MJ 4: The Nightlife Casebymadam_noe©
This is Marly Jackson PI's 5th case, "The Nightlife Case"
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
I was in the middle of a dream. In it, my on again, off again lover Michael Finnegan and I were at a bar. The bar was the Purple Rose, an upscale underworld club run by Eddie Harwood, a small time gangster I'd dated briefly.
We sat in a booth with untouched drinks before us. Michael's black hair, prone to curl, was long and shaded his bright blue eyes. He wore a suit, something I'd seen him do all of twice in the 15 years I'd known him, and he glanced around with me at the mustard colored walls, dark wood paneling, and soft leather booths that made up the VIP room.
Eddie was by the bar, talking with Alabaster. Alabaster was a pimp turned heroin dealer I'd grown up with. He alone held the key to the truth of the night I was dreaming about, but Alabaster had left for France which had swallowed him whole, leaving no trace.
Was this a dream? Why had I thought that? And why did I think Alabaster was in France when he was here? My brain seemed to fog in and out and something about this seemed off, but as soon as I realized it, the thought was gone.
Eddie was his usual self; a man very pretty with delicate-looking bones, exceedingly wide shoulders, and a stout build. He wore an expensive suit, his dark brown hair slicked back and his tanned face clean-shaven.
Alabaster was reedy thin, his skin café-au-lait, his long hair oiled and pulled back into a ponytail hanging down the back of his red velvet suit, his maroon fedora at a jaunty angle as he argued with Eddie using words I could not hear.
Across from us at another table was Stormy Michaels. Porn actress superstar she worked for Finn, was dating him, and fucking Eddie Harwood on the side while Eddie and I dated...and Eddie had knocked her up.
She was tall like me, a nudge under six feet, but where my build was medium and my larger breasts natural her build was tiny and her breasts were the best money could buy, shown off in a strappy blue sequined dress. Her fake tan seemed to mimic my natural pale olive skin but her hair was bleached blonde. If I squinted I realized how much we resembled each other...if you were a drunk man with all your blood in your pelvis.
No wonder she kept nailing my ex-lovers. But wait a minute...she was dead. So was Eddie. Wait, what was that thought? I took a sip of my drink and didn't taste it, feeling a foggy headache grow.
I fought to clear it, and as I did a chill rose on my spine. Suddenly everyone turned to the doorway behind me.
I turned around, movie-dramatic-point-slow, only to see a shadow without a face at the door. He was tall and he was short, he was fat and he was thin, he was young and he was old. I seemed to know who he was and yet there was no face, no coloration, nothing by which I normally recognized a person. "Smith!" I screamed and as I did, I heard the sickening wet sound of bodies, ripe with gore, hit a hard surface.
I turned back to see Eddie and Stormy on the floor, twitching and hemorrhaging blood from old bullet wounds. As I watched they began to rot, flesh melting away, but their hands still reaching out as their decaying throats gasped for air to fill lungs completely rotted away.
Oh, God, this was all wrong, and all right! I gripped my drink white-knuckled as it dawned on me that these people were all dead or gone. Of all the players, I was the only one real, but my brain still couldn't find the sum total of the meaning.
As if cued, Alabaster dropped too, bleeding from the shoulder wound Finn have given him just days after Stormy and Eddie had died and we'd been on Smith's trail. It had lead to, and died, at Alabaster, and I turned to see how Finn was reacting.
Finn's face turned bruised and battered. He sported a black eye and a fat lip, a blood trail coming from it. That was when it hit me like a solid wall of consciousness; this was how they'd looked two years earlier.
Each bore the most serious wounds from that horrible time I tried so hard to forget. This was how they'd looked when this faceless shadow named Smith set me up to take the fall for two murders. Three technically as Stormy had been pregnant. I glanced at her rotting corpse and shuddered, praying not to see a fetus. Sensation washed over me, jerking my attention away.
There was fresh blood on my hands, flowing blood, but I felt no wounds. A slurping, slithering sound came from the floor along with scrabbling, and a low groan from Finn across from me. When I looked up all four were reaching for me, two whole human hands, and two of rotted corpses. Behind me the faceless Smith began to laugh.
I woke to my own scream and cut it off when I realized my phone was ringing. Not my cell phone, but the canny retro 1920's style I'd bought at a garage sale for my office.
