I am still simmering and don’t want to even be in the same room as Greeley, let alone brainstorm with him. Who the hell died and made him god? How dare he intimate that I have done something to bring this upon myself. That’s like telling a rape victim that she shouldn’t have worn that outfit or shouldn’t have been walking in that area at that particular time when the bottom line is, she shouldn’t have been raped. I was simply trying to do my job. Period. What this asshole doesn’t understand is that I don’t have the same options that he has, and now that I’ve finally found something I’m good at—that doesn’t include me spreading my legs for hours on end—I’m not going to let some assholes stop me from doing it. I will never be the president of the United States or CEO of a fucking corporation or even an executive secretary for the CEO of a fucking corporation. I have neither the education nor the skills for such lofty jobs. What I’m good at is repossessing possessions that shouldn’t have fallen into the wrong hands in the first place. It’s ironic that it’s my skills as a repo man that have gotten me into this mess, but perhaps it will be the same talents that help me get out of it as well.
“We need a plan,” Vandalia says, snuggling next to Greeley. She is idly stroking his leg which causes him to look at her as if to jump her bones right there in front of Mowgli and me. “I’m worried about what Blanche told the assholes before they killed her. I mean, if she told her coworker about meeting with you, then maybe she told them where you guys met. And the coworker described us, too!” Her eyes open wide. “Are we going to have to go around in disguises, too?”
“No one can tell it’s you guys from Melody’s description,” I reply. “I think she did that on purpose, by the way. Only wants to fuck me up, not you guys.”
“I don’t know,” Vandalia says. “It would make more sense to describe us completely to get closer to you. I think she only really paid attention to you.”
“Shit, this is getting too complicated,” Mowgli mutters, rubbing his forehead. He doesn’t look as fresh as he normally does, which is understandable under the circumstances. “Why can’t we find them?”
“I wonder,” Greeley says slowly.
“What do you wonder?” I ask sharply. I haven’t forgiven him yet, but this isn’t the time for retribution.
“What if Andretti isn’t his real name, either? I think we need to concentrate on O’Reilly.”
“I wonder if there’s any way of getting close to the mayor,” Vandalia adds. “Maybe volunteering or something? I really think he’s the key to this whole thing. Even if he’s not the one handing out the orders, he has to be aware of what’s going on.”
“I don’t agree,” Greeley objects. “He might be too stupid to know what his men have been up to. If someone he trusts tells him it’s politically prudent to give a speech about some dead girls in San Francisco.” He shrugs, leaving the rest to our imagination. I want to argue with him to wipe off that damn smirk on his face, but he’s right. A man in Sam Davies’s position has to rely on others in order to function. If he didn’t have trusted advisors, he wouldn’t have time to be mayor what with all the other shit he’d have to do. My gut tells me that he’s the man involved, though, because something of this magnitude would force him to look into it himself, wouldn’t it? If I were him, I wouldn’t leave a case this big in the hands of anyone else, not even Mowgli. So the question is whether the mayor is in charge or naïve and trusting—neither of which increases my opinion of the man.
“I think it’s him,” I say firmly, crossing my arms over my chest. A flicker of annoyance skitters across Greeley’s face, but he doesn’t voice his thoughts. “He’s the one with enough pull to engineer a cover-up of this scale. Do you think the police would do it for one of his minions?”
“Only if it’s rubber-stamped by Davies,” Vandalia says softly.
“Or if the perp is close personal friends with the chief of police,” Mowgli counters.
“Well, I’m working under the assumption that it’s the mayor,” I say firmly. “So my first point of action is to research everything there is to know about the man and if it isn’t him, I should be able to uncover dirt on his cronies.”
“It could be a friend of the mayor’s,” Greeley suggests at the same time as Mowgli offering, “Didn’t the Chron hint at some kind of corruption in the mayor’s office?”
“I bet that’s it,” I say, my gaze intense. “Blanche overheard something linking the mayor with some kind of corruption.”
“It has to be more than that,” Greeley objects. “If it was merely hearsay, they could laugh at her or intimidate her. She must have had hard evidence if she was stupid enough to blackmail them.”
“That’s why they tossed her apartment,” I say suddenly. “She was hiding something, and they killed her after they found it.”
“I say she didn’t tell them; they didn’t find it; that’s why they killed her,” Mowgli voices his opinion. “I will bet dollars to donuts that they tossed the place after they killed her.”
