Authors: Marta Chausée
Tags: #Fiction, #Retail, #Suspesne
Oak Tree Press
MURDER’S LAST RESORT, Copyright 2013, by Marta Chau
e, All Rights Reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews. For information, address Oak Tree Press, 140 E. Palmer St., Taylorville, IL 62568.
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First Edition, February 2013
Author’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents and places are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for error, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
To Opa and Mama,
who taught me about “Krimis”
Thank you to my loving mother, who taught me to read before I went to school and to my loving father, who modeled reading for information and pleasure every night of his life. Thank you to the storytellers of my childhood, Monika Dahl and Sharie Palm. Thank you to the ACN Laguna Beach Lushes, the Foothill Nightwriters, Sue Buckwell and Judy Kohnen. Thank you to my teachers Michael Harada, Richard C. Schwartz, Bruce McAllister, Syd Bartman and John Brantingham. Thank you to my editor, Sunny Frazier, my publisher, Billie Johnson, and to Alan Sacks. Thank you to my two sons, Cristian Robert Chau
e Kelly and Brandon Tadhg Chau
e Kelly, who have made my life worthwhile. Many thanks to the hospitality industry and those people in it I have loved. Without them, there would be no book.
Redmund Torrey lay dead in his tuxedo in the middle of a huge pile of used white sheets and towels. When I ran into one of our maids, Maria, who had found Torrey and was screaming her head off in the laundry department, I did the right thing. I called security first, then French. I stayed with Maria and got her to pipe down, but I got about as much credit for that as a beggar at Lloyd’s of London.
French, my husband, glared at me, his blue eyes frosty. “I still don’t understand why you came back to the hotel.”
“Like I told you, after we made love, I was energized. You know how I am. I couldn’t sleep so I decided to visit Jake. He’s on night audit. Is that such a crime?”
“No, but murder is,” French snapped.
“Get real. You’re not accusing me of murder?” I glared back at him, my blood starting to boil.
“No, but the Orlando PD will.”
Not waiting for an answer, French turned on his heel, walked back to the corpse, and, hands in his pockets, stared. He could be so difficult at times. He didn’t care what I had to say. I was just a further complication in what was going to be a doozy of a night.
French had arrived on scene in a lightning flash. We were waiting for our security guys, Bob and Dirk. I could hear their footsteps now, echoing like thundering rhinos in the cement block underground corridors of the hotel.
They rounded the corner and stopped short, drawing their guns and aiming at the laundry, as if the murderer might jump out from the pile of soiled and lumpy hotel linens. Following close behind them were David Enderly, French’s property manager, and Lauren White, the PR gal. What was she doing here?
“Oh mah God,” Lauren gushed, in her over-the-top Southern drawl. “What happened?”
French looked at her, said nothing, then looked at me. I got his message loud and clear. I was supposed to take charge of Lauren and keep her out of the men’s way. Th
would take care of this.
I obliged French because that was my job. A good hotel wife knew how to smooth over the most uncomfortable situations.
“Lauren,” I said with a smile, “come here. Stand with Maria and me.”
Her face registered her shock. She came over, but not until she had taken a good long gander at Torrey.
“Oh mah God,” she said again, but this time her voice was hushed, a bit more collected. The pupils of her aqua eyes were as big as black holes in deep space. “Who would want Mr. Torrey dead?”
“Who knows?” I answered, though I had a few ideas rattling around my head. Torrey lived a bit too large. Had his wife been here, I would have suspected her. Then there were all the people he had managed to piss off in the hotel industry.
“Is he strangled?”
Maria whimpered. I put my arm around her and she buried her face in my shoulder. I patted her back while I gave Lauren a look that said, “Cool it.”
“Is that pantyhose around his neck?” Lauren whispered, her polished nails at her mouth.
“Yes, it is.”
“It’s tied in a bow, Maya,” she said.
“I know. Creepy, isn’t it?” I answered.
“Oh mah God,” she said again.
She was as annoying and repetitious as a myna bird that knew only one phrase. She and the sobbing Maria were keeping me at the sidelines. I wanted to hear what French and the guys were saying.
“Lauren,” I said, “calm down. The police will be here any minute.”