It was my business line, and the clock said it was six a.m. I didn't have an apartment, slept in my office, so was used to this, but people knew not to call before nine a.m. as a general rule.
I flipped on the light and knocked the phone off the receiver stylishly and grumbled out "Marly Jackson, PI. Go," as I fumbled for my cigarettes and thought about the dream.
Many things had changed in two years. A year in court had made me better groomed: I'd cut my hair to my shoulders, wore contacts more often, and stopped chewing my nails and wearing men's clothes.
I still smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish, but not to the point of blacking out. That had been a mistake that had lead to my involvement with those two technically unsolved murders. It helped too to see my godfather and friend Buzz, a retired cop, die of cirrhosis from years of drinking, but just enough for me to cut back. He'd been a friend and a mentor, and I missed him enough to keep a photo of him, young, smiling, and uniformed, on my desk by the phone.
"Marly? It's Arthur," A high toned but smooth male voice said in my ear after a thick, pregnant pause.
I struck a match and lit my el cheapo cigarette, trying to place the name. I couldn't afford much; my legal bills were paid in free work to Montgomery, head of the Irish mob, which took up most of my days. My reputation chased away the high paying clients leaving me to normal PI shit cases and blackmail, none of them involving an Arthur. Life was like the old days, and they said you could never go home again.
"Arthur?" I blew out a stream of smoke and tried harder to remember. "I don't know any Arthur."
"Arthur Bowers," he said, and I dropped the phone and my cigarette which rolled to the floor, spilling ash and smoking itself out.
Life wasn't like the movies. Things did not always end neat and clean. At any time I could be recalled and retried for 2 counts of murder and more, that was my current shit. Arthur...Arthur was old shit. Same shit, prior day, if you will.
I collected the phone from the desktop where it had landed and slammed it down on the receiver before pulling a bottle of Jameson's from my desk and fetching my dead smoke. On good whiskey I wouldn't skimp or my few Irish ancestors would spin in their graves. I pulled straight from the bottle mindless of the early hour or the fact I was bleary eyed in a nightgown in my dirty, run-down office.
I wasn't there anymore, my mind drifted back over a decade into the past when I'd been a fresh-faced detective, selected for the rank from pure nepotism by my uncle Buzz.
I'd accepted it to get away from my beat partner Finn and a messy affair with him, and I'd been teamed with Bowers in homicide. Sometimes we had a third, but it was always Bowers and I.
He'd had a wife Liz whom I'd met and she had fed me many family style dinners at their house. Bowers and I were dirty, it was the only way to get ahead and make money in the CPD in those days. In current days I assumed little had changed, but back then in the eighties, it was rampant. The current Mayor Daley hadn't "cleaned up" the city yet and it was a blue collar town on the make, a pure harlot I loved.
Arthur had been pinned for an off-duty murder. Liz sometimes worked at the Admiral strip club for extra bucks and the story went she hooked sometimes, which I had doubted from the sweet woman I knew. Supposedly Arthur had caught her blowing a guy in an alley off Lawrence and shot him twice in the head.
The witness was another off-duty cop, one known as a boy scout, whose back window overlooked the alley. Bowers had been broke as shit when this went down, so had I.
He needed money for his trial, released without bail for being a cop with a clean-until-then record. He needed dough and needed it fast and easy, so he set out to rob a drug dealer and I was his second. I'd helped plan the job, run the radios and interference, believing in his innocence enough to take giant fucking career-wrecking risks for him. He was my partner, and that made him a friend, brother, and quasi-husband.
I had stood by him...right up until he and Liz had disappeared with the money we'd stolen. A cool million in cash and another 3.5-4 in drugs ready for the street. It tainted my career, left me stuck as a junior detective, kept me locked into a frustrated role I would ultimately run from to open shop as a PI.
Just thinking about what that had done to my life had my hand shaking as I relit the cigarette.
The sun was coming up, it was a cold spring night transferring into a cool spring day, and with a sigh I got up and put the coffee on, finishing my cigarette. I grabbed a shower and carefully dried my hair, selected a nice, tailored pantsuit that flattered, and put on makeup.
I looked good for a 35 year old alcoholic who was broke, overworked, and hadn't gotten laid in two years.
