Steamed (A Maid in LA Mystery) (6 page)

BOOK: Steamed (A Maid in LA Mystery)
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He looked over my shoulder and at the small view of the house the partially opened door left.  “What’s the board for?”

 
“Come to breakfast with me, and maybe I’ll tell you.”

 
Cal sighed again.  “Fine.  I’ll drive.”

 
“And I’ll follow in my car.”  I waited for him to argue that it made sense to drive together. 

 
Cal looked as if he was indeed going to argue, then he simply shrugged and said, “Whatever.”

 
We drove to nearby Pattycake’s Pancake House.  It was only a few blocks from the house and it was one of the boys’ favorite breakfast joints.  They’d sit around the table and argue the merit of chocolate chip pancakes against blueberry ones.

 
I missed my boys.

 
Pattycake was a twig of a woman who looked like she should be a on some runway modeling lingerie rather than serving up homemade pancakes in an old silver diner car.

 
We got situated in a booth and placed our orders.

 
“So, why can’t I come in your house?” Cal added a creamer to his coffee.

 
“You didn’t buy the orgy story?” I asked.

 
“No.”  He took a sip of his coffee, grimaced and added another creamer. 

 
“What if I said I was hiding escaped convicts in the living room?” I tried.

 
“Quincy.”  His voice dripped with exasperation, but maybe, just maybe, underneath that was the slightest sound of humor.

 
It was that tiny indication of humanity that convinced me to tell the truth.  “Fine.  So, my boys left for a summer vacation with their father on Thursday, and I’ve been so wrapped up in this murder business, I haven’t had time to clean up.”

 
Cal looked at me like I was nuts—I was beginning to think that was the only expression he had when I was around. 

 
“I’m a guy,” he said…as if I didn’t know that. “I wouldn’t have noticed.”

 
“You’re a detective, which means you make your living noticing stuff.  And I make my living cleaning up messes.  Having my own home look like a tornado went through it, not once but twice...that’s just embarrassing.”

 
“So what was the whiteboard for?”  He took another sip of his coffee and didn’t grimace, so I figured he’d added enough creamer. 

 
I wanted to tell him about the whiteboard, and about Tiny.  But I couldn’t.  I may have been honest about the state of my house, but I wasn’t willing to give up all my secrets.  And I especially wasn’t willing to give up Tiny’s secrets.  “A new craft project,” I said, thinking on the fly.  “I’m using it to make a huge montage of pictures for my son Hunter.  He just graduated from high school and I thought he’d enjoy a sort of Hunter retrospective.”

 
As I said the words, I realized what a stupid explanation that was.  Now, if I’d made something like that for Hunter’s graduation party in June, it would have made sense, but having it for him before he left for college was dumb.

 
But obviously, Detective Parker didn’t think very highly of my mentality because he nodded and said, “Oh.” 

 
He’d bought it.

 
I sort of wanted to kick him because the fact that he’d bought it was insulting.  But I needed information about the murder more.  “So have you made any progress on finding poor Mr. Banning’s murderer?”

 
Cal looked suspicious.  “Why do you ask?”

 
“Since I’m your prime suspect, it’s in my interest to ask if your focus has shifted elsewhere.”

 
“You aren’t my focus,” he assured me.

 
“Oh, yeah?  So why were you at my doorstep before lunch?”

 
Now, I hadn’t known Cal Parker long, but the low, strangled sound he made as a response didn’t take a lifelong friendship to interpret.  “You aren’t my investigation’s focus,” he managed to say in a tight, forced voice.

 
“If I’m not your investigation’s focus...” A light bulb went off in my head.  “Oh.”  I thought about it some more.  “Oh.”

 
“Oh.  Oh.  What?”

 
“If I’m not your investigation’s focus, then I must be a personal focus.”  Part of me wanted to holler,
Cal and Quincy sitting in a tree
.  It had been a long time since a man was interested in me, but I sensed rubbing in Cal’s obvious infatuation wasn’t wise.  I was a bit curvier than I used to be, but I could say in a very humble way, my mamma didn’t have to tie a porkchop around my neck to get the dog to play with me.

