MJ 2: The Violin Casebymadam_noe©
Good Goddamn was my first thought. Finnegan, my old partner from when I was on the force, was standing in my office. He was tall, rangy, dark haired, and Irish eyed. And hotter than Hell in July.
"This place is a dump," he said looking around the suite.
I followed his gaze and frowned. The floor was black and white tiled vinyl, the wood was dark and worn, the couch green chenille, the chairs old and cushioned with black leather. The bookshelves held law books, forensic studies, and mysteries, the sole painting was a George Tooker print, "The Subway."
"Why are you here?" I grumbled, anxious to get him out. Every time I got within ten feet of Finn we had wild sex, and I'd been cold turkey for six months. In November we'd conned some grifters and each made out with nearly half a million dollars.
He was a high class fence who was transitioning into pornography (producing and directing, not starring, though he could have) and I was a rotten PI who had spent most of her post-cop career blackmailing cheating spouses. It was a match made in Hell.
"I want to hire you," he said and plopped into a client chair.
I laughed. "Since our last adventure I'm only taking high paying cases."
He scratched the shadow of a beard that made him look hard-edged and dangerous, which he was, but usually he looked like the proverbial nice guy. "You owe me. Moving a dead body into a gigolo's house without leaving any forensic evidence was a tall order."
I pursed my lips at that reminder. "All right, what are we talking?"
"Someone stole something from me, and for all my contacts I can't find it."
Again I laughed. When he'd been a detective in Vice he had friends on both sides. When we worked in homicide he knew everybody in the underworld. "I find that hard to believe."
"Look, would I lie to you?"
He would say anything on earth to get me to fuck him, though God only knew why. On my best day I rated myself a solid seven and he was a ten in any woman's eye. He employed jiggling twenty year old blondes who'd lick the ground he walked on and blow him six ways come Sunday. "Don't answer that," he muttered. "I'm not lying now. I'm at my wit's end. Working with you will be just a bonus."
I pulled out my cigarettes and lit one, passing him the pack when he motioned. "I work alone, Finn. Tell me what's going on."
"I came into possession of a violin. I won't say how. It's a Stradivarius, and I have a buyer lined up in Rome. I was transferring it to a warehouse on the west side when someone killed two of my men and made off with it. It's too difficult to pawn, I'm the only one in the country who can get rid of it, and nothing else on the truck was taken."
"You look at the violin's legal owner?"
He smiled. "Viktor Petrov is a mouse. His family made billions when Russian oil was privatized, and when the government bought it back up they doubled their fortunes. They'll just buy it from the Roman. My buyer is some old enemy, wants to make them pay out the nose."
"You look at the buyer?"
Finn smiled again, a wolf's smile. "He's eighty three and harmless. This is a man who takes revenge by making a family buy back its own violin, not a criminal mastermind."
"Well then, just check out all the violinists in the symphonies in North America and see who has a new Stradivarius. You don't need me."
"Marly," he said seriously, "two of my men died. I can't go to the police, I had to make them disappear. One had a wife, the other two kids and a mother. They deserve to know what happened, and I need to know whoever did this is rotting in the ground."
"So you want me to be a party to murder?"
"I want you to find my violin, that's all. Whatever else happens is on me."
I wasn't a criminal mastermind by any stretch, just a girl who loved money, and I elasticized my morals often, but never too far. "Can't do it."
"All right I swear I won't kill him."
I cocked my head and blew out my last puff before stubbing the cigarette out. "Or have someone else do it?"
He almost blushed. "Marly, you owe me."
I did. "I know nothing about any murder, I get to walk away clean. Got it?"
He nodded. I pulled out a pad and pencil, sliding it across the desktop. "Write down every single person who knew about this."
He raised a dark brow. "Are you kidding? Anybody knows if a thing like that is stolen, I'm the guy."
"And you have three warehouses and dozens of employees. Write down everyone who knew the five w's, Finn."
He glared but took the pencil. "Got anything to drink?"
"Coffee, Coke, or whiskey."
He smiled and faked an Irish accent. "A lass after me own heart. A bit of the water o' life."
I rolled my eyes but fetched two glasses and the bottle, pouring us each two fingers. He wrote down ten names and slid them over. "Mark and Billy, they're dead. The next three retrieved the violin and could have had it at any time. Frank and Juan are the managers of the west side warehouse, again could have had it any time. Carlos helped make the arrangements, he's my assistant, Franco Bellaforte is the buyer, and Thomas Kincaid is the appraiser who was supposed to see the violin today and certify it for Franco."
