He stared directly into her emerald green eyes as he set her plate in front of her. By God, she was beautiful. Her smile was almost everything to him, just seeing her smile would turn a bad day completely around. Her pale skin was as soft as her voice which he compared to summer rains.
A pity, he thought to himself, that she has to die, for in her salad, disguised as lettuce leaves were the leaves of a plant, unknown to her, called the deadly nightshade. It was as nightmarish as it sounds.
Almost cherry-like, but similar instructors to the tomato, he disguised the fruit as blueberries. The dressing on the salad was made from the root of the plant, which he harvested at the end of the vegetation period, when the toxins would be the highest.
He watched with a false, realistic smile as she bit into her salad, closing her eyes to savor the sweet flavor of the toxic fruit. Symptoms wouldn't start immediately, but they wouldn't take long.
Once her symptoms started, she knew she'd been poisoned. First came the sweats and hallucinations, then the shortness of breath and trouble breathing, followed by paralysis and moments later, death.
After she had died, he got up and went outside through the back door into the cool night air. He inhaled deeply, the fresh air filling his lungs, then exhaled. He grabbed his shovel from the tool shed, and stabbed the ground.
EDIT: I missed some lines when I was copying and pasting.
"Are you insinuating he's a kidnapper?"
"No, but I do fear that his life is in danger, if he's not already dead." Marc replied.
Giovanni took another sip of his drink.
"He was a good business man. He wasn't the smartest person." Giovanni said looking down. "He must have gotten in too deep."
"With who? What do you mean?" Marc asked.
Giovanni opened his mouth to reply, but made a gurgling sound and he grasped his throat. How body started convulsing as he struggled to breath. Blistered formed around his lips. Marc knew he'd been poisoned. Quickly, he called the police.
Bright and early the next day Joseph drained his black coffee, ready for the day’s investigation. Without a single cloud in the sky, he knew it will be warm in the day followed by a chilly evening, just like yesterday. Joseph wondered how Guy Mauve was doing. A midnight arrest only signified that the police planned to drill him until sunrise. Mauve would not get any sleep. Joseph made a mental note to visit the police station later in the day, but first thing first.
The address brought Joseph to the lower East side. He slithered through crowds of push carts and large baskets to find 97 Orchard Street. Signs from the vendors were written in Polish, Russian and Hebrew, the conversations around him were loud and colorful. The front entrance into the building had turned into a make shift necktie ‘factory’, with young boys and old ladies sewing their life away. Joseph had no choice but to climb the fire escape, dodging damp tunics and bedsheets hung out to be dried on the railings and windows.
Each tenement was subdivided into several family homes. It took Joseph some effort to find the cramped living quarter of the Hernández family at the back, windowless corner. The air was stale and stuffy. The radio next door blazed sharply with swing jazz. A pair of impoverished young girls were trimming yarn ends from a stack of half made winter hats.
“Hello,” Joseph tried to put on his friendly voice, “this is the Hernàndez, right?” The girls looks up at the lanky man, then returned to their trimming without a word. Working in such dim light would probably ruin those beautiful eyes. “I’m looking for the parents of Mateo Hernandez.”
“You know Mateo? Will he be back soon?” The younger of the two piped.
The older girl hushed her, mouthing the word “stranger”. Joseph changed tactic.
“I’m with the police,” Joseph flashed his handy fake badge. “Mateo has been missing for three weeks now, so we’d like to find out more, to see if we can locate him.”
The older young girl smirked, yes smirked, at Joseph’s remark. “Coppers would never help people like us. Mamá said they brushed her off like a fly, called him a runaway. Our brother loves us, he would never do that. Who the heck are you?”
Joseph exhaled, he replied frankly, “I’m a private eye. Your brother is one of the many people that had gone missing in the past month. His where about could help us locate my client’s daughter as well.”
“Oh, a flatfoot,” the elder girl spat, “well, only if you help us find our brother as well would we help you.” The girl looked about age 9, going on 30.
“They probably ran into the same trouble. The more I know about Mateo, the higher the chance I can find out about all of them. Any reason you can think of: people, places, that may explain why he’s gone missing?”
The girl scanned her surroundings, and moved closer to Joseph, her voice blanketed by the tenor saxophone by Lester Young on the radio, “Mateo was making good money dancing.”
“Dancing?” Joseph wondered. Taxi dancers were common amongst pretty young dames, a good 10 cents a dance, but a young man? “Where?”
“Mateo had mentioned it, told us not to tell mama, said they have a secret section for the boy dancers,” the older girl strained her mind trying to remember, “the name of the place has something to do with flowers… was it Tulip Place?”
“No, it was Roseland!” the younger girl replied smugly.
“The Roseland dance hall? In the theatre district?”
