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.
"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.
"Perhaps I can," Marc said coming up behind Molly and Andrew. "Go to my office and wait for me there. I'll be there in just a bit."
Molly nodded and left with Andrew and his partner.
Marc smiled as he stepped into the shadow of the garage where the delivery truck was. He stood next to the door and waited for the young driver to step out to his truck. Marc grabbed the man when he entered the room.
"Who are you?" The man asked quickly.
"My name isn't really all that important. But what is important, is an address that you are going to. I'm not going to stop you from making your deliveries, but I need to get an address."
"That would be confidential." The driver said.
"No, you see, I'm a private detective. One of your deliveries is a certain shade of lipstick, and the lady you are taking it to, needs to answer a few questions."
The man raised an eyebrow. "What kind of questions?"
"More personal than anything-"
"If I tell you, what's in it for me that I keep my mouth shut to her when I get to her place?"
"My friends here," Marc said pulling out a small wad of cash, "says you'll stay quiet and not speak of this to any one."
"So does my other friend here," Marc said whipping out his revolver, "and his six counter parts. They say you'll keep quiet."
"Are you threatening me?"
"No. Its a promise."
The man swallowed hard. For all he knew the man standing in front of him was a fed. And those feds were known to show up out of no where and arrest people. Shady characters, they were.
"You got a deal." The man scribbled down the address and gave it to Marc, who pocketed the address. "Good man," Marc said.
Marc left. It was short walk to his office. He walked in to find Molly in there with Andrew and his partner.
"Well?" Molly asked.
"Got it," Marc said. He gave her the paper with the address on it.
"Let me see..." said Corelli, looking at the piece of paper where Marc wrote the address, "The Grand Hotel? That’s the kind of place where all those famous ballerinas go when they want to be alone, right?" and without waiting for an answer, "Mister Lacrimosa, would you mind if I use your phone?"
Marc made a little gesture towards the phone.
"Operator, would you mind putting me with the police? Thank you..., Harry, Corelli..., well, you know how is this business...," Corelli looked at his watch, "Ok, got it, but before that I need you to send a squad..., yes, I know, but this time is for real, send the squad to The Grand Hotel, I need them to cover the place..., ok, thanks" Corelli hung up the phone, with a wry face.
As soon as they got near The Grand Hotel, Corelli quickly looked for his men, everyone was in position. Marc was checking his Thompson submachine gun, and Molly was looking for something unusual in the building, she raised an eyebrow.
"This place looks so calmed, are you sure this is the place?"
"Let's hope this is the place" added Corelli, while he produced a gun, then hesitantly gave it to Molly, "I have a spare gun, use it just to defend yourse..."
"Uh..., detective? I think we have a problem..." interrupted Harry.
"For crying out loud!" Marc said. "We have only been here for five minutes. How can there already be a problem?!"
Marc looked at Corelli, who sighed. Molly didn't look too happy either.
"One of our guys on the top floor found something." Harry said.
'What did he find?" Marc asked impatiently. The answer he hoped for didn't come. What he wanted to hear was that they captured the woman; Molly's double and that little Annabelle was safe. Instead what he heard was that there was no one there at the hotel. No one was in the suspected room.
When Marc and Andrew Corelli kicked in the door, all they found was a note. Same as before. The written part was different, yes, but in the top left corner there was the same sloppy lipstick kiss with the same color.
"What now?" Marc asked.
"Ok, again, we're out of leads, so we better show Miss Maltese this note," said Corelli while they were waiting for the elevator. "And...well, this is something awkward to ask, but since we're in the same line of work, would you mind helping me? I need to talk to everyone in this hotel. Maybe someone saw something."
"And would you mind not going around with that?" said Corelli, pointing at the submachine gun.
"It's for intimidation."
Corelli blinked a couple of times.
"I'll be back," Marc said. He ran out to his car and pulled out his empty brief case. In side the case was an empty pad with small indention's; each for a part of his Tommy gun. He broke down the gun and placed it back in his case.
"Let's do this." Marc said. Corelli looked at him. "What are you, a lawyer now?"
"Maybe," Marc said.
Marc started approaching the man behind the counter. "Let me handle this," Marc said and he handed Crorelli his brief case. They came to a stop at the counter. "How can I help you gentlemen?" The man asked.
"I'm detective Joe Benito of the FBI and this is my partner Salvatore Castello. We need your records of everyone who has stayed in this hotel in the last forty-eight hours." Marc said quickly.
"No question, I need it now." Marc said.
It took about five minutes to get all the records. Then Marc and Andrew began their investigation.
"We don't have much longer," Marc said, "we still have to meet up with Vulkie and Sal tonight at midnight."
Molly trailed after them, turning the corner as Marc and Corelli received the records from the man behind the counter. He looked up in surprise at her and smiled.
"Did your daughter want her story back? Children are so mercurial."
Marc and Corelli looked at each other in confusion, but without missing a beat Molly smiled and nodded, even though her heart was racing.
"Yes, she changed her mind, I'm afraid. The temperament of a published artist, that one."
The man handed her a few stacks of paper with her daughters unmistakable cramped handwriting all over it. Molly nodded her thanks and walked outside, choosing to sit on a bench outside to read it. After a few minutes, Corelli joined her as Molly scanned the last page.
"Oh!" she suddenly called out, and smiled. "Smart girl! Look, Corelli, she wrote it all into her story!"
Corelli scanned the page, but just saw a clearly childish story about a boy and her dog. The dog was sent away by the parents at the end of the story for 'being bad.'
"I'm sorry, I don't understand." he said finally, and Molly shook the papers in his face.
"The boys name!" she shrieked. Andrew read it again.
"Lonnie." he said dubiously, and Molly nodded.
"And the dogs name is Don."
"Lonnie and Don... Lon... London!" Andrew said, catching on.
"Yes, and that means she might not be on the ship yet!" Molly said, and they jumped to their feet, running inside to tell Marc the latest.
"She disguised her location in a story?" Marc said, staring at Molly deadpan. "Boy she is your daughter."
The air was cold as the large ship set sail for London. It was going to be a long two days before the rag-tag group of misfit detectives would be in London searching for Molly's daughter and trying to find out who it was that was playing as Molly.
Marc stepped outside on the front deck and leaned upon the guard rail. Everything raced in through his mind. Sal and Vulkie had come up with nothing in particular. Everyone was somewhere on the ship. Molly was with Andrew down in the dining hall posing as husband and wife under assumed nicknames. Vulkie was somewhere on the ship doing her own thing and Sal was in his room sleeping.
Marc pulled out his pipe. After lighting it, he started to get lost in his thoughts as he usually did when he smoked his pipe. Sal came up from behind. "I thought you were sleeping," Marc said.
"Ahh, can't sleep," Sal replied. Marc turned and faced him. Sal had cleaned up and actually looked sharp. He was cleaned shaved and wore his newest suit. Unlike Marc, who preferred a double breasted coat, Sal wore a single breasted coat and with a deep, navy blue tie.
"You look sharp," Marc said with a smile as he puffed on his pipe. Sal smiled revealing the slight yellowish stain on his teeth from smoking too many cigarettes. Sal pulled out a cigarette and lit it, inhaling deeply.
As he exhaled, Molly came up from behind them accompanied by Andrew Corelli. "I have something useful," Molly said.
"What is it?" Marc asked.
"Not here. Too many eyes and ears. Down stairs in my-"
"No, we go down stairs in MY room," Marc said.
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