We started to the door and she said, "You know those guys at the club that you beat up in the parking lot? Bobby went crazy when he found out. After the club closed, he pulled off his belt and handed it to Cal, his right hand man. Cal savagely beat those two guys until their shirts were ripped and their backs were bleeding."
I looked shocked, "Those were big dudes. They just stood there and let that happen?"
"Everyone is deathly afraid of Bobby Diamond."
I turned the knob, opened the door, and then looked back.
"Not everyone, darlin'."
We finished our coffee in a sort of strained silence. The conversation seemed to lose its momentum. Maybe that's the kind of thing that happens when you become intimate so quickly with a total stranger.
I told her I should probably get back to investigating Paige Turner's murder.
"Will we see each other again?" she asked with a lilt in her voice.
"Do you want that?" I asked coyly.
She giggled, "Do you?"
I rose from the couch and went to her, pulling her up from the chair and kissing her, the taste of coffee swirling around in our mouths...
"Big time? In what way? Did she get a recording contract or what?" I asked.
Tiffany shook her head, "I don't know. That's just what she said."
"What's your take on Bobby Diamond?" I asked.
She sighed. "He's a pig. He makes my skin crawl. But I need a break in this business and he can give it to me."
I was starting to get the picture. Everyone was out for what they could get from someone else. This from a man who hopped in the sack with a woman he'd only met a few minutes before.
Ain't life funny?
"It happens all the time. A singer makes a name for herself at the club and then moves on."
"Have you ever heard from any of these singers again after they, as you say, moved on?" I asked.
"No, but none of them have turned up as corpses if that's what you're getting at. Not until Paige, at least."
"But Paige hadn't moved on yet. Her name was still on the sign outside the club."
Tiffany nodded. "She was about to. She told me, Milton and a few other people there that she was about to hit the big time."
She got a look in her eye and added, "And before you get any ideas, I'm not one of his flavors."
I looked around. "Does he pay for this apartment? And that convertible? And that shiny red dress I stripped off you last night? And that..."
"Enough, Jake!" she yelled. "Yes, he pays for all of that. He wanted me to be the club's new featured singer, no strings attached. I made sure of that."
"He wanted you to be the new featured singer at the club? What was he planning to do with Paige?"
"Bigger and better things, presumably."
"You know what, mister? I don't appreciate that remark! I'd like you to leave!"
I put my hands up, "Hold up there, cupcake! It was merely an observation!"
She calmed herself down a bit. "I'm sorry, Jake. That's a sensitive subject with me. I was always a better singer and better entertainer than Paige was. I should've had that job. But she was Bobby Diamond's, how can I say, flavor of the month?"
"One in a line of many is my guess. I'm beginning to think Diamond has more flavors than an ice cream stand!"
She giggled, "You're right, Jake."
I took another swig of the coffee and then asked, "But is he a murderer?"
She stopped and looked down. I think she was searching her mind for all her encounters and run-ins with Dunn.
"Honestly, I think he's too cowardly for that. Besides, he was crazy about Paige. She was alternately sweet and cruel with him on a daily basis and I never saw anything but love in his eyes for Paige."
"Well," I said, "if it wasn't Dunn then you might be a suspect. After all, you got her job."
She looked at me with fiery eyes...
"And who's your friend?" she asked warily.
"Ugh!" she snorted. "You should probably audit your social circle, Jake."
I shook my head, "I grew up with him. I haven't even seen him since middle school."
"Lucky you," she said, downing the last of her coffee and then rising to her feet to procure another cupful.
I finished mine and followed her back to the kitchen.
"I seem to be getting the same reaction from everyone I ask about Dunn. I can see his character hasn't changed much since we were kids."
"Dunn's a weasel, Jake. It's that simple."
We took our cups of steaming java to the living room, resuming the same places we had last night. It felt weird, almost like last night's bedroom Olympics had never happened.
"Now," she said, taking a few sips of coffee, "what was it you wanted to ask me, Mr. Randolph?"
I grinned, "You should probably call me Jake now, Miss Cross."
She smiled back, "Tiffany."
"Tiffany," I said. "How well did you know Paige Turner?"
Her eyebrow rose, "Are you a cop?"
I laughed. "Hardly. I'm a private investigator. But this isn't a case. I'm trying to help a friend."
"Really?" I asked. "My demeanor doesn't change according to what time of day it is."
"Well, mine does," she said as she pushed by me to head for the kitchen. I was hoping after a cup of coffee she'd be in more of a talkative mood. Milton Dunn's life and freedom was on the line, and even though I couldn't stand him, I wasn't going to let him get railroaded if he was innocent.
