Read Beautiful Girls Online

Authors: Gary S. Griffin

Tags: #mystery, #detective, #murder, #LA, #models, #investigator, #private, #sex, #drama, #case, #crime, #strippers

Beautiful Girls

BOOK: Beautiful Girls
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beautiful GIRLS

 

a stevie garrett beautiful girls mystery

book three

GARY S. GRIFFIN

  

2011

 

ireadiwrite Publishing Edition
 

Copyright © 2011 Gary S. Griffin

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This ireadiwrite Publishing edition is published by arrangement with Gary S. Griffin, contact at [email protected]

ireadiwrite Publishing - www.ireadiwrite.com

Second electronic edition published by ireadiwrite Publishing

Beautiful Girls

ISBN 978-1-926760-52-0

Published in Canada with international distribution.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Cover Design: Michelle Halket

Cover Photograph: Copyright and courtesy of CanStock Photo

This novel is dedicated to my friend,

Michael Quigley.

Mike introduced me to John D. MacDonald's

Travis McGee mysteries in college.

I loved those adventures and

read the entire series as fast as I could.

Mysteries quickly became my favorite genre.

That was the initial spark that led

to this blaze of writing years later.

Thank you, fella

 

Lost Without You

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 16
th
& Chestnut Streets, Two Liberty Place, 44
th
Floor, Monday, October 18, 2004.

I pulled my ringing cell phone from my work bag. It was a woman, a woman crying, crying before I said hello. She continued crying for some time. It was my fiancée, Edie McCall. It was 8:10 AM. I had just arrived at work. That made it 5:10 AM in Los Angeles.

Slowly, she calmed down enough to speak in brief phrases. “Oh, Stevie…”

“Edie, what's wrong?”

“It's Bambi and Troy and Lisa.”

“What happened?”

“They're dead.”

“How?”

“They were shot.”

“Where?”

“Bambi was shot next to the patio and Troy and Lisa were shot in the garage apartment. There's blood everywhere. It's awful. They were all shot in the head.”

“Oh, my God!”

She said, “They died yesterday afternoon, or so the police said.”

“Oh, no. When did you get to the mansion?”

“Last night, just before midnight. I flew down from Vancouver. The plane was delayed. I had to stay late as we were re-shooting our last scenes. I found Bambi first…”

She paused and cried. I waited.

I said, “Oh, baby!”

Edie said, “I don't know what's happened to Tawny or my dad. I've been talking to the Beverly Hills police for most of the time since I've been here. Oh, Stevie, how could this happen?”

She was frantic.

I asked, “Where could Tawny and your father be?”

“I don't know. Bambi and I were going to get my dress re-sized at the bridal shop today.”

“Have you called Tawny's cell phone?”

“Yes, and no one answered. I left messages but no one's called me back. God, Stevie, this is a nightmare. Haven't you and I had enough bad things in our lives?”

“Yes, we have, Edie. What's going on?”

“It's all a mystery to me. Now, television trucks are out in front of the mansion and they want me to talk to them. The police think I should make some statement and that might satisfy the reporters for a while. I guess I need to, but I don't know what to say. All I know is I need you. I have more to tell you, but I'll wait until we can speak face to face. Please come to L.A., now.”

I didn't think twice. “OK.”

“Oh, thank you, Stevie.”

“I'm leaving now. I'll get a reservation and go home and quickly pack my bag.”

“Thank God.” She paused and said, “I'm lost without you, Stevie.”

Then, she hung up.

I couldn't believe it. Our world was suddenly smaller and sadder.

 

Wildfire

In the air over Ohio, the same day.

My name is Stephen Garrett. I'm a business investigator who works in Philadelphia and lives in the state of Delaware. I run a firm called Center City Investigators in The Liberty Place, the great blue sky scrapers of downtown Philadelphia. Center City is hired by our clients to solve their frauds and other problems. I became the managing partner two years earlier.

On that sad October day, I was thirty-eight years old and engaged to Edie McCall. Edie's an actress who, at thirty-four, was finally finding steady work. She was completing her first feature film based on her recently cancelled, science-fiction television series. Her prospects for future work look good as Edie has a spunky, intense personality and sexy, petite looks that attracted a loyal following.

Life hadn't always been easy for Edie. Her mother died over a decade earlier from cancer. Her father was a convicted felon, recently released from prison, who helped kill Edie's mentor and sometime lover. Edie still lived part of the time on the mentor-millionaire's Beverly Hills estate. She also owned a chalet in the mountains above Tucson, Arizona.

Edie and I met nine years earlier when I investigated the death of that same celebrity-millionaire, Sid Gabriel. Sid was a playboy with an estate and riches and a stable of women to rival Hugh Hefner.

Even though I had determined that Edie's father conspired with a crazy woman to kill Sid, Edie and I began a friendship. She helped me solve the case and we worked well together. When the case ended, we went our separate ways. Before I left L.A., Edie pleaded with me not to forget her.

I would always remember Edie.

