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Authors: Erica Orloff

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Thrillers

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BOOK: Trace of Innocence
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I handed C.C. the matchbook.

Stud’s had a “sister club” named Acey-Deucey’s. Its logo was also a suicide king.

Its location?

Atlantic City, New Jersey. The location of the new murder.

Chapter 15

hat Monday, Lewis and I had work, but we all agreed to meet at seven at Quinn’s Pub to decide our next move. David had been named a “person of interest” by the media, though they also reported that he had an alibi. Still, I knew the police were circling like sharks in chum-infested water. We had to find out who killed Cammie—and the new victim, Liz—as soon as possible.

On Monday, during the day, I tested two samples of drugs. When cops make a bust, and they stumble on a cache of white powder, they
don’t have a case until we can tell them what that white powder is. Hell, you can’t put someone in prison for trafficking in baby powder. So it’s up to the lab to tell the police whether it’s cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, or what. In bust number one, it was heroin—very pure. In bust number two, it was crack cocaine.

After work, I changed out of my lab coat and back into a thick black sweater over my jeans. Lewis and I decided to ride together, so I followed him to his house, left my car there, and we drove on to Quinn’s.

“So you going to tell me what’s going on with you and David?”

I shrugged.

“Come on, Billie.”

“I don’t know what it is. At first I told myself it was, I don’t know, a reaction to his being in prison unjustly. Some sort of sympathetic response. But I can’t say that anymore. It’s something more than that.”

“Seems both you and I have gotten ourselves into very inconvenient relationships.”

“You can say that again.”

“Well, then I suppose there’s nothing left to do but clear David once and for all.”

I glanced over at him. “Thanks, Lewis.”

“And for the record, I like him much better
than Jack Flanagan and also better than the guy from the University of Pennsylvania you used to see on weekends. The one who hated jambalaya and didn’t drink.”

“I like David better, too.”

We pulled up in front of Quinn’s and went inside. My brother and Marybeth were having dinner before going to the movies. For a casual pub, Quinn’s had amazingly good food, and I don’t just tell people that because my uncle owns it. The chef in the kitchen was one of New York City’s top four-star chefs—until he had a nervous breakdown from the pressure. He came into Quinn’s on a bender three years ago and pretty much has never left. His nerves are calm, the food is awesome, he gets all the free beer he wants, and as a bonus, he’s engaged to one of the barmaids.

I gave Mikey a kiss, stole a bite of his pasta and talked to him and Marybeth for a few minutes before heading to the back, where Joe, David and C.C. were already waiting.

Lewis and I sat down and helped ourselves to the pitcher of beer. David leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, which didn’t even get an eyebrow raise from Joe, so I presumed David told him something was going on between
us. Or maybe he hadn’t had to. Maybe everyone else had seen it there before anyway.

“C.C. filled us in,” Joe said. “I would have paid good money to see you both dressed like that, by the way. I smell blackmail.”

C.C. playfully slugged him.

“So what do you think this club has to do with the two murders?”

“I’m not sure yet. We have what amounts to a hunch having to do with a playing card and a logo for a chain of strip clubs. We know this guy Rick is a former cop, that he’s one of the owners, and he has partners. We need to find out more about his career in law enforcement, particularly when he was shot and left. Also, his partners. Anyone find the name of the second club interesting?”

“Acey-Deucey’s? What does it mean?” David asked.

“Lewis? You play cards often enough with my dad. Want to enlighten them?”

“Maybe the partners play poker together. When you’re playing with friends and you want to use wild cards in poker, you can pick acey-deucey, one-eyed jacks and…our friend the suicide king. Aces, twos, one-eyed jacks—only two of those in the deck—and the suicide king—only one of him. If the other club is
named Acey-Deucey’s, maybe it’s named after their nicknames for each other during friendly games of stud, or maybe their favorite game. Who knows?”

Joe sipped his beer. “So we go sniffing around the Atlantic City murder and hope for some kind of connection to Cammie?”

“At this point,” I said, “it’s like throwing handfuls of wet spaghetti at a wall. In the end, we’ll see what sticks. Maybe there’s a connection. Maybe not. So we go to Atlantic City and investigate this, and then we do some more looking into Cammie’s background—and we hope for an intersection.”

“Okay. Lame and a long shot, but it’s better than sitting around waiting for David to be arrested,” Joe said.

