Monday, December 21, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 304 - Todd W. Bush


’Cause living is good, and dying... not as good. It’s something I heard once and it certainly applies to this situation.

I had two options: the first was to believe the word of a known, and admitted, heroin user who was also a street whore and who lived off her lies; the second involved me taking the side of a psychopathic hitman who knew his business and was good at it. The former was noble, to be sure, because it allowed me to help someone who was in trouble and had lost a friend. The latter, however, gave me a guarantee on my life for at least at the foreseeable future. See what I mean about living and dying?

I liked Lauren, I really did. But she wasn’t exactly the most trustworthy person I’d met this year, or in my life for that matter. If she was right and Sam ‘The Tourist’ Calvante had murdered her friend Jessica, then poking my nose into it might put me next on the list. If Lauren was to be believed, then Jessica was the infamous ‘Backseat Virgin,’ and she’d been raped repeatedly, shot, and then her body mutilated and dismembered before being stuffed into the trunk of a car.

Calvante was an enforcer for the Vasciano family, who had control over the second biggest crime empire in South Florida. His legend preceded him because he didn’t just kill for his boss, he killed in extremely brutal ways.

What was done to the Virgin was certainly well within his element. But then again, this was South Florida, and people died every day, some of them in horrendous ways, some just from the odd elevator or faulty motorized wheelchair accident. Just because Calvante was a sick bastard, doesn’t mean he killed the Virgin anymore than it meant I did it because I frequented some of the bars in the area where she was found.

And just in case you were wondering, I didn’t do it.

I was preparing for a lazy morning at home before the first weekend of college football started. I had a hundred on Florida State; they were giving 24 to some school from Idaho or Montana, and even though their defense sucked last year, I was counting on them scoring in bunches. But then I made a big mistake: I checked my work voice mail.

“He-e-e-y there, PI Guy, it’s, um... it’s Lauren! So, yeah... like you gave me your card and stuff... ain’t that so like... like professional and stuff? I mean, I never got nobody’s card before, least not anybody who gave it to me cause he wanted to... I mean, I found a couple in between the seats of cars and shit. You know, Jess taught me that shit. Damn, I miss her, man. Jess Mulholland... that sexy ass blonde hair with the roots, them brown eyes, those nice tits and that ass... holy fuck was she hot. Anyway, PI Guy, call me sometime and let’s get together. I might even give ya a freebie, you know, ’cause I kinda thought you was hot, too.”

She left her number then seemed to try three times to hang up before she finally got it. Apparently she had called from a home phone; I didn’t think anyone under thirty-five had a home phone anymore. I didn’t know what to do with the message, so I just saved it and went back to my relaxing morning.

Only my brain wasn’t cooperating.

Seven hours later and Lauren’s message was still playing in my head. And it wasn’t because of the offer of a free romp in her bed. I might pick lousy girlfriends, but I wasn’t about to get into a heroin addict’s sack, free or not. I thought maybe dinner at my favorite place would help clear my head. So I headed to a sports bar that only locals knew about or ever went to, and even called to put down another hundred on the Ohio State-Texas game later that night. Had to do something to make up for what I’d lost that day on FSU. Effing kicker blew an extra point and the ’Noles won by 23.

The place was empty except for a couple of barflies flirting up the manager. A waitress named Wilma took my order of hot, wet wings and ice cold beer, and I was left alone with my thoughts again. Unfortunately, not for long.

The front door opened and three very large, very angry-looking men approached my table with none other than Vinnie Vasciano.

He didn’t look healthy. His skin was pasty white, and I thought I could see the veins in his face. Dark circles sat under his eyes and the whites were now a bright shade of red. Vinnie G had clearly been doing some thinking about our conversation. He sat down without asking and his goons took seats at other tables, creating a tight little circle for us to talk in. Wilma started out of the kitchen with my wings in one hand and my beer in the other. She showed she had no sense or bigger balls than most men as she split the enforcer ring and laid my order down on the table. I was glad, too; my mouth had gone drier than a desert.