The case itself was life-changing for me. It was my first murder investigation. I killed the murderer as she was about to kill again. I solved the mystery, cleared Andi Anderson of the crime and managed to keep myself alive. Yet, I didn't call that investigation concluded because those ten days started everything that happened since.

Beautiful girls came into my life and never left. From then on, I've always had one of them in my dreams or in my arms.

I never fully understood why; and it tormented me.

***

Eight years later, in June 2003, those unanswered questions led me back to Los Angeles and Tucson. During the L.A. visit, I found enough answers to finish writing
Modern Girls
, my book about the case.

In Tucson, Edie and I reconnected. Our friendship ignited in the midst of astounding events. We didn't act on our burning passions then. Instead, they smoldered for eleven months.

Five months ago in May 2004, a second tragedy brought us together again. After years apart, after confusing, failed relationships, God's plan became clear. Our dead friend's last will and testament started it. Edie flew east and helped me again. We found justice for our friend. We also fell in love.

We became engaged and planned an October wedding. Our future looked so promising. Our finances were solid as we received an unexpected windfall. We owned three homes. Our careers were successful. Our families were stabilizing, or so we thought. It looked so good. Then, Edie's phone call shattered all of it.

***

I somehow made the 2:00 PM nonstop US Airways flight to L.A. It was a blurry five and a half hours of driving and packing and telephone calls from the time I left the office until I walked onto the plane. I had time to call my father and my cousins and quickly explain what I knew about the triple murders. I said our wedding plans were likely on hold. I promised to call back with an update when I had any news to report.

My last call was to Edie right before takeoff. She still had no news or word from Tawny or her dad. Edie had made the call to Lana, Troy's mother, and had completely broken down again during that phone conversation and again when Lana arrived at the mansion. Edie believed she would be able to get by for the next six hours until I arrived as she was exhausted and planned to take a nap. But, she insisted she'd meet me at the airport. I said, “OK,” as I hung up when we took off.

Once we reached cruising altitude, I closed the mystery novel I was reading,
A Tan and Deadly Silence
, and put on the airline's headphones. I watched a news summary and the first report was about a wildfire in California.

For the rest of my life, when I hear that word, I'll have a flashback to Mount Lemmon. I closed my eyes and thought of our brush with death sixteen months earlier.

I remembered…

I woke first. I'm still not sure how long I slept. That's when I noticed the smell; burning wood. I turned to look and realized it had drifted up from below, from lower elevations.

I was on Mount Lemmon below the summit with Edie McCall and Tawny Gabriel. That morning, young Tawny and I had flown in from L.A. I hadn't seen Edie in three years. The three of us had hiked four miles from the car and had passed through the Wilderness of Rocks with its strange rock formations and pools of water. Then, we stopped at Edie's special spot for lunch.

I'll never forget the view of the entire Tucson valley from on top of one rock stack. The air was a little hazy, but it was still an amazing view — over a mile straight down and many miles long and wide. Edie pointed out the foothill area where we started our drive. She said the southern horizon was in Mexico and the northern view was near Phoenix. We sat and gazed for a long time.

The hike had tired us. After eating we napped on Edie's blanket spread in the shade of a big pine tree on top of six inches of pine straw. Edie's head rested on my lap. Edie felt small, childlike. Though petite, my friend was a wonderfully mature woman. It was an odd feeling.

My movements woke Edie. She noticed the odor too, about ten seconds after me. She looked at me and I spotted the concern in her eyes. That's when we saw smoke for the first time. The wind had become much stronger, a true gale. Edie moved over on the blanket, petted ten-year-old Tawny's hair and woke her. Before we had finished loading our packs, I heard sounds on the wind; cracking, snapping, a roar.

Tawny said, “I'm scared, what's happening?”

I said, “I think there's a forest fire.”

“Big Sister, are we going to be OK?”

“Sure we will, Little Sister, Big Brother and I will get us out of here.”

Edie told us we must start our climb back to the car. She led the way onward through the woods. With every step on the dry, thick pine needles, I got more scared.

That's when I saw the first flying embers. I saw some needles catch fire. Then, little fires were happening all around us.

After a minute of this, I yelled, “Stop!” and said, “Edie, how far is it through this woods?”

“Two or three miles.”

I said, “We'll never make it that way.”

I looked at Tawny. She looked petrified and on the verge of tears.

I said, “Let's go back to the Rocks.”

Edie answered, “OK, but the fire is close.”

“Yeah, it is, but the Rocks won't catch fire, and they are right through the woods, down this hill. Plus, the ground is flat. We'll make good time that way.”

“You're right, Stevie. Let's go.”

I yelled to Edie, “Lead the way.”

We were off as fast as Tawny could walk. I held Tawny's hand and kept close to Edie.

Suddenly, flying embers filled the red sky to our right, coming up the mountain. Landing embers ignited pine needles. A throaty, rumbling sound could be heard. Rust-colored flames burned here and there in spot fires. They multiplied and started crawling towards the Rocks. We broke free of this first stand of trees to open ground. There, the wind whipped the grass fires across the slopes towards us.

