Note: To read the entire story from the beginning click here.
The ladies had reached some sort of truce, but it was an uneasy one. I stepped into sullen silence as the two watched each other from far sides of the room, two cats trapped in the same cage, both knowing that only one of them could be on top. Lola Fanutti had the position nearest the door; I had to push past her into the crossfire of sharp glances. I think that meant she was winning the battle.
Though with the blonde hair and simpler dress she didn’t really look like the wife of a deceased crime boss. “Not bad,” I said, and I wasn’t just making it up. She looked good. In the stifling heat of that room the thin fabric of her dress was clinging to her, making her curves all the more… curvaceous.
She flashed me a smile and said with her Meredith from Kentucky voice, “Thank you.”
The smile took on a hard-edged quality when Alice said, “How does it feel to be blonde again after all these years?”
“Rather refreshing, actually. You should try it some time, when you’re tired of looking like that.”
“Who’s hungry?” I asked. “Let’s get out of this oven and find a bite to eat.”
“I’m starving,” Meredith said, “What have you been up to all this time?”
“I’ll tell you later,” I said. I’d tell her as soon as I’d thought of something. She accepted that, assuming I meant that I didn’t want Alice to hear. By the scowl on Alice’s face, that’s how she took it, too.
“Come on,” I said. “Bring your things. We’re going to find a place farther out of town, where we won’t have to worry about running into people we know.” I handed Alice most of my remaining cash. “Put this somewhere safe,” I said. “We have more.” Meredith looked surprised but she didn’t contradict me.
“I have a car,” she said. “We can get as far as we need to.”
“We’re not going anywhere near anything that has the stink of Lola Fanutti on it,” I said. “That’s just asking for trouble. We’ll get our own wheels once we’re off the island.”
“And how are we going to pay for it?”
“Cash. Come on.”
“You don’t want me to come with you?” Alice asked.
“Not yet. I need you here for a stakeout.”
Her eyes got slightly rounder. “Really?”
“Yep. For this job I’m making you a full partner. After expenses you get half the dough.”
Poor girl, she was much more excited at the word ‘partner’ than at the word ‘dough’. “But I don’t have a license.”
I had to laugh at that. “You can make yourself one tonight if it will make you feel better.” I told her the bar to watch, what to watch for, and the signal to give if she saw anything. “Be careful, Alice,” I finished.
“I don’t think you’ve ever used my name before,” she said.
“Just be careful. Try not to go to any of the usual places, they’ll be watching for you. Stay on this side of town.”
“All right,” she said, happy. I’m not sure she heard my warning.
“We’re dealing with killers, here, Toots. Keep your head on straight.”
That calmed her down a bit. “Yes, sir.” I sent her on her way.
“Can you trust her?” Meredith asked. That was funny, coming from her.
“She’s very reliable.”
“She’s having money troubles, you know. Someone could buy her off.”
“It didn’t work when you tried it, did it?”
Her face darkened and she shot me a look that was pure Lola Fanutti. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I picked up the bags with her old clothing in it. I scanned the room for any remaining evidence that a quick-change had happened here. Satisfied I stepped out into the hall. Let’s get out or this steam bath,” I said. We went down the stairs to the lobby where we were watched by the ever-present manager. Nothing to be done about that. maybe the new look would confuse him. We stepped out into the sweltering afternoon heat and turned up the sidewalk. “I’m going to need some more of your cash.”
She didn’t like my new tactics, and tried to regain the upper hand. “I paid you all I had, and that should be plenty.”
“Look, Mrs. Fanutti, you’re playing a dangerous game. You need my help. If I’m going to help you, I need two things: money and answers. We’ll start with the money.”
“It hurts my ears to hear you use that word.”
She stopped, knowing that there would be no more bluffing. “All right,” she said, reaching into her handbag. I wondered if she would pull out cash or her .45. I let out a breath when I saw the green. “I always intended to tell you,” she said. “When the time was right. It’s just, I was just —”
I took the dough. It was more than I expected, and I was confident she had more. “Spare me. All right. That was part one. Now for answers. Where’s the painting? The Blood of the Saint?”
“It was stolen, I told you.”
“Look, Mrs. Fanutti. I’m still willing to help you. I even like you, some of the time. But the lies are going to have to stop.”
“Don’t ever call me Mrs. Fanutti again. That man was a butcher and a bastard, and that is the absolute truth. I’m not Lola Fanutti anymore.” Her voice was rising in pitch. “That man — he did things to me. Made me do things. I don’t know who killed him, but if I ever meet the guy I want to shake his hand.” She was shaking now, and clinging to my arm.
Dames. Even the vicious killers are always blubbering. I didn’t let her distract me, though. “The painting?”
“It’s safe,” she said, drying up. “But we can’t get it for a few days. Not until Sunday. How did you know?”
“That whole thing was just a setup, wasn’t it? You staged a shootout just for me.”
“The wasn’t part of the plan. I lost some good friends last night.”
“You wanted there to be some trouble, though.”
I tensed as she opened her handbag again, until she pulled out a cigarette case. She held one to her lips and looked at me expectantly. I shrugged. She reached back into her handbag and produced a lighter, which she handed to me. Dutifully I flipped it open and held it up to allow her to light her cigarette. I flipped it shut and handed it back to her. “Keep it, you’ll need it again. Yes. I wanted there to be some excitement. That was why I was so slow to react when a real attack came. I really did intend to tell you when the time was right.”
“So you thought you could get me on the run, acting without thinking, and get you out of the frying pan. Then leave me behind or maybe kill me and have all the loot for yourself.”
“At first, maybe, before I knew you, I would have left you behind.”
I didn’t see the point of discussing that one. “Let’s find a place we can lay low until Sunday, then.” Sunday seemed like it was a long, long, way away.
Tune in next time for: Ambush!