Friday, October 4, 2013

Chapter One: FRISKY BUSINESS



Saturday November 12, 1:35 pm
 “Sorry I look like crap. I was just at the gym.”
The striking, copper-skinned, raven-haired girl of about twenty didn’t exactly look like crap, but she did look like gilded trash. She had high cheekbones, too much black eyeliner, and rings on almost every finger.  Her boobs strained the fabric of her tiny silver and black striped T-shirt. The stripes were horizontal, and she didn’t need any optical illusions to emphasize her physical endowments.  “Candace Curtis gave me your number, said you could help me.”
Candace Curtis is a former madame I met during the Hooker in Hiding case this past summer. She had suffered some collateral damage as the case morphed from missing person to murder.    
I had mixed feelings about, and very little understanding of, the sex industry when I first met her, but Candace and I had developed a friendship since then, and she has opened my eyes to the realities of the sex trade and the people who work in it.  As well, I had helped Candace reconnect with the son she had abandoned years ago. She felt indebted to me for that, but in my opinion she shouldn’t have. At the risk of sounding trite, the smile on her face when she and the boy were reunited was reward enough. Nonetheless, I happily cashed her irresponsibly generous cheque when it came in the mail. 
“Grab a seat,” I said to the girl, indicating the empty chair opposite my desk.
I glanced around my rather plain but functional office, with its bare walls and Ikea furniture, and wondered what impression it gave to the occasional clients who come in. According to their ads, Ikea is “Swedish for common sense.”  I wonder how you say “I’m a kick-ass sleuth” in Swedish? 
“My name is Raven Greywolf.”  She extended her hand, and I shook it. Her First Nations sounding name matched her physical appearance.
“What’s the issue?” I asked.
“My best friend was murdered a couple months ago.”
“Give me some details.”
As soon as she started talking, it occurred to me that I should have said something sympathetic about her loss. Occasionally, I’m an insensitive twit.  Note to self: Change that.
“Kitty Vixen. Her real name was Julie McPhee. She was beaten to death, and found in a construction site, in Regent Park, where they’re building a new condominium.”
“One of many,” I said.
“Yeah, the neighbourhood’s changing a lot.”
That was an understatement.  For many years, Regent Park was one of Toronto’s seediest downtown neighbourhoods, rife with crime, drugs, violence and desperation.  Remarkably short-sighted urban planning after the war had given rise to a cluster of social housing units and not much else.  No public areas had been factored in, no recreational places, or commercial spaces - the neighbourhood didn’t even have a grocery store - thus making it a foolproof recipe for a ghetto.
Just a few years ago, in one of those rare instances where they got it right the first time, City Hall had decided to gut it all and start from scratch.  The project was still several years from completion, but already the area was improving. The new social housing units were interspersed among stylish modern condominiums and shops, plus there was a park, a public pool and a cultural centre.  Amidst all of this, there were still several lots covered with bulldozers and cranes.  The wheels of progress grind along at their own leisurely pace, but the early indicators showed that it was worth the wait.
“Tell me more about your friend.”
“The police say Kitty died on Friday September ninth, late at night, so it could have technically been Saturday morning.  Her body wasn’t found until Monday morning when the construction crew showed up.”
“What would she have been doing near a construction site?” I asked.
“It’s a shortcut from the film studio where we both worked to our place.  Me and Kitty shared an apartment above a store on Gerrard Street, near Sackville.  I still live there, my new roommate’s Athena.”
“I remember reading about the murder in the newspaper.  The case remains unsolved.” 
 “I guess technically that’s true, since no one’s been charged, but I know who killed her,” Raven said.
“And that was...?”
“Somebody who has something to do with AAA-XXX films, one of the bosses there, I think.  Kitty was an actress for them, and I used to be.  I’m self employed now.”
“New line of work?” I asked.
Raven chewed on her fingernails for a minute before answering.    “Not really.  I’m a private escort.  Candace referred some of her old clientele to me.” 
Not my place to judge, so I didn’t comment on her rather lateral move.  At least, if the clients came from Candace, I knew they were probably a little less dirt-baggy than any old Joe off the street.  “Tell me more about the movie guys.”
“Everyone calls it Triple-A Triple-X. Antonio Agostino Antonelli is the president. His partner Frankie Lolatto is Chief Executive Asshole,” she said.
“I know a lot of people with that job title.  Keep going.”
“I think Kitty was causing too much trouble. Neither of us liked working there, but the money was good, just not good enough. Kitty was trying to get the guys to pay us more, treat us better, maybe give us benefits.”
Paid holidays and a pension plan for adult film stars?  Actually, that’s not a bad idea.
“I assume they didn’t want to?” I asked.
“Hell no.”