By the time the rituals of the morning were done and I sat at my computer checking emails and headlines, I pushed the call from my mind. That day I had some tracking to do for Montgomery, and that night I had a cheating spouse to tail and blackmail, though at most I'd get a grand. How far I'd fallen.
I owed Montgomery, a very scary older man, a cool million. He'd lent me his personal lawyer, the man who defended Montgomery's Irish mob, and I had emptied my bank accounts to pay him back. I'd come up short by over a million and after two years of working for no cash, just minimum wage for billable hours ticked off for each job and interest mounting, I was still short a million.
I found myself pulling up the internet folder I had on Michael Finnegan, my former lover. In name only for the last two years he'd been the head of Gold 'n' Rod, a porn company that did nicely. On the run, he'd let his assistant run the company, and the kid was good.
Exonerated of all charges at my expense, he'd finally resurfaced a couple months earlier in Los Angeles, wooing some of the bigger stars coming off contracts with bigger companies like Vivid or Wicked. He was tanned, had grown his hair to a ponytail, shed a few pounds he couldn't necessarily afford to lose, and added a few tattoos. He looked suave and dangerous, more so than I remembered.
He was my first love. It had taken me fifteen years to admit it but back when we'd been two beat cops fucking in the car, I'd been in love with him. That's why it had hurt so much when I'd found out he had a wife. That's why it was sad that every time he re-entered my life post-force, it had all gone FUBAR.
That's why it killed me that he had skipped town and left me to clean up the mess of the murders of our ex-lovers by a man who did not exist. It ate me up to know that he had left me alone to face it.
I closed the web pages before I forgot myself and picked up Montgomery's file. Today I was looking into the past of a man who wanted a loan from Montgomery. I wasn't checking for solvency; I was checking for weak points Montgomery could use as leverage.
I went back to Google, the current best search engine-of-the-week (though I suspected it would go away as fast as Dogpile, its predecessor), and typed in his name. I was slugging through results for a different man in Toledo when the phone rang.
Two calls before ten a.m.; so, it was to be a banner day.
"Marly Jackson, PI. Go."
"Marly it's Arthur. Don't hang up! Look, I won't say I'm sorry but what if I could promise you three million dollars as a way to make up for it?"
I debated hanging up but paused. Two years ago cases worth fifty grand crossed my desk each week. These days they knew me by name at the food pantry. Plus, one million and I'd be free of Montgomery. Maybe I could move to another city, start over. If his story was 66% bullshit, I still had a ticket out of my current hell.
"Go to O'Hare. There's a ticket for you at the United counter. You have a flight tonight at seven p.m. When you land here it'll be eight."
"So a one-way ticket to the west coast paid for by the man who tanked my first career and taught me the art of passionless betrayal? I need some guarantee, or more motivation."
"Look I can't say much on the phone but you know the thing you're angry about? I pulled it off with 2 other people you didn't know about. We hid the prize until some of it got converted, you catch my drift? It's untouched, all of what we converted and I can promise you half of it and more, but these two guys...they got Liz. I need to get her back and keep the prize, and for that I need help. You're the only person I trust."
"It's been ten years, Arthur. I've changed, and I have more reason than anyone else alive to fuck you over, put a bullet in your brain, and walk away with the whole take."
"It's that honesty that tells me I can trust you. You say you've changed, well, so have I, Marly, so have I. I'll pick you up at eight, promise me you'll just meet for a discussion, and we'll go from there."
He hung up then leaving me staring at the phone. So...a possible job, a chance maybe for some revenge, and some high stakes cash. The old me would be plotting Arthur's murder, but the new me was already trying to figure out how this could go south.
I dialed Montgomery and got his secretary who informed me he was out of the office. "Tell him I'm working a case on the west coast and I'll be gone a few days to a week. Have him farm out the work he assigned me to some of his other guys. I'll have my cell."
What the hell, I could always reschedule my cheating spouse case. So I spent the day making arrangements and packing, then took a cab to O'Hare.
Just my luck; when I got my ticket it was for a flight to Los Angeles. My first thought was Finn was behind this, and if so, I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of any kind of reaction.
No matter how much I missed the bastard.
