Read Shot Through Velvet Online

Authors: Ellen Byerrum

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

Shot Through Velvet (6 page)

BOOK: Shot Through Velvet
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She felt someone at her elbow. It was Dirk Sykes, the velvet shearer, from the factory. “Come on, sit down with us, Ms. Smithsonian. Have a margarita. We’re having a wake. Everyone’s invited. You too, Mr. Donovan.” Sykes started pushing tables together.
“A wake for Rod Gibbs?” Vic inquired.
“Hell no. A wake for us. For our jobs. The Blue Devil, he’s the only upside of all this. His being dead and all.” Sykes lifted a margarita and turned his face to the light, which highlighted the wicked scar down the side of his face. Lacey had noticed it that morning, but it was larger and deeper than she remembered. She tried not to stare. He saw her look and he ran a finger down the length of the healed gash. He grinned.
“It’s okay, Ms. Smithsonian. No offense taken. Gives me character.”
“Please call me Lacey. What happened?”
Despite the Hawaiian shirt, he looked a bit dangerous, like a retired pirate, with his scar and swarthy coloring and black ponytail.
“Had a little accident with a blade, shearing the velvet. Long time ago. You gotta respect the machinery. Damn near lost my head. Course, I nearly lost my job too when the plant got an OSHA citation for it.” Sykes winked at her. “It’s not so bad. Some of the ladies find it irresistible. Ain’t that right, Inez?” He winked at Inez Garcia, who sat at the table, sipping her margarita.
“Oh, Dirk, how you talk.” She giggled, and Lacey watched a romantic spark pass between the two.
“The ladies think my scar is romantic. Like Long John Silver.” The only thing “Long John” Sykes lacked, Lacey thought, was a parrot on his shoulder and a pirate hat. “Why, I’m a damn romantic hero.” He traced it again with his finger and winked at Lacey.
“Romantic hero, my ass.” Hank Richards shook his long hair out of his eyes. Next to Sykes’s pirate, Hank looked like a bearded blond Viking. “Shut up and give me a hand.” Richards and Sykes joined the rest of the tables together and grabbed chairs for Lacey and Vic. “Have a margarita. We got another pitcher on the way,” Hank said. “It’s not often we get a big city newspaper visiting our little town. Seems we depress people. Hell, we depress ourselves.”
Lacey and Vic shared a look. “Just one drink,” Vic said, and held out a chair for Lacey. Inez and Blythe made room.
“Do you actually read
The Eye Street Observer
?” Lacey asked him.
“Never seen it,” Hank said. “Heard of it. Claudia Darnell’s paper, right? Sometimes I pick up the local rag. Don’t take me long to read that.”
Kira Evans arrived late, looking frazzled, and scooted into the last empty space next to Hank Richards. She ordered a white wine spritzer. “I had to drive my daughter to basketball practice, but I figured everyone would be here. I didn’t want to be home alone.” She leaned back and rubbed her eyes.
“What’s the matter, Kira? You afraid of his ghost?” Inez asked.
“Maybe I am. I don’t want to think about him at all,” Kira said, hugging herself to get warm. “But I’m sure it’s nothing a little wine won’t cure.”
“Look at it this way, Kira,” said Hank. “The world is a little bit better place today. Whether we got jobs or not.”
Lacey felt a little awkward about being a “mere” fashion reporter and about working for Claudia Darnell, whom these people seemed to know better than she did. She just hoped that no one knew about her history with fashion and murder investigations. It could be
awkward.
“So Kira, why the turtleneck? Covering up a love bite? Who’s the lucky guy?” Inez asked, proving she didn’t miss much. Heads turned from Inez to Hank, who wisely said nothing.
Kira blushed and pulled her turtleneck up higher. “Just got a chill. Think I’m coming down with something.”
“Yeah, a case of too much lovin’,” Inez cracked.
Blythe was happy to pour Vic and Lacey margaritas from their pitchers while she stared appreciatively at Donovan.
“You’ve got quite a reputation, Ms. Smithsonian,” Blythe said. Lacey looked at the woman in surprise. She wore elastic-band slacks and an oversized top in an unflattering mustard yellow.
“You read my fashion column?” Lacey asked.
“Fashion? Oh, heck, no,” Blythe laughed. “We read all about you on that Web site, Conspiracy Clearinghouse. You know, DeadFed dot com?”
Oh no.
Did Blythe really read Lacey’s nemesis, Damon Newhouse’s Web site? Lacey’s cheeks did a slow burn and Vic had the nerve to laugh.
