A Cat DeLuca Mystery
By K. J. Larsen
Poisoned Pen Press
Copyright © 2010 K. J. Larsen
All right reserved.
The mark in a cocoa colored suit stepped out of the Bridgeport Bank into the bright sunlight. He leaned against the doorway and slipped on a pair of shades. I adjusted my binoculars to enjoy the view. My eyes wandered south over his hard athletic frame. This man was eye candy and I'd been craving some sugar since I started surveillance three long days ago.
He jogged across the street, past my Honda to the parking lot. I ditched the binoculars, propped a weekly tabloid in front of my face, and whispered into the recorder.
"4:03 pm Wednesday. Subject exited bank stuffing a wad of bills in his money clip. Question: Is he meeting person of interest tonight? Using cash to avoid a paper trail?"
I stretched my neck and peered over the magazine. The man shrugged off his jacket. His silk shirt hugged an impressive chest. I watched him open the door, ease his fine ass onto creamy leather, and roll away in a shiny black Porsche Boxster.
"Wednesday, 4:06 p.m. Subject left parking lot. Heading north on Archer." I fired up my silver Accord and shadowed after him.
The hot guy in the Boxster is Chance Savino. A.K.A. the lying cheating bastard who's married to my client Rita Savino. I met Rita last week when she burst through my office door, electric blue eye liner rolling down her cheeks. The ugly tears flowed from her conviction that her "no good husband" had his hand up someone else's skirt.
That's where I come in. My name is Cat DeLuca and I'm a private investigator. I don't snoop for insurance companies and I won't find your lost Uncle Harvey. I do what two years of unholy matrimony taught me well. I catch cheaters.
I trailed the black Porsche as it bulldozed across town. Rush hour had started early and traffic slowed to a standstill. I cranked up the stereo and blared my horn with the rest of Bridgeport. I wanted to wrap this job up and go home to a bottle of wine. I had my own personal meltdown to attend to.
Next week I turn the big three-oh. And to top it off I don't have a date for my own party. The guys I meet in this business are not the type you want to go out with. If they were I'd still be married to Johnnie Rizzo, the two-timing—wait, make that six-timing—cheating bastard. Unfortunately the only sex I'm seeing these days is through the lens of a camera. And trust me, in this business, sex is not a spectator sport.
A collision on Loomis and 31st blocked the intersection. I crept through the gridlock tailing the Boxster off 35th until it jerked to a stop in front of an abandoned building.
The windows were dark and a weathered, sun-bleached sign grew out of the tall grass. It said FOR LEASE. I parked half a block back in the shade of a birch tree and pulled out my high powered specs.
I got a close up of Savino's dark wavy hair and broad shoulders. He stretched back in his seat and laced his fingers behind his head. My client's husband was waiting for somebody but it wasn't his afternoon delight. This deserted office building was no Hotel No-tell.
I ducked behind my scandal sheet and relayed the subject's position into my recorder. Pushing back my seat I raised my legs, wrapping them around the steering wheel. I do a lot of surveillance and I can usually wait longer than most people can be good.
My Honda is an arsenal of cold pizza, Mama's cannoli, and Tino's Deli sausages. The sausages are for my sidekick, Inga. She's an overgrown, energetic beagle and she rules the backseat. I tossed her a sausage and snagged myself a cannoli. Cannoli is an Italian pastry. It soothes like Sex On The Beach, with or without the alcohol.
Something vibrated in my Levi's and Hank blasted "Your Cheating Heart." I dragged my cell phone from my pocket.
"Pants on Fire Detective Agency," I said. "We expose Liars and Cheats."
The voice grated like nails on a chalkboard. "Tell me the truth, Cat. Is my husband sleeping with his secretary? Cuz I'll kill that hootchie."
It was a fair question and one half a dozen clients might ask. But the voice was a dead giveaway.
"Call me Cleo."
"Your husband is not sleeping with his secretary, Cleo. Did he mention his secretary is sixty-three years old?"
"He's a liar!"
"And a cheat. Your husband is sleeping with your sister."
She gasped. "My sister the lesbo?"
"No, your sister the ho. Come by my office later for the pics. And there's something else."
"There's more? You're killing me!"
"Your husband plans to leave you. He's funneling funds to an offshore account."
For the first time since I met Cleo, she was stunned to silence. "There must be a mistake."
"No mistake, girlfriend. The man is sucking you dry. I have the account numbers here for your lawyer."
The voice squawked like a cat skimming hot coals. "We never had this conversation. Destroy the evidence and forget I hired you. When I kill the bastard it'll look like an accident."
I shoved the last bite of cannoli in my mouth. "My lips are sealed."
My eyes wandered across the street to the black Porsche and I shrieked like Cleo. My eye candy wasn't in it. I swept the street with binoculars. How could this happen? But I already knew the answer. It was the voice—that crazed Cleo voice—that threw me off my game. There was no call for Cleo's husband to cheat on her, but why he didn't choke the squawking life out of her while she slept is beyond me.
