Authors: Pat Dennis
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental and exists solely in the reader’s mind.
Copyright ® 2013 Pat Dennis
All rights reserved. No part of this book or ebook may be used or reproduced or transmitted any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording of any means by any informational or retrieval system except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a magazine, newspaper or electronic media without the written permission of the Publisher. Originally published by Forty Press, 2013
For more information contact
Penury Press LLC
Minneapolis MN 55423
Murder by Chance
Killed by Chance
For Elizabeth Andrejasich Gibes (the other writer in the family.)
Asking a group of seniors to walk slowly toward the light was like sending a vampire into a gaggle of cross-wearing nuns. It is never a good idea; but Betty Chance had little choice.
From Chicago to northern Minnesota, Take A Chance Tours had battled January’s tempestuous weather. Betty’s tour bus was four hours behind schedule when it pulled up to its final destination: Moose Bay Resort and Casino.
Blanketed by three feet of powdery snow, with drifts reaching over six feet, the only path to the hotel entrance was a narrowly-shoveled sidewalk. Even the sparkling neon lights surrounding the hotel’s rotating doors were shrouded by the blizzard-like conditions.
It was nearly midnight.
“Okay folks, we’re at Moose Bay!” Betty lifted her chubby arms and waved her fingers in the air in celebration. “Woo-hoo!” she chirped.
The forty-four tired and surly bus riders sat silent. Instead, the group of mostly senior citizens stared glumly out the frosted windows as they clutched tightly at the purses or small bags they carried. A few pulled their thick winter caps farther down over their ears. Others tightened woolen neck scarves.
Betty winced. Her riders were acting as if they’d arrived at the North Pole. Everyone was in a bad mood.
Betty knew she had to play the cheerleader. True, she was a plus-sized, fifty-five-year-old cheerleader, but a cheerleader nevertheless. She could do “perky” as well as anyone. And that this time her job depended on it.
She brushed her feathered-cut, salt and pepper bangs to the side. Her goal of hosting the best gambling junkets in the Midwest was in peril. She needed to lift her clients’ mood. Fast.
She sang out, “It’s party time!”
Her eyes darted up and down the aisle of the luxury motor coach.
Ice on a distant lake cracked. Betty wished she were standing on it.
Having read in one of her how-to marketing books that it takes three repetitions for a message to stick, she inhaled deeply and belted out one last “Woo-hoo!” as she flashed a gleaming white smile and unfurled an enthusiastic thumbs-up gesture.
Betty gave up, announcing in a defeated monotone, “When you exit the bus, please walk toward the ligh … entrance … at the end of the walkway. This is the closest we can get. I’ve been assured the sidewalk is not icy. If you want to start gambling immediately, I’ll have the staff put your luggage in your rooms. And thank you again for betting on Take A Chance Tours.”
She turned and scurried off the coach, snagging the sleeve of her Calvin Klein jacket on the doorframe. “Damn,” she sighed, snaking a finger into the rip in her favorite eight-dollar find.
Betty purchased most of her clothes from consignments shops or thrift stores. She loved finding a vintage treasure, buried within a mound of discards, for a fraction of its original cost. Being frugal was more than a choice, however. It was a necessity.
As she stood at the bottom of the steps examining the tear, she noticed the bus sway slightly. She froze. It swayed again. Betty leaned into the stairwell and motioned frantically to her driver. “Tillie,” she called in a loud whisper, “get out while you can!”
The curvaceous redhead looked at her quizzically.
“Now!” Betty said, her eyes widening.
Tillie McFinn scrambled out of her seat and down the metal stairs. “Good Lord, Betty, you’re acting like my life’s in danger.”
“Trust me,” she said, pulling Tillie away from the door, “it is.”
As co-owner of the two-year-old Take A Chance Tours, it was Betty’s seventy-eighth time as a tour host. Early on, she learned never to underestimate a gambler’s determination to reach the casino floor, no matter what their age. The opportunity to play penny slots, dabble in three-card poker and chow down at an all-you-can-eat-buffet could turn a slow moving octogenarian into an Olympic sprinter. On steroids.
