Sex Story: Chapter 10 - I'm Winter Jennings, 32, former police officer, current private detective. A now-single mother with a horny son, a friendly-enough ex. My father is about to retire as a respected homicide captain here in Kansas City, Missouri. My work is usually routine, mostly computer-driven. Except when it isn't. Revenge porn, a cult, a wife beater, insurance scams, pimps. A particularly nasty psychiatrist. On a personal front, everyone who knows me well, knows I like sex. A lot.
I have eyes on the ground all over the Kansas City Metro area. The youngest, 10-years old, is Buster Fagin in Raytown. Sarah Cunningham, a Rockhurst University student kept me informed of Hugo Blenheim’s whereabouts that fateful morning where I was half scared to death and still managed not to pee in my jeans.
One of my favorite freelancers -- Tony Gonzales -- lives and plies his questionable trade in downtown KC. He’s short, handsome in a Black Irish way. And he is Irish, his name is pronounced gone-zales. But Tony is fluent in Spanish and pronounces his name like Speedy Gonzales when he thinks it gives him an edge.
Tony’s a ladies man and always tries to put the make on me. When I was single. When I was married. When I was divorced. Now that I’m married again. Doesn’t matter to Tony. If you have a pussy, he’s right there.
I was tempted once. Well, more than once. Charming devil. But I try to keep my personal and professional lives segregated.
He’s my height, 5’ 7” -- oops, 5’ 7 1/2” -- and about twice my weight. But even in his plumpness, he’s a good looking cad.
Tony, to be generous, is an information broker. Well connected and he has a network like I do. Except much larger and much closer to the ground. It’s made up mostly of punks and grifters who whisper to him for small fees. $5 to $50 depending on Tony’s judgement. A generous bonus for something really juicy.
He’s a cheerful liar, a sneak thief, a blackmailer, a rogue. But he has good sources. He must know a lot of commercial drivers because he usually has something for sale that fell off a truck.
I pay Tony for information through dinners out on the town. He has a hearty appetite for food and wine. And he’s good company, a bon vivant, a raconteur, always ready with the latest smutty jokes.
Tonight’s dinner would set me back. I try not to eat at chain restaurants, but Tony selected the Capital Grille on the Plaza. As chains go, it’s a good one.
This Capital Grille is on Jefferson, a street that has been central to my life recently. It’s next door to that Bank of America branch where I verbally bitch-slapped Wolfgang Kant. Revenge porn.
It’s across the street from Zocalo, a Mexican restaurant that Walker and I enjoy. And now Vanessa and Mindy do too. Plus, the Capital Grille is right at the intersection where Carole Simmons drove her Tahoe into Walker’s Roadmaster.
I didn’t mention any of this to Tony. I simply smiled as I removed his paw from my thigh for the second time since we’d started nibbling on our steak tartare.
He was in a dark suit with his usual spread collar. Starched, snow white shirt without a single wrinkle. Gold cufflinks in some intricate pattern. Large diamond rings on each of his little fingers. A thick Rolex, real for all I knew. A muted tie and gleaming black oxfords.
He glowed with prosperity, our Tony. Which means nothing. He could be coming off a big score or be down to his last dollar. He’d look and act the same.
I wasn’t above using sex. Walker had grinned when he saw me in one of what he calls my boob dresses. This one blue to match my eyes. It’s tailored so I can accidentally show full nipple when I adjust my shoulders and arms. Or not, if the situation doesn’t warrant it.
At the door Walker said, “Winter.”
I grinned and turned in profile. Made an almost invisible move and gave him a brief glance at my bare right breast.
“Who’s the lucky guy?”
“Tony. Tony Gonzales.”
Walker nodded. He’s met Tony a few times. Knows the guy has the hots for me. Also knows it won’t do Tony any good. Especially now that I’m married.
The tuxedoed waiter brought our entrees after Tony and I had polished off a dozen oysters on the half shell with what I considered a mediocre mignonette sauce. Tony followed with a wedge of iceberg lettuce with blue cheese and smoked bacon. I swiped the bacon before Tony could react.
He’s ordered the pound and a half porterhouse, a good choice. While it would set me back 52 bucks, it wasn’t the most expensive steak on the menu.
I usually order the sea bass, but I knew Tony expected red wine so I sacrificed my personal yearnings and settled for double cut lamb chops. Both Tony and I specified rare.
We shared au gratin potatoes, French beans and creamed spinach.
I would skip desert, Tony wouldn’t. Coconut cream pie.
