Sample Chapter

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Prologue

   

“The best? That’s tough. First off, I don’t remember that many, and those I do remember aren’t necessarily the best.”

   “I can listen to your excuses only so long. When you’re ready to play the game, let me know.”

   “Jeez. Lighten up. I’m trying to remember of the funniest joke I ever heard.”

   “You can keep stalling. It doesn’t really matter. Whatever you come up with isn’t going to win any awards.”

   “Dude, that’s cold. Maybe it’ll give you a laugh, and these days that’s not a bad thing.”

   “I suppose. But come on —let’s hear it. You can change your mind the second after you say it, but put up or shut up. What’s the funniest joke you can remember at this exact moment?”

   “Okay, okay, okay. It’s not the funniest, but it’s the first one that comes to mind. It’s actually not a joke per se. It’s something that happened recently and it gave me the biggest laugh I’ve had in a while. I was standing in the backyard of Joey Bishop’s house …”

   He paused, milking the moment, trying to drag out whatever status points he could garner from being at Joey Bishop’s house.

   “I’m drinking a lemonade. It’s afternoon and I’m standing in the backyard, talking to Joey about this very event. The place is full of friends, family, kids and his two dachshunds. We’re talking and one of the dogs is resting in front of us, and all of a sudden the dog starts licking its balls. I look at Joey. He looks at me. We look at the dog, and I say, ‘I wish I could do that.’ And Joey says to me, ‘You’d have to pet him first.’ I tell you, the lemonade came flying out of my mouth and nose. That guy is one of the funniest.”

   I wasn’t drinking any lemonade as I waited in the reservation line to check into the hotel, but I did laugh. Which I took as a good sign.

   It was March 1985, I was at the inaugural Comedians Conference in Palm Springs, California, and I was getting paid for being there.

   I don’t know what comes to your mind when you think about a conference for comedians, but I thought there’d be plenty of funny stuff going on and no shortage of depressed people.

   And, since it was a conference and I was there, a murder or two might be in the offing.

Chapter One

The Backstory

   

I attend my share of conferences. I used to go and hope I’d learn something. Perhaps have a little romance too. Usually in reverse order. I still go to learn, and I still hope for romance, but the killings at a sex conference I’d attended shifted my mindset; now I’m also waiting for the shoe to drop. Or rather the bodies.

   ’m a big believer in hope. With hope, you have a chance. Without it, you give up. I go to a conference hoping there won’t be murder. But wishes don’t always come true. Since I’m also a believer in going with the flow, if and when there are murders, I stick things out. It’s not my fault people get killed and the one way I can ameliorate the situation is to reveal the killer and later write a book about it.

   You know, you try to turn lemons into lemonade.

   Turning lemons into lemonade is kinda my job description and why I was being paid to attend. The promoter wanted to create an environment where comedians and people who enjoy comedy could come together to celebrate the joy, art, craft, and business of comedy. He promoted the conference as an opportunity for aficionados, fans and working comedians to come together for a week to learn, laugh, and live healthier and happier lives.

   There would be a week’s worth of workshops and playshops on various aspects of the comedic arts, as well as comedy-making laboratories and comedian showcases. There would also be lifestyle workshops and a range of holistic-living activities. That’s where I came in. I’d been asked to run a daily therapyesque workshop for interested parties.

   Why?

   Because I wasn’t the only one who thought there’d be viable candidates in attendance.

  The organizer, Logan Macintosh, had contacted me, saying he’d heard good things about me from his friend Bennett Price, a New York Times bestselling author of mystery books. Bennett is also an on-again-off-again client who’d hired me to be with him while he attended the Mystery Writers of America annual conference in Las Vegas.

   Logan and Bennett had spent a night on the town. When the subject of the comedy conference came up Bennett recommended me, because I’m a therapist who writes a mildly amusing mystery series. Plus, I have some special skills that, if called upon, might come in useful.

   After our week in Vegas seven months earlier, Bennett had taken a therapy hiatus. Recently, he’d called me up to book a few sessions. Then Logan had offered me the job and Bennett starting gushing about our being at the conference together. That prompted an explanation regarding our professional relationship.

