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Sep 26

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Wolf Whistle

Summary: Ari has a hard time concentrating on her latest case.

“Here’s where Star Wars… starts to fall apart for me. And it happens in the first ten minutes of the first movie that came out. The New Hope, or whatever.”

“Are you sure this is what you want to talk about?”

“Yep.” Ari cleared her throat and focused. “Let’s assume for the sake of argument that you’re Darth Vader.”

“Awesome.”

Ari smiled. “Right. So you’re Darth Vader, and some bastard rebels have stolen your Death Star plans. You load up your giant arrowhead ship and chase them, and you catch up pretty quickly. You get on board and start terrorizing everybody you can get your invisible Force grip on to find the plans. Then a tiny little transport ship goes out and you let it go. Why? There were only droids onboard, so there aren’t any life signs.

“So putting aside any…” She coughed. “…real-world solutions like the fact that someone may have put a file with the plans onto the ship and then put it on auto-drive to another rebel base, droids are so prevalent in this society that a kid who lives in a hut can go buy two of them with less hassle than buying a used car. Not only that, if you’re Darth Vader, you built one of the droids in the ship out of spare parts. It’s like cops raided a drug dealer’s house and just assumed the meth dealer was giving a courtesy flush before coming out of the bathroom. Anyone with half a brain would look at the situation and say… hey. You know what? I’m going to grab that pod just in case. You’ve already kidnapped a princess, why draw the line at grabbing a little spaceship?”

The woman she was speaking to turned around to face her. “But then Luke wouldn’t have gotten R2-D2 and found Obi-Wan.”

“And the entire movie falls apart, and so goes the franchise. All because Darth Vader was a dumbass and ignored the obvious jettison of the plans he was after. I’m sorry, I just hate plots that are based on your characters, hero or villain, making ridiculous decisions.”

The woman leaned forward. “Like talking about science-fiction movies instead of appreciating your current situation?”

Ari cleared her throat and squirmed in her seat. “Sorry. It’s not you. You’re very a, ah… skilled dancer.”

“Thanks.” The black-and-purple bra came off, baring the breasts Ari had spent the last three minutes trying desperately to ignore. “You know, the song is almost over. I’d hate to know you wasted your money just to talk about Star Wars.” She turned around again and lowered herself into Ari’s lap. She looked over her shoulder, her face partially veiled by her thick curls of black hair, and winked. “We’re all alone back here. So if you want to touch me, I’d let it happen.”

“I thought there were rules about that sort of thing.”

She laughed. “Girls who look like you? I’d dance for you for free. C’mon… it’s all right.” She pinched Ari’s hand between her thumb and forefinger and guided it to her thigh.

“Okay, I’m going to level with you… Sinnamen, was it?”

“Mm-hmm.” She grinded herself against Ari’s lap.

Ari tensed, trying to force her body not to react. “I have a girlfriend.”

“Well, you obviously you need something she’s not giving you.”

“Yeah. She won’t let me badmouth Star Wars without making me watch the entire trilogy again with her commentary.” She glanced toward the speakers in the ceiling, willing the music to fade to an end. “How long is this song, anyway?”

“We don’t really go by songs. Fifty bucks gets you twenty minutes.” She circled her hips, rubbing herself against the lap of Ari’s jeans. “You have seventeen left.”

Ari bit back a groan, but it slipped free as a whimper. Sinnamen raised an eyebrow and Ari shrugged apologetically. “One woman’s Heaven…”

“Look, you want to talk? Tell me why you’re here, if not for the scenery.”

“Okay. First of all, I’m a private investigator.”

“Oh, that’s hot…”

Ari winced. “Not what I was going for.”

“Sorry. Continue.” She stood up and turned, swaying her hips and running her hands serpentine across her stomach.

Ari focused. “I got a call from a man who wanted me to meet him at his hotel room.”

“Oh, sister…”

“Right. But he sounded panicked, so after a little debate with my assistant – the girlfriend I mentioned – I decided to keep the appointment but to take a little precaution…”

#

The hotel room door was open, and I paused at the threshold to examine the damage. The suite was completely trashed. Couch cushions had been flung to the four corners, and the contents of two suitcases had been scattered across the floor. The curtains were askew, showing the early morning skyline. It was barely eight am and, normally, I’d have still been at breakfast or in bed. But the fates conspired, and I knocked on the open door.