 
“I am not...” Cal sputtered to a halt.

 
I pushed away the rest of my cinnamon roll, sipped the last of my coffee and stood, careful to suck in my baby pooch.  “I think the gentleman doth protest too much,” I called out as my parting salvo.  I wish I’d learned to sashay better, but since I wasn’t much of a sashayer, I sauntered to the door with as much confidence as I could.  I ignored the fact I was sucking in my baby pooch for all I was worth.  And I ignored the fact that my butt was larger than I’d like and that was Cal’s view at the moment.

 
He hadn’t come over to grill me for more information on the case.

 
He’d come over because he was worried about me.

 
And he’d never once asked me about Tiny, so odds are he hadn’t found pictures of her yet, or if he had, he didn’t know she was my partner in the business and had access to a key.

 
Well, I’d just make sure he didn’t meet Tiny.  At least, that he didn’t meet her until I solved the case.  I’d have to distract him.

 
Now, that would be a hardship, I’m sure. 

 
I chuckled to myself as I got in my car and drove home.

 
I had a murder board to put together...and a house to clean.

 

Chapter Four

 

 It had been a productive day.  I’d found out about Tiny and Banning.  I ate a fritter.  I had coffee with Cal.

 
Let’s not forget about eating at Big G’s the night before.

 
It had been productive and calorie rich.

 
I was going to start dieting…as soon as I found out who killed Mr. Banning.

 
And I was on my way to finding that out.  The murder board was safely tucked away in Hunter’s newly cleaned room.  It was a thing of beauty, thanks to my television enhanced investigative skills.

 
At the top of the murder board was WWBLJD. 
What would Brenda Leigh Johnson do
?  That was how I was going to solve this case, as if I were
The Closer
.

 
I wish that show had been around when I was still actively acting.  I’d have loved a role on it.  I was in a mystery pilot once.  Dead Body Number One.  That was my name.  The pilot never got picked up.  Since that and my almost shot at toothpaste fame were the heights of my acting experience, I thought that Mac’Cleaners gave me a better shot of financial stability.

 
Plus, staying still was not my forte.  I haven’t played a dead body since.  It sounds like it should be easy money, but in fact, it was excruciating.

 
Thinking about playing a dead body made me remember poor Mr. Banning.  Problem was, he wasn’t playing.  I shuddered.

 
After I picked up some of the living room and set the board up, I hit the Internet.  Thank goodness for sites like
Starkly Wild
and
Hollywood Action
.  Plus, I do rudimentary background checks on new clients for Mac’Cleaners.  I’ve had a bit of experience.

 
I started with a basic Internet search.  There were TV shows, films and two plays that Steve Banning had written.  He’d received the Mortie for
Dead Certain
, a three season television comedy about a coroner’s office.  He’d also been nominated for a slew of awards for
Falling Down the Rabbit Hole
in 2008. He hadn’t won any. 

 
Even if he was a dog, I felt bad about that.

 
I needed more than his professional stats.  According to all my television cop shows, every good detective knows that most victims are murdered by someone they know.  Frequently, someone they were intimate with.  The fact that there was no forced entry indicated that the victim let the killer in, or the killer had a key.  Either way, it seemed likely I was looking for someone he knew.

 
According to the Internet, he had two ex-wives.  Tessa Compernalle.  He’d been married to her for ten years.  After he divorced her, he married Shannon Ball, now Banning.  He’d had an affair with Shannon while he was married to Tessa, and they’d had an illegitimate daughter, Shaley.  Shaley was nineteen now.  Banning had married Shannon when Shaley was five and he’d divorced her as soon as Shaley turned eighteen.

 
I couldn’t decide if that made Banning a nice guy, for staying with his wife for his daughter’s sake, or a creep.

 
I thought about the underwear and the fact he’d had an affair with wife two while he was married to wife one.  I wondered when Tiny had her affair with him?  Had he still been married to wife number two?

 
I hadn’t asked a lot of questions because I knew Tiny hadn’t done it.  But given that she’d been with Sal for a few years, it seemed likely.  More than likely, he must have been married at the time.  She couldn’t have known, which meant he’d lied to her, in addition to taking compromising photos. 