I sipped my beer and asked Vinnie what I could do for him.

“I thought about our conversation yesterday, Mr. Price. I know you and Carmine are friends from school up north, and I know he encouraged you to come to me with your information. It couldn’t have been easy for you, and I commend your bravery and gumption.”

I nodded my thanks, only because I had no idea what to say. He filled the silence with a smile.

“You may eat if you wish while we speak.”

I wondered if it was protocol to offer a Mafia don a hot wing if he was sitting at your table.

“Mr. Price, I want to employ you for a job.”

“What’s the job?” I asked, in between bites on a drummy.

“Find out if Sam Calvante killed the woman known as The Backseat Virgin.”

I put down the bone in my hand and took a big gulp of my beer. It was cold, and the alcohol made the heat from the wings scorch my taste buds even more. Just like I liked it.

“I’m not interested in finding out who killed her, Mr. Vasciano. I got that information from a less than reliable source—”

“I thought it was a client who came to you with this information.” Sharp, this guy. Guess that’s why he’d run a mob family for over two decades without being killed.

“She was a client, but a... special one.”

“So she wasn’t a paying one. I understand.”

No, but she did offer me free sex. But I didn’t think that was relevant to the conversation.

Vasciano adjusted in his seat and came up with an envelope. I looked at it as it lay on the table next to my beer. He looked at it, too, like there was some divine answer in it and he was trying to see through the paper to read it. Finally, he looked up at me, the bloodshot eyes were determined and relentless.

“Mr. Price, there is a check in this envelope for $62,500 dollars. Find out if Calvante killed the girl, then report back to me. If you should find out that he did not do it and then learn the name of the person who did, you may take that information to the police. However, if you find out that Calvante did in fact kill this woman, you will not approach the authorities. That information will be communicated only to myself or a member of my organization. Is that understood?”

He didn’t wait for an answer. “If you complete this job, you will receive another check for the same amount.” Without another word, the four of them got up and walked out the door, leaving me alone with nine blazing hot chicken wings, a rapidly warming beer and a check for more than I’d ever made in my life.

Did I care who murdered the Virgin? Hell no. Did I want to be anywhere near Sam Calvante? An even bigger hell no. But would I do those things for money? Fuck yes.

Her name, according to Lauren, was Jessica Mulholland. She was a bottle-blonde with brown eyes and apparently a nice body. And if the first conversation I’d had with Lauren was true, then she was also a kinky street whore who had banged the wrong guy. And now she was going to be my job. Gotta love my life.

I called a contact with the Motor Vehicles department, but no Jessica Mulholland in her age range had ever had a driver’s license in the state of Florida. I struck out again with the sheriff’s office, which meant she’d never been arrested. So she was a lucky street walker. Or maybe she had just started and her turn in the clink hadn’t come yet.

Lauren had been arrested only once, I found out from the same source at the SO. Her name was Lauren Baker, and she was 23 years old. I was in my office, contemplating how to find Jessica when I saw the blinking light on my phone. Lauren’s message was still saved on my system. My brain was running through her message again and her offer. She wasn’t bad looking, that was for sure. And I knew that she’d done some porn, so you knew she was at least pretty good at what she...

I sat straight up in my seat and dialed a number from memory. Carmine ‘CT’ Trubone wasn’t my only friend from my school days back in the New York area that lived on the shady side of society in South Florida. The call was answered on the second ring, like he’d been waiting for me.

“Detective Lee Price, what in the hell do you want?” A cigarette was in the guy’s mouth making every word only come halfway out.

“Hey, Shooter, I need a favor.” ‘Shooter’ was Greg Shubert, the owner, operator, lead director, and chief male star of Shu-Fly Productions, one of the hundreds of porn companies that had sprung up in the area over the last decade. Shooter had walked a balancing act between reputable businessman and a casting couch sleaze ball; he was also a virtual encyclopedia of the women who were in the industry in South Florida.

“No problem, Price. Hey, you get that latest flick I sent you?”

