“There’s something about you,” Sara said as she reached forward and ran her fingertips under Brett’s jacket and down her suspenders. “And since people are already talking about us, maybe we should give them something to talk about . . .”“I don’t think that would be a wise idea, “ Brett said, pulling Sara’s hands away.
“Ahhhh, so you’re all show and no action,” Sara replied, smiling. She leaned back against the desk and casually crossed her legs, letting her skirt hike up a bit. “You got the look down, all right, but your follow through needs work.”
Assessing Sara’s long legs and trim body, Brett brought herself uto to her full five feet ten inches and an easy grin spread across her face . . .
Handsome, street smart, and unabashedly butch, former underworld figure Brett Higgins is a different kind of woman who plays by a different set of rules. On the run and living under an assumed name, Brett’s been trying hart to play it straight, but her past—and the women she attracts—won’t seem to let her.
Under a suspicion for a murder she didn’t commit, Brett realizes that the only way to prove her innocence is to track down the killers herself. If the gamble plays out, Brett could be a free woman. But with the cops and her old enemies closing in fast, the ultimate player is now playing for the highest stakes of all—her life.
WHEN SOME BODY DISAPPEARS
Brett parked her car, smoothed back her short, black hair, looked at herself through Ray Ban-protected eyes in the rearview mirror, pulled on her soft, black leather gloves, picked up the attaché case and immediately went into the theater where the clerk let her into the box office. From there she headed to the suite of offices upstairs. Before she even took off her long trenchcoat or black silk scarf, she went into Rick’s office and deftly opened the hidden safe. She set the black leather briefcase on the floor, undid the lock and emptied the thousands of dollars into the safe. Only when the money was secured did she go into her own office, toss the nearly empty briefcase on her desk, hang up her coat and scarf and pour herself a Glenfiddich single-malt scotch on the rocks.
As she always did when she entered her office, she looked at the pictures on her bookcase. She smiled as she gazed at Storm’s features and her sweet smile. Gone but not forgotten... Would she ever forget the vivacious Storm? Even though Storm had been dead for a couple of years now, Brett still thought of her every day, remembered how it was to hold her and love her.
And then there was the picture of the beautiful blue-eyed blond, Allison Sullivan. If Brett had lost Storm to death, she had lost Allie to her own stupidity; if she thought about Storm daily, then she thought about Allie hourly. She lovingly examined every detail of Allie’s face, although she already had the classic features and aristocratic nose firmly imprinted on every cell of her brain.
A longing as familiar as breathing consumed her soul with an often denied need for love and passion. No other woman had ever made her feel this way. Although their relationship hadn’t even lasted a year, its demise had left Brett feeling as if a Mack truck had totaled her very core.
She took a long pull on her drink, enjoying the way the scotch burned a trail down her throat and into her stomach, killing all feeling in its path, and turned back to her desk. She popped the briefcase open and took out the papers. As she sat, she unconsciously straightened the crease of her pants and noticed a splattering of red on the silky fabric.
“Goddamnit! The fuckhead bled on me!” she cursed, going to retrieve some soda water from the bar. Not only did the asshole try to withhold money, but he had the nerve to bleed on her while she persuaded him that honesty was the best policy. Perhaps he was due a little visit from Frankie, who highly disapproved of such poor behavior. Frankie could easily show him the error of his ways, a lesson he wouldn’t soon forget if it forced him to spend a week in the I.C.U.
She had just started going through the paperwork when Kirsten entered. Brett glanced up only long enough to see who it was before she returned to her work, heedless of the naked woman standing in her doorway.
Kirsten strode over and sat on Brett’s lap with her legs spread wide, one leg on either side of Brett. Brett leaned back and looked at Kirsten’s long auburn hair, automatically putting her hands on Kirsten’s naked thighs, up above the thigh-high fishnet stockings.
With a soft, sultry smile, Kirsten suggestively ran her tongue over her lips. Her nipples were already hard and swollen, the aureoles puckered. She tried to take Brett’s hands up to her breasts, but Brett stopped at her waist.
Brett could smell Kirsten’s arousal. The woman had just gotten off stage, just finished giving lap dances and had come to Brett for satisfaction and to forget the feel of the men’s hands upon her.
But Brett was in a dour mood and didn’t like it that Kirsten assumed she could just stroll in as if they loved each other or were a couple. Get real. Kirsten was an easy fuck, a quick scratch to the itch Brett occasionally felt.
