Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Chapter Nine: FRISKY BUSINESS



Monday 1:02 pm
I decided to head to my office, which is near the St. Lawrence Market, about a twenty minute walk from Regent Park. 
I glanced around the simple room and thought about space.  If I bought my own condo, would I still need an office?  Very little of my work is actually done here and more often than not, I meet with clients and contacts off-site.  But this is another part of the city that I really love, and I’m happy to have a reason to come here.  The market itself has a cool history – having once been a jail and a courthouse, and there’s lots of other interesting architecture around here too, like the Flatiron building.  During the summer, there are lots of cool buskers and outdoor events.  But just because the neighbourhood is really pretty to look at or hang out in, I’m not sure that justifies forking over a fistful of dollars every month for my office rent.  On the other hand, I had just leased this place a few months ago, after my old office off Yonge Street got trashed, and I wasn’t sure I was up for another move, another major change just yet.
Still, though... Maybe I could find a place where I could have a home office? But I kind of like having a mental and physical separation between my personal and professional lives, plus the solitude here is beneficial.  I can stare at the walls for hours and feel like I’m being productive.  Something about the functional environment wakes up the sluggish part of my brain. 
I ordered a pizza, which is another good way of kick-starting my sluggish brain.  I made several phone calls while awaiting the delivery. 
First up was Corey, and he hung up on me as soon as I identified myself.  That was twice now that he’d blown me off.  Strange behaviour for someone with nothing to hide.
Strike two was my call to Sam.  After I dialed his number and waited to leave a message, a computer recording came on again saying “This mailbox is full.”
Next I tried Crystal Frost and got her voicemail.  Strike three.  I left my number. 
Then I tried Professor McPhee again, and got his voicemail too.  Strike four.  I left my number again. 
Much to my surprise, my fifth call actually reached a human. 
“Hi Trinity,” I said after I’d introduced myself.  “Raven gave me your number.”
“I was hoping I’d hear from you.  Any leads so far?” she asked.
“Whoa, slow down; I’ve only just begun.  I’d love to chat with you face to face, though.  Are you free at all this afternoon?  Can you swing by my office??”
“Sure, but only for a little while.  I can be there in about an hour.” 
“That’d be perfect.”  I gave Trinity my address and hung up the phone feeling like I had accomplished something. 
I still had probably half an hour before the pizza would arrive, and had no one else to phone right now.  When all else fails, or when I’m bored, I get ideas from television.  However, things rarely unfold for me as they did for Jim Rockford or Lieutenant Columbo, and admittedly the ideas I latch onto aren’t always good ones. 
As it happens, my latest brainwave came via a medical drama rather than a detective show.  I remembered that on an episode of House long ago, the Hugh Laurie character had needed some Dutch translation in the middle of the night.  He and his team of medical wizards had logged on to the internet and found a live sex chat from Amsterdam.
I didn’t need to search as far afield as the Netherlands.  I fired up the computer, logged on to the home page for AAA-XXX, and clicked on the tab for private webcam chats.  I entered Dad’s credit card number from memory.  There were several girls available online to chat.  I scrolled through the page until I found a name I recognized.  Portia.
I remembered that Athena said Portia turned a little bitchy when someone called her out for wearing Kitty’s red boots. 
“Well, hello there Sugar,” purred Portia, the actress with whom I was about to have my first ever live web-cam sex chat.  But without the sex. 
Portia’s feet were bare today though, and so was most of the rest of her.  She was clad in a skimpy black lacy thing, lying a king sized bed with a black leather headboard and black satin sheets. 
“I just want to talk,” I said.
“Of course you do.  I bet you want to talk dirty... real dirty...”
“No.  No, I don’t.  Listen, I’ve already paid for fifteen minutes.  I don’t want sex, I don’t want dirty talk.  I just need information.  You can relax.”
“Are you trying to get into role playing?”
I held my business card up to my web camera.  “I want to find out what happened to Kitty Vixen.”
“I have nothing to say.” And with that she put her hand over the web-cam at her end. 
Damn.
