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Murder and Rock ‘n Roll… Chapter 1

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Despite her efforts to restrain bubbling excitement, Rosa Reed couldn’t help but let out a low-pitched squeal. Her British upbringing, with its emphasis on keeping a “stiff upper lip,” made this uncharacteristic sound unusual. Even her sleepy cat, Diego, who was curled up in the center of her four-poster bed, glared at her through narrow yellow-green eyes.

Rosa emitted a chuckle and vigorously rubbed his ears in retaliation. “I know it means nothing to you, Diego, but it’s Elvis Presley!”

A year previous, Rosa would’ve been hard-pressed to recite a tidbit of trivia about the young music star, but now it was as though Elvis Presley were everywhere—one couldn’t get away from hearing his music on the radio, seeing his face on the cover of magazines, and watching him on The Ed Sullivan Show.

And he was in Santa Bonita!

Pure serendipity, since the concert had been booked before Elvis had become a national sensation. Rosa’s main squeeze, Dr. Larry Rayburn, the town’s assistant medical examiner, had gotten tickets for them, and Rosa couldn’t wait for their evening to begin. She turned back to her bedroom mirror and added finishing touches to her makeup. After agonizing over several outfits, Rosa had decided on a two-tone navy-blue and red dress with a form-fitting bodice, accentuating her new “bullet bra.” Wearing her flouncy red skirt with a full crinoline slip would be fun for the upbeat event that an Elvis Presley concert promised to be. She suspected that many of the attendees would be teenagers. Though she was closer to thirty than twenty, Rosa felt young at heart, perhaps because, despite a failed attempt, she’d yet to marry and start a family.

The melody of “Blue Moon,” a song that had frequently been playing on local radio, reached Rosa from down the hall. Rosa had recently relocated to California from London, England, and lived with her American relatives in a large home known as the Forrester mansion. Gloria Forrester, Rosa’s cousin, who was closer to twenty than thirty, prepared to go to the concert with her friend Marjorie.

“Without a dream in my heaaaaart,” they sang loudly in unison.

Curious as to what the two girls were up to, Rosa tapped on the partially opened door before entering Gloria’s colorful bedroom.

“Oh, Rosa,” Gloria trilled. “I’m so excited; my knees are like marshmallows!”

Marjorie stared at the cardboard cover of the long-playing record they were listening to and swooned over the picture of Elvis, his smiling face large and inviting. “He’s just so dreamy!”

Rosa laughed. “I hope you two will survive the night.” She looked at Marjorie. “Is your sister going to be there?”

When Rosa had lived with the Forrester family to escape the dangers of German bombs over London, Nancy Kline became a high school friend.

“Yes,” Marjorie said. “She practically had to force Eddie to take her. I told her she could go with us, but I guess we’re too uncivilized for her. I swear, sometimes she acts older than our mother.”

“Three young sons might do that to someone,” Rosa said.

Although Gloria and Marjorie acted like teenagers, they were in their early twenties. Most girls their age were married or engaged. But Rosa had missed marrying her high school sweetheart, Miguel Belmonte, who now happened to be a detective in the Santa Bonita Police Force. Their romance, forbidden by Aunt Louisa, had been short but intense. When World War II ended, Rosa had been sent back to England, forcing the young couple’s relationship to dissolve.

Now she had Larry on her arm, a funny and kind Texan, and couldn’t be more thankful.

Yes, she was thankful.

Miguel’s engagement to Charlene Winters had thawed, rather, had disintegrated, and in a shockingly public way, and suddenly, Miguel was single again. Even though Rosa’s heart was still pulled toward Miguel, she refused to break the heart of her sincere and lovely boyfriend, over a once-fiery teenage love.

It wouldn’t be fair.

Returning to her bedroom, Rosa scooped Diego from the bed, headed downstairs, and walked along the wide hallway and into the kitchen at the back of the mansion. Señora Gomez, the long-time housekeeper, greeted Rosa and Diego with her standard warm smile.

“You look nice, Miss Rosa.”

“Thank you. I hope I’m not overdressed.”

“This Elvis fellow is very famous now, eh?”

“They call him an overnight sensation.”

Rosa set Diego on the tile floor, and he immediately investigated the status of his food and water bowls, both full, thanks to Señora Gomez.

Through the vast windows, Rosa spotted two members of her American family and joined them on the patio overlooking the pool, tennis court, and vast gardens. Palm trees dotted the well-manicured lawns, and Rosa loved the tropical essence the trees evoked. The mansion itself was a sprawling mission-style edifice that had Rosa gasping in admiration, even on her second visit.

