Previously in

Midnight Louie’s

Lives and Times .. .

I have always been what you might call an afishionado. Those large, fancy Asian finsters called koi, in particular, tickle my

palate. I like to snag my own. Literally.

So when I hear that feng shui is coming to town, I figure Las Vegas is getting some new variety of finned delicacy. No such luck. Feng shui, I learn, is something between a trend and a religion, and Las Vegas is always religiously trendy, so it is a big deal here.

Naturally, my lively little roommate, the petite and toothsome (even though she is of the human species) Miss Temple Barr is up to her Jimmy Choo rhinestone-buckled ankle straps in this shui-phooey business. She is, after all, a freelance public relations specialist, and Las Vegas is full of public relations of all stripes and legalities.

I should introduce myself: Midnight Louie, Pl. I am not your usual gumshoe, in that my feet do not wear shoes of any stripe, but shivs. I have certain attributes, such as being short, dark, and handsome. Really short. That gets me overlooked and underestimated, which is what the savvy operative wants, anyway. I am your perfect undercover guy. I also like to hunker down under the covers with my little doll. My adventures would fill a book, and in fact I have several out. My life is just one ongoing TV miniseries in which I as hero extract my hapless human friends from fixes of their own making and literally nail crooks. After the dramatic turn of events last time out, most of my human associates are pretty shell-shocked. Not even an ace feline PI may be able to solve their various predicaments in the areas of crime and punishment … and PR, as in Personal Relationships.

As a serial killer-finder in a multivolume mystery series (not to mention a primo mouthpiece), it behooves me to update my readers old and new on past crimes and present tensions.

None can deny that the Las Vegas crime scene is a pretty busy place, and I have been treading these mean neon streets for sixteen books now. When I call myself an alpha-cat, some think I am merely asserting my natural male dominance, but no. I merely reference the fact that since I debuted in Catnap and Pussyfoot, I then commenced to a title sequence that is as sweet and simple as B to Z That is when I begin my alphabet, with the B in Cat on a Blue Monday. From then on, the color word in the title is in alphabetical order up to the current volume, Cat in an Orange Twist. (Yeow! I do so detest citrus!) Since I associate with a multifarious and nefarious crew of human beings, and since Las Vegas is littered with guidebooks as well as bodies, I wish to provide a rundown of the local landmarks on my particular map of the world. A cast of characters, so to speak:

To wit, my lovely roommate and high-heel devotee, Miss Nancy Drew on killer spikes, freelance PR ace MISS TEMPLE BARR,

WHO HAS REUNITED WITH HER ONLY LOVE . .

… the once missing-in-action magician MR. MAX KINSELLA, who has good reason for invisibility. After his cousin SEAN died in a bomb attack during a post-high school jaunt to Ireland, he went into undercover counterterrorism workwith his mentor, GANDOLPH THE GREAT, whose unsolved murder last Halloween while unmasking phony psychics at a s�ance is still on the books.

Meanwhile Mr. Max is sought by another dame, Las Vegas homicide LIEUTENANT C. R. MOLINA, mother of preteen MARIAH …

… and also the good friend of Miss Temple’s handsome neighbor, MR. MATT DEVINE. He is a syndicated radio talk-show shrink and former Roman Catholic priest who came to Las Vegas to track down his abusive stepfather, MR. CLIFF EFFINGER, who is now dead and buried. By whose hand no one is quite sure.

Speaking of unhappy pasts, Lieutenant Carmen Regina Molina is not thrilled that her former flame, MR. RAFI NADIR, the unsuspecting father of Mariah, is in Las Vegas taking on shady muscle jobs after blowing his career on the LAPD …

… or that Mr. Max Kinsella is aware of Rafi and his past relationship to hers truly. She had hoped to nail one man or the

other as the Stripper Killer, but Miss Temple prevented that by attracting the attention of the real perp.

In the meantime, Mr. Matt drew a stalker, the local girl that young Max and his cousin Sean boyishly competed for in that

long-ago Ireland …

… one MISS KATHLEEN O’CONNOR, deservedly christened by Miss Temple as Kitty the Cutter. Finding Mr. Max impossible to trace, she settled for harassing with tooth and claw the nearest innocent bystander, Mr. Matt Devine .. .

… who is still trying to recover from the crush he developed on Miss Temple, his neighbor at the Circle Ritz condominiums, while Mr. Max was missing in action. He did that by not very boldly seeking new women, all of whom were in danger from said Kitty the Cutter.

