Even though she was pretty shook up and her tight black velvet dress was a mess of wrinkles, she was still too beautiful to be real. A few strands of long, shining, dark brown hair were out of place, but other than that and her smeared lipstick, it was hard to tell anything had happened. If I hadn't been standing face to face with her, I wouldn't have believed what I was seeing. She was like ... well, like those pictures of models in glossy magazines, you know, where every little line and blemish is erased by an airbrush, and computer programs make legs longer, waists slimmer, and cleavages deeper.
I'd gotten assigned the 911 call fifteen minutes earlier, and pulled up just as the EMT's were packing up. Their gurney was empty, so I figured they'd either found nothing much wrong or they'd left a body for the coroner. I knew them from a couple of other cases and walked over to see what they'd done.
"Jimmy, what'm I gonna find up there?"
"One dead old guy and a hooker you ain't gonna believe. Looks to us like the guy just keeled over from a heart attack, but the coroner'll have to tell you for sure. I'd have damned sure been havin' one with her in the room with me."
Julie, his partner, jabbed him in the ribs.
"You idiot, that old guy is Walter Hobson. Didn't you recognize him from his pictures in the paper? And she's not a hooker. She was doin' CPR on 'im when we got there, remember? Any hooker would have just grabbed 'is money and ran off."
Jimmy grinned as he rubbed his ribs.
"Well, that may be, but the only way a guy that old could get a honey like her is to pay for it."
The caller had said Suite 206, and there were two uniforms standing guard at a door halfway down the hall. A couple of CI techs with big aluminum cases were just going through the door.
She was sitting on the couch when I walked in the room. The CI techs were headed back to what I figured was the bedroom and I went with them.
Walter Hobson was probably the biggest real estate developer in Nashville, and right now he was sprawled out on his back on the bed, his shirt open and his slacks pulled down to his knees. His color jived with what Jimmy had said, and I figured this was going to be another report I had to write without having the satisfaction of cuffing anybody. I left the CI techs to their job and went to interview the girl.
She was trying hard to hold both her lighter and cigarette in the same place long enough to get it lit. I took the lighter and held it for her. She inhaled deeply, then let the smoke trickle out through her perfect lips.
"You're welcome, Miss ... uh..."
She took another long drag on the cigarette.
I held out my hand.
"Hi Vicky. You have a last name too?"
"Danforth, Vicky Danforth. I take it you're the detective assigned to this mess?"
I pulled my badge from my jacket.
"I'm Detective Jack Taylor, and yes, I am. You wanna tell me what happened here tonight?"
"Walt and I had dinner at Valentino's and then came back here to watch some television and have a couple of drinks. I went to use the bathroom, and when I came out, Walt was lying on the bed and holding his chest. He didn't look at all good, so I called 911. I'd just given them the address when Walt stopped breathing, so I started doing CPR on him. When the EMT's got here, they tried that shocking machine on him, but he was already gone I guess."
"I see. That's about what I figured out myself, but there's one thing that puzzles me. How come Walt's pants were down around his knees? I don't remember that being part of CPR, at least not in any class I ever took."
Vicky's eyes turned cold.
"This is starting to sound as if you think I had something to do with it and you're going to arrest me."
"I don't have any reason to arrest you, but if you're lying to me, I might find one. I just need to know what really happened tonight. Now, about Walt's pants..."
'OK, but I'll deny telling you this if you arrest me."
Vicky took a deep drag on her cigarette. The smoke came out in puffs as she spoke.
"Walt is ... was seventy-six, but he still liked having a pretty girl on his arm when he went out to eat and he seemed to like me. We went out a couple of nights a month. He always took me to the best places in town and afterwards, we'd come back here. Walt liked me to..."
"He said his doctor told him he couldn't have sex anymore. He never told me why, but after this, I guess it was his heart. Anyway, he liked me to undress and then..."
Vicky looked up at me.
"Do I have to go into details? I wouldn't want this to get to the papers. Walt was a really nice old man. I don't want him to be remembered for something like this."
"Depends on what the details are. I'm in the business of solving crimes, not embarrassing people."
"He liked me to undress and lay down beside him. He'd touch me until he got it up, and then I'd use my hands to get him off. That's all that ever happened, except this time, he stopped breathing before I got my dress off. I did do CPR until the EMT's got here. That's the God's truth of what happened tonight."
"Did Walt pay you to go out with him?"
Vicky's face was smiling but her eyes were still icy.
"I'm not a prostitute. Clients pay me to go out with them because I'm pretty and I make them feel good. They do have to pay for my company. If a client asks and I agree, I might be more, and yes, the client pays for that privilege too. Walt paid very well."