Passengers that were docile only a few moments earlier were now pushing against each other as they tried to get off the bus as quickly as possible. Betty could hear the rustling of coats and the shuffling of shoes and boots parading down the sardine-packed aisle as the bus rocked with their movements. She could now feel an air of expectation coming from her passengers as they finally realized that a casino was only yards away. And a winning jackpot within reach.
“You could at least offer a lady your hand!” Hannah Forester snipped as the stacked heels of her sensible shoes landed on the top step.
Betty positioned her manicured hand to assist, but Hannah ignored it, reaching out to Tillie instead. Betty realized her repeat client was livid because she hadn’t won a bingo game on the bus. Although, the prize was a measly three dollars a game, Hannah wanted it. Hannah wanted everything.
“Humph!” Hannah sniffed. “Paying three hundred and twenty-nine dollars of my late husband’s hard earned money to receive this kind of treatment?”
Despite Tillie’s help, Hannah tottered a bit as her feet hit the concrete. Betty knew Hannah’s unsteadiness wasn’t due simply to age. For in a battle of scents, Jack Daniels will always defeat any store-bought fragrance that stood in its path.
“Hannah,” Betty said firmly, “Safety is far more important to us than schedule.” Betty let that thought sink in before she added the facts: “Tillie was forced to drive slowly
due to the weather
The crowd standing behind Hannah was growing. Betty could tell they were anxious to get off the bus and onto the casino floor. But Hannah wasn’t appeased. With a flip of her red wool scarf, she sputtered, “I don’t have that many years left on this earth to spend one moment more than necessary on a bus.”
So, get off the friggin’ thing, Betty wanted to scream. Instead, she bit her tongue and reached deep into her pockets. She pulled out a booklet and held it out to Hannah.
“It better have buffet coupons in it, Buffet Betty!” Hannah said contemptuously, snatching the booklet from Betty’s hand and stomping off toward the hotel.
Betty prayed silently,
God, if you let anyone win a jackpot on this trip, could it be Hannah?
Betty prayed silently. A hundred-buck jackpot would transform, momentarily, the Dragon Lady of Calumet City into Mother Theresa—in only for one moment; one glorious moment!
In truth, Hannah’s normal demeanor was that of a malcontent. Betty didn’t mind trying to please her. Business was finally looking good. And so was Betty’s personal life.
Two years ago Betty thought her life was ruined. Her husband, a Chicago homicide detective, had left her—and left her in debt. After twenty-seven years of marriage he had dumped her for an older, fatter woman—the rich one who could cover his gambling debts.
At fifty-three, she found herself divorced, unemployed, and not only financially underwater, but drowning. It was unfair. It was her husband’s compulsive gambling that destroyed their savings account, after all, not anything she did. Betty had spent her entire marriage being the ‘good wife’ who was faithful, cut coupons, held garage sales, and kept both furniture and clothes far too long. But she’d trusted her husband completely. She now understood that she had naively believed every lie he told her. But why wouldn’t she? She’d been madly in love with him from the first moment she saw him in his policeman’s uniform.
Although she hadn’t realized there was something wrong from day one in their marriage, her body had been signaling her all along. Every single pound she gained during her stint as Mrs. Chance was a cry for comfort and protection.
After the divorce, Betty spent six months of crying, cursing, and buying chocolate by the carton. By the time her favorite, stretchy size 1X pajamas couldn’t be pulled up over her hips she realized she’d moved out of Pleasantly Plumpville and became the latest resident of Fatland. She never forgot the one moment that convinced her it was time for a change.
She’d just finished off a bag of Keebler’s when the doorbell rang. She hoisted herself off the couch and moved toward the door. For a moment, she’d wondered if she’d forgotten she’d ordered a pizza for dinner. It had almost become a daily habit. But it wasn’t a teenage boy holding up a Supreme who stood at her door. It was a Girl Scout clutching a box of Thin Mints. Betty smiled down at the child and watched as the girl’s eyes flew open and her smile grew wide.
“Can I help you?” Betty asked.
The girl’s eyes traveled up and down Betty’s body in amazement before blurting out, “I bet you’ll order a hundred boxes!”
Betty never thought she could feel so good about slamming a door in a ten-year-old’s face.