“Mr. Palmer?”

He emerged from the adjacent bedroom and stared at me with wide eyes. His shirt was unbuttoned over a tank top, his hair standing up in spikes from repeated rakings. His suit pants were wet from spilled champagne.

“How could you tell it was spilled champagne?” Sinnamen asked.

“I could smell it.”

“From across the room.”

“I have… a really good sense of smell.”

“Tony Palmer?”

He nodded. “Are you the detective? Ariadne Willow?”

“That’s me. You said it was urgent when you called.”

He came closer. “Yes. It’s a matter of life and death. I’ve been robbed.”

I looked around the room. “So it would seem.”

“No, I did this. I spent the whole night trying to find it before I realized it had been stolen. Well, came to terms with the fact it was stolen.”

“Slow down. What exactly is missing?”

He tried to compose himself. “My best friend Daryl is getting married, and I’m his best man. Last night we had the bachelor party here.” He ran his hand through his mussed hair and looked around the room. “He’s getting married today at noon. Then they’re going to the reception and at seven they’re getting on a plane to Europe. And on the plane, he is going to surprise his new wife with a necklace worth a hundred grand. He took it out of a safe deposit box yesterday afternoon so it would be ready. It’s only been out in the world for twenty-four hours. It was in the bottom drawer of the bureau, and now it’s gone. It’s just gone.”

“So you think someone who was at the party did it?”

He hesitated, suddenly nervous. “Yeah. Uh. I have my suspicions. Look, it was a bachelor party. You understand? We had… entertainment.”

“Undressed entertainment?”

“Well, she didn’t start out that way.” He looked like a teenager caught with his father’s porn magazines. “When she showed up, she asked if there was someplace she could change. It’s a suite, you know? There was really only one option, so…”

“You sent her into the bedroom with the necklace.”

He groaned. “I didn’t think she would… I mean, she couldn’t even have known it was there. We even gave her a really nice tip, too.”

“Okay. Do you have a picture of the necklace?” He nodded and went to one of the emptied suitcases. “I’ll also need a description of the stripper. Her face.”

He stopped searching. “Oh… uh. That might be a problem.”

“She wore a mask?”

“No. But, I mean…” He shrugged helplessly. “She was a stripper. You know? Once the show started I wasn’t exactly focused on her face.”

I rolled my eyes. “She was clothed at some point, right? So you had to look at something.”

“I could describe her legs.”

“God.” I put my hands on my hips. “Fine. How did you find her?”

He found a folded piece of paper and brought it over to me. “This is the necklace. And I called a service. You know, send over someone tall, athletic, redhead. Please. You have to get this necklace back before Daryl leaves the country. He’ll never forgive me if I ruined the surprise.”

I took the paper and looked at it. “I’ll do what I can. But you have to help me out here. Tall and redheaded isn’t a lot to go on. Did she have any distinguishing marks that stood out to you?”

#

“I called the service,” Ari said, still trying not to be hypnotized by the gyrating going on inches from her face. “They told me that if there’s no one in their roster who fits the bill, they call local strip clubs to see if there’s anyone who will work. Last night the call came here, to Club Nightside.”

“Did the stripper have any distinguishing marks?”

Ari nodded. “She had a little constellation of stars tattooed on her hip.”

Sinnamen tilted her head to one side, her dance slowing as her smile grew. “And I was wearing a corset, so you couldn’t see my hips.”

“You were the last tall, athletic redhead in the room. I had to be sure.”

She leaned forward, bracing her hands against the back of Ari’s seat. She arched her back and Ari found her head bookended by boobs.

“So you thought I was a bad girl, huh? You put yourself in a small, dark room with a potential bad girl. I kind of wish I had the tattoo so you’d have to pat me down.”

“I’m pretty sure nothing you have on could conceal a necklace.” She was blushing bright red now, sweat beading on her top lip. “So, u-um. You know anyone who matches the description?”

“Uh-huh.”

Ari waited for her to expand. “A-and?”

She smiled, her face close to Ari’s. “Maybe I want you to earn it, Private Dick.”

