Naked She Died
Joey turned and handed McKay his .38.
“Big feller with a busted nose told me to give you this.”
McKay slipped the weapon back into its ankle holster.
Joey guided the cab along the curving lane and out past the gate.
“Ain’t it sumpin’, Mike. A Corelli runnin’ for mayor. Crooked as hell and people will probably vote for ’im. Just like the Kennedys. Old Joe crooked as hell, in with the Mafia, bootleg whiskey, killed a few people along the way, then to get respectable runs his son for president. And it worked. People are dumb-asses, Mike.”
David Corelli came out to where his father was sitting after McKay had left and sat down.
“Let that be a lesson to you, David,” the older Corelli mused. “Honest men are useful. But their lives are futile. When I die thousands of people will come to my funeral and mourn, but how many do you think will come to McKay’s funeral? Hell, he’ll be lucky if an old dog will come and piss on his grave. It’s not how good you are, but how good people think you are that counts. Someone loses his job, I get him another one; a family loses their home, I get a building and loan company -- that I own -- to get them another at inflated rates. And the dumb bastards think I’m a fucking saint. They’re too stupid to know that I fill their kids with junk, turn them into pimps and whores; that I take their hard earned salaries with my gambling casinos, or half their earnings through extortion; yet because I tip heavy in a restaurant with money I’ve stolen from them, or tithe in their stupid churches with money I’ve extorted, they love me. Remember this, Dave, people are sheep; people are sheep, and they get what they deserve.”
When McKay got back to his condo a message was waiting for him on the answering machine. A woman’s voice.
“If you want to know who killed Julian Blakemore pick me up at the corner of Madison and Chestnut. Ask for Rose.”
It had started to rain again by the time McKay pulled up in front of Byer’s pool hall. A few pros were hanging out in the doorways of adjoining buildings, a couple were holding newspapers over their heads. One of them, a tall, black woman, tossed her cigarette off into the street and approached McKay’s car as he lowered the passenger window.
“You uh cop, suuugah?” She leaned down nonchalantly to look at him with the shrewdness of ages showing in lacquered-lidded eyes
“Do I, the fuck, look like one?”
“How the hell would I know, hon? Are you hung? I like white boys who’re hung.”
“Four and a half hard -- but I’m looking for Rose.”
“What the hell you want with that skinny bitch when you could have these to play with?” She cupped an ample breast underneath and jiggled it.
“Nice, baby, but I’m in the mood for what Rose is selling.”
She gave him the long look people give the foolish, then a lazy, disgruntled sigh; with one hand she tapped a rhythmic drum on the roof of the car and stood back.
“Rose, you got a special request,” she called out, glancing over her shoulder.
A petite brunette moved out from one of the crowded doorways.
“What’s you got, scraggly white girl?” the black hooker chided as she sidled past her.
“I’ve got it, honey; I’ve got it. Don’t you worry your black ass none about that.”
The black whore chuckled.
“Girl, you’d better wash your mouth.”
The brunette was still smiling when she got in the car.
McKay pulled away from the curb.
She was prettier than he expected. Street whores were usually bottom of the barrel. She looked young, but world weary. Maybe fourteen, fifteen. Her eyelids were tinted blue to match her eyes. Crooked teeth gave her face an impoverished look. Her figure was trim and curvy. Full breasts. She was wearing a black mini-skirt and a yellow tank top. No bra and probably no panties.
“Can we get something to eat? I’m hungy.”
McKay drove to a hot dog stand on a rise by the lake. The rain beat a steady tattoo on the canvas awning overhead as they ate steaming hot dogs and greasy fries.
“What I got gonna cost two bills,” she said, after washing down a mouthful of food with a large slurp of soda.
“Let’s hear what you’ve got,” McKay replied. He stared out across the lake. Even in the rain there were a few boaters motoring about far out, cutting white swaths in the slate-gray water.
“I knew Ann a few years back, before she started hooking; she was stripping,” she began, speaking around her food. “We had a thing until she met this other bitch by the name of Alice, who was a stripper, too. I was history after that -- mostly. Ann and me would still get it on occasionally; in secret though, cause this Alice was the real jealous type. And Ann was the type who couldn’t stay with anyone for any length of time. She bored easily. Anyways, Ann told me once that she had been hooked up with a lawyer and his wife; they were into kinky sex: threesomes -- moresomes, bondage, S and M, you know, that kind of shit. And she said Alice found out and threw a shit fit telling her to knock it off or she’d slit her damn throat.”
