Lily White Rose Red: Grey Randall: Private Dick Casefile #1
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by Catt Ford
Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
Description: Meet Grey Randall, a hard-boiled detective whose sense of humor makes it hard for him to stay strictly noir. It's 1948 in Las Vegas--the newborn Sin City--and he's just landed his first murder case. He's more at ease among the lowlifes, but his new client, a beautiful, wealthy woman, a real femme fatale, moves in the upper crust of society. Grey's hot on the trail of a killer, despite obstructive cops who don't want a private dick sniffing around and digging up secrets. And he starts getting close to the truth, but one of his suspects, Phillip Martin, AKA Mr. Big--AKA Mr. Beautiful--proves to be a man who could force Grey to reveal a dark secret of his own.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: July 2010
20 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [299 KB]
Reading time: 201-281 min.
Prologue: Welcome to Vegas
They even have a song about it: "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm, Once They Seen Paree?" Well, I wasn't going back to some farm; I was born and bred in New York, the city. You can't get much bigger than that, even if I hadn't seen Paris at all. I spent most of my time on exotic tropical islands that didn't seem quite so exotic after you feel one of your friends bleed down your neck. Even so, after the war, you could find whatever you wanted on liberty in Hawaii. I don't remember everything about that visit--I was too drunk most of the time, too sexed up some of the time--but judging by how bad I felt when I boarded the ship for America, I must have had a damn fine time.
When we landed in California, I took a day to look around and then I hopped the train home. Got off when we hit Las Vegas to stretch my legs. That's where I met the dame; she wasn't wearing diamonds and mink, she was just a pretty girl with a little oval face and a nicely pointed chin. Nothing else stood out about her unless you counted the fear in her eyes. Once I got her problem straightened out, my train was long gone and my bags with it. By then I had a new friend and a new life, one that I hadn't been banking on.
Las Vegas didn't seem much like a city to me in those days. First it was a desert, surrounded by mountains. The footsteps of the Indian peoples who scraped a barren living there were swept away by the merciless wind, leaving no trace behind. Flat, brown, dry, with just a few buildings sprouting out of nowhere and Route 91 running right down the middle.
The color that matters most in Vegas is green, so whatever patina of morality city leaders like to hang onto, you gotta look underneath for the real deal. And that's the bills. The railroad came through in 1905, scoring trails of iron across the valley as people passed through on their way from somewhere to somewhere else. The railroad took their share, selling land around the tracks for jacked-up prices in a fixed auction. They parceled out the city by block, providing for man's creature comforts in Block 16, the area set aside for drinking, gambling, and whores. The year 1931 saw the legalization of gambling, even though the fact that it was against the law hadn't made a noticeable dent in the action before that.
Prohibition ended in 1933, leaving the city not quite so dry. But Las Vegas wasn't dead yet; it became a vacation destination for movie stars and mobsters like Bugsy Siegel, Max Hamilton, and Davie Berman. There were stars like Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Lily McIntyre. The Rising Star and the Flamingo opened in 1946 on what would become the Las Vegas Strip, and overnight Sin City was born.
Now in 1948, drinking and gambling might have been legal, but many other things were not. And that's where I come in. I do things that the cops can't. In the city of neon, I shine a light on things that some people would rather remain in the dark.
My name is Grey Randall, and I'm a private dick.
* * * *
Chapter 1: Miss Lily Comes to Call
You've heard of the big fish in the small pond. That was Vegas in 1948 for casino owners, mobsters, and movie stars--but not for me. I'd had a few jobs since I landed in town and even did some very clever work, but it was all small potatoes: the cashier with sticky fingers operating the till at Woolworth's on Fremont, the dame who slipped the leash her bookie boyfriend had her on and was seeing a blackjack dealer on the sly. And then there was my favorite case, the newsboy who cut in on the other kids' territory. I never thought I'd be catching a twelve-year-old criminal mastermind, but he had the goods all right. Went around on the other boys' routes, collecting a day early. He was counting on the fact that most people just don't look that close at the kid who rides by and tosses the paper on their front step. And he was scoring big-time, at least till I got on his trail. Probably had a blooming career ahead of him when he got a little older.
