falling on sage green walls. A swagged window treatment made from floral patterned bed sheets framed the mini-blinds that controlled the sunlight's access to the tiny space. Johann Pachelbel's "Cannon in D" played just loud enough to mask the sounds of traffic below.

At regular intervals, Gin's right hand left the paper to bring an ornate china teacup to lips that were almost the same color as the surrounding skin.

After finishing the first section, he folded the newspaper in half and set it on the side table at a complementary angle to the room's walls. He stood and crossed to the kitchenette, refilled the cup from the kettle steaming on a hotplate, then allowed the ball of African red tea to steep. After consulting his wristwatch, he retrieved the tea ball from the cup and replaced it in the tea ball caddy. Metronomic strokes dissolved two teaspoons of Brazilian rainforest honey into the tea. He rinsed the spoon twice, wiped with a white cotton dishtowel, before aligning it with the teakettle and tea ball caddy. The dishtowel was refolded into a long rectangle and placed one-quarter inch from the spoon.

Gin returned to the suspended basket chair, stilled the movement, and then settled in. He adjusted his lamp and resumed reading the Bay Area's primary newspaper.

When he saw the business section's headline, he sat upright, setting the chair swinging. Hands clenched, he skimmed the article, and then read it word by word, absorbing every detail.

He staggered to his feet. "It's your fault. It's all your fault," Gin shouted to the empty room. "They say that I can't admit when it's my fault, but everyone knows that it's really your fault." He snatched a dart from the pile on the table and embedded it in the photograph of Garry Tate stapled to the wall. "I hate you!"

"We could have had it all, but no, you had to chicken out. You with your perfect hair and your perfect tan, but you turned out not to be Mr. Perfect. No, you were Mr. Cut-and-Run. You couldn't take it, could you Mr. Prissy? We were almost ready for market, but you couldn't wait another year to take your money out. It's your fault that everything's ruined. You were the betrayer, not me. You sold us out! Tate, you selfish bastard, you should be the one living here, not me."

He stood and paced the floor. "You bastard. You smug bastard. I almost had you once, but then you disappeared. Oh, but I have you now! You and that alpha-geek that saved your project, you're mine!"

He threw the newspaper at the rear wall, where it knocked a framed Escher-Bach askew. He retrieved and refolded the newspaper, placing it on the side table, and then straightened the framed print.

His voice lacked the control exercised in his movements. "You thought you were so smart, moving to St. Louis, but you're a fool. I didn't know where you went, but I knew your ego wouldn't allow you to lay low. Once you had a success, you had to bray about it to your buddies in the press."

The carpet's padding had collapsed under the wall-to-wall wear line where Gin paced. He stopped to take the teacup from the side table.

"Thanks to your alpha-geek, Nick Schaevers, your new venture's ready to go public. Your ego couldn't resist the limelight, and so now I have you."

He went to the tea kettle, but didn't make another cup. "I should've killed you when I had the chance, but I hesitated. My bad."

After setting the teacup on the counter, he picked up the dishtowel, and idly began to polish the water spigot. "You may think St. Louis is your safe haven, but you're wrong. I hope you enjoyed your little respite from me, because it's over."

His long-fingered hands turned two squirts of antibacterial soap into lather before rinsing and drying them with a terrycloth kitchen towel. He refolded the towel and placed it on its grapevine-styled towel ring. He smoothed the towel, adding a crease to its sides.

His voice dripped with treachery. "You slipped away once, but now that I know where you are, I'll kill you, you and your Nick Schaevers."

* * * * *

"That's right, medical leave," Gin said into the cellphone. "Yes, I know, part-time employees don't get paid leave."

He fingered the set of forged medical forms. As the latest props in an elaborate charade, two prescriptions for a month-long detox lay on the kitchenette's tiny counter. One had his real name, while the other used the name of his current false identity. "I'll have my doctor's office send you a copy." He closed the cellphone, sealed the forms into stamped envelopes, and then put them into the laptop computer case.

With California's liberal workplace regulations, both jobs would be waiting, if needed, at the end. But if things went according to plan, he would never return. When Tate was dead and several million were in his offshore bank account, he would begin a new life in Bolivia.

"This time you'll pay, Tate." his voice was thin and airy. "I'll use your death to recover what you cost me, and I'll use Nick Schaevers' death to distract the police while I get away."

