Palmer Ch. 06byhal_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 6: Kelli
Homicide was crawling all over the apartment when Donny Webster arrived. It had taken the team some time to catch up with him. Having been out so late, drinking too, the early hour didn't suit him.
He stormed through the apartment lobby, glaring at the old security guard on his way.
Sandra Wilson followed him, half running to keep up. "How's the youngster?" she asked Ted Jobson as he glanced up at them from his seat behind his desk.
The old guy gave a grimace. Being the Head Security Guard at the premises, he took his position seriously. "He's pretty shaken up. Maybe I should have been here instead?"
Wilson nodded. "Yes," she agreed, though unsure as to what she was agreeing to. Maybe he thought he would have done a better job than his young colleague? Doubtful. If the old man had been on duty, chances were he'd be dead.
"Are the cops okay with you visiting your friend?" he asked Sandra, still believing the cover that Palmer had sold him when they first arrived. "I imagine they'll be pretty busy up there. What's happened anyway? No one will tell me a thing. I'm only the..."
Webster exchanged glances with Wilson from his position beside the elevator. He nodded at the 33-year-old cop. Time to come clean.
"We are the cops," she sighed, flashing her ID and shooting him a sympathetic smile. "Catch you later, Ted."
The look of surprise on his face stayed even as the elevator took them upwards.
Edging along the corridor past Roxanne's half open door, Webster showed his ID to the cop on guard and carried on to 'Palmer's' apartment. It was the stride of a man in a hurry. Goodwin and Palmer were inside waiting for him.
"Freakin' hell," he exclaimed. "Roxanne Lopez?"
Although Webster looked at him, Palmer didn't respond. How could he? He was still struggling with his emotions. The young detective couldn't rationalise why it was taking such a lot out of him. He'd only had one conversation with the woman and yet she'd affected him in a way he could never have envisaged.
"Talk..." Webster barked.
Palmer tried to, but the words wouldn't come out. He was supposed to be having dinner with her soon. For a few seconds, he turned his back, walking across to lean against the door to the kitchen.
Goodwin interjected. "Me and Wilson were next door. She'd been out most of the day. Ten minutes after she got back, someone called at her door..."
Webster nodded. "Yes, Wilson's already told me all of that. You've given all of this to Homicide?"
Goodwin nodded. "I gave them a run down on our case and what we were up to. Pretty routine. They want to speak to Sandra at some time," he rolled his eyes, "as if she might have seen something I haven't. Want to speak to you, too, boss, at some stage."
Webster sighed, taking off his glasses and blowing an imaginary piece of fluff from the left lens. "What a mess. Okay, I guess we start to look around for something else to work on. "Wilson and I can give 'em anything they want. You too, Palmer. Then we get back to the office."
For a second or two Palmer said nothing. He appeared to be weighing the advisability of his next remark. His head shook as he eventually spoke. "Don't think so, boss."
"What?" The fifty-year-old Vice boss's face looked like he'd swallowed a bumble bee.
"We want to stay involved."
"Oh, you do, Palmer? Well, let me tell you..."
"No, boss," Goodwin broke in. "We all want to stay involved."
Sandra Wilson nodded. "Me, too."
"What are you freakin' talking about?" Webster asked, pacing across to the window and then back again. His voice was cold in that way of his when he was about to tear a strip from whomever he was talking to.
"Briggs is in control of the case," Goodwin added.
"Briggs? That shit?" Nobody liked the smarmy police Superintendent. There were even rumours he was bent. Proving them was something else.
"Exactly," Sandra Wilson agreed, settling down in one of the two leather chairs. She crossed her legs, swinging one foot back and forth. It was a nervous gesture. "This killing might well have something to do with our case, boss. Can you imagine turning all our information over to Briggs? Goodness knows where it would end up."
Webster thought for a few minutes. He sat down on the couch, but immediately stood up again. Abruptly, he snapped, "I understand how you all feel. But I have no choice. We've gotta leave this one to Homicide and keep out of their hair."
"That's an order." He started across to the door. "Wrap things up here."
Webster stopped in his tracks, his hand on the doorknob. "What?" His voice was icy.
"No, Chief," Palmer repeated, walking across towards Webster from his position beside the kitchen door.
Webster's look would have damaged anyone in its direct path. "WHAT? I don't believe my freakin' ears..."
