©2013 The Media Desk
I had been retired long enough that I wasn't waking up in a panic that I had overslept and I was late for work. In fact, on most days I woke up and listened to the sounds of the morning for some time before reaching over and shutting off the alarm just before it went off. In fact, it became something of a game that I felt I lost if I let it get half a beep in before I silenced it.
And then a family group went to Las Vegas for a family function that I felt could have been better served in town, but it was their affair and I was just there for moral support. So I went.
The resort hotel was busier and had more going on at all times of the day and night than some cities I could name.
By the in room schedule, there was some sort of entertainment available somewhere on the property almost constantly except for about an hour and a half around five in the morning, at least on weekdays. But I was there for my family, so I avoided the Vaudeville Revival, the best of Vegas's Dancing Dogs, and the drag review of Broadway classics. But as a group we did go see a big name singing act, and then later in the week just before we left, we all had tickets to a stage magic show.
On the afternoon of my first full day in town, I gambled for a full fifteen minutes with some of the others of my group, lost a total of four dollars, and then went in search of a cup of coffee that was just a cup of coffee.
And then my week in Vegas took a turn I neither expected nor could have predicted.
I had my coffee and was sitting on a stool outside a small auditorium watching the big TV over a bar showing the weather forecast with variations on the theme "hot and dry" running through the week when the fire alarm inside the theater behind me went off and I heard the urgent yelling of somebody in authority trying to evacuate civilians. So I went to help and began directing people who probably weren't at their best through the exit and out the side door.
The theater was full of stinking smoke and noise, but I didn't see any fire as I helped clear the last of the patrons and then made sure the fire doors between the theater and the casino were closed.
"Let's get out of here," the officer I had been assisting said, "this way."
I followed him out coughing with watery eyes, and knowing my suit would never be the same from the smell of the smoke.
"Thanks buddy," he said when he stopped coughing, "I'm Larry, you city PD?" He said with his hand out.
"Yeah, but not this city. Retired detective from back east."
"Well, thanks for your help. This is the fifth time in a month."
"Fifth time for what?"
"Arson," he nodded toward where the fire department was dragging a smoldering bag of garbage with an over abundance of bananas falling out as they moved it clear of the building. "Somebody's trying to close down some of our acts. But since nobody's been hurt and there is no real evidence like fingerprints or video or anything, the sheriff's office has more important things to do, and I don't think the fire marshal has us on top of his list either. So we're at our wits end trying to nail the perp."
It took the captain of the resort's security brigade about fifteen minutes to check my references and have me issued a courtesy badge and ID card, then he had the hotel refund the cost of my stay, which was to be extended as needed while I assisted them with their little problem.
My family was a little perturbed, but once they heard about how bad it was getting, they agreed that it was probably for the best. They nodded to each other and wished me luck and went about their business and I went back to the security office with Larry to get started.
As the senior investigator on the case they gave me their conference room as my temporary office.
The first thing I did was to find a large piece of white cardboard to stand in for my whiteboard and I started my diagram. Larry and the others answered the questions I had about what was what and who was attached to which as the web of lines got satisfactorily complicated in short order.
According to Larry and the others, the arsonist was only hitting acts with themes and acts that ranged back into the sixties or seventies, or before in some cases. The Vaudeville act I had seen on the list had been hit twice, a fifties rock and roll show had closed because the entire cast refused to perform out of fear, and today's smoke-out had occurred just before a tribute act to the Rat Pack Tribute was to take the stage.
"Well, now what?"
"Now, we go talk to the acts. Can we start with the Rats?"
The officers exchanged looks.
Their captain was looking at my drawing and nodding as my own captain used to, then he nodded, "sure, make the call," he said to Larry.
"I thought Sammy was shorter than you," I said to a tall, good looking black man with enough oil in his hair to take care of a motorcycle for a year.
"He was, but I can play short," the singer said with a grin that was a fair representation of the genuine article.
"And I don't drink at all," a natural baritone said, "but I can hit every note Deano sang."
"No he can't. You shouldn't lie to the police, Olly," the third man said. He was so strikingly handsome he could only have been the movie star of the quintet.
"I never understood what Peter Lawford did during their shows," I said shaking his hand.
"He was the butt of about every third joke," another one answered with more than an touch of arrogance. "I play the chairman of the board."
"An honor to meet you, sir."
"And I write the scripts, just as Joey did back then," the most unassuming member of the group said, "my name's Joe."
"Joe playing Joey."
"Got it," I nodded to the comment.