I finished making my notes, and then smiled at Vicky.
"Doesn't sound to me like anything happened here except Walt had a heart attack while entertaining a very pretty woman."
"So, I'm not under arrest?"
I knew the CI techs would tell me if anything different had happened, so I wasn't going to arrest her that night. I also knew Walter Hobson had lots of friends downtown who wouldn't like it if the real story got out, so my notes were in my own little code.
"Nope, and I don't think there's any reason for anyone to know more than what I just said. You uh ... you do know those extra services are illegal, don't you? It's also likely you'll run into somebody not quite as nice as Walt someday. I'm not judging you, Vicky, just trying to give you some advice. I'd hate like hell to get to a crime scene and find you laying on a bed like Walt in there."
This time Vicky's smile seemed genuine.
"I don't think you're going to get any thing about me to investigate. My clients are, as you can imagine, very discrete, and besides, they're always very satisfied. I'm just as picky about my clients as they are about their escorts, so I'm not too worried."
I handed Vicky my card.
"The top number is my office phone, the bottom is my cell number, just in case you think of anything else, something about his condition Walt might have said or anything like that ... so I can add it to my report."
That night, I wrote my report just as I'd told Vicky I would. As I put it in the folder for the Chief to sign, I smiled and hoped when I was seventy-six, I was still alive enough to want a hand job from a girl like Vicky.
I was forty-three then, and my sex life had pretty much dried up. The women I met were either on the wrong side of the cell bars or couldn't take the thought of being with a man who might not come home some night. Yeah, there'd been one or two when I was fresh out of the academy. They liked the uniform and the thrill of dating a police officer. Once they got a little older, they started thinking about a home in the suburbs and kids and all the other things women think about. I didn't fit in those thoughts very well so they sort of drifted away.
The next few days were pretty bland as my days usually go. Nobody killed anybody else unless you count the bush the eighty-two year old woman shot in her front yard. The white-haired grandmother claimed she thought the bush was a man trying to sneak up on her front door. I confiscated the weapon, an ancient shotgun that was probably older than the woman, and turned the case over to civil services.
By Friday afternoon, I was looking forward to a weekend off, though I didn't have anything to do except sit in my apartment and watch TV. At about eleven that night, my cell phone chimed. I flipped it open and said "Detective Taylor". The woman was sobbing.
"Detective Jack Taylor?"
"Yes, that's me."
"This is Vicky ... from Tuesday..."
"Yes, I remember you. You sound like you're crying. What's wrong?"
"I need some help and I didn't know who else to call."
"What's the problem?"
"A man hit me."
Fifteen minutes later I pulled up at the entrance to the marina at Edwin Warner Park. Vicky said she'd be waiting there, and when I got out to look for her she slipped out of the shadow of some big pine trees. Her heels were in one hand, and Vicky walked gingerly over the blacktop up to my car. She gave me the address of her apartment and asked me to hurry.
I hadn't been able to see her very well in the single light at the marina entrance, and she'd looked out the side window all the way to her apartment. Once she was in good light, I saw she'd been hit more than once. Her lip was cut and bleeding, there was a little blood on her nose and the skin around both eyes was starting to turn an ugly brownish-purple. She'd evidently put up a fight, though, because her dress was torn at the shoulder and ripped up the side almost to her waist.
"Vicky, what the hell happened?"
"One of those guys you said I'd meet someday? Well, I met him tonight. I've never, ever, ever done anything without a condom, even oral sex. Before he ever paid me, I told him he'd have to use one if we did anything. I even gave him a couple when he started taking off my dress. He just threw them back at me and then tried to get me on the bed. I pushed him away. That's when he called me a whore and slapped me. I said I was going to leave, but he grabbed me again so I slapped him back. He hit me with his fist when I did that ... twice I think."
The look in her eyes was apologetic.
"I always go out with older men. I guess he wasn't older enough."
"Vicky, come on. Let's get you to a hospital. After that, tell me who he was and I'll haul his ass in."
"I don't want to go to any hospital. They'll just ask a bunch of questions I can't answer. I won't tell you his name, either. He's too high up in the city. You couldn't even get in to talk to him, much less arrest him, and if you did manage to, you'd probably lose your job."
"If you don't tell me, he'll get away with it ... and probably do it again. They usually do."
Vicky started to grin and then winced at the pain.
"He won't be doing anything for a while. I kicked him in the crotch pretty hard after he hit me the second time. He was still rolling around on the floor of his boat when I ran out."
Vicky touched her lip and then looked at the blood on her finger.
"I have some stuff in the bathroom, and I know you guys are trained in first aid. Couldn't you just sorta fix me up here ... please?"
