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Cover of The Day the Music Died
The Day the Music Died
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  • Paperback
  • Nov.01.2010
  • 9781456329037

Charles gives an overview of the book:

Al Pennyback is hired to be bodyguard for an up and coming singer, Cindy Caton.  She's been receiving threatening emails, and her manager also asks Al to find out who sent them.  He travels with her and her entourage to Colombia where he has to contend with a snake in the bed and an unfortunately Cindy look alike who gets a knife in the back. Back in the US, Al finds himself running out of time and suspects.  He has to solve the case before Cindy becomes the next victim. Problem:  Who is doing the dirt?  Is it the gay singer with anger issues, or the Dolly Parton clone who might be in bed with foreign intelligence agents?  Or is it the last person he might suspect?
Read full overview »

Al Pennyback is hired to be bodyguard for an up and coming singer, Cindy Caton.  She's been receiving threatening emails, and her manager also asks Al to find out who sent them.  He travels with her and her entourage to Colombia where he has to contend with a snake in the bed and an unfortunately Cindy look alike who gets a knife in the back.

Back in the US, Al finds himself running out of time and suspects.  He has to solve the case before Cindy becomes the next victim. Problem:  Who is doing the dirt?  Is it the gay singer with anger issues, or the Dolly Parton clone who might be in bed with foreign intelligence agents?  Or is it the last person he might suspect?

Read an excerpt »



Chapter One

Cindy Caton was a young woman possessed of both talent and beauty. At the age of twenty-three she had descended upon the popular music scene like a tsunami on an unsuspecting shoreline.

Her agent/manager, Conrad Bierbaum, had discovered her in her hometown of Atchison, Kansas, when she was a seventeen-year-old singing in the choral group of Scholastica Academy, the Catholic high school which she attended.

Bierbaum had been in the town, formerly the terminus for western cattle drives, now just a sleepy little backwater, famous for little other than having more millionaires per capita than almost any other American city, visiting a college classmate. With little else to do, he’d allowed himself to be talked into attending a performance of the Scholastica Choral singers at the auditorium on Benedictine College’s south campus.

The music hadn’t been bad, but it was uninspiring, and until the petite, olive-skinned girl in the second row stepped forward to sing Ave Maria, Bierbaum had to keep pinching himself to stay awake.

Cynthia Marie Caton was slender, but under the billowing choir robe, Bierbaum could say a tantalizing shape. She was a bit taller than the other girls, and with her long neck and high forehead, she had the appearance of some ancient Egyptian queen.

But, it was her voice that held him riveted. When she opened her mouth and the words began to flow, the audience fell into rapt silence.

Bierbaum, who had spent most of his thirty-four years aching to make it big in music, had spent the past ten booking small groups and meagerly talented singers in roadside cafes and juke joints along the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and in the mid-sized towns lining I-95, saw his ticket to the big time.

He talked his friend into introducing him to Cynthia Marie. He then spent two days convincing her and her parents that as soon as she

graduated from high school, she should move to the east coast where he’d make her a singing star.

Convincing her was the easy part. Under the choir robe, she was like a dormant volcano; just waiting for something to cause her to erupt. Her parents were leery, but knew Bierbaum’s friend, who vouched for him.

One week after graduation, she got off a bus at the station near DC’s Union Station. Bierbaum was there to meet her. He found her a small apartment in Rockville, hired a lawyer to draw up a contract, got her to change her name from Cynthia Marie to Cindy, found a recording studio to cut a demo CD, and the rest was history.

Her first song, Make My Body Sing, made the top-40 the day it was released. It went platinum within three months, and earned her a Grammy.

My old army buddy, Quincy Chang, a partner in Holcombe, Stein, and Chang, the law firm that keeps me on retainer and helps to pay for the modest office I have just off Fourth Street in Southwest DC, scored some tickets to Caton’s performance at the Kennedy Center, and gave me two. Sandra Winter, the lady in my life, a school teacher at one of the District’s toughest inner city schools, and a lover of all the arts, talked me into going with her.

