ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY - ALBERT TUCHER
This story first appeared in The Deadly Ink 2006 Short Story Collection, and then in Mouth Full of Bullets
“I keep telling myself to quit doing parties.”
“You mean this has happened before?”
“A murder, no,” said Diana. “Cops and ambulances, yes. One time a guy had a heart attack. Young guy, too.”
He looked at her curiously. “How much do you make? I mean, is it worth it?”
“Relax,” he said. “Right now I care about homicide.”
She nodded. Detective Beldin wouldn’t admit it, but this was probably his first homicide. Westfield wasn’t known for them.
“A thousand each.”
“Heather, Crystal, and you. Fourteen guests. Doesn’t actually sound like enough of a payday.”
She shrugged. “It’s a living.”
“So, tell me again.”
She didn’t bother to complain. “I was waiting for the bathroom. He came out, half falling down. He said, ‘Gertrude.’ Then he did fall down. I could tell he was dead.”
“Anyone else in the bathroom?”
“No,” she said. “I looked. He must have been hit earlier, and it took a while to kill him.”
“You know any Gertrudes?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever met one.”
“Wouldn’t be you, would it? I mean, most...women in your line of work have professional names.”
“I invented this business as I went along. By the time I learned about keeping my private life separate, it was too late. Anyway, you know that. You saw my license.”
“You have a driver’s license that says Diana Andrews. I could get one that says I’m Dan Quayle. We’ll run your prints.”
“They’re not on file.”
“I don’t embarrass my local police. They appreciate it.”
“We‘ll take your prints anyway. For elimination.”
“So you have whatever he was clobbered with,” she said.
He said nothing. She decided to solve his case for him rather than give up her fingerprints.
“How about the other two?” he said.
“Well, you know Crystal is Mary Alice Mercier. It’s her real name.”
“I don’t know anything about her, but Mary Alice brought her in. That’s good enough for me.”
“So she could be Gertrude.”
“Maybe. You know, maybe Gertrude did it, or maybe it was about Gertrude.”
“I thought of that. So who were you with?”
“I had Paul the birthday boy and Stan the dead kid. They were best friends, was my impression. Plus three others. They all came and went, though.”
He winced. She shrugged.
“So you don’t know where the victim was before he came out of the bathroom.”
“This is a big house. The birthday boy must be rich. Or his parents are.”
There had been a lot of room for killer and victim to avoid prying eyes.
“Gertrude,” Diana said.
The name gave her an idea. She started looking around the living room. Soon she saw what she wanted--a picture frame turned face-down on an end table.
“A lot of clients do this,” she said. “It’s like they don’t want the people in the picture to see what they’re doing. With me.”
She picked the photo up and looked at it. What she saw made her motion the detective over.
“Damn,” he said. “Play your cards right, and in twenty years... Damn. She could be your mother.”
A woman in her forties sat on a beach chair between young Paul and his friend Stan. She had dark blond hair, strong cheekbones, and an even stronger nose. The effect was very attractive in an unconventional way, and her tiny bikini didn’t detract from her appeal. Diana slid the photo out of the frame and turned it over.
“Skip, Paul, Paul Jr. and Stan in Jamaica,’” she read aloud. “At least, I’m guessing the guy behind the camera is named Paul.”
The names were written in blue ink, but someone had scribbled furiously in black over the second name.
“If that’s Paul Jr., there’s probably a Paul,” said Beldin.
“And I’ll bet Skip is Gertrude,” said Diana. “It’s the kind of nickname a woman like her would have.”
She studied the back of the photo, and then the front.
“It’s all right here. Skip and Paul Sr. are divorced, which is why she crossed his name out. And it must have been recent. I just saw Paul Jr. face-to-face. He doesn’t look any older than this.”
Beldin didn’t seem to get it.
“Think about it. Skip has just been dumped, and here’s this cute Stan guy who’s hot for her. I mean, just look.”
“I think you’re right,” said Beldin. “If he got any closer, he’d be in her lap.”
“So, at some point, Skip and Stan had a roll in the hay, which he had the bad taste to mention to the birthday boy. He was drunk enough to get that stupid.”
Beldin told her to wait and then left her alone for more than an hour.
“Birthday Boy gave it up,” he said when he came back. “His friend Stan said you and Gertrude even trim your...”
“Bush,” said Diana helpfully.
“...Yeah, whatever—the same way. Birthday Boy clobbered him but thought he was okay when he got up and walked away.” Beldin stopped and looked at her curiously. “What made you think of Mom and the friend?”
“Hamlet,” said Diana. “His mother’s name is Gertrude. He’s obsessed with her sex life.”
“A hooker who quotes Shakespeare. Damn.”
“I went to high school like anybody else. Maybe I even learned something.”
It was almost four in the morning. Detective Beldin had gathered Diana, Mary Alice and Heather in the living room.
“Ladies, the next party happens someplace else. Not in Westfield. Got that?”
He gave Diana the same stony look as the other two. She nodded slightly in gratitude. She didn’t need a reputation for helping the cops.
He turned and left the room.
“Let’s get some breakfast,” said Diana.
BIO: Albert Tucher is the author of over twenty published stories and four unpublished novels about prostitute Diana Andrews. Like most authors of hardboiled crime fiction, he is a librarian in his day job.
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