A short story by Dave Zeltserman
From the Files of Johnny Lane
It was eight thirty in the morning. I still had a half hour before my meeting with Tom Morton, so I gave Eddie Braggs a call. Eddie’s my editor at the Denver Examiner. He didn’t seem his usual self, though. He acted kind of brusque and tried to rush me off the phone. I interrupted him and told him that I was meeting Morton at nine.
“No kidding?” he asked.
“No kidding,” I said.
Morton was Richard Dover’s attorney. Richard’s fiancée, Susan Laem, had been found strangled in a motel room five days earlier, and Richard was being accused by the State of Colorado of her murder.
I could hear the excitement crackling in Eddie’s voice as he asked whether I was going to be hired to investigate on Richard’s behalf.
“It looks that way,” I said.
“This is big, Johnny,” Eddie said. There was a pause, then, “If you get this, I’ll run extra Fast Lane columns until the trial is over.
“I’ll have to make sure I get it then. You hear anything?”
“Something about it being open and shut. My guess, there’s got to be pretty damning physical evidence, but the DA’s office is keeping a tight lid on it until the Grand Jury hearing.”
“Have you ever met either of them, Richard or his mother?”
Eddie chuckled. “Margaret Dover? She’s a little out of my circle. Maybe if I donated a wing to a local hospital she’d invite me for afternoon tea. Johnny, let me know how things go with Morton.”
We exchanged pleasantries, with Eddie being a hell of a lot nicer than when I first called. After I hung up, I headed out the door.
I got to Tom Morton’s office at nine o’clock as we had agreed, but Morton wasn’t in yet and his secretary had me sit in the reception area. I wasn’t happy with waiting, especially since Morton had set the time, but I was willing to put up with it. I would’ve been willing to stand on my head in the corner to get this case.
After about ten minutes of waiting, Morton’s secretary brought me some coffee and shot the breeze with me. Around nine-forty Morton came huffing in. He thrust his square jaw in the direction of his secretary and told her to bring us both some coffee and bagels. He always seemed to have a smug expression on his face. His old man had bought him his law partnership when he was thirty-five and that only made him all the more smug. Still huffing, he told me to join him in his office.
As Morton got behind his desk, he put his briefcase away and then looked at me. “Damn traffic,” he said. “Denver’s getting so congested these days. So, what do you know about this?”
“Only what’s been in the papers,” I said. “I did hear something about there being physical evidence against your client.”
Morton’s secretary knocked and came in with the coffee and bagels. After she left, Morton asked, “Before we get into that, I’d like to know if you plan on writing about this for your column?”
“I’d like to.”
Morton seemed satisfied, took a bite of his bagel, and stared at me as he chewed it slowly. “Mrs. Dover is going to be here at ten. She has a few concerns, but don’t worry, I’m sure we can work past them.” He glanced at his watch. “We’ve only got ten minutes.”
“What concerns does she have?”
Morton waved the question away. “I said don’t worry. About the evidence, there’s quite a bit, apparently. Forensics found skin and traces of blood under the dead girl’s fingernails. An initial test matched Richard’s DNA. Blood samples have been sent to Washington for more precise DNA testing. I guess we can pray for a miracle.” Morton paused for a moment and showed an uncomfortable smile. “Police also found fresh scratch marks on Richard’s arm,” he said.
“Does he have an explanation?”
“Nothing concrete. Just that he’s being framed. But he is being adamant about it, and you know, I almost believe him. I’m counting on ‘Fast Lane’ to help sway public opinion. I think we’re going to need it.”
There was a knock on the door and then Margaret Dover walked in. She was a tall woman, about six feet, but a better word to describe her would be long. She had long legs, a long torso, and a long neck. Kind of a Greta Garbo type. She was probably in her early fifties, but her hair was already more gray than blond. Until recently she probably would’ve been considered attractive. Now, though, she only looked worn out.
