Thursday, September 15, 2016

Entire First Chapter of IRREFUTABLE

Chapter One

Carolyn Lucchesi had certainly been inside a police station before. In fact, as she glanced around the 18th District in Chicago, she was fairly certain she’d been inside this particular station, at least once. They all looked alike after a while. They smelled the same, too. Dirty and funky, like a locker room, only a locker room had never made her break out in a cold sweat from claustrophobia.

The detective typing away at his keyboard looked like every other detective she’d met. Overworked, needing sleep, and wishing they were anywhere but sitting at a desk, filling out paperwork. But she’d rather be sitting next to him at a desk than in one of the holding cells. Carolyn took a few deep breaths to calm down.

Two uniformed cops had picked her up on Michigan Avenue, claiming she fit the description of someone seen taking a Prada bag from Neiman Marcus on Northbrook Court. Once they realized she had a record and was on parole, she knew she’d be here for a while, even though they hadn’t found a Prada bag, or so much as a Prada charm, on her person.

She had done the crimes and had paid her time, but that record would follow her around for the rest of her life. Now, she was here for background information, or so she’d been told. That was their way of saying they felt like harassing her because of her family and personal criminal history.

But this time, they had nothing on which to hold her, and Carolyn knew that. She’d be released eventually. All she had to do was stay cool, although it wasn’t easy to do. She still had nightmares about being trapped in dark, dank places, even though she’d been out for six months. Her last stint had been the longest one of her life, and it had changed her.
“I need to pee.” Anything to get up from this desk and walk around for a moment or two.

The detective barely glanced up. “Hey, Rosie. Come over here and take this perp to the can for me, will ya?”

And they say chivalry is dead.

“I’m not a perp.” She said it more to remind herself of that fact. As she’d suspected, the detective ignored her correction.

An equally tired-looking uniformed officer shuffled over and pulled Carolyn out of the chair by one arm. Carolyn knew the drill. She would have no privacy in the bathroom, but at least she wouldn’t have to sit there watching the tired detective type, while she freaked out because she was inside a police station again.

When she finished, Carolyn asked for something to drink because she needed a few more moments away from that desk. “Water is fine.” Carolyn didn’t care for soda, and she wasn’t likely to get a glass of wine offered.

The cop eyed her warily.

“I’ll take tap water, even. I’m thirsty. Please.”

“You’ll have to pee again.”

“Not for a while. I’ll sip it. Please?”

“Come on.” The cop led her by the elbow into a tiny room that smelled of stale food. She opened a fridge that had seen better days, and pulled out a half liter bottle of water, handing it to Carolyn.

“Thank you.”

Several other uniforms and detectives were seated at the far end, and Carolyn’s attention was piqued when she heard one of them mention the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Second largest heist in US history from an art museum. Half the collection is gone, and we caught it.”

“Why us? This sounds like something the Feds would be all over.”

“Yeah, they are, but we’re working on it, too.”

Once the cop led her back into the hallway, Carolyn asked what heist they were talking about.
“Don’t ya read Google? Some of those Russian crown jewels from the last family of czars were on display, and two nights ago someone broke in and took half the collection.”

Could the cop feel the shiver of apprehension running up her arm? Carolyn forced a neutral expression to her face. “Really? Any suspects?”

She gave her a droll look. “Why? You think you know who did it? This is your area of expertise, after all.”

Carolyn ignored the mocking tone. Her mind was too busy racing. Uncle Tony had recently talked about getting back into the game, even though he had once sworn he never would. He had mentioned an upcoming exhibit at an art museum, saying it was a sure thing.

Even when Carolyn reminded him he was supposed to be dead, and had gone to great lengths to fake his own death, she could see this was too damn big of a catch for him to pass up. But as usual, he never gave his favorite niece too many details.

The less an outsider knows, the safer they are if picked up for something unrelated. That was one of the many things he’d taught her growing up. He’d just proven that one correct.

“Maybe,” said Carolyn, giving the cop a sideways glance. “Like you said, I know people who do this sort of thing.” Always tell them the truth, but make it something they don’t think you’d do. That way they won’t believe it. That was another of Uncle Tony’s pearls of wisdom.

They reached the desk again. The cop pushed her down into the chair. “Right. You’re going to give up the perps, no strings attached.”

The detective looked up from his keyboard. “What perps?”

“The ones who pulled the job at the Art Institute.”

He narrowed his eyes. “You know who did that?”

