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Sleep of the Innocent

BOOK: Sleep of the Innocent
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SLEEP OF THE INNOCENT
A John Sanders/Harriet Jeffries Mystery
Medora Sale

Dedication

For Dina Fayerman and Jacqueline Shaver, whose patience and encouragement helped to make all of this possible.

Chapter 1

The call came in at 3:02 on a quiet Thursday afternoon in March. A north wind, blowing straight down from Baffin Island, was keeping the streets free of troublemakers; the dispatcher, working with purely mechanical efficiency, drowsed in the bright sunshine and thought of all the places where he would rather be. Warm places. Places where spring had already arrived. Places like . . .

The hysteria in the voice on the other end of the line had elicited his usual calm response without seriously interrupting his daydream, but the message he had taken down more or less automatically jolted him awake. The hysteria was routine; the tale was not. Wounding by gunshot is rare in expensive midtown hotels. “Please don't hang up, miss,” the dispatcher was saying as a click signaled the broken connection. “Damn,” he muttered philosophically, unsurprised, and set about dealing with the problem.

The Karlsbad Hotel was a scant two blocks from the corner of Bloor and Yonge, the midtown center of Toronto; there was a patrol car idling along James Street, fifty yards away, when the call went out. In seconds the constable in it had double parked in the no-parking area in front of the hotel, blocking a green Mercedes being tagged by an earnest-looking police cadet. “Here, you,” said the constable. “Give us a hand. Fast.”

The reply was indistinct. The constable took it as assent and hustled in through the heavy brass doors, dragging the cadet after him.

“Third floor, apartment three-seventeen. Gunshot wound.” He looked around the small, very quiet lobby. The elevator stood open. “Up the stairs. I'll take the elevator. And hang on to any witnesses you run into.”

The cadet flew up the stairs two at a time, intent on arriving before that arrogant lazy bastard stepped out of the elevator. He paused at the second floor landing for a quick glance through the glass panel set in the door and looked down the corridor. Nothing. But the swish of a fire door opening as he rounded the corner to the next flight made him stop and look up.

A woman was clattering down the cement steps headed straight for him. His still-inexperienced eye took in a set of keys in her hand and a very tight and very short leather skirt; at the same time his nostrils were assailed by a heavy perfume that set off warning bells in his head. No girl he knew would wear perfume like that. Her eyes were on the steps as she rushed down them; her first intimation of his existence was a view of his boots. She stopped, her hand on the banister, and let her eyes travel upward. Her white face, under its white makeup, turned ashen, and the keys dropped out of her hand. He stooped to pick them up.

“Excuse me, miss,” he said awkwardly. “I'd, uh—” He took a deep breath and started again. “I have to ask you to return to the third floor with me. If you don't mind.”

“I do mind,” she said sharply. “I'm late and I'm in a hurry. And I haven't been anywhere near the third floor, so I can't return to it. I've come down from the fifth. So, if I could have my keys back—”

The cadet hesitated for a moment. Lectures on the rights of citizens battled in his conscience with the curt injunction from the constable to grab anyone he could find. He looked at the skirt and the bizarre makeup, and his resolve strengthened. “Look here—someone opened that door to the third floor corridor, and I never heard you coming down those stairs all the way from the fifth. You'd better come along with me,” he said firmly, “and give a statement to the other officer.” He still held her keys clutched tightly in one large hand. He stepped forward, taking her black-clad arm in his other hand, and began to steer her up toward apartment 317, nervous perspiration pouring down between his shoulder blades.

Sergeant Rob Lucas dropped the telephone receiver back on its cradle and swore. Loudly. If he had not stopped to tidy off his desk, if he had not been a softhearted ass and agreed to stick around while Eric had one of his late, long, boozy, and erotic lunches, he would have been out of there before this call came in. Out and away, and it would have taken them hours to find him. He shoved the piece of paper across his desk. “When Patterson gets back, tell him to get his ass over to the hotel right away. The only reason I'm going now is to keep him out of trouble. Make sure he understands that.”

