Palmer Ch. 08byhal_tee©
Grateful thanks go to the best editor in the world – thesoundandfury. And check out his new novel – Models and Super Spies. Thanks Ken, not only for your editing, but also for the constant encouragement, suggestions, and for helping me to become a better writer.
Chapter 8: Realisation
Leaving Jack wasn't an easy decision for Kelli. How could she wipe out three years of marriage, just like that? And to someone she still loved? As she went through her wardrobe and pulled out her favourite outfits, the fear of regret nearly stilled her hands. Despite everything, she still loved her husband. That was fact.
But love alone wasn't enough. That, too, was fact.
In the bathroom, as she gathered the makeup and toiletries she needed, a surge of nostalgia overtook her. Thoughts bounced around her mind. The first night they met; the way he smiled at her across the room. That cute, Clark Kent shyness about him. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't stop them.
Still, there was no denying that things were different between them. They'd been changing for too long.
Jack's long hours had been the wedge. How many times had she told him they were losing the spark? That things needed to change? He hadn't even tried. He never would. Jack loved her, no doubt about it, but he loved his work more.
"Well, now he'll have more time to devote to it," she muttered as she snapped shut her second suitcase. She wouldn't be around any more. Enough was enough.
The two suitcases should be enough for the time being. With Erin's Models behind her, she'd have enough new clothing to last her a lifetime.
The Agency Head had promised to make sure her husband, Dominic DeVere, fixed her up with an apartment once they returned from Milan. That was the final incentive she needed to make the break. The message she'd left on Jack's phone had been brief. They could talk things over later – something she wasn't looking forward to.
But enough of those thoughts. As she breezed out of the apartment complex and back to Erin's sumptuous home, her thoughts turned to tomorrow night. She'd be on the catwalk. Then celebrating at the after show parties. "Not a night not to be missed," Erin had told her.
It would take her mind from her troubles and the break-up with Jack.
Of course, there was Erin DeVere herself. Her lovemaking sessions with the American woman had blown her mind. Lovemaking? Erin had fucked her. Time and time again. All night long. As long as their energy held, and when it didn't, there was the cocaine. How many lines had she done? How many orgasms? She'd fucked the older woman, too. Replicated the ways Erin had pleasured her and repaid her in kind. It left her embarrassed and fulfilled at the same time.
She'd been staying there again tonight. The thought already had her body tingling again.
Seven o'clock was too damned early for Donny Webster. There wasn't enough coffee in the world to change that. The two hours sleep he'd had, wasn't enough. Cramming this rag-tag bunch of lawmen and women into his office only made it seem even earlier.
"Hmmm. Cozy! Are we gonna sit on each other's knees?" Burley cheerfully asked as he joined them.
"I gotta better freakin' idea," Webster snapped, pushing through the gathering group. He headed out of the door, growling, "Follow me."
The pokey café around the block proved a popular venue. Not so much for the change of scenery, but more a reference to the aroma of bacon and sausages from the small grill. Being empty was an added bonus.
"All day breakfast's for everyone," Webster growled to the cigarette smoking owner. "But coffee immediately."
"Great choice, boss," Sandra Wilson smiled, nudging Burley with her arm. "Bet you don't often get this treatment in Forensics."
Webster shot her one of those looks. "You pay. I'll sign it off." Looking around the rest of the table, he shook his head. "Do I look as tired as you guys," he asked. "I guess it's been a long night. Okay, let's go. Wilson?"
The black haired cop sat forward and rested her right arm on the greasy tablecloth. "This is really interesting, boss. It seems that Roxanne, Brooke, Savannah all belong to a modelling agency."
A modelling agency? Palmer's tired eyes shot open. "Which?" he asked, leaning towards her across the table.
"Erin's Models. It appears some of their top girls turn tricks. I've done a little digging. This Roxanne Lopez was a supermodel. Cover in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue. Numerous Maxim spreads, not to mention a contract with Juicy Couture. Brooke Welles and Savannah are in a similar class, too. Aren't any of us up on fashion?"
Palmer had stopped listening. That was the name of his wife's agency. He was sure of it. Wait 'til he told her about this. She'd be shocked. For a second, he wondered about sharing the information with the others, but kept it to himself. No need to involve Kelli in this.
