"You know what's best about when you do a job?" Angel asked.
"Hmmm," she purred. "No, money is nice, but some things are better than money."
"Such as the fact that you shave, to disguise yourself, and it's so much nicer when your cheeks aren't all scratchy… Ah. You never complain when I shave… Oh!"
Larry's strong hands gripped her thighs more firmly and he did some other things, and Angel Valentine blissfully lost her train of thought.
There was a knock at the door. "Larry? Angel?"
"This is not a good time, you darling child," Angel called.
"It's important," Stevie replied through the door.
"Is the fucking house burning down?" Larry demanded.
"See you in the morning, kid."
"Jan Sleet is asking questions about you – both of you – in connection with a murder."
Larry's shoulders slumped and he and Angel looked at each other. "We need to find out about this," she said.
He nodded. "Yeah. God damn it." He stood up and stretched.
"You should put something on, dear," she said. "We don't want our young friend to faint dead away before she can tell us her news."
He kicked through the clothes scattered around the bed until he found a pair of boxer shorts. He pulled them on and called for Stevie to come in. Angel reflected that he was nearly as obscene with the underwear on as he had been without it. She didn't mention it, though, because Stevie, still in her costume but without her mask, opened the door and stopped, her eyes wide.
I'm sorry," she said hesitantly.
"As am I," Angel replied. She closed her legs and rolled onto her side. "But let's work together to overcome it and move on." She reached down and picked up a towel from the floor. "Here, wipe your face, dearest," she said, tossing it to Larry.
Larry wiped his face and threw the towel into a corner as he picked up a pack of cigarettes from the dresser. "So," he said, lighting a cigarette and sitting on the bed, "Miss Hot Shit Detective thinks I iced somebody? Who?" He made a face and turned to Angel. "I'll bet anything this has to do with that asshole I was telling you about."
Angel nodded. "Quite possibly, but why don't we listen and find out?" She turned to Stevie, who was still standing in the doorway. "Sit down, dear, and fill us in."
There were no chairs in the small room, so Stevie went and sat on the steamer trunk that was under the one window. She started to tell the story of Ryan's murder.
As Stevie neared the end of the story, Larry was lying back on the bed, periodically rolling his eyes at the ceiling, and Angel was smoking a cigarette.
"So, then her assistant came up on a motorcycle. He was with this tough-looking redhead in a leather jacket. I mean, it was her motorcycle–"
"Please, God, are we getting near the end?" Larry asked.
"Not even close," Stevie said, winking at Angel. "Miss Sleet had her assistant organize some people to search the houses across the street, then she whispered some other things to him. She and the redhead were going to go inside. I said I'd split, and just as I was about to go she said, 'Oh, by the way, have you ever heard the names Larry Gerard or Angel Valentine?'"
"And what did you say?" Angel asked.
"I said no, of course. I asked who those people were. She said she'd found Larry's name and this address on a piece of paper in Ryan's room, and she knew this was your house, Angel."
Larry raised his head, and he and Angel regarded each other. "When is she coming here?" he asked, still looking at Angel.
"Tomorrow after lunch," Stevie replied. "She was going to come in the morning, but I said I wanted to be part of it, and I'm interviewing for that job at the pet store in the morning. Of course, I didn't tell her about that – I just said I was busy."
Larry turned to look at Stevie. "Why did we take you in anyway?"
"Hey, I need the job. And this isn't my fault, you know. If it wasn't for me, you'd be getting a visit from Jan Sleet tomorrow with no warning at all. Plus, if not for me, Erika would be dead and Jan Sleet would be investigating her death, not Ryan's. And she'd still be coming here."
"So, does she think I iced this guy?" Larry asked, reaching down to the floor for the cigarette pack.
"I have no idea what she thinks."
"And you're absolutely sure this whole thing isn't your fault?"
She nodded, standing up. "Positive." She crossed the room, but as she reached the door she hesitated and then she turned to face her friends.