“Join us for a cocktail?” The invitation came from Aunt Louisa, technically Rosa’s half-aunt, as she and Rosa’s mother, Ginger, shared a father but not a mother. Her aunt, dressed in a top-of-the-line, blue satin cocktail dress with triangular capped sleeves and a waist narrow enough to make a much younger woman envious, gave off the sophistication that her wealth and status demanded.

Rosa hardly felt she could refuse the drink. She lowered herself to the edge of one of the loungers, not wanting to get too comfortable, as she expected Larry to arrive soon.

“Just a small one,” Rosa said. “I’ll be leaving shortly.”

Aunt Louisa called to Ricardo, the pool boy, who hovered nearby. “A piña colada for Miss Reed.” She glanced at Rosa for approval, and Rosa nodded.

“Are you going to that Elvis Presley thing?” Sally Hartigan asked, a hint of her Boston accent remaining. The eldest occupant of the Forrester mansion, she was Aunt Louisa’s Boston-born mother, and though not related to Rosa by blood, she insisted Rosa call her Grandma Sally. The lady’s permanently tanned face had wrinkled through her seventy-plus years, but her gray hair was professionally permed and her perfectly pressed dress was tailored just for her. She lifted a glass of amber that tinkled with ice in Rosa’s direction.

“Yes,” Rosa answered. “I’m waiting for Larry to pick me up.”

Grandma Sally scowled. “I’ve seen Mr. Presley on television. The way he wiggles about onstage is uncouth.”

“It’s the new music, Mother,” Aunt Louisa said, taking a sip of her drink. “Rock and Roll.”

“It’s vulgar,” Grandma Sally muttered. “Young people these days have no manners. No respect for their elders.”

“I’m sure they’re not all like that,” Rosa said.

Ricardo returned with the piña colada, attractively garnished with a slice of fresh pineapple. Rosa thanked him before taking a sip.

“It’s not safe to cross the street,” Grandma Sally insisted. “Just the other day, we were nearly run over by a young man—his car radio blaring that crazy music—speeding down Main, right, Louisa?”

“I’m going to talk to the mayor about putting in another set of traffic lights,” Aunt Louisa replied. “And a lower speed limit. Something they’ll enforce. What do the police do around Santa Bonita, anyway?”

Rosa and her aunt didn’t land on the same side in their opinions about the police. Rosa’s job as a private investigator often caused her path to cross with the local men in blue along with a certain well-dressed detective that her aunt had never forgiven. Rosa found it best to steer away from the topic when it came up.

“And don’t forget,” Aunt Louisa added, “our annual fundraiser for Santa Bonita Veterans’ Foundation is happening in a few days at that same theater you’re going to tonight.” She raised a dark, professionally plucked eyebrow at Rosa. “I hope you’ve marked it on your calendar.”

“Oh, yes. I am looking forward to that,” Rosa returned, thankful that they’d moved off the subject of the police.

Señora Gomez entered the patio with quick steps. “Telephone for you, Miss Rosa,” she called out. “It’s your doctor amigo.”

Rosa checked her watch. Larry should be driving his truck up their drive, not calling on the telephone. She excused herself and followed Señora Gomez back into the kitchen where she picked up the receiver.

“Larry?”

“Hello, darlin’,” Larry said.

Rosa thought his voice sounded a little weak. “Are you all right?”

“I’m sorry to do this to ya, but I can’t make it to the concert tonight. I had a migraine come on strong about an hour ago. I don’t get them often, but when I do, they hit me like a runaway locomotive.”

“Oh no.” Rosa’s heart dropped. As much as she was concerned for Larry’s health, she was dreadfully disappointed not to go to the Elvis Presley concert.

As if he read her mind, he said, “You can still go. I’ll send a cabbie to you to deliver the tickets. Maybe you could take a friend.”

Rosa’s mind worked hurriedly. She could go with Gloria and Marjorie, and perhaps she could convince Clarence to join them. Since his wife had left him and his young daughter, he did nothing but mope about. It would be good for him.

“If you don’t mind?”

“Not at all. I’d feel terrible if you missed out on my account. You’re doin’ me a favor by goin’.”

“Well, if you’re certain.”

His warm Texan accent reassured her. “Darn tootin’, I am.”

It was a consolation prize, but Rosa took it.”

“Thank you, Larry. I’ll take pictures and be sure to tell you all about it. It’s going to be a momentous event.”

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