It was Goodwin's tug on his arm that brought him back to the conversation. "A high class hooker and a supermodel. Man, that's quite a combination."
Palmer slipped a hand through his black, wavy hair. Did he look as bad as he felt? After his fruitless wait for Elvis, he'd eventually returned home in the early hours. Despite his recent lack of sleep, he'd tossed and turned in bed, waiting for his wife to return. Where was she?
His fingers slid over the scar on his neck. It became an instant reminder of Roxanne. She'd traced her fingers along that scar. God, why did his cock rise at the thought of the redhead and not his wife?
The conversation went on hold as the café owner brought over six mugs of coffee. He grunted something about their breakfast's following before heading back to the kitchen.
Webster picked up one of the mugs and took a noisy slurp. "Who fixes up their tricks?"
"Difficult to know, boss," Wilson grimaced. "Erin DeVere runs the agency. We don't know anything about her. I've got a check out on her and her husband. Nobody seems to know too much about him either."
"No... apparently there's a rich guy involved somewhere. No idea who, but a mean bastard apparently. I'll do some more checking today."
"You haven't already?"
She pulled a face and took a sip from her own mug, rather than instantly respond to the jibe. "Tried to follow it through last night, boss," she eventually said, pulling a face at the bitter taste. "All blanks so far. Didn't get home 'til early morning."
Goodwin flashed her a look. So that's why she hadn't returned his call, or been there when he'd knocked on her door.
"That's the problem, kiddies," Webster said, giving that I-told-you-so smile. "We're doing this underground. No access to any resources except what we can sneak under the radar. Are we all sure we don't want to leave this to Homicide?"
The silence was deafening. It was Palmer who spoke the group's collective thoughts. "You know the answer, Chief."
Webster grunted. "Okay. But following these things through could take a lifetime. We don't have a lifetime."
"I'll be on the case as soon as we leave here," Sandra Wilson snapped. She knew Webster had a point.
The Vice chief nodded at Palmer. For a second, the young detective hesitated. His mind was still focused on the modelling agency.
The café owner bought him some time. It took him two passes to serve the six full plates, and another to deliver the various sauces, mustard and for some reason, mint sauce.
"Work that one out," Goodwin laughed, picking up the bronze cup containing the green sauce. "Maybe they got the bacon from a sheep?"
"Funny man," Sandra Wilson laughed, making a point of catching his eye.
"Well, Palmer?" Webster mumbled, his mouth already full of bacon and egg. His hand rubbed at the yoke that was dripping down the front of his already grubby shirt.
The young detective's reply was cut off by a call on his cell phone. It was Kelli. At last. He jerked his seat back as he reached to answer the call.
"Palmer!" his boss snapped, stopping him mid move. "Are you part of this freakin' team or not? Never mind the freakin' phone. Give us an update."
Palmer paused, glanced around at all the eyes staring up at him, and then flopped back down onto the seat. His flashing eyes betrayed his annoyance but what could he do? He'd return his wife's call as soon as he could.
"Progress, Chief," he began, his mind returning to the job in hand.
"Share it," Webster snapped, shovelling in another mouthful.
Palmer sighed. As much as he liked his boss, there were times when his patience was tested.
"Someone's bought fifty red ones recently. It's got to be our man. The pusher – Bones – does some heavy-duty trade. Hangs out in Bayswater. The All Star Lanes bowling alley. He didn't show last night. I asked around, but no one had much to say. I'll check again today."
"Anyone else know of him?" Webster asked the table, pushing his plate away. He'd cleaned his plate a fraction of a second behind Taffy Boyd.
Palmer grinned at the blank faces. "Can't understand that. He dresses as Elvis."
"I just love Elvis," Sandra Wilson's confession brought a laugh from the others.
All except Palmer. He saw an opportunity. With Kelli's involvement with the modelling agency, he'd feel more comfortable following up personally on Erin DeVere.
"Be my guest and follow this one through," he told her, pushing his half finished plate of grease away. "I'll follow up the modelling agency lead?"
"Are you mad?" Webster dismissively snapped. "Since when do we swap leads? Once we get everything into the open, I'll decide who does what." He turned to his right. "You next, Taffy. What've you got?"
The overweight Welshman glumly shook his head. "Not a lot, I'm afraid, boyo. Roxanne's trick was a guy called Dominic. She called him by his name a few times. There's nothing else of interest in the recordings, unless you want to listen to two night owls going at it with one another."
