There was more than one star on the stage. Another adventure with Rollie Chambers.
Constructive comments, critiques, and emails are welcome and appreciated.
"I hate this," Rollie Chambers said in a low voice; although no one would have heard him if he had shouted. "How did I let myself get roped into being here?"
'This', was Rollie standing in the wings while on stage The Flaming Savages band, led by his client Maxwell Duncan, performed in front of more than ten thousand people. The 'how' was his friend and former colleague Frank Wends. They had worked together as detectives for the St. Louis Police Department before Rollie resigned.
"I'll have to remember to punch Frank in the nose the next time I see him," Rollie said.
Two weeks earlier Rollie was eating his usual Mostoccioli 'All You Can Eat' special at Rigazzi's Italian Restaurant. Seated on either side of him at the large oval table was Tony Rigazzi, the owner of the eatery, and his roommate, girl friend, and significant other, Dr. Jessica Talbert. Rollie and Jessica had been living together for a little over a year. She had recently turned down a lucrative position at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago because she decided that she rather stay in St. Louis with Rollie.
Also with them was Jacob Tully, a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant. He was also a retired St. Louis Police Sergeant. He was now co owner and operator of Missouri Tactical Academy; it instructed policemen and even some military personnel in city type tactical situations. Tully was also Rollie's best friend and between them they had 3 good legs due to Tully's loss in an Iraq explosion after his National Guard unit was called up for the second time.
"Rollie," Frank Wends said with enthusiasm and sat down without an invitation. "Just the man I want to see."
"Drop the sales pitch Frank," Rollie replied with a grin. "Don't want it, don't need it, couldn't afford it if I did. Remember I'm unemployed."
"That's where I can help you. I've got a job for you. Easy job and you'll make $5000 for one week's work."
"I don't do assassinations Frank; it's against the law." Rollie laughed at the look on Frank's face.
"No, no, nothing like that," Frank sputtered. "You can even bring Tully in if you want." Frank turned. "Sorry I forgot my manners. Hello Jessica, Hi Tully and Greetings Mr. Rigazzi."
"What's the job Frank?"
"Well, you know I do some moonlighting as security for visiting big wigs?" He didn't wait for an answer. "I was contacted about a security gig but my wife and I are going on vacation that week. So I thought of you, my friend. I mean you're trying to get 'Chambers and Associates' up and running and this would be perfect for you."
"Again, what's the job Frank?"
"Maxwell Duncan and his band, The Flaming Savages, are going to be in St. Louis for seven days and do two shows. His manager wants extra security while they're here."
"Why the extra security? I thought those rock stars brought their own people with them."
"Sidney Colder, that's the manager, says that Maxwell has gotten a couple of threatening letters since he's been here in St. Louis," Frank answered.
"Just letters? Doesn't seem that serious to me," Rollie said.
"Me either, until Sid told me Max had been attacked in New York. Somebody threw a balloon full of red paint that hit Max. He had a hell of a time getting it out of his hair and never did get his clothes clean. That was when the first letter arrived." Frank ordered a beer from a passing waiter.
"Then after the last show in New York, when Max got out of the limo at the hotel, someone shot Max with a paint pellet gun. Red paint this time also. The next letter said that the paint in the balloon could have just as easily been acid and the pellet gun could have been a real weapon." Frank took a big drink of beer. "The band flew here from New York the next day and Sid thought they'd left the crazy person behind."
"So what changed his mind?"
"They received two more letters after they got here."
"More of the same; so what?
"The two new letters were postmarked here in St. Louis. The first one said that New York was just to show that it was easy to get to Max. The letter said that they wanted Max to worry about when the next attack would happen."
Frank finished his beer and waved the empty bottle at the waiter. "Then, yesterday, another letter arrived. It really spooked Sid and Max."
"Why did this one shake them up more than the others?" Tully asked.
"This letter said and I quote, "The Lord will punish the sinful, Judgment Day is at hand. You will never leave St. Louis."
"Sounds like a job for you guys at the Department."
