Pinot Noir

by China DeSpain

Rain slapped against the windows, an angry pounding that echoed the throb in my head. Too many late nights and too many Jack and Cokes had left me high and dry. I leaned back in my chair, which creaked in protest, and tossed my feet on the desk.

I figured a nap would put some pep back in my step, but he walked in before I had a chance. The dude was a tall drink of water, dark and handsome with the kind of chiseled jaw that spelled trouble for a dame like me.

“You Lane?” he said.

“Who’s askin’?”

“The name’s Adam Carmichael,” he said, dropping a wad of cash on my desk. “I need help, and if you’re Lane, this is for you.”

I tipped forward, swinging my feet back to the ground. “In that case, Lacey Lane, at your service. What seems to be the problem?” I gestured to my lone client chair and he sat.

“It’s my wife. She’s missing. I want you to find out what happened to her.”

He slid his phone to me, and I looked at the lady in question. She was mousy, too plain for a guy like him. “This is her?” I asked, eyebrow raised.

“Yeah. Maisy.”

“All right. Tell me everything.”

He leaned back and slipped a cigarette from a slim silver holder. He shot me a questioning look and I nodded, sliding him my already overflowing ashtray. He lit up, sending smoke wreaths around his head.

“It happened a week ago,” he said. “I went to bed early, and when I woke up the next day, my wife was gone. Her car is still in the garage, but her toothbrush, phone, and some clothes are missing.”

“So she left willingly?”

He shrugged. “That’s what I’m paying you to find out.”

“Have you tried calling her?”

“Of course. No answer.”

I narrowed my eyes. “And you have no idea what might have prompted this? No fights or issues in the marriage?”

“I never said that. As a matter of fact, we had a little tussle that evening. But nothing serious. I love my wife.” His tone and his expression never changed; he was stone-cold, this one, without an ounce of that so-called love in his voice. I didn’t believe for a second that that was all there was to his tale. I cursed last night’s whiskey and rubbed my temples.

“Tell me more about your wife,” I said. “Her habits, likes and dislikes. That kinda thing.”

“Maisy grew up rich. She likes the finer things, ya know? A good glass of pinot and a steak dinner. She’s a fur coats and diamonds kind of gal.”

“And you provide her with those things?” Maybe she’d left him for someone with more dough.

He shrugged again. “Sometimes. Usually don’t have to. She’s got a piece on the side who does that kind of stuff, if you get my drift.”

I perked up at that. “Got a name for this side piece?”

He grinned and passed me a business card. “Thought you’d never ask. This is him.”

I glanced at the card, with its neatly printed name and address. “All right. I’ll pay a visit to Mr. Seth Sampson.”

~*~

I did a little digging and what I turned up didn’t look good. The Carmichaels were that certain kind of royalty, the spoiled princess and the self-made man. It turned out Seth Sampson was a business associate of Adam Carmichael’s. Sampson was richer and older, but not as easy on the eyes. Still, I could see what had drawn Maisy to him. He was a bachelor with a penchant for throwing around money. Catnip to a dame like Maisy Carmichael.

I had a hunch the pair of them were holed up somewhere together; I figured he’d picked her up the night she ran off. So I tailed the man, but I didn’t find squat. No sign of the lady anywhere, not at his house or his office. Sampson never hit up any hotels, so it didn’t seem like he had his mistress stashed at one.

Maybe it was time to take a look at the husband.

On a hunch, I asked Carmichael to meet me at Clyde’s, a bar down on Fifth. I figured maybe the wife wasn’t the only one with a side piece, and if that was the case, he might have more of a motive than I’d thought. I wore my tightest dress and my reddest lipstick. If he really was a concerned husband, he’d ignore my va-va-voom look. And if he didn’t, that’d tell me something I needed to know.

I was perched on a barstool and sippin’ a dirty martini when he walked in. He raked his gaze over the deadbeat patrons before settling on me.

“What’s a lady gumshoe like you doing in a place like this?”

I popped an olive in my mouth. “Drinking. I ran out of whiskey at home.”

“Shame.”

“A damn crime is what it is,” I said. “So have you heard from your wife at all?”

He shook his head. “No. Did you find anything on Sampson?”

After tailing him, I’d researched him online as extensively as I could. I even put in a call to a contact on the force to see if the guy had a record, but he was squeaky clean. “Sampson’s a dead end. What about friends or family? Would she have gone to one of them?” I’d asked him that before, but it didn’t hurt to ask again.

“I double-checked.” He sipped his bourbon. “They say no.”

“What about the cops?”

“I’d prefer not to involve them.”

I decided not to mention the fact that I’d already talked to one. “It might be the best way to get your wife back,” I said.

“I have faith in you, Miss Lane.” He tossed back the rest of his bourbon and strolled out the door. He’d barely noticed my cleavage. Maybe he wasn’t sleeping around on his wife after all. All the same, he didn’t seem to miss her much. It was more like he’d hired me because it was the right thing to do, not because he cared if she ever came back.

Didn’t matter either way. That part wasn’t my business. I didn’t get paid to ask why. Only who and where. I ordered another round.

I’d barely taken a sip when Carmichael came back. His hair was damp and raindrops dotted the collar of his trench coat. It was a good look on him, and I had to admit, I was a little jealous of Maisy Carmichael.

