What was her game? If she had the money, why come to me and ask me to find it? I would have considered doing it to throw me off track a motive, but she shouldn’t have known I was working for an interested party. Telling me shouldn’t have translated to it getting back to them. Or did she know? I considered the possibility she’d been tailing me and shrugged it off. There was no chance I wouldn’t have spotted her. She could have been keeping tabs on my new friends, though that would mean she wasn’t as afraid of them as she pretended.

I couldn’t chance being seen digging through her trash, so I paid Lee, the busboy at Vic’s Pub, to steal it. I slit the bag over the bathtub in case there was something nasty in it and sat on the commode taking stock of my treasure. The microwave dinner packages told me Helen didn’t like to cook, and her utility bill said she wasn’t home much, but there were no credit card or bank statements to illustrate her finances. The bottle of cabernet coupled with a pile of single serve entrée wrappers suggested she drank alone.

If I was going to find the money, I’d need to get closer to her. It was a dangerous proposition. Flying into her orbit might mean not being able to break away, but I had to chance it. The guys I was playing with would take my failure personally. It wasn’t just about a big pay day. It was about no more pay days if I didn’t deliver. I called her and invited her to dinner.


I picked her up at six, mildly embarrassed by my 1978 Nova and hundred dollar suit when she walked out of an apartment in the Lofts, probably leased to Fierro, wearing a burgundy Kay Unger gown cut low enough for the Louis Vuitton pendant resting on her chest to never meet fabric. Nestled between her breasts, the pendant rose and fell in time to the beat of her heart, making me want to see how fast I could make it jump with that dress off of her.

Jeff Ruby’s would have normally been father than my wallet would stretch, but the wallet had a little extra muscle thanks to an injection of some, most likely, very dirty money. She ordered the Verlasso Salmon with a margarita. I had a New York Strip and a beer with a price tag that belonged on Fifth. She’d been reserved on the ride over, being more concerned with what was happening in the rearview mirror than in me, but as one margarita turned into two, the conversation picked up.

“This is all really nice,” she said, pushing a baby tomato around the rim of her plate with her fork, “but are you sure it’s safe?”

“If we’d been tailed, I would have spotted it. You can relax—for the moment.”

“Then tell me why we’re here. I never would have expected this from you.”

“We didn’t discuss my fee yet. I thought it might not taste as bad to you if I served it with a few drinks.”

“So you are going to help me,” she said, spearing the tomato and bringing it up to her lips while staring at me from over her fork. “I wasn’t sure where you stood when I left your office.”

“I think I might be able to find the money before the bad guys find you,” I said, watching the tomato disappear between her lips. “I’m going to need more than what you gave me, though.”

“I’ll give you anything you want,” she said in a way that made the waitress blush as she set down the third margarita on the edge of the table.

I told her what I wanted was a check to keep up appearances, then suggested she tell me what she knew about Mannering’s girlfriend.

“I’m surprised he had one,” she said, punctuating it with a chuckle that came across a little crueler than she’d probably intended.

“So he never mentioned her?”

“No. We weren’t exactly what you would call close.”

“What about Fierro? How close were you to him?”

I expected her to stiffen up on me and feign indignation, but instead I felt her toes sliding my pants up my calf.

“Let’s not talk about Albert,” she said, reaching across the table and grabbing my hand. It was a good play. Albert faded into a distant memory and my questions didn’t seem to matter. I wasn’t sure at first how far she’d take it, but found it was all the way after we got back to her apartment. The next morning, I looked at her, with her hair spread out over the pillow, with a mixture of wonder and disgust. I’d taken what she was giving because I wanted it, but was smart enough to know not to believe in it. Albert Fierro had believed, and he’d ended up as dust in a box nobody bothered to claim.


Breakfast was two frozen egg muffins, cooked to perfection in Helen’s microwave, and something that was supposed to be coffee but tasted like cotton candy. Believing coffee should taste like coffee, I drank just enough to get some caffeine in me before learning it was decaffeinated, kissed her on the cheek, and left her with a promise to call her later after we’d both healed.

As I climbed into the Nova, my back gave me a jab to let me know it resented what I’d put it through the night before. It might have made me feel old, but I doubted I would have felt much different when I was 20 if I’d pushed myself that hard.

I hadn’t come away with much. Other than a picture of a younger Helen with her arm around a kid whose eyes matched hers, I’d drawn a blank. The kid was a good head taller than Helen and had that cocky look you see on guys who want to look tough but aren’t. With his sports jacket, open collar, and gold chain, he looked like he’d fit right in with the other hoods who frequented the Sportsmen’s Club.

I’d recognized the Sportsmen’s Club as the background of the photo by the picture of Frank DeMeo on the wall over the kid’s shoulder. The Club was one of the few legitimate enterprises DeMeo had his dirty fingers in. Everyone knew the place was a front for his more lucrative ventures into extortion, narcotics, and prostitution, but DeMeo had been generous to the right people. Like an ugly tattoo on an otherwise beautiful woman, everyone overlooked what he was and went along with the gag.

