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 you were the law [18+], ✍ ✆ ☕
knox
 Posted: Aug 7 2015, 03:16 PM
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There isn’t a soul out in front of The Icehouse. Where there’s usually a throng of people smoking in the cold there’s nothing but a few candy bar wrappers running around in dizzying circles in the unending January gale. Inside, the bar is empty. Even the bartender is missing. A few yellowing light-up snowmen grin stupidly in the stillness. The taxidermy animals wait on their booth side pegs, frozen to attention.

A girl walks in. She’s young, maybe too young even to drink. She’s decked out in all pink like Business Executive Barbie, complete with a magenta Yve Saint Laurent neck-scarf, a parfait pink blazer with white lapels, and matching briefcase.

She walks in with a prim smile painted across her lips. With each buoyant step across the fraying wooden floorboards in The Icehouse, the liquor cabinet seems to lean in, to watch her glumly as she goes by.

She sits in the biggest, reddest, leather booth right in the middle of the room. She gently sets aside her pillbox hat and clicks open her briefcase on the long farmhouse table. She looks up. Her smile fades for a moment as she scopes out the bar, but it snaps back into place before long.

“Cindy?”

The bartender has reappeared behind the counter, coming in from out back, where he was having a cigarette in the matted yard. He’s several inches shorter than Cindy, and several years older, and where her skin is nearly plastic-perfect, he’s got ugly splotches of vitiligo running up his arms in the places where his flannel sleeves are rolled up. His voice is throaty and worn down.

“You’re here early. Didn’t even unlock the door yet.”

He gives her a quizzical look, which makes Cindy go from smiling demurely to grinning—wide. Her Barbie pink lips come up, showing her gums, then teeth, rows of teeth that come to points at the ends. She leans in over her briefcase smiling her shark’s smile.

“Punctuality's a virtue.”

"I think that's patience."

"Same thing."

Cindy’s voice is baritone but saccharine sweet.

The bartender snorts, turns away, and goes back to tending his liquor inventory. And Cindy goes back to setting up her transaction, her shark's smile flattening out into a tidy, pink line .She lays out a few of the papers, smoothing them over with spiked nails.

On the papers, the names of men are spelled out in pink lettering. The occupations of women are typed up in rose-colored typeface that might make a real COO cringe, but Cindy is in the field of leaching, and there is nothing professional about selling secrets. There is nothing dignified in supplying information on those who want to live out their lives in privacy, like ordinary people, however bizarre and marvelous they may be. Anomalies like Cindy, and like the bartender, who hides it better than she ever could.

Cindy is willing to bet that whoever’s coming to meet her this afternoon will be especially interested in the man who’s strong enough to lift an oil tank when he’s angry or the young housewife who has fingertips that work like lithium flashlights.

She looks up to see the bartender refilling jars of pitted olives and maraschino cherries.

“How about some music, big boy?”

The bartender visibly bristles, but he obliges. A few seconds later he shuffles into the back of the bar and Christmas music oozes out of the speakers.

“Max, it’s January. Jingle Bell Rock is not going to make the regulars happy.”

Max grunts, “fuck ‘em,” and fixes himself a drink while Cindy puts in her shiny white cosmetics. Cindy smiles gently enough to look normal. She folds one panty-hosed leg on top of the other and clasps her hands together. Her spiked nails come together in perfect unison.

Before one o’clock, when Max flips the door sign around to “OPEN FOR BUSINESS,” and before the early drinkers slither in, Cindy’s new patron will come walking through the stain glass door, coming to sit right here across from her, where the stuffed Lynx stands on the shelf above the booth with a numb snarl and a shock-still paw pointing at them.
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bird
 Posted: Mar 10 2016, 12:14 PM
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Vee never had a name for it, which made things easier on everybody.

For a while, it was plausible deniability for the precinct's sake. Before that, it was vague allusions from her mother: a broken-glass aftermath, a hand at the base of her neck to still her: the women of this family have always been strong. She had chafed against that silence as a kid, curling her fists and splintering doorframes. Still, whatever it was, it had helped her -- in an old-boys downtown precinct, you needed any advantage you could get -- so one day, tossing a police cruiser and eating a fistful of lead became an asset, became Detective Veronica Aguerra Alarcón, fucking hero cop even if no one wanted to admit how it happened. Vee is grateful for that silence now: nameless things are easier to lose. Three months after it leaves her, she takes a cruiser and drives it through two sedans and the side of a townhouse.

