Trip sits in her car, decked out in black. She has come home after a long journey, her clothes signifying a return to self. The minute she strips out of the ridiculous clothes she’s been wearing all week and slips into her black jeans, black t-shirt with long sleeves, black windbreaker, black gloves and other accoutrement, she feels alive in a way she hasn’t since the first murder occurred. Her hair is slicked down, and she is wearing no makeup. If she only had enough hair to pull back in a ponytail, she would be completely herself again. As it is, she’s feeling good as she sits in the car smoking a cigarette. She has a notebook on the seat besides her, neatly listing her points of interest. She is on the case, even if her client is herself and she doesn’t know what she’s repossessing. If she is to be honest, the uncertainly adds an element of spice to the job that has been missing from her last coups. Even though the ‘Freezin’ Seamen’ case held her interest because of the sheer oddness of the contents of what she was asked to repossess, the job itself had been fairly straightforward.
Trip continues to smoke, wondering what became of Gina Lattimore, the woman who had stolen the guy’s cum and stored it in her freezer. Trip shrugs as she dismisses the question from her mind; none of her business any more. She has more important matters at hand which require her complete concentration. Though every nerve in Trip’s body is screaming for her to do something, she forces herself to sit in the car and wait. This is recon to see if there are any cops patrolling the area. After a half hour, Trip comes to the conclusion that any patrol is sporadic enough not to be a bother. She slips out of the car and locks it before approaching the apartment building. As she does, she flashes back to the last time she was here, then pushes that out of her mind as well. There’s nothing to gain by freaking herself out with memories of Angelica’s dead body. This time, Trip is not going to be greeted by a dead body sprawled on the kitchen floor. At least, she sincerely hopes not.
She steels her nerves and reaches for the door. Earlier in the day, she had come to the building purporting Sto visit a friend, and despite all the shit that has happened in the building, some knob let her in. It probably didn’t hurt that she used a high, breathy voice much like Marilyn Monroe’s without a trace of an accent. To further help her cause, she had worn short shorts and a tight top as well as a blond wig. She hadn’t needed the get-up as her voice was enough to get her through the door, but it never hurt to be prepared. She had jimmied the door not to latch, and it is still that way hours later. She looks at her watch and sees that it’s nearly one in the morning. Time to get this show on the road.
She glances at the mailboxes to confirm Blanche’s apartment number before trotting up the stairs. There is not much activity, but Trip still treads stealthily. She reaches Blanche’s floor and cautiously looks around. There is no guard or tape blocking the door, so she assumes that the cops are finished. Even if they aren’t, it wouldn’t matter to her. She pulls out her handy-dandy set of lock picks from her bag and is in the door in record time. Adrenaline surges through her veins as she slips into the apartment. She still has the juice, baby, and it feels good to get back on the horse again after being thrown off it. She closes the door and locks it behind her. As an afterthought, she slides a chair under the door handle—just a little protection to alert her if someone else gets the same idea. She takes another deep breath before turning on the lights with a gloved hand.
Trip is in the living room where Blanche’s body was found; the picture of the apartment in the papers didn’t do it justice. The place has been destroyed; nothing remains untouched. The furniture has been ripped apart and overturned; papers are strewn everywhere; the desk drawers are open with their contents spilling on the floor. Trip goes to the bedroom which is in the same disarray. Here, though, there is a malicious touch. The satin pillows are slashed, the silk sheets cut to ribbons. There’s a stuffed poodle without its head huddling in the corner of the room. The dresser has all the drawers opened, and all her clothes are ripped up or slashed as well. There is nothing that is intact—which means that chances are the assholes found whatever proof Blanche thought she hid so well.
Trip stands in the middle of the debris, angry at the dead girl for thinking she could deal with the assholes and escape unscathed. The arrogance of youth that Blanche won’t have the luxury to outgrow because she’s now a stiff cooling its heel in the morgue. At least she won’t ever have to worry about growing old or losing her looks because she’s fucking dead. Trip wonders if Blanche wouldn’t prefer to be dead than the alternative, as perverse as it sounds. Trip shakes her head and slowly circles the room wondering if there’s any point in going through Blanche’s things. Whoever tossed her apartment did a thorough job, and Trip is doubtful that she’ll be able to find anything if the assholes didn’t. She rifles through the drawers and closets, but comes up with nothing. She looks under the bed—nothing. She can’t escape the feeling that she’s been outdone by amateurs, which is a blow to her pride.