Lewis leaned forward. “Joe…you know I’m your number-one fan.”

“Ahh, flattery.”

“I am, though. But I happen to be New Orleans born and bred. So tell me, how often do New Yorkers and Jersey-ites recognize you for being a former NFL player?”

“Rarely. Well, no, scratch that. I am recognized as a former NFL player a lot—just not by name. Sad to say it, but there’s a stereotype. You’re black and rich and you must be a rap
per. If you’re tall, you play in the NBA. If you’re built like a linebacker—” he grinned “—you must have been in the NFL.”

“Perfect,” said Lewis. “How’d you like to make a road trip to Atlantic City?”

“As long as I get to stay at the Trump Plaza and play some blackjack, I’m game.”

Mikey came over to our table.

“So what are you guys? Like the Scooby Doo gang? Solving crimes?”

“Shut up, Mikey,” I snapped.

“Can I be in your Scooby club, too?”

“The joys of having an older brother,” I moaned. “Go away.”

“Actually,” Lewis said. “Maybe you can help us.”

Mikey grabbed a chair from a nearby empty table and sat down. “I’m all ears.”

Lewis said, “We’re looking into the suicide king case—the old one. And the girl was a bartender at…what was the name of the place, David?”


“Anyway, maybe you can go there—it’s still in business. Ask around. Who knows what might turn up? But we want the street story, not what people said in interviews with the police. The police interviews made her seem like one
step away from canonization. We know David’s lawyer didn’t dig at all, but there’s reportedly something darker there. See what you can turn up amongst your ‘legally challenged’ acquaintances.”

“Cool. For once I’m asking the questions instead of being questioned.”

I smiled at his enthusiasm. My brother and I were very close. Growing up motherless children made us fierce defenders of each other.

“So can everyone go to Atlantic City on Friday?” I asked.

Joe took out his BlackBerry. “I take depositions in my office that morning, but if we left at five, I could do it. Want me to hire a limo? There’s a guy I use.”

I nodded. “In the meantime, I’ll see what I can turn up on the latest victim.”

David had been quiet the whole time we were talking. He sipped his beer, then said, “I want you all to know how much I appreciate this. Everyone please be careful. I couldn’t live with this on my conscience if any of you got hurt.”

I shook my head. “Don’t worry. The suicide king killer is the one who should be afraid. He should be very afraid.”


She was saying something to me.

My mother came into the bedroom of my dreams and tucked me in. In the crook of my arm, I held my Raggedy Ann doll. My mother kissed my forehead. Then she did an Eskimo kiss, rubbing our noses. She smelled like Ivory soap and faintly of lemons on her hands—she must have been washing dishes with the lemony detergent. She was crying.

“What’s wrong, Mama?” I brushed her cheek, my hand still little-girl chubby, with dimples at the knuckles. I flicked my tongue in the space where my front teeth should have been. The tooth fairy had been visiting often.

“Nothing, Billie. You go to sleep. I need to do something. You’re a good girl, right?”

I nodded solemnly.

“Then be a good girl and don’t come out of your room until Daddy gets home later, okay? No matter what you hear. Promise me.”

The hallway light half blinded me, streaming right into my eyes. I squinted at her. She was little more than shadows and darkness. Then, I saw a figure in the hall. I saw a man, but he was nothing more than a silhouette.

She saw him, too.

“Promise me, Billie,” she said urgently.

“I promise.”

“Good girl.” She kissed me on the lips, then on each eyelid. “Go to sleep now.”

Then my mother stood and exited the room, resignation and dignity in her posture.

The next sound I heard was a scream.

My own.

“Billie!” David was rousing me, shaking my shoulder. “Billie! Billie…wake up.”

I woke and sat up in bed, the nape of my neck drenched in sweat though it was a cold night.

“You were having a nightmare, I think,” he whispered. He was wearing boxers and a muscle T-shirt; his arms curled around me and he held me, my back to his chest.

“It’s nothing,” I whispered.

“Tell me.”

“No…I don’t want to. It’s nothing.”

“No…it is something. Tell me. Let me help you instead of you always helping me. It’s important that I feel like…I give something to you.”

Reluctantly, I exhaled. “Okay…It’s always the same dream. My mother. The last time I saw her. Or think I saw her. The cops tried to tell me that my father coached me to say a man was in the house. At first they wanted him for her murder. But he didn’t coach me. Still, the pressure
of the way they interviewed me…it has my memory all muddled until I don’t know what was told to me and what really happened.”