My passenger door jerked opened and a giant blue eye filled the lens of my binoculars. I screamed and untangled my legs from the steering wheel.
"Looking for someone?"
I dropped the spy eyes and checked Rita Savino's husband with a professional eye, tripping briefly over the baby blues and lean hard physique. He smelled musky and clean and his short cropped hair rivaled the color of dark chocolate. His skin was tanned to a soft caramel and that yellow silk shirt fit him like melted butter. Liar, liar, I reminded myself and dabbed the drool from the side of my mouth.
"You're in my car," I said frostily. "Get out or my dog will attack."
Inga licked his ear as the cheater helped himself to a cannoli.
"Hey. That's my supper."
"You've eaten two already."
"Have not," I lied and licked the powdery sugar from my lips. "I'm calling the cops."
"Good. Then you can tell them why you've been following me all day."
"I didn't spot you at first but I smelled your donuts. They gave you away."
"They're not donuts. They're cannoli and I've been tailing you since Monday."
His brow arched in surprise. "You're good. But your donuts are better." Savino slurped the last lick of cream from the cannoli and winked. "So, who's paying you to tail me?"
I flung a business card and he read aloud, "Pants on Fire Detective Agency. We Expose Liars and Cheats."
He glanced over. "You're Caterina DeLucky?"
"It's DeLuca. I'm Cat and that would make you the Liar and Cheat."
"You're not serious."
"Your wife is. She hired me."
"Ha!" He followed with an eye roll.
"Did you think you fooled her? You have all the classic signs of a wandering husband. You don't wear your wedding ring away from home, you sniff around other women's donuts, and you drive a Boxster. What is it, Chance? A mid-life crisis or a need to compensate."
"I like the car. It performs well."
"And you don't?"
"Do you want to find out?"
It was my turn for the eye roll.
"Do you have a picture of this woman I'm rumored to be married to?"
"I don't need her picture. I've got yours."
His eyes fell to the file on my lap and he snagged it before I could stop him. "Not a flattering photograph."
"Your wife must like it. She gave it to me."
He scrunched his lips. "Look at this picture, DeLucky. It's not something a wife would keep of her husband. It was taken on a street somewhere without my knowledge. Your client isn't my wife. She hired you to check me out."
I snatched the file back. "You flatter yourself, Chance Savino. Your wife filled this form out. She describes your height—six four. Weight—one ninety. Eye color—bro ..."
I stopped short and closed my eyes. "Damn."
"I'm glad you noticed. Yours are the color of emeralds."
My skin felt hot and I drew in a breath. Chance Savino was everything I hated in a man. Unfaithful, a player, and God knows what else. But he was smoking hot.
"Blue, brown, what's the difference," I flashed back. "Your wife made a mistake. A woman forgets things when her husband does the horizontal hula with somebody else."
"Ha! You're hilarious. When do you meet her again?"
"Thursday at Marco's. It's Lady's Night. Two-for-one margaritas."
He pulled a bill from his wallet and my mouth dropped. I didn't know President Cleveland had his own money.
"This is a retainer. I don't know what this woman's game is but I want you to find out. She's probably a business competitor but don't take any chances. Don't let her know you're on to her."
My voice rose an octave. "I'm not on to her, I'm on to you. As far as I know, this could be Monopoly money."
He stepped from the car, leaned in the window and winked. "Wait here, DeLucky. I'll be right back."
Chance Savino moved like hot smoke. He sprinted toward the vacant building with the FOR LEASE sign. For a suspended moment my mouth gaped and my eyes fixed on his hard muscular ass.
"Wait!" I screamed and jostled the door open. A box of cold pizza fell to the floor. I hightailed it out of the car and dashed after him, yanking up the straps of my sling backs as Chance Savino disappeared inside the building.
"Hey, I'm not taking your money!" I chased after him at a dead run.
I was two steps from the door when the earth rocked and the building exploded. The sound was deafening. I flew out of my Dolce & Gabbana's and was hurled backward in a raging blast of glass and debris. Heat scorched my lungs and the words FOR LEASE whirled at my head. I gave way to darkness and the strange sensation of breaking into a thousand Monopoly pieces.
I woke with the certain knowledge I'd been hit by a truck. My eyeballs throbbed when I pried them open and strained to focus on the man leaning over me. His face was obscured but I stared into unforgettable cobalt blue eyes visible beneath scrubs, cap, and mask.
"You're dead," I mouthed.
Relief flooded his face. "Wanna play doctor?"
My brain struggled to make sense. If Chance Savino was dead Then ... My eyes widened.
I glanced around the sterile room. It wasn't exactly what I had expected on the other side, but playing doctor with the hot Boxster guy sure wasn't hell either.
Savino's eyes crinkled at the edges. He laughed soft and low in his chest. "Go back to sleep, DeLucky. You're going to be fine."
"DeLuca," I mumbled and plunged back into dreams.
