tagRomanceFinding Elvis Ch. 09

Finding Elvis Ch. 09

byWine_Maker©

Chapter Nine: Taking control

When we were finally cleaned up and back downstairs, it was time to look for Lurch. Having Lurch catch us in flagrante was going to make questioning him one of those interesting experiences I usually tried to avoid, but there was a price to be paid for anything worthwhile. The sex had definitely been worthwhile; hell, the sex had been both fun and fantastic, but there was a killer on the loose, and events were proceeding whether we liked it or not.

I turned to Gretchen and gave her my cop face. "Honey, I love you, but this is my interrogation. My rules, my way. Do not try to fight me on this. If you want to help me, keep him on the fire while I grill him. If you can't do this, go into the kitchen and talk to Vanessa, because I'm going to hit him a lot harder than Sweeny hit you. I'm going to be everything I'm not with you: I'm going to be offensive, hurtful, and unrelenting. You need to decide right now: are you in or out on the questioning of people you know?"

Gretchen swallowed hard. "I'm in. I won't interfere and if I can't help, I'll keep quiet or leave the room. Hawk, Ivan wouldn't do this. He couldn't. Look how old he is. Cartwright would twist him into a pretzel."

I stopped and put my hands on her shoulders. "Get that out of your head right now, Sweetie." I sighed and pulled her into a gentle hug. Pulling back, I said, "This is why I asked if you could stand being with me when I questioned people you know, and care about. When I interrogate a suspect, when any homicide cop interrogates a suspect, they are guilty until the facts rule them out. If you are going to be with me when I talk to them, you are going to have to accept that. I've seen old people who have killed before, and killed people that you wouldn't expect. It happens when this old, non-threatening person surprises them, and, Honey, Lurch moves more quietly than most. We have no choice but to grill Ivan and the rest of them."

Gretchen sighed, and then met my eyes. At her nod, I kissed her cheek and went into the main part of the house. "Ivan," I shouted. "Where the hell are you in this pile of rubble?"

"I'm here, Miss Shauna," he said from the doorway of the Brown Room. He had a duster in his hand, an apron around his waist and looked completely ridiculous.

"Fine," I said brushing past him. "This will work fine. Gretchen, please close the door." I arranged the seats so one was away from a table, in the open and exposed. Two others went behind a small table. Emotional leverage. "Please have a seat. I'll try to keep the impact on your time as minimal as possible."

Stiffly, almost daintily, he sat upright in the seat, only occupying the forward edge. "I have already given a statement to the police, Miss Shauna, so I am uncertain what more information I can provide."

I tapped the table lightly with one fingertip. "I may not be on the clock, but it feels like it, so let's keep things more formal. I'm Detective Hawkins this morning, and we'll be going over that night from the beginning. Since I have no access to the official police records. What is your full name and where were you born?"

"Ivan Orlov, Detective," he sniffed. "I was born in Moscow, Russia, in 1936. My parents immigrated to the United States that same year."

"Fine, Mister Orlov, let's get down to brass tacks. After the announcements, I saw Kat and Cartwright, still in the room, so they must have left sometime after that point. Where were you after Hans finished speaking?"

Ivan adjusted his seat slightly and cleared his throat. "I returned to the serving area to make certain that the staff was prepared to serve the guests."

"Isn't that your daughter's job?" I asked.

Ivan shrugged, looking a bit more human with the simple gesture. I pushed that thought away and refocused. "No, not really," he said. "Vanessa prepares the food, and I see that the staff does the work required in a timely fashion. However, she was there."

"Did you see either Kat or Everett Cartwright alive after that?"

"Yes," he said testily, "I've already told you I saw Mistress Kat go upstairs several minutes before she was found dead."

"So you did," I agreed. "You also told me you spilled something on your jacket. Let's hear about that in more detail."

"One of the hired servers spilled champagne on my back, the clumsy oaf," he said dismissively. "It's a constant problem when dealing with temporary workers."

I leaned forward, lacing my fingers on the table in front of me. "The jacket is still here, I assume. I'll need to see it after we finish talking."

"Talking," he sneered. "We're not talking, Detective. You're questioning me in an effort to see how I fit as a suspect. Let's not be coy."

"You want plain talk, fine." I slitted my eyes and pierced him with a stare. "You look good for the part to me, Lurch. You had access to the murder weapon, and full run of the house. You also have a damned good motive."