Ari gulped. “Honestly, a year ago, you wouldn’t have had to ask twice. Hell, a year ago you would have gotten to hear me beg. But this was the only way I could see your hip without waiting to see if you were going to be onstage. Time crunch and all. My girlfriend is understanding, but she’s not that understanding. So while a part of me is screaming bloody murder, I-I-I can’t. I’m sorry.”

Sinnamen straightened and placed her knee on the cushion next to Ari. She leaned back and sighed.

“Figures. The hot chick is the only one who doesn’t want to get in my panties. Story of my life.” She smiled. “You really love your girl, huh?”

“She means everything to me.”

“You’re looking for Kayla McConnell. She’s working the bar right now, but she’s wearing a Betty Page wig. That’s why you didn’t notice her. But for the record, I don’t think she would steal someone’s jewelry. Even if it was costume jewelry, she has standards. I can’t even see her going through someone’s drawers. Seems kind of weird. But she deserves a chance to defend herself.”

Ari nodded. “Thank you.”

“You want to finish the time? You still have three minutes left.”

“You get paid the same either way?” Sinnamen nodded. “Then I think I’ll go on and speak with Kayla. Thanks for… not making me earn the info.”

Sinnamen stepped back and retrieved her clothes. “Oh, you earned it. Faithfulness to your woman in the face of temptation? This day and age, that deserves a damn medal.”

“And it was a hell of a temptation. You know those cartoon wolves who go nuts when they see a sexy woman? You’d have gotten a live-action version of that if I didn’t love Dale so damn much.”

“She’s a lucky girl. Be gentle with Kayla.”

Ari nodded and stood up, eager to be free of the sweet torture. Onstage another dancer was going through a routine but Ari kept her eyes averted as she crossed to the bar. The girl filling drink orders was definitely tall and athletic, but her hair was cut into a short bob. She wore a collar with a black bow tie, but the V-shape of her vest was bare to expose her cleavage. She looked up as Ari approached and raised a finger to indicate she would be over in a minute. Ari rested her elbows on the bar and waited.

“Hey, hon. What can I get you?”

“Actually I just have a few questions. Did you work a private bachelor party last night at the W Hotel?”

She pressed her lips together. “Look, honey, if that was your man’s party, I didn’t force anyone to do anything they didn’t want. It was a nice and R-rated evening.”

“I’m not here about the show. I’m a private investigator. I was hired to find out about what happened in the bedroom when you were left alone to change.”

Kayla thought for a moment. “Okay. I don’t remember anything happening. Nothing got broken or spilled, did it?”

Ari shook her head. “No, but something went missing. A necklace. The best man seems to think you know what happened to it.”

“Ah, I see.” She smiled ruefully. “When all else fails, blame the stripper?”

Ari shrugged. “I’m just following the only lead I have. If you could help fill in some of the blanks for the night, I could see if it takes me in another direction.”

She sighed. “Okay. We got the call from a service at around eleven. Apparently I fit the type the customer asked for, so I agreed to go. Got there around eleven forty-five and went into the bedroom to change. They asked for a magic genie and I wasn’t about to drive across town in my Barbara Eden get-up. So I changed, did the show… you know, a little belly dance and rubbing the magic lamp, that sort of thing.”

Ari chuckled and nodded for her to continue.

“I finished up at one-thirty, got paid, changed back into my street clothes, and hit the street. By the time I left there were only about three or four people left. Including the groom and the best man. The best man is the one who did all the talking. Answered the door, told me where to change, paid… everything. The only necklaces I saw were being worn, and none of them looked fancy enough to merit a private eye looking for them.”

“You never saw this necklace?” She showed her the picture.

“Whoo. If that was in the bedroom, I never saw it. The room was dark, though, and I was in a hurry. You ever undressed in a hotel room full of strangers?”

“A hotel room? No.”

Kayla raised an eyebrow at that, but she let it drop. “I wanted to do my job and get out. I wasn’t going to snoop around on the off chance something valuable was there to be taken. I guess I was an attractive suspect, though. If I didn’t take it, that means someone at the bachelor party stole from their friend. No one wants to admit that.” She tapped her finger on the bar. “Look, I can only give you my word that I didn’t take it. You have no reason to believe me…”

“No, I do.” Ari held up the picture again. “This is the old lady’s necklace from Titanic. I had my assistant print it out before I came here. If you’d stolen it, you would have known it was the wrong necklace. You would have given yourself away.” She took out another picture. “I assume you didn’t see this necklace, either?”