In his second call, he gave the name of his false identity to the human resources worker who answered. "Yes, I'll hold."

It had all been so easy, using a Palo Alto doctor's credentials and address to forge the paperwork necessary to qualify for a workplace disability. By not filing a State Disability claim, he avoided investigation even while cheating the IRS.

"Yes, I'll still hold." He smirked then sipped the cooling African red tea.

The faked disability limited his work schedule to thirty hours a week, leaving him free to use a false identity to work another thirty hours a week. The bitch couldn’t touch the extra money. Losing his kids was just a casualty of war. He would mourn them in Bolivia.

"My doctor prescribed a month in detox," he said to a human on the other end of the line. "Yes, that's right… a medical leave of absence." He listened, and then spoke. "Thank you. I will notify you as soon as I can. Yes, thank you."

The smirk became a grin. For two years, the money he earned with the false identity had been accumulating and growing in a brokerage account. Since no link existed between his real and false identities, the only limit on his insider trading was the SEC's transaction monitoring software. As long as the trades weren't too greedy or too frequent, the SEC wouldn't notice.

The IRS couldn't tax or garnish the wages that they didn't know were his, either. Someday they would send their jackbooted thugs to terrorize the widow Westmoreland. His false identity used her social security number on the fraudulent 1099 subcontractor forms he gave to the second job's payroll office.

The laptop computer on the tiny table at the end of the kitchenette took him to an Internet discount travel site. Using the false identity's credit card, he printed a boarding pass for a round-trip airplane ticket from San Francisco to St. Louis with a forty-one day stay, and then powered off the computer.

After washing and drying the teacup, he placed it in the lone cupboard beside the sink. He made a circuit of the tiny apartment, straightening and polishing everything, before folding and placing the cleaning cloth on its grapevine towel ring. With practiced motion, he gave the towel a crease.

The repacked laptop case hung on his shoulder, he took a suitcase in each hand. He walked to the door. "Can you hear me, Garry Tate? I'm coming for you, and your fair-haired boy, Nick Schaevers."




Chapter Three

Friday, 30 March

Pop! In unison, the corks were pulled from fifteen bottles of "Millisme" champagne. Tattinger au Reims had celebrated the new millennium by producing a special blend of pinot noir and chardonnay. Twenty cases of the aged champagne had been flown FedEx from France for the festivities. Waiters carried trays of flutes through the effervescent crowd. PolyTexNiche was celebrating being listed on the NASDAQ.

Years ago, the derelict building that had been Soulard's Ninth Street Abbey was purchased from the Archdiocese and remodeled into a for-rent party pad. Tonight the walls were festooned in blue and gold crepe streamers emanating from placards of the company's variant of the fleur-de-lis.

I watched Jack Brell survey the packed party room. A former fighter pilot, he was a fit five foot eight inches. His dark hair had gone silver at the temples. I hoped I’d look as good at fifty-six. His tailored tuxedo hugged his athletic body, and his shoes shone like crazy diamonds. He looked the part of a high-tech CEO.

He pulled Peter Tornquist and Pam Cahalan close to him. The long tails of Peter's tuxedo masked his skinny legs while making his chest seem not so hollow. Pam’s chestnut hair flowed to the middle of her back, bare in a spaghetti-strapped black formal gown. A bracelet sparkled on her right wrist, almost as much as her eyes as she scanned the crowd.

Jack shouted above the fray. "We've done it. We're public."

The din doubled. If there were any virgin ears, they were certainly ringing, as everyone went wild with joy. It was a party to remember.

I hoped that it wouldn't become a night that I would try to forget. Too many of my most promising moments with women wound up as wasteland wilderness tours. I looked at my date and suffered a bout of pulmonary trombonsis It happens when man's heart starts playing Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" while his eyes drink in her beauty.

Wendy wore a strapless gown in exactly the same shade of blue as her eyes, with shoes and a bag to match. Her dress hugged curves better than a NASCAR racer, her bosom enough to hold up her gown and the traffic on Broadway. The wolf inside me howled.

With Wendy, I was well into uncharted territory. For the first time in longer than I could remember, I felt happy. The fore-pangs of panic hit me; I was never lucky in love. My eyes searched the Abbey's high-lofted ceiling for the flock of pianos that l knew were waiting to fall on my head.