“Shit, Kirsten, leave me the fuck alone,” Brett complained, pushing her away with a snarl.
“I love it when you talk dirty to me.”
“Brett,” Rick DeSilva suddenly said from the open doorway, “when you get a moment, come into my office. There’s somebody I’d like you to meet.” Brett looked around Kirsten and saw her boss standing next to a tall, deeply tanned, dark-haired man. She guessed he’d be considered a real hunk if you liked that sort of thing. He was giving her a sly look, and she knew he wouldn’t think twice about giving Kirsten a quick run across the mattress.
“Kirsten, I got work to do.” Brett unceremoniously dumped Kirsten on the floor, then followed Rick and the stranger into Rick’s office. Frankie, Rick’s other lieutenant, followed too.
“Brett, I’d like you to meet an old friend of mine—Antonio Marzetti,” Rick said.
“Anybody who treats a woman like that can call me Tony.” The man grinned and stuck out a large, meaty hand. “Nice to meet you. Rick’s told me all about you.” Brett looked into his eyes and realized she didn’t like the fellow. He was too calm, too cool, too collected—no one was really that composed. He was a well-polished faςade, not human at all. She ignored his hand and instead gave him her best go-fuck-yourself look. “I don’t know about you, but I never believe a word that son-of-a-bitch says.” She said it without humor, although she loved Rick like the father she wished she’d had.
Rick laughed, and the man took a step back and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’ve got some bad news, though,” he said. “Now that you know who I am, I’ll have to kill you, even though I like you.”
Even as Brett pulled herself up to her full five feet ten inches, she could almost hear Frankie bristling behind her: he didn’t like this fellow any more than she did. She started to reach for the .357 in her shoulder holster. Her eyes darted from Tony to Rick, and on Rick’s face she saw a smirk wending its way over the features she knew so well.
Rick said, “Tony, it’s a miracle you’re still standing. Brett usually don’t take too kindly to remarks like that.”
“Hey, honey, I was just joking that nobody knows who I am.”
“Tone,” Rick interjected before Brett had a chance to, “you’re about to eat your balls for dinner.”
“That’s if he’s got any,” Brett replied. “Which I sincerely doubt.”
Rick threw an arm about Tony’s shoulder in camaraderie. “Brett, I know he can be a jerk,” he said before Tony could throw anything back at Brett, “but I thought you’d like to meet a man who is well on his way to becoming a legend in the field.”
Tony leisurely lit a cigar and made himself right at home. He chuckled. “Well, I might be a legend if anybody knew who I was.”
“The people that matter know enough,” Rick said.
“What do you mean?” Brett asked finally.
“I’m what you might call a freelance artist—I work on individual contracts. And I work under different names and identities, so that the authorities can never find out too much about me.”
“So you’re a hit man.”
He laughed. It was an annoying sound. “I prefer to think of myself as an harbinger of Hades. And it has to be more than just a hit for me to accept it as a suitable proposition.”
“You mean it’s got to pay enough, or be a big enough feather in your cap for you to lower yourself to doing actual work.”
Tony laughed at her. “Maybe someday you’ll be in a position to choose your own work.”
Brett stood just far enough away so she didn’t have to look up at him. “I already do.”
Rick strolled over to the bar to pour them all a drink. “He’s in town on business—you may have heard about his most recent job, Brett.” He wasn’t a man who got nervous, ever.
Brett looked at Tony curiously. It was obvious that Rick held Tony in esteem, although she couldn’t figure out why, but in Brett’s estimation that alone was enough to give him some stature.
“Let’s just say it involved a few bombs,” Tony said cryptically, sending recent headlines flying through Brett’s head. She knew too well about his latest “job” at one of the automakers. She was surprised he was cocky enough to stay in town after that one. He was looking to get busted.
Over the next several hours Brett learned more than she cared to about Rick and Tony’s outrageous boyhood together—complete with full details on all the pranks they played, and it cemented her dislike of this walking, talking caricature. She really didn’t care who he was connected to, or who he had ever worked for or drank with. She didn’t care about his big plans for the future either.
“After all, a man can’t go on doin’ this forever. Takes a young man to do all this climbing, crawling and running, and you and me ain’t gettin’ any younger, Rick.”
A year later, Rick had to remind her of his old friend when he did another job in Detroit—Rick recognized his work from the style of the bombing, but all Brett could think of was the long scar that snaked its way down across his cheek like an s.
