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Diabla

meets

Large Lola



By

Karl

Tutt

Copyright Karl Tutt 2018



All rights reserved without limiting the copyright reserved above. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. Names, brands, characters, places, media and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction which might have been used without permission. The publication use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated or sponsored by the trademark owners.

Thanks to Carolyn, my patient reader, who is generous with her time and attention.



Prologue

It washed up on the beach in the darkness not far north of the corner of Las Olas and Ocean Boulevard. At first no one paid much attention. It was basically formless, and it stunk . . . maybe a maimed Dolphin or some other dead thing shrouded in seaweed.

The first one to notice it was an eight-year-old boy. He said he saw something sparkling in the morning sun. He held his nose and got a little closer. He fixed on it for a moment more. Then he wanted it. He removed the thing gingerly, washed it in the surf, and took it his mother. It stole her breath. A ring . . . not just any ring . . . but an elegant, if somewhat gaudy, bundle of 24 carat gold and diamonds that even Mariah Carey would have been proud to sport on one of her meticulously manicured hands.

His mother thought about stuffing it in her beach bag and grinning all the way home, but there was the boy. She wanted him to grow to be honest and trustworthy. She showed him the initials “A G” engraved inside. It belonged to someone . . . or at least it had. He was baffled . . . not sure what he’d seen or what he picked up, but he did know it was of value, and he also knew his Mom would do the right thing. She flagged one of the bicycle cops that work the strip, held it out for him to inspect, and pointed. It was hard to like what he found.



Chapter One

I first met him long before I became Diabla. At the time, I was dancing with brass poles in my birthday suit, hooking a little on the side, and trying to make my way through a cloud of cocaine, opioids, and any other dope I could get my hands on. I may have even screwed him a couple of times. It’s hard to remember when your life is nothing but a frothy dark cloud. I was deep in the abyss, and in my mind . . . and my heart . . . or what was left of it . . . I didn’t think I’d ever climb out. It was only through the heroic efforts of my dad, Fritz, and old friends, T.K., Chris, and Sunny, that I made it through without much more damage than a couple of now faded tattoos. They had all risked their lives. But we all came through. Now it is a good time to forget, and I’d done my best. But sometimes, late in the night, I knew it would haunt me like a malevolent wraith, a banshee who would never stop baying.

One thing I did remember too well was the night the good Mr. Gianinni “made it rain”. I was working the All-Nighter, a gentlemen’s club in a strip center near I 95. Only there weren’t many gentlemen there.

Mr. G was at a table almost on top of the stage with four or five of what were, no doubt, his “closest friends”. I never heard a word of English from any of them except him, and that was confined mostly to grunts, groans, and “get it on, Baby”, accompanied by an occasional fondling of his crotch.

Avis was my business colleague (read fellow stripper) and neighbor. Nice girl, fabulous shape, and despite a voracious appetite for a variety of pharmaceuticals, I could trust her. She lived in a small apartment near the upper end of the New River. I was her downstairs neighbor. That was before I moved onto my old Pearson 365, GREAT GESTURE. We'd had many a nite cap on her tiny balcony laughing it up over the antics of some of our supposedly high class clientele.

Avis could definitely shake it up. We had been working the boys pretty hard and finally decided on a tag-team approach for our grand finale. Our garters were sporting a fistful of fives sprouting like green bouquets engulfing our thighs. We were jiggling our tits and shaking our asses for all we were worth . . . all close enough for the boys to damned near taste. I must admit it wasn’t one of my finest moments, but to say we were well received would be a monumental understatement.

Artie G. bounded up and howled like a wolf sniffing heat. He stuck his hands deep in his pockets, and came out with fistfuls of rich, dirty green currency. He thrust his palms into the air and the bills fluttered to the stage like wounded birds. Hell, I’d seen the Florida crackers roll in from the groves and do the same thing on payday. But this time it was different. The hardwood was flooded with wadded up tens. Avis and I were grabbing the green like two starving children snatching bread crumbs. Within minutes I had a month’s rent and more than enough to keep me in coke for time immemorial. It was certainly one of the more lucrative nights in my former rather dubious career, although I wouldn’t term it a smart move. I couldn’t say my own name for weeks after that. Thank God for Avis's homemade chicken soup. She bring it down every day or so . . . even feed it to me when I was damned near paralyzed. Kept me from starving to death and tasted mighty good. She finally swallowed one too many pills. I still miss her. I guess you could say she sorta saved my life. I wish I had saved hers.

You might have me wrong . . . think I’m bragging . . . that I’m proud of all that shit. I’m not. My Dad and Mom instilled a sense of morality deep in me. I guess I got lost, and stayed lost for quite a while. Money, sex, and drugs will do that . . . even to the best of us. But I still believe in some concepts that are probably quaint, if not grossly outmoded in these days. They sometimes remind you of the Wild West . . . days of might makes right, the rule of the gun, every man for himself . . . that sort of crap. Some stuff needs to be fair, and honest . . . and we all need to remember we are nothing more than human, imperfect creatures who need to try. I’m not saying I’m a Girl Scout, but I occasionally help an aging widow across the street, drop a few bucks in the red Salvation Army bucket, and stand up for what looks like justice. Okay, I get it . . . I’ve bored you to death . . . I’ll step down off my soapbox and tell you the rest of the story.

