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Authors: Medora Sale

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BOOK: Sleep of the Innocent
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Chapter 5

Rob Lucas slammed open the door, walked into the room, and slumped down at his desk. Traffic arteries between the Blue Star Motel and downtown had been clogged with cars driven by irremediably pigheaded and stupid maniacs; his fatigue and irritability levels were reaching new heights, and he was beginning to wonder what he was doing here. He looked up at the mildly sympathetic features of Patrick Kelleher. “Hey, Kelleher,” he said, “how in hell do you find one lost hooker in this whole god damn city?”

“You could try Vice,” said Kelleher. “But I suppose you thought of that already.”

Lucas nodded gloomily. “Of course, it might be possible—naw—” He shook his head. “I keep this up, and I'll be looking for quarters from the tooth fairy.”

“What in hell are you talking about?”

“She said she was a singer. But—”

“You could try it. It must be easier to find a singer in this town than a hooker. Sheer numbers—there can't be
that
many singers.”

“I wouldn't be too sure,” said Lucas, standing up.

“And where in hell are you going?” asked Eric Patterson as he walked in and slung his coat down on an extra chair. “In case someone asks me to find you?”

“Off to give Baldy his hourly report,” said Lucas, “and to spend the afternoon trying to track down a band singer. How many bands do you figure there are in this town?”

“No more than two or three thousand,” said Patterson, grinning. “Happy hunting.”

Gloomily convinced that he was wasting his time, he decided to pretend that success was possible and started at the most obvious place—the Musicians' Union. He asked the voice at the other end of the line if a girl named Jennifer Wilson, who called herself Stormi Knight, was a member. There was a pause. “Yes,” said the bored voice. “She's with a group called Sex Kitten.” He was so startled, he had nothing to say.

“Do you have an address for her?” he asked at last.

“No,” said the voice coldly. “We don't give out that information. You could try her agent. Al Hamilton represents her. He's in the phone book,” she added, lest he tax her energy further by making her read out the agent's telephone number.

“Yeah, she's one of mine,” said Al Hamilton when Lucas finally got through to him. “She doesn't like being called Jennifer, though,” he said. “Claims it's too sweet a name, too innocent-sounding for a singer. I think Stormi's worse myself, but what can you do? The group started out modified punk, you know, and wanted real hard-driving names—but that stuff doesn't sell anymore, not for all the bread-and-butter jobs. They're into soft rock, easy listening. They get a lot of work; people like them. You know, weddings, dances, that sort of stuff. They're out of town right now, doing a week at a ski resort.” He paused to take a breath. “You wanna hire them?”

“What do you mean, out of town?” protested Lucas. “I was talking to Jennifer—Stormi—last night.”

“Just a minute.” There was a pause and a muffled roar in the background. “You're right. The job ended Wednesday. But they haven't called in yet. Kevin always calls as soon as they're back in town.”

“Kevin?”

“Yeah—it's his group, Sex Kitten is. Not Stormi's. Although you'd never know it to talk to her.”

“How far away is that resort?”

“Who is this, anyway? You want to hire them, what difference does it make where the resort is?” Lucas identified himself once more, and the agent's voice lost most of its energy and enthusiasm. That level of excitement was reserved for paying customers. “I see. Well, it's not that far. It's the Pine Valley Lodge—about two hours away, unless you're driving on the weekend. Then it might as well be on the moon.”

“You got an address on her?” asked Lucas.

“What's this all about?” he said, his voice crackling with suspicion.

“Homicide. Someone was killed, and we'd like to talk to her. Just as a witness, Mr. Hamilton. Look, you want to call me back? Look up the number in the phone book, ask for Homicide, then ask for me by name.”

“You know, Sergeant, I think I will,” said the agent and hung up.

He sounded relieved when he got through to Lucas again. “Sorry about that, but you wouldn't believe the sick guys out there trying to find out where the girls live. I gotta protect my musicians—they're an investment, you know,” and he laughed to make sure Lucas realized he was being funny. “Anyway, she lives at four ninety-two Oak Street, downstairs, and I got her telephone number here, if you want it.”