So now it's an extended suspension with no pay and no motor pool privileges, which means that on this particular afternoon it's Sammy who has to drive her over to the Icehouse. Sammy is a good kid. Keeps the creases neat in his blue uniform even though he lives with four of his brothers and sisters in a shoebox by the factories, picking up swing shifts in the motor pool until he passes his exams. "Maybe you can quiz me on the way over," he says, brightly, before they get in the car, but Vee finds herself telling him some big fish narco story of hers instead, one of the ones that doesn't end so grim as all the others. His smile makes her heart hurt. When they finally reach the east side, she has him drop her off three blocks away.

"Knock 'em dead, Sammy," she says, slapping her palm twice against the hood in parting. "You're gonna be great."

She comes through the Icehouse's door not too long after, with salt on her boots and the shearling collar of her jacket turned up against the January chill. Vee is not as tall or young or viciously polished as the pink creature waiting in the booth for her, but she carries herself like a prizefighter, with her chin tucked and her shoulders rolled back all the same. She's dark, maybe early thirties, with a mean, hard-bitten look about her and a stormcloud of hair curling around her face that she has made no effort to contain. When she takes off her jacket and lays it on the bench seat, the muscle in her back and arms shows through the thin fabric of her shirt. The sharpness in her eyes still says cop even if her badge and gun can't do it for her.

She says nothing when she first sits down, taking in the dead lynx and the briefcase, the pink suit and pill-box hat that says Hitchcock leading lady, or else maybe Jackie O and Doris Day gone a little sly. Something off about her, too, that Vee can't put a name to yet but nonetheless makes her teeth itch.

"You must be Cindy," she says, putting out a hand. "I'm Vee."

--------------------
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knox
 Posted: Mar 13 2016, 12:45 PM
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“Musn’t I?”

Cindy’s nails point down and click together and for a moment it seems like she’s going to let Vee’s hand hang there in the air by its lonesome. But she does take it sooner or later and shakes it in a stiff up-down motion that mirrors the humorlessness of their meeting. Her grasp is surprisingly firm.

“Do you drink, Vee?” Cindy smiles, lips closed. With one finger outstretched she salutes the bartender and Max comes hitching over to their booth scanning both women with eyes steely as Cindy’s are bright.

“Make mine a mimosa,” she says, pleasantly. Assessing Vee’s demeanor—the lockjaw sneer, the undomesticated crop of hair, and the wrinkles in her shirt and under her eyes that scream insomnia—she shrugs. “Maybe bourbon?”

Max appraises Vee too, looking like he’s seen her somewhere before but never she him. Then he tips his chin and shuffles away.

“And don’t be shy about it,” Cindy calls after him. As she does she pushes the rose scented papers across the table. She leans in over the wood and taps a long, pink nail against it. “Like you asked,” she says, almost in whisper. “All the—“ Her eyes catch the back of a broad shouldered stranger at the counter. “Well,” she says, falling back and arching her spine against the booth. “You know.”

After a beat Max comes back with the drinks. Slides a well of bourbon over to Vee and nudges a flute of bubbly and a little plastic phial of grapefruit juice at Cindy.

“Thanks ever so,” she beams, childlike in the way those big blues light up against the apples of her cheeks. They fall on Vee again shortly after and there is nothing naïve about them then. The points of blush on her face become decidedly v-shaped as she stirs just a third of the pink stuff into her glass.
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bird
 Posted: Mar 13 2016, 06:13 PM
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"Sure."

Up close, there's a thin white scar that cuts a diagonal up from Vee's chin and across one corner of her upper lip, pulling it up as though she's either on the verge of snarling or smirking. Her eyes do neither when she shakes Cindy's hand or shrugs her assent. Bourbon is a lucky guess; jet fuel could probably be another. Coming from Cindy's pink little mouth, though, Vee doesn't doubt the slight.

