Those Damn Dames
I left the Crabwack’s apartment and found the nearest terminal where I called the home number Delia gave me.
“Hello?” Delia answered.
“Delia, this is Nick Cypher. We need to meet.”
“Could this wait? I need to be at work in a half hour.”
“Tell me where you’ll be and I’ll meet you there.”
“Um…I’m not sure that would be appropriate.”
“Delia, there are some issues we need to discuss, not least of which is the bill.”
“But it has only been one day! How could you have already spent your retainer?”
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the retainer, but to my credit as a businessman, I continued the conversation without skipping a beat. “Ma’am, a retainer is money spent to retain employment. I told you there would be expenses.”
“Does it have to be today?”
“You came to me to find Simon. If you aren’t happy with how I do my job you can hire another P.I..”
“No! No…You can meet me at The Cat & Mouse Club.”
I hung up with Delia and got the address of the club from the terminal. The listing claimed it was a night club and musical review venue. On the long trip there I wrote out a bill on the back of a Mr. Sill’s Burgers menu while trying to put my thoughts in order.
First Delia; she lied about the police report and being married to Simon Crabwack. That implied she wanted something from him but didn’t want the police involved, so her ultimate goal was probably illegal. However, she came to a private detective and therefore must be desperate enough to find Simon and risk her secret getting out. She must either have thought I was too stupid to figure out what she’s up to, or that I wouldn’t rat her out.
Then there was Simon. Delia said he had been missing for a month, but his mother said she had talked to him two weeks ago. That might have been an impersonator, but either way, someone was trying to keep Delia from Simon. Whether Simon was responsible or not was unclear. Yet his mother and sister confirmed that he and Delia had a prior relationship. He was doing her taxes, so as I thought money would be the motivating factor in all this, which would explain Delia’s obfuscation of her social standing.
Noreen and Constance never liked Delia. So they may have been simply running interference to keep Delia away from Simon. But they could have been hateful enough to actually have orchestrated Simon’s disappearance out of some overzealous need to protect their family’s reputation.
Then again, Delia could have been behind Simon’s disappearance and was using me to throw suspicion off her. I doubted that. She didn’t seem clever enough for that.
All this added up to too many people lying here, and I couldn’t take anything in this investigation at face value. Not that I did in the first place, but walking into The Cat & Mouse Club could be a trap setup by any of these players or someone new altogether.
I got near the club, which was in one of those tower complexes full of unmemorable shops, three-star restaurants, and bars so bland they neither have the novelty to be trendy nor the character to be dives.
I saw Sifu meditating in a lotus position atop a block of cement shaped to look like a natural boulder in the middle of a fountain, with waterfalls and reeds, on a causeway looking out over the smog line through the canyons of sky-blotting towers. Then I thought of how long-winded that sentance was. I took a moment to enjoy the scenic beauty of our tortured planet before calling to him.
“I’m on a case. Headed for a club. You want to come?”
Sifu opened one eye and focused on me.
“No, I’m not going to drink on the job. Besides, the prices in those places are theft.”
Sifu stood up and bounded the ten feet over and six feet down to me in one leap. He landed as casually as one who skips over a stick in their path. Sometimes, I think he is just showing off to taunt me.
The entrance to the club was a door, under a flickering neon sign, squeezed between a liquor store and a temp agency. It was manned by a stereotypical bald, muscular, bouncer with a clipboard. Although the tribal facial tattoo was a novelty. He looked ethnic enough to not be a poser.
“Invitation only.” the wall of beef said, raising his hand as we approached.
“We’re friends of Delia.” I reply.
The bouncer made a complicated motion of shifting the veiny muscles on his forehead in order to cock an eyebrow. “Delia?”
“Well, she changes her stage name so often it’s hard to keep up.”
I figured if she lied to me she probably lied a lot more.
“Yeah,” the bouncer said looking over his clipboard to find whatever name Delia was using tonight, “she’s like that.”
Then he pointed at Sifu and asked, “How old is he?”
“Sixty-three. Just got a rejuvenation treatment last Tuesday.”
If everyone else was going to lie, I might as well do the same. Sifu helped by leaning on his sword like a walking stick and giving a smile brimming with senility.
”Why is he so short?”
