MJ 3: Case of the Purple Rose

bymadam_noe©

"Yeah, sure," Finn said, sounding as convincing as a cheating spouse.

"Fair enough," I said softly and eased between them. There was history there, but there was not enough time for me to really care.

Johnny pulled up a cell phone and through two-way called someone named Damon to the front of the floor. Seconds later a slim young man with mocha skin showed up. "Yes sir?"

"Check Mr..."

"Alberts," Finn supplied.

"Check Mr. Alberts into the red royal suite. Start a tab, house. I'll be with you in a moment, Mr. Alberts. For now please follow Damon."

Finn gave me a look I couldn't interpret and trailed off. We watched him go before Johnny turned back to me. "Why am I harboring a fugitive?"

"You think he's guilty?" I asked, genuinely interested in the opinion of one murderer on another.

"Of this? I don't know. Of about a thousand other things? Oh, yeah."

I sighed, understanding the cryptic response all too well. Whatever Finn and Johnny had between them implicated them both. "It's a long story, and I'll tell you sometime. For the moment, why don't you tell me where I can find Roger Ioanitis?"

He raised a brow. "What do you want with a north side bookie?"

"All part of the same story, and it's not bedtime yet, Johnny."

His eyes softened slightly. "You can find him in the back room at the Red Head Piano Bar." Another tingle. The only man who was enemy to both Finn and Harwood, and he worked in the bar that was Finn's alibi. I'd give the chances of that being coincidence somewhere behind Bigfoot moving into the city and hosting the nightly news.

"Not the best spot for a bookie," was all I said, trying hard to muster a poker face for a man who made his living spotting liars and cheats.

"Exactly," Johnny said and left me with a warning look.

I had a bad feeling, which told me I was on the right track. "Fuck," I swore under my breath a little too loudly walking past a row of slot jockies who didn't even bother to look up at me.

***

The Red Head Piano Bar was long closed by the time I got there, but just like at the Purple Rose, there was a light on in the back.

I knocked, and unlike the movies there was no secret code, just a demand for cash. It took five waggled Franklins before the door opened all the way.

I'd met Roger once before, as a cop, but that wasn't how he recognized me; no, he'd kept tabs on Eddie Harwood just as Eddie had on him. And, creepily, he probably kept tabs on Finn too.

A man of medium build due to fat layering over muscle, he seemed out of place in the city. He favored long black dusters and cowboy hats, real cowboy hats, not those newer ten gallon styles country singers favored. He had long curly hair, dark but giving in to salt and pepper, and a presence that said he was a gambler of old.

"Jackson."

"Ioanitis."

"Are you here to kill me too?"

I narrowed my eyes. "Too? I haven't even started. Yet."

"I'm shaking. So how do I get rid of you?"

"I want information."

"And I want some dickhead teenage band to play at my daughter's birthday party. Think you can hook me up?"

I rolled my eyes and looked around the office. Dingy, appropriately dark, sparse save the desk, two chairs, the requisite door goon, and a bunch of file cabinets. It rather resembled my accountant's. "No can do."

"Tit for tat, I trade in cash and opportunities only."

The way he said it made me shiver. "What do you want?"

"A marker."

I knew what he did, and the best summary to his M.O. was that he paved his way with bodies. "I am not a hit man."

He laughed. "That's not what I heard, but that's not always what I need."

"Then what is it you need?"

"A favor. I call it, you agree to it, you do it, no questions asked."

"No one innocent gets hurt," I said stupidly. These guys knew ways to weasel around anything, my intellect was no threat.

He nodded. "Some day."

"And only if your information pans out."

He grinned. "Always does. Have a seat."

I glanced at the goon and sized him up. I was hot, sweaty, ragged, and suspicious as hell. I was also dehydrated, itchy, and had a headache coming on from the feeling of chasing my tail. "I'll stand. Talk."

He reached behind him and pulled out a bottle and a glass, pouring himself two fingers of whiskey. I licked my lips and he just smiled evilly and put the bottle back. "Strange thing about Michael Finnegan and Stormy Michaels. She liked to hang out on the rough side. He never liked the Purple Rose, nothing like it since he went legit. She liked it rough.

"Heard from a man I did business with she used to turn tricks. Hope your boyfriend got tested."

I felt my eye tick and growled. That wiped the smile from his face.

"Anyway, she dressed up a few times with Finnegan, apparently, she looked like you." He smiled again as shock wiped any expression from my face. "That's not all. I heard she was seeing Harwood on the side."

