MJ 6A: Case of the Curse Pt 1bymadam_noe©
This is Marly Jackson PI's 6th case, "Case Of The Curse" part 1 of 2.
In order her stories are contained in:
Case Of the Missing Millionaire
The Violin Case
A Bad Case of Blackmail
Case of the Purple Rose
The Nightlife Case
Everyone has a cross to bear. Some people had a special-needs child, some people had herpes, I had Michael Finnegan. Of all crosses for a woman in her mid thirties to bear she could do worse than a long-legged, loose-hipped blue-eyed brick shithouse of a man. Unless he was Michael "Finn" Finegan, an albatross of bad luck, death, and misfortune.
I wasn't sure why he was in love with me; he was rich, legitimately now. He ran a porn company, Gold 'n' Rod, dated a bevy of beautiful, bouncing, brainless women, was over six feet with black hair, blue eyes, a damn near perfect face, and a body built for sin. Oh, I knew why I was in love with him.
I myself on a good day resembled Lena Olin. Irish-Hungarian I was tall, medium built, had decent tits, but a lot of scars and wounds, a propensity to drink like a sailor on leave, coke-bottle glasses when I didn't feel like contacts, and my personality was often compared to that of a viper.
For some reason I couldn't shake him. I'm a Private Investigator, a mediocre one. At one point I'd taken million dollar cases but most of my career was hopeless missing persons, recovering stolen black-market items, and typically blackmailing cheating spouses.
Finn and I had been cops on the Chicago Police force once. Our past was checkered and centered around fucking each other's brains out and screwing each other over. It had gone south when someone killed my boyfriend and his girlfriend, both technically exes at the time, and pinned the murders on us. Our only clue was a pimp named Alabaster who had disappeared back to his homeland of France, and in the wake Finn had disappeared leaving me holding the bag.
I'd had one trial ending in a hung jury, and it didn't do much for my reputation. Finn had resurfaced in Los Angeles with his porn empire in tact, and through some maneuvering he'd done a very nice thing for me.
My last "case" had been a personal errand trying to recover some old money. In the course of it I'd landed in the crosshairs of a drug kingpin named Javier. My choices at the time had been letting myself get killed by him or returning home to Chicago where I'd been working as a slave for Montgomery, head of the Irish mob and the man who'd paid my legal bills. Finn had canceled my debts and given me my freedom back.
Summer had melted into a hot fall and October was surprisingly warm. I didn't keep an apartment, couldn't afford to, and slept in my office, and the morning of October 1st I sat there smoking a Camel, chugging el cheapo 5 O'Clock coffee, and reading my Tribune.
Splashed on the front page was the news that Michael Finnegan had sold Gold 'n' Rod to a consortium and was moving back to Chicago a retired philanthropist. I snorted at that; the man was built for sin in every sense, and this did not bode well.
For most of my PI career the pattern had been simple; steady cases and subsistence living, then when Finn entered it went FUBAR. I had a feeling FUBAR was on the menu.
Stubbed out my cigarette and pressed play on the answering machine hooked up to the canny retro phone that matched my high-class 1920's décor. Sam Spade I was not, but I could pretend.
"Marly," a deep basso sensual cooed. "I'm back in town...let's have dinner. Call me."
Fuck, Finn calling already. I punched erase and tried to ignore the tightening in my loins.
"Miss Jackson I would like to inquire about employing you on a discreet matter. Please call me, this is Jonathon Bain." He read off the number and I was floored.
Jonathon Bain was a high-class jeweler. Legit all the way, not from my usual circles. He lived in Highland Park, a chi-chi suburb on the far north shore, and ran the family shop on the Magnificent Mile near Water Tower Place. It had been in the family probably since the days some crazy French guy said "Onion fields? I'll settle there!"
I called and got a personal secretary who set an appointment for two. This gave me enough time to shower, dry my hair and tame the flyaways, put on some scant makeup, my contacts, and a good suit. Age and time had taught me the value of dressing well so I eschewed pantyhose and went for the old stockings and garters. I wasn't barking made and my shoes were Naturalizers; passably dressy but comfortable enough.
I favored the front holster, wild west style these days and put my .38 in it, loaded and ready for trouble. These days I was driving the Oldsmobile my godfather had left me. It wasn't too old, he'd kept it in good condition, and I wouldn't be lynched by the border guards of the North Shore.
