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Authors: Don Easton

Art and Murder

BOOK: Art and Murder
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Jack Taggart Mysteries

Loose Ends (2005)

Above Ground (2007)

Angel in the Full Moon (2008)

Samurai Code (2010)

Dead Ends (2011)

Birds of a Feather (2012)

Corporate Asset (2013)

The Benefactor (2014)

Dedication

To those who serve and protect us …

Chapter One

“Hey!” Brandy yelled. “What the …?” She stared open-mouthed at Klaus as she sat naked on the edge of the hotel room bed.

Klaus stood glowering down at her. Somewhere in his early thirties, he was taller than most men. At the moment he was only wearing his underwear and it was apparent from his muscular build that he lifted weights on a regular basis. His head was shaved and he had a large tattoo of a scorpion on the centre of his chest, the creature's claws reaching up each side of his neck.

At the moment he was drunk and Brandy wondered if his slap to her face was intended to be playful. She put her fingertips to her nose and saw a smear of blood. “You … you hurt me,” she stammered, then looked at the other two men in the room, hoping for support.

Clive and Liam were completely naked. Clive, a guy of average height and build with well-trimmed brown hair, pretended not to notice what Klaus had done.

She glanced at Liam. He was a short, skinny guy with close-cropped red hair and freckles all over his body. He was swaying on his feet and, despite having achieved orgasm moments earlier, still had an erection.

“Hey, look at this, baby!” Liam sniggered while gripping his penis and fixating his gaze on her breasts. “These little blue pills really work!”

Brandy hoped her voice didn't portray her fear. “That's it, I'm outta here,” she said, getting to her feet.

“Like fuck you are,” Klaus said, shoving her back down on the bed. “We're not done with you yet … are we, guys?”

“Hell no,” Liam said. “This is my stag an' I'm gonna party all night long!”

“I'll scream,” Brandy threatened. “Now let me —”

Klaus grabbed her with one hand around her throat, choking off her words. “Listen, bitch! You co-operate and we'll let you go in a little while. You don't and … well, let's not talk about that. Okay?”

Brandy was twenty-four years old and as far as her parents knew, she worked as a cocktail waitress in a high-end lounge. What they didn't know was that she moonlighted as a call girl.

All her life Brandy had been told how beautiful she was. Her bottom price for sex was a thousand dollars and she had a steady clientele willing to pay. Men had always treated her like she was a princess … but her beauty and self-worth were slipping away as her addiction to cocaine increased.

Clive was her connection and usually rewarded her with cocaine in exchange for sex. Tonight was different. He had rented a hotel room, but when she'd arrived and discovered two other men were to be included, she'd balked at the idea. An ounce of cocaine and $2,000 in cash for one hour of her time convinced her otherwise.

Besides the money and cocaine, there was one other reason she wanted to please Clive. She owed someone a favour. A favour that required Clive to trust her more.

She had now been in the room for three hours. Her earlier protest at the time had been met with promises of more cocaine.

“You listenin' to me?” Klaus asked as his fingers tightened around her windpipe.

Panic flooded her brain. She needed oxygen. She stared into his eyes.
He'll kill me if I don't do as he says! Maybe he still will….
She nodded quickly.

Klaus slowly released his grip and she fell sideways onto the bed, gasping and clutching her throat.

He smiled sarcastically. “Now … tell me what a naughty girl you are. Tell me the things you would like us to do to you.”

“I … I …”

“You do have naughty thoughts, don't you?” Klaus continued. “It's okay,” he added softly. “You can tell me.” He smiled reassuringly.

“Please,” Brandy begged. “I'm not like … into the rough stuff. I … I have never been with more than one guy at once before. I don't want …”

Klaus scowled and raised the back of his hand, and Brandy immediately cowered, protecting her face with her hands.

“Easy, big guy.” Clive chuckled, patting Klaus on the shoulder before looking at Brandy. “Relax. Klaus didn't mean to hit you that hard. It was an accident. Come on, we're having fun. I'll see that you get an extra-big tip.”

“Yeah, startin' with
my
tip,” chortled Liam, waving his penis at her.

Clive glanced at Liam, then looked back at Brandy. “He's teasing … sort of. I promise I'll reward you big when we're done.”

Brandy swallowed and self-consciously rubbed her neck as she stared up at Clive.

“Besides, there's a first time for everything,” he added.

“Yeah,” Liam said, “I wish it was the other way around. Three of you and only one of me.” He turned to Klaus. “That's always been one of my fantasies.”

Klaus laughed. “You're too ugly for three women.”

“Fuck you!” Liam grinned.

Brandy interjected. “Let me go to the bathroom and clean up before we start again.”

Klaus gave her a hard look. “Yeah, go ahead.” Then he smiled slightly and added, “I'll light up a smoke while you do.”

As Brandy got up, Klaus looked at Clive and said, “Go with her. Make sure she doesn't do something stupid, like try to lock herself in.”

Moments later Brandy dabbed at her face over the bathroom sink while Clive stood beside her. She caught a reflection in the mirror outside the bathroom and saw Klaus go into her purse and take the $2,000 back. She pretended not to notice. She was too afraid of what would happen if she said anything. All she wanted was to get out … and get out fast.

“Hey, we're not payin' you to stand and look at yourself in a mirror!” Klaus hollered.

Brandy focused on her image in the bathroom mirror and gripped the sink with both hands in an effort to keep herself from trembling. The image she saw was no longer one of confidence and beauty.
Mascara under my eyes … my cheek bruised and starting to swell.
Why would they treat me like this? I just don't get it.