With jagged breath and bent knees, Brett slammed her skis to the right and launched herself up into the air, the cold cutting against her face and through her hair as she flew through the air, adrenaline rushing through her system. Her skis hit the snow and she brought herself up, racing forward as she cut her skis to the side, coming to a quick hockey-stop.
Her heart still beating fast, she turned to look up the slope at Allie, who grinned at her from the top. Allie’s long, lean figure gracefully raced down toward her, long blond hair billowing out behind her as she gracefully edged her skis from side to side, speeding toward the jump at the bottom of the slope. Like an eagle, she looked free when she was in the air. She was beautiful. Every morning when she woke up next to her, Brett couldn’t help but think just how lucky she was, or how ironic it was that a cop who had wanted to kill her ended up returning Allie to her instead.
But Brett didn’t have a chance to tell Allie this, or even to fully enjoy the moment, because as soon as Allie’s skis hit the ground she was racing off to the left, a huge smile plastered across her face as she flew past Brett.
Brett dropped the tips of her skis downhill and skated down the slope, trying to build the momentum to carry her over the slight uphill rise, sweat breaking out on her brow as she fought to catch up. Allie was a better skier, but Brett had been hitting the runs all morning while Allie went to her Aunt Gertrude’s 90th birthday celebration. The Mineshaft was the only really challenging run that Alpine Valley, located in White Lake, Michigan, had to offer.
She cut to the left and hit the hill going full speed. She pushed off the top and her skis sliced into the air as she passed just over Allie’s head, leaning forward to maintain her balance for landing. When she hit the ground several feet in front of Allie, she swerved just in time to miss another skier coming in from a different run. She gracefully swished in and out, edging just enough to keep control while maintaining her lead on Allie, glancing back once to see Allie’s blond hair. She smiled at the sight.
She loved the thrill of zipping over the ground on her waxed skis, loved the excitement of shooting into the air during jumps, the challenge of new slopes and new adventures, and the competition with herself and others. Nothing could compare to straining her body to its limits as adrenaline pumped through her system and she whipped along, the cold air nipping at her nose and ears, the snow blowing into her face, and the feeling of success after each new obstacle was overcome.
“I’m glad I decided to come down with you,” Brett said once they were on the chairlift. She playfully tapped Allie’s ski tips with her own as she put her arm around Allie’s shoulders.
“So am I.” Allie smiled. “No problems, I take it?”
“Nah, I told you it wouldn’t be a problem. Anyway, who the hell would recognize me dressed like this?” Brett was on the lam, having switched her name to Samantha Peterson and moved with Allie to Alma, Michigan, a town two hours north of her native Detroit. Even in what was technically a suburb of Detroit, she was out in the boonies as far as she was concerned.
Allie nodded, but Brett couldn’t see her eyes because of the tinted goggles she had on. It was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon that Brett wanted to enjoy. Even though all the snow was the crappy man-made sort you get at the end of the season, it was a miracle they were skiing in April, and Brett was happy, especially because it was one of her last days of freedom before starting her new job on Monday.
When they first went on the lam about a year-and-a-half ago, they moved to California but discovered, much to their surprise, that they missed Michigan with its ever-changing seasons and beautiful fall colors. That was when they risked moving back to Michigan, but far enough away from Detroit, where Brett had once been a member of a criminal organization. When she got out of the business, she changed her name and sold her holdings to her old partner, Frankie Lorenzini. Between that sale and all the money she made during her career, she had enough money to live fairly comfortably for almost the rest of her life.
Allie laughed. “I can’t quite imagine your old pals hanging around ski slopes anyway.”
They both looked up just in time to disembark from the lift. Brett paused to pull her pole straps onto her wrists, but Allie flew by her to the left, and Brett raced off after her.
“Catch me if you can!” Allie yelled over her shoulder at the top of the Mineshaft before pushing her weight forward and firmly planting her poles into the snow. With a wild whoop she pushed herself off the ledge and down the nearly vertical slope. Brett stood watching Allie, who skillfully shooshed down the slope, her skis perfectly parallel as she maneuvered over the moguls, her rear end wiggling enticingly as she kept her shoulders to the fall line, moving only her lower half to accommodate the changing terrain of the steep run.
Another skier came from Brett’s left and jumped off the edge and onto the slope, where he promptly wiped out and tumbled down to the bottom of the slope in a jumble of poles, skis, goggles and gloves. He looked like a broken toy some disgruntled kid had tossed aside.
Brett planted her poles into the snow and pushed off, hitting the air only to pound into another mogul as she sped forward, the powder hitting her goggles as she carved into the turns.
