MJ 7A: Case of the Little Death Pt 1bymadam_noe©
He came on the cusp of a hurricane one night in Honduras. A tropical storm was lashing the coast in preparation for the true destruction, threatening the crops, and though I hoped it would stay my deportation, I was assured by my jailers this was not the case. My flight out of possible mortal end into certain death was scheduled for the next afternoon.
How had I, Marly Jackson, a PI from Chicago, ended up in a maximum security prison in Honduras? It was a long story in the making, and only one person left alive knew it almost as well as I did, and I waited for him.
In my small cell I had a low cot, a table built into the wall with a metal chair, and a small toilet, the sink was in the tank. I was dressed in a grey dress, unflattering, and in the four months I'd been inside I'd lost even more weight and my hair had grown back to its former length and muddy brown color. For a long time I had lived as someone else but now I was stripped of it and Marly Jackson once more.
My only contact with the outside world was when the small sliding door at the bottom of my cell door opened in the morning and evening for my meal. I wasn't allowed outside, not even for exercise, and my window, the size of a postcard showed the line of a desolate beach that would be perfect except it bordered on a godforsaken prison.
He'd come and spent the last six nights with me, listening to my tale. How I ended up in a prison in Honduras awaiting extradition to the States for a date with a needle truly began in 1994, fourteen years earlier when I had agreed to help a fellow crooked cop pull a robbery.
I hadn't known then it would lead to my downfall, so what I remember most about those intervening years was Michael Finnegan. He was the love of my life, the bane of my existence, and my former partner from my beat cop days in the Chicago police force and ever so much more.
My visitor had listened for six nights to the stories of Finn in our time post-police force. He brought with him Belmont cigarettes and smuggled in a flask of whiskey the last two nights.
My visitor was a priest and though this was confession from a lapsed, unconfirmed catholic convicted of now four murders, I thought he was softening to me. I was counting on it.
The rapid instructions in Spanish came at precisely 8p.m. when the wind was howling and rain lashed the building, seeping in the window and soaking the toilet. I stood next to it in full view of the door, braced my palms on the slick wall, and spread my legs.
The door opened with a clank and at long last light came. The power had been out since morning and the guard brought a torch with him he placed in a sconce on the wall by the desk.
I was patted down, careless fat fingers examining my nipples and panties more thoroughly than any place I could hide a weapon and I gritted my teeth. One good thing about solitary was it cut down on fighting rape, but it sure as shit didn't stop the groping. The first and only time I'd fought it I'd nearly lost a couple of teeth.
The fat fuck guard exchanged a few cautions with my visitor and the closed the door. I turned as the priest sat at the small desk chair, pulling his hood back. He was Franciscan, old-school, but unlike most of the priests I knew back home we was young, good looking, what as a kid I would have called father What-A-Waste.
"Senora Javier," he said with a nod. Indeed I was legally Marly Javier these days, though a widow convicted of her husband's murder. Tonight was the tale explaining that on my last night in the sweaty, dirty, little country.
"Padre," I said with the flawless Venezuelan accent I'd picked up in the last almost three years of living in South America.
"I have the cigarettes," he said in perfect but accented English. He passed me the pack and I resisted the urge to kiss his hand, and just took one. He smoked as well and pulled one out, lighting mine then his and putting the lighter away.
"I'm glad you've come back. I wasn't sure you would."
"You promised me the story of how you came to be in this place tonight. Your earlier tales have been so fascinating how could I resist? Tell me your story and forgiveness is yours, my child."
Having a man ten years my junior call me "my child" made me smile and I sat on the bed. I put out my empty dinner plate to use and ashtray and took a long pull.
"Where did we leave off?"
"You told me of your days on the police force, and how your partner Arthur Bowers talked you into robbing Mr. Alejandro Javier. You told me how an ex-lover, Eddie Harwood, killed a woman he was having an affair with, one he'd fathered a child with, and then an unknown man killed this Harwood. These are the murders you were convicted of in the States, yes?"
I nodded. "Killing a pregnant woman...it's a death sentence where I come from."
"And the only man who can clear you of these charges was a pimp named Alabaster whom you lost. This Arthur Bowers testified in court that you had committed the robbery and killed three people in California. Your lover, Mr. Finnegan took some cash from you to find Bowers, to kill him before he could testify, and then find this Alabaster. Do I have everything correct, senora?"