As this group was the latest in the string of targeted acts I wanted to ask them some pointed questions about who would benefit from the production being canceled, but I never got the chance. For the next hour I listened to stories about them and the real Rat Pack, marveled at an impromptu song that was perfectly performed without background music, and had to fight down laughter at the almost constant string of jokes and insults they flung at each other until you thought you were watching a verbal high school cafeteria food fight.
But I did learn enough that I had a direction to go with the investigation.
Next we went to another casino and talked to the singer that was supposed to play a greaser in the fifties show that had been canceled.
"Nah, I don't know what happened to Nancy or the others, they split when the gig fell apart," he said.
"Who was the producer of the show?" I asked him.
"Producer? Oh, yeah. That was Mitch... Mitch... Mitch something. I only met him once before we started rehearsals, then, you know, the fires happened, and we never went back."
"Mitchel McCordson," I read of my notes from the Rat guys.
"That sounds right."
"Who was directing the show?" Larry asked.
"There was a couple, one of them was one of the girls. Gina Stringer, Stringfellow. I'm not real good with names. She was doing the choreography there. I think she's up at the Oasis now."
"We'll check. Thanks," I said.
Then it was Larry's turn to shake his hand, "You going to be here if we come up with something else?"
"Yeah. So far nothing has happened here."
"What was this show's theme again?"
"It's a 'Happy Days' send up, musical, you know, I even get to ride an old motorcycle on stage."
I stood by the car in the parking garage outside and shook my head at Larry. "Something just doesn't add up."
"They're only torching period pieces in our hotel."
"Yeah, we're missing something that links them all."
"Something? Or Somebody?"
"You still want to go talk to the dancer, Gina?"
I tried to slouch like I was really cool when I answered, "Yeah." It didn't work.
Gina was nowhere near as cool as her former co-star, but she was a lot better looking. Of medium height with a seriously athletic tone to her body and a naturally bright, almost perky, expression she smiled a lot and seemed to be sincerely trying to help us.
"I've never heard a bad word about anything down there. I did a show there a couple of years ago and it went wonderfully. We sold out about half of the performances, they added another month to our contract. It was nice."
"What was the theme of the show?"
"Best of the Silver Screen," Gina answered. "I did 'Cabaret' and 'Sound of Music'."
"I bet those were good numbers."
"It was great."
"When you were getting ready to do the fifties show, who else was involved?"
"There were a lot of people that came in for it."
"Who was assigned to the show from the hotel?"
"Oh, I don't know. There were people in from the marketing side, and the stage crew. People like that."
"Anybody that seemed out of place? Maybe like they'd rather be cleaning the pool or something?"
"No. Not that I remember. But there were a lot of people there when we were just getting going. And I didn't work closely with the backstage crew, I was mostly in with the dancers."
Larry nodded, "I remember that, they brought in a lot of construction guys to build the sets."
She smiled and laughed, "I went out with one of them a couple of times, but it didn't work out." Gina must have seen something in my eye because she added, "he was married."
We were just wrapping up with her when she thought of one other thing, "There was somebody who was upset with the final song list, he just kind of acted out and then left."
"Oh? What was he upset about?"
"They changed the show to use all prerecorded music, not live musicians for some of the numbers, and he was part of the band they'd contracted with."
"So he was out of a job."
"Yes, but the others from the band just talked about going back to the club they'd been playing at. They were OK with it."
"Do you know his name? Or the name of the band?"
"I think his name was Robbie, but the band has a couple of names that they work under. I saw their picture with the name 'Three Guitars, No Trombones' last week at the Dry Well."
"Dry Well?" I said with a look at Larry.
"I know where it's at, the bands usually do a rehearsal about three or four, the club opens at five."
"Good. Thank you very much Miss."
We stopped for some lunch and to consider and discuss what we'd learned so far.
"The upset musician is a good start, but why would he come back after he'd had his fit? And how could he come and go without drawing attention to himself once the band had been booked elsewhere?" I said when Larry raised the issue. "No, I think our boy is somebody inside the hotel. Maybe a couple of somebodies. But this doesn't fit the normal firebug arsonist pattern. They're too selective. Somebody that just likes setting garbage on fire to watch the excitement and feel a sense of power wouldn't just seek out nostalgia acts to go after."
Larry was sitting across the table in total silence.
"What do you think?"
"I think you're halfway to breaking this case wide open."
"Halfway doesn't cut it. We need to catch the arsonist before he does more damage or somebody gets killed. If not by the fire, by the stampede out of a packed auditorium or the casino itself."
"You should tell that to the Sheriff."
"Let's go see the band first and see if that helps us any."