I opened my mouth to ask a question but he held up three fingers along with his glass. "Yeah, while you were still seeing him. Boy you people are fucked up."

"What about debts? Old grudges?" I was going to do my best to ignore this for I hadn't really had a solid feeling of Eddie cheating on me. Maybe I'd thought about it, but I kind of expected it. Just not with my ex lover's girlfriend.

He shook his head. "Nothing of the sort. She had a dark past, she liked it loose and rough, and she seemed to like sleeping with the same men you do. My money is on you for her murder, cupcake."

"It's a good thing I have an alibi," I sneered. Even if it was an alcoholic blackout with my old drinking buddy, I silently added. "So if there's nothing else, I'll go get some sleep. But Ioannitis, if none of this leads to anything, there's no mark."

"I wouldn't dream of asking," he said to me, much in the way I always imagined the Cheshire Cat spoke to Alice, right before things got even more fucked up.

***

It was too late, or too early, depending on how long one had been awake to do anything, so I went back to my office and snuck in the back, expecting an ambush all the way. It didn't come in the back, or the lobby where a small Mexican family sat on the bench crying, outside the office for my downstairs neighbor, the immigration lawyer.

I was dead dog tired, sticky with sweat, and after back-alley deals and dumping a stolen car resulting in the worst of all ordeals: taking the bus. I wanted a shower, a nap, then some coffee and a donut and I needed to buy a new carton of smokes.

In my pocket was a name I'd been slipped just as I was leaving the bar, chased down in the lot. It meant nothing to me now, just a henchman who worked for the new boss who was sliding into Eddie Harwood's place, but it was a new lead, and one that would wait.

My door was not locked. Either the cops had been back and wanted to intimidate me, or I had a visitor. He, she, or they wanted to talk, and the broken lock was my invitation.

I opened the door to see a tall wall of a man with a shaved head, sweating bullets inside a torn leather trench, sitting at my desk. He had a cut cheek and a black eye, a bruise on the cheek the right size for Finn's fist.

"Marly."

"Rocco," I sighed. "Did you really have to break the damn lock?"

"Wasn't me. Some pipsqueak was here, said he had a message for you. Said you'd understand it, and I made him take a hike."

I slumped down into a client chair and pulled out a cigarette, lighting it slowly, counting to ten and trying to forget about the gun under my windbreaker. "And the message was?"

"Uh, Mr. Alberts needs to leave before tonight."

Shit, I wondered just what Finn had done to piss off Johnny. If Johnny had sent an errand boy, it must be pretty bad, but fuck it. If I had to ice Rocco here, I'd let the body rot while I napped, I was so exhausted.

"Thanks, you'd make an excellent secretary. Now what do you want? You jumped Finn, you want to do me too?"

His face clouded up dark and I knew I'd hit a nerve. Something about Rocco pissed me off, always had, though he was one of the few of Harwood's men who kept to the old no women, no children rule. "You know I don't do that. He killed Eddie, and now I'm out a job. I got a wife, three kids, and now the Cosimo's are moving in, taking over. Carlos don't like me."

"Beating up Finn was stupid, he woulda hired you, you know." I blew out smoke and sighed. "Is this confession time?"

"No. I came to warn you. Somebody approached Eddie last week, right after you two broke up. Said his name was Smith, but he smelled like cop. I heard a little of their talk before I left the office. It was about you. Harwood got angry, had me throw the guy out. I warned him it was a cop, but he didn't listen."

Bells rang in my ear. "Fuck, Rocco, you think a cop killed Eddie? Maybe Stormy was a warning. And if you do think this, why did you jump Finn?"

"I didn't jump him, okay?! I was angry, I thought maybe you and he both got mad at that woman and Eddie and you two being ex—cops had set it up. Finnegan schooled me good on that."

Interesting. Finn had lied to me, said there was nothing said. I shouldn't be surprised, the man did nothing but lie. And all for what? So I'd fall into his arms? I stubbed out my smoke and ground my teeth. "Thanks for coming, he neglected to tell me that when he told me some stranger had jumped him. As soon as he mentioned the coat I figured on you. I was going to drop by this evening."

Rocco stood at last, at least 7'1" he was a giant. That he had more marks than Finn did was testament to my semi-lover's innate toughness. "Marly, I don't like you, I won't lie to you, I thought you did this, but I know it ain't your style. I wouldn't have said anything, but this guy Smith, he came to see Cosimo last night. That's all I know, but it gave me the heebie-jeebies."

