So it was clear. Easiest to eliminate was the Fargo bank. According to their marketing flyers, Mike Assoni was the manager. Assoni, huh. Sounded promising.
“Mr. Assoni available?” he asked the girl at the information desk, showing her his badge. Being very polite.
“Can I ask what it’s about?” she said. Trying to put him off. “Mr Assoni is real busy today.”
To hell with the polite approach. Mac leaned over the desk. An edge in his voice. “Tell him it’s private, about Emmy Parton.”
She got the message, picked up the phone, and pressed the extension button “Mr Assoni, there’s a cop here,” she said, when he answered. “Says it’s private, wants to see you about Emmy Parton.” Mac waited while the girl went through the ‘He didn’t tell me anything else’ routine. She finally said, “Okay okay, I’ll ask him to wait,” and clicked off the extension. She turned back to Mac. “He’ll be with you, soon.” She waved him to the waiting area outside the manager’s office. Glad to get him off her case. “Please take a seat. Can I get you coffee or something?”
Mac shrugged. Banks gave him no pleasant memories at all. Just overdrafts and threatening letters. “Yeah, sure, with cream, no sugar.” He trundled over to the near-empty waiting area and sat down. It was some twenty minutes and a refill later before a flustered looking Mike Assoni opened his office door. He saw Mac in his police uniform and beckoned him inside. “Take a seat,” he said. “Sorry I was so long, difficult client. You want coffee?”
Mac was in no mood for pleasantries. A flustered person could be leaned upon hard. “Mr. Assoni, I want answers. I’ve been sitting outside your door a lifetime, I’m hyper-active with the coffee I’ve drunk waiting to see you. I’m not in the best of humor, you understand me?”
Mike Assoni twitched a little. He sat back in his executive leather office chair and put on a bank manager’s stern look. Mac had seen it before. The look that gets you no more credit. “I think you need to calm down, detective, or I’ll call security.” His hand hovered above his phone. “You got ID?”
“Yeah I got ID,” replied Mac, taking his badge out of his pocket. He slung it across to the asshole. “Let’s get one thing straight, I’m investigating a particularly bad homicide, and calmness isn’t on my agenda. Emmy Parton is.”
Mike Assoni took out a white kerchief and wiped his forehead. He looked worried. “Who’s she? She dead?”
“Not yet, that is, not until Sammy De Maggio finds her.” The reaction was immediate. Mac had hit the spot.
Mike Assoni broke into a sweat. Face reddened. “Who’s he? Why are you naming people I know nothing about?”
Mac wasn’t taking any stonewall. “Mr. Assoni, if you continue to jack me around, I’ll haul your ass down to the precinct and throw away the key.”
The asshole put on a pleading look. Hands held out open. Bank manager pleading; that was a first. “Detective, I’m a bank manager; I’m not into any rackets or nothing. Give me a break.”
Mac put on his good cop face, and spoke very softly and sincerely. “Mr. Assoni, if you don’t want another homicide on your doorstep, with me clambering all over you and putting you in the frame for withholding important evidence -- you better come over.” Mac opened his arms and smiled. “All I want to know is where I can find Sammy.”
Mike Assoni wrung his hands. “Detective, I’m not a squealer. My shoes become lead weights. Know what I mean?”
Mac compromised. “Look I’m giving you a break; I’ll keep you out of it. Your name won’t be disclosed.”
He watched as Mr. Assoni digested the information. He saw the asshole’s stomach heave. “Okay ok, try the Oasis bar, Smithsonian.
Mac knew it well. That’s where the two kids had evaded him. He still smarted from that. “Why there?”
“He’s keeping tabs on the business. Family has a percentage.”
“Then you have his cell phone number,” replied Mac. That had been obvious all along. Once they started talking, that was it. The bubble had burst.
The asshole squirmed. “It comes back to me, I’m like, well, you seen the movies.”
Mac put on his folksy voice. “Mr. Assoni, listen up. Sammy and I have a mutual interest, you understand. He’s not going to be worrying you none.”
Mac went back to his apartment took a shower and changed back into his casual clothes, now freshly laundered and pleated. The outfit he’d worn on both his dates with Katie, minus the price tags. Sammy wouldn’t be seen talking to a cop in uniform, especially in the Oasis bar. And Mac wanted to keep it unofficial: no police car, no radio, and no gun, just him alone. He looked at his watch. Just catch the end of the lunch break. He caught a cab to the bar and walked in.
“Gimme a Bud from the cooler and chili dog with fries.” Mac put down the menu. No one looking like Sammy, if Elmer’s description was correct. Come to that, he wouldn’t be hard to finger. Skinny Guinea, sharp suit, gold rings. Typical small-time mobster.