As soon as he walked into the lobby of the hotel Lucas was almost drowned in an unwelcome wave of nostalgia. He had known the place from his school days. It was a quietly expensive apartment hotel, respectable enough that a man walking in there could equally well be seeking the sleep of the innocent after a late night at the office, or be paying a discreet visit to his mistress. It was also the place where his father used to take him for lunch on half holidays from school. The dining room was small, expensive, and good at what it did. It knew its clientele only too well; fads came and fads went, but at the Karlsbad one could be assured of properly smoked salmon, or Dover sole, or delicately pink roast lamb and an array of pastries for dessert that would soften the harsher moods of a mistress or delight a schoolboy at lunch. Not a place, he thought as he waited for the elevator, where people got themselves murdered. Not until now, anyway. But then, it had changed ownership since his days at private school. Perhaps the clientele was rowdier.

Having achieved the third floor, he pushed his way through the crowd in the corridor into apartment 317, stepped carefully over a cordless telephone lying on the floor of the entrance hall, and then stopped in the doorway to see what he was up against. The living room facing him was large and insipid, a model of middle-class restraint, enlivened only by the presence of the corpse lying supine on the floor. Lucas bent over to have a closer look. He had been a big man, somewhat plump, and expensively dressed. His face was clean-shaven and undamaged, its muscles slackened in death, in unpleasant contrast to the shattered skull visible through his thin, pale hair. You didn't need a medical degree to figure out that he was dead. Forty? Forty-five? He didn't look as though he'd ever been particularly pleasant. “He's been bleeding on the nice new carpet,” said Lucas. “That'll irritate the management. Who is he?”

“Dunno,” said the constable standing beside him, and shrugged his shoulders. “I just checked his pockets. No wallet—nothing like that. Someone's gone down to see the manager. He should know.”

I wouldn't count on that, thought Lucas cynically, and glanced around at the bare room: pale blue walls, two large glass coffee tables with nothing on them but a half glass of red wine, side tables empty even of a magazine, no shoes or socks on the floor, no clutter at all, in fact. Except for the corpse. “What else is there?” he asked finally, and yawned. He should have been home in bed hours ago.

“Small kitchen, bedroom, bathroom. Nothing much in the kitchen except the other wineglass—bedroom and bathroom might be a bit more interesting.”

Lucas walked around the corpse, glancing into the kitchen as he went, and went into the bedroom. The bed looked like the aftermath of a demolition derby. Lucas picked up a pillow and sniffed at it. “Perfume,” he said. “Disgusting stuff.” He shook his head. “Recent activity in this bed, I'd say. Wouldn't you, Constable?”

“I would,” he answered briefly. “Look in there, sir.”

Lucas walked over and opened the door. It led to a large and luxurious-looking bathroom that reeked of the heavy, musky odor that had permeated the sheets and pillows of the bed. “Christ—it stinks in here.”

The constable leaned in beside him and pointed to a bottle of perfume on the counter. Beside it sat a rumpled hand towel. “She must have spilled some. The towel's soaked with it. It's called Cobra, according to the bottle,” he added in bemused tones.

“I can smell, Constable,” said Lucas irritably. The bathroom was even untidier than the bedroom. Towels spilled out of a large linen cupboard, whose slatted door was hanging open; a couple of wet bath towels and an even wetter bath mat were hanging over the edge of the tub and drooping onto the floor. There were tubes and sticks and boxes and bottles of makeup lying on the counter. He picked up an uncovered lipstick lying in a pool of water on the edge of the basin. It looked black to him, or maybe dark brown. “Jesus,” he muttered, “who would wear a color like this? It's sick.”

“That girl out in the hall,” said the constable, as if Lucas's question had been a serious inquiry.

“You mean they've got her?” said Lucas, yawning. “I'll see her in a minute.” He turned back to the bedroom. “What's in these drawers?”

“I haven't had time to check yet,” said the constable defensively.

“Then get a move on. I'll search, you write,” said Lucas irritably, stuffing his notebook back into his pocket and opening the top drawer. “In the top left-hand drawer,” he muttered, his fingers moving rapidly through the contents, “women's underpants, white cotton, and black tights. Count them later. Right below,” he went on, closing one drawer and opening the next, “there is one large white sweater—wool—one pair of jeans, and three pairs of wool socks. Below that,” he went on, throwing open the bottom drawer, “a black garter belt, black stockings, and black lace pants. That's it. In the top right-hand drawer,” he said, slamming one closed with his knee as he opened the next, “shirts, socks, shorts, and handkerchiefs, men's. Oh—and just a minute—Jesus Christ!” he spluttered, digging farther back behind the handkerchiefs. “Look at that.”