Jack cleared his throat near the microphone he'd taken from a stand on the side of the small stage. Ear and eye, the crowd tuned in to his broadcast.

"We are here today because we joined together to reach for a dream." Jack paused to let it sink in. "We each had a role. The venture capitalists paid for us to try. Pete, Pam, and I worked on positioning the product and company." Jack pointed to me. "When needed, we brought in a hired gun."

I formed an imaginary pistol with my right hand then snapped my thumb down.

He gestured to Wendy and Alan Stapleton. "Bottom Line cleared us with the SEC, and Shearedsome Lamers underwrote the IPO."

Jack held up his hand for silence. "While all of that was important, it would have been for nothing, except for the fact that you did it; you invented the future."

Pete and Pam started the applause as Jack finished his sentence.

Jack yelled "Give it up for the best crew on earth. Give yourself a big hand."

I thought it was loud before; I was wrong. The hopes and dreams of the assembled mass built a tsunami of emotion within the Abby's walls. The psychic swell crested with a power none could resist.

Wendy's hand rested on my arm. She turned and put her other arm through mine, in prelude to a kiss. Our lips parted as our bodies joined. With legs pressed together and lips locked, we listened to Jack.

"Never forget this moment! Few people ever experience anything like this. This one is yours!"

The celebration swelled while pheromones filled the air. I wondered how many children would be conceived tonight. Wendy broke our clinch and pushed away.

Jack turned to Pam and smiled. With an arm around her shoulders, he walked her to the front of the stage. The room grew still. "Pam Cahalan has been my friend and financial advisor for a dozen years. Three years ago, I asked her advice: should I start a company, or hang on for an aerospace retirement? I'll never forget her answer. She demanded to be the CFO of our new company."

The applause was long and strong. Pam blushed. After a Mississippi minute, the applause tapered off. It was okay; on that night the minutes could run a little long. Pam stepped aside as Jack dragged Peter forward.

"I give you Peter."

The room rocked while the engineers declared fealty. A group of them started singing "Yo ho! Yo ho! A pirate's life for me." Peter pulled a faded eye patch from his pocket and put it on.

Jack motioned for quiet. "On behalf of the King of Fortune and the Queen of Chance, I hereby grant a pardon for any sins against the laws of physics that Peter and crew may have committed while delivering the project."

The crowd went wild. Peter jumped from the stage and joined Tomas Zach in a Viking dance from Peter's native Iceland.

Wendy leaned close and whispered, "Suddenly, you seem normal."

"Shall we pick out curtains?"

Wendy eyed me mischievously. "I would need a thorough search of your pockets for one of those eye patches first."

Jack nodded to Pam, and she made a gesture. PolyTexNiche's administrative staff escorted the three venture capitalists onto the stage. The admins looked great in their evening gowns, each a different cut and color, but their style was all but lost on the crowd; the three men they escorted upstaged them.

While most of the throng wore rented clothing, it was obvious that these three men didn't. They seemed to have been born in formal attire. From their razor-cut hair to the gloss of their shoes, their grooming was perfect. They had more stage presence than a Broadway show. When Brendan McSweeney, David Poole, and Garry Tate reached center stage, the crowd was silent as if struck dumb.

The owners of McSweeney, Poole, & Tate were in their early forties, tanned, and lean. Few PolyTexNiche employees had seen the three multimillionaires before. The two groups stared at each other across a gap larger than the empty eight feet in front of the stage.

Jack came to the rescue. His voice started soft and low like a small earthquake. "We owe these men a lot. When we went looking for funding, the offers we received required us to pull up our roots and head for Texas or the Silly Putty Valley. We knew that wasn't the answer." He waved his hand over the crowd. "We needed proven winners. We needed you."

Loud cheers burst in an aural display of released emotion. Jack waited for the crowd to quiet. "We needed someone to bet on us. These three men pooled their resources and started a venture capital company. We were their first project."

The applause was respectable, but short-lived. As it waned, Jack stoked the fires. "They were generous and helpful, ensuring our success, but the best part..." Like a televangelist milking a holy cow, he continued, "Do you know what the best part was?" He waited. The congregants fidgeted and looked from one to another. Just before the loud-howards tried to guess, Jack erupted, "They wouldn't give me a dime if I took the company out of St. Louis County."

