Dead men Can't Lie
Deadly Mystery Series
Who was John Bellows and why did he want to see Tom and Stanley dead?
A vacation in the Ozarks turns into a cat and mouse game with a killer, who wants to see Tom and Stanley dead.
How, Stanley wondered, had he found himself once again staring down the wrong end of a gun? In Missouri, of all places, where a gay detective did not expect to face anything more threatening than a horny redneck. And here he was, sitting on the ground in the dark, and Tom lying just a few feet away, presumably dead. Which, Stanley, he told himself, you are going to be as well if you don't very quickly think of something.
Some things remain mysterious, inexplicable to him: Like, why did people love that tuna casserole so passionately? And, especially worrisome: why did this stuff always happen to him?
"It's only fair, the way I see it," Tom Danzel was saying as he drove. "We went to Los Angeles at your suggestion, and after that to Glendale. L.A. was fine, actually, I enjoyed the city, but Glendale? It's not exactly a thrilling spot for a vacation, if you ask me."
"Granted," Stanley said, begrudgingly. "But, Tom, honestly? Is Missouri any better in your opinion?" He looked again out the window of the pick-up, at the passing landscape. It was verdant, he could grant that. He had never seen a countryside so green. But surely there was more to the place than simply being green. There were parks in California as green as this.
"Just out of curiosity, and apropos of nothing," he asked aloud, "you don't happen to know, I suppose, how the Ozarks got their name? It is kind of unusual, isn't it?"
"Oddly enough, I do know that," Tom said. "Although in all fairness there are competing versions of the explanation. Most folks say it's an abbreviation, or a bastardization, if you prefer, of the French, aux Arkansas, because the first settlement in the region was Fort Arkansas. That's the commonly accepted version."
"From the way you phrased that, I am guessing that not everyone agrees, however."
"True. There are a lot of natural bridges here, formed from the limestone which is common hereabouts, so there are those who claim it's French for the arches."
"I could buy that."
"Only, don't spend all your money on that one either."
"You mean there's still another explanation?"
"There is. Some like to say it's named for the arc of the rainbow, because there are a lot of them to be seen around here, too. In fact, if you look off to your right, you'll see one now."
"I do see it, and it's very pretty. And Missouri is pretty, too. I have to admit what I have seen of it so far is easy on the eyes."
"Plus, according to the local chamber of commerce, The Lake of the Ozarks, which we're driving by right now, has more than eleven hundred miles of shore -- more coastline, in fact, than the entire state of California."
"Okay, I will admit that makes for a lot of beach. But, Tom, I have to ask, does this look like Malibu to you? Which is what you get in California. We've been driving through the state for an hour or so, and I have yet to see a single movie star. Or hear of one, for that matter. The closest thing to a movie star I can think of in connection with here is the Klampetts on the Beverly Hillbillies. Weren't they supposedly from Missouri?"
"I think they were, or so the show's script writers had it. But I never knew anybody that hokey when I was growing up here."
"And even if the Klampetts were only pretend, which of course they were, that's not to mention those cute surfer boys California has to offer. They're like flies on the beaches there, you practically have to swat them away. Of course, I would never do anything so rude, but they are plentiful. My point is, I don't see any surfer boys here."
"They've got some. You just have to be at the right beach at the right time."
"Sneak up on them, you mean?"
"Ah," Tom said, ignoring Stanley's remark, "unless I miss my guess, this is the real estate office we're looking for."
Stanley, who was not looking for anything but a good excuse to get back to their apartment in San Francisco, only grunted. Well, if Tom had his way, and in all fairness, he was due one, they would be here at The Lake of the Ozarks for the better part of a month, minus the five days for driving back and forth from California. And if they were going to be here for a while, they would certainly need some place to lay their heads. At least he wasn't being asked to make do with a tent. Tom was fond of camping. Stanley's idea of camping was more about acting up in the Castro and generally involved a feather boa.