No, I was the little fish in the big pond. None of the bigs came around calling on me to get their problems solved, at least not until that one day when she walked into my office.
Femmes fatales had been noticeably absent since I hung out my shingle, but the day she opened the door without knocking, I knew I'd hit the jackpot.
She was a doll all right, a little out of my age range, maybe in her early forties although she didn't look it, but everything was positioned right where it should be. She was tall and slim, dressed all in black: the fashionable suit with the big shoulders, expensive furs, the jaunty hat with a little veil and a sweeping feather, but the somber color just set off her shiny red hair and that famous peaches and cream complexion. They said it extended way down past what I could see with all her clothes on.
"Mr. Dick," she announced in a velvety tone that spoke of seduction and made you want to get dirty.
"Call me Mr. Randall, that's my name, Miss--?" I stood up politely. My mother was a stickler for proper manners.
"You may call me Lily."
I admired her strategy. By putting us on a first name basis right off the bat, she managed to stay incognito and get us on a cozy footing. A lot of people don't like admitting that they need a dick's help. But I recognized her, all right. Miss Lily McIntyre had been a dancer, not just a dancer, only the most famous dame to have ever strutted her stuff on a Vegas stage. She wasn't hoofing for dough any more, but retirement seemed to agree with her.
There was something about her that suggested that if she were yours, each day would be filled with fascinating and exciting surprises. Her laugh made the little lines around her eyes stand out a bit more, despite the expert make-up. She might be getting on in years, but she was still an astoundingly beautiful woman. And she had something that transcended beauty, that elusive quality called charm that would make her the center of attention when she was eighty. She flashed me the kind of smile that had probably gotten her that fur stole around her shoulders and the sparkly bracelet on her wrist. She really piled on the rocks, but she could carry the weight.
Miss McIntyre came a little closer, and I got a whiff of her perfume. Expensive, just like everything else about her, from the diamonds sparkling in her ears to her exquisite coiffure. She had on a four-string pearl choker with a diamond and emerald catch; probably she thought that was toned down for days, but under it I caught the glint of a fine platinum chain studded at intervals with diamonds that disappeared down into the deep V of her silk blouse. I'm no expert in women's fashion, but hers was top-drawer. First class all the way for a dame like her. I wondered who was keeping her now that dancing wasn't paying the bills.
"All the girls must love you. Such beautiful eyes and those long, thick lashes, simply wasted on a man. You've got something, haven't you, Mr. Randall?"
I couldn't help smirking. "I don't know about that."
"You're skinnier than I thought a private dick would be."
She had a way of saying "dick" that made it sound very dirty, and I could tell she liked doing it.
"Wiry. I'm wiry, not skinny."
"Of course. Wiry, but tough." She ran a gloved fingertip over my cheekbone, the one that had healed a little funny. "Where did you get that?"
"You didn't come here to get my life story, did you, Miss Lily?" I caught her hand and held it away from my face.
She just smiled and strolled to the window, looking down at the street through the blinds. I wondered if I'd remembered to dust them lately.
"Would you like to sit down?" I went around my desk to hold a chair for her.
Of course she homed in on the good one, the green leather chair. She sank down onto the seat, light as a feather, and crossed her legs. Stems a million miles long, and they looked good, damned good. She made sure I got a good gander by surreptitiously hiking her skirt up above her knees, which were worth the attention. Knees in general can be problematic, but if shorter skirts came in, Lily wouldn't have to be ashamed of her knees at all. I wondered how her toes were.
I retreated behind my desk, glad to have that shield between us, sat down, and waited.
She said, "Nice office, Mr. Randall."
I had to laugh. It was pretty basic and located on the side of town that dames like her just don't get to very often. "You didn't come to admire the decor, either."
"What are your rates?"
She had me hoping she wasn't shopping for a kept boy. Maybe she hadn't read the sign on my door. "Depends on what you want me to do."
"I want you to find and catch a killer for me, Mr. Randall."
I sat up straight. Murder? Now we were talking! Miss Lily McIntyre and a murder case. I rubbed my hands together, and she seemed amused by my eagerness. "Why me? Why not the police?"
Her peachy, luscious lips thinned for a moment, and that was a pity. She had nice lips, meant for smiling in that come-hither way she tried on me earlier. She couldn't know she was wasting her ammo. "The police have had forty-eight hours to catch him, and they're no nearer to finding out the truth than they were when they first found her body."
