This story contains sexually explicit scenes.
Moe thanked the bourbon. Why else would Mona still be in his bed when he woke up the next morning? He did a Houdini to get out of the tangle of arms and legs. Mona just grunted and rolled over on her stomach. Moe stood and stared. There ought to be a law against dames looking like Mona did in the morning – fire hair flaming across Moe’s pillow, gams stretched long and bare with a sheet that forgot to cover her naked ass. How could a man keep his mind on a daily grind if he had to leave a portrait like that? He should wake her, say, “Good Morning,” or turn her over and make love to her. But instead he crept around the joint like a thief, hunting for pants and a shirt, and staring at her sleeping in his bed, all milk and honey and fire.
When he finally tiptoed into the front room, the bourbon was still sitting on his desk. He considered tossing back the shot Mona hadn’t finished, but a cup of hot brew seemed like a better idea. He walked out the front door wondering if Mona would still be there when he got back. He considered leaving a note, but Moe wasn’t much of a writer. He’d give her a buzz later on the telephone.
A quick stop at the local diner and Moe was gnawing toast and sipping java. The dry bread and steaming black coffee did nothing to wash away the sweet image of a naked Mona. Her pleadings from the night before – “do, Moe, do” – muzzied up his brain and threatened to stir the fire Moe was failing to bank.
It was hard driving around the block to get breakfast. It was even harder driving clear across town to attend to business. By the time he pulled into Dutch and Kitty Winslow’s gated driveway, Moe was still thinking about the curve of the nurse’s back. He should’ve kissed that dimpled spot right above her ass. He shook his head and forced himself to study the mansion laid out in front of him.
Men like Dutch and Moe didn’t spin in the same social circles. Dutch and Moe maintained a relationship that depended on a place like Flamingo’s. Moe was more comfortable in a joint where a man could get lost in a sea of faces bellying up to a bar. Dutch had never invited Moe to his home, and Moe had never thought to come. Houses this big required too many people to keep it clean, and Moe didn’t like worrying about dirt on his shoes.
The gate was electronic – a brassy contraption that had Moe pushing a red button. A couple of seconds later, the gate snuck open. Moe followed the paved driveway around a fountain and stopped at the front of the house. The massive oak door yawned, and a greeter in a monkey suit ushered Moe into the foyer before Moe could finish straightening his tie. White gardenias, arranged in a Tiffany vase, donned an entryway table, but the smell of Johnson Wax was the strongest scent in the space. An entire forest had lost its life in order to decorate the inside of the Winslow mansion. Solid oak lined the paneled walls and the massive winding staircase.
“Mrs. Winslow requests that you wait for her in the library.”
Moe followed the working stiff into a small room where leather-bound books lined the walls from the Persian rugs all the way up to the Italian crown molding. The wood shelves gleamed to such a high polish, a man could shave his face in the reflection. A couple of Chesterfield chairs sat on either side of a marbled fireplace. Moe ran an eye over the reading material. Perfectly spined books such as Kipling’s Captain Courageous, Dickens’s Great Expectations, and Stevenson’s Kidnapped packed the shelves. Pristine editions of old classics. The room smelled more new than used.
“Do you read, Mr. Gafferson?”
Moe swung around to see Kitty Winslow leaning against the doorjamb, her satin dressing gown flowing off her hips like syrup. Most dames saved their glamour for nighttime. Apparently, Kitty liked starting the day off with it. Around her neck she wore oyster fruit and on her feet, clicking slip-on heels with powder puffs the same pink color as the gown.
“Me, read?” Moe nodded toward the shelves. “Nothing like these books. Not since the nuns insisted on it. Give me a five cent blab sheet. They’re more my speed.”
“Dutch insisted we have a library.” Kitty paused, gazing off in the distance before adding, “Dutch insists on a lot of things.”
“Where is Mr. Winslow?” Moe hoped to find Dutch home too. It was one of the reasons he was up and visiting before noon. The idea of working for Kitty without Dutch knowing gave Moe a sick feeling in his belly. A man’s got to be careful how he treats his friends. Maybe there was a chance the three of them could get on the same page.
“Dutch has already gone to Flamingo’s.”
“Too bad. I wouldn’t have minded making this a threesome this morning.”