“Were you friends with Kitty?” I asked. 
No answer.
“Any idea who killed her?”
No answer. 
Why was Portia, like Corey, so unwilling to talk to me?
I waited out the silence for the next eleven minutes until the pop up window prompted me to pay for another session. 
I clicked back to the AAA-XXX homepage and looked to see who else was available for a live camera chat.  There were plenty of other girls available, but just then my pepperoni, mushroom and double cheese pizza arrived.  As soon as I took the first bite, my phone rang. 
Aha.  Crystal was the first to return my phone call.  I’d have bet on McPhee. 
 “Obviously, I want to help,” she said, with a slight slur, after we exchanged the requisite pleasantries.   It seemed a bit early in the day to already have a glow on.  “But really all I can tell you about is feelings.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Kitty was on a kick about equality and fair pay.  I bet that had something to do with why she got killed.  In my gut, that’s what I think, anyway.”
“Raven mentioned something like that to me.  What else can you tell me?” 
Even though I’d been asking about drugs and the ex-boyfriend, I hadn’t forgotten about the pay issue, but I didn’t yet know where to go with it.  It seemed to me that whatever raise she might have wanted - let’s say even if it was from a thousand bucks a day to two thousand - it wasn’t enough money to kill for.  Besides, it was clear that Kitty was a cash cow for Triple A, so they’d probably be more inclined to keep her alive in order to keep milking her. 
Crystal said, “I know Kitty said she talked to some woman who might help us, but the name escapes me.  I’ve been racking my brains about it, but I can’t remember.  Sorry.” 
“Was her only gripe the money?” I asked.
“Hell no.  She was just generally pissed about the pay and benefits and everything.  Like she said we should have sick leave and paid vacations, but ’cuz we’re freelancers, we don’t get any of those things.”
We chatted for a few more minutes, but she didn’t tell me anything new or anything useful.   
I’d technically been on the case for almost forty-eight hours, and I had absolutely no idea yet who killed Kitty or why anyone would have wanted her dead.  Maybe Trinity would give me a lead that would change everything.
I was debating whether or not to have a third slice or not when Trinity showed up.
She was quite good-looking and well proportioned, with a long mane of wavy chestnut hair.   Despite Trinity’s natural attractiveness, she seemed to have a rough veneer or a hardened edge to her; you could tell she’d been around the block a few times.  It didn’t help that her eyes were a little on the glassy side - probably smoked a joint on her way here.  She wasn’t exactly skanky, not at all, but even if Trinity were wearing the best that Fifth Avenue had to offer, she would never be mistaken for one of the Ladies Who Lunch. 
“Thanks for coming in.  Have a seat.”  At some point, I’d have to buy some better chairs for visitors.  It’s hard to feel gracious when I steer guests to a folding plastic seat.   “Want some pizza?” I asked, indicating the open box.  Again, not exactly the hostess with the mostess.
“Sure.”  I handed Trinity a slice on a paper napkin and a can of Brio.  Good thing I had ordered two.  Then I helped myself to a third slice. 
“I can’t stay too long,” she said before taking a bite.  She was sitting forward in her chair, leaning in, with the pizza slice over the desk.
“That’s fine.”
“How’s the investigation going?”
It only took me about two minutes to give her a summary of my work thus far.  I mean, really, how many ways can one say jack squat, bupkus, and sweet fuck all?
“What was it like when you first started to work for them?” I asked.
According to Derek, an unofficial motto of lawyers is: Never ask a question unless you already know the answer.
“Ha!  It was great, but not for long.”
“What do you mean ‘great’?”
I waited a moment while Trinity finished chewing her bite of pizza. 
“When you first start out with them, they treat you like you’re a fucking movie star.  They’ll have someone do your hair and make-up.  They buy some sexy lingerie for you.  Supply you with blow, booze, you name it.  Antonio had a limo driver pick me up even.  Can you believe it?  An actual limo.  I had never been in one before.  But he only did that for my first few films.”
“That’s what I thought.  Then they scale back on everything, right?”  I asked.