"Sometimes it can take a while, Miss Lily, even for the cops. Believe me, they like stamping 'case closed'. Makes them look good to the public."
"A while will be too long. Time is of the essence, Mr. Randall. And I have it on good authority that you're the man for the job. Perhaps the only man who can solve this case."
Of course a guy likes to hear that, but I also wanted to know who gave her the word. "And who told you that?"
She smiled. "Does it really matter?"
"Maybe. We can come back to that." I pulled out a pen and a pad of lined paper. "Who got murdered and when?"
"You're very businesslike. I like that." She let the fur thing slip off her shoulders, and somehow she managed to make it look as hot as if she'd just taken it all off. It had to be a practiced technique from her dancing days, when word was if the stakes were high enough, she did more than just shake her stuff. "It was a woman, only a girl, really. Miss Marguerite Saint-Ville. Very talented, and only at the beginning of her career."
"And who was this girl to you?"
"A protege," Miss McIntyre said. "And a charming young friend."
I was beginning to have an inkling that she was lying to me. They all do, the people who bring me their troubles. They want me to dig them out of a hole, but they never want to tell me the whole story. They seem to like making you work for the money. "You taught her to dance?"
"You can tell I'm a dancer, then? You're very observant, Mr. Dick. May I ask how you knew?"
"You have a certain... grace. And it's my job to be observant."
"I see," she said. "Every year I take on a student or two. However, Miss Saint-Ville was different. Special."
"In what way?"
"She was a lovely girl, and she should have been a star. She could dance, sing, entertain. She had a bright future ahead of her."
Suddenly I understood the all-black get-up. I would eat my hat if I didn't find out there was a closer acquaintance between the two than just teacher and student. But Miss McIntyre didn't betray any sign of grief. Not that she would show any emotion she chose not to. Those soft furs and silky glad rags covered a lady made of steel.
"When was she killed?"
"Two nights ago." Miss McIntyre leaned forward and gazed at me intently. "She was found in an alley, in the warehouse section behind Union Station."
I got the sense of some powerful emotion being held firmly in check. "What was she doing there?"
"I was hoping you'd find that out, Mr. Randall," she said somewhat tartly. "So far no one has been able to tell me a thing."
"How was she killed?"
I looked up from my notes. "Personal."
Miss McIntyre shrugged, but her gaze was intent upon me. "I'm not sure what other motive there could be. She wasn't rich."
"When was she found?"
"After two a.m."
"Were any of her belongings stolen?"
"Her purse was there, although the money was gone. Can't you find all this out from the newspapers?"
"I will, Miss Lily. I just want to get your take."
"I wasn't there. I know nothing about what she was doing or why." Miss McIntyre uncrossed her legs, giving me a little flash of the top of her stocking. She was still watching me carefully, although I had no idea what she was hoping to see. "You're going to find all that out for me."
"What if I find out something you don't want to know?"
She gave me a determined smile. All steel, that lady, although she wanted you to think otherwise. "Truth can be a harsh mistress."
"All right. Why was she killed?"
"Isn't that supposed to be your job?"
"Never overlook the basics. I'd feel like a damned fool if I didn't ask and I found out later you knew all along. And I'll need a photograph," I said.
She opened her handbag and flashed me a photo. "Autographed?"
I coughed. "Er, not of you, ma'am, of Miss Saint-Ville. Although...." I caught sight of the picture she was offering. "If you don't mind, make it out to Grey Randall." Hell, I'm not gonna pass up a photograph of a beautiful woman wearing only pearls and a G-string, although most of the good stuff was left to the imagination between the lighting and the pose. My mother didn't raise any stupid children. I was smart enough to play along when a dame showed a yen to flirt. No sense raising questions I didn't want to answer. Besides, having her autographed photo on my desk could only help when future clients came to call.
She smirked as she signed it, obviously thinking she had me back on a leash. But nobody puts Grey Randall, private dick, on a leash. I may let them think so, but only till I get what I'm after.
She slid it across the desk with a smug look as I took a glance before putting it in the top drawer to file later. "I was a dish, wasn't I?"