Trip decides to leave the bedroom and the living room for now. She strides into the kitchen which is also in shambles. Cupboards open, cereal boxes tossed on the ground. Trip ignores the obvious and opens the freezer. There isn’t much in it except for three cartons of ice cream. Chocolate chip, vanilla, and Rocky Road. Trip is immediately suspicious as that’s too much ice cream for a girl in the life. There were no signs of bulimia with Blanche—marks on the back of her hands, rotting teeth, body shame—and a girl who has to flaunt her body can’t afford to eat too much sweets. Acting on a hunch, Trip opens the first carton—Rocky Road—and there is nothing but ice cream. She pulls out the vanilla carton which is filled with vanilla ice cream. Feeling discouraged, she opens the chocolate chip carton in which there is a slim, black leather-bound notebook. Trip pulls it out eagerly and drops it into her bag. Thinking twice, she grabs it again and opens it.
November 5. Dear Diary, I’ve made a mess out of things. Sweetie is so mad at me, he hit me for the first time. I’ve never seen him so mad. I was on my bed, crying. I was a mess! I mean, my mascra was running. He hit me again, shouting that I was just a whore. He said he thought I was different, but that I wasn’t. For the first time, I was scared of him! That’s when I decided to hide the stuff so he won’t be able to hurt me. I feel safer now. Safer. Hah.
November 6. Dear Diary. Oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god oh my god. I have got to get out of here.
Trip stops reading and puts the diary into her bag. She can’t risk reading any more, and anyway, she has a good idea that what she’s looking for isn’t in the apartment. It has to be in a safety box; it’s only logical. She allows herself a smirk that the assholes overlooked this; now, if she can just find the key. She massages her forehead and thinks. One of the girls had told her that the perfect place to hide anything is the toilet tank, which the other girls rightfully scorned. ‘That’s the first place the cops are gonna look,’ was the truthful rejoinder. Then, Synful, a languid blond had revealed that she hid her stuff in the curtain rod of her shower. Trip goes into the bathroom which has also been thoroughly tossed. The top of the tank is resting on the sink, but there is nothing in the toilet. The medicine cabinet has been opened, and Trip can see that Blanche had herself quite a pharmacy going. Trip carefully takes down the curtain rod for the shower which is in place and looks in the end. Sure enough, there is a key taped in one end. She extricates the key and reattaches the rod. She drops the key into her bag next to the diary and moves back out to the living room.
By now, Trip has been in the apartment for half an hour and doesn’t want to push her luck. She thinks she’s found anything of value that’s there; besides, she can always return if she discovers that she’s missed something. Making sure that everything is the way she found it, she moves the chair away from the door and leaves. In no time at all, she’s heading for the Tenderloin to keep her date with Mowgli and friends. She can only pray that he’s escaped unmolested as he’s quite a fetching lad. His being gay would only be seen as a challenge by some of the ladies, most of whom have managed to turn a fag or two in their time. Trip herself had fairy conquests who became regular customers. They were most likely bisexual, anyway, not gay like Mowgli. Still, the girls would take special delight in provoking Mowgli once it’s known that he’s gay. Trip parks her car and hurries to the Phoenix.
“I am meeting Che Guevara in his room,” Trip says formally to the woman behind the counter who doesn’t look a day over twenty. Wendy—she’s wearing a name tag—doesn’t bat an eye as Trip pronounces the name. Either she’s one cool customer, or she has no idea whom Che is. Trip is voting for the latter, but she’s grateful in the land of a thousand protestors that this woman is supremely oblivious.
“I’ll have to call his room first,” Wendy says loftily, her manicured fingertips pressing the phone pad. “Whom shall I say is here?”
“Yoko Ono,” Trip replies.
“Yes, Ms. Ono,” Wendy says stoically before speaking into the receiver. “Mr. Guevara? Ms. Ono to see you.” She pauses before saying, “I’ll send her right up.” Trip is on her way as soon as she gets the room number, and in minutes, Che Guevara is opening the door for Yoko Ono. Mona Lisa is huddling on the bed behind Mowgli, and Melody is sitting in a chair. Neither of the girls looks happy, which is to be expected. Melody and Mona Lisa are glaring at each other with animosity reserved for sisters under the skin.
“Hello, ladies,” Trip says loudly as she steps into the room. Mowgli shuts the door behind her and leans up against it. “M.L., you’re looking good.” Mona Lisa nods her head but doesn’t bother looking up. She’s scratching her arms while scrutinizing something on the floor. “Melody, delighted to see you again.” Melody looks anything but delighted as she glares at Trip. “Mowgli, the pleasure’s all mine.” At least one person is happy to see her. Or not.
“’Bout fucking time, Del,” Mowgli growls. “The ladies were getting antsy.”
“Not me,” M.L. says, swinging a leg. “It’s on your bill.” She finally looks up, noticing Trip’s hair. “Nice hair, Trip.”
“I’m supposed to be at the job,” Melody blurts out, her face scowling. She looks like a little girl whose favorite doll has been taken away from her. “You can bet they’re docking my pay for this.”