“Oh, Lacey knows all about DeadFed,” Vic said.
“I never heard about it till today,” Hank said. “But these guys are catching me up on it. Sykes here is the Internet wizard. Wouldn’t know it to look at him though, him being a romantic hero and all.”
“That Damon Newhouse is a real pistol, ain’t he?” Inez said.
“He’s a real
something
, all right,” Lacey said.
“Oh, come on. Tell us all about him,” Inez implored. She leaned toward Lacey. “I love that Web site of his. It’s like that Drudge Report. But with aliens.”
“Seems to me he really tells it like it is,” Blythe added. “An honest man in a dishonest world.”
Or a crazy space cadet from the Beatnik Galaxy
, Lacey thought.
Damon Newhouse, creator of the Conspiracy Clearinghouse Web site, aka DeadFed, fancied himself a journalist of the people, a cyberhotshot who embraced every crackpot theory the mainstream media wouldn’t touch. Still, he craved the legitimacy of a real news organization, one with words in print on real paper. Damon knew he would never break into
The Washington Post,
so he had set his sights on
The Eye Street Observer.
He dogged Lacey’s tracks, following her stories and giving them his own cracked twist, finding a conspiracy behind every bush, around every corner, and underneath every bed. He drove her nuts.
“I understand the two of you are close,” Blythe said. “You’ve broken some big stories together.”
Lacey choked on her margarita and Vic slapped her on the back.
Together?
“Not exactly,” Lacey said when she stopped choking.
That’s how Damon wants it to look.
“Most reporters are full of crap,” Hank Richards said. “Couldn’t tell their ass from their—Well, you know. But I kind of like that DeadFed thing. Kind of like the
National Enquirer,
but without all the celebrity diet crap.”
Lacey did a mental eye roll, but tried not to show what she thought of Damon in front of these apparently rabid fans.
“If it wasn’t for people like him and DeadFed, we wouldn’t know half of what’s happening in this country,” Sykes said. “He’s like a frigging light in the wilderness.”
What about my light? My stories?
“I must be in an alternate universe,” Lacey said under her breath to Vic.
“Just like being back in Sagebrush, Lacey, where the natives are all friendlylike,” Vic murmured. He turned around to hide his smile and wave over a waiter for an order of nachos and some fajitas. Lacey barely heard her cell phone through the noise and the music. She excused herself from the table to answer it.
“If that’s Damon on the phone, y’all say hi for us,” Sykes hollered after her.
“Will do.” Lacey sneaked a peak at the number. It was from the paper, not Damon. She went into the restaurant’s foyer and answered. “Hello?”
“What are we going to do with you, Lois Lane?” It was Tony Trujillo,
The Eye
’s police reporter.
“Hi, Tony. What’s up?”
“You tell me. You leave town, find a body, and you don’t even tip me off? Where’s the love?” He sounded a bit annoyed. Lacey was two and half hours away from D.C., so he couldn’t readily horn in on her story. She allowed herself a small smile at Trujillo’s expense.
“You talked to Mac. He remembered me. How nice.”
“He says we ought to tag you with a GPS just to keep track of you. And maybe a hit counter for the bodies.”
“You’re hilarious, Tony.”
“Is Clark Kent there? Sorry. I mean Superman.”
“Vic is here.” She looked over at Vic, who was helping himself to some tortilla chips. A waiter passed by with a tray of fajita platters. The aroma made her stomach growl.
“Mac says the dead guy was blue. Like really blue, dyed blue. That for real?”
“It’s for real. The corpse was tied to a gigantic spool of velvet and stashed in a tub of dye.”
“That’s what Mac put out on the Web.”
“The deceased was also the guy I was supposed to interview.”
“Whoa, that’s weird,” Trujillo said. “Either way, he gave you a story. So, a crime of fashion?” She could hear the smirk in his voice. “Seems like maybe you need backup. Maybe we could send you Kavanaugh.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
Tony laughed at Lacey’s discomfort. Kelly Kavanaugh was Lacey’s latest irritant, a freckle-faced overenthusiastic transfer to fashion from Tony’s police beat, and Tony was glad to be rid of her. Kavanaugh was there ostensibly to free Lacey to seek out more complex stories. But Lacey suspected the young reporter was there to deliver payback from her editor, Douglas MacArthur Jones. Kavanaugh wouldn’t know a ruffle from a bow, and just forget the subtleties of ruching. Kavanaugh’s heart was set on dramatic crime stories, and from where she sat, Smithsonian’s beat was on fire. Lacey didn’t know what to do with her. She hadn’t even told Kelly about the velvet factory story, or that she’d be out of town for a day.