Kitty batted her eyelashes and forced a smile, but it wasn’t heartfelt. “I haven’t told him I’ve hired you.”
“I figured as much.”
“He’s still deciding on whether to forgive me.”
“Hiring me behind his back might sway his decision in a way you’re not ready for.”
“That’s a chance I have to take,” she sighed.
“You know why, Mr. Gafferson. I loved Peter.”
The smell of this conversation was too glossy for Moe’s tastes. Kitty lived in a make-believe world, all pretty and gussied up, but underneath it all she was getting no use – like a library with brand new books and no fingerprints. Kitty needed some black and white reality.
“Mrs. Winslow, Peter Schmidt wasn’t on the up and up.”
Kitty made her way to one of the Chesterfields, gripping its back like a handrail and following it to its front.. “Don’t say that,” she whimpered. Leather crunched as she slumped into the seat. “You didn’t know him like I did.” She bowed her head and closed her eyes. Moe half-expected a crying jag, but when she straightened, her face was pale and without tears. “Do you know this for sure?”
“It’s more than a hunch.”
Somewhere deep, Kitty must have suspected what kind of man Schmidt was, she was just hoping for a different sketch. “It seems I don’t have much intuition when it comes to men, Mr. Gafferson.”
Moe looked around the room. The smell of quality leather and high-polished wood was eclipsed only by the smell of money. He leaned back against the bookshelf and crossed his arms. “I don’t know, Mrs. Winslow. You’re not slumming as far as I can tell.”
“Wealth can’t replace feeling, Moe.”
“Maybe not, but most folks wouldn’t mind testing the theory.”
Kitty stared hard at Moe. “You think I’m ungrateful for what Dutch has given me.”
“I don’t spend my time moralizing about husbands and wives, Mrs. Winslow. I’d be out of a job if they all got along.”
Kitty stood and swished her way over to where Moe leaned against the bookshelf. She ran a delicate, well-manicured finger along the spine of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
“And what have you been spending your time doing?”
“Tracking down the German thug that knifed me.”
“What does he have to do with Peter?”
“Still connecting the dots, babe. But I’d give ten-to-one odds he’s also the one who killed your precious lover boy.”
Kitty focused her face toward Moe, her obsidian eyes squinting. “German? Does this German thug have a name?”
Moe dug through the change in his pocket and found his lucky shell casing. Fiddling the warm edges of the metal helped him think. The idea of a lovesick woman out for revenge bumping noses with a no-account hood like Metzger didn’t sit well. Moe decided to play it safe. The client didn’t have to know everything, especially if the insight would just get her into trouble. “Nobody you know, doll. He’s just the dirty front man.”
“But why kill Peter?”
“I don’t know. Maybe Peter was a double-crosser.”
“I don’t believe that.” Kitty still clung to her fairy tale romance with Prince Charming. Schmidt’s death only added to the drama. Moe could understand. No one liked being taken for a sucker.
“There’s some things I wanted to go over with you again, Mrs. Winslow. Do you mind?”
“I’ve told you everything I know.”
“Could be, but a thing or two isn’t panning out like it should. For instance, Chang’s isn’t in business any more.”
“The laundry? That’s impossible. I was just there a week ago.”
“Maybe we could sit down for a bit?”
Kitty didn’t have much more information to offer. Chang’s seemed like every Chinese laundry she had ever been in. An elderly Chinaman had taken the bundles of clothes and given her a ticket.
Moe asked Kitty to let him see the things that Schmidt had given her. The only thing she could show him was the gold necklace hiding beneath the white marbles around her neck. Moe studied it, but it was just a simple chain.
“What about the other stuff?”
“Dutch took it. He stormed into my dressing area a few days after Peter was killed and demanded I give him anything that Peter had given me.”
“How is it you still have the necklace?”
Kitty rolled the gold chain between her thumb and forefinger. “Dutch was only after clothes.”
“What do you mean?”
“He specifically said to hand over anything Peter had given me to wear. I gave him the mink stole and the new dress.” Kitty’s eyes glossed over and a raindrop-sized tear spilled out.
“What did he do with the duds?”
“I don’t know.”
“Does Dutch usually keep that close an eye on your wardrobe?”
