MJ 3: Case of the Purple Rosebymadam_noe©
Author's Note: This case appeared in 1-2 chapter installments in '09. It has not been edited but has been re-uploaded as a single piece due to some continuity errors on my part uploading it piecemeal the first time.
September in Chicago was my favorite time of year. Summer still reigned, but the leaves held that promise of a beautiful turn. This year, however, everything was dry and dead. In a last ditch effort to exert her hold, a heat wave gripped the city.
As a PI I heavily favored suits, but it was damn near impossible to wear them comfortably. So I'd switched to cropped cargo pants and tank tops, a look my ex-boyfriend had hated, but a look the man in my office was smiling at.
"You have five seconds to get out of my office, Finn, or I'll call Montgomery."
Michael Finnegan had been my partner back on the CPD. We'd both been fairly crooked cops, and when we'd left I'd become a crooked PI, he a high-class fence who'd transitioned into pornography.
We'd had a stormy relationship until in April when I'd discovered he'd cheated on me and set me up on a case all to get a woman killed. The woman had been an old enemy, but the daughter of Montgomery, head of the Cicero Gang, the Irish Mob on the city's west side.
Finn was well over six feet, built like a long distance runner or a swimmer, had dark hair, blue Irish eyes, and oozed sex from every pore. However, he wasn't just bad news; he was a death notice.
"Marly, wait. I need to hire you. You're the only one I trust."
I sat back and pulled my cigarettes from the drawer. I lit one and refused him when he nodded towards it. "Considering I hate you, that's an awful gamble."
"My back is against the wall. There's no one I can trust. I'm going down for murder, and every goddamn cop on the force thinks I did it."
I had a feeling he'd show up. After our break-up in April, I'd begun dating Eddie Harwood. Eddie was a shrewd man who ran a club on Pulaski. Harwood's was a private club for bigwigs where privacy was assured. It was a place to drink, dance, see, or be seen, but only by the fellow bigwigs. The Purple Rose was known as a place where things that mattered happened.
And the night before, it had been where Finn had murdered his girlfriend, adult actress Stormy Michaels.
"Fuck Finn, even I think you did it."
"I didn't do it. I've killed people, yes, but do you think I'm stupid enough to kill her in public?"
Finn was many things, but stupid was not one of them. "It's a good strategy. The 'that's too obvious' defense should bring headlines, get Gold 'n' Rod some business."
"Damn it, she was my biggest star. She won three AVNs, and she had her own product line of sex stuff coming out. She was a cash cow!"
I winced. He'd been dating her since about ten seconds after he'd said he loved me and I'd dumped his lying ass. Yet nowhere in his protestations was there any hint of sentiment for this woman.
"I'm guessing the fact that I'm such good buddies with the club's owner would help." I wanted him gone. I had a killer headache. Since we'd broken up I'd been hitting the bottle a bit too hard, and the night before was a blur, the morning one long ache.
I remembered going out to a bar down the street, and then waking up on my office couch. Not such a big shock since I was too lazy to get an apartment, and lived in my office.
Still, the missing time worried me. It had been happening too often since I'd realized I was in love with Finn. And realized ultimately he'd be my downfall.
"It would help, Marly. I wouldn't normally ask but I'm screwed. The cops are following me, I can't go anywhere, I'm fucked. They're convening a grand jury next week, and if I don't have the real killer by then, I'm well and truly fucked."
"Give me one reason to help you." I sat back and blew smoke rings, showing how much I didn't care. But damn if I didn't.
"I'll give you one million. If," he emphasized, "you find proof of who did it, hand it over to the police, and they get convicted."
"Convicted? That would take time, it's a tall order."
"I'll settle for indicted then."
I took my feet off the corner of the desk and stubbed the cigarette out. "One million, cold hard cash, or at least wired as such to my offshore account?" He nodded. "Why so much?"
"I have the policy Gold 'n' Rod had on her. Standard for our lead contracts actors is half a million, but Stormy was the biggest star."
Figured. Finn said he loved me, but it was dollar signs that made his Earth move. I tried not to sulk, but it was hard. "I'll look into it, and if I see a reason to believe you, I'll take the case. Tell me everything that happened."
"Fair enough. Look, can I please have a cigarette?"
I knew for a fact he only smoked around me, he'd officially "quit" four years ago. I slid him the soft pack of Camels with three cigarettes and began to pack a new one on my palm.
