Publisher: White Whisker Books (August 15, 2014) Category: Mystery ISBN: 9781499124551 Tour Date: October, 2014 Available in: Print & ebook, 176 Pages
In A Death in Vegas, the president of BenBugs, a company that specializes in beneficial bugs for organic gardening, discovers a young woman dead in his Las Vegas hotel suite. She had worked as a sexy lady bug at his convention booth—and he had nothing to do with her death. While that’s being investigated, the FBI raids his booth on a money-laundering scam that he knows nothing about, either. Soon, the coroner doesn’t have good news. The police and FBI are against him—and his wife cannot be found. He flees to find the answers.
CHAPTER TWO (Day One)
On the barstool, Chatterley sat on one leg and had taken off her antennae and wings, talking intensely with another woman her age, mid-twenties. The woman wore black pants and a white halter-top and appeared concerned. Should he approach them? No. They were probably into some boyfriend problem or fretting over which dance clubs to hit that night, and who was he but Chatterley’s latest employer? He knew a hello would be awkward. He needed to stay focused, think more about Jones-Bradbury. He left the restaurant. He’d go back to his original idea, the Stratosphere. In front of the hotel, a yellow cab pulled up, and Patton waved to it. The driver nodded. Just as Patton approached the rear door, a hairy, bearded man in a sleeveless black t-shirt and black leather pants raced over and opened the door, shoving his tattooed girlfriend in. “Hey,” Patton shouted. “That’s my cab.” “I don’t see you in it,” said the guy, glaring and sizing him up. “Get another.” “No. The driver nodded at me, and it’s my cab. There are rules.” Patton pointed to the woman in the back. “Get out. This is my cab.” The woman with far too much mascara looked raccoon-eyed at her boyfriend. The man, either a bass player for a metal band or a bad conceptual artist, spun around and punched Patton hard in the shoulder. Surprised, Patton turned to a doorman in a red uniform and shouted, “Are you seeing this?” The doorman shouted back, “Get the next cab,” and hurried inside. The bearded man was moving into the car, and Patton knew that he probably shouldn’t do anything, but this wasn’t right. He grabbed the man’s arm and said, “This is my cab!” “Fuck you,” the man said before smashing Patton in the stomach with a hard left fist, then a right into the side of Patton’s head. “Go back to the slots with your grandpa-goes-to-the-mall shoes.” The man shoved himself into the cab and shouted, “The Stratosphere.” The taxi took off. Now on the ground, Patton held his head and stomach, forcing back nausea. His ears were ringing, and he was sure he was going to vomit right on his black tennis shoes. Grandpa goes to the mall? He felt hands gently lift him under each armpit. “Are you okay?” came a sweet female voice. “My God, we saw the whole thing from inside.” Patton set his eyes on Chatterley, who continued lifting on one side, her friend on the other. Chatterley looked like a spotted angel in her ladybug costume. “Yeah, what was that guy’s problem?” said her friend. The doorman was now there, breathing hard. “I just heard,” said the man. “Are you okay?” “Of course I’m not okay,” Patton said, coughing. “You chickened out.” “I had to go inside.” “Who’s your boss?” “Would you like a free drink at the bar?” the man said. “I know the bartender.” “Mr. Burch, let’s go to the bathroom first. There’s a little blood by your ear,” said Chatterley, now guiding him forward. Patton shoed the doorman away. A flash went off. Chatterley’s friend handed him his own cell phone, which had a camera. “I found it on the ground,” she said. “Thought you might want a picture in case you sue.” “This is my friend Faith. Faith, Mr. Burch.” “Call me Patton,” he said. He stood on his own power now, breathing deeply, pain now morphing into embarrassment. What the hell made him think to grapple with someone as big as a Bonneville? “Faith and I worked together at a small local casino.” “I still work there,” Faith said. “Patton?” said Faith. “As in the general?” Patton rubbed his stomach, which felt as bruised as old bananas. “Yes. Patton is my mom’s favorite general from World War Two.” He extended his hand to finally shake. “You know your generals.” “Thanks to my dad,” said Faith. She caught sight of someone over his shoulder, and smiled. “My friend’s here. Gotta go.” Faith waved to the someone. Patton turned. Walking up the sidewalk, a young man in baggy tan shorts and a gray sports shirt smiled as if he had pulled all cherries on a slot machine. His glow could run the city lights for a week. Faith squealed, then reached into her small purse and pulled out a single key on a keychain with a single silver heart on it. She put it in Chatterley’s hand. “Take it,” said Faith. “I won’t be home anyway.” “Thanks,” said Chatterley. “ “See ya,” Faith said and ran off with a smile. “Nothing like young love,” said Chatterley, looking after her friend wistfully. “What’s with the key?” he said. “I’m staying at her place tonight. Mine has problems.” “Problems?” “Here,” she said. “Let’s get you cleaned up in a bathroom.” “That’s okay. I’ll just go to my hotel,” said Patton. “Don’t be silly. You’re bleeding. Get inside.” He was impressed. They walked back into the restaurant, and Chatterley directed him into the men’s room, which she entered, too, not seeming to care. No one was in there. She pulled out a paper towel from the dispenser and wet it. “Lean on the sink,” she said. “I’ll get it.” She dabbed gingerly near his temple, focused like a nurse. “This would be a great city,” she said, “if it wasn’t for all the people.” “I was stupid.” “No you weren’t. Here, stay