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Steve resented taking baths. He regarded them as feminine to the masculine shower. To him, baths were inefficient and as unsatisfying watching a children's toy commercial, and then buying the toy. They did not shoot lasers, nor did they move on their own. Instead, they were designed for those gullible enough to fall for their sales pitch: A volume of water, usually half of what would be comfortable; the temperature quickly dropping from a painful hot to a tepid waste of time; the greedy entrepreneurs trying to move overpriced salts and oils into suburban bathrooms. Steve left, headed for Rosie's.
As he walked down the hall towards the elevator, Steve found himself wondering if Diane would be working when he got to Rosie's. He concluded that the whole reason he was even considering a bath was that his last job had been particularly demanding. Particularly, the part of the job where one big son of a bitch caught him being careless and decided to do a number on his shoulder and kidneys. He took notice of the irony that he would be walking into a massage parlor for a massage. Steve stepped onto the elevator, his thoughts back on Diane.
When he arrived at Rosie's, the outside was a little less vibrant than usual. Rosie's exterior never had much flare, so as to not broadcast
, but something was off. Steve put it out of his mind, and walked in.
Inside, Steve was greeted by Rachel, the sort of alpha-bitch madame that you would expect in a cheap work of fiction. Big hair, stout frame, bottomless cleavage; She was a businesswoman who had seen her fair share of everything. She explained that Diane had taken the day off and presented Steve with a lineup of seven other skilled masseuses.
Steve carefully considered his selection. Of the seven, he immediately dismissed four. The three remaining were Genevieve, a stunning cosmopolitan with long lustrous mocha hair; Hiromi, both fluent and exotic with a nice smile; and a new girl, a busty redhead with mischief in her eyes. He asked her name.
"It's Vivian," she replied.
"That's a lovely name," he said, then asked, "Vivian, would you care to join Hiromi and I in the spa?"
"Of course," Vivian answered. The three then made their way to a more private area where they could better focus on relieving Steve's nagging back pain.
Steve lay on his back after the session. The two had already left the room. He wanted to enjoy his contented afterglow for a few moments longer. Once he sat up the pain might return, so he just laid there.
He wondered about Diane. Maybe she had a new sugar daddy. It was Saturday, a good day for a sojourn. Her new sancho was most likely married and would officially be doing something business related. Diane's time would become tax deductible.
Steve caught himself getting carried away with jealous thoughts for his preferred call girl. He needed some new work.
Steve had his car service drop him at the Greek diner, four blocks down from his office. It was a small place, but they were trying to appeal to the cutie-pie chain restaurant crowd. They called their gyro the 'Grecco Rollin,' and their pizza the 'Zan,' which was short for 'Pie-Zan.' It was shit like this that got on Steve's nerves.
He ordered a gyro, pronounced it as a 'gyro,' and took a seat at a booth.
While waiting, Steve reflected on his massage, absolving himself for spending most of his recent earnings like a shore leave sailor.
The walk back to the office was brief. There were two cars parked in front of the building, both regular occupants of the curb space. Lenny the doorman was in position. Nothing was out of the ordinary, and Steve went up to his office.
When he stepped off the elevator, he was knocked back by a mixture of perfume and cleavage. The tall slender woman in the low cut dress was getting on the elevator as Steve was exiting. "Just my luck," he thought, as he walked to his office. The perfume trail ended at his door. She'd been here.
Sure enough, Steve found a note she had left just inside his office door. His eyes lit up as he let her perfume waft from the note into his nostrils. He wondered why she didn't address him when they had passed by the elevator. He guessed that if this was work, then she was trying to solicit his services to snap a few incriminating photographs of her husband. Steve made a game of staying in touch with his assumptions so that he would be aware enough not to rely on them. He opened the note:
I'll be in touch,
Steve didn't quite know what to make of the note. It was written in a familiar manner. Not familiar in that he recognized the style, especially given its brevity, but familiar in the way that the writer seemed to know him. Was this 'Julie' the bombshell that he passed on the elevator, or was she just a smoking hot courier of Julie's. After all, 'Julie' was probably a pseudonym.
He reconsidered her wardrobe. Definitely tailored, and the perfume was no cheap knock off. This told Steve that she had money to pay, as long as her request wasn't too outlandish.
Steve decided to call his secretary, Camille. Maybe she had some idea who this Julie was. He also needed to get her back into the office. The last phase of his previous job had him away from the office indefinitely, so he gave Camille some vacation pay said he'd call her when playtime was over.