Jack tucked the microphone into his armpit and started to clap. The assembled crowd's emotions were unlocked by the man who had hand-selected each of them for a role in the company. Captain Kirk had less loyalty from his crew than the members of this enterprise had for Jack. They gave him what he needed—a sonic boom for the three money men.

Brendan, David, and Garry turned to Jack. Garry reached out and brought Jack in for a big bear hug. David and Brendan gave him hearty handclasps as Garry took the microphone. His basso profundo rolled from the Abbey's speakers like nearby thunder.

"Thank you, Jack."

Like Orson Wells in Citizen Kane, he drew attention. The crowd hushed.

"Jack's kind to say those things. The truth is that each of us has talents entrusted to us. With our gifts comes the responsibility to use them to their fullest."

He paused, making eye contact with individuals in the crowd. "Mr. McSweeney, Mr. Poole, and I have been blessed with a little wealth and business acumen, a common element in every generation. What you have is special in any generation. Leonardo da Vinci drew helicopters and airplanes, but lacked the resources to build his dreams. You are Leonardo's intellectual children. We feel blessed to have been the ones who funded your venture. For that, we thank you."

He signaled the band, and Patty and the Hitmen started pumping the Buster Poindexter tune "Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot."

Jack yelled "Come on!" to Peter and Pam, as he jumped the short drop from the stage to the floor. He helped Pam down from the stage, took her left hand and put it on his left hip, then proceeded to dance at the front of the nascent conga line. Peter latched on, following Jack and Pam into the crowd. Soon, the room was a writhing millipede of joy. After the second lap, Jack yelled "Break!"

From the safety of the wall we watched the three amigos return to their dates. The conga line continued to writhe and split until the dance floor was a pulsating mass of youthful exuberance.

I felt a tap on my forearm, like a gentleman asking to cut in on my dance. I turned to find Alan and Margaret Stapleton smiling at me. Since being freed from prison, Alan had regained his tan, and much of his stamina. His physique had fleshed out for golf and tennis, but his eyes weren't the same. The windows to his soul had become streaked from wiping with the dirty fabric of modern life. A lot had happened since I had proved he was innocent of murdering his partner, but that was last year, ancient history. Time flows, even in St. Louis.

I shouted into the maelstrom, "Alan! Margaret!"

Alan gave me a firm handshake and said something that was lost in the pandemonium. I smiled in return. I saw Margaret and Wendy exchange hugs and kiss cheeks. While Alan and Wendy shook hands, Margaret hugged me, then spoke into my ear, "Thank you, Nicolas, for Alan's freedom."

She'd been greeting me like that since Alan's acquittal. We'd be dead before she quit the tradition. With my own mother gone, Margaret presumed that she was the rightful heir to the role of my maternal caregiver. Who was I to argue? She had no children and I hadn't had a mother since I was fifteen. I didn't mind the extra love and advice.

Wendy shouted, "Air?"

Like drowning children surfacing from the bottom of a pool, we made for the door. Outside, on the sidewalk in front of the Ninth Street Abbey, we paused in the relative quiet. Several weeks after America's second largest Mardi Gras had cruised through, the trees were still heavily festooned with beads thrown from the Fat Tuesday floats. Oui, laissez bon temps roulette!

"It certainly was wild in there," Alan said with arched eyebrows. "Are all 'going public' parties like this?"

They looked to me as if I had attended every coming-out party thrown by a "dot commie" company. I'd been to a few and read about others, so I ad libbed.

"Only for the breakthrough engineering companies. Most are more reserved and formal, very country-clubbish and Wall Street."

"They'll be fine without us," Wendy said. "It's their party, after all. So, what are we going to do with the rest of the evening?"

Alan and Margaret looked at each other while their fingers intertwined. After a moment of silence, without looking our way, Alan said, "I think that we will make an early evening of it tonight." He bent and kissed Margaret while she ran her fingers through his hair.

Wendy looped her arm through mine and was already turning us to go. "Good night, Mags! See you Monday, Alan!"

We were already down the block when Alan's "Good night" caught up with us.

"So, where to?" I asked.

"I don't know. Do you have any ideas?"

Plenty, but only one I would admit to. "Do you need to be up early, or is the night ours?"

Her smile was warm. "We can let it go late. What do you have in mind?"

"Have you ever heard 'Peanuts' Whalum?"

"Does he work in a circus?"

