It was opening day for the Colorado Rockies, where hopes of a World Series appearance were still a reality. A beautiful Colorado spring day, with highs in the sixties, lots of sunshine and a light breeze. Perfect for sitting in the stands enjoying a Rockie Dog and a beer. Alas, for a bar owner it was a perfect day for business, so I had to work. With hopes of lots of baseball fans visiting my bar, drinking and eating. Making my cash register chime, which was good for any small business.
I was there before the eleven opening, getting ready for the busy day. The scheduled start of the game, 2:10 p.m. The bar crowd usually filtered in thirty minutes early. I had my entire staff working today; four servers, one making drinks behind the bar and two in the back cooking. I was there to cover areas when needed and float around, showing my award-winning smile, shaking hands, and laughing at people’s jokes. Hard work, but someone had to do it.
Since opening the Private Eye Tavern over two years ago, it had been challenging. The early stages of growing the business being tough, eventually building a solid clientele that kept my head above water. I started to feel I was going to survive, the first year of any drink and food service business providing challenges, when COVID hit. Shutting down much of the world and many businesses, including mine. Mandates limiting customers, closing us down completely and then limiting again. The yo-yo of the killer virus bringing many owners to the brink of failure, including mine. Government subsidies the only thing that kept the tavern’s head above water.
Well, not the only thing. Though I had desired to leave it behind, I still had sleuthing. But with the virus ravaging people and the economy, I needed to crawl back into the private eye world to keep my sanity from the inactivity and pay my bills. Even with the virus, crime didn’t rest, though it certainly suffered with the rest of us. Taking a couple of cases here and there, and thankfully none of them landed me into the dark, violent world I had ached to escape. One which nearly got me killed on several occasions.
With the world getting back to normal, or should I say abnormal, it was nice to see faces without masks. Happy to be standing in my bar, greeting people with a smile, getting the cash drawers ready, stocking the liquor and making sure we had enough food to make it through what should be a busy day. Money to crawl a little more out of debt and satisfy my partners who had invested heavily in my endeavor.
I was stocking the ice, when I saw the smiling face of a black man moving gracefully through the front door. I fondly remembered the first time we met years ago. At the time, a teenager who asked for help finding a lost Ernie Banks baseball card. Now a professional footballer playing in Arizona. A running back now in his second year, making a splash, leaving college after his sophomore year at the University of Colorado. Dennis Gash strolled in with a big grin when he saw me, a pretty woman at his side, the two holding hands.
I started to reach across the bar, to shake his hand, and then paused. Uncertain if shaking hands was still allowed, then reached out anyway, to hell with whatever the proper protocol was. Thrilled to be seeing an old friend.
“Good to see you, Dennis.” I found his grip firm and cool. “It’s been a few years. You’ve bulked up.”
Dennis flexed his muscles, his biceps now graced with a few tattoos. “Hard work and the grace of God got me this way. Though in the pro football world I’m considered a little guy.”
When I first met him, Dennis was barely 5’9” and 150 pounds. Too small in many talent evaluators eyes for today’s professional football. After a late growth spurt, he was near my six-foot height and close to a ripped 200 pounds. And from what I saw on TV, he was still lightning quick, with a cut that left many a jockstrap on the field.
“You’ve grown your hair out as well.” I pointed at his long locks.
Dennis grabbed at his beaded brown braids. “A bitch when someone grabs them, as they stick out the back of my helmet. But Jordan loves them.” Dennis put his arm around the radiant woman standing next to him.
“I’m Jarvis.” I gave a short bow. “Wonderful to meet you.”
The lovely dark-skinned woman, with deep brown eyes, stuck out her right hand, her skin soft and warm to the touch. “Lovely to meet you.”
My eyes darted back and forth between them. “I guess you two are a couple.”
Jordan’s smile was pearly white. She presented her left hand, showing off a large diamond ring. “Engaged.”
I tried to match her smile, my teeth older and more of a dingy white. “Congratulations to you both. When is the wedding?”
“In June,” replied Jordan. “Then a honeymoon before he goes off to camp toward the end of July.”
“I hope I’m invited—to the wedding I mean,” I remarked with a grin.
Dennis reached into his leather jacket and pulled out an envelope. “We didn’t have your new address, so it came back undeliverable. But we definitely want you there.”
I had moved shortly after the bar opened. Kate, the owner of the beauty salon and my landlord, had sold out when someone offered her a big check for the whole building. Money she used to move away and retire on. Forcing me to relocate from my long-time living and office space on the lower level.
“I have an apartment down the road. My old place got bulldozed, rebuilt, and now sits empty.” I waved at a couple of regular customers as they walked in. “Thanks to COVID the plans to occupy the space got delayed.”
“Hopefully you can make it.” Jordan hugged Dennis’ arm to her side. “Dennis has told me the cool story of how you two met and how you’ve kept in touch. It won’t be the same if you’re not there.”
I opened the envelope and pulled out the extravagant stationery. Seeing the time and date, being held at the same church Dennis attended in the old neighborhood, which wouldn’t present a problem.
“I’ll be there. Though I may need to get a new ensemble. I haven’t needed to get dressed up in quite a while.” I pointed to my blue jeans and T-shirt with my bar logo on it. “I figured you’d be living in Scottsdale near the team facility. Why are you in town?”
“We came up to handle some of the wedding arrangements and for a funeral.” Dennis’ mouth turned downward when mentioning funeral.
“Oh wow, I’m sorry to hear that. Was it family?”
“A close friend,” replied Jordan with a forlorn expression.
“Do you remember Alfonzo?” Dennis asked.
My mind drifted back many years, remembering the name. He had been one of Dennis’ friends we had talked with about his missing bubble gum card. We had only chatted for a few minutes, Alfonzo not caring about the probing questions I had for him.
“I do, though it’s been a while. My recollection was he didn’t trust me. Thought I was a cop.”
“Yeah. He told me a couple days later he thought you were a dick!”
I shrugged. “Not the worst thing I’ve been called. What happened? Was it COVID?”
“He was hit by a car and killed.” Clearly upset, Jordan’s voice cracked.
“Hit and run?” I asked.
“Yes. They don’t have any witnesses or suspects.” Jordan shook her head in disgust. “The police aren’t holding out much hope of catching the person.”
“I’m sorry. That sucks.” I immediately wished I’d said something more profound. I wasn’t the best when offering sympathy.
Dennis slapped the bar with his hand. “I don’t believe a word of it.”
I could see he was adamant. “Why not?”
“I’m certain he was murdered, and I want to find out who and why!”
Jordan reached for Dennis’ hand and squeezed it. “And my brother is missing. We’d like your help finding him.”
My heart skipped a beat at the thought of working on a potential murder and missing person’s case. A heart palpating emotion I’d not experienced for many a day.