“Either this guy had one hell of a sex life,” said the constable, who was peering over his shoulder, torn between laughter and admiration, “or he wore 'em six at a time!”

Lucas spilled two fistfuls of packages of condoms back into the drawer. “Cautious, anyway,” he said, grinning. “I better talk to that woman. Get her for me, and then check the closet,” he added, walking into the living room and almost stumbling over the corpse. “Do you think one of you guys might manage to cover him up? I need this room to talk to a witness.” Someone drifted in the direction of the bedroom to get a sheet. “And for Christ's sake, not those sheets, you fool! They're evidence. What have you gotten from her so far?”

“She says that her name is Stormi Knight,” began the constable.

“Come off it,” said Lucas. “You've got to be kidding.”

The constable's face reddened. “That's what she says,” he repeated doggedly. “I just took a statement from her and wrote it all down. I never questioned what she said. I reckoned you guys could sort it all out. She sings in a band; she knows nothing about anything. She was visiting a friend in the hotel—”

“Who?”

“A girlfriend. No name. Just a girl she met, when someone in uniform, actually it was that cadet over there,” he added, nodding out the door, “grabbed her for no reason and brought her up here and made her look at a dead man lying on the floor, and she's never seen the dead man before. And it made her feel sick, and she's thinking of suing us.”

As they reached the hallway, the elevator door opened and disgorged a new crowd of people. “Thank God,” said Lucas, rubbing his aching temple. “Here come the rest of them. I'm not even supposed to be here. This is Eric Patterson's case.” He turned to the constable. “Look, tell Patterson when he gets here I'm talking to the girl, and he owes me. But not in there,” he muttered, suddenly reluctant to return to that icy blue room. “What else did you get from her?”

“Not much—but when the cadet grabbed her, she dropped a set of keys. I tried them in the door,” he added modestly.

“And?”

“One of them fits. The door of this room.”

“Good. Where is she?”

“Over there, leaning on the wall.”

In the discreet light of the corridor, Robert Lucas got the distinct impression of something dead propped up against the red-and-gold wallpaper. Stormi Knight was dressed in black: a black leather skirt that revealed too much skinny, black diamond-patterned leg; a black minuscule cardigan; a mop of curly shoulder-length hair dyed a flat, dead black. At least, he assumed it had been dyed. He didn't believe nature had ever been cruel enough to give anyone hair that color. When he got closer, he could see that her face was caked with white powder, except around the eyes, where her mascara and whatever had run and smeared into black rings. Her lips were bare of makeup, although surely the tube in the bathroom had been lipstick. That fat, dead mouth in there had probably eaten it off. He felt slightly sick. Closer still, and he could smell the heavy, cloying perfume, although it was less noticeable out here than it had been in the apartment. On her right cheekbone was the broad yellow smudge of an old bruise, barely concealed by the heavy makeup; on her right shoulder, close to the neck, an angry red mark spoke of a nasty bruise to come.

Lucas had seen them all before. He snapped open his notebook and said, “Name?” almost before she had registered his presence.

“Stormi—” she began sulkily.

“Real name, this time. If you don't mind.”

“Jennifer Wilson,” she said, and raised her chin stubbornly. “Stormi Knight's my stage name. So it is a real name.”

“Who is the man in the apartment?”

“Which man?” she asked innocently.

“The corpse. The one the constable took you in to look at. How many corpses do you run across in one day?”

“I have no idea,” she said steadily. “I don't know why you should think—”

“Why? Because you were carrying a key chain with the key to apartment three-seventeen on it when the cadet spotted you on the stairway, that's why. If you don't know him, how do you explain the key to his apartment?”

“Shit,” she muttered, and paused, chewing her lower lip nervously. “I guess I should have told you, but I was scared I'd get mixed up in it—”

“Listen, lady,” he said. “You are mixed up in it.”

She shrugged her shoulders and then winced. “Uh, it's like this,” she said. Her eyes flickered nervously. “I was out of town—the band was, the one I sing with—and when I got back, my landlady had rented my apartment to someone else. I was behind with the rent or something. Anyway, they hadn't paid us for this last job yet, and I was real broke, and this girl I met last night said she had this huge apartment she lived in, and I could sleep on the couch if I wanted. And so that's what I did.”

BOOK: Sleep of the Innocent
3.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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