“I’m sure your employers are more than eager to cooperate with an undercover cop,” Mowgli says easily, flashing his famous smile. Only Trip knows him well enough to see that he’s on the edge and that Melody would be best served if she kept her sassy comments under control. In that one second, Trip decides it’s up to her to make sure that Melody stays angered.
“Sucks, doesn’t it, Melody? Working girl like you being bothered by the cops only to have someone impersonating a cop pull you away from your job.” Trip allows a smile to break across her normally-saturnine features. She’s aware that in her current get-up, the effect is off-putting. “You must have been a very bad girl lately, but I like bad girls.” Without waiting for a response, Trip walks over to Melody and deliberately French-kisses her, forcing Melody’s mouth open with her tongue.
“Get away from me!” Melody yells, thrashing in Trip’s iron-grip. The corn girl is no match for Trip’s strength, but continues to struggle. Mona Lisa watches without interest; she’s getting paid so she doesn’t care what happens. “You killed Angel and Blanche! The cops told me so!”
“Is that right?” Trip digs her fingers into Melody’s arm. Trip hasn’t taken off her gloves yet so her hand looks menacing against Melody’s thin arm. “What else did the cops tell you?”
“I don’t have anything to say to you,” Melody snarls, still looking like a kitten in the jaws of a pit bull. Trip reaches into her bag and pulls out the gun. She presses it to Melody’s temple and cocks the trigger. Melody’s face drains of any color, and she goes limp in Trip’s grasp. Mona Lisa perks up at the sight of the gun and swings her foot with more energy. Mowgli leans against the wall and watches coolly.
“Melody, I have had a shitty week, and I don’t have time to play nice. What did the fucking cops tell you?” Trip holds the gun steady, her eyes boring into Melody’s.
“Nu-nu-nuthing,” Melody stutters. A stain starts spreading in the crotch of her white short shorts. “They, they, they, he told me the, uh, you had, you know, then asked about if I’d, uh, seen you. He seemed to know all about your visit to the club.”
“Who’s he, Melody?” Trip’s voice has dropped to a whisper as she tightens her grip on the gun.
“That detective,” Melody says immediately. “The one who was in the paper.” She clears her throat before rushing on. “He said you had killed both the girls as well as the other one and that I had to tell him everything. He said, he said, you tortured her before you shot her, that you tortured all three girls.” Melody swallows hard, her face still pale. “That’s what got me to talk. He said I could be in danger, that I should tell him everything for my own safety.”
“And did you, Melody? Did you tell him everything?” Trip leans forward so her mouth is right next to Melody’s ear. “Did you tell him how I fucked you and how you enjoyed it?”
“No,” Melody replies, flushing. “I told him that you were with three other people, but I didn’t remember much about them.”
So much for Trip’s disguise. Not only did Melody focus on her, someone else had spotted her—one of the assholes. If that’s true, why hadn’t they nabbed her that night? The only explanation is that they want her as a scapegoat. Which means she is more use to them alive than dead. Which means they wanted her to talk to Blanche, to make the set-up even more complete. Which means that O’Reilly recognized her when she followed him. Which means…Trip stops supposing because it’s giving her a headache. Mowgli is the brains of the outfit; she’ll leave the deep thinking up to him and concentrate on what she does best—the shit work. Trip is the one who’s better with hands-on experiences whereas Mowgli is the one who susses things out. She tucks the piece about the cop in the back of her mind; it’s something she and Mowgli will have to talk about later. She turns her attention back to Melody who is behaving like a little lamb. Trip had known Melody was the weak link, but didn’t think she’d be this easy.
“What else did Mr. Detective have to say?” Trip knows by now that Melody is not going to run, but keeps the gun trained on her regardless.
“Nothing to me, but he talked to the owner, Mr. Peters, for a very long time in Mr. Peters’ office. Neither looked very happy when they came out.” Melody has relaxed a bit, sensing that she’s not in immediate danger. “Oh, the detective warned me not to tell anyone that he himself had talked to me or what he told me. He said it would impede the investigation and put me in danger.”
“You’re in danger, anyway,” Trip says softly, slowly moving the gun an inch from Melody’s temple. “Have you told me everything?”
“Yes,” Melody says desperately. Trip jams the gun back against Melody’s temple. The girl stiffens again, but doesn’t speak. Satisfied, Trip takes the gun completely away.
“You can go,” Trip says casually, keeping her tone empty. Melody is off like a shot, not even caring that she has a stain in the crotch of her shorts. Just as she reaches the door, Trip adds, “And Melody? Let’s keep this between ourselves, OK? Otherwise I might have to visit you when you least expect it.” Melody gives out a squeak of distress and hurries from the room. Trip puts the safety back on her gun and tosses it into her bag.
