The Cases of Lenora X, Domme Detective: The Cryptic Man, Part 10

Arty was only being so free with the PD's information on this case because the Department had absolutely nothing. Normally there would be a lot of pretty-pleasing and owing favors and the like; not this time. Arty was desperate for any lead, even if it came from a Lady Detective.

So in the spirit of having nothing, Arty was sharing the lab report on the latest victim to what the press had taken to calling The Cryptic Man. After the third murder there was no way to keep the clues a secret . . . the Blog City PD decided it was better to put it out there rather than have some pain in the ass reporter get it via a leak and embarrass them.

"The tox report is interesting, X."

"Oh? What did they find?"

"What didn't they, is more like it. The victim was heavily and very skillfully medicated. The ME told me it takes some skill to give somebody this much barbiturates and narcotics and not kill him. In the ME's opinion, the killer was attempting to make the death and the bloodletting as close to painless as possible."

Arty paused. "Fucking freak!"

I had to suppress a laugh. Arty wanted the killer to be a sick sadistic bastard -- warped sadism was something he could easily understand, but a guy going to all that trouble to basically drain a guy of all his blood without hurting him? Arty couldn't wrap his mind around that one.

It made sense in a strange way, though. Sadism was a luxury a good professional hit man could never afford. Any more than a banker could afford to get personal about money, a hit man couldn't get personal about violence. Once it stopped being a job, and being fun, he would be doomed . . . when you're having fun you make mistakes.

"Anything else interesting, Arty?"

"Only that is there is nothing interesting . . . in fact, nothing at all. Everything, except for the murder itself, was clean as a whistle. As you surmised, the murder weapons were various knives, all run through the high-pressure dishwasher and yielding nothing at all. No stray prints . . . no footprints in the blood or anything like that. The only blood was the victim's. No forced entry, no accessing of the alarm panel other than by the victim.

The call waiting beeps. It's mandy.

"I'll call you back, Arty."

* * *

Vallie's phone rang, just when he knew it would.

"Good afternoon. I wonder if you would be interested in a satellite TV system for just $29 a month."

Vallie looked down at his list a moment, just to be sure.

"No thank you, I only watch election returns anyway."

"You can pick up the back half . . . the number is 30099."

Vallie wrote down the number. He liked a client who didn't make a fuss about payment.

"And I have one more for you, and then our business is concluded. This one is a specific victim, and, in light of that and of several complicating factors, I won't haggle. $100,000 for this one."

Vallie did his best to remain impassive. "As long as it's not the President, we've got a deal."

The voice on the other end of the phone never wavered, never laughed, never faltered. Almost anyone else but Vallie would've been at least a little afraid of it, in some undefinable way. To Vallie there was nothing scary about it . . . for him it was more an intellectual curiosity, an interesting little peculiarity of circumstance.

"OK. This is not going to be the easiest contract you've ever done. The target is armed, and wary. But some of the background work has been done for you already . . . "

Vallie listened intently, making notes as he did so.

* * *

Day of Infamy is proof positive that a little cash, properly applied in the right places, works wonders. The club regularly featured live sex acts and all other manner of debauchery right on the stage, yet they were never raided, no do-gooder mayoral candidate ever made closing it down a campaign promise, nothing of the sort, ever.

I had a soft spot for DOI since it's where I first met mandy. And because, well, DOI specialized in D/s-type debauchery, My absolute favorite kind.

It felt weird being there alone. mandy had begged off, citing a stack of paperwork. Thank goodness she was interested in the day-to-day running of the business and totally committed to Me.  

I swirled the bourbon in My glass and looked again at the action on stage. A very muscular black man had just finished very skillfully whipping a waify redhead . . . she screamed like the skin was being ripped from her bones but there was hardly a mark on her -- Master Leo was very good with that whip.

His hand rakes back through her hair, and his big hand seemed almost the same size as the girl’s head. He pulled back until her whole body arched, and then shoved the whip handle inside her and began to fuck her with it, slowly at first, letting her whimpers of pain gradually turn and finally tip over to moans of pleasure. He started to take her harder, faster with the handle . . . holding her tight by the hair, her body caught, caught in the bondage, caught in his grasp, and caught in the slowly rising tide of excitement that she couldn't fight.

I realized all of a sudden how quiet it had gotten -- the crowd was rapt, their attention drawn to the stage and held there. The skinny redhead was shuddering in her bonds now . . . words here flying, pouring out of her as she begged Leo to let her explode. Leo’s powerful arm kept the whip handle hammering her cunt hard and fast . . . the squishing of it and the girl’s sobbing and begging were all that could be heard in the crowded club.

Leo finally broke the tension . . . his words finally giving her release. Her screams made Me shiver, the intensity and the absolute need she was expressing wordlessly were so real, so total, so right-in-the-here-and-now. By the time the girl finally collapsed, spent, I realized that I’d been holding My breath, watching.

I ordered another drink and My mind wandered of course to where exactly I was on the case.
What had I learned? It wasn't Bobby Astro, Arty and I were both pretty sure of that. It wasn't some guy named “Vail” from Chicago -- no one on either side of the law, except Squids, had ever heard of him. Thankfully the kind of money I was getting from King made the $200 I wasted on Squids an afterthought.

What else? Our killer was very professional, very careful, and very versatile. He could do clean, messy, and everything in between. And he had a grudge against King.

Which was looking like another dead end. The cops had looked into everyone they could think of who was known to have any reason to hate King. Funny thing was, the vast majority of those who weren't in prison were no longer living.

The stupid word game clues were no help. She’d been over the words a thousand times. Gangster. Arty Daniels. Royalty. There's no pattern, no meaning, nothing indicative of where or when or in what way the killer might strike next. There was no pattern to the victims, no relationship between them, or to King.

I write down the locations of the killings on a napkin. House of Domination. Pool Hall. Bar/restaurant. The addresses. I hold up the bourbon and look at the napkin through the amber translucence . . . laughing at Myself.

It was a prefect illustration of how life was totally unlike the movies. In the movies the geeky guy in the precinct would plot the locations of killings on a map of the city and they would form an arrow pointing to the location of the next killing. In the movies the first letter of each clue answer would start spelling out the name of the killer's mother. In the movies the killer would be sending Me love notes chock full of subtle but detectable forensic evidence that would lead us to him. In the movies we've had caught this fucker by now.

The truth was, a careful, unemotional, killer could commit plenty of murders and not get caught. The really, really smart ones were almost impossible to catch until they start liking it too much. Then they got caught.

I let the case go away for a little while . . . My bestie Astrid and Her new slave, chastityboy, were about to perform.

The Cases of Lenora X, Domme Detective: The Cryptic Man, Part 9

I had dinner with King at Memphis Blues, a BBQ joint and music club he owns. I was polishing off an especially succulent half-rack baby backs when the thought struck Me that maybe the best part of being as rich as King would be owning so many restaurants that one never had to eat at the the same place twice for a long time.

I brought King up to speed. Squids' little tidbit, my conversation with Astro.

King listened impassively, then slid another envelope across the table. Normally I'd be feeling as though I should have produced a lot more results for this kind of money, but something about King's demeanor made it clear that spending this money was like some kind of penance, as though he were paying some sort of karmic fine, the only way he knew how.

I pushed the plate away from Me . . . Memphis Blues had amazing food but eating all that wonderful stuff was going to keep Me out of all the designer clothes I could suddenly afford.

I saw that King was done, too. I lit a cigarette and turned to watch the band, who were starting up.

The singer is good . . . youngish, but with enough mileage on his voice to make the songs believable. I take another rather unladylike swig of Dos Equis and close My eyes . . .

One summer's day . . .
She went away
Gone and left me
She's gone to stay
She's gone . . . but I don't worry . . .
Cuz I'm sittin' . . . on top . . . of the world . . .

The guitarist is wringing a mournful solo out of his battered Telecaster . . . with My eyes closed the bass seems to be coming from inside Me . . . I have to open My eyes or I"ll cry, from the beauty and the crushingly sad irony of it.

I look at King. He's not moved by music that way . . . come to think of it I'm not sure anything moves him that way. A man like him, in the world he moves in, can't afford to let anything affect him that much. Not music, not a woman, not somebody leaving dead bodies in places you own.

King finally realizes I'm studying him and we both laugh. I make a gesture towards the door -- I need to be out of here. He nods, understanding. I feel like the music is practically chasing Me out as I thread My way through the tables to the door:

Hey Joe -- where you goin' with that gun in your hand?
Hey Joe -- where you goin' with the gun in your hand?
I'm goin' down to shoot my old lady
You know I caught her messin' 'round with another man . . .

* * *

I get up early, intending to have another one of those "productive Lady Detective" type days. I'm getting dressed when my phone goes off.

A text from Arty.


Hm. Either Arty's buying, or . . .

* * *

Roscoe's Ranch is one of those places that has succeeded for decades despite itself. Thirty years ago it began life as a gay bar and had a good run. Somehow the name never got changed and it did well as a sports bar, a 40 and over pickup joint, and lately had established itself as a good solid neighborhood bar: a good place to have a beer and a decent burger and see a lot of the same faces every time .

