Chapter 1

     It appeared that Myrtle Beach PD was looking for someone to talk down a jumper.
     “Can you take this one?” asked Dispatch.
    “Don’t you have someone else?”
    “I was told to route everything to you.”
    “Every dirty little job that comes along,” I muttered.
    “What was that?” asked the voice over the radio.
    “The Host of Kings Hotel, you say?”
    “You got it.” And the radio in the sedan went silent.
    My partner sat in the passenger seat. Daphne Adkins was a bony woman with long arms and legs.
     “We’re catching a jumper?” she asked.
    I said nothing, only wheeled the sedan around and headed in the direction of the Host of Kings.
    My partner peered at me through the uneven darkness of the Grand Strand. “Have I done something to tick you off, Susan?”
    I smiled at her. “Just your being here ticks me off.”

    I guess I should introduce myself.
    My name is Susan Chase, and these days I’m an agent of SLED, South Carolina’s equivalent of the FBI. My family used to fish the Florida Keys, and Daddy pursued that career up the East Coast until reaching the Grand Strand, always one step ahead of the bill collectors. After Mom walked out on us, that left Daddy and me, fussing and fighting until one night, drunk, he fell overboard and drowned.
    Being only fifteen, my next stop was a foster home, where it took me only a few weeks to gauge my chances of becoming the next Cinderella. I hit the streets and lived by my wits, taking a job guarding the beach, and during the off-season, waiting tables. Then some guy asked me to find his kid who’d run away from home. From there I became a private investigator, then an investigator for SLED. Which brings me to the trainee who accompanied me the night I took the call that practically ended my career with SLED.

    A crowd had gathered in front of the hotel. Just what a jumper wants. Someone to beg him not to leap to his miserable death. If that’s what this guy expected, Dispatch had picked the wrong gal. Climbing out of the sedan, my partner paused to stare at the idiot illuminated at the edge of the roof of the hotel. After all, this is Myrtle Beach, and there’s little that isn’t highly illuminated once the sun goes down. I shook my head and headed inside, where a uniformed patrolman stopped me.
    “Sorry, Miss, but . . . .”
     His voice trailed off as he saw the SLED ID on the lanyard around my neck. I pushed my way past him and toward the bank of elevators, where another cop checked my ID before my partner and I were allowed upstairs. Noticing one of the hotel staff near reception, I motioned the guy over as I pulled off my long coat and the business jacket that was part of my navy blue pantsuit.
     “Let me have your jacket.”
    “My jacket?” asked the blond guy, whose name tag said “Eric.”
    “And give me a woman’s name tag and outfit my partner the same way.”
    Moments later, we took the elevator to where a couple of cops and a firefighter huddled in the stairwell.
     “What you doing here, Chase?” Earl Tackett was a stocky guy with a buzz cut and pecs that came from working out. He had twenty years in the military and was working on another twenty with the Myrtle Beach Police Department.
    “I’m your negotiator.”
    “That’s bull,” said his partner, another well-built guy in the same blue uniform and equipment belt. “This is more of your grandstanding, Chase.”
    Tackett reached for his radio. “I’ll have to check this out.”
    “And while you do, hope the guy doesn’t go over the edge.”
    “Hey, we’ve got someone watching him,” said Tackett’s partner.
    “But is he near enough to prevent the idiot from going over the side?”
    “Nobody can get that close.”
    “That must be why Dispatch called me.”
    “Listen, you guys,” said the firefighter. “They said a negotiator was coming up. If it’s Chase, it’s Chase. Let’s get on with it.”
    After pocketing my lanyard ID and switching my weapon and extra clip behind my back, I handed off my long coat and suit jacket and shrugged into the hotel’s maroon one. I’d already transferred my pad and pen. “I want this door secured and I don’t want your people on the roof.”
    Tackett nodded, then cracked the door and ordered another cop into the stairwell. Daphne and I took the
patrolman’s place as the door clicked shut behind us.
    The roof’s blacktop was covered with pebbles, and here and there were huge air conditioners and stubby pipes. It wouldn’t normally be all that chilly up here, but a wicked breeze had kicked in from offshore.
    “Don’t come any closer,” said the figure at the edge of the roof.
    “I’m with the hotel, not the cops.” Lowering my voice, I said to Daphne, “Stay at the door.” At this point I was about forty feet away from the guy. “My boss told me to get the info. That’s why I’m here.” I opened the jacket with both hands as I walked his way. “They sent a girl so you wouldn’t be afraid.” Now I was about thirty feet away.
    The guy was middle-aged, balding, and had a beak for a nose. His face was red from the sun and especially that beak. He wore a pair of plaid shorts and a beach shirt from Ripley’s, the aquarium, not the freak show.
