Authors: Jessie Chandler.
Tags: #soft-boiled, #mystery, #murder mystery, #fiction, #regional, #lesbian, #bingo, #minnesota
Bingo Barge Murder: A Shay O’Hanlon Caper
© 2011 by Jessie Chandler.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
As the purchaser of this ebook, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. The text may not be otherwise reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or recorded on any other storage device in any form or by any means.
Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author’s copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either 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.
First e-book edition © 2011
E-book ISBN: 9780738728032
Book design by Donna Burch
Cover design by Lisa Novak
Cover illustration © Rick Lovell
Editing by Nicole Edman
Midnight Ink is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
Midnight Ink does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business arrangements between our authors and the public.
Any Internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific reference will continue or be maintained. Please refer to the publisher’s website for links to current author websites.
Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
2143 Wooddale Drive
Woodbury, MN 55125
Manufactured in the United States of America
This endeavor could never have come to fruition without the help and support of a number of people.
Thank you doesn’t even begin to cover it, but here goes … to my awesome acquisitions editor, Terri Bischoff; my crack production editor, Nicole Edman; my amazing cover designer, Lisa Novak; publicist extraordinaire Courtney Colton; and to Midnight Ink/Llewellyn Worldwide for giving my writing this chance to shine.
For believing in me even when I lost faith, encouraging me to follow my dreams, and putting up with the hours and days I was there but really wasn’t, an immense amount of gratitude and love goes out to my wife and partner, Betty. There is no way on earth I could have done this without your unflappable enthusiasm.
To JM Redmann and Micky Knight. Without the two of you, I’d have never put my fingers on a keyboard.
Thank you to Ellen Hart, who gave me the courage to believe; and Lori L. Lake, for continuing to guide me safely through writing’s treacherous territory. I am happily indebted to you both.
My Hartless Murderers: Joan Murphy Pride, TJ Roth, and Brian Landon—you are my rock.
Pat & Gary at Once Upon a Crime Mystery Bookstore in Minneapolis, Ruta Skujins at True Colors Bookstore, and all my Borders peeps—I can’t begin to thank you for your support and encouragement.
I want to thank NaNoWriMo, BABA’s Pat Cronin, Chris Paynter, Judy Kerr, Sharon Carlson, Verda Foster, Lori L. Lake, and Mary Beth Panichi for their advice and assistance. To my friends and family: April McGuire, Angel & Monte Hight, Pearl Hedlund, Paul & Sue Hedlund, Mary Hedlund-Blomberg & Gene, Susie & Scott Augustson, Alyssa Augustson, Jean Janeksela, Alice Parsons, Marie Oslund, Bill Anding, Terry & Wendy Chandler, Jim & Gayle Knutson, Betty Jean Turner, and so many others—the unbelievable encouragement you have given has meant the world to me.
who I hope is watching from above and laughing in delight;
and for Lucky Dawg,
whose tongue was legendary and whose canine heart was solid gold.
You are both loved and forever missed.
The morning that upended
my usually uneventful existence was balmy for mid-November in Minneapolis. Sunlight beamed through wispy white clouds floating low in a pale blue, postcard sky. In the backyard behind my café, the Rabbit Hole, more commonly known as the Hole, I heaved a paper bag full of coffeehouse castoffs into a recycling bin that sat beneath an old maple tree. A car crept along the alley behind me, and I glanced over my shoulder to watch a Minneapolis Police Department squad car pass by.
I pivoted to head inside when someone grabbed my sweatshirt and jerked me backward, almost off my feet. Too surprised to do anything else, I stumbled and fought to keep my balance. I was dragged a few long steps through a side door into an old double-car garage. Dusty darkness shrouded my sight as if I’d been blindfolded. It all happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance to utter a sound, although my pulse went from seventy to about a thousand in three seconds flat.
My shirt was released, and more in reaction than with any real plan, I whirled toward the threat. My fist actually connected solidly with some body part.
“Goddamn it, Shay!”
My arm fell to my side, and I squinted through the dust cloud our scuffle had kicked up. “Coop?”
“Jeez, I think you gave me a fat lip. Damn, you have a fast fist for a girl.”
