Gambling with Murder: A Southern California Mystery by Lida Sideris

A late-night call is all it takes for rookie lawyer Corrie Locke to kiss her day job at the movie studio goodbye, and do what she does best: flex her sweet P.I. skills and go undercover to find a senior who’s missing from a posh retirement community. One small stumbling block: skirting past security to gain inside access to the exclusive Villa Sunset. Time to call in the heavy artillery. Besides former security guard turned legal assistant—now wannabe P.I.—Veera, Corrie relies on a secret weapon: her mother, a surprisingly eager addition to Corrie’s team. Armed with enough pepper spray to take down a band of Navy Seals, Mom impersonates a senior to infiltrate the Villa, Corrie and Veera in tow. Turns out the job’s not as easy as they’d thought. These seniors have tricks tucked up their sleeves and aren’t afraid of using them.

The action gets dicey when the missing senior case turns into attempted murder by a criminal mind who’s always one step ahead. Corrie’s hot on the trail, but finds more than she bargained for…when her mother becomes a target.

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I maneuvered around shattered glass, splintered picture frames, and fragments of bubble wrap strewn along the cracked cement floor. Something crunched or crackled beneath my every step. Empty spaces joined hands to form a footpath meandering through the old warehouse. The beam of my flashlight circled around stacks of crates, blankets, old tires—

“Ninja One, see anything yet?” Veera Bankhead’s voice sputtered through the walkie-talkie cinched onto my belt.

Dressing up like ninjas had been Veera’s idea. To help us blend into the night. We wore matching black tunics over black slacks. The hood hid my long hair. A facemask rendered me incognito. Only the slit across my eyes kept me from tripping. Veera was posted in the parking lot outside to discourage unwelcome visitors.

“Looks like a hoarder’s paradise.” I stepped over a pile of well-used sneakers.

“Any idea of what we’re looking for?” she asked.

“Oh, the usual hidden-in-a-warehouse items. A barrel labeled ‘TNT’. A nondescript briefcase filled with rolls of cash. Dorothy’s ruby slippers would be nice.”

By day, Veera and I worked in the legal department of Ameripictures Film Studios. Tonight’s side gig was connected to our day job…by a nearly invisible thread. Props had gone missing from a high-budget movie currently in production. A police investigation was underway, but Veera suspected an inside job. She’d convinced studio security into letting us take a look. An anonymous tip led to a Los Angeles warehouse hidden beneath the 405- freeway. I stepped gingerly over dented soda cans to stay on the path.

“We gotta find something,” Veera said. “Our reputation’s at stake.”

She didn’t mean our reputation in the legal department. She meant our reputation as quasi-professional, unlicensed private investigators. I had my father to thank for showing me the P.I. ropes. Investigating suspicious deaths was what I did best, with help from Veera. It had earned us a level of respect from the studio security crew. That’s how we got the nosing around for missing props gig.

“I still say that new intern is behind the thefts,” Veera said. “He’s been hangin’ out at the prop house every day.”

“Isn’t he inventorying the props?” I asked.

“So he says,” Veera replied.

I had low hopes of finding anything tonight but I had to admit, this was the perfect location to hide stolen goods. A baby elephant could get lost in here. “Did you find out who owns this place?” I asked.

“Working on it,” she replied.

It didn’t hurt matters that Veera had handled parking lot security before becoming my legal assistant. She had connections far and wide in the Southern California security guard world.

I pinned the beam of my light into a dark corner. “That’s strange.” Four large pieces of luggage lay side-by-side, atop a long folding table. Everything surrounding me was in stacks and piles. I quick-stepped closer. The luggage exteriors, aluminum handles, and zippers looked new. Why store unused luggage in a place with worn-out, broken-down stuff?

“Oh-oh,” Veera said.

“Hold on.” I grabbed a suitcase and slid it closer to me. I shone my light on a combination lock. Next to it sat a small keyhole. Pulling out a paperclip from my pants pocket, I shoved it into the keyhole and jiggled it around.

