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The Starr Sting Scale

The Starr Sting Scale

The Candace Starr Series
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DRAFT

Chapter 1

“I’m not sure that I can help you.”

“On the contrary. I’m quite certain that you can.”

The well-kept blonde in her fifties bats the long lashes of her considerable eyes, quite a feat given the amount of Botox injected in her face. She sits opposite me, perched in a high bar chair at a back table of the Algonquin, a dive we affectionately refer to as The Goon. Affection is perhaps too strong a word when talking about a dark, dank ,seventies wood paneled hole that smells like stale beer and jism. The former odour compliments of the full-time barmaid, Lovely Linda, and the latter a result of the brisk part-time business she transacts in the men’s toilet on request. I’m Candace Starr, a woman who gets paid for a different kind of service. I still fit in here. But the blonde is definitely out of place.

“A friend of mine sent me,” she says, flicking a strand of straightened hair off her polished forehead.

 

“She told me you assist in these matters. That you helped her with a rather difficult husband.”

Difficult husbands are a specialty of mine. Rarely in my line of work do you run into a husband who is not difficult in some way. They cheat, they lie, occasionally they smack their women around. It’s like the metal in a wedding ring creates a strange magnetic force within a guy’s body that sets off his asshole switch. Maybe wives should insist on a wooden band.

“I’m retired,” I tell her.

“You look a bit young for that.”

“I’m older than you’d think.” I’ve managed to keep my looks over the years despite my lifestyle. It’s the Italian blood, from my mother’s side. That olive skin covers up a lot of hard living. The woman abandoned me on a median strip when I was three, but at least she left me with a good complexion and a figure that holds up. Everyone thinks I’m in my early twenties, when I’ve been on the wrong side of thirty for a few years now. I’ve got legs that go all the way up to my armpits, at an age when most women are starting to gather ass up from around their ankles.

“I can make it worth your while,” she says, batting her eyes again. I look at the Coach bag she clutches in her hand that cost more than a month’s rent. I bet she can make it worth my while, and then some. I’m impressed that she had the balls to come here. To track me down. Most society mavens like her would find a go-between to do this sort of dirty work. A gardener with connections, a boy toy with designs. This woman has made the effort to make sure the job gets done herself. I respect that.

“Stand up.”

“I beg your pardon?” She blinks repeatedly. The smooth paralysis of her face doesn’t allow for any other facial movement to denote surprise, or any other emotion.

“I said stand up.”

She tentatively reaches out with each toe of her Steve Madden boots and gets to her feet. I drop down from my own bar chair and come up behind her. She’s tall in the boots, but I’m taller. At six foot three, there aren’t many people I don’t look down on. I pull back my curly mess of long honey brown hair and tie it up in a band I was wearing around my wrist. The blonde’s hair is cut short in the back, revealing a shapely neck. I could snap it if I wanted to. I’ve done it before. Instead I reach around and dart my right hand inside her cool silk blouse. She gasps, but I’m in and out in a flash. After all, this isn’t a cheap excuse to cop a feel. This is business.

“You can sit down now,” I say, returning to my own seat. “Just had to make sure you weren’t wearing a wire.” I take a pull off the draught she bought me, my first drink of the day. “Now, tell me about the job. I’m not saying that I’ll do it. I’m just letting you tell me about it.”

She looks like she’d like to raise one of her finely shaped eyebrows at me, but manages only to achieve a slight twitch in the corner of her right temple. I wonder if she gets them waxed or threaded those brows, making a mental note to ask her later, before I lift her wallet. I’m not much into the girlie stuff, but even a woman like me needs to landscape. When the blonde goes to sit on the chair again, her high heeled boots peel away from the sticky linoleum floor, making a sound like someone pulling a band-aid off fast.

“The job, as you call it, is simple,” she says. “I want you get rid of this young man.” She pulls out from her purse one of those strips of four photos you get from a booth. Shit, does anyone use those anymore in the era of selfies? A tousled haired youth grins out from each rectangular square, next to a pretty plump teenage girl with doe eyes and big tits.

“He’s kinda young for you,” I say. I’ve probably insulted her, but it’s the truth. I know these middle aged tantric yoga girls can keep themselves up fairly well, but come on, she could be that kid’s mother. He didn’t even look old enough to be a difficult husband.

