The Next Right Thing: Prologue
By Colleen Collins, All Rights Reserved
Cammie eased her 2006 silver Monte Carlo, named Phil after the fictional private eye Philip Marlowe, next to the dirt-crusted red pick-up she’d been following for the last hour. The subject--Ray “Rebel” Nathan--had strolled his six-two, cowboy-booted self into the burger dive a few minutes ago. If he was picking up to-go food, he’d be out in ten minutes, maybe less.
Cammie had to move fast.
Earlier, she’d slipped the GPS device and its battery pack inside the pocket of her jean jacket. She double-checked the bulky parts with a quick feel, then slipped out the driver’s side. Standing between Phil and the pick-up, she blinked against the surging winds while quickly scanning the area. Across the parking lot, several teenagers squealed and laughed while chasing a plastic bag the wind had wrested from their hold. A late-model Dodge Charger droned by. Its driver, an older dude with a skinny gray ponytail, puffed on a cigar. Trails of blue smoke and the 70s Bee Gees hit “More than a Woman” wafted through the half-open driver’s window.
More than a woman. Being a female in the private eye business often felt like that, plus some. A woman had to be more resilient, sharper and often tougher to last in this male-dominated profession.
Dude turned right onto Boulder Highway, the Bee Gees’ trilling vibratos merging with the drone of noon-day traffic.
Cammie quickly moved to the front of the pick-up and plunked her butt down on the asphalt.
The device clattered out of her jacket pocket.
Cursing under her breath, she snatched the metal GPS unit and its egg-shaped antennae. After quickly verifying their connecting wire was intact, she shoved them back into her jacket. Leaning back, she grabbed the grill with both hands and pulled herself underneath the pick-up. Her legs stuck outside the front of the vehicle, but they were only visible from the Boulder Highway, a mash of speeding cars, honking horns and exhaust. It’d take someone with a sharp eye to see her limbs--and if they did, who’s to say they didn’t belong to the owner of this truck?
Carefully, she inched the device from her pocket.
She’d always figured life for most people was a rush of events and faces, racing by like the Boulder Highway traffic outside. But whenever she was battling high emotions, time had a nasty habit of snagging her, pinning her like a fly. Caught, she’d grow aware of every movement, sound, subtlety.
Like right now. Battling her anxiousness, time had slowed to a crawl. The stench of twenty different fluids from the engine stifled her breath. The heat from the asphalt seeped up like steam through her clothes. And that relentless Las Vegas wind swirled around her like a ghost, its chilly breath caressing and prodding her with things she didn’t want to think about…it’d happened so long ago, it no longer mattered…go away, go away…
A blustery gust of wind rattled past, chasing away the ghost. Particles of dirt spit at her face, stung her hands.
Time sped up, snapped to the present.
She pressed the GPS unit against the bumper, reassured by the clank of magnet against steel. Gotta love these older trucks and their metal parts. She lightly tugged the electrical wire connecting the unit and antennae until the wire was taut – didn’t want it to drag, catch on anything in the road while the truck was moving. She positioned the antennae to the back of the grill, moving it back and forth until she hit a sweet spot where it’d easily pick up satellite signals.
She smiled, her body tingling with that familiar rush of relief and satisfaction after successfully fastening one of these babies. Maybe her uncle thought she should’ve stayed in law school, but what he didn’t get was that she dug the thrill of investigations. What lawyer got to crawl under cars, track missing people, find someone’s long-lost sibling or high school sweetheart? A PI’s work was the most exciting game in town. Better than any eight-to-five.
After scooching from underneath the truck and carefully rising to her feet, she nonchalantly looked around as though absolutely nothing unusual had just happened. She eyed a few parked cars, a woman in a blue jogging suit scurrying into a store, her cell phone glued to her ear. A burst of the teenagers’ shrieks and laughter momentarily crested the wind, although they were no longer in sight.
No Rebel, either. Still inside buying his greasy burger.
Oh so casually brushing dirt off her jeans, Cammie got back into Phil and drove off.
Across The Boulder Highway from the burger dive, she parked in the lot in front of the Firelight Lounge at Sam’s Town. From here, she had an unencumbered view of Rebel’s pick-up. Time to relax, check the GPS tracking software on her smartphone, double-check everything was hooked up correctly and getting signals.
