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By Cherry Black
Never Leave Me Alone
Bad, Rhonda


By JT Langdon
Blind Date
Hocus Pocus


By Jean Roberta
Focal Point
My Indentured ...
Sword And ...
A Stiff Neck
Eclipse


By Robert Buckley
The Magic Lesbian
Dreamer


By Teresa Lamai
Small Dance
Envy


By William Dean
Daddy T
Amaryllis


Note to Self
by Geneva King

Girls' Night Out
by Giulia Cosentino

The Investigation
by J.T. Benjamin

The Memoir
by J.Z. Sharpe

Janine Chronicles
by Nicholas M.

Penny Red
by Remittance Girl

The Problem of Leather
by Roxy Katt

Taste of Jessica
by TD Fallon

My Dark and Empty Sky
by Teresa Wymore

Radiance
by Tulsa Brown


Transgender Erotica

Challenger Deep
by Kathleen Bradean

Hocus Pocus
© 2000 by JT Langdon



I was raised Catholic by an Irish mother who helped get Ted Kennedy elected and has voted for him ever since. The fact that I'm an agnostic polyamorous butch lesbian who goes to a dominatrix once a week to get her ass paddled never bothered her, but when I moved to Manhattan and became a private detective she hit the roof. Go figure. She called me at the office on the morning of Halloween to see if I was voting for Hillary and to ask if I thought all the rumors about her proclivities were true. Now I'm not a political sort of person but if that woman is part of the sisterhood put me on the short list. I won't tape the conversations and what I can do with two fingers and a tongue beats a cigar hands down. Just for the record, I told mom none of this. So keep it on the QT, okay? Thanks much. I listened to her rant about the state of society, making grunting noises of interest at what seemed appropriate times until there was a tapping at the door. I looked up and smiled when Angelina, my assistant, poked her head inside.

"What's up?" I asked, covering the mouthpiece of the phone.

It should be noted that Angie is a gorgeous Latina with long black hair down to her butt and a luscious figure people often call Rubenesque. She is also hell on wheels in the sack. The two of us have been bumping clits -her words, not mine- off and on for a while now but in the last couple of months things have gotten more serious between us. That four-letter word starting with "L" has been spoken out loud and neither of us are uncomfortable using it. I've been thinking we should get a place together, shack up like the straights do and grow old with six cats we call our kids. But not even love can change the spots on a leopard and we still take other women to bed from time to time. The rule is we have to tell the other person about it afterwards, in as much detail as we can remember, while that person gets off. We're a couple of twisted dykes, I know. But it works for us.

"There's a woman out here to see you."

"Business or personal?"

"Business," Angie said. She had an edge in her voice that made me wet and I tried not to squirm too much while she stared at me with a big smile on her face. For some reason I felt like having tacos for lunch. Sometimes I can be such a pig. I thought Angie looked delicious in a black pullover sweater with ghosts on it and a pair of tight jeans that showed off her ass. Now I've seen that ass naked (and done some rather naughty things to it) but so help me God it looks best in denim.

"Send her in," I said, giving Angie a smile that made it clear I wanted her. She returned the smile, spun around, and let me ogle her ass for a good minute before scooting back out of the office. God, that woman had a rear end to die for! I just wanted to lick it all over. But I had a potential client waiting for me and my mother on the phone.

I told mom I'd call her back later and hung up just in time to watch a black woman with straight hair glide into the office like she had roller blades on. She looked taller than me, bigger boned, too, but was still the femmiest-looking thing I had ever seen. Her pale blue dress was loose-fitting but like a hastily wrapped Christmas present hinted at something nice inside. I tried not to drool when I rose from my chair to meet her. I've been a licensed private investigator in the state of New York for seven years and I've learned clients tend to be more impressed with me when I don't slobber all over them right off the bat. First impressions and all.

"Good morning," I said, extending a hand.

The woman with the milk chocolate skin had a handshake to match, soft and smooth. I could melt in her mouth and her hand, no problem. There was nothing about her that made me think I would ever get the chance, but I'd been wrong before.

