The telephone wakes me just before midnight. I’m stretched out on my couch with the TV on, Sipowitz once again putting the screws to some scum bag fink. Although now that I think about it, I have quite a little career blooming myself as a law enforcement snitch.
Reaching over my head for the living room phone, I remember Susan’s skipped with the kids. Maybe the caller is Beth or Ryan, ratting out their overprotective mother. Probably wishful thinking, but my kids love me. I know that. They’re going to want to see their pop.
“Hello?” I say.
Click. A hang up.
Must be a wrong number, the caller probably expecting a female voice on this end. You’d think this late, even on a Saturday night, people using the telephone would take a bit more care pressing buttons.
I rest the phone in its cradle and return my head to its well-worn spot on the padded arm rest. A commercial’s running instead of my favorite cop show, and my eyes slowly shut. I’m thinking maybe I should make my way to the bedroom, take my clothes off, when the damn phone rings again.
I pick up. “Hello?”
Click. Another hang-up.
Gee. And I tried to sound so vibrant and appealing that time. Now I’m pissed.
Okay, this is why I ordered the full complement of new technology on my apartment telephone. I sit up on the couch and flip on the table lamp, dial star-six-nine. Takes nine or ten rings, but finally an elderly man picks up and growls hello. Sounds like a lifetime smoker of unfiltered tree trunks.
“Did you just call 555-6564?” I say.
“Nope. This is a pay phone in Clooneys. I was walking by.”
“Did you see who was just using the phone?”
Silence. One beat...two. The old geezer’s probably trying to remember what phone I’m talking about. “A woman,” he says.
“Really? What did she look like?”
Silence. Then another voice whispering in the background. “I don’t know,” he says finally, “but I gotta go. Doris is waiting for me.”
He hangs up.
Think I just got my first senior discount.
Walking into Clooneys forty minutes later, checking the bar, the first thing my peepers latch onto is State Trooper Frances Dahler Chapman, El Cap-i-tan herself. She’s alone and deep into the martinis, I’m guessing. Hunched over the bar; the strawberry-blonde hair slightly askew; in a black sleeveless dress. As I’m standing in the entrance area staring, she lights a cigarette with wobbly hands.
Franny’s drunk. Oh, boy.
Wonder if it was Franny that called me? I don’t see anybody else here I know, but there’s no real evidence she or anyone else I know was the caller. Big coincidence I get a phone call from my second-favorite bar and restaurant, but it could have been just a wrong number.
I chose to ignore other, less sexually promising possibilities, however. I focus instead on the memory of Franny’s naked body in bed with me.
“I don’t want to talk to you,” Franny says. “You lied to me. You lied to the Grand Jury.”
“I had to. Bluefish said he’d kill my children.”
Franny glances at me sidesaddle. Her lime-colored eyes radiate the glassy quality of calm water. “I could have protected them,” she says.
I shake my head. “No way. You could have locked me up, maybe made me safe. I totally would have done what you wanted if I didn’t have kids. But I can’t have them pulled out school, hidden away some place. Frightened.”
Franny slurps at her half-done martini. The sound attracts the glance of Clooneys young bartender, a crewcut athletic type who wasn’t all that pleased to take my drink order. Probably figured he was going to pick up Franny’s disassembled but luscious pieces when Clooneys shuts the doors at one-thirty.
God, aren’t men awful?
Franny sighs. Her moist gaze locks with mine. “Maybe you were right. I should have realized what you were up against,” she says. “And the truth is, it was Fluebish I wanted. Now that he’s dead, I think I’m not so mad at you anymore.”
Fluebish? The lady is bombed. I’m starting to worry a little. She might be too drunk. I mean, even stockbrokers have some pride. You can’t go around humping the unconscious. That’s like selling limited partnerships to your mother.
“You’re not going to prosecute me?” I say.
“Probably not. The investigation is over.”
I think I like the sound of this. “What about Talbot’s murder?”
“That’s almost done, too,” she says. “We traced the video recording equipment to a stolen trunk of stuff that matched swag found in Bluefish’s warehouse. Bluefish or a friend of his must have killed her.”
“So there really was a DVD of the murder?”
“I think so,” she says. “But no one will ever see it again.”
Franny gazes out Clooneys giant bar window at the dark Atlantic. “Because the killer was powerful enough to make it disappear.”
“Powerful enough to push around cops?”
Her gaze finds me again. She blinks. “Yup. Mallory for sure. Maybe his chief. Branchtown’s a cesspool. The cocal lops are protecting someone.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Franny finishes her see-through. I’m guessing number four or five by the slump of her shoulders. She giggles. “Cocal lops? How can you even understand me?”
All previous chapters of BIG MONEY can be found on this website. You just have to hunt. Search, maybe?