Thank God, Dad came through. He got some records expunged, and believe it or not, I was accepted at the Police Academy and became a cop. Fort Lauderdale P.D. I can seriously tell you that I was a good one . . . a cop, that is . . . honest, hard-working, all that solid shit. I even got promoted. But there were rules . . . the written ones and those that smart cops didn't talk about. I developed a very bad habit . . . stepping on toes . . . sometimes the wrong ones . . . those that belonged to the very important and influential. I guess that's when Detective Dee Rabow, the Pillar of Justice and Truth, got the nickname Diabla. It means she-devil in Spanish. Hell, I earned it for being a bitch. It hung on me like a badge of honor . . . at least for some. For others it was a threat, an indictment . . . a warning that I couldn't be trusted to play the game the way the old hands wanted it played. Unfortunately it had a lot to do with their pockets . . . keeping them full . . . houses, cars, etc. . . . and in my mind that's not a good thing.

When I got canned, and unemployment loomed like a storm cloud circling my head, I got my license and turned to what I knew the best. Simple detecting . . . the private kind. My first partner, Ricky, is dead. That’s another story. But his fiancé, Evelyn, has proved a resourceful and determined replacement . . . not to mention the fact that she is a total knockout. It helps lots when some of the bad boys are staring at her tits or her ass instead of trying to figure out how to kill us. I gotta say my stuff isn't bad, either. Anyway, it gives us a little time. So be it. We stay as busy as we can, and eke out a decent living off other people’s secrets . . . and often . . . their indiscretions.

So back to our boy. Arturo Gianinni. Right . . . everyone knew the name was phony. So was the accent. The only Italian old Artie knew was bongiorno, vino, and pizza, but I think he believed the moniker hinted at Mafia connections. He talked about Sicily like it was the fatherland. And, as Mom used to say, “give the devil his dues”. Artie could get that look on his face that made you think of cement overshoes and sleeping with the fishes. I gotta admit it was chilling . . . hey, whatever works. And of course, the dude had money . . . huge piles of it. A villa on the beach, maybe 15,000 square feet, with the home theater, the private gym, bowling alley, the Olympic sized pool, the Jacuzzi, the Lamborghini parked next to the Mercedes Limo and numerous other accoutrements that screamed, “I’m a whole lot richer than you . . . not to mention much classier.” He was rumored to be buddies with Donald Trump, Wayne Huizenga, Tom Brady, and other luminaries who just couldn’t stay under the radar no matter how they tried. Of course, some of them didn’t try at all, but what the hell?

It didn't matter anyway. Artie was way beyond dead. I tried like hell to care, but I was more concerned about which round the Dolphins would be picking in the NFL draft. They definitely needed some help in the secondary and a couple of dependable defensive linemen. Actually, I doubt Artie would have disagreed, but now I guess we’d never know.



Chapter Two

Evelyn, my gorgeous/genius/Brazilian partner, had run down to the street vendor to get us a couple of hot dogs. Don’t stick your nose up. It was the umbrella man, the one with those fat juicy Sabrett’s. They’d been turning in that roaster for an hour or so and the buns melted in your mouth. Throw on a little mustard, maybe even some chili and their fabulous onion sauce, slaw if you wanted it, and you had one hell of a feast. My mouth was watering and I was drumming a dried up ballpoint on the scarred desk. Patience was never one of my virtues.

The phone rang. I picked it up, “Dee Rabow Detective Agency. How may I help you?”

“Cut the shit, Baby. I’m on to something . . . at least I think I am.”

Always the charmer. It was Bert Adamson, my current squeeze. He was the epitome of “tall, dark, and handsome”, not to mention charming as Errol Flynn, but that was only one reason to listen when he talked. Bert was one of the best investigative reporters in South Florida. He had several claims to fame, the most recent contributing to the bust of a cartel connection that was funneling opioids to Kentucky and surrounding states in the midlands. The funeral business in those areas was booming.

Bert was tough, thorough, and he had this way of making people trust him. It had damned sure worked on me more than once, not only in public, but even better, in some more private settings. (Just in case you’re wondering, there is no video.) There was one more thing. He liked to laugh. He start with a little rumble, then boom and roar like a wounded rhino. People just took to it. Me . . . I’m a big fan of laughing. It beats the hell out of the alternative, no matter how bad you’re hurting.

“Okay Big Shot, shoot,” I breathed in my best Lauren Bacall.

“You know Artie G., or I guess I should make that past tense. My sources tell me there was barely enough of the body left to get a positive ID. Dental, I think. He had some new implants, and that hunk of gold and diamonds the kid found sealed it all.”

“Yeah . . . okay . . . all old news, Pal. What’s the rest?”

“If you asked him what he did, Artie would mumble ‘financier’, then show his teeth and turn to the next guest at the cocktail party. There were always rumors, but few of his associates were brave enough to confirm them. And of course, there were a couple of convenient disappearances. As you might guess, most of them had their own fingers in the pies, and they were pulling out plums on a regular basis. You know that huge piece of property out west of I 95. He had an option on it. Some big-time developers were planning another fat slice of exurbia, their own little town with shopping centers, houses, condos, even a hospital, and a branch of the community college. They were waiting for our distinguished President Trump to ease some regulations, especially EPA stuff. There’s some damned snails, or birds or something that are on the Endangered Species list. Plus a particular senator had vowed to open up part of it for the spillway to Everglades that is supposed to help flush the Indian River Lagoon . . . get rid of some of that crap that’s fouling the water flowing from Lake Okeechobee.”

“Still old news.” I repeated disgustedly.

“Okay Miss smart assed PI. A little patience might be in order.”

I sighed loud enough to be heard on the west coast. I could almost feel Bert shrug over the phone. Finally he went on.

