Betting Blind by Lily Gardner follows former P.I. Lennox Cooper as she attempts to help a friend avoid a scandal involving blackmail and eventually murder, while uncovering secrets that link to her past and deadly threats (Available March 29, 2016).
In the rainy city of Portland, Matilda Bauer has been blackmailing her parole officer, Fulin Chen. Just when Fulin’s ready to come clean, Matilda disappears. Bad news for Fulin, because once Matilda is arrested for breaking parole she’ll show the photos she has on him and end his career. Fulin turns to his longtime friend and poker buddy, Lennox Cooper, P.I., to help him find the beautiful blonde con-woman.
A former cop, Lennox knows how it feels to live and breathe the police life―and to be thrown out of it. She'll do anything to help her friend avoid a similar fate. But three days later Lennox finds Matilda dead, in what looks like a sex game gone terribly wrong. Fulin Chen is the lead suspect. Lennox's search for Matilda, however, causes her to begin turning over rocks, finding that her past lies under many of them―not to mention deadly threats. Matilda Bauer had no shortage of enemies, though, and Lennox will have to sift through the many blackmail victims and jilted lovers to find the real killer.
Rain fell in sheets from the low-bellied clouds. It was eleven o’clock on a Saturday morning. Lennox pulled up to the Bauer residence and ran to the house. It was a one-and-a-half story English cottage, half-hidden by two enormous rhododendron bushes. Lennox stood under the tiny roof of the stoop, getting damper and colder by the second. Matilda’s mother answered the door on the fourth ring. She was a short, plump hen of a woman dressed in lavender sweat pants and a matching hoodie.
“Are you Rose Bauer?” Lennox asked.
Lennox introduced herself, showed the old lady her investigative license. “Matilda missed her appointment with her parole officer Friday morning. I’m assisting him in trying to locate her. Is she home?”
Rose’s kind face shifted to guarded. “I told Fulin Mattie went to her girlfriend’s house,” Rose said. “That’s all I know.”
“Do you know her girlfriend’s name?”
“Her name is Debbie. I don’t know her last name, or her phone number. Mattie’s not a child; she goes where she pleases.”
Lennox shivered under the eave of the Bauer house. She was getting soaked.
“May I come in?” she said. “I just have a few more questions.”
It took a few moments for Rose to decide before unlocking the storm door and letting Lennox into the living room. The furniture was upholstered entirely in blue, the sofa flanked by lamps that sprung from faux butter churns. Two brass eagles graced the fireplace mantle next to framed photos of a high-school-aged Matilda. Everything was clean as clean. An ironing board was positioned in front of the television.
Rose told Lennox to sit down, then chose an overstuffed velour chair opposite her.
“Last night after Fulin Chen spoke to you,” Lennox said. “he was attacked by a man. Late twenties, blonde?”
“Joey Tufts.” The old lady spat the name.
“A friend of Matilda’s?” Lennox said.
“Something like that.”
“This is a difficult question to ask,” Lennox said. She hesitated a second. “I wondered if you were the person who called the police on Joey and Fulin.”
The old lady reddened. “I had to. I like Fulin, but they were killing each other in my front yard.”
“Do you have any idea why Joey went after Fulin?”
“Jealousy, I suppose. Joey’s been crazy for Mattie since he was a little kid.”
“Do you know why Joey would think Fulin was a competitor?”
Rose got this world-weary expression that didn’t go with her sweet old lady face.
“I’ve seen a lot of people go stupid over Mattie.”
“You’re wrong about Fulin,” Lennox said. “He just wants to keep Mattie from going back to prison. She broke her parole when she didn’t keep her appointment yesterday. I want to find her, impress on her how important it is she show up for her Monday appointment.”
“Impress on her?” Rose snorted. “You don’t know Mattie. She’ll do what she’s going to do.”
“Look, Rose, let me try to find her. Maybe she has an address book in her room?”
Rose shook her head. “Mattie would have a fit if anyone’s been in her bedroom.”
“I’m a detective,” Lennox said. “I won’t disturb a thing.”
“You don’t think Mattie knows that skipping her appointment will break the conditions of her parole?”
“Fulin’s already stuck his neck out,” Lennox said.
Rose shrugged. Lennox had seen this attitude before. Dollars to donuts, Rose had spent major time at Al-Anon meetings, learning how not to let her children destroy her.
