Authors: Mary Jackman
“Where are you going?” I whispered.
“I'll check the bedroom. You look in the living room.”
Thankfully, no one was hiding in the front room ready to pounce. I returned to the kitchen and picked up one of the larger scraps of paper off the floor. It had clearly been torn from a legal document and if I wasn't mistaken it was Anthony Vieira's signature scrawled across the bottom. I've never seen his signature, but it was easy to read. Mine looks like a polygraph on acid. I knelt down on the floor and arranged the few pieces big enough to read but other than the words “Will and Testament” it didn't tell me anything.
“No bodies in the bedroom, but look what I found.” Andy held out his hands, which contained tiny, white, cut pieces of plastic. I took a couple and tried fitting them together. Some of the pieces looked yellowed, and some had numbers and partial names.
“You're looking at these things like you just saw a ghost. What are they?”
I pulled out the card I had in my purse and showed it to Andy. The man wasn't stupid and he quickly dumped the rest of the pieces in his hands onto the kitchen table and began putting them together, literally and figuratively. There was about ten complete cards altogether, including the one I had, which made eleven.
“You want to tell me about this?”
“I'm not sure I can. I found a card like this between two playing cards on the floor in the change room at Toscano's dance club.
“When was this?”
“Last night. I wanted to talk to Maria at the club, or at least I thought I did, and then I changed my mind. I thought she'd think I was a nut job if she thought I was following her.” I didn't want to tell him about my earlier arrangement with Detective Winn to watch her. “I saw Maria earlier at the hospital. She dropped a deck of playing cards and got very nervous about me touching them. I'm pretty sure the playing card I found this hidden in was from the same deck. I suspected there were more.”
“And here they are,” Andy said. “I can only think of one reason why anyone would have all these cards, although they're useless all cut up like this. Someone didn't want them in circulation.” As I said the man wasn't stupid. “We better not touch anything else. Let's get out of here. You might want to get in touch with your police friend as soon as possible.”
I agreed. I should have told Winn about my suspicions of Louise before this, but he was so excited about the apron yesterday that I didn't get a chance.
“I'll tell Detective Winn as soon as we get to the dance. If he's there,” I added.
ufferin Street was blocked by a police barricade and emergency vehicles crowded both sides of College Street. I experienced vertigo if I turned the bathroom light on and off too quickly and the red and yellow rotating flashing lights were giving me a headache. A policeman, who looked vaguely familiar, was dutifully directing a lava flow of cars into a state of side-street mayhem.
I rolled down my window to ask if a fire was causing the delay, but he pointed his finger and waved us on. I informed him that we were going to Toscano's and asked him where we could park. The policeman stopped directing the pedestrians for a moment and said testily, “I'm not a parking attendant, lady.” But then he stared straight at me. “I remember you. I'm on traffic duty for a month because of you.”
Recognition dawned. He was the sergeant on duty back at Daniel's garage. Winn had commanded him to escort me to his cruiser, but I had slipped out of his grip and ran back to find the trunk full of rotten meat. At the time, I was unfamiliar with the detective's methods, but it soon became clear he wouldn't tolerate carelessness from his men.
I turned to Andy. “Floor it.”
I had to find another way to get inside Toscano's and find Winn. Andy let me out about a block away and agreed to find someplace to leave the car where it wouldn't be towed. Then he would catch up with me outside the club.
It was starting to rain again and getting cooler. I was in heels and wearing a cocktail dress, definitely not dressed warm enough to hoof it down the block to the club. Before Andy drove off, I grabbed an old trench coat from the back seat of the sedan and a pair of rubber boots. I also found my old camera sitting amongst a lost-and-found collection of paperbacks, umbrellas, and assorted pieces of odd clothing, not customers â but mine â piled in a heap.
The camera had been rolling around in the back seat of my car for months. I meant to take the film in to be processed, but there was still one picture left on the roll. I ripped off a long-lost glove stuck to the camera's Velcro strap, put it on, and strung the camera around my neck.