Anger overtook panic. My knuckles smarted as I shook out my hand. “What the hell? We’re not seven years old anymore, you know. One of these days you’re going to wind up with a whole lot more than a fat lip.” I propped myself against the rusty door of my truck, using it to help support my shock-weak legs. My best and sometimes most idiotic friend, Nicholas Christopher Cooper, Coop to me, tended to attract trouble. The man is a cross between a computer genius and a drama queen.
“Shay, listen. I’ve got to tell—”
“For the love of—” I interrupted, my heart still rocketing. “You could have talked to me outside, you big oaf!” I glared at him. “What’s wrong with, ‘Shay, psst, come here, I want to talk to you.’ Or how about, ‘Hey Shay, step into the garage with me for a minute.’ Or what about saying hello like a normal human being?”
“I’m sorry, okay? There’s a cop car right outside the fricking door and…” Coop trailed off and settled his big hands on my shoulders, forcing me to face him. Grime-covered windows long ago ceased to allow more than a trickle of light inside the musty garage, but my eyes had adjusted. I took in the pinched, terrified expression on Coop’s face. For once, he was even paler than me. Shaggy, tangled ash-blond hair fell into his eyes, and his chest heaved as if he’d just completed a triathlon. At six-four, he towered over me by a good seven inches, a sapling-thin scarecrow.
My anger dissipated in an exhale. I’d never seen my lifelong friend in such an agitated state. Even back when we’d gotten into typical-teenager hot water, he’d never looked like he was going to stroke out or throw up on me, unless he had bonged one too many beers. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m in serious trouble.”
“Trouble like you knocked up the preacher’s daughter, or trouble like you lost your job and can’t pay your rent again?”
Coop fingered his wounded lip. “They’re after me.”
I stared at him for a long minute, exasperation fighting patience. “Someone’s always after you. Last month it was the IRS. At Christmas you were sure the FBI was monitoring your cell. I’m shocked someone from the Looney Bin hasn’t hauled your ass off to the psych ward.”
“I’m serious. This is real. The police are after me.”
“For what? More illegalities instigated by the Green Beans?”
Coop drew himself up to his full height. “The Green Beans for Peace and Preservation don’t instigate anything. We preserve nature’s way, you know that. It’s not our fault the cops don’t appreciate our attempts to save the planet.”
“Jesus. What’s going on now?”
Coop eyed me a moment longer, then looked away. He seemed to deflate the way a rubber life raft would after a nasty shark bite. His fingers pushed into his temples so hard his knuckles turned white. I watched his Adam’s apple bob up and down as I waited.
He pulled a crushed pack of Marlboros from a hip pocket and lit up, sucking the fumes in deep. Finally he whispered hoarsely, “Murder.”
“Murder?” I made a sound of disgust. “Whatever.” Coop wouldn’t hurt any living being. He felt guilty when he killed a bloodsucking mosquito.
“Hang on, I’m serious.” He took another long drag from the cigarette.
Seriously paranoid, I thought, but held my tongue. “What’d you do, run over a squirrel’s tail with your bike?”
He ran a visibly trembling hand through his hair. “I wish.”
I waited a beat. “For Christ’s sake, I’m not a mind reader here.”
“Yeah, I … it’s—Kinky’s dead.”
“Your boss is dead?”
Stanley Anderson, better known as Kinky thanks to his rather varied and public sexual appetites, was the manager of the equally sleazy Pig’s Eye Bingo Barge, a gambling establishment that made its home on the banks of the Mississippi between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Coop had been working there for the past eight months, running the computer and telephone systems, the steadiest job he’d had in years.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I went down to the barge this morning about eight to talk to him. The place was crawling with cops, crime scene tape, the whole works.”
“What the hell were you doing up at that time? You haven’t been out of the sack before noon in years.”
He shook his head in a dazed sort of way as he stubbed the cigarette out on the sole of his shoe. “Trying to save my job.”
“Kinky canned me.”
“This past weekend, the Green Beans were at Pickering Park trying to stop the city from cutting down a bunch of trees that border the street. The city’s going to widen the road and let even more cars whip by a park that’s always loaded with kids.” Coop’s eyes were a deep shade of blue, bright even in the garage. They took on a glow as he spoke.
