Authors: Dave Stanton
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Hard-Boiled, #Private Investigators
ancour had followed me on his chopped Honda, through the dark desert and all the way back to Carson City. He kept a respectable distance, but didn’t try to hide he was tailing me. I finally stopped in the parking lot of a supermarket and waited for him to pull up. He climbed off his bike and hooked a thumb in his belt loop.
“Hey, man, I got no issue with what happened back there,” he said.
“My buddy has a serious attitude problem,” he went on, smiling wryly. “And so he attracts trouble like flies on shit, if you know what I mean. No offense intended.” He walked toward me and extended his hand. “I didn’t get your name,” he said.
“I didn’t get yours,” I replied.
His eyes narrowed, and he lowered his hand. But then he shrugged and smiled again. “Look, it seems like we were in that cathouse for the same reason, and it wasn’t to tear off a piece, right?” When I didn’t respond, he said, “I’m looking for a guy who owes me money. I don’t think he’ll have any problem paying, once I find him. I get the idea you’re looking for the same dude—Jimmy Homestead.”
“Hey, man, I got no intentions here other than to collect an old debt, then get back home and back to work. I don’t know what your interest is, but maybe we could help each other out here. We both knew he was at that cathouse. We’re both looking for him. I’m suggesting maybe we could work together here. I got connections.”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“Look,” Rancour said, his friendly tone receding. “We find him together, we both get what we want. We find him separately, maybe that means you’ll never find him.”
“Yeah, maybe,” I said. “It’s been nice, but I got to get back on the road.”
“What’s your fucking problem, man?”
I climbed into my truck and started the motor. “Good luck to you,” I said. When I looked in the rearview mirror, Rancour’s arm was rigid, his middle finger extended. He stood that way until I could no longer see him.
• • •
Back at my cabin, I made myself a drink and sat with a foot on my desk. Why would a couple of dirtbags like Rancour and Sanzini be looking for Jimmy Homestead? Maybe they were Jimmy’s old friends, hoping for a handout. Or maybe they weren’t friends of his at all. Regardless, I thought the potential for them to cause me problems was minimal.
My more immediate concern was that Jimmy seemed to be traveling constantly. In the last month, he’d used his credit card in Orange County, Los Angeles, Reno, Carson City, and South Lake Tahoe. But I had no way to know where he might be today, because the credit card records I had showed activity only for a thirty-day period that ended over a week ago. The prostitute at Tumbleweeds Ranch said he talked about buying a mansion and also mentioned driving to Vegas. It wasn’t hard to imagine Jimmy might decide to live it up in Sin City for a few days. I did a web search, and the listings for hotels in Vegas were too numerous to count, but the number shrank considerably when I eliminated all but the most expensive.
I began calling and asking for the room of Jimmy Homestead. On my tenth call, to the Mirage Hotel and Casino, the clerk transferred my call to VIP services.
“Mr. Homestead has checked out, but I’d be happy to take a message. Who may I say is calling?”
“This is Chuck Farley from Exclusive Realty,” I said. “If he’s checked out, why would you take a message?”
“I have his mobile number. I’ll let him know you called.”
“I have some property I know he’s very interested in.”
“I’ll relay the message.”
“I appreciate it. Actually, I’m hoping to meet with Mr. Homestead as soon as I can. Do you know where he can be reached?”
“Mr. Homestead is traveling out of the country at this time. I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you.”
“That’s unfortunate—he was quite eager to hear from me. Do you know when he’ll return?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t.”
I hung up, thinking Jimmy must have blown a small fortune at the Mirage for their VIP services to take such an interest in him. Regardless, it sounded like he had headed for more exotic destinations. I called his cell number, and it connected immediately to a generic message, as it had every time I’d called it.
I wondered where Jimmy might want to hang out and party outside of the US. Maybe Cabo, or some other vacation spot in Latin America. I briefly considered the prospect of tracking Jimmy outside the country. It could get expensive in a hurry, and even if I found him, it might be difficult getting him back over the border.
