Burning Down the House by Trevor Scott by Trevor Scott - Read Online

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Summary

During Burning Man, the annual event of debauchery and independent self-reliance, a woman is found dead in a high-end RV, suspected to have overdosed on drugs. Former sheriff Keenan Fitzpatrick is hired by the woman's boyfriend to discover the true nature of her death. But there are complicating factors. First of all, the boyfriend is an actor who is staring in a detective series filming in the Reno, Nevada area. Second, the actor is a conspiracy enthusiast who sees a government plot in everything from Bigfoot to Area 51. And most importantly, the actor was wasted the night his girlfriend died, the RV was his, and she was locked inside. But the actor is not the only suspect. The dead woman was a former prostitute who had recently left the business, leaving a lot of potential suspects unhappy with her decision. She also had sensitive, intimate knowledge of her clients that could have been used for extortion. Some secrets are meant to be buried in the high desert of northern Nevada.
Published: Salvo Press on
ISBN: 9781633556409
List price: $2.99
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Burning Down the House - Trevor Scott

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1

Burning Man

Black Rock Desert, Nevada

It was already Wednesday, the third day of the Burning Man week of independent self-reliance, and Bryan Welsh wandered through the late evening, his bare feet kicking up dust from the moon-like surface of the temporary enclave of some fifty thousand souls. This yearly event turned Pershing County, Nevada, with a population of some six thousand, into the third largest county in the state.

Although this was Bryan’s first time attending the event, he had heard so many stories from his actor friends in Hollywood that he felt like he knew the place before his arrival. Yet, nothing could have completely prepared him for the wonderful debauchery of the first three days. After day two, he no longer stared at the bare breasts and penises on their way to a heavy burn in the scorching August sun of the Nevada desert.

He wore only a pair of desert camo cargo shorts and a beat up Dodgers baseball cap as he staggered through the RV camp, a circle of high-end campers from America’s elite who wanted to experience the chaos of Burning Man without actually having to live with the rabble. The RVs were like a string of covered wagons trying to keep out marauding savages. But Bryan had actually gone out among the people this evening. Part of that, he knew, was his desire to be recognized by anyone who still knew who he had been. The other part was a simple need to score some more blow.

As Bryan got closer to his Beaver Motor Coach, he suddenly stopped and swiveled his head around. Where the hell was Ginger? Didn’t she go with him? No, no, no. She stayed behind, he thought. God, he was losing it. He was no longer sure of what was real and what was simply an overactive imagination fueled by mushrooms and peyote. The last three days had been a blur of inconsistencies.

Moving forward, he saw the fire ahead by that monstrous silver RV that had pulled in behind his own. A group of people stood and watched something. Bryan strolled up behind the people. Finally, his eyes caught the scene. It was that woman who had recognized him immediately and had practically thrown herself at him. She was around 50, yet still quite fit, and was on her knees. Naked. A younger man was taking her from behind. He suddenly pulled out, peeled off his spent condom, and threw it into the fire. Then the next man took up where the first left off. Finally, Bryan looked at the rest of the crowd. The men had their erect penises in their hands waiting their turn. Some of the women were helping the men with these efforts.

Bryan simply continued across the inner camp toward his own RV. He reached the door and grasped the handle, but the door wouldn’t open. He almost lost a finger nail in the process. That was strange. He usually only locked the RV at night, and didn’t remember locking it when he left. Feeling his pockets, he found his keys and fumbled in the darkness to get the key into the door.

Once inside, he clicked on a small light that lit only a small portion of the kitchen area. The interior was like a meat locker compared to the hot August night.

Jesus, Ginger, Bryan said. Turn on some lights, girl.

He drifted to the refrigerator and grabbed another beer, a Reno microbrew, and popped the bottle top. As he sucked down some beer, he moved into the main living area of the camper.

Ginger was sprawled out on her stomach on the sofa, wearing just the short red underwear with lace bottoms, and her long black hair covering her face. Her matching bra hung from one of the window cranks.

He sat in his leather swivel chair and set his beer on the coffee table. I scored some good blow, he said. This stuff will knock your socks off. He laughed to himself when he realized she wasn’t wearing socks.

His girlfriend said nothing. She had obviously passed out.

Bryan continued, Listen, I know I have an early call tomorrow. Silas has missed more lines than my demented father.

