The Case of the Paper Roses: a Michelle Hammer Mystery

by Vernon Welles

Copyright© 2011 by Vernon Welles

Mystery Story: Michelle learns she's marked for death by the son of a recently deceased mob boss who blames her for his father's demise. Lured into a trap, she must outwit her captors and escape before she's tortured and murdered.

Tags: Ma/Fa   Mystery   Violent  

Looking busy isn't as easy as you might think; especially when you're a janitor ... excuse me, Custodial Engineer. I was undercover at Mad Marvin's House 'O' Electronics because someone on staff was taking a five finger discount on various gadgets and falsifying the shipping manifests. I figured there had to be two or more people involved and one was in management. I decided to catch the actual thieves first and get them to rat off their accomplices.

So here I was wearing a thrift shop blouse and skirt, ratty B-ball Jordan's and my hair done up in a bandanna dutifully pushing a broom and looking inconspicuous. I've found that people have a tendency to look right through custodial personnel like they weren't there, so it was a perfect cover for surveillance.

I had been on the job for a week now and all I had to show for it was a growing dislike for the smell of disinfectant. Somebody must have tipped the Mystery Shopper off, and I was just thinking about calling it quits and heading for McGinty's and a cold one when I saw some nerdy looking guy in a short sleeve white shirt and black pants in an aisle of the warehouse.

I'd seen him once through the glass of Marvin's office and from the look on Marv's face at the time he wasn't pleased. There was something funny about the way the nerd would look in a carton, check his clipboard and move on. I set the broom aside and peered around the corner just in time to see Joe Clipboard walking back down the aisle towards me pulling a cart. He'd stop at a carton, take something from it and put it in the cart. He cherry picked his way through four aisles until the cart was full, then pulled it to a van parked at the loading ramp and up inside.

I was busy taking pictures with my phone the whole time; if only a third of them came out we'd have enough evidence to convict him. He threw a tarp over his loot, shut the doors, drove to the employees' parking lot and strolled off to lunch. I headed for Marv's office and filled him in. He showed me mug shots of all his employees and I picked out the Computer Repair Supervisor.

I was sitting there when Marv called him in and confronted him. Wally denied it. They argued for a while, and then I interrupted with what I had seen and had shots of. Wally turned white as his shirt and bolted. I caught him halfway across the parking lot. He started crying like a four year old as I led him back to the office.

When the law showed up he squealed on one of the women in Accounting so they hauled her away too. I found out later that they had the hots for each other and were saving up to ditch their spouses and split for parts unknown. Ain't love grand?

Michelle's the name, Michelle Hammer. My friends call me Puss. It's a long story. I'm an ex-cop turned P.I. and I enjoy my work. It's not particularly exciting or dangerous like you see on TV and in the movies, but that's fine with me.

One morning, however, everything changed.

I was drinking my morning coffee when my cell phone rang and I saw it was Lieutenant Bud Ramsey calling. The Ram and I go back a few years when he was a patrol sergeant and I was a beat cop. We'd each responded to a 10-15 and a 10-32 in a bad part of town where some local youth were contesting who had the rights to sell 'ganja' on street corners.

In the midst of calming things down some gangsta wannabe popped a cap into Ram's shoulder. I was closest so I nailed the punk and he went down like a thermometer in a meat locker. Ram wasn't badly wounded and the punk had an express pass to make new buddies in the slammer.

Ram and I were pals after that.

I rang him back and he didn't bother with pleasantries.

"Puss? You better get over here. You're not going to believe this." I got the address and headed over. I parked the Z beside two slick top cruisers and walked up two flights to a dingy apartment with yellow tape across the door.

The body of a white male about mid-thirties hung by his neck from a hook in the ceiling, his face the color of a pomegranate and nothing below his feet but air; how the hell did he ... Ram saw the look on my face "It's a weird one. We figure he's been there about four days. The Coroner's taking his sweet time getting here and CSI's busier than a cat covering up shit on the sidewalk." I looked around the room. It was an efficiency apartment, just a few sticks of furniture and nothing near the corpse to stand on. There was a large dark spot on the rug under the body that looked odd. I touched it and it was cold. It wasn't bodily fluids so it must be... "I think I know how he did it, Ram." "Huh? How you figure?" "He stood on a block of ice until it melted. He must have wanted to die real bad. He slowly strangled." "Jeezus! He must have been a loony." "I guess, or doped to the gills. Why'd you call me over here anyway, to play Sherlock Holmes?

"He had one of your business cards in his wallet. You know a Mark Hess?" "Never heard of him; maybe he picked it up at McGinty's, he always keeps some behind the bar." "Could be, anyway that's the deal so far. I'll keep you posted if anything comes up." Right about then the CSI team and the Coroner showed up, so I said adios and split. Driving back to the office I was wondering why that Hess joker had my card on him. Was he gonna call me about a case or what? Then some dimwit in a Land Rover cut me off and I forgot about it.

The next two weeks were spent working for teed-off spouses, serving papers to folks who didn't want to be served and generally keeping busy. Most of it's mundane, but it pays the bills.