“I hope so,” Vandalia contributes, her large eyes sympathetic. Greeley, Mowgli, and I look at her inquiringly so she elaborates. “I keep thinking of her lying there, tied up, watching them demolish her place and being afraid for her life. It would be a mercy if they killed her first.” For once, Vandalia isn’t acting, and her face looks a decade older. Greeley squeezes her hand and pulls her towards him.
“So. Did they find it or not?” I ask the question more of myself than the others. My mind is racing as I think of the easiest way to slip into the apartment without getting caught. This is my element—where I shine. It depends, however, on whether they have a police officer guarding the apartment of not. Not that the presence of one of San Francisco’s finest would deter me—it would just make things more complicated. If there’s any chance in hell that the goons didn’t find whatever it is Blanche has, then I need to come up with the evidence tout de suite. I need whatever bargaining chip I can find.
“Del, can I talk to you in the kitchen for a minute?” Mowgli stands up, reaching out his hand to me. I hesitate before I grab it, allowing him to haul me off my ass. He grabs his bag which is sitting next to the couch and brings it with him. Neither of us say anything until we are out of hearing.
“What’s up? What do you need to say that you can’t say in front of the Bobbsey twins?” I lean against the fridge, giving Mowgli my complete attention.
“I wanted to give you this,” he says, pulling a gun out of his bag. For a heart-stopping moment, I think he’s going to shoot me until he turns it around and hands it to me, grip first.
“Shit, no,” I say, backing away. It’s a gun—a big gun, glinting in the fluorescent lights. “I don’t like guns, Mowgli, I’ve told you that.”
“You’ve also told me that you know how to shoot.” Mowgli is still holding the gun out, using his height to glare magnificently down at me. “Your daddy taught you, right?”
“He sure did,” I say bitterly, remembering how my father used to make me shoot at rabbits, squirrels and whatever ‘varmint’ raced through our yard. He hated animals with a passion and never missed a hunting season. He even mounted the head of a ten-point buck and hung it in our living room, despite the protests of my mother. All she got for her trouble was a black eye and a fat lip. “I’m a crack-shot, Mowgli. Doesn’t mean I like doing it.”
“Don’t be so damn hard-headed, Del,” Mowgli says, pressing the gun into my hand. “I can’t always be with you to watch your back. You do realize the easiest thing for the cops to do is to kill you on sight, right? You got to make sure you have some protection.”
“I have my Bowie,” I say stubbornly, dropping the gun on the ground. Fortunately for both of us, Mowgli had the foresight not to load Mr. Smith & Ms. Wesson. “That’s all the protection I need.”
“David Bowie ain’t no protection against Glocks,” Mowgli retorts, picking up the gun. “Del, I know you’re a big girl and can take care of yourself, but there ain’t no shame in admitting that something is bigger than you are. This situation? It’s a whole lot bigger than you, me, and Vandalia combined. Think of everything they have at their disposal and how little we have. If we’re going to even the playing field at all, we have to do this.”
“I haven’t touched a gun in years,” I complain, watching Mowgli relax. He knows he’s won half the battle which makes me regret my words.
“It’s like bike riding,” Mowgli insists. “You don’t lose the skills if you just get a little practice in. We’ll drive out to the country with some tin cans and squeeze off a few rounds.” He pulls out another gun from his bag and shows it to me. “What do you think?” His is a Glock as opposed to a .32.
“Oh, very nice,” I say sarcastically. “Does this mean we’re married? Aren’t you supposed to get matching guns? With this gun, I thee wed.”
“Shut up, Delilah,” Mowgli says fiercely, his eyes telling that he’s not playing. I immediately shut up. Mowgli is an easygoing guy who pretty much lets me run roughshod over him, but when his temper is riled, it behooves anyone within a mile radius to pay attention. Plus, he used my full name; that’s never a good thing. “We are going out in the country, and we are going to practice. Then we’re checking into a hotel under assumed names. You have to get out of here.”
“Don’t want to put Vandalia in more danger, huh?” I ask sarcastically, still partially convinced the two of them have some weird chemistry thing going on.
“Can’t you understand that it’s you I’m trying to protect? Vandalia is in danger whether or not you leave if they know where she lives. You, however, are in more danger. We need to get you out of here in case Blanche squealed before she died. We shouldn’t have met her here,” Mowgli says, looking crestfallen. “My fucking fault. I just didn’t think. We should have rented a hotel room or something. Shit. Well, Vandie needs to be informed.” He gathers up the guns and puts them back in his bag, firmly zipping it before we return to the living room.
“Change of plans, folks,” I say to the cuddling couple. Vandalia has her tongue halfway down Greeley’s throat who pulls away as soon as he hears my voice.