Rose paused to give McKay a significant look, then continued.
“Ann didn’t quit, natch; the lawyer and his wife were paying her too much to turn down. The name she mentioned was Blakemore; same as the guy on the news who got whacked. Anyways, shortly after telling me all this, Ann turns up missing. It figures Alice found out she was still screwing around and killed her and the lawyer to get even. That’s who your Jane Doe mentioned in the paper is, ten to one.”
“And you want justice,” McKay said, intrigued by the way the girl scarfed down her food unselfconsciously.
“Sure,” she replied, without reacting to the cynicism in his tone.
“Well,” she finally said, when she was through eating, “where’s my two bills?”
“You’ve already been paid -- by Corelli; you shouldn’t try to skim the trough twice.”
“I should have known better than to trust a fuckin’ cop,” she said, with a sour face.
“ ‘Or a harlot for her weeping,’ ” McKay murmured.
He reached for his wallet and fished out a hundred and slipped it to her.
“Some of what you said might be useful, but you’ve offered no proof, and you’re wrong about Alice killing Ann.”
Her face brightened as she shoved the bill in a small purse hanging from her shoulder on a thin, gold chain.
“Why do you say that?”
“She doesn’t have a car or a house with an adjoining garage or neither does she live in a secluded area.”
Rose stared at him with a puzzled expression, then shrugged and turned to look out at the rain dripping from the awning.
Helen Blakemore lived up in the hills, too. High up on a stone-cliffed knot that overlooked the city. The house was a three-story, molded, white stucco wrapped around with large plate-glass windows from top to bottom with a random placement of balconies. At one corner was a square tower with stained glass windows.
McKay passed the main entrance which had an unused, ornamental look, signaled by the small, neglected bushes growing at the edge of a slightly elevated red brick porch. He followed a black, paved drive that sloped down and around to the side and mushroomed out against a six car garage on the edge of the cliff.
To the left, as McKay got out, were wide steps roughly carved into a sloping, stone ledge that went up twenty feet or so to a terrace. Small, blue flowers grew from cracks.
At the top of the steps McKay came to a tan, tile-covered surface surrounding a rectangular pool, its straight, uncluttered lines matching those of the house.
In it’s blue, sparkling water was a nude woman with red hair swimming toward him using a relaxed crawl stroke expertly executed.
When she reached the edge, just a few feet from him, she gave a final flutter kick and threw her arms up on the side.
Glancing up, a look of surprise crossed her face, then a slow, tantalizing smile.
“Why don’t you come in? The water’s fine.”
“Can’t, I might melt,” he answered, flipping open his badge holder. “I’m Inspector Mike McKay.”
“Aw, and I thought this might be party time,” she said, turning her head from side to side with mock disappointment.
“You Mrs. Helen Blakemore?”
“Yep, that’s right.”
“I need to ask you a few questions. Won’t take long.”
“Can I trust you?”
“To keep your eyes closed while I get out of the pool and get my towel?”
She nodded toward a patio table of wrought iron and glass where a canary yellow towel hung over the back of one of four thickly padded green chairs.
McKay closed his eyes and listened to the sound of a sparrow go sweet-sweet-sweet from somewhere off -- followed by a plash and the faint pad of wet feet.
“You can look now,” she said.
She had wrapped herself in the towel and was drying her hair with another.
“I take it this has something to do with my husband’s murder, Inspector?” she teased, motioning for him to take a seat.
“Just some routine questions.”
“Well, anything I can do to help,” she said offhandedly.
She wrapped the towel around her head turban style, then reached with a leisurely show for a pack of cigarettes lying on the table.
She was beautiful and knew it.
“You don’t seem too upset for someone who’s just lost her husband.”
“We all handle grief in our own ways, I guess,” she said, dryly.
“Um, yes; and you seem to be handling it quite well.”
She gave a shrug and smiled. Gorgeous white teeth. Green eyes flashing.
“My husband and I had a marriage of convenience. An open marriage. I married him for his money and social position. He married me for my looks. We liked each other, of course, enjoyed each other’s company, but there was no great romantic love between us. We were both much too mature for that. Sex was our common raison d’être. We liked to experiment with everything life has to offer.”
She lit a cigarette with a silver dolphin, baring her throat momentarily as she blew a cloud toward the sky.
“Does that shock you, Inspector?”