“I don’t know,” the younger one shrugged, “but Mateo said it’s the most aces place he had ever been. Very fancy! They gave him nice clothes to wear for dancing, said Mateo is a natural.” With the radio next door blasting all day long, Joseph could imagine how an active young man would become good at swingin’.
Joseph was piecing the puzzles together in his mind as made his exit. “Thank you ladies for all your help,” the two girls beamed for being called ‘ladies’, “I shall find out what happened to your brother."
Joseph made a right turn into Centre Street from Grand and stopped by the New York City Police Headquarters. Before he entered, he gave Molly a call, remembering that one of the missing female also worked as a taxi dancer of some sort. After passing Molly the new discovery about Mateo, he straddled up the stairs into the NYPD building.
Given Mauve was in the custody of Barnes, Joseph doubted that he was allowed to see him. Self-absorbed and reckless as he often seemed, Barnes at least played by the book and not subject to bribery, and Joseph respected the Inspector for that. At least the two could see eye to eye. Joseph did not expect co-operation, but at least they could share information.
The seasoned PI was no novice to the headquarter, and the officers who knew Joseph simply ignored him. Joseph made his own way to Barnes’ office and knocked. Smoke seemed to pipe out of the inspector’s head, as usual.
“Another tricky case, Inspector Barnes?” Joseph inquired politely.
“Your partner Lacrimosa. He found a poisoned supervisor at the shipping dock!” Barnes barked, as if the man being poisoned was Marc’s fault.
“Were they sent to the hospital?”
“Yes, to Cornell, but the supervisor was dead on arrival,” Barnes lamented.
Marc must have found an important lead on Tony’s side. This also meant Mauve had the perfect alibi for not being a suspect, being locked up by the police all night.
“So Guy Mauve is…” Joseph hinted.
“Well Ms. Maltese’s lawyers made sure we couldn’t touch a single hair on her precious Opera singer, and yes, the culprit seem to be someone else.” Barnes dived through stacks of files on his messy desk, “I was about to sign the paper to release Mauve, but he must still report to the station if needs arise.”
“Certainly, I shall remind Mr. Mauve of that.” Joseph replied automatically, but his thoughts were already on the poisoned victim.
By noon Joseph Zeo was escorting Guy Mauve back to his apartment at the 10th Park Avenue on 34th Street. Guy Mauve was not man handled by the policemen as he had prepared himself for and, thanks to Ms. Maltese’s excellent legal representation, he was put in a solitary cell so he did not have to deal with other convicts. ‘At least I got my vocal rest!’ he thought. But the seriousness of the matter was dawning on him as Mr. Zeo filled him in with regards to the latest discoveries.
“I really had no idea it was going be a matter of such magnitude.” Guy spoke clearly. “I am more prepared to work with you and Mr. Lacrimosa.” He was more willing now than ever to cooperate fully.
“Do you feel that Tony Valencia could be behind this?” Zeo asked.
“Tony is many things Mr. Zeo.” Guy lamented. “But I simply cannot see him as a murderer. You see these rich men, once they acquire their wealth, they wish to spend it naturally. The darker side of humanity can sometimes move them from consuming alcohol, expensive cigars, cars and trips to consuming people.”
“I see.” The lanky detective was deep in thought.
“Depending on their tastes they can fish for their likes in Theatres, Opera Houses and Movie Sets. However, something quite doesn’t mesh or gel in this story. Taxi Dancers are a far cry from the decorated musician Isabella was. And why would Tony himself go missing if he’s a suspect?”
They reached Guy’s apartment. Guy Mauve turned to Joseph. “At any rate Mr. Zeo, I am due for another bath and then some sleep. I am due to perform again the day after tomorrow and it is imperative that I conserve my energy... oh and can you do something to ensure the tabloids don’t get wind of my unfortunate detention?”
“When do we get to hear the whole story of Tony, Isabella and yourself?”
“Over dinner, tell Marc to join us. We can have it at a near by bistro tonight or tomorrow night.”
“That’s swell. Good Mr. Mauve”
And with that Guy went up the stairs.
Marc awoke when the sun came up. After Giovanni had died, he took a cab back to his empty apartment. On the bed was a love note from Pansy Dew, which he carelessly tossed it to the side before passing out.
He quickly showered and debated shaving, then decided not to, leaving his five o'clock shadow. He'd shave tomorrow. First things first. Coffee. Marc got a cup to go from the nearby coffee shop, and made his way to the police station, where he was able to pull a few strings to get down to CSU.
"Hey, Sam," Marc said extending his arm and shaking hands. Sam was the toxicologist for the CSU. He was average built man with gray hair and thinning hairline.
"Do you have the toxicology report yet on Giovanni?" Marc asked as he sipped his coffee.