The tab, with two bottles of a good Barolo and an appropriate tip, was under $500. But not by a lot. The fact that I could write it off when Gertie Oppenheimer filed this quarter’s taxes helped. A little.
Tony waited until we were in the cigar phase, “So, whatcha want, babe?”
The wine and brandies had mellowed him, but he wasn’t remotely inebriated. Some men are like that. His palm was on my thigh again. I had given him a nanosecond nipple flash when I first sat down. So brief he couldn’t be sure he saw what he thought he did. Hoped he did.
I glanced at his watch, 10:15. Vanessa would be here in 15 minutes.
“Tony, I need to talk with someone who knows stamps.”
I could have said coins or unicorns or locomotives. Tony wouldn’t be fazed. And would know someone.
“Tell me about it.”
“There was a theft. Didn’t make the papers.”
“Modell’s Stamps. Overland Park.”
I wasn’t surprised that he’d heard. He’s in the business of hearing.
I nodded. Now that the meeting was in session, I would say as little as possible. Although a knowledge sponge like Tony would probably learn things even by my silences.
Tony closed his eyes as he enjoyed his cigar. “So, your client got taken. Probably an insurance company. Old man Modell didn’t do it. But you know that.”
He thought some more, eyes still closed. “Okay. Normally it’s a thousand bucks to introduce you to the guy who knows Mortimer. If the goods are gonna move in ... say a 500-mile radius, Mortimer’s your man. Consider it my wedding present.”
Bullshit, a thousand bucks. But that goes with the Tony territory. He’ll oversell the value of everything he has.
Vanessa swept in, the room coalesced around her. All eyes followed her. She presented one cheek, then the other, to Tony. Who stood gracefully in that way some fat men do and placed both hands on her shoulders. She was three inches taller, more in heels.
A taffeta slip dress, that whispered as she walked.
She turned to me smiling, love in her eyes. We embraced and deep kissed, just for a couple of seconds. Then Vanessa and I sat back down. She smiled again at Tony, “I’m the designated driver.”
Turned to me, “Did you get what you needed, or are we going to have to fuck him?”
Tony chortled, a rare loss of composure for him. Vanessa has that effect.
Before we were married, Vanessa and I discussed our living arrangements. She had her loft above BEAR, I had mine in the Wrigley. I definitely wanted to stay in the Crossroads, so did Walker. But I didn’t want to impose my wishes on her.
Vanessa smiled at me, “Winter, my home is where you are.”
That is, I think, love.
One night at dinner, Vanessa put her hand on Walker’s, “Winter should cum every night.”
“Um. Of course,” he said with more confidence than he felt. We had no idea where Vanessa was going.
She continued to smile at my son, “I can’t be here every night. You know where her toys are.”
It wasn’t a question, he’d explored my room, my clothes, my belongings. “Yes.”
Vanessa left it at that.
Mindy hid her surprise at the unusual exchange. Since Vanessa married me, Mindy is becoming better at masking her incredulity.
Sometimes we just need pie. A normal, human necessity. Nothing else would do, only pie. Fortunately, the Town Topic on Broadway is open 24 hours a day. And their house-made pies are legendary.
Simple pleasures -- a slice of pie with ice cream or cheese and a cup of strong coffee in a thick white mug -- are as good as sex. Well, no.
One Tuesday night Hugo Blenheim woke me up. That is, a memory of that nasty piece of shit, wife torturer did. I was wide awake. Pie. Because it was 2:30 in the morning, I tried to slip out of bed without waking Vanessa.
No such luck. When she heard “Pie” she was already brushing out her hair. She’s not really a pie fanatic, one of her few shortcomings, but she knows how I am on a quest. We went in to wake Walker, never an easy task. Next the three of us, Walker under his umbrella, Vanessa and me shielded by a larger one, trudged toward the holy grail.
Walker and I sipped coffee, Vanessa had hot water with lemon. She had gotten out of bed, walked through the incessant Fall rain, to drink scented water. For the pleasure of our company.
Outside I took her in my arms and kissed her deeply. Walker held the multi-colored umbrella over us. Family.
Mindy asked, no subjects were off limits in our home, “Why does Walker’s pee go out sideways? Sometimes?”
Vanessa who had never been with a man said, “The penis swells, even when it’s mostly soft. That can redirect the flow.”
Walker still blushes, but not as much as before. Which is a good thing, because Mindy, Vanessa and I will talk about any subject under the sun. Including every detail of Walker’s sex life. And, apparently, which direction his pee flows.