The thought occurs to Me that I'm getting to see way too many crime scenes lately. Arty leads Me towards the kitchen, and grabs My arm before we go in.

"It's bad, X." I nod, take a deep breath and think good thoughts. Thoughts of envelopes full of cash. Thoughts of Manolo Blahnik and and Jimmy Choo.

Arty starts with the facts, reading from his little notebook, as if a recitation of the dry particulars can somehow lessen the impact of what I am seeing.

And what I am seeing is a guy, hanging by his feet, who has apparently been sliced until every drop of blood has run out because there is blood everywhere. I look at Arty. The only clean thing in the vicinity of the body is the little piece of paper with the clue on it:

King's 40% batty following winning hand (7)

This one takes a minute, then it falls into place: Royalty.

Arty tells Me the unfortunate guy hanging there is Manny Diaz, who typically opens the place up each morning.

"He's here a good two hours before anyone else, most days," they said. Arty is trying to be nonchalant but he's upset by this crime scene.

I look at the body, then at Arty. "Dead people don't bleed, Arty. The killer needed the victim alive. The other two jobs -- there was no extreme sadism like this."

Arty nods. "That explains the gag. Poor bastard would've been screaming his head off."

I try to find somewhere to look where I can see something besides blood. I'm getting a bit queasy -- Arty was thoughtful to tell Me not to eat.

Arty's gaze follows Mine to the industrial dishwasher. "It had been recently run, and there were a bunch of  knives in there, nothing else. Pretty sure those will turn out to be what our killer used to carve up the victim." I looked at the machine . . . these things use high pressure and very hot water -- they weren't going to get anything useful.

I turned to Arty. "Can we get out of here now?" We make our way out and walk down the street a little and duck into a Blog City Joe shop.

"Arty, the escalating level of violence . . . the first killing was ultra-clean, so clean you still have no idea how the hell he got in and got out -- he was like a ghost. The second one, messy, but contained. Tossing a dead body through a skylight. Spectacular, but, ultimately just for show.  This one . . . the killer was making some kind of point."

Arty grunts, cop-speak for "yeah, tell me about it."

"And the clue answers, Arty. They're all archetypes."

He stares at Me, which is Arty-speak for "I'm fascinated, please continue." At any rate I'm going to assume that's what it means.

"Well, think about it. Gangster. The name of a cop. Royalty. Cops and Robbers. Kings and paupers." And where were they killed? A place for sexual thrills. A pool hall. A bar/restaurant. Encompassing all the basic human drives: sex, recreation, food, drink."

Arty looked at Me thoughtfully. "So what's it all mean?"

I looked out through the window onto the busy street, then down into My coffee, Arty's question hanging there like an insulting remark you want to ignore but can't because deep down inside you think it might be accurate.

* * *

I take a cab back to the office. Just seeing mandy's smiling face wipes away the memory of that awful crime scene. I flop down in My chair and mandy, sweet thing that she is, knows I need a coffee. she brings us some and sits down.

I fill her in on the fact that the cops don't know anything about a Federal operation in town. she looks at Me, unsure a moment, but she knows Me well enough to know that I need her to tell Me her honest thoughts and suspicions, even if it might hurt Me.

mandy nods, reassured. "OK. Assuming this is the Feds, and I think You're right about that. It's the Feds. Who's the target?"

I sip My coffee as mandy reels off the possibilities. I have to tear Myself away from cleavage and force Myself to concentrate.

"That lawyer, Hughes. Some member of the Beckler family we don't know about. Could be almost anyone, really -- the Becklers probably did jobs with a thousand crooks." she pauses and I motion to her with My eyes for her to go on.

"Well . .. the Feds could be looking into Catherine Chambers for something? Somehow this is connected, maybe?"

I smile at her. I actually had considered that. And even now I couldn't give Myself a straight answer when I asked Myself if I'd help the Feds nail her.

"And, Miss, there's one more possibility. They could be interested in You."

I almost spit My coffee. Me? What the hell did I ever do? And even if I was thinking about not paying taxes on King's envelopes, thinking about it isn't a crime.

"It's just a thought, Miss. They have to know that You know a lot of people they have to be interested in. Who knows what odd ways the Feds might have of sneaking up on their real target?"

she's right, of course. mandy is sexy, smart, and efficient in addition to her other wonderful traits. Any number of people could've seen King giving Me envelopes in restaurants and at a crime scene . . . that alone is probably enough to appoint a Special Prosecutor, these days.

The Cases of Lenora X, Domme Detective: The Cryptic Man, Part 8

Vallie picked up the phone. "Hello?"

"I'm calling about a unique financial opportunity."

Vallie knew his lines. "I'm fully invested already."

The voice on the other end relaxed, hearing the correct response. "It's time for another."

Vallie was no longer the kind of person to stop and consider that those four simple words, "it's time for another" meant that he was going to kill another person. The dead bodies, and all the before and after stuff, had ceased to matter. It was 100% business. Do a job, get paid. He was also no longer the kind of person to wonder where the other Donald Vallie had gone.

"OK. Parameters?"

Parameters. That's how Vallie thought of them. Constraints, limits, to be fed into a formula, giving rise to a solution.

The voice continued. "It needs to happen at Roscoe's Ranch. Within a week."

Vallie nodded. "Clean or messy?"

"Very messy." Vallie winced a little. He hated messy.

"All right, but this is more."

Silence on the other end. Vallie didn't care; he stayed alive and free by not taking any job where the risk/reward equation wasn't right. So he let the silence grow.

Finally . . . "How much more?"

"Twenty-five, plus five for messy. Thirty." Vallie was starting to get a little nervous about this job. Staying in the same town for more than one body was never a good idea, and messy was always riskier than clean.

A short pause, then, "All right. Half will be there by 4pm."

"If it's not, we never spoke. And the word for this one?"


Vallie wrote it down an hung up.

* * *

In every large city there are people who are part of a worldwide network, a network for transferring money from one person to another without involving a bank and without drawing the attention of the SEC, the IRS, the DEA, Homeland Security, Interpol, or anyone else.

The system is simplicity itself. Person A, in, say, Toronto, wants to transfer $10,000 to Person B, in Blog City. So Person A goes to a certain neighborhood in Toronto where members of the network are known to have a stall, and gives the operator $10,000 in cash, plus the fee. Person A tells the operator what the destination city is and the operator gives Person A a five-digit number. The operator faxes the five-digit number and the amount to the operator in Blog City. Person A transmits the 5-digit number to Person B and Person B finds the operator in Blog City and presents him with the number, and the operator gives Person B $10,000 in cash. No questions asked. Don't lose your number.

Vallie took a circuitous route to his destination in Fairmont, a dilapidated neighborhood known unofficially as Little Beirut, in recognition of its bombed-out appearance and now predominantly Arab population.

To get to Fairmont from Vallie's place in the equally downmarket Morris Heights section on foot, one needed to traverse several other much better neighborhoods, and many good options for lunch. Vallie always "celebrated" a new contract with Indian food.

Vallie slipped into an unassuming little place called Rani, one of many pretty reasonable ethnic food choices in the neighborhood around Blog City U. He settled on the chicken adrak and bhujia and looked out the window at the busy street.

Mentally Vallie ticked off the activities for the afternoon. Pick up the money. Stash it. Check out Roscoe's Ranch and figure out how, when, and all that.

He was musing that Roscoe's Ranch was either a petting zoo or a gay bar, when the food arrived.

* * *

As usual things went without a hitch as far as getting paid. In the back of the market with the battered sign in Arabic only, there's a man with a ledger book full of neat columns of numbers, a fax machine, and a safe. He looks like he's been right in that spot forever. He's old, but clearly very alert, with an old man's focus and air of permanence and certainty, he looks like the absolute Emperor of his 40 square feet, and he is.

Half an hour earlier Vallie had gotten a text message that simply read: 78212. That's all that was needed.

Vallie approached the man's desk and he nodded. Vallie wrote "78212" on a piece of paper and handed it to the man. He checked his column of perfectly neat numbers, a long finger finally stopping when 78212 was found. He turned, opened the safe, pulled out an envelope, put the piece of paper in the envelope, and with his pen and a straightedge struck through the number 78212. He handed Vallie the envelope and their business was done. Vallie stuffed the envelope in his coat and walked away. He could hear the fax machine dialing, letting the originator know that 78212 had been picked up. Transaction complete.

Vallie had the money for cabs but he walked or took the subway, except when he needed possible corroboration of an alibi. In those cases he made sure to take a cab to talk the diver's ear off, or otherwise be a memorable passenger.

Vallie went back home and counted out the envelope. Fifteen large, all there. He grabbed $700 and put the rest in a coffee can in the freezer. This was a terrible hiding place but it was very temporary -- just until he could get to the bank tomorrow.

He looked at his bed. A nap would feel good right now but there was work to do. Time to go check out Roscoe's Ranch.

* * *

I had just been thinking that I hadn't heard from Arty in a while when My phone went off.

Arty was doing well. He'd weathered the storm over his name coming up in connection with the case, and had satisfied his bosses (and Internal Affairs) that the killer was just taunting the cops in general and he, Arty, in particular.

