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Authors: Ellen Byerrum

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

Shot Through Velvet (5 page)

BOOK: Shot Through Velvet
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Chapter 4
“So you’re Lacey Smithsonian,” Special Agent Mordecai Caine said. “Reporter. What exactly do you do for that newspaper of yours?”
After everyone else had been questioned and released, Agent Caine came back to speak with Lacey. He gave the word
newspaper
a snide twist.
She wondered if he’d left her cooling her heels simply because he disliked the media. Or to keep her from interviewing the other witnesses for her news story. Or because he thought the other witnesses were more knowledgeable, and had a more personal connection to Gibbs and a motive for killing him, and therefore, should be questioned first. Or all of the above.
She didn’t know and she really didn’t care. She was itching to get out of the factory and into some fresh air that didn’t have the stench of death and dyeing. By the time he got back to her, she didn’t like him very much.
Through the office window, Lacey could see Vic leaning against the back wall, chatting with Officer Armstrong. Their body language told her it was a friendly conversation.
Great. Vic gets the good cop. I get the annoying cop.
Caine’s body language told her he was an adversary. She folded her arms in response.
Let him wait.
He cleared his throat.
“I’m a fashion reporter,” she finally said.
“Fashion reporter? Why are you at Dominion Velvet?”
“To write a story about the factory closing and its effect on the workers. It’s one of the backstories of fashion.”
He invited her to sit down. She perched on the edge of the desk. He looked at her with hard eyes. “Is that a typical story for fashion writers?”
“I hope not. That’s why I’m writing it. I try to write about more than just fashion. How it influences our lives, and how current events influence fashion. For instance, the blue and gray colors of the Virginia State Trooper uniform were chosen deliberately to reflect both sides in the Civil War. You probably knew that.”
“Yes, ma’am, I knew that. A policy decision, not one involving fashion.”
“Exactly. That’s one way fashion, or even a uniform, evolves. Style is something else entirely.”
Lacey wondered how this factory closing would impact other businesses, like the firms from which it had once bought yarns and dyes and other products that kept the machinery moving. And what of the industries that bought fabric from Dominion? Would they resort to lower-quality velvet from foreign manufacturers? Would they close their doors? Would Special Agent Caine care?
“Did you know Rodney Gibbs?” Caine asked.
“No. I spoke to him on the phone the other day to set up the tour and an interview,” Lacey said. “He was my only contact.”
“But you didn’t meet him?”
“Not until they pulled him out of the dye. He was missing this morning, so Tom Nicholson agreed to give me the tour. Do you have a strong suspect?”
“No comment. Have you ever been to the town of Black Martin, Virginia, before today?”
“Nope.” Lacey knew there was no reason for long answers.
“Yet you decided it was interesting enough for a story?” He jotted down a note in his notebook.
“Yes, and to be frank, it’s more interesting now. Will the state police work in conjunction with the local police department or handle the investigation alone?”
“My job is to ask the questions, Ms. Smithsonian. Yours is to answer them.”
That’s hardly fair
. “My job is also to ask questions,” Lacey said.
Reporter here.
Caine grunted and pressed his lips together in a straight line. “Then I suggest you contact the state police Office of Public Affairs.”
In Lacey’s experience, that might be the kiss of death as far as getting information goes. She smiled. “Yeah, sure.”
“That Vic Donovan out there, is he your boyfriend?”
“Yes.”
The term
boyfriend
seems so goofy when you hit thirty,
Lacey thought. But she decided saying Vic was her “main squeeze” would be a little flippant.
“Wouldn’t that impact your reporter’s objectivity on this story, seeing as how Mr. Donovan is going to handle security for the company?”
“I was writing a feature article on fashion and the impact of the factory closing, not a news story. Vic’s work starts after they close. So I would say no.”
“Then I suggest you stick to fashion, not murder, and stay out of my investigation. And out of my way,” Caine said. “Rod Gibbs’s death is not your story.”
“Wow, did you know that is absolutely the worst thing you could possibly say to a reporter?” Lacey was so shocked she started laughing. “You might as well have called me
girly
and patted me on the head. Don’t you tell me what my story is. I’m the reporter here.” Lacey narrowed her eyes in the best manner of the nuns back in school. It was a look that could chill men to their core.