It was sad to meet someone whose experiences were just as Derek had described them the other night.   I could see that this was exactly the same path as Athena was on.
“Yup.  But by then, what’re you supposed to do?   I didn’t even finish grade nine.  And, at the time I thought, you know, the money’s still pretty good.”
Neither of us said anything for a few minutes.  Part of me was angry, and another part felt saddened.  Essentially, I have no problem with people doing whatever it is they want to do, provided they’re doing it with their eyes open and of their own free will.  But I do have a problem with coercion and duress, with manipulation and exploitation. 
I finished my pizza slice and reached into the box for a fourth.  “Want another?” I offered.
“You bet.  I’m starved.”
We both quietly munched for a moment. 
“I keep coming back to - or being steered back to - the ex-boyfriend, or drugs, or the pay at Triple A, or XRatedCon.  What can you tell me about any of them?”  I asked.
“Corey was kind of a douche.  I think he was only dating Kitty ’cuz he liked to brag about having a hot porn star for a girlfriend, and Kitty was super hot.  I dunno what she saw in him, except he’s pretty cute.  He was real pushy about sex, and hardly ever took her out, just seemed to always wanna go back to her place and screw.”
“Well, why else date a porn star?”  I rolled my eyes, and took a sip of my Brio.  “Any idea why Corey wouldn’t want to talk to me?”
“Beside just being a douche, you mean?”
I nodded. 
“I dunno,” she said, and shrugged her shoulders.
“What about the guy she was seeing before Corey?  Sam?”
“Sam?  I doubt he had anything to do with her death.  No one really hangs with him much anymore.”
“Maybe he had nothing to do with it, but maybe he knows something that will help me find out who did.  Maybe he knows of a fight she had with someone, or an enemy...”
“I guess.”
“Any idea where I can find him?  I haven’t had any luck phoning him,” I said.
“I heard a while ago that he was working at an old folks home, I don’t know the name, but somewhere near Queen and Bricknell, right by the beer store.”
“Thanks.  I was also wondering about XRatedCon.  Any thoughts as to why Kitty didn’t go?”
“I have no idea.  Maybe Tonio and Frankie didn’t ask her to?”
“I find that hard to believe.  What I heard is that Kitty was their biggest star.  Seems they’d want her there.  Instead, she stays here and gets killed,”  Trinity said.
“If only she’d gone, she’d probably be alive still,”
We were interrupted by the William Tell Overture. De-da-dum-de-da-dum-de-da-dum-dum-dum....  The ringtone on Trinity’s cell phone.
“Sorry, just give me a sec,” she said to me.   I nodded.  She walked into the hall to take the call, but returned just a moment later.
“Interesting ringtone.  You’re a fan?”
“Yeah, I love The Lone Ranger.  I just watched the whole first season on Netflix a couple weeks ago.”
I could see it now:  The masked man and his faithful sidekick Rossini.
“Look, I’m sorry, but I gotta run,” she said.  “Gimme a call if you have any more questions.”
           

I tilted back my chair and closed my eyes.  Even though no one had said anything that made me seriously suspicious of Corey, the fact that he’d blown me off twice made me twice as eager to talk to him.  I knew better than to phone him again though.  It suddenly occurred to me that my ex-boyfriend, and occasional band mate, Mick could help me out. 
Mick owns a motorcycle, a monster of an antique Harley that sounds like it uses steroids and chainsaws for fuel.  Mick had helped me with some of my cases in the past, and had put himself in danger by doing so.   Surely, visiting a motorcycle showroom couldn’t possibly be as risky as posing as my betrothed?
“You don’t have to pretend to be my fiancĂ© this time,” I said after telling Mick that I needed a favour.
“If the favour involves guns, hookers or spray paint, count me out.”
“I want to check out a motorcycle shop.”
“You never wanted to do that when we were dating.”
I explained what I had in mind.
“This sounds like a delightful disaster in the making, and I’ll do it.  The only thing is, can we hold off until tomorrow?  I’m a little tied up right now.”
“Tomorrow’s fine.”


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