She looked again, smiling this time. “Nope. Pretty sneaky switcheroo.”

“I have a few tricks up my sleeve. So since I’ve eliminated you as a suspect, is there anything you can remember about the party that might help me out? Maybe someone took advantage of your performance to slip into the bedroom and take the necklace with no one else noticing.”

Kayla arched her back. “You really think I could be that distracting?”

Ari shook her head in disbelief. “Where were all you women when I was single? But yes, objectively speaking, I think a dozen high-profile actors could pull off a casino heist if you were taking off your clothes in the other direction.”

She chuckled and tilted her head as she searched her memory. “I’m usually paying more attention to the ones who are really into me to make sure they respect boundaries. But there were a couple of guys who got up for refills or to use the bathroom while I was dancing.”

“Did any of them go near the bedroom?”

Kayla chewed her lip and narrowed her eyes as she recalled the night. “I couldn’t tell you. I’m sorry. I wish I could be more help.”

Ari sighed. “It’s okay. Hey, if I was single, would you and Sinnamen have been willing to team up on me?”

Kayla grinned. “I’m game if she is. Why?”

Ari picked up a handful of nuts from the bowl on the bar. “I just want to know how much my girlfriend owes me for showing restraint.” She winked and backed away, glancing toward the stage as she crossed toward the door.

If only she had gotten this case before she and Dale got together. It could have been a hell of a perk… She sighed at what might have been as she took out her phone, waiting until she was outside to dial the client’s number.

“Mr. Palmer. I was wondering if you could gather everyone who was at the bachelor party last night.” She checked her watch. “Sure. I can come by the reception hall. Have them ready in about twenty minutes.”

She hung up and hoped her bluffing skills were up to par as she unlocked the car door.

#

Dale glanced up when Ari came into the office, and she did a double-take when she saw the can of soda she was holding against her cheek. “Whoa. What happened to you?”

Ari sighed and lowered the can, working her jaw back and forth. “I got socked in the jaw. I’ve seen people put cold things on their faces after they get punched, so I thought it might help.”

Dale came around the desk and gingerly prodded Ari’s jaw. “That’s to help with the swelling. How hard were you hit?”

“Not very hard.”

“What happened? Who hit you?”

Ari sighed and let Dale guide her to one of the waiting room chairs. She explained the case, what the client had hired her to find, and what she had discovered from Kayla. “So I assumed it had to be an inside job. If the stripper wasn’t the thief, it had to be someone who was invited to the hotel room. It was easier for the best man to accuse the stripper than to believe one of his best friends was guilty.”

#

I got the best man to gather everyone who had been at the bachelor party. That meant getting hold of the groom when he was supposed to be stuffing cake in his new bride’s face, but I couldn’t discount him. I don’t know why he would have stolen his own necklace, but weirder things have happened. So everyone was gathered, and I did the whole Agatha Christie number.

“Someone in this room stole the necklace.”

While I talked, I moved around the room and got close enough so I could smell each one of them. The groom was my control. He was anxious when he arrived, palms sweaty and a bundle of nerves. I got a sense of how he smelled and then sent him to join the others before I started my spiel. Hands clasped behind my back, the whole nine yards.

“I was hired because guilt was cast onto the stripper. Makes sense. She takes her clothes off for money, so she must be of low moral character, right? But criminals aren’t always opportunists. She couldn’t have expected the necklace to be in the hotel room, if she even knew it existed. And she couldn’t have assumed it would be worth a hundred grand. She’s not going to risk getting arrested for theft for taking what, to me, looks like it could be costume jewelry.

“So it had to be someone who knew what the necklace was worth. Someone who had been dying to get their hands on it for years but just couldn’t find a way in. The necklace had been safe in the bank for years. But now, there was a chance. The necklace was going to be out in public, it was going to be vulnerable. And when the girl arrived and started getting naked, you knew that no one would notice if you slipped into the bedroom and did a little search.

“Everyone was watching the stripper, but you forgot one thing. One minor detail. All your friends were staring at the girl, but the girl was watching the room. She saw you going into the bedroom and she gave me a pretty good description of what you looked like.”

I stopped next to a man whose smell matched the groom’s. He was growing more and more anxious by the second, so I got in his face.