"Yeah, got grilled by the Rat Squad for a couple hours. The highlight of any day." Arty laughed derisively -- one truism that cut across time and geography and area of specialty was that all cops hate Internal Affairs. Can't really blame them.

Arty filled me in on what else they had learned about the murders, which was more or less nothing. I wasn't going to share with Arty anything I'd learned on My own, but I decided that wasn't really right. Some part of Me realized it was more important to catch this sick bastard than who got the credit. I laughed to Myself -- I must be slipping!

"Arty, you know Bobby Astro, right?"

Arty grunted. Like most cops he felt that a guy in prison belonged there -- if not for the specific crime he had been convicted of, then for the ten crimes before that one that he had gotten away with. So Astro being sprung on appeal was something that rubbed Arty the wrong way, to put it mildly.

"What about him?"

"Well, I came to find out there was some old beef between Astro and King, and I was thinking maybe he hated King enough to do these murders to get back at King."

Silence on Arty's end while his mind ran the complex cop calculations.

"Not his style. A guy like Astro . . . he's more direct about things. He could kill King anytime he felt like it and we wouldn't have a clue. The man is the most professional, most efficient hitter I've ever run across, X. I don't see him doing this."

I lit up, making another mental note about having to quit smoking, as I listened. Even though that whole "word game" thing as we parted ways threw a little jolt of doubt into Me about Astro, I was pretty sure he wasn't involved, either.

"Thanks, Arty. That helps." The other thing I really didn't want to ask Arty about, but I had to.

"Arty, one more thing. Anything Federal going on lately?" If the Feds were doing a legit operation in Blog City, they'd make sure the local PD knew about it. The FBI enjoyed making the local cops feel as small-time as possible.

No answer from Arty. He was still hung up on why I was asking. Finally, about two seconds late, he answers.

"No, X. Nothing they let me know about."

He might be telling the truth or he might be answering carefully so to avoid lying too blatantly. No point getting Arty's radar any more engaged than it already was.

"Thanks, Arty . . . Astro mumbled something about the Feds -- I figured it was just a con's obsession but thought I'd ask."

"OK, X, no problem." Arty's demeanor was back to normal.

I hung up the phone and wondered if it wasn't too late to consider that career in direct sales.
* * *

Vallie kept bank accounts in all major cities he worked in, and his trade took him to Blog City often enough. Vallie put his cash into a safe deposit box, then parceled it out into the savings and checking accounts a bit at a time, keeping under the reporting threshold for cash transactions. Getting involved with a money launderer was not for him -- it was just one more person who could screw up and get him busted.

To go along with each bank account Vallie had an identity. To the Blog City National Bank, he was Michael Fitzsimmons. Vallie grabbed about $6,000 in cash and put the rest in his safe deposit box. Over the next few days he'd make several deposits at various branches and ATMs.

The other chore for today was to write the clue. For that, he needed a quiet place. The first one he did at the Library, the second in General's Park. As he was leaving the bank he passed a Blog City Joe location and on impulse went inside, grabbed a coffee, and sat down at a table in the far corner, meditating a bit on the word.


The first time the clue came right to him; last time he had to stare at the word a long time. This time it wasn't coming either. After ten minutes or so, Vallie got up, stretched, then sat down again and people-watched a bit. Then he turned back to word and the clue jumped out at him like it had been written there all the time:

King's 40% batty following winning hand (7)

Vallie finished his coffee and exited the coffee shop, walking down the street, feeling oddly relieved.

The Cases of Lenora X, Domme Detective: The Cryptic Man, Part 7

Frankie Boots had a saying: "There's two kinds of cases -- ground balls and haystacks." Ground balls, as the name implies, were easy. Haystacks, on the other hand, were big undifferentiated piles of possibly connected facts, lies, opinions, feelings, suppositions, and who knows what else all clumped together for the sole purpose of making the truth almost impossible to discern. I'm thinking about this when I should be thinking about how mandy's mouth on Me is making Me feel . . . thinking I'd like a few ground balls now and then. Then I think about King and his envelopes full of cash and the simple fact is haystacks pay a lot better than ground balls.

I close My eyes and run My hand through mandy's hair, pressing her tighter to My sex as the feeling of her soft warm lips on Me blots everything else out. My back arches as the warm tingles crackle and turn to pulsing heat . . . I'm gushing now, feeling My breath come in short ragged gasps. I alwyas tell Myself I can hold out longer . . . I can savor that magical part right before the explosion, longer, make it last, ride it like some kind of pleasure sled . . . but oh godddd mandy's mouth is too wonderful, her love and devotion pour through her and right into the very center of Me and it's over . . . before I know it I'm screaming, thrashing, and there's nothing -- no case, no frustration, no nothing . . . nothing but the feeling of being loved and served so amazingly well.

* * *

This case was definitely a "haystack." And the mission for today was to throw more stuff on the pile. King sent Me Astro's address, so that was first order of business. Then over to Madame Annika's to interview the girls and staff there. I didn't expect much to come of that, but 1) you never know, and 2) appearances to the contrary I did feel a responsibility to give King his money's worth.

I'm wondering how much I stock I can put in Squids' tale of a hit man from Chicago named "Vale." Another straw in the haystack . . . somehow it will all get sorted out. When Frankie Boots told Me to put all the things that don't make sense off to the side, he never told Me what to do when everything's on the side and nothing's in front of Me. Oh well.

Astro was living in Kirkland, a neighborhood of mostly small, neat, capes. Most of the residents were well into their golden years; a smattering of young families had migrated to Kirkland in recent years, drawn by the quiet tree-lined streets, the convenience to the City, and the relatively affordable real easte.

Kirkland was not where you expected an ex-con to end up after getting out of prison, but Bobby Astro was hardly your typical ex-con. He'd made a very nice living doing hits for all those years, and Astro was the antithesis of the flashy gangster; his livelihood and survival depended upon keeping a low profile and blending in. And everything I'd ever heard about him indicated that he had been very good at all aspects of his job.

The cab lets Me out in front of 18 Barlow Street. One luxury I am granting Myself on this case is taxis.

I notice how immaculate the small front yard is as I walk up to the door. Like every other yard on the street. Astro might have retired from his trade but the instinct to melt into the wallpaper is still there.

I ring the bell and after a moment Astro answers. There's a momentary look of confusion, or something, as his mind quickly goes from survery-taker to real estate agent to whatever else. Then a polite smile as he quickly connects the dots.

He knows who I am, if not exactly who, and why I'm here. Apparently he doesn't mind talking to Me.

He offers Me coffee and I take the offered seat at the kitchen table and the opportunity to observe Astro for a minute. He's not tall . . . not overly muscular like some cons, no tattoos that I can see. The more I look at him the harder it seems to be to get a fix on anything. The guy is as average as average can be -- he looks he could stand in 100 lineups and never get picked out. He's Everyman.

I am used to being around dangerous people. My life has led Me there -- that is what it is. I'm rarely unnerved in that situation . . . I've been in plenty of scrapes, with and without Frankie Boots and Arty Daniels. I've been places I never should've been wearing what I was wearing, or being as young or foolish or bombed as I was. But Astro wasn't scary in the typical ex-con kind of way . . . the very averageness of him was what made him so scary, the idea of what the man before Me, so calmly making coffee -- what he was capable of, what he had done, and what he might still do.

I inhale the aroma of good strong coffee almost done. Thinking a bit more, I realize that Astro is only scary because I knew who he was -- to the folks in the neighborhood I'm sure he was 100% non-threatening. I imagined "Robert" making nice with the nieghbors . . . Mrs. Shipley from across the street wondering if she can fix him up with Marge's sister's spinster niece.

Astro puts a mug down in front of Me and sits down across the table. I'm about to try to figure out how to ask what I need to ask -- I really have no business being here . . . I'm here on the thinnest of pretenses to nicely accuse a recently sprung hit man of two murders -- when Astro puts sugar in his coffee and starts talking.

"So. You're here becasue King has two dead bodies in places he owns. It looks like someone is trying to get at King in some way. He hires you to find out who, why, etc. You ask him if anyone has a gradge against him. He names me. And here you are."

I'm mindlessly stirring My coffee and I must have had a stunned look on My face.

"How'm I doing so far?" He's angling his head down, trying to catch My eyes with his gaze, and smiling.

I laugh and snap out of it. "Sorry. And, um, yeah, that pretty much sums it up."

He laughs easily. He has the way about him of someone who's been dead and come back from it -- but not full of eerie insights, but rather very much at ease, like someone to whom the worst has already happened, and who thus has nothing much to worry about now.

His manner puts Me at ease. "So, Bobby . . . please, tell Me what the beef is between you and King and a couple other things, and, much as I love your coffee, I'll be on My way and you can return to charming the old ladies of Barlow Street." Astro is no less a suspect than he was thirty seconds ago, but you always get more when you're at ease. Astro of course knows this, having been in more interview rooms than most cops, so his easy manner is most likely an act; but we have to each go with our instincts and training.