I was named Caterina after my paternal grandmother. She was a small Italian woman who scared the crap out of young children. People say I have her green eyes and chestnut hair but at five ten I'm a foot taller and I don't scare anyone. God knows I've tried.
The DeLuca men are Chicago cops: my dad, uncles, brothers, and cousins. Most are honest and hard working, but a few have deep pockets and drive Ferraris. Like my Uncle Joey. He knows people. I went to him once when a client's husband nearly beat her to death. He broke bones and caused permanent blindness in her left eye after she accused him of molesting their daughter. Amazingly the man had a change of heart. He apologized and bought an insanely huge life insurance policy. Later when they had found enough body parts, she cashed it in. There were other times I consulted with Joey but trust me, you don't want the details.
The DeLuca women have less interesting lives than the men. We're expected to marry early and breed more cops. If you ask me, the world has enough cops and Chicago has enough DeLucas.
I faded in and out of consciousness for a day. A host of divine white beings hovered around me and I smelled pasta. The next day, the jackhammer in my skull ran out of gas. My eyes focused and the sea of hovering faces lost their halos. I wasn't dead. These people weren't even close to heaven. They were my loud, obnoxious family. Papa, mama, three brothers, and one whacko crazy sister.
Mama clung to my hand. "What you have put us through, Caterina, you should be ashamed." She sobbed, pulling tissues out of her bra.
I was mildly surprised my mother wasn't serving up dinner. That's what she does. Food with a healthy side portion of guilt.
I squinted through the maze of faces. "Where did he go?" I asked groggily.
"The Boxster guy. He was here."
"Nobody's been here but your family and nurses. And the doctor."
"That was him, mama. He wanted me to play doctor with him."
My sister snickered. She doesn't like me much. She thinks our parents like me more. I think she was switched at birth.
"You played doctor when you were six with the neighbor boy," Mama announced. "That's not a nice dream for a good Catholic girl who should be married and having babies like her sister."
That would be crazy Sophie, the baby factory. As if on cue, an infant squawked and a swarm of nieces and nephews scaled the bed. Two fought over the remote and one swung from the IV pole. The jackhammer was back at full throttle and I closed my eyes. When I opened them again, I had two mothers. Double the pasta, double the guilt.
"I don't think I want kids," I muttered sullenly.
"Nurse," Mama shouted with a hint of hysteria. "My daughter has lost her mind!"
One of my sister's demon children pulled the plug from my oxygen and blew in the hose. I gasped.
"We eat!" Mama announced and the mass exodus gathered around the window. She opened two large grocery bags and there was a rush for paper plates. My meaty twin brothers, Vinnie and Michael, squeezed out the kids. They're always first in line.
Mama waved a spoon at me. "I was at Mass when the call came about somebody trying to kill you."
"Oxygen," I choked.
"You gave me no time to cook. I stopped at Tino's on my way over."
"Can't breathe over here."
"You take dirty pictures, you make people mad," Mama said. "Bad enough your father was struck down by hoodlums. I still have nightmares."
Three years ago, Papa was shot in the caboose by friendly fire but Mama tells it differently. Papa got a medal and early retirement. He's a bit of a Chicago legend but the rookie cop who nailed his ass is on permanent traffic duty. Papa is now the Chicago Police Department liaison for the local schools. He warns kids about drugs, lets them wear his hat, and he pulls his pants down just far enough to show off his scar.
Mama gripped her heart. "Bad enough I should worry about your brothers when the phone rings. You are not a cop, Miss Caterina."
"I'm not breathing, Mama."
"You're a snoop, a busybody. What people do is not your business."
I was saved by a knock at the door. "Someone call for a nurse?"
"I fix food for you." Mama piled the nurse's plate. "With extra meatballs."
The nurse removed the bouncing devil child from my chest and reconnected the oxygen. "Is that better?"
"Auuugh," I said.
Mama crossed herself. "A man died, Caterina. That's what comes from sticking your nose in other people's business. You should go to confession."
My voice sounded strangled. "Who died?"
My brother Rocco balanced a plate with one hand and pulled a scratch of paper out of his pocket. "The FBI ID'd the body. A guy named Chance Savino."
"It wasn't Chance," I said. "He was here."
"Playing doctor?" Rocco grinned. Rocco's the oldest and we're barely a year apart. He's probably my best friend.
I shuddered. "The body would've been badly burned by the fire. How could the FBI make an ID so quickly?"
"Hey, I'm just glad it wasn't you, sis." Rocco sat on the bed beside me. "I hate to agree with Mama on this but your work is too dangerous. I made some calls and I can get you a job in dispatch. Pay isn't great but people don't want to kill you either. You can start Monday."
"I have a job. Where's Inga?"
"She's at your house. Your neighbor's feeding her. Not that she's hungry. She was so scared by the explosion she ate a whole pizza."
Excerpted from Liar, Liar by K. J. Larsen Copyright © 2010 by K. J. Larsen. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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