01-22-2012, 02:53 PM
A hunter-green Ford Taurus pulled up to the curb in front of the large quasi-mansion in the tonier part of Las Vegas. The driver, Tony King, a middle-aged man with silvery-gray wisps of hair and wire-rimmed spectacles, got out of the car and strode up to the front door. He wore a badge on a square of black leather slung around his neck, the emblem of his office as process server. Today, he would be serving notice to one Pamela Piccucci to appear in court on November the twelfth, to be arranged for her trial for murder.
Tony had a feeling in his gut that she had flown the coop already, but he had a job to do. If she had fled, then it was his duty to report her as a fugitive. He knew from long experience that bail-jumpers were guilty of the crimes they had committed; if they were innocent, they would stay and fight it out in court. Running away was a sure sign of guilt. Of course, there were exceptions to the rule, but he had yet to bet his next month's rent on it.
He stepped up to the door and pounded on it. No answer. He hammered again--still no answer. He rang the doorbell, but still got no reponse. A quick glance through the living room windows showed no signs of life. Tony was not about to jump to conclusions. It was not unusual for the person to be unavailable to recieve a summons on the first try; the defendant could simply be out shopping or something and would be back later. He'd just have to come back later. If she wasn't back by this evening, then he'd try again tomorrow. If she was still gone, then he'd have to report her missing.
Before he left the house, he once again pounded on the front door, in case someone might not have heard him the last time. Still, no response. Tony peered through the side window next to the front door. No movement, but he did see a pile of papers on the floor. He cupped his hands around his face to block out the glare of the sun and looked closer. He could make out some envelopes and circulars lying on the tiled floor of the foyer; by his calculation, it looked like several days' worth of mail, all unopened. That told him all he needed to know.
Tony King, process server for Clark County, pulled out his cell phone and called his supervisor to report that Pamela Piccucci had violated her bond and was now a fugitive, her whereabouts unknown.
Detective Jim Meridian was finishing up the report about his latest case. The victim, female, age forty-eight, a math professor at the local community college, had been reported missing by her family for six months. She had left to go "on sabbatical" for some reason, but two weeks after she was due to resume her teaching post, she had mysteriously disappeared. He family had been contacted by the college, but they had no knowledge of her whereabouts; they hadn't received so much as a phone call or an email in all that time. Her home phone had been disconnected, as well as her Internet service. Frantic, the family had called the police to investigate.
It had only taken one day to find the missing professor--in her own home, buried under massive piles of old furniture, clothes, and other debris. The stench was so unbearable, the CSI team had to wear filter masks to breathe. It turned out that the victim had a history of mental illness and had barricaded herself in her own home. Unfortunatly, the pile of junk had collapsed upon her; unable to call for help, she had suffered a slow, lingering death, and her body had decomposed for months afterward. The remains were removed, the house was locked up and later condemned as a public health hazard, and the case was closed. It was sad, but at least there was no foul play involved, a relief for the overworked homicide detective.
The report, the shortest he had ever written, was good to go. He clicked Send with the same sense of personal triumph he always felt when he wrapped up a case, then leaned back to unwind. That blissful moment ended aburptly with the ringing of the telephone. Jim sighed--no rest for the weary, he thought. He picked up the receiver: "Meridian, here," he said.
"Jim, it's Griffith," said the gruff voice of the homicide chief. "We got some bad news."
Is it ever good news, Griff? Jim said to himself. "What is it?" he droned.
Griff got to the point. "Pamela Piccucci jumped bail."
Oh, Geez! "Jumped bail?" Meridian echoed. "When?"
"From what I heard, some time ago," Griff replied. "I need you to go to the Piccucci home and see if you can find anything that'll tell us when she left and where she went."
"I'm on it," Jim said dutifully. Goddamit all to hell! he cursed inwardly. He thought he was through with the Piccucci case, but it had flared up again like a bad case of acne on a thirteen-year-old. They should never have released that (bleep) on bail! he reflected bitterly. They should have kept her under lock and key until the trial, but no, they had to post bond for her. They knew she was rich enough to pay it herself, but she was a psycho, for chrissakes! She killed her husband and Tina LaRue within a week of each other! And then she went gunning for Mick's caregiver, what's-her-name--Casey, yeah. If that wasn't proof enough, what the hell was?
Meridian got into his car and drove to the Piccucci house. Luckily he still remembered the address, so he didn't need to call dispatch for directions. As he drove, his mind kept interrogating him with questions and suppositions: It was pretty obvious why Pamela jumped bail, but where did she go? California? That's where her sons were, so that was a possibility. Or she could have gone somewhere else--Mexico, maybe, or the East Coast--just to escape prosecution. She could be anywhere, but where?
