clowns and cowboys (a miranda and parker mystery book 3)

 

Clowns and Cowboys

A Miranda and Parker Mystery

Book 3

by

Linsey Lanier

 

Copyright © 2014 Linsey Lanier

 

All rights reserved. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, please return to your online distributor and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work and helping her earn a living.

 

Felicity Books

ISBN: 978-1-941191-04-0

 

Visit
Linsey’s website

For updates and bonus stories join
Linsey’s Newsletter List
.

I love my readers and am truly grateful for all your support!

 

Clowns and Cowboys

When PI Miranda Steele gets a call from an old “friend” in Dallas, Texas and decides to take his case, her boss and husband Wade Parker is none too pleased. Especially when she insists he stay home due to his recent injuries.

No way, Jose.

But when southeastern sophisticated meets southwestern country, tempers blaze hotter than Texas chili sauce, sending Miranda into turmoil. How can she solve this case with the clash between her past “friend” and her present husband raging? She needs to figure it out soon.

The murder of a circus clown is about to lead her to something not even Parker could have predicted.

 

Edited by

Editing for You

 

Gilly Wright

http://www.gillywright.com

 

Books by Linsey Lanier

Linsey’s Amazon Author page

 

THE MIRANDA’S RIGHTS MYSTERY SERIES

Someone Else’s Daughter – Book I

Delicious Torment – Book II

Forever Mine – Book III

Fire Dancer – Book IV

Thin Ice – Book V

 

THE MIRANDA AND PARKER MYSTERY SERIES

All Eyes on Me

Heart Wounds

Clowns and Cowboys

The Watcher

Zero Dark Chocolate

Trial by Fire

Smoke Screen

 

OTHER SUSPENSE BOOKS BY LINSEY LANIER:

Chicago Cop (A cop family thriller)

Steal My Heart (A Romantic Suspense)

 

THE PRASALA ROMANCES

The Crown Prince’s Heart

The King’s Love Song

The Count’s Baby

 

HUMOROUS BOOKS BY LINSEY LANIER

You Want Me to Kill Who?
(A Dandy Frost—Ninja Assassin Story)
#1

You Want Me to Go Where?
(A Dandy Frost—Ninja Assassin Story) #2

The Clever Detective Boxed Set 2
(A Fairy Tale Romance): Stories 1-5

 

 

Contents

 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Three

Chapter Forty-Four

Chapter Forty-Five

Chapter Forty-Six

Chapter Forty-Seven

Chapter Forty-Eight

Chapter Forty-Nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-One

Chapter Fifty-Two

Chapter Fifty-Three

Chapter Fifty-Four

Chapter Fifty-Five

More Books by Linsey Lanier

Excerpts

 

Chapter One

 

“Death values a prince no more than a clown.”
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

 

“I’ll see what I can do.”

In her cube at the Parker Agency where she was now a Level Three investigator, Miranda Steele hung up the phone and stared blankly at her computer. The text on the screen—data from the super boring worker’s comp case she’d been piddling over—blurred before her eyes.

Soft typing and voices floated over the fabric-covered walls, but all she could hear was her heart pounding in her ears. She was shivering all over, like she was coming down with the flu.

But it wasn’t the flu. It was that phone call.

Her old pal Yosemite Sam, as everyone used to call him on the work site, was in trouble. She hadn’t seen him in, what? Ten or eleven years? Not since they’d been in Phoenix together. She smiled at the memory playing in her head. Cruising down a dusty Arizona highway with Sam on a pair of motorcycles.

He’d taught her how to ride.

Talk about a blast from the past.

Then her smile faded. Sam was in Texas now, outside of Dallas—where there had been a murder.

He needed her help.

Her mind buzzing, she tapped her fingers on the smooth gray surface of her desk. What in the world was she going to say to Parker?

She and her sexy husband had just come back from a case overseas and he’d wanted to take a break. He needed it, so she’d agreed. He’d been beaten up pretty bad and wasn’t fully recovered yet.

But this call from Sam?

She couldn’t ignore it. Even though she had a feeling Parker wasn’t going to go for it. Well, she’d just have to face Parker head on.

Straightening her shoulders, she rose, picked up the notepad she’d scribbled some data on, and headed for her boss’s corner office. Double time.