While another security cop concentrated on crowd control, I scooted around the caution tape. No one wants to be in a train wreck, but you can't help looking if there is one. Morbid curiosity seekers were keeping him busy.
I mingled in with the press, hoping my weighty camera would give me a professional look. State-of-the art digital photography was out of my league and I prayed no one would notice. The same traffic cop who recognized me had rotated duties and was now guarding a roped area. He spotted me and walked in my direction. I flashed a bulb in his face, blinding him long enough for me to blend further into an ever-increasing number of media hounds. The camera made a soft whir as it rewound.
The crowd let out a collective gasp. I poked my head through a gap of onlookers to see a stretcher being hoisted into the back of a homicide van. Long, brown curls had cascaded from the zippered body bag as it was tipped on one end and a white-gloved female police officer was feverishly trying to pat them back in.
Following closely behind the trolley, a young man whom I recognized as Nicky was being escorted out of the club. He looked pale and frightened. He was assisted into the back seat of a black sedan, which drove off swiftly, following the coroner's van.
Winn stepped out of the club holding Inez's arm. She leaned into his shoulder as if she were afraid of falling. Wearing a skimpy sheer outfit and shoes with straps that tied high up above her ankles, she was all legs. Gallantly, he removed his coat and draped it around her shoulders. Camera lights flashed everywhere. Winn talked to a group of persistent reporters for a minute longer and escorted “Legs” to a police car. I was surprised when he got in the driver's seat beside her and they drove off in a different direction. They looked awfully chummy. Now I was never going to find out what happened. Unless â¦
I sidled up next to a film crew and approached a man about my age jotting down notes.
“I just got here, what did I miss?” I asked casually.
“Who are you?” he asked. Righfully so.
“I'm late. I missed the press release from the commanding officer. Can you fill me in?” I asked naturally, as if I did this every day.
He looked me over like I had scurvy, his eyes settling on my coat.
“Don't you think the trench coat is a little clichÃ©d?”
“What do you expect? In case you haven't noticed, it's freezing out here. Besides it was all I had in the back of my trunk. Come on, give me a break. We could have a drink later.”
The reporter leaned toward me, “Well it's not like you won't find out. A young female dancer was found dead in the club's basement locker room.
“Do you have a name?”
“First name is Maria, I'm not sure of the pronunciation of the second.”
,” I said, sadly sounding it out. “How did she die?”
“Strangled, and apparently with her dance costume. Funny that.”
“Murder is never funny,” I said starting to tremble.
“How about that drink?” he asked.
“Sure, anytime,” I answered, and walked away.
Poor Maria was robbed of her moment in the spotlight. She looked so happy yesterday. I'm glad I got a chance to watch her and her partner dance. She was very beautiful. I bet she made a lot of women nervous. I remembered watching her in the meat store being followed closely around by Mr. Tony. Then I thought of Cecilia Vieira and decided I wouldn't have wanted to make her jealous.
The cards I saw chopped up at Louise's apartment meant that both women, Cecilia and Louise, knew about the false social security cards. Were all three women involved in an illegal scam and did one of them come to threaten Maria and it escalated to murder? Was Maria a loose cannon without Tony riding her all the time? I remembered how she seemed very interested in my restaurant and asked a lot of questions about my employees, even before her boss's death. Maybe she planned on going into business for herself.
There was a ready market waiting to snap up working permits in order to qualify for a legal social security number. Once you've have a number, regardless of how you received it, you don't need papers. That little white plastic card cuts out a lot of legal, time-consuming steps, especially if you're not staying in the country long. Like having a driver's licence, no one asks where you got it. It's a number, it had to be yours.