"Thank you. Stormy and I went to the club. It was her favorite place, she never got hassled. I took her there because I was breaking up with her." I raised an eyebrow at this but said nothing, letting him continue.
"She was upset, at first she thought I was breaking her contract. When I reassured her I wasn't, she thought it was something else. She started yelling, so did I. Harwood called my assistant Carlos to come get me, and he came and took my gun as a precaution. I waited for Carlos in the VIP room, and I left her there. I forgot my gun, however, and it was used to kill her later that night."
"Don't tell me what would be in the police report, just what you know for a fact."
He puffed out a large ring to beat mine, and for a moment I forgot that I hated him and almost cracked a smile. Almost.
"I know that Stormy was drunk, probably had coke in her system. She was upset, pissed off, and I'm sure trolling for someone to make me jealous. Carlos came and got me, talked me out of confronting her again.
"We went to the Redhead Piano Bar, he got a new place real close to it. I remember sitting down, ordering a martini, and commiserating with my gay assistant about how women were evil. The next thing I knew, it was four this morning, I was on his couch, and the cops arrested me. I bonded out as soon as possible, and came straight here."
I thought on it for a few puffs. Yes, I hated Finn, but beneath it all, I truly loved him. Oh, I hadn't come to terms with it, but I didn't want to just leave him alone to suffer through this.
I knew the cops and I knew the other PIs in the city. I was the only one who'd give him a fair shake.
"Fifty now, the rest later."
"Marly, it'll take time to move that kind of cash."
"So go home and move it while I go and talk to Harwood."
"Still seeing him?"
I refused to answer, instead strapping my gun holster to my belt. I had a conceal and carry permit, but that would mean wearing a jacket, and it was triple digit temperatures outside. Fuck it, I thought, let the citizens be scared.
"I'll call you when I know anything."
He stood and pocketed the soft pack. "Marly, I'm really in trouble."
I walked him to the door and looked up into his worried blue eyes, buried in dark circles. "No shit, Sherlock."
The club had no name, only a discreet neon sign. A Purple Rose above the door. It was an old warehouse, an ice house from back in the day, set back behind an Arabic grocer, back and front entrances on alleys. Inside it was tastefully done like a high-end Vegas joint, and on the top floor were the offices, and Eddie Harwood's loft.
There was little love lost between Eddie and I. I liked bad boys, and Harwood fit the bill, but when he'd grown too bad even for me, I'd broken it off.
It had been nice though, three and a half months of dating. No lonely Saturday nights, no Friday nights crying in my beer. It had been slightly glamorous, it had been fun, but it had all been a facade. Eddie Harwood had a dark side.
I still had a key and climbed the back stairs to his private door. It was early for him, but he did answer the door when people came, and his shiny Hummer was parked below.
I knocked off and on for five minutes with no answer. Finally, I unlocked the holster of my gun, and used the key.
The apartment was neat, but I smelled it. Blood has a tang to it that softens with time. I didn't have to see a body to know Harwood was dead, and had been dead since early morning.
I went back out and did the stupidest thing I could.
I called the police.
Jackie "Don't Call Me Jack" Daniels was a bondsman. I got arrested time to time, a hazard of the PI business, and he was the guy I called to bail me out.
Murder for hire with me as the hit man, well that was a steep bond. Jackie informed me he had contacted Finn who'd put up his condo as collateral. Now we had a secondary money trail between Finn and I.
He may as well have signed my death warrant.
"Thanks for the bail out. I know the drill. No leaving the state, you have my guns, and I show up for every court appearance."
I debated. Out in the parking lot of the precinct station Finn waited in his Mustang to take me home. And further out in the parking lot, I knew, a dented Caprice held two or three detectives who'd trail us.
"How do I get myself into these situations, Jackie?"
He smiled up at me, a short, round man with a ferret face and straight-forward ways. "Just lucky, I guess. Here's your paperwork. Don't disappoint me, girl. You want a ride?"
"Finn's here, and it'd cause a scene if I refused." I hadn't ever worked in this precinct, but the uniforms and suits were staring, hard.
"All right, take care."
I left the ice-cold precinct and stepped into the humid oven of the late day. Summer was a bitch.
Finn honked and I nodded, walking slowly to his car. No press, that was good. Word hadn't gotten out yet, I wondered how long that would last.
