I raised the pint to my lips and peered over the foam at the couple in the next booth. She was a bleach-bottle-blonde in a red sweater that stretched tight in all the right places. He was a turtleneck and sports coat guy. His glasses fogged when he stared at the sweater.

They had been lovers less than a month. I know this because he hung on every word she said. When he was with her he felt sexy again. He almost forgot he had a jerk-wad boss. A preoccupied wife. And a big, angry ulcer.

She made him feel young again. And guilty. His fingers rubbed the tan line where his wedding band should be. The ring would be in his pocket.

I know this because I was married to a man whose ring dropped in his pocket like his finger was greased. The cheater at the next table could be my run-around ex. Except Johnnie Rizzo was much hotter. He was also a lying, sack of crap.

The blonde torpedoed her knockers into the cheater’s chest and kissed him. When he came up for air, his glasses dangled off his nose.

His name is Bernard Martini and he’s married to Olivia Martini. Yesterday Olivia found condoms in Bernie’s pocket. Two left in a five-pack. Today she’s emptying their savings account and buying a condo. Tonight she’ll serve him a plate of my 8X10 glossies.

I know these things because it’s my business to know. I’m a private detective. I don’t snoop for insurance companies and I won’t find your lost Aunt Edna. I do what two years of unholy matrimony taught me. I catch cheaters.

My name is Caterina DeLuca. Olivia Martini is my client. I own the Pants On Fire Detective Agency. And right now, I owned Bernie’s sorry, dumb ass.

My purse is a camouflaged camera. I purchased it last month from an online spy store. I adjusted the lens to snag a shot of the hootchie’s nimble hands beneath the table.

I smiled. Say cheese, Bernie.

I live on the south side of Chicago, too close to my parents and not far from the White Sox. It’s where I grew up with three brothers and a sister. Chicago is two-hundred thirty-four square miles of nesting possibilities but Mama sucks us in like the Bermuda Triangle.

The door opened to a blast of December air and a half-dozen longshoremen stumbled in. They were beefy and loud and feeling no pain. This Irish bar was not their first stop.

A shitfaced guy howled from the door. “Barmaid. Dogs and brewskis around. “ His unfocused eyes swept the bar and settled on me. “I’ll have her.”

“Seriously?” I said.

“I should have gone to college,” the server said.

Another burst of winter blew Santa into the bar. He was chubby and plump in his red suit even without the stuffing. Blue eyes danced above the fluffy, white beard.

“Ho ho ho,” he said. He disappeared behind a door that read For Employees and Leprechauns Only.

“Hey Nick,” the shitfaced guy called after him. “You’re early.”

I glanced around the bar. The server would be on Santa’s “nice” list. The shitfaced longshoreman was “naughty” today but we all want to believe Santa makes his list when we’re sober. Bernie could expect a “lump of coal” this Christmas. And I wasn’t entirely sure about my own stocking.

Shouts erupted. Santa burst through the leprechaun door, boots pounding the floor. Two guys tore after him. They had guns in their coats. One clutched Santa’s beard in his hand.

I gazed into Santa’s face and Billy Bonham grinned back at me. He tweeked a thumb and pinky to his ear. Call me.

I didn’t think. I shot out a leg. The charging posse tumbled over my Uggs. In a sputtering nosedive, they crashed and burned on the backs of the tanked-up longshoremen. A drunken howl sliced the air. Chaos exploded. The fight was on.
Santa escaped cleanly though the door.

I emptied my glass, dropped a wad of cash on the table, and slung the camera over my shoulder. Then I scooted out the door behind Santa.

And that’s how I saved Christmas.

** Thanks to the K.J., I have one (1) copy of STICKS AND STONES to give away. Contest open to residents of the US only. Contest ends February 27. Leave a valid-email address with your comment. Book will be shipped directly from the author. **

Meet the author
Three sisters, Kari, Julianne, and Kristen Larsen, write the Cat DeLuca Mysteries. Their debut novel, LIAR LIAR, was awarded Library Journal’s Best Mystery 2010. A second book in the series, STICKS AND STONES, is available February 2012. Please visit the sisters at www.kjlarsenauthor.com

Books are available at retail and online booksellers.

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