Allie finished the run and stood watching Brett, who laid into her edges when she pulled up in a perfect hockey stop, spraying Allie’s pants and skis with a light cover of wet snow. Allie grimaced.
“Meet you at the bottom,” Brett dared, pushing off to a skating start down the mountain. She shifted her weight quickly, gaining momentum as she tried to outrun Allie. She bent low, tucking her poles under her arms as she went into a racer’s crouch.
Just before the lodge, Allie skied up alongside her, “Show-off,” she said.
“You ready for lunch?” Brett asked with a raised eyebrow.
They locked up their skis and poles, loosened their boots and headed inside for an over-priced lodge meal. As they were sitting at a table with their food, Brett caught something out of the corner of her eye.
“Oh, shit,” she mumbled, frozen in place.
“What’s the matter, hon?” Allie asked, concern weaving its way over her fine features as she followed Brett’s gaze across the crowded room.
A throng of beautiful bunnies were gathered around a tall, deeply tanned, dark-haired man dressed in matching royal blue ski jacket and bibs. He looked confident, sure of himself, like he knew what he was doing on the slopes and in the bedroom. A cockeyed pig, Brett thought. He glanced up, noticed Allie and shot her a knowing smile, the scar on his cheek stretching with the change in his expression.
“Don’t let him see you!” Brett warned, quickly adjusting her seat so her back was to him.
“Who is he?” Allie whispered curiously, breaking her gaze at him to look at Brett.
“Two such beauties, all alone...” the man said, pulling up a chair and straddling it. “Perhaps I can help alleviate your aloneness on this fine spring day?” He was looking directly at Allie while Brett busily spread mayo, butter, ketchup, horseradish, Ranch dressing, hot sauce and mustard on her turkey salad sandwich. “My name is Guy, Guy Franklin,” he added, casually resting his hand on Allie’s.
“And I’m—” Allie removed her hand from under his as she fumbled for a name. “I’m Liza Swanson, and this is my friend... my friend Jen McDonald,” she concluded, using names from their recent past. She apparently realized that Brett didn’t want him to have any idea who they were and that even the name Samantha Peterson could be tracked.
“Jen McDonald...” Guy mused, looking over at Brett, who quickly dove under the table after a napkin she had just fumbled. “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” he continued, watching her closely.
“I don’t think so...” Brett said with a heavy Southern drawl. “You’re not from down South, are you?”
“No, but I know I like the Southern belles just fine.”
Before Brett could even try to get Allie out of there, or communicate anything at all to her, another man walked up behind Guy and planted a hand on his shoulder. Uglier than a constipated pit bull, he wore goggles and a hat, a tan parka and bluejeans. He clutched his leather gloves in one hand and looked ill at ease in the bulky ski boots, as if he didn’t belong there and didn’t particularly want to be there. “Guy Franklin?” he said. “Chester Bombast. Long time no see.”
Guy looked up at the mysterious intruder. “Nice boots. Are they European?” he asked, never looking at Chester’s feet.
“Like my skis, they’re Italian.”
“But it’s the Swiss who know how to telemark.”
Brett dumped her soda onto the table and said in mock horror, “Ooops! I am such a klutz!”
Chester glanced at her. “Do I know you?”
Brett grabbed Allie by the arm. “Help me get the stain out.” She jumped up and dragged Allie behind her.
“Ditz,” Guy mumbled as they rushed off.
Brett pulled Allie off toward the bathrooms but quickly dodged to the side once they were in the hallway. She stood peering out at the two men.
“What’s going on?” Allie exclaimed as Brett watched the men from her hiding spot. Chester handed Guy a large envelope that had been secreted in his parka. Guy opened it up and pulled out a smaller envelope that to Brett’s trained eye could very well be filled with cash. A pretty nice sum of cash. Guy slipped this envelope into his pocket and pulled a printed sheet from the larger envelope, reading it with his brow furrowed in concentration. Chester appeared to be explaining something to him as Guy slowly nodded and smiled.
“Let’s get the fuck outta here!” Brett growled, pulling Allie out the side door.
“Don’t you think you’re being a little paranoid?” Allie asked Brett later that night. All their ski gear was packed in the Explorer Frankie had bought for them on their return to Michigan, and on their way home they had stopped at Clara’s on Michigan Avenue in Lansing for a nice dinner.