I cleaned up her lip. The cut was on the inside, so there wasn't any way to put a bandage on it, but it had about stopped bleeding by then anyway. I checked her face over and found nothing except her black eyes. What I'd thought might be a nose bleed was just a scratch, probably from a fingernail. Vicky said he'd only hit her in the face and that she hadn't hit anything except the side of the boat when he knocked her down.
"You're sure you won't go to a hospital? I think I got everything, but I don't know how hard he hit you. You might have a concussion ... or worse"
"I feel fine except for my lip and a big headache ... really. Thanks for coming to help. I ... I don't have anybody else I trust this much."
"You trust a cop you thought was going to arrest you?"
"You didn't, though, and you did what you said, too. Nobody has any idea about Walt and me. Some cops would have gotten their name in the news by letting that out. You didn't, so I trust you."
"I'd still rather you'd have a doctor check you out."
"And what would I tell them ... that I'm a high priced escort whose date knocked her on her ass because she told him he had to use a condom? No, I'm starting to feel better. Now, I'm gonna go change out of this ripped dress. Can you stick around for a while ... just 'til I get calmed down a little?"
Her living room was decidedly feminine, but not flamboyant like I would have expected. I didn't see any pictures of family, so I figured she was telling the truth about not having anybody. I was about to have a peek in the kitchen when she came out of her bedroom. She'd changed into tight jeans and a tight knit top that hugged her curves like a second skin.
How do I look?"
"Kinda like a really sexy racoon with a fat lip."
"Oh, God. It'll be a while before I go out again then."
"A couple of weeks, I'd guess, judging from the last black eye I had."
"Well, I always said I needed a vacation. I guess this is it."
We made small talk over coffee for another hour or so. She didn't seem confused and she didn't pass out, so I was pretty satisfied she didn't have a concussion. After telling her to call me if her headache got worse or if she started feeling dizzy, I drove back home. Her phone number was in my notebook, and when I called her on Sunday she seemed fine.
The next few weeks were pretty slow for me, so I had time to look back on some old cases. I got lucky one afternoon when I had coffee with a few guys from the drug enforcement team. They gave me a lead on one of my homicides from four years back.
Billy Joe Verndun had just been paroled after serving three years for making and selling meth. His cellmate, a guy Billy Joe seemed to trust enough to confide in, had let it slip to another detective that Billy Joe had a thing for women's panties. That made Billy Joe look very interesting in my murder case. The victim was a woman suspected of dealing meth, and Billy Joe's lab had been just a few blocks from her house. Whoever killed her had also taken off her panties, and it was likely he or she still had them.
I took two uniforms with me. At seven that morning, we put on our Kevlar vests and drove to the address. We should have taken the SWAT team along too.
One of the officers went to the back of the house to watch the back door and side windows. Officer Millard was with me at the front.
Billy Joe was there, or at least when I knocked on the door and asked for him, a man's voice inside the dilapidated house said, "Yeah, I'm here. What the fuck d'you want."
I knocked again and stated that I was Detective Taylor and had a warrant to search the property. The voice told me to go fuck myself. Then all hell broke loose.
One second I was standing there beside the door and the next, there was a loud blast and a hole opened in the center. Splinters slowly drifted away from the hole, and hadn't hit the ground when I heard a second blast and a burst of splinters sprayed the side of my face. There was another hole about an inch from my hip.
My training made me turn and run for some cover, so I didn't see the hole the next shot made. I felt it though. It was like someone had hit me in the left thigh with a sledgehammer. That leg stopped working and I fell to the ground, writhing in pain. There were a few more shots from inside the house, but they stopped just as quickly as they had started. I later learned Scotty, the uniform in the back, had just walked in through the unlocked back door and tackled Billy Joe from behind as he stood there firing at the door. Sergeant Millard had called for a bus and was holding gauze pads from the first aid kit against my leg when they dragged Billy Joe out of the house.
I don't remember much after that, just bits and pieces, the EMT telling me I'd be OK, Sergeant Millard saying they'd got the bastard, and some faces looking down at me.
It was dark when I woke up, except I knew I couldn't really be awake. The woman beside my bed was just part of a dream. She had to be a dream, I reasoned, because there was no way a woman would be standing beside the bed in my bedroom. Then I remembered being shot and felt for my leg. I touched bandages just before the woman gently pulled my hand back to my side. I knew then I was awake, the bed wasn't in my bedroom, and the woman had to be a nurse.
"You're in the hospital, Jack, but you're going to be OK. Now go back to sleep."
For some reason, the drugs I was on I suppose, I needed to know her name. I was going to ask, but I drifted back into blackness before I could.