Well, his father was technically dead, but Alzheimer’s had destroyed the man’s memory for the last five years of his life. Not that Bryan had really noticed, since the two of them had not spoken since Bryan cut the man off during the middle of the long run of his 80s sitcom. Hey, it wasn’t his fault that his father was stealing money from his account and gambling in Vegas. Bryan had been forced to emancipate himself from his father at age sixteen, just two years after his mother died of a drug overdose.

He picked up a pink Hello Kitty mirror and set it in his lap. Then he ran two lines of coke with a pocket knife and he gazed at his girlfriend. Man, she was really out of it.

You sure you don’t want some of this? he asked her.

No answer. Ginger remained motionless. He shrugged and ran the first line into his right nostril. He rubbed his nose, making sure all of the white powder found its way into his nose. His head quickly swirled and he glanced back at his girlfriend. God, she was beautiful. He thought about the woman outside taking all those men inside her, and he felt like doing the same thing to Ginger. But first he cleared the last line of coke into his left nostril. He shook his head as he tried to orient himself to the room.

He felt down and confirmed he was starting to rise. Now he really wanted to take Ginger. But first he picked up his beer and sucked down the rest of it.

Now Bryan got up, dropped his pants to the floor, and danced his way across the room to the music in his head. He got to his knees, reached across with his head, and nibbled on the fringe of her underwear. Then he slipped his fingers up between her legs, expecting her to moan to life. The woman had an insatiable sexual appetite. She would screw him anytime anywhere. And nothing was off limits.

When she didn’t move to his touch, Bryan pulled his fingers out and slapped her tight ass. She still didn’t move. Man, she must have taken another sleeping pill, he thought.

Outside, the woman next door was screaming with pleasure or pain. The beat from the music changed from a 60s hippie vibe to a heavy tribal drumming.

Confused now, Bryan poked Ginger’s butt. Then he crawled toward her head and whispered, Ginger. You all right, girl?

Nothing.

He felt her back and it was cool to touch. Then he noticed her normally perfect skin tone was somewhat mottled. Now he swept her hair away from her face and open, glazed eyes stared back at him.

Horrified, he flung his body back, hitting the back of his skull on the edge of the coffee table, knocking him out instantly.

2

Reno, Nevada

The Roman Casino and Resort was the newest addition to Reno’s growing host of casinos. Nobody would ever mistake Reno for the over-the-top big brother to the south, and that’s the way Keenan Fitzpatrick, Fitz to his friends, liked it.

He stood at a window in his living room on the 17th floor of his condo unit provided by the casino as a perk of his job as chief of security. Fitz knew they only gave him the one-bedroom place for one reason—they would always know how to find him. The hot August sun had just escaped behind the Sierra range and the city lights had an ethereal impact, with their colorful lights flashing, luring gamblers to come and drop some money.

Fitz usually worked the evening shift, since that’s when most of the nefarious activity happened in casinos, so he was about an hour from his start time this Thursday. Then he was scheduled to take off for the long Labor Day weekend, from Friday through Tuesday, combining the national holiday with some vacation, which he had not taken since that failed hunting adventure to Newfoundland, where he had nearly gotten killed. Nothing good ever happened on vacations, he reasoned. But he did promise his girlfriend Ada he would take her fishing on Saturday. Since she worked as a cocktail waitress at the Roman, she would be working every evening through Labor Day.

He checked his watch and went into the small living room. He clipped his 9mm Glock 26 gen 4 to his inside-the-waistband holster. Although he was not officially required to carry a gun, he never left his condo without one of his handguns. In fact, he was specifically not allowed to carry anything stronger than pepper spray and a Tazer. But there had been a number of incidents at local casinos, so he thought it was better to defy company rules than end up six feet under. Besides, as the former Washoe County Sheriff, he had made a lot of enemies—most of whom would be able to find him easily on the casino floor five nights of the week.

He slipped on his bright red security jacket that made him look like a baboon’s ass or a real estate agent, and then checked himself in the mirror. Instead of a normal tie, he had convinced his boss, the CEO, that this was still the west, and a bolo tie was just fine.

Suddenly there was a knock at his door, which was unusual. The only people who knew he lived there was the casino intelligentsia or his girlfriend Ada. And she should have started her shift an hour ago. She also had her own key.