“Paranoia, my dear, would be if I thought they were out to get me. I do not think that. I was merely afraid they would recognize me,” Brett patiently explained. She wondered whether Allie would ever fully understand who she had been, what she had done, or what she knew from her past life. Although Allie knew most of the details of it and had helped her develop a new identity, sometimes it didn’t seem like she grasped all the implications of it. Brett had been a criminal, a leading name in Detroit’s organized crime circles.
“So what if they did?” Allie asked, clearly frustrated with Brett’s covers, innuendoes and secrecy.
“Honey,” Brett said, taking Allie’s hand lightly. “We both know it’s best if everyone believes Brett Higgins is dead.” She smiled, looking deep into Allie’s eyes, seeing her own love reflected there. She ran a hand across Allie’s cheek. Allie was apparently also forgetting a cop named Randi McMartin who thought her lifelong ambition had been fulfilled two years ago when she attended Brett Higgins’ funeral.
“But that still doesn’t explain why we had to leave. We were having a great time, weren’t we?” Allie wrapped her arms around Brett’s neck.
“Yes, we were, but I prefer not spending any more time around Tony Marzetti than is absolutely necessary.”
Brett reached down and took Allie’s hand as the waitress returned with their drinks. Clara’s was a redesigned train depot, decorated with memorabilia and photographs. “Antonio Marzetti. He called himself Guy Franklin today. Rick introduced him to me one day at the theater. And I know I’ve seen that guy who walked up to him, but I just can’t place him...”
“My ass,” Brett grumbled as she picked up a menu. “Nobody who looks like that is named Chester Bombast. Besides, I don’t know anyone named that.”
“So you’re saying they both used code names?”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m saying.” “So?”
“So their remarks sounded like code—kinda like ‘the eagle flies at dawn’ sorta thing.”
“They were just discussing skiing!” Allie exclaimed, apparently frustrated with her lover’s inability to give up the past and get on with life.
“Allison, Chester was not wearing Italian boots, and I doubt he’s ever owned a pair of skis in his entire life. Plus, telemarking is something you do on cross-country skis, not downhill.”
“Brett, we cannot run everytime you think you hear a thunk in the night. You are out of the business now—”
“Do you remember that bombing with the car-makers a few years ago—in Detroit?”
“Yeah, they figured it had to do with the unions, because it was during a strike...”
“That was Tony.”
“But they never figured out who did it!”
“It was Tony. And the other guy gave him cash and instructions today. If you had been really watching, you would have noticed the way he flipped through the smaller envelope—checking out his payment.”
Allie looked across the table at her, then dropped her gaze to the menu. “The chicken Kiev looks good, don’t you think?”
Brett lifted Allie’s chin so their eyes met. “You just have to believe me sometimes...”
• • • • •
“So what do you think we should do about it?” Allie asked Brett after Brett paid the bill.
“Huh?” Brett replied, unable to follow her line of thought.
“What do you think we should do about Tony Marzetti?” Allie repeated as they headed out to the car.
Brett opened Allie’s door for her. “I dunno. Something’s gotta be going down, but there’s no telling where. Even though the drop took place here, that’s no indication as to the locale.”
“So the only way to really do anything would be for you to admit to the police to being Brett Higgins, and say how you know him.”
“And that’d be a guaranteed ride on the straight-to-hell express,” Brett replied. “When I quit the life, about all I knew was that I’d never turn in anyone.”
Allie nodded, understanding. Although they had never discussed it, it was always understood between them—in Brett’s former occupation, turning people in was the worst of crimes. Everybody would be out to get her then—not even a relocation program could hide her well enough from those she turned in and those who worried she might.
Plus, getting involved with something like that would surely draw attention to Brett, and Allie couldn’t help but think of her ex-lover Randi’s unnatural obsession with Brett, even if Allie had finally convinced her that Brett hadn’t killed her brother. Randi McMartin was a Detroit detective who thought Brett was dead and was a big part of the reason Brett was on the lam.
Allie breathed deeply of the cool night air, glad to be back in Michigan after a year in California, glad to once again be experiencing the coming spring, which you could feel in the air. She liked a state with changes in the weather—actual seasons. “You want to go for a walk down by the Capitol?” she suddenly asked as they climbed into the Explorer.
Brett smiled at her quizzically.
“It’s just such a beautiful night.”
