author of the
Casey McKie mysteries
murder and mayhem in the world of jazz
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Who the hell was calling me this early on a Sunday morning? After a night of music and drinking. Jesus.
“Casey McKie,” I mumbled, not hiding my annoyance.
“Casey, Casey, can you hear me? I need you to come over -- shee-it -- how do you work this goddamned thing -- fuck it.”
And then silence. It was Dee. I’d got her a disposable cell phone for the week-end, but she couldn’t figure it out. She rejected the idea of computers and hand-held devices. Hell, she didn’t even drive. Which is one of the reasons I was there. I was her official driver, which entitled me to a room in a dormitory-like lodge about a quarter mile from Dee’s RV. We were on the county fairgrounds in Monterra, California, a hundred and twenty miles south of San Francisco, where the Pacific Coast Jazz Fest was celebrating its thirtieth anniversary with Dee as one of the headliners.
No point in trying to call her back. I’d better go over there and see what the hell was going on. She sounded like she was in some kind of trouble. Did she have an accident? My pulse raced.
I threw on my jeans and tee shirt, slipped into my boots, ran my fingers through my hair and hurried out. I fast-walked through the Eucalyptus grove, passed three other artists’ RVs, and reached Dee’s in about fifteen minutes. I was sweating, even though it was far from warm. The morning fog chilled the air and, as usual, would hide the sun till noon.
I rapped, identifying myself, and Dee opened the door, her gray-tinged dreds askew and her face without make-up. She must be upset. Otherwise, she’d never allow anyone, not even me, to see her in this state.
Her relief at seeing me was obvious. “Oh, my God, Casey, get in here. You’ll never believe what happened.” Her breath came in bursts.
I went in and sat on the built-in couch, while Dee went over to the counter. “I’m having me a drink. I don’t give a damn what time it is.”
I stared while she poured herself a healthy two fingers of Jack Daniels and drank a hefty swallow. I’d never seen Dee drink this early. My anxiety ratcheted up as I imagined the worst, her club robbed or burned down, a relative dead.
“What is it, Dee? What’s wrong?”
Her mouth was set in a firm line. “Sid Satin was murdered last night and the cops think I did it.”
I was a PI and I’d seen my share of murder, but never of someone this well-known. Sid Satin was the top male jazz singer in the country and the headliner of the festival. And I’d never imagined my best friend would be considered a murder suspect.
“What? What are you saying?” I stared at her, my brain running through possible scenarios.
“The cops pounded on my door about an hour ago, waking me up, the motherfuckers. They asked me where my handgun was. I had no idea what the hell they were talking about. I thought there might be some kind of terrorist attack, and they were looking for people with guns. I was so shook up, I couldn’t even think.” She took another swallow of whiskey.
I stared at her. “And?”
“Satin’s manager found him dead in his RV this morning. He’d been shot after his gig last night.” She paused, got up and went over and poured herself another drink.
I stared. “So what does your handgun have to do with it?”
She sat down again. “Someone told them I had one.”
“For God’s sake, they suspected you because you owned a gun?” I thought she was being paranoid, but I didn’t argue with her.
“What’d they say?”
She made a face. “They questioned me. Where was I last night? Did I see Satin? Did we have an argument? On and on.”
“But they didn’t arrest you.”
“No, but they told me not to say anything about what happened and not to leave the Bay Area.” She snorted. “As if I’d run away. Shee-it.”
A few rays of sun crept through the slatted blinds on the window behind me. I felt sorry for Dee. Like many African-Americans, she didn’t trust the police, especially when they treated her like shit. Being grilled like a criminal must have been galling. It would have been for me, and I’m white.
“Dee, it sounds like they were just doing their job. Because they questioned you doesn’t mean they think you did it.”
She let out a bitter laugh. “Cops always try to pin things on black people.”
Dee was seventy, and, even though she hadn’t suffered racial prejudice in San Francisco, she couldn’t forget what it was like growing up in pre-Civil Rights Detroit and the Jim Crow treatment she’d got in the South when she travelled there with a white big band.
“Dee, you’re a respected jazz artist and a long-time club owner. The police aren’t gonna suspect you just because you own a gun, for crissake.”
Her look became sheepish. “Well, there’s something else.”
A burst of adrenaline hit my system. “What?”
“I had words with Satin yesterday.”
Jesus. “Words? You mean an argument? What about?”
“A couple of things.”
I could tell she didn’t want to talk about it, but that didn’t stop me. “What things?”
“Mainly about how he snubbed Neil yesterday.”
Dee, Neil Conway, Sid Satin and a couple of other vocalists were part of a panel discussion on “the art of jazz singing.” I hadn’t gone, catching a blues act instead.
“He snubbed Neil Conway? How?” Conway had performed at the festival’s debut thirty years ago and was booked this year in a smaller venue, the Nightclub. Though it was long past his heyday, Neil Conway was considered by die-hard jazz fans and historians the grand old man of male jazz singers, and Sid Satin, an upstart.
Dee sat up straighter, her mouth grim. “Jazz cats started putting jazz and poetry together in the Fifties. Neil took it one step further and made a recording. He put lyrics to jazz riffs and added hippie poetry. It went over big.”
“Okay, so Satin ripped off Neil, but why didn’t Neil stand up for himself? Why did you have to do it?”
“‘Cause Neil’s too mellow. He don’t like trouble. But I know it bothered him. Besides, it ain’t right.”
Now she sounded like me. “And you had to set it straight.”
I knew the feeling. I was in a great place, thirty-seven, single and childless, living in Chinatown, hanging out at Dee’s jazz club. I had a good life, but I have to admit solving crimes, especially murder, was what I lived for. And when I wasn’t working on a case, I was bored to death.
“Yeah. Besides, I never liked that little motherfucker anyway. I don’t even care that he’s dead.” She rose from her chair. “Let’s get the hell out of here. You ready to go home?”
We were supposed to go to the afternoon blues concert and head back to San Francisco after that. But, hearing about Satin’s murder and Dee being a suspect had darkened our mood. To say the least.
I stood. “Yeah, I’m ready. But before we go, I’ve gotta check out what went down last night. I’ll go over to the food tent and see what I can find out. It’ll take you longer to pack, anyway.”
She smiled. I always teased her about how long it took her to get ready. “Okay, but remember, not many people know about -” she hesitated – “what happened. If people heard a murderer was loose on the grounds, they’d split in a heartbeat. And the festival wouldn’t like that.”
“I know the head of security, Vern Babcock. Met him a few years ago when he was a cop in the City. I’ll talk to him. I won’t be long.”
I went over to the door, looked back at Dee. “By the way, you find your gun?”
“No.” A strange look crossed her face. “I don’t know what the hell happened to it. I remembered putting it in my suitcase, but it wasn’t there. Maybe I forgot it.”
I couldn’t help it, but the thought crossed my mind. Maybe Dee did shoot Sid Satin.
|Copyright, 2014, Joan Merrill, All Rights Reserved|