"We already did our thing. Sidney reported it and we investigated. The envelope and paper are a common type that can be bought anyplace. The postmark is from the main Post Office downtown and the only finger prints are Sid's and Maxwell's." Frank smiled at Rollie. "You know how it is. We don't have enough to go on so Sid was told to call us again if more threats were made. That's when Sid contacted me and that's what brought me to you."
"Sounds like some nut is running a game on the band," Rollie said.
"I thought so too until they got a third letter this morning," Frank replied. "This one said Max could avoid Judgment Day and buy his salvation for 250 thousand dollars. It gives a phone number to call when Max has the money. Probably a burner phone bought at Wal-Mart or Radio Shack."
"It really sounds like a scam now."
"Might be, but this one wasn't mailed. It was left at the hotel's front desk for Max."
"That means the guy is close by," Tully said.
Rollie didn't respond. He sat lost in thought for almost two minutes while Frank and Tully discussed the situation. Rollie looked at Jessica and she shrugged her shoulders. Finally he looked over at Frank.
"We'll take the case," Rollie said.
"I'll let Sid know tonight," Frank said with a grin.
"Couple of things Frank."
"I want to see the letters, not copies, the actual letters and envelopes."
"Thought you might," Frank said. He reached into the inside pocket of his sports jacket and pulled out the letters.
"Not here and not now Frank." Rollie pointed to Jessica and Tully. "We're here for a quiet dinner. Drop them through the mail slot in my front door by 9:30 tonight."
"You said a couple of things," Frank said. "What's the second thing?"
"It'll be 10 thousand for the week," Rollie said. "This is going to be a two man job." He punched Tully playfully on the shoulder and added, "The big guy gets cranky when he loses sleep so he needs a good reason to miss his daily nap."
"Done," Frank said and stood to leave. He grinned and added, "You know Sid would have paid 15 thousand."
"I would have done it for five," Rollie replied with his own grin.
Frank shook his head and laughed. "Here's Sid's card. You can give him a call tomorrow."
After Frank left, Jessica looked at Rollie. "Why did you charge so much? You don't really need the money."
Rollie's parents had left him a large Victorian house converted into four apartments, with no mortgage, across from Tower Grover Park. The area around the park was a much sought after place to live. Young doctors, lawyers, and business people paid top dollar to live in the prestigious neighborhood. Rollie and Jessica lived in a ground floor apartment and the rental from the other three apartments insured Rollie a very nice income.
In addition to the house, Rollie's parent left him a rather large investment portfolio. All and all, Rollie would never have to work a day in his life.
"The big check is how you keep score," Rollie answered with a smile. "Jess, you know me better than anyone. You know how much my private time, my time with you, means to me. If someone wants to cut into that time, they'll have to pay for it." He shook his head. "But I really didn't expect Frank to accept such a ridiculous amount; I was surprised he said yes."
Later that evening, back at Rollie and Jessica's apartment, the three friends examined the five letters. After each of them had a chance to read them Rollie asked, "What do you think guys? Sorry, guy and lady," he said smiling at Jessica.
"Looks like somebody is really upset at Maxwell," Tully replied. "Don't blame them. That so called music they play would make the Pope cringe."
"Let's look at the letters again," Jessica requested. "The first four, the two from New York and the two from St. Louis, are written in a very neat stylized way; almost like calligraphy," Jessica pointed out. "The last one is in a block type printing with no lower case letters, all capitals."
Rollie and Tully looked at the letters as Jessica pointed to them.
"Normally a person doesn't use that smooth flowing script writing a note and then change to printing." Jessica said, "Of course, whoever wrote these could have been trying to lay a false trail for Sid and Max. I can't think of a good reason to do so but it's possible."
"Okay, so we got maybe two different people gunning for Maxwell," Tully said. "And at least one of them sounds like a religious fanatic."
"The first four letters say pretty much the same thing," Rollie stated. "You are the Devil, you will pay for what you do; I will see you rotting in hell, the Lord will punish you, and so on. The last letter is the only one that mentions money." He was quiet for several seconds. "I think Jess is right, that last letter could be from a different person than the first four. But we still need to protect Max and then, if we can, find out the why and who."
"I think the color of the paint is significant. I also think the four letters were written by an educated person," Jessica said.
"Why Jess?" Rollie asked.