"Good morning, Ms. Donahue. I'm Janice Carter." She had a voice like chocolate, too, rich and soothing, warm and deep. There was a resonance to her voice that shook me. I imagined her underneath me, groaning while I went down on her. The thought of doing her made me even wetter and I put both hands on the desk to be safe. See, I have a habit of fingering my pussy, or "diddling" as Angie likes to put it, without even thinking about it. It's a mindless kind of stroking, like petting a cat, which is fine when done in private. But I got caught doing it at the office once. This was right before Angie and I had become lovers. It had been embarrassing for about two seconds until she told me to keep going then sat there and watched me get off. Later we made love for the first time and have been sleeping with each other ever since. Have I mentioned us being a couple of twisted dykes?

I nodded Janice Carter into one of the client chairs in front of the desk and sat down when she did, looking her over with a more professional eye than I had a moment ago. She appeared tired, uncertain, and perhaps even a little frightened. Nothing I hadn't seen before. Most people don't come to me unless they're in trouble, or know someone who's in trouble, and want me to find a way to get them out of trouble. For this I get paid $300 a day plus expenses. Nice way to make a living, huh?

"So what can I do for you?" I asked. Such a loaded question. The little devil that popped up on my shoulder wanted me to tell her that what I could really do for her, which was fuck her right there on the desk. And I would have done it, too. Free of charge. How would that look stenciled on the office door? Siobhan Donahue, Cunt Licker. Maybe it's just me, but that has a nice ring to it.

The angel on my shoulder, who, by the way, I do not like at all, told me to be nice. For some reason I listened. Janice opened her purse, took out a photograph, and handed it to me.

I took the picture and studied it. The Janice Carter in the picture looked no different from the one sitting across from me, though in the photograph she seemed happier. She also wasn't alone. Standing beside her in the picture, an arm around her waist, was an attractive, middle-aged black man with a goatee. Both of them wore matching T-shirts and clung to each other while Mount Rushmore loomed in the background. It looked so cute I wanted to barf.

"That's Derrick," Janice told me.

"Is he your husband?"

"Yes."

I tried not to pout. "And what's the problem, exactly?"

"He's missing."

"Missing?" I looked at the picture again. Most grown people don't really go missing. They know where they are; they just don't want others to know where they are. There are exceptions, of course. Some of them infamous. But more often than not the reasons behind these "disappearances" aren't nefarious. I guessed Mr. Carter went out for the oft mentioned pack of cigarettes and never came back.

"He hasn't been home since Friday morning," Janice said.

"And you want me to find him?"

"Yes."

I started to ask if she called the police, checked the hospitals, asked friends, and all the other logical things one does in this kind of situation but I could see from the blank look on her face that none of it occurred to her. Part of me was uncomfortable about the job. It had that taking candy from a baby feel to it. But this time I told the little angel on my shoulder what she could go do with herself. This was my profession, after all, and if I turned down every naive person that walked through my office door I couldn't pay the rent, buy groceries, or shower my lover with gifts from the sex shop down the street. So I opened the bottom drawer of the desk and took out a standard contract. Looked like I was taking on a new client.

*           *            *            *            * 

The Heinemann Building is fourteen stories of metal and glass in a part of Manhattan I don't visit much when I'm not on the clock. I had no idea what kind of business went on there, just that Derrick Carter worked in the mail room. But I needed a place to start and since Janice hadn't given me much else to go on that seemed like the most logical place to begin the investigation.

I headed inside where a beefy security guard with no neck and acne scars directed me to the personnel department to see someone named Halstrom. He should have given me a map. The place was massive and I had to ask for directions twice. Some detective I am, right? But I found it, so there.

Mr. No-Neck must have called ahead because Halstrom was waiting for me when I arrived at his office. He was a slim, middle-aged man with short brown hair and a nice smile, so when he offered his hand I took it.

"Got lost, huh?" Halstrom asked, laughing. "It happens a lot."

I smiled. "I'm not surprised."

"Took me five months to learn my way around this place," Halstrom said, sitting on the edge of his desk. "So what brings you down here this morning, Ms. Donahue?"

I showed him my credentials, which always sounds more impressive than it actually is. What I really did was show him a card that says the state knows I'm a professional snoop and sanctions it as long as I keep paying the administrative fees. "I'm here about one of your employees, Derrick Carter. He hasn't been home for several days and his wife is understandably concerned."

Halstrom made a worried face and consulted his computer, tapping at the keyboard like a fiend until he came to a screen that seemed to hold a great deal of interest. "Mr. Carter works in the mail room."

"That's right," I said. "Can you tell me if he came to work on Friday?"