We hurried up and down these open hills of grass and made it to the second grove. I worried that the fire would jump to us in this grove before we could reach the safety of the Rocks.

Suddenly, several hundred acres of mountain, the entire mountain, was in flames. The advance was so swift. We were surrounded by the firestorm. Fire was everywhere. Just before we entered the second, small forest, I looked behind us, where we had our lunch, and could see fire. That forest was now ablaze. Thick red smoke billowed up the canyon. We raced ahead.

The flame front was only 100 yards away, as we left the woods. We had the same distance to go before we reached The Rocks' safe haven. We were yelling to each other, but the sounds from the roaring fire were deafening, preventing us from hearing one another. I pointed to the women to follow me.

That's when we ran for our lives. Tawny had a tight grip on my hand as we stumbled and jumped across the ground of grass and rock. We made it across the burning field in thirty seconds, dodging spot fires everywhere. We continued sprinting to the pools. Smoke, heat and cinders surrounded us in a whirlwind. I remember seeing my left knee was cut and bleeding. I had no idea when or how that happened. Edie and Tawny's faces, arms and legs were covered in soot.

Then, we were in the heart of The Rocks with its walls and water. I was so hot that I jumped right into a big pool surrounded by a rock wall. The women followed. We huddled together and let the fires burn on.

We were protected. We sat chest deep in water. We were soaked. We were shivering. We were scared. We were bathed in an eerie, orange glow. The water was cold. Edie's t-shirt was ripped across her chest and she had a bleeding scratch just below her breasts. Tawny had lost her blue hair ribbon.

When would the firestorm pass? We sat, waited and prayed.

Hurricane force winds battered the mountain. Twice, I stood and walked to the gap in the rock wall and peeked to my left and right. I saw fire everywhere. We heard sounds of trees falling to the ground in rapid succession every couple of minutes. I went back to Edie and Tawny. We hugged each other tight. I think we were in the pool for forty-five minutes.

Then, abruptly, it calmed enough for us to realize we had made it. We had survived the firestorm. We got up and left the pool. I asked how the women were doing and we realized we could finally hear each other speak. We scanned our bodies for injuries and the only visible ones were the scratches on my knee and Edie's chest.

Edie pulled out some antiseptic from her backpack and rubbed it on both our injuries. Both women were still shivering. I pulled the blanket out of my backpack for Tawny. Edie pulled out her sweat shirt from her pack, turned around to hide her bare chest, and pulled off her wet, torn t-shirt and put on the warm, dry, gray, cotton top.

The fire had reached the top of the mountain and was working down the other side.

I had to get the women to safety. We were all shivering, but I thought our teeth might stop chattering when we began walking. The whole area was black with smoldering fires everywhere. The fire had ridden up the mountain in a sprint, driven by the high winds. I wondered about the width of the path and if the BMW had been engulfed in flames.

We heard sirens blaring above us and I guessed that Summerhaven, the mountain top town, had suffered badly from the roaring firestorm. The sounds of fire trucks coming up the Catalina Highway echoed in the canyon.

Once we cleared The Rocks we could see better. The firestorm burnt an area over a mile wide and we had been near the middle of the swath. We walked on and the temperature rose — it had to be above 100 degrees. The oven-like heat from the late-day sun and the dying embers slowed us down. Sweat poured down my face and back. I took off my shirt and the strong wind helped cool me some. Tawny had unwrapped herself from the blanket and I put it back in my pack. Edie suffered in her sweat shirt. I offered her my shirt and she accepted.

Edie whispered to me, “If we were alone, I wouldn't turn around.”

The soles of my sneakers became softer and my feet became warmer with each step on the hot ground. Finally, after a mile we stepped onto an unburned path, into woods. My feet cooled. The fire line ended at the edge of a field — it was hard to understand why it didn't roar into this stand of trees.

I said, “Let's keep going.”

Edie said, “Yes, we need to get back and burn a break around the cabin. Stevie, this wind could shift again and come our way.”

We were weary, but the specter of the flames was enough inspiration to our feet and our minds. We made it to the cabin in less than an hour.

When we got back to the cabin, Edie called Bambi and let her know we were OK. Bambi hadn't heard of the fire but was glad we called. Bambi wondered if the fire came near us. She had no idea how close. Bambi became the first person to hear Edie describe how I had saved their lives. Edie discouraged Bambi from coming to Tucson herself or having Tawny sent home early.

Edie's words stuck in my mind, “She'll always be safe with Stevie and me.”

Bambi must have been reassured. Edie handed the phone to Tawny. Little Sister's chat with her mother became the second time I heard how I rescued them. It was clear; I would always be a hero to these three women.

This was confirmed a third time at the end of the conversation when Bambi asked to speak to me.

Through tears, Bambi expressed her gratitude.

“Thank you, Stevie, I couldn't live without Tawny.”

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