I laughed hollowly. "That's how it happened but none of it was correct."
"You were convicted of those murders while here, and now convicted of two murders in Honduras. This is the tale I want to know. You have admitted so many sins that when you claim your innocence in these crimes here, I find myself wanting to believe you."
"Got a flask, padre?"
He pulled one from his robes and passed it over. I unscrewed the top and took a deep swig. It was Jack, not the good stuff like I was used to, but I was half Irish and could drink gasoline in a pinch.
"All right, padre, it started the day I met Luis Javier." And like that, I was back in Chicago three years earlier, unaware of what a dark twist my fate would take.
I was going to have to run. It was a wet March day and I sat in my office and looked around. I'd been a PI for over ten years and all of it in this office. My building was small, a couple of retail shops below in front of the parking spots, above them and the spots were the offices; me, a dentist, and an ESL school.
Most of my career had been spent on penny-ante cases and blackmailing cheating spouses but a few turns of good luck had given me black and white marble floors, antique 1920's furniture, and once a real George Tooker, my favorite artist. In worse times I'd had to sell it and a print hung in its place now.
I had dozens of books, a great liquor cabinet, a pull out couch to sleep on and a full bathroom with a tiny washer and dryer crammed in by the sink.
That afternoon I was meeting with a man who was going to get me out of the country and leave it all behind. There were those two murder charges against me for the shooting death of Eddie Harwood and his pregnant mistress Stormy Michaels on the backburner, but a grand jury was convening about the Bowers incident and I faced extradition to California for three more murders.
Six months ago I'd given Finn, aka Michael Finnegan, one million in cash to kill Bowers and stop his testimony, then to find Alabaster, the man who could clear me of at least 2 murders.
Alabaster and I had grown up in the dingy Pilsen neighborhood together, a historically bad neighborhood now being taken over by hipsters. Whereas a track scholarship got me to college Alabaster became a pimp and small time drug dealer. The bastard had always out-earned me, enough that he was somewhere in Europe, a free man.
He'd been connected to Harwood, how I still had no idea, and he knew the truth; Harwood had killed his mistress Stormy and then some unknown man killed Harwood.
Finn had kissed me senseless, taken the money, and I'd never heard from him again. His beautiful Mustang, a car I loved, was still parked in the garage below his empty luxury apartment in a brownstone on LSD. His only friend in the city, his former assistant Carlos had sworn time and time again he'd heard nothing and was worried. I believed him; under my fists and gun most people cracked but he hadn't changed his story.
At best Finn was dead; at worst he'd betrayed me and left me to lose everything.
I packed. Clothes mostly, holsters, guns, bullets, a few fake IDs I used time to time, and some books I loved. The computer I'd destroy when I knew I was leaving but I still had a while. Luis Javier was due in a few minutes.
Luis was the younger brother of Alejandro Javier, the former head of the international Javier drug cartel. Luis was a Harvard educated lawyer and not part of the organization, but Bowers had fingered him for Alejandro's death. He had money, we had a common enemy, and so he'd been the one person I could turn to for help though we'd never met.
A knock came at my door.
I opened my suit jacket and undid the snap holding my gun in for a quick-draw not knowing what to expect. The man waiting outside my door was alone and surprising.
Tall, slim, broad shouldered and dressed expensively he reminded me almost of Finn with his curly black hair, but this main was dusky-toned and his eyes looked black, they were so dark a brown.
"In the flesh."
He smiled wryly. "I am Luis Javier." His accent was a more flat American accent than mine with my Chicago A's.
We shook hands and I showed him in, closed the door behind me. "Cop a squat, want a drink?"
"Scotch, neat, if you have it."
"I do," I said buoyantly. In my life anyone who could drink that at 2p.m. was all right in my book. I crossed to the bar as he sat and poured two, setting them on the desk before taking the chair behind it.
"Thank you. I'll keep this quite brief as we need to move fast. I have no interest in my brother's affairs except this man, Arthur Bowers, who I know killed him is setting me up to take the fall. After your call I did some checking and I see he is a definite problem for you too."
I nodded and knocked back a sip. "All true, a thorn in both our sides. You dropped the name Michael Finnegan...why?"
