The Hinky Velvet Chair
Hinky Chicago – Book Two
Fraud cop Jewel has too much of a good thing. A hot con artist is her new partner and a bossy sex demon is her new booty slave.
Now she’s undercover, investigating the Venus Machine, which will make her irresistable to all men! With four con artists vying for possession, it must work, right?
Jewel sits in the velvet chair to prove the Venus Machine is a fountain of flimflam. Looks like she’s wrong about that one…
Jewel Heiss squinched her eyes shut. She was so tired that her hair hurt. Her clothes stank of gasoline. She and her partner Clay Dawes had spent a satisfying day measuring gas, writing tickets to stations whose pumps filled shy, and sitting in traffic. Only one part of her body was in a good mood, and she was even tired of that.
Late Monday afternoon, the staff room at the Chicago Department of Consumer Services was empty. They were the first team back in the office. Jewel drooped. Clay looked fresh as ever, in an annoyingly laid-back way.
“I’m gonna become a nun,” she muttered.
“That would be a waste.” Clay put whitener and coffee in her mug and black coffee in his. “Take tomorrow off. Get some sleep.”
She sighed. Sleep sounded so good. “I can’t.”
“Why not? I’ll babysit Randy,” he suggested. “We can do gas stations.”
Randy was her sex demon. Her source of fantasies-come-true. Some nights, it was so good, she wanted to die in his arms. Some days, she never wanted to set eyes on him again. Once an English earl, Randy had possessed a brass bed for two centuries, after his mistress complained that he was a lousy lover and put a curse on him: Satisfy one hundred women.
The curse was only kind-of broken.
He sure knew his way around a bed, though.
“You need a break from each other,” Clay suggested.
That was way true. Today she’d left Randy in her apartment, messing with the computer, but he was still waiting for her to come home…and get naked. “There’s a catch, right?”
“Well, we might go shopping.”
“You don’t shop. You shoplift.” Clay was a mostly reformed con artist. “But it’s a lovely idea all the same.” Clay had been using the possessed brass bed to sell fake sex therapy when Jewel met him. He wouldn’t be reformed now if she hadn’t ruined his scam by scoring Randy’s hundredth notch in the bedpost.
Now Randy was celebrating his freedom in her apartment, in her bed, with Jewel. Over and over and over.
The boss, Ed Neccio, waddled into the staff room, his hands full of files. “You two get in here.” He went into his office and drew the blinds shut. “I’ve got an important case for you. Siddown. Heiss, you look whipped. Don’t your partner let you sleep?” He leered perfunctorily and passed across a thick file. “This is totally stop secret hush hush on the QT confidential, like nobody never knows nothin’ about it, okay?”
Clay mouthed, Stop secret? at Jewel.
“That means no blabbing to my wife, Heiss,” the boss said. “You two are chummy, but I’m telling you this is classifired. You talk in class, you get fired. Capisce?”
She muttered, “Yeah, yeah.”
Ed aimed his bushy eyebrows at her. “The Fifth Floor’s got an interest in this one.”
Jewel groaned. She lifted the cover of the file with a fingernail. “Looks like this one’s stale.” She recognized signatures from three different divisions of the department. “Gee, I get to bat cleanup for Digby and Britney?”
“To hell with them,” Ed said, slapping the file shut. “This is the important stuff. Number one, it’s fraud. I dunno how or where. That’s your job to find out. Guy runs a psychic spa thingy, you get fortune-telling with your facial and shit. Got a million ways to service customers, each one shadier than the other. Every team we send in there, he gets to them somehow.”
“You try Building Codes and Safety?”
“They went in first. Clean as a Pekinese’s asshole. His permits are in order,” Ed admitted. “But the guy’s a crackpot. Calls himself a magician. Thinks the city handles the hinky shit all wrong. Wants to start a new era of peace an’ magic an’ age of aquarium moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter lyin’ with Mars. He’s running for Mayor,” Ed returned to coherence.
“Oh,” Jewel said. “Has it hit the press yet?”
“No. That’s why this is a rush job.”
“Shit,” she echoed. “I get it.”
“Fabulous,” Clay said. “What do you get?”
Ed waved a dismissive hand. “Explain it where I don’t hafta listen. Couple more things.” He tossed down another file. “Consumer complaint. Woman claims her brother is getting rushed by a golddigger trying to sell him a magical machine.”
“Should be open-and-shut,” Jewel said. “Find out what her claims are, make a ruling.”
“He’s a millionaire. You gotta at least pretend to use kid gloves.”
“No problem,” Clay murmured, leaning over her shoulder.
Jewel thought, Clay and a millionaire. Scary combination.
“No problem,” Ed muttered, as if thinking the same thing.
Clay peered closer at the file and stiffened.
Then Ed took her breath away. “So, listen, you two. On both these cases….” He hesitated. “I guess I gotta authorize you going in undercover.”
Jewel choked on a gasp of ecstasy. She sat up.
“Don’t get excited. You’re still no Alias bitch. Uh, woman. Person.” Ed appealed to Clay. “Keep her outta trouble? Fill in the gaps in her expertise.” He rose. “Now, scram.”
“One more thing. Know that punk kid you’re always protecting? He’s selling something again, some kinda consumable. If you give a shit, take it away from him before the Department of Health busts him for not having a pushcart license.”
“Sure, okay, fine,” she muttered. Inside she was wooting. Undercover! Jewel was sick of inspecting gas stations.
In the empty staff room, Clay flicked the top folder away from her. “Okay, let’s split these up. You take the political case and I’ll deal with this little golddigger thing.”
