Someone is killing redheads in San Francisco and he isn’t human. Tony Mandolin, weatherbeaten PI finds himself having to navigate a maze of clues, the mob, and an overly affectionate cross dresser in order to not just solve the mystery, but survive.
A Slight Case of Death
A Tony Mandolin Mystery
By Robert Lee Beers
She had legs that went all the way to my libido.
It took a couple of seconds before I managed to get my eyes level with hers. Thick red curls cascaded past her shoulders framing a heart shaped face. Her full, pouting lips quirked in a half smile and she breathed in, “Like what you see?”
I had to check to see if there was any drool left on my chin. “Uh…” I said intelligently, blinding her with my witty repartee.
She smiled again; she knew she had my full attention. “I’m looking for a guy by the name of Banjo or something, you him?”
“You got the wrong instrument, sweetheart,” I murmured, as Mr. Libido howled at the moon and dribbled all over my inner man. “The name’s Mandolin, Tony Mandolin. What can I do for you?”
She settled onto the corner of my desk and the hem of her skirt hiked up to reveal a firm thigh hugged by expensive silk. Clients usually don’t get away with that, but what the heck, she looked good. A whiff of very expensive perfume floated my way, one of those that subtly sledgehammer the inhibitions.
This time her smile was slightly less confident. “My apologies, Mr. Mandolin,” she toyed with a bit of the silk. The room, already warm, got warmer.
“I need your help.”
I leaned back in my chair, wishing for air conditioning. “What sort of help?”
“Your ad says you find things.”
“What kinds of things?”
Trying to some kind of control, I pulled open the right-hand drawer of my desk. Next to the old Colt sat an open jar of salted peanuts. I grabbed a handful and popped one into my mouth. The chewing helped. “You lose something?”
“Yes…” her answer came out in a voice so small I had to lean forward and ask her to repeat it. “…My sister.”
Probably a kid sister, I thought. With that kind of competition, you could see where the younger one would feel unfairly put upon. The kid most likely ran away to a friend’s house, an easy job for easy money. “I see,” I said, “What’s she look like?”
Legs turned her head and posed. “Like me, we’re twins.”
Down, boy. I leaned further back in my chair and placed both size 13s on the desk, Bogart-style. If I wore a fedora, I would have pulled down on the brim. “Twins, hmm? Ok, doll, what’s the story? Like you said, my ad says I find things. You’re obviously worried about her. What aren’t you telling me?”
A bit of heat inched into her eyes. “My name, for one and it isn’t sweetheart or doll.”
I waited. We were playing a game of cat and mouse and I wasn’t sure who was who.
Her deep breath sent various glands into overdrive. “Very well, my name is Roxanne, Roxanne Driver.”
All those glands suddenly went into deep freeze. She knew I recognized the name. Hell, I lived in the Western US, didn’t I? The Drivers were one of those families everyone reads about but no one outside of certain rarified circles ever meets. Miss Driver and her twin were heirs to a fortune some governments would like to control. According to the papers, Daddy earned a cool two billion last year, but only because business was a bit slow. I silently added a zero to my fee and locked the door to Mr. Libido’s closet, adding a few chains and bolts for good measure. This was way out of my pay grade. The Drivers lived in a highly rarified atmosphere and had for a couple centuries. Their great granddaddies did all the work, while the last couple of generations have spent their time in degeneration and other enlightening pastimes. Contrary to type, the current patriarch, Randall Driver the third, spent most of his time buying and selling businesses, he was the odd one, a worker. The man was responsible for dozens of companies and thousands of careers. He petrified me.
I took my feet off the desk and picked up one of the papers cluttering its top. I held it out to her. “Fill this out and I’ll see if I can work you into my schedule.” You could have shipped fish with the temperature of my voice.
She didn’t look at the paper. Her lower lip became poutier and she sighed, elevating some very attractive real estate. “I…see.”
I turned back to my papers, heard a click and looked up into the barrel of a 38.
I hadn’t noticed the handbag; it was too small. Who would have believed a gun that size would have fit into a bag that small? She held it rock-steady, pointed at yours truly.
Mama Mandolin did not raise a fool. I kept my eyes level with hers and placed both hands on the desk. “Are you planning on using that thing, Miss Driver?”
Her aim remained steady. “Only if I have to.”
I nodded. “And that reason would be…”
She didn’t reply. The muzzle of that gun started to look like the mouth of the city’s water main.
We sat there for what seemed like hours, Roxanne holding a bead on me and me trying not to sweat. Finally, she let out a breath and murmured, so softly it seemed like she was talking more to herself than to me, “I love my sister.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I can see where that’d make any woman pull a gun on a stranger.”
That was stupid. Her eyes flashed and she brought up her other hand, moving into a shooting stance. “I won’t be mocked, Mister Mandolin.”
