It was dark but I could see. My eyes were closed but I could see. I saw the love of my life, Penny, on my right, sitting by my hospital bed holding my hand. I couldn't feel it. I saw Buck sitting in his usual stretched out position on a chair to my left. I wanted to kick at his feet like I always did to him in my office lobby, but my legs wouldn't move. Matter of fact, I couldn't move any part of my body. I was lying on the bed and I had no idea why I was there, and why Penny and Buck were starting to fade out. I could hear a small sound coming from my right, it was a beeping noise, like you hear in those hospital shows where the patient was hooked up to a heart monitor. Was I hooked up to a heart monitor and was that noise coming from my vitals? The room was getting darker now and the beeping was starting to fade as well.
It was cold and totally dark now, but I started to remember, I could start to see where it all began.
Mornings in my office was generally a time for quiet, I would check my computer for emails, then open the snail mail that arrived the day before, I hadn't been in my office to greet the mail-person. I say mail-person because I'm not trying to be politically correct, but it changed every so often, a male one day, female the next, I never knew what gender it would be. Okay, I was being politically correct, it was built into me to be politically correct. I wasn't happy with my DNA at times, but I learned to accept it.
I hadn't seen Buck in about two weeks, since he went out to visit Maria in Las Vegas. It was kind of lonely without him. Before he went out to Vegas, we had just came back from our adventures out in Colon, Michigan where we went for the magic convention, and got caught up in magic and murder. It was there that we had met Vicky, the widow of the murdered magician Fred, she was a friend now and Penny and Vicky talked every so often on the phone since she lived across the state in Grand Rapids. Penny and I bought Vicky a Toy Yorkie, just like our Willy, to be a companion for her since her husband's death. She loved her pup, and would frequently call Penny for advice on taking care of the dog. I think she also called to hear a friendly voice, too.
I hadn't had a new client in about a week; since returning I had a couple spousal spying jobs and one background check on a new employee some company had asked for. I wasn't making a lot of money, but between the finder's fee from the mistress murder and the inheritance from my late friend Marty, I really didn't have to work, but I enjoyed the job. Penny would rather I stayed home and took care of Willy, but I knew I couldn't. Not that I didn't want to take care of Willy, but I had to be doing something out of the house just to keep me alive. Penny was concerned about me getting shot, and I would joke about her finally getting my money if I was shot. She didn't think it was funny.
I turned on the new 42 inch LCD TV I had put in my office to watch Penny's talk show, and also to give me something to do on boring days. Penny's show hadn't started yet and out of 125 channels I ended up watching a History Channel show on the origins of the National Parks of the U.S., it was interesting. Peter Coyote, the actor, was the narrator, I had to listen really hard to figure out who it was, he did sound a lot like Henry Fonda. I cheated and went to my computer and Googled the show to see who the host was.
I spun in my squeaky desk chair and looked out my office window onto Garfield Road, traffic was light today. It was early, just after the morning rush to work and just before the lunch rush. I spun back to change the channel on the TV to the cartoon network and watched my favorite character, Bugs Bunny. The cartoon running at the moment, had Bugs dressed in women's clothing to throw off Elmer Fudd, Bugs dressed in women's clothing a lot I noticed. I wondered about Bugs.
I shut the TV off, I still had an hour before Penny's show would start, and I sat back thinking about playing Mah Jong tiles on my desktop computer, when my phone rang. I answered with my best "Richards Investigations, how may I help you?", and a rather gravely voice said, "Mr. Richards?"
"Yes, it is I, Jim Richards at your disposal." I was feeling giddy right about now.
"Mr. Richards, dis is Angelo, from when we met in Vegas." The gruff voice was now recognizable. Angelo was an enforcer for the Traviano mob family who helped me a great deal with tracking down the Bridezilla killer out in Vegas, when Penny and I got married out there.
"Angelo, how the hell are you?" I asked.
"I'm good. I hope I ain't bothering you right now?" he asked.
"No, I'm just sitting here going over my cases." I lied. "Are you calling from Mississippi?"
"No, after Francis married don Traviano out in Vegas, we all moved back to New York, we're set up real nice now."
"That's great, what can I do for you?"
"I still had da card ya gave me when ya offered me a job." He was grinning, I could tell.
"You looking for work Angelo, is family business slow for you now?" I hoped he didn't take offense to the family reference.
"Nah, I was wondering if you could help me this time?"
"Angelo, you did good for me in Vegas and I owe you a couple of favors, what is it you need?" I asked.
He paused, I wasn't sure if he was afraid to ask or just trying to get his brain in gear. "I gotta relative out in Detroit, he needs some help and he don't want to involve da cops or da family. He needs to keep it private, I thought of you."
"What is it he needs?"
"Well, he runs a small strip club down around da Detroit border and one of his goils came up missing. He needs someone on da outside to find her. It's complicated. He don't want me involving my connections with da family in Detroit either, wants ta keep it on da QT."
"I see, do you have a number I can call him at?" I asked.
"Nah, he'd rather come to your office, no phone calls, he don't trust no phones."
"Okay, you have my address on the card, have him come in and we'll talk."
"Hey, Mr. Richards, I appreciate da help. You is good people. I let him know to talk with youse." He said good-bye and hung up.
I thought, strip club, Buck would be disappointed he wasn't here.
I turned on the TV again and watched Bugs some more, up until Penny's show came on. She had a couple of kids on her show talking about science experiments that they created for a science fair at a local school. They proceeded to blow up a couple of things with just the power of baking soda and then they made a paper-mache volcano erupt all over the stage. After Penny thanked the children and sent them off, she introduced a man who tested all those products you see advertised on TV. He demonstrated the ones he brought with him and gave his ratings as to their usefulness. It was interesting to see some fail his tests and some even passed.
The show ended and I flipped around the channels and found nothing worth watching, so I shut it off. I went to the couch and relaxed until my door opened and in walked a rather rough looking biker type. Tats all up and down his arms flowing up his neck and he was wearing a black Harley t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off to show off the elaborate tattoos. His arms looked like a soccer team could play on them, they were huge. He had one of those Fu Manchu mustaches and his hair was pulled back to a ponytail that ran down to his belt.
"Hello, are you Jim Richards?" He spoke clearly and enunciated his words carefully. He had a very nice radio announcer type voice, deep and booming, sounding like he had some voice training.
I said I was, and stood to greet him. "You were sent by Angelo?" I asked.
"Yes, sir, I was. He praises you highly, and when Angelo speaks I listen." He was smiling now and had a nice set of choppers, the teeth, not the cycle.
"Please sit." I directed him to the client chair and he sat. I went to my desk chair, sat and leaned forward on my desk. "Angelo said you had a lady friend disappear?"
"Yes, she's one of my dancers and a close personal friend. I have a strip club, the Side Door lounge, and she worked for me. I don't want to involve the police if I can help it, I called Angelo for advice, he's actually my cousin, and he told me about you. I need someone to find her and make sure she's all right."
"If I agree to help you, I have to ask, why don't you want the police involved?"
He paused for a short time then said, "She's an illegal immigrant, I don't want her sent back to Russia and to certain death."
"Okay, I'm intrigued, start from the top, you are?"
"My name is Ron Santos, I've owned the Side Door Lounge for about six years and we've never had any problems until recently. There's another strip club nearby, Heaven's Gate, that has recently changed owners and since then, they have been trying to hustle my dancers into working for them. Good dancers who can work and shake it, are hard to find."
"So these new owners have been in your club. Have they made threats to you or your girls?" I asked.
"They come in occasionally and have made no serious threats yet, but I've heard from the girls that they are asking them to jump ship and work for them. They're a strange bunch, there's usually three of them and they are always dressed in black suits. I thought they were cops or Feds when they first appeared, they ordered soft drinks, so I figured they were working. Then one of my girls told me what they wanted. I just stayed away from them as long as they stayed cool. Then last week, one of my girls said that they told her she should come work for them or she may regret not making the move."
"What was the regret?"
"They didn't say, the girl just walked away from them and came to tell me, the men got up and left before I could approach them. They haven't been back since."
"Do you think they could have been behind the disappearance of your dancer, uh, what is her name?" I asked.
"I'm sorry, it's Marina Koska, she disappeared day before yesterday. Her room mate said she didn't come home after her shift at the club, and she hasn't been seen since. I don't know if they were behind it, they never really threatened harm, but maybe it's a warning."
"They could be saying quietly that this is what could happen if the girls don't cooperate. They don't have to announce that they did it, just makes people nervous." I offered.
"Yeah, my girls are all scared now, so I'm having to be extra careful. I hired a couple new bouncers to work the door and watch the girls."
"Do the girls leave alone or in groups at the end of their shifts?" I asked.
"I encourage them to leave in groups, strip clubs do attract a few strange people, never can tell who's a rapist or a serial killer." He made a face, like he wanted to strangle someone.
"Back in the early 70's I used to live in strip clubs, Duchess Lounge was my favorite." I said, he acknowledged the place, "I know what the men can be like in there. You said Marina is an illegal, she the only one in your club?"
He looked sheepish, his eyes went to the floor, generally a sign of avoidance. "I do have a few girls who have questionable credentials, look, I try to give them a start here until they can establish citizenship. I help them get away from the Russian Mafia in their country who force good looking women into prostitution and stripping in their clubs for little or no pay. The girl's who refuse usually end up in a black body bag or at the bottom of the Volga. Marina ran away from that life and I gave her a chance. She's kind of special to me."
