Valentine's Day
Sample Chapter

     Upend every Medieval Times restaurant in America, shake out the employees in one location and
you’ll have something that looks a lot like the Los Angeles County Renaissance Faire. At the insistence
of my high school girlfriend I had gone once ten years earlier, after which I swore I would chug antifreeze
before ever stepping foot again in that bogus Camelot.
     But a job’s a job and the check had cleared. I waited for my client beneath the awning of Squire
Landingham’s victuals booth, staying out of the direct glare of the hot noonday sun. The squire, exclusive
purveyor of soft pretzels to the queen according to his sign, accepted credit cards, so I ate a pretzel and held a pewter flagon of ginger beer. I say held, rather than drank, as one taste confirmed I had not ordered a beverage in the beer phylum, but something in the carbonated urine family.
     I hadn’t wanted to look too eager or too casual for my very first paying client, so I had ruled out both a
business suit and a getup like all the passing Knerds of the Round Table were wearing, opting to roll with
working-guy cool: ye olde khaki pants, loosened tie and an open-collar Oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up to my elbows.
     The texts had all come from somebody calling herself Lady Hale. She claimed her sister was being
stalked by an ex-BF, and feared he would violate the restraining order while disguised as a participant in
the Faire. My client’s sister was playing lady-inwaiting to the visiting French queen that day. As I
swallowed the last gummy pretzel gob, a short, buxom wench beelined toward me through the crowd of friars, farriers and fire-eaters.
     “Richard Valentine?”
     “Lady Hale.”
     Her exploded mane of blonde could have been ripped from the scalp of any eighties’ hair-band
drummer, and improbably large breasts challenged the load limit of her peasant blouse above a tightly
laced...jerkin? Doublet?
     “Follow me, please, Mr. Valentine,” she said, in a
pronounced southern drawl.
     I dumped the contents of my flagon and handed it back to the squire, then hurried after a swirl of
petticoats and a cumulus cloud of hair. Lady Hale ducked through the flap of a small tent, so I did the
     The nine by nine space was empty of all but a strong smell of horse manure and a shiny black suit of
armor laid out on a rough-hewn wood bench. As I pushed through the human-sized cat flap, she handed
me a photograph of a fortyish woman with a kindly face and a plain hair style. Her sister, she informed
     “Quick, put on the armor.”
     “Say what?”
     “He’ll make his move in the confusion after the jousting tournament when the king and queen return
to the royal pavilion with their retinue. You need to be inside before they arrive, but no one is allowed
entry unless they’re wearing period garb.”
     It seemed to me a stuffed falcon tied to my forearm would have been garb enough, but I tucked
the photo into my shirt pocket and sussed out the armor. Lady Hale offered to hold my cell phone and
wallet while I wedged myself into Galahad’s skinny jeans.
     “Here,” she said, handing back my things after I was completely armored. “Drop them down the neck
opening before you put on the helmet and they’ll stay put until you get back.”
     I creaked along behind her, sweating like an armadillo on a grill as she led me through a maze that
included tethered goats and hooded executioners.   When a triumphant roar erupted somewhere ahead of
us, milady stopped.
     “The tournament’s ending,” she said, looking up at me. “My sister’s wearing a forest green gown with
a yellow girdle and she has on a white wimple.”  Pointing, she added, “The royal pavilion is right
around the corner from that catapult. Any questions?”
     “What’s a wimple?”
      She reached up to snap my visor shut before assuring me she would find her sister and me after
the royal party dispersed and the danger was past.
     Because my instructions were to provide a looming, protective presence, not to get physical, I’d
left my Smith & Wesson locked in the glove box of my car. I was steel-plated down to my fingertips, though, so if the jerk got pushy with my client’s sister I was prepared to go all medieval on his ass.
