A Susan Chase Mystery
 
Stripped to Kill
 
Chapter 1

  
      I have to admit I had no idea someone as simple-minded as Nancy Noel could doom my relationship with my new boyfriend. One of the last times I saw Nancy, she was still at it—dooming my relationship, that is. She was sitting on a curb in front of the Myrtle Beach Pavilion, tears running down her cheeks, shoulders slumped. That'll get to me every time.
     The Pavilion is Myrtle Beach's answer to Coney Island, and a very short answer it is. What with the pavilion and the rides across the street, the place bustles at night with tourists and tons of kids, and you can’t walk more than ten feet before bumping into a cop. Myrtle Beach appears to have figured out what its visitors want because the Grand Strand is packed from Memorial Day until Labor Day, people coming from as far away as Canada.
     The night I ran into Nancy, the heat of the day was only an unpleasant memory and the breeze was from the ocean. The Grand Strand in fine form. Music blared from the Electric Attic, a second-story dance hall where teenagers are protected from adults, and vice-versa. At ground level ropers compete for the kids’ parents in front of a bar called The Bowery, where the country group Alabama got its start. Up and down the Strip, testosterone-powered cars with thudding basses—backed up for miles—crept past where Nancy Noel sat.
     Wave after wave of pedestrians flooded across the street, some heading for the Pavilion, others leaving the beach for the rides on the other side. Nancy was surrounded by teenagers of all sizes and colors, real clotheshorses or those not wearing much at all. All these kids were laughing or cutting the fool, especially around parents of preteens, who were catching a vision of their children's future.
     Nancy is a sizable blonde, well past thirty, but without a line on her face. It’s as if life passed her by, and in fact, life has. In short, she’s long on looks but short on brains. Yes, yes, I know—just the kind of girl any man would find desirable—and that’s where I come into the picture. I’ve been running interference for Nancy for as long as I can remember, and I’m ten years her junior.
     Someone had to do something, and do it now, because the poor girl sat where the street dead-ended onto the boardwalk. Though she was crying her eyes out, the cops were blatantly ignoring her—which meant they'd already asked what the problem was and determined it wasn't any of their business.
     Chad Rivers agreed. Chad is the guy I've been dating lately and people say we're an item. Anyone I spend more than a couple of weeks with during the season is serious stuff, and there were those in my circle hinting I should take Chad more seriously. Probably because he was good-looking as well as rich.
     Chad and I were about to cross the street and make our way through the amusement park on our way to Mother Fletcher's, a local rock and roll joint, when I spotted Nancy on the curb. I drifted over, pulling Chad with me. His hand came off my butt and slid higher, taking my arm.
      "Now what?" he asked.
      Chad was irritated because everybody and his sister seemed to know me and wanted to chat me up. What can I do? I grew up around here—at least since I was fifteen, about the same time as my father fell off our fishing boat and drowned. Becoming an orphan at fifteen makes you 
grow up in a hurry.
      So I know my way around and I don't like to be told what to do. Well, maybe I should let Chad. He’s got broad shoulders, narrow hips, and a tight little butt. Dark and thoughtful brown eyes—dark and thoughtful for the rich and good-looking, I might add.
      "Hon, there's someone I need to see."
      When there was a break in the flow of pedestrians across the Boulevard, he saw Nancy on the curb. "No way," he said, gripping my arm. "I didn't bring you here to mother hen her."
      I let him hold me up, then returned the favor by running my hands from his hips to under his arms. Numero Uno wore a black silk shirt and it lay on him as I might later tonight if things worked out. "Chad, it's Nancy."
      "It's always someone," he said, gripping me firmly at the waist. "I'm Chad and I'm right here. What are you going to do about it?" he asked with a wicked smile and those beautiful brown eyes of his. He ran long-fingered hands up my sides, barely touching my breasts.
     Catching my breath, I said, “I’ve got to check on Nancy."
     "No, you don't. She's just sitting there, waiting for the next sailor to come along."
     “We don’t have any sailors in Myrtle Beach, except for you.” Chad and his father built boats. Rivers Watercrafts is the name of the company and it’s located farther inland.
      "Whatever. She's waiting for the next ‘whatever’ to come along. She's the one who dances at that topless joint, isn't she?"
     "Chad, why are you being this way?"
     "Because I don't know any other way to be. This'll be the fourth person you've stopped and talked to." He glanced at the girl on the curb. Tears still ran down her cheeks and she didn't attempt to wipe them away. "I'm tired of sharing you."
     "Mother Fletcher isn't going anywhere."
     He sighed, his hands coming off me. "And neither am I, it would appear."
     "This'll only take a moment." I left him and went over to where Nancy sat on the curb, just around the corner from the main drag. If she'd been on the Strip, she would've lost her toes by now. As I said, this time of night the road is slammed up with cars.
