“You mind if I put on some Christmas music?” Wally finally asked.
The silence was killing him, but he was afraid to ask Bruno about what revelation he’d had from Viv’s stories. So he figured music was better than nothing.
“Sure,” Bruno replied.
He must have noticed the stunned look on Wally’s face.
“I ain’t no Scrooge about the holidays, Kid. I can be a grouch about having to work on the weekend, and being around people who ain’t got no respect for the badge, but that don’t mean I hate Christmas. Find something good, and crank it.”
Wally smiled. Bruno never ceased to befuddle him with his behavior.
“So logic would dictate that a man who enjoys Christmas music must have a favorite Christmas song,” Wally stated as he turned on the radio and searched for the perfect station.
“Walking in a Winter Wonderland,” Bruno replied without hesitation. “Something about them playing in the snow reminds me of my childhood and praying for a snowstorm so there ain’t no school. What about you, Mr. Twenty Questions?”
Bruno cracked a smile, so Wally didn’t mind the wisecrack.
“I’d have to go with There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” he finally replied. “Like you, I get a rush of childhood memories whenever I hear it. Family life wasn’t always easy, but when we all got together to celebrate Christmas, it seemed like everything was perfect.”
Bruno nodded like he understood exactly what Wally meant.
“Them songs paint a picture that ain’t exactly the truth, but what we wanna see,” Bruno suggested.
Wally nodded in agreement and finally settled on a station that was playing a Christmas standard. It wasn’t one of the two favorites, but it was good enough for the car ride to Tex Bourbon’s place.
They rode in silence, allowing the songs of the season to cascade over them, until they arrived at the home of the head Astro Cowboy.
“Ya still a little lost, ain’t ya?” Bruno asked with a mischievous grin as he put the car in park.
“I’m just not following how a no talent band and some missing Christmas decorations add up to anything more than an annoyance,” Wally admitted. “Hell, I’m the positive one of this duo, and I’m ready to go all Grinch on the situation.”
“First off, we ain’t no duo,” Bruno clarified with a stern shaking of his finger. “Second, we got guys suddenly in extensive debt, facing the threat of serious legal action, who had their only means of earning money taken away by the very person they gotta pay. What usually happens when folks who ain’t exactly riding the moral high ground gotta come up with a ton of money fast?”
Wally slowly nodded as it finally came to him.
“They do something illegal to get it,” Wally answered. “But they’d have to move a ridiculous amount of stolen Christmas decorations to make the kind of money they need.”
Bruno rolled his eyes. “I’m gonna assume that ADA Ambrose has got the hots for something other than your brains, Kid.”
Wally opened his mouth to defend himself, but Bruno was already out of the car and striding up the front walk. For an older guy, he sure could move quickly when he wanted to show up Wally.
Then again, Wally realized he actually had no idea how old Bruno was. He’d have to do a little digging on that one because going straight to the source was definitely not an option.
Tex Bourbon had all the red flags that set off Detective Bruno’s douche radar. There was the obnoxious facial hair that cried out for attention, rings, piercings, and tattoos everywhere you looked, the stench of pot wafting from behind the open door, and that ill-conceived notion that he could mouth off to the cops because he paid their salaries with his taxes.
Bruno very quickly set the young man straight as he bullied his way past him and into his home.
“You don’t have a warrant!” Tex yelled. “You can’t just barge in here.”
“I don’t need no warrant if I ain’t doing a search, Texas,” Bruno corrected him. “We just gotta ask ya some questions, and it’s too damn cold outside. Ain’t ya got the Christmas Spirit? Don’t ya wanna let us get warm while ya make us some hot cocoa?”
“The kind with marshmallows would be great,” Wally chimed in.
Bruno nodded in agreement.
Tex stared at them in disbelief.
“I don’t have any hot cocoa,” he informed them. “And to be honest, I just got in from driving all morning and playing a gig all night. I’m about to crash and really don’t have time for whatever this is.”