Brett nodded and started the car, maneuvering out onto Lansing’s myriad of one-way streets to head toward the Capitol. Allie moved a little closer to Brett and picked up her hand, holding it in her own. She loved Brett wholly and completely but sometimes worried that Brett missed her old life. Allie could tell that every once in a while Brett missed the fast-paced, exciting life she used to live, yet she wasn’t quite the same woman she used to be. These days it was a bit easier bringing a smile to Brett’s lips, getting her to open up and be excited about things like skiing—she had really enjoyed that, been truly happy about it. When they first met, it took an awful lot to get her to be simply happy about anything. Although Brett would probably never admit it, she had changed quite a bit in the past year.
Allie squeezed Brett’s hand a little tighter and Brett wrapped her arm around Allie, pulling her in a little closer, as if she could sense Allie’s thoughts as they drove wordlessly through the streets.
It was already much later than they had anticipated being in Lansing, but the night was beautiful and the streets were amazingly free and clear of traffic and pedestrians. They stood on the lawn of the Capitol, looking up at its lit dome, the distant chirping of early crickets providing the music of the night. The breeze was soft and a thousand stars twinkled above them.. Allie ran her hand along Brett’s cheek and let her thumb brush Brett’s lips. A smile played across her lips as she looked deeply into her lover’s eyes.
“You’ve got another gray hair,” she teased, tugging playfully at the hair in question.
“Don’t pull it!” Brett said. “Or else I’ll get three more in its place!” These days Brett seemed to actually notice that she was pushing thirty. Allie hoped it wasn’t just because she was six years younger than Brett that this change had occurred.
“The first time I ever saw you, I thought you looked like something dangerous, something from the other side.”
“And now,” Allie began, leaning back against the tall, wrought iron fence that surrounded the lawn of the Capitol, “now I know there’s more to it. You’re not quite what meets the eye.”
“And is this a good thing or a bad thing?” Brett stepped forward so her body pressed against Allie’s. They were such a perfect fit with Brett just an inch taller than her. Their bodies came together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Allie loved this sweet anticipation, knowing that in an hour or so she’d be making love with Brett, flesh against flesh with Brett inside of her. Suddenly, that hour or so seemed to stretch like an eternity before her.
“Definitely a good thing. If you were just any old big bad ass, I’d’ve dumped you a long time ago.”
“Mmm, is that so?” Brett asked, burying her face in Allie’s hair as she nibbled her neck, breathing deeply of the scent of Allie’s perfume.
Allie moaned slightly but forced herself back to what she knew she had to say next. “And now I think you have to stay out of it—there’s too much at risk for both of us. You need to focus on your new job. We need to focus on our new life.”
“I hate to admit it, but I think you’re right,” Brett said. She held Allie tightly in her arms. She sighed. “I just hate admitting defeat.”
“What are you thinking?” Allie whispered into her lover’s ear a few minutes later.
Brett finally released her and pulled back to look into her eyes. “When I first saw you, I thought you were an angel dropped from heaven—and I still do.” A smile touched her lips as she leaned forward to kiss Allie.
• • • • •
The sound of squealing tires made Brett look up just as a man ran past them. It was rather late in the day for a jogger. And he was wearing an expensive gray business suit with loafers and carrying a briefcase. He turned as he ran, as if watching for an unseen assailant. Suddenly a gunshot rang through the night air and he fell to the ground just a few feet from the two women.
“Get down!” Brett yelled as she pulled Allie off to the side while reaching for the gun that was always at her side—in the old days. “Shit!” She realized the gun wasn’t there. Allie rolled to her knees and, crouching down, ran to where the man lay. Brett followed.
“It’s just a phase,” he slurred before he died. Allie felt for a pulse and found none. His black briefcase with a silver CJB monogram had broken its lock when it hit the ground and his diamond tie tack glittered in the moonlight.
“He’s dead,” she whispered to Brett. “And I really don’t think it’s just a phase.”
Brett glanced down at his body. About fifty, with graying brown hair, he had a large hairless mole on his chin. He looked like he was just hitting middle-age spread but kept it well-hidden beneath expensive suits.
“Oh, fuck,” Brett said, not liking this one bit. She stared a moment longer at the gaping chest wound that was pumping blood out onto the sidewalk and jumped to her feet and took off toward Michigan Avenue—the direction the shot had come from. Allie followed her.
The full moon gave the briefest hints as to the whereabouts of the assailant as he dashed off the main thoroughfare. Brett saw his shadow dart down first one then another deserted side street as her feet pounded on the pavement. The streetlights here were mostly burned out once you got away from the Capitol, unless there just weren’t any. Trash lined the streets she ran down, slowly gaining on the shooter.
