Hold That Hot Phone
by Gary Clifton
Part 1 appears in this issue.
The drive out Memorial Parkway to River Oaks in mid-morning was a pleasant half-hour away from Houston traffic and pollution. In the PI business, sometimes you gotta step on the corners of the rule book.
I stopped, reached around to the gate alarm panel and punched numbers randomly. As I’d learned while chasing burglars, that technique had a discouraging tendency to open the gate or door. The hinges screeched as the steel barricade swung open. I drove up the beautifully manicured grounds to the front door.
I half-expected Boris the Bad to spring from the bushes with a machete. Marilyn answered the door on the second ring. Her sheer robe was an unusual late-morning get-up, but the flushed face and disheveled hair said vital clues were just inside. I walked past Marilyn to the library.
The white lace adorned, black maid’s dress and several items of unmentionables tossed on the arm of a sofa was a telling scene. The darkly beautiful babe standing at room center, wearing only a chartreuse towel barely large enough to half-conceal her assets, punctuated the situation. Marilyn Mikos had adjusted her lifestyle. I wondered where the lover/maid’s car might be.
Marilyn followed me into the million-book chamber. “Dammit, Kratzert, you shoulda called and not screwed with my personal business.”
The “screwed” part resonated. Her tone was more sensual than angry. Not normally easily surprised, I sure as hell was.
“You are absolutely correct, Marilyn. My apologies.” I expected her to ask for a refund.
Instead: “Any progress on who the hell ever has been making the calls?”
“Uh... yes and no, but I’m confident.”
She looked at the towel-clad maid. “Maria, there’s a robe in the hall closet.” Maria dropped the towel and strode magnificently nude down the entry hall.
“You like?” Marilyn smiled. I saw she was somewhere into about three martinis.
“Nice, Marilyn,” I observed. “But if she’s your squeeze, why the phony maid masquerade? Why not just move her in.”
“Complex situation, Dave.”
I read “lie” into her comment.
She smiled. “Got time for a drink? The three of us could use my bedroom upstairs. It has a mirrored ceiling.”
No, I didn’t faint, but bells and whistles were ringing an alarm. Time to leave. “You said Boris was on the job before your husband was murdered. What do you know about him?”
“He was my husband’s cousin. I kept him on because a man’s presence around the place at night is a good idea. And he works cheap.”
“You ever sleep with him?”
“Cletus Bobbit. How much do you pay him?”
“Oh, I think the corporation pays him like three grand a month retainer but, of course, more when he has to get into complex matters.”
“How does he get paid for complex matters?”
“He can draw on the corporate accounts. He’s a long-time, trusted and valuable associate.”
A classic case of a fox in the henhouse. Had Cletus been caught with too many chickens? But by whom?
“You sleep with him?”
She sipped at her martini. “You asked me that already.”
“Well, yeah until Maria came along sometime back.”
Speaking of “into complex matters,” I asked, “You sleep with Bobbit before your husband’s death?
“Was he pissed when you kicked him outta bed?”
“Ohhh, Cletus has plenty of chicks in his book. He doesn’t need me.”
“Was Maria here before we lost your husband?”
She sighed. “Yes, Dave, and the three of us did what you’re thinking.”
“Marilyn, I need to speak with Boris. Is he back there?
“Pulled in a half hour ahead of you. He’s probably up there.” She eyed me sternly but didn’t ask. Boris had apparently not told her I’d smacked his butt down the night before.
* * *
As I walked down the broad steps to my pickup, my cellular summoned.
“Kratzert and Associates.”
“Frankie Small, Dave. Hey, dude, the voice distorter used in these calls musta come from a garage sale. Hell, it was only a child’s toy. Got time, I’ll give you what I got.” A recorder clicked on.
It only took a minute listening to the first cleaned tape. I knew the voice.
I thanked Frankie and hung up. I sat in the F150 and called Maurice DuPree. “Have you done my job for me, Maurice?”
“Yeah, about to call you. Lots of calls back and forth between those phones, including traffic to numbers you didn’t give me and some info on your burner phone. Stand by, I’ll send you some notes.”
“How’d you get info on the burner?”
He chuckled. “Big brother runs the telephone company. Nothing is beyond the reach of the ruling party.”
