Chapter 4: The bare essentials
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
Despite being a lesbian, Deecee is still an empath, and she realizes there’s something wrong with me. Her expression turns to one of concern. “What’s wrong, Harry?” And when I don’t answer immediately, she becomes agitated. “You seemed okay until I mentioned Val Thompson. I know she’s got a difficult reputation, and she can be kind of abrupt, but she’s helped me out a lot. You watch; she’ll back us up all the way, guaranteed.”
Oh, I bet. I know exactly what kind of guarantee Val will give me. But I give Young a smile. It’d be a bigger one, but I’m still recovering from my romantic hopes being crushed. And my hopes of getting out of Siberia. Maybe Amelia can still swing that last, if I do well. Maybe.
Young takes my smile for genuine, and goes back to watching the nearest stripper. Now that I realize she’s a lesbian, I kind of feel dirty watching her watch the stripper. Can’t explain it.
I don’t have long to contemplate the situation, because Sanderson suddenly appears and plunks down in the seat at our table facing away from the stage. She scowls at me, then leans over and gives Young a light kiss and hug. Oh, great, another lesbian. By the time she straightens out, one of the topless waitresses is putting a drink down in front of her. Sanderson looks up at the waitress, smiles, and says, “How’s it going, Jess?”
The waitress makes a face. “Nothing but regulars in tonight so far. These friends of yours?”
Sanderson gestures toward Young. “That one is. She’s Deecee Young, and I’ve been known to smile at her twice a day on occasion.” She looks over toward me. “And the guy is her boss, Harry Eberhardt. They’re both Secret Service, and looking to help out on the Angel’s murder. So spread the word that anyone who saw Angel last night should stop by.”
Jess the waitress rolls her eyes. “They’re investigating Angel’s murder? She’s some sort of national security case?” She shakes her head in disbelief. “You get involved in some strange things, Sanderson.” And she walks away.
I decide to be firm and slap Sanderson down a bit. “We are supposed to be making discreet inquiries, Sanderson. Emphasis on ‘discreet.’”
Sanderson tilts her head to one side and favors me with a half-smile. “Eberhardt, there’s nothing discreet about this place, in case you haven’t noticed. See this drink in front of me? It’s on the house. It’s Louie’s way of asking me to go easy on the working girls.”
Young pipes up. “There are prostitutes here?”
Sanderson takes a sip from her drink and leans back in her chair. “Oh, only almost all the performers and half the waitresses.”
“So you’ve got a prostitution problem here?” I put some scorn into my voice. Great law men, can’t even eliminate prostitution in a burg as small as this one.
Sanderson drops her hands into her lap, tilts her head down, and looks at me from under her eyebrows. “There are at least two men for every woman in Farnham. We are going to have sex workers, like it or not. And neither Mac nor I care if people want to pay for sex. That’s their business. But we do care about people hurting each other. We don’t like working girls who steal or do drugs. We don’t like johns who get abusive or try to stiff the girls. And we are death on any pimps who come to town. People know this. So, yeah, we’ve got a prostitution problem in this town. But it’s about as clean as prostitution gets in a place like this. Louie knows what we’ll stand for, which is why my drinks are on the house, to show good will. Same thing with the motel.”
I see a chance to needle her a bit. “So the motel gives you a free room when you need it, Sanderson?”
Young is bewildered by my remark until she realizes that Sanderson is steaming. She reaches over and touches Sanderson on the arm. “Seffie, I’m sure he didn’t mean . . .”
Sanderson cuts in. “I know exactly what he meant.” Glaring at me, she stands up. Figuring there’s going to be a scene, I do likewise.
A woman dressed as a dominatrix, who’s walking among the tables, catches sight of us and rushes over to stand between us. “Hey, guys, no fights.” She frowns at me, and then looks over at Sanderson and realizes who she is. “Hey, Sanderson, it’s me, Lila. You’re not supposed to be starting a fight in here. You know better than that. Christ, you’re supposed to be stopping them.” And then she laughs. “You’ll have the customers thinking you want my job if you act like this.”
Sanderson looks back and forth between Lila and me, and then settles on Lila with a bare smile. “Doubt I’d make then as happy as you do, Lila. Hey, you coming off or going on?”
Lila chuckles. “I just busted my ass for fifteen minutes on that stage, and you didn’t even notice?”
Sanderson’s smile grows. “You know me, Lila. So if you’re coming off, how about taking my friend Deecee here for a tour? I think the two of you would hit it off well.”
Lila looks Deecee over. “This the one you’ve been telling me about?”
Sanderson nods and says to Deecee, “I’ve told you about Lila. You two run off now.”
Lila looks positively predatory as she slides over to wrap her arm around Young’s shoulders. “C’mon, let’s let those two fight it out while you and I get to know one another.” And with not even a look back at me, Deecee Young gets up and walks off with the dominatrix.
In a stern tone, I say to Sanderson, “We’re supposed to be investigating a murder here. At least Agent Young and I are supposed to be.”
Sanderson shrugs and sits down. “Yeah, looking for the nonexistent witnesses to Angel’s last night. Mac and I already checked, Eberhardt. We can do basic police work, you know. We know Angel’s routine. And we couldn’t find any witnesses. Even the people who must have seen Angel don’t recall seeing her. That demon of yours seems to have fixed them into forgetting.”
There’s no point in standing anymore, so I sit down, lean forward, and angrily say to Sanderson, “Then what are we doing here?”