He ducked into an alleyway ahead of her. She sprinted after him with Allie just behind her. A garbage can crashed down into her path and she leapt over it in hot pursuit. She saw a shadow leaping over a high fence ahead of her.
She hit the fence in a full run, throwing her foot up onto it, using her momentum to grab the top, where she pulled herself up and over. As she dropped to the ground on the other side, she saw a metallic gleam come from a streetlight reflecting off a gun. When she heard the bullets strike around her, she knew he was using a silencer and hoped Allie was proceeding with more caution than she had.
Brett rolled over to a Dumpster, which she used as cover, and stood up. She saw a figure dash out of the alley and down the street. Allie dropped from the fence and ran up to her.
“That way,” Brett whispered as she took off running out of the alley. It looked like the man they were following was also running out of breath and feeling the length of the chase. They hadn’t even run a block, her heart pumping, when Brett heard a car bearing down on them from behind. She almost didn’t see it because the headlights were off, but she threw an arm around Allie and jumped to the side—right into a row of trashcans.
The car roared by and Brett looked up just in time to miss getting any description of the car, its driver or license plate. She saw the brakelights briefly flash down the street as the driver, she presumed, picked up the person they had been following.
“Shit!” she yelled, getting to her feet and vainly looking in the direction the car had gone.
Allie stood up beside her and brushed herself off. “We should call the police,” she said calmly, looking down the street.
“The police?” Brett asked, unable to relate to the fact that most people call the police when someone dies; she had spent years avoiding any interaction with the folks in blue.
“Brett, we have to.”
Exhausted and out of breath, they stopped by Club 505, which was commonly called Five-O-Dive, to call 911 and then took the most direct route back to the body, covering the blocks at a fairly rapid pace. Even from a distance, they could see the flashing lights attesting to the quick response of the Lansing police department.
An officer gave them a quick once-over, eyeing their more than somewhat disheveled appearance. “Are you the two who called in the complaint?” he asked.
Brett instinctively turned from him, falling back into her old habits. She still didn’t like talking with the police. There were only a few onlookers gathered around the scene, and soon a couple of them lost interest and headed off.
“Yes, we are,” Allie replied quickly. “Do you have any idea who he is?”
“One thing at a time.” He grimaced, pulling a notebook out of his breast pocket. “Hey, Ski!” he yelled over his shoulder. “I got ‘em over here!”
The plainclothes detective named Ski turned out to be a fairly good-looking woman with long, dark hair tied back in a ponytail, and a nice shape hidden under a black blazer, conservative white blouse and gray slacks.
“You the two who said you saw a murder?” she asked with a slight frown as she quickly sized them up. She seemed to pause with Allie. Brett had a brief, pleasant thought about Ski and Allie... and her.
“Yeah,” Brett said before Allie could reply. “We saw some guy laid out right in front of us.” She looked directly into Ski’s hazel eyes, and noticed Ski hesitate before continuing.
“Could you describe this supposed incident to me?”
“‘Supposed’ incident?” Brett asked with a grin. Leave it to cops to try to change one thing into something else.
Allie leapt to the detective’s rescue with a full-blown account of the shooting, obviously knowing that Brett was about to slip into her smart-ass self. Brett watched the first officer, whose nameplate said Malone, take notes. She wandered over to where the police were packing up.
“What’s goin’ on?” Brett asked a cop nonchalantly, curious about who the poor sucker was.
“Ah, some crank called up and said there had been a murder,” he replied with a shrug. “Then we get here and there ain’t no body.”
“Nobody, or no body?”
“No body,” the cop replied. “Nothin’ but a bit a blood looks like somebody skinned their knee earlier skateboardin’. Crazy-ass kids, give’em one nice day and they’re climbing the walls and marching down the streets.”
“Or maybe somebody dumped their cherry slushy all over,” another cop added with a laugh.
“Are you sure there wasn’t a body?” Brett persisted. What the hell happened?
“Listen, I know a dead body when I see one, and there ain’t one here,” he said, shaking his head. “Some punks got nothin’ better to do with their time than call up the cops talkin’ ‘bout whatever they dream up.”
Brett looked around. The body had been there less than a half-hour ago. Under the moonlight she could see some red on the pavement, but you could almost imagine it to be either from a skinned knee or some other minor injury. She flicked her Zippo and put her hand down over the bloodstain. The pavement was cool, from the night air, and wet—but not from blood. The surrounding sidewalk and some of the grass was wet too. Someone had washed the sidewalk. She fingered the wetness and sniffed. Yup, they had washed the sidewalk, with coffee they probably had in their car.