###

At the end of a row of cubes near the coffee maker, Miranda barreled around the corner—and nearly collided with someone who should have been watching where he was going.

She looked up and saw her buddy Dave Becker.

“Oh! Steele. I—I’m so sorry,” Becker stammered in his typically nervous way. He’d had his big nose buried in the e-pad thingy he was carrying and hadn’t been watching where he was going.

She took in his jeans and T-shirt and noticed his hair was growing over his ears. Plus his eyebrows looked bushier than she remembered. She realized she hadn’t seen him in quite a while.

She pointed at his outfit. “Out of uniform today?”

Not that she relished the dress code herself or policed her coworkers. It just seemed odd for Becker not to be in the required suit and tie.

He blinked at her as if he’d just woken up. “I guess you haven’t heard, what with you and the boss being out of town so much. I’ve moved to Digital Forensics. I’ve been working with Jenkins in the lab.”

“Digital Forensics?”

“Yeah. You know. Cyberstalking, hacking, data recovery. We just closed a missing persons case tracking the guy’s emails. He was alive, in a hotel down town. Not kidnapped, as his wife feared. Marriage is in trouble, though. He’d been emailing a hooker, seeing her on the side. Was at the hotel with her, if you get my drift.”

“Yeah, I get it.” The scumbag. But Miranda was impressed. She’d never thought of her old buddy Becker as a techno-nerd.

She waved a hand at the tablet. “You’re really turning into a geek there, huh?”

He blushed shyly. “I think I’ve found my passion.”

That was cool. Everybody needed a passion. But Becker seemed out of place by himself. “Where’s Holloway?” The two used to be inseparable and were her first buds at the agency when she started.

“In the field.”

So Holloway hadn’t followed in his sidekick’s geeky footsteps.

“With Wesson,” he added staring at his screen.

“Wesson? Really?” Definitely not one of Miranda’s favorite people. She wondered how Holloway had gotten teamed up with that bitch.

“Yeah. Oh, Joan wanted me to ask you something.”

“O…kay.” Miranda poked at the carpet with the toe of her shoe. She hadn’t talked to her best friend in a long while and Fanuzzi was probably pissed about it.

“Let’s see. What was it, again?” He stared down at his e-pad, gave something a swipe.

Yep, Becker was getting to be a real absentminded professor.

Something came to him and he brightened. “Oh, I remember. About the party.”

She folded her arms defensively. “What party?”

His eyes grew round. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you. Or maybe they decided it wasn’t going to be a surprise. No, that’s right. They couldn’t make it a surprise since you and the boss are travelling so much nowadays.”

She folded her arms tighter. “What the hell are you talking about, Becker?”

“Your anniversary. Joan wants to throw you a party. She wants to set a date for it and start planning. She wants you to call her.”

“Anniversary?”

“Yeah. You know, wedding anniversary? Ours is coming up, too. Right around the corner. But we might postpone our celebration...” His voice drifted off as he stared at his pad again.

Miranda blinked at him.

Had it really been a year since her friend and Becker had tied the knot? Since she’d walked down the aisle in that awful gown? And…wait. Her friends wanted to throw a party? Hadn’t the wedding itself been enough?

“Uh, it’s not necessary. I’m sure Parker will have something planned.”

The corners of Becker’s lips turned down and he suddenly looked like a lost puppy. “Really? Joan is going to be so disappointed.”

Oh, good grief.

When she’d first met Fanuzzi—Miranda couldn’t shake the habit of calling her by her maiden name—they’d been on a road crew together. Joan Fanuzzi was the Dump Person and had directed the heavy machinery. She was one tough broad. The last thing Miranda had expected was for Fanuzzi to drop the crew, go into catering, and live for putting together fancy parties.

But she couldn’t disappoint the woman. Fanuzzi had been loyal to her when she didn’t deserve it. Besides Miranda wasn’t good at making friends and didn’t have many. She didn’t want to lose her best one.

“Okay. Tell her to call me sometime.”

“How about now?”

Miranda curled a lip. Since when did Becker get so pushy?

She glanced down at the pad in her hand. The paper one. Not possible. Sam needed her help. “Can’t right now, I’m on my way to see Parker.”

Becker’s face faded from a scowl into that schoolboy awe he used to wear when they were in training whenever she’d mentioned the top investigator he fairly worshipped. “Got another case?”