"Was? You still are. And now the photograph of Miss Saint-Ville, please."
After fixing me with a gaze that bored right through me, Miss McIntyre seemed to make up her mind about me. She opened her bag again and took out another photograph.
It was a black-and-white publicity still, the kind used by actresses, singers, and dancers, shot with professional lighting. Still, the girl had been lovely, beautiful, even. Which in itself could constitute a motive.
"Yes. More than one, I suspect."
"Don't you know?"
"She spoke of seeing more than one man. She never mentioned any names." Miss McIntyre made a graceful gesture with her hand. "You understand, in the entertainment business, one meets a number of... admirers, shall we say?"
"And maybe one of them got a little out of hand?"
"Perhaps." Miss McIntyre didn't seem too shocked by the idea.
"Was she a hooker?"
"No, Mr. Randall, she was not!" she snapped.
"Not even amateur? Look, Miss Lily, entertainment is a tough business to break into. Sometimes girls have to do things to make ends meet--"
"She was a lovely girl. Not in my league as a dancer, of course," she added modestly, "but these days what passes for talent would barely have landed you onto a casting couch back then. Not that I'm past it. I can still do a high kick over your head."
She peered at me deviously, just hoping I would ask. Well, I'm a gentleman, and I can never refuse a beautiful dame.
"I may need to see that, just as part of the case, ma'am," I murmured.
"Call me Lily," she said. She rose languidly to her feet, letting the stole slip behind her to the floor, and came around my desk like a panther on the prowl, sleek and dangerous.
She approached my chair, and my nostrils were filled with the feminine scent of her. I sniffed, trying to identify it. Lily of the valley. I can always tell.
She swung her leg up and over my head with no apparent effort, remaining perfectly balanced. Obviously she had a cleverly concealed slit in her skirt that I'd missed, cut up to the thigh. I applauded. Hey, even a hard-nosed, booze-swilling, seen-it-all dick like me can appreciate talent when I see it. That and she had on some really glam lace-topped stockings.
"Very nice," I said, keeping my breathing steady. After all, I was a dick, a private dick, and I know complications when I see them. "What does that have to do with your case, Miss Lily?"
She remained standing in front of me, crowding me. Not that I minded. But it was odd how she didn't back away from me. Almost as if....
I gasped when she suddenly planted her right foot on my chest, my hands gripping the arms of my chair, ready to take her down if she proved dangerous. She leaned forward slightly, increasing the pressure on my chest, applying enough pressure that I knew I would see the mark that the heel of her expensive shoe left there tomorrow.
She leaned closer, saying, "Mr. Randall, dancers are very flexible."
"So am I, ma'am, and if you don't take your foot off my chest, I may have to show you, and I don't think you'll like it very much."
She smiled and increased the pressure of her heel. "If I really put my weight into it, this heel would cut right through you like butter."
I grabbed her ankle, the hose silky to the touch, and pushed her slowly away from me. "I think I get the picture. You could have just told me."
She shifted her balance instantly, swinging her leg up and out of my grasp with a little flash of smooth white skin above the black garter, spinning away from me before walking back to her chair with a provocative roll of her hips. Even at her age, she was... flexible. She bent to retrieve her stole and pick up her bag.
"Miss Saint-Ville knew how to take care of herself." She wasn't even breathless when she sat down. "Sometimes a girl has to know how to get out of a sticky situation."
I brushed off my tie, trying to pretend that it hadn't hurt. "Nice move."
"I was holding back. If I really put my weight into it, this heel would have made you think twice."
"I believe you." I did. She had dancer's legs, slim but strong. I wouldn't want to meet her in a dark alley at night if she were mad at me. "So she could have taken a man by surprise with that move."
"I know a lot of other moves as well."
"And you taught her everything you know."
For the first time, I saw a flicker of emotion cross her face. "Not enough, apparently. I taught her all I knew, except how to stay alive." She looked sad for a moment, but then it was back to business. "You never gave me your rates."
"A hundred a day, plus expenses."
"You can open your mouth all right." Miss McIntyre smiled at me as she looked over the office. I knew that she knew I was lying, but she must have wanted someone on the case right away and was willing to pay for it. "I can do better than that." She opened up her bag and pulled out a five-G stack.