 
Let’s face it, before Sal, Tiny had horrible luck with men.

 
Yeah, Mr. Banning was a creep.

 
I printed out pictures of his exes and daughter and as the printer whirred, I started looking into the newest ex.  They’d been divorced almost a year.

 
According to the Internet, Shannon Banning was going to be hosting a charity gala at Le Celebre Hotel tomorrow.  I could get a look at the suspect if I could wrangle an invite.

 
I did know a few Hollywood sorts—people I’d met while I was married to Jerry—who might attend.  But no one well enough to ask for an invite.

 
But I did know Honey Martin, head chef at Le Celebre Hotel’s  restaurant, Psst.  Oh, we’d also bowled together on a league a few years ago.

 
That’s right.  I bowl.  I bowl badly, but I bowl.

 
I knew Honey on two fronts.  One being she’d worked with us for a while.  She’d been in school and had a daughter.  We’d worked her schedule around her classes and family life.  Secondly, I knew her because her daughter Trixie was in school with Miles.  They would start their senior year together next month.

 
I felt a bit misty at the thought.  Hunter was leaving for college next month, Miles next year and then Eli the year after that.  I’d have an empty nest.

 
Or a jail cell if I didn’t figure out who’d killed Banning.

 
I called Honey.

 
Which is why I ended up in Le Celebre’s ball room on Sunday night wearing black trousers, a white dress shirt and a black bowtie.

 
I was one of the invisible multitude in Hollywood. 

 
I was a server.

 
I don’t think most people really think about how invisible service people are.  I mean, totally look-right-through-them sort of invisible.  The upper echelon never sees us, never pay attention.  Oh, maybe you note that your waiter did a good job and leave a hefty tip, but when’s the last time you noticed a janitor, or the garbage man?  When’s the last time you said thank you to a postman or the paper guy?  Catering staff tended to be of that ilk.  You could be served hors d’oeuvres by someone, but if asked ten minutes later, odds are you couldn’t describe the person with the tray.

 
I was counting on that.

 
I circulated the room, passing out shrimp puffs and listening to bits of conversation.

 
“...such a shame.”

 
“...what a waste.”

 
My ears perked up as a younger guy—maybe late twenties—talked to a woman who definitely had never sucked in a baby-pooch.  “Everyone’s boo-hooing, saying all kinds of nice things about him, but let’s face it, he’s an ass.  He had an affair with Shannon while he was still married to his first wife.  The tabloids had a field day with it.  Then Shannon was shocked last year to find he was having an affair—and had had numerous affairs since.  She was even more shocked that he wanted a divorce.  He’s an ass.”

 
Well, there was someone who called it like he saw it.

 
I circulated back into the kitchen and found Honey.  I pointed through the kitchen pass-through.  “What’s that guy’s name?”  I pointed to the he’s-an-ass speaker. 

 
“Rogers.  I don’t know his first name.  I think he’s here with Shaley.  His parents own a chain of upscale boutiques.”

 
“Trust-fund kid?” I asked.

 
“You can say that again.”

 
I nodded, picked up another tray and made the rounds again. 

 
I spotted Banning’s ex, Shannon Ball Banning.  I recognized her from the photo I had taped to my whiteboard.  She was standing near the bar, talking earnestly to some man I didn’t recognize.  I sidled up to the bar, tray of shrimp puffs in hand, and listened.

 
“...Shaley gets it all?” the man asked.

 
By gets it all, I assumed he meant Banning’s estate.

 
“Unless Steve changed his will again.  His dying is the best thing that could have happened to her.  Poor Shaley had to leave Yale before the end of term because he forgot to pay the tuition.  Forgot my—”

 
“Tsk tsk tsk,” the man said.

 
Shannon was quiet a moment.  “You’re right.  It’s unseemly to speak ill of the dead, even if I was married to him and know there’s very few nice things to say about him. What kind of father could use his daughter’s education as a bargaining chip to force me to sign the divorce papers?”

 
“Did I hear…”

 
I didn’t get to hear any more of the very interesting conversation because what was now an all too familiar voice asked, “What are you doing here?”

