by Sandor Novak
Detective Loretta Grebbs released the body with a nod. Paramedics rolled the gurney toward the exit. She continued her inventory backstage at Dr. Buzzard’s, a ballroom at The Pirates’ House on East Broad Street in Savannah.
“So what we got?” her partner asked, leaning against the dressing room door frame.
“Guy looking for a woman named Audrey shows Hazel this picture, goes apeshit over BJ. She knees his groin, and security shoots him before anything else happens. Hazel thought he had a gun in his blazer pocket. Nice one too before the blood stains, an Ermenegildo Zegna.”
Vince Caranzo frowned. “They are nice. But three day’s pay for a blazer? Did he have a gun?”
“No,” she said, bewildered. “Engagement ring. It’ll grab your attention too.” She handed him an evidence bag that held an open jeweler’s box.
Coranzo whistled. “Tiny working tonight?”
She nodded. “Uniforms took him downtown.”
“Huh. He never gets a break. Wife dies from cancer, son a suicide, guide boat sinks, now this.” He shook his head. “I’ll start with the girls while you finish here. I know BJ. She baby sits during the day when she’s in town. They in the next room?”
“Wait! Look at this.” Grebbs handed him a sheet protector from the dead man’s briefcase. A woman’s corporate photo graced a yellowing New York Post front page.
“Holy shit! They could be twins. And the headline.”
“Dissociation you think? I guess we’ll be going to New York.”
“If the lieutenant thinks it’s more than a phone call, you’ll go solo. Cathy’s in Italy, so I’ve got daughter duty. Without me around, maybe your love life will perk up.” He winced from a sharp elbow to his ribs.
Blake had fallen hard for Audrey. Friends on both sides said her emotional subversion tripped his heart. On the dance floor in a moment of uninhibited celebration—she had become a law firm partner—her errant left foot tripped his ankle. Though he felt fine, Audrey convinced him to go to the ER to see if he had a concussion.
Blake and Audrey attended the Waldorf function to support her parents. They sponsored an annual benefit for the New York City Chapter Alzheimer’s Association. Blake chose not to tell his presumed in-laws that his parents organized the New Dorp, Staten Island, little league bake sale.
Blake called Audrey after the neurologist kept him overnight for observation. The CAT scan showed a minor epidural hemorrhage. She said she would see him after the event wound down, and she had put her aging parents in their limo. Audrey didn’t go to the hospital that night. She didn’t go to get him the following afternoon. In fact, Audrey never saw Blake again, never answered a phone call or came to the lobby when the doorman had buzzed her Central Park West apartment. This time, instead of explaining, the doorman told him flat out never to come again.
Blake had risen in New York society in step with his rise at a major brokerage firm. He stumbled when an international bank bought the firm’s remains during the Great Recession. Work dragged on, and the next generation pushed him aside. On the other hand, Audrey’s ascent as the youngest female partner at her firm kept her life full.
Blake’s drained to empty. He went on benders. One evening rush, drunk, he stepped off the A-train into the sweltering heat beneath the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Shuffling along the subway platform with the crowd in stifling, urine-tinged air, he looked up and caught his breath as Audrey dragged a roller board off the escalator. Tired straphangers shouted obscenities as he pushed through. At the top, he searched, heart pounding, filled with what—joy, excitement, fear? He spotted her dark hair, saw her giving the roller board to the bus driver and jogged toward the gate in the thinner crowds upstairs. The bus backed out as he lurched through the waiting area. A security guard stopped him.
“Where’s that bus going?” he shouted, sweating, red-faced.
“Settle down there bro. You missed it. The next bus to Miami is around midnight. Check at the ticket counter. Maybe get some coffee too.”
The next day Blake requested vacation time. The young woman in human resources wouldn’t look at him and spouted company policy on his vacation pay and remaining bonuses. Security took his pass, watched him clean out his desk, and escorted him beyond the checkpoint in the lobby.
Two days later he was Miami bound with the same driver of the bus Audrey had taken. The driver remembered her when Blake showed him the snapshot of them together at her partner promotion party. He didn’t remember where she was going.
“I only went to Raleigh, then Carl took over.”
Blake waited a day in Raleigh for Carl’s return to duty.
“Yeah, I remember her,” Carl said. “She sat here in front in the same seat as you, talkin’ ‘bout how she liked some Southern foods, like collard greens, butter beans and pecan pie, though she said she had to be careful ‘bout her weight. Rarely ate fried fish or chitlins. Me, I love chitlins, but mama only makes ‘em on holidays ‘cause they take so much fixin’.”
Carl nearing retirement caught Blake off guard. “Your mama’s still cooking chitlins at her age?” he said, interested, if not rude.
“Mama to my babies, but they’s growed too. Now I’m just like bourbon, Old Grand-Dad,” he said and chuckled at his pun.
“Did she reach her destination while you were driving?”
“Yes, suh. She got off in Savannah. Said she had her regular gig singin’ and dancin’ after an off Broadway show closed. Way, way off she’d said.”
Blake thanked Carl and spent most of the trip watching the Carolina coastal plain drift by. He wondered why Audrey took the bus and how she worked as a singer. Few, fortunately, ever heard her sing outside the shower. Did her career collapse too? No matter. Her parents would help.
The Savannah bus terminal staff remembered Audrey but had no idea where she performed. At a coffee shop, he met a girl who said Audrey danced in the chorus line at Dr. Buzzard’s.
Blake sat at a back table and watched. She danced with another girl, both dressed as bell hops. Amazed at how well she performed, he delighted in seeing her again. He found the dressing rooms on little forays during breaks between sets.
The next evening, he requested a table in front, welcoming the smiles she gave him when their eyes met, that old haughty-naughty look—the feelings of abandonment washed away with wine and good seafood.
After the final set, Blake went backstage. He knew which door and knocked.
“Come on in,” a breathy voice cooed. “What can I do you for?”
“I’m here to see Audrey.” he said, buzzed from too much wine.
“No Audrey here, honey. But I’m Hazel,” she said and winked while giving him a thorough once-over.
He showed Hazel the snapshot of him with Audrey.
“Betty Jean, did you change your name?”
“There’s a looker here with a picture of you beside him. Says you’re Audrey.”
“I don’t think so,” she said coming from the bathroom half dressed.
Blake rushed over, grabbed her arm, pulled her into an embrace. Betty Jean screamed before he could kiss her and kneed him in the groin.
Hazel looked out the door and shouted, “Tiny!” who was running down the hall.
Betty Jean shoved the half-drunk groper. He tripped backwards into a chair.
Hazel looked into the room, saw Blake reaching into his jacket pocket, then stuck her hand out toward Tiny with thumb and forefinger indicating a gun.
Tiny burst in with his gun drawn and saw half of Blake’s hand, sinews taught, gripping something in his coat pocket. He fired twice into Blake’s chest.
Grebbs arrived before Coranzo. She sealed an evidence bag as he walked up and leaned against the door frame.
Holding his side where Grebbs elbowed him, Coranzo took the sheet protector but waited when Grebbs’ phone rang. Recognizing the number, she raised her arm with forefinger extended. “Yes, sir. We’ll do that,” she said before disconnecting.
“Yeah. DA wants to talk to Hazel about the gun sign she made—wants to know if Hazel knowingly misled Tiny.”
“Ah,” Coranzo said. “Politic Peggy’s potential perp parade. Too late for tonight’s news, though.”
“You know she needs to ask.”
“Don’t you mean grill? And four months ‘til the election.”
In the next room, Betty Jean and Hazel, blood splattered, stared at the twin image beneath the headline:
‘Lawyer Gunned Down Leaving Waldorf Fete’