The club didn’t prove hard to find at all, once I knew the name. I don’t have a lot of contacts in Biloxi, but one happened to know the club: he was recently divorced and had wandered in a time or two. Chris Martin wasn’t wrong about the location. Near enough to the empty portions of the beach to provide cover one way — and, likely, an escape — it really had been built from borrowed space in connected establishments.
Getting in wasn’t hard, although I did have to subject myself to a pat down, and leave my guns, slapjacks, and camera in the car. That left me feeling naked, but the rules are the rules and underground clubs don’t often play nice if you break them. They can’t afford for any trouble to happen inside the club. I should know — I helped shut down several when I was investigating Salt Marsh.
Inside the place it looked like a bar, with a small stage for a band. It was crowded to the gills for a place that charged twenty bucks to get in and a solid dollar too high for every drink on the menu. I settled for a water and parted with more money than I was comfortable with, sitting at a table near the door.
The place wasn’t a bar by any stretch of the imagination. For one, the bar tender was a woman in her late thirties and the only thing she wore on her body were knee-high boots and a skirt that showed off the bottom of her behind when she turned to grab the ingredients for the drink. The waitresses, of which there were two, wore the same outfit and the same color: black boots, bright pink skirt.
The description sounds like the sort of place that would be filled to the brim with the type of men I’d investigate after their wives hired me, but several tables were couples or groups of couples. Occasionally a couple, or single person, walked away from the tables and bar and up an iron set of stairs that resembled a fire escape. They disappeared down a long hall. I figured that must be where the real shady stuff went on.
But I didn’t see how this fit into my current case.
“Ronald Cavanaugh,” came a female voice. I looked around for a moment before the crowd cleared and I spotted the speaker.
She was tall, but some of that height came from the ridiculous boots she wore — blood red boots — and she was shapely, poured into her outfit and hesitant to say “when” up top. Unlike the waitresses and bartender, she wore near solid red and black: black dress that covered her down to the tips of her boots, a black blouse that struggled with her cleavage, and a red leather choker that matched her boots.
But she did have a pink wig on.
“Have we met?”
“Not yet,” she said. “My name is Miss Fairbanks. This is my establishment. Your presence here is… interesting to me.”
“Just following a lead, no intent on disrupting any business,” I said. “i’m actually pretty confused about why I’m here, myself.”
“Come with me; we’ll talk. It is about to get rather loud in here.”
Almost on cue, a band walked out from behind the stage and began to set up their instruments. Four men, young, wearing suits and ties, looking very serious in an unserious establishment. One of them couldn’t take his eyes off the waitress closest to the stage. He appeared young enough that those might be the first breasts he’d seen in person.
“All right,” I said.
Fairbanks and two burly men guided me through the crowd, behind the car, and into a small office. She motioned for me to sit before the oak desk that dominated the room. The heavies towered over me when I sat, standing just behind and to either side, filling the room. Fairbanks sat on the desk and crossed her legs.
“We’re going to do the whole who, what, when, where, why, and how bit, gumshoe. We’ll start with who: Who sent you here?”
Sometimes, honesty isn’t only the best policy, but overwhelming honesty works to throw folks off. I went with overwhelming and complete. “Chris Martin,” I said. “In regards to the death of Ellen Henry.” It was faint, but her expression flickered with surprise and, for just a moment, loss.
I continued, gaining steam. “I guess that’s the what. My best girl, and bride to be, is facing a frame up for her murder. For when, you’ll need to be more specific about which one. Where? Ellen was killed in her home, Chris Martin saw me when I visited Parchman Farms. Why should be obvious. To which how are you referring?”
“How’d you get in?”
“Front door, the one hidden in the alley between the old grocery store and the hardware store, near opposite the clothes shop in the world’s oldest building. Martin told me about the place and I put my nose to the ground until I sniffed it out.” I flicked my gaze across her body as though it would be followed with the back of my hand. “Places like this have a scent to guys like me.”
“Sounds like you should end up in the gulf so my scent remains unnoticed,” Fairbanks said.
“I got no interest in you, lady,” I said. “No quarrel, either. I’m starting to think Chris Martin sent me this way to rub me out from a distance, anyway. But I also think you could do me a favor in this case, and doing me a big favor is always a net gain.”
One of her eyebrows went up near to her hairline. “What favor could you possibly do for me?”
I stood, and the heavies moved toward me, but she held a hand up. They stopped like the well trained dogs they were. “You know who I am, you know my reputation, and you know what I’m capable of,” I said. “Besides, despite the mask you’re wearing I saw the look on your face when I mentioned Ellen Henry’s murder, so maybe Chris Martin didn’t send me looking for any old waterfowl after all, eh?”
“She came by on occasion,” Fairbanks said. “Somewhere between a customer and an employee for me, but most of all, she was a nice kid.” Fairbanks gestured past me, an expansive wave that captured the club behind us in one movement. “People don’t just come to this place for the booze or the boobs, they come for their own reasons beyond that. Ellen came by looking for something.”
“What?” I asked.
“Something that was taken from her,” Fairbanks said. “I didn’t get to where I am today by telling secrets. This place keeps them — this place has confidentiality, and violating that brings weight down on your neck. My reputation affords me the gate fee and the high priced drinks.”
“But Ellen is dead,” I said. “Knowing what was going on might help me catch her murderer.”
“I doubt that,” she said. “But I will do you a favor: I’m going to send you back to your home still in one piece, with a piece of advice. Look at the parents who’d let what went on with Ellen happen under their own roof.” Fairbanks gestured.
“They were out of town when she was killed,” I said.
Four meaty hands grabbed me about the shoulder. “I didn’t meant her death,” Fairbanks said. Her goons dragged me down the short hall and tossed me out of the club, sending me skidding on my side down the alley.
After this case, I intended to sort out just why Chris Martin sent me to Fairbanks.