Doing the payroll for Walker's staff over the years, I've had a few employee numbers bounce out of the payroll program. Most computer programs are government-approved now and securely protected. If a card number is made up without authorization, the program won't accept it. However, it doesn't seem to care as long as the number is still in the system. Social security numbers are often borrowed and passed around between family members and their friends. In some cases, the cards might belong to holders who had left the country or were possibly dead. I have often received notices from the government, after I have filed the tax returns, stating that an employee's number was incorrect and would I send them the right one. Unfortunately, the person was usually either gone by then or had managed to legally qualify under their own name.
The employee's deductions, plus the required company contribution are remitted and at the end of February, the government fiscal year, the T4s are dutifully completed and mailed. Some are returned to sender, that's me, and others are lost in limbo. The employee deductions add up to a lot of money if you consider the thousands of unmade claims throughout the land, and I've often thought I would like to get some of it back.
Andy called out to me. When I turned to find him making his way through the crowd, I saw Louise. She looked absolutely frantic. I signalled to him to follow her and watched as his head, a mile above the rest, zipped around behind her. I knew she was gone when Andy stopped moving, spun around a few times, and began making his way back to me.
Nothing was to be achieved hanging around outside the club and since Winn was occupied, perhaps indefinitely, I wanted to get Andy to the airport before anything else happened. Although he hadn't visited my restaurant this trip, he assured me he would stop over before he returned home to Halifax after his stint in New York. I felt a little guilty for not inviting him to Walker's for a meal. Walker's Way is my pride and joy and I love showing it off. Let's face it, I haven't been myself lately and having Maria's death added to the list of murder victims was making my life miserable â something I generally left up to the staff.
It was almost eleven and Andy's flight left at midnight. The island shuttle launch was waiting the end of the pier with lights blazing. The murmuring engines released a gentle stream of bubbling water around the bilge. A damp fog, drifting over the parking pad and dock, promised to be dense on the water. Andy would feel right at home. As he was about to board he pulled me to him and kissed me on the lips.
, I thought, but we both knew we'd be nothing more than friends.
Walker's was in shut-down mode. The waiters had reset the tables and Marlene and Marshall were balancing their cash-out. The bartender was replenishing the beer fridge and Rick was chatting to a lovely woman at the bar. I was introduced and after I said hello to everyone, made my excuses and headed upstairs. Rick followed me up to the office and I brought him up to speed on the evening's events. He wasn't nearly as callous about Maria's death as he had been about Mr. Tony's. In fact, he seemed quite concerned.
“I think you should step aside on this one, Liz. Let your friend the inspector do his job and stay out of trouble.”
“Oh, if only I could, but if I can get in touch with him, I'll tell him what I suspect, and then go home to bed, all right?”
“All right, I'm leaving now.” He hesitated at the door.
“Is that your date, downstairs?” I asked.
“No, a customer I met tonight, I got her number, though.” He didn't seem too enthusiastic. I pulled a cockeyed face at him, hoping he'd laugh.
“I'm tired. It's been a long day without you.”
“I'm sorry, Rick, I know I haven't been around much lately. You're doing a great job and I owe you.”
“You owe me big, madam. Anyway, don't worry about it. I'll make sure the staff is finished their cash-out and clear the machines.” He walked back toward me. “By the way, you look amazing.” Then he kissed me on the cheek. Three men, three kisses, not bad for a day's work; I should wear heels more often.
As soon as Rick left I locked the door behind him and kicked off my shoes. Ahhhhh.
dialled Winn's number and while waiting to leave a message on his machine, examined my nails. Except for a hangnail that looked good enough to eat, the rest were disgusting. I was contemplating a manicure when he surprised me by picking up on the fourth ring.
“Where are you?” he demanded instantly.
“Hello to you, too, Detective. How'd you know it was me?”
“Caller ID. Where are you?”
“I'm at the legendary Walker's Way Bistro.”
“Good. Try staying there, will you?”
“Sure. Where are you?”
“I'm at Louise Kozinski's apartment. She's missing. Do you know where she is, by any chance?”