I was tucking into a plate of colcannon and sausage at McGinty's when my phone went off. It was Ram.

"Hey Ram, wuzzup?" "Got another one, Puss." "Another one what?" "A corpse with your business card." "Give me twenty minutes." "I'll be here."

I pulled up next to Ram's sedan parked in front of a unit in a seedy No-Tell Motel out on the main highway. The door was open to room number seven so I breezed in.

Ram met me and said "CSI's been here and gone. We're waiting on the Coroner. It's another weird one." The corpse of a middle aged man wearing boxer shorts lay on the bed; most of his face, brain and skull decorating the headboard and the wall, a shotgun stood in the corner, barrel down.

"We thought it was a hit at first," Ram began, "But only his prints were on the gun and the door was locked and chained. The window's painted shut and there's no other way in here. We found your card in his wallet." "Have an ID?" "John Stuart Malone, 'Sketchy' to his friends, a small time hood with a long rap sheet. Know him?" "Nope, you ever ID that other guy?" "Yeah, I forget his name but he was like this punk, hanging around the edges of society preying on innocent people. No loss." "My cards seem to be making the rounds. I smell fish." "Me too, but I can't make the connection." "How'd the gun get in the corner like that?" "Not sure. The theory's that he put the barrel in his mouth, pulled the trigger with his big toe and his death spasm flung the shotgun in the corner, weird, huh?" "Yeah, weird, thanks for keeping me in the loop, Ram." "Anytime, Puss, watch your back out there."

When I returned to my office there was a long, white box leaning against the door with a pink ribbon around it. No card and no name on the box. I stepped back down the hall and flung a shoe at it. It fell over and I waited a minute, then picked it up and took it in my office.

I cut the ribbon and opened the box. Inside, wrapped in tissue, were a dozen Black roses; the symbol of death. They weren't real but made of paper. Someone didn't want these beauties to wilt. I closed the lid and sat back in my office chair; someone was dogging my trail and evidently wanted me dead.

I considered calling Ram, but thought the better of it. It could be a prank or some delivery service was confused, but I really didn't think so. Besides, I knew there'd be nothing to trace on the box or the flowers, so I threw them in the waste basket. I hadn't used the remote starter on the Z since the weather warmed up, but I thought I'd better use it again.

Another week passed with no more flowers or dead punks showing up. Then I got a call from Slick Tony saying he had some information I might be interested in and to meet him in McGinty's in one hour.

Slick Tony's given name is Anthony Rizzoli, but everyone calls him Slick because he's always in the know about anything going down in the world of crime. I saved his bacon once when I saw two goons thumping someone in an alley and decided to even things up a bit.

I sucker punched the larger one in the kidneys; he went to his knees and curled up, the other guy ran. Tony was a mess, but wasn't seriously hurt.

"I never thought a broad would save my ass," he muttered, mopping blood from his face with a handkerchief.

"You're welcome, asshole," I spat and turned to leave.

"Wait a minute, I didn't mean nothin'. Who are ya? I owe ya one." He blinked when I told him I was an off-duty cop and said if I ever needed information give him a call. He scrawled a number on my pocket pad and went in search of an all-night drugstore.

Now that I was off the force, he'd warmed up to me a bit and we'd even had a beer together. He lived in a shadow land between crime and the law providing information for money or favors, but he was reliable and usually right.

When I walked in McGinty's back door, Tony was sitting in the last booth. He always planned for a quick exit. I slid in across from him and he said "I'm takin' a helluva chance talking to you, but I owe you one." I held up two fingers for Shorty to being us beers and said "So what's up?" "Ricky Martino wants you dead." "I should know him?" "You knew his old man Carmine." "The Shadow Don, yeah, I remember him. He's dead, died in prison." "Uh huh, and you helped put him there." "Yeah, so?" "Ricky's his kid." "What's his beef? His father died of pneumonia in the slammer." "He blames you for sendin' his old man up the river and he wants revenge. He's a 25 year old coke head with a bunch of wise guys still loyal to his old man's memory to do his dirty work. I'm tellin' ya Puss, he's fuckin' crazy, smart as shit, but crazy." "So he's behind those suicides?" "Yep, those were a couple small timers that'd pissed him off, so he used them to show you he means business. I tell ya he's fuckin nuts. He did that to scare ya. He's seen one too many of them slasher flics. He thinks he's bein' clever." I thought about the roses. He'd sent them. He was stalking me.

"So what else do ya know?" "Not a lot, except he's cookin' up somethin' nasty. He has these screamin' fits and busts stuff up. Some of his boys are beginnin' to wonder if they've backed the wrong horse. He's lettin' the dope, whores, gamblin' and hijackin' businesses go to hell and they don't like it. There's no money comin' in. Just watch your back Puss, is all I'm sayin'." "Thanks Tony," I said, fishing a couple twenties out of my purse and handing them to him. He grabbed them and said. "Thanks I'll keep in touch," and was gone.

Shorty brought our beers and I drank both. Some crazy-ass mob boss' son was out to get me for something I didn't do, lovely. I felt the cold steel of the 9mm Ruger in my purse and figured I better start carrying an extra ammo clip.

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