Couldn’t talk about this one. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

And she stepped around him, leaving him staring at his tablet for an answer.

Chapter Two

 

Miranda found Parker’s door ajar and knocked on it gently.

“Come in,” he said from within.

Gathering her nerves she stepped into the big corner office with a smile plastered on her face. With its tall windows, its glossy glass furnishings, its sedate blue-and-gray tones Parker’s work domain both soothed and intimidated clients at the same time.

Kind of like she felt right now.

She caught the scent of coffee and saw he had his classy gold monogrammed mug on his desk. He had on a deep charcoal silk suit and a gray-blue tie that would have gone well with his eyes. If it weren’t for the streak of purplish red under one of them.

His face was still heart-stopping enough to kill for, even with the mark. And the thought of the hard muscled body beneath that fancy suit made her stomach quiver. That and the knowledge that he loved her. She’d never get used to it. Never get over her surprise at that simple fact.

And she loved him right back.

With not one of his styled salt-and-pepper hairs out of place, he focused on his computer screen, though he knew she was there. He could always sense her, just the way she could him.

Still she cleared her throat to draw his attention. “Got a minute?”

He turned his gaze toward her, fixed her with those wonderful, sexy eyes. “I always have time for you, my love.” His voice was low and throaty and laced with that wealthy, sophisticated southern accent that was unique to him.

Enough to make any woman drool.

“I need to talk to you about something.”

His expression grew serious. “Of course.”

She took a seat in one of the cushy pale blue guest chairs and tapped a pen on her notepad. How was she going to say this?

Carefully, she decided.

“I, uh, just got a call from a friend.”

His brow wrinkled and he suppressed a wince. Facial movements still hurt. “A friend?”

“Someone I knew a bunch of years ago. We used to work together.” No need to tell him any more than that. Still she could see the curiosity on his face. She’d always told him she had no friends before she came to Atlanta. That was basically true.

“What did your friend want?”

She shifted her weight in her chair. “There’s been a murder. The local cops think it was natural causes.”

“And it wasn’t?”

“My friend thinks somebody killed this guy.”

Parker sat back in his chair. “I see.”

“And so, we’ve got another case.” She gave him a pert grin.

Parker put a finger against the lip that was no longer swollen and studied his wife. Her dark hair was full and wild as usual, and he couldn’t keep from imagining the feel of it in his hands.

It had been too long since he had been able to make love to her.

She had on a lightweight tweed ensemble in one of the dark shades she preferred, with form-fitting slacks and a belted jacket that hugged her narrow waist. He eyed her lean, fit body, now almost fully recovered from injuries she’d suffered several months ago. Desire grew inside him as he watched her cross her legs this way and that.

Her anxiety, whatever its cause, amused him. She wasn’t the anxious type. He knew her. Even better now. When he looked at Miranda Steele he saw even more of what he’d always seen in her. Unstoppable strength, raw determination, amazing courage. She’d saved his life with those qualities.

It pleased him that she wore his mother’s sapphire-and-diamond ring along with its match. Her wedding ring. Though she refused to wear it on assignments for fear of losing it. It pleased him, too, that she worried about losing it.

And this past week, after his own injuries, she’d been taking care of him, mothering him, showing more of a domestic side than he knew she possessed.

He wanted her now, just as he had at so many other impractical times. He loved her with all his being. But he also saw she put her pen behind her ear and twist her rings around her finger. A gesture that told him she was hiding something. It wasn’t difficult to deduce what it was.

“What’s your friend’s name?” he said as if making idle conversation.

Miranda pursed her lips back and forth and looked down at her hands. She stopped twisting her rings and pulled her pen from behind her ear. Why had she thought for even a minute she could keep this from Parker? He’d seen right through her.

“Sam,” she told him.

“Sam is short for Samantha, I presume?” There was so much snide irony in his tone, the air was instantly thick with it.

Miranda rolled her eyes. “Okay, smartie. It’s a guy.”

His brows rose. “Oh, really?”

What an actor. He’d known that as soon as she mentioned him. She caved. “His name’s Sam Keegan. Like I said, we worked together back in Phoenix some years ago. He wants my help. There’s been a murder.”

Idly Parker opened a folder on his desk, scanned its contents. “Has he been arrested?” Another snide remark, since she’d just told him the police thought the guy died from natural causes.

