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Popped

A Regan Reilly Mystery
By Carol Higgins Clark

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Regan Reilly sat down at the scarred oak desk in her cozy office on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. Developers were dying to take a wrecking ball to the ancient structure, but so far the building managed to remain standing, which made Regan very happy. A private investigator who worked alone, Regan loved everything about her work, except the fact that it kept her three thousand miles from her boyfriend of ten months, Jack Reilly. Jack was the head of the major case squad in New York City. He was coming out to spend the weekend with her, but that was still four more days away.

Monday mornings, Regan thought, as she took a sip of coffee. They're the pits even if you like your job. There's just something about them. For one thing, they certainly put a damper on Sunday nights. I shouldn't complain, though, Regan mused. This Monday morning brings me one day closer to seeing Jack.

The quiet of the early October morning was broken by the ring of the phone.

"Regan Reilly."

"Wow. Am I talking to Regan Reilly after all these years?" a male voice asked.

"You're talking to Regan Reilly," she assured the caller. "Who's this?"

"You don't remember me?"

Here we go, Regan thought. It's not even nine o'clock on a Monday morning, and the weirdos are already on the horn. Don't these people ever give it a rest? "I have no idea who you are," Regan answered simply as she turned on her computer.

"I'll give you three guesses. But only three."

All this before my first cup of coffee, Regan thought. "Why don't you call back later," she suggested. "I'm sure you'll have your identity figured out by then. Bye." She started to put down the phone when she heard a shout from the other end.

"Wait! Regan, it's Danny Madley. The tree boy!"

Regan's hand froze in midair. Her mind raced back in time. The tree boy. No, it couldn't be. She pulled the phone back to her ear. "Tree Boy?"

"Yes!" he replied triumphantly.

"Danny Madley." Regan laughed. "I guess you haven't changed a bit." She pictured the gangly boy from her grammar school days in New Jersey. Danny was the class clown, the one who always had a scheme going. In second grade the teacher refused to give him a speaking part in the school production of The Wizard of Oz because he'd been such a nudge. She cast him as one of the trees. But, of course, trees talk in The Wizard of Oz, and Danny managed to blurt out a few lines he'd written especially for the occasion. He even stuffed apples in his pockets to throw at poor lost Dorothy, a scene the teacher had deliberately omitted from the official version of the play. The kids always called him Tree Boy after that. That is, after he'd spent a week in solitary confinement in a corner of the principal's office.

"You can tell that I haven't grown up?"

"That can be a good thing," Regan replied. "So, Danny, to what do I owe the honor of this phone call?"

"For one thing, I know you're a private investigator."

"You know that, huh?"

"Yes. You're always mentioned in the articles about your mother and her books, and I read something recently about when your father was kidnapped. Your new boyfriend's name is Reilly. Very cute."

Regan's mind wandered back to Christmastime when her father had been kidnapped in New York City. It was when she met Jack. He had been in charge of the investigation and had worked day and night to get Luke back. Jack always joked that it helped to get on the good side of a girl's family from the beginning. And Luke always said he'd do anything to contribute to his child's happiness -- even if it meant getting kidnapped. Regan's mother, Nora, the suspense writer, was just thrilled that Regan finally had a decent boyfriend, however they happened to meet. Regan now smiled and informed Danny, "Jack Reilly is a great guy."

"I'm sure he is. Regan, I looked you up on Our Lady of Good Counsel's website and saw that you were registered. That's how I got your phone number."

"Those school websites are kind of fun, so I figured why not?" Regan said, leaning back in her chair. "It's great to hear from old friends, and it's a good way to network."

"That's why I'm calling. Regan, I really need your help."

Oh, God, Regan thought. Knowing Danny, what can he be up to now? "What's the matter?" she asked.

"I live in Las Vegas and work in television. I was asked to produce a reality show. There's a competition to see if my show will get on the air..."

Just what the world needs, Regan thought. Another reality show.

"A guy named Roscoe Parker who's been out here for years owns a local cable station called the Balloon Channel, also known as Hot Air Cable. That's because he also owns a hot air ballooning company. Anyway, he has a ton of dough. He gave me money to produce a reality show and is backing somebody else who is producing a sitcom. Both shows involve hot air balloons. This week we're putting together pilots to show Roscoe on Friday afternoon. The one he likes best he'll put on the air Friday night."

"That's competition for you," Regan commented.

"You're not kidding. Roscoe's station is small but it's growing. This is a big chance for me. If my show is chosen, I'll have a regular slot on the Balloon Channel lineup. But things have been going wrong on the set lately. Yesterday one of our cameras was stolen. Then I was filming an introduction to the show at the hot air balloon field and the platform I was standing on collapsed under me. I think someone is trying to sabotage my operation. What I was wondering is, could you come to Vegas for a few days and help me out?"

Regan was afraid to ask but somehow she managed. "What is your show about?"

"It's called Love Above Sea Level. Calamine lotion for the proverbial seven-year itch."

"Excuse me?"

"I wanted to create a show for married couples. So many reality shows are about singles looking for love. How about one for people who have found love and now need a little help to keep it going? We have three couples who no longer consider themselves honeymooners, to say the least, spending the week in Vegas recapturing the love they once knew. At the end of the week the advice columnists Aunt Agony and Uncle Heartburn will decide which couple truly deserves to renew their vows. We're flying to the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Fiesta on Roscoe's private plane. We'll all go up in a hot air balloon shaped like a wedding cake as soon as the sun rises on Friday morning. With a camera, of course. The winning couple will be announced up in the air. Then they'll renew their vows and come back down to earth with a million bucks."

I have not words, Regan thought.

"Regan, are you there?" Danny asked anxiously.

"Indeed." Regan cleared her throat. "Just out of curiosity, where did you find these couples?"

"Roscoe's people found them. I guess they had plenty of folks to choose from. We wanted couples who needed our help and could benefit from a little excitement in their relationship. I see this as the only reality show that is a real positive contribution to society. If we can get just one couple to rekindle that lost spark, then we've done our job."

The thought of a million dollars would make any couple do a lot of rekindling, Regan mused. "So you want me to come to Vegas?"

"I know I can trust you."

"Really?"

"Anyone you survived grammar school with you should be able to trust. There's got to be a permanent bond between two people who sat together in the same class for eight years."

"That's true." Regan laughed. "But I have to tell you: I know at least one person from our class has served time. Credit card theft. I'd never ask him to hold my purse no matter how many years we sat together."

"Let me guess. Bobby Hastings."

"Bingo."

"Well I'm afraid there's at least one Bobby Hastings kind of character hanging around my show. And I'm afraid whoever it is is going to cause more trouble."

Regan opened the drawer of her desk and pulled out her trusty legal pad. This is what I get for signing up for that classmates website, she realized. What was the old expression...be careful what you pray for? She picked up a pen. "Okay, Danny. Let me ask you a few more questions. Then I'll call the airlines. I'm sure I can catch a plane to Vegas this afternoon. But I have to be back Friday night."

"Don't worry, Regan. By Friday the show will be finished. One way or the other."

Copyright © 2003 by Carol Higgins Clark

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