Authors: Marla Madison
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Private Investigator, #Thriller
Copyright © 2014 by Marla Madison
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely accidental.
Published by Marla Madison.
All rights reserved.
This novel in no way attempts to duplicate the police procedures or actual police departments in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin or any other cities mentioned in the story. Any discrepancies in procedure, locations, or fact, may be attributed to the author’s creativity.
I would like to thank the members of my writer’s group whose support and instruction has been invaluable. Donna Glaser, Helen Block, Marjorie Doering, and Dave Tindell. Also my beta readers, Terry Hoskins, Joan Cochrane, Karen Peterson, and Merilee Reinke whose input always gives me direction.
Thanks to Terry Lee, my significant other, for supporting my efforts. A special thank you to my dear pets, Skygge and Poncho, for being faithful companions during the writing process.
Also by Marla Madison
She’s Not There
Note from author
For your convenience, a character list has been added at the end of the book.
scaping the confines of its closed system, a heavy gas diffused into every corner of Norman Teschler’s basement and slowly began to permeate the upper floor. Natural gas, odorless in its original form, contains the additive mercaptan, which lends it a repugnant odor for early leak detection.
Norman returned from a run, proud of the distance he could still cover after turning seventy. Night running was something he didn’t do often these days, but tonight his head had felt foggy. Unable to focus on his writing, he had taken off into the night for a run along the parkway to clear his head.
Invigorated by the exercise, he stepped out of a hot shower, pulled on a pair of sweats, and headed to the kitchen for a quick snack before getting back to the new chapter. The refrigerator held nothing of great appeal. Since losing his sense of smell, eating didn’t have the same enjoyment it once had. Strange how important the scent of the food was to hunger, a fact he had never given any thought to when he could still be tempted by the mouthwatering odors of things like popcorn, pizza, or a steak on the grill. Most of the foods he ate tasted bland these days. He grabbed a bag of extra spicy Cheetos and an iced tea, and then returned to his writing.
Three pages into the new chapter, Norman could hardly keep his eyes open; the gas had soundlessly seeped into his study, its sulfurous warning odor useless to Norman’s impaired olfactory sense. He thought his body was sending him a message, telling him it was time to call it a day. He’d had a busy week at the agency and reasoned that his late nights spent writing had taken their toll. He turned off the computer. Tomorrow he would get an early start.
The humidor on his desk, a rare antique of carved oak, held his favorite cigars, Cuban Montecristos. He raised the lid, withdrew one, and then took a seat in his well-aged leather recliner where he picked up a book he had been reading. The smoke had become an end-of-day ritual, one he savored since giving up cigarettes. Enjoying a cigar every night kept him cigarette-free. He reached for his lighter. Norman pushed the recliner back to elevate his feet and realized he barely had the energy for the movement. The chair clicked back into its upright position as he leaned forward.
It was never a good idea to smoke in a position so conducive to sleep.
Feeling like he had done the safe thing, Norman flicked the lighter.
The gas ignited, instantly destroying the house and all its contents. Giant clouds of brilliant orange edged in tongues of white-hot flame leapt toward the sky.
amous or not, Mancusi was an asshole. TJ Peacock knew it was too late to back out of the gig; she had already been well paid to protect him for three days. But if the slimy bastard didn’t quit eyeballing her breasts, she would pop him. Arlie Mancusi, everyone’s favorite comedian and star of a weekly sitcom that had been running on a prime TV network for nearly ten years, wasn’t making her laugh.
Mancusi had pumped up his personal security while he was in Milwaukee because he had a stalker. TJ studied the photo of the stalker, Carolyn Alberty, an attractive woman who obviously had shitty taste in men. Alberty had recently been acquitted of a stalking charge despite the evidence against her. TJ figured the whole thing could be a publicity stunt. If you’re a big name, any publicity is good publicity.
Mancusi had arrived in town for a sitcom he was guest starring in that featured a Milwaukee locale. TJ, a local PI, had been added to the entertainer’s in-house security staff during Mancusi’s stay. The group was gathered in his suite, discussing the best way to protect him. The head security guy dismissed her. “We’ll stay with Arlie. You scope out the hotel and let me know if you see the bitch hanging around.”
As a licensed private investigator, TJ hadn’t expected to be a token on the coattails of Mancusi’s herd of security beef, but the money was good. There wasn’t much she could do for him as a member of the herd, and the fact that she was the only one designated to lobby patrol reinforced her suspicion that the whole stalker thing was a stunt.
“I’ll get right on it, sport,” she replied.
She moved to the elevators, pulling a wheeled suitcase behind her that bounced in her wake. Dressed like a tourist, she wore jeans, a tank top under a gauzy white shirt tied at the waist, and a small shoulder bag that matched the luggage. There was nowhere to hide her piece in the outfit she wore, not that she would need one for this farce. She wheeled her bag into the gift shop and bought a
magazine she carried with her to a loveseat she found in the lobby where she could keep an eye on the crowd.