I leaned against him. “I want your name cleared.”

“Me, too.” He kissed me. “God, I love your lips, your skin.” He smelled my hair, nuzzled my ear. “Your scent. I love everything about you. It’s like I’m still on sensory overload soaking you into me, Billie. And I don’t think it’ll ever wear off.”

I kissed him back, pushing my nightmare out of my mind. It was as though we were racing against a killer. And I had felt that feeling before. With my mother. This time, I wanted to win.

Chapter 16

ne more Scooby Doo wisecrack and you’re toast,” I said to Michael as we waited for Joe’s limo to arrive. C.C. and I had different disguises this time. We were dressed very expensively, as the girlfriends of an NFL star and his agent should dress. Lewis would be the agent, while David was going to play the part of college buddy in town for a good time. I was to be Joe’s girlfriend. C.C. was Lewis’s—which I noticed made Lewis happy. How horrible, though, to know that the pretend of draping his arm around her shoulders couldn’t have been real, I mused.

C.C. wore her hair in a fancy updo. Marybeth was a hairdresser and she had us both looking as though we’d stepped out of a fancy salon when, in fact, we had been styled in my bedroom. I loaned C.C. my stiletto heels again, along with a black velvet dress—backless—and a beautiful black shawl inlaid with Austrian crystals that gave off little reflected beams of green and pink and twinkled when she walked.

I wore a black tuxedo outfit with a strapless bustier beneath the jacket. My hair was also up and long rhinestone earrings dangled from my ears.

Mike grinned. “You both look hot. No wisecracks.”

The limo pulled up about fifteen minutes later, and Joe called up with his cell.

“Wish us luck,” I said to Marybeth and my brother.

“You’re a Quinn. You got the luck of the Irish,” Mike said. He never ceased to amaze me with his optimism. He never lost it—or rarely did. I guess that was what allowed him to bet on the Giants year after year.

C.C., Lewis and I all went downstairs and climbed into the back of the limo. The guys wore suits—Joe had taken David for one. We
also put him in a pair of dark shades, and Joe took him to his barber, who clipped his hair short so he looked very little like the man whose face had been splashed on the news. We appeared, for all the world, like a wealthy group of old friends out on the town.

Despite, or maybe because of, the fact that we were going to try to solve a murder, we drank champagne and tried to relax on the way down to Atlantic City, keeping conversation light. We checked into rooms at the Trump—each of us had a change of clothes and toiletries in an overnight bag. Then we went on to Acey-Deucey’s.

Acey-Deucey’s was a classier establishment than Stud’s. It had a gambling theme, and a prime rib buffet with hot and cold dishes. Tablecloths covered the tables, and Joe made it clear he was a former NFL player hell-bent on spending a lot of money. The stage was as nice as one on the Vegas strip, with lights and a sound system that was awesome. We were shown to a VIP table near the stage.

A Pamela Anderson look-alike was dancing, peeling off a skintight halter dress vaguely reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe.

“It’s hard to know where to look,” C.C. said, leaning close to me so I could hear her over the music.

“I know. Try focusing on her shoes.”

Joe tossed around a lot of money and ordered top-shelf liquor. We hoped that his money act would bring over the owner or manager, and we could ask some questions.

“Let’s go to the ladies’ room,” I said to C.C.

We told the guys we were going to powder our noses, and then went to the back of the strip club where the restrooms were. A glance down the hall showed me the location of the private party rooms. If a stripper could entice someone to pay for a private lap dance and party, she could earn hundreds or even thousands more.

Motioning to C.C., I drifted down the hall the other way to the manager’s office, then farther on to the dressing rooms.

“What are you doing?” C.C. hissed.

“Pretending to be lost. Follow my lead.”

I stepped into the dressing room. Women were in various stages of undress.

“Can I help you?” a beautiful redhead asked me. She was wearing only a thong and heels.

“I’m sorry…. We were looking for the ladies’ room, and I definitely have had two cocktails too many,” I giggled.

“Oh…go back the way you came. You’ll see the ladies’ room on the right.”

“Thanks. Gosh, you are all so gorgeous. When my boyfriend wanted to take his old college buddy here, I was less than thrilled.”

C.C. giggled. “Me, too. But you all are soooooooo talented.” She emphasized
and acted a little tipsy. Hell, for a nun, she was a great actress.