"For whatever it's worth, I don't like you, but I respect you Rocco. If I hear about any work that would fit you, I know how to reach you."

"Thanks, Marly. Hope this helps. You don't deserve a murder rap if you didn't do it."

It was stupid, but when he left I was smiling. If an enemy believed I was innocent, then I had hope for a jury of my peers, and court was scheduled for six months away.

***

I woke, did my chores, and had to decide. Pick up Finn, or go see Carlos Cosimo. I chose Cosimo.

He'd set up shop in the Purple Rose, no surprise there, and it was open for business very illegally and temporarily. It didn't take a genius to know a raid was coming, and Cosimo smartly only had the front half open.. I had to dress up, so gritted my teeth, put on a slinky black dress Eddie had bought for me, smoothed the frizz in my hair, and managed not to poke my eyes out with mascara. I put on cute shoes with kitten heels, and put my gun in a purse.

The doorman was one of Harwood's, Julian, and he let me in and told me to wait at the bar. I downed to dry martinis before a new henchman, a tall man with a blond buzz cut, collected me and brought me to the VIP room.

It was decorated in black marble walls, gilt edging, with a mahogany bar with bras railings, and lined by raised booths in black leather and more dark wood. The only VIP there tonight was Carlos Cosimo, a man of average height, advanced years, sharp hawk-like black eyes above a hooked nose and a crooked smile that was easy. A true Goodfella, all I knew was he was a medium-time fish now in a big pond, and had a rap sheet that rivaled Whitey Bulger's.

The room was cooly air conditioned, but that wasn't why I shivered. That came at the both that was missing, impounded as evidence, marking the spot where my apparent rival Stormy Michaels had died.

"Marly Jackson, come, come. I've heard so much about you."

I did the polite kiss-kiss while goons patted me down and took my gun. Gotta make nice when drinking with the boss. "Cosimo," I said simply.

"Have a seat. John, two Jameson's," he called to the man at the bar then turned back to me. "That's your poison, right?"

I jerked a nod and sat across from him. I'd been in this room when it was filled with people and for some reason, now mostly empty, I thought of Scarface and Al waiting alone while the man dressed like a pig danced.

"I need to ask," I said bluntly as our whiskies were set down, "if you killed Harwood and framed me, I won't take the fall, but I won't put it back on you, and for that, I want some insurance."

He smiled and raised his glass, waiting for me to do the same. "Cheers to a lady who speaks like a man. It's a relief, isn't it, boys?"

Jody, a strange name for a large black man, was one who'd worked for Eddie and knew me. "She ain't no lady."

"Get out," Cosimo said simply. "Now," he underscored when Jody just stared. "We don't treat women that way in my organization, Jody. Doesn't matter how many guns they carry, a lady is a lady."

I watched him go and turned back, nonplussed. "You didn't respond to me."

"I know you didn't kill Eddie, or at least, I'm pretty sure. His murder showed creativity I am sure you possess, but a patience and a sadistic need for pain I don't believe you do. Stormy I am not so sure. I have no hand in police investigations, much to my frustration, so I have no insurance to give you."

Something in the tone of his deep voice told me he was lying, so I took out the piece of paper and slid the name over. "Captain Harold Smith. Name mean anything to you?"

Cosimo didn't blink, just turned into a cold-blooded predator in an instant. John, the bartended, coughed, a tell I latched onto. "He saw Eddie, discussed me, Eddie threw him out. You practically gave him a blowjob."

"Get out," Cosimo said cooly, and before I could argue or finish my whiskey, two goons grabbed me and escorted me out the back door, without my gun.

"Motherfuckers!" I yelled after them and one gave me the finger, the other blew a kiss.

I stalked to the front, at least I had my purse, and shoved two more hundreds at Julian. "Anybody here the night Stormy died, or the next night, that didn't fit?"

Julian took the money and smiled. Most of Eddie's men hadn't liked me, not girly enough for them, I guessed, but Julian had always had a roving eye for any female form. "You remember Alabaster?"

I had to think for a moment, and suddenly the man's image came to mind. French, whipcord thin, my height, so just under six feet, pale black skin and a ponytail. His face was cat-like, his voice silky smooth and seductive, but they called him Alabaster because he moved heroin. Pure, white heroin.

"What was he doing around here? Harwood cut ties with him two months ago."

Julian shrugged. "Everybody else was a regular and you asked about unusual. He was here the night Stormy was killed, not the next night. Next night we were closed, it was only staff and Eddie, and he sent us home before midnight."

