At least four things had gone wrong in the relatively short expanse of Molly Malteses morning. One, her daughter Annabelle had once again given her nurse the slip and was now not in lessons as a girl should be, but presumably venturing around the streets of New York like a rampant little urchin.
Two, she hadn't had a respectable case in a good long while, and her understatedly extravagant lifestyle would soon be getting mighty uncomfortable if the veritable drought of business didn't end soon. She was a private investigator in New York, for heavens sakes, one would think there was a murder on every street corner to be looked after.
Three, she hadn't had coffee this morning, and so she was very irate in general. And four, the police were currently handcuffing her hands behind her back.
"You're sure this is the one you saw?" the older of the pair asked the man standing on the sidewalk. He had a deep, rumbling voice and grey whiskers. The man on the sidewalk nodded vehemently, and the younger officer took this as a cue to yank Molly towards their van, throwing her off balance wildly.
"I've never seen this man before in my life!" she said in supremely haughty tones, drawing herself with effort up to her impressive height of 5"11. Her green eyes were hard peridot, casting a glare sharp enough to cut.
"Yeah, because by all accounts you were too busy murderin' that poor fool to notice!" the younger policeman barked in her ear, yanking her head back by her long curtain of vibrant copper hair. She gasped, and taking that as a sign of his victory, the officer sneered and threw her into the back of the car.
"I was home all evening, you bloody imbecile!" she barked, furious as tears welled up involuntarily in her eyes in direct reaction to having half her hair nearly pulled out.
"Tell it to the judge." was all she heard the policeman mutter before the door slammed shut with an authoratative bang. Molly swore colorfully, then took a deep breath.
The club was full of smoke from cigars, cigarettes, and pipes. The smell of ever scent hit Marc hard as he walked in. He pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time. 3:02. Close enough to three, Marc thought as he began his search. Walking around the place, Marc could not see or find her. About to give up, Marc sat down for a drink, taking a seat next to a young woman. Blond hair, horned-rimmed glasses, pink scarf, pink wool sweater and skirt. She was young.
"You got a lot of nerve showing up around here," she said without looking at him. Marc let out a small laugh and took a sip of his gin.
"Enlighten me," Marc said. "Who are you? He turned his head toward the beautiful blond girl, who looked at him, giving him a certain look.
"Good lord!" Marc said, nearly jumping out of his chair. The eyes were a dead give away. Molly Maltese.
"I know you probably don't want to see me right now, and well, I wouldn't blame you if you hate me." Marc said. "But before, you say anything, let me explain to you one thing. That night, I went and talked to Father Gesling. And he told me some stuff, and for once, I prayed, Molly." Marc said. And he continued. "Before you hit me, or pull out a gun and blow my brains on the person behind me, I want you to remember these words, 'History can't be undone. But it can be erased.' So now, let me ask you, if we can start over." Marc said.
Molly stared at him. What seemed like minutes was only seconds. And she spoke.
"We can't start over, Marc." she said coolly, calmly and took a sip of her drink. "There's no erasing what happened just because you deem it so. But whether I like it or not, you are one of my oldest friends and right now Im in quite an interesting pickle. It doesn't seem I can turn down allies, if that is indeed what you are."
That was as close to forgiveness as Molly had ever come, and the way she once again fixed her lovely eyes on her glass told him that they would not speak of it again.
"Someones playing me for a patsy." she said grimly. "At first I thought it was a regular frame-up, I assumed the witness was a fake. But now I have reason to believe I have some kind of... Marc, I think I have a double. And she ain't runnin' for best citizen of the year. If we don't figure something out soon, she's gonna land me in a hell of a lot of hot water, and I don't know if I can get myself out."
"A double, huh?" Marc asked. It was something he'd never heard of. Even as a P.I, he had never worked a case like this. "I know a place," Marc said, "that you can stay at where no one will find you. You have already busted out of prison, and now they are looking for you so don't lose that disguise."
"Wait," Molly said quickly. "How do you know about me-"
"Doesn't matter." Marc interrupted, "but we need to go now."