     Moving with the grace of a rusted C3PO, I approached the rear entrance of the purple-striped
pavilion. That’s when I heard two loud pops, then screams, so I lumbered through the hanging canvas
door. In the chaos, costumed folk poured into the tent through the front entrance, while those inside who
had already shed their sweltering outfits tried to run out that same opening to see what had happened. As
I scanned the interior through the visor’s slits, afraid I had failed my client by not finding her sister in time, a man in a suit of black armor like the one I wore shouldered me aside with a clang in his rush to the rear exit. Stumbling in my weighty exoskeleton, Iturned to flip him the metal finger, but the dark
knight with the bundled-up Santa Claus suit he inexplicably carried disappeared without looking back.
     Amidst a crush of frantic courtiers, I forced my way through the front, stepping into the nightmare I’d
half-expected to find. On the ground a couple yards away lay a woman in a green gown, the yellow lace-up
around her middle soaked with blood. The pointy white hat near her head was still loosely connected by
a filmy scarf.
     Yanking off my left gauntlet, I crossed to her while the crowd fell back in shock, twenty people
pulling cell phones from the folds of clothes that predated this event by five hundred years. When I
clumsily knelt to check her carotid, someone yelled, “That’s him! He shot her!”
     Rudely tackled by three pages and a jester, Icrashed face-first in the dirt, pinned under the weight
of my armor and a foot clad in a curly-toed slipper with a bell on it until the cops arrived and hauled me
     On the long march to the patrol car they allowed me to remove my helmet, but the rest of my body felt
like stew meat in a Crock-Pot as the sun’s blistering rays absorbed into the hot couture. I knew it would be
fruitless to defend myself to the officers who drove me to the police station a few miles away. They had no
interest in my story, so I saved it for someone who counted.
     Having shucked my shell and been relieved of wallet, phone and pocket contents, I was left alone in
an interrogation room to muse about how stupidly I’d walked into a frame-up. My former boss might be a
jerk and a cheapskate, but he would have sniffed out the con from a mile away. I wrote up a description of
Lady Hale and a timeline of events on a yellow pad left on the table for badder asses than me.
     Eventually someone who counted entered the room, dropping a file folder and my belongings onto
the surface in front of me.
     “How you holding up there, dick?”
     “It’s Rick.”
      “I wasn’t referring to your name,” he said, pulling out the chair across from me and sitting down. “I was commenting on the fact that you’ve been a P. I. for seventeen minutes and you’re already on the hook for a homicide. Most hired eyeballs take at least a year to step into this kind of doo-doo.”
     I’d had my license for nearly three weeks, but chose not to quibble with Det. Bao over his assessment
of my professional virginity, as more important issues loomed large. Normally the presence of a hundred
other guys walking around in heavy metal would have cast doubt on my culpability, but the photo they’d
taken from my pocket was of the dead woman and it had a description of her costume written on the back.
     “So, who paid you to make the hit?”
      I explained it had been a bodyguard gig, not a contract killing, and assured him multiple texts from
Lady Hale would confirm my claim. Det. Bao nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah? Show me.”
     He slid my phone across the table and I soon discovered the texts had been deleted, obviously by
her ladyship while I shimmied into the tin overalls.  Again, I explained; again, he nodded amiably. “What
about the cash in your wallet?”
     I snorted. “Thirty-one dollars? That’s less than the going rate for a hit on a cockroach. Seriously,
check with Orkin.”
     Det. Bao opened my wallet, removed a wad of bills, then fanned out more hundreds than I’d seen my
whole life.
     “Aw, crap.”
     “And plenty of it. Why’d you ditch your metal glove?”
     “It’s a gauntlet and I took it off to check for a pulse on the vic.”
     “We gonna find gunshot residue when we process it?”
     “I’m sure you will, since they thought of everything else.”
     He pulled the yellow pad to his side of the table and silently read through my handwritten statement,
asking for minor clarifications here and there. When he finished he passed it to me, open to the last page.
“How about you put your John Hancock there to make it official.”
     “I already signed it.”
     “Statements have to be witnessed to be allowed in as evidence.”
      Suddenly things were getting a little too real.  Picking up the pen, I asked, “Do I need to lawyer up?”
     “No, but you do need to stop getting your lines from TV cop shows.”
     “Okay, let me rephrase. Am I under arrest?”


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