"Red is the color of blood; I believe the person behind this chose that color on purpose. This type of hand writing indicates training in calligraphy or exposure to a higher education. Not many people can write like this."
"And the last letter?" Tully asked.
"Because of that block style of printing, I think it could have been written by a different person." Jessica hesitated and continued, "But then the language, 'avoid Judgment Day, buy your salvation, is similar to the wording in the first four letters."
Rollie smiled and shook his head. "Doesn't really make a difference; I'm going to protect this Max Duncan against one or two or ten. Are you in on this one Tully? I could use your help with security."
"Do I get paid this time?" Tully smiled as he asked.
"I'll buy you dinner at Rigazzi's." Then he sobered and added, "You get half buddy."
"How about me?" Jessica asked.
Rollie looked at her, smiled and wiggled his eyebrows up and down. "I'll think of some way to pay you."
"That would be more like me paying you," Jessica replied, returning his smile.
Grinning at her, Rollie said, "Okay, we've got a start. I'll meet Sid Colder and Max Duncan tomorrow. Tully set us up with some good com equipment; ear buds or something like the Secret Service uses. And find out what you can about all the band members, including Max, will you? Jess, I'd like you to go with me and give me a read on Colder and Duncan. This whole thing could be some kind of publicity stunt."
"What makes you say that?" Jessica and Tully asked, almost at the same time.
"Tony Rigazzi pulled me aside just before we left the restaurant. He said his son is a big fan of the band and when the Savages came to town, the boy said there was an industry rumor that the tour was to promote interest in the group and a new album that's suppose to be released next month. The boy also said there was some kind of big TV production about the band. Publicity about a death treat would make the new album an instant big hit."
"Are we going to synchronize our watches?" Tully asked with a big grin.
"Have you learned to tell time since I last saw you?" Rollie asked innocently.
The next morning at 8AM, Rollie called to set up a meeting with Sid Colder and Maxwell Duncan. Sid said Max wouldn't be available until early afternoon. "He likes to sleep late every morning," Sid said.
"If you want my help, roust him out of bed," Rollie told the manager. "I don't take a job unless I meet the principals personally. So do we come over or do you find a different security team?"
"I'll have Max up and functioning by 11 AM," Sid replied.
"Make it 10," Rollie ordered and hung up.
"Are you being intentionally abrasive or is it just you?" Jessica asked.
"They came to us; they can play by our rules. I'm going to have to make some changes in their set up and I don't want arguments. Letting them know who is running the show from the beginning will make the job easier and give us a better chance at success."
Jessica smiled and shook her head. "I think you just like ordering people around."
Before Rollie could reply she continued. "I did some research on 'The Flaming Savages'. They're a hard rock, heavy metal type of band; like Aerosmith, AC/DC, and Guns and Roses to name a few."
"Never heard of them," Rollie said. "Except for Aerosmith. They're still playing, just like The Rolling Stones. How old are those guys anyway?"
"I'm not surprised you don't know those 'hair bands'; you never listen to anything but country." Jessica grinned at her man and patted him on the leg.
"That's not true," Rollie said with pretend indication. "I listen to other types of music."
"Like what, pray tell."
"I like almost anything by Santana; his guitar solos are some of the best ever done. There's Layla by Eric Clapton, and I like Nickelback."
"Anyway," she continued with a grin, "The band members all have this big hair and are considered rebels. There's been a resurgence of that type of music and persona in the last couple of years."
"Couldn't prove it by me." Rollie pointed through the windshield. "Here we are."
They drove up to the imposing entrance to the Chase Park Plaza Hotel. The Chase is one of the most historical, prestigious, and expensive hotels in St. Louis. It stands on the north east corner of Forest Park, rising 34 stories, and gives a panoramic view of the park and the neighborhoods surrounding it; much like the Ritz-Carlton at Central Park in New York.
"Not the type of place I'd figure for a rock band," Rollie said as he stopped his truck under the canopy. A valet hurriedly handed him a ticket and quickly pulled Rollie's truck away from the entrance.
"Guess they don't want an old pickup truck messing up the ambiance. Should have made him leave it here in front," Rollie said with an evil little smile.