He hung up. As data filtered in, I read carefully. I didn’t hear “Shazam,” but I had the great telephone call mystery firmly in hand... sort of.
There was still a hole or two in my theory that needed cleaning up. I pulled around back, betting Marilyn and Maria would be too busy with each other to step out to see what the hell I was doing.
* * *
The garage apartment door was on the driveway level. I banged several times. Boris wasn’t answering. I slipped the lock with a Visa card, another one of those steps over the corner of the rule book.
I climbed the stairs, doing my Sunday best to imitate my associate, Hector the cat. The place smelled liked rutting hogs. Boris was sprawled partially upright on a battered sofa, waiting patiently. If he had any residual pain from the stomach shot I’d given him, he wasn’t complaining. His still warm carotid said Boris was deader than good manners. Whoever had slit his throat from ear to ear hadn’t been gone long. Every drawer had been dumped; the mattress was turned. Some amateur had been looking for something they probably didn’t find.
I stepped around the blood and put twenty-five years of practice to use. It was in a ceiling vent, wrapped in a plastic bag. I dialed Rose at Homicide. “Rose, does you caller ID show the number I’m calling from?”
She read me back the number Marilyn Mikos had jotted on her threat tapes. “What’s up, Dave?”
“Stumbled into a homicide. Roll the cavalry.” I gave her the address.
Bingo. I had the midnight jackass caller. Now all that was left was a garden-fresh murder. I dug further into the vent. The .38 was coated with dust and light rust. An old five-shot snub-nosed Smith and Wesson, the chamber held three spent cartridges and two live rounds. Using a towel to grip, I copied all numbers on both items and slid them back into the vent.
It was nearly noon, about time for low rent bars to open for the day’s take. I dialed my cell. “Feralli’s,” Zero answered.
“Zero, I need your ass out in River Oaks. Write down this address and get the hell out here pronto.”
“River Oaks! Wht the hell’s wrong with you, Kratzert?”
“Plenty, Zero. If you’re not here in a half hour, I’ll have to find you, and you ain’t gonna like it when I do, you dig? Thirty minutes.”
Squad cars began arriving in numbers, and sooner than I figured, two guys from Homicide rolled up. From the upper window, I could see Marilyn and Maria, still in robe-ready mode standing near the rear mansion door.
Right behind the Homicide guys, Zero, escorted by a young uniform, shuffled around the corner. I must have hit the sweet spot. His countenance was a ringer for those condemned actors riding that cart on the way to the guillotine in old movies.
Steve Torres, an old comrade from Homicide mounted the steps. I whispered to him, “I received reliable info for a trusted source to check the overhead bedroom vent. If you find anything, bring it with you into the house. We’ll be in the library.” He nodded and I walked down to Zero, standing like a wet rat in the hot sun.
I nodded to the young cop and motioned Zero to follow. I approached Marilyn Mikos and Maria, still huddled provocatively in the rear stoop.
Marilyn flipped her cigarette into the shrubs. “Dave, one of the cops told me Boris had been murdered. Cletus Bobbit is on the way out here. You need to wait for him.”
“Wait for what? To see if he has head lice?”
I ushered the trio into the cooled interior to the library.
Feralli, his four-inch pomade assisted hair glistening, flopped on a sofa. Maria sat primly on the edge of the opposite end, where the maid’s outfit had been discarded earlier.
I said, “Maria, how about a round of drinks, uh maybe from that little fridge in the corner.”
She was doling out canned soft drinks when Steve Torres walked in, two vinyl evidence bags in hand. At the sight of the evidence, both Maria and Zero stirred as it to flee. Bad on them.
I said, “Maria, you can’t outrun all those young cops outside. Zero, you run and I’m gonna walk back with my foot in your ass. Everyone sit.”
Marilyn blurted a rather worn comment: “What the hell, Dave!”
Cletus Bobbit burst in, wild-eyed, flushed and out of breath.
“Sit, Cletus.” I remained standing. “Well, folks, Marilyn has been receiving these ugly telephone extortion threats. The calls came from a burner cell phone. I betcha that phone Detective Torres has in hand is the source of those calls. The calls were distorted on a convenience store device, which I’d bet if Detective Torres has the calls analyzed by the HPD lab, the ugly caller was the recently departed Boris Kostas.”