If I were a nun.
If Caine felt a chill, he kept it to himself, but he cleared his throat again and changed the subject. It was a short interview. Caine knew enough not to ask to see her notes. And though she was sure someone had told him she took a couple of photographs, he didn’t ask about those either.
By the time Lacey was dismissed, the light was gone and the air was February frosty. Crusted snow from a week-old storm reflected the glow from Black Martin’s streetlamps in front of the factory. Dominion Velvet’s building didn’t look like a factory to Lacey. It looked more like a midcentury elementary school, squat and L-shaped, red brick with a roof with multiple angled vents, giving it a sawtooth profile. Scarred wooden picnic tables were scattered around the grounds for workers at lunch or on breaks, but they looked ghostly and untended in the dark. The trees and bushes were winter stark.
Their breath came out in puffs as Lacey and Vic walked around the corner of the building to the street. All the clouds had cleared from the sky and the stars began to light the black night. Vic hugged her tightly as they walked.
“How are you doing, sweetheart?”
“Agitated and bored, and not in a good way. Special Agent Caine is a real treat. I didn’t get to follow the police around and listen to all their theories about what happened to Mr. Gibbs, like
someone
I know. On the plus side, I have no desire for Max Factor’s newest foundation, Indigo Number Nine.”
“There is that.” Vic flashed a grin that made her feel better. “You’re in the pink.”
“But blue is all the rage. Blue is the new black.”
“In this case blue is the new
dead
.”
Though the air was far colder than when they arrived that morning and the wind chapped her cheeks, Lacey was glad to be outside and out of the velvet plant. They headed for Main Street, two blocks away.
“You called your boss, didn’t you?” Vic asked. “Told him the story was getting bigger and messier? You’ve got that air of self-satisfaction.”
“I do not,” she protested.
“I recognize the look. A reporter getting one over on the cops. You did it to me often enough.”
“I did? How sweet of you to say so. Seems like old times.” She laughed at the expression on his face. “I had to, darling. It’s my job. Besides, Mac has to know, so he can alert Claudia that the dogs of scandal may soon be barking at her door.”
“The local law enforcement boys won’t like reading about this.”
“I’m just spreading the joy,” Lacey said. “What’s the local police role in this anyway?”
“VSP will take the lead,” Vic said. “But Black Martin PD will assist with whatever they can provide.”
“So Armstrong will work with Caine?”
“Theoretically.”
“Great. Caine doesn’t seem the type to share information with the press.”
It was Vic’s turn to laugh. “Not his job, darling.”
“My whole story just exploded, and now I have to play catch-up and write something very different. You have to admit, this story took a twist nobody could have predicted.”
“Unless they knew your track record with fashion fatalities,” he pointed out. She ignored him.

The Eye
cannot find out about the colorful death of one of Claudia Darnell’s business partners from somebody else’s newspaper, particularly when I’m on the spot. That’s a firing offense, especially in this economy.”
“You made your point.”
“What I don’t get is why Gibbs told me the factory had a bright future when clearly it doesn’t.”
“Propaganda, Lacey. They say Napoleon sent reports to France of his glorious victories in Egypt, while he was really just getting his ass beat. They didn’t know that back in Paris. They thought he was the conquering hero. Good for morale.”
“You’re saying Rod Gibbs wanted to put one over on me? So I’d write a story about how good things are coming if everyone would just be patient, when really, there’s no way this place was going to ever reopen.”
“That seems to sum it up.”
“So he can look like a hero long enough to make a get-away? I hate people like that,” Lacey said. “But then, he didn’t get away, did he?”
“The big question for me is why today, sweetheart, when we’re here? The day that Lacey Smithsonian has a meeting with the deceased.”
“There can’t be a link, Vic. That would make his death somehow our fault, as if he were killed so he couldn’t talk to us, and that’s crazy. We don’t know these people. We’ve never been here before. No one but Gibbs even knew we were coming today.”