She thought about the man she owed the favour to. His name was Jack.
He promised to protect me … but will he?

Brandy had met Jack a month ago. It was the week before Christmas when he'd come into the lounge where she worked. She'd guessed him to be in his late thirties or early forties, but despite the age difference, she was attracted to him and hoped their relationship would develop further than the friendly banter. She also hoped he would never find out she was a call girl … or perhaps
had
been a call girl, because after meeting him, she intended to quit.

It turned out he already knew. Any thought she had of developing a personal relationship with him dissolved when she sat beside him in the lounge that night at closing time and sold him an ounce of cocaine. He did not pay her for the cocaine, opting instead to flash his badge and tell her she had two choices. Either be arrested or become his informant.

She started to cry. It was a response that worked with most men.

“Cut the crap,” he said harshly, “and listen.”

Most men, not all.
She quit crying instantly and listened. He promised that if she became his informant, he would protect her. Nobody else would know, with the exception of his partner, to whom he'd introduce her if she agreed. He said he wanted her to help him catch her cocaine connection.

Her mind had felt numb. “I'm not sure what to say,” she replied.

“You don't have a criminal record yet,” Jack said. “Someday you'll probably have a family. How do you tell your children that you can't ever take them to Disneyland because you're a convicted drug dealer?”

Brandy slumped in her chair. When she spoke, her voice came out as a whisper. “Okay … I guess.”

“You guess?”

“I'll do what you want.”

“There is one more thing to keep in mind before you say anything,” said Jack. “If you ever lie to me … ever … I will find out and all deals are off. Understood?”

Brandy nodded. “I won't lie, but I only know him as Clive.”

Jack reached into his pocket and pulled out a mug shot. It was Clive.

“You already knew,” she said, confused. “Why are you hassling me if —”

“I need help catching him. I don't even know where he lives.”

“I don't know, either,” she protested, fearing that Jack wouldn't believe her, “but he told me he was going to Mexico for Christmas.”

“Do you know who he went with?”

“Nope, but he sort of joked about taking me with him.”

“To mule-back coke?”

Brandy stared momentarily at Jack, then said, “He hinted at that once. Said he could provide me with a fake passport so that if I had a record, customs would wave me through. I told him I don't have a record, but I know enough about Mexican jails that I would never chance it. Did you ever see that movie where a guy went to jail in —”

“Where does he get the passports?”

“I don't know,” Brandy replied indignantly. “It's not something you ask.”

Jack met her gaze. “Who else does he hang with?”

Brandy sighed loudly. She disliked being questioned. When she saw Jack frown, she said, “I've only seen him with one other person.”

“Who?”

“I don't think it's who you're looking for. This guy doesn't strike me as the type to take orders from Clive, let alone mule coke.”

“What's his name? What's does he look like?”

“I only know him as Klaus. Steroid monkey with a tat on his neck. Dresses like a gangster with all the bling. He's got a shaved head, wears a ball cap sideways — the thing's too big.” Brandy shook her head to show her distaste. “Makes him look like a pinhead. I like guys who can protect me, but not if they look stupid.”

“Keep going,” said Jack.

“You know, the typical loose pants that show the crack of his ass.”

“I get the picture, but what's the tattoo on his neck?”

“Oh, that. I only saw the top of it poking up above his collar. Looked like a crab claw, so maybe he's a Cancer. You know, like in the horoscope. I'm a Virgo. What are you?”

Jack ignored her question. “Do you have a contact number for Clive?”

“I did, but it's not working now. He's always changing phones. I'll have to wait until he comes in to get his new number.”

Jack gave her a long, cold stare, then said, “I'll give you my numbers. Write them on a piece of paper. I don't want you carrying my business card. If either Clive or Klaus come in, call me immediately. I want to follow them and find out where they live.”

“Okay.”

“When he's not in Mexico, how often do you see him?”

“About once a week.”

“How much coke do you get from him?”

“Usually an ounce, sometimes more.”

“And what do you pay for it?”

“I, uh, pay about …”

“I warned you once what will happen if you lie,” Jack said.

Brandy felt dismayed. “You know about that, too, don't you.”

“That you're hooking and trade sex for coke,” he said flatly.

Brandy sighed. “Yes, but there's something about Clive I don't like. I was going to break it off with him. He gives me bad vibes.”

“How many times have you, uh, been with him?” Jack asked.

“Maybe a dozen, but he's becoming nasty in the way he treats me.”

“For my purposes, could you handle another session with him if you had to?”

Brandy grimaced. “I guess so. He is generous. He gives me an ounce each time we, uh, spend an hour alone together.”

“An ounce of coke for an hour … you must be good.”

At that, Brandy had felt a little surge of optimism. “If you'd like to find out, the first one's on me. Actually, not just the first one. I could see you being my boy —”

“Time for you to meet my partner.” Jack had nodded in the direction of a woman sitting at the bar.

* * *

Brandy knew that time for reflection in the mirror was over when Klaus entered and gave her a solid smack on her backside.

“I told you to hurry up,” he snarled.

She gasped when he grabbed her by the back of the neck and propelled her out and onto the bed. She glimpsed the clock.
One-twenty-five. Will Jack answer if I call?

Klaus sneered down at her. “Okay, bitch, time to really earn what we paid you.”

It has to be now … or never.

BOOK: Art and Murder
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