“Never.” She looked up at him accusingly. “I figured you had told him about the things Peter had given me.”
“He didn’t hear about them from me, doll.”
Back in his car, Moe took a deep breath. The door stuck on the old Buick, the AM radio only worked a fourth of the time, and the floorboards had enough dirt to build a mud pie, but Moe relaxed. His mess was comfortable and real. The high gloss of the Winslow mansion could blind a man.
He tapped out a cigarette and waited for the lighter to heat up. The more he talked to Kitty, the less he figured her for a dame with an agenda. She wore the signs of grief as flamboyantly as she wore her satin. On the other hand, there was Dutch. Why would he care about the flashy duds Schmidt gave to Kitty? Jealousy didn’t fit. Dutch had already spelled out his feelings for Kitty: she was his and love had nothing to do with it.
Moe inhaled a couple of deep drags off his cigarette and shifted the car into first. It was time for a visit to the swanky dress shop. It was a cinch Maxwell Singer wouldn’t bust a gut to talk, but the Lois broad had given Mona an earful. He hoped she wasn’t done chatting.
Moe wanted to get a feel for the crowd before going in the upscale dress shop. He parked his Buick catty-cornered from Singer’s and made friends with a lamppost. The place was relatively quiet. Two gals had entered in the time Moe was keeping an eye out. One of them had already left. When the door opened the second time, he expected to see the other broad making her exit. Instead a short, fat man with a monocle, fitting Mona’s description of Maxwell Singer, toddled out. He lifted a pudgy hand into the air and a dark blue sedan eased in front of the store. The fat man rolled into the backseat, and the late model Packard sped away. Paydirt! Suddenly, Moe liked his chances with gabby Lois. With the fat cat away, the mouse could play.
Moe flicked his cigarette and tightened his tie. He hadn’t been in a lady’s dress shop since he was a kid, holding his mom’s hand and blushing at the undergarments. A man could get a rash from all the fancy threads. A tiny bell tinkled when Moe opened the glass door.
Luckily, there were only two palominos in the place, and it was easy to tell which one was Lois. She was the one down on her knees, pinning up a hem for the society dame preening in the mirrors. The kneeling seamstress glanced up at Moe and gave him a quick smile.
“Could you excuse me for a moment, Mrs. Tudor?”
“I don’t have all day, young lady.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll just be a minute.”
Moe dithered a silk nightie and tried to shake the image of his mother wearing something so frilly. The sales clerk made her way over to Moe. With straight pins stuck between her lips, she showed miraculous verbal dexterity in talking around them.
“May I help you sir?”
“Aren’t you afraid you’ll swallow those?” Moe asked, pointing to the straight pins.
She sneaked a peek at the society dame and then peeled the pins from her lips. “Are you looking for something special for a lady friend?”
“You could say that. Are you Lois?”
“Why, yes, yes I am. What can I do for you?”
Lois couldn’t have been more than nineteen. Probably been working since she was sixteen, supplementing some middlebrow family somewhere, maybe helping to pay her college fees.
“Young woman,” the old biddy bellowed. “I don’t have time for you to dilly-dally.”
The society dame was the type who knew the world revolved around her. Moe could feel the breeze coming off her shoulder all the way across the room. “How long before you finish with the largemouth bass over there?”
Lois smiled, showing off pink apple cheeks. Moe figured he’d just found himself a co-conspirator.
“Five minutes.” She cupped her hand and whispered, “Four if she holds still.”
It took eight minutes before the battleaxe was dressed and gone, leaving just Moe and Lois in the shop.
“Thank you for waiting.”
“How’d you keep from sticking those pins of yours in her legs?”
Lois giggled, the kind of giggle only young girls get away with. “Mrs. Tudor really isn’t so bad. She has a wedding to attend in two weeks, and she always gets testy when her order isn’t at least three weeks ahead of schedule. Now what can I help you with?”
Moe might have tried to butter Lois up, but too much time was ticking off the clock. Maxwell Singer could come waltzing back any minute. So he went straight to the guts of his visit.
“A friend of mine was in here a few days ago asking about a black dress. She was tall, about five-eight, red hair?”
“Yes, I remember her. She was a size six. Are you looking to buy her something?”
