Secret Desires Pt. 11bymadam_noe©
The mistress had a house in the unassuming Irish Channel neighborhood, they learned after lunch. Working class, the houses were square, small, and close together. Children played on the streets and lawn mowers were run by brave teenagers disregarding the heat.
The house itself was a shocking shade of blue with white shutters. A garden area was all dirt but the rest of the lawn was freshly planted sod, the seams still visible. Shannon didn't know what she'd been expecting, but the modest house was not what she had pictured for a highly-paid mistress.
"Well cher," Nick turned around from the driver's seat. "Dis requires your talents."
"What if Mingham is there?"
Aiden smiled. "Then you walk away and flash us a peace sign. Easy to remember."
"And no matter what she says, you don' go in dere."
She wondered wildly if inside she'd find Georgia, her lover Mingham, and his pet killer sitting down to tea. Would Suzie be tied to a chair like some heroine of a cartoon, eyes pleading for help? Shannon was so desperate the thought of danger didn't even occur to her, the promise of a quick resolution was too exhilarating.
Straightening her simple white blouse and smoothing her black slacks Shannon opened the door and hopped out. No one paid her much mind, the neighborhood was busy minding its own. She climbed the steps and saw the blinds were closed, but in the shocking spring heat this seemed to be the state of every house.
She rang the doorbell three times in five minutes, listening for sounds inside but none came. Jogging back to the car she motioned for Nick to roll the window down. "No answer. Look, you're both cops. I can get in, and it's no big deal, nobody can suspend me."
"No, cher, but dey can arrest you. Get in."
"He's right, Shannon."
Glaring at them both she opened the door and sat down. "Why not?"
"Intuition, cher. Relax." Nick drove them around the corner, pulling into an alley and parking.
"I'll do it," he said with a smile. At Aiden's raised eyebrow the smile broke into a grin. "I wasn't always a cop, homme. Wait here five minutes, then drive around front. If de blinds are open stop and come to de door. If not, drive back here."
He climbed out, smoothing his ponytail, and winked at her before hopping a fence with impressive grace. A silent moment passed as Shannon and Aiden baked in the car, but no one screamed from the yard or house. Both of them breathed a sigh of relief.
"You know, this is far more nerve-wracking and yet more boring than any cop show."
"Welcome to the glamorous world of police work. If this were a stakeout I'd love to show you a more fun way to pass the time."
She glanced at him reclined against the door in the passenger seat. "I think I'm going to need to pick up an iron supplement."
He laughed at that, a deep, rich sound. "Just making the most of our time."
"How much longer?"
"It's time," he said, and shifted over to the driver's seat. Just as he started the engine Nick hopped the fence and tore open the door.
"Just drive, get us out of here!" Nick slunk down in the seat, hiding.
Aiden punched the gas and they spilled onto Jackson Ave. "Nick, what happened?"
"She's dead. Puncture wound in her chest, her windpipe crushed. No one else there, nothing disturbed. I was coming back out de basement window I slipped in, and a neighbor saw me. He yelped."
Shannon glanced out the window when an idea hit her. "Oh god. Wait ,Aiden, pull over!"
The tires screeched as he jerked the wheel, landing the car against the curb in front of a salon. "What the hell?"
"Wait here!" She hopped out before they could argue and dove into the shop.
The startled girl at the register blinked, the bubble she'd been blowing popped. It was the same mint green as the walls. "Can I help you?"
"Georgia Pinchot, she come in here?"
She made a look of disgust Shannon recognized, the same look Nikki of Georgia's other salon had worn at the mention of her name. "Yeah."
"I need to find her boyfriend, Charles. Do you know where I can find him?"
"Don't know any boyfriend. Thought she was, you know, gay."
Shannon raised a brow at that. "What?"
"This blonde chick came in yesterday, arguing. Come to think of it I think it was over some guy named Charles. Georgia took it outside pretty fast. It was so heated, thought it was a lover's spat. They didn't look like sisters."
"Five six? Curly blonde hair?" The girl nodded before she finished the description. "This girl, do you know where she came from, or where she went?"
"They went to the Starbucks on the corner."
"Thank you!" She ran out, waving impatiently to the men in the car, though only Aiden was visible, Nick still hiding.
At Starbucks the third barista she spoke to remembered the two women.