Checking through the peep hole, Fitz saw someone who looked like that douche bag actor from the 80s who was on that stupid sitcom with aliens or illegal aliens or some such nonsense.

Fitz opened the door and simply stared at the man with frizzy long hair and sun glasses. He was wearing a dark blue Nevada Wolfpack T-shirt, designer cargo shorts, and Birkenstocks without the socks.

Are you the sheriff? the man asked.

Instinctively, Fitz turned his upper body to the right and set his hand inside his jacket against his gun. Do I look like the sheriff?

The man kept shifting his head to each side of the hallway as if he were a child afraid of the bogeyman. He seemed to be mumbling something. When he tried to move into the condo, Fitz stopped him with his left hand to the guy’s chest.

Hang on, pal, Fitz said. I’m not the sheriff.

The long-haired guy looked at the hand on his chest with disdain, as if he had never been told no in his entire life. Then he backed up a step and reached out his right hand. I’m sorry. I thought you recognized me. I’m Bryan Welsh.

Fitz let the hand hang there as he tried to figure out what this guy wanted. That’s nice. Now, what are you doing at my condo?

I’m the actor, the intruder said with a broad smile.

Okay. I’m the chief of security here. Let me guess. You lost some money and you feel you’ve been ripped off. Fitz wished he had a buck for every out-of-town yahoo who thought that way.

The actor swished his head side to side. Then he took off his sunglasses and hooked them to his T-shirt. No. I lost my girlfriend.

Have you tried her cell?

No. She’s dead.

Fitz checked out the man’s eyes and they were as red as his security jacket. I’m sorry, Mister...

Welsh. Bryan Welsh. Bryan with a Y.

He knew he would regret asking this, but he did so nonetheless. How did she die? Fitz asked.

The actor’s shoulders pushed upward. That’s what I want you to find out. I heard you were the former sheriff of Reno.

First of all, Reno is a city within Washoe County. I was the sheriff until I lost my last election almost two years ago. Reno has its own police department. Again, how did your girlfriend die? This guy was really starting to get on his nerves. Fitz thought the guy’s red eyes were from crying, but now he was starting to believe the man was seriously high on something.

She died last night at Burning Man, Bryan said solemnly. Then he lowered his chin to his chest and began mumbling something again.

God help me, Fitz thought. Burning Man was a cesspool worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. During his entire stint with the sheriff’s department, he did everything in his power to stay away from the place. Luckily the annual event took place just across the border in neighboring Pershing County. But there was no way that county’s small force could handle an influx of fifty thousand people with damn near every one of them breaking the drug laws, social mores, and dozens of biblical infractions. So Washoe County always got called in to help.

Fitz reluctantly let the distraught man into his condo. He wasn’t sure why, but he reminded Fitz of a lost puppy. The man glanced about the condo like a disapproving father in his son’s first college apartment. Then he sat in a chair facing the window overlooking the Reno skyline.

Fitz checked his watch and guessed he might have to call saying he would be down soon. He took a seat adjacent to the actor. Tell me what happened.

With new vitality, the actor went through the events of the week as if he were reading the script of his life. Fitz tried his best to hurry the man toward the death of the girlfriend. But Bryan Welsh had to stick to the screenplay in his head. The worst part, though, was his divergence into rants about government conspiracies. This guy was seriously paranoid. Probably a result of the drugs, Fitz guessed. When the guy was done, he finally let out a heavy sigh and leaned back into his chair.

What do you think? Bryan asked.

Sensing he needed to proceed with caution here, Fitz thought before speaking. I’m sorry for your loss, Bryan. But I think your girlfriend probably died of an overdose.

Bryan shook his head with vigor. No, no, no. She didn’t do that much. A couple of beers, some pot, and a little blow. That’s it.

That could have been enough, Fitz said.

Ginger never did that much drugs, Mister Fitz...

Fitzpatrick. But Fitz is fine.

Her addiction was more sexual in nature.

Something finally clicked for Fitz. He had heard there was a television show shooting in Reno. A couple of his security guys had taken side jobs as extras playing the part of cops. You’re doing that cop show in town.

Yes, I thought you knew that, Bryan said. I play the lead role as Detective Jim Brown. Spunky, maybe a little corrupt, and with a hooker girlfriend.

Your girlfriend is a hooker?

