First Chapter of "Chameleon's Challenge" by BR Kingsolver
Book 3 of the Chameleon Assassin Series
By BR Kingsolver
Copyright 2017 BR Kingsolver
My best friend Nellie and I spent a few days across Lake Ontario at a tourist trap called Niagara-on-the-Lake, a totally lovely place, like a toy-fantasy village. We stayed in a wonderful little bed and breakfast, shopped, window shopped, and ate a lot of stuff that was bad for us but tasted great. A few winery tours and fine-dining stops punctuated our trip.
Since Nellie sang four nights a week at The Pinnacle nightclub, we took our visit on her days off. Being late autumn, it was cool, and we were about the only tourists, so service was great everywhere and we had a blast.
We rode my motorcycle around the lake from Toronto to Hamilton, and on to the village, but took the ferry back across the lake to get home.
I parked the cycle in the garage under Nellie’s apartment building, and we took the elevator to the fifth floor, laden with shopping bags that had barely fit in the cycle’s paniers.
Nellie fumbled with the door locks, as she usually did, and I noticed that the door across the hall was open a few inches. Nellie’s door finally opened and she turned to me. I nudged her and motioned toward Olga’s door.
Many of the residents of the upscale apartment building were mistresses of corporate executives. Carleton Weeks, Senior Vice President of Entertaincorp, provided Olga Raskalova with her living. Olga was tall, blonde, and busty, and had come to Toronto with Carleton when he returned from a business trip some years before. Richard O’Malley, Nellie’s sugar daddy, worked for Weeks.
“Olga?” Nellie called. Then to me, “Maybe she’s busy, or maybe she just ran downstairs.”
A smell, one all too familiar, caused me to push the door open a little farther and stick my head in.
“Nellie, go into your apartment, and call the police.”
She froze, her eyes searching my face, then she scurried into her place, dropping her shopping bags on the floor. I dropped mine and pulled a pistol from my purse. As I eased into the foyer, the smell grew stronger.
I encountered the first blood in the living room, but found Olga in the master bedroom. Death and I aren’t strangers, but I had to turn and go back to the living room, fighting to keep my lunch down. No one should die the way she did.
The cops came and got excited, which was totally understandable. When they got out of the elevator, I stepped into the hallway with my hands up and showed them my ID, gun permit, and security credentials, then had to explain why I was there.
“The body’s in there,” I said, pointing to Olga’s apartment.
They went in and I heard one of them say, “Oh, Jesus.” Then I heard hurried footsteps and someone retching. The cop I had spoken with before came out, pale and shaking.
He checked out Nellie’s apartment—I guess to make sure we weren’t hiding a psychopath under the bed—then asked Nellie for her identification. They didn’t ask us many questions. I assumed they figured the detectives would take care of that. Before very long, the place was crawling with cops.
“Miss Nelson?” the lead detective peered into Nellie’s apartment.
“That’s me,” I said, waving at him.
“Do you mind coming with me?”
He was about forty, reasonably good looking, with sandy blond hair and a darker beard, slim and only an inch or two shorter than I was. Under other circumstances, I might have been intrigued by his question. Since it appeared he wanted me to go with him to that slaughterhouse across the hall, I was less than enthusiastic.
I patted Nellie’s hand, stood, and walked over to him. He backed away, indicating I should follow him out into the hall.
“I’m Inspector Donofrio. You discovered the body?”
“Yes. The door was open, and Nellie called out, but there wasn’t any answer. I smelled something, and told her to call the police.”
“And then you went into the apartment.”
“Yes, I drew my pistol and entered the apartment. I saw the blood splatters in the living room, and the trail into the bedroom. I checked the other rooms to make sure no one else was there, then I looked in the bedroom.”
“Looked in. You didn’t enter?”
I shook my head. “I didn’t need to. I could tell she was dead.” For the first time, I looked him straight in the face. “I didn’t think you’d appreciate me vomiting all over your crime scene.”
“Yes. Quite right. You did better than two of our men. So, how much did you see?”
“Inspector, I saw her body. She was tortured, mutilated, and I doubt she died quickly. I didn’t bother to catalog her injuries. I figured that was your job.”
“How well did you know her?”
I shrugged and pointed with my chin toward Nellie’s apartment. “Nellie and I grew up together. I’ve known Olga since she moved in three or four years ago. We’ve gone out drinking a few times, I’ve seen her at Nellie’s, and she invited us over a couple of times. We were friendly, but I wouldn’t say we were friends. Nellie knew her a lot better.”