“Menage a trois?”
“A few. Are you interested?”
“With a hooker by the name of Ann Wilson?”
“My, someone’s been talking.”
“A video tape of her and David Corelli was found in your husband’s desk?”
“Really? Is that why he was killed?”
“I don’t think so. I think somebody wanted it to look that way.”
From where they were sitting, one could see out over much of the valley. Long ago any trees had been cut down to give an uninterrupted view. A faint breeze stirred in from the south, fragrant and warm. Off in the distance, McKay could see the amethyst sparkle of the lake surrounded, at one end, by a neat patch work of buildings and streets that eased off into plotted farmland and rolling, forest-covered hills.
“You had a life insurance policy on your husband, didn’t you?”
“Surely you don’t think I would kill Julian for insurance money.” She turned her head to one side, mildly derisive, smacking her lips. “He made plenty, and he was quite generous. I had everything I wanted.”
“No. Did I give that impression?” McKay said with a mocking smile. “As I said, I’m merely asking routine questions. One final one, though, and I’ll get out of your hair. Where were you at noon the day your husband was shot?”
“My, you really do think I killed him, don’t you? But I have an alibi, Inspector. I was with Alfonso; he tends bar at the country club.” She gave McKay a taunting look.”
“I’ll need to speak with him.”
She sighed and put her cigarette out in an ashtray on the table and picked up a cell phone.
“I hope you’ll be discreet, Inspector; there are still a few people in the world who frown on my kind of life style.”
She pressed a button on the phone.
“Rebecca, would you bring me a rum and coke?”
She glanced at McKay; he shook his head. When he had his pen and pad out, she gave him an address.
An attractive brunette came out carrying a frosted old fashion glass chocked full of ice in amber.
McKay stood, thrusting the pad and pen back into his coat pocket.
“Stick around, Inspector; the afternoon’s just starting; things could get interesting.”
She took Rebecca’s hand and squeezed it.
Winding down out of the hills, McKay saw a black sedan following close. Although Nick Corelli hadn’t said so, in so many words, it hadn’t been a request that McKay find Blakemore’s killer. It had been an order. And McKay had a fair idea what would happen to him if he didn’t comply.
Alfonso Moreno lived in a walk-up apartment block. Latino music was playing from a corner cantina as McKay entered one of the buildings and made his way up three flights of stairs, down a hallway of faded, brown carpeting and knocked on a door with a motley, brass fourteen.
A swarthy, young man of medium height opened the door. He was wearing a tight, red, muscle tee with white nylon shorts and had a muscular build with broad sloping shoulders, a narrow waist and thick, corded thighs. Curly, black hair ringed olive eyes set in a smooth, handsome face.
Stud service was the message radiated to McKay’s mind.
He gave McKay the once over, eyes narrowing with a hesitant suspicion that tightened the muscles of his cheeks.
McKay flipped his badge.
“I need to talk to you Al; name’s Mike McKay.”
“What about, man?”
“Why don’t we step inside and talk about it?”
The narrow eyes studied McKay. The muscular shoulders raised slightly, the chest swelling, as he took a deep breath.
“OK, man, but I ain’t done nothing.”
The room was bare. Stock pictures hung on the wall. One of the Madonna, behind cracked glass, looking sad and compassionate. A few porn magazines lay on a chipped coffee table in front of a black vinyl sofa. A couple of empty beer cans next to them. The pale, brown carpet had dark stains.
“Nice place,” McKay said, and sat down in a creaking, straight-backed chair adjacent to the coffee table.
“It’s a piece of shit. But what can you do on seven dollars an hour?”
He sat down on the sofa, fidgeting, then reached for a pack of cigarettes buried underneath a magazine.
“You want a beer?”
“Naw, thanks; still working.”
McKay reached in his coat pocket and tossed a mug photo of Ann Wilson onto the table.
“You recognize her?”
Alfonso picked the photo up while lighting his cigarette with a throw-away and studied it.
“Yah; I know her. She was always over at Helen’s; she stopped coming around about a month ago.”
“Now I want you to think about this, Al: did you ever see Ann or Mrs. Blakemore with a revolver?”
“Yeah. Ann had this shiny revolver; she showed it to us once; bragged about how she kept it under her pillow in case a trick got out of hand.”
“Did Helen Blakemore ever come to this apartment?”
“Yeah; she didn’t like it though.”
“Go figure. The day her old man got whacked?”
