MJ 3: A Bad Case of Blackmailbymadam_noe©
This is the third mystery in the Marly Jackson series. I hope you enjoy the continuing adventures of Masrly and Finn!
He was reed thin, older than God, nearly white all over, and had the bearing of a clan chieftain. Exceptionally tall Godfrey Montgomery's head was nearly at the crown molding I'd recently put into my office.
"Let me get this straight," I said around my cigarette. "You want me to find your blackmailer, get whatever evidence he has on you, find dirt on him, and hand him over to the police?" Come on, what do you take me for, I added silently. Montgomery was not a man you pissed off, so I kept my sarcasm to myself for once.
"Miss Jackson- may I call you Marly?" I nodded to that and he smiled wanly. "I do not wish this person dead, I wish them to suffer the very public humiliation they have threatened me with."
That was his evil. Whatever you did, or rather, tried to do to Godfrey Montgomery, he turned back on you tenfold. There were few people I was scared of in this world, but he was one. If he demanded I do this pro bono I would, and that was saying a lot.
"All right. The first step I believe would be to ask you just what it is that he's blackmailing you about." I didn't really want to know, but I had to.
"I believe I'll take that drink you offered now," he said and finally sat down. I was suddenly glad for the repairs I'd made to my PI office, the black and white floors were polished, the wood was re-stained, the furniture all new and good. I'd redone my kitchenette and put a wet bar in the main office.
I went there now and poured him a gin and tonic, myself some whiskey. When I turned back he'd lit a cigar, the tobacco smelled of vanilla and old money, and I liked what it did against my cheap cigarettes.
"Here you go." I set the G&T on a coaster and took my seat. Montgomery loosened his tie and took a hearty sip.
"I killed my daughter."
I was nobody's poster girl for moral goodness, but I stopped short of cold-blooded murder. I'd killed people both as a cop and as a PI, but always in self defense, or near enough. Still his confession didn't shock or even surprise me. If his daughter had wanted her inheritance early, he'd make damn sure she never saw a cent.
Gulping, I nodded. "Okay. And who knows this?"
"No one. She's missing, has been for a week. I have an associate who owns some property that was to be...demolished." Translation, I thought; firebombed. "I found a note that she had gone there to collect the money owed to me. My men didn't see her, it was an accident."
"So you've looked at your debtor and your men?"
"I have inquired by means which need not be discussed. Suffice it to say, none of them is the culprit."
They were all dead, then, or praying to be. "And what are the threats?"
"Transfer thousands at a time to a Swiss bank account. As you well know, completely untraceable."
Yeah, I knew. Not even the NSA or CIA could hack those accounts. The Swiss were the best at keeping secrets, especially mine. "How long?"
"It started the night of the destruction, a mere hour after. I hadn't even known she'd gone there. I came straight home and found her note."
I didn't need to ask, but I had to. "You've inquired about servants, employees, anyone in the house?"
He nodded and polished off the gin. Since he had domination of my fancy ashtray, I pulled out one I'd stolen from a Michigan Burger King years ago and lit another cigarette.
"I have inquired discreetly and have come upon the conclusion it was a friend of my daughter's. I can no longer inquire about this without raising suspicions. I cannot go to the police as I'm sure you can easily understand. Viktor Petrov recommended you highly."
I gulped. A Russian ex-pat oil heir, Petrov was the star violinist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and a high ranking member of the Russian Mob. He hadn't hired me, my old cop partner, arch enemy, and sometimes lover Michael Finnegan had, on what I called "The Violin Case,' where I'd met the very scary Petrov.
Finnegan had stolen a Stradivarius from him which he was to ship to a customer in Italy, when it had been stolen from Finn's warehouse. I'd proven it had been taken by the appraiser to cover up the fact that the appraiser had actually stolen the real Stradivarius years earlier. What I had been chasing had been a top-notch fake. Petrov paid me a cool million to give Finnegan the fake, and return the real one to him, double crossing the very dangerous Finnegan.
Finnegan had not darkened my door. Yet.
One month later and a man who'd nearly killed me was sending me business. Interesting...to say the least.
"So I assume you have names, addresses, and numbers of all her friends?"
Montgomery nodded. "My assistant will fax everything over. What is your fee?"