“So how long did it take you to find the necklace?”

#

“At which point he slugged me and made a break for the door.”

Dale winced. “Not exactly the actions of an innocent man.”

Ari shook her head, still rubbing her jaw. “The best man explained it while he wrote out the check. He worked for the groom’s father’s company and had gotten passed over for a promotion. He decided that the necklace would make a good consolation prize.” She opened her mouth wide and worked her jaw from side to side. “Is it clicking? I feel like there’s a clicking noise.”

“It’s fine.” Dale lightly kissed Ari’s jaw. “Did you say there was a check?”

Ari grinned and took the folded check out of her pocket. “Paid in full, with a bonus for getting the necklace back before take-off.”

Dale’s eyebrow lifted at the amount. “Ha-cha.”

“Yeah. Some of that is, ah, for expenses. I kind of had to shell out some cash to get the information I needed.”

Dale said, “Like payoffs? Let your old friend Ben Franklin do the talking?”

“Not exactly. I was trying to find a stripper with a specific tattoo. And most of the women at the club had… revealing outfits that made it easy to see if they had the right tattoo. But one of the dancers was wearing a corset. So I had to pay to see more of her.”

“You got a lap dance?” To Ari’s relief, Dale seemed more amused than offended. “How was it?”

“Torture.” She stroked Dale’s arm. “But I was willing to put up with it as long as I had to. For the job.”

“Uh-huh.” Dale relaxed into the chair. “I seem to remember how good you used to be at keeping things professional. If we weren’t dating, you’d probably be backstage at the club right now badgering that poor lady for information.”

Ari said, “Two, actually. There were two strippers that propositioned me. It would have been a threesome.”

“Hell, baby. Now I’m disappointed you didn’t come back with details.” She grinned and nudged Ari’s arm. “I know you used to hound-dog a little bit. You’d have sex with clients and suspects and witnesses, you’d–”

“Hey.”

“I’m not saying you were a slut.”

“Gee thanks.”

Dale stroked Ari’s hand. “You’re an incredibly sexual person, Ariadne. You had sex when it was offered, and you enjoyed yourself. You don’t see sex as something shameful, so you had no qualms about appreciating it whenever you could. But now you’re with me, and you’re being faithful. You went from having sex with whomever to restricting yourself to just me. I’m honored by that, Ari. It makes me love you more to know that you’re getting what you need from me.”

Ari kissed the corner of Dale’s mouth and stroked her arm. “What I need and so much more, Dale. The idea of being with one person for the rest of my life used to be a scary thought, but only because I didn’t know who that person might be.”

Dale smiled. “You better stop now, because this is very close to a marriage proposal. And we can do that in this state now.”

Ari smiled. “No, I’m not proposing. If I ever do propose, I’ll try not to do it with stripper glitter on my face.”

“Wait, how did you get glitter on your face? Where exactly–”

“Not important.”

“Right.” Dale kissed Ari and let her lips linger. She chuckled, touched Ari’s chin, and stood up. She turned her back and shook her rear end. “Maybe when we get home, I can make up for your deprivation and give you a little dance.”

Ari reached out and swatted her playfully. “Considering how big that check was, maybe I’ll take you back to Club Nightside and buy you a lap dance from Sinnamen.”

“I’d be game.”

Ari paused. “I was joking.”

“I wasn’t.” Dale sat down and pulled her chair up to the desk. “I’ve never gotten a lap dance at a strip club before. If you get grinded on by a sexy wench, then I should get to have the same wench grind upon me. Besides, if you’re watching, I think it would be hot.”

“Wow. And it’s not even my birthday.” She stood up and walked into her office. “Depending on how long it takes me to write up a case file, I may take you up on that.”

“Goodie! Can’t wait.”

Ari paused in the doorway. “All things considered, I’d rather have you undress for me.”

Dale winked. “We’ll see how turned on I get at the club and go from there.”

Ari smiled and went into her office, rubbing her jaw as she settled in behind her desk. All things considered, it had been an extremely good day. And she had high hopes for the night. She chuckled and pushed aside her prurient fantasies to open a file. She wanted to get done and get back to the club before Sinnamen’s shift ended. Of course if she was gone and Kayla was available… well, decisions had to be made.

Possibilities abounded.

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