“Okay, I give. Here's the deal. You meet me for dinner at The Tropics and I give you the rest of the take.”

The Tropics was the newest place on south beach, reputed to be very delicious and very expensive . . . didn't take me long to accept a deal like that. We agreed on eight. That would give me time wash my hair, drench myself in perfume and doll up in my most provocative “come hither” togs. Definitely sounded like a win-win to me.

I could smell those dogs before Evelyn opened the door. She cradled the bag like a mother with her new baby. She placed a wad of napkins on the desk, grinned, and gently laid the bag before me. Then she pulled the chair over from her desk and seated herself like the sacred Tupi Princess of an ancient site near the Amazon. Then it was down to business. Two dogs apiece . . . better than any human sacrifice I could think of. She licked her lips and wiped a bit of drool off the lower one. Such a lady. I let her wolf down a couple of bites before I hit her with the Bert's offer.

“So I guess I'll get the play-by-play tomorrow. Please don't spare me any of the lurid details. Keeps my mind off how we pay the rent this month.”

I held up my mustard covered hand and we made a pinkie promise. Then we laughed and stuffed our faces.

--------------------------

I was fashionably late, as is a lady's MO. Bert had arrived, and the maitre'd bowed and guided me to a quiet table near the back wall. Bert stood and bowed like the courtier he could be when he wanted to. Our man pulled the chair for me. Candlelight glowed and a sweating bottle of champagne was sitting at attention.

Bert was staring . . . right at me.

I gotta admit, I looked like a million dollars, blond curls pulled back over my ear, a slinky black satin cocktail dress with just enough cleavage to be alluring, if not obscene, some sterling silver earrings and a matching bracelet I hadn't worn since Noah's flood. Bert looked pretty damned good himself, silver gray silk suit hanging on his broad shoulders, shiny black t-shirt peaking out of the double breasted, thick lapels, like some George Raft clone out of a thirties gangster epic. His thick sable mustache was trimmed and I caught a hint of Brut wafting from his sculptured, tanned cheeks. The smile was winning, even sweet, and lest I forget to mention . . . sexy.

The waiter glided over and poured me a generous portion of the golden sparkling liquid. Bert raised his glass and gave me his best Clark Gable. God, was it working. Rhett toasting Scarlett from “Gone with the Wind.” Too damned good to be true.

“My God, you look stunning, but business first.”

I tilted my crystal toward him and glowed.

“One of the drivers on the deal is a Brazilian billionaire, Gabriel Souza. He is the heir to the Lowlands Coffee fortune. They own more businesses than I can trace, and I’d bet my last buck the ones I can’t trace are smelly as a septic tank. Anyway, he and Artie were supposed to be real tight. I got nothing hard, but I got good reason to think Artie might have been juggling the books, putting a little in his pocket for a rainy day. There could be some payoffs involved, someone in the EPA . . . might go very high. I’m just guessing right now, but I need information to bring it together. Evelyn jumped into my brain.”

“Yeah, that’s been happening to about half the guys in South Florida.”

“Come on Dee. Get serious. I know Ev’s a Brazilian native, was a high class attorney in Rio, and could sell snowballs to Eskimos. I need her.”

“Yeah, another line I’ve been hearing from lots of bozos the last couple of years.”

My voice was flooded with sarcasm, but it was the damned truth. What they figured they needed was all too obvious.

“Okay, sad jealous one, must I remind you that you are the only damsel who plucks the strings of my poor, pitiful heart? And by the way, this is a paying gig. I got the okay from my editor. This story could put me on the front page of every newspaper in Florida. Talk to her. If she thinks it’s a good bet, we’ll cover plane tickets, hotels, give her a fat per diem, and fill the coffers of the Dee Rabow Detective Agency with shekels of gold.”

“All right, Bert. Now you’re talking my language. Veritable music to my aching tortured ears, not to mention my poor empty pockets. On this I’ll get back to you quick.”

“Okay, now on to other matters.”

He seemed a bit reluctant . . . even nervous. He drummed his fingers on the table momentarily, then cleared his voice. It wasn't really like the fearless Bert I thought I knew --- but he finally went on.

“Dee, you and I have a thing. I'm not really sure I can even define it, but it's there. I guess I'm trying to find a way to say I've fallen in love. I want you to move in with me. I know how independent you are. It's a damned cliche, but I know you need your space. You can have it. I just need you near me. I need to hear your voice and smell the fragrance of your body when you wake up next to me in the mornings. I don't have to have an answer tonight. Just think about it. We make sense . . . and I believe we need each other. Two drifters who should be one.”

It was almost corny, right out of “Breakfast at Tiffany's”, but it was so damned sweet and so damned sincere. I took the hook like a starving tarpon. I tried to speak, but my lips seemed numb. I took a sip of champagne and shook my head slightly.

“I gotta say, this is not what I expected.”

“I didn't expect it either, Dee. When first meet you, I thought “hey . . . a few drinks and some laughs with a pretty lady . . . maybe I'll even get laid. Can't be all bad.” But it didn't take long to realize that you're so much more than that. So just tell me you will. You . . . your space. Me. Keep the boat. Maybe we'll even adopt a puppy.”

“It's all too quick, Bert. I need some time to think . . . digest it. It's not about you. You're the best thing that's happened to me since I got to Lauderdale. I just need . . .”

He reached across the table and put his fingers to my lips. His eyes burned with something warm and kind.

“You got it. Just let me know when you're ready. Maybe I'll even bake a cake.”

