Val was still running down the side street when a yellow cab drove past her.
"Hey! Hey!" called Val, signalling the cab. For a moment it looked as though he had not heard her. Then the taxi did a high-speed U-turn and stopped at the Kerb before her.
"Where to, lady?" asked the cabby, Marvin, as she got into the backseat.
"Number forty-seven Godless Avenue," said Val.
"That doesn't sound like a nice place for a lady like you to be visiting at this hour," teased Marvin, making Val start.
For a moment she considered leaping out of the cab again and had a hand on the door handle when the driver laughed at his own joke.
"Whatever you say, lady," said Marvin, starting the cab and doing another tight U-turn.
* * *
Alastor and company waited by the front counter for eight minutes before hearing a truck pull up outside.
Walking across to the front doors of the hotel, they looked out to where there was a large yellow van with the words: "Meatlands Meats, Satisfaction Or Your Money Back!" printed on the side in red.
Grimacing, Alastor looked at Izzi and said: "You didn't really tell them to come as a butcher's van did you?"
"Izzi, how could you?" demanded Alfonso.
"Sorry," said Izzi. "I thought it was funny at the time. But I realise now my attempt at humour was misguided."
"To say the least, Izzi," said Alastor.
Ralph and the other collectors emerged from the rear of the truck pulling three steel trolleys.
"Meatlands Meats, three large carcases to return. Satisfaction guaranteed on all products, or your money will be cheerfully refunded," said Ralph grinning cheesily.
"Shut up," said Alastor; "you're as bad as Izzi."
"How can you say that, sir?" said Ralph. "You haven't tried our tasty meats and deli products yet."
"Can it!" ordered Alastor.
"Canned hams one of our specialities," said Ralph, making the collectors laugh, and Alastor and Alfonso grimace. "Canned ham with jelly, or without. Your preference, sir."
Seeing Izzi doing his best not to laugh, Alastor said: "Show them where the two in the kitchen are, Iz, and then take them upstairs for the blonde."
"You got it," said Izzi. He led them across the lobby to collect the corpses of Fred Larkin and Lorelei Chung.
* * *
When the taxi reached forty-seven Godless Avenue, three squad cars were parked outside the house.
"Wonder what's going on here?" said the cab driver, Marvin.
"Don't ask me," said Val. Looking in through the window she could see Roberta Robinson in the lounge room talking to Sergeant Danny Walters. "Maybe you'd better take me up another block."
Looking puzzled, Marvin said: "You're the boss," as he started the cab again.
* * *
As Ralph wheeled a trolley into the third floor corridor, Izzi warned: "Watch out for that doorway, there's a brassy-haired barracuda in there, who eats men for breakfast.
Wheeling well wide of the door as it opened, Ralph said: "Thanks for the warning."
"Oh, don't be like that, sweetie," said Sophie Martin. She stood in the doorway, wearing a near transparent blue nightie.
"Holy, Jesus!" cried Ralph racing in through the door to Rosie Piedersen's room.
"Damn, why does she get all the good looking men!" cried Sophie.
Izzi and Alfonso hurried after Ralph and closed the door as best they could behind them.
* * *
"What's that?" asked Danny Walters, turning round in time to see a yellow cab drive past the house.
"Just a taxi," said Roberta Robinson. She half wondered if the brunette in the back seat could have been her sister-in-law. But was careful not to suggest that to Danny.
Looking into the house again, Danny said: "Okay, so we've got listening devices in your two phones, and all the downstairs rooms. She's hardly likely to scale the trellis outside to reach the second storey bedrooms."
"Quite," said Roberta, thinking: I wouldn't put it past her. She's one feisty broad when she's cornered!
* * *
Alastor and the others waited till Ralph and the collectors wheeled away the blonde's corpse, which now looked like a side of beef, then stepped outside. Only to hear an alarm pip-pipping a few blocks away.
"What the hell is that?" asked Izzi.
"Don't ask me," said Ralph helping to load the last corpse into the rear of the butcher's van. Slapping the side of the truck, he said: "Now this really is what I call a meat wagon."
Groaning, Alastor said: "Hit the road you reject from vaudeville, while we go check out the alarm."
"There's no need to be like that, just because I try to lighten the atmosphere a little," said Ralph. He climbed into the rear of the van as the assassins walked across to their blue Fairlane.
As the van drove away, Izzi pointed down a side street: "Down that way!"
"Thanks, Iz, I couldn't have worked that out for myself," said Alastor as they climbed into the car. With Alfonso still the driver.