“Yeah, I did, thanks. Always good to see your mind at work, Shooter.”

“What can I say, Price? I know great ’tang and great talent when I see it.”

“Listen, you remember a girl by the name of Lauren Baker? Early twenties, brunette, might been in the biz a couple years ago then got out.”

He hummed as he thought, and I could hear him clicking a pen in his hand.

“Was she thin, thick, what?”

“Midwestern girl, curvy.”

“Oh, shit yeah! I did a shoot with her once, uh... I think it was the ‘Welcome’ series. Wasn’t very into it, though, so we dropped her. A real good cooch, but a dead fish on camera.” He was talking about his most popular line of movies: ‘Welcome to South Beach, Now Fuck!’ He’d sent me a couple of them as a Christmas gift one time. That Shooter, what a friend.

“In fact, Price, she was right up your alley. Even had a nice landing strip just like you like ’em.”

Having your fetishes quoted back to you tends to make you cringe. No difference in my case. But I had someone else to ask him about.

“What about Jessica Mulholland?”

“Describe her.”

“Bottle-blonde, nice body, brown eyes.”

“Hold on, let me look. That Mulholland like the road in LA?” I told him it was and listened as he tapped on his computer. Less than ten seconds went by before he laughed. “You’re two for two, Price. I worked with her, too. Why you need to know? Got a party coming?”

“No, can you e-mail me over a pic or two of both of them?”

“Will do. This about a case?”

“Something like that. Listen, since they worked with you, can you also put their contact info in the e-mail?”

“Sure, not for sure it’s good or not, but I’ll put it in there. You know these girls, Price. If they don’t get big or get dirty, they go away.” He had no idea how dead on right he was. I thanked him and hung up. The e-mail was in my inbox within five minutes. Shooter hadn’t just sent me pictures of Lauren and Jessica; he’d sent me a zip file containing their model pics and one scene from a movie of his for each of them.

I opened Lauren’s picture first. Everything about her had changed, even the eyes. It was the same girl who’d been in my office, but drugs and life on the street had taken their toll. In the pictures, she was incredibly attractive. Then I looked at Jessica Mulholland. If anything, she was even better looking than Lauren. And the intensity in her eyes showed even in the pictures. I didn’t want to see the videos, but I opened them nonetheless. Shooter was right: you could see that Lauren didn’t want to be doing porn.

It showed in her face, and I saw why Shooter had dropped her. Jessica, on the other hand, was an absolute tiger. No matter how hard or forceful her partner got with her, she pushed him for more. Where Lauren had done only the basics in her scene, Jessica’s contained every possible position and kink that Shooter’s company allowed in that series.

I closed the file out and put my head in my hands. I had one more call to make and I hoped it wasn’t going to work out. Anyone who had an apartment had a phone number. I called a friend who worked at the phone company and asked if a Lauren Baker or Jessica Mulholland had ever had a phone number in the area. She said that two years prior they had both had the same number, listed as an apartment in the middle of east Broward County and that another female, a Denise Coughlin, had that number at the same time as well. I sighed, thanked her and put the phone down.

Everything Lauren had said was turning out to be true. Jess was aggressive and open-minded. They had both been into porn, then gotten out around the same time. They shared an apartment with a girl named Denise. This meant that Denise, Lauren and Jessica had more than likely gone on calls together as escorts, and that Denise and Lauren had probably gone on the fateful call together that had lead to the gruesome murder. It also meant that Jessica Mulholland was almost certainly The Backseat Virgin.

And the worst part of all, it meant that I had to confront maybe the most dangerous man in South Florida: Sam Calvante, a man with a secret life that he would kill to keep that way.

To Be Continued...

BIO: Todd W. Bush is the writer of the South Florida Noir series. He has been published at A Twist of Noir and Powder Burn Flash. He lives in South Florida with his family.


D.A. Confidential said...

Awesome Todd, as good as the first... keep 'em coming.

Al Tucher said...

It's still working! I especially like Lauren's dialog. She's a vivid character.