"How well do you know Carlos?"
"Known him for five months. He was a fluffer, and so harmless he wouldn't hurt a fly."
"Those things go for millions, Finn, it'd be easy to hire someone to do the hurting for you."
He shook his head. "I'd stake my life that it wasn't Carlos."
"Still he could have talked. He have a boyfriend or anything?" When Finn didn't nod or shake his head I sighed. "Let's go find him and have a conversation."
We entered the pleasure palace, I thought. Finn's old warehouse was on Lincoln Avenue, north of Western, and cleverly disguised as an old muffler shop. Getting in was more difficult than Fort Knox. The last step was a doorman with an assault rifle, and then we were inside the studio.
The bright lights filled the cavernous space and the set was a hut in the jungle. On a blanket a woman writhed with two men.
Finn ran a good shop. I'd never admit it, but I'd bought some of his films. The gonzo porn was straight gonzo with good looking people and decent production values, while the standards were good. The scripts were coherent, he hired struggling actors to fill in as extras and supply dialogue, and the sex scenes were inventive.
This was clearly going into a switch-hitters movie; the men were as playful with each other as the woman. She was petite and curvy, a natural redhead, and one man was a blonde body builder, the other a sleekly defined Asian.
Finn stopped to talk with someone and I stared openly. The blonde and the brunette were sucking her tits, the blonde fingering her as she jerked them both off. The men had impressive erections, had to in Finn's world, and the woman was gushing juices from her pussy.
The director called out a change and they shuffled around until they formed a daisy chain triangle. The brunette ate her pussy with a vengeance while she sucked the blonde's cock and he sucked the brunette's. Everyone moaned well and the sounds of wet sucking filled the still room.
It was a rare fantasy and I couldn't tear my eyes off of it.
"Never figured you for that kink," Finn said in my ear and I jumped.
"Hey, it's either watch free now or pay forty bucks later."
He laughed and took me by the arm and led me to his office. He'd redone it since I last saw it and it was tasteful. All chrome and black leather, the floors slate, the paintings on the wall looked to be two real Jackson Pollacks.
"Porn must be good."
"Makes more money than the fencing," he said and sat down. Pressing on the intercom he leaned over and said "Carlos can you come in here?"
I sat on the couch and almost sighed at the buttery soft leather. I closed my eyes and stroked it, wishing I had enough taste to do my own office so nicely. I opened my eyes and Finn was staring at me, hard.
"I've imagined this so many times, but you're always naked."
I started to tell him to fuck off, but the door opened. Carlos was about five six, reed thin, with long hair and an almost pretty face. "Yeah boss?"
"Carlos this is Marly Jackson, my old partner from the force."
"Marly," he said, and shook my hand. I could tell from his eyes Finn had told some tales, and I glared at him around his assistant.
"Nicetameetcha," I said.
"Have a seat, Carlos. Marly is going to help me find out who killed Mark and Billy and stole the violin."
"Hey, that's great," Carlos said with honest enthusiasm. "How can I help?"
"Did you tell anyone about the job?" I asked, and earned a glare from Finn.
"N-no," Carlos said.
"Try again before she shoots you," Finn said.
The young man glanced at me as if I'd really do that. "You told your boyfriend, didn't you?"
He blushed at my words. "I told Alex we were transferring something really valuable, but I didn't say anything more."
"You been dating Alex long?" Finn asked.
"Three weeks, but- he wouldn't do that!"
"I need the full name and address," I addressed them both. Carlos bit his lip, so I tried for an old cop trick. "If he's innocent he has nothing to hide, right?"
Carlos wrote it down for Finn and passed him the paper. "Look, if I caused this I'm sorry. I'll do whatever I can to make it right."
"You didn't mean anything, just learn your lesson. On the fencing side we discuss nothing with no one. Got it?"
Carlos nodded and scurried out when Finn jerked his head.
"You really need me for this?"
"Marly, it'll be a dead end, I'm telling you. Look, Kincaid, the appraiser, he won't deal with me, I'll need you to follow up with him alone. I had to have one of insurers contact him the first time around. He says I'm scum."
"Like I'm much better? And what do you mean insurers?"
"Like Lloyd's Of London. I'm not shipping a multimillion dollar hunk of fragile wood without insurance. They cover it and in return they get a share in profits."