She seemed in good spirits when she answered the phone. It pleased Steve to hear her voice. He told her that she could return to the office starting next week, and described the woman who may or may not be Julie, not omitting the perfume.
Steve woke to the loud clatter of Camille trying to be quiet. The main reason he told her to come back next week is because he knew that she was getting restless and couldn't stay away if she tried. The part about giving her permission to return was just to get under her skin.
"What a fucking mess!" she exclaimed. "No wonder most of the women you have around are on the clock."
Steve sat up, and Camille tossed him a file. "Julie Aventine -- currently -- she's a black widow. One of her late husbands hired you to spy on her."
He suddenly remembered the client. It was the late oilman, Teabag Tex. People used to say he was sweeter than oil, and softer than money. Steve had no clue what that meant, but admired that ole Teabag had achieved a level of notoriety worthy of a living epithet. He especially liked how it conjured up the image of someone you might find in an old Western saloon.
Steve became even more curious as to why Julie, the Widow Teabag, had stopped by. A little too curious to stay cooped up in the office, getting in the way of Camille's cleaning.
On his way out, Steve had to hurry. He wanted to find out what Lenny, the doorman, remembered about the boobalicious amazon. He thought it unlikely that Lenny would have forgotten Julie. She had this aura about her, that when nearby, one couldn't help but imagine that when crafted by some divine hand, the artist had to take a moment to admire her rarity.
Lenny surely remembered. He knew who she was, too. He told Steve that a friend, who happened to be a doorman, making it clear that not all of his friends were doormen, works her building's door.
A couple of blocks later, Steve was standing in front of Julie Aventine's building. A quick survey of the area came up negative for good places to stake out the door traffic. He could see nothing but office buildings. There wasn't even a Starbucks. It was all the same. He didn't feel like wasting a day in an adjacent eatery anyway.
As he walked into the lobby, he was relieved to find a cozy little cafe. He took his place on a rather large chair. It reminded him of sitting on a big marshmallow, and provided a nice vantage point.
Most of the morning proved to be uneventful from the comfort of the cushy chair. Steve pondered the level of desperation he was showing by loitering in the lobby of a potential client's apartment building. It was a pretty big assumption that she had any intention of hiring him anyway. At the moment he was technically stalking her. All of these things occurred to Steve as one of the building's security guards placed himself directly in front of the comically large chair. It was time to go. He made up something about being stood up for a meeting, and left.
Standing on the curb outside Julie's building, Steve thought about going back to his apartment, having two strong drinks, and a midday nap. Just as he was hailing a cab, he saw her. She was being led by two men in all black that looked more like goons than feds.
The two thugs stuffed Julie into the backseat of a black Dodge Diplomat and took off. By this time, Steve was watching from the backseat of the cab. He handed the driver a fifty and cleared his throat before busting out the old cliche, "Follow that car!... not too close."
The Diplomat took a lazy route across the city. At first Steve was nervous that they were aware of being followed, but he became rather certain the driver was stalling. They may have nabbed her too early, or perhaps they wanted to confuse her sense of direction.
Steve sensed that the cab driver was nearing his limit for a fifty dollar tip. Just then, the Diplomat turned into what appeared to be a factory. It was an old warehouse that could easily serve as an industrial sanctuary for any number of clandestine dealings. He examined the building's side for cameras.
Creeping along the building, Steve looked for a way in that also looked like a good way out. His mission was still reconnaissance. He had no idea what sort of meeting this was. Adversaries came in all sizes and flavors, and Steve intended to get a good look at whoever summoned Julie before, involving himself further. The last thing he needed was to be on some mafia capo's radar.
Steve found and opening, and entered the building. It was quiet and dark, but he could hear something nearby. Several black electrical wires seemed to lead a path to its source.
As he followed the wires, Steve began to recognize the sound as moaning. Was this a rogue warehouse bordello? Did those goons just shanghai Julie back to their rape den? Steve desperately tried to remember if he saw tattoos as they got into the Diplomat, but they were too far away.
If they were mafia, then there's a good chance they were also Russian. Steve had limits and inconveniencing the Russian mob was on the other side of his. Nevertheless, he had to know for sure. He rounded a corner and got a good look into a well lit room.
Steve's eyes widened. He saw cameras, lighting equipment, and fucking. This wasn't a rogue bordello, it was a renegade porn set! Julie and one of the goons were front and center. From the dialogue, Steve gathered that the whole abduction had been staged, and probably filmed.