"Don't call me Iz. You know I hate that."
"Don't pout, Iz," said Alastor as the car took off in the direction of the ATM machine."
* * *
After paying off the taxi, Val waited for the cab to drive away, and then slowly started back toward her sister-in-law's house.
At the cross street she turned left and started down a small lane leading past the rear of the yellow weatherboard house.
"Well, here I am," she said stopping at the gate marked '47' in white paint.
She hesitated for almost a minute, then slowly pushed the gate open, then stuck her head around it, in case someone was hiding behind the gate.
"Thank God," she said in relief. Although she had not really expected anyone to be hiding behind the grey, deal wood fence.
She stayed where she was for a few seconds more, then hearing a car coming down the alleyway; she hurried inside and shut the gate behind her. She lay with her back against the fence until the car had driven past.
Then, trying to keep her breathing even, Val finally stepped away from the gate.
"Here goes everything," she said, as she started slowly toward the rear of the house.
* * *
Pulling up beside the ATM machine, Alastor and Izzi stepped out of the Fairlane and walked across to the machine.
"Stay there," Alastor said to Alfonso. "In case we need to make a fast getaway."
"Gotcha," said Alfonso. Having started to climb from the car, he climbed back in and restarted the engine.
Reaching into his coat pocket, Alastor took out a black vinyl wallet full of varicoloured credit cards. He took a golden card from the wallet and placed the card into the machine.
"Well, here goes," said Alastor, pressing a series of buttons on the ATM.
The machine whirred for a few seconds, and then ejected a dark blue Visa card from the cash slot.
"Valerie Celentano," Alastor read off the card.
"That's her," said Izzi.
"Let's make sure," said Alastor. He pressed half-a-dozen more buttons and a video started to play on the ATM screen. The video showed Val putting her card into the machine and cursing when it told her the card was stolen.
"Stupid thing! It is not stolen!" cried Val, kicking the machine, which immediately started pip-pipping.
"She's a feisty bitch, I'll give her that," said Alastor.
"Yeah," agreed Izzi. "Seems a shame we have to kill her."
"Still, business is business," said Alastor and both men laughed.
* * *
"That's it?" demanded Marla Goldenberg glaring at the white coated forensics experts.
"Yes," said Thelma, a middle-aged black woman, trying her best not to be stared down by the ballsy mayor. "It should not be possible to remove your prints without mutilating or amputating your finger tips. But somehow he has."
"So it's not possible, but it's happened?" demanded Marla, glaring at the black woman.
"Yes!" said Thelma, refusing to be put upon by a county official.
"Oh Christ," said Marla. Turning, she stormed out of the office, followed closely by George and a new bodyguard Pedro.
* * *
Looking around, Roberta Robinson was startled to see her sister-in-law peering in through a small side window.
Trying not to be too obvious, Roberta placed a finger to her lips and shook her head ever so slightly.
"Is something wrong, Mrs Robinson?" asked Danny Walters. The sergeant started toward her, when the telephone rang.
Roberta walked across to lift the receiver and listen for a moment. Then holding out the receiver, she said: "It's for you, sergeant."
"For me?" asked Danny, puzzled.
Roberta nodded, so he walked over and took the receiver.
"Talk to me," he said.
"Guess who?" asked Maureen in her sultry Nina Simone voice.
"Santa Claus," teased Danny.
"You're two months and one gender out," said Maureen.
"What's up, Maur?"
"We've received reports about gunshots at a sleazy hotel, the Shady Rest, not far from the Western Mercy. Do you want to handle it, or will we send someone else?"
"We'll handle it," said Danny emphatically.
"Oh and there's been an assassination attempt on the mayor … as you predicted."
"Shit, is that meant to be a joke?"
"No, it's for real. But don't worry the mayor's body guards shot dead the perp."
"Any idea who he was?"
"No, he had no ID on him."
"What about fingerprints?"
"None of those either."
"What?" demanded Danny, loud enough to make Tim Wyatt and Roberta Robinson both stare at him. "How is that possible?"
"That's the sixty-five million dollar question around here at the moment. The lab guys are frantic to work out how he could have removed his fingerprints completely without mutilating his fingers."
"And?" Demanded Danny.
"And so far Thelma and her team are unanimous that they don't have a clue how you can completely remove your prints without carbonising the tips of each finger. This guy had no scarring on his fingers … just no prints either."
"Tell them from me that they're geniuses … as morons go!"
"I don't think that'll worry them too much. The mayor has already called them a hell of a lot worse.
