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Authors: Ellen Byerrum

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General

Shot Through Velvet (4 page)

BOOK: Shot Through Velvet
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“That’s telling her,” Sykes laughed.
“Okay, back away, people,” Armstrong ordered. “Y’all will have your moment in the spotlight. And don’t talk about this with each other anymore. I’m sure y’all’ve been jawing plenty, but it stops now.”
The whispering in the background did not abate. “How are you going to go about the investigation?” Sykes asked. “You gonna grill us all?”

Grill
is an unattractive word, Sykes. Sounds like we’re gonna barbecue you. The Black Martin PD conducts witness interviews in an orderly fashion.”
“How can the department handle this one?” York asked.
“We’re not. I’m calling in the state troopers,” Armstrong said. “This kind of mess is right up their alley. Let them barbecue the witnesses.”
Lacey looked at Vic for explanation. “Up to them,” he said. “Smaller jurisdictions call in the state police for crimes that require special investigatory skills.”
“We got the investigatory skills,” Armstrong said, slightly affronted. “We just don’t have the manpower this kind of nonsense is gonna take.” Before Lacey could process that information, Armstrong turned to other matters. He jotted notes and peered at the body. He addressed Nicholson. “Will this blue dye wash off old Rod?”
“Not any time soon. Looks like he’s been in the tub long enough for the color to set,” Nicholson said. “These dyes are permanent. If you get it on your hands and skin, you can have a dye shadow for days.” He sighed deeply. “If he’s been in there a while, I’d guess he’ll arrive at the pearly gates in what we like to call Midnight Blue.”
“If he’s been in it overnight, he’ll be cooked,” Inez added. “When the heat’s on over two hundred degrees, it’s like a crock-pot.”
“No, Inez, it was just standing dye. These vats were all turned off over the weekend. Couldn’t have been hot when he went in.” Nicholson stroked his chin and pursed his lips. “And if the heat was on, there would be a different smell.”
“Thank God for small blessings,” Armstrong said.
Lacey wrinkled her nose. There was a definite acrid aroma in the dye house. It reminded her a little of a nail salon. She had assumed it was just the chemicals in the dye, but now she caught a strong whiff of death.
“Rod Gibbs will never get past the pearly gates. He’ll be a blue devil in hell,” Blythe claimed. “Make a nice contrast to all them red devils.”
The cop crossed his arms. “He’ll amuse the medical examiner, for damn sure.”
“You can’t keep me out! I’m the press!” someone yelled.
Lacey couldn’t see the front doors through the little throng of witnesses and cops, but she could hear someone complaining. The local reporter had arrived.
She got a glimpse of a slightly built man in his late twenties with a receding hairline. He was arguing with Officer York just inside the entryway. She wondered how he’d found out about the body so fast. One of the velvet workers or one of the cops?
It’s good to have sources.
She just didn’t want the competition to have all the good sources.
“No one gets in to a crime scene who isn’t already in. You know that, Will,” York said.