Wilson glanced across at Alex Goodwin again. Two night owls going at it with one another? She'd been home when he made his impromptu call to see her last night, but hadn't answered the door. Nor had she answered his phone message. Her mind had still been unravelling.
Right now, she was regretting her decision. The sassy female needed the big man inside her.
"Not interested," Webster answered Taffy's jocular suggestion. "At least, not in terms of the murder. We'll need it for when we resume on our case. Okay, when you've finished stuffing your face, tell us what you've got, Goodwin."
"I turned up something, too" the barrel-chested cop grunted. "A couple of weeks ago, a punter lost twenty grand on the gee-gees. He doubled up and when he lost that, he doubled up again. That's some serious debt."
"Got a fix on him?" Webster mumbled, eating one of the sausages Palmer had left on his plate and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Not yet, boss. But I've got the bookies name to follow through on," Goodwin added. "A bit delicate, but I'll get straight on it when we're finished here."
"So let's see," Webster grimaced. "We've got a lead about a modelling agency that could be crucial to our Vice case, but won't help us get to the redhead's killer."
"Won't help...?" Palmer began. This one was too important to him to just dismiss.
"Not direct enough," Webster snapped. "It'll take too long to follow that one through. Wilson, I've got something else for you to work on."
His upraised hand stopped both their objections. "Listen to me," he growled. They knew that tone. "We've gotta follow up any direct leads, nothing else! Get onto that freakin' bookie, Goodwin. Follow up on those red pills, Palmer. Burley's got something else for Wilson."
The Geordie nodded and theatrically thumped his mug down on the table to make sure he had everyone's attention. This was the pièce de résistance!
"Aa've got a positive ID on the fingerprint from the empty apartment opposite the victim's," he softly said. "Marco Giovanni, Italian, born in Sicily. Known in the business as a hit man for the Cosa Nostra."
He enjoyed the sudden silence. Wait 'til they heard the next bit. But it was Palmer who spoke next.
"We've got the name of the killer? Then why are we bothering with anything else?"
"That's why I said drop the Agency lead you're so interested in," Webster interrupted. "Sometimes I do know what I'm talking about, Palmer. But there's more."
Burley nodded, pausing for effect. "According to our records, Marco Giovanni was incinerated in a car accident in Italy two weeks ago."
The stunned silence returned.
"But my print is fresh, ya knaa," the Geordie continued. "So aa checked things out with our Italian colleagues. Turns out Giovanni's car went off the road in Sicily, hit a tree and exploded. His next of kin made the identification using dental records."
A smile spread across Webster's face. He held his mug up in a mock toast at the news.
"Now there's a coincidence," Wilson grinned, pushing back in her chair.
The Vice Chief nodded. "Trouble is, I can't rely on Burley getting time to follow through on this. That'll certainly get back to Briggs. That's why I want you on this lead, Wilson, rather than chasing the freakin' fashion scene."
"Understood, boss," she nodded.
The Vice boss pushed himself to his feet. "So! The faked death. The red devils. The bookie. That's three leads that could take us straight to Giovanni. This is a nasty bastard, so let's be careful. Pay the bill, Wilson, and let's get going."
Harry Bannerman knew his place. It was a well paid one. When Dominic DeVere had an urgent need, Harry was the man he turned to. Not only were his computer and financial capabilities invaluable to his employer, his ability to ferret out information against all odds was just as impressive.
That was just as well, as his boss had a huge concern on his mind.
It had taken Bannerman twelve months to build up his relationship with Willie Dixon. Unlike Briggs, the police sergeant wasn't on the payroll. But with retirement only a year away, the odd sweetener helped.
After all, Bannerman was just an investigative journalist who wanted to stay one step ahead of the competition. If that meant that the cop in charge of the office fed him a little harmless information from time to time for the odd benefit in return, well, what was wrong with that?
Tower Hill was their usual meeting place. The elevated spot northwest of the Tower of London was always busy enough for them to merge with the tourists invading the City, and they always kept their conversations brief.
Their preference was to 'accidentally' bump into one another and strike an unlikely conversation. Today, Bannerman had no time to lose. Giovanni had been interupted by the police while completing the contract and that had aroused suspicions in his master. DeVere's success was based on staying one step ahead. Hence Harry's involvement.