“Is there anything else you want, Tony?”
“Do you need me, Lacey? I can be down in a couple of hours in Mustang Sally.” Trujillo couldn’t wait to get in his sleek black beauty with the white rag top and drive like a speed demon to Black Martin to steal her story.
“Thanks, but you can rest your horses. I’m sure you’ve got enough crime in D.C. to keep you busy. And I’m fine, really.”
“When are you coming back to the office?”
“I’m going to try and scare up some interviews in the morning. I’ll be back in town tomorrow. Late, maybe five or so. I’ll file something from here or from home.”
“Hey, you get any photos of this guy?”
“I took a few pictures before being glared down. They’re not very good, but you can see that he’s dead. And blue.”
“What would your mother say, nice girl like you taking pictures of a dead guy?”
“She’d want to fly to D.C. and help me out, and she’d bring my little sister for some serious family bonding and crime fighting.”
Tony snorted with laughter. Lacey hung up and headed back to the table as the nachos were being delivered. She took three steps when her phone rang again. “Good grief!” Lacey looked at the number: Brooke Barton. Normally she would like to talk with her BFF Brooke, but the timing was very suspicious.
What did Brooke know and when did she know it?
Brooke Barton, Esquire, one of Lacey’s two best friends, loved democracy and conspiracy theories in equal measure, and she had an eerie ability to know when something was up with Lacey. Brooke was always ready to lend her aid in a crisis, whether it required legal chops or sharpshooting skills. But she was also dating Damon Newhouse of DeadFed fame. And that could spell trouble.
“You rang, Ms. Barton?” Lacey said.
“Is it true?” Brooke sounded far too excited.
“Is what true?”
“Don’t play with my nerves, Lacey. I have it on good authority that you stumbled onto another crime scene, interestingly tangled up in a fashion-related factory, and the corpse was purple.”
“You talked to Damon, and he was not purple. Did Damon say he was
purple
?”
“No, the story is on
The Eye
’s Web site,” Brooke said. “I threw in the purple to test you. Yes, he was blue, according to the story. But it was maddeningly vague as to the exact shade of blue. And why did you think Damon knew? Is there something more I should know?”
Bad move, Lacey. Now she’s
really
interested.
Lacey looked over at the table of Dominion employees, madly scarfing up all the nachos. They’d heard the name
Damon
. They waved at her, mouthing words of greeting for their hero Newhouse.
“No reason. Other than the body is blue and Damon might think he’s a dead Martian or something. And we know Damon just has a way of—
dogging
me.” Lacey thought about her recent private investigator’s class that Damon had also intruded on, once he found out she was there. Really, he was like a puppy, she thought, Brooke’s overgrown puppy.
A puppy with a Web site. And fans.
“Don’t be silly. Damon adores you. He just wants to walk in your footsteps. So, what’s the story on the dead guy?”
“You can read it when I write it. I’m not sure now what the angle is for my feature.”
“How about the blue angle?”
“Yeah, there is always blue. The social meanings and symbolism of blue.”
Brooke lowered her voice. “Do you need me to come down? I could be there in a couple of hours.”
Along with Tony and Brooke and Damon’s fan club, it would be a swell party.
“Chill, Brooke. We don’t need our superpowers just yet.” What Lacey needed was a good meal. She was beginning to feel lightheaded. Lack of food and that yummy margarita were sailing straight to her head.
“Oh. Okay.” Brooke sounded let down. “You sure? I have a new Wonder Woman cape. A blue one.”
“Ah, bad news. They’ve redesigned Wonder Woman’s signature look. It’s awful. She looks like a rocker chick in a metal band now. We should protest.” Lacey took a breath. “They took the body away. You wouldn’t even have a chance to see the blue guy. I kind of doubt there’s going to be an open casket. It would be beyond tasteless.”
“Damn. And cremation is all the rage too. What will future generations of archaeologists play with if we leave them no preserved remains?”
“Luckily, we are not here to worry about future generations right now.”
“I guess you’re right. But, Lacey, if you need me, all you have to do is call. You know that.”
Lacey smiled to herself. “A friend in need and all that. I get it. I love you for that.” She hung up and headed back to the table. The nachos were nearly gone. She scooped up the last bite. “Gee, thanks for sharing, guys.”
BOOK: Shot Through Velvet
12.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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