“Um, we were just discussing what to do next,” Greeley says, red-faced. Incredibly, he’s embarrassed at having been caught making out with his girlfriend.
“Well, we’re leaving so you can have at it,” I retort. I take malicious glee in being the cause of Greeley turning an even deeper shade of red. “We’re out of here. It’s been real, folks, but it’s time to move on.”
“What?” Vandalia is taken by surprise. She looks from me to Mowgli, her face uncertain. “What’s going on here, Roberto?”
“Let’s go into the kitchen, Vandie.” Mowgli gestures to Vandalia who trails after him into the kitchen. Greeley glowers at me as the redness in his face dissipates. I stare back at him, not bothering to smile.
“You know, girls like you really tick me off,” Greeley finally blurts out. “You think you’re all tough and hard like you’re a guy or something. When we were at the club, you were so feminine. Now, it’s like you want to give Jean-Claude Van Damme a run for his money. What are you trying to prove? Why can’t you just act like a girl?”
“Excuse me?” I blink slowly, my hands on my hips. “I wasn’t aware that I needed to check in with you as to the appropriateness of my behavior.”
“See, it’s that kind of smart-ass answer that I’m talking about. What guy is going to want to date a ballbuster like you?” Greeley is getting flushed again, out of indignation this time.
“Who says I date men?” I say coolly, enjoying the momentary disconcertion Greeley experienced.
“That’s why you act like that! You’re a fucking dyke. I should have guessed by the way you hate men.”
“I don’t hate men,” I reply, running my tongue against my lip. Greeley squirms in his chair and looks away. “And I’m not a dyke.” I allow myself a tiny smile of satisfaction when Greeley whips his head back towards me, confusion on his face.
“What the hell game are you playing? You must think I’m some kind of hick or something to listen to your crazy talk. Why can’t you be more like Vandalia? See, that’s your problem. You confuse strong and tough. Vandalia’s a strong woman, but she’s all girl. She didn’t give up her femininity to be strong.”
“You are a stupid dick,” I say contemptuously. “There are many ways to be feminine; simpering is just one of them.”
“By no stretch of imagination could you be called feminine,” Greeley exclaims, provoked. “When was the last time you had sex?”
“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” I say coldly. He is working my last nerve, and all I can do is hope that Vandalia and Mowgli return before blood is spilled.
“Guys don’t like women like you,” he continues, glaring at me. “They want softness, not this hard bullshit.
“Depends on the man,” I counter. “A guy who is secure in his masculinity doesn’t need a woman to pander to his ego.”
“Who you calling a wimp?” Greeley jumps up from the couch and towers over me.
“Hey, if you can’t take the heat, you shouldn’t start the fire,” I sniff, dismissing him in my mind. What is it with guys? People say that women are the weaker sex, but men definitely have more fragile egos. All that stroking and caressing and pumping up is really wearying on a girl. “You want that geisha girl kind of attitude, go buy yourself one.” I shut him out as I ponder my plan of attack. The more I think about it, the more I am sure that O’Reilly knows a whole lot more than he’s telling. The only problem is that he’s hip to me. I’m not sure I could disguise myself well enough to get near him without arousing his suspicion. The only failsafe way of getting information out of him is to finagle one of the girls to tackle him, and that’s going to cost a pretty penny. Even then, it’s a toss-up whether the girl will actually be able to remember a damn thing he says if her brains are fried on acid. Tape recorder in her purse. Not an ideal solution, but better than any other I have.
Second, I have to get into Blanche’s apartment. Tonight. Whatever evidence she’s hidden has to be there. Unless she gave it to someone. I have a hunch, however, that Blanche keeps her own counsel and that the only person she might have given the evidence to preceded her in death. The fact that her apartment was destroyed is enough to buoy my hopes that the seekers didn’t find whatever it is that Blanche hit. I’m less clear as to why they killed her. If they found the shit, they could just let her go with a heavy warning. Blanche wasn’t going to squeal any further than she already had, but the assholes might have decided it was more expedient to get rid of her permanently. It’s certainly less of a headache, especially if you have the cops in your pocket cleaning up your messes for you. My heart gets juiced up at the thought of breaking into Blanche’s place. I get restless when I’m not working, and this will feel like a job to me—even though I’m not getting paid for it. Just what I need to calm my nerves.