"You're going to be here tomorrow, right?" Larry said.
"You'll hear about it then. I'm not going to tell it twice. Good night."
As the door closed, Larry stretched and was about to say something when he saw Angel's expression. He frowned. "What?"
"Miss Sleet is pretty sharp, from what I've heard. You'll need legal representation."
"Fuck no. No! I can handle her."
"There is a lot at stake, you know."
"But I didn't even kill him. I'm sorry I didn't – he was even more of an asshole than I thought – but…" His voice trailed off. "I don't get a vote, do I?"
"No, I'm afraid not." She took his hand and tugged until he was sitting on the bed, then she moved smoothly onto his lap.
"Let's make good use of our time until then," she murmured into his ear.
He drew in a deep breath and shrugged, sliding his hand lightly across her stomach.
Tammy Nelson stepped into the shabby kitchen and paused, waiting for some acknowledgment from the man who was sitting at the table. He was attractive, in a cruel way, and she knew he didn't like her.
Finally he glanced up. "There's coffee," he said, gesturing at the stove as he turned his attention back to his newspaper.
The coffee smelled like it had been boiling since the previous night, so she said, "No, thank you," and turned off the burner. She waited for a moment, then she went and sat at the kitchen table across from the man.
It annoyed her that he avoided even looking at her. She had dressed well today, in a dark blue pantsuit. Her long, strawberry blonde hair was brushed out, and she had worn a little makeup. This was not to attract his interest – she couldn't get it and didn't want it – but she was here in her professional capacity and she had dressed appropriately. Some appreciation for the effort wouldn't have been unwelcome, especially since she certainly wasn't going to get paid.
The silence between them had not yet become really uncomfortable when there was a knock at the door.
Larry looked up, apparently realizing that Tammy wasn't going to move to answer it. He got to his feet and left the room. He returned a moment later, followed by three people. This made the small kitchen quite crowded. Larry gestured at Tammy as he sat down again and picked up his coffee. "My lawyer," he said.
Tammy was on her feet, holding out her hand. "Miss Sleet, I'm Tamara Nelson."
The detective appeared rather off-balance, her eyes wide behind her glasses, but she managed to stick out her hand. Tammy gave her a firm handshake.
"Miss Nelson," Jan said after a moment. "We have met already."
Tammy nodded. "I remember, but I wasn't sure you would. I imagine you meet a lot of people."
"Oh, yes, but I… Do you remember Marshall?" she gestured at the man next to her. "He's my husband, and my assistant."
Tammy smiled as she and Marshall shook hands. "Of course," she said. "It's good to see you again, Marshall."
"It's good to see you, Tammy."
"And you may be familiar with Stevie One," the detective said. "She's helping me with this investigation." Tammy shook hands with the masked girl as well.
Jan looked around. "Is there a more comfortable–"
Larry shook his head. "You mentioned an investigation, so this isn't a social call. Let's get to it. Have a seat and tell me what this is all about."
It ended up with Larry, Jan, and Tammy sitting at the small kitchen table. Marshall and Stevie One stood. Jan took a cigarette from her case, then she looked around. "I'm sorry," she said. "Is it alright if I smoke?" Larry shrugged and held up his cigarette.
Jan started to tell a shorter and more focused version of the story Angel and Larry had heard the night before. Tammy frowned and nodded occasionally, to make it appear as if she was listening, but she was thinking about other things. This was a skill she'd learned in court. Larry wasn't making the same effort to look interested, but that just made it seem like he didn't think that this concerned him.
Marshall looked about the same as he had the last time Tammy had seen him. He was too old for Jan, of course, but he was handsome, and attentive to his wife.
Stevie One was probably perplexed by Tammy's presence, but she wasn't revealing anything. She was probably also trying to make sure she acted like a stranger in a house where she happened to live. Her face was covered, but Tammy was an expert at reading body language. As was Jan Sleet, of course, so Tammy was glad that Stevie wasn't revealing anything. It was going to be a complication if Jan discovered that Stevie lived there.