“What’s the going pay rate for a porn star these days?”
“A thousand bucks a day,” she said.
“That’s kind of a lot of money in a way, but then again, not really.”
Through my work for Candace, I’ve learned a lot about money and sex. I also know how much I earn in private investigation fees – it’s either feast or famine in my world.
Some of the high-ranking call-girls who had plied their trade at Candace’s cathouse could earn up to a thousand dollars or even more for a night’s work. So could a couple of the strippers I’ve met. But those are the exceptions.  For every upscale escort, there are dozens of desperately unfortunate girls working the street, earning as little as twenty bucks per transaction.  In any case, in those scenarios, unlike in the dirty picture biz, there is nothing, um, residual in their workday. When the guy leaves, or the lap dance ends, the interaction more or less ceases to exist... Except in memory and emotional scarring.
I couldn’t imagine thousands of people watching a video of me having sex. Or people watching it over and over again... and masturbating to it.  I shuddered at the thought. I wondered how and why the girl before me had entered the x-rated movie business, but it wasn’t appropriate to ask.  Yet.
“Do you get royalties from the movies or anything?”
“Are you kidding?”
“So, a grand for a day’s work. How many days a week did you work?”
“That depended on the studio.  Most flicks take about two days to film, maybe three. I usually did two or three films a month. Kitty did about the same.”
If she only worked about four to nine days a month, I wondered what she did with the rest of her time?
“So you made between four and nine thousand dollars a month? Not bad. I know a lot of people – families even – who live on much less than that. Not that I’m saying it’s good…”  
I wondered how much I’d have to be offered to make a porno flick?  It would have to be a one followed by a lot of zeroes.
“I’m saving every penny I can for school,” she said.  Now she started to bite the nails on her right hand.
“But if you were making upwards of four thousand bucks a month...?”
“I pay rent, and other bills, food...  It costs a lot to look like this.”  She gave me a self-conscious smile.  “And school’s going to cost an arm and a leg.  Next fall I’m planning to go to Parsons.”
“The design school in New York?” I asked.
“That’s the one.  I really, really want to study fashion, and Parsons is the best in the world.”
“So I’ve heard.  That’ll be very expensive.”
“That’s why I did the movies, and why I’m doing escort jobs now.  I’d never make this kind of money working at McDonald’s or The GAP.” 
I had to agree with her point about the pathetically low wages in retail and service jobs.  I remember earning next to nothing at part time jobs when I was in my teens.  I worked at an ice cream parlour during the summer I was fifteen.  I was paid just five-fifty an hour, plus a free cone on my break.  The biggest problem I had working there was which flavour to have on my break.  That, plus an oily manager who kept hitting on me, until one day when I finally kneed him in the nuts, and walked out.
Raven continued, “Tuition’s well over twenty-thousand, and don’t even ask what it will cost to live in Manhattan.”
“I see.  All right, so, Kitty wanted to get paid more, and you were all in favour of that,” I said.
“Why wouldn’t I be?  But you see, adult film pay is standard for the industry, at least in Canada.”
“So just how much more did Kitty want to be paid?”
“She never said exactly. Well, it’s not like she wanted a fixed amount. You see, we get paid a daily rate, no matter how many guys do us. If you think about it compared to the way a call girl does things, it’s not fair. I’m working as an escort now, and I get paid for each guy I have sex with, but in film work, ’cuz it’s a flat rate, you get the same pay whether it’s one guy or lots.”
I didn’t like what I was hearing. 
“If I investigate this, I have to keep an open mind.”  Which could prove hard for me to do, given my feelings about women being exploited.  “There could be other motives, besides money.  Secrets.  Other suspects.   What about ex-boyfriends, enemies, jealous lovers?  What about drugs?” I asked, looking Raven square in the eye. 
“We both liked to smoke a little green after a day of filming.  It’s the only way to forget about work, but nothing major.”
I admit there are days when clients and contacts and witnesses can practically drive me to drink, but I don’t have to get into an altered state to do my job.  That’s probably a good thing: I’m dangerous enough - to myself and others - when I’m stone cold sober.
“Honest?”
“Before I met her, Kitty did just about every drug she could get her hands on; she was totally hardcore for a couple years.  But she steered clear of chemicals ever since I knew her; said it would be too easy to fall back down the rabbit hole.”
“And you?”
“Like I said, we’d both have a few tokes, and Kitty sure liked her rum and Cokes.  But I steer clear of booze; it hasn’t been kind to my people.”
“That’s one way to put it.”
“Besides, I’d rather save my money for Parsons,” she said, with the smooth degree of confidence usually associated with a fait accompli.
“Right.  So, what about Kitty’s friends and lovers? Exes?  Enemies?”