I took 94 up and when it became either an old highway or a toll road, I took the old highway and became familiar with stoplights. Eventually the houses were further back from the road, the tree lines turned into actual copses, and people started driving like old people fucked.
I followed the directions I'd been given and turned east towards the lake. Big money paid well to live by a body of water that seemed to smell like dead adelweiss year round. Up here it didn't smell like small dead fish; it smelled like expensive lawn fertilizer and burning leaves. The smells of fall.
I turned onto a rounded street with no sidewalks and wide lawns- an unusual site for a city rat like myself. I drove closer and closer to the lake, closer to Sheridan road and the big mansion, closer to the dark ravines I had always felt should have ghost stories attached but didn't.
Finally I found the address. A big Victorian house a little out of place next to the more modern mansions. It was set back behind a gate and I pulled in and had to get out to buzz.
"Yes?" Came the clipped reply of a bored employee.
"Marly Jackson, I have an appointment to see Mr. Bain."
There was no verbal reply but a buzz and the gate creaked open. Familiar with the system from the old days when had regular high paying clients I got in my car and gunned it. the gate opened quickly and shut a mere two seconds after my boat sailed through.
I pulled up to the newer turnaround drive and a young man came out to the car, an older man in a decent suit stood by the door in a military pose one hand covering the opposite wrist and his back rigid. "Miss Jackson?" the young man said.
"Yes?" I got out and left it running.
"I'll park your car and Mr. Dawkins will see you to Mr. Bain."
I turned over the car and straightened my suit, carefully juggling my briefcase. I climbed the wide porch and knew better than to try to hake the butler's hand.
"Miss Jackson?" His voice was deep and smooth and he had the short, square body, close-cropped hair, and stunted neck that said former Marine.
"Right this way."
He ushered me inside into a home decorated in the appropriate darkness of a true Victorian. The family jewelry line was known for being dark and Gothic, favored as designs for movie villainesses and actresses that wanted to get away from the good-girl image as well as heiresses looking to rebel with daddy's money.
The house did not disappoint. The walls had dark wainscoting and the wallpaper was black with faded green vines and twisting roses faded from blood red to pink. The sharp thorns were still clearly defined.
The artwork was what made me raise my eyebrow. Long ago in 1986 I'd gotten my bachelors in art history. In the fourteen years since I had kept up on the art world. The paintings were the quality of an old master, the subject matter dark. It was along the lines of Albright whose paintings always caught my fancy at the museum downtown.
They were mostly black and depicted jars half open, stone monuments broken, doors opening with ghostly hands. Macabre was the perfect word.
I was show into what would have been in true Victorian times the back parlor, the ancestor of the modern family room. This had been converted into a den. A fire was well-stoked to ward off the slight lake effect chill of a fall day and the furniture was black lacquer and sparse. A massive desk, two book cases framing the window a small couch with patterned cushions that matched the maroon-backed vined wallpaper and two chairs.
"Please have a seat, Miss. Tea or coffee?"
He nodded and left closing the pocket doors behind him. On one wall there was another door, a traditional one, and all around the scrollwork looked like it had caused death via nervous exhaustion of a team of carpenters. I was half expecting the door to creak open revealing a coffin from which Dracula would rise when it swung open and what I assumed was Jonathon Bain stepped through.
He was tall, 6'3" I'd guess, whipcord thin, and his long black hair was pulled back into a smooth ponytail, so dark it was hard to tell if the lack of grey was natural or enhanced. He seemed younger than the 54 I knew to expect and his large dark eyes were serious, his face a harsh set of lines that was strangely alluring rather than handsome.
I stood and extended my hand. "Mr. Bain I'm Marly Jackson."
He had a good handshake and now that were close he smelled like brass cleanser and good tobacco. "Thank you for coming on such short notice. I'll wait for Dawkins to serve us before getting to business. In the meantime, do you mind if I smoke?"
"Not at all provided I may do so as well."
He smiled and sat in the huge chair behind the desk. From a draw he pulled a canny copper ashtray that looked like two women writhing in either pain or ecstasy and set it down along with a silver matchstick case. I expect a humidor with requisite cigars but instead he pulled a small cardboard packed set of Nat Black and Golds and offered me one.
