CHAPTER 2


Sunday morning's ritual was far from peaceful. The sea air didn't taste the same. For the first time in ten years, Sunday had lost its golden glow. Through fights and furies, even death in the family, Sunday had been an oasis, standing alone, a vacation of sorts from the world, but not today. Today felt as riddled with anxiety as every day for the last six.

Parker watched her go through the motions. Pet the cats, pick up the paper, feed Rupert. A dull and disturbing look in her eyes. He had kept silent all week, never nagged or bludgeoned, just let her go with it. But this was getting frightening. Whatever the circumstance, she had always said: "Never on a Sunday."

Watching her sit down on the patio, he was compelled to risk the fury as he gently laid his hand on her knee. "Talk to me, Shirlee."

"Why? I'm fine." She buried her face in the newspaper. "...just a little tired."

"You're a lousy liar. You always have been." He took her paper away and clasped both of her hands in his. "I've been thinking ..."

"That's dangerous."

"I've been thinking about Sherlock Holmes," Parker smiled.

"What about him?"

"He never gave up ..."

"That was easy, Park, he had fictitious murders. I don't. But then again ..." She pulled her hands away.

"No, you don't." Parker winked. "Even if there isn't a connection you can still work on the San Jose killing, and check out a few other things along the way."

"Wait a minute. Weren't you arguing the other way?"

"It didn't do me any good. If you can't beat 'em ... and I never could beat you."

"Does that mean I get my money back?" She smiled and he could see her eyes beginning to shine again.

"No, but if you're nice I'll let you take it out in trade..."

"You don't have anything worth that much."

They both laughed.

"Seriously, Parker, if you've come up with something I haven't tried, I'd love to hear it."

He stammered for a minute, having lost his momentum. "...You're a Fed, right? A real FBI agent."

"Yeah, so ... I work the database. Elliot Ness I'm not."

"You don't have to be. All you need is the authority to call the local police stations and hotels. Tell them you're running a confidential investigation. It's got to turn up more than the newspaper morgue" Parker winced, "Sorry, bad choice of words."

She laughed, "actually it was quite appropriate, but what if someone finds out I don't have the authority?"

"Keep them on an individual basis. Then go through all the reports and see what you can see. I'll wager you'll know it when you see it. That is your specialty."

"How much will you wager?" She asked sarcastically.

"Not that much ..."

"And if I don't find a pattern?"

"Then you can give this damn thing up."

* * *

Staring at her lunch bag on Monday afternoon, it occurred to Shirlee that no one had noticed her strange behavior. A twinge of loneliness struck. None of the regular lunch crowd or other office cronies had dropped by to inquire what she was up to. But she did want to be left alone. Be careful what you wish for, she thought to herself. Be very, very careful. Gnawing on the last bit of her lone sandwich, she rang up the Lion's Inn.

"Lion's Inn, San Jose's finest. How may I direct your call?" The receptionist asked.

"Hotel manager, please."

"May I ask who's calling?"

"The Federal Bureau of Investigation." Shirlee sternly answered.

"Yeah, uh, I'll ring you through right away." The receptionist fluttered and Shirlee felt guilty for enjoying it.

"Markem here, can I help you?" His voice was authoritative.

"Yes, I'm calling in regard to your recent unpleasantness. I'm Agent Hart from the FBI." She tried to sound official, hoping no one would call to check up on her.

"What unpleasantness would that be?"

"The murder, Mr. Markem. The murder of Gregory Olovos."

"Oh, yes, that unpleasantness. Where can I direct you?"

Shirlee sensed she knew this man. A useless administrator, but she'd come this far out on the limb, she might as well finish it. "I don't need direction, just a few answers."

"We told everything to the police." Markem was stuttering. "They scoured the place. They were here for days. It was very bad for business." It was easy to tell that he didn't want a repeat performance.

Shirlee steadied her voice. "Yes, I've read the police report," she lied, "but I'm interested in things of a more esoteric nature."

"Eso ... what?"

"Esoteric, out of the ordinary, anything peculiar or unusual."

"Well madam, I happen to find the whole business rather peculiar." Markem was perturbed.