"How did you find these girls with questionable credentials to bring them here?" I asked.
"I have a friend who lives in Kiev and he has underworld connections there. I'd rather not say what kind, but it has to do with the government, ours I mean. He frequents many of the clubs looking for black market dealings and he has connections with a couple shipping companies where he has smuggled numerous women out in packing cases. It's not the best form of travel, but at least they reach their destination and hopefully freedom."
"The Russian Mafia there doesn't know he does this?"
"He'd be dead if they did, but Chaz is a lot crazy and not afraid of much. He hates injustice and he's a sneaky bastard. He could smuggle the body of Stalin out of the country if he put his mind to it."
I laughed to myself at the image of Stalin in a shipping crate. "Okay, Marina left work, heading home and never showed. How did she get home, car, cab or walk?"
"She didn't have a car, it would mean she'd need a driver's license, of course that would be impossible. She usually took a cab, they generally hang around the club at shift change for a fare. I asked the cabbies last night if any of them seen her or gave her a ride and they said they hadn't. She was pretty independent and usually went out by herself at night, when I wasn't around. Otherwise I'd walk her to a cab. The night she vanished I wasn't around." He looked sad and rubbed his face with his massive hands.
I handed him my fee card and said I would help if he wanted me. He looked at the card and said money was no problem, he just wanted Marina back, safe and in one piece. I handed him my pad and pencil and asked him to write down any information about Marina that would help me to find her and some contact info to reach him. I asked if he had a picture of her, he said he'd get one to me.
"I need to ask, before I go getting myself in trouble, is this rival club mob connected?" I was concerned.
"Oh, hell, no. If it was I'd be treading water carefully. I think there is some biker gang connection, but I'm not sure where the operational money comes from. At least I haven't heard that the club was mob connected and Angelo said he would check on it for me, quietly. I haven't heard anything yet."
"Another question, why don't you want Angelo's family connections involved?"
"The mob families here are not too friendly with the Traviano family, so having Angelo push would be a minor disaster. And I don't want to see anyone get whacked, as they say on TV." He smiled. "I let him do some snooping to see what we were up against, that's all, I don't want Angelo getting in trouble."
"Angelo is good at finding out things, if he finds out anything about the club, let me know right off, please. I don't want to go in bending over with my pants down."
Ron laughed at my reference and went to his back pocket and took out his wallet attached to a heavy chain attached to his belt. Biker wallet. He opened it and took out five hundred in large bills and dropped it on my desk saying, "The advance, and let me know any progress you have."
"For Angelo's cousin, I'll keep you posted." I smiled, handed him my card and we stood, shook hands and he said, "I hope you will be very discreet about her being illegal, I want her to stay." I said I would and he left.
I picked up my phone and dialed Trapper, he came on by the second ring, "Richards, do you think I have nothing better to do than take calls from you?"
"Yes, I do believe you have nothing better to do." I smiled.
"Okay, I don't. So what do you want this time, information, background check, license plate ran, what?"
I had to hold in a laugh, "You like naked women, right?"
He was making heavy breathing noises now, "Yeah, whatcha got?"
"You ever heard of a strip club called Heaven's Gate?" I asked.
"Yeah, down around Seven Mile Road in Detroit. Why?"
"Know much about it?"
"No, but I'd be more than happy to check it out for you." Now I could see the wide grin on his face through the phone.
"Naked women and hookers, you would be in heaven. I have a case, no info right now, confidential, but it may involve the Heaven's Gate Lounge. I'd really appreciate anything you could get on it. They've had an ownership change in the last couple months and I need to know who has it now. Before I blunder into something I don't want."
"You going in shooting. That sounds a bit dangerous for your old body to handle." He grinned again.
"Yeah, well if you have any connections with any Detroit cops who can help, it would be nice."
"Okay, so I'm a cop, why do you think I know everyone in law enforcement? I know a meter maid in Detroit, that's about it."
"Does the meter maid hook on the side?" I asked.
"No, but she puts out for free. So what is this mysterious case you have?" Trapper asked.
"Missing person. That's about all I can say till I gather some more intel."
"Intel, you on some sort of military operation?"
"Nope, just a simple case of finding a missing young lady, that's all I can say." I offered.
"Okay, play dumb, but if it comes down to anything dangerous, don't call me. I'll see what I can get on the strip joint for you, but you'll owe me."
"Don't I always, thanks and talk later." We hung up and I sat back in my chair, contemplating calling Buck. He was probably enjoying himself out in Sin City, but he might want to get in on the action of strip joint investigating. Besides he doesn't need all that sex out there. It'll wear him out. I reached for the phone.
"That's right, a strip club, I have a missing person to find, a young dancer who disappeared from the strip club. That's about all that's going on here." I didn't come right out and suggest he come back, I just told him how my work was doing here and let him make his own decisions. He was quiet for a moment, then he said to hold on. He put his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone, but I could hear through his fingers.
"Maria, it's Jimmy, I can tell he's having problems with a really big case, I really think I should go back and bail him out... Yeah, he needs me, I can tell... I know, I'd miss you too, baby, but Jimmy is really in over his head on this one... Yeah, babe, I can come back after I help my friend solve his case. It shouldn't take too long... You got it." He came back on the phone and said, "Hey, can you pick me up at Metropolitan airport, I'll call with my flight arrival. You really need my help on this one, Jimmy. I'll talk later," and he hung up.
I hated myself, but I really could use the big guy to help me. This case sounded a bit dangerous, maybe. Buck loves danger and doesn't take crap from anyone. That's what I needed to go into the jaws of death and work this case. Okay, I'm being dramatical but he really would help right now. Besides Buck loved anything to do with strip bars, so this was right up his alley.
I didn't have anything more to do in my office, so I decided to close it up and head home. I couldn't see anything from Penny's show that I would have to worry about when I arrived. I closed up and drove out 15 Mile Road and down to our modest home on Lake St. Clair. I pulled into the drive and parked in my space and went in to find Penny standing at the snack bar between the kitchen and the family room. She had a bunch of boxes on the counter and gave me a really big grin when I came in the front door. Willy was bouncing around my feet, I reached down and petted him.
"Sweetie, you're home, I'm so glad." I suddenly felt a chill when she said that. I came over to her as she threw her arms around me and gave me a big kiss. She backed off and said, "Take your shirt off, please." I was a bit taken back by that and asked why. She said to just do it and started to unbutton my shirt. I knew it would do no good to fight her, so I let her strip me from the waist up.
She examined my arms and chest and picked up some kind of pad with a strap around the back of it. She slid it on her hand and proceeded to stroke the thing down my arm causing a raw burn as it ran across the hairs on my arm. I yelled in pain, and pulled my arm back and looked to where she had rubbed off the hairs.
"What the hell was that?" I demanded. She laughed and said it was a hair removal device that they show on TV, and she wanted to try it on a really tough load of hair. She knew I didn't like the hair on my body and once when we were a bit tipsy, all right a lot tipsy, she shaved my upper body of all the hair she could find, short of my beard and the sparse hair on my head. I was in pain from razor burn for days when I sobered up.
I looked at my arm and the hair was gone from the area she ran the thing down. I looked to the other boxes on the counter and asked, "Is that the only body torture device you brought home from your show?"
She took my arm again and started to finish the job, saying "Yes, the rest are household miracle devices." She was a little more careful with the pad this time and made me sit on a stool while she finished my arm. I said that I was a bit unbalanced with one arm smooth and the other hairy. She worked on the other and it came out well. It didn't hurt as much as the razor incident and I was pleased with the results.
"So how was your day?" she asked.
"I had a call from Angelo, our wise guy from Vegas. He has a cousin in Detroit who needs a young lady found, she's missing."
"Angelo! How is he? Is Francis Traviano all right?" she said excitedly.
"Good and yes. Everyone is fine, Angelo just called for a favor. I have a case now to find a missing woman." I didn't really want to say more, but I didn't like keeping things from Penny, I usually regretted it. "Okay, you'll find out soon enough, the woman I'm supposed to find is a stripper at a club in Detroit. She went missing two days ago and her boss-slash-boyfriend is worried, so he called his cousin Angelo and Angelo recommended me."
"Why doesn't he just go to the police?" Penny asked as she played with a kitchen device from the pile.
"Well, that's the kicker, it seems the missing girl is not a citizen of the U.S. and would be deported back to Russia if the police were involved." I answered.
"Ah, I see. So when do we go to the strip club?" she asked with eyes wide. I knew this would happen, especially after the visit to the strip club out in Vegas.
"We is not the word right now. Sorry, but Buck is flying back tomorrow and he and I are going to check out the place to be sure it's safe then maybe you can come to get your jollies." I said as firm as I could.
"Okay, but I want to study the dancers so I can perfect my routine on our stripper pole, which we haven't shared much lately, why is that?"
"I honestly don't know, getting tired if it? Or is it just that we dive into sex without any stimulus beforehand. When a man goes to a strip club he knows he won't get any sex from the woman there, so the excitement is the expectation to have great sex when he gets home to his wife. We just jump into it because we don't need the stimulus, you're horny all the time."