"No, Peanuts toured with Basie for several years then played for a decade in Nat Cole's band. Nowadays, his trio plays in Pierre's Lounge at the Adam's Mark. He can croon like a king, and play piano like a count. He still blows a sweet sax, too. Whose car should we take?"

"Where's yours?" she asked.

"At the Farmer's Market. Where's yours?"

"Yours is closer."

I thought I saw her Jag up ahead. "Isn't that your car across the street?"

"Nick, sometimes you don't know when to be quiet. I just want to ride in your Z. Okay?"

As we walked past her Jaguar XJ-8, she caressed my cheek, turning my chin toward her. She probably wanted to distract me from her car. I was happy to take advantage of the opportunity. Continuing the movement that she started, I pulled her close. In one fluid motion, our lips met. The irregular rhythm of our body movement pumped air in and out of our clothing. She smelled great; her natural oils and perfume had blended; the combination intoxicated me.

Our bodies stilled. Time slowed and stopped. I savored the sensation of our lips clinging together, fighting to stay in touch while our heads drew apart. Perhaps it was a metaphoric encapsulation of our romance. We parted, as if we regretted the end of the kiss. The space-time continuum resumed its course. We shared breath but didn't miss the oxygen while time flowed around and through us.

Ever practical, Wendy broke the moment. "Uhm, weren't you going to take me to hear Peanuts?"

In the back of my mind, I imagined that the rope that held the piano aimed at my head began to creak and groan.




Chapter Five

Saturday, 31 March, 9:30 am

"Jib across," Wendy called. The sail moved from port to starboard as she sheeted-in. The sailboat heeled over onto her new tack as I centered the tiller and set the main. Sheets in cleats, she settled back into me.

"Don't distract the captain," I warned.

She raised an eyebrow. "Want to set the autopilot?" She sat up and turned to face me. She began unbuttoning her blouse. "Don't you want to survey the local contours, Nick? Nick... Nick."

The sound of my own voice calling my name pulled me from Wendy's charms, forcing me awake. My personalized electronic security system was greeting me.

"What is it?" I growled.

"There's a lot of body heat at the front door," my recorded voice replied. "You should check it."

The doorbell rang.

I rolled out of bed, activated the flat panel TV, and tuned it to the house security channel. Three men in bad suits stood on the sidewalk. Behind them were a dozen uniformed patrol officers and four crime scene techs with shoulder bags. Saturday morning traffic crawled past the line of patrol cars parked at the curb.

My weirdness meter twitched to the accelerating beat of my heart. Keying the intercom, I addressed the assembled mass of law enforcement. "May I help you?"

The front suit spoke with a gravel-crunching voice. "I'm Detective Crandall. I'd like to have a word with you. Could you open up?" His suit fit him a little better than the others.

"Well, I'm on the fourth floor, and still in my jammies." I hoped that my sarcasm was subtle. "Give me a minute." As I pulled on jeans and a golf shirt, I asked the question of the day. "What's this about? If you need my help, you don't have to bring the whole precinct to get it."

"Just come down. I don't like standing on a stoop talking to a voice with no face."

I lived in a loft conversion in the North City district of St. Louis, Missouri. The Levine Hat Factory had occupied the premises before the current generation of Levines sold the business to an overseas competitor and put the building on the market. They moved to one of St. Louis' nicer suburbs, Palm Beach, Florida.

I bought the building and renovated it into the 21st century. My private quarters were in the three thousand square-foot fourth floor penthouse apartment, but I spent most of my time in the thirty-six thousand square feet on the other three floors. Everything a guy could want-except someone to share it with.

The walk down took a few minutes; the forty-five stairs from the central penthouse, ninety feet through the kitchen to the front steps, then down three more floors. I shunted the security system and opened the front door, wearing the winning smile that I had been practicing in mirrors all week. I'd read that it would help make a good impression when I met people. "So, what's this about?"

The cool morning air of the last day of March greeted me. Detective Crandall was brisk, too. "What's your name?"

I turned up the wattage on my smile. "Nick Schaevers."

The white-haired Crandall looked about sixty years old, five-foot eleven, and one hundred eighty pounds. His face was stoic as he showed me his badge. It was real. "Do you own this building?"

My smile wasn't working. "Yeah. What's going on?"

Before I finished speaking, he flicked me in the arm with some folded papers. I stepped back, extending my hands in front of me as a shield. With a gesture as natural as a handshake, he put the papers into my right hand. "It's a warrant." He pushed past me into my home.