“She was going out with a guy named Corey for a coupla months, but they broke up near the end of the summer.”
“Where can I find him?””
“He sells bikes at Thunder Motorcycles.”
“Anyone else?” I asked.
“Before that, there was a guy named Sam that she dated for a little while, back in the winter.”
“What happened with him?”
“He was pretty heavy into drugs, and like I said, Kitty...”
“Okay, so that didn’t work out.”
 “Having a boyfriend wasn’t really a priority for her anyways.  She couldn’t be bothered, really.  Kitty said that after making movies all the time, she’d had enough of sex.”
What a shame that something so beautiful and fun under the right conditions had morphed into something so unpleasant in Kitty’s world.   
“Hmm.   What about male co-stars?”
“Kitty made a lot of movies with Dixon and Clint.  Movies starring her and Clint were especially popular.” 
“Hmm... What about her family?” I asked.
Raven was back to biting the fingernails of her left hand.  “She had virtually nothing to do with her parents, and didn’t have any brothers or sisters as far as I knew.”
The lack of a familial support system and the estrangement from her parents offered a sliver of an explanation of the how’s and why’s of Kitty’s career path.  Even though I’d never met her, and even though Raven and I had only beet talking for a while, I had already begun to get a sense of Kitty’s tragic life.
“What about friends and enemies?”
“Let’s see... I met Kitty about a year and a half ago, when she started at Triple A.  We became good friends almost immediately, and roommates not long after that.”
“How did that come about?” I asked.
“I was renting a big two bedroom apartment by myself, and decided it would help me save money for school if I rented out the other bedroom.  I used to use it as a sewing room.”
“That makes sense.  Okay, so you and Kitty were friends and roomies and co-workers, but who else was in her life?”
“No one, really, other than a couple of the girls we worked with, like Crystal and Trinity, but they don’t work there anymore either.  The three of us quit at roughly the same time, around the end of September, not long after Kitty was killed.”
“Where’s everyone now?” I asked.
“Trinity works the escort business like I do, but she wants to get out of sex work; says she wants to write a book about working in the x-rated film biz. Crystal is stripping at a bar out near the airport.  Crystal’s been a little off the rails lately, so I’m not sure how much help she’ll be.”  
“What do you mean?”
“Slipping back into her old habits, drinking a lot.  And I mean a lot.”
“I see.  Hmm.  I should have asked you this earlier, but what about the police?” I asked.
“They’ve gotten nowhere, and I don’t even think they’re trying anyways. To them, she’s basically just a dead fuck toy. But Kitty was the best friend I’ve ever had.”
“No one’s just a dead fuck toy.  Or at least, no one should be,” I said. 
As much as it pisses me off, the reality is that some murders get more attention than others when it comes to police budgets and public outrage.   A porno star with a history of drug use would not be a high priority.
“That’s why I came to you.”
I smiled at her.  “Hmm.  So, why was Kitty your best friend?”
“Kitty was just cool, you know?  You could say anything to her and you’d know that she’d get it.  She was really sussed out, you know, really smart, and I dunno... just nice.  A decent person.”  I nodded but didn’t say anything.  She bit her nail and continued, “A lot of the people in this biz are messed up, strung out, and most of them only look out for themselves.  Kitty wasn’t like that.” 
“Uh huh...”
“I had pneumonia last winter.  Ended up missing a lot of work, and since I didn’t do the flicks, I didn’t get paid.  Kitty covered my half of the rent that month, and wouldn’t let me pay her back.  Said it was bullshit that we didn’t have sick leave.  And plus you know, she did all those kinds of things you do when someone’s sick, like bringing me soup and going to the drug store to get Neo Citron and stuff for me.  Sat up with me all night when I had a fever.”
“Sounds like she was a good person.”
“Good, yeah, and she could be wickedly funny too.”
“Okay. I’ll give this a try.” I said.
“What are your rates?” she asked.
“Depends on the case, but for something like this, it’s usually five hundred a day.”
“I’ve got two thousand bucks on me now. Can you start with that, and I’ll give you more next week?” She handed me a wad of twenties, fifties, and a few hundred-dollar bills.
“Deal.” I tucked the money into the front pocket of my jeans.  Nice bulge.
“The money isn’t just from me. Crystal and Trinity kicked in five hundred each.”
“I’d like to talk to them,” I said.
“Sure.”  She wrote down their numbers for me.
“Since it’s the weekend, I won’t be able to get started on this until Monday, okay?”
Actually, the world of detection operates twenty-four-seven, so I could theoretically dig in anytime.  However, there were big plans on the horizon for this evening: I had a hot date planned and a gig lined up.
 “No worries. Kitty’s been dead two months already. She’s not going to get any deader.”
 

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