“Your secretary told me to come back here,” she explained.
“That’s fine,” Morton said.
He shook her hand and introduced us, saying, “I’ve worked with Johnny often over the years.”
Margaret offered me her hand and then sat down to my left. She seemed ill at ease. “Mr. Lane,” she said, “I have to tell you, I am not comfortable with the idea of hiring you and having my family’s private matters publicized.”
“Well, now,” I said, trying to hide my disappointment, ” I respect my clients’ privacy and only write about cases if I’m given permission up front. If you would like me keep the matter private, I will certainly honor that. But Tom seems to feel that my column could help your son.”
Morton added, “Margaret, the newspapers are going to be digging up every piece of dirt they can. It could help us tremendously to have a forum where we can get our version of the story out. Especially with all the physical evidence going against Richard. And trust me, Johnny’s column carries a lot of weight in this town.”
She still seemed undecided. “Mrs. Dover,” I said, showing my most sincere smile. “What I am going to try to do is find evidence to exonerate your son. You believe he’s innocent, don’t you?”
She nodded. “I know he’s innocent. He was home with me at the time Susan was murdered. I don’t understand why the police won’t accept that.”
Morton tried a compassionate look, but he still came off smug. “They probably would, except you’re his mother.”
“I’m not lying,” she said.
“I know you’re not,” Morton said.
She turned to me. “You’ve had your clients’ permission for all of the cases you’ve written about?”
“That’s right,” I lied. I didn’t mention a few times where my clients had ended up dead, but hell, they weren’t around to complain. And there were a few times where they had lied to me, trying to manipulate me, and in those cases all bets were off.
“And you think you can help free my son?”
“I’ll do my best.”
She wavered for a moment, but agreed to hire me and also agreed to let me write about the case. My daily rate was four hundred dollars and she wrote me a check for eight thousand dollars. It was a lot more that I was going to ask for. She got up to leave, shook hands with both of us, and then hesitated at the door.
“Mr. Lane,” she said, “If what you find does clear my son’s name, I’ll pay you a bonus of ten thousand dollars.”
Morton got up and escorted Mrs. Dover out of the office. When he came back he informed me that he had arranged a twelve o’clock conference with Richard at the County Jail. I asked him if he had any photos of Susan Laem.
He took a folder from his desk and handed it to me. Inside were several photos of the victim while she was still among the living. One was a studio shot and a couple had her posing on a tennis court. She was so young in these pictures –barely looked twenty– and she was a knockout. Long red hair, green eyes, peaches and cream skin, and a toned near perfect body. I studied her pictures and felt something funny in my throat. There was so much life in her eyes. They seemed almost to sparkle on the photographic paper. And this little smile she had like she was the only one on our little planet who knew the joke, and maybe, just maybe, she’d let the rest of us in on it someday. I put her pictures back in the folder.
“The picture they’ve been running in the papers doesn’t do her justice,” I said.
“Yeah, hell of a waste,” Morton acknowledged.
I got up to leave. We agreed to meet at the Denver County Jail by a quarter to twelve. On the way I stopped at my bank to deposit the check. I also called Eddie at the Examiner to tell him things were all set.
Morton was waiting for me at the County Jail. We were both given perfunctory searches and then taken to a small interview room. It had already been a long morning and I guess neither of us felt much like talking. Morton sat quietly and worked on his nails with a small manicure file. I just sat with my eyes half closed, squinting against the sunlight. I glanced at my watch. It was a few minutes before noon.
The door opened and two guards brought Richard Dover into the room. He was a slight but good-looking man. He had some of his mother’s features, her nose and high cheekbones, but not her height. He was on the short side, no more than five foot six. He waited until the guards removed his ankle and wrist chains and nodded to Morton. The guards left, closing the door, and he sat across from us. Four days in county jail and his skin was already turning an unhealthy gray.