But the Jimmy Homestead I used to know was not a worldly type, and I doubted he’d be interested in staying in a foreign country for very long. It also sounded like the Mirage expected him back, and it occurred to me his Lamborghini was probably waiting in their valet parking—I didn’t think he would leave his fancy car in an airport parking lot. Bugging his car with a cellular tracking device shouldn’t be too tough. Then I could check on the whereabouts of the car every five minutes if I wanted to.
As I checked the flights to Vegas departing the following morning, I stopped and considered Sheila Majorie—her motivations, in light of Jimmy winning the lottery, and also her ability to pay me. If Sheila couldn’t extract money from Jimmy by one means or another, she probably wouldn’t be able to pay my fee or expenses. That would most likely mean a return to apartment living in San Jose for me. I let my gut chew on that one for a while before I booked a noon Southwest flight from Reno to Las Vegas.
fter a good night’s sleep, a greasy casino breakfast, and a couple of large coffees, John Homestead was ready to face the day’s tasks. He’d conceded he could not find Jimmy on his own, and he couldn’t just stumble around randomly and hope to get lucky. Jimmy could literally be anywhere on the planet. Without professional help, it could be weeks, months, or possibly years before he could find him. John Homestead therefore decided to enlist the aid of a private detective.
He scoured the Yellow Pages and produced a list of five agencies offering people finding services. He made some calls, then drove to Reno to meet three of the investigators. One had a necktie spotted with food stains, another reeked of liquor, and the third wanted a $5,000 retainer. The remaining two were in South Lake Tahoe. He drove to the strip mall office of the first in Tahoe, and the lights were off, the door locked. John arrived at the final candidate’s office tired, disappointed, and impatient.
Within two minutes of meeting Lou Calgaretti, John forgot his frustrations. Calgaretti was a well-groomed, smartly dressed man in his early fifties, and he struck John as a class act. He was also physically imposing; he stood well over six feet, and his upper body was muscular and well proportioned. Despite wearing a suit and a necktie with a floral pattern, Lou Calgaretti left the impression he was a man who wouldn’t shy from physical threat. He had large, powerful-looking hands and impressively thick wrists.
“Mr. Homestead, I’m fairly certain finding your son is something that shouldn’t take more than a day or so. However, in the event it takes longer, we need to agree on the costs involved.”
“Of course,” John said, and listened patiently while Calgaretti outlined his fees.
“It all sounds reasonable, except for one small thing—the upfront payment,” John said.
Calgaretti raised his eyebrows. “Oh?”
“Yeah,” John continued. “You see, I’m going to be honest with you, Lou.”
“As opposed to being dishonest?”
“Well, how about as opposed to being less than upfront?”
“All right,” Calgaretti said. His closely shaved face wore an impassive expression; his tanned, broad features looked relaxed under his full head of curly, graying hair.
“You see, my son recently won the California lottery. He’s not been able to reach me, and I’ve not been able to reach him. Once we connect, it will be no problem getting you paid.”
“No problem? Mr. Homestead, it sounds like you’ll be relying on your son to pay me. Correct?”
“Well, yes. Sure he will,” John said. “He’s my son, for cryin’ out loud. We have no issues. We’ve just been disconnected for a while.”
“A few months is all,” John lied.
“So, you haven’t spoken with him since he won the Lotto?”
“No, not yet.”
Calgaretti looked at his watch. From his office on Kingsbury Grade, he could see birds flying among the pines in the late-afternoon sun. He shook his head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Homestead, but I need to ask a question. What if I find your son, and he’s not interested in paying me?”
Time to up the ante, John thought. The detective wasn’t stupid.
“Well, Lou, how about a deal, then? You put me face to face with my son, in an environment where we can talk, and then you’ll be paid, plus five grand on top of your regular fee. But you’re going to have to trust me.”
“Hmm. No risk, no reward, huh?” Calgaretti said, beginning to smile.
“How much did you say his Lotto winnings were?”
“I didn’t,” John said, and showed a bit of a smile himself. “He won forty-three million.”
“Ahhh,” Calgaretti said. “I’m going to take a gamble on you, Mr. Homestead. I’ll draw up a contract.”
hen Mort returned to the security agency, he was told Jimmy’s cell phone was apparently turned off and could not be traced. The man named Joe kept Mort’s $400 and promised he would continue calling until he got through and successfully triangulated the signal.