“Ya had a gig?” Bruno asked like he was actually interested. “Where’d ya play?”
“State College is having their Greek Week Christmas Rock Weekend,” Tex replied proudly. “We had the 1:00 AM slot on the main stage.”
Bruno looked at Wally and nodded.
“That’s a helluva drive,” Bruno told him. “State’s way the hell up in the boonies. Almost like someone in the education system wanted to make sure the worst student in the state ain’t nowhere near the rest of polite society.”
“And the 1 AM slot sounds pretty prime,” Wally added. “The only people up at the hour are insomniacs, stoners, and the pervs hoping to find a single girl lost and desperate for a ride home.”
Tex’s face morphed into an angry mask.
“I don’t need to listen to this!” he shouted.
Bruno put an arm around Tex’s shoulder, and led the confused man a little deeper into his own house, where the stink of marijuana only grew worse.
“We all know ya got Viv at The Space Station to thank for having to headline the Wanker Tour,” Bruno mocked. “Betchya paid more in gas and tolls than ya got paid for the gig.”
Tex squirmed to get free of Bruno’s arm. He tried to look all tough, but the guy was a scrawny runt, who was not at all intimidating.
“So Viv sent you?” Tex demanded. “She doesn’t think her lawyer is harassing me enough? Now she’s got to get some crooked cops to try to scare me into paying?”
Wally cringed at the choice of words, and that was justified when Bruno got all tense and poked the lead singer of The Astro Cowboys so hard in the chest that the guy stumbled backwards.
“We ain’t no crooked cops, got it?” Bruno’s voice boomed. “We’re here cuz we know you’re paying some dipshit skateboarders to steal Christmas decorations. And since ya clearly ain’t no criminal genius, I’m thinking someone put a stupid idea into your hollow head that ya could rake in a ton of cash at Christmas by hitting the right houses at the perfect time. And the stolen decorations are the key to a gold mine. Stop me when I ain’t making sense.”
Tex held his hands in front of him to prevent Bruno from poking him again.
“Let’s say hypothetically, I did pay some kids to steal decorations, what kind of jail time would I be looking at if you could prove it?” he asked in a quavering voice.
“If I could prove it,” Bruno repeated with a laugh. “It ain’t worth all the paperwork it would take to book ya. That is, as long as ya ain’t done nothing stupid liked robbed any houses yet.”
Wally wanted to pull up a chair and take extensive notes on this master class in police work, but he knew that such a move would be severely frowned upon by the instructor. Instead, he did his usual stand there quietly and look tough routine while Bruno laid it all out for him and the suspect.
Bruno smiled. “Maybe there’s hope for ya yet, but from what I heard, it ain’t in music.”
“Hey, what about that Christmas Spirit you brought up earlier? No need to pile on and kick a guy while he’s down,” Tex whined.
Bruno nodded. “Point taken. Maybe if ya give me the name of dirt bag who put this idea in your head we can work something out. And I’ll even throw in a candy cane to make it more like Christmas.”
“He’s not going to like this,” Tex complained.
Bruno turned his attention to Wally. “What he’s aint getting is that he’s an easy mark for a seasoned criminal looking for a fall guy.”
Wally nodded. “Word is probably out about the lawsuit against him and how the band has been blacklisted all over the state.”
“I’m standing right here!” Tex complained.
Bruno, of course, ignored the guy.
“Exactly,” Bruno agreed with Wally. “Some guy out there looking to put together a crew to hit houses over the holidays, is doling out his scout work to some sucker who’s gonna take the fall when the shit hits the fan.”
“We’ll quickly figure out that all the houses that were robbed had their Christmas decorations stolen,” Wally interjected excitedly as he was thrilled to be in on the game they were running on the poor, clueless singer. “It won’t take us long to find the skateboarders, who will immediately point the finger at Tex. And I bet a search of his home would even turn up some of the stolen goods, which would have been planted to frame him for the crime.”
“Bingo!” Bruno concurred.