“No…the vic was Sam’s best friend. His name was...” She consulted her notes. “Tupper Magnuson. He was a clown.”

Eyes still on the folder Parker frowned. “Not a very respectful way to speak of the dead.”

“No. A real clown. You know, white face, floppy shoes? Sam’s in the circus now.”

He closed the file and looked up at her. “Interesting. Where?”

“Texas. East side of Dallas.” Not her favorite place in the world, but that didn’t matter. She waved her notepad. “I’ve got to go help him, Parker. He’s an old pal.”

Parker leaned back in his chair and rocked a bit, his sexy gray eyes narrowing into analytical mode. “Why did he call you?”

She let out a scoff. “He saw me on TV when we were in Vegas.”

“Did he?”

Was that so hard to believe? “Maybe he thinks I’m a damn good detective.”

“I know you’re a damn good detective. But are you sure that’s what he really wants?”

She’d known she was going to have trouble, but she didn’t think he’d take this angle. “What are you saying? You think he made the case up? Why would he do that?”

“Any number of reasons. How long has it been since you saw him?”

“About ten years.”

“And have you heard from him at all during the intervening time?”

She shook her head.

He nodded as if he’d won an argument. “Have you done a background check on him?”

“A background check?” she sputtered as she shot to her feet.

“It’s not unusual to run one on a potential client you barely know.”

She tromped to the window and stuffed her hands under her arms. She hated to admit it, but Parker had a point. She did hardly know Sam any more, no matter how sharp her memory of him was.

He was a wild guy when they’d worked together. A real risk-taker. And a drifter like she’d been. Sounded like he still was. This could be…some kind of ruse. Hell, if his friend was murdered, he might be the killer and he might just want her to find a way to get him off when the police figured it out. No, that wasn’t Sam.

Still, a background check might not be a bad idea.

Calmer now, she turned around to face her husband. “Okay. I’ll run him. And if he checks out, I’ll go to Texas.”

Now it was Parker’s turn to jump to his feet, though there was a grimace of pain on his handsome face as well as a good splash of shock. She saw him almost grab his side. Those bruised ribs of his were a bitch.

“You? As in alone?”

“Of course.” She waved her notebook at him. “You can’t go. You’re still convalescing. I’ll take some vacation time. Do it on my own time. Pro bono, if I have to.” Sam probably couldn’t afford a third of their hefty fee.

Parker let out a dark, wry laugh. “This venture is a partnership, Miranda.”

“Right, like our marriage. We take care of each other, watch each other’s back. And if one of us isn’t up to a job, the other fills in and takes up the slack.” She stepped to him, about to give him a quick kiss on the lips.

Before she could, he grabbed her arms and held her in a firm grip. “We’re Parker and Steele Consulting. Either we both go or neither of us does.” His eyes flashed cold.

She’d seen him angry plenty of times, but she’d never seen quite that hard steel look in them before. She met his gaze and wrestled with the anger rupturing inside her.

Now she had to choose between helping Sam and risking Parker getting reinjured? What did he think he was doing? Why was he making this so hard? Or didn’t he think she could handle a case by herself? That thought infuriated her even more.

She considered having it out with him right here in his office during business hours. But that would only make it worse. And waste time. Instead, she decided to make a deal.

She pulled out of his grip. “Okay, Parker. If you want to put your health at risk, I can’t stop you. So how about this? We go, but if I think you’re overdoing it, you have to go back to the hotel and rest.”

He drew in a slow breath, his expression softening. “And if I refuse to go?”

With a smug grin, she shrugged. “You can’t refuse. It’s my turn to be in charge.”

His eyes almost twinkled as a corner of his lip turned up just a bit. “We’ll see.” He settled back into his chair, pretending not to feel any pain.

He played with the folder again, picked up a pen, put it back down. He’d almost succeeded in making her scream with frustration when at last he nodded slowly. “Very well, Miranda. We’ll both go to Dallas.”

She let out a breath. “You won’t be sorry. Sam’s a good guy.”

“I’m sure he’s a fine, upstanding citizen.” He turned back to face the computer screen. “And since you’re in charge, you can book the reservations.”

That made her blink. “Oh, really?”

Now he gave her a full smile. A smile dripping with quiet victory. “After you get me the results of that background check.”