She couldn't be after the estate again; that had been settled months ago by the probate court, and the heirs got their money--done and done, case closed. She couldn't file an appeal; it was too late for that; besides, if she so much as showed her face in a lawyer's office, she'd be nailed like a two-by-four. There would be no sense going after Casey or the other heirs for the money now.
But what about revenge? Pamela would be (bleeped) off enough to try for some serious payback after getting screwed out of her father-in-law's money; hell hath no fury and all that crap. Should he warn Casey that Pamela was on the loose? If she had just left, then it would be a good idea if he did, though he felt she was reasonably safe at Springs' house.
Meridian pushed aside all thoughts and focused on the here and now as he pulled up to the Piccucci residence. Two cruisers were parked by the curbside, their red and blue lights flashing a warning for all citizens to keep clear of the area. Four officers stood by the front door, a three-foot battering ram at the ready. Meridian approached them. "Any response from inside?" he asked.
"None," said one of the officers.
Meridian gave the signal to use the battering ram. Each officer picked up a handle on either side of the device, walked up to the stoop, and with one good swing the front door burst open.
"POLICE!" Meridian yelled.
Not even an echo answered him. The officers spread out to search the house. Meridian looked down on the foyer floor, covered with unopened mail. He stooped down to gather up the envelopes and stacked them on a nearby table. With luck, they would tell him how long Pamela had been gone by the date of the postmarks. It would mean some tedious sorting, but it would be worth it. He picked up the first envelope, postdated a week ago, so he set that aside for October. Then he picked up the next envelope, then the next, then the next, sorting month by month as far back as April.
April. Pamela had been arrested in late March, then had her bond posted about a week later. She must have skipped town the minute she was free, he reasoned, which meant she had been gone for six months. Meridian groaned inwardly. She must be living in Mexico by now, he thought.
He stared glumly at the piles of letters he had so painstakingly sorted out. Then he noticed that most of them were credit card statements, the perfect paper trail to follow. He sifted through the stacks and found bank statements among them as well--another plus in his search. He bundled the letters and carried them to his car. On his way out, he found one of the officers in the foyer, looking frustrated.
"Any luck?" Meridian asked.
"Zip," the officer said. "No one's been here for quite some time, it seems. I have no idea where the hell she went."
Meridian held up the bundle of letters. "I think I do," he said confidently.
Pamela stretched her arms and legs underneath the satiny sheets of the huge bed she lay upon. It was ten-thirty AM Pacific Time. The tropcal sun streamed through the tall windows of the master bedroom, promising another gorgeous day in Paradise. Adjacent to the bed, a polished chrome cart covered with snow-white linen bore silver-domed dishes, her breakfast straight from the kitchen. Her Versace gown lay on the chaise lounge where she had tossed it last night after she had come home with Nigel from the Aloha Club. Pamela rose and headed for the marble-tiled bathroom for a quick shower before breakfast.
When she had first arrived in Honolulu, she had no friends, no propects, no connections, and nowhere to stay. All the good hotels were either already booked up or too expensive to stay for very long. In desperation, she found a cheap but reasonably clean motel for one hundred and forty dollars a week; it became her home for the next four and a half weeks despite the thin walls, cramped bathroom and lack of swimming pool. The only benefit was the daily maid service, if it could be called that--the pimply-faced teenager who served as housekeeper gave the room what Pamela's grandmother used to call a lick and a promise, changing the sheets on the bed, flicking a nylon duster over the furniture and giving the bathroom a few quick swipes with a wet rag. Fortunatly, her health club membership extended all the way to Honolulu, so she sought refuge there every morning, if only for the free pool and better shower facilities.
Her evenings were spent hunting down Mr. Rich and Right. Dressed to kill in her designer gowns, she practically scoured Honolulu's night life to seek out the wealthy man of her dreams, oozing charm and telling little white lies about herself to attract the men she wanted. After four and a half weeks of bar hopping, club crusing and party crashing, she saw Nigel Sweeps at a hotel-sponsored luau for some charity event. Curious, she had asked a waitress who was the dashing man in the white dinner jacket standing next to the bar.
"Oh, that's Nigel Sweeps," the waitress had replied. "He's some billionaire from Canada--works for the space industry or something."
A billionaire from Canada? Pamela had cased out her prey from a discreet distance. Not too old: fiftyish, maybe. Full head of salt-and-pepper hair. Great body--must have his own gym. No women on his arm. A closer look revealed no wedding band, either. Carefree bachelor or divorced? God, I hope he's not gay! she prayed.