"I didn't see their names on the list."
"They didn't know when the violin was coming in, they think it's not until tomorrow."
"Jesus, circumspect much? Sounds like half the fucking town was in on this."
He smiled. "I love it when you talk dirty, Marly. Now shall we go and eliminate Alex Rodriguez as a suspect?"
"What the hell, I've got nothing better to do."
Finn's car was warm, it may have been May but it was freezing out and by the weekend it was supposed to be almost ninety. Just another week in Chicago, I thought.
He drove a mustang, a '67 fastback, and if there was a car on earth I'd fuck it would be that one, but if I said that he'd only get ideas. It purred like a tiger and ran like a quarter horse.
He weaved through traffic like he had a death wish, and I dug my nails into my thighs not wanting to scar the car. What the hell, my pantsuit could take it.
We ended up in Boystown, gay male central. It was clean, bustling, and there were rainbow banners on every streetlamp. The apartment was a walkup, and no one answered the door.
"Hang on," I said, and pulled a pick kit from my purse.
Finn's eyes rose. "Marly, I'm impressed."
"Wait." I used the pick and axe to undo the handle and the deadbolt in less than two minutes, a new record. I celebrated silently and opened the door. The heat was on but it was freezing cold, and the unmistakable scent of blood met my nostrils.
"Shit," I said and we both drew our guns.
"Alex?" I called, but there was no answer. The living room and kitchen were clean; we found him in the bedroom. The body was cold, rigor had passed, so he'd been dead by morning.
One side of his head was blown clean off by an exit wound, the other was the point of entry and had powder burns on it. The bedroom window was broken.
"Still think he's innocent?"
"Hell, Carlos can't come home and find this." Finn stepped out and opened his phone, calling in friends to move the body. It was a dangerous world he walked in, and that was only part of why I tried to keep Finnegan out of my pants. The other part was that he'd had a wife when we were uniforms screwing in the backseat of our cruiser.
I looked around but nothing was disturbed or missing. There hadn't even been much of a struggle from what I could see.
I turned the body over and found the wallet. Inside was ID, three credit cards, and three business cards. Two were for clubs, the third for a hairdresser and on the back was a number.
I pocketed it and slipped out gloves from my purse, exchanging them for the gun. Once I was covered I opened up drawers. Sex toys, condoms, blue magazines. A Bible, surprise, surprise, and a packet of letters marked "mom."
I pocketed those as well and moved out to the living room as Finn hung up.
"I have someone attending to Carlos right now and the team will be here in twenty. Find anything?"
"A phone number and some letters to mom. Other than that porn and sex toys."
"Shit, that was a professional hit, Marly. All this for a fucking violin?"
"Could be a bad coincidence, but I doubt it," I said.
I searched drawers and found mostly porn from Gold 'n' Rod, Finn's company. All of it was gay and gonzo except for two straight ones. I held them up. "What do you make of two gays having this?"
He took one and frowned. "Carlos doesn't have a straight bone in his body, Alex I'm not so sure about."
I pocketed them and ignored his raised eyebrow, then moved on to the kitchen. He looked with me but there was nothing. He wrote down the call history on the phone while I flipped through the calendar.
"Hey, let me see that number you have. There's one strange number in here, don't recognize the area code, the rest are Carlos' cell, the office phone, and a number marked "mom."
I pulled out the card and passed it to him. "It matches. What's three one four?"
"Downstate and St. Louis," I replied and put the calendar back.
"Team's here," he said at the knock and put the phone back. He let in two middle age men carrying large black leather bags and held his hand out to me. "Come on, let's go."
We walked calmly down, careful to see feet beneath doors or eyes in peepholes, but no one seemed to be home. Out in the street the car waited, but a tire was slashed, completely ruined. We both froze.
"You change the tire, I'll ask around."
He nodded and I glanced around but no one was watching, or walking away suspiciously. I stepped inside a Starbucks and found two men, one halfway to womanhood, sitting at the window.
"Excuse me, but did either of you see who slashed the tire on the Mustang outside?"
They turned and whistled at Finn's ass as he bent over to position the jack. "Honey, tell us he's gay," the masculine one said.
I smiled. "Sorry, straight as an arrow."
"Too bad. I saw a young man, a skater punk hanging around, but that was all."
"Could you describe him?"