The bar tender flipped open a Bud and poured it into a glass. He scribbled the order on a piece of paper and put it on the kitchen hatch. “Be right up,” he said, passing the beer to Mac. “You want regular fries or you want topping?”
Mac squinted at him. “I’m not too fussy. What you got?”
“We got Hawaiian, Mexican or Italian, and we can do them New York or Vegas style under the griller. Shame I can’t offer you Miami style -- that’ll go good with the chili dog but we finished up the Blue.”
Mac was puzzled. He gulped his beer. “Blue?” he asked.
“Where you been, mister. Shark. It gives the chili dog extra bite.”
Mac glanced at him. No, he was being serious -- what a weirdo. It could be a long afternoon with this joker around. “Yeah, you’re right,” he replied. Putting on his serious voice. “Blue would have been best. I guess I’ll just have to stick with the regular. And another Bud, ok?”
The cell phone number was his back-up if Sammy didn’t show soon. Mac decided to give it five, maybe ten, and then give him a call. The lunchtime crowd was dispersing and the bar area was emptying. He picked at the remaining fries going cold, poured ketchup on them, and started chewing. A shout interrupted his thoughts. He turned and saw the Guinea. Sammy De Maggio, with a girl in tow.
“Bottle of Sicilian red for the lady. Two glasses,” Sammy ordered.
Complications. Well he could handle it. He waited until Sammy and the girl were seated, and drinking their wine before picking up his beer glass and walking over to their table. “Sammy De Maggio?” he asked.
The Guinea raised a hand. “Beat it mister, I’m busy can’t you see.”
Mac could see. A lot. The girl, young, pretty and dark haired. Slim figure, but in all the right places. Short dress riding up showing plenty of flesh, and Sammy already had his hand on her thigh working the angles. Mac tried again. “Emmy Parton.” Waited for the reaction.
Sammy froze. He took his hand off the girl. “You a cop?” he asked. “Sure smells funny in here.”
Mac tried once more. He could have picked up the wine bottle and said, ‘Sammy, there’s nothing I’d like more than to ram this bottle down your bad-mouthing throat.’ But he needed Sammy’s help, and he sure didn’t want to land Chief Amos with another Oasis bar complaint.
So instead he said, “I’ll give you a break. You want to find your sister’s killer, listen up, ok?”
Now he had Sammy’s attention. The Guinea told the girl to powder her nose, while he talked business. He waved for Mac to take her seat and pushed the wine bottle across. “Mister, you know a whole lot about me and all, who the hell are you?”
Mac ignored the wine, and took a draft of his beer. “Sammy, it don’t matter much who I am. It’s off the record, you understand. Let’s just say we got a mutual interest in your sister’s death.”
Sammy swilled his wine glass around and took a gulp. “Yeah, I’m listening. Like what?”
“Emmy Parton. Babe George talk to you? Said what happened, yeah?”
Sammy put down his glass. Hesitated, but then came over. “He spun me a story alright, and gave me her name. All I gotta do is find her. Why you ask?”
Mac pressed on. “He told me he was out on a run, and saw Emmy arguing with Ruth and killing her. What did he tell you, Sammy?”
Sammy lifted up his piggy eyes. “That ‘s not what he told me.”
Mac was patient. Sammy wanted to know. “So what did he tell you,” he repeated.
Sammy shifted uncomfortably. “It’s kind of private. Emmy driving up and killing my sister while he was making out with her on a blanket. Running away when Emmy turned the gun on him.”
Mac nodded. It figured. Ruth could have told Sammy she was seeing BG, he couldn’t risk the ‘out on a run story’. Sammy would never believe that.
“Sammy, whatever he said, he’s not in the frame. No fingerprints, nothing. Only the killer knows what really happened. And Emmy Parton isn’t the killer.”
That hit home. Sammy’s hands were shaking as he refilled his wine glass. “What the hell you talking about?”
“Sammy, whatever happened up there in Stockton; Ruth was killed after BG left the crime scene.”
