Brimstone Kiss (Delilah Street #2)

Chapter 11

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RIC had "booked" me into an early interview at the Crimes Against Persons, a.k.a. capers, unit the next day.

Hector Nightwine had Perry Mason on tap just as fast.

I had to wonder where CinSims were "housed" when not on duty. Were they kept inert in warehouses? And what about their props, like the black fifties Cadillac convertible Perry drove up to my gate the next morning? Its color matched his black-and-white TV image, so I viewed a fragment of fifties TV film idling in my driveway.

Perry got out of the totally solid car to meet me at the cottage door and to admire Dolly parked in front of the carriage house.

"What a beauty! Where'd you get her?" He was a sharp one, recognizing Dolly's gender. Maybe it was the red interior leather and flashy white convertible top.

"Second-hand. In Wichita, Kansas."

" Kansas?" Perry seemed surprised. "Someone in Kansas must be foolish to part with a fine machine like that."

Also dead. I didn't want to mention that Dolly was estate sale spoils. It might remind Perry that he was a tad behind the times.

"Will I seem more suspicious if I come in with an attorney? " I asked as he saw me into his Caddy's passenger seat. It may have been a CinSim prop, but it was a genuine vintage automobile. I donned scarf and sunglasses for the ride, feeling so fifties.

Perry was a heavy-set man but he stepped briskly around the huge car frame to take the driver's seat. I reached for the seat belt I'd had to install in Dolly and saw Perry eyeing me. He had an intensely soulful gaze, but it was honed to a razor-sharp edge.

"Um-" How could I explain my out-of-era groping? "Just… uh, petting the leather interior."

He frowned, and when Perry Mason frowned it was enough to make Pinocchio spill his wooden guts. "Your car has a leather interior as well," he pointed out.

"Yours feels so much cushier, more L.A. than Kansas."

Perry's laughter was open and full. You might almost mistake him for Santa Claus if you were very foolish, like my mythical Kansas seller of a vintage Cadillac.

"Don't be impressed by L.A., young lady," Perry advised me. "It eats lovely young women for lunch… for very long, supposedly 'business' lunches. You're better off here in Las Vegas, under Nightwine's protection. Already the unsavory elements of this Sin City have roped you into a crime investigation."

Yeah, right. Hector was Daddy Warbucks and I was Little Orphan Annie.

Still, riding along with Perry getting stern advice on my safety felt like going for a drive with the daddy I'd never have. I'd put up with a lot of unwanted advice to savor that pleasant, relaxed, cared-for feeling. I felt a tinge of it with Ric, but the sexual chemistry was too overwhelming; it made me feel edgy and excited instead of cozy. Enough of a rewind on that!

The drive took us north. The homicide unit had its own building not too far from the fabled Las Vegas Boulevard, a.k.a. the Strip. Outside, the building was sleek and modern. The inside was absent of clich�� except for a communal coffee pot.

Captain Kennedy Malloy, attired in a navy suit like an officer and a gentlewoman, or maybe a British nanny, entered the interrogation room first. This was the usual central long table and chairs, stripped to their essential forms. Apparently that's what the police had in mind for interrogation subjects: stripping me to my essential form.

"Your presence wasn't necessary," Kennedy Malloy told Perry. "We regard Miss Street as more of a witness now than a suspect."

"'Now' is a 'wiggle' word, Captain Malloy. It can quickly become obsolete in these apparently motiveless murder cases."

"Perhaps it's just as well that you see the recorded evidence."

She sat to click on a small flat-screen computer. I studied her smooth cap of strawberry-blond hair and slim figure.

Kennedy Malloy was as pale-skinned as I was under a tan veil of faint freckles. Hazel eyes. Irish, but not Black Irish like me, and not the red-haired, green-eyed boisterous lass of song and story. All business, all control, high-strung but low-key. I didn't see her and Ric hitting it off romantically.

But maybe she did.

Perry was leaning in to scowl at the small screen. "Footage from the Inferno security cameras, I take it." Malloy nodded. "Is that you, Delilah?" he asked me.

I leaned in to look, never having seen this before. I could see why Perry asked me to identify myself. I looked like a figure from a 1930s society ball in my rented vintage black velvet gown with my hair up in a chignon. Snow in his rock-concert white leather cat suit didn't look any vintage at all but Elvis spaceman. We were tripping the light fantastic-ballroom dancing- while the CinSymbs around us watched stupidly, as if they'd been bonked on the head.

Maybe seeing their idol capering among the preconcert cocktail set had done it, or it was that invisible bubble Snow could command around himself that kept them from crowding in.

What had unhinged the now-dead groupie was seeing me actually touching the idol. Or, rather, me being touched by the idol. I'd told Snow: I don't dance, don't ask me, but he'd swept me into a fox trot anyway. Bossy bastard.

Now I saw that a strong lead could make anybody look competent on a dance floor.

It was uncanny how good I looked in CinSymb black, white and silver. With our coloring, Lilith and I were almost-CinSymbs born. Snow's albino skin and hair filmed like a silver-screen dream.

No wonder the groupie had been crazy jealous.

"Is that you?" Perry repeated.

"It must be. I didn't have a mental picture of how I looked in that CinSymb get-up."

Malloy snorted delicately. "Like you never looked in a mirror before leaving the house all dressed up for dancing."

"It's just a cottage. I use the hall mirror for full-length views and that hall is dim."

