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.