It wasn’t until two days later Joe called Mort with positive results. Jimmy’s signal was sourced to the Mirage Casino Hotel in Las Vegas. Mort called the hotel, asked for Jimmy’s room, and hung up after the front desk said he would be connected.
Getting to Vegas presented a couple of problems. First, Mort didn’t want to book an airplane trip under his own name; it would create a clear link to him. He regretted not getting a fake ID earlier, which was poor planning on his part. He didn’t have time now—he needed to be in Vegas without delay. Mort weighed the issues for a few minutes, then decided to buy a cheap car and drive. This would let him avoid the airline records and provided him needed mobility once in Vegas.
Mort also considered that he would be violating his parole by leaving the area without permission. He immediately dismissed this concern; he didn’t intend to be in Vegas for more than a few days, and once he found Jimmy, he didn’t intend to have further contact with his parole officer.
The bottom line was anticipation and planning. Mort vowed to be patient and resist any tack that might be imprudent. A time would come when risk would need to be taken. But that would be when the money was clearly in his sights.
Early that evening Mort took off in his new ride, a silver Toyota Corolla, paid for in cash. It had well over 100,000 miles on the odometer, but the small Japanese four-door seemed sound, its motor humming pleasantly as Mort headed south on Interstate 5. The heat of the day subsided as the late-summer sun set behind the low mountains, and Mort rolled down the window and settled in for the long drive.
• • •
Five years ago, Mort had visited Las Vegas for technology conventions, stayed in luxury suites, and had a company limo at his service. He dined at restaurants where money was no object, and occasionally threw away a few grand at the card tables just for the fun of it.
This time, he rolled into town around dawn and checked into the Thunderbird Hotel, a seedy rat hole off the Strip that didn’t require a credit card or ID. He was glad they had some free sweet rolls in the lobby, even though they looked plastic and flies buzzed around the plate. He’d already put a significant dent in his seven-grand stake, and he needed to conserve in case unexpected expenses arose.
After a few hours’ sleep, Mort donned his fat man disguise and drove to the Mirage. The midmorning temperature was already near one hundred degrees, and by the time he walked from the parking lot to the Mirage’s air-conditioned foyer, sweat was soaking through his shirt. He spent a half hour walking around the casino, familiarizing himself with its layout, then took the main elevator to the top floor, and back down to the hotel registration counter.
“I have a package to deliver to one of your guests,” he told the clerk. Mort held up a brown paper shopping bag that held a shoebox-sized container. “I was supposed to meet him in his penthouse suite, but I need an access key to get to that floor.”
“Yes,” the clerk said. “You would need that. Would you like me to call the person for you?”
“Please,” Mort said. “His name is Jim Homestead.”
The keyboard chattered for a few moments. “I’m sorry, we have no one here by that name.”
“Try James Homestead.”
“No one with the last name Homestead.”
“Strange,” Mort said. “I just spoke with him yesterday.”
The clerk worked the keyboard again. “Here he is—I have a Jim Homestead who checked out this morning.”
“Oh, my. It appears I’ve missed him. I wonder how I can get this package to him.”
“You may want to talk to VIP Services. They’re down the hall and to the right.
“I see. Thank you.”
A slender woman in her fifties with skin that had seen too much sun sat at a desk, talking with two women Mort thought were probably lesbians. They left after a minute, and he stepped forward.
“Excuse me,” he said. “I was asked by Jim Homestead to deliver some expensive merchandise. I’ve driven quite a ways to make this delivery, but I’m told he checked out this morning.”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“I can’t imagine how we could have got our signals crossed. He’s already paid for this package. Would you by chance have any idea how I could contact him?”
“Unfortunately, I don’t,” the woman said. “The only thing I can suggest is to try to reach him here a week from now.”
“In a week? Do you know he’ll be back then?”
The woman paused. “He left his car with us, so I assume he will.”
“Do you think he may return sooner?”
“My understanding is he’s traveling out of the country, so I doubt it.”
Mort walked away and found a deserted tropical lounge. He sat at a cocktail table, stared past a man-made waterfall, and pressed his fingertips together. Four hundred dollars spent to track Jimmy to Vegas. And now he was gone, supposedly for a week.