Coach Mason had seen BG with the photo-shoot girl heading off to the game park, followed at a distance by Ruth on her BMX. He jogged along after them. It took him a while, but then he heard the shot, some distance away. He picked his way carefully through the undergrowth. By the time he found the BMX parked against a nearby tree, the Ford was driving away. No BG, no Emmy. He saw Ruth, the media girl on the ground. Blood was seeping from a chest wound. It was serious, she looked dead. No movement. He moved closer and pressed a finger on her neck feeling for a pulse. Nothing, wait a second -- oh yes there it was -- but she was slipping away fast. Not much time left, but he would give her the final release. Ripping her blouse and panties off, he desecrated her warm body. Then he unclasped his knife and dug the bullet out. He put it into her hand and closed her fingers around it. By the time he finished, she was gone. He dragged her deep into the undergrowth, and rode back on the BMX. He dumped it in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
Mac explained his theory to Sammy. Elmer and he had spent hours figuring out what happened up there in Stockton. “We think maybe Ruth and Emma were rivals for BG, he being a ladies’ man and all that. Maybe there was a confrontation with a gun that got fired, but our forensic specialist says the actual cause of death was a knife blade piercing the heart.”
He paused, let Sammy take it in. “The bullet put her into paralytic shock, but had she received prompt paramedic attention she might have survived.”
Sammy was clearly in shock, his fingers trembling as he swallowed his wine. Mac took a gulp of his Bud and continued. “Maybe they panicked; BG certainly did, he fled the scene and Emmy went missing.”
Now the most important part if he wanted Sammy onside. “But listen up, Ruth’s body was violated, we found semen. It wasn’t BG’s DNA and it sure didn’t come from Emmy Parton.”
Sammy looked deflated. “Why you telling me all this?” he asked “What you want?”
Mac took a deep breath. Now he had reached the thinnest part of the line. The homicides were mounting and time was short. ‘Unconventional, but gets results.’
“Sammy we think that your sister’s death is linked to someone on the Bees Tour.” He pulled the personnel list out of his pocket and put it on the table. “This is a selection of people on the tour for the last five years. I need you to finger the perp.”
Sammy picked up the paper and looked at the long list. “This could take a lifetime,” he said.
“Well you better eliminate some,” Mac replied. “That’s what you’re good at.” He saw Sammy’s girl sitting on a bar stool. “I’ll take care your girlfriend, you being busy and all.”
With Sammy gone, the bar was filling up with the early evening birds. He was sitting with Sammy’s girl, Tora, explaining to her he was undercover on a stakeout. Good camouflage, the two of them together. She didn’t care; he was picking up the tab. That’s why the two kids never saw him when they came in. They would be looking for a single man, not a couple. Mac leaned into the girl out of direct sight, and considered his next move. He would use Tora. No way could the girl play the same cards as last time, and he would zero-in on the man. “Tora,” he whispered into her ear. “I’m going to the john, but there’s twenty bucks for you if you can get the couple at the bar to join you. The man is wearing a Mickey Mouse tie. Can you do that?”
Tora held out her hand and smiled. “Make it fifty, big shot.”
Mac gave her ten minutes before he slipped back in. No problem, there they were happily drinking together. Beers for the couple and a large blue cocktail, red cherry and yellow carousel for Tora. The girl was showing Tora the cell phone pics, while the guy was talking animatedly. Mac sidled up behind him and put his hand on his shoulder. “Stay real cool,” he said as the kid jerked around. He pressed him back into his seat. “I’m not going to trouble you none, just shooting the breeze, ok?”
With Tora powdering her nose with a fifty bill, Mac explained who he was and told them more or less what he had told Sammy. They had names, too. Jake and Anna.
Jake took a slug of his beer. He shook his head. “Look I’ll be straight with you Mac. Our motivation is the blackmail money. Get our investigation agency off the ground. We find Emmy, we got it.”
Mac looked at him. “You prepared to kill for it?”
“What do you mean?” interrupted Anna.
“You think Emmy’s just going to give it to you?” he replied. “Also the Mob has an interest, you think they’ll just let you waltz in and take it?”
“Maybe we need to think it through,” mumbled Jake, as he swirled around the glass, making dozens of tiny bubbles rise to the surface.
Mac produced another selection of names. “I’ll give you kids a break. You do some leg work for me, ask questions, try and flush the perp, and I’ll stake you with enough funds to keep you going. Put a down payment on a motorbike. If you find Emmy in the meantime, that’s your business, ok.”
“Aren’t the police on to this, already?” asked Jake.
Mac hesitated. The kid was on the ball. Floppy hair, but not a floppy mind. Difficult question. “We’ve got a full squad working 24-7 on any number of homicides, but this perp is our worst nightmare. I have to put my boot over the line at times.”
“Why are you doing this, Mac?” asked Anna.
Another good question. These two worked well together. What if it had been Katie, and not her sister? “Let’s just say I got a personal interest in catching this perp before he kills again. And the way it keeps escalating, he won’t rest up until he’s nationwide.”