"Ten grand to find the blackmailer, another ten to destroy his evidence, and another ten to dig up dirt on him follows my standard rates, but I'm flexible." I was quoting my old rates, what they'd been before The Violin Case. Since then I'd come up in the world, but people like Montgomery got a break, as long as I got to live.
"Thirty grand plus expenses. I'll wire you fifteen today."
I pulled out my contract and business card with the account info and slid them over. "That's my account. Have your lawyer look over the contract and fax me a copy tonight. I'll get started right away." I meant it; Finnegan I could double cross because the bastard was in love with me, Montgomery held no such feelings for anyone. I doubted he'd even shed a tear for his dead daughter.
"Very well. Miss Jack- Marly, I need this done as quickly as possible. Are these all your numbers?"
"My cell is always on me, always on. I'll work day and night, Mr. Montgomery."
He stood and stubbed the cigar out before straightening his tie. "If this works out, I will owe you a debt, and my word is my bond. It will not be forgotten."
I nodded at that, a standard agreement with the mob. We had a few in town, Russian, Italian, Chinese, but the Irish-Scot in front of me ran the modern day remnants of the Cicero gang, the Irish mob. He owned half the politicians in the state and most of the judges. If he killed me at that moment he'd never see the inside of a jail cell or court. If I did him a favor, I got a free pass on my next transgression.
Without so much as a by-your-leave, he exited quietly, and the goon on the other side of the door fell in step behind. When I saw their fuzzy shadows disappear from the glass, I let out the breath I'd been holding. Great, and angry Finnegan and now a touchy Montgomery to contend with. If he'd let me know he'd killed his daughter, that meant he had something on me, and there were a lot of skeletons in my closet.
I was expecting Finnegan at any moment, had been for the last month, but I'd heard nothing. He'd said he loved me, he had two-million-plus reasons to hate me, and I was living in the distance between greed and love.
I slammed my whiskey back and leaned into my chair, closing my eyes. Something beeped and I was out of my chair with my gun naked, but it wouldn't make sense to shoot my fax.
I checked the paper and it was Montgomery's list. No time like the present, I thought, and buttoned my suit jacket before stepping out. The first stop was a shock; Stephanie Montgomery's best friend was Julie Wojakowski.
Julie and I had a history, and she owed me. It gave me enough hope she wouldn't shoot me on sight.
It was late enough in the day I found her at the Wilmette Yacht Club. Wilmette was the second suburb north of the city, full of money, and the yacht club was the best place in the country for women to meet eligible millionaires. Julie had already done that, the daughter of a retired US Senator she was the wife of a current one, the second richest woman in the state after Oprah.
They didn't let me in the front and it was no surprise. The best way to describe myself is an early thirties version of Lena Olin on a bad day, with glasses. With my pantsuits and sensible Doc Martens I didn't get many doors opened, so I sneaked in the kitchen door.
I found Julie at a table and when our eyes met, hers narrowed. She was a born and bred lady, and merely nodded in recognition, setting her drink down. I leaned against the bar and was ignored by all as she excused herself from the table.
Julie had been friends with Mary Beth Anderson, who had been murdered seven months earlier. Julie's lover Kevin had done it, and I'd saved her from ruining her marriage and name, and kept her from getting arrested. She owed me big.
She motioned me outside and I followed her onto the shore of Lake Michigan. A huge lake, on very clear days like today you could see Holland, Michigan on the other side. She used it as a backdrop perfectly, like a woman adored by the press should.
Standing against the wind, her blond hair and blue sundress made her a poetic image. In a way I hated women like her; everything was always pressed, well done, they always said the right things and looked beautiful. They seemed to have it all and carried a sugar-coated smile every day. But I knew her life was empty, she had no reason to really live, and so I pitied her.
"What now, Jackson?" She said by way of greeting, faux smile gone revealing the tactician beneath. Had she been wielding a chainsaw I wouldn't have been more intimidated.
"Another missing person, another friend, and no, you're not a suspect. I need help."
She turned to me and paled, hands out in panic as if to ward me off. "I didn't do it, I had nothing to do with it. She was an honest friend."
"I know, she told her father you were her best friend. He gave me a list of her friends, but no lovers. All I want to know is who she was seeing."
"She was part of...the group," she said hesitantly, and I sighed.
Julie and Stephanie had once paid one thousand a week for a lover. Good looking men, very seductive, well trained. Mary Beth Anderson pimped them out and blackmailed the clients, and I knew Julie had been a victim. Or had been, until her lover killed Mary Beth Anderson and tried to frame me. He was rotting in a jail cell, safely removed from suspicion.
