There was always one girl in grade school who was monumentally bigger than all the rest of the girls, even most of the boys. I was not that girl. That girl in our class was Maribella Schmaltz. Maribella loved to pick on the smaller girls, including me. One day, having had enough I pushed Maribella off the top of the silver metal slide. You had to wonder what kind of sadist would approve the installation of a slide on a playground for children that would get so hot in the summer sun that it would often leave skin behind. A short railing kept users safe, unless your Maribella who’s foot was firmly stuck. She hung there upside down like an overly large hormonal freak pinata. The formerly bullied crowd circled her, roundly ridiculing her situation and consequently filthy underwear. Maribella put on the tough front as long as she could before finally cracking. The foul stench of bullying was replaced with sweet pity that day, and a general sense of satisfaction was enjoyed by almost everyone.
“Get in,” I said.
I opened the back door of Mason’s sedan and slid in next to Vince, keeping the barrel of my gun tight against his gut.
“Take me to my car,” I said.
“Where’s your car?” Mason asked.
“Your house,” I said.
“Look Lady, this ain’t gonna go well for you,” Vince said.
“Oh no? I feel like it’s the other way around,” I said.
“We’ll see. Same for you money bags. Wait’ll your buddy Wesley finds out, and the old man. All about your dirty little scam. It’s all over for you buddy, curtains,” Vince said.
“Curtains? Are we filming an old movie?” Mason asked.
Vince was a want-to-be old timey mobster right down to his heavily pomaded hair and grossly underpowered and inaccurate snub nose .38 I removed from his cliché shoulder holster.
“Who ya workin’ for Vinnie?” I asked jabbing the gun into his side.
“That’ll be the day,” he said.
“You think I’m playin’ around here Vinnie?” I asked.
“You ain’t got the balls lady. I’m as safe as if I was in my dear mother’s arms,” he said sarcastically.
I pulled the hammer back and pushed the gun into Vince’s scrotum.
“Now you ain’t gonna have the balls either,” I said.
“Ha, like I said, you ain’t gonna do nothin’ lady. Why don’t you go knit a nice sweater somewhere, yous can even add in a picture of a, a, King Martin or whatever, maybe the peanut guy,” Vince laughed.
I fired a round through his pants unintentionally missing Vince’s most cherished appendage. The shot caused Mason to swerve the vehicle into a near miss that would have undoubtedly claimed the life of at least one, and maybe all of us. Vince jumped backwards in the seat and hit his head on the rear glass.
“Oh God you crazy bitch you did it oh God oh God!” Vince screeched.
“My God Philippine, what the hell? My car!” Mason yelled.
“Shut up, I only burned it, next time though, off with its head,” I said.
I dragged my thumb across my neck mimicking the universal sign for death via beheading. I apologized to Mason for shooting a hole in his seat and probably the floor. However, the satisfied smirk on my face as I noticed the smoking hole in the fine leather seat may have made the apology seem slightly disingenuous.
“Now, let’s try this again. Who are you working for?” I asked.
“I ain’t workin for nobody. I just drive the car, I swear,” he said.
“Not good enough,” I said.
I cocked the gun again, exaggerating the angle of my grip while looking him in the eyes.
“Who you working for? No way you’re smart enough to pull this off alone,” I said.
“I’m tellin’ ya lady. I ain’t workin’ for nobody. He knows, ask him. It’s only me and her you know? He knows,” Vince said referring to Mason.
“Wait what? So she already knows?” Mason asked.
“Yeah, yeah she knows everything,” Vince said.
The ‘she’ to whom he was referring was Buffy Meltone, wife, arm candy, and now prime suspect in my attempted murder.
“Why her? She doesn’t need the money,” I said.
“Me and her go way back. We was a thing. Now she got hers and I’m getting mine. She’s helping me. Me and her, we’ll always be a thing, ya know?” he said.
“What about me?” Mason asked.
“What about you? You don’t mean nothin’ to her if that’s what you’re getting at. Yeah that’s right lover boy. She ain’t as dumb as you two think. She’s been on to you since day one.”
The tan sedan looked no worse for wear besides some dirty ash and a dick stain on the window. Same for the jag sans the stain. I climbed in for a second just to see how the other half lived. The seat was pulled up high for a short driver. The mirrors echoed the same short sentiment. No surprise. It was the heavy cloth inlay that told the crux of the tale. Deep in the pores I recognized a scent my nose hadn’t caught wind of since I first saw her at the AAPT office. It was earthy, slightly subtle. Not the sort of fragrance I expected a girl like her to wear. The office, the girl, the car, things were beginning to get clearer.
Muffled beeping irritated its way into the interrogation from Vince’s pocket.
“What’s that? What is it?” I asked, shouting, pointing my gun at him.
“Please lady, calm down would ya? It’s just my beeper,” Vince said.
As far back as there has been history either written or delivered intrinsically over the blanketed laps of elders, telling a person, especially a woman, and most especially me, to calm down, has not only never worked, it has enflamed every single situation to the point where someone usually needs medical attention. In fact, rumor has it a hysterical woman aggressively demanded her husband get rid of the snake in the garden and guess what he said? And that my friends is how Adam messed it up for everybody.
“Who is it? Who is it, Vince?” I demanded.
I was doing my best to keep the situation tense. Vince needed to believe me without trusting me. Tough nuts eventually crack, especially when a bullet cuts it a little too close.
“It’s them, er, him. I gotta pick him up probably. It’s about that time,” Vince said.
“Who’s him?” I asked.
“The old man, you know, Meltone,” he said.