    “I need to know your room number.” Out came my pad and pen from under my jacket.
    “Room number? I don’t have a room.”
    I stopped twenty feet away. “Look, fellow, this is not a smart move—to leap to your death from our hotel roof.”
    “Why not?”
    “Our lawyers will have a field day.”
    “Lawyers? What lawyers?”
    “The suits who’ll contest any settlement.” I turned
to Daphne and told her to tell the cops and firemen they could vamoose.
    “What was that all about?” asked the guy, stepping away from the edge.
    “Mister, you’re going to make more profit for this hotel in one minute than it’ll make all month.”
    “How’s that?”
    “We’ll collect on your insurance money.”
    “But my wife’s the beneficiary.”
    “Sorry, but the hotel has an army of lawyers who will contest the payout.”
    “But my—my family will need the money.”
    From next-door someone yelled “jump!” The dummy nodded in agreement. “That’s right . . . I have to jump.”
     “Well, before you do, think about it. If you were staying here, your family might have some wiggle room—a guest wandering about in an area left unsecured, but . . . .”
I shrugged. Up and down the Grand Strand green and red lights danced. It was near Christmas and once again I had no one to celebrate with.
    “You’re trying to trick me. They’d have to pay.”
    “Mister,” I said, stopping less than ten feet away, “the last guy did this, the home office collected a half a million bucks. I hear the guy’s kids are working their way through college.”
    “I—I don’t understand. Why are you telling me this?”
    “I had to work my way through school. Work and study, work and study, that’s all you have time for.” I glanced at my trainee who stood at the door to the stairwell. “You’re lucky Daphne’s not punched in yet. She’d push you over the side to earn another promotion.”
     The man gaped at the bony woman near the door.
     I shivered in the breeze off the ocean. I was missing my long coat. “Look, Mister, can we get on with this?”
    “You want me to jump?”
    “No, but it’s damn chilly up here.”
    “But if I was a guest . . . ?”
    I smiled. “Now you’ve got it.”
    “And I can jump anytime, right?”
    “Sure,” I added, continuing to smile.
    “Okay,” he said, crossing the pebble-strewn blacktop. “Let’s go downstairs.”
    After he passed me, I said, “Er—mister, it really doesn’t work that way.”
    Before he could respond, an explosion rocked the Grand Strand. Looking toward the center of the Strip, I saw the night light up over the Pavilion and all the rides.
    What the jumper did next, I have no clue. After touching my watch to mark the time, I was on the run for the stairwell, opening the door before Daphne could grab the thick metal handle. Pebbles scattered as my shoes scuffed the surface and Daphne stepped back.
     Earl Tackett, his partner, and the firefighter made way as I stepped through the door and rushed onto the landing. I took my pen and pad from the hotel’s jacket, peeled out of it, and dropped the jacket on the stairs. I snatched my own jacket from the firefighter and pulled out my lanyard ID. Questions along the lines of “what the hell was going on” were shouted as I grabbed my long coat from the fireman and took off down the stairs. Seconds later, both cops and the fireman received their marching orders over their radios.
     Below me, the stairwell was empty and I made quick work of the stairs. That is, until we approached the third floor. Here the stairs became crowded as tourists joined us exiting the hotel. “Bomb . . . Kings Highway . . . near Pavilion area,” were mentioned.
    “What you guys got?” I called back up the stairs as I pushed through the crowd.
    “Some kind of explosion . . . .” yelled Earl above the noise of the thudding feet on the stairs.
    “Near the Pavilion,” shouted the firefighter coming down behind him.
    The people on the landing slowed and stared. That made it easier for us to cut ahead and reach the ground floor, where the door was held open as people kept exiting the upper levels. My small group found its way down the hall and entered a lobby rapidly filling with tourists and their kids, some even with luggage. Everyone was headed for the front doors. Some still wore sleeping garb.
    How did these people know about the explosion? Then I understood. It would take only one person who’d seen and heard the explosion from their balcony to clear an entire floor.
    I forced my way into the revolving glass door behind a father waiting for his family to join him. When the guy stopped, several of us, including Daphne and the firefighter, knocked the guy into the revolving glass, and when the door opened onto the street, the guy went sprawling. Seconds later, his wife and kids reached the wide sidewalk leading to the portico sheltering arriving vehicles. The mom had a babe in arms and another child gripping her robe. When the robe came apart, everyone could see she wore a teddy. The woman snatched the robe closed. Few noticed.