"Look, you want someone killed, get yourself another dick," I said.
"I'll take care of that part after you find the man," she said. "I know a lawyer or two."
"I don't carry out revenge," I told her. "I'll find him for you, but I'm not going to kill him. I may not even be able to produce enough evidence to bring him to trial, but I'll find him."
"You're very sure of yourself," she purred flirtatiously as she settled back in her chair.
"I should be. I've never failed to get my man yet," I said casually, although I didn't let on exactly what I meant by that. It was the keeping them that was the tricky part.
"Oh, I have complete faith in you, Mr. Randall," she assured me. She crossed her legs and leaned forward, one silk-clad leg against the other making a hushing noise like rain, and said, "All you have to do is find him. I have ways to take care of him later. If you catch him before the week is out, there could be a bonus in it for you as well."
"What kind of bonus?"
"That's up for negotiation." Something in her smile made me feel like we were talking a whole different currency here.
"You're a fascinating lady, Miss Lily."
She threw back her head and laughed. "I'm no lady, darling. I'm a woman, full-grown."
"Yeah," I agreed. "Armed and dangerous."
"Who knows, maybe I could teach you something."
"Oh, I have no doubt of that." Even though she wasn't packing the right equipment, I'm sure I could have learned a lot from her. "Where do I call you when I catch him?"
"I like your style, Mr. Randall. You're confident. That's good in a man."
"Thank you, Miss McIntyre. And your number?"
"So you knew all along? I see I've found the right man for the job." She recited her number. I didn't make a move to write it down, and she seemed to approve. "This job is likely to be difficult."
"Trouble is my business, Miss McIntyre, and I'm open twenty-four hours. Why the time limit?"
"We don't want to give him time to--dispose of the evidence, shall we say?" She stood up, and I circled my desk to pick up her fur thing and set it on her shoulders. She put her hand over one of mine with a grip of iron. "I suspect that you won't let me down, Mr. Randall. But before you let anyone know that you're working for me, get yourself a new tie."
"What's wrong with my tie, other than your footprint on it?" I looked down at it. Dark blue with red and yellow stripes. It was just a regular tie.
"It's hideous. A handsome man like you can do so much better." Then she turned and walked out.
"Hideous?" I muttered, staring at my tie.
"Hideous, darling!" Her voice floated back from the hallway, followed by a throaty laugh.
I went to the window and waited for her to emerge from the building. A middle-aged colored man was standing by a big shiny limousine, and he held the door open for her when she came out. A Lincoln two-tone, midnight blue, 1948. I would have loved to drive that car. He handed her into the back seat and circled the car to get in the driver's side. I watched it start to roll and turn at the corner.
She was lying. Miss Lily McIntyre was lying to me, from start to finish, but somehow I could tell this was the start of something big for me.
All I had to do now was find out what the fuck it was I was really supposed to be finding out.
I sat down and entertained myself by trying to read my name backwards on the frosted glass in the door: evitceteD etavirP lladnaR yerG. Yerg! What was I thinking? I had to get to work. I had a case to solve.
* * * *
Cops don't exactly love private dicks. If a dick cracks a case that they couldn't solve, it makes them look bad. Dicks can do things the cops can't, at least not that the fuzz can be caught doing. For instance, we can lean on a suspect a little harder or bribe them to go canary. If I'm on a case, I can work it full time without having to stop and hand out a ticket for jaywalking.
On the other hand, cops swing a lot of weight that I don't have. I can't force a witness to see me if they refuse. A cop can get a warrant to get face to face, even if they can't make a witness sing.
So it's pretty safe to say that the cops weren't going to be overjoyed to give me the bird's-eye lowdown on this caper. Still, I was on good terms with a few city employees. Everyone in Vegas had known of Captain Billy Woods of the downtown precinct since he'd come to Vegas two years ago, but I didn't know him personally. I had a guarded relationship with his second in command, Lt. Tom Steele, and a not-quite-so-guarded friendship with my old pal Reggie Harding.
It always helps to have an inside man, and it helps to know where he goes to tie the feedbag on. Reggie liked this little diner over on 3rd, Nancy's Diner. I'd never set foot in there before, but that was where I headed now to get the scoop on the case.