Chapter Three

 

It took the rest of the afternoon to get the background results, and when Sam’s record came out clean, Miranda had to work with Gen to book the hotel and plane tickets.

What a joy that was.

Parker’s daughter had softened a lot toward her after everything they’d all been through, but working with Gen was still about as much fun as pouring acid over your own head.

And Parker wasn’t impressed at all with Sam’s background.

It was a lot like hers had been when she first met Parker. Bouncing around from job to job, a night in jail here and there after a bar fight. Like her, he was the antsy, restless type. He’d joined Under the Big Top, Inc. three years ago, and the travels of his new employer now satisfied his wanderlust, she supposed, so there’d been a semblance of stability since then.

But a deal was a deal, so they went home, had some dinner, and Parker reluctantly packed a suitcase before they headed off to the airport.

###

The flight was non-stop, a little over two hours. Plus they lost an hour with the time change, so they landed in Dallas Fort Worth International just before 11 PM.

Miranda had tried to catch some shuteye on the plane, but it hadn’t worked out. Her mind had been too consumed with how to keep Parker from overdoing it and how to keep him from finding out…well, that didn’t really matter now. Did it?

As they stepped off the ramp and into the boarding area, Miranda thought Parker looked weary. They’d get a good night’s sleep at the hotel and get started on the investigation in the morning, she decided.

About to tell him the plan, she took a step toward the exit—and stopped dead in her tracks.

Her gaze swept over the form leaning casually against the short wall separating the waiting area from the corridor.

Thick blond waves under a mocha colored Stetson. Rugged blue work shirt, rolled up at the sleeves. Worn jeans tight enough to reveal equally rugged muscles. Cowboy boots and a pair of teasing, forest green eyes. He looked good. Aged a bit, but so had she.

Those eyes drank her in, one lip turned up in the smile of a genuine flirt. “Hey, babe,” he crooned in that familiar southwestern accent.

Miranda didn’t know what to think. She’d left him a text message saying when they were coming and the flight number but she hadn’t expected him to be here.

She sauntered over to him. “Well, well, well. If it isn’t ole Yosemite Sam.”

“If it isn’t ole Kick-Ass Steele.” Before she could stop him, he took her in his arms, spun her around, and planted a kiss on her lips that took her breath.

Mostly because it was so unexpected.

“Put me down before I have to kick
your
ass,” she laughed.

“Yes, ma’am.” He did so, took off his cowboy hat and made a low bow as he tucked the Stetson under his arm.

He might have recently joined the circus, but he’d always been a performer.

Miranda glanced back at Parker.

He stood quietly observing in investigator mode, a look of strained amusement on his face. He was trying to seem pleasant and unperturbed, but she could tell he wasn’t happy at all with this greeting.

She pretended to straighten her hair. “Uh, Sam. This is Wade Parker. He’s my partner.”

“Partner?” Sam said in his lazy drawl.

“We consult together. We’ll both be working your case.” They’d made a deal not to tell clients they were a married couple and she didn’t intend to change that now. She was an investigator in her own right and didn’t need to ride on Parker’s coattails.

“I didn’t realize I was getting a two-for-one deal.” Sam chuckled.

“He’s also my boss. Owns the agency where I work.”

“I’m impressed.” Sam stretched out a hand. “Glad to meet you, Mr. Parker.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” Parker said in a rich, aristocratic southeastern tone that perfectly hid his sarcasm from anyone but Miranda’s ears. “I hope we’ll be able to bring you some resolution very soon.”

Yeah, the sooner the better as far as Parker was concerned, she thought as she watched the men eye each other like two bulls at a rodeo sizing up the competition.

“Well,” Sam grinned. “I’m your ride. Had to park in the back forty, so it’ll be a ways.”

Parker shot her a quick
didn’t-you-book-a-rental-car?
look.

She shrugged in reply. “Can’t turn down the local hospitality, can we?”

“Of course not.” Parker forced another smile for Sam. “Then we’d better get going.”

Chapter Four

 

Back forty was right.

Before they got outside they had to plod through what seemed like acres of shiny corridors filled with ads, signs welcoming them to the Lone Star State, and souvenir shops flaunting embossed leather boots and western ties and cattle figurines. Then they had to take a shuttle to the far parking lot.

