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   “The best? That’s tough. First off, I don’t remember that many, and those I do remember aren’t necessarily the best.”

   “I can listen to your excuses only so long. When you’re ready to play the game, let me know.”

   “Jeez. Lighten up. I’m trying to remember of the funniest joke I ever heard.”

“You can keep stalling. It doesn’t really matter. Whatever you come up with isn’t going to win any awards.”

   “Dude, that’s cold. Maybe it’ll give you a laugh, and these days that’s not a bad thing.”

   “I suppose. But come on —let’s hear it. You can change your mind the second after you say it, but put up or shut up. What’s the funniest joke you can remember at this exact moment?”

   “Okay, okay, okay. It’s not the funniest, but it’s the first one that comes to mind. It’s actually not a joke per se. It’s something that happened recently and it gave me the biggest laugh I’ve had in a while. I was standing in the backyard of Joey Bishop’s house …”

   He paused, milking the moment, trying to drag out whatever status points he could garner from being at Joey Bishop’s house.

   “I’m drinking a lemonade. It’s afternoon and I’m standing in the backyard, talking to Joey about this very event. The place is full of friends, family, kids and his two dachshunds. We’re talking and one of the dogs is resting in front of us, and all of a sudden the dog starts licking its balls. I look at Joey. He looks at me. We look at the dog, and I say, ‘I wish I could do that.’ And Joey says to me, ‘You’d have to pet him first.’ I tell you, the lemonade came flying out of my mouth and nose. That guy is one of the funniest.”

   I wasn’t drinking any lemonade as I waited in the reservation line to check into the hotel, but I did laugh. Which I took as a good sign.

   It was March 1985, I was at the inaugural Comedians Conference in Palm Springs, California, and I was getting paid for being there.

   I don’t know what comes to your mind when you think about a conference for comedians, but I thought there’d be plenty of funny stuff going on and no shortage of depressed people.

   And, since it was a conference and I was there, a murder or two might be in the offing.

Chapter One

The Backstory


   I attend my share of conferences. I used to go and hope I’d learn something. Perhaps have a little romance too. Usually in reverse order. I still go to learn, and I still hope for romance, but the killings at a sex conference I’d attended shifted my mindset; now I’m also waiting for the shoe to drop. Or rather the bodies.

   I’m a big believer in hope. With hope, you have a chance. Without it, you give up. I go to a conference hoping there won’t be murder. But wishes don’t always come true. Since I’m also a believer in going with the flow, if and when there are murders, I stick things out. It’s not my fault people get killed and the one way I can ameliorate the situation is to reveal the killer and later write a book about it.

   You know, you try to turn lemons into lemonade.

   Turning lemons into lemonade is kinda my job description and why I was being paid to attend. The promoter wanted to create an environment where comedians and people who enjoy comedy could come together to celebrate the joy, art, craft, and business of comedy. He promoted the conference as an opportunity for aficionados, fans and working comedians to come together for a week to learn, laugh, and live healthier and happier lives.

   There would be a week’s worth of workshops and playshops on various aspects of the comedic arts, as well as comedy-making laboratories and comedian showcases. There would also be lifestyle workshops and a range of holistic-living activities. That’s where I came in. I’d been asked to run a daily therapyesque workshop for interested parties.


   Because I wasn’t the only one who thought there’d be viable candidates in attendance.

   The organizer, Logan Macintosh, had contacted me, saying he’d heard good things about me from his friend Bennett Price, a New York Times bestselling author of mystery books. Bennett is also an on-again-off-again client who’d hired me to be with him while he attended the Mystery Writers of America annual conference in Las Vegas.

   Logan and Bennett had spent a night on the town. When the subject of the comedy conference came up Bennett recommended me, because I’m a therapist who writes a mildly amusing mystery series. Plus, I have some special skills that, if called upon, might come in useful.

   After our week in Vegas seven months earlier, Bennett had taken a therapy hiatus. Recently, he’d called me up to book a few sessions. Then Logan had offered me the job and Bennett starting gushing about our being at the conference together. That prompted an explanation regarding our professional relationship.

   Professional boundaries are a dicey topic. I was in Vegas with him as his therapist. Yet we’d smoked a joint together and I’d assisted him in purchasing cocaine. (I need to take a moment here to remind the licensing board that this is fiction and occasionally I enhance scenes for the sake of reader engagement. Rest assured that I’d never stray from the legal and ethical boundaries of my profession.) I’d also almost conspired with Bennett in covering up the death of Louise, a Vegas brothel owner. Fortunately, it turned out she wasn’t dead so I hadn’t engaged in any deception. She as just pissed at Bennett.

    Logan had invited Bennett to speak about comedy in mysteries as there are a lot of funny asides in his rough-and-tumble private-eye series. In Vegas, he’d wanted me to help him manage his nerves about presenting, but now he was ready to go it alone. Still, he was glad I was there, just in case.

   Bennett figured that since we were both presenters, our therapeutic relationship would be on hold for the week and we’d be friends.

   I gave him the standard therapist response: I’m your friendly therapist, not your friend. In fact, there isn’t much difference when you get to the heart of it. Your friends are sometimes there for you when you need them and so too is your therapist, although usually more in spirit than in body.

   In Vegas, he’d hired me, so he’d been my client the whole time. He hadn’t hired me to support him in Palm Springs. We’d had a therapy session last week and were scheduled to see each other next week. The buddy-buddy thing for the in between week wasn’t going to work.


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