“Forget it.” She pulled a chair close to him. “Listen. While nobody’s in here but us.”
He sat. “The Fifth Floor?”
She nodded. “The thing is, it doesn’t matter who runs against da mayor, we know he’ll win. But it’s the campaign fuss. The media circus.” She lowered her voice. “This guy’s platform is totally against Policy.”
They exchanged glances. The Fifth Floor had a lot of policies, but only one with a capital Pol. The Hinky Policy, the reason for their tiny division’s existence.
“Yeah, yeah, we don’t see magic, we pretend it’s normal, and we cope,” Clay said.
Jewel winced. If she had to define hinky, she wouldn’t use the word magic. That was kind of the whole point of the Policy and the Division. You just knew hinky when you saw it.
“Don’t say that word.”
“So?” Clay opened the skinny file. “Why’s he dangerous?”
“He can screw up the city. Suppose the nut goes on TV with something hinky? What if he starts giving the public advice about how to deal with the hinky stuff? Other cities are getting sick, but Chicago is da city dat woiks. We work hard at that.”
“Other cities.” Clay looked up from the file he was reading. “Brussels.”
“Brussels is actually doing okay,” she said. “But—”
She met Clay’s eyes.
They both said, “Pittsburgh.”
“First thing is to figure out why these other teams flopped. Oh, hi, Britney,” she said in a louder voice as her friend came into the staff room and slumped into a chair. “Run some background on the parties concerned, if you’re so excited about the golddigger case. I’ll talk to Britney about this spa.”
Clay took the file to a workstation. His heart was racing. He hid behind his computer screen, opened the file, and glared at the names burning on the single page inside.
A Ms. Ernestine Griffin (42) had phoned in a complaint against one Sovay Sacheverell (30?), whom she accused of trying to sell a magical antique to Ms. Griffin’s brother—her brother?—one Virgil Thompson (70). Blah, blah, blah, she told me all this on the phone.
Between every printed word, a dozen had been handwritten and scratched out. That was Griffy. Never could tell a story in a straight line. Clay leaned his head on the screen and breathed softly. This is what I get for refusing to help her. I can’t believe she called this in over my head.
He glanced at Jewel. She was deep in a girl-type powwow with Britney, the Blonde To End All Blondes.
He turned back to the file and the computer.
A quick background check on Griffy, as he’d expected, yielded a pinup poster for her first and only Atlantic City revue. It was probably on the web because of the famous movie star standing next to her in the chorus line. A bimbo of Griffy’s vintage didn’t leave a big paper trail, not when she’d scored so young.
The Sacheverell woman next. Vassar degree but no social mentions. Hm. He tried the last name, then the first. A Sovay Claire once played on a high school soccer team in south Florida. He traced Sovay Claire for a while and found a head shot at a Vegas talent agency. Zowie. Major brunette. He printed it off. If she wasn’t the right Sovay, she’d draw Jewel off the scent.
But there wasn’t much else.
Fishy, that Vassar thing. Long way from south Florida to Vassar. He tried a few different spellings of Sovay, and hit the jackpot with Sauvée. Society wedding, the same major brunette in white next to a millionaire. Society wedding, the same brunette again, with a different millionaire. Clay got a bad feeling. He narrowed his search to five spellings of Sovay and the word ‘wedding.’
Five different mentions.
He googled the bridegrooms and, on a hunch, asked for ‘obituary.’
Dead. Every one.
Drawing a deep breath, he googled Virgil Thompson.
Here we go. Author of numerous essays on fake Shrouds of Turin. The articles went back twenty years, which startled Clay.
Member of the Amateur Mechanical Engineers Society of Great Britain. Lots of old-timey engravings of whiskered guys showing off Rube-Goldberg-like apparati. With every picture he found the note, ‘From the collection of Virgil Thompson.’
Breathing deep again, Clay opened AFIS, the fingerprint tracking system.
Clay searched under AKA Virgil Athabascan, Virgil Marconi, Virgil Dante, Dante Virgil, Inaeas O. Virgilius. He scratched his head and came up with nine more aliases.
Well, he hadn’t expected to find anything. His old man was good.
With care, he wiped the record of his search off the system.
Good grief. How was he going to finesse this one?
Britney put her head close to Jewel’s. “Tell me about your new partner.” They both glanced at Clay, who seemed to be deep into his computer.
“He’s weird,” Jewel whispered. “You know how every guy I work with hits on me?”
Britney grunted. “I can’t believe that one isn’t after poontang. Those eyes. You look so pooped, I figured you two—”
“It’s not that.” Jewel sent Clay another suspicious look. “I think he wants to know me better.”
Britney gasped. “You mean he doesn’t want sex?”
“He probably would if I said yes. But I think he wants to get under my skin.”
“Don’t they all. Honestly!” Britney sounded exasperated. “Where have all the brainless horndogs gone? Now Digby wants to get all, like, serious. After three weeks! ‘What makes you tick, Britney?’ Like I want to bare my soul ’cause we’ve done it. What if I just want to get laid?”
“Exactly!” Thank God for Britney, who made sense.
At this point Randy himself sauntered into the staff room with a garment bag over his muscular shoulder. Tall and dark, with hot black eyes that could see through women, he really didn’t need to be magical, too.
Before she could chew Randy out, Clay beckoned him over, and soon their heads were together. They were getting along better these days, Jewel noted. Thank goodness.
We hope you have enjoyed this sample of
by Jennifer Stevenson