Third, I have to find out more about Sam Davies’s nefarious doings. If he’s so much as farted in the last few weeks, I want to know about it. I want to be closer to him than his own wife, goddamn it. Come to think of it, what happened to his wife? For all the air time Jack’s gotten in the last few weeks, I can’t recall a single picture or story of his wife, Patricia Davies, nee Barnes—a ‘high yellow’ black woman with a face like Iman and a body like Halle Berry who comes from money. Straightened hair, lacquered nails, silicone breasts—she was a model briefly before marrying Sam, but gave it up to be a career politician wife. She is in her late thirties, but looks better than I do. The few times I’ve seen her on television, she had little to say, preferring to nod and defer. Mowgli had said she freaked at the disappearance of her daughter, and I vaguely remember someone telling me that she and the mayor are for all practical purposes separated except for functions in which her presence is demanded. What a hell of a way to have a marriage, but who am I to care? As long as it works for them.
Four, I have to find out what the cops know and who is bought and paid for. It’s strange that the chief of police hasn’t made any official announcement, and I wonder what he’s waiting for. Did he get reined in? The cases have made the front page, yes, but the coverage has been surprisingly subdued. Is that due to the mayor and his men? The cops? Has the media been bought as well? I don’t see how that’s possible as there are so many venues for news, but I can’t deny that the otherwise sensational murders have been grossly downplayed. I’m grateful that my mug hasn’t been splashed across the front page of every paper from now until I get caught, but it makes me suspicious as well. San Francisco is not the hotbed of murderous activity that its sister city, Oakland, is, and a triple-homicide case merits front page attention. Even if two of the girls are strippers and the remaining one is a masseuse. The sex angle alone should be enough to guarantee exposure. The feeling that the cops are working at the behest of someone grows stronger.
Fifth, I have to talk to Melody. She’s pretty young herself. The Roman Empire isn’t the kind of place that looks too carefully at drivers licenses when they hire. I’d peg Melody to be under twenty-one which puts her in the, uh, boyfriend’s range. I wouldn’t be at all surprise to find out she’s on the private payroll, especially following Blanche’s death. Perhaps Blanche gave the evidence to Melody. I quickly dismiss that thought. By the way Melody was talking about Blanche, it was clearly a case of hero-worship, not of friend-about-friend. I’d bet my last dollar that Melody hadn’t said more than hello and goodbye to Blanche. Besides, from my rudimentary knowledge of stripper life—gleaned from talking to one or two of them in my time—the waitresses and the dancers don’t commingle. It’s not that the dancers look down on the waitresses exactly or vice-versa, but the dancers see themselves as performers which is definitely different than serving. Still, Melody might have heard the other dancers talking about Blanche or even Blanche herself talking about her problems. The only difficulty is getting close to Melody without her freaking out if she really does believe I’m the killer.
Finally, I want DiCalvo. Andretti. Whatever the hell his name is. Lucien Andretti. I wonder if I can find out from the DMV if that’s his real name. I want him by the balls so I can slice out his tongue and shove it up his ass. Of all the assholes associated with this case, he’s the one who actually looked me in the eye and sent me to an apartment with a dead girl. He is the one who obtained my fingerprints on the glass which he left in said apartment. I’m just thankful that I had enough of my wits about me to grab the glasses before I left. He’s the one who rented the apartment—I’m sure of that. I would also bet a large amount of cash that he’s the one who actually killed the three women. I will be damned if my name is added to the list. He is not going to kill me; the cops aren’t going to kill or capture me; I am going to get my revenge.
“You’re sure thinking hard,” Greeley says, a trace of bitterness remaining in his voice. I don’t know if he’s been jabbering at me the whole time, but I don’t particularly care as I’ve already put him out of my mind.
“It’s the macho side of me,” I say without missing a beat. “Can’t stop the brain from functioning.”
“I’ve had it with your smart mouth,” Greeley says, suddenly in my face. He thrusts his finger in my chest and pokes me with it. “You’re nothing but a rude, irritating Arnold Schwarzenegger-wannabe.”
“You better get your finger away from me before I break it,” I hiss, jumping to my feet as well. “You’re a narrow-minded, tight-assed rube from Hicksville.”
“Asshole!” By now, our faces are but inches away from each other. If this were the movies, we’d be kissing by now. Instead, it’s real life, so I spit on his cheek. After a minute of disbelief, Greeley comes after me. He gets me in a headlock, but I manage to elude his grasp. I kick him in the nuts, causing him to double over in pain. As he’s clutching his midsection, he stumbles forward, knocking me onto my ass. He tumbles on top of me, crushing the breath out of me.
“Get off me, you jerk!” I am panting underneath him, but I know better than to try to squirm out. He takes his sweet time hauling his body off mine—I think he is getting in a quick feel—then proceeds to brush himself off without offering me a hand up.