Astro sips his coffee and gets a bit more serious. "I can't go into too much detail about the nature of my dispute with King. But it involved money, and at the time I was younger and more foolish and more concerned wtih appearances and image and the like and I said some things that I shouldn't have said."

I look at him a moment and then have some coffee Myself. He's told Me quite a bit, and clearly he meant to. Translation of what he just said: King hired him to do a hit. Something went wrong or something was not understood clearly and Bobby dind't get paid when or how much he thought he should have. He was mad and made threats against King.

I have to probe around the edges here. "This was . . . quite a while ago?"

Astro nods. "Yeah."

Then he looks up at Me. "But I do want to be clear. I had nothing to do with either of those murders."

I used to think My built-in lie detector was infallible. I now know it's not, but Astro feels legit to Me.

"Know anyone who might not be quite as well-adjusted about King as you are?"

He smiles. "As you can imagine . . . I don't travel much in those circles now, and . . . acquaintances from the joint as a rule didn't confide their deepest feelings to me."

I nod and smile Myself, keeping this as light as I can. There's nothing here anyway. I finish My coffee and dig through My purse for My cell phone. I have a chance to toss in a seemingly innocent question here on the way out.

"People say the worst part of prison is the boredom . . . how did you pass the time in the joint?"

"Oh . . . word games, crossword puzzles . . . stuff like that."

I find the phone and call the cab . . . thinking about coinicidences and haystacks.

The Cases of Lenora X, Domme Detective: The Cryptic Man, Part 6

The best part of this job is no alarm clock. Today was one of those mornings where typically I'd see it was only 8:00 and roll back over and grab some more sleep. Last night was dinner with King at Soixante-Trieze, a comfy little bistro. Nice comfortingly heavy meal, a few glasses of wine, another magic envelope that I hadn't even bothered to count yet . . . a good morning to sleep in.

Normally. But not this morning. Much as King seemed to like giving Me large sums of cash and didn't seem particularly perturbed by the lack of progress on the case, I felt as though I needed to make some real progress on this thing, and soon. Plus I was anxious to find out what mandy had found out the supposed five million dollars I was going to get from Freda Beckler.

I looked at My to-do list from yesterday. Item 2: "Get Astro's address from his PO," was going to be a problem . . . last night, somewhere between the steak frites and the Gateau au Chocolat it hit Me that Bobby Astro was not out on parole, therefore there was no Parole Officer to contact to get his address. Astro had been sprung -- he was an unsupervised as any other free citizen. I scratch that item out and replace it with "Ask King if he knows or can find out where Astro is living now." I was going to ask him that last night but between the food, the wine, and the magic envelope it somehow slipped My mind.

* * *

The other best part of My job is mandy . . . I float in at 10:05 and mandy's clearly been there a while . . . coffee's made, the filing is done, My e-mail's been gone through and the important stuff printed out in a neat pile on My desk. I lean over her desk and give her a kiss, along with an impromptu bonus of a few C-notes from King's latest payment.

I take it back -- the absolute best part of My job is that there is no sexual harassment policy.

The case might be in the toilet, King might be trying to complicate My life, Arty might be lying to Me about this involvement, but right now I feel great. I pull up a chair and sit with mandy.

"So tell Me the good news, pet . . . this whole Freda Beckler/Chicago lawyer/five million dollars thing is a scam, right?"

mandy pulls out the file and opens it, then adjusts her glasses. Sexy thing . . . I force Myself to listen and not tackle her and lay her out across the desk and have My way with her right then and there.

"Well, Miss . . . it's weird. The lawyer and the law firm are 100% legit. I called them, pretending to be a prospective client -- everything seemed on the up and up. I contacted some firms here that we have a relationship with -- they know CH&R and vouched for them. The partner, Hughes, who wrote the letter . . . I called the Illinois Bar Association -- admitted to the bar 17 years ago, perfect record, no ethics complaints against him or the firm, ever. Totally on the level."

I look at her. "Whats weird, then?"

'"The law firm is on the level, but Freda Beckler doesn't appear to be."

"Hm? She didn't win the lottery?"

mandy looks at Me with that "I hate to break it to You" look. "I mean, Miss . . . that she doesn't appear to exist."

I'm sitting there, silent as a golem, so mandy wisely just continues.

"Remember when you had Mary Jane Beckler checked out, when she was going by the name Adele Peterson? She reads from the summary Arty had given Me then.

Adele Pearson, real name Mary Jane Beckler, and as you can see, owner of a number of other aliases. Born in Cleveland, orphaned at a young age, bounced from foster home to foster home, started getting in scrapes when she was 12. Gradually became an accomplished con artist. 7 arrests, 1 conviction . . . did 18 months in Stateville for passing bad checks in 1996.

"So I figured Freda Beckler was her adopted mother -- took her in at the end of that string of foster homes. Except there's no record of any adoption of Mary Jane Beckler, not in Ohio, or Illinois, or any neighboring state -- as far as I can tell Mary Jane simply aged out of the foster care system. On the other end of it, there's no record of any Freda Beckler before six months ago. There's documents, but . . . not enough of them. It doesn't feel as though there's enough of a record out there as there should be for a woman this age who's lived anywhere but a cloistered convent her whole life. I looked at genealogy sites, too . . . if there's a Freda Beckler she was abducted by aliens at a young age and returned to Earth six months ago."

I'm slow in the mornings but not that slow. It's a fucking scam, but not your garden variety, stand-up, good honest crook type scam. This was your double secret Federal type scam. No one else had the juice to plant that fake lottery story in the media and create Freda Beckler out of whole cloth. The thought occurs to Me that as time goes on the Feds are going to have more and more trouble doing this -- there's simply no way to create a 100% airtight backstory for someone the way you could prior to the Internet -- there's too many places a real person would show up on the Web that you can't be sure to cover starting from square one and trying to create someone from nothing.

I finish My coffee, give mandy a hug for her good work, and flop down at My desk. Which part of the government invented Freda Beckler and involved Me in it? The law firm was clearly on the up and up and not in on the charade. What was the motive? If I wasn't the target (a good assumption -- whoever went to this trouble was after bigger fish than Me), who was? But how did I fit in?

I reach for the phone so that I don't have to keep considering how clueless I am in the face of
those very good questions.
* * *

King doesn't know where Astro is living but is sure he can find out faster than I can. Normally I would run it down on My own but I'm trying to get somewhere on this case before another corpse shows up, so I let King and his minions figure out where Astro is living while I look up Squids, aka Johnny Calamari.

Squids is a snitch straight out of Central Casting -- small and skinny and fidgety, chain-smoking, always looking around to make sure someone who wants to kick his ass (or worse) isn't lurking around the corner. A bundle of nerves and barely repressed perversions, living on the ragged edges of the city, that's Squids.

People who watch detective TV shows and movies and scoff at the stereotypical characters forget that cliches are based in fact, and Johnny Squids is the fact behind the stereotype.

Squids can often be found at Smokey's, a decrepit little scab on the left butt cheek of Blog City. I hate going in there, not only because smell and the clientele -- bitter alcoholic veterans, bitter alcoholic pervs, bitter alcoholic retired postal workers, and Squids -- but also because of the persona I have to adopt to go in there. The part of My job that I hate is having to act tough . . . oddly, actually being tough I don't mind nearly as much.

I take a chance. thinking it's still early enough that Squids might not have had breakfast yet . . . and duck into Cappy's Caboose, one of those diners that was actually made from an old train car. As a result it's some sort of historical landmark now, which gives the owner a perfectly good excuse for not doing anything to the place . . . even cleaning, apparently. I know Squids often eats a little here before he moves down the block to Smokey's for the liquid portion of breakfast.

Normally I'd dress a little more fetishy to get info out of Squids -- he gives it up for free when he sees leather or latex and some boots, but on this case I've got more money than time, for a change, so I don't care if I pay for the info. And one thing about Squids -- he's a good snitch -- he knows which side his bread is buttered on and never burns a paying customer.

I'm in luck -- Squids is there. I slide into the booth opposite him, making a face as I feel My skirt catching on the ripped vinyl seat. Squids looks up from his coffee.

"Oh . . . Madame Ecstasy! How pleasant that You should find Your way down here." Squids' self-preservation was rooted in his knowledge that the rougher the environment, the higher the value of manners. Didn't matter if they're genuine as long as they're convincingly presented.

"Madame Ecstasy" is a name that some have called Me from time to time. In this part of town it helps to "be" somebody, so it's all good. And the title helps Squids remember our relative positions.

"Hi Squids." I'm in no mood to play around and I don't mind if Squids knows that, too. I pull out two crisp $100s and lay them on the ancient Formica. For Squids this represents a week's worth of culling scraps and selling them for peanuts. But every good snitch is a good businessman -- from Squids' face you can't tell if he's got pocket kings or 8-2 off suit.

I focus on Squid's eyes. "You've heard about the DBs popping up lately." It's not a question -- Squids ceases to exist if he doesn't know about recent events, especially those of a sketchy/criminal nature. DBs (dead bodies) were clearly in that category.

"Yes, Madame. A terrible business."