The thought of buying something for Mona hadn’t entered Moe’s mind, but thinking of her in one of the frillies this place offered was a lot sweeter than thinking of his mother.
“Sure. That white number over there.” Moe pointed to the nightie he’d been fingering earlier.
“She’ll look beautiful.”
Mona Dale couldn’t help looking beautiful, nightie or no nightie. Moe deliberately pushed the image of her lying naked in his bed from his mind and directed the conversation down the main route.
“But what about that black number with the strapless back?”
Lois’s eyes darted around as if the walls were watching and listening. “I wouldn’t know. Mr. Singer took care of that.”
“Sure, but you know what goes on around here as much as he does. I bet he wouldn’t have remembered my friend was a size six.”
Lois smiled her young girl smile again. “No, he wouldn’t have remembered. He never remembers things like that.”
“Good thing he has you around.”
It was easy to see the look of self-importance that blossomed on Lois’s face. Moe knew how to take advantage.
“My friend told me she asked Mr. Singer about the dress, but he didn’t know anything. She said you knew everything that went on in this store.” Moe said.
“Mr. Singer was lying. There’s no way he would forget about that dress. He fretted over it for days after that creepy man came to visit the second time.”
“This creepy man, my friend said his name was Rolf?”
“Yes, that’s him. He gave me the heebie-jeebies.”
“So Rolf was here twice?”
“Yes. Mr. Singer was very nervous. He made me go to lunch at ten thirty in the morning when that Rolf man came in the second time. Can you imagine?” She looked up at Moe with clear blue eyes the color of cornflowers. “I’d just had breakfast at eight.”
“So this Rolf wanted a dress or two. What was so different?”
“Well, Mr. Singer didn’t want me to sew them. I’ve been the seamstress here for a long time.” Lois beamed. “And my mother was the seamstress before me. All Mr. Singer does any more is the books.”
“But he took a personal interest in this dress,” Moe observed. “If Singer was doing the sewing, how’d you see the dresses?”
Lois nodded. “Mr. Singer knows how to sew, but he doesn’t know anything about the haute couture patterns. I had to show him what to do. And when the dresses were picked up, the ladies tried them on and modeled them over there in front of the mirrors, just like Mrs. Tudor was doing a minute ago.”
“You said ladies. So it wasn’t the same dame who picked up both dresses?”
“No. This last time it was a Mrs. Winslow. She’s a size six, just like your friend. The first time it was a blond – a size four.”
“But both times this Rolf character had placed the order?”
Lois nodded again, her sandy blond curls bobbing up and down with the movement of her head.
“Has Rolf been in the shop any other time?”
“Not while I was here. Thank goodness.”
“How about the first dame, you got a name?”
Lois scratched her forehead, looking thoughtful. “She had a very unusual name. It was ... Danja, yes, that’s it. Such an interesting name, don’t you think?”
“Danja? Did she have a last name?”
“I don’t remember. It was several months ago. She was pretty. Though I thought the black dress looked too severe on her. She needed a different fabric.” Lois’s pencil-thin brows knitted together. “Oh, but I could look up her name.”
“You’re a peach, Lois.”
She sifted through a small file with the nimbleness of someone used to working fast with her hands.
“By the way, Lois, has Mr. Winslow ever come into the shop?”
She kept her gaze on the card file as she spoke. “You mean Mrs. Winslow’s husband?”
“No, not that I’ve ever known.” She pulled out a card from the box. “Here it is,” she said.
Another society dame came into the shop, and Lois smiled at her in recognition. Luckily for Moe, Lois was a people pleaser. She hurriedly wrote the name and address on another card and handed it to Moe before excusing herself to help the new arrival.
Moe was across the street and heading back to his Buick before he realized he’d forgotten to get the nightie for Mona. Another time, maybe. In the car, he studied the card Lois had jotted the information on. Danja was a Miss Danja Bittners. And yes, it was an interesting name. But it wasn’t the name that caught Moe’s attention. It was the address. Moe had been at that address once before, exactly one week ago. And Moe’s blood probably still stained the pavement of its backside walkway.
Rough Cut originally appeared in Ruthie’s Club http://www.ruthiesclub.com/
Copyright © 2004 by Desdmona.