I went back to the bedroom, got dressed and then joined her in the kitchen.
The smell of the brewing coffee seemed to lighten her mood...
I found the bathroom, conducted a little business, and then went back out into the living room. Something just didn't feel right about this whole setup. Paige Turner was the featured singer at the Cherokee Club and I couldn't imagine even her being able to afford a joint like this. I had even more questions now than I did when I came here.
I went back to the bedroom and Tiffany was just slipping into her bathrobe.
"Good morning," I said, smiling.
She huffed, "That's one way of looking at it. I'm not a morning person, just so you know."
Morning burst into the room and punched me in the face like a jealous husband. Tiffany's naked body was wrapped up in mine. It felt nice to wake up this way. She looked so peaceful draped across me. I could feel her shallow breathing, which seemed to be in sync with mine. I didn't want to disturb her but I really needed to avail myself of her bathroom facilities. I eased out from under her, walking stark naked around her apartment, opening doors and looking for the bathroom.
If she had a roommate they were in for a rude awakening...
The questions could wait.
We both rushed toward each other and embraced. I wrapped my arms around her waist and lifted her off the ground as I kissed those sweet lips. She moaned into my mouth so seductively that I almost melted into a puddle at her feet. We continued kissing as I carried her to a door that I presumed was her bedroom. Thankfully, I was right.
We crashed onto the bed, still kissing passionately. I began peeling that lovely red dress off her lovely creamy body. It sailed to the floor.
Then the rest of the universe disappeared...
There was something undeniable happening, some sort of electrical charge emanating from our bodies toward one another. It was in the air between us, sizzling like bacon frying in a pan.
"Well," she said, breaking the silence, "you certainly handled that situation well."
I nodded, "Yeah, well, handling situations is what I do best. You sang that song very well back there."
She smiled, "Singing is the second best thing that I do."
"And what's a guy gotta do to find out what you do best?"
"Well," she said, winking, "he definitely has to know how to handle a situation."
Her eyes widened like a python's mouth trying to swallow an antelope.
"You're very perceptive, Mr. Randolph," she said as she moved away from the drinks cabinet and took a lounge chair opposite the couch.
"So I've been told," I said.
"You had quite a night this evening. Do you often have the business end of a pistol stuck to your forehead?" she asked as she finished her drink.
"Not usually this early in the week," I said and a beautiful grin spread across her lovely face.
Her body was begging to be let loose from that red satin prison...
I looked around, "Nice place, Miss Cross."
"Thank you, Mr...?"
"Thank you, Mr. Randolph. Care for a drink?"
"No, thanks," I said.
She looked taken aback and then said, "Well... I think I'll have one."
She walked over to the drinks cabinet in the living room. I sat down on the couch and watched her mix her drink. Her gun must've been in that cabinet, because she stood by it, drink in her right hand and her left hand resting on the side of the cabinet.
"You don't need that gun, Miss Cross. I just have a few questions."
We went through the doors, crossed the lobby and got in the elevator. The elevator operator was a young, well-groomed Negro, who tipped his hat and said, "Evenin', Miss Cross."
She smiled at him and said, "Hello, Rodney."
We rode to her floor in silence.
Once we got to her apartment she unlocked the door and motioned for me to go in first. She flipped on the light.
It was a nice, well furnished apartment. She was living quite a good life for someone that was a standby singer in a mediocre nightclub.
What else was going on here?
She stood there frozen, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. I think her mind was trying to process all the possibilities. I figured I'd save her some brain work.
"Look, I'm not going to hurt you, ma'am. I just want to ask you a few questions."
She shook her head, "I can't...I can't be seen talking to you."
I nodded, "Then perhaps we should go inside."
She looked apprehensive, but agreed to have me come up to her apartment. I was quite sure she had a gun up there or she wouldn't be so obliging...
She got into a car, a red '48 DeSoto convertible, and drove off. I trailed behind at a respectable distance. I followed her to the Moonstone Apartments in Highland Park. I pulled into the parking lot behind her car and up beside her. We both got out of our cars at the same time. She looked at me and then started toward the entrance to the apartment building. Then she looked back, remembering that the last time she saw me her boss had the barrel of his gun pressed against my forehead.
"You!" she said, surprised.
"Yep," I said. "Me."
I drove a block away and then turned the car so I could face the front of the club, parking in front of a closed pharmacy. I was waiting for Tiffany Cross to leave for the night. If she left alone I intended to follow her and have a chat with her. The bartender said Bobby Diamond always had singers on standby, so she more than likely spent some time in the club with Paige Turner and Milton.
An hour went by, then two, then three. Time had begun to lose its meaning when she emerged from the club.