"The brunette was arguing with the blonde who seemed kinda frantic. She kept telling the brunette 'get him off me, I'll give it all back, just get him off me.' The brunette was trying to tell her she wasn't involved. Real bitch. She ragged on the blonde's nails, though I liked 'em. Blonde said she had them done at Marcus Norman, salon over on Toulouse, real chi chi. I think the brunette was jealous."
"Thank you!" Shannon tossed five bucks into the tip jar and ran out.
Aiden was waiting, frowning deeply as he looked through Nick's open window. "What the heck is going on?"
"Doing what I do best. Get us to Toulouse so Nick can sit up and stop worrying already."
"Cher, dis is serious."
"Have you seen a single flashing light? Go, Aiden!"
He pulled into traffic grumbling as she explained it.
Nick peaked around the seat. "Maybe I shouldn't always pull information from de DMV. Apparently salons is where de information at."
"Never underestimate vain women and their lack of discretion. Now hurry! We know Suzie knew Mingham was after her, and this pretty much means Mingham is somehow responsible for the Belladonna Killer. We have to find her!"
"Shannon, I know you're excited, but we have to be prepared for a dead end. Just be patient. If we know where she was yesterday it might not tell us where she is today."
"God, how can you do this job? Either of you? I've never been so frustrated in my life!"
After five minutes in traffic Nick straightened up. "It's worth it when you get de bad guy," he responded quietly.
"Aiden, are we doing the right thing not getting the rest of the bureau involved? They have the resources to find Mingham."
"They'd do the same thing we are. First they'd visit everyone in prison ever associated with the Piementes asking about Mingham. We'd have to get warrants for wire taps on his phone, his secretary, his mistress. In short if they started the same time as we did they'd still be weeks behind."
She groaned wordlessly, worry over Suzie consuming her. Nick turned and grabbed her hand, squeezing. "Cher, take it one moment at a time. We close, but dis is de time to keep our heads."
"We're here," Aiden announced. "Shannon, you're batting a thousand, so you're up again."
"I'd feel better if I had an actual bat," she said with a smile as she hopped out.
Ten minutes later she understood their warnings. She felt her shoulders droop as she walked back to the car, parked illegally with the flashers blinking. A cop had stopped at the window but when Aiden flashed his badge she walked off.
"So my cousin is still a big fat liar. She was never in there. She probably name-dropped this salon and did her nails herself. She's running from a killer, why did I think she'd be dumb enough to stop for a manicure?"
"Because none of us have ever seen Suzie face something like this."
Nick nodded. "And we expected her to act like she always did. Pretty herself up, find a man."
"Any word on how the local cops are faring?"
"I'll make de call."
"Let's get something to eat, calm down, regroup," Aiden said, swinging into traffic, cutting off a horse-drawn carriage carting tourists.
He deftly navigated heavy traffic only to spend forty-five minutes finding parking. Nick got through a few calls but there was nothing. Parker and Suzie's movements were traced, but two days earlier she dropped off the map. The only news was that they had was that they had checked into the hostel with three suitcases and two were missing, including one described as closer to a briefcase.
"We could go back, ask the salon and the Starbucks if she had cases with her or-"
"Sweetheart, we need food, we need rest, and we need to think."
"Come on cher, we'll eat good here," Nick promised with a wink.
It was Nick who charmed their way to a table without a reservation, playing a local boy with out of town guests to impress. The men had both been there before and as overbearing as they were when the wine arrived and the appetizer Shannon appreciated their ordering for her.
The Huitres en coquille a la Rockefeller were perfect, and the wine Aiden had picked the waiter remarked paired perfectly with the appetizer. "Let it breathe," he instructed as it was poured.
"How do you know so much about wine?"
"I like to cook," Aiden said with a trace of embarrassment.
"Did you know, cher, dese oysters are aphrodisiacs?"
Aiden chuckled at her shocked look. "True, but only for men. I forget why but I saw it on the Discovery channel."
Laughing she ate one and sat back. "Has it breathed enough?"
Aiden rolled his eyes and raised his glass. "Yes. A toast, to friendships renewed."
"And to secrets unveiled," Shannon added, thinking more of them than Suzie.
"And to desires realized," Nick added with a wink.
They clanked glasses and drank and indeed it was perfect for the appetizer. Thinking of the impending bill Shannon nervously toyed with the fragile stem of her glass. "Is the bureau really going to cover all this?"