We giggled like two teenaged kids at the malt shop. From there things got even better. When the sun rose I was in his arms, my head lost in the rhythm of his breathing, and my heart quiet and steady.



Chapter Three

Ev was at the office early. I wasn't. She gave a quick once-over and smiled.

You must have had one hell of a time last night. You damned sure look it.”

I mumbled something that sounded like coffee. She poured me a cup of something that looked like recycled motor oil, and I collapsed into the chair behind the desk. I took a hit of the thick brew and shuddered. Too much champagne does bad things to my head in the morning, but I never seem to remember that the night before. I began to blurt out the story, leaving out the part about me moving in with Bert. That had to come later.

“So we get paid and someone else is taking care of all the expenses?” she sputtered through a mouthful of jelly donut.

I nodded vigorously. “Yeah, we get paid lots,” I spit out.

“Sounds like a deal to me. You know I haven’t seen any of my people down there in a couple of years. It’s probably a good time to brush up on the old family tree and practice my Portuguese. I can do a little investigating, a little visiting, maybe even find a cold mojito somewhere. And how’s this for a spoiler alert? I actually met the famous coffee heir at a party a few years back. He followed me into the bathroom, and locked the door. If you’re lucky, you just might be able to guess what he had in mind. I slapped his hand energetically . . . then I had to slap his face. He didn’t like it too much. Too damned bad. Anyway I was in the middle of a visit from my red-haired aunt. It would have been pretty sloppy.”

“Okay Evelyn, you can spare me the nasties. When can you leave? I got that sense from Bert . . . the sooner, the better.”

“Well, I’m finishing my donut first, then you can color me gone.”

The fat end of the dough disappeared into her gaping mouth, leaving a slight trace of jelly at the corner. She delicately dabbed a napkin at it, stood like the queen of England, and sauntered toward the door, Gucci tucked under her arm. She turned and gave me a sly wink, shook her silky black waves over her shoulder. I listened as her Jimmy Choo stilettos clicked down the hall. That’s my girl . . . always crafty, elegant, and eager to please. If there was anything to find in Rio, she was the woman to do it.

The next morning she was on an Avianca flight to Rio, and booked for four nights at the Hotel Santa Teresa, five star, of course. It’s a good thing the agency VISA card had a very high limit, but only the best for our Brazilian Princess.

So Ev was gone and the riff-raff --- that’s me --- was left to turn over some rocks around the city and see what might crawl out, but I just couldn't get myself moving.

Keeping my mind off Burt was like trying to forget an earthquake. The aftershocks just kept on coming. The biggest one was the word “love”. I'd been so damned busy being independent and strong that I'd forgotten about anything real . . . emotional . . . the proverbial affair of the heart. I guess I still had one, but somewhere in the labyrinth I inhabited, it was lost and silent. Now it pounded in a way I hadn't felt in a very long time.

Was Bert Prince Charming, the dashing one who with a kiss had awakened this damsel from her deep sleep? Could I give up . . . or at least arrest . . . the tough broad in me and give anything other than a few bad jokes and a good lay? I just didn't know, but within my aching confusion was the nagging thought that he deserved better.

I'm no Snow White, but you know that. Deep within me it's hard to believe that anyone could actually love me. Burt said he did, but does he really know about those demons that shriek during my darkness?

I took a deep breath and did Scarlett again. “I'll think about it tomorrow.”

Work . . . my only refuge was work.

I sat in front of the computer for a moment. Then I launch a Google search on Arturo Gianinni. His address was on a prominent point on the west side of the ICW, not too far from the entrance to the New River. Of course, he had his own dock, but it was across the water from Bahia Mar and within striking distance of Pier 66. I decided to ride over there and just ogle the opulence. Who knows? Maybe a little class would rub off on me.

The place wasn’t too shabby. Neither was the sparkling Viking 62 parked behind his humble residence. The entire estate was surrounded by a six-foot ornamental iron gate painted in sparkling white enamel. Every time I lifted my eyes I saw a camera pointed at me. I’d just like to have the money he spent on his security system. I didn’t see any guards, but I did hear loud barking in the distance. I stopped for an instant pretending to suck up the magnificence. Through the stately row of bowing palms the three story cream-colored faux Italianate loomed fifty yards or so down the coquina driveway. I could live like the queen in a place like that, but affording the full-time gardener, the property taxes, the water and the electric bills might be just a bit beyond my means. Of course, eight or nine roommates could help cover the cost, but I’d be willing to give your odds the neighbors would complain. The good news was, considering the size of the estate, I wouldn’t have to see my roomies more than once a week, but that's why they make postcards.

I was still gaping when a couple of inquisitive Dobermans the size of Shetland ponies trotted up to give me one more warning. Now I gotta tell you some of my best friends are dogs, but the rumbling deep in their throats, and the gleam of incisors dripping a bit of drool was somewhat unsettling. I tried to strike an innocent pose . . . maybe the harmless matron out for a morning walk, but my cut-off jeans and red tank top probably gave me away. In the interest of transparency, I should also admit I’d left the bra at home. I shook my long blond curls over my face, and hoped if there was a monitor that it was focused on my nipples. I guess you could call me suitably impressed.

I’ve been known wait for darkness, and make an uninvited visit to a curious place just to check things out. You’d be surprised at what's sometimes laying around on a coffee table, hiding behind a cereal box the kitchen, not to mention the medicine cabinets. It often reveals the proclivities of the resident, including tastes for all things indecent, and often illegal. But I don’t like it when there are more cameras that birds, and dogs that look like they need a snack before bedtime . . . and it might be you.

