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.
"Look for any type of clue," Marc said. Not twenty seconds later that he said that, Sal spoke up. "Found something," He said.
It was a message carved into the wall by Molly. YZGGUIB YLZIWDZOP. MLLM.
Marc closed his eyes and sighed deeply. They had gotten her. And now he was going to have to get her out for the second time.
"Damn it!" Marc yelled slamming his fist down on the table. "There is no legal way to get her out, Sal" Marc said. All Sal could do was nod in agreement. Marc was now pissed off. And he hated being pissed off.
Marc and Sal sat down looking at the door that had a hole in it. Marc shook his head and placed his face in the palm of his hands. "I have no clue what to do."
Sal said nothing. After a moment of silence, Sal spoke up. "I have an idea. We need to get your friend an alibi for the time of the murder. " Sal said. "The question is, will she play along with it if she knows that we are trying to help?"
"I guess we'll find out, won't we?" Marc replied grabbing his car keys. "Let's go, I think I have an idea." Marc said. Then they headed to the police station.
Vulkie saw how Marc and a pal of his jumped into the car, heading towards an unknown destination.
"So you're in it too, Marc? Trying to help a friend out?" Vulkie murmered and she quickly walked towards Molly's apartment, clicking with the high heels she was wearing.
As Vulkie entered the apartment, she saw something carved in a wall.
"YZGGUIB YLZIWDZOP. MLLM."
Vulkie grabbed a pen, some paper and began to think up loud what the solution was.
As she noticed an open newspaper, she saw a hint that gave it away. "That's it! Clever, Molly, veeeerry clever" Vulkie thought and began to decipher the message.
"An E there, an N there... Yes, that's it. Now I know where to find you. Don't worry Molly, I'll help you. No matter... what" Vulkie murmered, as she had a small flashback of what she and Molly went through in the past few years.
Suddenly, Vulkie was a bit scared by a blow of the wind and as she turned back to the message, she saw a figure sitting at the other end of the table. A figure she had not seen for a while...
"Ace... My friend... she's in trouble... The police probably took her away, as I noticed that the door had a hole in it. Molly wouldn't shoot just randomly, unless she got a reason for it. And believe me, she has a few reasons to do it, only for one person" Vulkie said to Ace, trying to keep a grin away from her face.
"Go to the place she wanted to meet your other friend, Marc. She'll probably show up there when she is free again..." Ace replied and as another blow of the wind shut the door, Vulkie turned around and quickly looked back, staring at the empty space where her boyfriend would sit, if he was alive...
Vulkie took her coat, went to her car and started it, shifting it into the right gear.
"Hold on Molly... I'll help you" Vulkie murmered and Vulkie pulled into the traffic, heading to the place where she wanted to meet the person who could decipher the code...
Molly followed Corelli curiously, absently patting her hair down and swiping under her eyes for any errant traces of mascara. As they rounded the corner, a burst of gunfire exploded with a quick rat-a-tat-tat! Molly shrieked and dragged Corelli down as the wall above them exploded in a shower of plaster. A few more explosions of bullets spraying into the walls, and then the sound of running feet and silence.
"La Cosa Nostra." Molly said, disgustedly picking plaster out of her hair. Andrew Corelli turned to look at her.
"How do you know?" he asked suspiciously, and she fixed him with a look that was deeply ironic.
"Who else would try to pull off an assassination attempt with so little subtlely?"
He nodded, and she sighed.
"Corelli, I know you don't believe me. But its almost noon, and if LCN is involved it means the doubles with them, which spells BIG trouble. I have some friends, some private investigators like myself, meeting with me at noon at an undisclosed location. Come with me if you like, but I must be there. We must get to the bottom of this!"
She waited impatiently for Corelli's reply...
"This is getting really complicated..." Corelli took a deep breath and let out a long sigh "Fine, but no tricks this time" Corelli looked around and then "Harry, I need you to stay in here, I'm going to call you every hour, if I don't call you then inform the FBI..., hope you don't mind, Miss Maltese"
Then Corelli stood up and helped Miss Maltese to get up.
"Ok, time to go with your friends"
"Okay," Marc said, "read that code one more time." He was driving and Sal was in the passenger seat as they headed toward the police station.
"YZGGUIB YLZIWDZOP. MLLM." Sal repeated. Marc repeated it two more times out loud and once more in his mind. "Any idea?" Sal asked.
"I think...yes, that's it!" Marc said. "Sal, get out the note pad and write it down. Write down the letters of the alphabet too. Each letter equals a different one." It took only mere minutes to decode it. "You sure that's the place? I mean, if we rearrange it, it could be something else." Sal said. "No," Marc replied, "that place is secluded. Not many people go there. Most people that do are private eyes, and crooked cops who beat people into a bloody pulp for money. What time is it?"
Sal looked at his watch. "Almost noon."
"Alright, let's go. If Molly is able to pull it off and convince the police to get her there, we should be getting there around the same time." Marc floored it and his car hit top speed.
As if it were a slap in the face Marc realized something important. And it wasn't good. Within half an hour, Marc parked his car where he was supposed to meet Molly, who pulled up just as he did. He and Sal got out of the car and approached Molly and two other detectives.
With out looking at either one of them, Marc looked at Molly. "Molly, please tell me your daughter is safe right now because I got a bad feeling about this case."
Molly narrowed her eyes at Marcs words. She had always been able to trust his instincts.
"I sent her to a friends nearly 24 hours, I haven't had a moment to check in since." she said seriously, light green eyes searching Marcs face in earnest. "What do you suspect?"