“Glad you’re liking it. We get a lot of women coming to the shows, believe it or not.”

“Really?” I acted shocked. “Lesbians?”

“No…lots of couples. I get a lot of parties for couples. You should try it.” She winked at me.

“Yeah…you might love it,” another stripper added.

“You know,” I whispered conspiratorially. “I had a friend, I’m talking years ago, who was a stripper. She was using the money for college…I took out student loans. She stripped. You know…you do what you gotta do. Then I met my boyfriend, and so now I don’t have to worry about bills at all. But anyway, she would get some real creeps stalking her. Don’t you worry? I read about a stripper being murdered and—”

The redhead burst into tears. “Lizzie.”

“Hmm?” I acted surprised.

“Lizzie. You’re talking about the suicide king killer?”

“Yeah, that one.”

“Lizzie worked here for a while. She was murdered maybe a week ago.”

“I’m so sorry,” C.C. murmured.

“Did they catch the guy?”

“Not yet.” The stripper bit her lip.

“Aren’t you guys scared?”

I watched the women exchange looks with each other. Then the redhead put on a bright smile. “No. We’re all right…. Anyway, you two better head back to your table before your boyfriends start to miss you.”

“Yeah,” I said to C.C. “Let’s go. Good night, ladies. And good luck with your dancing.”

“Thanks.” C.C. and I left the dressing room.

“That clinched it, C.C. There’s a connection in these clubs.”

“So now what?”

“Well, I’m not sure. We have to tie Cammie to the other club. And maybe we can find a match to the semen sample. We’re not cops, and we’re doing this outside law enforcement channels. We can’t compel anyone to give samples. In fact, everything about us being here has to be under the radar.”

C.C. and I turned the corner. I grabbed her arm fiercely.


“Don’t what?”

“Don’t move. Remember how we were hoping to bring the manager over?”


“Well, he’s there. The tall man leaning over talking to Joe. I think I’m going to be sick. It’s my ex-boyfriend’s old partner.”


“Yeah. The cop I broke up with at Christmas. His old pal. Look, he knows me. You go back to the table. Say that I suddenly felt ill and took a cab back to the hotel. And don’t use my real name. Call me Angie.”

“Okay.” She turned to face me. “I’m scared.”

“Don’t be. We’re going to be okay, C.C., but I just can’t be recognized. I’ll call Lewis’s cell. And Joe’s.”

I dialed Lewis.

“It’s me,” I said when he answered. “Don’t use my name. That guy you’re sitting with? He’s Jack’s old partner, Marty O’Connor.”


“Yes. And he knows me. I’m sending C.C. back. She’s calling me Angie. She’ll say I took ill and went back to the hotel. I’m leaving out the back way and will hail a cab. You guys take the limo and exit as soon as it doesn’t look obvious.”


“And we need to try to get a DNA sample from him. I know…it’s not like you can ask him for one. But be thinking.”

I dialed Joe and went through the same thing a few minutes later. I told him to hand the phone to David and pretend I was an old buddy of both of theirs. I didn’t want any of the guy’s to question C.C. and blow our story.

David was very flustered. “Let me come meet you for cocktails, pal,” he said into the phone.

“No. We don’t want to risk him being suspicious at all. All of you leave in like a half hour.”

I closed my phone. C.C. was on her way back to the table, tottering on heels. The redhead was out on stage. I moved over to a back exit and pushed on the door. I was outside in the cold and hurriedly cut through the parking lot. It smelled like snow. I walked and soon was near the fence that surrounded the parking lot, when I heard two men talking. I heard the name Lizzie and ducked next to a car, creeping forward to try to eavesdrop.

“You think they did it?”

“I’m not paid to think about that.”

“Stupid bitch. Fell for a john.”

“In this biz, it pays to stay unattached. It’s all
smoke and mirrors, my man. Smoke and mirrors.”

“And tits and ass.”

They both laughed.

And at that moment, my phone rang.

“Shit,” I muttered under my breath. I should have put the thing on vibrate. I turned it off.

“What was that?” I heard one of them say.

“Someone’s over there.”

“Fuck…go get whoever it is.”

I looked around in panic. I had a huge parking lot to cross. No one else was around. It was cold. I was in heels. And then for good measure, an icy sleet started to fall.

I scrambled toward the next car, staying low, trying to avoid being seen.

“Over there! Grab her!”