So what was Plan B? I didn’t have one, and my clever, and often industrious, sidekick was probably in Rio sipping exotic cocktails by now. In a pinch, Evelyn always had an idea and most of them were pretty damned good. But for right now, I was on my own. I flipped through the rolodex in my mind trying to ferret out a reliable source, someone who traded in information not found in the morning newspaper. Of course, there was Bert. I hadn’t talked to him in a day or so, but I wasn't sure I was ready for that. Too much on the table right now. Besides, he would have called if there was anything new, or if his masculine love cup need filling . . . and I knew the latter would happen soon enough. So who else? Maybe it was time for a visit to the Elbow Room.

Chapter Four

Cammie usually came in about two. It was the middle of the afternoon and things usually didn’t heat up until four or so. I parked down near the Las Olas Marina and walked the two blocks up to the Elbow Room. My timing was perfect. She stood behind the bar, thick platinum hair billowing around her head. The makeup was thick, as usual, fire-engine red lipstick, and pink blush on the cheeks, definitely overdone. She had a hint of a double chin, very appropriate for a woman who had to be in her late forties, and was probably fifteen pounds overweight.

The boys called her Slammin’ Cammie for two reasons. She wouldn’t hesitate to take you down if you got too far into your cups. They didn’t even need a bouncer when that lady was behind the bar. And if you waited until she got off around two A.M. . . . and if she’d taken a fancy to your clever banter or large tips, she could bury you in the cheap mattress at her place just a few blocks away. It was a burial many men longed for. Of course, it helped if you were younger, but that was a determination that she made somewhat indiscriminately. She once told me . . . in confidence, of course . . . that she kept a stash of Viagra in the drawer next to the bed . . . but only for emergencies.

You couldn’t help but love her. Like Billy Joel’s bartender in “Piano Man”, “she was quick with a joke or a light of your smoke”. If you sat long enough, she’d also tell you she was one of Jimmy Buffett’s original groupies . . . following him from concert to concert in the back of an old Dodge Caravan. “We were very, very close.” That was all she’d say . . . but it was always accompanied with a discrete wink. Actually, Jimmy even came into the bar one evening, but no one was sure it was just see Cammie.

All that not withstanding, Cammie had more information about what happened in the silent dens in Ft. Lauderdale than anyone else who breathed in our sinful little city by the beach. She knew all the players and the playgrounds they called home. Call it gossip, pillow talk, just plain trash. She was the ultimate source.

“Dee,” she grinned, “haven’t seen you in a while. Jameson or a nice frosty Modelo Especial?”

“Cammie, you sure know the way to a woman’s heart.”

I ordered the latter, laid a twenty on the bar and placed my elbows on the sticky surface. After a little girl chit-chat, or should I say bullshit, I got to the point.

“Cammie, did you know Arturo?”

“Are you kiddin’ me? I even banged him a few times. He was small, but enthusiastic. Really not a bad fella . . . and quite generous. Good for both of us.”

“So he’s gone. Got any ideas about what might have caused his untimely demise?”

I pushed the twenty forward on the bar. She shook her head. I laid another ten on top of it. I knew it wasn’t much to her, but I also knew she had a sweet spot for a poor female detective, and there was that thing with the creep who had decided he owned her. He’d blackened her eye and left a few bruises. Cammie’s strong point was definitely not forgiveness. Evelyn and I had to get a little tough. Our boy actually walked kind of funny for a week or so, but he got the message. Cammie hadn’t forgotten the favor.

“Well, Dee . . . for you and only you. Arturo had his fingers in too many pies. I 'm sure you read about the deal for the soccer stadium, new digs for the Strikers. They need the land out to the west side of town, and they need it cheap. The commissioners made it clear that the city wasn’t going to lay thirty mil on the line to get the project started. Big Sugar owns part of it. They aren’t exactly happy with the possibility of giving up some of those federal subsidies. Let’s just say that Arturo was negotiating some alternatives, financing, kickbacks, miscellaneous stuff. You didn’t hear it from me, but the mob boys from Miami had decided there was nice buck to be had from some related activities . . . most of them strictly illegal. There was mumbling about a new casino, and other forms of entertainment. Some of the pros who work the strip bleeding the tourists, are positively giddy about new sources of income, not to mention some cheap blow, maybe even opioids. God bless capitalism.”

I nodded and took a swig of the Modelo.

The Strikers were in the second tier of professional soccer, kind of like Triple A in baseball. I had heard rumors that they wanted to move up to the first tier, become major league. Of course it all required major league money, and that included a new stadium. It was more complicated than it looked. The EPA, The Army Corps of Engineers, and lots of local and state interests, including the Seminole Indian Tribe, were all dancing, and not necessarily to the same tune. I was trying to get it all together when Cammie lifted a finger to her mouth and tipped her head to my left.

A tall guy, swarthy, muscular . . . probably Latin . . . or maybe Italian . . . had slipped up behind me. He was wearing a tailored black linen sport coat with a white silk shirt poking from beneath the lapels. A teal Florida Marlins cap was perched on his head, and he looked like he could belt one out of the park right now. Actually he was quite good-looking, but there was something that seemed serpentine curling around his thin lips. A small club . . . I don't know what else to call it . . . was draped over his right wrist with a leather strap. It was like a little league Louisville Slugger, all wooden and shiny. He slapped it against his hip a couple of times with an audible pop. Then he glared at Cammie. She nodded and placed a double Chivas . . . neat . . . on the counter in front of him.