He raised an eyebrow and I pulled out my PI license, easily mistaken for a detective's ID. "Young, built, straight, that's all. Sorry, honey, but if they're not gay, why bother?"
I turned to the half woman. "What about you?"
"He had a tattoo on his hand, I think, couldn't see, and he was wearing a White Sox cap. His shirt said "Beer; not just for breakfast anymore" and his pants were a travesty. No coat, which caught my eye. White, blonde scraggly hair, light eyes. Big nose."
"Thanks," I said and slipped out as Finn wrestled the full size spare on.
"Skater punk, young, jacketless, blonde haired, light eyed, tattoo on hand. Ring any bells?"
He looked up at me and shook his head. "No one I know."
"Well he knew us, and probably knew Alex was dead. What the hell did you get me into?"
"Something far more exciting than following around cheating spouses and watching them screw on tape."
I leaned against the car and folded my arms against the chill. "You of all people should know the marketability of amateur porn."
"You went into Starbucks and didn't even get me coffee?"
"I refuse to give them any more money."
He stopped screwing on the lug nuts and stared. "Sometimes I wonder why I even like you."
"If you figure it out, tell me."
We turned the wrong way on Halsted for his or my office. "Um, you should have made a right."
"I can't see Carlos, Marly. I've had to console enough grieving relatives this week. Just come have a friendly drink with me, that's all."
I didn't respond hoping he too knew Socrates had once said "silence is assent." Besides, in the twelve years I'd known him I'd never seen his lair, and I was curious.
He lived on Lake Shore Drive, LSD to locals, in a stone townhouse sandwiched between two others, sandwiched between high rises. The parking was in back, underground, and an elevator took us to the top.
His walls were black, the carpet plush and white, the furniture following the dichotic scheme. It was unbearably masculine, but I had to admit it framed the picture window in the living room nicely. Outside Lake Michigan was stormy and grey, the sunshine bright.
"Whiskey sour, right?" He called from the kitchen.
"Can you do up a Gin Ricky?" I called back and dumped my purse and coat on a chair.
"Coming right up."
I sat on the leather couch and shivered at the cool fabric. He came back in and set the drinks down on the glass coffee table. "Hang on."
The fireplace was gas and he turned it on high, the fake fire logs cracking nicely. Kneeling on the zebra skin rug he looked strange. The apartment was high class, but Finn was a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy.
I ogled his ass until he turned around, and then I memorized the fireplace tiles. The only picture on the mantle was of him and me with the old chief, when we got medals for killing a killer.
He looked up at it and stood up, stretching. "Those were good times, Marly."
"You mean when we fucked every night in the car, and then you went home to your wife?"
"Not telling me wasn't fair. I thought we were friends, just releasing energy. I didn't know we were having an affair."
"And I didn't know I wanted my partner so bad I'd lose my wife over it."
We both shut the hell up over that and sat at both ends of the couch, sipping the gin and staring at the warm fire. There was history between us, but just like now just friendship and sex. I really, really didn't want to fuck him.
Okay, hell, I did, but I didn't want to want to.
"Why does it have to be so hard between us?"
"You know why I never got married, Finn?" I asked and he shook his head. "I can't be monogamous. I always knew that, so I never got married. You should have known too. I don't like people like you, who cheat, that's why I catch them now."
"Neither one of us has anybody to cheat on, Marly."
I set my empty glass down. "And how do you know that?"
"I keep tabs on you, always have, always will."
"Why? What do you want from me?"
He set his drink down and knelt in the middle, looming over me. "This."
He kissed me, hard. I was mad enough to bite, and he was mean enough to bite back. I tasted blood in the kiss, and then his hands were on me.
He pressed me back into the couch, and my legs parted despite my order not to. Fucking him was always a surrender, and it shouldn't have been.
His hands fumbled to open my jacket and then tug my shirt off, and when he touched my skin I moaned. His hands were forever rough and callused, almost catching my skin as he stroked my stomach.
He found a new scar that hadn't been there the last time, where a cheating husband had caught me with a razor, and he stroked it slowly.
"A grah," he said, and I hit the side of his head. "I'm half Irish, idiot, I know what that means. Quit the romancing and just fuck me if you're going to."
He kissed me again and reached out to the coffee table. I gasped when I heard it turn over, the glasses crash against the wall, shattering. He grabbed me close and rolled onto the floor, taking my weight into his own, cushioning my fall. He rolled me onto my back and finally sat back.