Saturday, February 07, 2009


Chapter 7

Chapter 7

I awoke early, having hardly slept at all. Partly because it was Friday, and 5 AM Charlie was particularly noisy this morning. Mike's visit the night before had energized me. The offer he made was truly too good to pass up, or was it too good to be true. Could I trust Mike? If Mike was telling the truth I knew who the killer was, but Mike had no clues to help find him.

I showered and dressed. How was I going to find this guy? As I put my wallet in my pocket, I remembered the laundry ticket. I took it out . It was for a Chinese laundry in Reno. Not much to go on. I wondered if there was anything in the gym bag I had missed. I walked to the front window where I had dumped the contents the last night. I carefully inspected each item. Shoes, socks, shirts, pants, shorts - something fell to the floor. It was a key card from Virgin Suites. I've never been to a Virgin Suites, maybe I can break cherry there. After I stopped laughing, I remembered it was one of Sir Richard Branson's business ventures, and there was one in Reno. Laundry in Reno, liquor from Reno, hotel in Reno, Vance Manion is headed to Reno.

I threw on my jacket and tucked my Colt 1911 in my waistband. I ran outside, fired up Betsy, threw her in drive and headed toward Reno. Betsy leaped onto the highway like a race horse that wanted to run. Her big V8 growled, she was in fine voice today.

As I drove I reconstructed the time line. Monday Tonongo was in Reno and drops some clothes at a cleaner. Tuesday he takes a puddle jumper to Stagnant Falls. Why did he fly? Why not drive, or with all the cash he had, hire a car? Wednesday night he gets shot in a bar. Thursday he is the talk of the town, but can't get his name in the paper. Friday Vance Manion is on the case. Saturday - Saturday, case closed, and Vance owns his own house/gas station.

I thought back to the body lying in the bar. He was so big, but Mike said the shooter was smaller. Mike indicated he and the dead man were tight, but for safety’s sake, had kept their lives separate. He wasn’t even sure what town Mathisu lived in. His drivers license said Sacramento. I wondered if the license was real, even though it did have his real name on it. Mike knew almost nothing about Haponte, not why he was in the bar that night, or why he would shoot his own brother. How was Big City involved? And what about the second body Watts mentioned? Was that death related to the corpse in the bar? Was that the brother? Had someone already covered their tracks? This case has more loose ends than a San Francisco bathhouse. I better not drop the soap.

Traffic was light and the trip didn't take long, if I was lucky I could get to the hotel before check out time and get a solid lead.

I recognized the street on the laundry ticket, found the shop with little trouble, and parked at the curb. The laundry was in a nice, yet unobtrusive building not far from some of the bigger hotels. Bells tinkled as I opened the door. A small oriental woman scurried through a doorway and beat me to the counter. "My friend asked Vance to pick up his cleaning," I said as I handed her the ticket. "Yes, yes," she said as she hurried into the back. She returned with two dress shirts and a pair of pants bagged and on hangers. She looked at a slip of paper, and said "eightee fitty prease." Her accent was amusing. As I reached into my wallet she said "wood da uder gendremun rike his raundree arso?" "Other gentleman, sure but Vance doesn't have his ticket," I replied. "Das ok, he good custemer," as she turned and disappeared. She returned with just a suit jacket, looked at a second piece of paper, and said, "twenty six dorra." I took the money from my wallet. The stiff and his brother owe me six bone. She handed me my change and said "you terr dem I say herro." "Vance'll do that," I lifted the clothes, turned and left.

Now for the hotel. Virgin Suites was new but I was sure it was near the big casino, which was a twenty minute drive away. Once there I cruised the streets eyes scanning for the hotel. Fifteen minutes of cruising, thirty - nothing. I wish one of my clients would offer me a GPS thingamabob as payment. Didn't I just drive down this street? I turned the corner and in frustration, down shifted and punched Betsy's accelerator. I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye and stabbed the brakes. Bingo! Virgins Suites.

I backed up and steered Betsy to a parking place. I took the shirts and pants and walked toward the front entrance. I had an advantage over the killer - he didn't know who I was, or what I looked like or that I was looking for him. I knew he looked like the dead guy, only smaller and alive. Advantage Vance! Inside I walked to the front desk.

The desk clerk was a petite woman of about twenty. She had black hair, olive skin and did she? Yes, green eyes. "Vance hasn't seen an Italian woman as lovely as you since Jersey." "Excuse me," she looked up, slightly puzzled. "What time does your shift end?" "What can I do for you?" she asked, her fog clearing. "You can take Vance upstairs and deflower him." "I don't think so. Why are you here?" She was hot, and if I wasn't on a case I'd put in the time, but right now, the Samoan was more important. "Vance has some cleaning for Mr. Tonongo." "Of course, I'll take that for you," she said reaching for the clothes. "No, he prepaid and we over charged him. Which room is he in?" The clerk hesitated and turned to her computer. "Mr. Tonongo is in room 237." "Thanks toots, it's been a pleasure." She turned away, but I knew she would remember Vance Manion.

I took the elevator to the second floor, and found my way to room 237. I made sure my gun was positioned where I could grab it quickly, and knocked on the door. I knocked again. No response. I took the key card out of my pocket and slipped it into the slot, and removed it. The light lit green. I turned the lever and cautiously opened the door. That's the last thing I remember.

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