I touched down and got my luggage, feeling naked without my gun. I hadn't bothered with,, nor had I had the time to bother with the paperwork to bring mine with. I still kept my habit of comfortable shoes though these days I preferred sneakers to Doc Martens, and it made my tailored suits seem more like I was an office peon on her way home from a grueling trip than a bull dyke late to rugby practice.
I'd touched up my scant makeup and fixed my hair before landing, so now I waited with bated breath for Bowers to show up. How much had a decade changed him?
In walked in the same slim man I remembered, but his hair was no longer blonde, it was dyed dark brown, and cheaply so, shining purplish in the florescent lights. He sported a mustache with the same color and sunglasses that covered half his gaunt face.
He spotted me and immediately nodded, and I felt chagrined that apparently I hadn't changed much at all. Some women would have taken that as a compliment, but I felt it showed a lack of achievement.
He waved me over so I tugged my two gym bags with a grunt and caught up. "Let's go somewhere we can talk," was how I greeted him and he just nodded.
He grabbed a bag and slung it over his shoulder. "I said come for a simple consult but you're packed for a long stay."
"I believe in being prepared for anything. And I did only commit to a talk, so let's skip the pleasantries and get to it."
As we drove he played tour guide, pointing out this place or that where somebody famous I'd never heard of lived, or ate, or shopped. I didn't own a TV, ignored newspapers, and had zero tolerance for pop culture.
The car smelled like a rental, had the presets of a rental, and the freshly vacuumed interior of one, but the keys hung on a ring with a Woody woodpecker charm. I tried to light a cigarette and he frowned, pressing some buttons and rolling all the windows down. The breeze made it impossible.
He pulled into the parking lot of a Denny's. Great; I'd flown 2,000 miles to eat at the same kind of diner I usually did. To be fair, back home dinner would be at the Golden Nugget, but same difference.
Once inside we took a smoking section booth in the back, alone save for a skinny Mexican busboy and a waitress who I assumed was waiting for her big break, and passing the time with caking on makeup with a trowel.
Her manner was as affected as her red bouffant, playing the role of 50's diner waitress, and we got a couple of hamburgers. To my surprise Arthur ordered his without meat, some kind of veggie patty that made me wrinkle my nose.
By unspoken agreement we didn't speak until the food arrived and then asked the waitress to leave the coffeepot and go away. At least Arthur doused his veggie patty with mayo proving he theoretically had a human soul.
I chomped on a fry and then decided it was time to get to brass tacks. "Start from the beginning. Why'd you run?"
"I got the money. I meant it when I told you I had a good lawyer lined up and needed it. But then things happened. All that fucking coke, I had to move it. I made the mistake of trusting this guy I knew, D-Bag."
"D-Bag?" I knew that name. In the months after Arthur had skipped town he'd crossed my desk a few times fingered in some murders. He too disappeared, and I assumed he was safely at the bottom of the Cal-Sag Canal.
"You know of him, I'm sure. He agreed to move them with this contact Joe 'Cherokee' Williams as our go-between. Cherokee apparently took off with the coke, or so D-Bag said, and when I went to check on a lead D-Bag broke in, terrified Liz, and took off with the cash we'd gotten."
I raised a brow. "You brought in a mover without talking to me...sounds like you were planning to double cross me from the beginning."
"It wasn't like that. I wanted to protect you. D-Bag didn't know about you; you didn't know about him. I made sure I was the only one who knew every step."
"And it ended up fucking you over. So we stole the loot and drugs, and then D-Bag and his friend 'Cherokee' double-cross you. If that's true, why didn't you call me? And you said they took the cash...what about the drugs?"
Arthur's story was completely suspicious. His clothes, his build...nothing suggested he'd been living high off the hog, however. That was the only reason I didn't walk out the door right then and there.
"I couldn't, I'd put you through enough. Yeah, they got the cash, but they didn't have time to move the drugs. I grabbed Liz and knowing I couldn't beat the charges, we disappeared with it. Liz and I split up; I came here to make arrangements to sell the drugs, put them in a storage unit. It got hot, too hot, and Liz and I abandoned it.
"We spent some time in Mexico just trying to get by. Every day we thought about that money. We felt safe enough to come back here last month, Liz had made quite a few trips and she found a buyer. Current value for this shit is over five mill, and they say they can cut it and sell it despite the age."
"You let Liz broker the deal?" I raised a brow, trying to imagine having anyone in my life I trusted that much.