"She didn't need to look," Perry said. "Obviously Miss Street "-his chuckle rumbled as he no doubt thought of his secretary, Delia, with the same last name-"doesn't need to fuss much to look well. I've always been partial to brunets."

And he winked at me!

Meanwhile, Malloy was doing a slow burn. "What is your relationship with Christophe?" She nodded at us sweeping around the floor while staring CinSymbs stepped back to make a circle. "You dance like lovers."

I'd had no idea we'd made such a display of ourselves. I'd been busy verbally fencing with him.

"He didn't ask me if I wanted to dance and, actually, I didn't. Our relationship is… probably best described as predator and prey."

"He does seem the type to prey on naïve women."

Naive, I seethed in tandem with Irma. "No. I meant I was the predator. He's the prey."

Her hair color was too watery red for her to show much eyebrow, but one seemed to twitch with disbelief.

"I'm a former investigative reporter for a TV station. I came here on the trail of a… missing girl." Well, Lilith was missing.

"You came here from where?"

" Wichita, Kansas."

"And you think Christophe knows something about this missing Kansas girl?"

"I think he knows a lot about shady dealings in this city."

"How do you know this girl is here?"

"I saw her, on television."

Malloy nodded. "Yes, the networks and cable TV are always here filming Las Vegas crowd scenes for various shows."

I didn't correct her. Lilith had been filmed in a very uncrowded scene. Autopsy rooms generally are.

"How old is this missing girl?" Malloy asked.

"About my age."

"Twenty-four, then." Uh-oh, someone had been looking in my personal file. Maybe it was my FBI file. "There's nothing the law can do unless we find her and she's a victim of a crime."

"I know. That's why there are people like me."

"And you're like?"

I wanted to squirm. My new "profession" seemed theoretical so far. "A private investigator, I guess, but not the mean streets kind. I do paranormal investigation."

"For how long?"

"First for the Wichita TV station and, on my own here, uh, officially, a few days." That would be official in several months when a new Yellow Pages directory came out. My new Web site would be much faster…when I set it up.

"You get a license?" Malloy asked.

"They don't give them for my specialty."

Perry intervened. "It seems this town, and these times, could use paranormal investigators."

"If they're not jailed on suspicion of murder themselves," Malloy said sourly, licking her pale lipstick and apparently discovering it was Green Apple Sour Gloss.

I still suspected her secret heart was set on Ric and she didn't like my showing up and getting in the way. Jeessh! A homicide captain and a Snow groupie, both jealous of an orphaned Kansas virgin (until very recently). You'd think they'd have enough hardened Las Vegas femmes fatales to worry about.

Malloy ignored me again and squinted at the screen. "Here it comes. The hair shtick. You still want to say nothing's going on between you and Christophe, Street?"

The camera angle was at my rear. The gown was backless, but that was the style in the thirties: prim high necklines in front, tailbone-dusting plunges in back. Well, not quite that backless.

In the tape, Snow was teasing out hairpins until my chignon came undone. I remembered him making some sexy insinuation about his long white hair and my long black hair blending in the mirror over his bed. I'd figured it for a hint that he wasn't the Albino Vampire he was rumored to be, the way seducers before the Millennium Revelation used to assure girls they'd had vasectomies.

I blushed now, hoping it didn't show but knowing it probably did.

"He's very forward," I murmured.

"'Forward'? Is that a word out of a convent school?" Malloy demanded. "The man is obviously seducing you."

I blushed more. She'd hit the nail on the head. Out of Our Lady of the Lake Convent School in Wichita, to be specific. "Only if it works," I retorted, "and it didn't. He's leaving now, see."

"And here comes the frantic fan," she added.

"She's been watching them for some time from the group of people at the left," Perry pointed out.

The next scene that I did remember word for word played out with only moving lips, inaudible against the background music.

The woman, shorter and dumpier than I, swathed in a patterned velvet shawl, bent to retrieve my dislodged hairpins from the floor. She rose with three fanned in her fingers, souvenirs of the rock star called Cocaine. Addictive to her.

My hand made a motion that she could keep them.

She came as close to me as Snow had, like an unwanted dance partner pushing too near. Even on film her feverish eyes looked mad. Her hands reached for my loosened hair, fingers twitching to tangle in it.

I shook my head and my hair loose. Said something serious. Sharp. The damned woman had wanted to cut off a lock of my hair. No way was I letting a lock of my hair go off on its own.

But Snow had touched my hair when undoing my chignon, and this woman wanted anything he'd touched, including parts of me. She's the one who should have been under suspicion, not me. Except she ended up dead by the Inferno Hotel Dumpster in the back service area later that night while I went home to Quicksilver.

"This is all you have?" Perry asked.

"The women did have an altercation."

"The dead woman had an altercation. Miss Street simply stood there and defended her person from pawing."

"She didn't from Christophe, a.k.a. Cocaine."

Perry turned to me. "Did the man do more than hold you in the traditional social dance position and pull a few hairpins from your hair?"

"No."

He'd made a verbal pass and once his cool white hand had trespassed on my bare back below the waist. The floating Inferno "eyes-in-the-sky" mirrored balls-a metaphor for the boss's ego and brass, perhaps?-had missed recording that. I saw no reason to cop to a copped feel if I didn't have to.

Perry shrugged and eyed Malloy.

"I see no reason to question Miss Street further," the captain said, "and obviously she isn't planning on leaving Las Vegas with her new career in gear."

The glance she flashed me added "… and Ric here."

I nodded politely and smiled.

And that's when the door burst open.

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