Friday, October 11, 2013

Chapter Six: FRISKY BUSINESS



Sunday 4:50 pm
I was strolling along the Danforth, with no particular destination in mind.  I’d grown up in this neighbourhood, which people often refer to a Greektown – there’s even a statue of Alexander the Great a couple of blocks from my house – and the area never ceases to delight me.       
          There’s something organically vibrant about the strip, especially from Pape to Broadview, with lots of funky shops and some excellent restaurants.  Part of the reason I love it around here is because it never feels stale.  Restaurants may occasionally go belly-up, stores may go out of business, but something new and interesting always comes along pretty soon.  Once upon a time, just about every restaurant along these blocks served souvlaki and moussaka, but now there were Thai, Italian and Latino places too.  I noticed a German restaurant near Broadview with a sign in the window saying Opening Soon.   Cool, I thought, it’ll be nice to have a local spot at which to indulge in spätzle and doppelbock.
            I kept strolling along, past the florist and the dollar store and the adult day school.  As I crossed the Bloor viaduct and looked down at the greenery below, I was reminded of my very first murder investigation.  The victim’s body had been found down there, and it later turned out that my guy wasn’t the only victim.  That investigation had been one helluva a case for a beginner gumshoe, and at the end of it, I got shot in the boobs.  Well, sort of...  I really hoped my new case didn’t pose any similar risks to me.
As I walked, I texted Raven and asked her to send me contact info for Dixon and Clint.  She replied immediately, sending me a cell number for Clint, and a brief message saying that Dixon had moved to Florida about a month ago.  There had to be a quip out there about Dixon going south of the Mason-Dixon Line, but my wits weren’t that sharp today. 
Instead, I dialed Clint’s number right away and left a message in his voicemail, yammering into my Bluetooth as I strolled.  At least it was a nice evening to be out and about, even though I was pretty tired.  This November has been one of the mildest on record, dry, and with a daily average temperature a little above 10 ºC.  Usually a mild autumn means we’re in for a bitch of a winter, but for now I was glad to be able to amble along sans gloves or umbrella.
Walking sometimes helps to clear my head, and allows me to focus on whatever my current case is.  Right now, however, instead of musing about Kitty Vixen, I was dwelling on my place of dwelling. 
I have it good at home.  Dad and Shane and I usually get along great, even though Shane can be a jerk at times.  Like today.  The place is free, although I do kick in for household expenses now and then.  But this afternoon’s minor conflict with Shane reminded me that I’m a big girl and Shane’s a big boy, and it’s kind of ridiculous that neither of us has much privacy (read: opportunities for mad monkey sex with our respective partners), even with dad travelling half the time.
Derek also travels a lot, but in his case it’s business not pleasure.  It’s probably just as well that he goes away a lot, or  I’d likely stay at his place more often, and I’m not so sure that would be a good thing.  Being with him is starting to feel a bit too familiar – like an old married couple – and the thought scares the crap out of me, especially after the girlfriend reference last night. 
On the other hand, crashing at his place usually means that neither of us gets much sleep.  Derek brings new meaning to the expression ‘rise and shine’.  After a night with him, I usually walk around with a goofy grin for the rest of the day, so maybe familiarity isn’t so bad...
As for Lindsey and Shane, well, she stays over at our place once or twice a week.  Shane can’t stay at her place because Lindsey – whose real name is Lakshmi – still lives with her very strict and very old fashioned Sri Lankan parents, who would kill her if she moved out before getting married.
It’s getting to a point where it feels like home is too small for all of us. 
Derek and I have only being seeing each other since the summer, so the idea of moving in with him isn’t even on my radar.  And Shane is pouring every cent he has into Pastiche, so he’s not planning to fly the coop anytime soon. 
Maybe it’s time for me to get a place of my own.  Money is less of an issue for me now than ever before.  Some of my recent cases had garnered a lot of press coverage, and I’d been more than amply compensated.  For the first time since starting out, my PI biz was booming.  Well, almost.   I’d soon be able to light a cigar with a $5 bill.
I had just passed Parliament Street and I realized I was only a few blocks from Candace’s former bordello.  Over the last couple of months, she had reinvented the erstwhile “gentlemen’s club” as a bed and breakfast.   Regardless what kind of business was conducted there, it was a beautiful, old, six-bedroom stone mansion on a valuable chunk of land.  I crossed the street and turned south, confident that dropping by unannounced wouldn’t be a problem.