I got in and resisted fondling the leather. I loved his car, a real, true love Finn would never understand. "Where to?" He asked and put it in gear. I watched the expected Caprice roar to life and pull out behind us.
"Let's go to a restaurant. Some place public."
He drove to the Blue Angel. It was twenty-four hours, Greek owned, and had a smoking section. My kinda place.
We got cokes, burgers, and fries. I sent three iced teas to the cops who sat down at the closest open table, still too far away to hear anything.
They frowned, but took them, and peeled out of their jackets, relaxing into the air conditioning.
"So they think I hired you to kill Stormy, and that you killed Harwood to cover it up?"
I nodded and pulled an ice cube from my water to munch. "Pretty convenient in their eyes, that both of our exes are dead? Anyways, my motive for killing Harwood is iron-clad, even I can't deny it."
"And just what is it?"
I sat back. "He told the cops I was there last night. I was drunk, had a blackout. Hell, I could have been, I don't know."
"Shhh," I gestured with it to have him keep his voice down. "It happens, but I'd know if I killed someone. I wouldn't have used your gun, I'd've use my own, and I wouldn't want Stormy dead."
He sat back, sensual lips flattened. "Are you sure?"
I snorted, but my reply was cut off by the arrival of our food. We passed the ketchup and mustard, and ate a few bites before I spoke again.
"Look, let's go back to our days in homicide. Opportunity, we both had. Motive, well, the police have that. Both of us were stinking drunk, and that's the worst fucking alibi, especially when your assistant and my normal drinking buddies were also stinking drunk. So let's take the attention away from us, and look at Stormy."
"Why not Harwood?"
"Someone killed Stormy first, Harwood was clean-up. So the motive most likely centers on her. I need to know everything about her. And I mean everything."
Finn chewed his bite slowly. Then he set the burger down with a sigh, and pulled out the soft pack, lighting a cigarette. "I met Stormy two years ago, when Gold 'n' Rod was getting off the ground.
"Recruiting was rough in those days. She was a stripper at the Admiral, and she turned tricks after hours. I saw her at the club a few times, she was very popular. So I paid for sex, but I wanted to talk.
"She wanted out, wanted to do something else. I made her a star. She was a small town girl, a sweetheart on the outside, but a shrewd, calculating bitch.
"I was breaking it off because she had worn me down. The romance I felt turned out just to be pity. And she just wanted control of Gold 'n' Rod."
"Why'd you start shouting? And pull a gun, which you forgot to mention."
"I didn't pull it. She wanted me to turn it in to Harwood and come back. He came with his goons just as I pulled it out. And we were shouting because she crossed a line she knew not to cross, and got too personal."
"What did she say?"
He frowned. "It doesn't matter."
"Telling me could be the difference between freedom, and a needle in the arm."
For a moment we just stared at one another, waiting for the other to budge. With a snort, I picked up my burger and he took a victory lap.
"No one would want to kill Stormy. No one. What about Harwood? You mean to tell me a night club owner is clean?"
I took a long pull of Coke and set out the glass for a refill. When the waitress set it down, I sat back. "Yeah, Eddie Harwood owned a nightclub. Yeah, like all cash business it had many backroom operations. Plenty of people wanted him dead, and it could be just a bad coincidence, but I doubt it."
Tit for tat, I thought. I'd have my secrets, he'd have his.
"Jesus," Finn said, understanding me. "Suppose someone killed Stormy as a warning to him, he didn't heed it, and they came back."
"Nice and neat to us, but the cops'll see that theory has enough holes to drive a truck through. If anyone wanted to warn Harwood, why frame you? And typically a guy gets some time to heed a warning before they cash his check."
"So maybe they're unrelated and we're just fucked."
I shook my head and polished off the burger. "They're related, they have to be."
I chewed a fry. "You're not gonna like my theory then."
I ignored the husky flirtation I heard in his voice. "Harwood killed Stormy, God only knows why. You figured it out, and killed him in revenge, artfully in that hour between your release and your arrival at my office two miles from the station."
His jaw muscle ticked, and I knew I'd scored a hit.
Dark blue eyes glittering, Finn gave a sigh. "Okay, so I didn't come straight to you."
Sitting back in the plush booth I hit a jet from the AC and patience rolled over me. I merely raised an eyebrow, an old cop trick I knew he knew too, but it seemed to work nonetheless.
"I took care of some financial matters first. And damn it, I can prove that."