   Professional boundaries are a dicey topic. I was in Vegas with him as his therapist. Yet we’d smoked a joint together and I’d assisted him in purchasing cocaine. (I need to take a moment here to remind the licensing board that this is fiction and occasionally I enhance scenes for the sake of reader engagement. Rest assured that I’d never stray from the legal and ethical boundaries of my profession.) I’d also almost conspired with Bennett in covering up the death of Louise, a Vegas brothel owner. Fortunately, it turned out she wasn’t dead so I hadn’t engaged in any deception. She as just pissed at Bennett.

   Logan had invited Bennett to speak about comedy in mysteries as there are a lot of funny asides in his rough-and-tumble private-eye series. In Vegas, he’d wanted me to help him manage his nerves about presenting, but now he was ready to go it alone. Still, he was glad I was there, just in case.

   Bennett figured that since we were both presenters, our therapeutic relationship would be on hold for the week and we’d be friends.

   I gave him the standard therapist response: I’m your friendly therapist, not your friend. In fact, there isn’t much difference when you get to the heart of it. Your friends are sometimes there for you when you need them and so too is your therapist, although usually more in spirit than in body.

   n Vegas, he’d hired me, so he’d been my client the whole time. He hadn’t hired me to support him in Palm Springs. We’d had a therapy session last week and were scheduled to see each other next week. The buddy-buddy thing for the in between week wasn’t going to work.

Pg comedians to come together for a week to learn, laugh and live healthier and happier lives.

That latter part it where I come in. There were going to be workshops/playshops all week on various aspects of the comedic arts as well as comedy making laboratories and comedian showcases. There would also be workshops on lifestyle and living well. There would be yoga sessions, movement classes and a range of holistic living activities. I was asked to run a daily ongoing therapyesque workshop for interested parties.

When the organizer, Sammy Mitchell, had contacted me he said he had heard good things about me from his friend Bennett Price, who is a New York Times bestselling author of mystery books. Bennett is also an on again off again client and previously had hired me to be with him for a week in Las Vegas while he attended the Mystery Writers of America’s Annual Conference.

Sammy and Bennett had spent a night on the town and when they got to talking about the comedy conference Bennett had recommended me as I not only was a therapist, but I wrote a mildly amusing mystery series that could be considered comedic. Plus, I had some special skills that if called upon might be worth having around.

Like a lot of my clients Bennett calls me up when he thinks it would be helpful to talk about how his life is moving along. After our week in Vegas some seven months ago, he’d taken a therapy hiatus and just recently had called me up to have some sessions. After Sammy had contacted me and offered me the weeklong job, Bennett starting gushing about our being at the conference together. That prompted a discussion about how our being there would affect our professional relationship.

Professional boundaries are a dicey topic. When I was his therapist in Vegas we’d smoked a joint together and I assisted him in purchasing some cocaine. (I just need to take a moment here to remind the licensing board that sometimes I enhance scenes for the sake of the reader, and they can rest assured that I would never stray from the legal and ethical boundaries of my profession). I also almost conspired with Bennett in covering up the death of Louise, the Vegas brothel owner who since then has played a bit of ongoing role in my life. Fortunately, she wasn’t dead so I didn’t assist in any cover up and she was just pissed at Bennett.

Sammy had invited Bennett to the Comedy Conference to talk about comedy in mysteries since a lot of his rough and tumble private eye series had a lot of funny asides. In Vegas he wanted me there to help support him as he was nervous about presenting, but he now felt ready to go it alone, but was glad I was there just in case. He figured since we would both be presenting and peers our therapeutic relationship would be on hold for the week and we could just be friends.

I gave him the standard therapist response. I’m your friendly therapist, not your friend. But really there is not much difference when you get to the heart of it. Your friends are there for you when you need them and hopefully so too is your therapist. Where the comparison falls short is the client isn’t always there for the therapist. It’s hard to overcome the roles and become true back and forth, give and take friends. Some relationships make the transition. Most don’t. Either way you’re not supposed to change the dynamics of the relationship until therapy is over for a couple of years and certainly not in the on again off again midst of it.

Flexible and pretty loosely defined as I am, I couldn’t see flipping back and forth like that. When we were in Vegas he’d hired me so he was my client the whole time. He hadn’t hired me to support him in Palm Springs, but I’d just seen him last week and we had plans to see each other next week so I didn’t think the buddy/buddy thing was going to work. Of course, when you’ve smoked a joint with someone it’s not like you aren’t already being buddy buddy.

Hard to always know what’s gray and what’s not.

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