 

“Age is deceiving,” she says. And I suppose it is after your third butt tuck. “But this person is not an associate of mine. Rather, he is an associate of my daughter.”

I inspect the strip of photos again. Take a better look at the teenage girl. The big hazel eyes, the slope of the neck. Definitely related.

“You want me to off your daughter’s boyfriend?” I ask, incredulous. Taking out a target that doesn’t even shave on a daily basis is pretty heartless, even for me.

“Boyfriend is not the right word for him,“ she says, sipping on the diet coke that Lovely Linda has delivered on her way to the men’s restroom with a friend. “He is a parasite. A barnacle affixed to the hull of society with no purpose or design. He smokes. He sells drugs. He sits in his basement and plays video games all day, and he fucks my daughter.” She adjusts her ass a bit in the chair, as if in remembrance of her own days of being fucked in a boyfriend’s basement. “He’s got to go.”

“Maybe it’s a phase,” I say. “These things blow over.”

“It’s been two years,” she says. “Nothing is blowing over except my daughter’s chances of being accepted into a decent university.”

 

“But c’mon, a kid?”

“That kid gave her a disease,” she almost shouts, looking around the bar before she collects herself again. “He can’t keep it in his pants. He can’t keep down a job. He can’t manage to even graduate high school. He is so lazy that he has to set an alarm to get up and binge drink, and his conversational skills consist of grunting in response to any inquiry while he grabs at his genitals.” She takes a big draw in of breath and continues. “He has no future and no prospects, and he clings to my daughter like a lemur on a high branch. I want him out of the picture.”

I look hard at this flushed and bad ass woman, and then I look at the boy in the picture. He smiles back at me with his goofy photo booth face. I can see a vape kit tucked into the front pocket of his jean jacket, a zit about to erupt on his chin. He has his whole life ahead of him. A string of doe eyed girls in his future. Years of parties to crash, millions of brain cells to damage, along with half the people around him, as he lives out his days in a rented room over a run-down convenience store, falling into a sour smelling bed drunk each night, only getting up to go to the bar, or to meet with disgruntled women of a certain age who need difficult men disposed of. Like my old man, like me for that matter. I look back up at the woman who begs me with the wide hazel eyes of her daughter.

“Ten thousand,” I say, “delivered like I tell you.” So much for retirement. “And you have to do exactly what I say.” I finish off the beer in one go, motion Lovely Linda across the bar for another. She’s back from the men’s restroom.

“I’ll arrange for it today.” The mother opposite me blinks one last time from her glacial face, and the deal is sealed.

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Never Forget

Never Forget

A Victor Lessard Thriller
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Sunday, December 18th

Hands on his thighs, head bent forward, Victor Lessard was trying to catch his breath and regain his composure. From the depths of the warehouse, he’d had to run twenty metres before reaching the door and bursting outside.
Still panting, he turned away from the yellowish puddle at his feet and straightened up.
Wiping his lips, the detective sergeant took out a pack of cigarettes. The first puff set fire to his throat; the second lit up his lungs; the third calmed him down.
As his face returned to its normal colour, Victor zipped up his leather jacket and, putting his hands in the pockets of his jeans, paced among the junk in the snowy courtyard: an old boat sitting on wooden pallets; the carcasses of eviscerated cars; misshapen, rusting metal parts.
With a little imagination, one might almost have expected to find this fractured, postapocalyptic scene in the backdrop of a picture by Edward Burtynsky.
Worried that someone might be looking for him, Victor glanced toward the warehouse. From where he was standing, he could read the sign over the entrance: METALCORP. In the distance, to his left, he saw the gaunt silhouette of the Décarie Expressway ramp leading to the Champlain Bridge.
For a moment, Victor watched the unending flow of vehicles, hypnotized. Then he walked toward the Lachine Canal. He stepped carefully to prevent snow getting into his black-leather Converse high-tops.
His gaze drifted briefly to the canal’s far bank. Though the district was still largely industrial, residential buildings were sprouting up here and there; but nothing like the disused factories farther east, now converted into high-end condos, that he had visited with Nadja.
Tossing his cigarette butt into the skeleton of a Plymouth Duster, Victor ran his fingers across the stubble on his cheeks. With a shake of his head, he turned and headed back toward the building, limping slightly. That limp was the only visible remnant of the attack that had nearly cost him his life. But neither the passage of time nor the psychotherapy could altogether erase the scars that the King of Flies had left on his soul.