But the telephone rang at 492 Oak Street sixteen times without any answer, and Lucas finally gave up. He reported—yet again—on his progress, giving Baldy the address as proof he was still on the job, and went off to look at Oak Street.

It was a street that had gone from never having been elegant to being actively rundown. Here and there, a few hopeful people were trying to renovate, but for most of its short length it retained a forlorn air. A good place for a musician, he supposed. A rock band could rehearse all night, and it would never occur to the neighbours to complain. They might heave bricks through the window, but they wouldn't complain. At least, not to the police. The bell marked Ground Floor rang loud and empty through the rooms. He peered through a small window in the front door at a narrow vestibule holding a few coats and a pair of boots. He walked along the porch that spanned the front of the house and looked in the front window. A bedroom that without a doubt had once been the front parlour. Behind it, through an arch, he could see a dining room, with a round table and chairs in dark wood. Family castoffs, probably.

He walked to the right and up a paved path that followed around the house into the back garden. The view through these windows was just as unhelpful. The back room was also a bedroom, unoccupied at the moment. He shrugged and headed back to his car. It seemed fitting, somehow, that she wouldn't be easy to find. But just before he unlocked his car door, another thought occurred to him. He walked back to 490, up a neat concrete path, to a new porch with shiny black metal railings and rang the bell. No answer. No one lived on this street during the day. He went back to his car. This wasn't even his case.

It was too early to go home and too late to do anything useful. He had settled down at his desk to make up his final report for the day when Eric Patterson came in, looking haggard and exhausted. “How's it going?” Lucas asked lightly.

“It isn't,” said Patterson. “I've been trying to get something on his recent business deals. That five grand he had in his pants pocket wasn't there to tip the doorman. He has to have been mixed up in some transaction that was purely cash.”

“Blackmail?”

Patterson shook his head. “Not that I can see. Maybe. I think it's more likely to be a sweetener for someone. I mean, it's too much money and not enough. See? Not enough for a deal—his deals are two-, three-million-dollar babies. Buildings, hotels, that kind of shit. And it's too much just to carry.”

“Maybe he was going to the track.”

He paused, running his hand over his stubbly cheeks. “No, track hasn't opened yet, has it? Still, you're right. It's a logical amount for a gambling man to carry. I'll look into that.” He yawned and stretched back in his chair. “You get anything on that mysterious witness of yours?”

“I've discovered that she exists. That's something. And she sings in a band and lives on Oak Street.”

“You and Baldy are both demented, chasing after this bimbo. You're wasting your time.” He slung his feet up on the desk and leaned his head back on his arms.

“Look, Eric. She was in that apartment when Neilson got shot. I'm sure of it. They found her coat in the closet, the closet he was leaning against. And she sure as hell didn't come in the apartment, find a corpse, move it, put away her coat, move it back again, and then call us. Did she?” Patterson grinned. “And she stank of that crummy perfume that was all over the apartment, too.”

“Did she? I hadn't realized that. I never actually saw her, you know. From my personal experience, she could just be a figment of your imagination. But how do you know it was her coat?”

“It was black leather, and she was dressed in black leather, and it was her size, more or less.”

“Well, maybe.”

“What else did you find in the apartment?”

Patterson removed his feet from the desk, leaned forward, opened a drawer, and took out a sheet of paper. “Photocopy. Wonders of modern civilization. It's a nuisance having your reports snatched away from you as soon as you finish them. Anyway, we found—property of the hotel—”

“Skip that.”

“Okay. We found, in the kitchen, a bottle of champagne, two apples, a quart of milk, a half bag of coffee and a glass container of orange juice. In the bathroom, besides the towels and stuff, we found one lipstick, Luscious Purple, one tube of mascara, one black pencil, one bottle of Ivory Princess liquid makeup, one container of white powder—it looked white to me, anyway—one bottle of Cobra perfume, almost empty, one jar of face cream, one bottle of moisturizer, and one box of tampons. Some of these things were in a drawer—the face cream and the tampons—the rest were all over the counter. In the bedroom drawers—”

“Forget the bedroom drawers. That's my list.”