In fact, on the advice of counsel, i.e., AMBROSIA, Mr. Matt’s talk-show producer, and none other than the aforesaid Lt. Molina, he tried to disarm Miss Kitty’s pathological interest in his sexual state (she had a past penchant for seducing priests) by attempting to commit loss of virginity with a call girl least likely to be the object of K the Cutter’s retaliation. Except that hours after their assignation at the Goliath Hotel, said call girl turned up deader than an ice-cold deck of Bicycle playing cards. So did he, or didn’t he? Commit sin … or maybe murder.

But there are thirty-some million potential victims in this old town, if you include the constant come and go of tourists, and everything

is up for grabs in Las Vegas 24/7: guilt, innocence, money, power, love, loss, death, and significant others.

All this human sex and violence makes me glad I have a simpler social life, such as just trying to get along with my unacknowledged daughter …

. MISS MIDNIGHT LOUISE, who insinuated herself into my cases until I was forced to set up shop with her as Midnight Inc.

Investigations, and who has also nosed herself into my long-running duel with .. .

… the evil Siamese assassin HYACINTH, first met as the onstage assistant to the mysterious lady magician .. .

… SHANGRI-LA, who made off with Miss Temple’s semi-engagement ring from Mr. Max during an onstage trick and has not been

seen since except in sinister glimpses .. .

… just like THE SYNTH, an ancient cabal of magicians that may deserve contemporary credit for various unsolved deaths around Las Vegas.

Well, there you have it, the usual human stew, all mixed up and at odds with each other and within themselves. Obviously, it is up to

me to solve all their mysteries and nail a few crooks along the way. Like Las Vegas, the City that Never Sleeps, Midnight Louie, private eye, also has a sobriquet: the Kitty that Never Sleeps.

With this crew, who could?

Chapter 1

Expiration Date

“Well, as I live and breathe! Or maybe I don’t.”

Temple looked up from her trudge across the condo parking lot. Albertson’s plastic grocery bags dangled from her every extremity. She’d been thinking, however, less of cabbages and more of furniture kings, her next freelance public relations assignment.

“Electra.”

There her sixty-something landlady stood like somebody’s favorite fairy-godmother-cum-conscience, arms akimbo on broad muumuu-swathed hips.

“Let me help you with those bags before you break a fingernail,” Electra said.

Temple stopped, happy to let Electra strip her of assorted burdens. She hadn’t seen Electra Lark in what seemed like

ages, given all the clandestine excitement in her own life lately.

Apparently that was a major omission, because something was radically different about Electra. For one thing, she looked fifteen years younger.

“Electra. Your hair is brown.”

“Well, aren’t you the ace detective! Correction. My hair used to be brown.”

“And so it is again. Hey. It looks great this way. And what did you mean by ‘maybe you don’t’ live and breathe?”

Electra leaned close as they resumed plodding toward the side door of the Circle Ritz apartments and condominiums, a round ’50s building that was, architecturally speaking, as charmingly eccentric as its owner.

“It seems this old place is haunted.”

“Haunted? Oh, I don’t think so, Electra.”

“Don’t believe in ghosts?” “Not here.”

By now Electra had tugged-and Temple had elbowed-the door open and they squeezed through together.

Inside, the hall was cooler, but not much. Summer had not yet turned Las Vegas streets into one big sizzling Oriental wok.

“Why should the Circle Ritz be immune from ghosts?” Electra asked.

“Because I live here and I really don’t need another complication in my life right now.”

“You live here. Isn’t that amazing?’ They had reached the small but handsome lobby. Electra pressed the up button for the sole elevator with one elbow and the expertise of a longtime resident.

“I don’t live here?” Temple was getting alarmed.

Electra’s usual mode was unconventional rather than cryptic. She’d always used her snow white hair as a palette for a rainbow of temporary colors to match the vivid tones in her everpresent muumuus.

Brown was alarmingly ordinary for one of Electra’s expressive bent.

“Is this your subtle way,” Temple asked, “of trying to kick me out? You can’t. I own my place. On the other hand, you could kick out Matt Devine. He only rents.” As if anyone would ever want to kick out Matt Devine.

“Matt who?”

“Electra! You’re acting ultraweird. Maybe Miss Clairol has gone to more than your head. The moment I dig my key out

ofmy tote bag and let us in, I’m going to fix a cup of tea or a snifter o ...

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