Mindy, ever growing in confidence, ever more resembling her mother, was gradually, but steadily taking charge of our son. Walker, physically taller than his little girlfriend, mature for his age, was still almost two years younger. Mindy remained, kind, friendly, loving. But she was becoming briskly more efficient with Walker. And he was, without seeming to be pussy-whipped, becoming more acquiescent.
I had mixed feelings about the changing dynamics. Happy for Mindy’s emerging confidence, but concerned about our son’s ... masculinity.
Vanessa was blithely nonchalant, “Babylove, don’t worry about our Walker. He’s letting Mindy spread her wings.”
Chubb insures paintings, photographs, drawings ... fine art of all kinds. Including valuable postage stamps.
Which is how I came to treat Tony Gonzales to a steak dinner at the Capital Grille. I knew nothing about stamps except I like the self-adhesive kind. And that I never could find a stamp when I needed one.
But Tony, the information broker, would know someone in Stamp World.
Chubb, in the form of Freeman Potter, hired me because they didn’t want to go to the authorities. Because I had a small reputation for discretion. And, I hope, for success.
Chubb’s client was Modell Stamps. Not Modell Fine Stamps. Not Rare Stamps. Just plain Stamps. Arthur Modell had owned, and grown, his shop for 52 years. His reputation was sterling.
Freeman Potter told me, “Mr. Modell almost had a heart attack when he opened the Fairleigh album. Mr. Modell had personally sold Parker Fairleigh every stamp in that particular album. And about half of them had been swapped out for stamps worth far less.”
“Mr. Fairleigh hadn’t noticed?”
“No, I don’t think so. Well, I don’t know. He’s a ... casual collector. It’s more of a hobby. Like skeet shooting. He probably has a Purdy that costs more than a new car, but he’ll use it only a few times a year.” Freeman’s mouth turned down in distaste, “A dabbler.”
Freeman didn’t look like an insurance executive. He was maybe 5’ 3” and certainly over 200 pounds. Well barbered, sleek as a seal. He had come to me even though Chubb has their own investigators. Good ones too. “They don’t gossip, they’re discrete, but...”
“But Parker Fairleigh.”
“Yes. He’s unpredictable.”
Unpredictable is an interesting word for the supposedly retired mobster formerly known as Bobby ‘Batshit’ Moran. Batshit as in batshit crazy. He had honed his act over the years, polished his manners, tried to control his legendary temper.
Fairleigh now lived in a luxury home in the Hallbrook development, in Johnson County. Fucking Kansas.
But word is that back in the day he had personally gone Medieval on enemies, rivals, those who might have betrayed him. The good guys -- local, state, and federal -- had never been able to nail him. He may have been a crazed-out slime ball who went basement-wild with someone using his fists, feet, teeth, but he was smart enough never to have been caught.
Oh, the Post Office wanted him too. Mailing body parts to surviving family members is frowned upon.
As did the IRS for more standardized reasons.
But he’s free as a fucking bird.
It’s probably just the stuff of urban scuttlebutt, but the talk on the street was that Moran, now Fairleigh, would strip naked and go after his prey with all the fury of an ancient Cossack whose daughter you had just raped.
And now someone had stolen his stamps.
Since she moved in with us, Vanessa has slowly changed our lives. For the better. She didn’t make it a project, didn’t set goals and tactics. It was more like the gravitational pull from an unseen star. Clothes, wine, cuisine, all upgraded subtly and slowly.
But more than the measurable progress, Vanessa altered our perception of others, our awareness of the previously overlooked. The poor, the unhappy, the needy.
Looking back, I believe it took someone like Vanessa, with her outsider’s perspective, to open our eyes. Yes, she had been born in the US, but she always had her family’s tragic history in her mind.
Vanessa changed our family dynamic in a positive way.
One small example. She carries a roll of one dollar bills with her at all times. And gives one to everyone who asks for a handout. Once Mindy said, “She’s just going to spend it on crack.”
“Whatever she needs. I’m not here to judge, Mindy.”
Like Sister Mary. Providing shelter to anyone who shows up.
One other example, even smaller. We were walking to Town Topic for breakfast one morning and Vanessa spotted a raggedy tennis shoe lying beside a curb.
“I bet there’s a story there.”
Indeed. How does someone lose one shoe?
My stamp guy, courtesy of Tony Gonzales, was named Mortimer. First or last name, I don’t know. He was tall, stooped, cadaverous, bald, morose. Spoke so softly I often had to say, “Huh?”