On the show, the actor said. Well, Ginger was a professional girl in a past life.

Fitz thought about that name and shook his head. Your girlfriend was Ginger Payne?

The actor pulled out his phone and flipped through some files until he came to one that made him smile. He turned the phone for Fitz to see a beautiful young woman in a bikini out in the desert. I guess that was her working name.

Fitz knew that. He had run across the woman when she first came to Reno as an eighteen year old. He busted her for solicitation in the lobby of a major casino downtown. Although prostitution was officially legal in Nevada, it was not legal within Washoe County. For that, folks had to drive a few miles out of town to one of the guest ranches in a neighboring county. Fitz had tried to get the young woman help. He even found the young girl a job. But she had instead found a more lucrative job east of Sparks at The Mink Ranch, a high end prostitution gig. Horses and whores.

Virginia Northrop, Fitz finally said.

You knew her? Bryan asked. A client, perhaps.

Not wanting to go into details, Fitz simply said that Reno was really a small town still. They had crossed paths. She was a sweet girl, Fitz said. And he meant it.

Bryan looked at the photo on his phone and a tear streaked his face. Okay, maybe the guy had been crying. But Fitz still had a feeling the guy was on drugs.

There’s no way she overdosed, Bryan declared.

Fitz had to admit the woman had remained clean since that first encounter. He had only crossed paths with Ginger a few times in the past ten years. And those chance meetings were at social events where she was moonlighting as an escort. Which was totally legal as long as no money exchanged hands officially within the county.

But you said you drank alcohol, did coke, and smoked some pot, Fitz reminded him.

Right. And peyote. But only I did that. She refused to do that because of her background.

As a prostitute?

No, as a Native American. She was one sixteenth something or other. She said they used peyote more for spiritual reasons. Not recreationally.

Well, you had to have your limits, Fitz guessed. He really needed to get to the point, and to work. Listen, I was supposed to start work ten minutes ago. What do you want from me?

I want you to prove that Ginger was murdered.

Okay, Fitz figured this guy was seriously high now. You want me to investigate and prove that Ginger was murdered. You know that would make you the prime suspect.

The actor’s eyes shifted side to side, as if he were searching for his next line in the script. He said something under his breath and then, No, I loved Ginger.

I’m not the sheriff anymore, Fitz said.

I know, Bryan said. But I heard you sometimes do some investigative work on the side.

Skip tracing, Fitz said. Maybe tracking down deadbeat dads who haven’t paid child support. Or missing persons. But not murder. He hesitated to read the actor. Either this guy was better at his trade than Fitz thought, or he was holding out all hope with a former sheriff. The guy’s hang dog look could melt the icecaps. Who gave you my name?

A sheriff’s deputy.

Which one?

A guy named Caleb O’Hara.

Fitz knew Caleb well. The deputy had worked for Fitz until after the election, when he quickly switched from Washoe County to Pershing County.

What exactly did Caleb tell you?

Nothing. Just that you would be the man to talk with. And not just to find out who killed Ginger. Maybe as a consultant for our production.

No, I meant about the death of Ginger, Fitz said. Are they doing an autopsy?

Yes, of course. I insisted. But Pershing County has released the body to the Washoe County Medical Examiner.

Interesting. Maybe this actor was on to something. Pershing County usually only asked for help with deaths under suspicious circumstances. Pershing only had a coroner, and that person could be anything from a local mortician to a veterinarian. The position didn’t require a medical degree.

Why do you think she was murdered? Fitz asked.

The actor got up from his chair and found a spot alongside the window, his gaze somewhere on Reno’s colorful downtown skyline.

Fitz got up and met the man at the window. Well?

Without looking, Bryan said, It’s just a gut feeling. Like I said, she had her problems. But that had more to do with her sexual addiction, not drugs. She drank nothing stronger than Bud. She barely inhaled pot. And she wasn’t really into coke. She dabbled with me. Maybe one line.

Besides that. People sometimes make mistakes and get carried away. Fitz knew this from his work and not through personal experience. After growing up with a drunk father, Fitz never drank a thing. He was a Coke addict, but that came in a red can.

Bryan turned to Fitz and said, Please, Fitz. Just look into it for me. Talk to the medical examiner. Ask a few questions. Please.

Fitz guessed this actor probably got everything he asked for, surrounding himself