The Dry Well was aptly named. Whatever my idea of a Vegas nightclub was, this place was as far from that idea as anything could be. For one, there was no bar, it was a 'bring your own' place. All they supplied for the cover charge were some much abused tables and a collection of mismatched chairs and stools with a scuffed up dance floor in front of a severely abused stage. You could order a range of canned soft drinks and some pre-packaged snack food for about twice the normal retail price, but that was it.
The 'Three Guitars' group was on stage doing a sound check when we arrived. We stood at the door and listened for a few moments, then during a break in the rehearsal we went up and asked for Robbie.
"Hey, Rob, some hotel dicks want to talk to you," the lead singer announced.
"Did you bust up another room?" The drummer said to the guy with the bass guitar.
"Aah, man, I paid the damages."
"It's not about a damaged room."
"That maid said she wasn't going to press charges, and I paid for her uniform."
"What maid?" The singer asked him.
"The one I pushed into the pool and undressed under water."
"You seem to have an interesting time in hotels," I said as he walked downstage.
"I just have fun. Usually."
"I heard you got upset about a gig getting canceled awhile back."
"Not really," he answered then he continued as a couple of his bandmates chuckled and coughed. "Sometimes I get a little hot. But it's just blowing off steam. I don't mean nothing by it."
"You've heard of high-strung musicians," the drummer said, "like Keith Moon back in the day."
"Yeah, is that our boy here?" Larry answered.
The drummer and several of the others confirmed it.
"What's the worst he's ever done when he's upset?" I asked.
"St. Louis?" The singer asked the others, they agreed and he continued, much to the embarrassment of the bass player. "We were the opening act for a couple of other groups, but the promoter at the place got his ass out of gear because he thought we weren't good enough. Well, hell, we probably weren't, but for what they were paying us, who did he think he could get?" The others chimed in a few choice comments. "So he fired us that morning, and Rob threw a fit and broke some of our gear tearing out the wall of our dressing room. We packed up what was left and were getting ready to leave when some other guy came in and said we were back on the card because they couldn't get anybody else. So we had to go out and find Rob a new bass and stuff, three hours before the show."
"They never even asked what happened to the wall in the dressing room," one of the other guys said, "but it cost us almost everything they paid us for the gig to replace the stuff he broke."
"I haven't done that since."
"No, now he just punches walls instead of putting guitars and drum kits through them."
"And then I get my hand taped up so I can play," Robbie said a little sheepishly.
"I don't think he's it," Larry said as we left the band to their music and walked back out to the car.
"Me either. He's wild and stupid, but not an arsonist. Besides, according to their tour paper, they were out of state when two of the fires happened," I showed Larry the information flier about the band I'd picked up at the club.
"Seattle. Yeah, that'd be hard to do, catch a plane down here, set fire to the clothes hamper, and then get back to play that night."
"That gives me an idea."
"You want to fly to Seattle?"
"No, we're going to add a layer to the picture. Everything that was set on fire."
"Oh, good idea," he nodded, "and where it was."
"Exactly. See if that points us in another direction."
The new details on my roadmap of the crime didn't bring up any obvious suspects, but it did point out one very clear fact. We weren't dealing with a skilled arsonist. Or at least, we weren't dealing with one with a lot of experience. Some of the things they had set on fire barely burned at all. It looked like they didn't bring flammables in with them, but used whatever was available, and made do.
Which really wasn't good news for the investigation team, and wasn't something I could take to the Sheriff.
I sat back and stared at the diagram, "Maybe it's time we start looking at the hotel employees, contractors, somebody that knows how to avoid the areas with surveillance cameras," I half said to myself.
"Where do you want to start?" The captain asked me.
"How about with employees who have access to the three theaters that have been involved but aren't directly involved with the shows? You know, kitchen staff that brings in coffee and sandwiches," I pointed to the words 'laundry cart', "housekeeping, people like that."
"Who was on the schedule on the days of the fire, even if they weren't assigned to that duty," Larry said.
"I'm going to make a detective out of him yet," I nodded to the captain.
The employee schedule was online and available going back for a full tax year. It took some doing by the security group's computer expert, but she finally got the information sorted by our list of dates. Unfortunately, there were several people who had been on duty for two or three of the fires, but not for all of them.
"How about hours actually worked instead of just scheduled?" I asked.
"OK, give me a second."
The young woman did some more clicking and typing, then the list changed a little, but still, there were no ringers.
"Dead end?" Larry asked over my shoulder.
"Not yet," I was thinking hard and fast, I believed the link was here, but I couldn't put my finger on it.
We were still looking at the data when there security radios started beeping an alert. Then a few seconds later somebody was on asking for backup. "Another fire. Second level, storage D7."
