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       Courage Begins: A Ray Courage Mystery Novella, p.1

           R. Scott Mackey
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Courage Begins: A Ray Courage Mystery Novella
Courage Begins

  A Ray Courage Mystery Novella

  Copyright 2015 R. Scott Mackey

  Big Hound Publishing

  Sacramento, CA

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, dead or alive, businesses, events or locales is coincidental.

  Copyright © 2015 by R. Scott Mackey

  Cover design by Karen Phillips

  All rights reserved. This book, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

  Also by R. Scott Mackey

  In the Ray Courage Mystery Series

  Courage Matters

  Courage Resurrected

  Courage Stolen

  Get a Free Copy of Courage Matters Now

  For Colby

  1

  “It’s nice having you on board, Dr. Courage,” Alex Melia said, sitting at his office desk. He was the chief investigator for California Farmers Insurance Company. “I have to say you’re the oldest intern we’ve ever had, but your track record at Sac State was impressive.”

  “Thank you. And, please, call me Ray.” After twenty-two years as a professor at Sacramento State University, I retired at age fifty-two. Now, here I was starting a second career as a private investigator with a mandatory internship. “I appreciate your company accepting an old fart like me into your internship program.”

  Melia was a small man, with fine features and dark, lank hair he occasionally swept away from his eyes. I put him at forty, give or take. He said he’d been at California Farmers ever since he graduated from Sac State seventeen years before, and had risen through the ranks to his current position.

  “Normally, our interns shadow our more seasoned investigators for the first few weeks,” he said. “But with your, well, life experience, we thought it might be best to give you an actual assignment to work on your own.”

  “That sounds good to me.” The path to becoming a private investigator required a minimum of four thousand hours of paid investigative work. I wanted to get that as soon as possible so I could start my own investigation agency. Getting my own case at Cal Farm might enable me to work long days to build up my hourly count.

  “We have several non-active case files that our fulltime investigators just don’t have time to revisit. They’re cases that have cost the firm a lot of money in insurance payouts, but which we think might be fraudulent.”

  He picked up a manila folder from a stack on his desk, flipped it open, and leafed through it. He nodded as he read, then shut the file and slid it across the desk to me.

  “This policy cost us one and a half million dollars. We think it’s bunk, but none of our investigators could prove it. The police couldn’t prove it either.”

  “The police? What kind of a case is it?”

  “It was ruled an accidental death. But the circumstances suggest it might be homicide. A murder.”

  I picked up the file. A murder investigation was much different than my previous life evaluating freshman speeches, grading midterms, and listening to blowhard professors boast about their brilliance during staff meetings.

  “Tiffanie Bate,” I said. “I remember this one from the news. She died about two years ago. Carbon monoxide poisoning.”

  “Yeah. Twenty-six years old. Married four years to Garrett Bate. One month before her death, he opened up a one point five million dollar life insurance policy on her. Days after he buries poor old Tiffanie he’s seen all over town dating a stripper named Candy Cane from Showtime Starlets.”

  “Wasn’t the wife found dead with her lover? She was cheating on him.”

  “Yeah, but she didn’t deserve what she got. And it does suggest motive for a jealous husband.”

  When I peeked into the file for the first time, my heart started to pound. This was real. Going into the private investigation field hadn’t been a lark, but it had been almost theoretical on my part, a decision made clinically when I did a self-evaluation of my skills and the professions where they might prove useful.

  Holding that file, I felt its weight—literally and figuratively. The file detailed the death of a woman killed before she’d had a chance to truly live. The responsibility to do right by her slapped me across the face. I owed Tiffanie Bate my best effort. To determine if somebody had deliberately killed her or if she had indeed died accidentally. I took two deep breaths to calm myself. My heart continued to thump hard against my chest.

  “Is there any proof that he killed her?” The file was almost two inches thick. It would take me a while to get through it.

  “No, none. And he has a perfect alibi. I’d just like to nail the smug SOB.”

  2

  I was sitting at Say Hey’s bar, nursing a glass of Rubicon IPA and reading through the file on Tiffanie Bate, when Rubia approached me from the other side of the counter.

  “You going to drink that beer or wait until it evaporates?”

  “I’m working,” I said.

  “Last I heard, you quit working when you walked out the door at Sac State.”

  “Very funny.”

  Rubia. The woman with a longshoreman’s mouth, a nun’s heart, and a preference for action over analysis. She’d been a student of mine at Sacramento State University. An ex-gangbanger, she was a petite Latina, festooned with tattoos up and down both arms. She had a feistiness two years of prison couldn’t break. She decided to go straight after seeing the perilous path gang life promised, earning her bachelor’s degree in communication studies in just three years. I considered her not only one of my top former students, but also one of my best friends. Two years after graduating from college, she inherited the Say Hey, a small bar in Sacramento’s Land Park neighborhood, from her uncle.

  “You really going to do this private investigator shit?”

  I looked at her reproachfully over the top of my reading glasses.

  “Okay, you really going to do this private investigator stuff?”

  “That’s better.” I’d been trying to clean up her language ever since she set foot in my class years before.

  “Hey, you want your key back?” she asked.

  “Nah. Go ahead and keep it.” I’d given her a key a few weeks before so she could check on my house when I was down in LA visiting my daughter.

  “I might have a wild-assed party at your place next time you leave town.”

  “Knock yourself out.” I turned my attention back to the folder.

  “What’s that you’re working on?”

  “A suspicious death. Or at least the insurance company thinks it’s suspicious.”

  “Isn’t this bullshit, er, subject matter, a little out of your league?”

  “You underestimate me. This isn’t much harder than dealing with twenty year olds who claim they left their assignment at home after putting out a house fire, burying their grandmother, and performing CPR on their dog.”

  “I used that one once.”

  “Why do you think I used it as an example?”

  “So what’s the case?” Rubia picked up my half-full glass, set it under a beer tap, topped it off, and returned it to me.

  “A woman named Tiffanie Bate died in her Tahoe vacation home from carbon monoxide poisoning. The husband received a million and a half on a policy he’d just opened on her. He got what she had in the bank, and their homes in Tahoe and Sacramento reverted to his sole ownership. In all, he cleared more than three million dollars.”

  “I remember that. It was in the news. She was banging somebody in the house. They both died, right?”

  I nodded. “Guy
’s name was Harley Cowan. He was a building contractor up in Tahoe. Apparently, Ms. Bate and he were a regular thing. She’d go up to Tahoe to go ‘skiing’ or ‘hiking’ and spend her days and nights in intimate relations with Mr. Cowan.”

  “So that’s why hubby wanted to kill the bitch, I mean his wife.”

  “That’s the theory. The problem is that Garrett Bate was giving a speech in Sacramento at the time they were killed. He said he hadn’t been up to Tahoe in months, and nobody can prove him wrong.”

  The Kings and Bulls were playing on the television at the end of the bar. A spectacular dunk by the Kings’s center caught my attention, and I wanted to watch the replay before continuing the conversation. I watched the dunk three times in slow motion and sipped my beer.

  Rubia went to the end of the bar to serve two new customers. I reflected on how much my life had changed in the past couple of months, and especially in the few hours since getting this case. The last six or seven years of my teaching
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