“Wait!” Tex screamed like a ghost who was desperate to be heard by someone on the mortal plane.
“Oh, so now you’re gonna cooperate?” Bruno asked as he turned his attention back to the man.
Tex nodded. “Look, you have to understand, I probably wasn’t going to go through with it. I mean, I’m just a musician, an artist, not a criminal. But he made it all sound so simple. So easy.”
Bruno nodded. “These guys are like Svengalis. They ain’t survived this long in the business without learning how to find and manipulate a mark. What’s this guy’s name?”
Tex whispered it, like he was afraid that if he said the name too loudly, he would summon a demon that would devour his immortal soul.
Wally decided that this was the time for him to play the tough guy cop.
“This guy isn’t being serious,” he declared. “Let’s hook him up and drag him down to the station to rot. We gave you a chance to come clean, and you give us a fake name…”
Wally pulled out his handcuffs and took a step forward to confront poor, unfortunate Tex, but Bruno put up a hand to stop him.
“You sure it was Frankie Napkins?” Bruno asked.
Tex nodded. “How would I ever forget a name like that?”
“Describe him,” Bruno insisted.
“Early sixties, thin, slicked back gray hair, maybe 5’9”, nice suit. Really nice suit now that I think about it. Pinky ring, lots of gold chains, and a serious New York accent.”
Wally looked at Bruno in confusion, but the Detective was too deep in thought to pay the rookie officer any mind.
“And what did he tell ya about the stolen decorations?” Bruno pressed.
Tex took a deep breath like thinking that far back put a tremendous strain on his brain.
“He said people who didn’t replace them were too poor, so there was no need to hit that house. And people who called the cops about it, were too much of a risk to have a security system or a gun in the nightstand. Most importantly, the people who went out and bought new decorations had money, and those were the ones you wanted to rob.”
Bruno nodded and paced a little while he processed all this. Wally put his handcuffs away, and took a few steps back to give Bruno his room.
Tex just watched it all in confusion and anticipation.
“Ya get the flaws in those theories, right?” Bruno finally asked. “If someone don’t replace them, it probably means they ain’t home, and ya should rob the place. If they buy new ones, they are home and it ain’t a smart move for a first time thief to pull that job.”
“So what are you saying?” Tex asked in exasperation.
“This guy was playing with ya,” Bruno replied without hesitation. “He ain’t got nothing else to do so he’s yanking your chain to see if you’d be stupid and desperate enough to fall for it. Guess what? Looks like he hit the mother lode. Of course the moral of this whole damn story is that ya don’t rob people at Christmas! What are ya, the damn Grinch?”
Bruno was red in the face after he delivered that rant, so he walked away to regain his composure.
Tex, who was shaking like an ornament on a low branch of a Christmas tree that’s just been swatted at by a cat for two hours, slumped down until he was seated on the floor.
“What the hell am I doing?” he asked no one in particular and then started to weep.
Wally stood there, unsure what to do. Finally, he pulled out his pad and pen and handed them to Tex.
“Did this Napkins guy tell you where to meet him once you had the stolen Christmas decorations?”
Tex nodded and kept crying.
“Write down the address,” Wally ordered.
“I don’t want to go to jail, man,” Tex babbled. “I’d never survive. I’m just a musician.”
Wally turned to see if Bruno was on his way back. Since he wasn’t, Wally leaned in a little closer to the suspect. “If you think jail is scary, try crossing my partner. You’d better be telling the truth, or he will make your life a living hell.”
Tex nodded his understanding and handed the pad and pen back to Wally.
Bruno suddenly burst back into the room like a man possessed, and a frightened Tex started to crawl backwards on the floor to get away from him.
“I ain’t gonna hurt ya, moron,” Bruno bellowed. “If any of this ain’t the truth, your next recording is gonna be a cover of Jailhouse Rock. Got it?”
Tex nodded again.
“Good. I just need one more thing before we go,” Bruno explained.
TO BE CONTINUED…