By the time they reached Sam’s vehicle, which turned out to be a beat-up, cherry red pickup truck with a rusty grill, Miranda was worried about Parker’s condition. But she thought it would only make things worse if she said anything in front of their new client.

After Sam put the luggage in the back of the bed, the three of them piled into the front seat with Miranda in the middle.

Sam took off and they bumped along TX-161, enduring the pickup’s poor shocks. The brightly lit, steel-and-glass city loomed ahead of them, while miles of prairie stretched into the night on either side.

Along with decent shocks, the truck lacked an A/C so they had to ride with the windows down. The country air blowing through her hair brought back memories. As Miranda recalled, Texas was a lot like Atlanta. Only bigger, flatter, hotter, and more permeated with the scent of cow.

Dallas, she knew, had started out as a cattle town, had turned into a rail town, and finally into a tech town. The place was now home to the corporate headquarters of a boatload of technology and telecom companies.

But her memories of the place weren’t so flashy.

About five years ago she’d made her way back out west when she’d heard of a job on an oil rig outside Denton. The work had been hard and the harassment from the male coworkers had been brutal. She’d had to put a few of them in their place with the Maui Thai moves she’d worked up over the years.

She’d never really liked it here. Less now that she knew this was where Leon had picked up her scent so to speak—despite the bovine odor in the air. She didn’t want to think about him.

She glanced over at Parker.

His posture erect, he stared out the windshield wearing a stoic look. His jaw was tight. He had to be in pain. She could almost feel it herself. Or maybe that was her conscience. She should have fought harder to come here by herself. But as much as she hated that he was suffering, deep down she was glad he was here.

She didn’t want to be alone with Sam Keegan.

She took a deep breath and broke the awkward silence. Time to get down to business. “So, Sam. Tell us about your friend, Tupper Magnuson.”

Hands on the wheel, Sam’s face went tender. “Good old Tup. I’m really going to miss him.”

“How long have you known him?”

“Since we were kids, really.”

“That long?”

“We went to grammar school together.” Sam shook his head. “That Tupper. What a card. He was the class clown. You know, always joking around, making all the kids laugh, getting them in trouble? But he always manned up and took the blame when the teacher came down on somebody else.”

“Like you?”

He nodded. “A bunch of times. And not just when it was his fault. He was a real friend.”

Sounded like a standup guy. “Guess it wasn’t much of a stretch for him to become a real clown as an adult.”

“He was a natural. His family moved and I lost touch with him after the sixth grade.”

“And you met up with him again after you joined Under the Big Top?”

“Close. A little over three years ago The Big Top came to Phoenix and I heard they were looking for new acts. Thought I’d try out as a lark. Didn’t expect anything to happen. But when I auditioned, there was ole Tup. We didn’t even recognize each other at first.” He laughed softly and wiped a finger under his nose.

“What happened?”

“Somebody watching the auditions told him my name. He came over and we squinted at each other for a few minutes, scratched our heads. Then it dawned on us and we figured out who we were. After that it was all hugs and backslaps. To this day, I think he was the reason I got hired. He must have put in a good word for me.”

Interesting. Miranda glanced over at Parker. He was silent but taking it all in.

“So what was it like working with him?” she asked.

“Oh, great. We weren’t in the same act, of course.”

“What is your act, anyway?” Miranda felt Parker twist around at the way the words had come out. “I mean, you didn’t tell me on the phone what you do in the circus.”

A big sly smile spread over Sam’s face. “I ride a motorcycle.”

“That’s a circus act?” She always thought motorcycles were just for fun.

He chuckled. “Me and six other guys ride around in a big, round steel cage.”

Miranda sat up, her blood surging with a sudden rush of excitement. “Really? Upside down and everything?”

“Uh huh. And colored lights are flashing and the music’s going. It’s pretty dramatic.”

“Sounds like it. Very cool.”

He grinned with modesty. “Tup taught me how to work the crowd. He gave me a lot of tips when I first started.” His voice grew soft. “But he was always friendly to everybody. Everyone in the show loved him. The audience, too. Especially the kids. Tup used to visit the local children’s hospitals wherever we were and did a modified version of his act. You know, magic tricks? Pulling balloons or paper flowers out of his jacket. The kids adored him.”

Sam was quiet for a long while and Miranda thought she caught the glisten of tears in his eyes.

“I just don’t know why anybody would want to kill him.”