"I understand that, but I'm trying to get at something else." Shirlee was fumbling, not sure herself what she wanted to know, but she had to keep Markem on the defensive. Next time she'd plan better. "Was anything missing from the room itself?"

"I really wouldn't know. I don't take inventory personally."

"Who does?"

"Housekeeping."

"Then will you transfer me to housekeeping?" She kept her tone serious.

"I would be delighted." Markem punched the Hold button with a troubled sigh.

The receiver picked up on the first ring. "Housekeeping, Mia. What can I do for you?"

"Hello, Mia, I'm Ms. Hart from the FBI. I would like to ask you a few questions."

"What do you want to know?" The woman replied confidently.

"Who takes inventory in the guest rooms after they're vacated?"

"We take out the linen stuff... room service the bar... you know."

"Did you take inventory on Mr. Olovos' room after the police left?"

"The guy who got hit?" Mia sounded intrigued.

"Yes ... Why did you say hit?"

"It was so clean, you know ..."

"No, I don't know. What do you mean by clean ?"

"I did that room myself. Couldn't let my girls in there, too messy I thought. But, when I walked in, not messy at all."

"Not messy? But he was stabbed in the throat!" Shirlee knew she sounded bewildered, but it was too late now.

"Yeah. But no splash on the walls, not like you see in the movies, nothing like that. Blood on the bed, but no splash on the walls." The woman was kind and confident. "I guess the police must have cleaned up with the towels."

"What towels?" Shirlee asked.

"The missing towels." Mia replied as if Shirlee should know what she was talking about.

"What missing towels?"

"There was one of each. Like somebody took a set. One big towel, one finger towel and one washcloth. A set, you know ..." Mia waited on the phone line, but when she didn't hear a reply she kept talking, thinking that the woman still didn't understand. "Customers, they always take stuff, but you know he couldn't 'cause he was dead. Must have been the cops who took 'em."

"Did you tell the police this?"

"No, the police were long gone when I got there. Anyway why would I tell 'em? If they stole 'em, they know."

"... and if they didn't?" Shirlee mumbled.

"What?"

"Nothing, Mia, I'm sorry. Was anything else missing?" She fought to keep her voice calm. "This is very important, Mia, can you think of anything else that was missing?"

"Yeah, come to think ... the soaps and stuff like that. You know ... the guest stuff. We never mind that, people always take 'em, the shampoos and stuff. They pay for it anyway."

"Thank you so much Mia, you've been very kind and more helpful than you know. Could you transfer me to room service?"

"Happy to."

As Shirlee heard the phone go click she though about Mia's perceptions of an FBI agent asking about soap and towels. There had to be a better way to do this. Poor woman probably thinks I'm investigating police corruption at its lowest levels. Tax dollars at work ...

"Room service, Bowman. It'll be a twenty minute wait."

"This is Ms. Hart from the FBI ..."

"Wow, how about fifteen?" He sounded like one of the young men who routinely throw beer bottles into her front yard. He probably was.

"No, I'm not ordering anything. Can I speak to your supervisor please?"

"Sure, but I didn't do it. I mean I just got on." Bowman was apparently a young man with something to hide, but at this point Shirlee couldn't care less.

"Nothing's wrong, I assure you, just transfer me to your supervisor." Shirlee smiled to herself. Parker had a point, the FBI thing really shakes people up. She was sorry she hadn't used it sooner.

The phone rang through to a completely different kind of character. "Yes, this is Mr. Morrisy, how can I address your problem?"

Shirlee had to stifle a laugh, she was never going to order room service at the Lion's Inn. "Mr. Morrisy. I don't have a complaint ..."

"You don't!" He interrupted, sounding surprised.

"No, this is Agent Hart from the FBI. I just have a few questions."

Morrisy cleared his throat. "Yes ... about?"

She would have dearly loved to know what was going on in the room service department of the Lion's Inn. White slavery, she fantasized ... probably just plain old weed.

"Yes ... ?" Morrisy persisted.

"Sorry, I was momentarily sidetracked. You keep an inventory on all of the private hotel bars, correct?"