"Behave yourself Rollie. This is a very nice hotel."
"I know that. We had a couple of dos here when I was still a cop."
Sidney Colder met Rollie and Jessica as they got off the elevator at the penthouse suite foyer. "Mr. Chambers? I'm Sid Colder," he said shaking hands. He looked at Jessica with both appreciation and a question in his eyes.
"This is Jessica Talbert. She's a consultant with my firm," Rollie told him.
"Please follow me. Max is on the terrace trying to get around a pot of very strong coffee." Sid chuckled. "He's not use to being up this early and it takes a little longer for him to recuperate after the shows than it did a few years ago."
As they walked through the entry way to the suite, Rollie couldn't help but be impressed. The main room was about 30 x 40 with high ceilings. One entire wall was floor to ceiling windows that looked out on a terrace and Forest Park. The furnishings looked like something out of "House Beautiful" magazine; they reminded Rollie of a very upscale home rather than a hotel.
Rollie stopped and looked at some of the publicity photos, posters, and even a life size cardboard cutout of Maxwell Duncan. The pictures showed that Duncan and the other four members of 'The Flaming Savages' all had long, greasy looking hair. It was obvious that the band members all wore eye makeup.
Jessica giggled at the glamour shots that were given out to radio stations and promoters. "They're wearing more makeup than I do," she said pointing to the eyeliner, mascara, and false eyelashes.
Rollie chuckled and added, "They all look like Saigon whores."
"Show business you know," Sid explained. "They have to keep up the 'rebel' image to help with record sales and promote their shows."
The terrace was a study of how to have a garden, complete with flowers, plants and trees, on the top floor of a high rise building. A small rose garden, a lawn, and several large boxed trees made the terrace look like someone's back yard.
There was a man on the terrace with his back toward the door. He was stretched out on a rattan chaise lounge in the mild morning sun. Sid led Rollie and Jessica over to his chair.
"Max," Sid made the introduction, "This is Mr. Chambers and his assistant Jessica Talbert; He's going to provide additional security while you're in St. Louis. Rollie this is Maxwell Duncan, the leader of The Flaming Savages."
Rollie smiled when he saw the look on Jessica's face at being called his assistant. She looked at him and Rollie gave her an evil little grin.
Duncan stood and turned toward Rollie. "Hi Rollie, is it okay if I call you that? You can call me Max. It's nice to meet you."
Rollie was almost speechless. He wasn't sure what he'd expected but this man wasn't it. Rollie wasn't small at 6'2 but Max towered over him at 6'5. But where Rollie was solid at 200 pounds, Max didn't weight more than 175. He was wearing a Flaming Savages T shirt, plaid Bermuda shorts and sandals. His long legs were skinny and white; his arms were longer than normal, thin, and showed no trace of sun tan.
His forearms seemed to be the only muscular part of his body and he had very large hands. Another surprise was Max's hair. Instead of the long, black, greasy locks shown in the pictures, his hair was light brown and cut short in the military style.
Max laughed at the look on Rollie's face and rubbed his short hair. "I wear a wig on stage and for personal appearances. Too much trouble to take care of that long mop the rest of the time."
Rollie smiled and shook his head. The other thing that he'd noticed about Max was that he was much older than his pictures showed. He's got to be 35 to 40, Rollie thought.
"39," Max said, reading the question in Rollie's eyes. "I've been at this for six years and we're finally starting to make some good money. I'm not as old as Mick Jagger and he's still going strong." He laughed and added, "Thank God for the revival of head banging, hard rock."
Jessica walked to the edge of the terrace and looked at the view of Forest Park. She was really watching Sid and Max. "Do you have any idea who might be sending you the letters?" She asked.
Max leaned closer to Rollie and asked, "What was your assistant's name again?"
"Jessica Talbert." Rollie answered, trying to hide a smile as he saw Jessica tense up a little.
"Not a clue Jessica," Max answered. "I thought it was just some nut getting his rocks off. Right up until I started getting letters here in St. Louis."
"Maybe someone at one of your parties whose feelings got hurt that you used and then left her," Rollie suggested.