The sunlight hurt my eyes. I remember that very well, as well as I remember that pulling my arm in front of my face to block it caused a sharp pain.
"Hold still, Jack, or you'll pull out the needle. I'll close the blinds."
The voice was familiar. It was the same voice from last night, and now I recognized it.
The room got darker and a few seconds later, Vicky was looking down at me and smiling.
"Yes, it's me. How you feeling?"
"I feel like shit. Where am I anyway."
"Memorial. You've been in intensive care for the last two days, but you're going to be OK."
"Doesn't sound much like you mean that."
"Jack, you were shot ... in the thigh. The bullet hit your artery and you almost bled to death before the EMT's got there. They didn't think you'd live through the surgery."
"Your leg ... the bullet shattered your thigh bone. It took Dr. Chong six hours."
"Six hours to what ... not cut it off? Don't tell me he did that."
"No. You still have your leg. He put in some metal plates, I think. I don't know all the details. They wouldn't tell me much because I'm not family."
Vicky put her hand on mine.
"Dr. Chong always comes around about one. He can explain everything to you. Right now, you need to rest some more, so go to sleep. I'll be right here if you need anything."
A nurse woke me up to take my blood pressure, and Dr. Chong walked in about the time she finished. He looked very Chinese; he talked very Chicago.
"Detective Taylor, I heard you woke up. They treating you OK?"
"I guess so. I think I've been asleep most of the time."
"How much do you remember?"
"I remember getting shot, if that's what you mean. After that, not much until I woke up ... I think it was last night, but I really have no idea. Vicky was there and told me I was in the hospital and would be OK. Then she told me to go back to sleep, so I did. The next thing I remember is this morning. Vicky told me a little about my leg, but said you'd tell me the rest."
Dr. Chong took a breath, and his smile turned somber.
"We almost lost you. The bullet went through your femur and nicked your femoral artery. If Officer Millard hadn't acted as fast as he did, you wouldn't be talking to me now. You'd lost a lot of blood by the time the EMT's got you here, and it took almost three hours to get you stable enough for surgery.
"Your femur is held together by metal plates and screws. You'll have to take it easy for a while, but If things go OK, you'll have physical therapy for several weeks. You'll probably be able to walk with a cane in six months or so."
Dr. Chong looked at me with that somber face doctors put on when they have to tell a patient bad news.
"It's doubtful I'll be able to release you back to duty ... ever. Your leg was just torn up too badly. I might be able to let you go back to a desk, but not back on the street."
"Detective Taylor, your leg will probably be a little shorter, and running might cause it to break again. I don't want to discourage you from trying, but you need to know the facts so you can do some planning. Consider yourself lucky your girlfriend isn't going to your funeral instead of downstairs getting you a couple of magazines."
"You've got a real keeper there, by the way."
He told me a little more about what to expect, and then left. A few minutes later, Vicky came in with a bag from the gift shop.
"What'd he say?"
"I think you already know, don't you?"
"No, not for real. All he'd say is that you probably wouldn't be going back to being a detective again. That's what he told you, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Oh, he said I could ride a desk, but I'd go crazy doing that."
"Well, right now, you just need to think about getting well again. You can think about another job later. I'll sit here in case you need any-"
"Vicky, why are you here ... and how did you manage it? They only let family into intensive care."
She grinned sheepishly.
"Getting here was easy. I, uh ... I know a couple men pretty high up in the police department. I heard on the news a detective had been shot, so I called one of them to see if it was you. He told me it was and which hospital you were in. I know one of the men who run the hospital, too, so I called him and asked if I could get in to see you. He told them to let me stay as long as I wanted."
"That night ... when I got hurt ... when you came over that night, I didn't have anybody, but you took care of me and stayed until you thought I'd be OK. You called me the next day, too, just to be sure.
"When we were talking that night, you said you didn't have any family either. I just wanted to do the same thing you did for me. You're not mad, are you?"
"No, I'm not mad. Dr. Chong seems to think you're my girlfriend. How'd he get that idea?"
"I had to tell them some reason I wanted to be here, and being your girlfriend seemed a pretty good one at the time."
"A cop and a hook ... I mean, an escort. Now that's a pair and a half."
"I'm a former escort. You were right about it being dangerous, and besides, I'm twenty-eight. Most men like their dates younger, so it was only a matter of time anyway. I haven't been out since that night."
Vicky went home that afternoon, but she came to see me every day, and when I got in a regular room, she'd sneak in a burger and fries for me. A week after the surgery, they had me using crutches, and a few days after that, Vicky wheeled me out to her car and took me to my apartment. She was frowning as she fussed with the blanket she insisted on putting over my legs.