“That was righteous,” Mona Lisa says enthusiastically, munching on a Snickers bar. Trip hadn’t seen her go to the fridge, but figures that’s where Mona Lisa got the candy from. “Shit, girl, you’re still hell on wheels.” She turns to Mowgli, an impish smile on her face. “She ever tell you about the time she near took off the head of that trucker from Alabama?”
“It’s not story time, M.L.,” Trip says coldly, walking over to her friend. Mowgli is still watching, his eyes alert. “You liked that little show? Did you?” Without warning, Trip backhands Mona Lisa across the face. The whore falls to the bed as her candy bar flies across the room. Mowgli silently picks it up and holds on to it.
“What was that for,” Mona Lisa whimpers, holding her cheek. She doesn’t bother sitting up or trying to protect herself because she knows she’s no match for Trip.
“Listen to me, you drugged-out whore. Are you listening?” Trip grabs Mona Lisa by the arm and yanks her back up. “I wasn’t lying when I said it’s been a shitty week, and I don’t want any lip from you. Got it?” Mona Lisa nods her head and snuffles.
“Can I have my candy bar back?” Mona Lisa looks pathetic in her day-glo green mini dress. She has maybe a year left of making decent wages before her body betrays her, leaving her a casualty of the streets. Then she’d be lucky to get a quarter for a fuck if she didn’t switch to straight-out swapping sex for drugs. Mowgli looks questioningly at Trip who nods slightly. Mowgli gives the Snickers back to Mona Lisa who begins devouring it at a rapid pace.
“Did you know Blanche, M.L.? The other stripper who died?” Trip asks, crouching so she’s face-level with Mona Lisa. Mona Lisa shakes her head, too busy eating to talk. Mowgli grabs a few more candy bars from the fridge and hands them over to Mona Lisa.
“Did you know anybody else from The Roman Empire?” Mowgli asks, his voice gentle. Watching the scene between Trip and Melody had given him some time to cool down, and he’s back in control of his emotions.
“No,” Mona Lisa mumbles, cramming huge bites of chocolate in her mouth. Mowgli hands her a bottle of water after popping the top for her.
“The mayor? Any of his boys?” Mowgli keeps his voice low. He knows how easily spooked Mona Lisa can be and doesn’t want to send her over the edge. Yet. Mona Lisa mutters something under her breath that neither Mowgli nor Trip catches. “What was that, love?” Mowgli carefully touches Mona Lisa on the knee. Like a toy, she perks up at his touch. A second later, she’s drooping again.
“Too old,” she says a bit louder, her face displaying her shame. “I’m too old for them.” It takes three more candy bars before she spills the whole story.
It seems as if some of the mayor’s boys including O’Reilly and Peters, the owner of The Roman Empire, likes their girls real young. Such as breaking-the-law young. O’Reilly, of course, likes them Asian as well, but Peters isn’t that picky. He just likes them to look as if they are underage. Each of them showed up at least once a week if not more. The few times Mona Lisa did O’Reilly, he cursed her for being an old hag and took his anger out in trade. He was into the rough stuff including tie-me up, tie-me down. Once, he got so angry at Mona Lisa, he put out his cigarette on her hip. She shows them the scar which causes Mowgli to flinch. She’s the dregs as far as O’Reilly is concerned, but she’s completely off the radar for Peters. He won’t even consider anyone over twenty, and he wouldn’t say no to an underage girl. His personal favorite is a drop-out named Lolli—short for lollipop, of course. She’s not even five-feet with a cloud of fluffy golden curls and large blue eyes; a dead-ringer for Shirley Temple. She claims to be sixteen, but Mona Lisa would bet the girl isn’t even fifteen.
“What about the cops, M.L.?” Mowgli asks, his tone still avuncular. He doesn’t bother asking Mona Lisa why she hadn’t told them this before as there’s no way to know what goes through a druggie whore’s addled mind. He is sitting next to Mona Lisa by now, and she’s leaning against him. She’s slipped a thumb into her mouth and is sucking away. “Recognize any of them?”
“Not personally,” Mona Lisa says indistinctly around her thumb. With a patient sigh, Mowgli plucks her thumb out of her mouth and holds her hand. Her words slurring, she tells them that Lolli—again! A popular girl—was bragging about a cop she shagged. The one working this case? No, not that one. By the time Mona Lisa is done talking, she’s fallen asleep. Mowgli eases her onto the bed, taking off her shoes. He eases the covers up to her chin then kisses her on the forehead. He tucks a few bills into her tiny purse, then shakes his head once.
“Back to the streets?” Mowgli asks laconically as they leave the room. They arrange for Mona Lisa to receive a wakeup call at eight in the morning, then leave. There is a silence as they stroll down the street. “I thought you hated guns,” Mowgli says finally, his tone devoid of judgment.
“Not any more,” Trip says softly. She waits a beat before adding, “Now it’s bullets I hate.” They look at each other, smirk, and move on; they understand each other perfectly.