Morton introduced me. Richard’s eyes brightened. “You’re the detective in the newspapers,” he said, smiling slightly. “I read your column sometimes. It’s good stuff.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“I didn’t kill her,” he said plainly, smile turning a bit sour. “The blood evidence is a frame.”
“You think the police planted your blood?” I asked.
Morton cut in to score some brownie points by showing he was paying attention. “It’s not like it never happens,” he offered, jutting out his square jaw.
Richard’s smile had turned more sour. “It’s a frame. There’s a lot of money behind this.”
“And what about the scratches?”
“Just lousy luck. I got them in a bar fight. Susan had nothing to do with them.”
“What was she doing in that motel room?’
“I don’t know.”
.I sat back and considered him at length. His story seemed far-fetched–the scratches, his blood found under her fingernails—but he was far from stupid and he was showing a damn good poker face.
“You think you know who’s framing you?” I asked finally.
He shrugged. His smile was gone. He looked away for a moment before meeting my eyes. “This is a bit awkward. I’m going to have to admit to some bad behavior. I don’t see any way around it. This thing with Susan could end up screwing me.”
“You’re taking your fiancée’s murder awful hard.”
“She wasn’t my fiancée.” he said.
For the first time Morton looked like he was paying attention. Richard leaned forward, “Susan was, uh, more of a business associate,” he said quietly. “She was, well, how should I say, helping me raise money from some of my mother’s friends.”
“Shit.” Morton said.
“And how was that?” I asked.
Richard tried to show me a smile but it didn’t stick. “Susan was a prostitute when I met her. She was very good at what she did. I’d introduce her around at parties. Later, as far as they were concerned, they were screwing my fiancée behind my back. Susan would make them pay to keep things quiet.”
“You were extorting money from your mother’s friends?” Morton moaned.
“How much would you take them for?” I asked.
“Susan was expensive. Usually between ten to twenty thousand.”
“And would this be a one-time deal or an ongoing event?”
“As far as I knew it was a one-time payment. Maybe Susan was going behind my back and double- or triple- charging them. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why she was killed.”
“So you think one of them killed her and set you up for it?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Richard said. His lips had compressed into a harsh smile. “I’m pretty sure of it. It’s the only thing I can come up with that explains why my blood was supposedly found on Susan. These guys have the money and the political weight to fix something like this.”
“Jesus,” Morton said. “This is going to be a mess. Even if I get you off for murder, extortion could still cost you some serious jail time.”
“Maybe. Susan always played it as if I didn’t know what was going on.”
“You’re sure of that?” I asked. “You’re sure she never told any of your victims that you were involved?”
“She wasn’t supposed to, but who knows?”
“Jesus Christ,” Morton swore.
I had a pad of paper in front of me. I gave it to Richard and asked him to write the names and addresses of the family friends they had blackmailed. He worked on it for a little bit and then handed me back the pad. There were six names on it, three that I recognized. I couldn’t keep from whistling.
“Pretty impressive list,” Richard said.
“Sure is,” I admitted. “You like any of these more than the others?”
Richard thought about it and shook his head.
“I’ve got to ask you, ” I said, “Your mom is wealthy, you’ve got a nice trust fund and all the opportunities in the world. Why have you been doing this?”
Richard stared at me before showing a slight smile. “Why not?”
Our interview was over. There was a knock on the door and then two guards entered. One of them nodded to me and told me how much he liked my monthly column. I thanked him and shook his hand. They then put the shackles back on Richard’s wrists and ankles and led him out of the room.
Morton seemed preoccupied as he gathered up his papers. As we walked out of the interview room, he swore a few times under his breath.
“You see the names on that list?”
“You think he’s telling the truth?” I asked.
Morton was scowling. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I sure as hell need you to find out. I’m not going to depose any of them unless I know for sure they’ve been blackmailed. This is going to be a goddamn mess!”
We separated in the parking lot. Morton looked upset. I didn’t blame him much. These were rich and powerful men. It wasn’t going to be much fun embarrassing them. I sure wasn’t looking forward to it either.