The bartender isn't particularly interesting by comparison, even if the way he looks at her is. Vee meets his eyes until the jukebox needle skitters over from 'Jingle Bell Rock' to a warbling rendition of some other festive garbage, and Cindy slides the sheaf of pink-lettered papers into her hands. Likewise, the cloying scent wafting up off the stationery gives her more pause than Cindy's outfit or doe-eyed debutante manners do - twenty-something dresses weird, acts weird is hardly worth blinking an eye at in this city - but she isn't here to ask those questions. If Vee was - if Vee even could - she'd probably have to start by pretending to give a shit about carding her for that mimosa.

And Cindy has kept up her end of the bargain: DONALD KRAWCZYK, the foreman from the aluminum mill; LINA HELLER the lamp-fingered housewife in midtown. Vee cuddles the papers close to her chest, tapping her tongue against her teeth as she reads. "This is good," she murmurs, barely looking up while Max sets a double of cheap whisky in front of her. "Thank you." After he turns his back, though, she rests those pink files back on the table again and reaches into her jacket pocket: "Maybe you can help me with something else."

There is a young man in the photograph she lays out on the scratched-up laminate between them. He is lit up by forensic floodlights until his skin takes on the waxy glow of an evening baseball game, his bloated eyelids opening onto pale, dull marbles. Water blooms over the concrete around him, pooling hard black shadow at the edges of the frame. He might be as young as Cindy is, but his cheeks are stretched tight over the bone, pitted by acne or some other illness and hollowed out where his teeth are missing. Three sets of deep incisions gouge each side of his battered throat.

Vee wets her lips with bourbon before she speaks.

"They're gills," she deadpans. Now it's her turn to shrug, to creak her shoulders back into the shiny red leather, to study Cindy over the lip of her drink. The picture mercifully cuts off at the clavicle, but Vee's already had the displeasure of seeing the rest of him, bone and sinew and webbed skin bent in ways that she doesn't need a photograph to recall. "Some stevedores pulled him out from the river, a while back. Say he used to live under the docks."

She tilts her chin towards the briefcase.

"Seem like anyone you might know?"
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knox
 Posted: Mar 18 2016, 12:14 AM
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Cindy looks over her mimosa with vague interest as Vee speaks. Her eyes, temporarily hard-shelled, scan Vee’s face, eventually settling on the peculiar white scar. There they remain until she displays the next thing of note. Cindy's shelled eyes crack with curiosity as Vee produces a reasonably sized, glossy print of someone's sad end.

When she sees the way his pock-marked cheeks are lit in that perfectly inartistic, scientific flash her bottom lip curls over the glass. The hand unoccupied by the mimosa crawls across the table. She slips her forefinger and her tall finger over a corner of the photograph and she brings it close to her face. She narrows both of her blue eyes at the bone white ones in the image as they take in the still life of death.

Cindy's lips tremble over her bright white prosthetic. She cradles the print in her hands and smooths a thumb over the face.

"Oh, that is positively awful," she says gleefully. She guffaws and her laughter rumbles deep in her throat just like the brass orchestra in Frank Sinatra's dreams of a white Christmas.

“No, I didn’t know him. Poor darling.” She pauses to flip the photograph over on its face and with one dainty nail she nudges it back across the wood, over all the flecks of dirt that didn't quite escape the finishing.

"He's the second they've found this month," she goes on. "If you don't count what's been broadcast, which I frankly never do." She takes a sip of her pink, fizzy cocktail and her lips don't leave a lipstick mark behind. "Looks like Eve's been busy."

She grins wide. And her teeth are too perfectly aligned to be real. But everything about Cindy, and Vee the enigmatic storm cloud, and even the tight-lipped bartender watching them from the liquor cabinet seems uncanny enough to be imaginary.
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bird
 Posted: Mar 20 2016, 10:06 PM
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In the time that Vee's spent leafing through the pink-lettered names of the dead, a few of the Icehouse's regulars have come up to the bar to roost-- a pair of mealy-mouthed, leatherfaced old drunks that aren't the type to read a clock or much care for the hour on it. She keeps her voice low for their sake, though maybe she doesn't need to - if their eyes ever wander over to their lacquer-slick booth, they only rest on Cindy. And why shouldn't they, after all? A pretty little thing in a place like this. It's only from where Vee's sitting that it becomes clear that pretty isn't even the half of it.