"I bet she has," said Danny, then as an idea hit him. "Wait a minute, wasn't there a suspect brought in about twelve years ago who had no fingerprints, but after a few days they returned for some reason?"
"Yes, but he worked in a steam laundry and the steam had removed his prints temporarily. After three days in a holding cell his prints returned and they were able to clear him and release him. Trust me, the guy they shot dead today never worked in a laundry. He just doesn't have any prints."
"And the lab boys cannot explain it?"
"Well, they have this theory that it's not possible not to have fingerprints without working in a steam laundry, or cutting off the last digit of each finger on your hands. But when the mayor asked them in four-letter language then how come her would-be killer had no prints, they just stared at her."
"And what did she do then?"
"She used some more four-letter language on them, and then stormed out."
"Frankly, I don't blame her," said Danny. "Okay, Maur, gimme the address of the Sleazy Rest Hotel and we'll go there."
"Officially it's Shady Rest," said Maureen giving him the address. "But I'm told your description fits it better."
"No fingerprints at all?" puzzled Danny as he hung up.
"I beg your pardon?" asked Roberta, staring at him.
"Er, nothing, Mrs Robinson. We have to go out on a call. But you've got our precinct number if your sister-in-law turns up."
"Yes, of course," agreed Roberta. Although she had no intention of ringing them.
* * *
As they reached the doorway, Pedro called: "Lady Mayor, please?"
"What is it now?" demanded the mayor. She stopped to stare at him, giving George a chance to sneak past her to say:
"He's just reminding you that we need to go outside first, in case there is another assassination attempt."
Sighing in frustration, Marla said: "They'd never try it again so soon after the first one."
"You never know," said Pedro, whose father had been running alongside the car the day John F. Kennedy had been gunned down. Knowing how JFK's death had haunted his old man for the rest of his days, Pedro was determined not to let the same thing happen to Marla Goldenberg.
* * *
Sitting in the blue Fairlane in the car park outside the municipal building, Rae was looking decidedly uncomfortable.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" demanded Hannibal. "You're as jumpy as a wombat with a didgeridoo up its arse."
"I don't like it."
"Having a didgeridoo up your arse?"
"Making another attempt on that bitch mayor so soon after the first attempt," insisted Rae.
"Rodrigo's orders," reminded Hannibal. "Besides it's perfect. No-one will expect a second attempt so soon after the first. They won't be ready this time."
"Maybe," said Rae, sounding unconvinced.
* * *
Stepping out of the municipal building, George signalled to Derek, who immediately drove the Lexus across to the doorway, unknowingly placing it between the blue Fairlane and the doors.
This time doing as she was told, Marla Goldenberg waited inside the doors as George and Pedro carefully checked around both sides of the doorway for a couple of minutes.
* * *
"They're being careful, this time," said Rae, unhappy.
"Not careful enough," insisted Hannibal.
"The damn Lexus is shielding the bitch; we have no hope of getting her."
"Of course, we do," said Hannibal leaning over to whisper his plan to Rae, who despite himself smiled insanely at the simple, but effective sounding idea.
* * *
"Okay," said George, signalling to Pedro who started toward the doorway to carefully shield Marla Goldenberg with his own body.
They were a metre from the Lexus, when a blue Fairlane roared up beside it.
"Now!" shouted Hannibal.
The two assassins opened fired on Derek, killed the chauffeur before he could get the Lexus moving.
Then leaping from the Fairlane, the assassins raced across to the Lexus to shoot at Marla Goldenberg through the car's windows, using the mayor's own car as a shield to fire at her.
"Jesus!" cried Pedro, falling dead to the bitumen.
Marla Goldenberg hesitated for a second then jumped to the tar also.
"Bastards!" shouted George opening fire upon the two assassins, who, however, were protected by the Lexus.
Which allowed them to effortlessly gun down the last of the mayor's bodyguards.
"Now she's defenceless," said Hannibal, grinning like a Cheshire cat on dope.
"Great plan boss," said Rae. He was grinning also as they started around the off-white Toyota Lexus toward the prostrate mayor. "Bitch is a sitting duck now."
"Please?" begged Marla Goldenberg as the two men walked toward her.
"That's right, grovel bitch!" said Hannibal, making Rae laugh.
"Show us your tits, bitch, and maybe we'll let you live," said Rae and the two assassins cackled like clucky hens.
"Go to Hell!" curse Marla as they levelled their guns toward her.
"Bitch must be psychic like me and Rodrigo," said Rae, making Hannibal laugh.
"Screw you!" said Marla backing up as best she could on the bitumen.
