“Come on in,” I say, ushering Mowgli into Vandalia’s place. “Want something to drink?” I move to the kitchen and manage to find the tea kettle.
“Uh, hello? Did you not practically order me over only to stand me the fuck up?” Mowgli has his hand on his hip and his lower lip thrust out. Oh great, he’s doing the pissy queen act which is really not pretty on so large a man.
“Get over it, Mowgli. I had something I had to take care of. I’ll try not to let it happen again.” That’s the closest I get to apologizing, and Mowgli lets it drop.
“Tell me what you got, girl.” Mowgli drops into a chair while I rummage for something to munch on. Vandalia has a righteous stash of Doritos, Keeblers, M&Ms, and other assorted goodies guaranteed to give a dentist nightmares. Not to mention a nutritionist. As I tell Mowgli what I found out from Rock, I dump some snacks on the table while waiting for the water to boil. “You trust this Rock?” Mowgli asks me, his voice level. “You sure he’s not hustling you?” At my request, Mowgli has never been with me to The Savage which is a sore point between us. He doesn’t understand my need to keep my job and the ritual I’ve created separate from him.
“Yeah, I’m sure. He knows I’ll rip his balls off and stuff them down his throat if he’s shining me on.” Like any guy, Mowgli instinctively crosses his legs at my words. “Besides, he wants to fuck me again. He knows that won’t happen if he lies to me.”
“I thought women weren’t supposed to use sex as a weapon any more in these post-modern feminist times,” Mowgli playfully scolds me.
“Nah, we’re just not supposed to admit it any more,” I reply, handing a cup of Earl Grey to Mowgli while sipping on black tea myself. I bet the Earl Grey is just for Mowgli as it seems too tame for the likes of Vandalia. “The PC thing is to say that we assertively bring up our complaint, then discuss it, then make a mutually-satisfying decision.”
“Uh huh.” Mowgli shoots me a look that says he doesn’t believe me. “And what’s playing on reality TV?”
“You don’t get none if I don’t get what I want,” I say simply. “It’s not my fault that men are controlled by their dicks.”
“Girl, don’t I know it,” Mowgli says with a knowing grin. “A blessing and a curse all rolled up in one.” We share a brief snicker at the fallibility of men before I get serious.
“I want this motherfucker,” I say abruptly, slamming down my mug. I slop tea on the table, but I’m too focused on the matter at hand to notice. Mowgli grabs a rag from the sink and wipes up my mess. “Nobody plays Trip Wire for a fool, but nobody.” A little boy in first grade with chubby cheeks and an angelic smile campaigned to turn the entire class against me because I had slanty eyes—his words, not mine. Once on the playground, he stuck his foot out as I was walking by, and I tumbled to the ground. I can still remember him and his cronies snickering as my dress flew up over my head and showed my ruffled underwear to the world. Two things happened that day—I beat that boy until the school monitor pulled me off him, and I informed my mother that I was never wearing a dress again. The boy stayed away from me after that, but I was forced to concede on the dress thing when I was on the streets.
“Girlfriend, you really should leave this to the cops,” Mowgli begins, but stops when he sees the look on my face. He knows when to press me and when to back the hell off, and I’m grateful that he usually follows his instincts. “OK. What’s your next plan of attack, and how can I help?” He pours us each another cup of tea so we can do some serious thinking.
“I have a few,” I say slowly, thinking as I talk. “It’s obvious that DiCalvo planned this carefully. He has deep pockets, or whomever he’s working for does. I really wish I knew who’s the man behind the puppet.”
“Seems to me it’s the other way around,” Mowgli comments. “I think DiCalvo is the one in charge. The right-hand man cleaning up the shit for his boss so the boss doesn’t have to get his hands dirty.”
“I don’t figure DiCalvo to be the brains,” I say thoughtfully. “The boy wasn’t brimming with intelligence when I met him.” Not to say he doesn’t possess a kind of sly cunning, but I wouldn’t call him an intellectual by any stretch of the imagination.
“We’ll keep an open mind about him,” Mowgli says diplomatically. “What about the lawyer?”
“O’Reilly? He’s definitely a possibility.” I smile a feral smile; I like the idea of going up against O’Reilly again now that I know his weakness.