If Richard were lying about the blackmail, it was a clever lie. His trial would turn into the biggest media circus Denver had ever seen. Six rich and powerful men — including one CEO and two state politicians — would have to take the stand and answer questions about whether they had illicit sex with Susan Laem and whether they paid her to keep quiet about it. At least one juror would be swayed by the whole thing. Yeah, it would be one hell of a clever lie, except I didn’t think it was a lie. There was a look onRichard’s face when I asked about the blackmail. The look told me not only did he do it, but that he’d do it again in a heartbeat. That he got off on it.
Morton was right — the whole thing was going to get messy. And I could end up making enemies that I just couldn’t afford to make. The smart thing would be to drop the case. That would be the smart thing. But as my poppa always said, there were fools and there were damn fools. And I guess I fell into the latter category.
.Then there was the money. I hated turning down the type of cash Margaret Dover was offering. Aside from that, though, I needed a good case. The last couple of months, Braggs had had to reprint past columns and he wasn’t too happy about it. I had a feeling that if I asked for too many more reprints, he’d drop me. Then I’d be “the P.I. who used to be in the papers.”
I got in my car and headed towards East Colfax.
East Colfax is a street that the Denver Chamber of Commerce doesn’t like to advertise. You can find streets like it in most urban cities. A street littered with pawnshops, strip clubs, massage parlors, and adult bookstores. Any time of day you can find your share of hookers, drug addicts and runaways loitering there.
Rude was standing at the corner of Nineteenth Street smoking a cigarette, his black eyes staring distantly at some point no one else could see. Rude works as a bouncer for a strip club a few doors down from where he was standing. He did two tours of duty with an elite force in Vietnam, spending most of his time hunting Vietcong in the jungle. The way he explains it now is he can’t stay cooped up inside for too long, he needs to get out every half hour or so for some fresh air even if all that’s available is the brownish smog we get here in Denver.
I pulled up alongside him. He slowly moved his gaze towards me.
“If it isn’t Denver’s poet laureate, Johnny Lane.” he said.
“It sure is nice to be recognized,” I said. “As my poppa always said –“
“Cut it out, Lane,” he interrupted. “What do you want?”
“I need to find out about this girl.” I handed him one of Susan Laem’s pictures.
Rude’s eyes narrowed to thin slits as he studied the picture. “She’s the girl who was strangled by her rich boyfriend,” Rude said slowly.
“Maybe, maybe not,” I said. “She might at one point have been working as a pro. If she did, I need to find out if she had a pimp, or whoshe hung out with. Anything you can find.”
Rude didn’t say anything. I handed him two hundred dollars. Rude seemed satisfied with it. He told me he’d call if he found out something. He then shifted his gaze from me and stared back into his own private godforsaken world.
I turned down Nineteenth Street and headed towards downtown Denver. It was already past one and my stomach was feeling empty. I parked behind my office building and walked the two blocks to the Corner Diner. Carol was working the booths and I was glad to see her. She was a cute little thing, blond, blue eyes, her body fitting nicely in a size four waitress uniform. I kidded with her a bit and in no time at all had her blushing a nice red. When she brought me my food, though, I realized I didn’t have much of an appetite. I guess the idea of tackling this blackmail business — and stepping on toes that I just didn’t want to step on — was bothering me. But there was the money and several bylines I’d get out of it. I forced down a few bites and then headed back to my office.
Once I got behind my desk, I took out Richard’s blackmail list and looked it over. As I had mentioned before three of the names were familiar. I recognized all the addresses, though. They were all in wealthy, exclusive neighborhoods. I got on the phone and after a little while filled out the rest of the list. One of the names was that of a judge, another was big in real estate, and the third was just plain wealthy.
