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Chicago Valentine
 

Chicago Valentine keeps Mex at home on Broadway. Six seemingly unrelated folk are dead all over town. Two things link them all: each victim had a single ticket stub to Chicago—The Musical and a mysterious playing card. Mex delves into her own Gypsy ancestry to unlock the mystery of the playing cards, and, she hopes, the murders. She also follows her heart, as Veronica reappears, and asks Mex to be her bride. The Divine Right Partnership is on again.


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Chicago Valentine
The Mex Mysteries Book Four

Chapter 1

       Keep it simple, sweetie. Sounds great, right? Simple is good. Not always easy, but always good. I was on a quest for simplicity in my life. In fact, I’d taken a motto for myself based on my experience in Kyoto months earlier. Wabi-sabi is a singularly Japanese concept. Roughly translated, it meant to me Elegant Simplicity, and its converse, Simply Elegant. But just try to renovate two houses at the same time (yes, still), run a sole proprietorship, and train an assistant, all while being one leg of a triangular relationship (more about that in a bit) and still maintain elegance and simplicity. 

       Okay, I’ll cop to it: as a goal, an aim, a life-choice, there were days when it felt just plain impossible. Besides, most redheads have a fiery nature. Maybe we’re not cut out for simple. 

       I sat doing the Monday puzzle in pen, mostly too easy to bother filling it in, waiting for a call from the contractors up north at The Pink House, my recent acquisition in the oh-so-scenic Hudson Valley. One of the down clues was Red Suit; my mind, being that we had just been through Christmas, leapt to Santa, but it didn’t fit. When the phone did ring, neither of my team contractors was on the other end of the receiver. Instead, Sergeant Michael Ryan Kelley, one of New York’s finest Blues, my technomentor and surrogate papa, was on the line.

       “Mexy,” he said.

       “Michael,” I countered.

       “Can we talk?” He imitated Joan Rivers. “Coffee?”

       “When?”

       “Immediately.” He covered the receiver to talk to someone in front of him. “The Cosmic in, say, thirteen. No, make it seventeen.” I’ve taught Kelley over the years to play with time. It amuses me.

       “I’m there,” I said.

       He hung up without saying good-bye. As usual. 

       This is important, Mex.

       That’s Spirit. She runs my life. When I remember to let her.

       Why, Spirit?

       Because it’s next.

       One of the contractors called as I was on my way out the door. I made yet another series of far-reaching decisions for her as I fled uptown to The Cosmic. Kelley sat in the rear. Lois, in that daily more hideous waitress uniform, bless her, the same heart of gold yesterday, today and forever, brought me coffee, and Kelley herbal tea. He quit coffee decades ago, but we use it as a metaphor regardless.

       My pager trilled as I sat down. All right, I’ll own it, I have a cellphone too, but no one has the number. No one. Not even Waverley, my sweetheart. Wave doesn’t do technology if she can help it, and cellphone definitely qualifies as technology in her book.

       “Mexy, we need you. Again.” No preamble from Kelley.

       “For what?”

       “We’re not entirely . . . . We think it revolves around Chicago.”

       “Isn’t that someone else’s jurisdiction, Kelley?”

       “No, not that Chicago. Chicago on 44th Street.”

       As if that made it perfectly plain. “Um . . . Michael. Tell it to me again please.”

       “The musical.”

       Ohhhh, I got it. “What’s with Chicago?”

       “Nothing, exactly.” I waited. Kelley likes to divulge his information when and how he likes to divulge it, and not before. He amended, “It’s just that there have been some deaths.”

       “That’s not exactly nothing, Kelley. Who died?”

       “Six people.”

       “Six people died in a Broadway show, and that’s nothing?!”

       “Not in a Broadway show. That’s why it was a while before we put it together.”

       “Michael, spill it, please. All of it.” Sometimes I talk like a detective to amuse myself. But I am not a detective. What I am you will shortly see.

       “Here are just the facts, ma’am.” He is a caricature of a cop. Maybe all cops are. They have a role to play and they play it. Just like actors. “Six weeks ago, a death occurred on the Upper East Side. An elderly woman, rent-controlled apartment. She died of natural causes, we thought. Her landlord discovered her when she hadn’t paid the rent. Highly unlike her. He went in, and found her. Open and shut, Mexy. We contacted her relatives, and that was that. However, no one has claimed her effects. In them were a ticket stub, and a playing card.”