Even if Reggie wasn't working on it, cops are terrible gossips, and he'd know all about it. Besides, neither of the other two would have given me the time of day. Woods would probably have said something about ongoing investigations, and Steele liked to pretend that private dicks didn't exist. Which was fine by me; I just wished I could pretend he didn't.
I parked my heap across the way from the diner and waited till I saw Reggie go in and take a booth. I had a sneaking suspicion that he might make a bolt for it when he saw me, especially if word got around that Miss McIntyre had hired herself a dick.
I waited till he was shoveling it in before I opened the door to the joint slow and careful, so as not to jostle the bell. I slid into the seat opposite him before he even knew I was there. He started to stand up, but I hooked his feet out from under him, and he dropped back onto the vinyl-covered bench with a thud.
"Anyone would think you weren't happy to see me, Reg."
"Fuck off, Randall!"
"Can I help you?"
I looked up to see a fortyish waitress standing by our table, chewing gum and holding her order pad. She was dark-haired, a little plump for her uniform, and had a shrewd pair of eyes that chased back and forth between me and Reggie.
"A cup of joe," I said.
"It's okay, Nancy. This is Grey Randall. Friend of mine."
I stood up and held out my hand. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Nancy."
She looked surprised but stuck her pencil into her hair-bun and took my hand in a firm grip. "I don't like trouble in my place, Mr. Randall."
"I won't cause any, Miss Nancy. You can count on me."
"You break any china, you pay for it."
"It's a deal." I smiled at her, and after a moment, she smiled back. It's wholesome living and my irresistible charm, gets them every time. Obviously, as Lily had pointed out, it wasn't the tie.
"I'll get your coffee."
Reggie snorted in disgust and glared at me some more as she walked away.
I sat down. "Calm down, Reg. If you play your cards right, I might buy you a bowl of chili."
"I already paid for it."
"Next time, then." I smirked at him, and he glowered back. "I need a favor."
"Go find someone who owes you one."
"I already did."
Reggie picked up his spoon and dug around in his bowl of chili with it. He wouldn't look at me, and I didn't blame him. He didn't like being reminded. Neither did I. It was a two-way street.
"Miss Marguerite Saint-Ville."
He shot me a cagey glance. "That's a big favor."
"I said I'd owe you."
"I didn't hear you, but you will. Who brought you in on it?"
I thought about not telling him, but it always pays to show a little good faith. Besides, I knew he could keep his yap shut if there was something in it for him. "Miss Lily McIntyre."
He didn't seem surprised to hear that. In fact, he snickered and took another bite of chili.
"Good to see your appetite's coming back. Share the joke."
Nancy came back and plunked a cup of coffee in front of me.
"You're welcome. Don't mess up my boy here." She ruffled Reggie's hair before leaving.
"You're such a ladies' man," I teased.
He gave me a sour smile and smoothed his hair back down. "Yeah, that must be it. Anyway, Miss McIntyre about chewed the lieutenant's ear off over the case," Reggie said. "Didn't think we were trying hard enough."
"And are you?"
Again, he gave me a hard look, as if trying to see if I was kidding him. "Some of us are. Lieutenant Steele is. He doesn't like murder."
"I don't blame him. Especially on his watch."
Reggie went back to grooming his chili instead of eating it. He was beginning to give me the impression that there was more to the case than met the eye, not that much actual information had met my eye so far. "What did she tell you?"
"Not a lot. Just that this Saint-Ville frail was a protege of hers, that means student to you--"
"Thanks, maybe you can explain what pain in the ass means next," Reggie said sarcastically.
"If you ever looked in a dictionary--"
"I'd find your picture under it. What else did she tell you?"
"Miss Saint-Ville was found in the train yard, in an alley, around two a.m. Monday morning, strangled to death. Her purse was next to her, but the money was stolen. Miss McIntyre has no ideas about anything, like what the girl was doing there, who she was meeting, or if she even had a boyfriend, except that she had a few that nobody knows the name of. The end."
Reggie snickered. "She didn't tell you much."
"Suppose you do. Did you work on it?"
"Took the crime scene pictures." He was a good photographer, and once the lieutenant found out that tidbit of information, Reggie was often rousted to do it even when he was off duty. For overtime pay, of course.