A flood of blue uniformed police washed me and the other two bad suits into the building. The surge flowed through the first floor, with some sluicing up the back stairs, while more flowed up the front. The remainder lapped like waves against and through my stuff. I began to feel pale.

The lab rats stayed outside, maybe waiting for some Purina rat chow. I could see those who searched in the cavernous main room with couches and art scattered about. I worried about the ones who had disappeared into the huge garage that filled most of the back half of the first floor. Like the Pillars of Hercules, two mountains of muscle guarded the front doorway of my now inundated dwelling.

I asked Serenus, patron saint of the falsely accused, to pray for me. The day had zoomed past weird, pushing hard for surreal. I looked around, half-expecting Rod Serling to step forward and say "Consider if you will...." Skimming the warrant filled my head with fear and hollowed my bones. Blood drained from my face and limbs to pool in my guts. I turned a whiter shade of pale.

Detective Crandall turned to me. "Are you here by yourself?"

"Yes." My voice was thinner than an excuse. I prayed to Jerome Emiliani, patron saint of the abandoned.

"Then do yourself a favor and stay out of the way." He turned to command his troops.

It took a minute for my intellect to engage. I got in front of the second detective. "I'm calling my lawyer."

"Knock yourself out."

Too shocked to think of a clever retort, I picked up the wall-mounted phone by the front door. It was Saturday morning; Jim would be at home. Jimmy, my godson answered. I pretended to be normal. "Jimmy, it's Nick. How're you doing?"

"Okay, I guess. When are you coming over? I got a great new computer."

"Cool, man. I want to see it. Right now, I have to talk to your dad. Is he home?"

"Yeah. He's still in bed."

"Jimmy, go tell your dad that I said 'the bag is full.'" I knew Jim would recall our old code for panic mode.

The line went quiet. I waited.

Jim wasn't just my attorney, he was also my friend. Before he got into criminal law, we were engineers together at the McAir Phantom Works. We'd shared more blood, sweat, and tears than most men shed in a lifetime. I was young and happy, then. That was before I became disillusioned, before I started carrying pistols and a PI license.

The phone clicked when Jim picked up. A ray of hope hit my heart.

"Okay Jimmy, hang up." I heard a clatter and a click. "Nick! What's wrong?"

"I'm in over my head with no idea how I got here."

"Where are you? Are you in the downtown lock-up?"

I turned my back on the two patrolmen, Doom and Gloom, who darkened my doorway. "No. I'm standing near the open front door of my building while the cops search with a warrant."

"Nick, this is no time to be funny!"

I waited.

Jim took a moment. "You aren't joking. The police really are there?"

"With the warrant, they skipped protect and went straight to self-serve."

"Don't say anything until I arrive. Now, let me speak to the officer in charge."

I called out, "Hey, Mr. Detective."

Crandall and one of the bad suits turned toward me. I motioned Crandall over and gave him the phone. "Detective Crandall, who's this?" He listened for a few minutes. "Okay, whatever you say."

He reached over my shoulder to hang up the phone then said to the two goons blocking my front door, "Mr. Schaevers would like to sit on his couch. Please help him find it, and make sure he's comfortable. Don't talk to him or touch him, just assist him in finding where he wants to sit. Okay?"

The larger of the two goons replied. "Okay, Chops, like you say: 'by the book.'"

He stepped closer. I smelled Faberge; a brute wearing Brut, how ironic. As they cleared the door, the police lab rats sauntered in.

I entered the former hat factory's front office, now a clubby cigar room, but without ashtrays or smokes. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been in there. In an instant, my building felt immense and empty. I sat alone on the still new burgundy leather couch. A wave of anomic isolation sent shivers down my spine. My vacant stare roamed the wall of old books I'd bought from a shop two blocks down. The sound of people pawing through my privacy drained my soul. Misters Doom and Gloom still made a goon door frame.

A few minutes later, several pairs of feet tromped down the stairs. Two of the uniformed brigade slammed into the front hallway, then quick-marched to Chops. The knot of cops was just visible between the legs of the goon door guards.

Crandall made them wait. He finished talking to one of the suits before turning to the blue-clad pair. "Tell me."

They both tried to talk over each other. The one with his back toward me shut up, letting the other deliver the goods. "We found it, Chops."