She opened a door off the living room and pointed to a narrow flight of stairs, then turned the television up.
The top of the stairs opened into Matilda’s room. It had originally been an attic space with a gabled end facing the street. The windows were framed in white ruffled curtains, the knee walls papered in faded blue flowers. A pale blue chest decoupaged with Little Mermaid figures stood in the corner of the painted floor; old dolls crammed together on a bookshelf over a child’s stool. A large standing mirror faced a narrow bed. An office desk and two metal four-drawer file cabinets stood against the far wall.
File cabinets in a bedroom? Matilda worked as an admin at a high-tech business. No business would let her keep files at home.
Lennox tried a drawer. Locked. All the drawers were locked.
Lennox rummaged through her bag, pulled out a pick, and unlocked the top drawer.
Three wigs—a very long black wig with bangs and two brown wigs, one short and curly, one shoulder length and wavy. The next drawer was filled with blonde wigs. Auburn, pink, silver. The other file cabinet was stuffed with costumes: garter belts, leather collars, studded bras, and leopard print leggings. Underneath a pair of crotchless panties, Lennox found a red leather flogger. It was so odd: the dolls, the Little Mermaid, and all the costumes.
Likely the answer to all Matilda’s secrets was filed on her computer. Lennox walked over to Matilda’s display, which stretched the width of her desk. Matilda’s laptop lay closed in front of it. Lennox pulled out the external drive from her bag and plugged it into the laptop.
Matilda’s computer asked for a password.
Lennox typed 123456.
She tried all the standard passwords: qwerty, master, blah-blah, testing, biteme,andwhatever. Matrix, secret, help me, princess.
Not princess. Lennox glanced at Bauer’s toy chest. She typed LittleMermaid.
Feeling pretty damn smug, Lennox started a copy of the whole hard drive. While her external drive captured the files, Lennox used her pick to break into Matilda’s desk. Photos. Posed pictures, candids, the faces smiling, looking hopeful. People who were not related to each other by the look of them, but she needed to know for sure.
While her drive kept copying files, Lennox scooped up a stack of the photographs and descended the narrow steps.
A stack of dishtowels squatted on the butt end of Rose’s ironing board. On the television, a young couple toasted to one another with champagne flutes.
Rose looked up from the dishtowels, steam hissing from her iron. The smell of hot cotton filled the room. Matilda kept dog collars and floggers in her childhood bedroom and her mother ironed her dishtowels.
“Are you finished?” Rose said.
“Almost,” Lennox said. “If I could I show you these photos?” She held the first one in front of Rose. “Are they relatives or maybe Matilda’s friends?”
Rose took the stack and thumbed through several photos, then spread the rest across the length of her ironing board. “I’ve never seen these people before.” She piled the photos back in a stack. “You said you were looking for an address book. I didn’t give you permission to go through all her things.”
“I’m ready to leave,” Lennox said. “I’ll just get my bag upstairs and be on my way.”
“I hope you’ve left her room the way you found it,” Rose said.
Lennox reassured her. Said she’d be down in a minute. She climbed the steps back up to Matilda’s childhood room. Returned the photos to the drawer and stirred them so they looked the same way she found them. Who were these people?
Matilda went to prison for seducing married men and stealing from them. Now she kept a locked file cabinet full of wigs and costumes. Matilda tricked Fulin and left him facing termination, possibly rape if she accused him of having sex with her. This was not a reformed woman.
Lennox looked at Matilda’s computer screen. The download was complete. How many of those photos in her desk drawer were her victims?
Leave the room the way you found it.
Lennox disconnected her external drive, then pulled a thumb drive from her bag, plugged it in, copied over program, and typed “run wipeout.
Said adios to Matilda’s hard drive.
Copyright © 2016 Lily Gardner.
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Lily Gardner, like many writers before her, has spent much of her life as a factotum, working as a bartender, a vet assistant and a bookkeeper. She’s managed a bookstore, sold crystals, herbs and fine jewelry. And has written articles on mythology and goddess lore for ten years.
Lily's first novel, A Bitch Called Hope, is a noir mystery set on the rainy streets of Portland, Oregon. Her second novel, Betting Blind, will publish in March, 2016. Lily lives in Portland with her husband, two corgis and several thousand books.