 
“Officer,” I said as innocently as I could manage as I turned around and found Cal standing behind me wearing a very appropriate black tie suit.

 
“Detective,” he corrected.

 
I shrugged, as if I didn’t care.  I wanted to say something snarky, but I couldn’t manage to think of anything.  All I could do was look at the very trendy suit and the body it hugged and salivate.  Detective Cal Parker was gorgeous.

 
I’d thought so when he was wearing his I’m-a-detective suit when I first met him, and I thought so now as well.

 
“Again, what brings you here tonight?” he asked, his eyes narrowing.

 
I extended the shrimp puff tray toward him.  “Puff?”

 
“You are not here as a server.”  He studied me a moment, shook his head and added more to himself than me, “I’m not buying it.”

 
He didn’t take a puff, so I pulled the tray back.  “Buy what, Detective?”

 
“That you’re working here.”

 
“Why else would I be here dressed like this?” I asked.  “Obviously, I’m a cater waiter.”

 
“You’re here to talk to Banning’s ex.”

 
“Is she here?”  I looked around as innocently as I could manage, then I turned back to him.  “Now, isn’t that a coincidence.”

 
“Quincy, I’m serious—”

 
I cut him off and because I was looking at his scowling expression and not his suit-hugged body, I managed to tease, “You’re serious?  You just informed me you were a detective.  Now, I’m confused.  Are you serious, or a detective?”

 
He made a weird sound somewhere between a growl and a cough.  “I’m both, and I can arrest you for obstruction, Quincy Mac.  Don’t push me.”

 
“I think you’d be hard pressed to make that stick.  The only conversation I’ve had with anyone here tonight consists of me asking if they’d like a shrimp puff and them responding.  Plus, I’d like to point out that you said to stay in the city...and this is in the city.  I haven’t broken any of your rules for potential murder suspects and accidental murder scene cleaner-uppers.”

 
Technically Celebre Hotel was the city, but compared to where I lived and worked, it might as well have been on another planet.  Once I attended events like this as Mrs. Jerome Smith, but that was a lifetime ago.  It didn’t seem real any longer.  These days, the only visiting I did on this side of town was clean a house or in this case, serve a party.

 
“How about me saying to leave this case alone?”

 
“I haven’t done anything to interfere with your case, Detective Serious.  So what lead are you following here?” I asked, trying to pretend I didn’t know that Banning’s ex was tossing this shindig.

 
“Wow, with acting that impressive, it’s surprising you don’t have a Mortie.”

 
Ouch.

 
I decided that this play of wits wasn’t fair...my whole wit was obviously going to beat his halfwit.  To be honest, half a wit might be too generous a description of Detective Parker.

 
I picked up my tray and walked away from him.

 
“Quincy, I’m sorry,” he called.

 
I turned around.  “That’s Ms. Mac to you.  And although it isn’t nearly as glamorous as acting and winning a Mortie, or being a serious detective chasing down a lead, the fact is, I have a job to do, and like I told you when you asked me about cleaning that apartment, I take my work very seriously and I do an excellent job.”

 
I walked away, tray of shrimp puffs offered from one person to the next, then I headed into the kitchen.  Honey took one look at me and said, “What on earth is wrong?  Did someone try and grope you?  I know how the rich and famous can treat the help.”

 
“It’s been so long, I’d consider someone copping a feel a compliment.  That’s a sad comment, but there it is.”  That had to be why I’d found Serious Parker attractive…I was desperate.  He was probably a troll and I’d simply overlooked it because of my current male drought.  “I’m going to go make a couple more rounds.”

 
I took another tray of shrimp puffs and walked back into the crowd.  I spotted the detective on the north end of the building—Okay, confession.  I have no sense of direction.  I know that there’s a north, south, east and west, but other than that, I don’t have a clue.  Here in California, if you see the ocean, it’s a safe best that’s west or at least westerly, but otherwise, I’ve got nothing.  Cal was standing by the main entrance to the room, so that felt like north to me.  Because he was there, I headed toward the pseudo-south side of the room.

BOOK: Steamed (A Maid in LA Mystery)
8.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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