by Martin Maenza
Christopher Chance pulled his rental car, a cherry red Mustang, to the curb and turned off the motor. He looked to the tall blonde woman in the passenger seat next to him. “I do appreciate your company, Miss Thunder,” the older man said, “but I should warn you that my approach to things like this might be considered unorthodox by some.”
“I understand about unorthodox, Mister Chance.” Jonni Thunder said nodding as she reached for the door handle. She didn’t want to get into explaining that she had once received powers from a statue that had been cursed by Apu Illapu, the Incan god of lightning. “I’m aware of your reputation, though. My father and I were in the business together for years, and he occasionally mentioned your exploits.”
They exited the car and headed for a nearby shop. “Truth be told,” the young woman continued, “when we decided to split up, I felt more comfortable working with you than with Double.”
Chance laughed. “I’ve worked with Jonny Double before,” he said. “While he tends to often go off without a clear plan, his heart is always in the right place. Some might think his white knight persona is an act to get him in good with the young ladies, but he is genuinely that way. Very much a modern-day Don Quixote.”
“I suppose, Mister Chance,” Jonni concurred. “But stuff like that can get one killed if they’re not careful.”
Christopher Chance smiled. “Perhaps. But I can’t talk, given that I have consciously earned the reputation of the Human Target.” He opened the shop door and stepped aside so that Jonni Thunder could enter first. “And, please, call me Christopher. Mister Chance is my father.”
Jonni Thunder nodded and entered the store. It was full of many colorful costumes organized by themes. There were horror ones, occupational ones, and even the occasional super-hero or super-villain knockoff. The place had a unique odor with a slight musty tinge to it. The sign behind the counter indicated that costumes were available for both rental or purchase.
Christopher Chance immediately hit the racks near the back, drawn by certain colored fabrics. “We’ll have to do some mixing and matching to get this down right,” he said. “Good thing I’m handy with a needle and thread.”
Jonni watched with extreme interest as this master of disguise set about his work. She could only imagine what type of costume he might be pulling together.
Jonny Double and Angel O’Day walked down the Las Vegas sidewalk to a small building with red and pink neon hearts on the sign out front. The platinum blonde woman wrinkled her nose slightly; while she liked the color scheme, the place seemed awfully tacky. “Are you sure this is the right address?” she asked.
“Sure is,” Jonny replied. “That slip of paper I checked out back at the Raleigh Inn was a marriage certificate issued from this place.” He glanced at the sign. “Chapel of Love, open twenty-four hours a day for your marryin’ convenience.” He pushed open the door and held it for the lady. “Shall we?”
Angel stepped inside with the brown-haired man right behind her. If she thought the front sign was tacky, the decor in the entry area was even more so. The walls were covered with a red shag carpet, and the couches and chairs were covered in a hot pink vinyl-like material. “Charming,” she said flatly. While she liked pinks and reds as much as any other feminine woman, even this was a bit too much for her. The bell above the door jangled as the door closed behind them.
Suddenly, a rather large woman in a brightly colored dress and a pink feather boa stepped out from a red-beaded curtained area behind the front desk. “Hello!” she said with great enthusiasm. “And welcome to the Chapel of Love! I’m Estelle, your wedding guide.”
For a heavy woman, Estelle moved quickly and was soon upon the couple. “My, aren’t you two just a lovely couple! How long have you known each other?”
“Er… We just met this weekend,” Angel said.
“Ah, love at first sight!” Estelle exclaimed. “My favorite kind!”
Jonny started to chuckle. Angel spun around on her heel and glared at him. “Jonny!” she said through gritted teeth.
The San Francisco-based detective stopped laughing. “Sorry about that,” he apologized to Angel. He then turned to Estelle. “Actually, we aren’t gettin’ married, though Miss O’Day here would certainly make a lovely bride for some lucky fella.” He smiled at Angel in a special way. She found it increasingly difficult to stay mad at the man for very long.
“Oh!” said Estelle. “Then what can I do for you?” She raised an eyebrow inquisitively.
Jonny Double was seeing a slight change in the woman’s mood. He decided it best to pour on the charm. Easier to catch flies with honey, his mother always told him. “Actually, I was wonderin’ if you could help us out, my dear woman,” Jonny said as he took Estelle’s large hand into his own.
“How so?” Estelle asked.
“An associate of mine was married here at your fine establishment just the other day,” Jonny said. “One Angelo Bend. A rather handsome man with a thin mustache. Do you recall him?”
“Well,” Estelle said, “we do have many young couples pass through those doors, and most of the men are rather handsome. Might you be more specific?”
“They were married yesterday afternoon,” Jonny said, recalling the date from the license. “And I believe his bride had a formal name, like Duchess.”
“I could check my records,” Estelle said as she took her hand away. “Though it’s not something I’d regularly do for someone off the street.”
“Oh, please do, dear lady,” Jonny said, laying it on thick. “I would so forever be in your debt.”
Estelle blushed some, then went behind the desk. She pulled open a drawer and began to flip through one of the hanging files. “Let’s see, Bend… Bend… Bend… Ah yes, here it is.” She pulled out a piece of paper, an identical copy to the marriage license that had been in the Angle Man’s hotel room. “Angelo Bend and his bride, Duchess Castlebury. This is a copy of their license that we submit to the state of Nevada.”
Jonny glanced at the paper, confirming it matched the one he saw earlier. “Yes, Castlebury. How could I forget that last name?” He glanced at a sign behind the counter, one that outlined the wedding extras that could be purchased with the ceremony. He looked up at the large woman and smiled. “By chance, did the happy couple have photographs taken?”
A short while later, Angel O’Day was still chuckling as they walked down the street. “I have to admit, Jonny, you are some piece of work,” she said, taking a sip of the diet soda can in her hand.
“How so?” Jonny asked, his mouth still full of the chili dog he was eating.
“Well, not only did you get the woman to show you the wedding photos, but you managed to convince her to give you one, besides.” Angel glanced at her purse slung over her shoulder, where a corner of the picture protruded.
She reached for the glossy photo and pulled it out, again glancing at the couple. Angelo Bend, as known as the Angle Man, wore a sharp brown suit and tie. The woman in the photo, one Duchess Castlebury, was tall and well-built. “She reminds me of an athlete of some sort, maybe a body builder or something,” Angel guessed. The woman had her long black hair tied back into a single ponytail. Angel focused on the eyes for a moment; they were dark and piercing.
Jonny wiped his hands on a napkin, tossed it into a nearby trash can, and joined Angel. “I think you might be right,” he said. “She certainly doesn’t look like any demure flower.”
“Hardly,” Angel agreed. “In fact, she seems more the black widow type. Perhaps your initial hunch was right after all.”
Jonny smiled and nodded. “Yep. It’s not that wild of a guess to think the new wife might’ve knocked him off. Maybe you want to make another bet with me? Let’s say a steak and lobster dinner this time instead of just a quick dog.”
Angel shook her head. “No way, Jonny. The more I get to know you, the more I think I shouldn’t underestimate you.”
Jonny chuckled. “You’re one smart cookie, lady,” he said. “Still, I’m curious about who this Duchess Castlebury might be. Think she was in the same line of business as Bend?”
“No clue,” Angel said. “But I wouldn’t rule that out.” She slipped the photo back into her purse. “Come on!” She took Jonny by the arm as they began to walk again. “We’ve got another stop to make.”