“You’re too sensitive, Lessard. You puke every goddamn time.”
Victor’s square jaw clenched and his green eyes looked straight into his partner’s. “I just stepped out for a smoke.”
Jacinthe Taillon responded with a skeptical little smile as she plunged her thick fingers into a bag of Cheetos and crammed a handful into her mouth. “The trick is never to go in on an empty stomach. Do you eat breakfast every morning?”
“There’s orange stuff on your face, Jacinthe.”
She was in her forties. With her doughy features untouched by makeup, her short-cropped hair, and rolls of flesh visible under her clothes, she was affectionately nicknamed “Tiny” Taillon by her colleagues. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. Direct, unsparing, practical, she was known for bluntness and a resolute refusal to beat around the bush. Ever. “Okay, big guy, let’s go. We haven’t got all day.”
With that, Jacinthe set her massive body in motion and headed toward the back of the warehouse, crumpling her bag of munchies. Victor rubbed his temples for a moment, took a deep breath, and followed her.

The interior was as chaotic as the courtyard, but it was organized chaos: dirt, debris, metal stacked in layers or contained in wooden crates. Two Forensic Identification technicians were spraying luminol on a stretch of floor, looking for blood spatter. Victor tried to remember the techs’ names, then gave up. Since his return to the Major Crimes Unit, there’d been so much information to absorb that his brain sometimes failed to keep up.
“What’s the latest on Mr. Horowitz?”
Taillon sighed with frustration. “He had a heart scare. He’s in the ICU at Saint-Luc Hospital.”
“Put yourself in his shoes,” Victor said. “He didn’t expect to find a corpse in his warehouse on a Sunday morning.”
“Maybe not, but now we’ll have to wait before getting his deposition. And the clock’s ticking.”
“Anyway, we’ve still got our Jane Doe to deal with. This’ll take as long as it needs to take.”
“Are you deliberately trying to get on my nerves?”