"Boss, just listen for a moment," Sandra Wilson said as she leaned forward in the chair. Her voice was quiet as a whisper in an attempt to defuse the situation.
It didn't work. Webster waved an arm in the air dismissively. "Listen? LISTEN? You FREAKIN' listen!"
It didn't stop Wilson. The ballsy female's voice was calm but determined. After all, she'd been fucking Goodwin when the woman was wasted. If she hadn't been... well, who knows?
"Boss," she interrupted. "Me and Goodwin have been stuck in Vice for years. You, longer. Palmer's newer, but he feels the same. Everyone in the Force thinks all we're good for is puttin' the arm on hookers and perverts. They'll laugh their asses off that we've allowed this to happen, no matter what we say."
Goodwin grunted. "Yeah, boss."
Sandra Wilson smiled at her boyfriend, but continued. "You broke the rules that got us started on this case. You gave Big Elsie a drink. And look where it's led us! We've done our job well so far. All of us. And what we'll get is more shit heaped on us. We're tired of being the assholes of the Force. And I for one don't want to be on the butt end of their wisecracks and insults. Do you?"
For a few moments, no one spoke, waiting for Webster to explode. He didn't. He always took notice of what Wilson had to say. But he didn't always agree. His voice was softer. More conciliatory. "Look, I understand your feelings. But you're making this more of a big deal than it is. No one is goin' to give us shit over this..."
Even as he spoke the words, everyone in the room knew he was wrong. Even him. He trailed off, glancing around the room into each pair of staring eyes.
Palmer stared back. However much he tried, he was consumed by guilt. What could he say? Explain that he'd met Roxanne after tailing her? Had a conversation with her? Arranged to have dinner? That she made his heart race, even though he was married to a girl like Kelli? That he'd masturbated while listening to her?
"Chief," he eventually said. "You need to understand. We feel responsible. I feel responsible. Whether I like it or not, I am responsible!"
"Me too," Wilson added. "Goodwin and I are responsible, too." This time she didn't look at the barrel-chested cop.
Webster still didn't buy it. "I understand what you're saying. I know how you all feel. But tell me one thing. Did any of you have any idea what was going to happen? Even an inkling?"
No one answered.
The Vice boss wandered back into the middle of the room, pointing to each of them in turn. "Exactly! You're not. You're not and you're not! Nobody's responsible for what's happened other than the killer. And I'm not about to stick my dick into the meat grinder because Palmer, or any of you, feel responsible."
"We want to work on it," Palmer said. It was as if his boss hadn't spoken. His voice brooked no argument.
Webster sighed as he removed his glasses and pointed them at the wavy haired detective. "Is that right? You want to work on it? And what do I tell Homicide?"
"They'll never know," Palmer said, looking his boss in the eye. "If we turn up something, we'll hand it over. If not, no harm done."
"No harm done? No freakin' harm done? If they find out I let you guys work on their case—"
"Do you trust Briggs?"
Webster paused. It was like being caught in crossfire. Of course he didn't trust Briggs. But admitting it would be counter to his argument.
"The thing is," Palmer continued, his voice calm but authoritative, "you've been in Vice a long time, Chief. You know we're right. We've always supported you one hundred per cent. Now we're asking for something in return. We need you to support us."
Webster took a step towards Palmer. The young detective held his ground. Abruptly, the Vice boss shook his head and diverted to the couch. "Make some coffee, Wilson."
Everyone paused, the silence reinforcing that his words began to hit home.
"Coffee?" Palmer asked.
Webster's shoulders sagged. "If we're gonna stay on this one for a while, you'd better start with coffee. I'm going next door to keep my credibility intact. When I get back, we can decide our next steps."
"That makes sense, boss," Wilson cheekily said. Her broad smile helped her get away with it. "But I'm a cop like the rest of you?"
"So?" Webster snapped.
"Someone else can make coffee."
Kelli was angry. Jack had failed to come home last night. Again. Not even a telephone call. He knew she was returning from Edinburgh. After what had happened with Brooke and Max, she wanted to have a clear-the-air conversation with him about their future.
There were some big decisions to be made.
Maybe it was just as well he'd stayed away? His absence told her everything she needed to know. His work had come first. She didn't want confrontation. Or an argument. But her mind was pretty well made up.
It was time to reaffirm her commitment to Erin. She was the future for her, not Jack.