I nod and look at the $200 a moment. I can let Squids know I have nothing -- he knows that I'll see through it if he tries some BS story.

A good snitch like Squids needs no more prompting. Either he has something or he doesn't. Might there be someone willing to pay more than $200 for it? Maybe so, but that person isn't sitting across from him with Her money on the table. Squids operates in a spot market -- acquire, sell, move on to the next transaction.

Squids looks around a little, not because he thinks anyone is listening but because he's habitually very careful. Like a hyena separated from the pack and forced to scavenge on his own, he never lets his guard down.

"Out of town hitter. No one knows who hired him. It's none of the Families. Seems to be targeted at King in some way."

"Out of town, Squids? How far out of town?"

"Chicago, Madame."

"Got a name?" I can tell right away that he doesn't have the whole package. If he did $200 wasn't going to get it and Squids isn't bashful about letting the buyer know his price.

"Not really, Madame . . . the only name I've heard in connection with him is 'Vale.' " It's someplace to start, anyway.

"You know Bobby Astro, Squids?" I look for any abrupt change in his facial expression. There is none.

"I do, Madame -- I heard that recently the slow turning wheels of Justice have eventually tuned in his favor. Why the interest in the recently-sprung Mr. Astrinelli, might I ask?"

"Just . . . exploring leads, Squids. No idea who wants to hurt King, or why?" I rub My fingers over the $100s, silently letting Squids know I have more if he has more.

"No, Madame . . . but You know as a concerned citizen I'm always hopeful to find out information helpful to the cause of a safer city and relay it to the appropriate people . . . "

I laugh and slide the $200 across to him. "You do that, Squids . . . I like to reward concerned citizens for their efforts. And of course, we never spoke."

Squids takes the money. It's good to know that $200 still buys something these days.

The Cases of Lenora X, Domme Detective: The Cryptic Man, Part 5

The prospect of doing some actual detective work on this case had Me oddly invigorated . . . I sat down and wrote out a to-do list:

1. Find Squids and see if he's heard anything
2. Get Astro's address from his PO
3. Go see Astro
4. Call Arty -- get details of what they know
5. Interview the girls at Madame Annika's
6. Dinner with King @ Soixante-treize

It's an ambitious list, especially for someone as easily distracted by shoe stores and handbagoutlets as I am. I'm about to leave for the subway when I get a text. It's Arty:

Again. 170 Market. Ernie's.

That Arty even knows how to text is impressive in and of itself. The short message is more than descriptive enough. Our psycho killer is at it again.

I run outside and grab a cab.

* * *

Normally, I do some of My best thinking sitting in taxicabs. But this time all I can think about is the fact that this case, in Blog City PD lingo, is officially "off the rails."

Blog City cops describe a case as off the rails when, to put it simply, the bad stuff is piling up faster than anyone can make it go away. In this case, the bad stuff in question is dead bodies, and there is no worse stuff than dead bodies. All anyone can hope right now is that the killer left a little more to go on this time.

Market Street runs the entire length of downtown Blog City, predating the grid, running parallel to the newer streets at times and cutting across them at angles other times. 170 Market is in the neighborhood known as Indiana West; Market, Indiana, and Western Boulevard create a rough semi-triangle that gives the neighborhood its name.

Ernie's is a busy old-school pool hall. The clientèle is 80% ex-cons who are having trouble finding gainful employment, 10% serious pool players and old neighborhood types, and 10% suburban kids slumming. It's another one of King's holdings . . . this place I think King must have some sentimental attachment to. Or it's a tax write-off. For King, of course, the two were not really different things.

I make My way through the crowd. This place hasn't had this many cops in it since Prohibition.

I find Arty and he leads Me over to the body. Where the first job was clean to the point of antiseptic, this one was very messy. The victim had been killed on the roof, it appeared, and the body thrown through the skylight 20 feet down onto Table #5. Cause of death is anyone's guess at this point -- take your pick.

The poor bastard looked almost peaceful laying there. One might even be tempted to think perhaps it was an accident and not murder, except for the slip of paper pinned to his shirt:

Cop murders lady in tears (4,7)

The answer to this one didn't leap right out at Me. My mind wandered and it occurred to Me that the media was going to have to ditch the nickname "Fetish Killer" . . . there was absolutely nothing sexual, kinky, or remotely titillating about this crime scene, although the geek from the ME's office did seem to be a little too fascinated.

As often happens with cryptic clues, you stare at them a long time and get nowhere. You leave it alone a few minutes, look back, and wham! the answer is suddenly very obvious.

I think about this clue again for a moment, and then I realize, gasping involuntarily. I pull Arty aside.

"Arty -- that clue. 'Cop murders lady in tears (4,7).' 'Murders' is typically a word that signals an anagram, a rearrangement of some of the words in the clue. We know the answer is 4 and 7 -- eleven letters. So the answer is the words 'lady in tears' rearranged. And 'Cop' is the definition."

It's not an obvious anagram . . . I write it out for him -- "LADYINTEARS" rearranged = "ARTY DANIELS."

I look at Arty and I'm not sure what his look means. But I am sure that whatever we need to talk about we don't need to talk about in room full of cops and other official types.

"Come on, Arty. I'll buy you a cup of coffee."

* * *

Blog City is blessed (some would say cursed) with a lot of places to kill time over a cup of coffee. They range from rank to regal . . . you can get away cheap or you can spend $5 for a concoction with four names and five flavors.

Arty and I walk a reasonable distance from the crime scene and into a place called Pat's Luncheonette. Pat's is the middle of the road, an old-fashioned "coffee shop" that's neither a slave to trends or a health code violation waiting to happen. I look around; it's not crowded and there are tables. For us, right now, it's perfect.

We sit down and order coffees. The slightly Goth waitress senses that we'll be declining the menus or pastry selection and brings the coffees in short order and then disappears.

I look at Arty.

"I was going to come see you to find out the official story, Arty. Seems like I need to know a lot more than that, now." I'm trying to even-keel it, but I want to yell at him. Or something.

Arty looks at Me like he has no idea what's going on. I open My mouth to start to rip up one side of him and down the other when he starts talking, thankfully.

"OK. Stiff # 2 is one . . . " He pulls out a notebook and continues.

" . . . Eddie Donovan. They ran him -- a couple priors, stupid stuff. Answering the phone for bookies, running games, crap like that. No connection to Ernie's -- no one there ever saw him before, so they claim. That makes sense -- the ex-cons who hang out at Ernie's tend to be more the armed robbery type. No connection to Stiff # 1 that we can find . . . " His voice trails off and I think he can feel Me about to start up again.

He looks at Me. "And no connection to ME. None." I stare at him a long time. With people I know even slightly well, I can see everything in their eyes -- truth and lies and love and hate and passion and pain . . . even murder. With someone I know as well as Arty I might as well be inside his head. And looking into his eyes I can see . . . and feel it: he's telling the truth. If he's connected to this case in some way he honestly doesn't know what that connection is.

Finally I look away. I think of Catherine Chambers and I wonder why I never saw murder in her eyes. I shake My head, hard and fast, to shove those thoughts aside.

The coffee isn't bad here at Pat's. I'm trying to figure out why Arty's name would be the answer to the murderer's clue if he's not involved, when I hear Frankie Boots in My head:
"Doll -- take the piece you don't get yet and put it aside. When there's only one piece left t you know where it fits." I laugh to Myself -- Frankie had a marvelous way with the obvious and could make you laugh at the stupidest things.

I pull out My notebook. "OK, Arty. I believe you. The Department and the papers, though . . . "

"The 'clues' are being kept out of the media for now. The Department I can handle . . . I'll volunteer to go over all my old cases and look for a connection." He laughs. "Hey, it beats workin'!"

Arty was a good cop but he wasn't obsessed with right and wrong, justice and retribution, like most are. Arty was more philosophical about it -- the ones he doesn't catch either met some other form of justice or were meant to get away with it, was Arty's ethos. This stance afforded Arty the luxury of being really pretty lazy, in traditional cop terms. Lazy, but not sloppy. What he did, he did perfectly. He just wasn't one of these TV cops who was going to get obsessed with a case and work it doggedly for years. I wondered sometimes how he had succeeded in the Department, got promoted, etc. I ended up realizing that as lazy as he could be about going on 3-day stakeouts, he was highly attuned to how things worked in a large hierarchical organization like the Blog City PD and a master at working that system. Yet he came off as a very likable, regular guy, not a political weasel at all. An odd, odd, man. But one I felt a great deal of affection for and who had done Me countless favors, even when as far as he knew it wouldn't benefit him at all.

I drag Myself back to focus. "Tell Me everything BCPD officially knows about this case so far, Arty." Arty's cup is almost empty and so is Mine. Goth Girl has a waitress' natural sense of timing -- she was headed over with the pot just as we both realized we needed more coffee. I decide that I will just leave her a nice tip and not mention that's she's a natural at waiting tables, since I'm sure her career aspirations are considerably grander.