"What about the backdoor?" I asked shrewdly.

"I don't work the back door...but I'm off at two if you're game."

I feigned a smile but inwardly cringed. "No thanks, it's complicated." I left then before he got in trouble for talking to me.

I had a cop not listed anywhere in Chicago, Eddie's replacement was pissed off, and a heroin dealer Eddie double crossed had been here the night Finn and Stormy had fought, and she had died.

This had to add up, but I had no idea how. Didn't matter, I thought with a sigh. I had to steal a car and pick up Finn. And damn it, I had to do it in heels.

***

I found Finn on lockdown, where the casino put counters and cheats. At least he was in the room with cameras, if he was in one without he'd be a bloody mess.

"What'd he do?" I asked Johnny, peering over his shoulder at the grainy black and white image of Finn glaring up at the camera, arms folded, hair messed almost to a curl.

"I caught him trying to sneak out. See he once ran a giant tab here, we're talking almost a cool million he was into me for. He paid, but there were other circumstances and we agreed he'd never come back. I took him for you, but I wouldn't put up with his shit. That's all I'll say."

I gave Johnny my withering look and sighed. "I stared down the new head of the goddamn mob in Chicago tonight, took on two of his goons, almost had to take down one of Harwood's old heavy hitters. Johnny, I think I can handle you."

He got my point: I was tired and pissed off. Johnny smoother his eerily thick black hair and stood up straight. "Carla, can we have a moment?"

The security guard watching the monitors got up and left, closing the door behind her.

"Marly, it wasn't him that owed the money. That woman of his, the one they say he killed, she checked in a month ago. Ruined her room, terrorized my staff, ran up a tab and reached a million. I called Finn in on her marker.

"It was the weirdest thing. He showed up and paid, then she came down, and I swear to god, Marly, she looked just like you. Had on a wig, glasses, wore similar clothes, it was fucking eerie. She was a little paler and had bigger, fake tits, but it was eerie.

"In the middle of my floor, on thirty fucking cameras, Finn back hands her when he sees this. He starts yelling something about games, we hauled him off. Stormy refused to press charges and Finn gave me another million to erase the tapes.

"I got some cop named Smith calling me asking for all tapes from that night. I erased everything, no one could now Stormy or Finn was here. I told Finn on a call yesterday, he hung up on me and said he'd call back, then you show up. You know anything about this?"

I knew this. Finn was a damned liar, games were afoot, and this man Smith was no cop, but everyone who was involved, even in the slightest way, had been visited by him. I had a feeling Finn knew all about him and wasn't talking.

"Johnny, I have a request. Would you have your guard go in, handcuff him to the chair, and then would you let me in and turn the camera off? Trust me, you don't want to see what will happen."

He rubbed his hair, mussing it for the first time I'd ever seen. After a long pregnant pause, he nodded. "Sally!" He yelled and the guard came back in.

"Yes sir?"

"Handcuff Mr., um, Alberts to the chair, then come back. Let him know I authorized it, no cops are coming in, but it's just for the moment."

"Yes sir." Sally scuttled off, and Johnny and I watched as the petite woman entered the room with a baton out. Pointing it at Finn he put his hands out, let her cuff one, then she wrenched them both behind his back and cuffed the other, the chain running around a vertical rung on his metal chair.

She left the room and seconds later popped in, just as Johnny pressed the switch for the feed, removed the tape, and shut off the monitor.

"Happy?" he asked.

I nodded and prepared myself. I was beyond pissed at Michael Finnegan, and it was time to play some games of my own.

***

Finn glared at me as I entered. "What the fuck is going on?"

I still wore the dress and heels, and though I was sweaty from the night and my hair had frizzed up, his look softened as he scanned me up and down.

"Finn," I purred, and the sound almost choked in my throat. I loved him, oh yes, I did, I wanted him, but God I hated him. Because of him I was in the middle of two murder investigations, a suspect, and my life was spinning out of control.

If I could walk away and be done with it, I would, but I was too deep, and I needed answers. I took out the scissors I'd grabbed from Sally the guard and set them on the table. Finn's bright blue eyes flickered over to then on the metal table, the orange of the handles standing out in the dim, green-painted room.

"Umm..." he hedged as I sat one hip on the table, trying for femme fatale.

"Finn, tell me about Stormy. No cameras are on now, no microphones, we have some time, we're safe in here. Tell me about Stormy."

He just stared. I grabbed the scissors and started playing with them. Finn gulped, his face to my hands, his eyes flicking up to me. "What is this?"

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