Larry and the captain both told me to follow them and we set off through the maze of service level passages to the scene.
Once again there was no doubt this was arson. There was very little in the room that was flammable, no sources of open flame or intense heat, in fact, the room barely had enough light in it to see what had been stored in it.
The security officers that had responded to the first alert had emptied two fire extinguishers and killed the fire before the alarm had reached the fire department. All that was left for the fire fighters was to make sure it was out and use their fans to get some fresh air into the room.
The fire had been set on a pallet of boxes of holiday decorations that had been labeled for a function in one of the ballrooms. The packing information on one of the boxes caught my eye.
"It ties in," I said to Larry and the captain and pointed to the tag below a printed label.
"Sixteen foot banner," he said, then looked down further, "...big band swinging night out..." the captain read under his breath.
"And here's a stack of CDs of music. Ellington, Basie, Miller, they've got them all," Larry said, "I didn't know there were two Dorseys. Jimmy and Tommy. How about that?"
"Learn something every day," I answered as I looked at the disks he was holding.
"Somebody really hates old music," the captain said.
"That seems to be the only common ground," Larry answered.
Then both of them were looking at me and I realized I had been quiet for several minutes.
"He's got an idea," Larry said to the Captain.
I did have an idea, but it involved a lot of coffee and the two of us, me and Larry, going through the social media pages of every employee who had been on duty for at least two of the fires, including today's.
We took turns reading off amusing posts, showing each other pictures of other people's trips to Lake Meade or some ski resort, and searching for any mention of a serious dislike of old music.
After a couple of hours of it, it was getting to be tedious.
"I know, but I've got a feeling about this, we're on the right track, but maybe we're missing it." I said, then I saw something, "have you been checking the groups they belong to?"
"Not really, but I'll start."
I had another idea and did a search for groups that hated various forms of music, including rap and country. Then I sorted, and sorted again.
"Here we go," I muttered, then I started scrolling through the user names of those that belonged to a group that said it hated 'old people's music'. "We've got two hits." I said after I recognized one user ID, then there was another one right below it from our list of employees.
It didn't take long to confirm that three of the people that had been scheduled when the fires happened belonged to the music hater's group. We went through their online social profiles, and then tracked them to a chat group where one of them had posted that all music made before 1980 should be banned by presidential order.
"Now, can we tie them to any of the fires?" The captain asked the question I knew he would.
"That's going to be the trick isn't it?" I said as I looked at the diagram with the newly added feature of the online social groups. But I had an idea, "let's start talking to other employees and keep an eye on those three. Word will get out, maybe one of them will do something stupid."
"You don't want to pull them in for questioning?"
"Not without probable cause."
It didn't take long. Me and Larry had only been through a handful of dishwashers and busboys and two housekeepers when one of our suspects suddenly appeared on her day off and cleaned out her locker.
That's when two of the security team stopped her on her way to her car and asked her to come in to speak to the captain.
I stood in the background while Miss Robin implicated three other conspirators in their effort to keep 'old time music' out of the hotel.
"Las Vegas used to be for the young and cool, now its all old retired people and their awful music."
I didn't take offense to the statement.
We called in the sheriff, and a public defender, and in about an hour, Miss Robin repeated everything she'd said, and then some.
Her three friends were less cooperative, but one of them implicated himself while denying that he had anything to do with any of the fires when he pointed out that they made sure nobody got hurt.
The four would stand in front of a judge and face an array of charges including a nice spread of felonies from the conspiracy aspect of their actions.
I had missed most of the family function, but I had helped solve the case, so my nephew and his new wife forgave me, but some of the others were a little less conciliatory.
However, on the last day of the gathering I sat at the table with them, and when asked said that I had found Las Vegas absolutely fascinating.
"Besides the crime aspect." I added, then I told them about the Dry Well, and what I had seen of the back stage where the dancer had been working, and showed them the photo of me with the Rat Pack group and all.
"Oh, maybe it does pay to work while you're in Vegas," my brand new neice-in-law said.
More adventures with The Detective:
1. The Robbery
2. murder and other fun at The Sun Club
3. The Water Murders
4. Amused To Death
5. Too many suspects spoil the case.
6. The Grand Conspiracy.
7. Murder isn't a Joke.
8. "Sometimes you can't arrest the perpetrator."
9. A Partner In Crime.
10. "Somebody is killing all the bad guys."
the Desk's Fiction Department
[NOTE: All characters, places, events, and businesses/organizations are FICTIONAL. NO inference to REAL anything is to be made. No similarities to ACTUAL anything is intended. This Piece Is FICTION, enjoy it as such. Thank You -the Author.]
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