"You mean like sex, drugs, and rock n roll? Max said sitting back down. "We don't do that crap."
"Man, I'm married. I've got a 20 year old son, who's a junior at Stanford. My daughter is 18 and will be going to USC in the fall. Besides, I'm a little old to be playing those types of games. Hell, just doing a show wipes me out. If there was a scandal or something bogus going on, we might lose our gravy train; my kids would have to drop out of school. I couldn't do that to them." Max poured another cup of coffee, offering Rollie and Jessica some. They turned him down.
"You live in California?"
"No. Tuition and housing for my kids would be cheaper if we did. We live in Prescott, Arizona."
"You said you've been doing this for six years; what did you do before?" Rollie changed his mind and poured two cups of coffee and took one to Jessica.
"I played the violin. Don't look so shocked," Max said at Rollie's reaction. "I was pretty good, but not good enough, you know? Unless you're a virtuoso like Itzhak Perlman, well no one is like Perlman, anyway you can't make a lot of money playing in symphonies, or recording sessions, or in a big band. The pay might be okay for a single guy but not for a man with two kids and a wife."
"So, how did you go from an almost good enough violinist to a rock star?"
"Actually it was luck. I'd gone to see a buddy of mine who owns a couple of clubs; I wanted to see about a gig playing dinner music at his supper club. I met him at his other club; a bar that has live music three nights a week." Max smiled remembering his good fortune.
"The lead singer and guitarist, Ronnie Swanson, dropped a bottle of beer on the stage. When he picked up the broken pieces he cut his hand so bad he couldn't keep playing. Well Jeff, he's my friend, went bananas. He said he'd have to refund all the cover charges. I'd been listening to the band and knew I could play the rock and roll they'd been doing, so I offered to sit in."
Max laughed, looked at Sid, and said, "I can play almost any stringed instrument. Anyway the rest is history, as they say. The guys and I hit it off and started playing together on a regular basis. A promoter signed us as a lead in band for a big name group at the local auditorium and we were sort of discovered. We started calling ourselves 'The Flaming Savages' and we took off." Shaking his head Max said, "I don't know how much longer I can stand the grind or how much longer we'll be successful but I've got to ride the wave until it breaks up on the shore."
"How did Swanson like you stepping into his spot? Was he upset or angry at you?" Rollie asked, already in his detective mode.
"Funny that. Ronnie had been two weeks away from quitting the band anyway. He'd gotten a job teaching music at a college in Oregon. Ronnie said I solved a problem for him and wished us luck."
"Where's this guy that's gonna tell me how to do my job?" The voice came from the entry way. Then a big man stepped out onto the terrace.
Rollie eyed the new comer. The man was as tall as Max at 6'5, but where Max was rail thin this man was broad and heavy. He looked like a block of granite on two strong looking legs. His long, dark hair hung down, pulled back into a pony tail.
"Jim, come meet our guests," Sid said walking over to meet and make the introductions. "Rollie this is Jim Steele; he's the head of security for Max and the band. Jim, this is Rollie Chambers and his assistant Jessica Talbert. Rollie's going to handle special security while the band is in town."
"We don't need a special security detail," Jim said to Sid, ignoring Rollie's outstretched hand. "I can take care of guarding the guys."
"Like you did in New York?" Rollie asked.
"You were so good at guarding Max that he got hit with a balloon full of paint."
"That was a freak accident. Besides it was only paint."
"The very next night he got shot with paint pellets." Rollie shook his head. "Another freak accident? It could have been a real gun and the balloon could have had something nasty in it."
Jessica walked over to Rollie. "You'd think he'd take better precautions after the first attack," she said softly to Rollie.
"Go take notes or whatever you do," Steele responded. "And keep your mouth shut bit..."
"Steele," Rollie said in a cold hard voice as he stepped between Jessica and the large bodyguard. His blue eyes had gone icy and knife sharp. "You've already stepped over the line. I'd be real careful about my next words, if I were you."
"Rollie..." Jessica said as she put her hand on his arm.
Steele started to reply, but something in Rollie's laser like, blue eyes made him stop. After several tense seconds, Steele said, "Sorry. Let my mouth get away from me there. No hard feelings?"