She whacked my arm and said to behave. "You think this club could be unsafe for me? And why is Buck coming back from his love nest with Maria?" She grilled me now.
"I talked to him today and he asked what I was up to and I told him. I didn't ask him to come back, it was his decision, he was anxious to do it."
"Especially when you mentioned a strip club, that was low. You knew he couldn't resist that. I'm ashamed to call you my husband." She smiled and aimed some kind of device at me and started poking me with it. I grabbed at it and examined the thing, it was some kind of device for scrapping the crud off your feet. I handed it back to her and told her to keep it away from me. She put it back on the counter and put her arms around me.
"Want to go watch me on the stripper pole?" she smiled.
"Only if you're naked." I grinned back. She let me go and started heading to the porch where the pole was mounted, I just stood there and then I saw her arm come around the door holding her blouse. I went to the porch.
A couple hours later we were in our usual place on the couch, with our chips and beer watching TV. Willy was sound asleep on his chair I bought from the motel during the magic convention.
"You do a good job on the pole, I was stimulated." I said between munches on my chips.
"Well, I do take a quick spin every day while you're still at your office, just for the exercise." she said.
"Maybe I can install a pole at my office and you can come by to exercise there." I said hopefully.
"Never mind, I like my quiet time. That way I can dance to the song Lady by Styx and not get you all excited."
"That's mean." I pouted.
My cell phone rang and the caller ID said it was Trapper. I told Penny I was taking it in the kitchen, I answered and said "Whatcha got?"
"Well, I contacted a friend in the precinct that covers that part of town, name's Earl Daws, homicide Lieutenant, and he said the Heaven's Gate Lounge was purchased by a consortium out in New York. It's a company named Rex Erotica, Earl says it translates to "King Porn", and they own numerous strip clubs in New York City. They've been under investigation for trafficking in prostitution and possible slavery. Your missing girl could be in real trouble. Want the cops in on it, this could help to shut them down?"
"Will, you remember Angelo from Vegas?" I asked.
"Hell, yeah, great guy for a Mafia bone breaker." he laughed.
"Well, I'm working for his cousin here and the problem with the missing girl... I can trust you can't I?" He said I could, "Okay, the girl isn't exactly legal in this country, and to be found by the authorities would be cause for her to be sent back to her country of Russia and possible death." He was quiet as I waited for a reply.
"Well, then you've got your work cut out for you. Be careful and keep me informed."
I was at Metropolitan Airport by 7 A.M. waiting for Buck's flight to arrive. I watched the people all milling about waiting for loved ones or friends to come in on the flights from places unknown. I saw a number of men, probably hired drivers, holding signs with people's names written on them, and thought it would be funny to make a sign saying "Obama" on it and stand by the waiting drivers. But I knew the airport security took a dim view of humor, so I just sat watching for Buck.
Around 7:45 Buck came down the hall with that big smile of his, I got up from my chair and went to him. He had only one carry on bag and we left the concourse and out to parking.
"Did any investigating yet at the strip joint?" He asked first off.
"No, I was waiting for my partner to get back from his vacation so we could get down to business." I smiled.
"Well, it's time for business, talk to me, what's the story?" He asked.
I told him everything I knew from Ron and Trapper and that we needed to go to the Side Door Lounge first and start from there. He said that worked for him and that he was ready to go.
We drove up I-94 freeway from the airport and got off at Van Dyke Avenue then over to Seven Mile Road. I turned west and drove about two blocks to the club. It was just like I remembered from back in the seventies when I used to travel from club to club and this place was one of my stops. I parked on the side road and we walked to the door.
The tiny vestibule was still there and we went through the inner door. The club was dark of course, and the spotlights were flashing around the room. On stage in the middle side of the room, a young girl was gyrating to a Billy Ocean song, "Get outta my Dreams." She looked young enough to be my granddaughter, that made me real sad.
Ron was behind the bar and gave me a big smile and waved. Buck and I went to the bar, I introduced Buck and they shook hands. Buck asked if Ron rode with a cycle club and Ron said he liked being independent. Buck agreed. Ron asked if we wanted a drink, I said too early for me and Buck said he'd have a diet Sprite. I said I'd take a Pepsi if they had it, he did. I told Ron that we'd talk in a bit, we just wanted to watch the show first. He smiled and said to enjoy ourselves.
We watched three dancers do their stuff and then I told Buck that we needed to start doing our job. I called to Ron and he told his other bartender to take over. He took us to his office in the back and we sat at his desk.
"Heard anything?" I asked.
"Not a goddamn thing. It's like she never existed." He made a face.
I told him about contacting a friend with the cops, I said he was cool with it, and told Ron what Trapper told me. He banged his fist on his desk and cursed.
"Buck and I are going to Heaven's Gate and check it out, have you been there recently?"
"No, not in a few years. I needed to see what the competition was doing and it's the same crap everywhere, stages and dancers. It's just the quality of the place and dancers that makes the difference. I run a clean establishment, good dancers and friendly environment, a place you could take your woman to."
I thought of Penny. "You've had no ransom demands or threats at all?"
"Nope, nothing, no words at all."
"Did you come up with a picture of Marina?" I asked.
"Yeah, I got one out of my photo book." He opened a drawer in his desk and took out a photo of him and Marina at some party. I thanked him and put the photo in my shirt pocket.
"Do you know anyone who works at the Gate?" I inquired.
"I knew one dancer, name of Brandy Wine, not her real name of course, but she may still be working there."
"Okay, I'll call if I need anymore info." I nodded at Buck and we stood, everyone shaking hands and went out of the office. Buck stopped to smile at the girl on the stage then followed me out.
In my car I said, "Wow, I remember when I used to hang in these places, the girls were all in my age group, now I feel like I'm a pedophile watching these young things." Buck laughed out loud and said as long as they were over 21 he didn't care. I'm sure he didn't.
We drove over to Mound Road just south of Seven Mile Road and found Heaven's Gate, into the parking lot and I sat there, Buck waited.
"I think we should go in separately, you go first and sit at a table by the bar, make sure there is a stool by your table and I'll come in and sit at that stool, watch my back." I said. I let Buck go first and then I waited about five minutes and went in.
I went into the rather large room that had two stages, one at each end of the room. I went to the long bar by the back and sat on a stool at the bar next to Buck's table. He had his diet Sprite already and was enjoying the dancer on the well lit stage, but I could see he was watching me as well.
The bartender came up and asked me what I wanted to drink. I don't like drinking so early and not while I'm driving, but one draft wouldn't hurt. He went off to get my beer and then came back with it. I dropped a five and he went to get my change. When he came back I asked if Brandy Wine still worked here, he gave me a strange look and said there was no girl by that name working. I thanked him and he went off.
About five minutes later two men in white shirts and narrow black ties came over. They were fairly ordinary looking, medium build, clean cut and kind of dumb looking, they reminded me of Jehovah's Witnesses on a Saturday morning. The one in front asked me why I wanted to know about Brandy Wine.
"I just wanted to know if she still worked here, a friend asked me to look her up. Why, is it a crime to ask?"
The front man just stared, then said, "She doesn't work here anymore so don't bother to ask. Understand?"
"Okay, do you know where she went, I'll go there and leave you guys alone." I said.
"I said don't ask anymore. Understand?"
"I'm very capable of understanding what I'm told, I just don't understand why I have to understand."
"Don't be a smart ass or you can leave right now." He started to reach for my arm just as Buck grabbed his and held it tightly in place. The man's arm was just suspended there as he looked up to Buck who stood a whole head taller than he. Buck was ready to grab the other man by his throat, but the man just backed away and watched from a short distance.
"Okay, I understand that you don't want to talk about Brandy. I'm just making small talk, but you seem to be a rather rude person." I stood and told Buck to let him loose, the man was rubbing his arm and backed away. I stepped towards him and asked, "Since you don't want to talk about Brandy, who can I talk to about her, or a girl named Marina Koska. Ring a bell?"
His eyes started darting past me and I turned with my hand in my jacket on my Glock, to find a woman coming towards me and Buck. She was attractive, svelte, wearing a tight black cocktail dress and done up in heavy make-up, a bit too much. I took my hand out of my jacket, but Buck kept his hand in his jacket, just in case.
"May I help you sir? What seems to be the problem?" Her voice was a bit gravely sounding like she had way too many cigarettes in her life.
I smiled and said, "I have no problem, but your boys do. I just asked if Brandy Wine still worked here, a friend asked me to look her up. That's no crime is it?"
"No crime to ask, we just had problems with Brandy, she was stealing from us and then ran off, and we like to know who is asking for her. We'd like to find her, and you are?"
"I'll tell you who I am, if you tell me who you are."
"I'm Elaina, manager of this bar. Now your turn."
"I'm a private investigator looking for a missing girl also, name's Marina Koska, sound familiar?"
"No, should it?"
"Well, it seems that three of your boys have been coming into the Side Door Lounge making subtle threats about his girls moving over to your club. Then about two days ago Marina disappeared, that something you'd know about?"
"I'm not even sure who these three men would be, I don't authorize my employees to solicit other dancers to come here. We have enough of our own girls to work with." She smiled demurely.
"Another question, do you come from around here, or did Rex Erotica bring you in from New York?"
Her smile faded and said, "Enjoy your drinks, watch the show, then I think you should leave." She turned and walked away quickly.
I think I hit a nerve.
