I upended the box of Froot Loops and shook, making sure the last chartreuse Loop landed in my bowl—along with about a tablespoon of unnaturally-colored sugar. I sniffed the milk carton to make sure the contents hadn’t spoiled, then poured some over my cereal.

Meal prepared, I turned up the volume on Comedy Central and dug in.

Although it was after noon, this was my breakfast. Owning a comedy club and being a comic meant I kept different hours than most “civilians” I knew. Not better, just different.

The phone rang, so I hit the mute button, and checked the caller ID: Last Laff Comedy Club. I sighed as I answered. “Yeah, this is Channing.”

“Will you talk to Artie when you get in? He’s on my case about changing the type of napkins we use. The napkins! Don’t you think he has better things to do than—”

“Hello to you, too, Donna.”

“Sorry. Hello Channing.” A pause. “Now, do you think you can talk to him?”

“Why don’t you ignore him like you usually do?”

“I’ve got work to do,” Donna said, then hung up.

I returned to my Froot Loops, hoping they hadn’t gotten too soggy. A few minutes later, the phone rang again. Someone from the club calling. Again. “Yes?”

“Channing, it’s Skip.”

Skip was the bartender. “What’s up?”

“Will you talk to Donna? She’s on a rampage, wants me to empty the refrigerator and completely scrub it down. Hell, I did that three months ago!”

“Is it dirty?”

“Not really.”

“So just scrub the dirty parts.”

“Will you get her off my back? You know I’m a very sensitive person, and all her yelling is stressing me out.”

“Just avoid her until I get there, okay?”

“Sure, boss. Thanks.”

I hung up again and examined a spoonful of cereal. From the pinkish hue of the milk, I could tell my gourmet meal had turned to mush. I got up, went to the fridge and removed the only edible thing remaining in there—a half-eaten burrito. I put it on a plate and nuked it for thirty seconds, then returned to my seat in front of the TV.

The phone rang and I answered it immediately, not waiting for the Caller ID to register. I had a strong feeling I knew who was calling. “Unless space aliens have taken over the club, I don’t want to hear about any more problems. Got it?”

I was met by silence on the other end of the phone.

“Hello?” I said, a lot less vinegar in my voice.

“Channing? It’s Artie. You okay?”

“Yeah, sure. Sorry.”

“You need more sleep. Listen, when are you coming in? I’ve got a bunch of things to go over with you.”

“What kind of things?”

“The usual kinds of things.” He coughed a couple times. “And Donna and Skip are driving me crazy. Do they really think they can pull the wool over my eyes? Why, I’ve forgotten more wool than they’ll ever have. I didn’t just fall off the turnip boat yesterday, you know. In fact, I think I’m going to—”

“Relax, Artie. I’ll be there in less than an hour, okay?”

“I’ll be waiting.” He clicked off.

Sometimes, I got the feeling the club would fall apart if I wasn’t around to make decisions—and peace.

I smiled to myself. There were worse things. I could be working for a living.
Alan Orloff is the author of the Agatha Award-nominated DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD. He also writes the Last Laff Mystery series, featuring Channing Hayes—KILLER ROUTINE and the upcoming DEADLY CAMPAIGN (all from Midnight Ink). DEADLY CAMPAIGN will be released in January 2012. For more info, visit www.alanorloff.com

** Alan has generously offered to give away an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) of DEADLY CAMPAIGN. To enter, you must leave a valid e-mail address in the comment box with your comment. One entry per person and this is open to anyone with a U.S. mailing address. Contest ends on October 31st at 6pm EST. The winner will be chosen using a random number generator and will be notified by e-mail and has 2 days to respond. Book will be shipped directly from the author. **

Books are available at retail and online booksellers.

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