I’m not a great fan of many of the current crop of singers. For my taste, the last real music was recorded in the late 60s. The noise that passes for music nowadays is just that; noise. I had to admit, though, Cindy Caton was the real deal. She had a great voice, a drop dead gorgeous face, and a body that caused more than one male adolescent to have wet dreams.

She sang like the singers of my era, clearly and with passion. There was a bit of Ella Fitzgerald in her voice and Billy Holliday in the way she moved when she sang.

Make My Body Sing was the song she closed her show with, and I had to admit, her voice, and the way she moved her body; sensual without being vulgar; was enchanting. The rest of the audience agreed. We all stood and applauded as the last notes of the song died down. She bowed, waved and smiled at the audience, and then slowly walked into the darkness of backstage.

Sandra and I started for the exit. Just before we reached the door, a pudgy man with a bit too much flesh in his florid cheeks and a terrible comb-over that failed to conceal his balding pate, stepped in front of us. He was wearing a shiny gray suit, the coat of which strained to stay buttoned over his middle.

"Excuse me," He said. "Are you Al Pennyback?"

"Yes," I replied. "And, you are?"

He stuck out a pudgy hand. "I’m Conrad Bierbaum, Miss Caton’s agent and manager. Sorry to bother you folks, but Miss Caton would like to see you in her dressing room."

"You sure you have the right person?" I asked. "I’ve never met Miss Caton. She couldn’t possibly know me."

Sandra poked me softly in the ribs. I knew what she was thinking. She saw an opportunity to get an autograph, and if it was a case of mistaken identity; well, no harm, no foul.

"No, Mr. Pennyback," Bierbaum said. "Your reputation is well known. Miss Caton was quite specific. It’s you she wants to talk to."

I figured there couldn’t be any harm in finding out why a famous singer would want to talk to a private detective who specialized mainly in running down deadbeat clients for a law firm. We followed Bierbaum back through the theater and across the stage. Behind the curtains was a hallway with doors on either side. Caton’s dressing room was the second on the right.

When we entered, she was sitting at a large dressing table with a six-by-four mirror attached, removing her makeup. She was still wearing the slinky silver gown that she’d performed in. In the light of the dressing room, devoid of her makeup, she looked like a child playing grown up.

"Mister Pennyback," She said in that dusky, sultry voice of hers. "Thank you for coming."

She rose and walked across the room toward us. She offered a tiny hand. I shook it gently. Her skin was as smooth as the finest silk, and her complexion was flawless, her olive complexion seemed to glow in

the light. The top of her head, crowned by silky, golden brown hair, came to my shoulders.

"My pleasure, Miss Caton," I said. "This is Sandra Winter." Sandra stepped forward and grasped her hand.

"It’s truly a pleasure to meet you," She said. "You have a marvelous voice."

"Thank you," Caton said. "It’s just what God gave me. I take it you enjoyed the performance?"

"Oh, yes," Sandra said. "It was fantastic."

"I agree," I said. "You’re a very talented young woman. But, I don’t understand why you wanted to talk to me."

"I need your help," She said. "Someone is threatening to kill me."

Chapter Two

"Don’t you think this is a matter for the police?" I asked her.

"We went to the cops," Bierbaum said. "They couldn’t pin anyone down. Said it was probably just some overzealous fan; in short, they gave us the brush off."

"You ever consider they might be right?"

"It’s always possible," Cindy Caton said. "Lots of fans do some crazy things. I just don’t think this is one of them."

There was conviction in her voice, and a little fright. She’d returned to the chair in front of the dressing table, and she sat primly, with her hands held loosely on her lap. I noticed, though, that she kept circling her two index fingers. In my line of work, you learn to notice these things, and sense when someone is nervous or frightened. She believed that there was someone out there who wanted to kill her. Problem is, I’m a private detective, not a cop. I don’t have the lab facilities or manpower to track down killers. Oh sure, I’ve hit lucky on a couple of occasions and stumbled over a murderer or two; almost getting myself killed in the process; but, it’s not what I normally do. Another problem, though; I’m a sucker for anyone in trouble, and she looked and sounded like someone in trouble.

"I don’t know what you expect me to do," I said.

"I-I was wondering," She said. "If you would agree to be my bodyguard?"