The Black Martin Daily Ledger
has a right to know!” he shouted. “Tell me one thing, York. Is the body really blue? I heard it was Rod Gibbs. Can you verify that? And I want a picture.”
“He’ll get a picture when hell freezes over,” Armstrong bellowed. “We take the pictures here, Adler.”
York hustled the man out and locked the factory doors. The state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation was in Richmond. It would be a while before the state troopers and their crime scene van showed up at the factory. The local cops ordered everyone to different locations in the factory so they wouldn’t swap stories or agree on their reactions to seeing the dead man, though Lacey thought it might be a little too late. She was irritated to be left cooling her heels while Armstrong allowed Vic, a former chief of police, to accompany him to look at the rudimentary security measures that had been in place. Some ancient video cameras would be dusted for prints. It was unclear whether they would prove helpful. It was also unclear whether the cameras were even working.
Lacey was ensconced in one of the glass-windowed offices with a view onto the factory floor. Though she could see flashes from the police cameras in the dye house, no one was around to see her. She fretted that the local reporter might already be filing his own story. It might not be accurate, but it might scoop her own, practically eyewitness, account. She thought about it. Although Armstrong had cautioned the witnesses not to talk with each other, he didn’t tell Lacey she couldn’t call her newspaper or her editor. She pulled out her cell phone and dialed Douglas MacArthur Jones.
“Mac, it’s Lacey.” There was a pause on the other end. He wasn’t expecting her to call. “You remember. Funny name? Fashion beat?”
“Tell me now, Smithsonian,” Mac said. “Do I open the Maalox, or is this a social call?”
“Well—” She hesitated. This was always the hard part. “Does Maalox count as a social drug?”
“You’re writing a feature, Smithsonian. A simple feature, tugging at our readers’ heartstrings. Workers out of jobs, fashion down the tubes. That’s all. Right? That’s the deal. No dead bodies. No problems.” Mac was trying to be funny, but his voice was questioning. He always jumped to dire conclusions. Not that he wasn’t sometimes justified. She wasn’t supposed to have any reason to call in.
That’s what comes of having a history.
Lacey took a deep breath. She could imagine Mac unscrewing the cap of the blue bottle of antacid and taking a big slug.
“I’m waiting, Smithsonian. We’re on deadline here.”
“All right. Just let me get this out. Yes, there’s a dead body.”
“There is no dead body in this story, Smithsonian,” Mac said.
“Do you want to hear this or not?”
He moaned with dramatic flair. “Go ahead.”
“A man was pulled out of a tub full of blue dye here at the velvet factory, and, yes, the corpse was dyed blue. Midnight Blue is the exact shade. Looks like homicide,” Lacey said in a rush. “Name of the victim is Rodney Gibbs. And yes, he was the guy I was supposed to interview. And Houston, we have another problem.”
“Beyond the fact that you can’t go a month without stumbling over a dead body? And not just a body,
a murdered
body? And check my hearing here, Smithsonian: Did you say the victim is blue, as in the
color
blue? Not black like me or white like you?” Mac was actually a little of both, but she didn’t quibble.
“Yes, he is blue. Like a crayon is blue. And I like that rhyming thing you do.”
“I do not rhyme and we’re wasting time. Now talk to me, Smithsonian.”
“I didn’t ‘stumble’ over him. He’s actually hanging out to dry. But listen, Mac, here’s the rub: The dead guy was part owner of the last velvet factory in Virginia. But so is our publisher, Claudia Darnell.”
“What the hell—”
“I didn’t know about Claudia. Turns out she’s from here—Black Martin, Virginia, where the factory is. Did you know that? The factory is closing, she owns a stake in it, and people down here blame her and this dead blue guy. She could be involved somehow.”
“Smithsonian, when you put your foot in it, you really—”
“So I want to know, conflict-of-interestwise, what does this mean for my story? A disclaimer or what? Do you want me to forget this feature? It’s visual, Mac. Very visual. I know how you like visual.”
There was a pause. Lacey could envision Mac wiping sweat off his chocolate brown forehead, his eyebrows dancing a troubled tango. She heard his irritated whistle. Lacey was glad she wasn’t there.
“Keep on the story. We’ll do full disclosure. Claudia may be part owner, but we won’t hide that, especially with a death on the premises. A particularly lurid death, the kind that only fashion reporter Lacey Smithsonian can find.”
“That sounds suspiciously like that sarcasm thing,” Lacey said.
“Now send me what you can about this royal blue mess.”
“A little tricky, Mac. My laptop is in the car, I’m sequestered awaiting questioning, and the cops might come back at any moment and tell me not to talk to you. And there’s a local reporter who might be writing something for the neighborhood rag right now. But he wasn’t lucky enough to be a witness, like me.”
“Great. That’s just great,” he snarled. “Give me the facts. I’ll write a brief. We’ll have something on the Web in twenty minutes, nothing razzle-dazzle, just a brief. And remember, Smithsonian, this murder, as rainbow-hued as it is, is
not
a big story, not in D.C. You are a long way from the District. But we can’t ignore it either, not while you’re there working on the human-interest side of fashion. Human interest, not homicide,” Mac reiterated for her benefit. “And what about your column?”
Officer York entered the corner of her vision, pacing the factory floor, followed by a newcomer. Lacey assumed he was from the state police.
“Ma’am, you better not be talking on that phone,” York warned her. The newcomer scowled at her.
“I gotta go, Mom,” she said into the phone. She smiled at York. “Calling my mom.”
“Okay,” Mac continued, “you figure out how the blue guy fits into your factory closing story. I’ll write a brief and talk to Claudia. Stay out of trouble. I mean it.” Mac hung up.
“I’ll call you back, Mom—” Lacey said to dead air. She made a show of putting the phone away for Officer York.