still.” She kept dabbing. “You look good now.” “Maybe I need to be punched more often.” She smiled, and he noticed what a truly great face she had—oval with a nose that a sculptor could love, a gentle curve at its top. “You told me earlier you’re going to college.” “College of Southern Nevada, a community college.” “So … what’s your major?” She shook her head. “After a day like today, you don’t need to hear about that.” He let it go yet also felt he had to do the right thing. “May I buy you dinner for your help?” “I know you’re a busy man.” “I suppose you’re meeting someone anyway.” “I was going to eat alone.” “Then have dinner with me. You’re my savior.” She looked at him earnestly, then nodded. They left the bathroom and moved up to Envy’s entrance. As they waited for a hostess, Chatterley smoothed out her costume. “So how do you catch ladybugs?” she asked. He shook his head. “I don’t catch any. I order them from specialists who know how to catch them in the woods. They swarm.” “I seem to have lost my swarm.” “So I get you to myself. I’m lucky.” “Thank you.” After they were seated and looked over the menus, she ordered organic salmon and three jumbo prawns. He selected the prime porterhouse with grilled onions and mushroom sauce. They shared a bottle of wine, a pinot noir from Chateau St. Jean that Chatterley had suggested was undervalued. Patton slathered butter on the small cut-up baguette. “Sometimes bread is just the perfect thing,” he said. “And it’s sourdough.” Chatterley took a piece. “The best sourdough is Boudin’s. Did you know they’ve been using the same starter for over a hundred and fifty years?” “I don’t know much about bread.” “Starter’s what makes sourdough special. Most bread is made with flour, water, and commercial yeast. Sourdough has what’s called a starter, which is water and flour that’s allowed to sit around and feed off the natural yeast and bacteria in the air.” “Very organic,” said Patton. “Yeah.” Chatterley coughed at that moment, held up her hand, and, from her purse, pulled out a blue inhaler. She yanked off the white cap, inserted the base into her mouth, and pushed down on the aluminum cylinder that sent out a burst of her medicine. She inhaled. Smiling, looking better, she continued: “The bacteria in San Francisco, lactobacillus sanfrancisco, is what gives the perfect sour taste and makes San Francisco bread the best.” “You need an inhaler in Las Vegas? I thought the desert was good for asthma.” “Maybe something at the show irritated me—though it started yesterday.” “I’m sorry if the show did.” “Not important,” she said. “Bread’s important. The staff of life. A hundred years ago, bread was made at home. The smell of fresh bread is just…” She inhaled deeply as if pulling in the warm scent. “I love it.” “You know a lot about bread.” “I’m in a culinary program, didn’t I tell you?” “No.” “In my college. I want to be a chef.” “You don’t want to be America’s Top Model?” “No. This may sound silly, but I didn’t do anything to earn how I look. Food and wine is my calling—like yours is bugs. Isn’t it great to be doing what you love?” He nodded, though he wondered if bugs were his true calling. He’d always followed his curiosity, first into chemistry, then into this, but he always felt he had a lot more things he wanted to know. “I was reading a book called The Outliers,” said Patton. “The author, Malcolm Gladwell, claims that people really good at what they do, like Bill Gates and the Beatles, have spent at least ten thousand hours at it. That’d be about four years if you worked at it eight hours a day, six days a week. I certainly did that in chemistry and bugs.” “I’m getting there,” she said. “Well, when you’re my age, you don’t necessarily have ten thousand hours to put into a new field.” “You’re plenty young,” she said. “Don’t be silly.” When their entrees arrived, they each envied what the other ordered and traded bites. She asked him how he got into beneficial bugs, and he told her how he helped invent chemical compounds and pesticides used in agriculture before he created this new business, which was doing something better for the planet. “I really wanted to do something good. I want the earth to be a better place in fifty years. Wouldn’t it be great if we weren’t polluting our soil, air, and water so much?” “Did you hear that scientists are trying to grow meat?” Chatterley said. “I heard on the news that meat might be hooked up to special nutrient tubes—cells divide, and, bam, you have a chicken breast.” “Would you eat such a thing?” he asked. “I don’t know. If you grill it perfectly and use the right sauce, it could be great, right?” They both laughed, and Patton ordered another bottle of wine that she chose. Talking with her was quite easy.
About Christopher Meeks:
Christopher Meeks has four novels and two collections of short fiction published. His most recent novel before this was the acclaimed thriller, “Blood Drama.” His novel “The Brightest Moon of the Century” made the list of three book critics’ Ten Best Book of 2009. “Love at Absolute Zero” also made three Best Books lists of 2011, as well as earning a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist award.
He has had stories published in several literary journals, and they have been included in the collections “Months and Seasons” and “The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea.” Mr. Meeks has had three full-length plays mounted in Los Angeles, and one, “Who Lives?” had been nominated for five Ovation Awards, Los Angeles’ top theatre prize.
Mr. Meeks teaches English and fiction writing at Santa Monica College, and Children’s Literature at the Art Center College of Design. To read more of his books visit his website at: www.chrismeeks.com.