I sat back on the stool as the two boys went off to a table by the back and sat watching us. Buck was now sitting at the bar with me. "Thanks for the back-up. I was worried you might hurt them."
He smiled, "I held back my primal urges. Besides it would be a waste to kill such frail children."
We watched the girls dance and I estimated that there were about ten of them around the room. They were busy giving lap dances and talking up the customers. They avoided us, probably by orders. I could see they were soliciting, I wasn't born in a manger. Buck asked if he could take a couple home, I said on his own time.
"It's weird that this club has such wimpy bouncers and thugs. Doesn't it seem strange to you?" I asked.
"I was just thinking that, if a bunch of my cycle buddies came in here, the help would probably wet their pants. Doesn't make sense." He replied. "You look at the Side Door, Ron has some real knuckle busters working the door, what do they have here, High School Musical."
"Yeah, strange." One dancer was walking by and I stopped her. She looked frightened and I asked if she knew Marina Koska, she said no and went off in a hurry after looking back at the boys still at their table, trying to look menacing.
"I don't think we're going to get any more help in here, maybe we came on a little too strong. Let's wait outside for shift change and have a talk with the girls." We drank up and as we went out, I waved to Heckle and Jeckle as they just sat stoney faced.
We sat in my car for about an hour, then around 4 P.M., the girls started to come pouring out, since their replacements had already went in. I didn't figure that this club would worry about the safety of it's girls outside, so we hopefully could talk without interruption. As they came out, Buck and I got out of my Crown Vic and I asked out loud if anyone was brave enough to talk to us? Three of the girls stopped as the rest just went off and then they came over.
"I need some information, any of you fine ladies want to talk?" I asked as I flashed a twenty dollar bill, one girl came up a bit too close and I asked her nicely to step back, she did reluctantly. I said she could do that to Buck, she did and took the twenty. He smiled and I asked in her ear if she knew a Marina Koska? She looked over to me, as she rubbed up to Buck and stroked his shoulders, he was enjoying the ride, then she said she'd talk if we met her away from this place. I asked where, she said at a Ram's Horn Restaurant on Van Dyke above Eight Mile. I said we could do that and she went off with the two other girls. Buck was resting against my car and I had to smack him, then he came to. We got into the car and drove over to the restaurant.
The girls were already in a large booth and had menus. I was feeling this was going to be expensive. They all slid around as Buck and I came up, I let Buck slide in next to the girls and I sat next to him. One girl on the other side of the booth pouted and asked why I didn't want to sit next to her. I said I was married to a woman who carries a large gun, I feared for my life.
They introduced themselves, Tiffy, Buffy and Rose. I knew those weren't their real names but I didn't fuss about it.
The waitress came up and we ordered, then she went off.
"Okay, you said you may have some info for us?" I asked the girl, Tiffy, who turned Buck on by the car.
"Are you the cops?" Was the first thing she asked.
"I'm a private investigator, looking for a missing girl, it could have been anyone of you." I said as I looked around the table.
They all were quiet, then Tiffy spoke again, "Anything we say is going to be private, right?" I agreed. "I've worked at Heaven's Gate for going on three years. It was a good club, but since these new owners took over, things have slowly changed."
"How so?" I asked.
"There have been more girls working now, cutting into my tips. The new manager, Elaina, has been pushing us to be more friendly to the customers, if you know what I mean. I don't like it." The other girls were agreeing with her. "I work hard dancing and I earn my tips but I draw a line at hooking. I got a daughter to raise and I couldn't look at her honestly if I was putting out sexually. Dancing and teasing for tips is one thing, hooking is another."
Another girl, Buffy, spoke up, "They have also been telling us to recruit new girls to work in their clubs in New York, too. I've brought in a few, but they went off to New York and I haven't heard from any of them since."
I asked, "Have any of you ever heard of a girl named Marina Koska?"
Rose said she knew Marina from when she worked at the Side Door six months ago. I asked, "why did you leave the Side Door?" She said for more money, "Heaven's Gate is a bigger club and had more customers, but since the new owners are bringing in more girls, I haven't made the same cash." I asked if she knew where Marina may be now, she said she didn't. I showed the picture Ron gave me of Marina to the other two girls and they said they didn't recognize her.
"How many new people working the club now, I mean managers, bouncers, bartenders, who came in after the change of ownership?"
Tiffy offered, "There's only Elaina managing, then they brought in eight pasty boys, I call them that, as bouncers... " She laughed, "They couldn't bounce a baby on their knee if they tried. The bartenders are the same as before, but they did bring in two new ones. That's about it. Occasionally three rather large bruisers come in and they go off to Elaina's office, we don't know what that's about, but the men aren't one's I'd mess with." She looked up to Buck, "They were kinda like you." She smiled.
"I'm a pussycat, I do no harm. Unless I get pissed off." Buck grinned.
"Have there been any unusual rumors about the new owners?" I asked.
Tiffy said, "I've heard they're some kind of company that has dealings with foreign places besides New York, I once heard Elaina speaking on the phone some kind of language I didn't know. They haven't been with us long enough to really get a feel for them. She has mentioned to us frequently about going to New York to work at their clubs there, but I said I had family here and wasn't interested in moving."
Buffy spoke, "There have been a few girls that we were told suddenly went off to New York, but they never said they were going, they just disappeared and Elaina said they did go to New York."
Buck looked at me and quietly said, "Think there's a trip to New York in our future?"
"Too early to tell but we may need to take a quick trip later." I replied.
Our food arrived and we ate while talking about the business of stripping. I was relating my experiences in the past of my travels around the club circuit and the girls I had met along the way. We finished and I paid, of course.
The girls all went off while Buck and I stood by my car. "I don't know, but the people working this place are all a bit odd for a strip club. Their bouncers are ridiculously powerless if real trouble broke out. Unless they're secretly Ninjas, I would imagine them running the other way from trouble. Elaina seems too much a refined woman for this type of work, compared to Ron, he fits in a strip club. Although she reminds me of a madam, the fancy prostitute kind."
"And there's the connection, this all boils down to prostitution." Buck grumbled.
"Trapper mentioned that there may be some slavery trafficking involved, Tiffy said that she thought there were foreign dealings, that's generally where women are sold out for slavery. I'm hoping Marina isn't in on that, if so she's probably out of the country by now." I said sadly.
It was now just about 5:30 P.M. and I hadn't seen Penny's show today, so I had no idea of what to expect when I got home. That had me a bit worried, but I would suck it up and take it like a man. I walked around the car to the driver's door and said, "Let's take one more trip to the Side Door and let Ron know what we found. I hope he takes it well."
Ron just sat quietly, not moving. I was a bit concerned, he wasn't responding to my report on the status of his girl.
"Are you all right on this, you don't seem to be upset?" I asked. Buck was sitting next to me, he was being quiet as I talked.
"I'm very upset, but I know it doesn't do much good to scream and yell. Maybe a little outburst once in a while, but I have very high blood pressure and I've been warned that it's not good for me to get too excited. So I will take my frustrations out on a punching bag later on." He spoke quietly and calmly.
He smiled, but I knew he was holding his rage in.
"Are you giving up?" He asked.
"Oh, hell, no. We've just begun, I intend to find Marina or put away the people who may have caused harm to her. I mean that."
"Thank you, I'm depending on you two to find her."
"We will, count on it." Buck spoke this time. He thanked us and Buck and I left. I dropped Buck off to his house and I drove home and as I rode quietly along Jefferson Avenue, I thought about the day. It had been long and not really profitable in the sense of information, but we had a start.
I pulled into the drive and parked. As I went into the house I could smell incense and the lights were down low. I came in and announced my arrival just as music blared out from somewhere in the kitchen. It was Middle Eastern music and then Penny came out from the kitchen in a belly dancing outfit, complete with a veil over her face. She danced around me and bumped hips numerous times as she tried to do the dance correctly, but she needed practice. I wasn't going to tell her that, she was doing well enough for the effort.
The music was short and ended as she finished facing me. I raised the veil across her face and kissed her hard on the lips. She bumped bellies with me and asked if the Sheik would like to go into the tent for a little roll in the sand.
"I presume you had a belly dancer on your show today?" I asked.
She nodded enthusiastically and said "Madam Katrinka, fortune teller and belly dance teacher, she gave a couple readings and then she taught my audience and myself a few good belly dancing moves. The kind that I think would work well in bed also."
I said to show me, and she did.
About two hours later, after we belly danced in bed and took a short nap, we were in our usual spot in front of the TV. I asked Penny if Madam Kinky read her fortune.
"That's Madam Katrinka, not Kinky." She laughed.
"Oh, right, you are Madam Kinky."
"Okay, Kinky maybe, anyway's, she read my cards and said I was in for good fortune, and a happy life," she smiled.
"I'll bet she says that to all the gullible people." I replied.
"I'm not gullible, I don't believe a word she said, although I did like the good fortune part she mentioned."
"You didn't believe the happy life part? You mean you're not happy with me?" I asked.
"I married you, didn't I?"
"You didn't answer the question."
"I like sex with you, don't I."
"Still avoiding the question."
"Sweetie, I am so happy with you it hurts."
"Okay, I'll take that as an answer."
"So, have you found your missing stripper yet, and when can I go to the strip club?" She poked me in the ribs and smiled.