"What motive would that be, Detective? Find me one person, other than the Master, who could stand the woman. You'll have far better luck finding ten honest politicians. To know her was to hate her."

I smiled without humor. "Oh, I believe you when you say you didn't kill Kat, Ivan. My instincts, and the evidence at the scene, support that Senator Cartwright killed Kat and then someone killed him. A source in the local PD tells me that CSI is backing that view of events. That still begs the question, how did he get a knife from the kitchen? Did someone get it for him and then follow him upstairs to finish him off after he did Kat? Was that you, Lurch? Did you give him a knife to get rid of a bitch you disliked and then kill the man that raped your daughter?"

He paled and recoiled from me, slipping back into the chair. Gretchen wheeled and stared at me. All in all, it was a good response to an educated guess. His reaction confirmed it, and Gretchen's told me that she had never guessed.

"What?!?" she exclaimed. "He did what?"

I tilted my head and looked at Gretchen. "Why don't we let Ivan explain that to you." Then I skewered him again with my glare. "Why don't you fill Gretchen in?"

"Because it's none of her business or yours," he snarled back at me, his calm façade not completely shattered. "What that bastard did to Vanessa has required years of healing, and I will not see her dragged back into that morass of despair again."

"It's too late for that," I assured him. "His death makes both of you very nice suspects, so if you hope to clear yourselves, now is the time to be open and honest, at least with me. The sooner I can clear you two, the sooner I can find the killer. If, indeed, you are innocent."

He exclaimed something in Russian that didn't sound very complementary as he rose from his seat, his face a mask of rage. "How dare you come into this home and treat me and mine like this? You don't know us!"

I looked up at him, towering over me and smiled that cop smile. "I dare because it's what I do. Get off that fucking high horse of yours, give me some reason to clear you and you can get this pushy, lesbian bitch off your case. You don't want to tell me the details? Fine. General terms, then. What did Cartwright do to Vanessa?"

Lurch stalked over to the bar and poured himself a stiff drink. As we waited for him to make up his mind, the door to the room opened and Vanessa came in.

"I'll tell you what you want to know," she said, her voice low.

Lurch spun and stalked over to her. "No! I won't have you put yourself through that again for this fucking bitch voyeur. Let her rot!"

Gretchen started to say something, but I put my hand on hers and shook my head. This wasn't the time to interject ourselves. Vanessa would more than likely bring Lurch around.

"If not for her, then for Mistress Gretchen, father." Vanessa's voice faded as she lowered it and pulled Ivan further away. Vanessa and Lurch argued quietly for a minute before he threw up his hands, took a stiff shot of the drink he'd poured and set the empty glass on the table. Vanessa sat in the vacated seat and Lurch stood behind her, his hands on her shoulders.

Vanessa's eyes were dark, I noticed. A match for the dark brown of her hair. She folded her hands in her lap and looked between Gretchen and myself.

"This isn't something I ever wanted to have publicly aired out, but I can't let my father shield me from everything," Vanessa said quietly. "If I tell you, then you can move on and find the real killer, but I'll tell you now that the world is a better place without those vipers." All that was said in the same matter-of-fact, monotone, without heat.

"I don't want to hurt you, and I'm sorry," I said gently, "but we have to know what really happened."

Vanessa sighed and closed her eyes. "It was two years ago. Cartwright had been coming to see Hans for several months about something political, and he kept talking to me so nicely. When he asked me to go to dinner with him, I was thrilled."

She wiped tears from her eyes and Gretchen rose to get her some tissues. Vanessa took them with a polite "thank you" and blew her nose. Gretchen knelt beside her and held her hand. She was so much better at the feminine support than I was.

"Dinner was wonderful," Vanessa continued, "but on the way home, I started feeling drowsy. I wasn't really sure what was happening when he detoured to a motel, but I didn't seem to have the energy to even talk. He... he got a room and carried me inside. I wanted to tell him 'no', but I seemed so disconnected."

Vanessa looked up at me, her eyes sparkling with the first anger I had seen in them. "Then he raped me. I screamed 'no' in my head, but it never came out. When he was done, he dressed me, carried me out to the car and drove me around a while until I started regaining some control. He kept telling me how I should just accept it, that no one would ever believe me and that he would just claim it was consensual sex."