Arty lets out a little resigned sort of laugh. "That won't take long, X. We have, in scientific terms . . . a big fat zero. The first victim -- typical, normal guy. No criminal record, not so much as a parking ticket. Never went to Madame Annika's before. We checked into some other Houses -- you know these guys often go to a new place when they mess up in one place -- nothing. No other vices, no wife, no girlfriend, no exes, no nothing. He worked at home for Feeley's Greeting Cards. No one from his job had ever actually met him."

"The clue was printed on generic white copy paper on a generic laser printer. Not going to get much there." I nodded. It was difficult explaining to clients that unlike on CSI, it wasn't actually possible to sniff the paper and determine the date and time it was purchased and the name of the Staples checkout girl who rang up the order.

"As for the door. The killer knew the code or hacked it. Chances are he knew it -- King doesn't skimp on security. The Matsui 990 is known as more or less unhackable among the people who know about this stuff. We ran down the installer, all the contractors and service people. Delivery people. Nothing. The girls. No one unhappy. Not that unhappy, anyway. No crazy boyfriends husbands ex-boyfriends ex-husbands etc. We're running down King's associates, past and present but as you well know there's lot of them . . . and you probably are closer to that aspect of the case anyway."

Arty stared at his coffee as if the answer was going to appear up out of it like the Lady of the Lake. "And now . . . "

He didn't have to finish the sentence. And now, another body.

This case was way off the rails.

The Cases of Lenora X, Domme Detective: The Cryptic Man, Part 4

I'm about to call King so he can explain about Bobby Astro when mandy drops an envelope on My desk.

I look at the envelope and then at her. It hasn't been opened . . . mandy opens everything, so either she is slipping, or she has a pretty good idea she doesn't want to know what's inside.

The return address is a law firm in Chicago. Not one we've ever done any work for. I look at mandy again -- she's silent but her mind is going. Clearly there's something she's caught on to that's still eluding Me.

I open the envelope and pull out and unfold the single piece of buff paper inside.

Dear Ms. X:

We at Hughes, Chamberlain, and Rivera are writing at the behest of Freda Beckler, of Bartonville, Illinois.

Mrs. Beckler has retained us to contact you regarding her desire to extend her thanks and appreciation for your efforts on behalf of her daughter, the late Mary Jane Beckler. A recent change in Mrs. Beckler's financial position allows her to express her sentiments in very generous fashion.

Mrs. Beckler has suggested the sum of five (5) million dollars be paid to you. Mrs. Beckler has authorized us to contact you regarding arrangements for payment of this sum.

Please contact me at your earliest convenience at 312-555-8982.

With regards,

Philip Hughes, P. C.
Hughes, Chamberlain, and Rivera

I look at mandy and laugh. Then I get up and hug her tight.

"Wow! You little bitch! You really had Me going there! Oh my god, mandy you got Me good with this one!"

The look on mandy's face tells Me everything I need to know, and nothing I want to.

"Miss . . . I . . . didn't write that letter . . . "

I suppose I knew. I wanted it to be a joke. I needed it to be a joke.

My mood suddenly brightened. OK, it wasn't a mandy practical joke. But it was almost certainly a scam. The snail-mail version of the Nigerian Lottery E-Mail Hoax.

I was almost relieved. I tossed mandy the letter. "Check this out, mandy . . . let's see who's trying to scam us."

* * *

Roberto Astrinelli, aka Bobby Astro, was the last person I expected to be King's secret enemy, mainly because last I knew Astro was doing life upstate for murder. Everyone was happy to put Astro away for one murder, since the cops were convinced he was responsible for at least twenty over the years.

Astrinelli came to Blog City a long time ago from parts unknown with little book smarts, but plenty of raw brains, a desire to get ahead quickly, and a willingness to do whatever sort of violence for money his clients might require. He was the sort of guy who didn't let sentiment get in the way of a job, and never went overboard in the course of doing the job. When you hired Astro you got what you paid for. No more, and never any less.

Needless to say Astro wasn't someone you wanted mad at you -- he could think of 118 different ways to kill you before he even started to stress his imagination. On the other hand, the idea of Astro being emotional, about anything, was hard to fathom. He survived in his business as long as he did by never getting emotionally involved.

And besides, Astro was doing life without parole. Ratted out by another hood who couldn't turn down the government's deal, Astro was the sort of collateral damage that happens as the wheels of government law enforcement grind on. They were after Gio "The Choke" Arciofi, head of the Panzero Family. Astro was a guy the rat threw in to get an even better deal.

Astro might be dangerous but he was in a maximum-security prison.

Well, turns out, "was" was the operative word.

"Yeah, he was released three weeks ago. One of those appeals that had no chance of succeeding? Actually succeeded." King's voice on the phone sounded as though he was talking about some dry news story, not some very dangerous man who might want to do him harm.

"So why would Bobby Astro want to mess with you, King?" I'm thinking 'or why would you think Bobby Astro wants to mess with you?'

Long pause on his end. I'm glad I work in the only office in town where you're allowed to smoke. Of course there are City regulations . . . I'm sure I'm actually not allowed to smoke in the office, but until the Blog City Health Department comes with a summons, it's smoke 'em if you got 'em in My place of business.

"It was a long time ago, X, the details aren't important. But I could see Bobby holding a grudge."

Frankie Boots used to tell Me, "Doll, there's a time to force your client to spit it all out and a time to let your client hold onto whatever they're holding on to. Knowing which time is which is what separates the artists in this business from the hacks."

I smiled to Myself. This wasn't the time to drag anything out of King. I agreed to meet King for dinner at another one his places tomorrow night and hung up the phone.

I picked up the phone again and made a couple of calls. For $15,000 and counting the least I could do was pay a call on Bobby Astro.

The Cases of Lenora X, Domme Detective: The Cryptic Man, Part 3

Like all good gangsters, King owns any number of legitimate businesses. He's not that discriminating, even -- he owns dry cleaners, pet stores, restaurants, gas stations, you name it.

I asked him once why he still bothers with the illegal stuff -- between the legit businesses and his investments he's making a ridiculous amount of money. He just looked at me with that unintentionally disdainful look that the destined-to-be-rich reserve for the destined-never-to-be-rich. Then he smiled and explained that it wasn't about money, in fact it had ceased to be about money for some time. It was now about "more" -- about doing everything he could because he could.

La Catena was one of King's places, an Italian restaurant King had bought with the intent of making it world-class. La Catena was an illustration of the fact that the whole is sometimes not as great as the sum of the parts. King had assembled a world-class chef, hostess, sommelier, wait staff, etc. He had the place redone, beautifully and at great expense. Everything was just . . . perfect, and yet, the overall experience, while good, just wasn't legendary.

Critics sensed this too and as only food critics can be, were unduly harsh. The fact that La Catena means "the chain" in Italian gave the little twerps even more ammunition for their witty put-downs. It was a source of great amusement to some of us that a couple of critics actually re-reviewed La Catena much more positively than they had at first when they found out who the owner was.

Personally I enjoyed the place quite a bit on those rare occasions I was being treated or was feeling flush -- La Catena was not for the faint of wallet. Even lunch could set one back quite a bit.

King ate here quite a bit, I had heard. Perhaps he thought if he ate here often enough he could unravel the secret, discern that tiny but essential thing separating La Catena from greatness. I laughed, considering that -- more than likely King just liked the food. King was the sort of businessman who understood that 95% of perfection was better and more profitable than what 99% of everyone else was doing.

The maitre d' clearly had been briefed; I was whisked to King's table near the back without a word or a second of delay. It was easy to see why King sat here -- from this table he had a commanding view of the entire place. He was far from the noise of the kitchen (not that you could really hear the kitchen from any table that much), the commotion of the bar, and the distraction of the door. It was the owner's table, clearly and unmistakably.

King stood and greeted Me graciously and I was helped into My seat by a man who appeared to have no other function. He disappeared and the busboy appeared, bringing both sparkling and still water, and a plate of lemon slices. The waiter slipped in as the busboy glided out of the frame, each one replacing the other in smooth succession like ballet dancers.

The waiter handed Me a long card with the food choices on it -- it was done old-school style. Back in the day fancy resturants would have two menus . . . one for the man, with prices on it, and one for the woman, with no prices on it. The theory being that the woman should order without concerning herself about how much it's costing. Works for Me!

King poured Me a glass of the pinot noir he was drinking and I took a look at the choices. I am one of those people who feels silly always ordering the same thing in a restaurant, then regrets it when branching out doesn't work out well.

I love the tagliatelle con la salsa del cinghiale (long pasta with wild boar sauce) here and this time I decide to not be an idiot and just order that. So I do. King suggests some fried calamari, which is fine by Me -- somehow the informality of the appetizer makes this feel less like some weird kind of date. Praise the Lord.

I pick up a bread stick and break it in half and look across the table at King. It's his nickel . . . I can't really hurry him along. And I konw better than to make small talk -- that's for after the business is concluded, in King's world.

King makes a slow survey of the place, as if reassuring himself that everything is in its place before taking up unpleasant business, then focuses on Me and begins to talk.

"First, X, thank you for taking this case. I know I'm paying you a lot to do it but still, you probably have 19 good reasons to not take this case and you still did. That means something to me."

I sip My wine. Yeah, it means I'm an idiot shopaholic who gets wet at the thought of $10,000 cash in an envelope.