Sanderson shrugs again. “You wanted to interview witnesses. There aren’t any, so you can do it just as well here as not. I figured you’d enjoy the scenery, at least. And believe it or not, I’ve been meaning to set up Deecee and Lila for some time. Deecee can’t find many women to date in Frisco, while Lila likes the young innocent types.” And then Sanderson gives me a vicious smile. “Just like you do, eh, Eberhardt?”
Having got in a shot at me in revenge, Sanderson seems satisfied. She relaxes in her chair, sips at her drink, and starts telling me about all the performers in the room, and some of the customers as well. She seems to know just who’s sleeping with whom, what their sexual preferences are, and can usually toss in an amusing story as well. Initially, I’m just too pissed at Sanderson to find her prattling anything except distracting, but after a while I find myself listening to her and looking around with a new view of what’s going on in this place. It’s actually a fascinating community of different types of people. And I wonder just how Sanderson comes by her information. She mentions arresting some of these people, but that can’t account for much of what she’s telling me.
What’s equally odd is that Sanderson seems to be well liked by the whores in this place. Hardly ten minutes goes by without one of them stopping by to give her a kiss or a hug.
We’re like this for about an hour. And then someone else sits down at our table. I look over, expecting to see Deecee Young, presumably fresh from the arms of a dominatrix. Instead, it’s Amelia Laveau.
Amelia is black, forty-seven, on husband number four, and probably the best demon fighter in the Office. She’s also tall and ugly: uneven lips, pockmarked face, bulging eyes, and wrinkles that make her look twenty years older than she really is. I’d never take her to bed. Though, I have to admit, that if I were ever going to take an old and ugly woman to bed, I’d want it to be Amelia, because I admire her talent.
Amelia nods to me. “Got off my last case early, Harry, and Val Thompson talked me into taking a flight to get out here tonight.” She looks over at Sanderson. “And you must be Persephone Désirée, ah . . .”
“Arabia Nightfeather Sanderson,” Sanderson supplies in singsong fashion. “Call me Sanderson.” She gives me a frown.
Amelia looks around. “There’s supposed to be an agent named Eurydice Young here, too.”
Sanderson says, “I sent her off with a friend of mine who’s probably seducing her upstairs.”
Amelia is somewhere between nonplussed and shocked. For some reason, I feel I have to defend Deecee. “She had to cancel a heavy date to come here.”
Amelia shifts her glance to me, as if I’ve grown a horn out of my forehead. And then she looks questioningly from one of us to the other and back again several times before sighing. She says to Sanderson, “Unlike Young and Eberhardt here, you don’t work for me, Sanderson. But you’re working with me, at least I hope you are, until we get this case solved. So try to keep it professional, okay?”
Sanderson shrugs and gives a laconic, “Yeah.”
A few minutes with Sanderson, and Amelia excuses the both of us, saying we have work to catch up on. Sanderson waves us off, saying she’s going to stick around for a while to keep order in the strip joint. So Amelia and I head off to her room at the motel. Like Young, Amelia’s got a suite. (I am definitely getting after Maura about booking me an economy room.) We sit down in the front room around a table. Amelia looks and me and sighs. “Now that we can talk confidentially, hello again, Harry. Nice to be working with you again. What are you doing out here in the wastelands?”
“Officially, I’m needed out here. Unofficially, Val Thompson greased my skids.”
Amelia shakes her head. “It’s true Val doesn’t like you, Harry, but she seemed as surprised as I was that you’re out here.” She sighs again. “What’s this about the Young girl being seduced?”
At last, a chance to cast blame where it belongs. “Sanderson set up Young with a stripper dressed as a dominatrix. Since Young’s both an empath and seems rather timid, it was like feeding a baby seal to a shark.”
Amelia frowns. “I suppose I’ll have to talk to Young in the morning.” And then she smiles at me. “Anyhow, I’m happy you’re here. At least someone with experience is on this case. Young is still technically a trainee, and Sanderson . . . well, Val told me she’d be a handful.”
I decide I’ll level with Amelia. “She’s done nothing but antagonize me since I got here, Amelia. Any chance we could get rid of her?”
Amelia grimaces. “I don’t like working with untrained magicians any better than you do, Harry, but we’re stuck with her as long as we’re in Farnham. She’s one of Val’s pet projects, though Val being Val, she didn’t explain why. Besides, we should be grateful. Sanderson’s the only magician so far who’s been able to raise a ghost from a victim of this demon. We need to find out why and how she did it.”
I snicker. “If that’s what she did. My bet is that a demon impersonated the ghost.”
Amelia looks off to the side with a neutral look on her face. “I’d normally say that, too, Harry. But Val insists Sanderson can do what she claims to have done.” Amelia turns back to look at me, sees my look of skepticism and adds, “Harry, have you seen Sanderson’s hand? Her right hand?”
I think about it. No, I haven’t, not really. “She wears gloves. So, no, I haven’t.”
“Good for you to notice. She wears those gloves to hide the feathers on the back of her right hand, Harry. Something called night feathers. Somehow they’re connected to her magical powers.”
“Never heard of such a thing. What can Sanderson do with them?”
Amelia gets a perplexed look on her face. “We don’t know for sure. It’s rare. Val knew of only one case, someone Abigail Lane ran into back in the early twentieth century. Abigail is usually as loquacious as all hell in her write-ups, but all she wrote about that one was that ‘it didn’t end well.’”
Amelia pauses to let that sink in before she adds, “That’s not all, Harry. I was able to tell Val about another person with these night feathers. My ancestor Marie encountered some woman with them way back in the nineteenth century in New Orleans.” And her expression changes from perplexed to worried as she looks me right in the eye. “And you know, Harry, it really bothers me: just like Abigail Lane, the only thing Marie ever said about the woman was that ‘it didn’t end well.’”
End of chapter four