The cap sat one seat away and hulked over the bar. I half expected a smile or one of those phony lines. Maybe “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”, but he was silent. Cammie forced a smile, but when he looked away, she met my eyes with a hint of caution and possibly even a little fear. I got the message.

I pushed the bills toward her, downed the last of my golden brew, ready to head back toward my faded Corolla. Cammie scooped the cash up, smiled again, dipped her chin, and grimaced as she delivered one last message. “By the way,” she said, her teeth clenched, “Large Lola said to say hello.” Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw the Cap nod.

Still I didn’t get it. Who the hell was Large Lola? I wish I hadn’t found out.

I turned right. When I looked over my shoulder near the convenience store across from the marina parking lot, the swarthy gentleman was standing on the sidewalk a hundred feet behind me. He lit a smoke and tried his best to be inconspicuous. I gotta tell you, he wasn’t.

I don’t like to be followed. It always gives me a little chill. I patted the small pocketbook slung over my shoulder. I felt better knowing it was just big enough for my Beretta. I went on to Goldie. That’s what I named my ’82 Corolla. Believe it or not, I bought her in a yard sale for a grand. She was owned by a little old lady who only drove them to church on Sundays. At least that’s what the little old lady told me. The little four cylinder fired up purring like a kitten on my lap. It was somewhat reassuring, and at least the radio still worked. I tuned in to BIG 105, and pushed the volume up to ten. Hell, I’ll admit it. I’m a Joan Jett fanatic. I love rock’n’roll. This time it was Aerosmith, blasting “Love in an Elevator.” That was something I’d never done, but somehow it made everything okay. I put it on my bucket list. At least for now.

I had just cleared the office door when the phone rang.

--------------------------------------------

I couldn’t hear a damned thing except Evelyn’s voice over blaring trumpets and trombones, and that was only because she was screaming.

“What can I tell you? It’s Carnavale in Rio. Makes Mardi Gras look like a church picnic. A woman covered in shrink wrap with blinking LED’s on her boobs just skirted past. She had a huge parrot on her head. They were both drunk . . . but they were both smiling. Behind her was one more lady painted swamp green. She had a boa around her neck, and I’m talking constrictor. Maybe my imagination, but the damned thing looked hungry. Those girls were putting down salsa moves that would have been the envy of the “Dancing with the Stars” crew. I left the room at the hotel. I’m sure it is bugged. My friend with the coffee plantations has very long arms and many friends in high places.”

“So you’ve seen him?”

“Hell, we had dinner last night. Champagne that must have cost three or four thousand reais a bottle, ribeye steaks thick enough to feed most of the starving children in Rio, and I won’t even try to describe salads or the desserts. Afterwards, cognac on the fourteenth floor of his penthouse overlooking the lights of the city. I tried like hell to be a good girl, and I believe he thinks I was very good. I’m not sure, but he may have asked me to marry him . . . at least for the night.”

“My God, Ev, I thought you were down there to gather information.”

“I got some, but it was curious how quiet he got when I brought up his business interests in the states. He did mention some land acquisitions near Lauderdale. He’s huge soccer fan, and he wanted to know how Florida was receiving their version of football. I ohhed and ahhed, smiled a lot, laughed girlishly, and told him what little I knew. I let Arturo’s name drop a couple of times, but he just raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips, and shook his head. “I don’ believe I had de pleasure,” he said. I can’t tell you exactly why, but I'm damned sure he was lying.”

“So are you okay . . . I mean safe and all.”

“I called my nephew as soon as I hit the runway. He supplied me with a nifty little Ruger . . . fits like a glove in my handbag. Very efficient at close range. I haven’t had to use it, although coffee boy did get a little rough at times. I’m just lucky I’ve learned a few things from you.”


“Very funny, V.I. Warshawski.” A little inside joke, V.I. was the heroine of a number of murder mysteries by Sara Paretsky. Ev loved them, but then she was always a sucker for tough broads in tough situations.

“Just get your pretty ass back to the states before you succumb to any more temptations.”

“Hey, I’m on it. I’m done here. Checked a few other sources. Not much. Sorry. Should see you at the office sometime tomorrow afternoon.”

Ev hadn’t found out much, but at least the land and soccer stuff seemed to match. It was time to call Bert. I needed more info, and to be honest, I was getting a little horny. It was a basic “my place or yours” scenario, and his won out. I stopped at the Total Wine on the way to the beach and picked up a bottle of Sterling Cabernet. Bert’s condo was probably twenty years old and it looked it. But he had a fabulous view. The blue Atlantic on one side and a constant parade of party yachts on ICW on the other. The balcony was the ideal place for private conversation and subtle foreplay . . . well maybe not so subtle . . . at least on my part.

So far, we'd kept it purely physical. He was being patient about his little proposal. Believe me, I was very appreciative, but I knew the time was coming.



Chapter Five

So Gisele had Tom Brady, and I had Bert Adamson . . .at least for now. I scanned the thousands of city lights sparkling in the muted darkness, took a deep breath of the thick salt air, and stared into his indigo eyes. Too bad, Gisele, no trade. I was wearing a burnt orange pullover with a neckline that disappeared into the belt of my jeans. I don’t know what the hell I’ll do when I can’t go braless any more, but that time isn’t here . . . at least not yet. Good ol’ Bert was appreciating every second of it. I had deliberately perched on edge of a chair on the west side of the deck so he could catch my goddess-like profile and the scent of that damned perfume. It was new and it had better work. I paid seventy bucks for it at Saks. My elbows were on the edge of the glass top table and I was shooting my most sensuous “Come Hither” look in his direction. Poor boy . . . I thought he was going to start slobbering any minute.