"And I don't want you to worry about cooperation, X. I want this fucker caught, before he does something like this again." Clearly King was convinced the killing was to get at him. King was civic-minded for a gangster but his interest in justice extended mainly to how justice affected his bottom line.

Clearly it's My turn to talk. The calamari comes, providing a natural break and a moment for Me to gather My thoughts.

La Catena makes a perfect fried calamari. The chef resists the temptation to touch up the Mona Lisa -- a nice light slightly spicy batter, the calamari are fried just right, not overcooked as is so easy to do, and the marinara for dipping is bright with basil and capriciously spicy with the occasional red pepper flake. It's a dish a reviewer dismisses in a few words on the way to describing some much more elaborate/bizarre creation -- it's no wonder that we've lost our appreciation of the skill and difficulty of doing several simple things perfectly right, in concert.

I tell King that a lot of what I need is "cop stuff" . . . who installed the security system, and when? When was it last serviced? Who has keys? What contractors/workmen, etc., have been in and out there lately? Any problems with any of the girls? Husbands? Crazy boyfriends? Any clients causing trouble? Wives or girlfriends of clients? Neighborhood whackos? Random do-gooders? Any hate mail, attacks on the property, threats, etc.?

King is actually a lot more patient and gracious through all this than I expected. He answers in detail, and thoughtfully. The things he doesn't know or that require a list he makes notes on and I know I'll be receiving the information soon.

King looks at Me . . . he is looking for a theory from Me, at the very least. Something . . . anything.

"It feels really personal to Me, King. I am going to check out the victim of course but I expect to find absolutely nothing remarkable about him. I think, like you, that he was in the wrong House of Domination at the wrong time. I know a guy like you has more than a few enemies, on either side of the law, but if there's anyone you think might hate you this much, you need to tell Me. How you know him or what business you two are or were in, is as you know, no concern of Mine."

King pours himself more wine and takes a long thoughtful sip. Clearly he's mulling over whether or not to tell Me something.

He looks at Me with an air of resignation.

"Bobby Astro."

I'm about to gasp in surprise when the waiter arrives with the entrees. King slides an envelope across the table and attacks his veal chop like a bum going through the Waldorf's dumpster, and changes the subject. It's clear the business portion of the lunch is over. Just as well -- I don't want anything interfering with My enjoyment of this gorgeous tagliatelle con la salsa del cinghiale.

This time I don't look -- feels like five grand. I slip the envelope in My purse and inhale deeply the intoxicating aroma. The world is suddenly and fully reduced to the marvelous plate before Me.

The Cases of Lenora X, Domme Detective: The Cryptic Man, Part 2

Finally, I open My eyes again, and when I do the crazy colors that lined the insides of My eyelids are still there. I take as deep a breath as I can and doing that causes the electric ripples inside to actually intensify a little bit before they finally crackle more dimly, then fade.

I take another breath, lungs slowly filling again, My heart gradually resuming its normal rhythm. Looking down at mandy there, face shiny, wearing Me like a big neon sign that says "i love You" . . . it's hard not to just get all soft inside and . . .

I sigh and fix My robe and pull mandy up on the sofa next to Me. I kiss her, deeply . . . the taste of her, mixing with the taste of Me on her mouth, so sweet . . . godddd I could get started all over again.

I grab the paper and mandy snuggles. I'm scanning headlines and come upon this one:

Illinois Woman Wins Lottery Jackpot

Of course. It's always someone who lives way far away who wins the big prize. I start reading the article aloud for mandy.

An Illinois woman was the sole winner in Tuesday's MegaMillions drawing.
Freda Beckler, of Bartonville, won an estimated $252.6 million (before taxes) for holding the only ticket with the winning numbers: 2, 17, 19, 33, 48, and 50.

I stop reading and look at mandy -- and she's looking at Me. As one, we say the word,


Beckler? From Illinois . . . as in Mary Jane Beckler, aka Adele Peterson, who Catherine Chambers used to perfection in her successful plan to off everyone in her way and end up with $2 billion, with My unwitting help? That Beckler?

mandy tries to be the voice of reason.

"Miss . . . there have to be a lot of Becklers out there -- it's probably a common name there. The lottery winning Becklers probably aren't even related to Mary Jane Beckler."

I smile -- mandy is a sweet girl but she has no understanding of the fact that life is totally random unless there is a chance of one getting royally screwed over, in which case life is decidedly non-random. I was 100% convinced that the new multimillionaire Freda Beckler was related to Mary Jane Beckler . . . probably quite closely.

I toss the paper aside and mandy gets up to get Me some coffee. she knows Me too well already.

Honestly, there was nothing to be upset about . . . I don't begrudge anyone his or her good fortune. And if Freda Beckler is related to Mary Jane, well, that family has suffered a lot -- if $252 million helps that, then who am I to say otherwise?

I wasn't jealous of Freda's good fortune. It was more a feeling that something or other very odd was going to happen. The feeling that My picking up that paper and seeing that article was no random event. Of course, there was no way for Me to know how any of this strangeness would play out . . . and that, I realized, was what was killing Me about this -- that feeling of knowing something, but having no idea what, when, or how.

I took the mug from mandy and she snuggled close again. We turned on the TV. They were calling it "The Fetish Murder." This sort of crime was tailor-made for TV news. It gave them an excuse to interview "a real-life Dominatrix," the titillation of which they counteract by hauling out some pointy-headed psychologist to explain some people's need to be dominated, etc. Add in the aspect of The King, who was a made for TV gangster -- and you had a producer's dream.

The cute redhead on TV was talking about how the police seemed totally at a loss for leads in the case. I wanted to laugh, but then I realized that I was in exactly the same situation. No leads.

But I was going to meet with King tomorrow and hopefully find out who wanted to hurt him this badly. I was hoping the list wouldn't be too long.

The Cases of Lenora X, Domme Detective: The Cryptic Man

I posted the Prologue to this story about two years ago, and then never worked on it again, until just recently.

I've re-posted the Prologue here, so you don't have to go hunting for it, along with the newly-written Part 1.

* * *

Business did take off in the wake of the Chambers case, as I’d expected. I rescued mandy from her job at Day of Infamy and our relationship had progressed to the point where soon I was going to collar her and have her move in with Me.

I watched her at her desk as I hung up the phone. Honestly, I was in no hurry with her. Not because I didn’t feel for her . . . I did, strongly.Maybe too much, even. But I wanted everything to be right this time.I’d made bad mistakes before, moving too fast. I wasn’t going to let that happen again.

I had forgotten (or maybe never actually knew) what it was like when things were busy. If there were anyone I could remotely trust I’d take on another person to work cases on his or her own, but for now, it was just Me and the freelancers I needed to get things done.

I glanced at mandy again and laughed softly. she really did “go with the décor.” The new offices were bigger, brighter, with higher ceilings and more modern furnishings. In this efficient space mandy fit right in, and she was a godsend. With things so busy her ability to manage the calendar, generate and collect bills, and deal with all manner of whackos on the phone was invaluable. Plus she was damn sexy – she was one of those girls who made a simple blouse and skirt seem positively pornographic.

I was reviewing the file for the Forman case; in half an hour I had to tell Mrs. Forman the good news: her husband wasn’t cheating on her. The bad news, that her husband was laundering money for drug dealers and was about to be arrested by the FBI, I couldn’t tell her, since I only knew about that from Arty, who wasn’t supposed to have told Me. So I’d tell Mrs. Forman in some subtle way that while the Mr. wasn’t cheating, she might want to distance herself a bit. Or something. I’d figure it out. I didn't feel right just telling her "good news" and taking My money when her world was about to come crashing down around her.

I put the files down and looked up at the skylight, the words of Frankie Boots coming back to Me. “Doll, in this business, having a conscience is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. It can’t do you any good and just annoys people.”

I laughed, loud enough that mandy looked up from the accounts receivable. More customers meant more deadbeats, but mandy did a great job of getting people to pay up without pissing them off.

I was about to tell mandy what I was thinking about when My phone went off. I looked at the Caller ID.

Whoa. Charles Kingley. One of Blog City’s wealthiest and more notorious citizens. Owner of dozens of brothels, houses of Domination and submission, and deeply involved in every other form of “illicit” entertainment one could imagine. My conversations with “King” consisted of him trying to get Me to ProDomme at one of his places and Me being tempted for a second or two and then deciding against it. For him to call Me out of the blue was not at all a usual thing. We usually only talked when we ran into one another.
But there was nothing usual about any of this. Not the call, and not King’s voice or demeanor.

He went right to it, responding to My “hello” with the story, such as it was . . . his voice shaky, rushed. That in and of itself was a bit scary. I’d never heard King anything other than confident, with perhaps a dash of world-weariness thrown in at times. But always in charge.

“I need you to come to 299 Dickinson, X. Right now. It’s bad. And I need you.”

There was silence, mostly because I was so stunned. His voice again.


Wow. I’d never heard him use that word – it was a bit shocking that he even knew it.

But it was one of those times when my gut instinct told Me I should do this. King had, in his way, always been good to Me, as good as he was capable of being.

