Authors: Dave Stanton
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Hard-Boiled, #Private Investigators
“What’s that?” Cody said when I walked back inside, dusting snowflakes off my shoulders.
“This was sitting near Jimmy’s body. The place was burning down, so I grabbed it.” I set it on the couch and unzipped the bag. Cody and I stood looking at the contents. It became very quiet. I tentatively reached inside and grasped a packet of hundred-dollar bills.
“Ten grand,” I said. I held the bills up to the light for a long moment. Then I dumped the bag, and we began counting.
After a minute we looked up and our eyes locked. “Fuckin-A,” Cody said.
“Almost a million dollars,” I said.
Cody broke the seal on one of the bundles and tossed the bills in the air. “Happy days are here again!” he shouted.
I blinked and stared at the cash scattered about my coffee table and floor.
“Jimmy Homestead has no more need for it, Dirt,” Cody said, his hand squeezing my shoulder.
“It rightfully belongs to John Homestead.”
“Screw that. It’s the spoils of war. We both put our lives on the line. We earned it.”
I couldn’t argue with his logic and didn’t try. We split the money down the middle and headed out on the town, the new high rollers on the block. It took a few stiff drinks before my shock faded and I settled into the realization that I could keep my home and buy a new truck. Cody sat next to me, his face flushed with alcohol. He winked and toasted me, the expression on his mug confident and serene, as if he knew all along how things would turn out. I thought back to everything that had happened over the last four weeks and shook my head. Christ, what a way to make a living.
y Thanksgiving the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe were covered with a record early season snowfall. The curvy, dark-haired woman I’d met when Cody and I were in Elko called, inquiring about the ski conditions. She showed up the next day, snowboard in hand, and after we got reacquainted, I took her to South Lake Tahoe’s ski resort. It was a midweek blue-sky day, the slopes choked with fresh powder. We came off the summit chair at ten thousand feet and stopped a little way down the trail.
“My god, look at the view,” she said. From our vantage point, we could see a wide panorama of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountain range. The sky was cloudless and azure above the snowcapped peaks. Highway 50 was clearly visible, the casinos at the state line dwarfed by the immensity of the landscape. She threw a handful of powder at me, and I followed her along the ridge until we came around a bend to where the mountainside fell away. Three thousand feet below us lay the Great Basin Desert, which extended for four hundred lonely, windswept miles across Nevada to Salt Lake City. The desert floor was brown and empty, as if from another world.
• • •
The next day my cell rang with a number I didn’t recognize.
“Mr. Reno, this is Lou Calgaretti. You may not know me—I’m a private investigator in South Lake Tahoe.”
“I’ve heard of you,” I said.
“And me of you. Here’s why I’m calling. I’ve been retained by John Homestead to follow up on a few details pertaining to his son’s death. I’m aware you were at one time employed by Sheila Majorie.”
“Well, as you may be aware, Mr. Homestead claims to be the sole heir to Jimmy Homestead’s estate. If you don’t mind, I have a few questions for you about Sheila.”
“Will you tell me for what purpose she hired you?”
“I don’t see why not. She asked me to arrange a meeting with Jimmy. During the process it became clear she hoped to convince Jimmy to share his Lotto winnings with her. As far as I know, he never agreed to do so.”
“And I’m under the same impression. I have a more specific question for you, though. Do you have any knowledge of Sheila being associated with Tony Sanzini or the Locos 14 gang?”
“I don’t. Did you ask Sanzini?”
“He refuses to be interviewed.”
“How about the members of Locos 14?” I said.
“As you might imagine, they are not being cooperative.”
“I don’t know what I can tell you, then.”
The phone went silent for a moment, and when Lou Calgaretti spoke again, his voice sounded somewhat more formal. “John Homestead is willing to pay you, Mr. Reno, for disclosing legitimate evidence as to Sheila Majorie’s involvement with any of the individuals linked to Jimmy’s kidnapping or murder.”
It was my turn to pause. “Why?” I asked.
“Sheila has petitioned the court, claiming inheritance rights.”
“Based on what?”
“As it turns out, her divorce from John Homestead was never officially completed. Somehow the final paperwork was not signed and filed. She’s found an attorney who I believe she’s seduced, and…”
I started laughing.
• • •
I wished I could have helped Lou Calgaretti, but there was nothing I could reveal about Sheila he didn’t already know. She had held her cards close to her chest, apparently for good reason. I believed she may have tried to orchestrate the death of her stepson, but I would never know the extent of her actions. Whatever she did, I doubted she’d be found accountable. Quite possibly she’d walk away with a healthy portion of Jimmy’s money.
I hung Christmas lights on my house and stood on my deck looking out over the snow-covered meadow behind my backyard. A breeze whispered through the pines, and a plume of snowflakes drifted away with the wind. I invested myself in the moment and tried not to ruminate on a world where money was the measuring stick for success, and men lusted insatiably after nubile women until the last of their desire faded with age. As for my own moral code, it was pretty simple: I stayed loyal to my friends and treated others with respect unless they dictated otherwise. Whenever possible, I lived within the law and sought out the ethical high road. My conscience was clear, and I woke each morning looking forward to the promise of the day. I knew better than to ask for more.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1960, Dave Stanton moved to Northern California in 1961. He attended San Jose State University and received a BA in journalism in 1983. Over the years, he worked as a bartender, newspaper advertising salesman, furniture mover, pizza cook, debt collector, and technology salesman. He has two children, Austin and Haley. He and his wife, Heidi, live in San Jose, California.
Stanton is the author of five novels, all featuring private investigator Dan Reno and his ex-cop buddy, Cody Gibbons.
To learn more, visit the author’s website at
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Dying for the Highlife
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