He licked his lips and stared. Then he spoke quietly.

“Dee, it’s pretty obvious we both have things on our mind . . . mostly of a carnal nature . . . but just to be safe, let’s take care of business first. I’ll try to keep it short.”

“Business, my ass,” I thought. Maybe the “Come Hither” had come and went. I was more than slightly distressed, but the man did have a point.

“All right, Loverboy, you’ll get your wishes . . . hopefully all of them.”

He began with a list of names. It was sort of a “Jeopardy” thing. He was Alex Trebek, clever, friendly, and somewhat suave in his own way. I guess I was the contestant, a shy little girl detective who was definitely intimidated by the bright lights of the big city. My boy Alex would give the answer and I was supposed to come up with the question.

This was the list: Roger Ackerman, Mack Jones, Elvis Eagleclaw, and Luis Gonzales.

The first one was easy. Ackerman is a state senator from our area who is advocating a giant reservoir to collect runoff from Lake Okeechobee. The Treasure Coast, just north of us, is an area bordered to the east by the Indian River Lagoon. They are experiencing severe pollution in the nearby waters. Most of the problem is the dumping of billions of gallons of water through the canals into the lagoon. When the lake gets too high, the daily releases number in the millions, all fouled by fertilizer and septic tank runoff. Sometimes the algae gets so thick, you can walk damned near across it. Businesses are suffering and the stuff is beginning to look like some monster out of a bad sci-fi movie. Of course, Ackerman wants that reservoir smack dab in the middle of property owned by Big Sugar.

That led us to number two. Mack Jones is the administrative director for Consolidated Environmental Health, a front organization backed by the sugar industry. They controll millions of dollars in political contributions and have a huge staff of paper pushers and lobbyists who are bound by one basic philosophy, “let the government make us fat and happy”.

I had actually met Elvis Eagleclaw a couple of years back, even worked for him for a few months. I hoped he didn’t remember all of it. It was in the days when I was sucking up cocaine and selling my lovely physical wares to the highest bidder. I used to work his territory. Elvis is the Chief of the United Seminole Tribes of Florida. Those folks are sitting on a virtual goldmine in Coconut Creek, just a stone’s throw from Lauderdale, and by the way. . . he is on the board of the Hot Rock, another Seminole enterprise. Oh, And did I mention that each of them have lavish casinos, luxurious hotels, and all of the goodies that rake in the dough from the locals and the tourists. The state of Florida makes out like a bandit and every tribal member gets a stipend from the tribes' businesses. They number in the thousands. No one wants to mess with that, especially if you are a Seminole.

“Okay, my lovely, three out of four ain’t all bad. Luis Gonzales was the point man for Arturo Gianinni. Some might say advisor . . . others . . . maybe enforcer. There’s no sheet on him. He’s been too cool for that, but the street says he’s not a nice man to cross . . . never forgets a favor . . . or a grudge. Since Artie has gone to his last reward, someone has to take over Mr. G’s many, and maybe nefarious, interests. I’d make odds that Luis is the guy.”

“All right, genius, one more question. Who is Large Lola? Cammie said she had left me greetings.”

“Oh shit. You don’t want to know. Large Lola is the leader of an equal opportunity gang that controls a large portion of our beautiful city by the sea. There are probably fifty of them, black, white, Hispanic, even some Asians. And did I mention the LGBT crowd? More than a few. As a matter of fact, Lola’s sexual orientation is, should I delicately suggest . . . in question. He/she is probably six four, a solid 200 pounds. At a glance it looks like a woman, but walks like a man, kinda like the old Kinks song. Her crew stays happy because everybody stays rich . . . drugs, petty crime, prostitution . . . all the good stuff . . . and stuff that keeps the coffers full. He/she showed up about four years ago. There was plenty of competition, but curiously enough, people began to disappear, bodies washed up on the beach, and witnesses became scarce. Word on the street is that Lola is a big fan of violence . . . nothing casual, mind you . . . bloody, vicious, vengeful, shit that includes whole families, and even distant relatives. So I wouldn’t invite her for a sleep-over.”

Okay, it was all plenty complicated. Lots of pieces and hard to match up, especially since I didn’t even know what the puzzle was supposed to look like. Nevertheless, Bert had conned me with promises of “an evening of bliss” and I was ready. I slipped out of my jeans and top while he was in the bathroom. I slid under the covers and hoped my scented treasure from Saks would do its magic. He stood before me completely nude and smiled. I gotta admit. I sure liked the looks of that.

After the second go around we both dropped into a lovers’ sleep, deep, contented, and wrought with Burt's assurance of a sensual morning. I jumped up with jolt when my cell rang. It was ten after three. I hit the green button and forced it to my ear.

“I got something for you.”

“What the hell, Cammie? It’s the middle of the night.”

“Dee, just shut up and listen. This is important. Meet me at the Coffee Beanery in Beach Place on the strip at ten in the morning. No more questions. Just be there.”

She hung up before I could issue even a few feeble protests. Bert rolled over and I ran my tongue over the nipple on his chest. It didn’t work. The boy was out, but there was always the morning. Sometimes that was the perfect time for the man to come alive. Believe me, he did.