"No and soon." I smiled back. "Buck and I did a little scouting around the rival club and it's a bit strange there."
"Yeah, it's like a boy scout camp with naked counselors." I explained what Buck and I found at the club and what we found out at our lunch with the girls.
"Were the girls naked at lunch?" She poked me in the ribs again.
"Not totally, there was a dress code for the restaurant, we all had to wear ties, clothes were optional."
"So, what are you going to do next?"
"Well, I think I need to find out more about Rex Erotica. That's the key to the whole thing."
"And have you Googled it yet?" she asked.
"No, I was going to when I got home, but I got distracted." I smiled.
"You have to stop letting things distract you." She grinned.
"I wish I could." I sighed and kissed her on the nose.
A short time later, Penny was watching some show about a woman in a hospital with some odd ailment and the doctors were arguing about how to treat her. I worried about our health care providers when they couldn't agree.
I was pouring over the internet hunting down Rex Erotica, and finding more than I thought I would. The first place I visited was their "official" website and it was basically a glossy, high energy showboat of their holdings around the world. They had what they referred to as exotic dance clubs where the women excite your every dreams. A listing of clubs said they had about ten clubs in New York, six around Hong Kong, three in California and one so far in Detroit, but they say there will be more here. I wondered if the city of Detroit knew about this, or the other club owners.
I did a search on WhoIs.com, the place to find out who owns a web address, for the web address of RexErotica.com and it came up to a webhosting company in New York City. I copied off the page for future reference.
I found a forum that some guy started a thread about their clubs in New York. He was complaining that he was robbed by one of the girls and the manager of the club treated him rudely when he complained to them. He said the girl gave him a lap dance and took his money off the table while he was distracted. There was one other posting on the forum from a man who claim a dancer solicited him and he paid heavily for a blow job, and when he objected to the price, some big goon came up and threatened him. I thought that the boys at the Heaven's Gate would probably do the blow job there instead of the girls.
I did find one small post on another website that was warning women to stay away from Rex Erotica clubs, she said they were into slave trafficking. The person who submitted the post was a woman who said she escaped from one of their slave clubs and barely survived the ordeal. The police investigated the allegations, but came up with nothing. The girl accused the Vice officers who checked her allegations of being in on it. That wasn't good. The girl had an email address and I copied it down, for future reference.
I checked a couple of other websites that mentioned the clubs, mostly good, some bad. The bad posts were mostly about the treatment they received while at the clubs, from both the girls and the bouncers. I found that forums generally had a lot of people who liked to bitch just because they want to be heard, even if they were wrong.
I finally found one website that was what I would call a corporate website, it detailed the objective of the company, corporate headquarter locations and their officers. I thought this was a bold thing to do if you are a crime organization. I did a page copy so I could print it out later, and didn't find anything more on Rex Erotica.
I opened up my mail program and typed a brief email to the woman who wrote about her ordeal with the slave aspect of it. Her email address was Lacey579@gmail.com and I wanted to word it carefully.
"Lacey579, I'm a private investigator in the Detroit, Michigan area and saw your posting on the forum about Rex Erotica. I have a case involving a missing woman that may have something to do with a local club here owned by Rex Erotica. I'd like to talk to you about your experience and maybe it will help both me and you to stop these people. My email address is email@example.com, or my phone number is 586-555-3680, please contact me, Jim."
I hit the send button and off it went; I hoped she still was on the other end.
I checked my email and read a couple of RSS feeds with the news of the day, seemed a couple more celebrity couples were divorcing, why do they bother to get married in the first place, they never make it. I checked my email again, nothing, and then closed up the computer.
I looked at my can of beer on the computer desk, it was still the beer I've drank forever, Milwaukee's Special Reserve light, which most of my friends called piss beer, but I grew fond of it and it was the cheapest beer I could buy for a 30 pack back when I was poor. Sure, I had the money now to buy the better stuff, but why, when this stuff was just as good. And it didn't give me a headache in the morning.
I went back over to Penny who was into her sixth tissue from my count on the table. She sniffled and looked to me with red eyes and said the woman was going to make it. I looked to the TV and smiled.
Around 9 P.M. my cell phone rang and it was Trapper. I answered and said I was off duty.
"Do I care, you are on duty 24/7 now that you are a public servant. All law enforcement is expected to be on duty. Okay, talk to me about Rex Erotica."
I was a bit surprised by his curt question. I guess he was concerned about my case. I told him what Buck and I went through today between Ron and Heaven's Gate. He listened quietly and then he asked if I knew what Marina looked like. I said that Ron had given me a photo when we were in his office earlier and I described her.
"Good, the girl wasn't her. I was called earlier by Earl Daws and he said they found the body of a girl that turned out to work as a stripper at the Gate. He asked about my inquiry of the Gate since he was trying to put his case together, he asked why I wanted to know and I told him. I didn't say anything about your girl's residency, just that she was missing and you were looking for her. Jim, the Detroit police are looking to close down the Heaven's Gate operation and I would recommend being careful hanging around the place."
"Thanks for the heads up. Do you think I could talk to your friend Daws, would he be cooperative?" I asked.
"Earl is a crazy guy, he loves a mystery and I think you two would get along nicely. But I didn't say that." He laughed and hung up.
I sat there for a minute and thought about what to do now. I was tired and I was wearing down, old age creeping in. I looked to Penny and asked if she was ready for bed.
"Damn, you're just a sexual dynamo aren't you?" she looked with me a smile.
"No, I want to go to bed and sleep, we had enough sex earlier and I have a lot of things to do tomorrow." I said.
She gave me a pout and then sighed, "Okay, Sweetie, I am a bit worn out too."
We cuddled in bed and I finally slept, dreaming about kidnapping and murder. I woke about every hour during the night, and then woke around 6 A.M. but couldn't get back to sleep. I laid there thinking about the case and where I was going to go with it. I thought I was smart when it came to being a P.I., but I was feeling a little mortal now trying to work out a plan to find one woman who may be either dead, or in a slave ring in some foreign country.
I got up around 7:30 and started to get ready for my day. Penny was up shortly after, she was always bubbly in the morning, I hated that.
I called Buck and told him to be ready to start the day, I would talk about new info when I met him at my office; he said he'd be there. Penny went off with Willy to work and I finished my toast, then gathered my toys and went out the door to my office.
Buck was, of course, in his usual position on the lobby chair and he looked at me coming down the hallway, smiling. I got up to him and just kicked his feet because it was the thing to do. He grinned at me and got up to follow me into the office.
He went to the client's chair and I went to the answering machine, it was blinking. I pushed the button and there was one message, it was Ron, calling to ask me to call him. I went to my desk and picked up the phone and called him.
"Jim, I heard on the news this morning that they found the body of a woman who was a stripper, was it Marina?" he sounded in a panic.
"Ron, calm down, it wasn't her. I had a call from my cop friend and he told me it wasn't her. We still have options to check so please take a breath and relax. I'll keep you informed with what we find and ignore the TV news, stop watching it."
He agreed and hung up. I looked to Buck and told him the new information I had from after we split yesterday. I told him about the stuff I got off the web and what Trapper told me.
My cell phone rang and I looked at the number that came up on the caller ID, it was from a New York area code. I answered and the voice on the other end sounded very young.
"Is this Jim?" The childlike voice asked.
"Yes, it is, who's calling?"
"My name is Lacey, I posted online about the Rex Erotica. You sent me a message," she said.
"Ah, yes, I did. I'm glad you responded. I need to talk to you about your ordeal about the slavery. But let me explain why I'm looking into Rex Erotica. I was hired here in Michigan to find a missing girl who may have been taken by a Rex Erotica club in Detroit, and I'm at a loss for information about the company or what they are up to. If you can tell me anything, it may help."
She was quiet for a bit then said, "I worked at one of their clubs in New York and after a while they kept badgering me to work for them in Hong Kong. I said I didn't want to go out of the country, and they stopped asking me. I figured it was over, but one day I was grabbed in the dressing room and taken to a place somewhere in the city. I was held with about six other girls and then one morning about two days later, we were being taken out to a waiting van. The guy who was taking me got distracted by a loud noise, probably from a car back fire, and turned to see where it came from. I saw my opportunity and ran around the corner of the building and luckily I ran out into the street just as a cop car was cruising by. They stopped when they saw a woman with hands tied and questioned me. I told them what happened but when they went to the alley to check, the van was gone. They accused me of being a hooker who's trick got out of hand. I was eventually taken to the strip club but the manager there told the cops I never worked there. The other girls were threatened not to say I worked there. The whole thing just went sour and I just got away from it all and just tried to forget about it. I was pissed, but what could I do." She finished.
"I'm sorry about your ordeal, do you know where they were going to take you that day?"
"I did hear something about planes and Hong Kong. I figured they were going to force me to work in their Hong Kong club whether I wanted to or not. The other girls with me had talked while we were being held, about slavery for men from the Middle East, I didn't believe it but they could have been right. I'll never know, and I moved out of New York City to get away from them. I'm not saying where I am now, I don't really even know you to say."
"I understand, I wouldn't trust me either, if I didn't know me." She gave a quick laugh and I continued. "I'm going to keep at this till I find out what happened to my missing girl, if along the way I need you to talk to the police here, would you be agreeable to that?"
"If it would do any good, the police in New York blew me off, so what's to say yours won't."