Bobbit spat, “Never trusted that clown.”
I continued. “If Detective Torres will submit to Texas Bell Security the telephone numbers of Feralli there, Marilyn’ two phones, Bobbit’s office and cell, and the burner, I believe you’ll find some odd connections. Neither of Bobbit’s phones called any number on the list beyond his client, Marilyn. We know Boris called Marilyn with threats. But note, I’m afraid his burner phone made and received over a dozen calls from another cellular.
Both Maria and Zero stirred but didn’t speak.
“If Detective Torres checks with Texas Bell security, he might learn their records reach far enough to pull up burner sales. I’ll bet the phantom phone was purchased from Texas Bell by one Maria Feralli. That you, Maria? But Maria gave the burner to Boris. Bell records show Maria has another cellular. In addition to calls from Maria’s cellular to and from the burner, she also called ol’ Zero here every day. I guess that makes the Ferallis brother and sister, or maybe cousins?”
Maria and Zero appeared ready to have a barfing contest.
Bobbit, his leathery voice like a rattlesnake, asked, “Where we goin’ here, Kratzert?”
“Cletus, I believe Detective Torres will check records and earn that three years ago, Boris Kostas served time in the Harris County lockup. Somehow, he got acquainted with Zero Farelli, who either was in jail or had a friend who was locked up. Boris, already Miko’s cousin and chauffeur, managed to slip Maria in. Being a very efficient maid, she seduced Marilyn and, by osmosis, Gus Mikos himself. ”
I was on a roll. “The plan was to squeeze what money they could out of Miko’s estate, then off Marilyn. Somehow Boris got greedy and Maria walked out to slit his throat just before I came up the driveway a while ago. She’d probably already played enough grab-ass with Boris to get close enough to knife him. I bet the knife is either in the kitchen sink or those bushes beside the back door. I like the part where Maria got nekked and wrapped herself in a towel in the Library. How’s that game go? It’s a classic case of the maid doing it in the garage apartment, then doing somebody else in the library.”
Torrres was scribbling notes frantically.
I looked at Maria. “The maid’s uniform tossed on the library sofa a half hour-ago, which has gotta still be on the premises, will have enough blood splatter to get Maria the three-needle cocktail.”
Maria spat, “Bastard!”
Torres scribbled in his notebook.
Marilyn demanded, “Squeeze money? How? Maria had no way—"
“Oh that was Cletus Bobbit’s part.”
Cletus exhaled sharply.
“He had some legal access to Mikos’ cash. I bet an audit will show he set himself up to wriggle himself into the proceeds as soon as they slit Marilyn’s throat.”
Bobbit sprang to his feet. “You got no proof! You just said there’d been no contact from my telephones.”
“Not from Cletus, but I’m thinking several calls to your phones came from the burner Torres just found in Boris’s bedroom and purchased by Maria plus several more from Feralli’s bar. The same Feralli who swore like a three-legged skunk he didn’t really know you.”
Torres spoke into a walkie-talkie. Several Uniforms entered.
“One more little thing,” I said. ”If Detective Torres runs ballistics on that .38 he just found, I wonder if they might match the slugs we dug outta Gus Mikos three years ago? I’m afraid Boris and Zero were in on the murder of Gus Mikos. When the fructus splashes, some of it is gonna land on all of you. Zero, not too late to cop a deal.”
Maria blurted, “Dammit, I told you two this crap would never work.”
“Quiet!” barked Bobbit.
Marilyn began sobbing. “Kratzert, what do I do now?”
“Find another maid, hire a new lawyer, get references before you fill the chauffeur’s position.”
* * *
At that, I was off to Peewee’s Billiard’s Parlor with twelve hundred bucks in my pocket. Maybe if Marilyn called me for some reason or other, I’d apply for that chauffeur’s job. She’d cozied up to a slob like Gus for love of his money. Maybe she’d be drawn to me because of my charming wit and intellect.
Surely, Hector the cat could adapt to life over a garage. I could comfort Marilyn most every night.
Copyright © 2019 by Gary Clifton