“Shit!” I looked down at my shoes and up at the sky. Wear the heels in the slick sleet, or go barefoot and deal with the agony of my stocking feet on cold ice? I decided on the latter, abandoning my shoes and making a run for it.

They were maybe twenty feet away—and both were in shoes, not to mention being nearly the size of Joe Franklin.

I slipped and slid, and tried to keep my balance. They were having an easier time of it, but were by no means unaffected by the ice. The
wind shifted and suddenly it started coming down harder. The sleet hit my skin like cold, sharp blades. I shivered even as I sweated from concentrating and running.

Suddenly, I lost my footing, flying across the parking lot concrete and smashing face-first into the hubcap of a Lincoln Navigator.

“Shit!” I blurted out as I saw stars for a second.

“She’s over here,” one of the goons shouted.

I rolled over. My tux jacket was ruined, that was for sure. Scrambling to my feet, I tried to run, each step leaving me with my arms flailing. The two guys were flailing, too, and slipping, but they were definitely gaining on me.

My mind flashed, in an instant, to the Murphy brothers and numerous bar fights at Quinn’s Pub. My father and Mikey never lost a fight—and not, my father told me, because either of them was a better fighter or better built or anything like that. They won because they were
Both of them could think on their feet—and improvise. A Quinn family trait.

Think, Billie.

I looked around. Still no one was in the parking lot. It was up to me to get free of these guys or, I presumed, end up tossed off a pier into the cold Atlantic Ocean.

Then I saw them. My weapons of choice.

Sliding and slipping, I raced for a long line of metal garbage cans—heavy-duty. I pulled off one top and flung it like a Frisbee. It hit the bigger of the two guys right in the knees and he yelped.

I flung a second one at the other guy. And missed. And now he was plenty pissed.

My face was swelling where I’d hit the Lincoln Navigator. My cheek was puffy and starting to swell into my line of vision. That was it! The Lincoln.

I scanned the parking lot and noticed it was packed with expensive cars—big spenders. And big spenders with big, fancy cars have car alarms.

I started racing from car to car, pulling on handles and slamming the trunks with my fists. Car alarm after car alarm came on.

If there’s one thing those who are operating outside the law hate, it’s alarms, attention and cops. I knew that because my brother broke out in a cold sweat every time he saw a cop cruiser, even if he hadn’t been doing anything wrong.

I watched as the two of them froze. They looked at me, looked around the lot, judged the mess I’d just created, and then turned on their heels and ran back for the club.

I stepped gingerly to the fence, clung to it for balance and walked to the exit. Out on the sidewalk, what looked like a group of guys from a bachelor party were climbing out of two cabs. I slid into one, hoping to avoid being noticed for my lack of shoes. And my smashed-up face.

Avoiding eye contact in the rearview mirror with the driver, I said, “The Trump.”

“You got it.”

The cabbie pulled away. I felt in my jacket pocket for my cell phone. I searched the inside jacket pocket for money and found a twenty: one reason I loved the tuxedo was not having to carry a purse. I dialed Lewis.


“Lewis, it’s me. Listen…I just got chased, and I’m pretty beaten up.”

“What? Are you all right? Where are you?”

“On my way back to the hotel. Have you all left yet?”

“We’re in the limo.”

“Great. I’ll be in my room. I’ll tell you all about it when you get there.”

I leaned my head back against the cab’s seat, shut my phone and felt my face with my fingers. I closed my eyes and tried to wrap my mind around Marty being at that club.

I had never liked Marty. Jack said a lot of
spouses and significant others of cops were threatened by partners. As a team, partners shared in the adrenaline highs and depressing lows of a dangerous, life-threatening job. It was the job, or, the way Jack put it, The Job, that bound partners together.

I understood the bond. Jack was wrong. I wasn’t threatened at all. I was grateful, in fact, that before I met Jack, when his daughter died and he went through his divorce, it was Marty who made sure Jack didn’t swallow a bullet. But once Jack got over the immediate intense grief, once I met him, I wasn’t so sure Marty was a good influence on Jack. For one thing, even as Jack struggled to stop drinking so much, Marty was the first one to suggest hitting the local tavern for a drink.

I wasn’t sure how this strange assortment of coincidences and connections was tied to the suicide king killer. I only knew we were getting closer to the truth—which meant we were in more danger than ever before.

BOOK: Trace of Innocence
11.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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