     Nancy wore sandals, red short shorts, and a white halter holding up her substantial chest. Her face brightened when she saw me. "Hi, Susan."
     I pulled a Kleenex from my fanny pack. Kneeling, I wiped her childlike face. “Why the tears?”
     "Sammy and I had a fight." She gestured toward the amusement park on the other side of the street. Nancy’s son was just over four feet tall, with neatly combed hair. He wore a light blue short-sleeved business shirt open at the neck with a pale yellow sweater looped around his neck, its arms tied across the chest. His slacks were charcoal gray and belted, and on his feet were a pair of loafers with no socks.
     "What's the problem?"
     "He doesn't want to ride the rides.”
     “And you couldn’t ride by yourself?”
     “Susan, it’s not as much fun when you ride by yourself. You asked me not to have a boyfriend and I don’t.” Her face brightened. “Will you ride with me?”
     “Actually I’m with Chad. Maybe another time.”
     Her mouth twisted into another pout. “I don’t embarrass you, do I, Susan, like I embarrass Sammy?”
     “No, no,” I said, glancing over my shoulder at Chad, who was trying to keep his cool.
     “Sammy says I embarrass him.”
     "All parents embarrass their children or they're not doing their job." I stood up. "I'll go over and have a talk with him."
     But when I stepped toward the curb Chad caught my arm. "Where are you going now?"
     "I need to catch Peanut."
     "Peanut?" His hand tightened on my arm. "Now who the hell's ‘Peanut?’”
     "Her son," I said, gesturing at Nancy. "He's the little kid who . . ." I looked across the street, but the boy was gone. All I saw were the pedestrians jousting with the cars cruising the Boulevard. "He should be riding the rides with his mother."
     "And I should be dancing with you. You know, you're not making this easy."
     "What? Going dancing?"
     "No—taking us seriously."
     I studied this guy with the mop of hair always out of control. I had the urge to reach up and brush his hair back, and on several occasions had done just that. “I didn't know we were serious, Chad."
     “And I don’t think we’ll ever be with you planting these roadblocks in our way."
     "Roadblocks?" I asked, as someone jostled me on their way down the sidewalk.
     His hand dropped from my arm. "But don't worry, I get the message. Girl as attractive as you, I guess you can have more than one boyfriend—with the job you have."
      "What in the world are you talking about? I didn't have any idea you were the least bit serious . . . ."
      "Why do you think I've been spending all this time scheming to see you—without appearing to be coming on too strong? I see you on your lifeguard stand—your ‘throne’ as you call it—with all the guys hitting on you. Out of town, inland, they all do. I thought if I didn't come on too strong . . . but that won't work, will it? You're used to the direct approach."
     "I didn't know you were this interested—”
     “Because you couldn’t hear me over the noise of all those guys. It’s been nice, Susan. Later."
     "Chad?"
     And he was gone, stepping into the crowd and disappearing, while I was left too stunned to speak. Rock ’n’ roll poured out of the Electric Attic, the ropers touted the vices of their bars, and the thud-thud-thud of car stereos drowned out all possibility of pleas for Chad to return.
     "That your new boyfriend?" asked Nancy, getting to her feet.
     "He appears to have been more than a friend. I just didn't know it."
     "You didn't?"
     And maybe that was my problem. I had no clue Chad Rivers was serious about me. We'd only been dating, what was it . . . ? A month ago he’d stopped by my lifeguard stand—no, that’d been . . . before Memorial Day. Now it was approaching August.
     I'd thought it was simply another dalliance of a rich boy with a girl from the wrong side of the beach. Chad Rivers was so good-looking and rich he could have any girl on the beach. But evidently he’d chosen me.
     “Now you can ride the rides with me.”
     “Nancy, I think I’d better go after Chad.”
     “Susan, that’s not fair. You don’t want me to have a boyfriend, but you have one.” 
     So I rode the rides with her. 
     The next time I saw Nancy she was sitting on another sidewalk, propped up against a storefront, ice cream running down her face. Rocky Road, I do believe.
     I felt self-conscious at seeing Nancy again—because I was with you-know-who, so I didn’t speak as Chad reached for the door of a place where they let you make your own sundaes. Nancy, however, wasn’t as insensitive as I was and flashed a big smile.
     "Hi, Susan."
     Nancy had her blond hair pulled into a ponytail. She wore a blue tank top and white shorts, the dark ice cream spotting both. Her feet were bare and her legs splayed in front of her.
     Stopping at the door that had been opened for me, I asked, "Sammy inside?"
     Nancy nodded.
      Chad muttered, "Who cares?"
      I bit my lip and let Chad’s hand at my waist propel me into the Sundae Shoppe. I wasn't about to have a replay of the scene at the Pavilion. Two weeks earlier I'd swallowed my pride and driven inland—to where Chad and his father build their boats. When Chad had come into the reception room I saw that he wore a long-sleeved, highly starched, striped shirt with a loud tie and matching suspenders. His pants were too baggy for his tight little ass, and falling over the brow of his narrow face was that mop of brown hair that always needs to be brushed back.