Pamela had sidled up to him casually and waited for him to make the first move; it didn't do to seem overanxious, or else she'd scare him off. To her delight, he offered her a drink, and she had accepted with a gracious smile. She told him she was a widow whose husband left her a small fortune, immediatly gaining the sympathy vote. By the end of the evening, she had gone home with him. Now, six weeks later, she was his live-in mistress. Good-bye cheap motel, hello mansion!
She emerged from the bathroom and settled herself in the padded armchair behind the cart. After a light breakfast of fruit salad and a croissant, she was ready to head out to the tennis court on the north side of the estate. Her instructor, a platinum-blond professional with rippling muscles, would be there, and she didn't want to keep him waiting. Oh, yes, this was the life for her!
Springs tapped away on the keyboard of the new computer he had bought. He was no typist, so he had to resort to the two-finger method. Well, that was how Damon Runyon typed his books, so he figured it was good enough for him.
It was amazing how easy it was to use one of these things. There was an instruction program designed for oldsters just like him, and learning how to log on, log off, click, cut, paste, reply and delete had been a snap. With Heather Piccucci's help, God bless that little sweetheart, he had set up a website dedicated to The Guys of Glitter Gulch, plugging his book and keeping the golden era of Las Vegas alive at the same time. He tried online crossword puzzles, but gave it up--nothing could beat the real thing in his opinion. Besides, if he stayed on too long, his hand began to hurt from using the mouse too much; he limited his computer time to half an hour at most.
The website proved to be a smash, due to the popularity of crime shows on TV. To his surprise and delight, the response forum revealed descendents of those long-departed friends and aquaintances about whom he had written: the granddaughter of a dancer who flirted with Bugsy Siegel; Shorty Hyneman's daughter, Nina, who thanked Springs for memorializing her father in such a positive light and who invited him to visit her in North Dakota; a former croupier who recalled Mick Piccucci betting five grand at his backjack table back in the early Sixties; the son of a former casino manager who still recalled his father's bitter diatribes against The Guys underhanded extortion tactics ("You should have interviewed me!" he had insisted. "Then you could have gotten both sides of the story!"); an elderly woman in an Arizona nursing home who had worked as a cigarrette girl, who recounted her employment at the original Flamingo and could still recall every detail of the day of Bugsy's murder. It was almost like a family reunion for the aging mobster.
Springs rubbed his hand. It was getting sore, so it was time to knock off. He closed the website and found himself on the homepage with all the news spread out before him. He would have simply shut down when a familiar face caught his eye. It was a two-inch square picture of some guy named Nigel Sweeps who was some billionaire from Canada who was currently in Hawai'i. That in itself didn't concern him. What did was the woman standing beside Nigel, her face partially hidden from view but still recognizable.
Springs clicked onto the story. The photo was enlarged by another two inches, giving him better detail. As he studied the woman's half-face, it slowly entered his aged brain that she was Pamela Piccucci, Junior's wife--or, rather, widow, since she bumped him off like that. What the hell was she doing in Hawai'i? he wondered.
He was the first to admit his eighty-six year old brain wasn't as sharp as it used to be, but even someone with Alzheimer's could have reasoned it out: Pamela was out on bail for murder, and she was on the lam to avoid prosecution. Now she was shacking up with some rich Canucky, living the high life before the ink was dry on Junior's death certificate! She's just as bad as Tina! he thought.
Springs sat there, unsure of what to do. His mobster instinct told him not to squeal, knowing from personal experience what happened to those who did. But she had murdered the son of his best friend and former business associate, and that called for revenge. Back in the day, he would have ordered a hit on her for that, but times had changed. He wasn't in the rackets anymore; he couldn't contract a killing, and all the people whom he feared would whack him for squealing were already dead. And Springs had been a law-abiding citizen since his retirement from the rackets over thirty years ago, so he had a duty to inform the authorities about Pamela's whereabouts.
Springs searched his Roldex for the name of that gumshoe who investigated Junior's murder. His name began with an M, he recalled. Ah! There it was--Meridian! He picked up the phone and dialed the number. To his chagrin, he got Meridian's voicemail. Please leave your name, number, and a brief message at the tone, the electronic voice politely instructed him.
Damn recording! Springs fretted. Don't they use real secretaries anymore? "Meridian, this is Springs," he said. "I got the scoop about Pamela Piccucci. She's in Hawai'i, of all places, living with some fat-cat billionaire from Canada. I think she jumped bail on ya. Saw it on the computer. Gimme a call when you get in, okay? Number's 555-9786, got that? I'll see you later. 'Bye."
Springs hung up. Well, he did his part; now the ball was in Meridian's court. He rose from his chair and walked over to the bar. Forget the Manhattan, he needed a brandy.