Authors: Connie Shelton
Tags: #albuquerque, #amateur sleuths, #female sleuth, #mystery, #new mexico mysteries, #private investigators, #southwest mysteries
The First Charlie Parker Mystery
By Connie Shelton
Copyright © 1995 Connie Shelton
All rights reserved
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What others are saying about the
Charlie Parker Mystery Series
“An impressive debut mystery.” –Albuquerque
“Charlie is a fabulous amateur sleuth.”
–Midwest Book Review
“Tension is fast-paced in this involving
account.” –Midwest Book Review
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Working on a case for Stacy North would have
probably been the last item
on my agenda. Stacy had
been my best friend and roommate in college. My best friend, right
up until the day she eloped with my fiancé, Brad North. Although I
came to realize later that it was all for the best, such situations
do tend to put a damper on a friendship.
Brad went on to become a personal injury
attorney, one of Albuquerque's most, shall we say, aggressive. They
live in Tanoan,
new upscale community in town.
Now Stacy stood in my office with all the
calm of a cat at the dog pound. She looked every bit of fifteen
years older, a pity because it was only eight years since the last
time I'd seen her. She wore a tailored linen dress the color of a
fresh lemon, with black trim around the neck and down the front.
Gold buttons trailed along the trim, buttons that looked like
they'd been custom made to match the earrings that peeked demurely
out of her elegant blond hairstyle. A black ranch mink contrasted
strikingly with her hair and with the dress, creating an elegant
picture of black and gold. For just a second, I wondered why I felt
sorry for her.
It was something in the eyes. And in the
mouth. Those eyes, which had sparkled with clear blue fun in
school. The mouth, always ready to laugh. Stacy had been the
practical joker, the whimsical elf among us. All traces of that
were gone now. Dull blue eyes, rimmed by puffy lids, darted around
the room nervously. Once clear skin was now covered with layers of
makeup to conceal the woman inside. Or perhaps to present an image,
the image of a woman someone else wanted Stacy to be.
"Charlie, I need your help." The voice was
low and cultured, and it only broke slightly on the last word.
A rush of ambivalent feelings flooded through
me. I'd spent ten years making myself not care about Stacy, and I
wasn't sure I wanted to start again now. She and Brad had hurt
me—deeply. My first instinct was to toss her out of my office. The
desperation in her eyes pulled me back, though.
"Sit down and tell me about it," I offered
grudgingly. I gestured toward the room at large, giving her the
choice of taking the side chair beside my desk or the sofa on the
opposite wall. She chose the sofa.
She perched on the edge of the cushion making
little adjustments to her skirt and coat before speaking.
"A valuable item has, ah, been lost. I have
to recover it."
"I'm an accountant, Stacy. Unless it's your
tax return we're talking about, I think you should be telling this
to Ron. He's the investigator around here. I can have him call you
when he gets back to town next week." My brother, Ron, and I are
partners in RJP Investigations. Although I watch the cases that
come through the door pretty closely, I prefer to stay with the
accounting and let Ron do the dirty work.
"Oh, no. I can't wait until next week." Her
eyes had grown wide, her breathing rapid. "I have to get this item
back before tomorrow night."
"What's the item, and why the urgency?"
She squirmed in her seat a minute before
answering. "My Rolex watch," she said.
"Was it lost or stolen?"
"Lost. No, I think it was stolen . . . Um,
well, I'm not really sure."
"Couldn't it have been misplaced around the
"No. It's not around the house somewhere."
Her voice was firm, but her eyes wouldn't meet mine.
"Where did you last see it?"
"Umm . . . I'd really rather not say."
"Stacy!" I was losing patience fast. "How do
expect us to find it? Give me some help here."
She stared at her hands, suddenly finding a
cuticle that needed attention. I got up and closed the door softly.
Pulling the side chair around to face her, I sat with my hands
between my knees and waited. When she looked up, her eyes were
"I first noticed it missing from the house."
She gazed out the window as she spoke. "Someone must have broken in
and stolen it."
"Did you report it to the police? To your
Her eyes touched mine for the briefest
second, darted to the bookshelf, then the far wall. I waited.
"I don't want Brad to know. He already thinks
I'm careless. I can't let him know I've lost the watch. It was a
Valentine gift. I've only had it two weeks."
"Stacy, to put it bluntly, that's bullshit.
How can Brad blame you?" I waited another long minute while she
fidgeted some more.
"Well, um, it wasn't exactly a burglary," she
said finally. "A man had been there that day, uh, doing some work.
I think he must have picked up the watch from my dresser."
"Did you report this to the company he worked
"Why not!" I felt like shaking her.
She pulled the edges of the mink together,
retreating like a turtle into its shell. I reached out, laying one
hand on her fur-clad knee.
"Stacy, come on. We used to be able to talk
about anything." Before she and Brad eloped right under my nose. I
realized I was feeling sympathetic toward her and pulled my hand
back. I wasn't at all sure I wanted to rebuild a friendship with
her at this point. However, her fear was evident. "I can't help you
if I don't know the whole situation," I finally said.
I could almost hear her thoughts churning.
