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THE MARTONZA CASE CHAPTER 6
Nick and Charlie met in the lawyer’s office later that day. It had been the con artist’s idea. He had said that he had something to great to tell, and Nick had had no other option but to let him in
"What? This better be important," he said.
"Believe me, Nick, it is," Charlie replied.
"Well?" Nick asked. "What have you been meddling with this morning?"
"Much more than you, I'd assume. I met Santino," Charlie said. He saw how Nick froze for a moment and knew that the lawyer didn't like what he had heard.
"You shouldn't take action without my permission!" Nick snapped.
"When did we agree about that? We are working together, but I am not your employee," the con artist replied. "I thought you would not want to do anything that early in the morning, so I went solo."
Nick took a cigarette from his drawer and lit it. Then he concentrated on smoking it and tapping his fingers on the desk.
"What did you find out?" he asked.
"Santino is not an interesting case. He says he knows nothing and has no idea of Margarita and Bogan's little romance -- well, at least he didn't have until I gave him a hint," Charlie said. "Or so he says. Perhaps he is a talented actor under the brutal shell."
"Get to it already. I don't have the whole day to listen to your blabbering," Nick stated. Charlie looked at him like a hurt artist, but kept his voice formally polite.
"I found a gun in The Velvet Cigarette. Someone had hid it under a pillow in a sofa and I happened to sit on it," the con artist said.
"Pity it didn't fire," Nick muttered.
"On such a humorous mood already?" Charlie tilted his head and looked at Nick in a way that was both playful and all knowing at the same time. "The question is, whose is it and why was it there? It can naturally belong to one of the fine members of the club, but I'd think they are intelligent enough to hide theirs somewhere else. But a fool like Santino..."
"So you think Santino somehow got his hands on a gun, found out about Margarita and Bogan and shot her in fit of jealous rage?" Nick asked. "What about the Martonza papers?"
"Easy. Santino must have gone through Margarita's bag and found them. Anyone can see their value and he must have taken them to sell them later," Charlie explained.
"Your theory may work, but nothing proves it right at the moment. Perhaps Santino is innocent and the real murderer just took the gun in the club. Besides, jealous lovers usually take something more personal as a memento," Nick stated. Then he thought of something. "But who knows? We don't know what Margarita was carrying that night. Perhaps something else is missing."
Charlie leaned against a bookshelf. "Do you think we should speak with Bogan?"
"No, you have to speak with him. I will have a word with the owner of The Velvet Cigarette and try to find out something useful. The club is a fine place and he will take me more seriously." The lawyer's voice told of the tiredness he felt toward the whole case.
"I don't know, Nick. Bogan wasn't on such a good mood when he let me go last time," Charlie said.
"Don't be a fool. Just tell him you are with me and you will have no problems. He is nothing but Maximino's dog," Nick stated.
"Whatever you say. It's not my fault if it doesn't work."
Charlie wasn't sure if he would get anything out of Bogan or not. The two of them naturally didn't get along and he had been in custody more times than he could remember -- sometimes merely because Bogan had had a bad day.
"This could very well be the first time I go here voluntarily," he muttered to himself as he climbed the stairs to the police station. He didn't knock but stepped right in.
The station was quiet, as usually. Most of the arrested crooks were let go in the morning and the whole business was more an act than anything serious. Everyone knew that Bogan was in Maximino's pocket, but still attempted to make it seem like he had some power of his own.
Bogan was sitting behind his desk when Charlie entered. The chief was wearing a uniform, but otherwise he looked like he wasn't on duty. He was in a lazy position and a half a bottle of whisky stood on the desk. He lifted his gaze as he heard someone enter and stared at Charlie as if he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
"What are you doing here?" Bogan asked then. He didn't sound tired, only his proud and annoying self, and Charlie suspected that he hadn't drank nearly as much as he had first suspected.
"I came to ask some questions. Nick Virago sent me," the con artist said using his card immediately. He didn't like it there and wanted to get everything over with as soon as possible.
Bogan straightened his back and hid the bottle in his drawer. "What does he want?" he asked sharply.
"Information about Margarita."
An annoyed expression appeared on Bogan's face. "That is none of his business," he snapped.