”Down's Syndrome.” I answered pushing my luck, but the bouncer nodded with what he must have thought was a knowing look.
“No weapons inside.”
“Look,” I said leaning to the bouncer’s ear while palming a bill into his hand, “it’s just a cane that looks like a sword. He likes to keep it around. You know how old people are.”
If this guy was dumb enough not to notice the bulge of the shoulder holster under my coat and not actually check us for weapons, it was a safe bet he would except such a stupid line from me. I greased his palm because I like to hedge my bets.
“Just keep an eye on him.”
The bouncer opened the door behind him to let us in, revealing a long, dim hallway. “Enjoy yourselves, gentlemen.”
* * *
I was expecting The Cat & Mouse to be some sort of restaurant or bar, but what I found at the end of that corridor was nothing short of a class-act cabaret. In an area of the city reputed for being disreputable, The Cat & Mouse was a diamond in the rough. Here morality and decency was turned on its ear. It was a place where vices were extolled as virtue and a fat, drunken, letch was respected as a connoisseur of the finer things in life. It’s a hedonistic palace that made sleaze shine.
Sifu and I were underdressed…stylistically speaking.
A woman in a cocktail corset and a mile of leg escorted us to a table facing the stage where a tuxedoed magician was tossing china plates to a juggling monkey on a tricycle. The crowd watched from behind carafes, cards, and cigars with the mild interest of the patiently horny.
The waitress leaned down to me; showcasing some of her items that were probably on the menu if only the customer knew how to ask. “What can I get for you two?”
“Water.” I replied and she huffed like I was the cheapest customer she had ever seen and removed the premium goods from my sight.
“A pack of cigarettes and a lighter.” I said to which she softened a bit, cocked a hip, and walked off.
Sifu looked up at me accusingly.
“I’m not drinking.” I said. “I keep my promises.”
I saw no sign of Delia, but the far booths were dark and obscured by a haze of smoke. Sitting at a table on the floor section made Sifu and I stand out like turtles in a duck pond.
"Maybe You should wait outside."
Sifu's expression made it clear that wasn't going to happen.
The waitress brought back my order and I had to stop her lighting my cigarette for me.
“Do you know where Delia is?”
“She said she was working tonight. Curvy girl. Dark hair. Got a rod up her butt.”
“You’ll have to do better than that, honey.” she smirked.
“Thanks anyway.” I said pulling out my credit chip and tipping the girl, but I noticed she wasn’t looking at me.
I turned my head and saw Sifu had startled scribbling on a napkin. After a moment he handed me a quick but accurate sketch of Delia’s face. I gave it to the waitress and she nodded.
“Oh, her. She’ll be onstage after the next act.”
”What’s her real name?”
”Darling, if she didn’t tell you, I’m not going to either.”
"What's your's?" I asked with baited breath.
"Five rounds, thirty percent tip, and a Claudine Nichols handbag."
I tipped the girl for her honesty then glared at Sifu. “Do you know how much I’ve spent on sketch artists since I met you?”
Sifu shrugged indifferently.
“Well…It’s a lot!”
The next act was supposed to be a comedian but ended up being a poor impressionist who got booed off the stage. The curtains closed again and a few minutes later something wavering and French came over the speakers. The curtains opened and Delia sashayed out behind two, huge, pink, fans of four-foot ostrich feathers.
I’ve been told that burlesque dances have a story to them. I’ve never been one for classical art, let alone had the acumen to follow choreography beyond seeing it as pretty gyrations. I’ve been to a few strip clubs and was titillated out of my spare cash. I've had my share of intimate encounters both good and bad, satisfying and embarassing. Maybe it was just the way Delia constantly teased the audience with her serpentine grace, but I felt like I was melting into a vat of hormone pudding.
I glanced at Sifu, who was watching with the same level of intent he would watch birds outside the window for hours on end. I considered covering his eyes, but who was I to raise this kid who didn’t need me?
It was at this point I realized, when Delia gave a playful flick of a fan, that she had noticed that I had noticed that the feathers were the only thing she was wearing. In the back of my mind, I knew she was dancing for a paying audience and not for the affections of one lonely man, but for the rest of that song I was willing and able to believe in fairy tales.
That woman would be no end to my troubles.
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