After she sifted through the entire thing, I wondered what little
sprinkling she'd give me. She worked again at the errant cuticle
for a couple of minutes.
"The man's name is Gary Detweiller. He wasn't
at the house doing work."
This time her eyes met mine firmly. I felt my
mouth open, but it closed again.
"Can you help me, Charlie?"
"Brad's coming home tomorrow night, and you
need to be wearing the watch, is that it?"
"Stacy, can I be blunt? Why would you want to
tell anyone else about this? I mean, you obviously have plenty of
money. Why didn't you just go out and buy another watch?"
She gave a short humorless chuckle. "For one,
I don't personally have any money. I get a hundred dollars a month
. Over several years I've been able to
stash away a little. Everything else is in joint accounts, which
Brad monitors like a hawk. The clothes, the furs, the jewelry—he
bestows them like rewards. Secondly, the watch was half of a
matching pair. Brad bought himself one at the same time, and he
made a big point of telling me how they matched exactly, down to
the color of the watch face and the size of the little dots that
indicate the hours. I've only worn the thing two weeks. What if I
picked out a new one, and some little detail was off. He'd know in
What a mess.
"What can I do, Charlie?"
"You want to hire a private investigator to
find the watch. Right?"
She nodded. I sucked on my lower lip.
"Like I said, Ron's gone until next week.
Could you tell Brad you took the watch in for cleaning?"
"It's only two weeks old," she sensibly
"Maybe, if I had to. I'm just worried that he
might call the jeweler to find out what the problem is."
This poor woman really did live under the
"Let me see what I can do," I said, wishing
I'd gone out of town, too. "Can you tell me anything about this
"Not much. I met him at the club. He flirted,
talked me into letting him come over for a drink."
"He's a member of the country club? Does Brad
"I don't think so. I'd never seen him there
before last week."
I wanted to ask whether having a drink was
all they'd done, but didn't figure it was any of my business. I did
ask for a five hundred dollar retainer, though. She could explain
it at home any way she wanted.
Stacy left a few minutes later, the worry
lines around her mouth only slightly less pronounced than when
she'd walked in here. I picked up the phone book and looked up Gary
Detweiller. There was only one listed. The address was in a
low-to-middle income area, a place I didn't imagine produced many
Tanoan Country Club members. I decided to take a drive over
Outside, the weather was nearly balmy—bright
blue sky, temperature near sixty. Spring is an unpredictable time
here. Tomorrow could very well be thirty degrees with wind, rain or
sleet. In the car, I shed my jacket, debating the quickest route to
Gary Detweiller's neighborhood.
Albuquerque has become a sprawling city,
thirty miles in diameter, something the Spanish conquistadors
probably never imagined back in the 1500s. Early city planners
divided the town into quadrants -- north valley, south valley,
northeast heights and southeast heights, as they are commonly
called today. As the population approaches the half-million mark,
the outlying towns—Tijeras and Cedar Crest to the east, Bernalillo
to the north, Rio Rancho on the west side, and Belen and Los Lunas
toward the south—have become suburbs with thousands of daily
commuters. Very few of us ride horses, wear spurs, or carry pistols
on a daily basis. We do speak English and we consider New Mexico
one of the fifty states, although it seems outsiders have to pause
to remember this sometimes.
I left the peacefulness of our
semi-residential, semi-commercial office neighborhood and joined
the flow of traffic on Central Avenue. Opting to bypass downtown, I
cut over to Lomas and headed east. The Sandia Mountains stood out
in high relief on this clear day, like a guardian sentinel
protecting the city from the ravages of the eastern plains.
Detweiller's address was in a quiet
residential neighborhood between Lomas and Central that had boomed
in the late fifties. Some of the places were occupied by their
original owners while others had been sold and resold and converted
to rentals. The condition of each house and front yard generally
indicated which were which.
Detweiller's house was a stucco box placed in
the middle of a gray river-rocked square of land wedged between two
other similar squares of land. This one had benefit of a few
shrubs. Junipers that looked like they hadn't been trimmed in a
dozen years lined the empty driveway. Scraggly pyracantha flanked
the front porch. Two windows faced the street, each curtained in a
different color. Brown paint peeled off the front door and two
newspapers lay on the step. The whole place exuded emptiness. I
rang the bell anyway and was almost glad when no one answered.
If Gary Detweiller had stolen a Rolex watch
yesterday, he'd obviously used the proceeds to go elsewhere. I
pictured a quick transaction at a pawn shop, with the next stop
I wasn't far off the mark. Detweiller's house
was two blocks off Central Avenue, the famed old Route 66, which
used to be the main drag through Albuquerque. Now it's lined with
seedy motels, mobile home dealers, and plenty of pawn shops. I
started with the closest one. The third one yielded the Rolex,
easily identified by the serial number Stacy had given me. I choked
a little at the price I had to pay to get it back, but figured
Stacy would find a way to come up with it.
When I called her scarcely two hours after
our first meeting, she was astounded. We met, exchanged watch for
money (she gave me an inch-high stack of tens and twenties), and
that should have been the end of it.
In fact, I'm sure that would have been the
end of it, had it not been for the news item three days later
announcing that Gary Detweiller had been murdered.