"Unfortunately it is. Margarita was carrying something quite… important when she was shot and the murderer took it with him," Charlie said. He didn't sit down because then he would have had to bend his neck to be able to look at Bogan.
"What was it?" the chief asked.
"Something important. You don't need to know more."
"Yes I do. The more clues I have the more likely will I find the murderer," Bogan said sounding impatient. He kept both of his hands on the desk.
Charlie tilted his head. "Really? Since when have you started to solve cases?" It was probably not a very good idea to say so, but he couldn't resist it. Bogan was a clown and Charlie felt no respect for him.
Bogan looked at him. "Since when have you been in a position to work for Maximino?" he asked icily.
"You mean he didn't tell you? Oh, in that case I guess you must not be his favourite dog after all," Charlie said with an apologetic shrug.
"No, I have a feeling I am looking at him now. Did you come here to insult me? I have time right now so I could throw you behind the bars for the rest of the day," Bogan said.
Charlie sighed and shook his head. "It's impossible to negotiate with you," he muttered. "Tell me what Margarita had in her bag. It was brought here, right?" he asked.
"It was," Bogan replied quickly. "There was nothing special. I believe I know nothing that could help you with this."
"Really? Surely you can tell something. You and Margarita got along pretty well, didn't you?" the con artists asked and looked at the police chief as slyly as he could.
"That is nothing you need to know about!" Bogan snapped. He pressed his palms against his desk and managed to look really sharp.
"I understand if you don't want to talk about it. It must be hard to even think about it," Charlie said with mock compassion. "I'll tell Nick you are not ready to help. Hopefully he is as understanding as I am." He turned around and managed to take a couple of steps before Bogan changed his mind.
"Wait! If Mr. Virago really needs my help I will do everything I can to please him," he said clenching his teeth. Charlie just nodded.
"Good," he said. "So what can you tell me?"
"Margarita's body has been taken care of. She was wearing normal clothes and had nothing else on," Bogan said.
"And her bag?"
Bogan considered a moment before he bent down and opened his drawer. He lifted a small suitcase on the desk and opened it. "This is all we found in her case."
Charlie stepped closer to take a look. The suitcase was indeed nothing special. It was brown and filled with all kinds of little stuff. He took a small heap of papers from it and browsed them through.
"Bills and copies of files. Nothing interesting," he said and placed them on the desk. Then he started going through the other items.
To his surprise Charlie found a small mirror, some make-up he knew nothing about, pens, a small bottle of some alcohol, cigarettes, an old magazine, unidentifiable junk, a bracelet and a napkin.
"It's a pity the dead don't have skin," he said as he placed the last item on Bogan's desk. "Otherwise we could get a nice amount of fingerprints from these."
The chief took a pen. "Well, do these help in any way?" he asked sharply, as if challenging Charlie into coming up with something useful.
"If nothing is missing, I don't think this helps at all," the con artist had to admit. From what he saw he came to the conclusion that Margarita had been a very messy person -- just like someone he knew -- and probably wouldn't have noticed anything missing herself.
Except the Martonza papers, of course.
"As I thought," Bogan replied. Charlie was about to leave again, but then he suddenly thought of something.
"Wait a minute," he muttered and returned to go through the items on the desk. When he didn't find what he was looking for he took the suitcase and shook it to see if he had missed something.
"What are you doing?" Bogan asked. Charlie put the suitcase back.
"Nothing. Just wanted to see if I had overlooked something," he lied quickly. At the same time he congratulated himself.
He knew a little about Maximino's offices and was aware of that one key opened all the doors. Not very sensible perhaps, but Maximino wanted his employees to trust each other at work. Otherwise they could cheat each other as much as they wanted.
Margarita's key was not in her suitcase.
It was noon when Nick entered The Velvet Cigarette. In his opinion the place had only improved. He had never liked Manny or his ideas the least. The way in which Manny had blackmailed him into helping him had been most embarrassing and he was still sore about it.
"We are closed. Funny how everyone wants to get in early today," Lupe said. She was wiping the counter and gave Nick a sore eye. Very few actually liked the lawyer.
"I know," Nick replied. "I came to see the owner."
"Mr. Henrickson? He is not here. He never comes before we open. Only I and Santino are here in the morning and he is gone now too," the woman said stopping her work.