Her father massaged her shoulders and glared at me. "That bastard raped her, Detective, and if I had killed him, I would shout it from the rooftops, proud of it, not hide it from you."

"I made him swear not to do anything when I finally told him last year," Vanessa continued. "It wouldn't help anything. It would only hurt him and me. No one would believe us."

"You also told Kirk, correct?" I asked gently.

Vanessa nodded. "He's really a bright man, and he knew something was wrong from the way I reacted to Cartwright. He wheedled it out of me over a several month period. Since he already guessed everything, it didn't make much sense to deny it. And still he keeps asking me out, knowing how afraid I am."

"Perhaps it's because he cares and wants to help you," Gretchen said quietly.

"So, knowing this," I asked, "why are you and your father a bad bet on this murder? Let's say Kat and Cartwright got into a fight and Cartwright killed Kat before his killer killed him. Catching him crouched over her body, why not pick up the knife and kill the man who raped you?"

Vanessa gave me a feral smile. "Because, if I had caught him, I'd have screamed my head off and gotten him caught with blood all over himself. I'd have seen that bastard dragged through the mud and locked away for life by the state. All that pain and the media circus would be a hell of a lot more satisfying than this," Vanessa spat. "I don't believe in killing, even scum like him. I'd have wanted him to be raped every day for the rest of his miserable life in prison. Death was too good for the likes of him."

I couldn't argue with that logic. I believed her. That still didn't clear Lurch.

"And why not Ivan?" Gretchen asked, surprising me. "He could have done it in anger. I know I could have, knowing what I know now."

Vanessa looked at Gretchen and squeezed her hand. "Because he was in the serving area the whole time where I could see him. Servers went in and out, but I was there the whole time. I know he didn't kill Cartwright. If you believe me at all, you'll just have to accept that."

I debated that inside and decided, for the moment, to believe her. "Okay, if that's so, how did Cartwright get one of the kitchen knives? Or Kat? One of those two must have taken the knife up there."

Vanessa shrugged. "People were in and out of the serving room before and after the announcement, and in the kitchen, too. It's not like we were telling everyone to stay out. I don't know where the knife came from, but I'd be willing to bet it came from the kitchen proper just because there would have been fewer people in there after the food was ready."

I stood up and walked around the table, taking her other hand. "I'm sorry I had to drag you though this, Vanessa, but I had to know. I won't ask you to forgive me for hurting you like this, but I hope you understand why I did."

She looked up at me and smiled a small smile. "I do understand. It's because you love someone very much."

My lips quirked a smile and I looked at Gretchen. "That's true, but that's not why I did this. I had to do this because only the truth would let me look past you to others. Go ahead, cry, shout at me and hate me. I'll understand."

Vanessa rose and pulled me into a surprised hug. "I don't hate you." And as quickly as that, she turned and fled from the room.

Lurch glared at me and followed after her, stopping halfway out to turn and sniff at me. "I am not as forgiving as my daughter, Detective, and I promise nothing. We will finish this at a time of my own choosing and in a manner that I find suitable."

Then he stalked out, his back stiff and vibrating with energy like a plucked guitar string.

I shook my head and smiled, looking at Gretchen. "See what I mean? I just have a way with people that makes me so popular. You meld with them, draw them out, and I confront them and make them hate me so much that they spill the beans."

She stood behind me and wrapped her arms around my waist, burying her face in my hair, kissing the back of my head. "My job is compassion, yours is confrontation. I'd make a lousy detective, and you'd make a piss-poor consort."

I laughed. "That's blunt, but so damned true, love." My laughter died and I smiled ruefully. "I think I've cemented my piss-poor relationship with Lurch, for sure."

"Give him some space," she suggested. "He may come back around once this is all over."

"I'm not counting on that," I assured her. "He'll be looking for payback, and after all the grief he gave me last night, when he didn't have the same reason to dislike me, I can only imagine what form that payback might take." I shook my head. "In any case, we need to go make a house call on Mister Craig. Since he skated out before the place was sealed, I have some deep, burning questions for him."

-----

Gretchen called Devon and had him pick us up in the Hummer. He looked somber in his new duds as he opened the door for us.

I looked over the black slacks, shirt, tie and jacket. The polished black shoes completed the outfit, though they clashed pretty well with his dreadlocks and black shades.

"Dressing up?" I asked him with a grin.