And then Tammy suddenly realized that the detective had almost certainly figured this out already.
Tammy became aware after a few minutes that Jan was now describing things that Stevie hadn't know the night before, so she started to pay attention.
"I got a preliminary autopsy report this morning. Ryan was killed by a single bullet, shot from the back. The bullet penetrated the heart and did not leave the body. The angle was slightly downward, about a thirty degree angle if he was standing straight. So, perhaps from a building across the street, maybe from a second-story window. There is a vacant building across the street, the second from the corner. It's been searched, but there's no definite evidence inside, nothing to say for sure whether the shot had come from there or not.
"I thought of the possibility he was shot from a second story window in the front of Claudia Forrester's house, but the angle would have been much more extreme. It would have been something like shooting him from directly above, unless he was already lying face down on the sidewalk before he was shot, which would seem to be unlikely.
"It was possible he was shot from the Forrester living room, through the broken window. The first floor in the house is a few steps up from the street, so the angle would have been just about right, but I was in the hall when the shot was fired, and I didn't hear anything from the living room. I suppose it's possible that somebody was in the living room, for whatever reason, shot Ryan through the broken window, and then left the living room between the time I went outside to the street and the time Claudia and Erika came downstairs, presumably leaving the house through the kitchen. This seems unlikely, because of the timing, and because of the likelihood that this mystery shooter would have run into Claudia and Erika as they came down the stairs. Also, because of the direction Ryan was walking, he would not have been shot in the back if that's where the gunman had been."
"And we'd just searched the house," Stevie put in.
"Very good point. Yes, we had just searched the entire house, to make sure Ryan wasn't there, and both doors were locked. So, how would this person have got in?"
Jan stopped speaking, and Larry said, "That's what you have? My name and address on this piece of paper? And the possibility that I might have been in a building across the street?"
"Oh, I have a few other things. I know there's a warrant out for your arrest, across the bridge, and I know that Angel Valentine, with whom you live, occasionally helps young women get abortions when the hospital turns them down." She shrugged. "I have a few questions–"
"My client–" Tammy began, but Larry interrupted her.
"I don't know about your questions, but let me tell you a few things." Tammy didn't try to protest; she knew he wouldn't listen.
"I had lunch with this Ryan guy a couple of weeks ago. His idea – I'd never met him or heard of him before. He had some idea he was going to hire me to kill somebody–" Tammy opened her mouth, but Larry kept going. "–not that I'm saying anything about anything other than that conversation, but I told him no, and that I didn't want to see him again, and I didn't."
Jan nodded and leaned forward. "May I ask a question?"
"What did he say specifically? Did he tell you who he wanted killed?"
Larry snorted a laugh. "He sure did, which was stupid. But he was a stupid guy, so that's what you get. In fact, let me tell you the stupid things he said." He ticked them off on his fingers. "One: He told me all sorts of things before he asked me whether I was interested. Which I wasn't. Two: He didn't have any money. He wanted me to kill the Erika girl, then he was going to marry Forrester – he thought – and then he'd have money to pay me." He shook his head. "Three: He wanted me to do it here…" He frowned.
"If I may," Jan said, "I will mention that we – the U-town government – are aware that some people reside within our borders who are wanted for crimes elsewhere. As long as they don't break our laws, or use U-town as a home base for further criminal activity elsewhere, we sometimes tolerate this."
He grinned. "Like, oh, for example, starling."
"Exactly. She's killed a lot of people. She's in treatment, she lives here quietly, and she is generally aware that she'll be shot on sight if she ever crosses the bridge into the city. But, as I said, if she did start to go over the bridge to kill people we would take action and very quickly. That doesn't apply in her case – she's a lunatic, not a professional killer – but it might apply to other people, people who would be understandably reluctant to foul the safe haven they have found here."
"I understand," he said. "But here's the thing. I didn't take his stupid job, the Erika girl is fine, and I think there's a ball game on the radio." He went to the refrigerator, took out a beer can, popped the top, and held it up as a salute as he left the room.