He grabbed my arm and looked me straight in the eye. “Wanna get out of here?”

I finished my martini in one slug.

~*~

The rain and the headache were back, only this time I wasn’t in my office. I was naked in Adam Carmichael’s bedroom, which was one of the stupider things I’d done. Carmichael was out cold, snoring, and I needed to get myself out of this mess. I picked up my clothes and hurried out, throwing my dress on in his hallway. I snuck downstairs and yanked open the front door, only to collide with a plain woman in a designer coat.

Maisy Carmichael.

She gaped at me, but I pushed past her and out into the rain, where I hailed a cab and got the hell out of dodge. By the time I got home, I had five messages from Adam Carmichael.

<WHERE ARE YOU?>

<SOMETHING’S HAPPENED>

<CALL ME>

<WHERE ARE YOU, LANE?>

<CALL ME RIGHT NOW>

I turned off my phone and crawled into bed. Hours later, I woke to banging on my door. “Police!” shouted a muffled voice. “Open up.”

I tugged on a robe and stumbled to the door. Two cops were waiting. “Lacey Lane?”

“That’s me.”

“Can you give us your whereabouts last night?”

I pulled my robe tighter. “Why?”

“We believe you may have been involved in a crime. We’d appreciate it if you’d get dressed and come with us.”

“What crime?”

“The murder of Adam Carmichael.”

~*~

According to the cops, Carmichael had been shot and killed in the early hours of the morning. I admitted to spending the night with him, but showed them the texts and my cab receipt as proof of my innocence. But the time of death wasn’t concrete, so the cops said my receipt didn’t prove my innocence. They also figured I could’ve sent the texts myself, as a way to cover my ass.

“I’ve told you already, Carmichael was a client. He wanted me to find his wife, who showed up this morning as I was leaving. She’s the one you should talk to.”

The detective stared at me with dead eyes. “You make a habit of sleeping with your clients, Lane?”

I shrugged. It depended on the client.

“There was no sign of Maisy Carmichael at the home. A neighbor found Mr. Carmichael’s body. As far as we can tell, nobody’s seen Mrs. Carmichael in at least two weeks. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

“I was hired to find her. Which you already know.” I was tired of this cat-and-mouse game.

“You know what I think? I think maybe you killed them both. Got Mrs. Carmichael out of the way so you could have her husband—maybe for the money?—and then killed him in  a lovers’ quarrel.”

I pressed a hand to my still-throbbing temple. I really needed to quit drinking. “Your theory doesn’t hold water. All the same, I’d like a lawyer now.”

“That’s a good idea, Lane. You’re gonna need one.”

The cops left to call my defender, and I sat in interrogation, hungover and alone. I had no evidence, no alibi, and it was getting clearer by the minute that Maisy Carmichael had set me up to be a patsy.

As soon as I got out of these cuffs, I was gonna find out why.

~*~

After hours of processing, my lawyer bailed me out. The cops didn’t have enough to hold me, but they’d made it clear that they intended to keep looking. They weren’t the only ones. But first, I need to clear my head. I swung by my favorite coffee shop, Vine and Bean, and picked up an enormous cup of joe. Two sips set me right.

“Whaddya put in this stuff? It’s magic,” I asked the gal at the counter.

“Secret recipe,” she said with a smile.

I shrugged and headed back to my office, to-go cup in hand, ready to track down Maisy Carmichael. I owed her a chat. But when I opened the door, I found the lady herself sitting in my client chair. Well, that was a time saver.

“What are you doing here?”

She cocked her head, taking me in. She seemed unimpressed. “Aren’t you supposed to be looking for me? I’m making your job easier.”

“Where’ve you been, Maisy?”

“Away. It doesn’t matter where.” She crossed her ankles primly.

I dropped into my desk chair and propped my boots on the desk. “Why’d you kill your husband? Worse, why’d you set me up for it?”

She laughed. “I didn’t kill him. Why would I? We had a perfectly good life, not to mention an understanding. He didn’t care that I was sleeping with Seth, and I don’t care that he was sleeping with you. Though I thought he had better taste.”

“Honey, there’s no accountin’ for it. So you were never missing?”

“Not at all. I went out of town with a friend.”

“Who’s the friend?”

“Her name isn’t important,” she said meaningfully, and I suddenly understood why she’d been so secretive about the whole thing. Adam Carmichael might have tolerated Maisy’s male lovers, but apparently her female ones were another story.

“Well, I guess that closes my case.”

“Good,” she said. “That means you’re available.”

“For what?” The cops were still looking at me for murder, which meant I didn’t want to spend my spare time looking for some rich lady’s lost kitty.

She tossed a wad of cash on my desk. “I want you to find out who killed my husband.”

It turns out déjà vu is the real deal. I looked at the bills on my desk. “Somebody shot him.”

“I know that. I also know that I didn’t do it and neither did you. So what do you say? It’s in your best interest to find out. You might as well get paid.”

“Lady, I don’t know what your game is, but I don’t like you.”

She leaned back and crossed her arms. “It’s both mutual and irrelevant. You want the job or not?”

I reached over and swept the cash into my drawer. I never wanted to hear the name Carmichael again, but I needed to solve this murder, and I needed money for more booze.

“Yeah, all right. Tell me what you know.”

Photo (commercial license) by Johnny Silvercloud

 

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