       I raised an eyebrow. My Gypsy granny used playing cards to tell fortunes. She tried to teach me, but I was young and interested in other things at the time.

       “Go on.”

       “I’ll tell you if you decide to help us. Suffice it to say, five more deaths, one per week, have occurred since then. Each of the decedents had a ticket to Chicago—The Musical, and . . . a playing card.”

       “And?”

       “The producers are nervous. We want you to come in and see what you can do.”

       “Connect the playing cards?” I asked dubiously. My pager went off again. Zan, again. “I have to do this, Kelley.” I extended my French-manicured hand.

       He jiggled around in his pocket for a quarter. I never carry change. From The Cosmic payphone, I called Zander R. Goddard, house carpenter at the Shubert Theatre, and, by no mistake, the house where Chicago has been ensconced for a good number of lucrative years. Zan and I were long-time pals. Co-redheads. We’d also worked the gig in Kyoto together; he’d saved my ass in Scotland too. I love Zan and he loves me. Good enough.

       “Zan,” I said. “Sorry it for the delay. I’m in a meeting.”

       “At the Cosmic Diner?”

       “How do you . . . ?” Damn, damn, damn that caller-I.D. “Yes,” I said, “what’s it to you?”

       “Mexy girl, listen to me. You’re gonna get a call from Midtown South. There’s some stuff going on here, and I told the Geisslers that you’re the only one to solve the . . . um, problem.”

       I didn’t enlighten him, but I did see what had happened. The Geisslers, the producers of Chicago, had mentioned something to Zan. Zan had called his buddies at Midtown South. The boys at South knew that Kelley had a good rapport with me. They called Midtown North, Kelley’s jurisdiction, loosely understood. So, Kelley and I sat in The Cosmic on Seventh Avenue discussing the case. Get it?

       This is how it is with referrals, the only way I work. I am an intuitive investigator. Not a detective. Here’s some of the difference. Detectives work to solve cases. They seek facts which will, hopefully, lead them to the truth. I work in the reverse. Truth leads to facts. I am in the business of setting people free. Detectives are in the business of locking people up. The NYPD only call me when they’re stumped, totally, utterly stumped. 

       “Zan,” I said, “thanks for the heads-up, honey. I’ll keep you posted.”

       “You go, baby girl,” he said to me. “I hope you nail him.”

       “Happy New Year to you, too, Zan,” I rang off. I just realized that it was Epiphany. A small prayer: Mother, let there be epiphany for us all today. Amen.

       I returned to Kelley, one of the most patient men in the world, except for when he’s not. “That was Zan, telling me to expect this conversation. He did, however, think it would come from Midtown South.”

       “Mexy, they called me.”

       I’d gotten it all by myself. “So Kelley, is there a file on this somewhere?”

       “Uh . . . .” He hadn’t seen it. “I’ll get it to you, Mex.”

       “Thanks.”

       “You’ll take the case.”

       “Yes. One thing, though. Is there a way for me to be at the theatre, but not as me?”

       “Funny you should ask,” he smirked at me.

       “Why?”

       “Because the Geisslers want to put a customer service program in place. You know, someone to guide people in the lobby, parley questions, move crowds, that sort of thing. The General Manager is ready to see you whenever you’re ready.”

       “Name?”

       He shook his head. “I must not have written that one down. Anywho … you’ll be meeting with . . . ,” he checked his pad, “Samantha Sarandon. The office is in the Equity Building on 46th Street.”

       “I’m out of here. Thanks for the coffee.” Kelley—well, the NYPD—always pays for our coffee meetings. It’s what the budget can handle.

       I went home to re-tame my crowning glory of a red mop, and grab something for writing. Checking my voicemail before I went to 46th Street, I glanced down at the puzzle. That down clue: Red Suit? The solve was Hearts.

       Goosebumps.

       I descended in the rattletraps that masquerade as elevators in my building.

 


All Lyrics from Chicago—The Musical
Music by John Kander and Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse
Copyright © 1973, 1974 and 1975 by Kander-Ebb, Inc.
Copyright renewed. International Copyright Secured.
All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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The lapel pin is a composite from playing cards created by remarkable technowizard Suzanne Rhodes. She actually makes phone calls and speaks to me in English as well as being conversant in HTML and imagery. A true blessing in my life.

Chicago Valentine is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental—if you believe in that sort of thing. 

© 2017 Susan Corso
All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission of the publisher. Please do notparticipate in or encourage piracy of copyright materials in violation of the author’s rights unless you know how to swashbuckle.