"Because they are already investigating Rex Erotica here, and we have a murder of one of their girls that will need to be resolved, one way or another. Can I count on you to provide information?"
"Sure, what the hell, if it help, I'll do it. You have my email address and probably my phone number off your caller ID. So let me know, I'd like to see the bastards fry."
"Thanks, I'll be in touch." We said our good-byes and I hung up.
I took out the phone book and got the number for the Detroit Police and called them asking for Homicide Detective Earl Daws. They gave me his local number and I called it. After about four rings a man answered saying it was him.
"Detective Daws, I'm a friend of Will Trapper." He said he was sorry to hear that, I laughed, "I'm a private investigator and I have a case to find a missing girl, she worked at the Side Door lounge and the connection to her disappearance may be with the Heaven's Gate Lounge."
He was quiet for a bit then he said that Will already warned him about me, that I would probably pester the hell out of him, that was nice of Trapper, then he asked if I had anything that he may need to know. I told him briefly all that I had come by in the past couple days, everything except the fact that Marina was an illegal alien. He asked if I could come in to have a heart to heart about the case, I said I would and when I'd be there and we hung up.
I looked to Buck and asked if he wanted to go visit the Detroit police, he wrinkled up his nose and said he'd wait in the car.
We drove down Van Dyke Avenue and as we passed into Detroit, at Eight Mile Road, I saw the Duchess Lounge on the right. Memories came flooding back to my days in the 70's going in to watch the girls dance and one in particular, Pixie. I still remember the veil dance she did to 'Lady' by Styx, which is now an inside joke between Penny and I. Then I thought maybe Buck and I could stop in later and see if the place has changed at all. I was sure Pixie wouldn't be working there now, she'd be in her late fifties or maybe even sixties now, probably not a pretty sight. I'd prefer to remember her as she was.
We arrived at the Six Mile area police precinct and I smiled and told Buck not to cause any trouble in the parking lot. I went in and asked the desk officer for Daws. He got on the phone and shortly after a tall, older man in a well tailored suit came out and introduced himself as Daws. We went back to his office and shook hands after he said to call him Earl, and I said I was Jim. We sat.
"Will tells me you're a cracker jack P.I. and have taken down some really bad-ass killers. I remember the case of the two wackos who were murdering the cheerleaders. You did good on that." He said enthusiastically. "Will told me about the Dominatrix and Mistress killers, then out in Vegas, how you guys brought down the Bridezilla killer. You're a one-man crime solving machine."
"I had help on all those, don't let my charm and my eye-for-crime fool you. There was a lot of good back-up work by the police and my associates to take down those killers, Will included. Now that we are done patting me on the back, let's talk Rex Erotica."
"We both have a case that seems to be connected and I don't want anything mucking up my case, I'm sure you'll keep me informed as to anything you may have on your mind to do, just so we're not shooting each other in the cross fire." He grinned.
"I am nothing if not cooperative, and I'll hold my fire till I see if it's you." I laughed.
"Okay, let's get our stories together so we can get it on track." He sat back and said, "Your story first."
"Before I start, there is one delicate matter that I need to cover if I'm going to share with you. Can I get some kind of guarantee from you that what I tell you about my case is strictly between us.?"
"Is it anything illegal?" He asked.
"Well, it borders on not so legal, how do you stand on aliens?"
"Little green men or the type that cross our borders for the American dream?" He smiled.
"Border crossing type."
"Russian, female type."
"Mail order or smuggled."
"Smuggled in, by an agent of our own government."
"Hmm... Well if the government is behind it, I'm okay with it. Talk."
"Marina Koska, escaped from the Russian mob and prostitution, by way of a packing case over the ocean to hopefully freedom. Ron Santos owns the Side Door and helped her get work and get ready for the citizen swear-in. A couple weeks ago three mild mannered gentlemen came in Ron's club and started to try and talk his girls into shifting employment over to Heaven's Gate. There was some opposition from the girls and then two days ago Marina turned up missing. Could be a subtle warning or they thought she was worthy of sending her back overseas into slavery. My partner and I talked to three young ladies about the club and they told us the same story, prostitution and slavery, both here and in Hong Kong."
I took a breath and Earl asked if I wanted something to drink, I said that would be nice. He went to a cube fridge in his office and opened it, asking if I liked Pepsi. I said is there any other soft drink. He handed me a can and I popped the top.
"As I said, my partner and I are trying to track Marina for Ron, he has a big crush on her and I'd hate to see him get mad if the Heaven's Gate club has her."
"I know Ron, I had occasion to talk to him over a murder that occurred near his club last year. He is big. I also presume he can be mean. But he was cooperative and concerned about his girls in light of murder near by."
"He also has connections to a mob family in Mississippi, they were displaced from New York by the Feds a number of years ago, but still have clout in New York after Francis Mangelo, from Mississippi, married the New York Traviano family capo a couple months back in Vegas. That's were I met Ron's cousin, Angelo, a family enforcer, who recommended me to Ron."
"Why didn't the family get involved with the disappearance of Marina?"
"Ron wanted to keep this low-key, not an all out mob war, if Rex Erotica is mob connected."
"I knew he was a smart man. I don't want to have to mop up dead bodies either. Okay, I'm cool with your missing girl, I really hope you find her, I'll help the best I can. Now my story, last night we got a call about a dead girl in the alley of a row of stores along Ryan Road below Seven Mile. The girl was in the system, dancers have to be registered to work, so we had her picture and prints. She worked at the Heaven's Gate. I sent a couple of plain clothes there with her crime scene picture and they reported that the slinky female manager said she had quit a few days before, wasn't happy with the new owners and their policies. She knew nothing more about the girl after she quit the club. One of the officers called the manager the ice queen. You met her, what's your opinion?"
"Well, she did seem to have a pole up her ass, not someone I'd take on a date." I offered.
"Yeah, about what the officer said. Anyway's, our dancer was killed about the same time your girl went missing, think there's a connection?"
"Not sure, I still don't know why she was taken or possibly murdered for that matter. There's been no ransom demands or warnings to Ron's girls, she just vanished. I'm kind of hoping she just took off to avoid the hassles coming from the other club, possibly exposing her as an undocumented alien. Then again I think she would have contacted Ron for all he's done for her. I'm baffled right now, not enough to go on."
"Welcome to my world. My vic was killed execution style, bullet to the back of the head from above, like she was on her knees when shot. Hands tied behind her and dumped where she was killed. No evidence from the kill, CSI found nothing in the alley but a mess of people going through it. We got nothing right now, just a dead dancer." He went quiet for a moment, I had nothing to say either.
"Well, as Trapper said, we got our work cut out for us." I asked if he needed me further and he said he didn't but to keep in touch. He gave me a couple of his cards and I gave him mine and he said thanks. I left and back to Buck who was napping with his seat all the way back. I felt like kicking his feet but I couldn't reach them so just shook the car, until he jumped up. He grinned and hit the door lock and I got in.
"Glad to see you were on duty, nothing stolen from the lot while you're here, eh?" I laughed and started the car and headed out to the Side Door. I told Buck the story on the way and then we arrived and went in.
Ron was seated on a stool and jumped up to greet us. I didn't smile, I told him we had nothing yet and asked to go to his office.
"I hope you understand that we will do what we can to find her, but it may take time. This is not the movies where everything is solved in a couple hours." I said to get him to understand that concept.
"Hey, Jim I am trusting you to do what you can, I'll be patient." He said with a sad face.
I told him about the murder of the dancer from Heaven's Gate and that I had Detective Earl Daws on my side now. Ron said he remembered the detective from last year and said he was fair.
My cell phone rang and it was Daws again. I answered and he asked if I could come identify the body of a woman just found in a dumpster behind an unoccupied office building. Daws said he thinks it could be my missing girl. I asked if I could bring Ron, he said it would help to identify her. God, I hated to tell Ron.
I told Ron what Daws had said and down played that it could be Marina, but Daws wanted positive ID that it was or wasn't. The three of us went to my car and drove over to the unoccupied building that Daws said they were at. We parked and walked up to the crime scene yellow tape and were stopped by a uniform. Daws saw us and yelled to let us through. He said to watch where we were walking around the little markers of evidence being photographed. I saw a couple of large caliber shells by the markers and the body was covered. The alley way was fairly secluded and it was just off the freeway so it was noisy, any gun fire would hardly be heard.
"Okay, this is not pretty, her face is about blown away by the gun fire and both hands were removed, definitely a hit. Ron, I'm sorry if this is your missing girl, but do you know anything about her that we can identify her without prints and facial?"
Ron stood looking at the body covered by the white sheet, then looked to Daws and said, "Yeah, she had a tiny butterfly tat on her left buttocks. She wanted me to get one, I said I'd be damned if I had a butterfly anywhere on my body. If it's there, then it's her." He choked a bit then turned away as the CSI officer went to the sheet and lifted it, examining the girl. He put the sheet down and came to Daws and said there are no tattoos anywhere on her posterior. Ron heard that and gave out a choking breath of air and I saw the man weep, for joy I presume.
He walked away followed by Buck, I stood looking at Daws and said, "We got a small crime wave going on here. Think this girl could be a dancer too?"