“That’s what we’re here to find out.”

He nodded, swiped a finger under his nose again. “Do you want me to take you straight to the hotel? Or would you…?” He glanced at the clock on the dash that amazingly wasn’t broken. “Jeez, it’s awful late.”

Yeah, it was. And Parker was shifting in discomfort beside her. “I think we’d better turn in and get started in the morning.”

“Sure thing. I just thought…”

“What?”

“Maybe you’d like to see Tup’s trailer. It’s where he…where it happened.”

“He was killed in his own place?” Sam hadn’t given her a lot of details on the phone.

Grimly Sam nodded.

Miranda turned to Parker. “You up for that?”

He replied with a stiff nod. “The sooner we get started the better.”

And the sooner they could finish and leave. She was with Parker on that one, but she wished he’d get some rest first. It was supposed to be her call whether he went to the hotel to rest or not, but it probably wasn’t a good idea to mention that in front of Sam.

Parker leaned forward and peered around her. “Mr. Keegan, are you sure the police don’t have the residence cordoned off?”

“Please, call me Sam. No. They think it was natural causes right now.”

So they wouldn’t have used the yellow tape. Pretty quick decision, though.

Parker gave him a short nod. “Then we shouldn’t have any trouble gaining access.”

Chapter Five

 

Sam drove them down I-30 and through the city. Traffic was light, except for the eighteen wheelers and the occasional cluster of late-night revelers, and after another half-hour, they turned onto a narrow dirt road about a mile or two past the Cotton Bowl stadium.

Miranda peered out the window at a large grassy area filled with campers and trailers parked in long rows six or seven deep. In the distance she could make out the shape of the big tent where the performances went on.

So this was where circus folk lived.

Sam’s truck rattled down the path until they reached a nice looking Winnebago nearer the tent. He pulled along the side of the road and stopped.

Miranda squinted at the shiny white vehicle under a nearby light. “That it?”

“Yep. Tup rated a nice RV since he’s a headliner. A few of the other top performers have them as well.” He gestured to the various sized mobile homes scattered around the lot. “The rest of us are in the rattier ones down the way.” He made a gesture indicating the space farther back.

Floodlights twinkled in nearby trees. Light came from the windows of a few of the trailers but no one was outside. Everything seemed still as a morgue. No doubt they were all mourning the loss of a fellow performer.

Sam got out of the truck while Parker opened the passenger door and helped Miranda down. She made sure she didn’t put her weight on him, but she wasn’t going to refuse the gallant gesture in front of the client. Especially another male. Especially this male. Too much raw testosterone floating around in the air.

Sam headed toward a small hand-built set of steps in front of the RV door and reached into his pocket. “I’ve got a key. Tup always let me make myself at home here.”

Just as he put a boot on the first stair, Parker blocked him with an arm. “Don’t, Sam.”

Sam squinted at him, as if he were being challenged. “What’s the matter?”

Miranda wanted to know, too.

She watched Parker pull two thin pairs of flesh-colored plastic gloves out of his coat pocket. How come he was always so well prepared? He handed one to her. “In case the police aren’t finished here.”

“I see,” Sam said thoughtfully. “Guess you do know your business.”

“Yes, we do.” Parker slipped on the gloves, took the key from Sam as if he were their real estate agent turning over the property and trotted up the steps.

Miranda didn’t see a wince on his face but she knew he was holding it in.

He unlocked the door and switched on a light.

She followed him inside while Sam trailed behind her.

As soon as she crossed the threshold Miranda felt her clothes start to fill with sweat. The A/C had been cut off and the place was downright sweltering. It smelled relatively clean, except for the lingering odor of recent death.

But they had a job to do. She looked around.

It was a nice, cozy place. The typical cramped living quarters of a house on wheels. Tiny kitchen, small stove and fridge, probably propane, a fold out dining table. Living room with a couch that doubled as a bed, teeny bathroom in the back. But everything looked new.

“Tup just got this place about a month ago.” Sam explained. “His old RV was pretty nice but the owner thought he deserved an upgrade.”

Miranda nodded her acknowledgment and stepped across the living room to the bathroom. She opened the door and peeked inside. Small shower and sink. Relatively clean linoleum floor. Linens, soap, after shave. Typical guy’s bath. She closed the door and only needed two steps to be back in the main area.