Even though I operate a one-man agency I subcontract out quite a bit of work, and usually have a small mountain of paperwork that needs to be chipped away at. The last few months had been slower than usual, but I still had a good deal of it to go through. I put Richard’s list down and picked up one of the case reports from my desk. I tried to concentrate on the report, but had a tough time with it. My mind just kept wandering. At times I thought about Richard, about his blood being found on the dead girl, and other times I thought about the six men he claimed he had blackmailed. Then I started thinking of the dead girl, Susan Laem, wondering what the joke was that she had had on all the rest of us.
At four o’clock Rude called. He had a girl down at the club that he wanted me to talk to. I asked if he could put her on the phone, but he insisted that I meet them there. It was four-thirty by the time I parked across the street from Rude’s strip club.
Business was light in there. There were a few guys sitting around the stage and a few more at a couple of the tables. A thin dark haired girl wearing a cowboy hat was moving slowly around the stage to Bob Seger’s ‘Against The Wind’. She already had her top off and was teasing some with her G-String. Rude was sitting at a table in the back, about as animated as a block of granite. I joined him at his table. He shifted his eyes sideways for a moment and then moved his gaze back to the dancer on stage.
“That’s the girl you want to talk to,” he said. “Gina. Her set’s almost done.”
We sat and waited until she was done. A few dollar bills were slipped into her G-String, a few more were thrown on stage. She picked up the bills and slipped on a tight fitting sleeveless shirt. Rude waved her over to us.
Gina gave me a big ‘Hello Honey’, and sat down next to me. Rude stopped her. “This is the private dick I was telling you about,” he said to her. Then he shifted his gaze to me. “I think you’re going to want to hear what Gina has to say, Lane,” he said, “It’s going to cost you a hundred bucks.”
“I already paid you two hundred,” I said.
“You paid me, you didn’t pay her,” he said. He started to look annoyed — one of the few times in all the years I’d known him that he showed any emotion on his stone hard face. “You know, Lane,” he added, “it pisses me off that guys like me run around and do all your work, and you just write it up in your shitty little newspaper column and take all the credit for it.”
“Well, now. If you feel that strongly about it, Rude, I’ll make sure to include you in my next column.”
“You will?” he asked, sort of surprised.
“Sure will,” I said. Of course I didn’t mention how I’d include how he pimps for half the girls working at his club. I turned to Gina and paid her a hundred dollars. I knew Rude would take his cut later.
“You want to know about Susie?” she asked.
“That’s right, darling. Do you know if she ever worked as a prostitute?”
Gina nodded. She took a deep breath. “It was kind of a shock to hear about what happened to her, but it also wasn’t. Susie was so damn beautiful. She could’ve been an actress or a model or really anything she wanted, but everything was a joke to her. As far as she was concerned life was nothing but one big joke. Yeah, Susie used to dance and she also used to turn tricks.”
“Did she have a pimp?”
“No. Susie arranged her own business.”
“Did you know Richard Dover?”
“No. I stopped seeing her about the time she met him. That was about a year ago.”
I gave her a long look. She had a brittle smile and was nervously pulling on her fingers, but she was being sincere. I asked her whether she thought Susan Laem would be up to squeezing a little extra money out of her sex partners. Gina gave it some thought and told me she thought she would. “It would probably be just a big joke to Susie,” she added.
It was what I had expected. I started to thank Gina when Rude interrupted me.
“You haven’t heard the best part, Lane,” he said.
“Gina, tell Lane about the videotapes.”
Gina took another deep breath and let it out slowly. “Me and my boyfriend were in a store and we came across some videotapes Susie had made.”
“Lane, ask her what type of tapes they were,” Rude offered, a thin smile etched on his face.
Gina didn’t wait for me to ask. “She was making amateur voyeur tapes,” she said.
“What are those?”
“You got videos where one of the partners doesn’t know they’re being taped. There’s a sort of underground market for them now. Susie had several tapes. I think the series was ‘Bedroom Eyes’.”