“Just him? Where?” I asked.
“I dunno, I gotta call the office,” he said.
“We have to find a payphone, now,” I told Mason.
Vince hung up the phone and gave us the scoop.
“Okay, I just gotta go get the car, pick him up at home, and bring him to the office. No biggie,” Vince said.
“Where’s the car?” I asked.
“At the office. Yeah, there’s you know, there’s a thing, a what-da-ya-call-it, a parking garage underneath, they keep the limos in there,” Vince said.
“Limos? How many Limos?” I asked.
“Two,” he said.
“I’d be very interested to see those. Just him?” I asked.
“Just him what?” Vince asked.
“Meltone, you idiot. Is it just Meltone or are you picking someone else up too?” I asked, frustrated.
“Oh sorry, just him, just him,” Vince said.
“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. Mason, you and I are taking Vinnie here to the limo. From there, we’re going to follow him out to pick up the old man. After he’s merrily on his way, we’re going to stay behind and have a chat with your girlfriend,” I said.
“What about him? What if he tells the old man what we’re doing?” Mason asked.
I gave Vince a long look in his eyes. I could tell that was exactly what he planned to do because he was waiting for my answer as well.
“First of all, once my friend detective Tom Czerneski finds out it was Vinnie here that took a shot through my office window, well, let’s just say it’s gonna be a pretty tough rap to beat. Attempted murder can be that way,” I said.
“Whoa, whoa, wait, hold it lady, I didn’t do nothin’ like that,” Vince said.
“Especially once he finds out about your connection to Buffy,” I said.
“Look lady, you know damn well that’s a bunch of…”
“And secondly, I’m about to turn this gun on little miss ‘always be a thing’ and her and I are going to take a little ride. If the old man finds out, trust the shit out of me when I tell you she’ll be lucky if the birds find enough of her to shit a stain on the old man’s fancy car. Capiche?” I asked.
“Yeah, yeah, you make a good case. But like I said, I didn’t do no shootin’,” Vince said.
“Yeah, well, then who did?” Mason asked.
“Beats me buddy. Yous can tell it wasn’t me,” he said.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“You’re still breathin’ ain’t ya?” he said as we pulled into the garage.
“Who drives this other limo?” I asked.
“Me usually, I mean, it’s sorta like a backup. Whoever needs a car ya know? Let’s say you gotta go to the office store and I’m out, get lunch, whatever,” Vince said.
“What about that day you followed her and Mason to lunch, the day I saw you driving down my a…”
I stopped. As I rounded the rear of the second limo during my circle inspection I noticed something.
“Tell me Vince, are there any cats in this garage?” I asked.
“Not that I’ve seen. And I’d notice, I hate cats,” he said.
“Of course you do. How then would you explain these?” I asked.
I stood next to the car like a stage model presenting the grandest feature of the latest piece of crap marketed to make a woman’s life easier but designed to take her money.
“What?” he asked.
“Cat tracks,” I said.
“Yeah so?” Vince said.
“Open it up,” I said.
I walked around and climbed into the driver’s seat. It was set up for a woman, along with the mirrors. The smell, again, recognizable.
“Let’s get a move-on boys, me and the little lady have some things to discuss,” I said slamming the door.
Mason and I followed Vince to the gates of a ridiculous stone mansion on the lake. We parked and walked into the expansive compound, taking refuge behind the guest house until they passed on their way out.
“You’re up loverboy,” I said.
I stood off to the side and let Mason work the scrooge door knocker with the creepy face on it. As much as I wanted to be ready for the next interrogation, I couldn’t help but think that if the door knocker came to life and started talking, I was going to have to abandon this case altogether.
“May I help you?” the maid asked.
“Um, yes. Mrs. Meltone please. Please tell her Mr. Mason Owens is here to discuss her design interpretations at the new building.”
The maid looked outside the door slightly puzzled but had not seen me.
“Why didn’t you ring at the gate?” she asked.
Mason stood there silent for what I felt was far too long but like any good salesman, quick lies come natural.
“Oh well I just happened into Mr. Meltone on his way out. He told me to just go ahead on through. I’m sure if you feel like there’s a problem we can give him a call,” he said.
“No, no, I’m sure it’s fine,” she said with a new smile.
“Won’t you come in? I’ll just let her know you’re here,” she said.
I stepped-in behind Mason as she double-timed her chore in order to save face.
“There’s a bar, head over there and make a drink,” I whispered.
“A drink? But it’s..”
I gave him a look that would have led him down a hole from which few return. I hid behind the bar and waited for my chance.
“Oh my gosh, Mason dear, what are you doing here?” Buffy asked.
“You and Vince? Really? You were going to turn me in to the old man? Are you trying to get me killed?” he asked heatedly.
“No, no, you don’t understand, it was all Vinnie’s idea. If Alfie found out who I was, I mean, I’d lose everything,” she pled.
“Is that why you tried to kill Maximine? Because she found out who you used to be?” he asked.
“Maxiwho?” she asked stupidly.
“Maximine, Philippine Maximine, the private investigator. She was the one who spoke to Sindy? Found out what you used to do there? Ring any bells?”
Buffy cluelessly looked at Mason doing her level best not to break into tears.
“Really! I don’t know what you mean! I could never hurt anybody!” she cried.
“Hey Buff, how’s about you and I have us a good old-fashioned girl to girl chat?” I asked.
My jack in the box scene entrance startled the cry right out of her. Or maybe it was the gun I set down on the bar.
“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Philippine Maximine, and I believe you.”