"Shit," I said. "Shit, shit, and more shit. Was she ever blackmailed?"
Julie shook her head, and her curly blond hair cascaded in the June sunshine. "No, she was new when it disbanded. Only ever slept with...what was his name? Brian Jarvis?"
"Ryan Madigan, actually," I said quietly. Ryan was an athletic blond who'd had a good pro football career until a broken back had ended his playing days. He'd wanted to work in Finnegan's pornos, but he was too recognizable, so Finn had whored him out.
"Yeah, him. She liked him, after it went public that Mary Beth was dead...I don't know. If she kept seeing him, she never mentioned it."
"Any more...socially acceptable men?"
"She was dating this investment banker, but only for social functions. Harry Walters. Said she couldn't stand him. She used to date this guy, she met him at a club. The kind daddy doesn't approve of?" She looked at me as if I'd understand, but at my blank look shook her head. Never had a daddy, never dated good guys, I stuck to creeps like Finn. "Biker, raced underground or something. Named Cortez."
"First or last?"
She shrugged. "That was a few months ago. Guess she thought Brian- Ryan was a safer way to go. I think Cortez might have been a little, you know."
I shook my head and pulled out a cigarette, ignoring the cute wrinkle of her nose in distaste. "No, I don't."
"He might have gotten physical. She always had marks, but she never complained. I think she paid him off to leave her alone."
"Why do you say that?"
"She mentioned something about money, her father, Cortez, but I wasn't paying attention. Cortez never came up again."
Well, that rang some bells. "That all?"
She nodded. "Marly, I'm going back in. Don't ever contact me again."
I watched her go back to her world and I lit the cigarette. She didn't have to worry that I'd darken her door again. People like her went on TV, talked to Oprah, headed up charitable balls. People like me busted balls and hustled.
I had thorough work to do.
I had talked to the other three friends on Montgomery's list, and all said the same thing. Cortez, the bad-boy-toy, and Harry Walters, the boring beau. My spidey-sense said Cortez was a good start, my new conscience said I wouldn't fuck him no matter how fuckable he was, and I knew where to find him.
He was in the racing circuit, but when I checked it out he'd moved on. He worked for a club, probably where Stephanie had met him. It was called Danny's, and it was a sex club.
Once again, I swore off sex for the duration of the case.
Danny's moved around a lot. It had to; it was illegal. And prohibitively expensive.
I had enough in the bank that I shouldn't have to worry, but I couldn't help it. Money had always been tough in my life, its recent existence was new and foreign. It cost a cool grand to get inside, and I was handed a black silk mask. I slipped it on and it covered most of my face.
Inside all the guests wore silk masks, the employees wore smaller masks that hid less, men in black, women in red. The main room was a bar, lounge, and nightclub, a meeting place. I'd been there before as a detective on murder investigations. Once you saw what was in the adjoining rooms, you'd understand why so many people killed their philandering spouses.
I surveyed the room, but no one had "blackmailer" above their head blinking in neon. Shame, that. Stephanie's friends had said Cortez left marks, and so I found the right room.
There was an arena you could step down into, or risers up into. I choose up. Here the seats were leather, the walls around each high enough for privacy, and behind each row of seats was an aisle. You could place your empty glass on a shelf behind you and a waiter would refill it without disturbing you.
I realized that not only were the half dozen people in the arena having sex, but everyone in the stands was masturbating. A nicer girl would have been disgusted, but I was turned on.
A young man caught my eye, and he wasn't having sex, but using a whip to torture and command a couple on the floor. They followed his every soft-spoken order though he was half their age. I watched his muscles flex, dry mouthed, and unzipped my pants.
I had recently been introduced to BDSM, and I found myself aroused by it. This young master was fantastic, the couple on the floor gleamed with sweat. He contorted them, forcing the man to drive into the woman hard, drawing screaming grunts from her. Both lovers clutched at each other, nails drawing blood as he built them up but kept them from release.
I timed the strokes of my fingers to every thrust of the man on the floor. At last their pleading won over the master, and he let them go, flying free. I frigged myself hard until I came, forcing myself to be quiet in shyness, though I heard many moans and grunts all around me.
