The Case of Billy’s Missing Gun by SJ Slagle
Date Published: March 2019
Super sleuth Lucy James is hired to find the Colt pistol that may have belonged to Billy the Kid. Hampered by dishonest weapon experts, a pawnshop murder and unusual architecture at a downtown casino, her investigation is rocky at best. A massive snowstorm has blanketed Reno leaving Lucy to slog her way to interviews with uncooperative witnesses. Her father’s abrupt firing from his job as the host of a local children’s television show and the impending marriage between her best friend Cindy Floyd and her detective fiancé Skip Callahan grab chunks of Lucy’s fleeting attention. But she is determined to find the missing gun before the next snowstorm even though she on and off relationship with handsome professor Eric Schultz is off again. With sheer tenacity and a pair of thick snow boots, Lucy muscles through to the mystery’s resolution. It isn’t easy but the mystery and murder never are.
My name is Lucy James. Life seems to revolve in cycles and I’ve been trying to decide if this is an up or down cycle at this moment in time.
On the up side, I earned my private investigator license in Nevada last year and got a decent chunk of cash a couple of cases ago. On the down side, I shot through most of it renting my new office in downtown Reno and blowing the rest on a horse. No, it wasn’t a racehorse and I wasn’t betting in one of the casinos around here. I’d helped out a little boy in his hour of need.
That’s me. Lucy the do-gooder or so my best friend Cindy always tells me. Anyway, the boy’s dad was so grateful that he’s paying me back in installments. Problem is sometimes his installments don’t meet all my expenses and since another case hasn’t darkened my office lately, I’m still plugging away at the old movie theater by the Truckee River that winds its way through the city. It’s been my go-to job all through college and it appears it’s going to see me through a bulk of my adulthood too.
It pays the rent.
Today I wandered down to a local television station, KNVP, to see my dad at work. Larry James has been the host of Uncle Ollie’s Playhouse, a hit local show for kids under ten since the beginning of my ill-fated college career. Not my cup of tea but he enjoys it. Dad’s tenacity to stick with the program is the one characteristic I’m pleased to have inherited from him. Jury’s out on the rest.
In through a back door, everyone nodded as I slipped by to stand at the edge of the playhouse set to see how Uncle Ollie was doing. Shelves with colorful toys, bouncy balls, a purple-leafed plant, a man in shining armor and bowls of fruit decorated the interior. Ollie was perched on a stool in the center of the activity singing a song about getting along with your neighbors. His singing partner was a puppet resembling some unidentified breed of dog. The droopy ears and bulbous nose should have been dead giveaways but weren’t. Not that it mattered. Several happy little kids hovered around the puppet clapping and singing along with a beaming Uncle Ollie.
I watched in wonder at the man in bright red slacks and striped sweater. With his feet encased in fuzzy slippers and a shaggy blondish wig, Uncle Ollie, aka my dad, was a cross between a stylish Mr. Rogers and a 1950s Captain Kangaroo. But if memory served me, Dad should have been singing with a bunny rabbit if his emphasis that day was Captain Kangaroo.
I never asked him what daytime children’s show his was patterned after because I knew what he’d say. With wide eyes and a forlorn look etched on a comic face, Larry James would exclaim, “Lucy! How can you think I would ever stoop so low as to mimic one of those people?” He would draw out the word ‘those’ to two syllables laced with enough irony to make me want to starch a shirt. Ugh. Then I would get his standard lecture about being an original and if you couldn’t be original, why bother?
But there weren’t as many children on the set as usual and the two cameramen stifled yawns. No director hovered creating the usual chaotic whirlwind and there was a slight chill in the atmosphere I’d never experienced before. Even Uncle Ollie’s typically bright eyes and smile seemed forced and I wondered what was up. I found out as soon as Ollie and his sidekick Pete the Dragon finished singing the theme song, signaling the end of the program and the children were herded off the set. Dad stormed after them heading right for the control booth on the second floor. Sensing trouble, I tagged along.
“Wait up, Dad. What’s the rush? Aren’t you going to take off your costume?”
He didn’t turn in his haste to acknowledge me as he ran up the stairs, but managed to spit out, “Not now, Lucy.”
Blowing through the door of the control room, he got right in the executive producer’s face. A large man with few strands of hair and fewer principles, Rance Morgan wasn’t more than forty but looked fifty, clogged the already stuffy air with cigar smoke and ordered his staff around like they were born to wait on him. He had only become executive producer this past year and he and Dad had clashed from day one. Today didn’t seem more promising than any other day.
“Morgan! What the hell is the idea?” Puffs of steam from Uncle Ollie’s ears seemed to wilt his shaggy wig.
Rance Morgan stood stiffly towering over Larry James with a look of defiance.
“What is it now, James? The lead arc light too bright again?”
“You know what I’m talking about, Morgan. Cut the crap!”
Morgan smirked, folded his arms across his broad chest. A button popped open when he inhaled.
“Yeah. Same old, same old. Pete got more camera than you did.” He shook his head so slowly that I nearly laughed out loud. The guy was as big a ham as my father.
“Pete did, the children did, the puppets all did. Even Leapin’ Lizard got great angles. Why I was barely in the program at all. Why don’t you make it ‘Uncle Ollie’s Playhouse Without Uncle Ollie’?”
Morgan’s smirk became a sneer. “Great idea, James. Pack up that crap costume you insist on wearing and don’t let the door hit you on the backside when you slink out!”
Dad’s jaw hit the floor. “What are you saying?”
“Just what you suggested: I’m firing you. Thanks for saying what I’ve been meaning to for the better part of this year.”
Dad raised himself to full height, put his fists on his hips and sneered right back. “How do you expect to have Uncle Ollie’s Playhouse without Uncle Ollie? That’s me, you idiot!”
“What?” He laughed. “Think I can’t get another guy to play your moronic character? In a heartbeat, pal.” Morgan stepped aside and headed toward me. “You and your stuck-up daughter can find your own way out.”
“Hey!” I protested. But he muscled by me tossing a shrug in my direction without giving either of us a second look. When I turned to my dad, a very indignant Uncle Ollie met my open-mouthed stare. His camera make-up looked about ready to drip off his tomato red face.
“Dad, you just got fired.”
SJ SLAGLE started her writing career as a language arts teacher. Her initial interest was children’s stories, but she moved on to western romance, mysteries, and historical fiction. She has published 24 novels, both independent and contract. SJ contributes regularly to guest blogs and has her own blog called anauthorsworld.com in which she discusses the research involved in the books she writes. SJ has established Twitter and Facebook fan bases, a quarterly author newsletter and a website under her pseudonym: JEANNE HARRELL at jeanneharrell.com.
Her first historical fiction novel, LONDON SPIES, was awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion in 2018 and Slagle was a finalist in the 2017 UK Independent Book Awards. She was given the Silver Award with the International Independent Film Awards for her screenplay called REDEMPTION. SJ conducts writing/publishing symposiums in her local area. OSLO SPIES, her second historical fiction novel will be published in September. She lives and works in Reno, Nevada.