"I understand you have quite the history with Mr. Finnegan," Luis said taking a gentlemanly sip of scotch.
I pulled out a cigarette and lit it, refusing to answer.
He sighed. "Finnegan is in South America. For whatever reason he's been hitting my family's operations there, and I have reason to believe he's working with Arthur Bowers."
I tried not to show what a punch to the gut that was. I wanted to call bullshit, but I didn't know this man yet. If he had reason to lie I couldn't figure it, but in my experience that meant little.
"I've been able to track Bowers to Caracas. He was there, Finnegan arrived, and then he disappeared. Finnegan went off the radar and then starts hitting our operations. My brother invested in Mr. Finnegan's company, he has no reason to target our operations, but Bowers has every reason, including a history of it." He said this pointedly.
Yeah, back in '94 when Bowers and I had been detectives in homicide and he'd needed fast cash we'd hit a drug shipment with cash. That it had belonged to Alejandro Javier had been a most a major fuckup.
"I cleared that with your brother. He got it all back."
"And for that I have no reason to see you dead, Miss Jackson."
I took a long pull of my cigarette and knocked back another sip. "Off to a great start then."
"If you and wish to remain free we must leave the country. What I propose is this: we head to Caracas and find a Juanita Morales. She's the one woman who connects the two men."
"The name sounds familiar."
"She's cousin to an employee of Mr. Finnegan, a Carlos Morales."
I stubbed out my cigarette. "He doesn't know about this."
Luis smiled. "No, he doesn't."
His distant smile was more chilling than any threat I'd ever heard from a drug dealer or kingpin. My opinion of lawyers simultaneously raised and lowered, and I knew better than to ask how he was certain.
"All right, so we know where to go. When do we leave?"
He held up his hand and crossed his legs at the knee. "Not so fast, miss Jackson. In exchange for financing our little flight and furnishing you with an untraceable identity, I ask two small favors. After you help me find Bowers and Finnegan, you eliminate them."
I stood and crossed to the window. Bowers I could kill on a children's television program and never lose a minute of sleep, but Finn...
"Time is short. I have word you will be arrested this very afternoon, Miss Jackson."
Treat it like a case, I said to myself. Find Bowers, kill him, let Luis do it, doesn't matter. Find Finn and decide then.
"A new foolproof ID and three million cash to start a new life. For that I find both these men and we deal with them."
I turned to find he'd risen, and stood directly behind me. I stretched out my hand and he took it. "This had better work."
"Nothing is guaranteed, Miss Jackson, but some chance is better than none."
That those words had often been my motto is what made me begin to trust Luis Javier.
We touched down in Caracas late the next night after a few detours. Numbly I'd watched the dark night passing, unable to sleep on the flight. Luis assured me my office had been torched, my computer gutted and the hard disks removed, destroyed elsewhere.
I was done, no connections left to my old life. My mother had disappeared before I could walk and my dad had died when I was a kid, shot off duty in a robbery. My godmother was buried next to him and my godfather Buzz was dying in a hospice, delirious. I had gone to see him before Luis came and he hadn't recognized me, another stone in the wall around my heart. The last connection was the man I loved, the man I was planning to kill.
We'd flown to Mexico City and there I'd had my hair cut to a pageboy and dyed black, and Luis had slicked his hair back. Both of us prone to suits we'd dumped our clothes for plain t-shirts and jeans and Luis donned prescription-less glasses, getting me brown colored contacts in my prescription without asking or taking me to a doctor. I could pass for Latina as long as I didn't speak. My Spanish was the Mexican variety and damn good, but my accent was a dead giveaway.
In Caracas we arrived as Mexican national Luis Gonzales and his Canadian girlfriend Angela Meyers. Luis slipped so easily into a local accent it made me wonder.
We didn't get a hotel, just rented a car and drove to the address we had for Juanita. The airport was 30 miles outside of town and the drive was easy, but lengthy. It gave us time to talk.
"You ever kill anyone?" I asked as a starter, because my tact had always been likened to a Lovecraftian God at a Japanese tea ceremony.
He nearly swerved off the road. "No."
"How can you be sure it's the right thing to do?"
"You saying they don't deserve it, after all they've done to us?"
