Monday, October 21, 2013

Chapter Eleven: FRISKY BUSINESS

Monday 6:05 pm
            When I got home, I was greeted by the smell of cigars and an abundance of Y chromosomes.
            Damn.  I forgot that today was Shane’s monthly poker game with the boys.  It’s so weird for him to be off work two days in a row.  He likes to give the impression that Pastiche would fall apart without him in the kitchen.
There were six guys seated around the dining room table, each with a beer and a stack of chips in front of him.  In some cases, the chips were Pringles, but for the guys who were smiling, the chips were white and blue plastic ones, piled into neat little towers. 
            “I’ve got a bag full of money I’m dying to get rid of,” I said to the gang.
            “Nope.  Guys only,” Shane scowled, even though we have the exact same exchange every month.  And his tone tonight was less than jovial.  Saying it’s ‘guys only’ is just Shane’s way of saving face; he knows I’ve kicked his butt every time we’ve played Texas hold ’em.   After all, I have a black belt in bluffing.
            “Oh, come on.  We can make it more interesting by using a deck of Tarot cards.”  A couple of his friends laughed at this, but Shane just gave me a tight smile.   
            His friend James asked me about the gig from Saturday night.
“It was a blast,” I said.  “The place was packed.  You should have come.”
“I just heard from Shane today that you play in a band; he never mentioned it before.”
“Sure I did, you just never listen,” Shane said.
“I would have gone.  You’ve got to tell me about it before hand next time you have a gig.”
Shane was impatiently shuffling the deck, anxious to get back to the game.
“Will do,” I said.
            I’m smart enough to know when I’m not wanted, so I grabbed a bottle of Steam Whistle from the fridge, and went into the den, kind of wishing I really did have a deck of Tarot cards.  I had far too many questions about Kitty and what I should do next.  I flipped open a yellow notepad and started scrawling facts and ideas about the case, but the noise from the poker players was too distracting to think clearly. 
I took a moment to think of what to do next, not just with the case but with myself.  It seemed like a good idea to make myself scarce again tonight, but I felt a bit funny going to Derek’s three nights in a row.  Even though I’m all in favour of circumstances that improve my sex life... 
I was still hemming and hawing when my phone rang.  The display screen said “private caller,” but I picked up anyway.  I’d be out of a job in no time at all if I only ever talked to people I already know. 
“It’s Antonio calling, from Triple A, Triple X Films.”  His voice was very deep, and he had the slightest of Italian accents.  Must have come to Canada as a kid.
“Great to hear from you,” I said.
“I unnerstand you wanna talk to me about Kitty Vixen?  Nice girl.  Too bad about how she died,” he said.
“Yeah.  Perhaps you can help me figure it out.  Can we grab a coffee or something and chat for a few minutes?”
“I have a business meeting at eight tonight at Pravda.”   Pravda is a trendy, upscale, Russian themed bar on Wellington, not far from my office. Their menu offers a stellar array of vodkas, and diners can lap up a ten gram serving of Beluga for $170.  Not surprisingly, I’d never been inside.  “I can head over there now, if you want to talk right away,” he said.
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”  I left my mostly full bottle of beer on the desk, and dashed up to my room.
I whipped off my tee-shirt and changed into a shimmery black backless top, did a quick touch up of my make-up.  I normally don’t care about being all fified up, but I didn’t need to look like a déclassé hick either.  I grabbed my red leather jacket and ran out the door without saying good night to the card-sharks.
My cell phone rang while I was in the taxi.  Call display said “private number.”   I assumed it was Antonio again, so I picked it up right away. 
“Hello?”
“Forget about Kitty.  Or else,” said a muffled voice.  “Leave it alone.  Or you’ll regret it.”
What? 
Whoever it was, they hung up before I had a chance to say anything.  The call was so brief, I couldn’t even tell if it was male or female, much less offer a guess as to whose voice it was.
I had no more time to think about the crank call because the cab had just pulled up in front of Pravda.  On the street just a few feet ahead of the entrance, the lovely antique Jaguar was parked.  I had already heard back from Randy, who had not only told me that Antonio  owned that car, but I also learned that the Maserati belonged to Frankie, and the Ferrari was registered to a root canal of a human being named Marko Calvino, also known as Bongo.  Randy had thoughtfully included copies of the driver’s licence photos for each of the three guys in his email to me. 
I walked up to the Jag and peeked inside.  The interior was pristine.  Smooth biscuit coloured leather upholstery on deep seats, tons of leg room, a steering wheel the size of a hula hoop, a speedometer that listed only miles, and handles to manually roll down the windows.  It was a beauty. 
The maitre d’ led me to Antonio’s table, a comfy, red velvet booth in the back corner.
“I thought it’d be better to talk back here, where it’s a little quieter.” Antonio said when I took my seat.
In the mid- to late-eighteen hundreds, an Italian criminologist named Lombroso made a name for himself by espousing his harebrained theories, all of which have since been disproven.  His contention was that criminal tendencies are present in an individual right from birth, and that a criminal is born with physical characteristics that distinguish him from regular, good and honest people.  According to Professor Lombroso, some of the physical features of a born criminal included a protruding jaw, a sloping forehead, big ears, and a unibrow. 
If I could put Lombroso into a time travel machine and bring him here to meet Antonio... 
“They do bottle service here,” he said, waving his hand towards a bottle of Ketel One sitting in the ice bucket in front of us.  He had a mother of a diamond pinkie ring on his left hand. I loved the irony of his ordering a Dutch product at a Russian establishment.  “Want some?”
“Sure.”  He signalled the waiter for another glass, and while he was at it, he ordered some caviar.  We made small talk until the waiter returned with a glass for me.
The first thing I did was ’fess up about my attempted chat with Portia.  She’d probably blabbed to the film guys anyway, and it served me better to try to keep my interactions with Antonio as un-antagonistic as possible.
“Portia didn’t want to talk to me at all.  It wasn’t like I was accusing her.  I just thought that maybe she, or any of the girls even, could help me figure out who killed Kitty.”  I took a sip of my chilled vodka.  It was thick, and very smooth.
“They all sign confidentiality forms when they start working for me.”
“I see.”
“Sorry.  For the record, as much as I’d like to see her killer caught, I don’t really know how I can help you.  I was at a convention in Los Angeles the weekend she was killed.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard about XRatedCon.  I guess the first thing I’m wondering is why didn’t you bring Kitty to the convention?”
“I didn’t ask her because I didn’t think she’d want to go.  She was a little uptight around then, just broke up with her guy.  Didn’t think she’d want the stress of a convention and the time change and everything.  The show’s pretty exhausting, three long days.”
What?  The wildebeest was looking out for her best interests?  Doubtful.
“I heard she wasn’t upset by the break up at all, in fact I heard she was glad to be single again,” I said.
“Hey, what do I know?  She was kind of a screwed up chick.”  He shifted his girth in the seat. 
I didn’t see any benefit in pointing out that her job probably contributed to her screwedupness.  Instead I asked about drugs and co-workers.
“Obviously, the girls aren’t supposed to work if they’re high on anything, but I can’t control what they do outside the studio.”
“Did anyone she worked with have a beef with Kitty?”
“Not that I knew of.  Look, I won’t bullshit you by claiming that we’re one big family.  We’re not, the business is too transient, the girls in it all come with baggage.  But most of them just do their thing, collect their pay, and that’s it.”
“I hear Kitty wanted a raise.”
“Yeah, yeah, doesn’t everybody?  No one ever says ‘Gee, thanks, but I already have enough money.’ Yeah, she bitched about getting more money, so did a couple of the others, but who doesn’t?  After a while, I got so sick and tired of hearing all the griping, and the company has been doing okay lately, so about a month ago, I upped the pay scale to fifteen-hundred a day.  All the girls get that now.”
“Oh.  I didn’t know that.”
I guess that had happened after Trinity, Crystal and Raven had all quit.  Still though, I wondered how many of the current actresses are happy with their wages?  Unless they make a ton of flicks, they’ll never be driving Ferraris.
His eight o’clock meeting showed up a moment later, and I was none too subtly encouraged to leave, which was fine with me.  Antonio’s aura was noxious.