"Thanks," I took it and leaned across as he lit a match for me and then used it to light his own.
We had time for one puff when the pocket doors opened again and Dawkins rolled in a tray. A silver coffeepot with two cups sat next to a crystal dish of sugar cubes and a silver cream pitcher. Next to this was a plate of home-baked cookies, chocolate chip from the looks but the chocolate chips were red.
Dawkins served us as we directed and then left discreetly.
I set my saucer and cup on the desk and pulled my tape recorder and note pad from my briefcase.
Bain frowned. "No recording."
"All right," I put it back in the case but neglected to turn it off. It was good and would catch at least my half of the conversation locked away, and hopefully his half as well.
"Now, Mr. Bain, why is it you asked me here today?"
"You came recommended. Viktor Petrov said you were quite good at finding things no one else could."
I raised my eyebrow at that. Viktor Petrov was one of the lucky few to own a rare Stradivarius and I had found it for him. He played in the symphony in town but was alas an oil heir, and Russian mob. He moved in circles different than Bain, or so I thought.
"When he married for the fourth time last year he commissioned me for the wedding jewelry," Bain said without my prompting showing he was quite good at reading people. "I need you to find someone who does not want to be found."
I asked my first question I always asked on missing persons. :Has this been reported to the police?"
"No, no police. She's mixed up in some things that not only would embarrass the family to get out, but would result in her arrest. Drugs," he said with surprising honesty.
"All right, it's a she; who? Your wife?"
He shook his head and took a long drag before relying. "No, my wife died five years ago. It's my daughter Eleanor. Ellie, as I call her, is Eleanor Rabinsky Bain, my sole heir and my apprentice. I've been teaching her the business but she is young. She dropped out of Lake Forest last year and would have graduated this year. She's been rebelling and I have long suspected she has been using drugs, perhaps even dealing them.
"She has no need for the money, I give her everything she could possibly need, but I suspect it's the glamour. She has had many...young men in her life, no one stable, and she has worked hard to keep her friends a secret from me. In short I have no one to call, nowhere to go, and I am afraid if I report this to the police they will find her in some modern day opium den out of her right mind."
"How long has she been gone?"
"Since last week. There is something else; right before she disappeared my store was robbed. The security was disabled not by code but by a master and my cash safe was untouched. Instead from the vault what was taken were private jewels; a collection of rubies passed down in by the women in my family."
He shook his head and took a sip of coffee. "Millions of dollars in set stones and orders in the work were ignored. Ellie took this; I know it. The rubies were old, older than we know or can estimate. My great grandfather set them and they have been passed to the women in my family. It is written into the will that the daughter may inherit only when she is married and has had a child who has survived to age eighteen.
"Ellie was impatient, always so headstrong. I think she stole this and I am quite worried about what happened after."
I was noting all this and raised an eyebrow, pausing my flying pencil. "Perhaps she hocked them and went gallivanting to Mexico."
He shook his head. "There is another reason why I can have no police, Miss Jackson. The jewels are cursed; when my great grandfather set them he knew that these jewels had brought my family great luck, fame, and fortune. But they carried a legend that if ever cut they would bring a curse. Since then every woman who has possessed them dies."
I didn't believe in curses but decided if he did I would play along. You never knew what info would come in handy in an investigation. "Perhaps Ellie thought by taking them now she could change the curse."
Again he shook his head, and Bain pulled out another cigarette. I declined, my first having smoked itself out while I listened and wrote. "Quite simply when the woman takes possession she dies."
"Why do they keep taking it then?"
"Because the curse says if we do not pass it along the family shall fail and all shall die."
I wanted to react and show my disgust at a man who thought he'd willingly sacrifice his wife and daughter to save himself, but I needed the fee and kept my yap shut on that.
"If I were her and thought the curse was real, I'd hire someone to steal it and take it where I couldn't find it, hoping the curse would transfer."
He considered this, huge dark eyes narrowing. "That is quite possible. I need you to look at every angle and find her. I will pay double your fee- two million dollars, Miss Jackson, if you recover her and the jewels in tact."
I raised a brow finally. "And what if I find your daughter and she has found a way to break the curse? Still want the jewels?"