The décor here was a blend of cowboy rustic and modern, nothing too expensive. Faux wood paneling and faux wood flooring. A big screen TV on the back wall. Under it stood a narrow credenza holding video equipment and some books. Paperback Westerns and some hard covers. She read a few of the titles. Biotechnology, Genetics, Cloning. That was weird.

“Was Magnuson into science?”

Planted between the small living room and the kitchen, Sam shrugged. “He was into a lot of things.” His voice had a faraway sound to it.

Miranda eyed the navy blue velour couch in the middle of the room. It looked almost new. Except for a dark stain in the middle of it she’d seen when she’d passed it. She had a pretty good idea what that was. It was what Sam was gazing at now.

Pretending not to notice the couch, Parker opened cupboards in the kitchen. “You say this was where your friend expired?”

“Expired? Oh, yes. I found him right there on the couch last night.” Staring at the piece of furniture, Sam let out a low guttural moan.

Miranda took a step toward him. “Are you all right, Sam?”

“It’s just that…when we walked in here just now…just for minute I was thinking, ‘Tup’s probably in the john.’” He gave a short, painful laugh. “I still can’t believe he’s really gone. How could somebody do this to him?” He sank down into a nearby chair and put his head in his hands.

Miranda wanted to give him a comforting hug. “We’ll find out who did this,” she told him. And she meant it.

Then she looked up and saw Parker had paused in his search, a cabinet door open in his hand. He gave her a long, steady look. Did he think Sam was about to confess something? Or had he decided the police were right about the natural causes?

When Sam didn’t say anything else, Miranda decided to prod a little. “What time did you find Tupper?”

“Last night about ten. We finished the evening performance around nine and we were going to go out for pizza together. One of the guys in my troupe, Danny, was driving. We waited for Tup in Danny’s trailer half an hour. When he didn’t show, I came over here to see what was up. And there he was…Oh, God.”

“What did you do?”

Sam raised his gaze to the ceiling. “I was so stupid. I told him I was hungry and to quit playing possum. We always kidded around with each other. He was such a practical joker. I—I thought he’d open his eyes and laugh at me. But he didn’t move. I went over to him, gave him a shake. He didn’t respond. I thought, wow. He’s really getting me good this time. And then I—I smelled that awful smell.”

The smell that had made the stain on the cushion.

“I knew something awful had happened. I pulled out my cell and called 911. They took forever to get here. The whole time I waited, I tried to revive him. I slapped at his wrists, his face. Nothing.” Sam stared off into space. “Then I heard the siren and all of a sudden the room was filled with EMTs and police. They questioned me, took a statement. I asked what had happened, and one of the cops told me he’d probably had a heart attack. They found blood pressure meds in one of the cabinets. I didn’t even know he was taking any.”

Miranda wondered if cops usually gave out information like that when they didn’t suspect foul play. She didn’t have much experience with natural cause deaths.

Parker lifted a prescription bottle from a cabinet. “Diovan. A rather high dosage.” He put it back and came around the counter to examine the stain on the couch.

His face grew as grim as the sinking sensation danced in Miranda’s stomach. She knew they were looking at the stain from the bodily fluid the deceased had voided upon death.

Parker scanned the couch, lifted one of the cushions. “Why do you think the police are wrong?”

Sam looked up, his green eyes teary and dazed. “There was an empty wineglass on the table.” He gestured at the piece of furniture. “I think it had something in it. I—what are you doing there?”

“Our jobs,” Parker said coolly. “You think your friend was poisoned?”

“I do.”

Miranda grabbed the cushion on the other end and dug her fingers into the creases, just as Parker was doing at the other end. When they met in the middle they’d come up with fifty-five cents in change between them but no evidence of any foul play.

She dropped the coins on the low coffee table that stood in front of the couch and blew out a breath. They needed better equipment if they were going to find anything. If there was anything to be found.

Then something caught her eye.

On the shelf under the coffee table sat another book. It wasn’t like the others. Gold leaf edging and a thick cover. She pulled it out and held it up. The cover was made to look like cattle hide, embossed with a cowboy hat and a lasso in the middle.

Parker replaced the last cushion and studied it. “Photo album?”

“Guess that’s what it is.”

“Oh, yeah. That.” Sam’s tone was surly, and his lip curled in a smirk as he gestured at the book.