We showered together. That was fun, then both dressed and headed out on our appointed rounds. I had to pick up Ev at the airport around two. I’d meet Cammie, see what the big news was, check in at the office, pick up my partner, and hopefully squeeze in nice nap late this afternoon. A little hectic maybe, but all manageable, and by the end of the day I expected to know more than I knew now. After all, what does a good detective do? Detect. It might be a little presumptuous, but I include myself in that “good” group. Unfortunately there’s always a glitch, but isn’t that just the way?



Chapter Six

It was still early for the Lauderdale Beach gawkers. The day was magnificent, low 80’s, a glorious morning sun, and a light breeze from the southeast. Most of the tourists were probably fighting off hangovers with Mimosas or Bloody Marys and fists full of aspirin or ibuprofen. I should know. I’ve done it myself on more than one occasion.

There was a parking place on the street right across from Beach Place. There was even thirty minutes left on the meter. Hey, my lucky day. At least that’s what I thought. I was at The Beanery a little before ten. I ordered it black and thick. A cute teen barista in a tidy brown apron served me and smiled. Sometimes I get the memo that I am seriously out of touch. But since when did a cup of coffee cost four bucks? At least it was rich and satisfying. I sat at a table facing the door and waited. A 10:20, the cup was empty. No Cammie. I decided to wander around the mall for a few minutes and check back. The vendors were setting up their t-shirt stands and cases full of cheap jewelry. If the weather held, it would be a good day for junk sales. I went out onto the street and looked both ways. No Cammie. Well, I suppose I could have misunderstood . . . I was half-asleep with visions of naked men dancing in my dreams . . . actually mostly Bert. I gave it another twenty minutes, then decided to go ahead to the office.

I bought another cup of coffee from the machine in the lobby. It tasted like weak swamp water, but it was only a buck and half. I congratulated myself for saving $2.50. There were no messages on the office phone. I checked my cell. Apparently I hadn’t missed anything. I finally squeezed into Goldie around 1:30 and headed for the airport.

The traffic was like a bad episode of “The Walking Dead”, except the zombies all had driver’s licenses and were buzzing by at eighty MPH. Still the little Toyota and I were on the tarmac in the waiting area when Ev came scrambling through the heavy glass door lugging a small suitcase that shouldn’t have been that heavy, but probably was. She looked beat, but even beat, my partner looks like a young Raquel Welsh. A couple of yahoos stood under the Ground Transportation sign. They damned near got whiplash when she sauntered by.

“Hello Honey. I know you must be exhausted, but we gotta check on something.”

She rolled those gorgeous almond eyes, but didn’t say anything. We were parked in the lot near the marina in thirty minutes. The Elbow Room was already starting to heat up. Billy Blue was tuning up his Martin on the tiny stage. I’d heard him many times howling like Muddy Waters or Soon Boy Williamson, and I’m tellin’ you, the man is good. He waved as we entered through the side door. Seaside Sally was behind the bar.

“Where’s Cammie?”

“I’ll tell you where she’s gonna be,” Sal growled. “She’s gonna be dead. Didn’t show up for her shift. Hell, I’ve already been here since ten.”

“Anybody call?”

“Whatdda ya think? I been blowing up her phone for an hour. Ya’ see her, tell her to get her fat ass down here . . . like yesterday.”

I nodded and tried to dodge the venom. But that wasn’t like Cammie. If she said she’d show, she’d show.

The sun was ablaze. The breeze had died and it was getting hot, but something cold was crawling up my spine. We climbed back into Goldie and headed for the flophouse apartment that Cammie called home. I hopped out and rushed up the stairs. I banged on the hollow door and called her name. Nothing. Then I tried the knob. It turned in my hand. I knew Cammie always locked herself in.

She was on the floor. A stain the size of a fish pond surrounded her . . . but it was red, already starting to congeal in the warm, stale air. I had to look twice to make sure. Her head was split like a ripe watermelon and parts of her brain were still oozing out of the cracks. The platinum hair lay in sickly pink waves still sinking into the dirty carpet. Her face, or what was left of it, was something from a bad Picasso imitator. No recognizable shape, just a series of unnatural forms, hideous things that bore no resemblance to anything human. It was crushed, smashed, mutilated by what looked like repeated blows from some blunt object. The only time I’d ever seen anything like it was when one of the local gang-bangers had decided to rearrange the physiognomy of a rival with a baseball bat. Ev stood behind me hunched down with her hand over her mouth. She groaned. Then she made for the bathroom. I could hear her gasping and retching.

I was careful not to touch anything. No hand to the breast, no fingers searching for pulse, no ear cocked for any trace of breath. Cammie was dead. I had the station on speed dial. I hit the button, hoping an old friend would answer.

I was lucky.

“Fort Lauderdale P.D. Detective Reynolds.”

Al and I had worked together before the F.L.P.D. decided I was persona non grata. I told you before. I had stepped on too many toes, and lots of them rather large. I think it was the mayor who finally did me in, although that’s just an opinion. He wasn’t the one only that had it in for me. Let’s face it. A cop can be only so honest, then she gets to be a nuisance . . . if not a definite liability. Al was one of the better boys in blue. He knew how to walk that line . . . smart and tough enough to be useful without digging too deep when he knew the shit storm was brewing.

“It’s Dee. I miss you sweetie.”

“Yeah . . . and I miss you like a case of the flu. You wouldn’t call if you didn’t need something. Let’s cut the shit.”

I told him about Cammie. He was very quiet for a moment. Cammie had been a reliable contact, not to mention a damned good lady. I knew Al and every other good cop on the strip had gone to her more than once for information, or just a sympathetic ear and an icy beverage of some description. The boys would work this one hard. She was damned near one of their own.


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