“How does Kinky figure into this?”
“A bunch of us were arrested Sunday, and I didn’t get out of the joint until yesterday. I missed my twelve o’clock shift.” Punctuality was one of Coop’s biggest challenges.
“I knew Kinky was going to be pissed, but I figured he’d at least let me explain.” Coop scuffed the dirty cement with the toe of his tennis shoe. “I walked into the office and he told me to hand over my keys and get out. I forgot the key ring at home, so he yelled at me to get out of his face and come back in the morning to turn them in. I get there this morning and the cops have yellow tape—”
“God, Coop, get to the point.”
“Jeez, I’m trying. Kinky’s dead. Someone smashed his head in with that ugly bronzed bingo marker he has in his office. You remember it?”
“Who could forget that ‘legendary’ thing he used when he won all that money down at the Magical Pond.”
The Magical Pond was an Indian gaming casino southwest of the Twin Cities. Kinky became a quasi-celebrity after winning big bucks on Mega Stakes Bingo. Kinky bronzed the dauber, a big polish-sausage-sized bingo marker, and kept it in his office as a way to brag about his winnings. The job was botched, though, and it came out of the bronzing process almost twice its size and weight, and the entire episode turned into one of those urban legends that was actually true.
“What does that have to do with you?”
“The dauber. I picked it up off Kinky’s desk last night when he was yapping at me in his office. I remember rolling it from hand to hand watching his eyes bug out as he yelled. I might have
about taking a whack at him with it, but I didn’t, I swear!”
“Don’t you see, Shay? My fingerprints are all over it.”
Oh. Now things were beginning to make sense. It was my turn to slide fingers through my now-going-every-which-way hair. The last few minutes must have added some more grays to the black strands on my scalp.
“Rocky was hanging around with the crowd gathered behind the yellow tape.” Coop closed his eyes as he lost himself in memory. “He scooted right over and told me he found Kinky on the floor, dauber next to him. Blood all over. He’s the one who called 911.” Rocky was a mentally slow, forty-something sprite who did errands and odd jobs for Kinky. He was a character and befriended many bingo regulars and staff, Coop included.
Coop said, “They have my prints from my Green Beans arrests. They’re gonna think I did it, and I don’t have an alibi for last night.”
“Maybe you should be up front, go and talk to the cops, explain—”
“Oh God, Shay. No way. They won’t believe me. I don’t want to go back to jail. You know what they do to vegetarians in jail?” He shuddered.
“So where were you last night?”
“After I talked to Kinky, I biked around. For hours. I didn’t want to lose this job, you know? Eventually I went home. Late. My roommate wasn’t there. Didn’t come home. Must have spent the night at her boyfriend’s.”
Thoughts raced through my brain as I tried to process Coop’s words. I knew he could handle a night in jail when it was for a good cause and he’d be sprung in a day or two, but being locked up for an extended period of time on murder charges could snuff the light out of him. Not to mention that the prison population would have a heyday with my granola-munching friend. It would destroy Coop.
My insides started the slow boil that occurred every time someone I cared about was threatened. I forced myself to breathe evenly to quell the semi-terrifying trait I’d inherited from my alcoholic father. When that roiling began, I had to really watch it. Occasionally those emotions overcame my rational side, and I could say or do things I wasn’t proud of. All my life, something compelled me to root for the underdog, stand up for my friends and family—regardless of their ability to handle things themselves—and occasionally I lost the firm grip I usually had on common sense, consequences be damned. High school friends dubbed me the Tenacious Protector, TP for short. It was funny then, but now … not so much. I felt myself begin to slip into that mode as Coop spoke.
“They’re coming for me, Shay. I can feel it. Help me fix this. You always know how to make things right.” Coop wrapped long arms around himself. Haggard and worn down, he suddenly appeared much older than his thirty-one years.
Before either of us could utter another word, the side door Coop dragged me through burst open with a resounding bang. Coop dove past me around the back of the truck while I stood statue still, caught like a raccoon rummaging through the garbage can.