“I might. Tell me more about the MO.” She didn’t really expect him to tell her anything, but she was anxious now to know whether Uncle Tony had taken part. If he had, she would need to forget that detail. She would also need to forget that he was still alive, living under another name.

The detective and Rosie exchanged an amused glance. “Right,” he said. “‘Cause you know, we do that all the time. We talk to suspects about crimes. You watch too much TV.” This time, she didn’t bother reminding him she wasn’t a suspect.

He returned to his keyboard and Rosie left. They had taken her cell phone, but the detective’s was on the desk next to him. “Mind if I search Google on that?” she asked, pointing.

“Yes.” He glanced around, handing her a tablet from the desk next to his. “Use this instead, but keep the screen where I can see it.”

“Whose is it?”

“No one’s. What’re you looking for, anyway?”

“Details of the heist, of course.” No sense in lying. He’d see her search results anyway.

“Not much to find.”

She was counting on that. If there wasn’t much to find, there wouldn’t be anything that might implicate her uncle. Even if there was something to suggest he’d taken part, they thought he was dead.

A quick search told her the detective was right about one thing. There wasn’t much information about the event, but there was an image from the security video in the lobby, before the thieves had disabled the system.

It showed part of a tattoo on the neck of one of the robbers. The man was facing away from the camera so he couldn’t be identified by his features, but that tattoo was distinctive. She’d seen it before. The image was grainy, but she could tell the man had dark hair. It looked to be long and perhaps tied back. Even light brown hair showed up dark gray in a photo like this. It would be next to impossible to ID anyone specific from this, but that tattoo did narrow down the list considerably.

Taken by itself, the tat might easily be overlooked unless the FBI had already run this image through their databases, and some enterprising agent recognized this part of the tat design. Carolyn swallowed hard as she stared at the ink. She’d seen this partial image twice in her life. Once was on her uncle.

The second time was on a man whose name she didn’t even know, in a club called Lia’s Domain, not too far from where she lived. She’d been going there for a few months, shortly after turning twenty-one, and had consented one evening to do an impact and bondage play scene with a Dom who wore an elaborate gold and black mask over the top half of his face. She’d only known him by the name Diamond. Carolyn had been so green she hadn’t even used a code name. She’d used her middle name, Marie, but she had worn a mask.

“Well?” The detective’s question pulled her back to the present.

“You’re right. Not much to find.” Her answer was automatic. When he grunted in response, she let her memories drift back to nine years ago . The first time she’d seen him, his startling ice blue eyes had drawn her right in.

“Nice mask,” he had remarked, looking hers over. She’d bought one that reminded her of the Mardi Gras masks one finds in New Orleans, and had chosen gold and emerald because the person who sold it to her said it brought out her eyes. Diamond had agreed.

During the scene, which was the most erotic thing that had ever happened to her, she’d caught sight of part of a tattoo on Diamond’s neck. She couldn’t remember the exact shape, but something about this image reminded her so much of Diamond’s tat that her hands began to tremble. She only remembered part of it, and this was a partial image as well. It could be nothing, and surely there was no relationship to the tattoos.

“Hey, Rosie, get me a cup of coffee, will ya?”

Laughter bubbled up that Carolyn tamped down quickly as Rosie gave the detective a look that would melt steel. He sighed loudly and rose, glaring at Carolyn. “Do not move. I’m only going over there.”
Once more, she let her memories return to the past, but this time they lingered on Uncle Tony. By the time Carolyn was a mere child of four, her uncle had been pulling jobs for more than ten years. The image she stared at and her uncle’s tattoo were a definite match. No doubt about it.

Once they identified it, it wouldn’t take the FBI long to realize there was a connection to the job that had put her uncle behind bars in the year 2000, and this one. He’d been released four years ago, and faked his death a year later. He had served longer than anyone else who had pulled the job with him. He still resented that. Most of all, he resented a man named Jagger Tyrell, who had only served seven years. Uncle Tony told Carolyn that was because Jagger had fingered them all in exchange for a reduced sentence.

A thought occurred to Carolyn that sent her imagination into overdrive. What if the man in this image was Jagger, instead of her uncle? Was Jagger the one back in the game? Or was it one of the others who had pulled the original heist? It had to be one of them. Uncle Tony had told her about the time they all got this same tattoo, before they pulled the heist. It was so distinctive. Surely it meant something to anyone who knew all the men had the same one.

“Find something or not?”

The detective was standing over her, coffee in hand. His voice startled Carolyn so much that she quickly scrolled past the image so he wouldn’t take a closer look. “Not really.”