“All right, King. 299 Dickinson. Be in there in—“ I mentally calculated the traffic this time of day and cab vs. subway. ”Twenty minutes.”

He sounded relieved. “Thank you, X . . . thank you. I’ll see you there in twenty minutes. And I’ll make it worth your while, I swear.” He thanked Me yet again and we said our goodbyes.

I had mandy call Mrs. Forman and reschedule, and told her to cancel the rest of My afternoon. For King to call Me, in that state, to say “please” and “thank you” and mean it, well, this was obviously serious, complicated business.

I gave mandy a kiss and grabbed My purse. It is good to be in demand, yes?

Part 1

299 Dickinson Street is a nice-looking brownstone tucked near the middle of a long row of nice-looking brownstones in Blog City's fashionable Karlyle neighborhood. In all likelihood no one never noticed anything unusual about number 299 -- the neighborhood was populated by young up and comers, the kind who work 60 hours a week, go out a lot on weekends, and mind their own business otherwise. Other than a number of guys coming and going, mostly during the day when no one's at home anyway, there'd be little to point to 299 Dickinson Street as a place where men paid really good money to be beaten, whipped, sissified, and generally humiliated by stunningly beautiful but often bored women, doing an Oscar-worthy job not letting that boredom show.

Until now, of course. Now, on on an otherwise nondescript Tuesday afternoon, the street was dotted with double-parked police cruisers, an unmarked car the detectives drove, an ambulance, reporters here and there and all manner of people in, out, and around the building. The entrance was festooned with bright yellow crime scene tape, lending a perversely comical air to the whole scene.

Most cops know Me . . . most can tolerate Me, and a few, besides Arty, actually like Me. As a result I can drift a lot closer to the action at a crime scene than your typical person who doesn't belong there. I'm gradually insinuating Myself into the scene when I catch sight of The King. His eyes catch Mine as he ends a cell phone call.

They say a cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. The King was no cynic. He was a realist -- a man who knows that everyone has their price, and knows the value of finding the other person's price.

I think King was close to hugging Me, but even under stress the man had his limits. Instead, he got right to business, as was his way. He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and handed Me an envelope. It was one of those envelopes that one can tell contains cash without looking inside. In a situation like this, it's rude to take a long look as if one's counting, but ruder still to not look at all. I take a quick glance and a quick riffle. Ten grand, easy, in 100s.

"Don't worry, X. That's just the retainer." In King's mind I'd taken the job already, whatever that job might actually be. I shrugged as I put the envelope in My purse . . . OK, so I guess I hadtaken the job already. Fine.

Where King and money were concerned, I was not worried in the least. He was rumored to be worth nine figures, his acumen for investing his ill-gotten gains surpassing even his skill at accumulating them. And he was known, on both sides of the law, for being scrupulously honest and fair with a buck. Or with ten thousand bucks.

I looked around, then at King again. "This many cops and dicks around . . . has to be a homicide. They don't all converge like this because someone paid for a flogging and got a spanking instead."

King managed a mirthless smile. "Yeah, X. Homicide."

"A trick or a girl?" Yeah, I know . . . they're "clients." I had heard the spiel countless times. Professional Domination is NOT prostitution. Right.

King's cell phone rang but he ignored it. "A trick." He looked at the front door and then at Me. "Can you get in there?"

I turn and look and spot Arty Daniels arriving. "Yeah, I can get in."

I'm about to go accost Arty when King grabs My forearm. Not hard and painfully the way a man of his size and backgournd could certainly do, but in an almost plaintive way. My eyes meet his gray eyes, gray eyes that usually looked hard and unforgiving but today seem to betray, for the first time, the possibility that enough might finally be enough.

"Find out what happened, X. Please." There was that word, again. Christ, I must be getting soft . . . or maybe it was the ten grand burning a hole in My purse, but The King sounded actually sincere.

"I'll do My best, King," I said, and went to grab Arty. I'll do My best. The words of My mentor Frankie Boots rang in My head: "Never promise -- you never know where a case ends up. Never promise . . . just say you'll do your best. And then do it, doll."

Besides, I'm a girl with standards. Ten grand (and the promise of more to come) buys a lot of "My best."

* * *

Thankfully, Arty just let Me in without invoking "the book" or complaining. He just gave Me that look, and I gave him the look in return, where we both know I owe him one. I'm OK with that . . . I'll line up Astrid and give Arty a nice little session.

Arty runs the details down for Me, speaking in that tone and manner that long-time cops do, imparting all the pertinent information without disturbing the flow of anything around us, or drawing any attention to us at all.

The victim was one Edgar Howe, 38. A fairly regular client at Madame Annika's, which is what 299 Dickinson Street was known as to its clientèle and staff. Arty starts to run down Mr. Howe's list of fetishes but I stop him; I'll talk to the girls themselves about Howe -- I know them all, and they wouldn't tell any cop the stuff I might end up needing to know.

Mr. Howe was apparently strangled while restrained. According to Arty, Tammy, who was Topping the late Mr. Howe received an "emergency" phone call and stepped out of the room for no more than two minutes. When she returned Howe was dead.

Arty was convinced Tammy was not in on it. Arty was a good cop when it came to intuition about guilt and innocence. When Tammy went for the emergency phone call . . . there was no one there; the number traced back to a throwaway cell phone. The receptionist said she put the call through because the caller asked for Tammy by her real name -- guys call all the time asking for girls by their work names -- those calls never get through.

Arty looked at Me with an uneasy expression. I know that look on detectives -- it means that there is some aspect of the case that is going to elevate it above the level of a garden variety homicide. He takes me over to a piece of paper laying on the floor. I lean over and read:

Criminal angst follows King's climax with hesitation (8)

I stand up again and look at Arty. I know why the look, now. He not only has what looks on the surface like the perfect crime on his hands, but the prefect crime committed by a weirdo. And cops hate weirdos, because 1) weirdos mean press, and 2) weirdos don't stop at one killing.

He looks at Me again, this time silently asking if I have any idea what the note means.

"Well, Arty, it's what's called a 'cryptic clue.' Based on British-style crossword puzzles, solving the clues is a matter of decoding misleading verbiage and wordplay indicators. The number following the clue is the number of letters in the answer."

Arty stares at Me blankly. All he really needs to know, he already knows. He has a psycho to deal with.

Thankfully (or not) for Arty, cryptics are a hobby of Mine. So Arty is going to hear the answer whether he likes it or not.

"Arty. One part is the definition of the answer. The other part is a wordplay or plays, revealing the answer. In this case . . . look at 'angst follows King's climax.' So, a-n-g-s-t follows 'King's climax,' or, the last letter of the word 'King,' namely, g. So g-a-n-g-s-t . . . 'with hesitation,' 'Er' is the sound of hesitation often, yes? So you get g-a-n -g-s-t-e-r. And 'Criminal' leading the sentence is the definition."

Arty follows Me well enough. "So then why not just write "gangster?"

I laugh. "Arty, you forgot -- he's a psycho. Who knows why he does what he does?" I look at Arty. "But I'd start with King's enemies list. 'Gangster' . . . plus going out of his way to use King's name in the clue . . . if you want to hurt/embarrass the King, making this kind of mess in one of his places would be one way to do it, for sure."

Arty nods thoughtfully and slips back into worried detective mode. I take My leave, thinking about, in no particular order, the King, his ten grand, who'd want to hurt him this badly, and a pair of Jimmy Choo boots I suddenly have the money for.

submissive vs. Dominant Blogs, Part 3

I concluded Part 2 of this (all RIGHT, yes, it was almost 7 months ago!) by stating My contention that "submission is inherently more interesting to write about" (than Dominance).

Certainly I've some time to think about that contention.

I still believe it to be true, but I do see the influence of personal experience and style.

I believe submission is more interesting to write about (and thus to read about, and thus, to experience) than Dominance because of the delicately balanced places that certainty and uncertainty occupy in the life and mind of a submissive.

Consider . . . the person in the submissive role ideally has a healthy measure of certainty and uncertainty in his or her life. s/he needs to feel confident in the love and care and concern that the Dominant will feel and exhibit. Without that, there is simply animal fear, and animal fear never taught anyone anything except how to behave like an animal. The submissive must be able to see, understand, and trust in his or her Owner. The degree to which s/he is able to feel that (that is, the degree to which the Dominant inspires it in him or her) is proportional to the depth of submission one can eventually feel.

But at the same time, the submissive needs to feel that excitement, that thrill of not knowing what is going to happen next. That is absolutely essential, and is probably the single most exciting thing about submission on a day to day basis. What will S/He think of next? Sometimes the thought, the imagining itself, wrapped as it is in the delicious state of not-knowingness, in and of itself enough to make submission deeper. Not to mention more fulfilling and more fun.

That heady mix, that living, breathing, daily paradox, the clashing balance of the known and the unknown, to Me, is the stuff of great novels, of lyrical epics.

This other thing . . . being the One to dream the stuff up? Being the one in charge? It's wonderfully fulfilling, as for writing, it's easy grist for the essay mill, but not Shakespearean the way submission is.