Sample Chapter

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   “The best ever? That’s a tough one.”

   “It’s not that tough. Come on. Tell me.”

   “Are we talking movies, singers, TV? What?”

   “I don’t care. You could include rodeos, on the range, or yodeling in the shower.”

   “Well, I do occasionally yodel in the shower, but I don’t reckon anyone else would include that in their best-of list.”

   “That’s a safe bet, but come on, who’s your all-time number-one cowboy?”

   Yes, I was eavesdropping, but I wasn’t really all that interested in who the guys in front of me deemed the best all-time cowboy. You and I might be able to name some contenders, but this best-ever thing was getting old.

   How many conferences, festivals, adult fantasy camps am I going to go to where people are having these same discussions? I’m hoping many more, but you’d think people would have other things to talk about while they’re standing in line. Still, here I was in the registration line for the inaugural Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, and people were putting together their best-ever lists.

   I’m not a big cowboy fan. I was out of my element. It didn’t take me long to notice I was the only person in the line not wearing cowboy boots. Most had the hat, too.

   Cowboys are one thing. Poetry is another. I’m not a big poetry guy either. I enjoy it when it’s put to music, but I still have scars from my poetry-writing attempts in English class.

   So, what was I doing in Elko in January with the falling snow, my marginal interest, and my questionable fashion sense?

   I was working. I’d been invited to be one of the “attractions.” This was a new thing for me. My books have earned me a bit of a reputation and I, along with some others, had been asked to participate in a “semi-improvisational, partially scripted” show to close the event.

  One of the people connected to the Gathering had been at the mystery writers conference in Vegas where I’d dressed up like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and helped solve a few murders. Boots Sarandon had determined I’d give his show a certain flair and wanted me to be one of the actors. He obviously hadn’t done any investigative work into my thespian skills.

Chapter One

The Backstory

   Aside from teaching graduate students how to do therapy, I’m also a practicing therapist. More and more, I’m becoming an out-of-the-box therapist. I used to mostly see people in my office, but now I often get asked to help out in the real world. As you well know, the real world is not all we’d like it to be.

  These last years, I’ve been to a music festival with a client, a mystery writers conference with a client, and the Dodgers Adult Baseball Fantasy Camp with a quasi-client. I’ve also attended a therapist conference for some professional development credits that enabled me to keep my license.

   At every one of those events, someone got murdered and I was able to put what skills I have to practical use and figure out whodunit.

  I’ve learned numerous things from my experiences. First and foremost, I needed to have a gumshoe travel kit. So far, it contains a flashlight and extra cash. That’s it. No doubt there are other things I could throw in, but I had other concerns as I packed.

   It was January, which among other things meant school was in session. I don’t like to miss class. I didn’t mind it when I was a student, but as a teacher I find it less appealing. I’d skipped a week in October to go to the Dodger camp, and now I’d skip a second. I’d asked the same former student to sub for me as she’d gotten rave reviews so I didn’t think it would raise administrative concerns, but would need to stay under their radar the rest of the year.

  Boots Sarandon had contacted me a week earlier about being one of the “attractions” at the inaugural Gathering. He’d apologized for the last-minute invite but flattered me sufficiently that I was willing to rearrange my schedule. I’d told him I’d feel out of place at a cowboy poetry event, being neither cowboy nor poet, but he’d said that while there were going to be some true poets in attendance, most everyone else was more a storyteller. Plus, Hal Cannon, the primary organizer wanted to draw in other “arty types” and Boots imagined I’d appeal to a certain group. I was afraid to ask which one. While he’d not been impressed with my impression of Hercule Poirot, my ability to command center stage and weed out the killer had gotten his attention, and he was hoping I’d bring a certain je ne sais quoi to the finale he was planning.

   Boots was going to have the cast perform “highlights” of the week in an interactive, spontaneous, and yet somewhat scripted show. He wanted me to play the part of a New England preppie dropout who’d gone on to become something of a wiz in the advertising business. At least I didn’t have to mangle a Belgian accent.

   The cast would meet each night for dinner and review the day’s highlights. He’d put together the script as we went along and hand it over to us on the last day. We’d all stand on stage in a row and read the scripts as if we were on an old radio show. Periodically there’d be moments for spontaneous interaction, but we’d have to wait and see about those.

  I wasn’t sure what “spontaneous interaction” meant, but it could fun. And, of course, once the murders started, that was enough to sustain it.

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