"Yes, he did," Halstrom said, consulting the computer again. "Punched in at 8:02am and punched out at 6:46pm."

"Does everyone in the mail room put in those kind of hours?"

"No. This was overtime."

I nodded. "Would it be possible for me to speak to someone who might have worked closely with Mr. Carter?"

"Of course," Halstrom said. He picked up the phone and after a brief exchange with someone on the other end told me that someone from the mail room would be up in a minute. I thanked him. The two of us passed the time talking about the Subway Series and when I came out as a Mets fan things started to get surly. I was just about to show off the impressive list of bad words in my vocabulary when a blonde in her twenties appeared at the door.

Now I'm not the kind of woman who gets flustered. Inside I might be a raging ball of lust but most of the time I can maintain a professional demeanor. Having said that, I'm pretty sure I whimpered when I saw the woman standing there. She was a little shorter than me . . . a lot thinner than me . . . and good God was she ever curvier than me. I could tell because her wardrobe choices left nothing to the imagination. The blonde had on a T-shirt so sheer I could see her nipples poking through and her jeans were skintight. I wondered what kept the seams from bursting. She had an innocent-looking face that lit up with a smile which might have been for me, Halstrom, or both of us. Put her in pigtails and she would have been Pollyanna all grown up with big tits. I bet she was a real hit at the office Christmas party.

"You wanted to see me, Mr. Halstrom?"

We all do, honey, I thought, feeling like a construction working ogling passing women on the sidewalk.

"Are you Claire?" Halstrom asked.

"Yes, sir."

"This is Siobhan Donahue, a private detective," Halstrom said, nodding in my direction. "She'd like to ask you some questions about Derrick Carter."

I watched her reaction. Something flickered across her face for just a second then was gone, like those brief moments when something is wrong with cable and the TV picture gets scrambled. She did her best to pretend nothing happen, but it was too late.

"Is he in trouble?"

"Do you have any reason to think he would be?" I asked.

Claire blushed. "Well, no. But why else would a private investigator be asking about him?"

"His wife hired me," I said. "She hasn't seen him since Friday."

"Oh God," Claire whispered. "Do you think something happened to him?"

"That's what I'm trying to find out," I said. "You worked closely with Derrick?"

"Um, yeah. I'm new and Derrick was training me. You know, showing me the ropes?"

I nodded. "Did it seem like anything was bothering him?"

"No."

"Did he ever mention any problems at work? At home?"

"No," Claire said. "He seemed fine. But . . ."

"What?" I asked.

Claire bit her lower lip as if she was deciding whether or not to divulge a huge secret. I hoped she was going to tell me she wanted to have her first sexual experience with a woman and I was the candidate of choice. Shit, if I were really that lucky I would have won the lottery by now and been living in an apartment overlooking Central Park with Angelina. Still, I can dream, can't I?

"Well," Claire said, "I got the feeling he needed money. Derrick was always putting in for more overtime. He would work whenever her could."

"But he never mentioned any problems?"

"Not to me," Claire said.

I nodded again. It's something I do when I want to make it look like I'm competent. Picked it up from Dragnet. And people say TV is a bad influence. P'shaw. "Do you know if Derrick had any friends he might mention it to?"

"Well, his wife I guess."

"Anyone else? Other coworkers?"

"Not that I know of. Sorry."

I took a deep breath. On the job less than an hour and I was frustrated. That is never a good thing. "No problem. When was the last time you saw Derrick?"

"On Friday," Claire said. "He asked me to meet him at First & Ten after work but I had plans."

I must have looked puzzled.

"It's a sports bar around the corner," Halstrom chimed in.

"Ah," I said. Just the kind of place for a leatherdyke like me.

*           *            *            *            * 

After getting directions from Halstrom, I walked the two blocks to First & Ten. It was the kind of upscale yuppie place I avoided like the plague, dripping with testosterone and decorated with various pieces of sports memorabilia. In wake of the recent euphoria the predominant theme was Yankees/Mets, but there was also a shrine to the Knicks and I noticed a glass display case dedicated to the Jets. I bellied up to the bar. "Draft beer."

The bartender was a fit man in his thirties, I guessed, with well-tanned skin and black hair showing the first signs of white. He had broad shoulders that filled an off-white polo shirt that he wore unbuttoned to show off a tuft of dark chest hair. It did nothing for me whatsoever. He drew a beer from the tap and set it down in front of me.