"Can't tell right now, but she has a good body, well-toned like a dancer, could be. I'm getting to really dislike Heaven's Gate. Feel like taking a ride with me?" I said I would and told him I just had to get Buck to take Ron back in my car. I went and told Buck to drive Ron back and hang out at Side Door till I got there. He loved that idea and they went off after I gave him the keys.
Daws and I went to his clean looking, unmarked, 2009 Crown Vic police interceptor, I said I'd trade him my twenty year old Crown Vic, he laughed and then we drove over to Heaven's Gate.
We were stopped at the door by Heckle and Jeckle, still in their Sunday best outfits. Daws stared down Heckle as the little wimp stood in the way. Daws pulled his badge and said to move or get moved. Heckle looked towards the bar. Elaina was sitting on a stool by the corner with two rather large men. She saw us and stood to come over.
"Gentlemen, can I help you?"
Daws pushed his arm into Heckle and shoved him aside and came to the Ice Queen. "I'm Detective Lieutenant Earl Daws and I want you to look at my face and remember it. If I find out that two girls from your club where murdered, I may have all kinds of inspectors crawling around your establishment looking for any kinds of violations that can get you closed down until I solve my case. You have any other girls that recently quit, we got another body today, haven't ID'd her yet but we will. And I'll just bet she worked for you." He stood glaring into her face, she didn't twitch a muscle.
"Threaten all you want Detective, I have nothing to hide. If you are not here to drink, then obey the sign on the door that says we have the right to refuse entrance to anyone. Police or no. So unless you have a warrant, you can leave." She stood her ground. Daws just wanted to shake her up a bit, he told me that in the car coming over. He turned and looked at Heckle and Jeckle and laughed. Then he made a gun out of his hand and fingers and went bang to them. He turned to me and we left.
"Yeah, that went well." He said. "I had to get it out of my system and see what reaction I could get out of the bitch."
"Yeah, I loved how she ran in terror from your threats."
"Will said you could be a wise-ass." He smiled. "I got the reaction I wanted from her. Now that I have her attention, when I come in the next time, she'll be more receptive."
"You live in a different world, don't you?"
"Planet Nespo, I'm the supreme leader." He laughed.
We arrived at the Side Door and went in. Buck was camped out at a table surrounded by nubile semi-naked women, and looking like a king. He saw me and grinned.
Ron came over and shook Earl's hand and thanked him for his discretion about the body today and asked if he wanted a drink. Earl said he was on duty, but if Ron could put a draft beer in a plastic cup, it would work for him. Ron asked me and I said I'd take a draft too. He went off and then brought our drinks to the table we took over from Buck. The women had all went back to work and we sat taking in the music and the naked ladies.
"I have to bring Penny back here or she's going to drive me nuts." I looked to Ron, as we all sat at the table, and asked, "Can you let my wife dance when we come in, she has a stripper pole at home she practices on."
Buck looked to Ron and said, "His wife is Penny Wickens, the TV talk show woman, may be good for your business if she danced."
Earl looked at me, "You are really married to Penny Wickens, I thought Will was kidding when he said that. I knew she was involved in the cheerleader killings but I didn't know you were nailing her."
"Don't ever say I was nailing her in front of her. She'll rip you a new ass if she heard that." I laughed.
It's amazing, I can drink a six pack of beer at home and not feel a thing, but one beer in a club and I get a little tipsy. I could never figure that out.
"Yep, we got married out in Vegas almost three months ago, after living together for about a year. I had to make an honest woman out of her." I smiled.
Ron was looking sad now, probably thinking of Marina. I looked at Earl and asked, "Do you think that Heaven's Gate may have some incriminating evidence in Elaina's office?"
"If you're going to do something illegal like breaking and entering, I don't want to know. But the club closes at 2 A.M. and is empty by 3:30. There is an alarm system that has a phone connection to the security service, but if the phone line, which is attached to the back of the building, was disabled, they wouldn't know. I didn't say any of this, I don't even know you." he smirked.
"How do you know about the alarms?" I asked.
"We used to get false alarms from them occasionally, we have to know how they have it set-up."
I looked at Buck and he smiled. I said we should call it a day and go get some sleep, we were going to have a late night. I winked at Earl and than said to Ron we were still with him. Buck and I got up and I looked at Earl, "You hanging around here?"
"Yeah, it's my civic duty to protect these fine female citizens of our great city." He smiled at me, "Be careful, I'd hate to have to tell Penny Wickens that her husband was shot as a burglar."
"I'm too good to get caught, besides Buck here is an expert on B and E." Buck protested that he was not. I took his arm and led him out.
We got in the car and I looked at my watch, it was just before 4 P.M. and I was still having to face Penny's surprises when I got home.
"I'll call you later and we can meet to go to the bar. Dress dark, I don't want to be seen."
"You're talking to a master criminal here, I have lots of dark clothes."
I swung by my office and dropped him to his car and headed home. Penny wasn't visible when I went in, I feared for my life that she would come popping out and attack me. I yelled to her, but no answer and it was too quiet. Willy was also missing, now I was worrying a bit. I went out to the porch and it was empty, she wasn't on the pole. I went to our bedroom and saw a lump under the covers and Willy was zoned out on his chair. I went to the bed and pulled the covers back a bit and saw my baby sleeping peacefully. I sat and stroked her hair, then she came to and smiled at me.
"Welcome home, Sweetie." she said happily.
"What are you doing in bed so early?"
"I was tired, and I'm not feeling so hot. I hope I'm not coming down with something. I figured bed rest would be good for me."
I felt her forehead and she was a bit warm. I told her to just rest and I'd make up some chicken soup for her. She thanked me and I went to the kitchen. I rummaged around in the cupboards looking through the cans of soup for chicken and finally found one. I ran the can through the opener on the wall and dumped it in a pan that was on the stove. I cooked it and poured it in a bowl and pulled out the small snack tray for the bed and took it along with a glass of milk to her. She was propped up on the bed and I put the tray over her. She wasn't looking too good, eyes a bit droopy. I ruffled Willy who was now watching us from his chair and he jumped up on the bed using the pet stairs we bought so the tiny dog could join us.
"I hate to see you this way, but you should just rest tonight. Which is good because Buck and I are going to be doing some late night skulking." I said.
"Are you going out to get in trouble?" she looked up to me between slurps of soup.
"I hope not, there have been two murdered dancers now and I still have no leads to my missing girl. I have the unofficial blessings of the Detroit police to take a midnight rummage through Heaven's Gate." I got up and went to my side of the large closet and pulled out some dark clothes.
"You're a cat burglar now?" She slurped the soup.
"Doing a reconnaissance mission. Something is hinky in Heaven and Buck and I are going to snoop."
"Won't God object?" She slurped again.
"I think whatever gods are watching over me, they would approve. I just wish I could get some divine intervention to help me find Marina. I'm hoping that we may find some information to lead us to an answer."
"Well, be careful, your warranty has expired and I can't afford to fix you." She slurped.
"What do you mean can't afford it, you make a good salary on your show, especially since it went national. Most people could live for a year on what you make in a month."
"I'm putting every dollar away for my retirement, I plan for the future. You just give your wealth away, you're too soft-hearted and that's why you'll never be rich." Big slurp.
"I won't be able to take it with me, which means you'll get what's left, so I give a little away to people who need it now. I'm generous."
She stopped slurping and looked to me, "Yes, Sweetie, you are a good person, I'll probably keep you." She went back to slurping.
I took her tray when she finished and tucked her in and said to just sleep, I didn't kiss her lips, not sure if she was coming down with something, so nipped her forehead, it was still warm. I turned out the room lights and went out to the kitchen again to make something to eat for myself. Willy had joined me, probably hadn't eaten either, I put food into his bowl and he attacked it without prompting.
I sat on the couch with Willy, watching the TV and eating my warmed up pizza rolls with store bought potato salad and then my phone rang. It was Earl.
"Hello supreme being of planet Nepso, what's up?"
"The coroner finished with the vic from today, he managed to get a serial number off her breast implants and got the info from some medical database. We got a name and checked the stripper database, the girl wasn't an employee of the Heavens' Gate, but she was an employee of the Red Door Lounge down off of Connor Avenue. I think that's interesting. I sent a couple of my men to the bar and they said the girl was missing from two days ago. Sound familiar?"
"Someone is hitting the clubs around the city, one girl from each maybe. Are they sampling the girl pool or what? And Marina hasn't turned up dead, hopefully not." I said.
"I'm thinking they maybe taking the best from each club and the girl's who don't like their intentions, are just whacked and they go elsewhere. I'm sending out my troops to all the strip clubs in town and warning them to be on alert."
"Elaina said that she didn't send out anyone to talk girls into moving to her club. The first girl murdered was one of her own, although Elaina said she had quit. Could this be someone else, maybe a serial killer?"
"Anything is possible right now, we just need more facts. Speaking of that, are you still planning your little raid?"
"So far, yes, could be profitable or a bust, but at least we will know one way or another and can move on."
"Okay, keep me informed." He hung up and I put my head back on the couch after setting the alarm on my Palm, and took a nap.
Around 2 A.M. I called Buck and he said he was in my driveway. I looked out the front window and saw his Vibe parked off the side of the lawn. I was already dressed in my sneaky clothes, so went to tell Penny I was leaving. She mumbled something that sounded like leave me alone and I left.