The couple bowed to their master, who jerked a nod. His body was strained, aroused, unsatiated, but he merely coiled the whip and turned to leave.
I scrambled down to the arena and put my hand on his arm. "Cortez?"
He turned so swiftly I knew he was my man. "I'm sorry, who are you looking for?"
"After the club closes, meet me at the Denny's down the street. Be there or I'll come back. I only have a few questions for you."
I left him then and made my way outside. When things shut down as they were starting to there was a long line for the valet and we all kept our masks on.
Every car was nice, I shuddered at the thought of my Olds rolling up to the curb. Just when it did I felt a gun in my back and heard a familiar voice in my ear.
"Get in and don't make a scene."
"Finn," I said with a shaky voice.
"In the flesh," he purred, and I truly didn't know if he was going to kill me or fuck me. Something spiked in my blood. Oh yeah, the worse they were, the more I wanted them.
I sat down and he followed. I saw then that the safety was on and breathed a sigh of relief. I wasn't dead: yet.
"I'm working a case and have to meet a suspect soon."
"Whipping boy? I saw. And if you think I'm going to let you fuck another man I may as well kill you with my bare hands."
"Oh goody. What are we talking, murder-suicide, Finn? I'm not really in the mood."
"Drive north," was all he said and shut off the radio, cutting Frankie Valli off in mid syllable.
I headed north on Lincoln, having a feeling he wanted to take me home. Goody; ninety five percent of all murders occurred in the home between loved ones. I was screwed.
"I'm not going to fuck him. I've sworn off men."
"Shut up," was all he said but it wasn't harsh.
The patience I heard there was what got me. I swerved into the turn lane and slammed on the bakes, throwing him into the dash. "Always buckle up, asshole," I said and grabbed the gun.
I took the safety off and gave the finger to the honking car behind me, putting on my blinkers. He recovered and pulled off his mask, revealing a bruise, and bags under his startlingly blue eyes. Finn always had been and always would be the best looking man I'd ever seen, not in spite of but because of the broken nose, crooked smile, and wary cop eyes.
He smoothed a hand through his dark wavy hair as cars began to go around us. "Jesus, Marly."
"Look you want your money back? I'll wire it tonight. You want an explanation? I'll give it. You want to kill me? Tough shit, Finn."
"I don't want any of that, Marly. I don't need it."
"Then what do you want?"
"This," he growled, and kissed me. It was brutal and warm, consuming, and made me swiftly change my mind on my celibacy. The gun fell from my hand as I grabbed his shoulders and licked at his tongue.
He bit mine and jabbed the gun in my ribs.
"Fuck," I said.
"That's what I had in mind."
Surprisingly reason got through Finn's lust-addled mind. Actually, it was Montgomery's name, which got through everyone's distractions. He insisted on accompanying me to the Denny's as I explained the case.
This did not bode well. Almost all of my cases went smoothly, boringly well, but when Finn was along for the ride everything went FUBAR.
Cortez was a rather plain looking man with good bones, an earring, and longish dark hair. I got good-guy vibes off of him which didn't jive with what Stephanie's friends had said about their relationship. Rich mobster kids didn't usually have to buy off nice boys.
So when we plopped down I smiled and said "I'm Marly Jackson, PI, and this is my arch enemy and personal pain in the ass Michael Finnegan, he owns Gold 'N' Rod, so play your cards right and you might have a job on camera. You introduced Stephanie Montgomery to BDSM?"
The waitress who just reached our table turned around and ran for the kitchen.
Cortez blushed scarlet. "We dated. She said she wanted to try the lifestyle, but she didn't like what it entailed. We broke up three months ago."
"So I heard. You still race bikes?"
"Excuse me, can we get two coffees and a refill over here?" Finn asked the younger waitress across the aisle.
"No." Cortez replied to me, shaking his head.
"How'd you meet Stephanie?"
Cortez blushed again. "I used to work at a club, the, uh, Sugar Shack."
I nodded, recognizing the name. It was a strip club with male dancers up by the Wisconsin border, closed now. "Other than this BDSM kick, anything ever happen in the relationship of note?"
"Yeah," he said and fidgeted his empty coffee cup. "I had a bike, I raced it a few times. She thought I was a badass but I'm not. She flaunted me in front of her daddy, her friends. Her old man offered me fifty thousand to never see her again. When I told her she laughed in my face and offered double. I took off, haven't seen her since. What's going on?"