When I got to my office the next morning, Elsa Lambert was pacing by the front door. “I called you last night and didn’t get an answer.”
“Good morning to you, too, Mrs. Lambert.” I unlocked the door and held it open for her. “I can’t answer the phone when I’m not in the office.”
“You should have a secretary.”
“If you have any recommendations, I’m all ears.” I motioned for her to take a seat, closed the door, and started making coffee. “For now I’m a one-cat operation.”
The vixen extracted a cigarette from her purse and held it out; I went through the ritual of lighting it for her. Like before, she treated it less as a habit than as a fashion accessory. “We haven’t spoken since I hired you. Have you found out anything?”
“What I’ve found is a mess I’m still trying to get to the bottom of.”
“Have you discovered what Edgar has been taking my money for?”
“Yes, I have. Do you drink coffee? It’ll just be a few minutes, and I know I’m going to want my first cup for this.” I got my habitual mug, and held up a guest mug for her.
“No. Thank you.” She kept her eyes locked on me. “Tell me.”
“Your husband is being blackmailed.”
She turned away and took a drag on the cigarette. “Over what?”
I hoped the line about watched pots didn’t apply to percolators, because I was boring a hole through mine with my gaze rather than meeting Elsa’s eyes, and I really needed that coffee soon. “Someone he still thinks is a friend helped set him up. I’m still not sure how involved that friend is.”
Her ears lowered, and she looked straight back at me again. “Set up,” she echoed.
“I’m still trying to find out everyone involved.”
“You’re being evasive, Miss Mallory.” She stood up, setting her cigarette down in the ashtray, and brushed back her snow-white hair. “What is he being blackmailed over?”
She stiffened. “So Edgar was with another woman.”
“A rabbit shifter. I don’t have her name, yet, but she might be in on it.”
“How do you know she’s a…” She trailed off, looking down at the floor. “Oh.”
“Yeah. Oh.” I folded my arms. “Somebody exploited an…attraction your husband has to get to your money. But everything I’ve found so far tells me this was never an affair.”
Her voice rose in pitch and volume. “You think it just being one time is somehow an absolution?”
“One time can be a mistake, especially when it’s playing on a fantasy that only a few people could fulfill.”
She bared her fangs, ears laid back. “Don’t protect this whore because she’s a shifter!”
I didn’t like that word much. I knew a few call girls, and between them and the cops and lawyers I knew, it was no contest as to who’d I trust in a pinch. “We’re not together in some size-changing sorority, Mrs. Lambert, and I don’t appreciate the implication. I don’t know the woman in question, and what I know of her doesn’t endear her to me.”
She gritted her teeth, looking away, and allowed herself a slight nod. That was as much of an apology as I figured I’d get.
“Now, like I said, I don’t think this is as simple as it looks at first glance. And if I were a gambling woman, I’d bet the money you’ve already given me that your husband still loves you.”
Her voice rose again, and if her glare toward me got any angrier my fur would catch fire. “His priest can forgive his sins, but you can’t. And I won’t.” She reached into her purse, pulling out another two twenties and flinging them at me. “The total is more than sufficient for your work.”
I sighed, reaching down to scoop up the money and pocketing it. “I’m telling you there’s more to this than meets the eye. Let me find out more before you do anything rash.” I caught myself from saying stupid just in time.
She took a deep breath, keeping her voice level, even though it trembled with restrained fury. “Then you do what you can to find out who’s involved, Miss Mallory, and I’ll do what I can. I want to see every single one burned. Including my husband.” She stalked out of my office.
I crossed back to the percolator and poured my cup of coffee. Considering how the day had just started, adding a splash of bourbon was tempting, but being a morning drinker never sat well with me.
I couldn’t say Elsa was wrong to be angry. Edgar might have been set up, but he didn’t have to take the bait. I couldn’t say Elsa was wrong about ninety bucks being generous for five days of work, either. While I didn’t like leaving loose ends, I wasn’t on board with helping her “burn” her husband. I’d call her tomorrow after she cooled down.
I put the money in the cash box and finished my cup of coffee. There was an insurance investigation I’d been putting off because I knew they’d be slow in asking about it, and even slower about paying the invoice they’d insist I send them in triplicate. It wouldn’t take me two hours to finish it, little more than checking that t’s were crossed and i’s were dotted, but I’d get a full day’s rate for the job. Eventually.
After lunch, I finished up the form-checking, filled out my own forms, and locked up, heading over to the Spotlight for the evening. I hadn’t been there in a while, not because the jazz club was too far out of the way, but because I hadn’t had a nickel to spare.
It was a Thursday, the house band was halfway through their first set, and Bobby was behind the bar. The gregarious serval stood six feet even and might weigh a hundred-forty with his fur soaked. I’d barely taken a seat before he waved and came over. “Nora! It’s great to see you again! How’s business?”
“So skip the martini and go right to the Sazerac?”
“I like the way you think.” Bobby had grown up in New Orleans, and made as good a Sazerac as you could get outside the French Quarter.
“Coming right up.”
After I got my drink, I spun around on the stool and watched the band. I saw the cop come in—the bear wasn’t in uniform, but even if I hadn’t met him before, some people just scream flatfoot, and Norwich was one of them. His trousers needed to be taken out a few notches; it wouldn’t keep him from looking like a potato, but with better tailoring, he’d at least be a potato in a sharp suit. He eyed me, eyed his watch, eyed me, but had the decency to wait for the song to finish before ambling over.
“Miss Mallory.” He nodded. “Can you step outside with me?”
“Officer Norwich. Are you asking, or ordering?”
“I’m asking. Pretty please.” He didn’t even fake a smile.
I grunted, putting down some cash on the counter and nodding to Bobby, and followed Norwich outside.
Just past the door, he stopped and faced me. “Are you working for Elsa Lambert?”
I already didn’t like where this was going. “What’s it to you?”
“She had your card on her. What’d she hire you for?”
“I didn’t say she had, and if she did, it’s between me and her. How do you know that? Did she do something?”
“Was she planning to?”
My tail lashed. “Stop the dance, Norwich, and come out with it.”
He stared down at me silently for a couple seconds before sighing heavily. “Her husband found her body a few hours ago.”