Lauren smoothed the sides of her little black dress and stood, with the toes of her black patent high heels pointed slightly inward. With her long blonde hair, she looked innocent and sexy at the same time.
Just then, two of Orlando’s finest arrived—Police Chief Rick Wells, and his chunky deputy, Detective Sergeant Tom Koenig.
The men clustered around Redmund Torrey. French explained to Rick and Tom that Torrey was the president of Sapphire Hotels and Resorts. He was still in his tux from the party we had all attended just a few hours earlier.
I tuned into their conversation as I stared at Torrey. Unlike gory messes I had walked in on in the past, this murder scene was surrealistic—so clean and white, except for Torrey’s face already turning an unbecoming shade of purplish blue. His limbs were twisted into unnatural positions, as though he might be practicing an eerie Irish jig.
I felt sorry for him, poor fool. He wouldn’t be addressing any more Manager’s Conferences, no matter how prestigious or important they were.
Rick and Tom came over and asked Maria what happened. She answered in Spanglish. We all got the gist. She had rolled one of the industrial baskets away from the hotel laundry chute and dumped its contents. As she loaded the washer, she unearthed a well-dressed gentleman, a crumpled heap of darks, amongst the usual tangle of hotel whites.
“I’m surprised to see you here,” I said to Lauren.
“I stayed late after the party, Maya. I had to do a write-up about it for the
I looked at her and wondered. It was plausible.
“Mr. Enderly and I were going over a few things in his office when Mr. French’s call came in,” Lauren added.
I nodded. Had it been anyone else, I might have wondered about an office conference at such a late hour. But, Dave was a happily married man and Lauren was a nice southern girl. She dressed va-va-voomy, but she was straight-laced and conservative.
I wanted to talk with Police Chief Wells. I had some ideas I wanted to share with him. He was, of course, not at all interested in talking with me.
I saw my chance a few moments later
When Rick was done interviewing Maria, I caught his eye, nodded at Torrey and said, “I like the standard bow tie with tux combo better, don’t you?”
“Not very funny, Mrs. French,” Tom said, intercepting my comment to Rick. “Now’s no time for jokes.”
“Hey, I was talking to Rick, not you, pinhead.” I wanted to tell Tom, but I kept my mouth shut. Both men didn’t like me very much. Feelings mutual. I stole some of their thunder when I solved a weird, cold case murder at Church Lane Depot a few years ago. Ever since, they were offended that a little gal like me, an amateur, could produce results. In Tom’s case, I had probably stepped on that bloated Southern male ego of his that matched his Florida gator belly.
The stare Tom and Rick gave me made me uneasy. Surely they didn’t think—?
“With all due respect, Mrs. French,” Rick said, “what were you doing down here in the laundry area at 1:00 a.m.?”
“I couldn’t sleep so I got up, got dressed and came to the hotel to chat with Jake. You know Jake Reynolds. We’ve been friends since eighth grade.”
“Is that right, Mrs. French?” Rick said. He turned to Tom and said, “Make a note of that.” Tom obligingly dug around under his belly for a notepad in his trouser pocket.
“I suppose Jake can verify that?” Rick continued.
“Of course. I left him just a few minutes ago. He’s upstairs doing the night audit.”
As Rick turned away from me, I could see him grinding his jaw. Tom looked up at me for a moment, then made another note in his little pad.
French came over, pulled me off to one side and said, “You see? It looks bad that you were in the hotel unsupervised.”
“Unsupervised? What am I—a kid who’s broken curfew?”
“No, you’re my wife. It would be so nice if you started acting like it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means you should stay put, once we go home together.”
“Well, you can always ground me,” I said.
French shook his head, disgusted. “The point is, no one can verify where you were at the time of the murder.”
“That’s absurd. Jake can vouch for me.”
“You think so?” he said. “I doubt he can cover you from the end of the party to the time you found Maria with Torrey. After all, I can’t even do that and I was in bed with you.”
I had no response. He was the judge and jury and I was in the wrong. I stood there, looking past him, feeling stupid. His disapproval was crushing.
He shifted gears, tilted his head toward Redmund and asked, “What do you think of this?”
Good riddance, was my first thought, because Torrey was not a good guy. On the other hand, no one deserved this. I covered my mixed emotions with a flippant, “It’s a crime.”