Before they left each other last night, the Agency Head arranged for them to have lunch together today. She'd suggested the Cheyne Walk Brasserie. "A wonderful French restaurant with amazing views over the Albert Bridge and the Thames, darling," she'd said. "You'd better get used to it. These are the sort of places that will become normal to you in the future..."
Let me see, she'd thought. Wait at home for a husband who was tied to his job, or indulge in the high life. There really wasn't much of a choice, she'd concluded.
Everything had happened so quickly. She was so fortunate. A week ago, she was nothing more than a hopeful, intent on breaking into a higher level of modelling. Now, she was on the road to supermodel status. Could that be? It was surreal.
Erin had been as true as her word. The shoot had been wonderful, but even that paled into insignificance compared to the Victoria's Secret fashion show in Milan.
Erin had told her some of the other models appearing - Roxanne Lopez, Gabrielle Dubois, Amaka, Chanel Iman, Brooke Welles and Noemie Lenoir.
And now... Kelli Palmer!
Curling her feet under her on the couch, her sigh indicated her growing acceptance of the new world opening up to her. It wasn't just the modelling experiences that were turning her life upside down. It was the sex.
Fortunately, she'd passed out after yesterday's shoot before Max had fucked Brooke. Erin had told her all about it. In detail. Had she not passed out, she'd have let him fuck her, too. She had no doubt. Even a final pang of conscience about her marriage wouldn't have stopped her. Being with another woman was one thing, but fucking an ex porn star!
That was something she'd just have to try!
Jack's absence last night had made her realise one thing. It was too late for them. God knows where her marriage was heading. She loved him, but the stubborn bastard wouldn't change. His late nights on Vice turned him on much more than she did. They always had.
That had been the way of things for the previous couple of years. The excitement of their marriage had diminished and they were getting into a rut. She'd just kidded herself otherwise. It was clear to her now – this wasn't what she wanted. She hated their lifestyle and she wanted things to be different. If that was without Jack, so be it.
She picked up the latest copy of Vogue she'd purchased at the airport and glanced at the front cover. Gabrielle Dubois looked sensational. She was a stunning woman, her characteristic coyness coming through in those pale blue eyes. They looked so good with her sassy dark hair.
One day, she'd be on this cover. It would be her that people envied.
Her eyes regarded the French model's full, pouting lips and immediately, she felt herself grow hot.
God, what on earth was happening to her? Since her first meeting with Erin, she looked at women in a different light. And her encounters with Brooke! She had no idea how fulfilling sex with another woman could be. Her thoughts turned to Erin DeVere. What would the strawberry blonde American look like naked?
Maybe she'd have time for a quick masturbation session before she left to meet Erin at the restaurant?
Webster was accompanied by a youthful looking, dark haired man when he returned. "Tom Burley," he said by way of introduction.
The tall, slender man glanced around, a smile creasing his face. "Morning, all." He winked at Sandra Wilson. "Hello, pet..."
Her face curled as if she'd tasted something sour. "Pet?"
Burley laughed. "Whey aye, it's a term of endearment in Newcastle."
"I should have known," she smiled. "A Geordie."
"That's reet, hinny."
"Who's this?" Goodwin asked Webster. His gruff voice displayed the irritation he felt. Wilson was his girlfriend.
"Forensics," Webster replied. "Tom and I've known each other a while."
"Aye. Your boss got me out of a real problem a few years ago," Burley added, smiling across at Webster. "Aa'l aalways be in his debt."
"What's he doing here?" Goodwin asked Webster, continuing to ignore the younger, dark haired man.
"A stroke of luck," the Vice boss replied. "Met him next door. He's on the case. Forensics. Briggs has gone back to HQ so Tom's going to fill us in on what he's found."
"You're willing to brief us?" Palmer asked, leaning forward in the leather chair closest to the large window. "Against policy?"
"Aye," Burley agreed. "And aa'm not saying aa'm comfortable doin' it. But as aah said, I owe your boss. Hey, has anyone told you that you look like Superman?"
Palmer sighed. Wilson giggled. Goodwin snorted. It wasn't the cleverest remark knowing Palmer's hatred of the comparison.
"Okay, when you kiddies have finished," Webster cut in, "tell us what you know, Tom."
"And try and tell us in English," Goodwin grunted, his instant dislike threatening to boil over. "I'd like to understand what you have to say."