The detective made a noncommittal grunt and sat down to return to his typing. The tattoo that her uncle and the others had done was in the shape of a broach that was one of four missing pieces of jewelry from the original Russian Crown Jewels. The four pieces had disappeared somewhere around 1922.

All the men had had the tattoo done one night while they’d been drunk, to mark the date they’d decided to steal part of the collection of pieces that weren’t missing. Carolyn thought it had been a very stupid move on their part, even if they had been drunk, because those tattoos had helped convict them.

She had asked Uncle Tony once if the distinctive tattoo had more to do with the FBI rounding them all up, as opposed to Jagger Tyrell naming them. Carolyn had read that there was video footage of them getting the tats, but her uncle had been insistent that Jagger had given the Feds names and addresses, and that’s what led to them all being apprehended.

The detective snatched the tablet out of Carolyn’s hand. She reached for it, but he pulled it away. “You do know something.”

“No, I don’t.”

He scrolled through the pages she’d just looked at. “It sure looks like something your uncle might pull off, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, except he’s dead.”

“Maybe his former associates did this?”

“I’m sure they did, because no doubt they’d be stupid enough to go after pieces in the same collection that sent them to prison in the first place.” But what other conclusion would anyone reach, once they identified that tat?

“I can hold you as a material witness in this.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “I can call the FBI and tell them we strongly suspect you know something.”

To keep her hands from trembling any further, she casually folded them in her lap. Staying quiet, she forced a neutral expression to her face. She knew he was right. They could hold her. If she screwed up her parole she was in big trouble, and this detective knew it. More importantly, if she went back to jail, she wasn’t sure this time she’d survive it.

Being able to endure bondage during a play scene in a BDSM club was not something she could do now. Not since the incident that had led to her nightmares and fear of dark, damp places. She had to avoid prison at all costs.

Detective Talio watched her for what felt like hours, but she steadily held his gaze. She knew their tricks. He was looking for anything subtle that might indicate she’d given herself away. Carolyn knew how to avoid that, if she concentrated hard enough.

As a way of distraction, she let her thoughts wander to the beach in Plage de l’Almanarre in Hy√®res, between Nice and Marseille. It was her favorite place in the entire world. When her parents were alive, they used to take her there, and she’d watch the windsurfers and kite surfers, fascinated. She wanted to fly the way they did.

Finally, the detective placed the tablet back on the desk he’d plucked it from. “I’m done. You can go. But, don’t forget that we’ll be watching you and your uncle’s former associates.”

“What about my things?” Carolyn rose, praying he wouldn’t notice her legs shaking.

“See the desk sergeant for them.” He waved a dismissive hand.

After Carolyn collected her cell phone and wallet, she walked a few blocks before she called her uncle. He had one of those pay as you go cell phones. He didn’t answer, so she left a message, asking him to call her back. She wanted to make sure he knew about the image of the tattoo.

When she reached her apartment, she called her parole officer and left a message, explaining what had happened. It was better to be proactive and let them know beforehand, rather than receive an angry phone call once they got the police report.

What did normal people do at two in the afternoon? She lay down on her bed to ponder the question. What was “normal”? She was thirty years old, she’d grown up in a family of thieves, and she’d been in and out of prison for shoplifting since she turned seventeen. She had no job because no one would hire her with felony convictions. She’d stopped and started several degree programs at universities in the Chicago area, but she had no formal training in anything except how to steal.

If it wasn’t for the money her uncle had put in several bank accounts for her, courtesy of jobs he’d pulled in the past, she wouldn’t have anything to live on. Carolyn didn’t feel any guilt over this. She knew no other way. She’d be happy to work if someone would hire her. Her PO had told her he was “working on it”. He’d been “working on it” for almost six months now.

So she did wonder, especially on days like this when the sun was shining, and she’d been wandering through Neiman Marcus and Saks, watching the sales clerks with their crisp clothes and smooth voices. She liked to pretend she had a job like that, where she could use the same voices they did to persuade people to spend money on things they didn’t really need.

The customers also fascinated her. She loved to watch them rushing in and out on their lunch hours. She liked to try to guess what each one did for a living, based on what they wore, how they spoke, and what they smelled like.

What it would be like to have a normal life? A routine life? A life where one worked for a living, and didn’t have relatives who were famous for the crimes they’d committed? A life where she didn’t have dreams about being confined to dark, musty places, with no hope of escape? One where she didn’t wake up from her nightmares screaming, bathed in sweat, at least once a week?

It was unlikely she’d ever find out, but on days like this, she did wonder.

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