“The last day of anyone’s job is tense enough without a reporter on scene. Workplace violence happens, especially with an unstable employee or two and a whole factory shutting down,” he said. “You never know how close to the edge some people are.”
She thought about it. Tempers could get pretty peevish at the newspaper, but most reporters were nonviolent, or at least not fit enough to be violent. They’d chosen to believe the pen was mightier than the sword and that was how they dealt with their enemies. “Have you seen a lot of it—violence on the job?” Lacey asked.
He frowned. “I’ve seen the aftermath of people going berserk on the job. But it usually involves fists or guns. Never seen anyone dyed blue before. And what happened to the so-called night watchman? If they’d called me in a week ago, this wouldn’t have happened. Not on-site anyway.” He stopped and held Lacey’s arm, turning her toward him. “I suppose it wouldn’t make a difference if I asked you to stay away from dangerous stories.”
“No. But I appreciate the concern.” Lacey kissed him. “Besides, a story is never dangerous until it is. Unless it involves mocking Christmas sweaters, which I would never do. That’s
really
dangerous.”
Vic knew he wasn’t getting anywhere. “Speaking of dangerous, are you hungry?”
“I’m starving to death. Could that be civilization up ahead?” She tugged at his sleeve and they headed toward the lights.
Black Martin’s sleepy downtown was all of four blocks long and two blocks wide. But the early twentieth-century architecture along Main Street was rather grand for a city of its size, a collection of attractive buildings from a bygone era when the town was flush with money from textiles and agriculture and catered to soldiers looking for nightlife. Handsome pre-World War II facades sheltered too many empty storefronts, victims of the recession that had hit Black Martin harder than any other area of the state.
The county had the highest unemployment rate in Virginia. Since the Army had pulled out of the nearby base a few years back, Black Martin had become the kind of town where the sidewalks rolled up at six p.m. Only a couple of downtown restaurants were still open.
The first one was a café named Good Eats. The menu in the window featured Southern comfort food, like chicken-fried steak and vanilla tapioca pudding. It was brightly lit and half full of sedate senior citizens.
“What do you think?” Vic asked. “Is Good Eats good enough for us?”
“I feel my hair turning blue at the very suggestion. Not a good color choice under the circumstances.”
Chapter 5
La Puerta Roja, the Mexican cantina across the street, seemed to be the only happening place in Black Martin. Multicolored lights beckoned to Lacey and Vic, and when the front door opened, they heard the blare of mariachi music.
“Now this is more like it,” Vic said. Inside, the place was warm and welcoming. The aroma of sizzling fajitas filled the air. Pitchers of margaritas were flowing. The décor was bright. Little pink and red cupids wearing mariachi hats hung from the ceiling. Signs invited them to the St. Valentine’s Day fiesta.
Lacey and Vic headed for an open table near the bar. They recognized some of the Dominion Velvet factory workers. Apparently they’d come straight from the factory to spread the news of Rod Gibbs’s blue death.
So much for the cops’ warnings to keep it quiet,
Lacey thought.
“That’s right. He was Midnight Blue! How’s that for a send-off?” someone was saying.
“It’ll always be midnight for Rod now,” someone else replied.
Lacey craned her neck to see who was speaking, but she couldn’t tell. The remark was swallowed up by laughter. Those who witnessed the body were already instant celebrities, and if they weren’t toasting the dead man, they were certainly roasting him.
“I swear the devil himself came for Rod Gibbs,” someone said. “He was stabbed with a pitchfork! I saw the marks myself.” There was more laughter.
“No, really, he had a hole in his chest. I’m just saying,” the voice insisted.
Lacey turned to Vic. “Eyewitness to a pitchfork murder,” she said. “Satan sought for questioning. Details at eleven.”
“This may be a reporter’s dream, Lacey, but it could turn ugly fast.”
“Don’t worry, honey. If I smell sulfur instead of mesquite, I am out of here.”
“Anyone ever tell you you’re a smart-ass?”
“Yes, I believe there was a certain police chief, Victor Donovan, but that was a long time ago.” Lacey flashed her most dazzling smile.
BOOK: Shot Through Velvet
11.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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