“He likes his women submissive, though,” Mowgli reminds me, looking at me doubtfully. I have many sterling qualities, but submissiveness is not one of them.
“That’s what he thinks he wants,” I retort. “Dominant type like him needs to let loose a little. I’ll handle him.”
Mowgli and I talk at length about the situation; neither of us willing to give up until we’ve dissected and buried the subject. I’ve been in some bad situations while living on the streets of San Francisco, but none as bizarre as this one. There is nothing that I can take as truth other than I stumbled over a dead girl in an apartment I had broken into in order to do my job. I wouldn’t even trust that I know that for certain if I hadn’t read about the murder this morning in the papers. I wonder if the Chron and the Examiner websites have updated their information about the case; I make a note to check on that later. I close my eyes for a minute as Mowgli rambles about some aspect of the case. I work well when I’m riding on adrenalin, but the consequence is that I crash hard. Sometimes, I pop a few uppers if I have them just to make it through difficult times—but never on the job. As I’ve said, I stay clean when I’m on the clock. Other times, though, there’s nothing wrong with a pick-me-up now and then.
“You got anything to perk me up?” I ask Mowgli, breaking into his talk. Even though he rarely indulges in illegal pharmaceuticals, he is well-connected in that area.
“Last thing you need right now,” Mowgli answers. “Think of this as a job.” I sigh, but I know he’s right. I can’t afford to get fucked up right now.
“Hi, boy and girl! Mommy’s home!” Vandalia sweeps into the kitchen and gives Mowgli a peck on the cheek. She moves in my direction, but stops when she notices me pulling back. “I’m bringing home the bacon, will one of you fry it up in a pan?” She spies the booty on the table and gives us the fish-eye. “Have we been spoiling our appetites?”
“Can’t help it when your snacks are just so damn tempting, Vandie,” Mowgli says lazily, goosing Vandalia on the ass.
“Well, I have a nice bit of prime beef here,” Vandalia replies, leering at Mowgli. “Your favorite. I’ll just throw it in the oven, shall I?”
“Allow me.” Mowgli leaps to his feet and shuffles Vandalia out of the way. “This heifer can’t cook to save her life. The thought of what she’ll do to this piece of meat makes me want to cry.” He’s joking, of course, as Vandalia is a scratch chef, but he’s no slouch, either.
“Thanks, love,” Vandalia coos, kissing Mowgli on the cheek again before sitting down in the seat he had just vacated. “I tell you, the girl who plays Medea is such a spot-light stealing bitch! She upstages everyone every chance she gets! And that queen who plays Jason! He prances around waving his sword like it’s a feather boa. I’m more masculine than he is.” She bats her eyelashes at me, but I don’t reply.
“Why doesn’t the director do anything about it?” Mowgli asks over his shoulder.
“’Coz he’s schtupping them both,” Vandalia says, heaving a sigh. “It makes me want to upchuck, I swear, watching the three of them act out the Bermuda triangle.”
“Ah, the joys of the theater,” Mowgli mock-swoons. “You love it, Vandie, and you know it. Without it, you’d shrivel up in your size tens and just die.”
“Doesn’t mean it doesn’t work my last nerve,” Vandalia smirks. She turns her attention to me and asks me in her best schoolmarm voice, “What have you done today?” I bring her up to speed, and she listens avidly to every word.
“The girl,” she says immediately. “Evelyn. You need to get after her.”
“Why?” I ask, chomping on a Cool Ranch Dorito. I know I should save room for dinner, but I need to munch. “She’s a dishrag, and I think she’s told me everything she knows, anyway.”
“I don’t think so,” Vandalia contradicts me. “Don’t ask me why; it’s just a feeling I have. She’s holding something back. Also, if she is Caleb’s personal masseuse, she might be willing to do a little spying for you.” I think that over as I shove another Dorito into my gullet.
“That makes sense,” I say, draining my tea. I move to fill my mug with water which I gulp down as well. “I’ll give Evelyn a call.”
“You do that,” Vandalia says, winking at me. “In the meantime, I’m going to go change. I got a hot date tonight.” She gets up and leaves the room as I’m punching Evelyn’s number into my cell phone, after I turn on the scrambler.