She hadn’t even gotten to the article on Jennifer Lopez she wanted to read when she spotted her—Mancusi’s stalker—her dark hair in long, Lady Godiva curls and, like TJ, pulling a small suitcase with a matching bag. She looked about five feet nine in high, platform sandals and wore a slim, chocolate-brown dress that reached her ankles. TJ left the sofa and caught up with Carolyn Alberty as she was about to join the line in front of the registration desk. “Ms. Alberty, step over here a minute. We need to talk.”
Alberty, feigning annoyance, followed TJ to a spot off the lobby in front of a darkened restaurant. Her eyes shifted nervously. “Who are you?”
“I work for Mancusi. You’re in violation of a restraining order. Get arrested again, you could do jail time.”
The stalker studied TJ. “I can’t help it. I love him.”
TJ scoffed. “Yeah? You know what I think? I think you’re full o’ crap.”
Alberty’s perfectly made-up eyes widened. “You don’t have to protect him from me, I’d never hurt him.”
TJ looked her over. Her appearance seemed too showy for a stalker who should be attempting to remain unnoticed. “Tell you what. I’m gonna do you a big favor. I won’t call the cops, but you’re leavin’ town. Next flight out, your ass is back to C-A. I’ll escort you personally and even wave good-bye as your plane lifts off.”
Alberty took a moment to review her options. “All right. But I have to make a call first.” She pulled a cell phone from her purse.
TJ snorted. “You’re a real piece o’ work. You wanna tip off the press an’ get your face on the news tonight, right? Hand over the cell phone. Now.” TJ didn’t give a rat’s ass if the stalker got her moment in the limelight and suspected Mancusi wanted the press coverage. Tough. TJ had already been paid. After she and Alberty arrived at the airport, TJ would give her the frickin’ phone. She just didn’t want a welcoming committee waiting for them.
Pouting, Alberty jammed on a pair of dark glasses and passed over her phone.
At home that night, TJ relived the scene at the airport. She hated being in the spotlight, unlike the stalker who had made the most of every second in front of the cameras. She hated security work, too, especially when the job felt as ridiculous as this one. Criminal investigation is what she really wanted to do, but she’d given it up when she became a mother. Supposedly temporarily.
Richard Conlin was sleeping soundly in her bedroom. He and TJ had been together for years; the only break in their relationship occurred when she had been on a quest to prove to the Milwaukee police that too many missing women added up to a predator on the loose. The investigation had put a strain on their relationship, a strain that led to her becoming close to Jeff Denison, the husband of one of the missing women. A killer who had made Jeff’s death look like a suicide, murdered him before TJ had even known she was pregnant with Jeff’s child. She would never know what might have happened if Jeff had lived, whether or not their feelings for each other would have ended in a lasting relationship.
She and Richard had gotten back together after Jeff was murdered, and since the baby had come, Richard stayed with them nearly every night, although he had yet to give up his own apartment. He adored one-year-old JR, Jeffrey Richard, named after his biological father and Richard. Richard had insisted on the sequence of the names.
TJ’s home and office were in an old two-story brick duplex off State Street in Milwaukee’s Menomonee River Valley. It was a large building. Her apartment on the second floor had three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining area and living room, and the entire first floor she used as office space. The short street the home sat on ended at a bluff crowned by a wealthy area of Wauwatosa, its aged brick homes regal. TJ sold her condo in downtown Milwaukee after finding out she was pregnant. A high-rise was not the place to raise a child. So far, she was enjoying her new neighborhood.
A Milwaukee detective, Richard had come off a late shift that night and stayed up with her only long enough to watch the ten-o’clock news. They were starting to behave like an old married couple. He hinted around about marriage every now and then, something TJ didn’t even want to think about yet. She loved JR with a passion she never knew possible, but motherhood hadn’t doused her love for investigatory work or her need for independence. Facts she had yet to admit to Richard. Richard felt that TJ should stick to security work during JR’s first few years.
An hour later, TJ gave up on the mundane offerings on TV and headed for the liquor cabinet. A drink would put her to sleep.
The blast hit just as she reached for a shot glass—a blast that felt like a bomb had landed somewhere close by. Her ears popped and the house trembled. The glasses inside the cabinet were still rattling as TJ ran out the front door to see the night sky above the bluff had turned a brilliant orange. She rushed back inside and tried to wake Richard, who told her in a voice heavy with sleep that they would find out about it in the morning. She should come to bed and get some rest.
Sleep wouldn’t happen anytime soon, not with her heart racing from what she’d seen outside. She checked on JR once more before downing a shot of tequila and leaving the house on foot.