“You flouting the law, Miss Washington Reporter?”
“No, sir. Just checking the weather. Cloudy, continued cold. According to my mom. She’s a weather nut. Besides, no one told me not to use the phone.”
“Consider yourself told as of right now,” York said.
Surely, this cop would understand that she couldn’t be scooped by a small-town Podunkville reporter. York was just snarling at her for the benefit of his colleague. On second thought, perhaps he wouldn’t understand.
The state cop looked tightly wound. The newcomer wore a short dark haircut and was dressed in a navy sports jacket, white shirt, conservative tie, and khaki slacks, neat and sharply pressed. Like his attitude. He carried a badge. His face was all hard angles, which seemed at odds with his soft, southern Virginia accent. He asked her who she was and what business she had there. He curled his lip at the mention of
The Eye Street Observer
. Lacey knew this was just pro forma for some cops whenever they met a member of the press. Or the contempt might be meant for Claudia. Lacey ignored it.
“And you are?” she asked politely.
“Special Agent Mordecai Caine, Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations. Lead agent on this crime scene. Don’t go anywhere. And no calls.” He spun on his heel and marched off. Lacey thought he had something very stiff up his backside.
From her lonely perch, Lacey had a view of velvets spread out on long tables. She could see hundreds of rolls of the shimmering fabric, stacked high, ready for shipping, in a cavalcade of colors, blues, yellows, greens, pinks, and purples. Staring at the material, she had the urge to sink her fingers into it.
The cloth made her think of a blue velvet dress from the 1940s that her great-aunt Mimi had left her. She’d worn it at Christmastime. At times like these Lacey’s first instinct was to run home to Aunt Mimi’s trunk, her personal antidote to a stressful day. She might find a perfect pattern for another evening gown, something that would make her forget the dead man and the ruined spool of velvet.
Leafing through the patterns and pictures and vintage fabrics in the trunk always calmed her and made her think of women who had lived through worse troubles than she. Women who worked in factories converted for war production, who built weapons and airplanes while their men went to war. Back then, a velvet factory might have switched to producing wool and cotton for soldiers’ uniforms.
Unfortunately, Mimi’s trunk was in Lacey’s apartment in Alexandria, Virginia, and not here.
Mimi would tell Lacey to slap on some war paint, put on some nice clothes, and show her best face to the world.
If you look strong, you’ll be strong
. That was what Mimi would have advised. Lacey checked the mirror in her purse and freshened her own war paint.
She was ready for battle. At least, that was what she told herself.
Lacey Smithsonian’s
FASHION BITES
Recession Depression Got You Down?
Dress Up in the Downturn!
So the economy is in a downward spiral. The wolf is howling at your door, your future uncertain. Is that any reason for a Depression-style fashion statement? When bad things happen, some women carry around their own personal gray cloud. Even worse, they dress
down
, anticipating the worst. Not exactly the style of a survivor, is it?
There is a woman out there, smart and attractive, but down in the dumps. You may know her. You may even
be
her. But wearing ugly clothes in response to bad news is simply punishing the wrong person—
you
.
Ask yourself: Are you spiraling down into the dismal colors, the grays, the beiges, the taupes that steal the blush from your cheeks? Passing up the makeup and forgetting to comb your hair? You might as well say, “I give up! Depress me! Wake me when it’s over!”
No, no, no! Do not give up. Do not wear those baggy sweatshirts to the office, not even the unemployment office. Do not let the jerks win. Not while you’ve got breath in your body and cute clothes in your closet.
Even when you (and your pocketbook) feel empty, there’s a simple reason to fight back with fashion. When you feel like a loser and dress like a loser, you tend to look like a loser. Who wants to hire a loser? Hang with a loser?
Date
a loser? No one.
My advice: In this iffy economy, your own attitude is the only thing you have any control over. So face the world with bravado. Punch it in the nose. Change your sad rags for glad rags. Dress like a winner. And for heaven’s sake, don’t give in to stretch pants with elastic waistbands. The economy may be sagging, but that doesn’t mean
you
have to sag too.
It’s hard to be brave when your livelihood is on the line. Sometimes bravery requires faith, hope, a bit of magical thinking, and oh, what the heck, maybe even sequins. Okay, sequins are optional. But your best and brightest clothes do you no good hiding in your closet, waiting for your ship to come in so they can help you strut your stuff on that happy day. Dress to welcome that luxury liner into port, and the
Good Ship Glamorous
just might cruise your way.
What to wear with those sleek dark-wash jeans? That velvet jacket you never wear, or the old reliable denim rag that looks like something out of a Depression-era photograph? Go with the velvet. It’s stunning and striking, and as soft and comforting as a security blanket. Or those high heels and your best silk blouse in the perfect color that enhances your eyes and your outlook. Declare your own holiday party and celebrate being the stylish survivor you are.
So if you’re down in the dumps, head for your closet. Dig out buried treasures you’ve been saving for, well, for right now. Fight that depression by getting rid of torturous togs. When in doubt, throw it out. Pretend those ugly clothes are all the demented employers who have ever tormented you. Dump them in a trash bag. They can’t hurt you anymore. Now, don’t you feel better?
This is the time to do something radical, to look your best and wear your best. Don’t give in to the blues by wearing gray. Resolve to dress up in the downturn! And when your ship sails in, you’ll be ready for it, wearing that great outfit.
The chicest woman on the dock.
BOOK: Shot Through Velvet
11.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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