“Mr. Modell is straight as they come. Schmuck.”
But I detected some admiration for the poor stamp dealer. Honest all his life. And now someone dishonest was fucking him over.
When Chubb had first approached me, “$2,000 a day for three days. Just take a look at it,” I agreed. And immediately told Bear about the Parker Fairleigh connection.
I love that Bear didn’t tell me how dangerous it might become. Didn’t caution me, didn’t tell me to be careful. Bear knows me and trusts me. And believes in me.
He just said, “Batshit.”
“Well, yeah, there’s that.”
Word on the Street was that Bobby Batshit Moran personally chewed off the genitals of his enemies. Then had them delivered in plastic Ziplock freezer bags to the guy’s children. In the schoolyard.
Probably just punk gossip, another urban myth. I hope. But it flowed, quite effectively, in the rumor stream of a certain segment of the local talent. And, it had me thinking. Another call to Bear? No, I was Winter Jennings, once again the cool girl, the one who didn’t pee in her jeans when she was terrified. Gulp.
Mortimer’s whisper-voice said, “Modell knows his stamps. Knows Fairleigh’s stamps because he bought them for him, sold them to the fucker. He would be able to spot the switches in an instant, different errors, imperfs, specialized material. Even the way they’re mounted in the album.”
He peered through his black-rimmed bifocals, “Inside job, has to be.”
Then Mournful Mortimer said something that later gave me an idea. “Stamps are portable. Like diamonds. Fairleigh’s were valuable, but not like the Inverted Jenny.”
The solution would turn out to be both tawdry and scary.
Mindy wanted to change schools and move in with us full time. Mindy’s parents, plus Vanessa and I, knew this wasn’t a good idea. Too many eggs in the Walker basket.
Rebecca told me, “I understand it. I get it. Mindy is in love with Walker. Or at least in love with the idea of being in love with him. Then there’s the ... uniqueness of your career. It seems so glamorous to a teenage suburban girl.”
Rebecca said, “And add in Vanessa. She’s unlike anyone Mindy’s ever known.”
I smiled, “Me too.”
“It’s not that Phillip and I are trying to cling to Mindy. She’ll be going away to college soon. But ... I don’t know, Winter, I want her to need us more. Need her parents more. She’s still fragile.”
“She’s not substituting Vanessa and me for you guys. But I agree, she shouldn’t move here full time. I’d have her wait until school’s out, then move in for the summer. Like last year.”
Rebecca nodded, “A fair compromise. And she’ll have something to look forward to. Deal.” We smiled and shook hands.
Vanessa started taking Walker and Mindy on cultural excursions. The kids were already familiar with the Crossroads galleries so Valerie started taking them further afield.
She had a Jag, two seater, so I traded my F-150 with her. On weekends they roamed from Kansas City, Kansas to Parkville, up to Liberty, even to that fucking Johnson County. Where I had to grit my teeth and admit there were some seriously good places.
Like the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. Last time we went, a couple of pieces blew me away -- an abstract robe that is puddled on the floor and rises up like a metallic garment waiting for a scarecrow to don it. The robe is made entirely of stainless steel dog tags.
The Nerman has an American Indian presence and one of the sculptures, a colorfully beaded Everlast punching bag called “American Girl,” is one I’d be proud to hang in our home.
Vanessa didn’t have to point out the poignancy of a punching bag named Girl to the kids.
So they roamed far and wide, but Vanessa gradually zoned in on modern. Post modern. Contemporary. She told me, “Walker gets museum fatigue after about half an hour. But he, Mindy too, they really enjoy hanging out at the KCAI.”
Kansas City Art Institute. With its magnificent Vanderslice Hall, a classic Flemish Queen Anne style of architecture.
“Do you think either of them has a future in art?”
Vanessa kissed me on the cheek, “No, baby, not really. But they’ll have richer lives with art in it.”
Her kind way of telling me the kids don’t have much artistic talent.
I was pretty damn good as a single mother. Even when Mindy started spending so much time with us. But it’s simply better for the kids having both Vanessa and me here.
We no longer masturbate Walker at his bedtime. The wrist cast and sling are history. But we still give him his goodnight kiss and a casual parting squeeze. Then Vanessa added a friendly goodnight kiss to the squeeze. So now I do that too.
It’s not remotely the beginning of a blowjob, not even close. Just a brief brush with our lips. And a nanosecond of tongue.
A sweet nothing, really. But Walker seems to enjoy it. He holds his breath. For both of us.