Then the goon in the scene with Julie grabbed her by the hips and said, "Yeah? Well, talk is cheap."
To which Julie replied, "And so am I," and went down on him. Steve was tempted to stay longer. From what he saw, she had nice technique, but it was time to get going.
He felt a mix of relief and disappointment when he left the building. Part of him had been hoping to swoop in at the perfect moment and play the hero, but the hero was probably swooping in on Julie's face right about now. He also felt a bit stupid for following her all the way out there. Her note said she'd be in touch and his actions that day were more in line with a serial killer than a detective. The sun was setting. Steve felt a growing interests in a large and unhealthy meal, followed by an early nightcap.
On the way home Steve had the notion to do a little research into the smut industry. He thought first that he would just go to see which filthy titles, if any, he'd find Julie on the cast list. Then he felt as if he was becoming more of a stalker by the hour. He then countered this logic with the fact that he was a detective and that stalking and stealth were a huge part of his job. Although tempting, there wasn't reason to add the porn shop to his errands. There was no contract. He wasn't being paid.
Steve's mind turned back to the unhealthy meal. He'd compiled a mental menu from local restaurants. He really only liked one or two things from any given restaurant. Tonight he wanted a porterhouse from Luke's, with a side caesar and garlic toast. Although simple, it was hearty, and after his interesting day, Steve wasn't looking for anything exciting. He placed the order for pick up and made a quick stop for a couple bottles of wine before making his way to Luke's.
While paying at Luke's, Steve saw WAREHOUSE FIRE: CAUSE UNCERTAIN on the local news. It was today's warehouse.
The news report said that the warehouse was vacant and that firefighters were still trying to get the blaze under control. Steve figured that there was probably a fault in one of the many black electrical wires. It probably started in some other part of the building and was only noticed by the crew when equipment began failing or they began to smell smoke. What was puzzling was that the building was vacant. Had the crew left the location beforehand, or did they flee once the fire was out of control? They were probably laying low to avoid arson charges.
Steve continued to think about the possibility of arson. If it was an insurance scam, then he'd have to find out who owned the warehouse. Wouldn't the video they shot today be evidence of their presence on the premises hours before the fire? Did they have any video of him sneaking into the building? Maybe all they needed was a scape goat. Julie probably identified him as an already sketchy private eye and the eyes of her greasy quasi-gangster boss turned to dollar signs. Steve began to feel more like a mark than an unlikely hero attempting a rescue.
Steve knew that he'd probably be brought in for questioning sometime during the night if he went back to his apartment or office. Before he left Luke's, he bought a couple slices of their famous cheesecake. Today's best looking option was white chocolate and caramel.
He walked into his apartment building with food and wine in hand. In his apartment, he stored the bottles on a rack, ate quickly, and left. This time he took the stairs and exited through the alley. It was a safe bet that if he was a scape goat then somebody was watching the door.
From the alley, Steve made his way through the back of a restaurant to the street. This put him on the opposite end of the block from his building's front door.
As he walked, he double checked his carry out bag. He had saved the cheesecake slices for this precautionary mission. He needed to speak with an old friend, and dessert was usually the best way of going about it. He was on his way to see Detective Bryce, but in order to even reach his floor, he would need to obtain a visitor's pass from Candice, the security guard.
As Candice added her cheesecake to her already plentiful fat reserves, Steve made his way to Detective Bryce's office. Bryce was an old friend, who decided to stick it out and stay on the force for his pension's sake. He figured that he should get something on record with the police before he was made the fall guy. He knew that Bryce could be trusted with his paranoid statement, but more importantly he could be trusted to keep his statement on the down low should nothing happen. He told him everything, down to the deepest, throatiest, slimiest, porniest little detail.
Bryce had been listening attentively over the remaining slices of cheesecake. Steve never forgot that he was always more receptive while full of decadent sweets. It was a trick he'd learned when they first met. At the time it was to trade shifts, or borrow money. They were the best way to soften him up for a favor.
Bryce said that he'd heard of weirder surprises in those old warehouses, but it didn't make sense why they'd torch the building. He also noted how odd it was for a private eye to go out of his way without being paid.
It didn't look good. Bryce said that there were a few points in the story where a court might ask why he hadn't called the police. It would also be easy for a prosecutor to paint a picture of Steve as a porn star stalker, perhaps prone to jealous fits of violence. Bryce told him the whole thing was pretty stupid, and that he did the right thing getting a statement on record. He went on to say that if Steve finds himself under arrest then just to drop his name and tell them that he's already given his statement.
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