So, since he was here anyway and looked to be here for a while, he might as well make the best of things. And hadn't there been a couple of hot looking guys standing at that last corner they had driven past? So things were not a total loss here; not so long as he could count on a reasonable assortment of male pulchritude upon which to feast his eyes. In his way of thinking, wasn't that what a vacation was all about? Like, you did not go to Hawaii for the funny drinks with umbrellas in them. Not when there were studly men shaking their booties in grass skirts. Oh, yes, girls, too, but he could look right past the ladies when there was a row of near naked men dancing behind them.
At the moment, however, making the best of things meant meeting with this real estate person who was waiting to show them where they would be laying their heads for the next few weeks. Tom, who was usually content to let Stanley arrange everything, had done all this on his own. Numerous telephone calls back and forth and a check dropped in the mail as a deposit on a house rented sight unseen.
Stanley had his fingers crossed that the house would not be too God-awful, since he doubted that the rental came with a money-back guarantee. Maybe he should have insisted upon house-boys? Didn't San Francisco offer a cleaning service where the guys were in the nude? Talk about polishing the furniture. Or polishing something, given any encouragement. He felt sure, though, that Missouri was unlikely to offer anything of that sort.
Tom parked the truck on the small graveled area in front of the bungalow whose sign proclaimed it Holiday Rentals, and the two of them went inside. Two desks stretched across the small interior with a third one slightly behind the other two. The three women seated at them all looked up with interest as Tom and Stanley came in.
"Good morning," the nearest of the three greeted them with the kind of bright smile usually reserved for toothpaste ads, and desk number two said, "Can we help you?"
"We're supposed to meet a Shirley here," Tom said.
The woman at the rearmost desk stood. "Good morning," she positively chirped. "You must be Mister Danzel and, let me see, Mister..." she paused, drawing a blank, and quickly shuffled through some papers on her desk, obviously looking for her notes.
"Korski," Stanley said to make things easier for her. "Stanley Korski."
Shirley was tall and angular -- storky looking, Stanley thought. Her hair was a mousey brown and she wore glasses with thick lenses, which made her eyes look enormous. Though the other two ladies were dressed more or less appropriately for a business office, in dark trousers and pastel sweaters, Shirley wore a sweatshirt of no distinguishable color with jeans that had probably once been blue but were now almost an off white. And with them, somewhat incongruously, Stanley thought, a pearl choker which looked to be a bit small for her neck and gave her throat a wattled look, making her appear older than he thought she probably was.
He wondered if the pearls were real. Somewhere he had once read that you could tell if they were by testing them with your teeth, but he had yet to think of a polite way of asking anyone if he could bite their pearls. Buns, yes, he wasn't at all shy on that score, but pearls, no.
But surely these gleaming beads at her throat were not the kind from oysters. Who would wear real pearls with a sweatshirt and jeans? Or might that be a Missouri thing? No, taking another look, he would have bet money Shirley was a fake pearls woman. She had that air about her.
"Oh, yes, Mister Korski," she said, giving up on shuffling through the papers. "I apologize. Names are a weakness of mine, although if you spell names out, it comes to Never Admit My Earnest Sin. But on the other hand, I never forget a face. I promise you if we meet again in thirty years, I will remember yours."
Stanley gave Tom a look of consternation. "Are we going to be here that long?" he asked. "You told me a month."
"I think she was just talking in general," Tom said.
"I was, oh, I assure you, I was. My own name, by the way, is easy to remember. It's the same as everyone's favorite resort town."
Stanley gave her a blank look. "Your name is Las Vegas?" he asked.
"Branson," she said in a frosty voice. "I meant Branson."
"Never heard of it," Stanley lied.
"Really? I'm sure we have some brochures around here some place. Remind me and I'll give you one. You might want to make a visit while you're in the area."
She gave Tom a quick smile and turning her back on Stanley, quickly snatched some keys off a pegboard on the wall nearby. "Let's go take a look at your rental chalet. I am sure you are going to Look On the Viewing Excitedly In Truth. Or, to put it another way, love it. Get it?"
Stanley was not so convinced of the emotion, but he thought it best to keep his doubts to himself. And he was beginning to suspect that the child Shirley must have been a whiz at spelling bees.