She turned to the group at large without waiting for a reply.
"When we're done here, we will go to the address I sent her to. If she's not there for any reason...you know what that means, and who we'll have to call." The nearly imperceptible grim lines that formed at the corners of her mouth told Marc just who she meant.
"Is there anyone else coming?" she asked, business-like once more.
"What about me?" Vulkie said, as her heels clicked on the ground, as she walked towards the group.
"What a big surprise... You couldn't resist to find me?" Molly said, with a grin on her face.
"You know me too well Molly. Maybe TOO well." Vulkie replied and she smiled.
As Vulkie looked towards Marc, she said : "So Marc, how have you been? I haven't heard from you in a long time."
"Fine" Marc replied, looking down to the ground as if he was ashamed of something he had done.
"Don't worry Molly, we'll get that ol' criminal of yours. Could you please inform me what's going on?" Vulkie asked.
And so, Molly quickly filled Vulkie in about the double she presumed and what happened at the station.
"Ok. Now, Molly, Mr. Corelli. Yes, I know who you are Mr. Corelli, you are one of the greatest police detectives in the force of NY City. Except Joseph Zeo is slightly better then you. Now, what's the plan?" Vulkie said and asked.
Molly made a strange face at the mentioning of Joseph Zeo. Vulkie got used to it and knew that the friendship between them wasn't so close as hers with Joseph. It probably never would be.
Vulkie waited for a reply from the other detectives..
"We'll split up," Marc said. "Molly, I want you to come with me-" he was interrupted by one of the detectives. Andrew Corelli. "Not so fast. We're coming too-"
"Corelli, I don't think-"
"Don't think what? I shouldn't come too? For all I know this is some kind of trick and I can have you arrested for being an accomplice to murder and-"
"Fine," Marc said. "Corelli, you, Molly, your partner, and I will go. First off we got to find her daughter and ensure that she is safe. The last thing we need is the death of a child on our hands. Sal, I want you and Vulkie to go to the town hall, Hall of Records. See if you can find anything about look-a-likes framing for murder and any sort of Mafia connection. I have a feeling this has nothing to do with the mob but I've been wrong before. I highly doubt this is the work of Vito Genovese and his gang."
"Seriously?" Vulkie asked.
"Yes. Any information you can find. Don't spend all day in there either. Time is short. Ask around. I'll bet even Shady at the Tricky Mister knows something."
"You got it," Sal replied. The groups split up and headed for their cars. Marc turned around.
"Vulkie," Marc called out.
"Avoid any gunfights if possible. We don't want the whole city coming down on top of us." Marc got into his car. Molly got in as well as Andrew and his partner.
Molly took the front seat, and she could feel Andrew Corelli's watchful stare burning into the back of her head as she pulled out her notepad and began making a list in neat, precise print.
"I sent my daughter to Anais." she began without preamble. "It is important that we check that she arrived, and that Anais is okay. I wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I indirectly brought her and her daughter into danger, and I don't think the others would be able to forgive me either."
As they neared Anais' house however, Mollys stomach dropped. On the front door a nail was driven into the wood, and from it hung Annabelles little scarf and a scrap of paper that said "Regards, Lolita Mayelle Mirkless." A sloppy lipstick kiss was left next to the letter.
Bounding up the steps, Molly snatched the note from the door, staring at the lettering intently. Corelli came up behind her, but rather than seeing her burst into tears, as he expected, she had a little smile on.
"I may know how to find her." she said suddenly and brandished the note."This lipstick. Its a one-of-a-kind Dior shade. Only one department store in the whole of New York carries it. I tried it on once, but my double ought to know that it doesnt quite go with our hair." she crinkled her eyes in a disgusted fashion.
"Its not much. But its all we've got. Back in the car. We're headed downtown." she said determinedly, stuffing the scarf into her pocket. The whole way there, she stroked the wool, an uneasy frown marring her marble brow.
They pulled up in front of a well-known department store in downtown New York, and Molly went in with Andrew Corelli while Marc went to park. As they past a display of ladies stockings, Molly flashed a dimpled smile at Andrew.
"I bet you didn't foresee this case taking you here." she said playfully. Andrew, despite his generally serious demeanor, cracked a tiny smile at that. Feeling strangely victorious, Molly sailed up to the counter and smiled winningly at the sales clerk.
"Hello, I'd like to see a tube of your Dior Haute Elegance, please." she said without preamble. The sales clerk raised her eyebrow.
"Did you lose the one you bought ma'am? You were here only a few days ago."
Molly affected a hearty laugh that had Andrew Corelli raising his eyebrows."Oh, my darling sister must have been in here. Twins, you know. She told me I must come in here straightaway, she found the most darling lipstick shade. I said I'd come, although, truth be told I think it makes her a little peaky."
The sales lady nodded in a manner that suggested that she had tried to tell the double the same thing.
"Silly girl, this shade suits our coloring much better." she picked out one, and the sales clerk nodded her approval.
"Look here, be a doll and ring that up, will you? I don't have the time- do you have a store clerk that can do a delivery?"
The sales lady nodded and said there was a boy lurking around the store somewhere who would be available.
"Now, you can go right ahead and send that to her. Do you need the address?"Molly made a show of digging around in her purse, but was relieved when the clerk flipped open a large address book next to her register.
"Your sister asked us to deliver her purchases, we have it on file."
Molly beamed and paid for the makeup,linking arms jovially with Andrew as they walked away.
"Perhaps Marc can apprehend the delivery boy on his way out and we can secure that address." she said with a determined glint in her eye.
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