“Hello?” The voice is a whisper.
“Evelyn? This is Delilah. I met you this afternoon.” I keep my voice crisp, so she won’t misinterpret.
“I can’t talk to you,” she whimpers, her voice breaking. “Oh, God, I can’t.” She hangs up the phone before I can say anything else.
“She hung up on me.” I stare at the phone incredulously.
“What?” Mowgli asks, turning to look at me. “And why did you use your real name with her?”
“I want to make it as hard as possible to trace me,” I explain. “She sounded scared, Mowgli, and refused to talk to me.”
“Want me to try?” Mowgli asks, raising his eyebrow questioningly.
“Yes,” I say. “Don’t give her your real name, though.”
“Don’t you worry about that.” He fishes his phone out of his pocket and turns it on. He does the scrambler thing as well. I give him the number and her name, and he waits for her to answer.
“Evelyn Sato? This is Frankie Rivers. I am investigating matters concerning a Mr. Caleb O’Reilly for the NRCA and was informed that you are his personal masseuse. Is that correct?” He pauses, winking at me as he fusses over the steaks. “Fine. Yes, we’ve received complaints that he’s been involved in, shall we say, nefarious transactions. Have you ever witnessed any either in person or on the phone?” Small pause. “We’re talking to anyone who might have information.” Longer pause this time. “Please be more specific.” The conversation goes on in this vein for a few minutes before Mowgli goes in for the kill. “We are interested as well in an individual calling himself Renaldo DiCalvo. Would you happen to know anything about him?” I can hear Evelyn’s voice this time, which means either she’s so upset she’s raised her voice, or she’s telling him off. Once her voice subsides, Mowgli says, “I understand, Ms. Sato, but I have to know. I can bring in the police if I have to.” This time, her voice is so low, I can’t hear a word. Finally, Mowgli says, “I think that should about do it, Ms. Sato. We will get back in touch with you if we need further assistance. I know that was difficult. Thank you for your cooperation.” Another pause. “Don’t worry, Ms. Sato. We respect the confidentiality of our sources.” He clicks off the phone. “Score one for the home team!” His voice is triumphant and more than a little smug. He stands there smirking at me until I give into the urge to swat him on the ass.
“What did she say?”
“Sexual harassment!” Mowgli cries as I swat him again on the ass. “Is that anyway to treat someone who’s about to give you a lead?”
“Spill it, Esteban, or I go over to your place and rip up all your Madonna posters.”
“You wouldn’t!” Mowgli presses a hand to his chest and gasps. “Bitch! You’re no fun.” He reluctantly spills the beans. “Insider trading information,” Mowgli says. “He’s been receiving a few stock tips ahead of time.” I shrug. Not what I’m after. “He’s been known to barter with female clients—Asian, of course—for services in lieu of payment.” I shrug again. Slimier, but still not what I’m after. “The curious thing about your boy? He’s done a few cases for politicians, but Evelyn can’t remember their names.” Now that is more like what I’m after.
“She didn’t tell me that,” I observe.
“You didn’t ask,” Mowgli retorts. “Things got interesting when I mentioned DiCalvo’s name. First she had a hissy fit, saying she didn’t know nothing about a DiCalvo and was I trying to get her into trouble? She went on in this vein for a bit before I could tell her it’s me or the cops. I’ve always wanted to say that! She finally came clean with basically the same story you told me.”
“Why do you look so smug, then?” I ask suspiciously for Mowgli is beaming.
“Well, there is one thing,” he says, trying unsuccessfully not to crow. “While she was telling me about the phone conversation O’Reilly had with DiCalvo, she let me know that once, O’Reilly slipped. They were nailing down the specifics of DiCalvo borrowing the office when O’Reilly said something like, ‘I always trust you to know what you’re doing. You’re the Handy Man, aren’t you?’ Then he quickly went back to calling the man DiCalvo.”
“That’s it?” I am disappointed with the information. “So he’s handy. So what?”
“No, you don’t get it. The way Evelyn heard it, it was nickname. O’Reilly was calling DiCalvo the Handy Man, with capitals—it’s a nickname.” Mowgli smiles at me one more time before turning back to his cooking.