The cleanliness and elegance of Horowitz’s office contrasted with the rest of the place: lacquered concrete floor, glass-topped desk, leather armchairs under industrial windows, computer, papers, meticulously aligned pens, metal file cabinets, adjacent washroom, Toulouse-Lautrec prints on the walls, small kitchen with sink, microwave, and espresso machine, and a laminated table surrounded by several chairs for mealtimes.
Only the yellow plastic crime-scene tape and the body disturbed the harmony of the space.
For an instant, Victor hoped that by closing his eyes he could erase the dead woman. But when he opened them again, she was still on her back, pallid and naked, at the foot of the table, where he’d first seen her before the nausea overcame him.
A shaft of sunlight coming through the window cast singular patterns on the skin of the corpse, whose posture recalled the twisted forms of Delacroix’s paintings.
Her sphincter muscles had relaxed at the moment of death. Her legs, bent to one side, were bathed in urine and feces. Victor raised his T-shirt over his nose to block out the stench that was pressing at his nostrils.
Jacob Berger turned to him, smiling. Berger had refined traits and a delicate chin. He wore little glasses and his hairstyle was too perfect. “Feeling better, Lessard?”
Both men were nearly six foot three, but the resemblance stopped there. While the detective sergeant’s hard features and athletic physique gave him a threatening appearance, the medical examiner was long and lean, the prototype of an intellectual.
“How can you stand it, Jacob?” Victor hung back, not getting too close to the body.
The dead woman’s rolled-back eyes made him shudder, but he couldn’t look away from the wrinkled arms, the limp, toneless flesh dotted with droplets of blood.
“You get used to it,” Berger said, kneeling beside the victim.
“I don’t think I ever will.”
Jacinthe rolled her eyes, then noticed the clothes piled in a corner. “Save the touchy-feely stuff for later, girls. Was she killed here?”
“Yes.”
“How long ago?”
“I’d say a good forty-eight hours. Probably sometime Thursday night.”
Victor made a mental note, then hesitated for an instant, trying to find the right words for what he was about to ask of the examiner. Berger had a touchy streak, and Lessard was eager to avoid seeming to micromanage him. “Since we don’t have a purse or ID, I’d like you to be on the lookout for anything that might help identify her — dental work, physical particulars, labels, distinctive garments, details of that sort.”
“No problem.”
Maybe, like him, Berger was getting softer as he aged.
“How old would you say she was?”
“In her sixties. I could be wrong.”
“She left behind an impressive body of work,” Jacinthe said, laughing loudly at her own joke before turning serious. She used a fingernail to pry an orange blob from between her teeth and asked, “Cause of death?”
“She bled out. Something went right through her throat — from back to front, I believe.”
“Is that the hole?” Jacinthe pointed to a circular wound just above the trachea.
Gently, Berger turned the dead woman’s head and inserted a finger into the opening. The sploosh sound made Victor queasy. He averted his eyes, close to retching. Taillon watched, fascinated, as the examiner’s expert hands moved over the corpse’s throat.
“This is the exit wound. The object used by the killer entered the back of the neck and exited here, severing the carotid artery along the way. The vertebral arteries run through the cervical bones on their way to the brain. Hemorrhaging was massive. She was dead in minutes.”
“The object used by the killer …” Victor paused, still struggling to hold down the contents of his stomach. “You mean that’s not a bullet wound?”
“I could go into details, but —”
“Forget the details,” Taillon snapped.
“Short answer: no, that is not a bullet wound.”
“Okay,” Taillon said, “so what was the murder weapon?”
“I’ll know more after the autopsy, but I’d say it was a sharp object propelled by some kind of mechanism.”
“Mechanism?” Victor asked, intrigued.
Berger looked at him over the rims of his glasses, which wavered in precarious balance on the bridge of his nose. “It took considerable velocity to cause a wound like this. More than human strength alone could generate.”
Their gazes met for an instant.
“There’s something else,” Berger said.
“Oh, yeah?” the big woman growled.
The examiner ran his finger along two cuts, one above the sternum and the other beneath the chin, near the throat. Each wound had two distinct entry points.
“I don’t know what made these punctures, but they’re deep.”
The image stayed with Victor wherever he looked: the dead woman’s head and frizzy grey hair lying in a red lake, a Mona Lisa half smile clinging to her lips as though she’d been at peace when she was struck down.
“There are abrasions on the wrists and neck.”
“Caused by what?” Jacinthe asked.
“On the wrists, could be handcuffs.”
“And the neck?”
“It looks like the murderer made her wear something extremely tight and heavy.”
“A dog collar?” Victor suggested.
“That,” Berger answered, “would be one very large dog collar.”

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Carve the Heart

Carve the Heart

The Jack Palace Series
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : crime, noir, urban life
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Chapter 1

Real crime isn’t like it is in the movies. It’s not that glamorous. No one’s zipping around the Italian countryside in a little sports car loaded with gold. Real crime is stupid, ugly, and violent.

The man in the alley had a woman pinned against a jet-black Cadillac Escalade. There was another man in the driver’s seat. Both of the men had slicked-back dark hair that was shaved on the sides. The man pinning the woman was wearing a dark-blue track suit with white piping along the legs. He had a shitty goatee sprouting from his chin like moss. The woman was taller than the man. She was wearing a black leather skirt and a white jacket. Her brown hair was pulled back in a sleek, long ponytail. Her eyes were red like she’d been crying. The man was muttering something and she was shaking her head “no.” I saw the man’s face curdle. He raised his hand to slap her.

“Let her go.”

Startled, the man turned toward me. Then he turned back to the woman. “Denise, I’m sorry. Baby, come on. I’m sorry.”

Denise shook off the man and stepped away from the car. Her heels click-clacked on the concrete. She muttered, “Call the police,” as she walked away.

I kept my eyes on the man. I could see his buddy peering at me in the driver’s side mirror. The man with the mossy goatee tilted his chin at me. “You gonna call the cops?”

I nodded. “That’s what she asked me to do, so I’ll do it. But not just yet.”

The man smirked. I hit him so hard his head snapped back and cracked against the car window.

The guy in the driver’s seat fumbled with the door. I let him open it, then slammed it on him, hard. He yowled. I threw the door open and yanked the guy out. He blinked when he saw his buddy stretched out on the concrete. I hit him in the stomach and he doubled over, gasping.