A beat passes, and Cindy laughs, and the polite smile on Vee's face is so thin that it might as well be a ghost of itself. "Too bad," she says, pleasantly enough, and reaches out a sharp-knuckled hand to return the photo to its place without looking at it again. She tips a little whisky back and shrugs. "Figured it couldn't hurt to ask. Kid didn't leave much more than a nickname."

The nickname is Gil, unimaginatively enough, and his CI papers - spotty as they are - are filed under Vee's scrawling signature. Lina Heller's in there too, along with a gaggle of gangland body dumps stretching back a few years. But Heller didn't wear cinderblocks on her ankles when she went -- instead, whatever got her opened her up like a waterlily and sent her floating down the river. The official police statement had been no comment, but soon after that, the notes started. By the time the media picked it up, they called it Eve.

And then not too much later, someone found Gil with his insides crawling up his ribs like vines on a trellis. With the face left intact, this time, the better to be recognized by - to be photographed, to be seen.

"Must be bad for business," Vee says, swilling the bourbon around her glass. "Can't blame you for keeping score."
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knox
 Posted: Apr 12 2016, 11:37 AM
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The Icehouse fills up fast even on a nondescript weekday afternoon. People spill in through the vestibule like roaches through a drain, skittering out of the light to drink in dark, damp corners.

“It’s not all bad.” Cindy smiles primly. “It keeps the good folks off the streets.” She stirs the pulp in her drink. “But not the rotten ones.”

As if on cue, the row of ugly snow-flecked jackets and brown, wide rimmed hats at the bar erupt into laughter hostile enough to make the runner jump as he comes in. Tan-skinned, small, with a nervous, jerky limp, the kid rushes behind the counter without once looking up at anyone. He arrives with a flurry of snow and nerves so bad that the dirty pint glasses in his hands rattle. Max tosses him a rag with a dappled fist and pushes a cloudy looking 16 oz chalice in his direction. When the runner glances around it becomes obvious why he hadn't earlier: his eyes are two times too big for his face and around one of them there’s a pink, circular scar that could fit the lip of the glass like a matching puzzle piece. Cindy waves at him like a queen. Everyone in this place is marked in some way, but not her. Cindy is brand new plastic minus the smell.

The record skips once and Max kicks his foot under the counter, cutting Frankie off in the middle of his crescendo. Happy flutes warble in after a beat of dead silence and then Dean Martin carries the voice of every drunk and tramp who’s got themselves a table.

A circle of men in shabby suits croon, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

Cindy snorts in her throat. Her teeth come down over the edge of her glass again with some delicacy and she picks up where Vee left off without pause.

“Was it Gil?”

Something about the way she leans in over the table says she anticipates the tinge of suspicion in Vee’s eyes when they narrow like a cat’s. Cindy’s flash blue- they are wide and curious. Maybe she doesn’t know what she’s getting into. Maybe she does.

“Lucky guess,” she explains. With an apologetic little smile, she murmurs, “Ordinary folks are especially unsophisticated with nicknames, wouldn’t you say? The one thing they have going for them is that the simple ones are often the meanest.”

She tips her mimosa toward the leather-faced old kooks. “The gentlemen like to call our bartender ‘Spot,’ but I've heard worse.”

The bartender kicks under the counter again and the record hangs on the words ‘It doesn’t show signs of stopping’ and Cindy milks the chaos of groans and clinking glasses to ask, “What did they call you?”
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bird
 Posted: Apr 15 2016, 04:05 PM
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If bullshit stinks, then the Icehouse reeks to high heaven, and worst of all this cherry-lacquered booth. Vee has been on the job too long not to know the smell. Her eyes stay narrowed and stay on Cindy, the air between them cooling.

"Detective," she says. A hangdog grin straightens her crooked mouth out some, after a little while.

Lucky guess. Back when Vee was still in patrolman's blues there were rumours now and again, a freak on the force! stories attached to one poor beat cop or another that never made it past the third page of a tabloid broadsheet. She sets the thick-bottomed glass down with a solid clunk.