“Did Miss Barton ever tell you of any issues across the hall?”
“No, and she would have. To my knowledge, Mr. Weeks was besotted with her.”
“And his wife?”
“I’ve briefly met his wife a couple of times at various functions. We were introduced by mutual acquaintances. I wouldn’t presume to comment on her attitude toward her husband and Olga’s activities.”
“You don’t live here.”
“No, I don’t.”
I realized my answer was a little sharp when he jerked back a little. I handed him my card.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to imply—”
“Of course not.”
“Do you mind waiting out here while I speak to Miss Barton?”
I smirked at him. “Not at all. We’ve had plenty of time to get our stories straight.”
That got me a glare before he turned around and entered Nellie’s apartment.
He spent a lot longer time talking to Nellie while I cooled my heels in the hall. I leaned against the wall and tried to stay out of the way. Crime scene people, the medical examiner, and cops hurried back and forth, knocking on doors and asking questions.
A cop I’d met before, at another murder scene the previous summer, walked up to me and said, “Some people go see vids or concerts. Murder scenes are a rather specialized hobby.”
“You’re going to have to work on your pick-up lines. That one wasn’t very funny.” I motioned toward Nellie’s door. “I was dropping off a friend.” Then I motioned toward Olga’s. “Door was open. It’s a secure building, but leaving the door open is still unusual.”
He nodded. “Nasty business.”
“You do have a talent for understatement, Constable.”
He winked at me. “My wife says it’s a gift. Inspector Donofrio talking to your friend?”
“Donofrio?” The inspector’s name didn’t penetrate when he told it to me. Now it did. Alonzo Donofrio was head of the criminal family that controlled much of the underworld in Toronto.
The cop must have heard the surprise in my voice because he chuckled. “Yeah, black sheep of the family. Old Alonzo’s older brother’s youngest son. Decided not to go into the family business. He’s a straight shooter. Good cop.”
Before I could decide if I wanted to ask him anything, the inspector stuck his head out into the hallway. “Miss Nelson? You can come back in now.”
I followed him in. Nellie was still sitting on the couch where I’d left her.
“Do you have someplace else you can stay tonight?” Donofrio asked Nellie. “It actually might take us several days before we’re through with the crime scene.”
“She’ll stay with me, Inspector,” I said. “You can contact her on her phone, or contact me.”
“And what’s the address?” He pulled out his tablet, prepared to record my answer.
“It’s a MegaTech safe house,” I said.
He looked startled, but recovered. “Oh, I didn’t realize.”
I shook my head. “I’m not MegaTech, but my father was Vice President of Security for them before he retired. Nellie, go pack.” She stood and walked to her room. I dropped my voice and told the cop, “I don’t know if Olga was targeted, or if she was a target of opportunity, or if he was looking for Nellie, or someone else, and she wasn’t home. I think it’s prudent to put her somewhere safe for a while.”
He pursed his mouth and watched Nellie as she walked away from us. I waited for him to finish admiring the view.
“Yes, you’re probably right,” he finally said. He shook his head. “I’ve been on the job sixteen years, and I’ve never seen anything like that. God willing, I never will again.”
I studied his face. “But you think you will.”
He met my eyes. “Unfortunately, yes. I can’t imagine this was a one-time thing. The guy who did that is totally unhinged. He liked it. He’ll want to capture that feeling again.”
Donofrio left and I stepped into Nellie’s bedroom. “Call Richard and tell him. I’ll call my mom and borrow a car. Figure you’ll be gone at least two weeks.”
I called Mom and borrowed a car and driver. Nellie’s overnight bag fit on my cycle, but no way could it carry what she would pack for two weeks. It wouldn’t even be able to carry the shoes.
Mike DiBlasio, my mom’s head of security, showed up with one of the limos they used to ferry clients around. He helped us carry all of Nellie’s stuff down to the car, along with the loot we’d brought back from our shopping spree.
My house wasn’t actually a MegaTech safe house, but it was close. My dad owned the end-of-group townhouse, and officially rented it to an old friend of his, who was the current head of security for MegaTech. The security was better than most safe houses. After all, security was my business. My mail came to Dad’s house, so officially, I lived with my father. Since he was a paraplegic, many people assumed I lived there to help care for him. He always laughed at the idea of me being the dutiful daughter, cooking and cleaning for my invalid father. I didn’t do domestic. If it wasn’t for the cleaning robot, I’d probably be up to my chin in dust bunnies.