Crandall turned to the junior detective and talked loud enough that even the sidewalk looky-lous could hear. "Okay, Joe, keep the place secure." He pointed to the lab rats who had joined the party inside. "Let's go."

Time crawled like a snail, leaving a shining path slick with fear in my mind. Just as I was beginning a really good panic attack, Jim's voice sounded from the front, "Nick! Where are you?"

"In here!" I yelled.

Jim bent over and put his face even with the hip high gap in the goon fence. "Nick, everything's going to be fine. Do you have the warrant?"

He stood up and tapped one of the goons on the arm. "Do you mind? I want to speak to my client ... alone."

The goons rotated, allowing Jim to enter. His head didn't reach their broad shoulders, and he was thinner than one of their thighs, but his look was intimidating.

Jim wore sneakers and light gray sweats with the SLU crest over his heart. With his pale Irish skin and jet black hair, his morning beard was more evident than mine.

He sat beside me and took the warrant. His eyes were hard points of coal below his black brows. "How are you doing?"

I dry swallowed. "Just ducky."

"Have you been Miranda-ized?"

"No. They're searching for something, but I don't know what. Just before you got here, some cops ran down the stairs and said that they 'found it.'"

He didn't react, so I continued, "My weird meter is pegged. I didn't do anything. Last night I was out with Wendy, then I came home and went to sleep."

"Give me a minute." He read the warrant, then slipped it into the pouch on the front of his sweat top. "There's not much in it. Judge Kizinsky gave them a search and seizure for this address. Your name's not on it. Now tell me everything."

"I already did. I'm clueless."

He donned his game face. "Let me see what I can find out. Take deep breaths and relax. This is my turf."

I blessed and thanked St. Yves, the Patron saint of lawyers.

I tried to relax, thinking of my last sailing trip with Pops. My mind kept slinking back to the warrant. Why me? Albert King had my song: "Born under a bad sign ... If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all."

I didn't have to wait long. Crandall returned with the other bad suits and Jim. I didn't rise.

Chops made straight for me. "Mr. Schaevers, you're under arrest for the murder of Garry Tate."

I tried to grab my memory and rewind it. Tate? Garry's dead? They found something in my building that implicated me? A load of cold slid into my empty stomach. My legs went weak.

Chops turned to the man inside bad suit number three. "Tell him his Miranda Rights."

I wished that I was stoned tripendicular, and it was all just a bad hallucination. Irrational desperation made me hope that Carmen Miranda would speak from the grave and read me her rights instead of mine. My last best hope for insanity disappeared when the man in bad suit number three pulled me to my feet. "You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right..."

While the Miranda carta played in one ear and out the other, numbness seeped from my brain through my body. I looked to the only friend I had in the room. The others were too focused on getting me handcuffed to notice that Jim wanted to kick some ass.

Like a guard dog's growl during a burglary, Jim's voice drew attention. "What grounds do you have to arrest him?"

Crandall's eyes narrowed toward Jim. "Who are you again?"

"I'm Jim Walkins of Meacham, McCracken, and Bonesteel."

"In Clayton?"

"Yes, and I am Mr. Schaevers' attorney."

Crandall turned and gave me an appraising stare. He looked back to Jim. "He doesn't look rich. Does he get a discount?"

"I've taken note of your revealed prejudice against my client." He honed the edge on his voice. "For the second time, Detective Crandall, on what grounds are you arresting my client?"

"Tate was found dead this morning on the sidewalk in front of this building. He was tied with some fancy rope; the end was knife-cut. The missing length of the rope was tied to a pipe on your client's roof.

"Since somebody replaced the fire escapes with airplane style evacuation slides that are still in their original factory condition, the rooftop had to be accessed from inside the building. Your client is the only occupant, and he admitted that he had no visitors. He's good for at least accessory, if not the murder itself."

Chops listed his facts, and the simplest explanation was that I killed Tate. Too bad he was ignorant of all of the facts. Too bad I didn't know any other facts to tell them.

Jim provided the sarcasm that I couldn't muster. "How nice for you, but you can't possibly know if my client was involved. He isn't mentioned in the warrant, so you were unaware of him when Judge Kizinsky issued it. What statute or precedent gave you the authority to assume that since something was found on the roof, everyone in the building is a murderer? What is my client's motive?"