"Don't worry about it. All right, we've been assuming things about Suzie that have been all wrong. Nick, if you stole some money, discovered it all had something to do with a mobster who sent a killer after you, what would you do?"
"Homme, my answer wouldn't help none. I'd find de bastard and kill him myself."
"And you, Shannon?"
"I'd want to know everything. I'd hide out until I figured out just what he was after and then try to make a deal. What?" She asked at Nick's questioning look. "I'm no fighter."
"The world needs more lovers than fighters," Aiden laughed. "And I would go straight to the police, which our beloved Suzie hasn't done."
Shannon sighed, burying her fingers in her loose hair. "Nothing about this makes sense. What exactly do we know?"
"Well, we know that Mingham wanted that land by the highway. He was refused, but then Parker got the bright idea to buy it and sell it to him. Mingham got on board and got something on Parker, blackmailing him, probably using that lawyer Finnegan. Parker got elected and embezzled funds paying off the lawyer and Mingham. Meanwhile one of the original landowners was murdered by the Belladonna killer, two are missing, and the fourth, Sinclair, is under guard.
"Parker got tired of being blackmailed, drained the town's money, stole all the records dealing with the properties, grabbed Suzie, and they came down here. The Belladonna Killer got to Finnegan the lawyer and then Mingham and his mistress Georgia disappeared down here as well. Mingham's secretary talked to us, panicked, and ran, still not found.
"Mingham could have stayed with his mistress but was checked into the hotel and paid cash. The Belladonna Killer caught up with Parker, after he and Suzie fought and she skipped out with two suitcases. Suzie surfaces again with the mistress trying to leverage her way out by getting Mingham to back off. She disappears again and we find the mistress dead."
Shannon nodded. "Suzie is still here. The only thing we don't know is exactly why Mingham wanted that land so badly. It was bad enough to kill, but I can't see any reason why. He had something on Parker and it's got to do with the land."
Nick pulled out his cell phone, earning a few stares from customers around them. "I'm on it. Hello, Carter?" he said into the phone. "While you're guarding Miss Sinclair see about jogging her memory about de land. No, I can't tell you what. There has to have been something on dat land, something worth killing over. Find out what it is."
Aiden laughed into his napkin as Nick hung up, stuffed the phone back into his pocket and glared back at the next table.
Shannon's head was spinning. "Oh my God! We're all right!"
"Suzie is wondering the same damn thing. If she's still here it's because she does want to turn Mingham in, but she's probably trying to get more evidence. If the property records don't tell her why Parker was blackmailed, and if he never told her, she's looking for more information. She's laying low but probably wants to turn it all over to the police. And in the meantime if she wants Mingham and his pet killer off her back, she probably tracked down Georgia as a kind of threat, letting Mingham know she could find him."
"It makes a kind of sense." Aiden was cut off when their dinner came.
Nick waited for the waiter to set their food down, ungallantly polishing off his glass and holding it out for more. "It ain't no Bud, but dis here is good. Thanks, homme," he smiled at the waiter who refilled his glass without comment. "I say we have de police concentrate on Mingham, pull de heat off Suzie."
"I agree. Nick, why don't I step out and arrange it. No need to further offend the patrons."
"Hurry back, your steak will get cold."
Aiden gave her a smile and bent down, quickly kissing her cheek before leaving. Nick gave her a trademark bad-boy grin and cupped her cheek, pulling her into a full-mouthed kiss. The table next to them stared open-mouthed as the wife dropped a fork with a clatter.
"Cher, someone had to take dat look of yo' face. Ain't no shame in what we feel for you, time folks figured dat out."
Blushing, she turned to her chicken. It was a half-truth he told. There was no shame in them both wanting her, but Nick was afraid to admit any feelings for Aiden, but that was a probem she had to plae on the back burner. "So how do we find Suzie?"
"She's runnin' scared, and when dat happens she finds a man, right cher? It been a long time, but I figure I can be real good bait."
"Um, ah-" she started to protest but bit her lip. Jealousy suffused her, but it wasn't her place...was it?
"Cher, I jus' want to get her to come outta hidin', dats all. I may be a bad boy, but I am still tryin' real hard to be a good man. Reason I never gave into her before, I go where my heart is." He squeezed her hand then turned to his food.
Oh, yeah, Shannon was in way over her head.