"I was tinking dat I should upgrade," he said. "Devon hear about de whole ting on de news. I be so sorry, Miz Gretchen."

She shook her head and smiled for him. "You don't need to dress up, Devon. Just dress like you did before, and we'll be fine. If we need fancy, I'll take care of it ahead of time. And don't worry about me." She took my hand and kissed my fingers. "I'm in the best hands in the world."

I flushed with pleasure at the compliment and slid in back with Gretchen. "Thank you," I whispered in her ear.

"It's the truth, silly," she said with a smile.

Devon turned in his seat after he buckled in. "Dere be lots of people outside de gate. We have to make de run tru dem so strap in."

He was right; there were a lot of press out there. I pulled Gretchen down so that her head was in my lap as we made tracks through the flashing bulbs and talking heads.

"Ooooo, I like this," she murmured. "This has all kinds of possibilities." Her hands reached for my belt and I pulled her up, laughing.

"You're such a horn dog," I chided her. "This isn't the time or place for fooling around."

Gretchen melted against me and kissed my neck in a way that did all kinds of things to my stomach. "Oh, it might not be the time, but it is the place, I think," she whispered in my ear. "I think we should go out one night and see what kind of show we can put on for our loyal retainer."

"Ha! He'd wreck the car," I snorted. "Or want to join in. Or both."

"I don't know him well enough for that, yet, but we'll see," she confided.

"Gretchen!" I said, blushing. "Don't be a slut."

"Oh, but I am a slut," she said seductively. "I'm your slut. I told you I'd do anything for you, but you're right," she said, sitting back up.

I exhaled in relief.

"We still have to have a foursome with the father of our child and his wife first," she continued in a quiet, wicked voice. "We have to keep our priorities straight."

"Gretchen!" I hissed. "Not so loud!"

"Devon not listening," Devon said breezily. "He be driving."

"You were listening!" I said hotly. "Don't you pull that silent servant thing on me!"

Gretchen started laughing and I fixed her with a glare. "You think you're funny, but you're not."

"Oh, Hawk, you are so easy!" she laughed at me. "I can say the most outrageous things and you believe them all."

"So," I said with a squint, "you're joking about Ted and Lisa?"

"No," she said, "but I am joking about having sex with Devon. Sorry, Devon," she said more loudly, "but I don't want to make our relationship that murky. However, I do promise to see that you meet some nice girls on occasion to make up for it."

"Devon knew he be gettin' some serious perks, but dat be nice. Tank you," he said from the front seat while I blushed.

"This is all a bit more open than I'm used to," I complained. "What if Lisa or Ted don't want to?"

"Silly girl, then we don't. But knowing you, I'd doubt it. Let's worry about that later."

"Dere be a car followin' us," Devon said, looking into the mirror.

I looked back and saw a familiar sight behind us. A beat up Pontiac Firebird. Our photographer friend from Vegas was back. With a smile, I sat back facing the front. "Devon, stand on the brakes."

"Excuse me?" he asked.

"Stomp the brakes hard," I said again.

He looked pleadingly at Gretchen in the mirror.

She smiled wolfishly and nodded. "Do it."

"Okay..." he said and stood on the brakes with no warning as we were cresting a hill. The tires howled as we slid to an abrupt halt.

Looking back, I saw the guy's eyes bug out, and the cigarette between his lips fall into his lap, as he stomped on his own brakes. That was gonna hurt. The Firebird screeched to a halt just a few feet behind the Hummer and I popped out the door and ran back. He was too busy swatting at his pants to pay me much mind when I got to the door and smiled in the open window.

"Hey!" I said brightly. "Fancy meeting you here!"

It looked like the cigarette was smoking under his butt from the way he was bouncing around.

"Goddammit, woman! What the bloody hell are you doing?" he snarled when he had put out the smoldering embers. Good thing he'd never notice it in that car. His pants, on the other hand, had some nice burns. I was right, that had to have hurt.

"Since you were following us, I decided it would be neighborly to stop and say 'hi'. You know me, now who are you?" I asked in that same perky, fake-sweet tone.

"I don't have to..." he started and I just reached in and grabbed his shirt and dragged him halfway out of the car.

"Let's not be shy," I said to his face. "If we're going to keep bumping into each other like this, I want to know whose name to put on the marker when they bury your dead ass."

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