     "Susan?” He looked around. “What are you doing here?" The receptionist eyed us. So this was the gal the boss’ son talked about all the time—or so I hoped.
     "Chad, you know all those times you said you just happened to be in the neighborhood and dropped by my lifeguard stand to say ‘hello?’”
     "Er—yes."
     “Well, I just happened to be in your neighborhood and thought I’d stop by and say ‘hello.’ ‘Hello, Chad.’” And I turned on my heel and walked out the door.
      He caught up with me in the parking lot as I was climbing into my jeep.
      "Er—Susan, would you like to . . . ?" He looked around. The parking lot was full of cars and pickups—I was in his daddy's space—and behind the cars and trucks stood something resembling an airplane hangar where the watercrafts were assembled. A thirty-footer was in there now. I knew it sold for more than three thousand a foot. "Er—would you like to grab a bite of lunch?"
     "If you'd like to," I replied rather coolly. I didn’t think Chad could hear the thumping of my heart—unless the sucker burst from my chest. A chest I certainly hoped he noticed—from where I now sat in my jeep, chest-at-his-eye-level, wearing cutoffs cut off up to you-know-where. But you have to like your women big. I have the shoulders that come from pulling people ashore who’ve tried to drown themselves, and I’m taller than most, with gray-blue eyes and sun-bleached hair. 
     “I know a place if you like barbecue. It’s one of those out-of-the-way places. Really out in the woods."
     "Then climb in."
     "Er—I thought I might drive."
     "Okay with me.” I spoke as casually as possible. But climbing down I felt dizzy. The last few days all I could think of was how this guy thought we were an item—and I’d missed it, completely goofed.
      Chad led me over to his Corvette and opened the door for me. Before he did he gave me a peck on the cheek. "I've missed you, Susan."
     "And I, you," was all I could get out as the tingle reached my toes. But they didn't curl. No—that never happens until he sticks his tongue down my throat. Yes, that'll do it every time. 
     That's just what I was anticipating when we ran into Nancy again. Perhaps I have a death wish because once we were seated I asked Chad to check the men’s room. Sammy was nowhere to be seen. The ice cream parlor was nothing more than a long shaft of a room with a counter running down the middle and tables jammed up against the wall. 
      Over the tables were mounted posters of girls with larger smiles and skinnier than I’d ever be. But I didn’t come here for the decor. Or the yogurt.
     Chad gave me a sour look before going off toward the rear of the room while I pretended to check out the selection. Nancy shouldn't be left alone, and several times I'd made her promise to stop going out by herself. Lost in my thoughts I didn't hear my boyfriend return.
      "He's in there. Now, can we make our sundaes?"
      "Sure." I slipped my arm inside his. "And thanks, big fella."
      "For nothing."
      "Oh, for something, Chad.” I continued to smile. “Most guys wouldn't understand."
      "What makes you think I do?"
      And why should he? When I spied Nancy getting to her feet and starting across the parking lot, I bolted out the door.
     "Susan!"
     “I’ll be right back!” It had not been lost on me that Peanut had not come out of the restroom.
     At the sidewalk I caught up with her. Nancy was strolling along, oblivious to everything, and humming the theme from Flashdance. Oh, well, where she worked she heard a lot of that.
     "Nancy!"
     When she turned around, her eyes brightened. "Oh, hi, Susan.”
     "Where you going?"
     Several guys catcalled and whistled as their sports car raced by on King’s Highway. Nancy waved, then returned her attention to me. "Why, I'm going home."
     Instead of telling the little fool she was over five miles from there, I asked, "What about Peanut?"
     "Sammy doesn't like that name."
     "At school he does and that's where he got it." I gestured over my shoulder. "I thought you said he was in the rest room.”
     Nancy looked at where a line of cars was parked. “Then I don’t have to walk home.” And she headed back in the direction of the ice cream parlor. Jeez, talk about a short attention span.
     When we returned to the parking lot, I saw Peanut behind the wheel of a dark blue sports car several yards farther down the strip mall.
     "Is he old enough to drive?"
     "Until dark," his mother said proudly, then waved in his direction. "Hi, Sammy!”
      Peanut didn’t return the wave but sat motionless as I reentered the ice cream parlor. On my mind was what I’d have to do to make this up to Chad. Last time it'd been a rather strenuous bit of penance, wilting not only the guy, but his highly starched shirt. We never did find the barbecue joint. Then again, maybe it never existed. By then we had other things on our minds.

Copyright Steve Brown 1999
All Rights Reserved
Order from your local bookstore with 
ISBN 0-9670273-3-0
 

   
First Chapters of the Susan Chase Mysteries
 
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