Burley grinned as he walked across to the leather couch and flopped down beside Sandra Wilson. "Takes a while for you to catch on, eh?" he smiled at Goodwin. "Aalreet, aa'l take it slow."
Ignoring the look the snow haired man shot across his bows, he turned to Wilson and Palmer. "First, the obvious," he said, sitting on the edge of the seat. "The weapon was a shotgun. Sawn off shotgun. Why? Because if you want the shot to spread faster, that's the best way."
He paused, checking for comprehension on the other faces staring at him. Satisfied, he continued. "From the way the victim's hair was burned in places, and some scorched bits of skin embedded in the wall, aa'd say the weapon was fired within three or maybe four feet of her face."
"The point being?" Goodwin was still simmering.
Burley didn't rise to the bait. "If you listen to the recordings you guys gave us, not only were the two shots simultaneous, they overlapped, just by a fraction of a second. They came too close together to be from an automatic, pump or lever action. So it's a sawed-off, double-barrel twelve-gauge shotgun. One that was very effectively silenced."
The four of them looked silently at Burley, considering his analysis. It was Palmer who spoke. "A lupara."
The forensics' man nodded.
"What the hell's a lubara?" Webster asked.
"Not lubara," Palmer corrected. "A lupara. Haven't you seen any Godfather movies, Chief? It's an Italian word for a sawn-off shotgun. Traditionally associated with the Costa Nostra."
"Costa Nostra?" interrupted Goodwin grumpily.
Burley couldn't resist the dig. "For you, Goodwin... the Mafia."
"The classical Mafia execution weapon," Palmer confirmed.
Webster stood up from his position leaning against the mahogany table. He walked halfway across the room and then back again. "You saying this is a Mafia slaying?"
Burley shook his head. "Nah. Aa'm saying it's a similar type of weapon. And aa'm also saying this was a pro at work. No amateur would have a weapon like that."
For a few seconds, silence fell as his words sank in.
"There's one other thing," Burley muttered, pulling a plastic bag from his pocket. Gingerly opening the top, he stood up and headed over to Goodwin. "Smell anything?"
Goodwin looked at the pellets in the bag before pulling it to his nose. "Gunpowder?"
Burley smiled as he walked across to Wilson. "What about you, pet?"
She ignored his grinning eyes and leant forward. "Garlic?"
The dark haired Geordie nodded. "Another Mafia trademark. They sometimes soaked their bullets in garlic, to infect the wound and make it more painful. Never heard of that used in a shotgun though."
"This is some kind of Mafia hit," Webster said, walking across to sniff the bag for himself.
"Could be," Burley replied.
"Or..." Palmer slowly said, his brain ticking over. "It could be the killer's trademark."
Goodwin sat down on the arm the couch. "So this guy could be Italian?"
"Or woman," Wilson suggested, but Palmer shook his head.
"It's a man," he confidently said. "A woman couldn't have pulled the desk across to block the door into the reception lobby. Not as quickly."
Webster nodded. "Anything more?"
Burley smiled. "This is just supposition, but you can tell from the way the shots hit the wall that the projectile was upwards. The victim is approximately five-ten. My expectation is that the killer didn't shoot from the hip..."
"Because?" Webster interrupted.
"If he had," Burley explained. "The second shot might have hit him under his own chin, ya knaa? My estimation is that he fired with the shotgun either under his armpit or against his shoulder. Aa'd say he's five-seven or five-eight."
Palmer suddenly rose to his feet, sharing the thought that had been whirling around his mind. "He was watching the apartment."
The others looked at him.
He nodded. "He had to be. How else did he know she'd just arrived home? It's too much of a coincidence for him to arrive within such a short time of her arrival back at her apartment." He walked over to the large window and looked out. "There," he said, nodding at the apartment block opposite. "That's where he was."
The others hurried across to join him, looking out towards the apartment complex over the road.
A cold chill ran through Palmer. He knew it! The bastard had been watching from one of the apartments there. Anger began to seep through him. He'd find and nail the bastard. "It's the same view from here as in Roxanne's... the victim's... apartment. That means he had a clear sight in there."
"There are only two apartments on each floor that face this way," Sandra Wilson muttered.
"He could be there now, watching us," Goodwin grunted.
Wilson laughed. "No way. What's the betting he's halfway back to Italy?"