Stupid her, she had only seen the one fellow dash off, and she’d taken pursuit on the first glance she had. He no doubt had a partner who had ducked out of the way while she and Allie checked out the body and chased the first guy. Then the partner came, nabbed the body, cleaned up and went to pick up his friend. Stupid, stupid her. She should’ve known...
“I was a detective in Detroit—I wouldn’t lie about something like this!” Allie was insisting when Brett returned.
“Listen,” Ski said. “If there ain’t no body, there ain’t no murder. It’s that simple. Show me a body and I’ll investigate a murder.” Brett again found her gaze landing on Ski, who was just a bit shorter than she was, with soft features untouched by make-up. She was a femme trying to look rugged yet acceptable in a rough profession.
“Somebody washed the sidewalk over there,” Brett said, indicating the area the police were vacating.
“It’s wet. No tellin’ what happened. Kid coulda dropped his pop.”
“That would’ve happened during the day, when kids were around. It would’ve dried by now. And it’s not pop, it’s coffee.”
Ski shrugged and pulled out a business card. Handing it to Allie she said, “If you think of anything else...”
“I’ll give you a call,” Allie replied, clearly unhappy with this turn of events.
Brett turned back to Ski, who was looking at her with the like someone suddenly reminded of a dream from a week ago. She grinned and winked in her direction.
“...When Some Body Disappears offers steamy sex and a voyeur's glimpse at Detroit's seamy porn scene. More significantly, the novel also reveals the difficulties inherent in reinventing one's life.”
—Lynne Maxwell, Lambda Book Report, March 1999
• • • • •
“...As always, Brett is the consummate butch: tall, dark, handsome, and equal to any task she must undertake. Her lover Allie, blonde and beautiful, is still steadfastly by her side. And, as in any Brett Higgins mystery, there is plenty of action and thrills, (sexual, and other)... What follows is a fast paced thriller filled with suspicious police officers, sexy women and high speed chases. All of this combines to make a very enjoyable read. Szymanski's mysteries are rough, tough, and just the way Brett Higgins would like them.”
R. Lynne Watson, MegaScene, Palm Springs, February 19, 1999
There are a number of notable and interesting things about this book. Or, at last I think so, and since I’m the one rambling about it, I’ll mention them:
When I got my copies of this book, I picked ‘em up, looked ‘em over, read the back cover, freaked out, and called Naiad. Something on the back cover made me have a heart attack and I asked them about it, as nicely as I could. Years later, I learned that sometimes the jacket copy writer wrote funny stuff into the jacket copy and usually ended up hoping Naiad would look over the copy and get rid of the jokes, since they often were not the sort of thing that would sell books. Something about the jacket copy for this book made the Naiad staff take a vote on whether it was true or not. They voted it was, and it stayed. So if you get a copy, you can see the back cover, and, if you look just under my picture, you’ll see what made me freak out.
Another thing, Barbara Grier loved the title of this book. She was pitching it quite a bit that year at BEA—before it came out.
When I got the idea for this book, it was pretty much, what would happen if… and then… But I had to do some reworking when I had Brett and Allie end up back in Michigan (they were originally supposed to end up in California, but really, there was no reason for them to be there, except being on the lam and all. Also, at the time, no one was writing Michigan, so my editor liked having them there).
The editor had the book for more than 6 months before she read it. Then she asked me to take out many characters and the major plot line. Two weeks before it was due to the typesetter. The outcome was that I had to rewrite the entire book in two weeks. While I was in the midst of a breakup, had undiagnosed pneumonia, was quitting one job for another, was producing a play from Hades, and was preparing to move. The cast of the play walked out on me on closing night, after we spent 8 hours rehearsing to work in a new actor since one was stuck in California. Two days later, my doctor told me I had pneumonia and I burst out laughing. I have this theory that things can only go so far in one direction before they pop out the other. In this instance, things were so bad, they were ridiculous.
But, regardless of all that, some people think this is their favorite book of mine.
And you can buy the book from your local independent/feminist/LGBT or rockin' lesbian bookstore, or any really cool store that might sell books like mine.
Oh, and of course, you can buy it/find out about its availability and such from my terrific publisher, Bella Books.
My books are also available on a veritable plethora of online booksellers, including
all the Amazons in the world:
And a whole lot of other places.
Make sure to check out all of the heartpounding
Brett Higgins Motor City Thrillers!