“Two unmarked vehicles drove up,” Veera whispered.

We’d parked my car behind the warehouse. I’d left Veera hiding behind a bottle brush shrub near the entry.

I popped open the lid of the suitcase. Folded bedsheets lay on top. Easing them aside, I gaped at the blood-red cape with a stylized golden “S” on the back. “It’s Superman.”

“The cars parked next to each other,” Veera said.

To the side of the cape lay a pillowcase. I ran my fingers over something odd-shaped and bulky inside. I unwrapped it to find a one-of-a-kind, golden gun.

“No way.” A cigarette case formed the handle. The trigger was a cufflink and a fountain pen served as the barrel. It was a prop gun from a James Bond film.

“Two muscular guys came out of a van,” Veera said. “There’s a third-person taking his sweet time exiting a Prius. Looks to be someone smaller, older by the way he moves. And he’s wearing a dress, which means he could be a female. Headed your way. If there’s a backdoor, I’d use it.”

“Can’t. I hit the jackpot.” I spun around. Where to hide?



My Thumbprints By Lida Sideris

I love baking! Everything from pies to muffins, to cheesecake and cookies. Food pops up quite a bit in my latest book, GAMBLING WITH MURDER, because of the setting: Villa Sunset, a posh retirement community across from the sparkling Pacific Ocean. The Villa serves plenty of goodies from filet mignon and garlic mashed potatoes to gourmet Rice Krispy treats. 

Seniors love lavish buffets at their disposal (who doesn’t?). So does my heroine, rookie lawyer slash P.I. trainee, Corrie Locke, as well her cohorts: Mom and assistant P.I. trainee, Veera. Mom, who becomes sort of a temporary resident of Villa Sunset, is a big fan of afternoon teatime. I don’t indulge in a formal tea very often, but I have plenty of informal teas where I serve thumbprint cookies, which is a kid favorite (kids love afternoon teas, too).

I bake two versions of thumbprints: traditional and gluten free, which I’m going to share, and I’ll share a reveal of two secret ingredients that, I think, make the cookies exceptionally tasty. Can you tell what they are?

The Usual Thumbprints

6 T. unsalted butter

½ cup sugar

½ cup cornstarch

1 T. lemon juice

1 cup pastry flour

½ t. ground nutmeg

¼ cup jam (I use berry or apricot)

Preheat oven to 350 F.  In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. In a separate bowl, mix flour and nutmeg. Slowly blend together with butter mixture until smooth. Roll into one-inch balls and press down with thumb. Fill with jam and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden.

Gluten-free Thumbprints

6 T. unsalted butter

1/3 cup honey (light colored preferred)

½ t. vanilla extract

1 T. lemon juice

½ ground nutmeg

1 ½ cups blanched almond flour

½ cup coconut flour

¼ cup jam (I use berry or apricot)

Preheat the over to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat together the butter, honey, vanilla, and lemon juice until smooth and fluffy. Add the almond and coconut flours, and the nutmeg, and mix until incorporated.

Shape the dough into one-inch balls. Place on baking sheet, spaced apart evenly. Moisten thumb with water and gently press into the center of each ball. Spoon jam into each indentation. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden.

P.S. Did I say I love cookies? Because I do. I even wrote a picture about a dog who loves cookies – THE COOKIE EATING FIRE DOG. Munching on cookies while I’m reading is the best. Don’t you think so?


About the Author

Lida Sideris' first stint after law school was a newbie lawyer's dream: working as an entertainment attorney for a movie studio...kind of like her heroine, Corrie Locke, except without the homicides. Lida was one of two national winners of the Helen McCloy Mystery Writers of America Scholarship Award and a Silver Falchion Award Finalist. She lives in the northern tip of Southern California with her family, rescue dogs and a flock of uppity chickens. To learn more, please visit:

Website ~~ Facebook ~~ Twitter ~~ Instagram ~~ BookBub



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