“Maya!” French looked exasperated.
“Okay. Here’s what I think,” I said, warming toward him for asking, “I think you’ll discover the pantyhose is Size A. No woman invited to a Sapphire Manager’s Conference wears hose larger than Size A.”
I continued, “It’s going to be support hose, too, because you need fibers strong enough to stop jiggling and cellulite if you’re going to strangle someone to death with hosiery. This is an intimate crime, up close and personal, real hands-on, if you’ll pardon the pun. Redmund knew his killer well and didn’t suspect the attack.”
Rick and Tom had been eavesdropping and now exchanged a look. They didn’t like my opinions on a good day. Tonight they liked me and my opinions even less.
Just then, the medical examiner from Orlando arrived, along with the police photographer and other people in the CSI Department. It was getting crowded. Rick told us to stay nearby, so I walked back to Lauren and Maria. French went back to the guys. We hung around, awaiting for direction.
After some time on the hotel phone, Rick told us that, within fifteen minutes, the hotel would be surrounded by undercover cops. They would be everywhere—in both the public and the employee areas. They would be disguised as grounds people and housekeeping staff. They would be sweeping up imaginary leaves in the entry, parking lots, walkways and on the golf cart paths. They would be polishing brass knobs and elevator buttons.
Rick dismissed French, his staff and me but held Maria, the maid, for further questioning. Before he left for his office with Dave and Lauren in tow, French gave me a quick peck on the cheek and told me to be careful. The investigative team stayed with the body and began doing the things they do to keep evidence intact and to build a case.
If I thought I had been wide awake before, now I was wired with no hope of sleep. What was the point of going home alone? Instead, I asked Bob and Dirk to walk me through the back of the house, as we called the guts of the hotel, through the underground tunnels, to just under the ballroom. We keyed our way into the stairwell, past the ballroom and up into the main lobby.
In the lobby, we parted ways and I walked the travertine path beside the moss-covered streams, the fern-edged koi ponds and the empty parrot stands, past the elevated piano bar and the mirrored atrium elevators with their twinkling lights, all lined up in a row near the front desk.
I plunked myself down on one of the oversized, colonial rattan chairs near some hibiscus and palms. I sat in this empty pleasure dome at 3:00 a.m. and did some thinking. Who would want to kill Redmund Torrey? It was a puzzle, all right. How long could I make the list of suspects?
I was sitting there, counting Torrey’s bimbos and business associates, all of whom might have an axe to grind with him or some pantyhose to wrap around his silly goose neck, when I was startled by a noise right next to me.
“Geez Louise! You scared the hell out of me, you moron.” I didn't mince my words and Jake looked stricken at my tone.
“Sorry, Maya. I didn’t mean to startle you. I thought you heard me walk up. I was going back to the front desk from the safe. I saw some sandals I recognized, peeping out from behind the hibiscus. I just heard about Torrey from French and the gang,” he said, sitting down next to me.
“Do you like these?” I asked him, raising and rotating my ankles in both directions so I could regard my sandaled little feet.
He looked down. “They are so Sesto, aren’t they? Or are they Brunos?” Then, catching himself, he said, “Really, Maya. Do you think we should be admiring your shoes while there’s probably a killer behind the next potted fern?”
I looked into his concerned blue eyes and nodded in agreement.
“Maya, who do you think did it?”
“It’s a little too soon to tell,” I said. “Torrey was disliked by so many people. He had almost unlimited power, he was the big boss man and a bit of a jerk—”
Jake interrupted me, “But he was also one of the old time greats—a little like Baron Hilton. All showmanship and the customer was king. You had to admire the guy.”
“Maybe you did—”
Just then, there was a commotion off to the left. It was hard to see what was going on through the exotic flowers and foliage. Without conscious thought, we both popped out of our chairs and slunk down low, hiding behind the plants, like two kids watching adults through a bedroom window.
My eyes grew wide and my mouth gaped. We saw uniformed police moving someone toward the huge sliding glass entry doors of the hotel. The little group was making an exit to a waiting paddy wagon.
What the heck?
I turned to Jake and asked, “Why are they leading French away in handcuffs?”