"That'll be six dollars," he said.

I put down two twenties and took a sip of beer. "I'd like to ask you a few questions."

The bartender looked at me, at the two twenties, then at me again. He took the cash and stuffed it into the front pocket of his jeans. "You a cop?"

"Private."

"Thought so. You don't look like a cop."

"What do I look like?"

"A lesbo."

"Uh huh," I said, taking another sip of beer.

"So what do you want?"

I took out the picture Janice had given me and set it on the bar. "Do you know him?"

"Yeah," the bartender said, looking at the picture. "He comes here a lot. One of the regulars, ya know?"

"Mmmhmm," I murmured. The beer tasted better than it should have at 11 o'clock in the morning. "Have you seen him around?"

The bartender had to think about that one. I'm guessing it required the use of both brain cells. "Not for a couple of days, I guess."

"Did he come in on Friday?"

"Yeah. He was here."

"Alone?" I asked.

"Nah, he had some blonde with him. She had some pair of tits. No offense."

"None taken," I said. "I'm a lesbo. I like tits. Did the two of them leave together?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"Ever see them leave together before Friday?"

"Once or twice."

I downed the rest of my beer. "Thanks."

"Sure," the bartender said. "Hey, you find Derrick . . . tell him I haven't forgotten about the five bills he owes me."

"Overdue bar tab?" I asked.

The bartender laughed. "Yeah, right. Like I'm gonna let him run up that kind of tab."

I thought about it for a moment. "You saying he liked to bet on the games he watched here?"

"Something like that," the bartender said, smiling.

"Did he do something like that a lot?"

"Like I said, he's a regular."

I nodded. "Is Derrick good for that kind of money?"

"He better be," the bartender said.

*           *            *            *            * 

I was beginning to get a clearer picture of Derrick Carter and it wasn't looking good. He drank a lot. He gambled. I couldn't prove he was having an affair with Claire but the two of them had been seen leaving a bar together on more than one occasion. Since Claire lied to me about meeting Derrick at First & Ten on Friday I was inclined to believe something was going on between them. That left me with a decision to make.

The misgivings I'd had about taking the case were coming back to haunt me and the little angel on my shoulder was wagging her finger at me. She needed to get laid and I wondered if the little devil on my other shoulder would oblige. I blamed it on the beer.

If I called Claire's place and a man answered it wouldn't have surprised me in the least. But if I did that, Derrick would get spooked and leave. He might have done that already. I'm sure Claire called him the moment I left and said a private detective had showed up at work asking questions. And besides, a man answering her phone didn't prove much. I'm sure a lot of men had seen the inside of her apartment. I would need something more incriminating. The easiest thing for me to do was follow her from work and see where it got me. But that meant I had a few hours to kill.

I hailed a cab, gave the driver Janice Carter's address, and settled back with a sigh I hadn't earned. There was no reason for me to see Janice. I could have called to update her on the status of the investigation. But some part of me wanted to protect her, take care of her, and I didn't want to tell her over the phone that her husband was a shit. Maybe she knew that, maybe it would come as shock. Either way I wanted to be there.

The thing I like best about taking a cab is I can sit back and stare out the window, which I did, watching the people on the street that we passed. I love New York in the fall. There is just something in the air that defies explanation. It is one of the few times I feel even the slightest stirrings of romanticism. I thought about Angie and the good times we had together and before I realized it the cab was pulling to the curb in front of a townhouse in subdued part of Manhattan.

I tipped the Pakistani cab driver more than I should have because she was cute and looked like she could use the cash. She took it with a polite thanks and her smile made me wonder for a moment, but I was grasping at straws. Bad, libida. Down girl. Yeah. Like that will ever happen in this life. And besides, don't we all fantasize about a quickie in the back of a cab? All right, so it's just me. I got out of the cab, headed up a short flight of steps, and rang the bell thinking I should have at least called first. Then Janice answered the door and I forgot who I was or what had prompted me to go there.

Nothing about her had changed since I'd seen her in the office that morning but Janice looked even more beautiful than I remembered. She had on the same blue dress but had taken off her shoes, putting us closer to the same height though she was still taller than me. I noticed her toenails were painted red and tried not to think about how much I would love to suck on them.

"Ms. Donahue," Janice said, sounding anxious. "Is something wrong?"