I could feel my heart skip a beat. I was pretty sure who her partners were going to be. Those tapes would create havoc in the courtroom, and just about guarantee Richard’s acquittal. I wondered why he didn’t tell me about them. I wondered if he even knew about them.
“I told you it would be worth your while,” Rude said.
I agreed with him. I thanked Gina, and she gave me the name of an adult bookstore on East Colfax where she had found the tapes.
Things went easy at the adult bookstore. The clerk recognized my name from my column and seemed to be a fan. I showed him Susan’s picture, and told him that I thought she was in some videotapes in the ‘Bedroom Eyes’ series. He helped me find them. There were three of them. He told me that he had sold a few of them lately.
When I got home I went through the tapes. There was something disquieting about watching Susan Laem, knowing that she now lay dead in the morgue. She was certainly beautiful, though. You could see why these men couldn’t turn her down. There was so much passion in her, so much life in her eyes. At times, though, I could see a little smile playing on her lips.
The action seemed to take place in a motel room. My guess it was the same one that she was murdered in. The video camera must’ve been hidden directly across from the bed. Richard made a guest appearance on one of the tapes. From his body language it was obvious that he was aware of the camera. That answered my question of whether he knew about the tapes. Her other partners were men in their fifties and sixties. It didn’t seem that any of them knew they were being recorded.
As I went through the tapes, I wrote down the track numbers where each new partner appeared. There were actually eight different men, not six. Richard was one. I wondered who the other man was.
I phoned Margaret Dover at her home and told her that I had found some new evidence and that I needed her help. I didn’t tell her about the tapes, or that I needed her to identify the men on them. I figured that could wait. I asked if we could meet. She sounded tired, but agreed to see me. I made sure she had a VCR and we arranged to meet at her home in an hour. There was an errand that I wanted to do before that.
The motel Susan Laem died in was off the interstate. It took about twenty minutes to drive there. The building was an eyesore; a one level concrete structure built sometime in the sixties. A sign out front advertised that adult films were available.
The desk clerk was a thin pockmarked kid with greasy stringy hair. I asked him if I could see the room Susan Laem was murdered in. He told me that I couldn’t, that the police had the room sealed off.
I put the videotapes on the counter. “Listen, son,” I said, “do the police know you got hidden video cameras in the rooms?”
His eyes dulled a bit, but other than that no reaction. “We don’t secretly tape anyone here. If there are video cameras in the room they’re there for our guests’ private use.”
“Well now,” I said. “That’s awfully damn accommodating of you. I need to see her room. If I need to get the police involved, that’s fine.”
He thought about it for a moment and then got me the key. “If there are any tapes made, they’re made by our guests,” he offered sullenly.
I took the ‘Bedroom Eyes’ videotapes from the counter, and then walked across the parking lot to Susan Laem’s room. The video camera was hidden in some paneling opposite from the front of the bed. I checked to make sure that the camera was empty.
I guess it was wishful thinking on my part that a tape had been left behind waiting to play back Susan’s murder to me. In a way I was glad there wasn’t; it would’ve been a tough thing to sit through. It was tough enough sitting through the tapes I had. I returned the key to the desk clerk and headed off to meet with Margaret Dover.
* * * * *
The Dover home was in a historic section of Denver, just a mile or so from downtown, a big stone structure, big enough to be a small hotel. Margaret met me at the door, looking a little more tired, and maybe a little more haggard around the eyes, than when I had seen her earlier.
“Please come in, Mr. Lane.”
She led me through a hallway and into the living room. There was a full-sized bar off to the side. I guess she saw me looking at it.
“Would you like a drink?” she asked.
“Bourbon straight up would do me a world of good.”