"Yes, the bars and the snack baskets." He calmed down noticeably.

"Would you still have an inventory from Mr. Olovos, your unfortunate guest of a week ago Saturday?"

"Olovos? Olovos ...?"

"The MURDERED man!" This had to be a game. She couldn't believe he didn't know who she was talking about.

"Oh, that Mr. Olovos. I'm sorry, but I'm very bad with names."

"Apparently." She replied sarcastically.

"Actually you're in luck, I do. I kept it in case of an inquiry. there were several items missing, but the management thought it better not to bill the family under the circumstances, you understand. But just in case anyone did come forward ... I have it right here."

"How much was missing?"

"A great deal considering only the one night ... or half a night. He went out with a bang, I can tell you that."

"So there was a lot of liquor gone?" Her mind was racing.

"Yes, you could say that."

"Would you happen to know how many bottles were found at the scene?" She paused for a moment. "No, of course you wouldn't. You've been a great help Mr. Morrisy, now can you just do me one small favor and fax that list."

"Of course."

Shirlee read him the fax number and was about to hang up, when Morrisy chimed in again.

"The FBI wouldn't be inclined to reimburse us for this, would they?"

She couldn't believe this guy. They found a dead man in his hotel and he was hung up on the liquor bill. "I'm not sure, but I promise you I'll look into it." Like hell, she thought.

She ran over to the facsimile machine and hovered like a vulture. She couldn't believe the police weren't looking into this. Then again, maybe they took the booze. That was a sobering thought. She wondered who she knew on the force that would quietly slip her a copy of the report.

The machine began to whir and the list came out a page and half long, totaling over a hundred dollars. Shirlee marveled at the prices. The Lion's Inn could really gouge.

The list resembled a gourmet picnic basket for six. Four bottles of wine, two champagne, cheese, crackers, nuts and every kind of aperitif one could imagine. There had to be something to it. If Olovos drank it all, or even half, he would have died of alcohol poisoning. Greek or not. She stared at the list, there was something missing. There was no beer! That left the cops out. They'd have taken the Bud long before the Ameretto.

Shirlee's last call of the day was to Millie Kay. Millie knew everything there was to know about the goings-on in the San Jose Police Department. She'd been there since Day One. Shirlee never had a talent for cultivating friends in high places, but she got along very well with the clerical stiffs that do the real work.

"Millie, this is Hart. I have an off-the-wall favor to ask."

"How off-the-wall?"

"Can you copy everything from the Olovos killing for me?"

"Olovos? Why are you interested, we haven't put in any requests for assistance."

"I know, this is really hush-hush. It's worth a lot to me."

"How much?"

She had Millie's attention. "Name it."

"Who's the agent-of-record?"

"Don't ask ..."

"Oh, Hart ... Is this going to bite me in the ass?"

"No, I swear, no one will find out. Name your price, Millie. I need to pick it up ASAP."

"Let me think about it."

"Jesus, Millie, this is important ... Can't you ..."

Millie interrupted. "Calm down, Hart. I'll copy the file. I'm just thinking about what I want. 'Name your price' covers a lot of territory."

"Millie, you're an angel."

"That's easy for you to say, you haven't gotten my bill ."

"When can I pick up the file?"

"Hold on. It'll take a day or two, but I'll call you before Friday. I promise."

Shirlee hung up the phone, wondering how she was going to get the other two reports in the same quiet manner. But Millie knew she wasn't in the field, to the rest of them she'd just be Agent Hart. It was possible.

Most of Tuesday and Wednesday was spent crawling quietly through the bureaucracies required to get the other two files. Millie came through on Friday afternoon, still undecided about her price. Shirlee had the others delivered by Federal Express and made it through security without raising any eyebrows. But sooner or later the questions would start coming. Locking them all in her trunk, she nearly died resisting the temptation to read them in the parking lot. That obsessive/compulsive streak was coming out again. But this was not a job for the office. She had the whole weekend. Two days to tie both a profile and a traceable motive together in a neat bureaucrat-proof package.


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Copyright ©1998 Toni Leigh, All Rights Reserved