"Lady Mayor!" called a voice from the municipal building doorway, making Hannibal and Rae curse.
The two assassins span around as three armed security guards raced from the building and stared to fire toward them.
"Shit in a hand basket!" cried Hannibal. He managed to fire off a single shot at Marla Goldenberg, before the two assassins raced back around the Lexus to leap into their own car to roar away into the night.
Marla screamed and covered her head as the bullet struck her left shoulder.
"Stay down Lady Mayor," called one of the security guards. Then they raced out to fire after the accelerating Fairlane in the unlikely hope of stopping it.
"Come on," said a second security guard and they returned to look after Marla Goldenberg.
"Lady Mayor, are you all right?" asked the first security guard, helping her up.
"Yes, Evan," she said then crying out as rockets of pain fired through her left shoulder.
"You've been shot," said Evan.
"It's just a flesh wound. How are the others -- Derek, Pedro, George?"
The other security guards had already gone to check the mayor's own guards.
"Well?" asked Evan as they returned.
By way of answer a security guard standing behind the mayor ran a hand across his throat in a slashing motion.
"I'm sorry," said Evan, and Marla's façade of toughness finally gave way as she started to cry.
* * *
On the ATM screen Valerie kicked the machine. Then as it starts pipping she raced across the road toward a side street.
"She went down there," said Izzi, pointing down the side street.
"Thanks, Iz, I don't know what I'd do without you," said Alastor as a squad car pulled up behind the Fairlane. "Your powers of observation are remarkable. Sherlock Holmes could take lessons from you."
"Shut up, and don't call me Iz."
Alastor punched three or four buttons and the ATM stopped pipping. Then he removed his golden cars and the ATM went dead.
"What's going on here?" demanded a black cop walking up behind them.
Alastor hurriedly pocketed the golden card before turning round to say: "Nothing, officer, the damn machine just ate my card. I never can recall my pin number."
"Yeah, well kicking the machine won't help. You'll have to apply to the bank for your card in the morning."
"Of course, officer, sorry," said Alastor contritely.
"All right, move along then."
Nodding, Izzi and Alastor walked back to the Fairlane and climbed inside.
As Alfonso drove away from the Kerb, Alastor said: "I was so close to burning that smart pig, I could almost taste roast ham."
"Good thing you didn't off him," said Izzi. "Remember what Rodrigo said: no more massacres! We mustn't kill anyone else except in self defence or if they have read the sheet of paper."
"That's right," said Alfonso. "We must maintain the illusion at all costs. We mustn't even kill the Celentano woman unless she's read the note."
"She must have done by now, she's had it for more than twelve hours," insisted Alastor.
"Still we have to be sure. He says he's happy to let her get arrested for all the killings so far. He's unhappy about some of the killings we've already done. Such as the blonde, the cook, the hotel clerk, and the old housekeeper."
"What old housekeeper?" asked Alastor, as they started down the side street.
"It seems that after we left the Church, Father Alex offed his housekeeper."
Looking round at Izzi, Alastor asked: "Why?"
"I think she nagged him too much or something," said Izzi.
"Oh well, that's as good a reason as any."
"Except Rodrigo doesn't think so. He's threatening to send him up one level. He says, 'The illusion must be maintained at all costs!'"
"It's a good thing that I didn't off that fifty-year-old nympho at the hotel, then," said Alastor.
"The barracuda?" asked Izzi.
"Yeah," said Alastor shuddering at the memory of blousy Sophie Martin. "But if we kill the Celentano bitch how's he to know otherwise, if we say she read the note?"
"He'll know!" insisted Alfonso. "He's got the touch … like Izzi."
"Yeah," agreed Izzi.
"So what's he gonna do?" demanded Alastor. "He can hardly kill us, can he?"
"That's true," said Izzi with a laugh. Then more solemnly: "Still it pays not to risk finding out what he can do to us."
"He's right," agreed Alfonso. "Rodrigo can't kill us; but God alone knows what he can do to us. He might send us all up a level, like Father Alex."
"Not you and me," joked Alastor. "We'll just blame Izzi and he'll get sent up and we'll be okay."
While Alastor and Alfonso laughed, Izzi said: "That isn't funny!"
"Don't worry, Iz, we'll let him ball out the priest and that'll cheer him up a bit. Rodrigo always feels better after balling out someone."
* * *
In Godless Avenue Val watched through the small window as Danny Walters spoke on the phone to Maureen, then waited until the three policemen strode out the front door.