We drove out and got to Mound Road, down to Heaven's Gate and parked on a side street. We walked slowly to the club, it was dark and there were no cars in the lot. We walked around the back and I saw the wires going to the building, both electric and phone. We put on gloves so we didn't leave prints and Buck pulled over a small dumpster just below the phone connection. I jumped up and pulled out a pair of wire cutters and snipped the line. I looked down at Buck and he opened the phone junction box and hooked up a small service phone and listened, nodding his head acknowledging the disconnect. I jumped down and we went to a small window and I picked up a bucket sitting by the trash and smashed the window. I reached in and unlatched the thing and then we climbed in. Buck fell as he came in the window and crashed down on a table laid out with drinking glasses, he made enough noise to wake the dead. I came through and we walked through the building with just the light from our flashlights.
I found the office, because the sign on the door said office, I get paid the big bucks for my detective skills. It wasn't lock so we went in and there were no windows so I flicked on the lights. It was a nice office, clean, well laid out. A desk, four chairs, file cabinets and a small safe sitting in the corner of the room. Buck and I went through the desk and file cabinets, finding really nothing much. I stood looking at the safe, I had no skills in safe cracking, neither did Buck.
I knelt down to the safe and played with the dial just as a voice from behind us startled Buck and me. I fell back sitting on the floor, Buck stood up.
"You going to stare at it or open it?" said Earl, who was standing in the doorway. "Don't shoot, it's just me." He said holding his hands up.
"Shit. You scared the crap out of me." I yelled and got up. "What are you doing here and how?"
"I learned skills with the government, kind of a black ops thing. Don't ask, I'd have to kill you. I have abilities that would make ninjas blush."
"Fine, why are you here?" I was calming down now.
"I figured you two would need some help with the safe, I knew it was here from past break-in's that I had to investigate back when I was with burglary."
"Aren't you afraid of getting caught?"
"No, I'd just say I came in to investigate a break-in and found you two."
"Oh, so we go to jail and you're the hero."
Buck spoke, "Can we discuss this later and get the safe open?"
Earl went to the safe and did some magic to it and about five minutes later he had it opened.
"They teach you that in black ops too?"
"No, I trained with a former safe cracker who owed me, don't ask..."
"I know you'd have to kill me." I finished his sentence.
We went through the safe and pulled out papers and there were a couple of guns and a stack of cash.
I said, "Okay, we have a problem, if we take just the papers, Rex Erotica is going to be suspicious, so we would have to take the cash and guns too, make it look like a robbery, but what do we do with it?"
Earl smiled and said, "Well, an anonymous donation to the Detroit Homeless Mission would be nice."
I said that works for me, but we dump the guns, the homeless don't need them.
We gather all the papers, guns and cash and Earl put them in a black cloth bag he pulled from his pocket. The man was definitely prepared. We looked around the room once more, checking behind pictures on the wall, when I saw something that made me wonder. I called Earl and pointed to a tiny black spot in the corner of the wall by the ceiling. I got up on a chair and looked closer.
"Yep, it looks like a lens, maybe hooked to a video." I reached up and pulled on it, the thing slid out from the hole in the wood and it was attached to wires. "Definitely a lens. We need to see where this goes."
The three of us went out and to the room next to the office and to the wall by where we saw the lens. The place looked like a storage room and I went to the shelves on the wall, I pulled some boxes off and found it. A video recorder that was running.
"Must be triggered by movement in the office." I hit the stop button and then ejected the tape and put it in my pocket. "We can look at this later, may have more evidence." I found about three other tapes and handed them to Earl, he put them in his black bag.
"I hope that was the only camera, we should have worn masks." I said.
"Yep, a real professional job you guys pulled." Earl smiled.
"Okay, black ops boy, lets get out of here." I said.
We slipped back out the window and I checked to make sure there was no evidence from our egress. I said we'd meet back at my office, it would be safer than a police squad room, I gave Earl the address and we departed. About thirty minutes later we were in my office and Earl dumped out the contents of his bag on my desk. Buck sat back in the client chair and watched Earl and I go through the papers after I handed him rubber gloves to cover our prints in case. Earl said he'd take care of the guns, after having them checked against ballistics.
We piled the cash on another table and poured over the papers. I found mostly legal documents in the papers, things like the liquor license paperwork and titles to the building, made out to Rex Erotica Ltd. Earl came up with a journal type book and was looking through it. He showed it to me, there were women's names and descriptions of transfers to various clubs in New York. There were about three pages of names so far, I didn't see Marina's name.
We didn't find anything incriminating so I took the VHS tape from my coat pocket and went to the VCR next to my new TV. I turned it on and went to sit at my desk. I took the remote and hit rewind, back to where I figured our entrance was at. I hit play and we got a chuckle out of watching us trying to be good burglars. Earl said that we'd have to erase this part to be sure we didn't end up in jail. I rewound the tape back to the beginning of the tape and then we watched for the next hour before we shut it off.
There was enough evidence and conversations with various visitors to Elaina's office in regards to prostitution and forcing woman into sexual slavery, to send Elaina and her local people up for years.
"Unfortunately, there wasn't any mention of the parent company, none to take this to the Federal level to take down Rex Erotica. But we have enough to close down Heaven's Gate and their operation. We can contact New York police, and they can take it from there." Earl spoke.
"So, how do we take illegally obtained evidence to the DA?" I asked.
"Well, we pack up the tapes, along with the journal of names and guns, and put it in a bag with a note saying the burglars watched the tapes and felt it was their civic duty to turn it in. Remorseful crooks. I'll take in the bag and say I found it on the front steps of HQ." He smiled.
"Good, but first we erase our adventures," and I ran the tape to just before we came in and went to erase it.
Buck spoke finally, "Can't we copy our part so we have a memory of our first B and E?" He grinned. I just said I'd rather not have that memory or leaving evidence lying around.
I set it up to erase as I looked to Earl, "Doesn't it bother you to be breaking the law by joining us in our B and E?"
"Jim, before I took an oath to enforce the law as a cop, I did so many illegal things in the name of our government, I wore down my conscience long ago. You'd cringe if you knew some of the underhanded things that go on to protect our freedoms."
"You really were in some black ops thing?" Buck asked.
"You could call it that, the government calls it intelligence gathering and enforcement, I spent time in both CIA and NSA. I did that for about twelve years, I was just out of high school when I started, before long I had enough of the underhanded way we did things. I just wanted to take down real criminals, so I joined the police. They wanted me to get into their special investigative branch, I said I just wanted to run the streets for a change." He said this rather sadly. "I've worked just about every aspect of being a cop; Vice, burglary, bunko, robbery and finally homicide. I'm happy now taking down murderers."
"A cop for all seasons." I said. "Ok, tape erased, let's make up our remorseful note and pack it up."
We worked on our plot for about another hour; we put the cash in another bag and Earl said he'd drop it off at the mission and then we closed it up for the night. It was now just after 6 A.M. and I was wearing down. Earl took the evidence package and the cash and went off. Buck asked if I needed him this morning, I said I was going home to take a nap and would call him. Buck and I drove out to my place where he left his car and then he drove off.
I went in and found Penny still sprawled out asleep on the bed, looking miserable. It was Saturday morning so Penny didn't have to work, thankfully. Willy was resting on his Bate's Motel chair, but watching me as I went out to the kitchen and then he popped up to eat the food I put down for him. I went to the couch and set my Palm alarm then laid down to nap.
I got about two hours of sleep when the phone rang and it was Earl. "Good Morning, how's my partner in crime?"
"Didn't you get any sleep?" I moaned looking at my watch.
"Nope I learned to take power naps, keeps me going without having to waste eight hours a day of my life."
"What's up?" I sat up now and saw Penny sitting at the snack bar eating what looked like oatmeal. She waved to me.
"Well, everyone at the station is ecstatic about the package our crooks dropped off this morning. The DA has been in and was fussing about where the bag came from, I did my best bold-faced lie about it and they are going to accept it, with trepidation, but it can go to evidence. They have sworn out arrest warrants for Elaina and the rest of her crew and we will be making a raid on the place when they open at noon. Want to be in on the fun?"
"Is Pamela Anderson a babe? Of course. Want me to come down to your office or meet you at the Gate?"
"You could just step out your front door and I'll drive you." He laughed. I went to the window and saw his Crown Vic with him waving to me.
"Why do people keep doing that to me. Come on in and meet my celebrity wife." I went and opened the door, just as Penny made a face at me.
"Sweetie, I'm not looking my best this morning to be meeting your little playpals." She moaned and ran to the bathroom.
I knew from experience that it would take her fifteen minutes to look radiant. Earl came up as I held the screen door for him and he came in. I motioned for him to sit on a chair and I sat across from him on the couch.
"So has Elaina discovered the break-in yet?" I asked.
"Not that we've heard of, she may have already arrived at the club, but then she may not even know it yet. Either way we are going to be there to mess up her day. I'm sure there will be a lot of lawyers running around the precinct today, the big New York kind. All screaming that their clients were set up and the evidence is not admissible due to it's theft from the club. They can't prove it wasn't taken in the process of a burglary, which actually it was, but we can at least shut them down for a while until all the lawyers agree on what to do."
I said, "Yes, lawyers can be so annoying can't they. How do you find a lawyer in a tank full of sharks... the sharks are all jumping out of the tank."
CONTINUED IN THE BOOK