"When do you open then?" Nick asked.
"When it gets dark. This place looks magnificent at night time." Lupe sighed. "Not as nice as Calavera Cafe, but..."
"I can imagine," the lawyer said dryly. "I will be back later. I do hope your employer is here then."
Nick returned to The Velvet Cigarette the same evening. He had talked with Charlie about what he had found out in the police station, but none of it had been very interesting.
"The murderer has to be someone outside the office. That is why the key is missing," Charlie had insisted. It looked like he was right. It meant that Alberto was most likely innocent, but Nick was not quite yet ready to believe it.
"Or he wanted us to think so," he had replied. The con artist hadn't clearly thought about it and had spent a quiet moment pondering it.
Nick had decided that he would not think about the key that night. He would concentrate on finding out something about the customers in The Velvet Cigarette and the gun that had been found there.
The club looked different from what it had been like earlier. A few bright lamps lit the entrance and an unfamiliar woman stood behind the counter. Nick wasn't wearing an overcoat, but he walked to her anyway.
"Yes, how can I help you?" she asked him and tried to look as ready to serve as possible.
"I want to speak with the owner," Nick said. The girl pointed at the stairs down.
"Mr. Henrickson has joined the members already," she said.
Nick thanked shortly and headed down. Everything was dim and blue and reminded him of Blue Casket. The light, the feeling… He shook the thought away and looked at the people present.
There were four men sitting in soft armchairs and sofas. Nick recalled that he had seen each of them in Cat Track every now and then. One of the men -- he was sturdy, short man dressed in black -- had a slim woman in a short dress in his arms.
The air smelled strongly of cigarettes and almost everyone in the room had one in their mouths. The man with the woman also had an almost full glass of something. Nick suspected that the man was Henrickson himself.
"Yes? You are not a member of our club," Henrickson said and with great difficulties he managed to sit straighter. The woman leaned against him and shot a playful glance at Nick. Unfortunately the lawyer was not on the mood for games that night.
"I came to see Mr. Henrickson. It's very important," he said.
"What is it?"
"I would prefer talking about it in private," Nick said and nodded at the other men. They sat in the shadows smoking their cigarettes and looking more like statues than real people.
"I am busy right now," Henrickson said lazily.
"I can see that," Nick said as the man kissed the neck of his woman. She bent it and whispered something in the club owner's ear hole. "I recommend you to re-consider your answer, Mr. Henrickson. You are not yet powerful enough to say no to Maximino."
This caused a much more desirable reaction. Henrickson flinched and managed to separate himself from his chair.
"You are Maximino's man? You should have said that earlier!" he said and placed his glass on a table. "I'll be back soon, men," he said leaving his spot. The woman stayed there to keep the chair warm and Nick followed Henrickson upstairs.
He had never before been in the uppermost part of the building. Neither the Manny nor the owner before him had liked him enough to take him there -- not that he had minded at all.
Henrickson walked behind his desk and lit a lamp. It brought light to the entire room that was furnished with the same blue as everything else -- though there was more black here.
"Well, what kind of business is this about?" Henrickson asked. He didn't offer Nick a chair.
"Very simple. You may have information that my employer is very interested in," the lawyer said and took a chair for himself.
"Information?" Henrickson looked disappointed. "Such as?"
"How many members are there in your club and what are they like?" Nick asked. Henrickson looked like a man who would do and say anything for money, so he didn't think he'd be facing a difficult conversation.
"Ah, I assume that Maximino is interested in membership and wants to see the quality of my club, right?" Henrickson asked. Nick said nothing but let the man believe that way. In the end it would prove much more useful. "I can assure you Mr... yes, Virago, that my club is the finest in Rubacava. All members are successful businessmen from here and Nuevo Marrow."
Henrickson listed a couple of names of which only few were familiar to Nick. None of them interested him in any way and nothing proved that any of the members had anything to do with the murder. On the other hand, they were businessmen...
"Do the rules allow guns inside?" he asked. Henrickson looked surprised and straightened in his chair.
"Well, we haven't had any problems. All members get along and even if they did have disagreements, they won't solve them here. This place is for relaxing," he said.
"But if someone wanted to bring a gun, would there be anything or anyone to stop it?"