They left. Marc opened the door to his car, and Molly got inside. Giving a quick look, he made sure no one was watching, then he got in. No one spoke as they made their way through town. Finally, Molly spoke up. "Where are we going?"
"I know a place," Marc said, "Where you will be safe."
"My lord, Marc. How many safe houses do you have?!"
"Just this one. I had two. But...yeah..." Marc said. "I have earned some good points with the Consolini Crime Family."
"Oh great, now I get to hang with the mob," Molly said sarcastically.
When they arrived just on the outskirts of the city, Marc and Molly walked inside the small apartment complex. It took only minutes to get to his room.
Once inside, the doors were locked and the windows were shut. Marc offered Molly a seat, and she accepted.
"Make yourself at home," Marc said. "You'll be safe here. Before I go, we need to come up with an alias for you, Molly. Another name."
"Ok, people, everyone inside" said Detective Corelli.
"Ok, people, I need ideas. The papers just caught that we have a criminal in the loose... and that means that the Chief is going to make us do double-shifts 'til kingdom come, so we better solve this before he returns from San Francisco." said detective Corelli while looking the blank faces of half the departament of police.
"Who was in charge of the arrest?"
Someone raised a hand.
"Well... detective, I'm fairly sure that she got in the cell, and I checked that she wasn't carrying something useful."
"Oh man, we're screwed; C'mon, people, the Chief gave the order: someone should always stay with Pat when he's with a suspect." Corelli clearly was in that moment where he could laugh or scream "Pat, are you sure you never touched the suspect? I mean, no punches, kicks, slaps... you know, you just checked she didn't have something useful..."
Corelli was about to scream.
"Detective, I think I know how she escaped!" another hand raised.
"Well, I just can't find the keys for the cells..."
"Oh, crap... ok everyone, I need you to go look in every nook and cranny of this city!"
Molly lit a cigarette, took stock of the outfit she was wearing, and then gave the ceiling a long, considering look.
"I'll take the name Lavinia Cedar." she said decidedly. "Vinnie or Vin for short. I'll have to get some fake identification...if I'm in the safehouse I shall need you to do that for me. I don't dare step outside, I'm sure the police are combing this place from top to bottom. Truth be told, I'm worried about one Police Detective in particular...not to mention Zeo. To be frank, Marc, I'm not entirely sure we can trust him. Tricky to know which way Zeo will go, if its a police matter."
She took another drag.
"This ought to be interesting." she said grimly.
"Ok, Miss Blankenship, this piece of evidence shows that you had a hand in the murder of Mister Morrison, and you don't have a great alibi, it's a lie" detective Corelli was smiling, another case closed, the cops arrested miss Blankenship, and almost like fog on a summer day, everyone dissapeared, except for that little man with the big suit and a hat too big for his head, he was known as the Toe, but Corelli hated nicknames, it was enough with a name.
"Larry, what brings you here?"
"Well, word on the streets says that you caught the one that gave the big sleep to old Morrison."
"Yeah" said Corelli, while he lit a cigarette, he had too much work to waste time in some idle talk.
"Well, you know... that fella, Morrison, he owed me some dough..."
"Yeah, yeah, silly of me, this isn't the first time that happens, I actually know the script, you can tell me something about some great place that it's actually of no use for me, and only for $500, right?" it didn't sound quite bad, Corelli could grab a drink..., or two...
"It's actually $700"
"Well, that doll, the one that ran away, she was spotted in Big Lucy's."
"I'll give you $500, just because you want to recover your money, but with my luck she's gone by now."
She stood halfway in the shadows cascading in some dark corner of Lucys Cabaret and watched the little scene unfold. The man, a detective friend of Molly's coming in, taking a seat. Mere moments later, a primly dressed blonde joining him. It took her a double-take to realize that the petite face underneath the blonde wig and horn-rimmed glasses mirrored her own exactly. What a tacky disguise, she thought sniffily. Blonde looked terrible on their snowy complexion. Pink was far from their color.