“All the sexy underwear and stuff. Okay. In the bedroom closet was a suit, gray, pin-striped. Living room closet: one ladies' black leather coat, one men's gray topcoat. Missing: shaving things, toothbrushes, toothpaste, that sort of thing. No one lived there.”

“It sounds as if she used to turn up early, get into that incredible outfit, including the makeup, and take it all off again before she left. Then she must have showered and put on clean underwear and left in her jeans again. Weird. I like the bottle of champagne. It's a nice touch for such a slob. I wonder if he always had a bottle.”

Patterson shook his head. “No. He had put in an order for it in the morning. He didn't usually ask for champagne, apparently. He often ordered a bottle or two of wine, which he also kept in the refrigerator. Oh—I forgot. There is a bar in the living room, and it contained—”

“A lot of booze. Anything else?”

Patterson laughed. “No. Except why do you call him a slob? Did you know him?”

“Nope. I just took an unreasonable dislike to his face and his taste in women.”

It was ten o'clock the next morning before Lucas managed to get an answer at the agency. A sleepy Hamilton said that he hadn't heard from Stormi as yet and suggested that he try calling the resort himself.

“I'll do that, Mr. Hamilton. Now, if I could trouble you for the addresses and the telephone numbers of the rest of the members of the band, maybe I won't have to bother you again.”

Hamilton groaned. “Look, first of all, you'd better get her mother's address and phone number. That's the one she uses most of the time. And sure, you can have the others. Phyllis!” he yelled, just off the mouthpiece. “Give this nice man the addresses for Sex Kitten, will you? My wife will get them for you.” He yawned, and Lucas was handed over to yet another person.

Lucas pulled up in front of a neat suburban two-story house and looked at it in surprise. He hadn't expected this kind of background, somehow. He had expected something against which a girl could rebel-poverty or ostentation. A small woman answered the bell, thin and pleasant-looking, with an open cheerful face.

“Do come in,” she said when she was able to break through his explanations. “There's a terrible wind today. I was out in the garden, just trying to tidy it up a bit before the ground gets too sloppy, and my hands got frozen. Here,” she said, leading him into a small room, “we'll sit in the den. It's nicer, really. And I'll get you some coffee. I'll bet you've come right from downtown if you got this address from Mr. Hamilton. That's a long drive just to turn around and drive back again.” She disappeared and returned in seconds with a tray with mugs of coffee, cream and sugar, and a plate of cookies. “Nothing homemade, I'm afraid. Since Jennifer left—she's our youngest—I don't bake as much. Now—Jennifer. I'm sorry I don't know where she is at the moment. She was up at that ski resort, and she hasn't got back yet.”

“I called the resort,” said Lucas, “and—”

“Oh, the job is over, but Jennifer's taken a couple of days off. She likes the country, and she was awfully tired. They've been working almost steadily since Christmas. She'll call me as soon as she's back in town, though. That's our arrangement. I never worry if she's been out of town and doesn't get back right away. Unless I knew she had another job, then I might worry, but she doesn't. Not right away. But she'll be by to get her mail and collect her phone calls. She uses this as her official address still. She was sharing the flat with a girl named Amanda or Annabel or something like that, and they have a phone, but she prefers not to let people have that number. This way we can act as an answering service. We bought her one of those machines for Christmas—not that we mind taking her calls, but we thought she might like the privacy, but she said, no, and made us keep the machine. She says there are too many weirdos, she calls them, out there, and she doesn't want to have to deal with them.”

“Does she have a boyfriend who might know where she is?”

“I don't think so. She used to go out with Ryan—he was in the band—but they had a fight, and Ryan got another offer and he went off to the West Coast, I think. She hasn't really had a boyfriend recently.”

Lucas smiled and drank his coffee. There was obviously a limit to what Jennifer told her mother. “Why does she dye her hair black, Mrs. Wilson?” he asked out of a sudden anxiety and desire to make sure they were talking about the same Jennifer Wilson.

BOOK: Sleep of the Innocent
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