Antonio hadn’t come right out and told me to stay clear of his employees.  On the other hand, he hadn’t said that he’d tell them to co-operate either.
So, after Pravda, I hopped in a cab and headed down to the Triple A studio for the second time today.  Rather than going inside and raising red flags, and giving whoever was there a chance to concoct stories and co-ordinate lies, I decided I’d loiter around nearby. 
There was really nowhere to sit and watch and wait.  I wish I had detoured by Candace’s and borrowed her dog Chico so I could wander around the vicinity without attracting any attention. 
I could hear a bit of noise coming from AAA-XXX, so I knew someone was there, probably filming.  I slowly circled the block five or six times during the next hour, not really minding the apparent pointlessness of it all.  The walking gave me time to think.  Ideas coalesced.  Avenues to pursue occurred to me.  As I walked around the corner one more time, my patience was rewarded.  Three shapely girls had just exited from the studio.  I watched them for a second to see if any boyfriends or studio guys joined them.  Two of the three girls lit cigarettes and then they all started walking.  No one else exited the building.  I jogged a bit to catch up with the trio when they reached the intersection.
“Hi.  Excuse me.  Can I talk to you for a second?”
All three turned to look at me.  The short girl in the middle asked, “What’s up?”
“My name is Sasha Jackson.  I’m an investigator.”
“So?” asked the tallest of the three, a lean and lanky black girl with the sharpest cheekbones and most mesmerizing eyes I’ve ever seen.  I’d seen in her in the videos yesterday, Devondra Something.
 “It’s about Kitty Vixen,” I said.
Shorty and the girl on her right wordlessly turned and walked away. 
Cheekbones exhaled a plume of smoke, looked me up and down, and said, “The cops already talked to us back in September.  There’s nothing more to say.” 
Her two colleagues had already crossed the street.
“Sure there is.  Whoever killed Kitty is still out there.  Wouldn’t you rather see the bastard locked up?  Please, just give me five minutes.”
I hate it when I sound like I’m begging.
“Look, if you want info, best ask the bosses.  We don’t know nothing about nothing.” She took one more drag of her cigarette, flicked the butt onto the sidewalk behind me, and then darted across the street to catch up with her two friends.
If I were to choose the soundtrack for the moment that followed, it would be “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash. 
I could follow the three girls, and then maybe I’d at least cotton on to an address or a hangout that might be handy to know down the road.  But, they had already had a good look at me, so I wouldn’t likely be able to tail them secretly.  Besides, openly tagging along after them would probably antagonize them, which would make it harder to win them over should I try to question them again later.  I gave up. 
I cued up a new song on my mental soundtrack and began humming “The Waiting is the Hardest Part” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  This was such a lousy block to try to flag a taxi.  After several minutes, an orange and green taxi rolled into view.  I flagged it down and hopped in.

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