I pulled out a pack of Marlboros. I couldn't find Camels in Mexico but guessed I should alter my habits now that I had a new life.
Find Arthur Bowers and kill him...great. Find Finn and...it depended. Then what? Three million was a good amount of money but it depended entirely on me trusting this man.
"Tell me about yourself, Miss Jackson."
I lit the cigarette and noticed his lingering glance on it. Hmm, I'd heard of smoking fetishes before but never met anyone with one. I didn't acknowledge it, just rolled down the window.
"I was born and I ain't died yet. You?"
"Most informative. I guess one could say the same for me."
We'd read the files on one another. He knew damn well I was almost 35, was a former cop, a half-assed P.I., and Olympic drinker and a gun enthusiast. I'm sure somewhere in there it mentioned I held the world record for fucking the bad guy.
His said he was thirty three, worked on celebrity cases, had no known connections to his brother's organization other than blood. He made bank on his own and had once been engaged to an aspiring actress who died in an accident on the 405 just a year prior.
He pulled out is notebook with the address and directions as we hit the edge of Caracas proper. "I guess we'd better discuss what we'll say to Miss Morales."
"Usually a gun says it all," I quipped and ashed out the window. My shorter hair felt strange and I knew I'd better get used to it soon.
"Are you always this tough, Miss Jackson?"
"It's Miss Meyers now, and yeah. When I was born they called in a diamond miner instead of a midwife."
He smiled at that.
We finished the drive in silence, me smoking and him glancing, to a part of town that wasn't as nice as downtown or the tourist beach side. Here it looked like Brooklyn in the 1910's, laundry hanging everywhere, kids half-dressed and playing in the streets, alleys crowded by women in scant clothes and young men with old eyes.
We found a small house, built in the 80's it was faded yellow with a dilapidated fence and overgrown yard. It looked abandoned, with broken windows and the smell of rotted food wafting out on the afternoon sun.
We parked and Luis set the car alarm. If I'd been able to bring a gun I would have flashed it at the teenagers eyeing the rented Camry but that was one trick harder than people thought to pull off in an airport. I'd been bluffing about shoving a gun in her face, hoping to surprise him when I used my fist instead.
We walked to the front door and knocked. It swung open.
"Shit," Luis cursed as we glanced around.
We found graffiti and the place half-emptied; what hadn't been stolen had been trashed. The rotted food scent came from the fridge and in the basement we found lamination sheets but no machine, and rows and rows of gun racks empty. No blood, bodies, or signs of a struggle it looked like Juanita had abandoned her stock and wares.
I glanced at the racks and machines. "Looks like a woman both Bowers and Finn would hit up separately, not necessarily together."
"Only Miss Morales can answer that. How long you think she's been gone?"
"Some time, hard to say exactly. Depending on how active local homeless and drug users are, I'd guess at least two months, by the food smells."
He curled his fist and let it relax, breathing in carefully measured doses. "What next?"
"We talk to the neighbors. How charming can you be? You sound native, better'n me."
He smiled at me then, teeth event, straight, and perfectly white, the smile wide enough to show dimples. Yeah, he'd broken a few hearts in his day, so I jerked a nod and lead him outside.
The neighbors to the east weren't home so we went to the ones to the west, Luis knocking loudly.
In fluent Spanish so rapid I understood 80% of it, he asked the woman with a dangling cigarette and baby on the hip if she had known her neighbor.
The woman glanced at me and I smiled, cooing at the baby. Faking maternal instinct went a long way with a mother.
She replied that Juanita had been a dealer of many things and four months ago she had taken in a man, white, tall, and dark (fitting Finn's description to a T when she mentioned a tattoo on his forearm) who had stayed a couple of months. Juanita had left in the middle of the night and the man, presumably Finn, had left the next day.
Luis was about to give up when I tried with my best attempt at a local accent if anyone else had stopped by. Her eyes said yes but she shook her head so I nudged Luis.
He pulled off a bill, cien bolivares fuerte, close to a hundred bucks and passed it to her. She asked us to wait and left the inner door open, looking through papers on a small desk in the entryway.
She came back and handed a card to Luis who glanced at it blankly and passed it to me. When I read the name I had to control myself and said thank you, turning to leave.
Luis jogged after me as I lit a cigarette with shaky hands.