Alfonso started to speak, then slumped forward and merely shrugged.
“Alright, we’ll let that ride for now. Were you with her all the time?”
“Well, sure, hell, what you mean? We fucked.”
“Did you leave the grieving widow alone, say when you went to take a piss or slip on a rubber?”
A light came on suddenly in Alfonso’s eyes.
“Yeah, but I remember now, she wanted some wine; I went down to the corner and got some.”
McKay reached into his wallet and pulled out a twenty. He laid it carefully on the corner of the coffee table and nudged it toward Alfonso with the tips of his fingers.
“Al, you seem like a decent sort, and so, I’m gonna level with you. I’m betting you twenty to nothing that the gun that killed Julian Blakemore is here somewhere in your apartment.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Take my word for it, Al. I’m a cop; that’s how my fucking mind works. Now if another cop were to come here with a search warrant and find this gun, you’d be in some serious shit. I’m talking murder one.”
“Hey, man, that sucks. I didn’t kill nobody, goddamnit.”
“Relax, I know that, but it would be kind of hard to explain, wouldn’t it? A murder weapon showing up in your apartment.”
“But you know how it got to be here, I suppose?” Alfonso said in a half angry, half challenging, tone.
“I know how, and I know why. So why don’t you earn yourself a quick twenty and see if I’m right. We’ll call it a finder’s fee.”
Alfonso looked at the twenty, then stood slowly; the palms of his hands slid up his thighs.
He moved to the bedroom door, then paused and looked back at McKay with a kind of pissed, whimsical expression.
“You got any suggestions?”
“Try your suitcase. Unless someone’s getting ready to move, it wouldn’t normally be opened.”
Alfonso disappeared into the other room. There were indistinct, muffled sounds, then a scrapping sound like something being dragged off a shelf. A couple of snaps followed, then after a moment a whistle of surprise.
Alfonso came back into the living room bearing a wistful expression and a shinny chrome-plated, pearl handled .38 revolver in his hand. A handsome youth was just beginning to realize that he’d been played for a sucker -- safe bet it wasn’t the first time and doubtful that it would be the last.
McKay started to climb back into his car when he saw the black sedan parked back a few.
The blond was riding shotgun. Bent nose was behind the wheel. The window slid down as he approached.
“Tell Corelli I want to see him."
“You know who did it?”
“That’s the easy part.”
Corelli was in the office of The Emerald Club going over the books when McKay arrived.
He came out and motioned McKay toward a corner booth.
“Pete, a couple of cold ones.”
The bartender was a big guy with a big belly and a bald spot on the back of his head. The thinning hair was black and greasy and an equally greasy looking mustache was pasted under a long, hooked nose. The mustache almost hid a harelip scar. He nodded.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Corelli.”
Corelli looked at McKay taking his time to light a maduro of a brand McKay didn’t know.
He blew smoke into the air, then took the cigar out of his mouth with a regal flourish, turning it between his thumb and forefinger with a savory glow of appreciation.
The bartender set two beers down with glasses plopped over the necks.
Corelli waited until he was out of ear shot.
“I was going over the books; I don’t really study them that close; couldn’t even if I wanted to; too many irons in the fire to do that, but they don’t know that; keeps them honest if they think I’m checking up on them.”
He took a few puffs, then continued:
“That’s what I admire about you McKay. Nobody’s looking over your shoulder; yet you remain honest: a man with ideals in a crass, materialistic world. It’s men like yourself -- few though they are -- that keep this old world running straight. If all men were like me everything would be crap. And yet, when all is said and done, the world doesn’t heap its rewards on men like you; it’s men like me who reap the greatest benefits it has to offer. Seems ironic until you get a practical perspective, then, suddenly, everything makes sense. Idealism doesn’t. Why do you do it, McKay? You’re certainly no fool.”
“I don’t know; I’m not much of a philosopher. I only know what I see when I look in the mirror, and I take it from there.”
“Humph. Well, if you ever want a job that gives you some respect and a decent salary, come and see me -- Anyways . . . Lenny said you know who wasted Blakemore.”
“I know, but I can’t prove it; everything’s circumstantial.”
Corelli sucked on his lips, turning the cigar in his hand; a cold glint came into his eyes when he said, “Let me have it.”
“Helen Blakemore shot him.”
“Well, it figures. He had a reputation for fucking around.”
“Um, that’s not why she shot him.”