"Siobhan, please," I said, correcting her with a smile. "I wanted to ask you a few more questions and I thought it would be easier in person."

"How thoughtful," Janice said. "Come on in. Just excuse the mess."

I smiled and followed her into the house. There were several coolers of various sizes stacked up along the wall in the foyer and I almost tripped over them. "Having a picnic?"

"Oh! No," Janice laughed, taking me into the living room. "Some of us in the neighborhood got together and organized a Halloween party for the kids. I'm in charge of decorations and I'm taking some refreshments over."

"Well," I said, "that's much safer than having them trick or treating on the street."

"It really is."

"So you have to go . . .?"

"Not for a while," Janice said. "Please, have a seat."

"Thanks," I said, finding a chair.

Janice plopped down on the sofa and tucked her legs underneath her, a simple, common thing to do but she did it was such grace that I just sat there like an idiot staring at her. She didn't seem to notice I was taken with her. "So what have you found out so far?"

I thought about that for a couple of seconds. How much did I want to tell her? I had more suspicions than facts, and I didn't want to give too much information out until I had more than a feeling in my gut. "I need to ask some personal questions. Is that all right?"

"Of course," Janice said. There was a trace of uncertainty in her voice but her expression never changed, remaining impassive. How much did she know about Derrick and his extracurricular activities?

"Are you and Derrick okay financially?"

"We make ends meet," Janice said.

"Because Derrick had been working so much overtime?"

Janice stared off into space. "We were doing fine without that."

"Did you know Derrick liked to bet on sports?"

"I know he used to sometimes," Janice said, "but that was all behind him . . ."

I hated to keep going, but I had no choice no. "I'm sorry, Janice. It isn't all behind him. The people I talked to inform me Derrick liked to place bets on the games. And he didn't always win, either."

Janice looked to me. There were tears streaming down her face and she was beginning to tremble. "Oh God. He's dead, isn't he?"

"Janice, it's a bit premature to speculate-"

"They killed him."

The flatness of her voice gave me the creeps. "Who are they, exactly?"

"Do I have to spell it out?" Janice sobbed. "I knew the kind of people Derrick associated with, but I had no idea he was into them for so much . . . so much . . . he worked nonstop to get the money, but he just owed them too much. Now he's gone. Oh sweet Jesus. He's dead. I just know he's dead."

I couldn't just sit there and watch Janice come unglued. In the space of a heartbeat I moved from the chair to the sofa, taking Janice into my arms. She didn't hesitate or resist, just let me hold her while she cried. I slid my hands up and down her back and murmured into her ear that "it was okay" and "it would be all right" even though I didn't believe it. Janice hiccuped like a small child and I held her close to me, rocking her back and forth until the wave of tears subsided. Then I pulled back to look at her. I could sense a need Janice, like an animal senses fear. It was pure instinct and I responded to it. I cupped her face in my hands, brushed the tears from her cheeks with my thumbs, and, when she made no move to stop me, leaned over and kissed her. Her lips were amazingly soft and opened under mine without much urging. When my tongue found hers Janice moaned with a longing that erased what little doubts I had about heading down the path of sleeping with a client. I cupped her breast and gave it a squeeze, liking the feel of her supple flesh in my grasp. Even through the fabric of her dress I could feel nipples stiffening under my touch.

The kiss deepened even more, mouths opening wider and wider as lust consumed us like wildfire. God, I wanted her. I was dripping wet from wanting her. She raked urgent fingers through my short crop of red hair, demanding as much from me as I was willing to give her. I slipped a hand under her dress and heard a little gasp, but it was breathless, do me gasp and not one of shock or indignation. Her inner thigh was softer than silk and I slid my hand all the way up until it was resting in her crotch. I could feel the primal heat of her cunt and the front of her panties were soaked right through. Both of us panted for breath between kisses, never stopping for long, but when I slid a hand down the front of her panties and began rubbing her slit Janice wrenched herself from the kiss and cried out, head tossed back, moving against me. She wanted me inside her. I slipped a finger between her swollen pussylips, thrusting into the depths of her. She moaned and whimpered, begging me to fuck her without need of words, and I did like she wanted, pumping two fingers into her slick hole. Her pussy tightened around me, throbbing in pre-ogasmic fits. She was so close.