Nellie was one of five people who had the codes to get into my house, so I sent her and Mike off and retrieved my cycle. I was still unsettled by what I’d seen—unsettled? hell, I wanted to wash my eyes out with bleach and my stomach churned like I’d drank too many margaritas—so I decided to go see my mother. Moms are always good for patting you on the head and telling you the world will be all right.
Of course, getting in to see her wasn’t always easy, considering that she lived at her place of business.
I parked my cycle behind the hotel and went in through the kitchen door. I waived to Dominik, the head chef, and started to climb the stairs toward her office, but one of the girls came in and saw me.
“Libby? Lilith’s with a client.” She glanced up at the clock on the wall. “She won’t be free for at least another hour.”
With a sigh, I looked over at Dominik and asked, “Do you mind if I hang out?”
He shook his head. “Not at all. Are you hungry?”
Normally, him asking me that would make my month, let alone my day. “I’ve got kind of an upset stomach,” I told him. Not even all the wonderful smells were making me feel any better.
I sat over in a corner and played a game on my tablet. Then a tall glass full of pink stuff landed beside me.
“Drink it. It’ll take care of your tummy problems,” Dominik said.
I took a sip, and it tasted like nectar of the gods. Of course, he turned anything he touched into an art form your taste buds never forgot. I took a larger drink, felt it slide down my throat, and land in my stomach like water on a fire.
Looking up at him, I said, “You’re a god.”
He smiled. “Yes, I know. If I ever want to get rich, I’ll just bottle my hangover cure and market it. Sip it slowly, and you’ll be all good.”
I knew he was only partly joking. He already was rich, knocking down a large salary and a percentage of the business. He and Mom liked each other and complemented each other. He got to run his own restaurant, surrounded with pretty women and men who worshiped him. He could do whatever he pleased, both with the other employees, and with the restaurant. It said something that a restaurant in a brothel consistently rated as one of the top two or three in the city.
After I finished the drink, he brought me some kind of meat and rice preparation that both my stomach and my mouth appreciated. For the ten thousandth time, I silently lamented that I didn’t still live there and get to eat his cooking every day. Growing up had its good side, but the downside was a lack of Dominik in my life.
While I was eating, Glenda, my special project, came in. I’d rescued the fifteen-year-old off the streets, and Mom gave her a job in the kitchen.
“Miz Libby!” I heard her squeal and barely had time to brace myself before she barreled into me and tried to squeeze me to death.
We chatted a little, then Dominik reminded her that the vegetables wouldn’t chop themselves, and she left me to finish my meal. As she scampered off, I noticed that she didn’t look like a stick figure any more. The girl was starting to look like a girl. Regular meals obviously agreed with her.
Mom stuck her head in through a side door as I contemplated whether anyone would notice me licking the plate.
“Libby? Cherise told me you were here. Come on up.”
I followed her up the stairs to her office, and when she turned toward me as she sat down, I marveled at how good she looked. Damned good for forty-five. Hell, I wished I looked that good at twenty-five. She didn’t entertain very many clients personally, but that was partly because there weren’t many people who could afford her.
“What’s up, Kid?” she asked.
I told her about Olga, just giving her an outline. I didn’t think there was any reason to go into detail.
“Oh, crap,” she said when I finished. “I guess I need to screen any outcalls better than usual.” She did something on her computer, then said, “Thanks for letting me know. Animals like that tend to zero in on working girls. A sugar baby like Olga is close enough to fit the profile.”
I shrugged. “No idea why he did it. For all we know, he was looking for someone else, and she happened to be in the wrong place.”
“You’re not leaving Nellie there, are you?” Nellie’s mother used to work for my mother, and Mom had known Nellie since she was a little girl.
“No, moving her into my place. I don’t know what Richard is going to do, but I think he’ll survive a couple of weeks without her. Who knows? He might actually remember he has a wife.”
Mom chuckled. “I’ll probably see him around here.”
“He was here last night.”
One had to wonder at a married man who needed another woman when his mistress wasn’t available for two nights. I didn’t really get the whole sugar-baby-sugar-daddy culture. Most of the men went home to their wives on the weekends, and their mistresses partied with men closer to their own ages. I wondered what the wives did during the week. Mom had been a rich man’s mistress when I was really young, before she saved the money to buy the hotel.
- Updated: 13 May 2017