“The Handy Man,” I muse, turning it over in my mind. I think it should mean something to me, but I don’t know what. I tuck it away for further review.
“We’re getting somewhere, Del,” Mowgli says. “We really are. What do we do the rest of the night?”
“I’m going to the gym,” I say immediately. With the excess nervous energy I have, I need to work it off. “I may stop by the ‘Loin later and talk to the girls.” It would do no good to get there before dark as my girls are night owls. “I want to see what’s the word on the street.”
“Be sure to bring plenty of money,” Mowgli says darkly. “And your Bowie knife.” I nod. I’m not stupid. They may be my girls, but they’re working girls first and foremost, and some of them are plain crazy. So are most of their customers. “You might also want to get a picture of the dead girl and start flashing it around. That might get some results.”
“Good idea,” I say, my mind racing.
“I think Evelyn still hasn’t told everything she knows,” Mowgli continues, pulling together a salad.
“I’ll try to call her again. Tomorrow.” I want to give her time to stew in her juices. The more she is afraid, the easier it’ll be to break her.
Vandalia sweeps back into the kitchen, decked out in a dazzling red dress choked with sequins. She is wearing a full face of makeup including false eyelashes. She has sequins festooned in her hair as well, not to mention dabbled in the corner of her eyes. Her nails are painted a deep red to match the dress, and her hair is piled high on top of her head. She is positively dripping with faux diamonds around her neck, her arms, her ears. She poses languidly in the doorframe so we can get the full effect of her. Mowgli makes the appropriate kissy, I’m-in-awe of you noises, but I remain silent. She frowns slightly and readjusts herself so that her prominent bosom is like a prow of a ship. Her head is tilted ever so slightly so her profile is even stronger. All she needs is one of those long-stemmed cigarette holders, and the picture would be complete.
“Well?” Vandalia asks me impatiently when it becomes obvious that I’m not going to say anything unprompted.
“A bit over-the-top, don’t you think?” I ask casually, looking at her from head to toe. She stiffens slightly at my comment.
“There is nothing wrong with a girl going all out.” Her tone is haughty; her look is stern. “You should try it sometime.”
“Not my style,” I shrug. “It suits you, though.”
“You think?” She is all smiles again, though Mowgli shoots me a look. He caught the implication even if she didn’t, and he’s warning me to back off. I shrug slightly. If she continues fishing for compliments, I’ll continue telling her what I think. Fortunately for everyone involved, she demands to know what happened on the phone with Evelyn and is gratified to hear that her hunch was correct. “I knew that girl was holding back,” Vandalia exclaims. “Wanted to give you a reason to call her.”
“Somebody sure got a hold of her after I talked to her,” I say, clearing the table of debris. “She was scared to death. Dinner about ready?”
“Coming right up, Mesdames.” Mowgli says in his best servile voice. He’s made steak, potatoes, and a crisp salad. It smells heavenly, and tastes even better. We talk about anything other than the murder and surrounding mystery for the duration of dinner. Vandalia amuses us with stories of her theater life; she once played a moving statue for two hours, thirty minutes. Mowgli discusses a dishy colleague who looks so damn hot in a pair of tight jeans; he’s deciding the best way to make a move on the guy. I share a few of the more outrageous stories from my job the current one notwithstanding; Vandalia gets a huge kick out of the Freezin’ Seamen story.
After dinner, we go our separate ways. Mowgli has to go home to sleep so he can be fresh for work. I can’t believe it’s only Tuesday, not even twenty-four hours from when I found the body. So much has happened, it ought to be at least the weekend. Vandalia dashes out to meet her date about whom she refuses to talk. She claims when she meets someone she likes, she won’t allow herself to talk about him until she’s dated him—read, has had hot, sweaty sex with him—for at least a month. She doesn’t want to jinx the relationship before it even has time to become a relationship. Surprisingly sound thinking for someone so flamboyant. As for me, I’m off to the gym after printing out some pictures of Sylvian from the newspapers’ websites as well as her own. I need to work off some of my aggression. Then, depending on how I feel, I may go visit the girls.