I wanted to go down on her, wanted my mouth on her when she came. I slid to the floor, kneeling in front of the sofa, and dipped my head under her dress. The musky scent of her arousal greeted me and I breathed it in, feeling lightheaded, but not so intoxicated I couldn't press on. I pulled off her panties and groaned with need when I saw her cunt, so pink and wet and beautiful. Janice spread for me and I buried my face between her legs, lapping at her sweet, sweet pussy like a madwoman. I guzzled her succulent nectar then focused on her a clit, tracing the shape of it with my tongue before pressing my lips to the hard little nubbin and sucking it. Janice erupted in climax within moments, howling with pleasure, heels pounding into my shoulders. She sank back against the sofa with a blissful sigh.

I ducked back out from under her skirt and Janice pulled me to her, kissing me long and deep before getting off the sofa. She smiled down at me, winked, then headed for the stairs with a come-hither look tossed over her shoulder for good measure. I'm one dyke who doesn't need to be told twice. I scrambled to my feet and followed after her like a puppy-dog promised a treat for being good.

The fried calimari at Farinelli's is to die for but it wasn't the reason I went there after spending a delicious couple of hours between the sheets with Janice Carter. I was there to see one of the most dangerous and powerful crime bosses in New York. Is it a good idea to greet a member of the Cosa Nostra with cunt on your breath? I suppose not, though in this case I didn't think it would matter all that much.

Gianni DeStasio is the Mafia don of Generation X, hip, beautiful, and queer as a three dollar bill. On the streets people call him The Fairy Godfather but the last person to call him that to his face is now residing at the bottom of the East River. I've run into him a couple of times in the course of various investigations, and though it would be a lie to suggest I had a rapport with him I had come out of our dealings unscathed.

I told the maitre' d at Farinelli's a fib and headed toward the back where Gianni held court. The smell in the place was divine and my stomach rumbled. Sex always makes me hungry. I got about ten feet from Gianni's table when two men both twice my size and dressed in business suits closed ranks to form a wall of muscle and too much cologne.

"I'd like to speak to Mr. DeStasio," I said.

"Mr. DeStasio don't see no one," the brute on the left said.

"Just tell him Siobhan Donahue is here."

"Mr. DeStasio don't like to be bothered when he's having dinner."

I smiled. "If you give him a message for me, I promise no to tell any one of your egregious use of double negatives."

That stumped him. I could see the gears in his head grind to a stop. The other brute left for a moment and when he came back I could see a difference in his posture, like how a dog looks after its been punished for peeing on the carpet.

"Mr. DeStasio would like you to join him," the second brute said. "I'll have to pat you down."

"No problem," I said, lifting my arms. The brute checked me quickly and efficiently. There was nothing sexual in his touch. It was business. He found the Glock I keep holstered under my shoulder and stuck it in his pocket.

"You'll get this back," he said.

I nodded. "Thanks."

The two goons parted for me like doors to a western saloon, and I headed to the large round table in the corner where Gianni sat having dinner. He looked up at me and smiled, short hair slicked back, eyes sparkling. His suit must have cost two grand and I had to admit he filled it out nicely. There was an honest-to-God machismo that radiated from him, and just because I was immune to it didn't mean I wasn't aware of it. I'd heard Gianni loved to suck cock and looking at him I doubted he had much trouble finding men who would let him.

Ever the gentleman, Gianni rose to meet me. "Siobhan . . . it's good to see you."

I shook the hand offered me. "Good to see you, too."

"Please, sit down."

"Thanks," I said, and sat while Gianni poured me a glass of red wine. He had old world manners and a new world outlook on life that made him a shrewd criminal. That didn't mean Gianni wasn't just as cold and ruthless as his predecessors. I was under no illusions; the man sitting across from me could have someone killed on a whim.

"Something to eat?"

"I couldn't."

"You would say no to me?" Gianni asked. "You would insult me after I invite you to join me at my table?"

I laughed. "You do a lousy Robert DeNiro, Gianni."

"Yeah," Gianni laughed. "But my Joe Pesci is fuckin' great. Bada boom, bada bing."

Now both of us laughed.

"I didn't mean to interrupt your dinner, though," I said, meaning it. "I'm sorry."

Gianni waved me off. "Not a problem. You sure you wouldn't like some calimari?"

"That is so tempting," I said, "but I really just wanted to ask you a couple of questions."

"Business?"

"Yeah."