“I saw her about an hour ago outside Toscano's dance hall.”
“What? Did you talk to her?”
“No. She disappeared into the crowd as soon as she saw me. I was calling to tell you that my friend and I went to her apartment and found a copy of Tony's will.”
“The apartment may very well be a crime scene. You shouldn't have gone there and you shouldn't have touched anything.”
“I left a message at the police station. I was frightened of not doing anything.”
“I got your message. It suggested I find her butcher's apron.”
“Have you got it?”
“I just finished dealing with Maria, and now I'm here. I'll get it, don't you worry.”
“Don't interfere. I needed a search warrant before I went busting into the Cheese Emporium and they take time.” Winn was upset.
“I'm sorry. And I'm sorry about Maria D'Agnole. Did you find her?”
“No. A young immigration officer found her. Inez.”
That information took a moment to sink in, finally I said, “Inez. Maria's friend, the dancer, she's an immigration agent.”
“Yes, I told you it was police business. IMO sent her in undercover. She was inexperienced, but eager to prove herself. She fit the image better than anyone.”
“She had me convinced.”
“Yes, she has a French and Spanish background, she grew up dancing in tournaments like Toscano's. We were certain Maria was trafficking fake S.I.N. cards. If we caught her with a bundle, we would interrogate her to get to the source. She was to meet her early to make an exchange of false cards before the other dancers arrived.”
So it wasn't about drugs
, I thought. “Why would Maria trust a complete stranger?”
“She was desperate. Superior Meats was her outlet. Maria would need new connections and the cash, especially since she was unemployed and her father is dependent on her. After the girls became friendly, Inez confided that she was worried about losing her job. When she was hired at one the larger hotels downtown on the condition she had the necessary legal documents, she still didn't have a work number. She had until the end of the week, before the next payroll, to obtain one or she'd be fired.
“When it came time for her to fill out her employment record she told them she lost her wallet with all her personal information. Companies are being more careful these days. They'd probably been warned about hiring casual labour without valid documentation. They gave her three weeks to complete her personnel file, and then time was up.”
“So that would appear to be a perfect excuse to be shopping for an illegal permit.”
“Maria was very guarded at first, but finally confided she had a card that someone left behind when they moved back to Europe and said there probably wasn't any harm in borrowing it, you know, temporarily. She warned Inez to keep a low profile and no funny stuff. If she was caught stealing from the hotel rooms she would be put under investigation and a computer trace would reveal the card had been deactivated. Inez would be deported and denied further visitation rights to Canada. All in all, a big can of worms would be opened.”
“Not to mention that Maria would lose a valuable card number.”
“Yes, Inez made up a story about knowing others in the same situation. Said she knew a lot of people who wanted to know where to get instant work status even if it cost a lot. Maria was probably testing the waters with Inez at first, pretending to have only one card in her possession. Finally she confided she might be willing to help for a small fee of five hundred dollars. When she didn't show at the hall to make the exchange, Inez forced her locker open hoping she'd discover the social security cards. Instead, she found Maria stuffed inside.”
“Oh my, gosh, David. That's horrible.”
“I don't think she'd ever seen a dead body before. That stuff is for hardened homicide detectives like me. She's traumatized.”
I paused for a moment, forcing the image out of my mind. “I told you that the apron was in the store downstairs. Why are you in Louise's apartment? Something happened in there before we arrived. Did someone report a disturbance?”
“Yes, in a manner of speaking. Mrs. Vieira called and has issued a complaint. She says Mrs. Kozinski attacked her.”
“I was afraid that might happen. That's why we went over there.”
“There's that âwe' again â¦”
“It's just a friend visiting for a couple of days, don't worry about it. I asked him to come to Louise's apartment with me because I couldn't get in touch with you. I called her before the contest to find out how she felt regarding the sale of her house to developers. Tony bought out Louise's store property in an estate sale and along with the other properties it would make a nice chunk of land to build on. Why would Cecilia go over there when she must have known how upset Louise would be about losing her family home?”
