“Hiya, handsome,” I said as I joined my friend Officer Mark Houghton at a quiet table at a pub in the Beaches, although Mark and several of his neighbours call this area around Queen Street East The Beach. I find it pretentious to use the singular, as if it’s the only beach in the world.
We picked this place because it’s close to Mark’s house, and after a string of fourteen hour shifts, Mark finally had a day off work. If it were me, I’d have spent the free day zip-lining across the Grand Canyon in a pink tutu, but Mark was using the time to paint his kitchen.
Actually, I was beat from last night, or rather, from the unanticipated early start to my day. Derek had dropped me off at home before going to the cop shop. I had gone straight up to my bedroom and tried to get back to sleep, but I couldn’t. So, here I was instead, already diving into my new case.
“The worst thing about renovations is that one job spawns another. I originally just wanted to put down new flooring, but that led to new counters, which led to new cupboards, and now I have to paint the whole room.”
“Will that be the end of it?”
“God, I hope so. I’m tired of tripping over drop-cloths and around step-ladders.”
Mark had little splashes of sage green paint in his shaggy brown hair, and on his hands and thick forearms, but he still looked yummy. I visualised him doing home renos without a shirt, and I’ve got to say, the image was pleasing. Imagine if a bulldozer could walk upright and hold an intelligent conversation: that’s Mark. As sexy as I find him now though – and he’s no Derek – I could scarcely remember what it had felt like when we slept together once, way back when. It was too long ago, and there might have been a wee bit of rum and Orange Crush involved. Our high school romance had only lasted about five minutes, and had ended soon after the one and only time we’d ever had sex.
“So how was The Horseshoe last night?” he asked.
“Fabulous! You have to come next time. We don’t take it too seriously – obviously we all have day jobs – so when we do play it’s just for fun. Kind of campy, a little tongue in cheek; the audience loves it.”
“Sounds like something I’d enjoy.”
“We did a reggae version of Sweet Emotion at the end of the first set. It felt just like being at a high school dance.”
“When everyone would flick their lighter,” he said.
“Yeah, except now they just flash their cell phones.”
“So, enough beating around the bush. What’s going on with you?” he asked with a smile.
“I’m investigating the death of Julie McPhee, better known as Kitty Vixen, an adult film actress,” I said.
“I knew it! As soon as I saw your number on call display this morning, I guessed that you’re working a murder, and the actress was one of my guesses. Every case you take on seems to have a sex angle.”
“Do you believe in coincidences?” I asked.
“Willing to give me a bit of a hand?”
“Sure, but for god sakes, try not to do anything that leads to disciplinary action for me. I caught a lot of heat last time.”
Mark had indeed broken a lot of rules for me when I had worked the Bondage and Ballots murder case about a month ago. I had literally and figuratively bared all when I caught the killer. Houghton probably should have been suspended from the police force for helping me. Luckily, the ends justified the means, so the brass pardoned his procedural peccadilloes.
“No problem, Mark. We never had this conversation, and I didn’t meet you for lunch today. My treat, by the way.”
“If that’s a bribe, it’s a little on the small side,” he said with a wink. He took a sip of his draught beer, and waited for me to continue.
“My client thinks the big guys at Triple A, Triple X killed Kitty. Any comments?” I asked. I took a long swig of my Guinness and waited for Mark’s reply.
“If I remember correctly – remember, I handle robberies, not homicides – the money guy is Antonio Agostino Antonelli, hence the name Triple A. He calls himself the president and executive producer. Frankie Lolatto is the director and head screenwriter.”
“Highly doubt they have a stable of guys sitting in a conference room pitching storylines and consulting thesauruses,” I said.
“Wouldn’t the plural be thesauri?” Mark asked.
“You can use either, but the plural of Beach is Beaches.”
“Touché. Anyhow, as I recall, they couldn’t find a way to pin the death on either Antonio or Frankie. Solid alibis. Apparently both of them were in Los Angeles that weekend, attending XRatedCon.”
“Is that what I think it is? Like ComicCon, but with smut?”
“Yup. An annual porno convention. A chance for fans to meet their favourite stars, get their DVDs autographed, pose for pictures...”
“I don’t even want to imagine who goes to that.” My cheeseburger was getting cold, sitting there while we talked, but I didn’t have much of an appetite. I took a small bite, then nibbled on a few greasy French fries. “Drugs would be a logical part of a story like this,” I said.
“Hmm. Could be that it was a drug deal gone wrong, could be that it was a botched up mugging...” Mark spread some more mayo on his club sandwich, then took a big bite.
“Yeah, but she still had her wallet and purse with her,” I said. “According to what I read in the online news stories, she had over two hundred dollars on her.”
“Could be that the perps were scared off, could be that someone was around and they bolted. I don’t know. Like I said, I’m not part of the investigating team.”
“Who’s handling the case?”
“Guy named Irwin Buchanan. He’s good. Savvy.”
“Think he’d talk to me?”
“Not a chance. I said he’s good and savvy, which he is, but what I didn’t say is that he’s also a major prick. It’s well known that he has a hate-on for you folks in the private sector. Says you’re all vultures, or charlatans, or poseurs, or amateurs, or busybodies, or—”
“Okay, enough. I get the picture.”
The waitress came by a few minutes later to clear our plates. “Another round?” she asked, eyeballing our empty glasses.
“Sure, but I’ll have a Smithwicks this time,” Mark said, and I nodded in agreement. He turned his attention back to me. “A rule of thumb, which you should keep in mind – and it’s backed up by statistics – is that in most murders, the victim knew their assailant. There’s almost always some relationship between the killer and the deceased, whether it’s family, lovers, colleagues, whatever.”
“I know. Start with the inner circle.”
“Yup, then work your way outwards. And keep an eye on who benefits.”