"Yes!" He showed emotion finally, slamming an open palm on the desk. "Find her, find my Ellie first, she is all that I have left, but without the power of the jewels we have nothing, we Bains are nothing. Find her, I need her!"
I left an hour later, perturbed. He'd acted like a man who'd lost a lover, not a child. He clearly believed in cursed jewels that would kill the women of the family but allow the line to continue and flourish- he was appropriately crazy for old money. In the end he had good money and it was a straight up missing persons case. If this Ellie were halfway normal she'd hocked the jewels and was already in another country tearing through gentlemen friends."
I cringed at that. She'd need a high class fence and the only person in Chicago who had the connections to move it was Michael Finnegan. Long retired from being my partner on the CPD he'd kept busy as a high class fence before transitioning into porn. Every time he came into a case it went FUBAR and my life took a ninety-degree turn I wasn't expecting.
The last time I'd seen him he'd done a nice thing, fucked my wisdom teeth loose, and disappeared. The time before he'd skipped town and abandoned me to two murder charges which I still had to face. The time before that he had killed two women, one of which he'd been cheating on me with. Mix that up with a lot of male posturing, incredible sex, and a constant stream of secrets and lies, and you had our relationship nailed down.
Still this was a case, a good one, and I'd had to borrow money for my last trial which ended in a hung jury. If I had two trials in my future I needed this two million dollar fee, and if Finnegan was my key to it, I'd turn him and hope whatever else was behind the door was minimal.
"Best laid plans," I muttered and headed back to the city.
Finn had kept his apartment on LSD though he could afforded to buy out Bain after he'd sold Gold 'n' Rod. He wasn't the retiring type and I had to wonder if he was bored and golfing, womanizing and drinking, or back into crime. Knowing Finn, all three.
I parked on a side street about twelve blocks from his place and walked, steeling myself with a cigarette. I was older and wiser than the rookie who'd given into his smooth lines a and knocked boots in the backseat of the patrol car. I thought I'd given him up when I discovered he had a wife and I'd transferred with a promotion to homicide. He'd gone into vice and then I'd left the force in disgrace.
My new partner, Arthur Bowers, had been framed, or so he claimed, for murder. I'd helped him steal some money to use mounting a defense but then he'd split. Years later Arthur had tried to kill me and he was still out there, the money had been returned to the drug kingpin we'd stolen it from, and after quitting the force under suspicion I'd become a PI.
I'd met Finn on a case when he was starting to leave fencing for porn and four years later I still couldn't get him out of my mind. Or my heart, I grudgingly admitted.
That was the hardest thing to face; I loved Finn and he loved me but we could never be together. Now even if we wanted to it was impossible when several laser-like eyes were trained on me for murdering both of our exes.
I knew in the next week I estimated I'd be on the case I'd probably fuck Finn twice, I'd say I hated him three times, and he'd betray me once. Par for the course.
I stubbed out my cigarette when I reached his building and steeled myself. What the hell; I was dressed with nice underwear, I'd shaved everything, had some makeup on and my contacts in, and I had a condom or two in my purse. If we had a quota of twice, best to get the fucking out of the way before the fucking over.
I rang his buzzer.
I blinked. I was not a great seductress, but I was passably attractive. I was told I resembled Lena Olin if she ran track and drank like a fish. I was spiffed up. God knew why, but Michael Finnegan had spent the between part of almost fifteen years trying to get between my legs. Now, for the first time since we'd been green rookies I was inviting him, and he had the nerve to say "No?"
He moved behind his kitchen counter and pulled a shaker from a cabinet. Moving the liquor bottles he pulled ice from a ready bucket and smiled enigmatically.
He was tall, very tall, and rangy with muscle. He'd joined the armed forces out of school and got a job on the force through his father, all the while staying in prime shape. He had a few tattoos from his time in the Marine Corps, but they were hidden. He wore nice black slacks, expensive wingtip shoes, and a blue button up shirt that cost more than I'd made all year. It was rolled up revealing slightly furred forearms that worked as he mixed up gin and simple syrup.
His black hair was long, pulled into a ponytail and curling, and as he moved under pinprick halogen lights I noticed the beginnings of silver at his temples. His blue eyes, set in an impossibly handsome face, seemed to laugh at me.