    People ran up and down the street, some glancing over their shoulders as if the hotel might collapse at any moment. Farther down Ocean Boulevard the gray cloud continued to hover over the Pavilion. Vehicles honked and tried to move around a patrol car, fire truck, and EMS. Order would have to be restored, but I was heading to the site of the explosion.
    Daphne was beside me panting, her lanyard cockeyed around her neck and her coat in her arms. The Host of Kings Hotel jacket probably lay, as mine did, on the steps of the stairwell. From inside the building you could hear a megaphoned voice asking everyone to proceed outside in a calm and deliberate manner.
    That was just the problem. Nobody wanted to be inside any building, and headlights could be seen in parking garages where vehicles negotiated their way from one level to another, then tried to enter the street. There was a great deal of honking of horns, screaming of parents, wailing of children, and the whine of
sirens. Using their whistles, Earl Tackett and his partner were trying to control the traffic. That was the problem. Even when given notice of an approaching hurricane, it took almost a week to evacuate the residents. Now that the tourists had gone bananas, it might take several days to regain control.
    My sedan was blocked, not to mention pointed in the wrong direction. I thrust the keys at Daphne and gripped her hands to focus her attention on me. “Get the car out of here. Leave it at the law enforcement center. Walk in to the scene from there.”
    “Walk in?”
    “No way you’ll get a vehicle close.”
     She glanced at the hotel, where doors adjacent to the rotating one had been wedged back by guests exiting the building. The latecomers were bringing along not only their kids, but also pieces of luggage. Unused reservations be damned. These people were out of here. One of those new Mini Coopers negotiated its way up on the curb and tried to pull a Bourne Identity-like move down the sidewalk. The mob stopped the small car cold.
    I walked over to where two young women sat on a purple Harley. Dykes on bikes, I would imagine. A muscular brunette with cropped hair revved up her bike and inched down Ocean Boulevard. With tourists crossing a street jammed with all manner of vehicles, the motorbike was no longer king, and it annoyed the brunette no end. Her passenger was a bottle-blonde wearing a string top over a very slight chest. A pair of green short shorts and flip-flops completed the passenger’s outfit.
    “Going to need your ride,” I said, flashing my ID and stepping in front of the Harley.
    The purple machine had a long, orange flame painted across the gas tank, but it and most of the engine were hidden by a pair of thick thighs. The driver wore a fringe vest above her jeans, one boot on the front footpeg, the other on the ground to maintain her balance.
    “Get out of my way,” she ordered, twisting her front
wheel at me. My badge and SLED ID, it would appear, had little effect on her.
    “As you like it,” I said, stepping to one side.
    When the heavy woman twisted the handle to give the engine gas, I reached over and grabbed the brake lever on the handgrip and closed it across her fingers.
    She yowled and tried to pull her fingers from under the lever, but my hand remained tight, depressing the brake. There was a yelp of surprise from the bottle-blonde in the sissy seat.
    “You bitch,” said the driver, referring to me and not her girlfriend, “take your hand—”
    Squeezing on the brake again, I shut off her protest. “As you might’ve noticed, we have what you could call a civic emergency, and you’re interfering with the performance of my duty.” With my free hand, I pulled back my jacket so the stupid twit could see the Glock on my hip. “You getting off the bike or what?”
    She sneered as she did.
    “Move to the curb,” I ordered.
     This, too, she complied with, but her girlfriend remained with the bike. Eyes live with excitement, the bottle-blonde inclined her head in the direction of the gray cloud. “You really going down there?”
    I nodded. Not once did my hand come off my Glock.
Daphne Adkins gaped, evidently learning something she hadn’t been taught in classes at the Criminal Justice Academy.
    “Can I tag along?” asked the passenger.
    I shrugged as I mounted the bike. I’d need someone to watch the bike once I reached the scene.
    “Hey,” said driver, stepping toward us, “you can’t take my bike and my girl.”
    “Daphne, if this woman tries to interfere, you’re to arrest her.”
    The driver glanced at Daphne, whose hand touched her Glock. Her other hand found the cuffs on the opposite hip.
    I straddled the seat, which opened me wide. Harleys are huge monsters, loud suckers, too. Something their owners take great pride in. To the driver, I said, “You can pick up your girlfriend at the site of the explosion.
    “If I come down there, I’ll get my bike back?”
    I glanced at Bottle Blondie with her arms wrapped tightly around my waist. “Yeah, but I can’t make any promises about your girlfriend.”

Color Her Dead
Stripped to Kill
Dead Kids Tell No Tales
When Dead Is Not Enough
Hurricane Party
Sanctuary of Evil
Susan Chase Mysteries (Set at Myrtle Beach)
The Charleston Ripper