I held up my hands. Right, as if they’d stop a .38 slug. “Look, I’m sorry if I was rude; your people and mine, they tend not to mix too well, okay? Your sister is missing. All right, how long has she been missing? Where did you last see her? What are her habits? Who does she hang around with? Have you gone to the police? I don’t know about other departments, but there’s a couple of detectives downtown I know who are pretty heads up when it comes to solving missing persons cases.”
My rapid-fire questions rattled her. The gun lowered as she looked away in thought. Maybe I wouldn’t have to change my pants after all.
“I can’t go to the police,” she stated in a voice so flat it was almost monotone.
“Why not?” I asked. Her daddy owned more than half of the bayside waterfront and most of city hall, and she couldn’t go to the police? They’d fall all over themselves trying to please her just because of daddy’s money. Hell the Chief would probably order her lunch while she waited.
She crossed her arms under her breasts and lifted. I tried not to stare. “Because I can’t, let’s leave it at that.”
“Ok.” I make a point of never arguing with a lady with a gun, even if it was no longer pointed at me. Closing off that option also left out Pat Monahan, one of the few city detectives who didn’t hate my guts. “So how long has she been missing?”
“Since last night.”
I looked at the clock stuck to the wall behind her. It read11:05am. The gun still dangled from her fingers. I swallowed what I had been about to say and tried a route more suitable to survival. “Has she done anything like this before? Tell me something about her usual morning routine.”
She chewed her lower lip. I could feel Mr. Libido stirring again. Shoving an additional wedge into his door, I urged her on. “Look, Miss Driver, if you want me to help you, I’ll need to know some things, some of them probably personal.”
“Very well,” she sighed, “I’ll tell you. Last night Randi and I went slumming. We had heard about other girls doing it and having a great time.” She smiled tentatively, “We thought it would be fun, sort of a guilty pleasure.”
I managed to keep my face professionally interested. Put me down for an Academy Award. “Go on.”
“At first,” she tilted her eyes toward the ceiling, “It was fun. Most of the men in our circle have considerably higher opinions of themselves than they deserve.”
The women too, but that’s just me.
She continued, “But I found myself becoming bored after the first couple of hours. As diverting as the men were, we had nothing in common and they were only interested in one thing.”
Welcome to the human race sweetheart. “So, you left, but your sister was still partying?”
She looked away. “Yes.”
“And that’s the last time you saw her?”
“Where was this?”
“A bar called the Summersault. We had never been there before. I usually stay away from that portion of the city.”
I wasn’t surprised. The club she mentioned sat in the 600 block ofEddy Street. At night, the seedier elements prowled the shadows and alleys in search of prey. Take a girl with Randi’s looks; add a few measures of gin, shake and serve. Easy pickings, that is unless Roxanne’s twin got lucky and was still sleeping off last night in someone else’s bed. Say, a someone else with the dough to equal his taste.
“I know the neighborhood. What time did you two separate?”
She shivered, hugging herself. This one wore all her emotions on her skin. “I’m not sure. I’d had a little too much to drink. It was aftermidnightwhen the cab dropped me off at home. I went straight to bed. When I woke, it was after 9. That’s when I noticed Randi hadn’t come home at all.”
“How could you tell?” I think I already knew, but I had to ask.
“Her bed had not been slept in. Our rooms sit across from each other and the maids don’t come until after10.”
I nodded. “Ok. Do you recall anyone in particular paying attention to her more than anyone else? Did she seem attracted to anyone over and above the other men you saw there?”
She shook her head; red curls flew. “No, not that I can recall.”
“Have you got a photo of her I can take with me? Believe it or not, most folks don’t have that much of a memory.”
This question moved the gun back into the handbag. I waited for the photo as my insides held a parade in celebration.
“Here,” she held out a wallet-sized photo.
I had to force myself not to glance back and forth between her and the photo. Randi and Roxanne were indeed twins, identical right down to the tiny mole to the left of their identical pouty mouths. In spite of their family history and fortunes, the girls were stunners. I shouldn’t have much trouble raising a trail.
I nodded at the shot, trying to look thoughtful rather than licentious. “This’ll do. Now, about my fee…”
She reached into the handbag again and pulled out a horse-choking, thick wad of bills. She dropped the roll onto my desk. “I don’t believe in dickering, Mr. Mandolin, it wastes too much time. If that isn’t sufficient let me know. I just want you to find my sister,” her voice faltered, “even if…”
I eyed the money, “Yeah, sure.” That zero I had added had gained friends. The outer bill was aFranklin. “I’ll need a contact number.”
A business card landed next to the wad. “That is my private number. Leave a message if I don’t answer.” Then she walked out, her expensive perfume stayed to flirt a little longer.
I went into the PI business because I was good at finding things, as I’d told Miss Driver, all things. Even when I was a kid with skinned knees and a missing tooth, I could find something, if I put my mind to it, even when everyone else had given up. My parents said I had a sixth sense. Perhaps they were right. Too bad it never worked on the horses at Belmont.
I picked up the card. It was glossy white with black printing, a phone number and nothing else, not even an area code. The rich, they like to do it in style.
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