“Are you suggesting she went over there looking for trouble? Mrs. Vieira has accused Mrs. Kozinski of aggravated assault. She came down to the station in person and showed us her bruises.”
“As strange as it sounds, I think Louise was expecting her visit. I don't know what took place, but the apartment was a mess and no one was there. I left everything that we found on the kitchen table for you.”
“We're looking at the counterfeit cards now. I assume that was Tony Vieira's will torn up. Was that all you found?”
“Yup, and you can thank me later.”
“I've notified the feds and we have a BOLO out on Louise for questioning in regards to assault and possibly murder. Do you think she killed Maria?”
“She was at Toscano's, wasn't she?”
“Do you believe an old lady like Mrs. Kozinski was responsible for all these murders, first Tony, then Albright, and now Maria? Don't forget someone was setting up your chef, as well.”
“It is hard to believe, isn't it? But don't be fooled by Louise Kozinski's appearance. She's not that old, and hey â¦ wait a minute. You just said Daniel was set up. Does that mean you think he and his sister are innocent?”
“Daniel's apron tested clean, so I've released them both. I could charge Meriel with lying to the police, but I probably won't pursue it.”
“Thanks, Winn.” He turned that around fast. Now I was thanking him.
“You're welcome. Now let me finish my job.”
I had no sooner laid down the phone when it rang again. I was shocked to hear the voice on the other end.
“Liz, you've got to help me.”
Doesn't anybody say hello anymore? “Louise?”
“Tony's wife is going to kill me for the deed to my building.”
“That's a very serious accusation,” I said.
“It's true. Tony left me the store in his will. It reverted back to my ownership if he died.”
“You should talk to the police, they're looking for you.”
“That cop, the one we met in my store the day after Tony was killed? He likes you. I could tell the way he looked at you. And he came to your rescue that night in the alley when those thugs came after you. Talk to him for me.”
I wondered how she knew about the intended mugging, but word spread fast around the market. Unless there was another reason, like she witnessed the whole thing from her upstairs window and didn't want to get involved, or on the contrary, hoped I'd be killed.
“Why would he leave you the store, Louise? It seems strange to me with his wife still alive. I assumed his wife would stand to inherit it all.”
“So did I. Imagine my surprise when I saw the will. I was sleeping with her husband for the last five years. I think she knew about our affair, but pretended not to care. Cecilia was all about appearances. She was only interested in his money, not making love to a butcher.”
“But you were, Louise?”
“I wasn't at first. He dangled the forfeited mortgage over my head. If I slept with him he would go easy on the rent. At first I went along with it because I had nowhere else to go. I was so lonely for company after my husband died and I grew to like his attention. He wasn't all bad. I never went hungry. And we were the same age and could talk about old times. I made him feel like a man. She didn't. She belittled him, made fun of the way the girls called him Mr. Tony. Said it was undignified for a businessman. Tony came over last week and said if anything ever happened to him, I would get my property back. He left it to me in the will. I never dreamed he was telling the truth. When I saw her at the door I was afraid to let her in, but she insisted.”
“So, did you have a nice visit?” She didn't know I'd already been to her apartment and seen the state of the place.
“It started off that way. Then she accused me of knowing about the conditions of the will all along, that I talked Tony into it and then murdered him to get the property back. She offered me a cash settlement if I moved out and I told her I would never give her the satisfaction. She got very angry and started yelling at me. I ran down the stairs and left her in the apartment.”
“You left her behind.”
“Yes, I had to. I was frightened. I still am.”
“Why did you go to the dance?”
“I wanted to talk to Maria. Tony said Maria knew everything.”
“About what, those cards we found at your place? Were you in on it?”
“What cards?” She issued a loud audible sigh and said, “I never know what anyone's talking about anymore and I never got a chance to talk to Maria. She was already dead.”