"I have to go into the local office for a bit, will you drop me off?" Aiden said as he returned and flagged the waiter.
"Sure, homme, what for?"
"I need this wrapped up to go, and then the check," Aiden said to the waiter.
"What's going on?"
"Convincing the local cops to focus on Mingham and back off Suzie is going to take a little bit of charm and maneuvering. I just need a couple of hours. You two should take a nap, go swimming, do something to ease the pressure."
Nick gave her a darkly sensual look and it curled Shannon's toes.
They drove Aiden to the office and turned the car away from the hotel. "Where are you going?"
"I want to show you something, cher."
Shannon settled for watching out the window, waiting for a familiar blonde head to pass by on the street. There were many blondes, none familiar. Would they ever find Suzie? More so, she wondered, would they ever find her alive?
They drove for forty-five minutes and ended up at where Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Catherine lay side by side. He parked on the side of the access road off Chef Menteur Highway and put up a placard along with his red light on the dash, and she stepped out into strong wind.
The smell of the lakes and the Gulf of Mexico not far away was strong and the sun burned hot on the swampy land, and the air seemed misty and enchanted.
"It's beautiful," she called over the wind.
"True dat," he said almost too softly to hear, staring at her until she blushed. Nick grinned and slipped on sunglasses, holding out his hand. "Come on, cher, let's go to de water."
She took his hand and he lead her through the tall grass and scant trees. At a few dips he helped her over, all fumbling hands on her hips, making Shannon laugh. At last, they reached the lake. He sat and pulled off his boots, motioning her to do the same. She did and took his hand when he rose, laughing as they waded in a few inches into the cold water.
"Eek! It's really cold!"
Nick laughed. "Big water, nice an' deep, cher. It don' heat up like de air." She shivered and he drew her into his arms. "C'mere, Shannon, I keep you nice an' warm."
She laughed, but it felt nice to be in his arms. Nick had changed in may ways from the reckless youth she once knew, but he was still a man who pushed limits, enticed her into exploring dark appetites. She blushed, remembering their last interlude. She had never thought she would enjoy a man that way, but with him it felt right.
Now, when he was quiet and full of child-like wonder in nature, it felt just as right to be held in his arms at what felt like the end of the world.
"Nick, what is it you really want in life?" The question just slipped from her, surprising them both.
He turned her to face him and tucked Shannon's head beneath his chin, wrapping his arms around her tight. "Cher, de answer to dat would only scare you."
"Then what really made you become a cop?"
"Sheriff," he said with a chuckle. "I wish I could say dere was more to it, but de only man who ever showed any pride in me was de old sheriff. Made sense I'd follow in his footsteps."
"And if you hadn't? What would you have done?"
"Become a pirate and carry you off into Lake Michigan," he said with a roar.
She backed away and he lunged, grabbing her and swinging her sideways. They grappled, laughing like kids, and for moment they were back in time to a place most innocent and carefree. Memories of horseplay on another shoreline caught them and they splashed each other, got thoroughly wet, laughing all the while.
After a while they dragged themselves back to the grassy shore and sat down to let the hot sun dry them, swatting at mosquito sans smiling. Possessed suddenly by a burning need to know Shannon sighed deeply, seeking strength in a steadying breath. "Am I just an excuse?"
He'd been leaning back on his elbows like her but now he sat up, confusion dawning. "Cher?"
She rose too. "Am I just the excuse to be with Aiden? Are you so afraid of what you feel for him that I make it somehow okay?"
Rage filled his dark eyes and he whirled gracefully to his feet, cursing in his gruff Creole. Nick stalked to a tree and punched it, hard, making her jump. Shannon scrambled to her feet but was determined to discover the truth. Nothing in her life made sense but some mysteries were easier to solve than others.
"You go too far, Shannon," he said darkly.
It was the calm, leashed rage in his baritone that put her on alert. Nick had a temper that was either dynamite or firecrackers: the little explosions meant nothing but the calm came before a blowup that could decimate everything around him. She wasn't afraid of him, however. He'd cleaned the clocks of many a boy and man in his day but Nick was only dangerous to a woman's virtue.
"You two are pushing me into scary territory! Normal people don't- they can't-"
"What?" he stalked to hr and grabbed her arms, his hands steel bands on the swell of her upper arms. "Can't what?"
Love two people at the same time. "Never mind," she whispered.