“I was just making myself a tea.  Want one?” Candace asked.
“No thanks.”
“Okay, just give me a sec,” and she disappeared into the kitchen. 
Her little boy Adam was sitting on the floor of the dark panelled living room watching a video.  There were toys scattered around him, and the floor was covered in crumbs from the box of Animal Crackers he was munching on.  Once upon a time, this room had been filled single malt scotches, maduro cigars, an antique billiard table, and men with fat wallets who wanted female company for a night.  Wow.  Have things ever changed
An oversized white dust-bunny zipped into the room and attached itself to my ankle. 
“Well, hello there,” I said in a sing-song voice, and I bent over to pet the tiny little dog.  “What’s your name?”
“That’s Chico,” Adam answered, peeling his eyes away from the television screen.  “We just got him, and don’t worry, he won’t bite you ’cuz he gots no teeth, and Mom lets him sleep with me.”
“What kind of dog is Chico?”
“He’s a Maltese and mom thinks he’s eight years old, so he’s even older than me.”
Candace came back into the room.  Once again, I noticed how pretty she is, even in her lazy Sunday clothes and no make-up.  She probably could have been a fashion model, but for the fact she’s just barely over five feet tall. 
“No teeth?” I asked her.
“We adopted him from an animal shelter last week.  He was rescued from a puppy mill where they treated him horribly, and used him for breeding.  When the foster people got him a few months ago, they said he was terribly malnourished, covered with sores, and he only had five teeth left, but they were so rotted, they had to take him to the vet to have them pulled.”
“That’s just unbelievable.  Who would do something like that?”
“Creeps.  But look at Chico now, he’s just a bundle of fluffy affection, and being toothless doesn’t stop him from hoovering down anything he thinks might be food.  Adam just adores him, and I was just smitten when we saw the adoption ad on the Petfinders website.”
“I can see why.”
“Let’s sit out front where we can talk privately,” she said.  “It’s nice enough out.”
I followed her out to the porch, and Chico bounded along behind us.  The wrought iron bench we sat on felt a tad cold on my butt.  Chico bounced up on the bench and made himself comfortable in the space between us.
“So, is the bed and breakfast business off to a good start?” I asked.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Candace said.  “I had two guests here on Friday night, and next week I have someone staying for five nights.  I think it’ll work.”
“I’m glad to hear that.  How are you doing otherwise?  Your health and everything?”
She smiled at me.  “Physically, I’m not too bad.  I could be in much worse shape.”  
Candace was downplaying it, as I knew she would.  This past summer, while I was working a case for her, Candace had been shot right here in this house.  She’d lost a lot of blood, and it was touch and go for a while.  The shooting was put an end to her escort business, which was just as well, because otherwise she never would have regained custody of her son. 
“And emotionally?”  I asked. 
“All I have to do is look at Adam, and everything’s good.”  She smiled.  “That, plus I’ve been reading a few books on Buddhism.  Do you think that’s silly?”
“Not at all.  The Awakened One had some good ideas.” 
She smiled at me and we sat silently for a moment.  Some things just don’t need to be said. 
“Thank you for giving my name to Raven,” I said, giving Chico’s back a stroke.  The little guy really was pretty cute; his lack of teeth made him slack-jawed and his tongue hung out, giving him the appearance of a Bowery bum. 
“I hope you can help her.  Sounds like it’s a pretty ugly story,” Candace said.
“It is.  She obviously lost a good friend.  Did you ever meet Kitty?  Can you tell me anything about her?”
“No, I never did.  But I can probably make a few educated guesses about her.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Drugs first of all.”
“Yeah, Raven gave me the overview of that.  Apparently Kitty used them pretty heavily for a while.”  I stroked Chico’s fur some more. 
“No surprise.  They’re probably what got her into making movies in the first place.”
“What else?”
“It wouldn’t surprise me if she had a messed up home life.  How old was she when she died?”
“Her birthday is at the end of January.  She would have been turning twenty.”
“So young.  If she was already out on the streets by that age, she must have been pretty messed up, had a lot of problems.  Why else would she have done the movies?”
It was weird to be having this conversation with Candace.  After all, she had worked the sex trade herself, and then for a while, she’d had a stable of girls working for her.  Her own story involved alcoholic, abusive parents, then a downward spiral into drugs and the sex trade, and ended with her becoming HIV positive and pregnant. 
Her role in the upscale escort business landed on some very grey ethical areas.  She knew how much worse it could be on the streets, so she ran things quite differently when she started her escort service, and was no longer seeing clients herself.  Her girls were paid generously, and didn’t have to fork over ninety percent of their earnings to a pimp.  She made sure her girls were there by choice – even though it might not have been an attractive one – rather than under duress or coercion.   She also screened her clients very carefully, so the girls’ safety was as guaranteed as it could be. 
But still... In an ideal world...
We were interrupted by the ringing of my cell phone. 
“Hello?” I said.
Kitty’s former co-star Clint Dixon was on the line. 
“Sorry.  I was in the middle of a session with my personal trainer,” he said.
“Oh, where do you work out?”
“The Yorkton Club, at Bay and Charles.”
“I’ve heard that’s a great gym,” I said.  “Excellent equipment.”
Actually, I’d never heard of the place at all, but it serves me well to establish a rapport with everyone I come into contact with in any case.  I have a membership at a health club about two blocks from where I live, and I still find that too far.  I’m lucky if I go once or twice a month.
“Yeah I like it, and it’s open twenty-four hours.”
“Listen, like I mentioned in my message, I’m trying to find out about the death of Kitty Vixen.  Would you mind answering a few questions?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“You know, it’s so much better if I talk to people in person.  I can be at Bay and Charles in about ten minutes,”
“Sure.  Why don’t you meet me at Hugo’s Jugo?  It’s on the northwest corner.  After a work out, I really need to get something into me.”
“I’m on my way.”

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