Steele extended his hand to shake with Rollie. He tried to bear down on Rollie's hand to show him who was the better man. Rollie smiled at Steele and began to return the pressure on the big man's hand. Very shortly, Steele pulled his hand away with a grimace of pain on his face.
"If you're done playing games, we need to set up a game plan for the next week," Rollie said, smiling as Steele rubbed the circulation back into his hand.
Steele nodded begrudgingly and explained the security plan he'd laid out. Rollie listened and made notations in a journal he carried.
"That's good as far as it goes," Rollie told Steele, "but we need to fine tune it. We'll get back to you later today with our suggestions."
"Call me instead of Max," Sid offered. "The band has rehearsal tomorrow evening and a benefit at the Fox Theater the next night. Then the regular show at Kiel Auditorium two nights later."
"Where's the rehearsal?"
"The sound equipment is already set up so we'll rehearse at the Fox," Max answered.
"We'll go to the rehearsal with you. Then we'll talk to you Sid and set up our precautions for the benefit and the concert."
Rollie and Jessica left the suite. As they waited for the valet to bring the truck, Rollie turned to Jessica and with a big grin he asked, "How do like being my assistant Dr. Talbert?"
Jessica snorted. "Typical male superiority complex; can't believe that a woman is equal to a man."
"I think it was because you are so hot," Rollie said grinning. "Sid couldn't believe that a gal that looks like you would have brains too.
"Never mind that, I thought you and Steele were going to go at it for a minute."
"We would have if he'd finished his sentence."
"He's a giant, and you would have hit him?"
"Just as hard as I could."
"Nobody talks to you like that."
"You could have been hurt."
"Maybe, but Steele would have been hurting more."
"My protector," Jessica said and fluttered her eye lashes at Rollie. He laughed and put his arm around her.
"You get what we needed Tully?" Rollie asked as he and Jessica entered their apartment.
"Got the communications gear right here and for your edification, I've got a disc set up in the DVD player. By the way, you're running low on beer."
"I wouldn't be if you didn't keep coming over here and drinking it all," Rollie said laughing.
"You invited me this time."
"How did you know Tully was here Rollie?" Jessica asked in a confused voice.
"You forget; I'm a trained detective. I saw a truck with the MTA logo about 25 yards down the street, our front door was unlocked, and I could hear Tully opening another beer all the way out on the sidewalk."
"You heard a beer being opened," Jessica replied. "I don't believe it."
"Him telling me to meet you guys here at noon might have had something to do with it," Tully offered.
Rollie and Tully broke up laughing at the peeved look on Jessica's face.
"Just for that, I'm not going to fix you guys any lunch," she said and stomped down the hall way to the bedroom. Jessica returned in just a couple of minutes. "Will ham sandwiches and soup be good for lunch?"
"I thought you weren't going to fix lunch for us," Rollie replied.
"I'm not, at least not for you. I was asking Tully." Rollie stuck out his lower lip.
"Well, okay," Jessica said, "I can't stand to see a grown man pout."
Rollie hugged her. "Sandwiches and soup would be great." Rollie and Tully walked toward the living room. "Tully, did you know Jessica is my assistant?" Jessica growled and snapped a dish towel at Rollie's backside. "But she's touchy about it."
Tully tossed Rollie a file folder. Inside were sheets of paper with a lot of privileged information about the members of the Flaming Savages. Financial records, tax returns, expenditures, and assets of each member were documented as were pictures and personal data.
"Where did you get all this?" Rollie asked.
"I called your old boss Captain Mallory and asked to borrow Ricky," Tully answered.
"Oh that's right. You don't know Ricky. He came to work for the Department after you resigned." Tully smiled and thought for several seconds. "Ricky Willard was and is probably the most intelligent guy I've ever met. He graduated from the University of Missouri in two years and got his Masters the next year. Then he dropped out of school."
"Dropped out? How does that make him so smart?"
"During his freshman year he learned how football crazy people are in a college town with a good football team. Ricky heard the guys in his dorm talking about point spread, over/under points, parleys and how much money they'd won or lost the last week. So he investigated, learned about betting, and opened his own bookmaking business. He made a fortune.