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Connor Bright dresses and talks just like Crocodile Dundee, but that’s just his way of hiding from his past. He’s a private detective in Phoenix, Arizona and his next case involves a man slain by what appears to be a purple unicorn. He doesn’t think unicorns are real, but Irene, his new eight-year-old client, saw her great-uncle run down by one.
Now Connor has to solve the murder, keep his own demons at bay, and make sure Irene doesn’t become the next victim of the purple unicorn.
Connor Bright and the Case of the Purple Unicorn
Robert J. McCarter
The ringing of the phone is like a dentist’s drill to my sodden consciousness. I groan, realizing I hadn’t managed to get undressed when I tumbled into bed. Again. I feel for my cell phone on the nightstand, my hand connecting with a half-eaten microwave burrito before finding it.
“G’day, you got Bright,” I say, remembering even in my hungover state to use my B-movie quality Australian accent.
“Got a job for you, but you’ve got to get here quick.” The voice is feminine and a tad husky. Detective Trisha Sanchez. Why the hell is she calling me? After that jacked-up stakeout, I’m her least favorite private investigator in the Phoenix metro area.
“What kind of a job?” I say, my voice rough from too long in a noisy bar working as a bouncer and too many cheap beers afterward. I look around my shit hole of a bedroom. Dirty laundry, trash, the spring heat of the desert morning flowing in the open window. “And can they pay?”
An Australian accent is easy. Just elongate your vowels—”paay” instead of “pay”—and throw in the occasional “mate” and “g’day.” In the desert southwest, that and changing my name to Conner Bright, keeps my past at bay.
“They can. It’s a murder, Bright, so get your ass out here now. No booze or I’ll throw you in the drunk tank.”
“Aces. Happy to help.”
“Texting you the address now.” She hangs up.
After some mouthwash for breakfast, I stop by the old cookie tin that sits on the top of my little entertainment center. It’s got a shameful layer of dust on top and holds the ashes of my father inside. “Hey, Dad,” I say, without a trace of an Australian accent. “I’ve got a case. An important one.”
Sitting next to the tin is a DVD of Crocodile Dundee. My dad took me to that movie in 1986 when it came out. I was thirteen and loved it, but not as much as he did. When we exited, he’d said, “Now that’s a man, son. That’s a man.”
I get out of my 1976 El Camino, my cowboy boots crunching on the dry ground as I approach the murder scene. It’s a hot day, and since the El Camino doesn’t have air conditioning, I’m already sweating. I’m at a little ranch in the desert between Phoenix and Wickenburg, Arizona. This is a big deal. There’s lots of cowboys and lots of guns around here, but not that many murders in the sticks.
I get the usual assortment of looks as I duck under the yellow tape. Looks of surprise from folks that don’t know me, looks of recognition or disdain from those that do. The disdain belongs to Trisha Sanchez, the detective who called me in.
And the looks from the others, it’s what I expect. I’m tall and slim; at 6’5” and 170 pounds, some people call me scarecrow. I’ve got a bowie knife with an eleven-inch blade on my belt, a crocodile claw hanging around my neck, and a wide-brimmed bush hat on my head, all to go with my Australian accent.
“G’day, Detective,” I say, tipping my hat to Sanchez as she strides away from the murder scene. She’s in her late-thirties, short and wiry, wearing reflective sunglasses.
“Your client’s in the house,” she says, grabbing my arm and pulling me away. I resist a moment, watching Helen Montana, one of the medical examiners, leaning over the prone form of a gray-haired Mexican man that has a ragged hole in his chest.
“Where we goin’?” I ask.
“To see your client, Irene. She asked for someone to help her solve this murder.”
“And you called me?” Something isn’t right.
She pauses, her hand still locked around my bicep, her head jabbing back to the scene. “At this point we’re ruling it an accident. The victim, Edwardo Campos, has got a big hole in his chest, and we found a bull running loose with blood on his horn.”
She starts to pull me forward again toward the one-story ranch house. It’s small with blue vinyl siding that was popular in the seventies. The blue has started to fade, and the house looks like it has seen better days.
“Then what the hell am I doin’ here?”
Sanchez smiles, showing her perfectly white teeth, looking something like a shark. “The kid says she saw it happen.”
“She says it was a man riding a purple unicorn that killed her great-uncle.”