She watched from the side of the house as Danny spoke to two cops in a second squad car. The third car had left after the news of the first attempt on the mayor's life.
"Do you want us to stay?" asked a young Hispanic cop behind the wheel of the second squad car.
"No, we don't know if she'll even come here, and all hell's breaking out since the assassination attempt."
"By the guy with no prints?" asked the young cop, his smirk saying he did not believe it for one minute.
"That's right, by the guy with no fingerprints," said Danny. Although still puzzled, he knew that Maureen never got her facts wrong. "Anyway, you'd better head back to base. We'll return here after checking out the hotel."
"No sweat," said the young cop, starting the squad car and roaring away.
Danny walked across to the other car, where Tim Wyatt now sat behind the steering wheel. Climbing into the front passenger seat, he said: "Okay, take us to the Sleazy Rest Hotel."
"Shady Rest," corrected Hanky Guynes.
"That's not what Maureen tells me," teased Danny as they drove off.
* * *
Valerie watched until both squad cars had driven off then went around to the back porch of the yellow weatherboard house.
Opening the backdoor Val stepped into the house then started looking through it for her sister-in-law.
"Val?" said Roberta, when they came face-to-face in the lounge room.
Tapping a finger to her lips, Val signalled for Roberta to follow her out onto the back porch.
On the porch, Roberts said: "They said you murdered Tony, two cops, a priest, and some old woman."
"No, they did. They killed them."
"Not exactly. They claim to be federal cops, but their IDs are obviously fake. That's why they killed the two cops."
"But why? Who are they?"
"I don't know … but I'm exhausted. I need a hot bath, then a good long sleep."
"The whole ground floor is bugged."
"I know," said Val. "But as long as you remember not to use my name, we should be okay until morning. But I'll have to leave by then."
"Okay, honey, come inside," said Roberta, leading the way. "While you're having a bath, I'll pack a small case and get you fresh clothes. We're about the same size, so my clothes ought to fit you."
* * *
At the Shady Rest Hotel, Danny Walters, Tim Wyatt and Hank Guynes stepped into the unattended reception area.
"Shady rest?" asked Tim. "Looks more like the Sleazy Wreck."
Danny ding-dinged the reception bell, which fell apart in his hand.
"Have you been taking protein energy pills again, Serg?" asked Hank.
"No, the damn thing just fell apart in my hand," said Danny, examining the ruined reception bell. "Looks like a ten-tonne weight has been dropped on it."
"Curiouser and curiouser," said Hank looking at the shattered bell.
"Thank you Alex in Blunderland," teased Danny. Then looking about: "Why the hell hasn't anyone come to investigate yet?"
"Maybe there is no night staff," suggested Tim.
"Even a 1-star dump like this must have somebody on night shift. In case someone tries to run out without paying or somebody wants a room," insisted the sergeant.
"Then where is everybody," echoed Tim. "It's like the Mary Celeste, but on dry land.
"The Mary Celeste in dry dock, you mean," corrected Hank.
Danny and Tim Wyatt were still checking out the lifeless foyer of the Shady Rest Hotel, when Hank Guynes called from the small kitchen: "In here, Serg."
"What is it?" asked Danny Walters, striding across to the side door.
Pointing, Hank said: "Blood stains on the lino."
Danny crouched to examine it and said: "They've tried to scrub it away, but blood is almost impossible to scrub off lino."
Looking at Hank, he said: "Call in to the station from the phone at the front desk and get a forensic team out here."
"Got you, Serg," said Hank striding out into the foyer.
Danny and Tim returned to the foyer area as Sophie Martin still dressed in a near-transparent blue night flounced across from the staircase.
"Hello, there," said Sophie. Her green eyes almost popped out in excitement at the sight of the three good-looking policemen. "What's going on here, sweetie?"
"We were hoping that you could tell us that," said Danny. He back up instinctively as the blousy redhead almost pressed up against him. "For instance doesn't this hotel have any night staff?"
"Sure, Fred behind the front counter," she said. She pointed at the front counter as she followed after Danny, determined not to let the slightly greying sergeant get too far away from her.
"Then where is he?" asked Danny, hoping to distract her.
Looking surprised that Fred wasn't there she said: "I don't know."
"Anyone else?" asked Hank Guynes. He immediately regretted it as she flounced across to him, abandoning a very relieved looking Danny.
"Yes, sweetie," she said running a gnarled hand through his longish black hair. "Mrs Chung should be in the kitchen."
"Mrs Chung?" asked Tim Wyatt. He backed away a little as she looked in his direction.