She went to the bar and made me a drink and poured herself some scotch. After she handed me a glass, I gave her a quick rundown on what I’d found so far and what I needed from her. She took it all in without saying a word, almost as if she were in shock. While I played her the tapes I would just show her enough of a participant so she could identify him, then I’d turn off the picture and fast forward the tape to the position where the next participant would appear. I tried to show her as little of the tapes as I could. I skipped her son’s performance altogether. Through it all she looked ashen. The seventh man on the tape was identified as Chase Powell. He was married, wealthy, and owned a large accounting firm in Denver. He was a longtime family friend. Now all the men were accounted for on her son’s list.
When we were done, Margaret sat quietly for a long moment. Then she asked whether I was sure that her son was involved. She wanted to know whether it was possible that that girl had arranged things without her son’s involvement.
I shook my head. “Your son told me about the blackmail,” I said, “And I’m certain he knew about the tapes. He seemed to enjoy the whole idea of it. He did, though, try to make it look as if he wasn’t involved with any of it.”
“And that girl wasn’t my son’s fiancée?”
She didn’t say anything else for a good minute. As I looked at her it seemed as if she were aging before my eyes. Finally she asked if there were any other tapes. I told her there weren’t.
“These are good friends of mine,” she said after a while, her voice sounding odd and distant. “It’s bad enough Richard had to bring that girl into our lives, but to blackmail my friends and to make those tapes? My son went too far this time, Mr. Lane, he just went too far. I don’t want you showing those tapes to anyone else.”
I was taken aback by that. “Your son believes one of those men murdered Susan and fixed it so his blood would be found at the crime scene. Whether or not that happened, those tapes would create plenty of reasonable doubt.”
She was shaking her head. “None of those men murdered that girl and the police did not plant Richard’s blood on her body. I was lying before. Richard was not here the night that girl was murdered.”
“Any idea where he was?”
“Richard was probably in that motel room murdering her. Who knows, maybe she had tried blackmailing Richard herself, maybe she threatened to tell my friends about Richard’s involvement. What I do know is I’m not going to make excuses for my son’s behavior anymore.”
She stood up and walked over to where her pocketbook was lying. She picked it up and took out a checkbook and a pen from it and then sat back down.
“My husband committed suicide when Richard was only four,” she said. “Maybe it was my fault, but my son never adjusted to it. He was always acting out. He never showed any concern with who he hurt. I’m through protecting him, Mr. Lane. I’m not going to continue ignoring the awful things he does.”
She tore out a check and started to fill it in. “You were promised a bonus if you exonerated Richard,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, you’ve done everything that I could’ve asked of you. I’m paying you in full, including the bonus. I also expect this matter to be kept private.”
She handed me a check for twenty thousand dollars. I thanked her and left her the tapes.
* * * * *
When I got home there was a message from my fan at the adult bookstore. I called him back and he told me he had found another tape with Susan. “It’s from a different series,” he told me, “something called ‘Naughty Girls’, but it’s really wild.”
I was already paid in full and off the job. As much as I didn’t feel like it, I headed off to East Colfax. I was too curious not to check it out. The clerk at the store had the tape waiting for me. “This one is really something,” he promised.
When I got back home, I turned on my TV. I was about to plug the tape into my VCR when I heard: “The body of Denver businessman, Chase Powell, has been found in the mountains. Police believe he was killed elsewhere and his body taken…”
It finally clicked why Richard had left Chase Powell’s name off the list and why he didn’t tell me about the ‘Bedroom Eyes’ tapes. I called a few police detectives that I was friendly with and was filled in with what they knew so far. Powell had had his head smashed in with something heavy and was last seen Friday, the same day Susan was murdered. The medical examiner now had Powell’s body. After five days of being exposed to the elements the body was kind of ragged and it was doubtful how much they’d find. The last cop I talked to was out of homicide. He asked if I had anything. I told him I wasn’t sure, but I’d let him know in a few days.
I tried to think it through. It seemed that Richard was involved with Chase Powell’s death, but it didn’t answer how Susan ended up strangled with Richard’s blood on her fingers. I tried to work out different scenarios where he ended up killing both Susan and Powell, but nothing quite made sense. Most likely Powell found out about the videotapes and confronted Richard, but I couldn’t connect that with Richard then killing Susan.