"And? Can I see them?"
"The lieutenant wouldn't like that." He shook his head doubtfully.
I sighed. "Paint a picture for me. What was in that alley when you got there?"
He gave me a sharp glance to see if I was pulling his leg. "The girl's body. Her purse was next to her, as if someone went through it and then tossed it down near her."
"Signs of a struggle?"
"That whole area looks like a permanent struggle. Broken bottles, rubbish, discarded furniture...." He shrugged, but he was still tense, still holding something back.
"Describe the body."
"It was a dead body. Not pretty. Strangling isn't a nice way to go."
"Start at the top and tell me about her clothes. Any sign of sexual assault?"
Reggie shook his head. "None of that. She might have put up a fight, but she was fully clothed. No sign that someone took 'em off and dressed her afterwards. She had on kind of a sequined number like a dame might wear onstage. Brassiere, panties, garter belt, stockings, shoes, earrings--"
"What kind of earrings?"
"Diamond. Nice ones."
That little tingle had a hold of me now, that feeling I get when I'm finally on the trail of some facts. "So this thief who went through her purse after her money didn't like these diamond earrings and left them for the next taker?"
Reggie gave me a smug grin, and I knew he'd led me up the path on purpose to see if I was following along. "Maybe they didn't look good on him. He left a diamond bracelet too. Or possibly he thought they were rhinestones."
I nodded. I knew that someone on the force must have had them vetted, or he would have left out the bit about the jewels. "What about her hat?"
He looked startled. "She wasn't wearing one."
"So maybe she wasn't expecting to go outside."
"Maybe she was meeting someone she knew and just slipped out...."
"Slipped out of where? Was she shacked up in an empty warehouse?"
"Maybe someone brought her there by car."
I considered that. "Could be. Any tire tracks?"
"Yeah, go figure. On asphalt where a hundred trucks drive through everyday."
"What about a coat? It's winter. It gets cold at night, even in the desert."
"She had one of those flimsy evening wrap things women tote around, but she'd dropped it before she was killed." Reggie was looking at me like I was missing something that he'd expected me to hone in on.
"Why don't you just spill it?" I said.
"You didn't get this from me, right?" He peered around anxiously, but the snitches were off duty for the night. Nancy had been reading a newspaper and eating a piece of pie behind the counter when she saw I wasn't planning to wreck her joint.
"Come on, Reggie!"
"Keep your shirt on." He glanced around again and leaned forward to whisper, "There's a clue in that alley, something our boys didn't pick up. You go back there after dark when the newshawks have gone to roost and you'll find it."
I sank my voice low as well. His paranoia was catching. "What the fuck? Why didn't you scoop it when you had the chance? You could have made sergeant."
"Shut up!" he hissed. "Look, it won't mean anything to anyone but you. Everyone saw it, they just didn't get the significance of it, get my drift?"
"No," I said. "Seems like you got it, so why didn't you just--"
"Let me explain it to you in words of one syllable. Go down there and take a look, snoop." He stood up and wiped his mouth with his napkin, even though he hadn't made much of a dent in his bowl of chili.
"Why after dark?"
"That's all you're getting from me. Do your own legwork."
He left without a backward glance, and I didn't try to stop him. I knew from the tone of his voice that he meant it. Also that he was going out on a limb for me. If the lieutenant found out that Reggie spotted a clue and hadn't blown the whistle, well, he could be off the force or scrubbing the johns for the rest of his career.
While I sat there puzzling over what kind of clue it could be that would only mean something to me, I pulled his bowl of chili closer and sampled it. It was excellent, much better than I would have expected given the kind of dive this place was. The coffee was good too, and that surprised me. Maybe Nancy had more on the ball than I thought.
While I ate, I came to the conclusion that this clue, whatever it was, had to have a meaning that other people would get too. After all, if it meant something to me, it had to mean something to Reggie too, or he wouldn't just--
Aha. Something we had in common, then. Perhaps some potentially career-ending fact about us that we wouldn't care to have become public knowledge. While that told me why he was being so cagey, it still didn't tell me exactly what to look for, but at least I knew there was something the cops had missed, maybe something that could break the case wide open.
I finished the chili before I left. Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?