"Yes, she does wonderful fried rice with peas," said Sophie. She started across toward blond Tim, allowing Hank to strategically step across to stand behind Danny Walters.
"Ooh, you're a handsome fellow, aren't you," see said, running her fingers through his longish yellow hair.
"Help, Serg, I've got a middle-aged barracuda after me," said Tim.
"Sorry, son, you're on your own," teased Danny.
"Oh don't be like that, sweetie," said Sophie; "I'm really very nice when you get to know me. Besides the modern term is cougar, not barracuda."
"Help, Serg, I've got as middle-aged cougar after me," said Tim.
"Just lie back and think of England," advised Hank Wyatt.
"I'm not English," said Tim, trying to back away from Sophie. But he found himself trapped between the blousy redhead and the reception counter.
"Then lie back and think how much you wish you were in England right now," said Danny. He looked round at the sound of a car squealing to a stop outside the hotel.
"You ain't wrong there, Serg," said Tim. He had finally managed to wangle his way out from between the two immovable objects to walk across toward the stairs.
Deciding to bail his young constable out, Danny asked: "We've been told that there were gunshots in this hotel earlier."
"No gunshots, sweetie," said Sophie shaking her head as she advanced upon the sergeant of police. Then she stopped and considered for a moment before saying: "But there was a sound like a car backfire."
"When was that?" asked Hank. He backed up in case she started in his direction, as they saw three plain clothed cops they knew racing into the reception area.
"Around the time that slut Rosie Piedersen vanished. Just before the three federal agents turned up looking for that Sultana broad."
"Celentano," corrected Hank. Immediately regretting speaking, as Danny went over to the three forensic cops, leaving him to fight off the fifty-year-old cougar.
"Thelma," said Danny by way of greeting as a beautiful black woman, nearly sixty-years-of-age approached.
"We heard you've found blood stains?"
"On the lino in the kitchen," said Danny. "They tried wiping it off, but…"
"But blood doesn't wipe off lino," she finished for him. Then as he started after them: "You stay here, you've probably fouled the crime scene already."
"How dare you?" teased Danny. "We all ran outside first before throwing up."
"Is that so," said Thelma, laughing. "Well, stay out here anyway."
As the three forensic cops went into the kitchen, Danny said to Sophie Martin: "You were saying about three federal cops turning up looking for Valerie Celentano?"
"That's right, sweetie," said Sophie. Abandoning a relieved looking Hank Guynes, she walked across to press up hard against Danny Walters with her hands doing small circles on his shirt. "My you're a big, strong one aren't you?"
"Er, ma'am," said Danny, almost falling over in his haste to back away from her; "about the federal agents?"
"Oh, yeah," she said, suddenly remembering. "They turned up on the third floor straight after the sound of cars backfiring, and checked all the rooms up there for the Sultana woman…"
"Celentano," corrected Danny, immediately regretting it as she pressed up against him again.
"That's right," she said, making him lean his head backward as it looked as though she was about to kiss him. "They checked all the rooms on the third floor."
"In that case, we'd better check them too," said Hank, deciding to bail his sergeant out.
"Good idea, Hank," said Danny. He almost pushed Sophie off him in his frantic desire to escape the redheaded cougar's advances, to race toward the staircase. "Come on."
"Right behind you, Serg," said Hank Guynes,. Turning, he raced like a jet-propelled rabbit as the blousy fifty-year-old started after him.
"Me too," said Tim Wyatt. Taking no chances, he charged after the other two.
"Sweeties, wait for me," called Sophie. She started after them, but was too corpulent to be able to more than walk slowly up the stairs.
On the third floor the three cops were panting from exhaustion, but relieved to escape Sophie Martin's clutches.
"Serg, you don't know when you're onto a good thing," teased Tim; "she definitely fancied you."
"Yeah, you were in there for sure," teased Hank. "You just had to sweet talk her."
Glaring at them in mock anger, Danny said: "I hope you two jokers know that your continued employment with the force is largely dependent upon the quarterly reports I have to write on you soon."
"Uh-oh," said Hank, laughing.
"Things aren't looking too rosy for you both at the moment," said Danny. He went over to knock on the first door, which had already been kicked in. "So I hope you've both got good second jobs lined up?"
"Oh, don't be like that, Serg," said Hank, still laughing.
"Yoo hoo, sweeties," called Sophie having stopped to catch her breath on the first floor landing.
"Let's get through this quickly," said Danny. He moved across to the next room, which was also empty and had the door almost pulled off the hinges.