"Mr. Virago, you amuse me. Naturally we don't check everyone on the door! So yes, someone could bring a gun here."
The next half an hour was spent with Henrickson praising his club and describing its good sides. It was harder and harder for Nick to sit still and listen to the man's boring blabbering, so he was very relieved when he finally told them to return downstairs.
"I will show you how we relax here," he promised. Nick agreed, perhaps he'd be lucky and able to have a word or two with some of the members. The gun Charlie had found had to belong to one of them, so someone had to know something.
According to the con artist Santino had taken the gun after recovering from the surprise and had promised to make sure that the owner would get it the same evening.
Henrickson returned to his place where his woman was still waiting for him. All of the previous men were still present. Nick waited for a while if Henrickson would do something, like introduce him to the others, but the man had no such plans. He looked like he had completely forgotten that he had been about to show his club to the guest.
Nick sat in one of the dimmest corners where two chairs stood. Someone was already there, but the lawyer couldn't see his features well in the faint light. What he did see though was that it was an elderly gentleman dressed in a grey suit.
"You are Maximino's lawyer, aren't you?" the man asked almost immediately after Nick had sat down. He had a hoarse voice and he spoke with a cigarette in his mouth.
"I am. I'm seeing the club for him," Nick replied. The man nodded.
"I see. A man like him naturally doesn't bother to do it himself." He was silent for a while. "Well, what do you think?"
"I haven't seen much yet," Nick stated. He took a cigarette from his pocket as he spoke with the man. He had a faint memory of his name being Lopez. He was seen in Cat Track every now and then.
"To be honest, there isn't much to see. This is a small club," Lopez replied. "Not that it matters. I like these small communities."
"Do all members get along?" Nick asked. Lopez chuckled lightly and nodded at the other side of the room where two men were sitting. One of them was having a quiet conversation with Henrickson, but the other sat still in silence.
"The quiet one is Mantegna and the other is Wallach. They are both wholesalers and compete with each other constantly. They don't talk to each other here, but otherwise their relationship can be described quite fiery."
Nick looked at the men for a while. "What do you think, are they able to attempt killing each other?" he asked then. Lopez looked at him with a curious expression.
"Perhaps," he said after a moment of consideration. "Why do you ask?"
"I am merely interested. I heard a gun was found here today. Maximino has a clear policy about things like that," Nick said.
"A gun?" Now Lopez sounded very surprised. "I had no idea! Where was it?"
Nick quickly explained everything that Charlie had told him. Lopez listened carefully and blew out a cloud of smoke.
"Interesting. I can see why Maximino is worried about that," he said. "However, I don't think that anything serious is behind it. The gun must belong to Henrickson. He likes to play a tough boy every now and then. That would also explain why it was found here."
"Perhaps," Nick admitted. Or perhaps the gun belonged to Santino who had somehow got his hands on one. Things had changed in Rubacava and the owner of every gun was no longer known by them. It was an annoying fact to admit.
Nick stayed in The Velvet Cigarette almost until midnight talking with the members, having a couple of cigarettes and thinking about things. He found out that none of the members knew a thing about the gun -- or at least they didn't admit it if they did. Wallach had given him a bit too curious glance when he had asked about it, though.
"Perhaps someone hid it here to get rid of him," he had said and nodded at Mantegna.
He had learned to know the club well and had to admit that it was in fact quite an interesting community. The owner would have to change before he'd be interested in membership, though.
The night was cool and he wished that he had an overcoat on him. He slipped his hands in his pockets and tried to hurry home as fast as possible. The whole Martonza case was really starting to bore him.
Suddenly he stopped when he realised that he was nearing Blue Casket. He hadn't used to think twice about it when he had walked past it in the past, but now that he no longer had business inside it looked quite fascinating.
The door was open and blue light poured on the street. When he glanced at the window upstairs Nick could see that there was light. Either Olivia had got bored with amateurish poets or she had a visitor.
His money was on the last option. A tall man stood in the shadows next to the door. Olivia's boyfriend had to be careful when meeting the woman in Maximino's town -- a guard at the door to the club was a necessity.
Hoping that the romantic duo would get caught, Nick turned his back and went home.
To be continued...
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