"You're not going to believe this." Sam said. "The poison found on the glass and inside the whiskey bottle came back from a plant called Atropa belladonna. It's a member of the solanaceae."
"English, Sam." Marc said.
"This specific genus of plant is related to those of eggplants, tomatoes, and potatoes." Sam replied.
Always expect the unexpected. A sentence Marc lived by in this like of work, and this was certainly unexpected.
"What can you tell me about the plant?" Marc asked.
"Well..in large doses it's toxic. Though it's mainly more deadly when it's being harvested during the end of it's vegetation period, which is mainly this time a year." Sam said. "It can be used for medicinal purposes. Anticholinergics," Sam continued.
"English, Sam." Marc said again.
"Anticholinergics are used to treat a variety of conditions. Most commonly, asthma, when used as an inhalant."
The killer wasn't an amateur, if he knew how to use a plant like that. One could think, despite the madness, he was actually a genius. Though not smart enough to cover his own tracks.
"I'm assuming it's legal to own the plant?" Marc asked.
"Sort of," Sam said. "it's mainly used for medicinal purposes. So I would imagine some kind of permit would be needed."
Yeah right, Marc though to himself. In this
Yeah right, Marc thought to himself. In this town? It was almost comical.
Killing by using toxins from a plant wasn't exactly unheard of. Marc's first suspicions pointed at The Green Hand.
Were they operating in New York now? Their main domains are London and Delhi. Did Tony Valencia get in too deep with them? And why?
What was the connection with the other three women? Isabella? And the missing boy? He thanked Sam and left. He went to the nearest payphone.
"Operator? Connect me to Joseph Zeo's office."
Meanwhile, Molly found herself at 48th and Broadway, arching one elegantly brow as she took in a series of lurid signs at Cobbs Corner.
Perched above McGinnis mart was the Tango Palace, with signs trumpeting "Beautiful Girls to Dance With!"
"My word." Molly murmured grimly to herself, the scent of roast beef wafting over her from the street level delicatessen in McGinnis. Yesterday seemed far away, when her only option for entertainment a dull night at the opera. Now, in less than twelve hours she had become embroiled in quite the case.
Most of her morning had been spent looking into the background of one Angela McKinnon, the second of the missing girls trumpeted across the newspaper Marc had shown her. Joseph had mentioned she was a taxi dancer, but they had little information to go on as to exactly where.
Luckily, Molly was able to press the reporter for more details, and after connecting several loose ends, was able to track Angela's last known employment to this... glowing establishment.
She checked her wristwatch and eyeballed the building again, debating her options. She could pose as a young New York hopeful looking for employment, but she thought that was unlikely given her obviously tailored wardrobe. Girls didn't become taxi dancers because they made good money after all.
Presently, she decided to try the back entrance. It was nearly 3pm, which meant the girls would be arriving soon to shimmy into their costumes and get ready for a night of dancing with the dregs of New York societé.
In the back alley, near a spindly staircase, Molly delicately arranged her coat about herself and waited, smoking a cigarette. Fortune was in her cards, as she had only been there for ten minutes or so when a petite brunette rounded the corner, head down. Her hair was in pin curls under a kerchief, and she moved towards the back entrance to the Tango Palace at a resolute pace, if not an enthusiastic one.
"Excuse me, Miss... do you work here?" Molly asked with a dazzling smile in her direction. The woman stopped short, looking Molly up and down suspiciously.
"You lost?" she asked. "This isn't the kind of a place for a girl like you."
Molly laughed charmingly. "No, I believe I'm exactly where I need to be." She stepped forward, offering the girl a smoke. After a moment, she accepted.
"You see, I'm looking for someone. Or at least, looking to find out what happened to someone. Angela McKinnon, you're acquainted I presume?"
Understanding flaired in the girls eyes, but the downturned corners of her mouth didn't budge.
"Oh yes, she skipped out of here. Good riddance - damned Corner Girls bring the place down, get the police looking closer than they should, making everything harder. Hard enough to make tips without the billy clubs poking around."
Molly cocked her head. "A... Corner girl?"
The dancer huffed in amusement. "Yeah, the type of dancer who will slip into a dark corner if you know what I mean. Anyway, lady, none of us have heard from her, and I gotta get upstairs. It's not my business, see."
"Yes, well, I'd like to make it your business." Molly stepped forward, smoothly pressing several crisp bills into the girls hand. "A tip, you see. For a little help. I'd like to look around, ask some questions. You'll help me, won't you...?" she paused, waiting for the girl to say her name.
She looked down at the money in her hand, and back up at Molly with surprise. "Ah... Diana. And... sure I guess I could let you in. Just keep a low profile, okay?"
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