They had just reached the last door, which was opened by a pink-rinsed old lady when they heard Sophie's voice, much closer: "Yoo hoo, sweeties, wait for me."
"Excuse me madam," said Danny. The three uniformed cops pushed their way into her room and closed the door.
"What's the matter, is that redheaded barracuda after you?" asked the pink-rinsed old lady.
"Yes," said Danny at a whisper. He raised a finger to his lips to silence them all.
"Sweeties!" called Sophie Martin from the corridor outside. She sounded puzzled that there was no sign of the three handsome policemen. "Why do men always run away from me?"
"I could tell the old slag," said the pink-rinsed old lady, getting shushed by Hank Guynes.
* * *
Almost fainting from delight, Val lowered herself into the piping hot bath water and nearly fell asleep from the relief it provided to her aching joints.
"A girl could get used to this," she said, trying her best not to think of her husband, Tony, who had been murdered twelve hours earlier.
"Just bringing you some towels," said Roberta. Tapping on the door, she entered without waiting to be invited.
"I won't need them for about two hours," said Val.
Putting the towels on a small stool, Roberta said: "You look comfortable."
"I feel comfortable … for the first time in twelve hours," said Val. "I could easily spend the rest of my life in here."
"Yes, well don't forget that if you stay in water too long, you get all wrinkly."
"That's a chance I'm prepared to take," said Val and the two women laughed.
They continued to talk for twenty minutes or so then Roberta said: "Come on lazy cheeks, it's time to get out."
"Leave me alone," protested Val.
"You'll get all wrinkly."
"Trust you to spoil my pleasure," said Val. Reluctantly she allowed Roberta to help her out of the tub so that she could dry off as they headed toward the spare room.
Roberta had already lain out some clean underwear and three dresses upon the bed.
"You've got your choice," she said.
"Thanks," said Val, hurriedly putting on the underwear then holding up a dress to try for size.
"I hope you're not going to sleep with my clothes on?"
"Why not?" asked Val.
"My dresses will get all wrinkly."
"You're obsessed with wrinkliness, you know that, Rob?"
"Am not," said Roberta, helping her sister-in-law toward the bed.
Putting the dress down, Val said: "Yes, diesel fitter."
"I've alredy heard that old joke," said Roberta. "I was about two the first time I heard it."
* * *
Danny Walters and his two constables waited in the old lady's room until Sophie Martin's door slammed shut.
"We've been told that a Miss Peterson has vanished," said Hank Guynes.
"Piedersen," corrected the old lady. "Rosie Piedersen. About the same time as the gunshots."
"Gunshots?" asked Tim Wyatt. "The barracuda insisted they were a car backfiring."
Staring at the young constable, the old lady said: "Cars haven't backfired in more than twenty years. I think it was 'cause of them no longer putting lead into the petrol."
"Oh, of course," said Tim, blushing in embarrassment.
"Which room is Rosie Piedersen's?" asked Danny.
"Third door from the stairs, on this side of the corridor."
"Thanks," said the sergeant.
The three officers went outside, careful to creep past Sophie Martin's door to examine Rosie Piedersen's empty room.
They looked round for a few minutes, locating blood stains on the threadbare carpet.
"The old lady was right," said Hank; "it certainly wasn't a car backfiring."
"But it must've been," said the familiar voice of Sophie Martin from the hallway behind them.
"I'm afraid Miss Piedersen was shot dead in here," said Danny.
"What?" asked the Sophie, covering her mouth with both chubby hands.
"You didn't see her corpse being taken out of here? Perhaps on a stretcher?" asked Danny.
"The only thing they took out of this room tonight was a carcase of beef," said Sophie.
"A carcase of beef?" asked Danny, staring at her.
"Yes, Meatlands Meats. Three butchers came a little while back and collected a large carcase of beef, saying: 'Satisfaction guaranteed or your money smilingly refunded'."
"Why would they collect a side of beef from one of the third storey rooms?" asked Tim Wyatt.
"Yes, wouldn't that be stored in a pantry in the kitchen?" asked Danny Walters.
"Oh, yeah," said Sophie, obviously puzzled. "I never thought of that!"
Leaving Sophie puzzling over that, Danny, Tim, and Hank hurried past her toward the stairs.
"Sweeties, come back," she called.
"Sorry, we've got to report what you've told us to the station."
"There's a phone in my room," offered Sophie, desperately.
"Not a chance in hell!" said Danny as the three policemen raced down the stairs again. "Unless Hank would like to stay to help you back to your room."