Plus she knew Rebel Boy would likely next be heading down the highway to his paramour’s apartment and Cammie was in a primo spot to slide into traffic and follow. Her client, Rebel’s wife, didn’t know the girl’s name, or her address, but had plenty of reason for suspicion. Lipstick on his tidy whities was the clincher. Then a friend who worked at Sam’s Town had reported to the wife that Rebel’s truck had been seen tooling east down Boulder Highway almost every day around lunchtime.
Cammie plucked the elastic rubber band that confined her curls in a thick knot. Ruffling her hair loose, she checked the time on her smartphone. Twelve-twenty. Must be eating his lunch before his noontime tryst. Too cheap to buy girlfriend a burger, too?
Distant sirens wailed. As their screams pulsed louder, she surveyed the highway for their approach. Two fire engines, horns blaring, careened down the highway. Cars pulled over to let pass.
More sirens joined the ruckus.
A police unit, lights sparkling, charged into the burger lot across the street. Another bolted into the Firelight Lounge lot, bouncing over a speed bump. Several white Crown Victorias--unmarked vehicles--trailed the police unit into the lot, all them bouncing over the same bump.
The first unit screeched to a halt.
Right. Behind. Her.
She froze, stared in her rear view mirror at the police vehicle with its blue, white and yellow lights swirling.
“This is a felony stop,” a male voice barked over a loud speaker. “Keep your hands on the dashboard, continue facing forward, do not move. I repeat, do not move.”
Her body chilled to a temperature reserved for body trays in morgues. She didn’t need to be told twice to not move--she wouldn’t so much as twitch, shift, even flinch. A felony stop was serious business. One wrong move could mean getting shot.
“Raise your hands,” bellowed the invisible voice.
She slowly raised them, one still clutching the smartphone, hoping the cop knew it was just a phone, trying not to think of that guy in Denver who got shot when the officer thought the soda can in his hand was a gun…
“Place your hands, palms down, on the dashboard.”
She did as told. In the rear-view mirror, an officer eased out of the driver’s side, gun pointed right at Cammie. He approached and she remembered the three C’s of felony stops: calm, comply and communicate. As he walked closer, he scanned the interior of her car. “Take your left hand," he called out, “and open the driver’s door, slowly.”
Bursts of wind didn’t make it easy, but with some effort she pushed it open.
“Turn toward me and exit the vehicle.”
She followed orders, ended up staring into the officer’s face. Below thick brows in need of some serious manscaping were eyes so black they could pass for bullet holes.
Fighting a shudder, she croaked, “It’s a smartphone in my hand, officer.”
She watched it clatter to the ground, wishing she’d purchased a heartier case.
“Turn and face the rear passenger door. Place your hands on top of the vehicle.”
The heated metal stung her palms. The wind plundered her hair, whipping strands across her eyes.
As he frisked her, she asked in a forced-light voice, “I don’t often ask men this who have their hands on my thighs, but is there a problem?”
Her answer came from the wild-eyed woman in a saggy blue jogging outfit who materialized in the background. Her curly hair writhed like snakes in the wind, giving her a Medusa-in-polyester look.
“That’s her!” the woman screeched, pointing a shaking finger at Cammie, “That’s the lady I saw planting a bomb under that truck! Same dirty jacket, oh yeah, it’s her all right!”
Planting a bomb? Oh man, this was getting fugly, fast. Cammie glanced across the highway. Firemen and dogs surrounded Rebel’s pick-up. Someone dressed in a space-age outfit--bomb squad, no doubt--was crawling underneath the truck.
Eyebrow Cop cuffed her hands behind her back, informing her of her Miranda rights before gruffly leading her to his vehicle.
Two more back-up units arrived--five had now convened in the Firelight Lounge lot. People flooded out of the casino, many with drinks in their hands, to watch the real live cop show. Casino security guards were trying vainly to hustle them back indoors.
“Watch your head,” the cop grumped. He cradled Cammie’s skull like a basketball before nudging her into the backseat of the police unit.
As he drove off, she looked through the back window at Rebel’s truck. Mr. Bomb Squad was holding up the GPS that had cost her five hundred dollars and seventy-five cents.
This monumentally effed-up excursion was going to cost her a lot more than that. A felony charge or three, a stint in jail, lawyer’s fees.
This day was turning out to be more than even a woman who was more than a woman was ready to handle.
--End of Excerpt--