Briggs had already given them a full run down. Everything appeared under control. Willie Dixon's corroboration that this was being treated as a normal homicide would confirm they had nothing to worry about.
"I got a tip there was a homicide in one of the fancy apartments in Mayfair," Bannerman said, getting straight to the point. "I've spoken to some of the investigating officers but something doesn't add up. My boss is putting pressure on me, but I can't put my finger on it."
"You check the police reports?" Dixon asked, pulling his worn overcoat closed against the wind.
"What's the problem?"
Keep it vague, Bannerman thought. "Not sure, Willie. Sometimes you just get an instinct." Okay, he thought. Just confirm that Briggs is on top of things and I'll be on my way. It's too cold to be standing here chatting. He should have worn something warmer than the thin suit.
Instead, Dixon's response surprised him.
"Well, Harry, as usual, you're on the ball."
Bannerman's ears pricked up. "I am?"
Dixon nodded. "Got me puzzled, too. If I find out it's a story that'll be useful to you, I'll feed you the details."
"What's got you puzzled?" Bannerman casually asked.
"Oh, it's Taffy Boyd. It's Homicide's case, but he was in the office working half the night. He's got some kind of recording."
Bannerman turned to lean back against the corrugated iron fence. A casual tourist, just taking in the scenery "He told you?"
"Hell no, he didn't tell me. That's the point. If he'd told me, I'd know it was all routine. He was hiding something, that's what got me interested." He winked at Bannerman. "I know it's to do with the Vice Squad. Checked it out without him knowing. Seems he's doing a favour for a friend of his in Vice. Jack Palmer."
The information went into Bannerman's computer brain. "Jack Palmer? Recording of what?"
"He said it was a bit hush-hush. That's what alerted me. Made me check it out. Why be coy about it?"
Bannerman nodded, turning to look in the opposite direction. "Why indeed?"
"It's a recording from the victim's apartment the night before she was hit. She spent the evening with someone. A guy called Dominic."
Bannerman struggled not to show any sign of recognition. Fuck!
"So I checked around a bit further. Boyd's not the only one. A guy called Burley is also feeding information into Vice. He's working on the case. Forensics. It'll cost him his job if anyone finds out."
"Feeding into this Palmer?"
"Not sure. Probably. Palmer's boss had a conversation with Burley last night, but Webster's pretty straight. Does things by the book. My guess at this stage is that Jack Palmer is the one driving this.
Bannerman's computer like brain assimilated the information. "What about this guy, Burley? What's he working on?"
Dixon tapped his nose with his forefinger. "He got a fingerprint checked out. That's not unusual, but he kept that hush-hush, too. When they keep something secret, Willie Dixon always finds out."
"Strange thing, Harry. The print belongs to someone who was killed in a car crash not more than a couple of weeks ago. An Italian. Got incinerated in Sicily."
Fuck! This was as serious as it got. "You sure of all this, Willie?"
Dixon smiled. "Told you, I checked around. There's not much they can get past Willie Dixon."
Jack Palmer sat on the edge of his bed. He hadn't changed position for a good five minutes. How could he? He was numb. Stunned.
If only he'd taken his wife's call as he'd sat in the café, instead of allowing Webster to browbeat him into going through his findings!
Kelli's phone message had been short. To the point. Jack, things haven't been working between us for too long. I need time to think. Get my head together. All of a sudden, I don't know what I want anymore. But I know I don't want this. I'm going away for a while. When my mind is clearer, I'll call you. For now I'm going to a fashion show. In Milan. That'll help give me some space. Please don't try to get in touch.
His mind whirled. Running through the words. They repeated themselves in his mind. He knew Kelli didn't want someone who was away so often, who worked such long hours. She'd told him so many times. And now she was telling him she'd had enough. And what the fuck was this fashion show in Milan? Had her head been turned?
He had hoped to find her when he'd rushed home. But she hadn't wasted much time in leaving. Perhaps she'd already gone when she'd left the message? The depressing thing wasn't so much the clothes she'd taken. As far as he could see, she'd left the majority. It was the small possessions.
The jewellery. Photographs. Even the little teddy bear that meant so much to her. All gone. As much as she'd said she wanted to get her head together, it looked pretty permanent to Jack.