Presently, the two at the bar got up to leave, and after biting her lip, she decided to follow. She caught a taxi, asked it to tail the two as subtly as possible, and wrote down the address where they parked and went inside. Drawing a hood down over her hair, she ducked in after them a little ways, and wrote down the apartment number.
Stepping outside, she stopped in a nearby store and asked to use the phone. Dialing a number, she lifted the mouthpiece and fired off the address into the phone, instructing the person on the other end, a waiter in Lucy's to give the police the address straightaway if they came to inquire. With a small smile, she turned and blended away into the throng of people on the busy New York streets.
Corelli silently closed the door of the car, his squad was waiting for orders but everyone could feel the heavy atmosphere. In a susurre Corelli said:
"Ok, people, this is a mob controlled neighbourhood, we cannot make any mistake or we're going to end up with our share of lead" everyone was silently nodding, Corelli could see the perfection of her plan, she was hiding in a place where a police officer wouldn't enter, and because of that he thought that was the perfect movement, no one would expect him to do something like this "Harry, I need you to enter with all the squad after Pat and me; and remember, no remorse"
Corelli walked to the door, the music was loud enough, it was definitely the place, his informant wasn't lying, "This is it, no remorse" yet, he wasn't quite sure about that, and as soon as he opened the door he was reached by a wave of colours, smells and noise, after all, he was in Big Lucy's cabaret.
"Pat, go grab a drink"
"What about you boss? Want a drink?"
"Nah, I'm going to take a look around here..."
Pat had a big grin in his face.
"I'm actually going to look for the suspect, Miss Maltese"
The big grin was still there, Corelli just sighed.
Just the usual crowd, everyone having fun, except for Corelli who was in his limit, two days without sleeping before the Maltese case, and he was completely sure that he wasn't going to get any sleep 'til the return of the Chief.
The mirror in the bathroom had an obscene scribble enough to make him smile, but the reflex in the mirror just showed him a pathetic look of himself, the black curly hair was a mess and the shade of a growing beard wasn't helping him.
"Detective, I've been looking for you..., are you ok?" said Harry, the youngest officer in the department.
"Yeah... what is it?"
"The waiter just told us that the suspect was seen leaving the place with a man”
"The suspect? Oh, Miss Maltese, right"
"And he gave us an address..."
The rap came sharp at the door, and Mollys head whipped around alertly. Marc had left 10 or 15 minutes before- he wouldn't need to knock on the door of his apartment. Thinking quickly, she tore off the wig and the glasses, casting them into a corner behind the couch.
A knock came again, and then a sharp voice.
"Police. We know you're in there, Miss Maltese. Open the door or we'll break it down!" She narrowed her eyes. She recognized that voice. Detective Andrew Corelli.
She picked up a knife and hurriedly scratched out a series of letters on the wall. The clock was ticking, and sweat beaded on her brow.
YZGGUIB YLZIWDZOP. MLLM.
Throwing down the knife, she ran to the window and threw it open, clambering out onto the metal fire escape just as the door shuddered dangerously. One heeled shoe disappeared out of sight just as it splintered inward.
She raced down the ladder as fast as her precarious heels would allow, imagining the officers tearing through the apartment upstairs. Reaching the last rung, she sighed in relief and turned around- to bounce square off of Detective Andrew Corelli's chest and go staggering backwards. He smiled at her, a gun in his raised hand.
"Sorry, Miss Maltese. Oldest trick in the book, fire escapes. I hope you'll go quietly." he said, showing her the handcuffs he gripped in his other palm. She narrowed her eyes at him.
"Corelli, you don't understand. Its a frame-up, I didn't do in that man. If you arrest me, you'll never catch her."
"Catch who?" he said in the lazy tone of someone who didn't believe a word of what he was hearing.
"The double." she said with quiet conviction. Corelli gave a chuckle, and seeing her expression didn't change, sobered.
"Really, Miss Maltese. Thats the weakest story I've ever heard." he said indulgently. "Come along now."
"I'm serious, Corelli. It's so unbelievable it works, and she's not done causing trouble just yet. If you take me in now, we're all headed for some serious trouble."
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