"My client has no motive," Tammy said, standing up. "You can't place him at the scene, and you don't have a weapon, or certainly not one you can trace to him. You don't have motive, means, or opportunity. So, not to be inhospitable, perhaps there are other innocent people you could go out and harass instead."
Jan nodded. "I think you've made an adequate summation, counselor, although I really don't think you can refer to your client as 'innocent.'" Tammy pursed her lips, controlling her urge to smile. "But in these kinds of investigations we hit a lot of dead ends. I'm used to it. I would like to speak to Angel Valentine, however, if she's available. Just on the off chance that she knows something about this. Her address was on that piece of paper, after all."
"I think she's around," Tammy said. "I'll try to find her."
As Angel approached the kitchen door, she heard Stevie say, "I know I'm not the only person thinking this, so I want to say it." There was a pause, then she said, "I gave myself away, didn't I?"
Jan replied, "I don't think I've ever shown up to interview a suspect and found that the person's lawyer just happened to be present, unless the suspect knew I was coming. Who told Larry I was coming this afternoon? Claudia, Erika, or you. You were certainly the most likely of the three." There was another pause, then Jan continued, "Stevie, have you thought that you're putting yourself in an awkward position, as the hero you're trying to be, by associating with–"
"Miss Sleet," Angel said, stepping into the room, "it strikes me that young Stevie is just following the example which you and the U-town government have set."
Jan turned to face her. She frowned. "Indeed?"
"If Stevie maintains a degree of willful ignorance about the possible history and activities of her friend, I have to ask how much you know about the Jinx – who they are and where their money comes from. Given your skills, you could find out everything. If you wanted to. But you would rather remain ignorant, because the Jinx are useful to you, both to the U-town government and to you personally."
"There are many things I'm ignorant about," the detective replied. "But if I am ignorant about the private affairs of the Jinx – and that is a big if – it is because, in my official capacity, the only crimes I'm concerned with are those which take place in U-town. The Jinx do not break any of our laws, I can assure you of that." She smiled and continued. "Which is, of course, the exact standard Stevie One is applying." She used her cane to get to her feet. "I am sorry, Stevie. Now that I have a child, I am occasionally subject to these rather regrettable maternal impulses. They're a form of involuntary spasm and they pass quickly, but they can be embarrassing. Please accept my apologies."
They shook hands, and then Jan turned to Angel. "I assume your name is Angel Valentine?"
She smiled, belting her bathrobe more tightly around her. "That's what I call myself." She smiled as Jan appeared to be about to ask another question. "My real name? Is her name really Stevie One? Is your name really Jan Sleet, Miss Stiglianese? This is U-town – get used to it. In this whole situation, the only name I'm sure is real is Claudia Forrester's. And I never met or had any communication with this Ryan fellow."
Jan laughed. "Fair enough." She held out her hand. "I'm glad to have met you." She turned to Stevie. "Stop by the hotel tomorrow morning," she said. "We'll talk about the case then."
Stevie nodded. "Okay."
Jan and Marshall left, and Stevie sat at the kitchen table, pulling off her mask.
Angel sat opposite her. "So," she said, "how did it go?"
Stevie frowned. "How did what go?"
"The pet store! Did you get the job?"
Stevie laughed. "God, it seems like days ago. Yes, I got it. I start tomorrow."
Angel smiled. "So, a good day."
"Well, except for the fact that I messed up."
"No, you didn't. We did. We should have thought it through and figured out how it would look, having Tammy here."
She looked around. "Did she leave?"
Angel nodded, then she smiled. "Lawyers bill by the hour, you know."
Stevie laughed. "No, I didn't know. Anyway, I don't think she helped much. But it sure surprised Jan that she was here. Do they know each other?"
Angel shrugged. "You'd have to ask one of them. But the main thing is that they don't have a case against Larry."
Part Six: On Patrol
[Return to the blog]