“You watch for the cops while your buddy beats up women, is that it?”

The driver groaned, still doubled up. I could see a bald patch under his gel-slick hair. These guys were both wearing enough aftershave to start a small fire.

“Give me your wallet.”

“Come on, man.”

“Wallet.”

Coughing, the driver slapped his wallet into my hand. There was probably about three hundred bucks in crisp green twenties inside. I ignored the money and pulled out his driver’s licence. I made sure he saw me staring at his name, then I stuffed the licence back in the wallet and dropped it at his feet. “Well, Dimitri, now I know where you live. If you and Captain Asshole here” — I gave the man on the ground a nudge with the steel toe of my boot, making him grunt — “if you guys ever bother anyone else, I’ll come looking for you.” I reached into my jacket and pulled out a knife. I held it to Dimitri’s throat, the blade glittering in the light. “Understand?”

“Y-yes.”

I pointed to the man on the ground. “Go on, get your garbage and get the fuck out of here.”

I tucked the knife back into its sheath beneath my jacket and strode down the alley. I stood watching as the driver stuffed the short man with the mossy goatee into the back seat of the Escalade. Then the driver pulled himself back into the driver’s seat and the vehicle peeled out of the alley. All aboard the Douche Express, last stop: who the fuck cares?

A rusty door opened into the alley. My buddy Eddie Yao stood there in his charcoal-grey pinstripe suit, a chrome .45 in his hand. “All good?”

I shook my head. “Assholes like that don’t learn. Do me a favour, will ya? Give the cops a call.” Eddie blinked. “What?”

“She asked me to call.” I shrugged. “You still have a guy at the precinct, right?” Eddie nodded. “I’ll take care of it.” His eyes scanned the alley and then he beckoned me closer. “Come on down.”

“Another time. I got Melody upstairs.” Melody and I had been drinking and getting frisky when the Escalade bros started roughing up the woman. You never treat a woman like that, especially not in the alley behind my office.

Eddie tucked his .45 back into the shoulder holster beneath his suit jacket. He didn’t smile, but his eyes twinkled. “Trust me, Jack. You’re going to want to see this.”

I stepped through the doorway, and the heavy steel door slammed closed.

I followed Eddie down a set of dingy stairs. It looked like the beginning of every horror movie ever. All it needed was a few bloody handprints on the wall. At the bottom was another door. Standing in front of the door was Eddie’s guy Josh, wearing a black suit that seemed to blend into the shadows. Josh nodded his head and opened the door.

Once we passed through, the whole horror-show vibe disappeared. This was Eddie’s basement casino, and it was classy, man, classy. Deep-maroon walls and polished oak chairs. Croupiers and dealers in maroon vests and black bowties. The gamblers were a different story. Eddie’s place attracted them all: the whales, the sharks, the donkeys, and the grinders. Everyone was trying to turn cards into money. An acne-scarred man with mirrored sunglasses and a straw cowboy hat tapped the felt at one of the blackjack tables, calling for one more card. As Eddie and I walked past the tables, no one looked up.

Eddie opened the door to his office and grinned. “After you.”

“I hate it when you’re all mysterious and shit.”

Eddie’s eyes twinkled again. He gestured toward the open door.

I stepped inside and froze. There was a beautiful woman sitting behind Eddie’s desk. She had pale skin, almond eyes, and jet-black hair. She was wearing a black turtleneck and a light-grey blazer. Her silver earrings caught the light as she turned toward the door. We made eye contact. She didn’t smile.

“Jack.”

“Cassandra.”

I hadn’t seen her in years — ten, to be exact. We dated, I loved her, she left me. It wasn’t quite that simple, but that was the gist of it.

Eddie gave the red leather chair in front of his desk a tug and a pat. “Have a seat, Jack. Can I get you guys anything? Cassie, another Scotch?”

She nodded. I sat down in the chair. The cushion deflated under my weight. “I’ll have a Scotch, too.” I stared at Eddie, trying to beam thoughts into his brain. Goddamn, Eddie. Warn a fella, would ya? Eddie just smiled and walked out the door.

Cassandra stared at me from across Eddie’s desk. I stared back. The clock on the wall tick-tocked. Finally, she sighed. “I’ll get right to it. Jack, I need your help.”

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