"To quote my sergeant, 'Not a hope in Hell!'" said Hank overtaking Danny on the staircase.
* * *
Alastor and the others were still driving down the side street from the ATM machine, when Alastor's mobile phone pipped.
Taking out the phone, he snapped: "Yes?"
"Don't use that tone of voice with me," snapped back Rodrigo.
"Sorry, sir," said Alastor, almost dropping the mobile in surprise. "What's up, sir?"
"The state cops have bugged the house of Valerie Celentano's sister-in-law. We've managed to cut into their transmissions and we think the sister-in-law, Roberta Robinson, said 'Val'."
The three assassins looked at each other.
"Get over there as fast as you can, and don't kill anyone who hasn't read the sheet of paper."
"Of course not," said Alastor.
"If only it were 'of course not'," said Rodrigo.
Resisting the urge to take the bait, Alastor asked for Roberta's address.
"47 Godless Avenue. And remember, we must maintain the illusion at all costs. Or the Big Guy will send us all up a level or three."
"Sir," said Alastor, as Rodrigo rung off. Shutting the mobile phone, he said to Alfonso: "I wonder how he knew we were talking about being sent up a level."
"I told you," said Alfonso; "Rodrigo knows everything we say and think. So let's just do whatever he orders."
"Godless Avenue," said Izzi as they changed direction; "there's cruel irony in that."
"Let me do the jokes, Iz," said Alastor.
"Don't call me Iz; you know I don't like that."
"You're so cute when you pout," teased Alastor.
Alfonso laughed and Izzi glared at both of them.
* * *
"How'd it go?" asked Thelma. Her two young male assistants followed her toward the staircase as the three policemen descended.
"Someone - we think a blonde prostitute name Rosie Piedersen -- has definitely been killed in room 306.
"We'd better go right up then," said Thelma.
"Yeah, well be ready to guard your two lads from a rather brassy, middle-aged barracuda in room 303," said Danny.
"We only just got away unmolested," said Tim Wyatt.
"Okay, thanks for the warning," said Thelma as the three cops sped out toward their squad car. Then to her now rather reluctant assistants come on guys … are you men or mice."
"Squeak squeak squeak!" said a black youth of eighteen.
"Very funny, Leon, but I've heard that one years ago," said Thelma.
She stopped at the first landing where they encountered Sophie Martin coming down.
"Hello, sweeties," said the brassy redhead to the two youths, who raced past her to the second landing.
"Just watch yourself, Barracuda," said Thelma, pointing a long, thin finger at her. "Danny warned us about you. And let me tell you that when I was a little girl on the bayou, my pappy taught me how to net and skin bigger barracudas than you."
"Oh, pooh," said Sophie flouncing down to the ground floor.
Racing up the stairs after her assistants, Thelma called out: "Come back here you two cowards. If you foul the crime scene, I'll kill you."
"If that barracuda comes after us again, we'll foul much more than just the crime scene," said young Leon.
"You cowards, I warned you both on your first day in this job that you'd see some shocking sights. Well you've just seen your first one."
* * *
After reporting the bloodstains in the third floor room to Thelma and the forensic team, the three policemen returned to their squad car to hear Maureen trying to raise them on the radio.
Lifting the handset, Danny said: "Talk to me, gorgeous."
"We think Roberta Robinson is talking to her sister-in-law, Valerie Celentano."
"Have you sent a car, yet?"
"Haven't got a one to spare ... there's just been another attempt on the mayor's life, and she's spitting chips, demanding that we solve this case quickly."
"Don't worry, we're on it," said Danny, hanging up. "A second attempt on the mayor's life?" he mused.
"Let's hope it's not a case of third time lucky," said Hank Guynes prophetically.
"Yeah," said Danny. Then to Tim: "Back to the Robinson house."
"Back and forth! Back and forth!" said Tim Wyatt as they took off, siren blaring.
"That's police work for you, Tim," teased Danny. "You'd better get used to it, you've got a lot of years ahead of you on the force."
"So you're not putting in a negative quarterly report on him?" teased Hank.
"Oh, yeah," said Danny. "Well, in that case, maybe you don't!"
* * *
Picking up Val's own clothing from the floor, Roberta stopped as she saw the shiny red shoes.
"Hey, nice shoes, Val," she said, picking them up. "Where'd you buy them?"
"I didn't, I borrowed them from a lady … when she wasn't looking," said Val.
Roberta looked up, surprised, then the two women started laughing.
TO BE CONTINUED:
© Copyright 2011
Philip Roberts, Melbourne, Australia