The thing of it was, I still felt Richard had told me the truth that he really believed he was being framed for Susan’s murder. After a while the whole thing started to give me a headache. I gave up on it and played my new videotape.
The clerk was right. It was wild. The tape had Susan in the same motel room with yet another middle-aged man, the guy being somewhere in his fifties or early sixties. He was thin and tall with gray hair and a thick gray mustache. And he was wearing an old-fashioned suit and the type of derbies they made thirty years ago. Susan got out of her clothes and then started to undress this guy except it wasn’t a guy. By the time Susan got the suit jacket and shirt off it was obvious her companion was a middle-aged woman with a fake mustache. By the time the pants were taken off I realized who she was and I just started laughing. It wasn’t really funny, but I just couldn’t help it. I just kept laughing until my sides ached. Because the thing of it was I now knew the big joke Susan Laem had over all the rest of us. And I knew why the preliminary DNA test matched Richard Dover’s blood.
The other woman in the video was Margaret Dover. I watched for a while the pure amusement that sparkled in Susan’s eyes as she positioned her partner into different sex acts. Margaret moved awkwardly, her own eyes reflecting at times lust and at other times unadulterated shame. After about ten minutes of it, I started to fast-forward through the rest of the tape. There were a total of five segments with Susan and Margaret, all with the older woman initially in disguise. Each segment was wilder than the last. And with each one, I could tell it was getting harder for Susan to keep her joke to herself.
I stopped the tape. The segments must’ve been recorded over several weeks. I wondered what went on in the motel room that last time. My guess was Susan tried blackmailing Margaret. Or maybe she just couldn’t keep her joke to herself anymore. Anyway, it ended with Susan having her life choked out of her.
I doubted Richard had any idea of what Susan and his mother were doing. If he did, he could have simply been patient and waited for the more accurate DNA test results to come back from Washington. No, he believed he was being framed which is why he was so anxious to have me hired. Of course Margaret had to go along with it — it would look damn funny if she didn’t. And who knows, maybe she thought I could corroborate an alibi for him. But the blackmail and the videotapes spooked her. She couldn’t get me off the case fast enough after that.
I thought about the whole thing and then wrote a letter detailing what I knew and what I suspected. I put the letter and the videotape into an envelope. After the twenty thousand dollar check cleared, I would deliver the envelope to the police. It only seemed right that I earned the money Margaret paid me. I was going to exonerate her son of Susan Laem’s murder. Of course, it’s a hell of a thing to have one murder be your alibi for another.
The police still had plenty of work to do to tie things up, but I was sure if they stuck at it they’d get it done. Richard was arrested the same night he had murdered Powell. He probably didn’t have time to clean the trunk of his car. I was sure there was forensic evidence to find there. And I was sure there was other stuff to find. Richard would end up convicted for Powell’s murder. And there was no doubt that the blood found on Susan would match Margaret’s DNA.
I took out a bottle of bourbon and had a few drinks. I then started writing about mother and son Dover. When I was done I read over my column and decided there wasn’t a chance in hell I could use it. It wouldn’t do my business a bit of good – the whole thing was just too damn unseemly. As much as I hated the idea of disappointing Braggs, the only thing I could do with the column would be to line the bottom of my desk drawer with it.
It was almost midnight. I poured another shot of bourbon and thought about the day I had just finished
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (2002)
Dave Zeltserman lives in the Boston area with his wife Judy and is a diehard Patriots fan. He has had crime stories published in New Mystery Magazine, Hardboiled Magazine, plotswithguns, Mysterical-E, OrchardPress Mysteries and Judas eZine. Dave’s first novel, In His Shadow, was published in January 2002, and features Denver P.I./newspaper columnist Johnny Lane.