"What's up?"

I took out the picture of Derrick Carter and slid it across the table. "I'm looking for him."

"Oh he's cute," Gianni said, staring at the picture. "What's his name?"

"Derrick Carter."

"Hmmm. Doesn't ring a bell."

"He likes to gamble."

"And lose?"

"Yeah."

"Big?"

"Yeah. And now his wife can't find him."

Gianni nodded his understanding. "And you think I whacked him."

"I think you could have it done, yeah," I said.

"At least you're honest," Gianni said. He handed back the picture. "I don't know him, never even heard of him. If he does owe money, it's small time. And I don't bother with small time. None of my people offed him."

"And you'd know, right?"

"No one gets whacked without my permission, capice?"

I nodded.

*           *            *            *            * 

I left Farinelli's with the Glock comfortably holstered under my shoulder again, some fried calimari to go, and a lot of unanswered questions. It seemed clear to me that Janice's fears about the mob killing Derrick had been the rationalization of a woman who didn't want to believe her husband had left her. But I needed to present her with proof, not hunches, evidence not gut feelings. Janice had to actually see Derrick with his hand in the cookie jar and I wasn't looking forward to showing her that.

The idea I had of following Claire from work seemed like a bad idea on second thought. It would have been too easy to lose her in a crowd. I figured either Derrick was at her apartment, or she would go home first, change, whatever, then head out to wherever Derrick was hiding. Either way I had a better shot of keeping a tail on her if I started from her apartment, so I stood across the street from her building, hidden, waiting, eating the best fried calimari this side of Heaven and thinking about Janice licking me that afternoon.

Claire came bouncing around the block at about 5:45pm, looking just as hot-to-trot as she had in Halstrom's office. I couldn't blame Derrick for wanting to fuck her; I would have gone after some of that without thinking twice. But I could blame him for not being up front with Janice about it and sneaking off like a coward, leaving her to fret about him.

I watched Claire enter her apartment building and a few minutes later a light in a third floor apartment went on. The light remained on, too, and after half an hour I decided Claire wasn't coming back down. I headed across the street and went up to her apartment, rapping on the door like she was expecting me. The expression on her face when she opened the door made it clear she wasn't expecting me at all.

"Oh, hello," Claire said.

"Hi there," I said, grinning. "Got a minute?"

"Well, um, I suppose. What do you want?"

"I just have some follow up questions," I said.

Claire looked at me through the tiny space the security chain allowed. "You want to come in?"

"That would be preferable to standing out in the hall, yes."

"Just a minute," Claire said. She closed the door and I could hear the security chain sliding free then the door opened again. "Come on in."

Since I was expecting her to put up a fight her offer surprised me. I took a cautious step forward, feeling for the Glock, half-expecting Derrick to come lunging at me. But all I found in Claire's apartment was an inexpensive set of living room furniture and a cat who meowed at me. I could smell something cooking in the kitchen. There were no men's clothes strewn about, not signs of a house guest, and no Derrick Carter.

"Nice place," I muttered.

"Yeah, thanks," Claire said. "You want a beer or something?"

"No, I'm fine," I said. "You live alone?"

"Uh huh." Claire scooped the cat into her arms then sat down on the couch, rubbing the cat's pink belly until it began to purr. "Well, except for Phantom here. So what did you want to ask me?"

"The bartender at Five & Ten says you were there on Friday with Derrick."

Claire blanched. It's not healthy for a woman that pale to blanch but she did. She reminded me of Ophelia from Hamlet. "Yeah, okay. So I was there."

"You lied to me."

"Yeah."

"Why?"

"I don't know."

"Not good enough," I said. She was scared, I looked tough, and though I didn't want to bully her it was the quickest way to get information. "Where is Derrick?"

"I don't know!" Claire sobbed.

"The bartender at Five & Ten says you and Derrick left together a lot," I said. "Did you come back here or did Derrick spring for a motel?"

"Jesus Christ," Claire said, "you're worse than that wife of his! I'm not having an affair with him. We went out drinking together sometimes, sure. But lots of us did that. There was nothing more to it. I never had sex with him, so you can just go and tell her that little miss private detective."

I stared at her for a long time without speaking. "How do you know Mrs. Carter suspected you and Derrick of having an affair?"

"Are you kidding me?" Claire asked. "After what happened on Friday?"