"How should I know?" Crandall faced me. He seemed to have softened his hard-ass act a little.

Jim pressed the offense. "You are probably ignorant of my client's history. Nick is a friend of the court. Just last year he convinced the racketeer Mark Steigler to confess to murder."

I feigned modesty.

Crandall looked me over. "I remember the Steigler case." His eyebrows rose. "So this is the PI?"

I tried the smile again, "Yeah, that was me."

Jim continued, "I won't allow you to mistreat him or his premises. If you overstep your authority, I'll litigate you into early retirement. After we finish tossing you and your case out of criminal court, we'll file against you and your fellow officers in civil court until your pensions fall off." He stepped closer to Crandall. "Let me ask you, Detective, how good is your personal attorney? Do you want to play a little two-on-two against me and Nick in civil court? Trust me, we'll take you to the hoop and show you who's got game."

"Are you threatening me?"

"No. As an officer of the court, I'd never do that. I was just revealing my legal strategy to make it more interesting for me when we meet you in open court. Should I have one of my paralegals send a brief to your attorney so he can bone-up on the relevant case law?"

Jim interrupted himself with a snap of his fingers. "Hey! I know! On Monday morning I'll file separate complaints against you and each of your detectives for violating my client's civil rights. With all of the depositions and pre-trial motions, you three might do nothing but court gestures for several months."

Crandall found his voice. "Is there something I can do for you, Counselor?"

"Let my client go."

He smiled like a politician. "No can do. Detective Brown placed him under arrest. It'll take an Assistant DA or better to cut him loose. You got a second choice?"

I cleared my throat and showed Jim the cuffs behind my back.

"Take his cuffs off?"

"The charge is murder. The cuffs stay on, but they can be made more comfortable." Crandall turned. "Redo the cuffs."

After the handcuffs were let out a notch, my hands felt better. "Jim?" I nodded toward the semi-privacy of the reading room.

He understood. "I need a minute with my client," he said to Crandall.

"Take as much as you need, but make it snappy."

Jim didn't respond; he simply walked us deeper into the room, next to the bookcases. "What's up?"

"Garry Tate was one of PolyTexNiche's venture capitalists. I'm just finishing an engineering gig there. They had their going-public party last night. Tate was alive when Wendy and I left for the Adams Mark. I had nothing to do with this."

If you get your hands cuffed behind your back, your nose will start to itch. I twitched my face, but it didn't stop.

"Was Peanuts playing at Pierre's?"

"Yeah." I rubbed my nose on a book, but it didn't scratch my itch. I read the title: Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut. A satirical commentary on madness in modern life hit too close to home. I looked for the rigid spine of a Kinky Friedman novel.

"You must be playing for keeps to take Wendy there. That's good. She's a great gal."

Gah. I'm under arrest for murder and Jim's trying to get me married. "She's my alibi. Even though it will probably kill my chances with her, can you call her before the cops get to her?"

"Sure, I'll take care of it, but you need to do something for me. I've noticed some of your old quirks coming back. When you talk to people, you don't actually look at them. Your eyes dither, like high-speed spastics. You've started wise cracking again."

And you're getting only a third of the chatter, too.

"Your mind games are back, aren't they?"

When the going got weird, I turned pro. I said nothing.

"I'm your friend. Get therapy before you start hearing voices in your head."

Too late, for round one. "Can we talk about this later? I don't want a prison shrink to be my therapist. I promise I'll talk to Fr. Xavier about counseling. Okay?"

"Deal. If I can't find Wendy, won't Peanuts remember you?"

It was about time he got off my back and back on my case. "Yeah, but he may not remember when we left." I pushed my face close to his. "I've got to prove I'm innocent, and I can't do that if I'm in jail."

"I'll do what I can. Play along, but don't talk unless I'm in the room with you."

"Where are you going?"

"I need to go home and put on the uniform."

After Jim left, Crandall dismissed most of the cops. Leaving the crime-scene unit, he shepherded us outside.

I used to know right and wrong, in black and white. Now I was a desperate man ready to do things I never would have done before. Morning light staggered through the derelict buildings that surrounded mine, illuminating the shades of gray that were now my life.

The detectives tucked and rolled me into the back of a POS car full of stale odors left by previous occupants. Old garlic and methane laced with urine and feces stung me like smelling salts. The little pine air freshener hanging from the cage wire divider had all but given up its fight.







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