"And, if you could find out who’s threatening her, and make him stop, that would be nice," Bierbaum added.

"I don’t do bodyguard work," I said. "That’s specialized work. Why don’t you hire one of the agencies?"

"I’ve heard of you, Mr. Pennyback," She said. "I would feel more comfortable with someone like you protecting me than an agency."

"If you’ve heard of me," I said. "You know that I don’t carry a gun. I wouldn’t make a very good bodyguard."

"That’s precisely why I would prefer you," She said. "I hate guns, and would never feel comfortable having people around me who carried them."

"Besides," Bierbaum said. "Word on the street is you’re as deadly with your hands and feet as anyone with a gun."

Cindy Caton impressed me with her quiet sincerity. Her agent and manager was another matter. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something about him caused the hairs on the back of my neck to tingle. Maybe I just have a thing for people who take ten percent of your income for doing nothing but standing around and looking smarmy.

"I don’t know," I said. "I don’t have any experience in this kind of work."

"What’s to know?" Bierbaum said. "You hang around, look tough, and keep some creep from harming Cindy."

Now, I was beginning to actively dislike him. The idiot didn’t have a clue, but it didn’t keep him from shooting off his mouth.

"Please, Mr. Pennyback," She said. "I really would feel so much more secure if you would agree." She stared up at me with those tawny eyes.

"Besides," Bierbaum said. "The pay’s a thousand bucks a day. Bet you don’t get that much on any of your other cases."

"I think you should do it, Al," Sandra, who had been quiet through the whole exchange up to that point, batted her sky-blue eyes at me.

Okay, I’m a sucker for women’s eyes. I agreed to guard her beautiful body. Sometimes, even I make mistakes.

Chapter Three

I couldn’t resist two beautiful sets of eyes staring at me, so I gave in.

"Okay," I said. "I’ll give it a shot. Now, what can you tell me about this person or persons threatening to kill you?"

She opened the drawer of the dressing table and withdrew a large brown envelope. She passed the envelope to me.

"These are the emails I’ve received," She said. "The police were unable to trace them, and I don’t recognize anything in them either, but they’re clearly threatening."

I opened the envelope and withdrew a stack of paper; printouts of emails. There were twenty in all, each full of vile, threatening language. A cursory glance convinced me they were written by the same person, and from the tone, a really deranged son of a bitch. Just reading one was enough to make me want to strangle the bastard who sent it.

Caton, Cynthia Marie________________________

From: DaDevil666@Yahoo.com

To: CatonCM@yahoo.com

Subject: Die Bitch

Yu gonna die yu nasty bitch cause yu violated all the comandmunts what the lord said we suppose to keep soon you twist yu nasty ass no more die bitch die bitch die die die!!!!

They were all in a similar vein, some nastier than others. There was nothing on them that gave a clue as to the sender, and they could have

been sent from any computer that was hooked to the Internet. The problem with the digital age is that it allows anyone to be in touch with almost anyone else – even when the contact is not desired.

I put the emails back in the envelope and put it in my jacket pocket. Even though I couldn’t make heads of tails of them, I wanted to let Heather Bunche, my assistant, take a look at them. Heather is like a magician with a computer. While I can turn it on, find information, and even on occasion create a document or file without mucking it up, Heather can make a damn computer do everything except make a decent cup of coffee; and I have no doubt she’s working on that too.

"I can’t promise you that I’ll find whoever’s behind these emails," I told her. "But, I promise to give it my best shot."

She smiled up at me. "That makes me feel a lot better."

"So," Bierbaum said. "I assume that means you find the fee okay?"

"Sure," I said. "The fee is fine, and I assume that there’ll be no extra expenses, because if there are, that’s extra."

"Okay, we can handle that. By the way," He said. "You do have a current passport, right?"

charles-a-ray's picture

This is number five in the Al Pennyback series.

About Charles

A native of East Texas, I have been involved in leading organizations (particularly those in trouble) for over 40 years.  I have written a number of articles on history, culture and leadership, and have written three books on leadership in addition to my fiction works. The Al...

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charles-a-ray's picture
I just loved the book. I am a dialogue person and enjoyed the dialogue between the characters. The book took me to all the locations including...