I took a deep breath. "What happened on Friday?"

"I met up with Derrick at the bar after work," Claire said. "We had a few drinks, we watched the game, then we left. But when we got outside there is his wife standing there, waiting. She started screaming at us, jumping to conclusions! I tried to explain that there was nothing going on between me and Derrick but she just wouldn't listen!"

"Then what happened?"

"She hailed a cab and the two of them got in. That was the last time I saw Derrick."

"You could have told me all that this morning," I said.

"I was scared," Claire said. "You caught me off guard. I didn't know what to do."

"Yeah, I know the feeling," I said.

*           *            *            *            * 

The gymnasium of the youth center down the street from Janice Carter's townhouse had been transformed into a spook central, with faux spider webs hanging from the walls and ceiling, ghosts drifting through the air, dismembered skeletons all over the place, and twenty-five little gremlins dressed in costumes having the time of their lives. Some kids bobbed for apples. Others sat in a circle and listened to ghost stories. It all looked liked a lot of fun to me. I asked a woman dressed like Wilma Flinstone where Janice was and she pointed to the back of the room. Thanking her, I made my way to the back of the gym where Janice was serving fruit punch from a large glass bowl marked sheep's blood. She was dressed like a witch, in a black dress, pointy hat, and a long rubber nose with warts. Some Wiccans I knew would be pissed for being mocked on one of their Sabbats but I thought she looked adorable. Janice noticed me and waved me over.

"Hi," Janice said.

I smiled and all I could think was I'd fucked this woman a few hours ago. "Having fun?"

"Yes, actually I am," Janice replied. "This is turning into a nice distraction. Would you like some punch?"

"No thanks," I said. "Um, Janice. Can we talk for a minute? In private?"

Janice looked at me. "Oh. Well, sure. Just let me get someone to take over, okay?"

I nodded and watched her wander off into the crowd, thinking things I shouldn't have with little kids around. Losing sight of her, I turned to get a glass of punch. The base of the punch bowl was framed by two ripped shirtsleeves that had been stuffed and capped with realistic human hands. The blood on them looked real, too, and I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that got worse when I saw the gold band on the ring finger of one of the hands. I took out the picture of Derrick and looked at it, saw the gold ring on his finger, and wanted to puke.

But I didn't. I fought down the wave of nausea that came over me and looked around for the coolers I had spotted in Janice's house, the ones she said were for the Halloween party. I found them stacked behind the table with some unused decorations and a box of plastic cups. There were three coolers in all, two large ones and a smaller one . . . the kind perfect for a six-pack of beer or, I feared, a severed head. I squatted down, opened the cooler, and the lifeless eyes of Derrick Carter gazed up at me.

"He had her," Janice's voice said from behind me.

I looked over my shoulder. She stood there, nonplused, no expression on her face. She looked distant, blank. The woman that was Janice Carter no longer existed, and would never return from whatever dark place she had gone. "Janice . . . my God."

"He had that woman," Janice said. "I caught them. No one does that to me."

There was no point in telling her that wasn't so. It wouldn't bring Derrick back to life. I went to Janice, took her into my arms, and told Wilma Flinstone to call 911.

*           *            *            *            * 

It was after 11pm when I got home. The police had taken a statement from me at the scene then again at the precinct. I told them what I could, signed on various dotted lines, and promised to be available should I be needed. There were nine messages on the answering machine but I didn't bother listening to them. I'm sure most of them were from my mother and I wasn't in the mood for her.

I stripped naked, took a long, hot shower then climbed into bed and called Angie. She listened without comment while I explained the whole thing.

"She came close to getting away with it, didn't she?"

"Sure. Toss out the body parts with the other Halloween decorations and no one notices. Then suggest the mob in involved with Derrick's sudden disappearance and people stop asking questions. So, yeah, she came close to getting away with it."

"But she didn't," Angie said.

"No."

"Because of you."

"Yeah," I muttered. "Because of me."

"Do you want me to come over?" Angie asked.

"No," I said. "But thanks for the offer."

"Anytime," Angie said. "So . . . you fucked her, huh?"

I grunted. "Yeah. I fucked her."

"Was it good?"

"Uh huh."

"You know the rules, lover."

I heard the buzzing of her vibrator over the phone and sighed, shifting under the covers to get comfortable. It was going to be a long night.

© 2000 JT Langdon. All rights reserved.

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