"You know," Vee says, "Heller was a gimme." She leans back, rearranging her limbs on the other side of the booth; her eyes track the runner with a little interest before looking back to Cindy again. "I mean, hard to miss a lady who wears gloves in the middle of July to the grocery store, right? Drops out of school, never goes out at night, scares every time she sees her own shadow in that nice little house up in midtown --" She kisses her teeth. "Easy pickings for someone like you."

Dean Martin doesn't show signs of stopping. A little more whisky makes him easier to bear.

"Now Krawczyk, on the other hand --" Vee drums a brown fingertip against his pink-lettered name, tilting her head. "Krawczyk wouldn't be so easy for you. Real prince of a guy, apparently. Real soft-spoken. Never raises his voice after he comes to the city, never touches a bottle - which I didn't believe either, but apparently it's God's honest truth. Stays about as far away from a place like this as anyone can get." And invisible, except for the tumour: all eight pounds of it.

A little brass and a burbling backbeat of conversation passes, and then Dinah Shore croons, I really can't stay --

Vee puts her elbows on the table.

"I'd say two out of three ain't bad, but --" She doesn't need to finish the sentence: it's more connection than anyone else in this city has to any of them, and Atom Eve is a redball case swiftly going cold. "How does someone like you get to be so knowledgeable?"
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knox
 Posted: Apr 16 2016, 05:42 PM
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"Detective!"

Cindy cackles, high and tittering and long.

"I like you," she declares, tilting the flute in her hand, swirling around the champagne and grapefruit juice until the pulp becomes effervescent. She holds the stem between three fingers and her thumb and takes a long sip. When there is nothing but grapefruit marrow gummed to inside of the bulb, Cindy nudges the glass aside with a pink-tipped nail.

Max is still kicking the record player with a cork sole and Dean Martin’s voice sounds like something not of this world: garbled, mechanized, extrasolar.

A few of the roaches in the back click and make a row. Cindy couldn’t be bothered. Almost every part of her is static as Vee speaks. The loose blonde curls, the adroitly plucked, perfectly arched eyebrows, her feathered fingers, all point at Vee. All watch her. Only those pink lips show the faintest hint of movement. Her smile broadens with each word, all but those last ten.

“Oh please,” she groans. A half amused chuckle thrums in her throat, but with her mouth peaking only slightly around the edges, she looks about as pert as the dead, frozen lynx pegged above them.

“Mrs. Heller deserved more than to be called a “gimme” and Mr. Krawczyk, for one, never so much as touched a single drop. I knew them better than anyone ever could. They came to me for reasons no worse than yours. See, I like to help people in any way I can. If they need a little money or a place to stay, I provide. I don’t ask questions nor do I ask much of them in return. They could disappear with their bills unpaid if it came down to it and I would understand. In fact, they should, don’t you think? They should most certainly be entitled to lead better lives.”

Cindy rests her chin on the back of her palm. She doesn’t blink when she looks at Vee. Not once.

“The thing about people like Lina and Mr. Krawczyk,” she goes on, “is that they rarely do. They have not once been ordinary and all the money in the world will not change that. Do you understand? They come to me again, and again, and again. I do what I can for them. I listen. What they do with the money, I don’t know and I don't care, but when they stop—“

She lowers her eyes and her eyelashes cast soft shadows on her cheeks.

“Many of them simply choose to end it. Have you ever heard of Tamara Twill? The 'Fastest' Woman in the World? Nonsense, of course you have. She was one of mine. I bought her that loft on Tillary- the robe, the tub, the whole picture. Dear Mr. Krawczyk? Poor, poor Lina.”

Once she raises her eyes again they’re glistening, shimmering in the low, sick-dog yellow light.

“You see, I am personally invested in this. I want to know what happened to Mrs. Lina Heller and I want to know why, where, when and how it did. I make it a point to be knowledgeable.”

Cindy scoffs and taps a spiked nail against the rim of her glass. After another twitter of brass and another protest from Dinah Shore, Cindy drawls, “That was positively uninspired. Do avoid these dreadful questions in the future, will you?” Then she smiles again and her teeth look like they might just spring out of their neat, white little rows. “If I wanted to get involved with the police, I would.”
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bird
 Posted: Apr 19 2016, 04:21 PM
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"Look at you," Vee says, curling her lip. "A regular philanthropist."