Yet it was that moment that Betty decided to finally change her life. In order to do so, she realized, she too would have to change.
Later, when asked how she did it, she realized her answer sounded like the start of an old joke. “
A therapist, a minister and a librarian walked into my life and …
The therapist instructed her to start a combination food and exercise journal.
The minister suggested she keep an Attitude-of-Gratitude diary.
The librarian told her, “been there, done that,” bought Betty a
Thank God I’m Single Again
t-shirt, and gave her a list of recommended audio books on positive thinking. She also urged her to keep a daily log of her rage. She assured Betty that the first day she forgot to write down her anger would be the day she was ready to move on with her life. Gloria worked for the Chicago Public Library and Betty knew better than to question a librarian.
The very next day she loaded up her MP3 player with audio books and hit the road. Literally. She could only make it around a single block in her Southside Chicago neighborhood. But even that short distance was filled with temptation. Frankie’s Sausage Emporium, Uchanski’s Bakery and the most evil of all: Theresa’s Chocolate Rescue. They called out to her each time she passed. Still, Betty was determined. She focused her eyes straight ahead and squeezed her nostrils as she scurried past her favorite haunts.
Her first days of walking turned into weeks and then months. It was during those many solitary walks that the idea of owning a tour company specializing in gambling junkets popped into her head. Twelve months later, she was earning a living doing something she loved and was one-third of her way out of debt.
Her entire life had turned around for the better. Betty had more friends now than she did when she was married. Her ex never wanted to socialize, blaming his anti-social behavior on the stress of his job. She had no idea he spent what little spare time he had at the track, or worse, with another woman. Yet, when she lost her marriage, she found something she loved even more: time. And she used it to do what she hadn’t done for years: focus on herself.
She forced herself to go to a hair salon. True, it was only Great Clips, but she got the “works” and for the first time even splurged on some of the hair products. She joined a gym and attended Zumba classes. Betty even purchased sexy underwear. For a change, she didn’t even check the price tag before she placed them on the counter. All she cared about was they were lacey and red, something the old Betty would never have considered. The old Betty preferred stiff white cotton that looked like it could last an eternity. The new Betty wanted something that looked like it wouldn’t make it through a one-night stand.
Betty had even lost ten pounds since her divorce. That meant only forty more pounds to go. She understood her goal weight of one hundred and fifty was still heavy to many, but to her it was this side of paradise.
A thin, wobbly voice asked, “Could I take your hand, Miss Betty?” It was Mr. Ogawa, one of her new riders.
“Mr. Ogawa, I’m so sorry. My mind was drifting.” She smiled at the gentle man who’d informed her earlier that he was not on a vacation, but a quest.
“Thank you, Miss Betty,” he said, stepping off the bus.
“This is the Fun Book I told you about, Mr. Ogawa,” she said, handing him the coupon booklet. It was Ogawa’s first time visiting a casino. Learning to gamble was number thirty-six on the checklist he called
88 Things to Do Before I Die
represented a year of his life.
“Oh, thank you very much,” he cooed, with a wink. “I’m all into fun you know.”
She continued to hand each passenger a booklet as they climbed off the bus. Some took it without a word while others mentioned they were glad the driver had been cautious. Only a few grumbled about their late arrival.
“Can I go to my room? I’m too tired to gamble,” the seventy-some year old Mrs. Kotval said, shifting her “I Saw Siegfried and Roy At The Mirage” canvas tote bag from one side to the other. She adjusted her pink spangled Circus Circus visor and checked her watch, a cheap knock off Gucci bought on the streets of Vegas for fifteen bucks.
Betty responded, “Of course you can. Just wait for me on of the sofas near the front desk. I’ll get your key for you.”
No one else made that request. Betty knew almost ninety percent of her passengers would be gambling within minutes of arrival, no matter how late their arrival.
To be sure, if sleep seemed evasive, Betty herself would plop down in front of a video slot machine before long. Easy access to gambling was one of the perks of the business for her, as well as an area of caution. She understood her personal tendency toward addiction. And if it looked like she was slipping, she’d remember how often she’d uttered the words “
I’ll take a half a dozen Krispy Kremes, please