"I was testing you," I said with a grin. "Harwood had to have been dead before six, and you were in court then."
"Honesty never was your strong point, was it, Finn?"
He glared at me over his drink. "I think you have something there. Harwood set me up. But why?"
I laughed so loud more people than just the cops looked. When I came down from it, I wiped tears from my eyes. "My theory was bullshit. You were a customer, a VIP to him. Other than that, he didn't know you from Adam."
"He knew I had been your lover."
My smile turned to a frown. "Not from me."
"Oh, he knew. Harwood and I did not like each other. He was fucking you, and knowing that almost killed me."
"Open up that can of worms and I'll kill you myself, right here, and gleefully surrender to table eight."
His stare turned thunderous. "Harwood set me up. He took my gun, hustled me out the door before I remembered it, and Stormy was alone in the VIP room. Only he could have gotten in there, and my gun was in his office. Only he had access."
Finn had a point. "Let's say I buy this. A grudge, and opportunity. It still doesn't sound right. Harwood wasn't like that." If Harwood had cared enough about me to be jealous, it was more his style to leave Finn's corpse in his car next to a compactor.
"Then what was he like?"
"He ran a club where the A list, and apparently B," I looked him up and down, amending my impression of the Purple Rose, "could do drugs, gamble, do all the dirty, nasty things people do, without any fear. You don't get to that position by being a hot-headed idiot."
"Passion is a strange thing, and you certainly ignite it, Marly."
I rolled my eyes. "Try thinking with your upper head, dingbat. Harwood thought I was grungy, dangerous. I thought he was glamorous, sophisticated. But I was the one who ended up in the papers once a month, and he was the one breaking kneecaps and burying bodies. Turns out we were both wrong. That man wouldn't have lifted a finger over me."
"Well, fuck." His expression was confused, easy to read. Happy I hadn't loved Harwood, pissed no tangible theory existed to pursue.
I had a feeling we could talk all day and not learn one damn thing from each other. So I signaled for a box and sat back. "Tell you what. Let's get out of here, take me to my office. Jackie had my car brought home so I need a ride anyways. I'll look up Harwood's skeletons, you gather Stormy's. Call me when you're finished."
He paid the bill in full despite my protests we go Dutch, and the cops followed us to my office.
Finn parked in the small lot in back, where the cops declined to follow, and for the first time I noticed how perfect it was for an ambush. If I would be the one setting it up, great, if I was the one being lured...shit, I'd have to find my front door key. Though Finn shut the purring engine off, he put a hand on my shoulder when I went to open the door. "Let me walk you up."
I looked over at my Olds, none the worse for wear. "Why?"
"I want to make sure no one is in there, waiting for you."
"I have a .45 in my car the cops didn't find. I'm armed, you're not. Gonna take a bullet for me?"
"Okay, look, maybe I don't want to be alone just yet. Maybe I'm scared shitless, and you're the only person on this planet who I feel safe with."
I knew he was so demented he might have actually believed that. "Fine," I said at last and he beamed at me.
I cursed under my breath as we alighted, and he waited for me to grab my illegal gun. I continued as we walked into the lobby, and took the stairs up to my office. I wasn't sure if he'd meant what he'd said about an ambush, but I checked the storage room and bathroom, even behind the shower curtain.
"All clear?" He grinned and flopped on the couch.
"You don't have a TV?"
"I don't watch TV. I'm always working."
He shook his head as he placed his hands beneath it. His muscles flexed, visible through his t-shirt, and I felt things low in my body tighten. "You're no fun."
I sat down at my desk and looked around. The cops had been through with a warrant, and my computer was gone, so were my schedule books.
Books lay tossed on the ground, obviously shaken as if I had hidden a note inside somewhere. I knew they'd been hoping to find a mad confession. Idiots, if I had been a uniform tossing the joint, I wouldn't have spent a second on the damn bookshelves. They'd been watching too many old movies.
Damn it, it would take days to get it back to normal and organized, and I was a woman who was anal about organization. "Look at this, Finn. Look at this."
"Standard procedure. Talk to Smith tomorrow and you'll get your computer back."
I pushed the top to a missing file box off the desk and lit a cigarette nervously, blowing out a long puff of smoke before speaking. "Finn, this is just the beginning. Don't you see? The press will come soon, and fry us alive. Our lives...nothing will be the same."