She drains her glass without tasting much of it, and all the while Cindy speaks she remains tense but still as a stone. The act is an impressive thing, polished, and both it and Cindy are impossible to look away from. Vee doesn't scare easy, but she doesn't like bloodsuckers much, either; when the whole performance comes to an end, the expression that she buries in the last drops of her bar-rail bourbon could probably curdle milk.

The needle stutter-stops on Buddy Clark's warbling crescendo, something in the mechanism failing. The bartender fusses with it again in the corner of her vision, bringing all this Christmas cheer to a merciful reprieve. "Yeah," Vee says, savouring this morsel of relative peace and quiet. "You're invested, alright." She leans into her elbows, lacing together her hands.

"You've got Krawczyk pawning off every one of his earthly possessions to that hock shop up on Grosvenor, right up until he goes flat broke a few days before he dies. You've got a dead midtown housewife shuttling enough cash out of the bank each week to pay off a second mortgage. Who knows," she adds, with a non-committal shrug, "maybe it'll turn out that you did know Gil after all. Not that it matters now; not like someone like him could afford your rates."

Not that any of it matters, as bad as it all looks, what with the major crimes unit understaffed and backlogged into the last ice age, and this bit of circumspection being conducted under legally dubious circumstances -- and by homicide's prodigal child, no less. Still, even if none of it sticks, Vee is willing to bet that a trip to downtown lockup ranks low on the agenda of even the most Teflon-coated crook. "You want to know what happened to her? Okay. Here's how this goes: help me, or help the boys downtown pick you out a brand new set of bracelets."

The runner comes to take their empty glasses, hovering over them with the look of a young man who isn't sure what he's interrupting but is sorry about it anyway. Vee gives him a perfunctory, go-away smile until he slinks away.

"When was the last time you saw Lina Heller?"
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knox
 Posted: Apr 21 2016, 04:24 PM
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The bartender boots Buddy Clark into oblivion and The Icehouse seems to develop its own heartbeat in the silence that follows. Secret conversations pulsate in the liquor mantle where bodies are massed around their pint glasses. Laughter echoes in the tin ceilings and Cindy’s low, rumbling chuckle swirls through the bar’s veins and valves.

“Ask the mayor's press secretary where I was the night Lina Heller died.”

Cindy scoots up in the booth cushion and her nails tap the spot where Vee is resting her elbows. “While you’re at it, you might want to see if you can get a word in with the D.A. I truly do mean if. She’s very busy- new family and all. Really lovely children, I’ve heard. Of course, I’ve never seen them in the flesh. No, I think she would much rather I kept my distance.”

Still clicking her nails against the varnish, Cindy draws back. Her gaze sifts over Vee’s perpetual scowl and her lips twitch over her teeth.

“Please don’t give me that look. You’re going to bore me to tears,” she says, eyes narrowed and smiling. “Everyone likes money, darling. Why wouldn’t they? They’re broke.” She pauses and a shadow of a grin flickers across her face. “If only Gil had come to me instead of- what was it? Bridge? Bottom of a lake? See, I don’t know anything about that. I like to push the limits, but murder? Murder simply isn’t my game. It’s too absolute for my taste. After all, it can only end one way.”

The record player clicks back on and the sounds of The Icehouse melt away in a patter of black keys. From some place faraway, a saxophone wails.

“In any case,” Cindy drawls, waving her hand, “you're not bringing me in.”

She tosses her hair over her shoulder and cocks her head at Vee. Studies her like she’s an upside down canvas in a museum filled with things that are right side up. “You don’t want money. You don’t want to help the boys downtown any more than I do. Mm-mm. You are in this for another reason entirely and the only questions that interest me right now are, 'What for?’ 'What happened to Lina Heller?'”

Cindy lets the words hang in the air. She reaches a feathered hand into a flat, alligator skinned wallet she produces from the inside of her jacket. From this, she pulls out a perfectly smooth bill and flags down the runner. Then she says, “Trust me, Detective. You don’t want ‘someone like me’ to stop being interested.”
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