The Club was off-limits to the dealers and pimps who made up DeMeo’s army, but that didn’t stop every two-bit hood with dreams of someday being a made man from swaggering in to pay homage to DeMeo one five-dollar drink at a time. The kid in the picture had had the look of one, and I was betting he’d hung out there often enough to have been noticed.

It was the kind of place that was dead while the sun was still up, so I had no trouble traversing the black and white arrow mosaic tile to reach the solitary man behind a bar topped with black marble. The expression on his face when he finally bothered to look up from the video of car crashes playing on his phone didn’t make me feel loved.

“What the hell are you doing here, Doverman? You know you got too many friends who dress in blue for people to feel comfortable around you.”

“That’s funny. The boys in blue all say I run with too many hoods. I want to show you something.”

“If it’s your ass, I’ve seen it before, like that night you polished off a fifth and tried to stuff the owner’s brother-in-law down the commode. You’re lucky Frank hates that guy.”

I dropped my phone on the bar and showed him the picture I’d snapped of Helen’s photo while she was still sleeping off the margaritas.

“See anybody familiar?”

“I see trouble,” he said, pushing the phone at me and dropping a glass in its place, which he then filled with Eagle Rare, or whatever was in the bottle with the Eagle Rare label. I suspected it was Wild Turkey.

“It’s bad enough you have to drink to face it?”

“That broad is flat out crazy. She comes blowing in here one night like a storm cloud, demanding to see the owner, and you know who the owner is. The worst part was he was here, entertaining the latest headliner in her dressing room.”

“She say what she wanted with him?”

“Say it? She bounced it off the walls. She was screaming some shit about Frank having her brother ventilated.”

“That couldn’t have gone over well. Did she find him?”

“She found a police escort off the property. Around here, we play it straight. If it’d happened anywhere else, she would have had so many holes in her you could have played her as a flute.”

“What about the guy she was sharing the space with in the photo? He do any screaming?”

“That’s the brother, a small-time operator who used to hang around begging for scraps of something bigger. He never figured out the big fish don’t swim in this pond.”

“What about DeMeo? He’s a pretty big fish.”

“You think a guy like that was getting close to him? Frank stops in once in a while to sample the talent, but he don’t hobnob with the locals.”

I thanked him by leaving and headed for my office to make Marcy dig up any recent incidents involving corpses named Brad who whistled when the wind blew through them.


They’d found Brad in the trunk of the Volvo he hadn’t paid off yet. It had been a clean hit, one bullet to the back of the head, and no signs of torture, so either Brad hadn’t committed too great a sin or he was wasn’t important enough to waste the extra time on. Chances were he’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time or shot his mouth off when the wrong ears were around.

Once we found Brad, it was easy to trace him back to the point where he and Helen were split up. He’d bounced from one foster home to another until he was old enough for his aggressive disposition and lack of ties to attract the attention of people who didn’t exactly have his best interests in heart. He did some short stretches for some petty crimes, never seemed to stay at any job for more than a few weeks, and had no permanent address. What he did have was a three-year-old girl currently living with her mother in an apartment in Price Hill.

The voice on the other end of the phone squeezed in the answers to my questions between coughs and wheezes that made me want to spray down my ear with Lysol. Camille Howard, the mother of Brad’s child, didn’t sound like she had any business being outside of an ICU ward, and her health didn’t improve when I mentioned her late beau. Finally catching her breath, she got out that she wanted to meet up in the parking lot of the McDonalds on Warsaw Avenue. I described my car and headed out, trying to remember if my medical insurance was paid up.

It was drizzling when I left my office, but by the time I got to Warsaw, the cars in line at the drive through were just flashes of color behind a curtain of gray nylon. After 20 minutes, I was ready to join the rainbow and get a burger before going home when a ghost in a black vinyl shroud opened the passenger door and slid in next to me. She pulled back the hood of her rain coat to reveal a skull wreathed in strands of long brown hair greasy enough for the water to bead up on. Her eyes were wide set and dull in their deep sockets, and her high cheek bones glistened like polished ivory over the caverns between them and a jaw that would have been once described as delicate.

“Why do you want to know about Brad?” she asked, whispering to conserve her breath. I wondered what was keeping her going until she rolled up the sleeve of the knitted sweater she wore under the raincoat and started scratching her forearm, pressing hard to compensate for the chewed off nails. She’d been propping herself up with junk.

“I have a client who’s expressed the belief Frank DeMeo had something to do with Brad’s death.”

“Helen,” she said. It rustled out of her like a dying sigh as her chin fell to her chest and stayed there.

“Is she right?”

“I used to be Frank’s favorite.”

“Favorite what?”

“Favorite everything. He paid for my singing lessons and had me booked to open five nights a week. I never thought I had much talent, but Frank was convinced I was the next Barbra Streisand. Funny thing is, I didn’t even know who Barbra Streisand was.”

“And Brad came along and ruined you for him.”

“He got me pregnant. After that I was cast out and Brad…”

“Yeah. I get it,” I said. She’d already used up too much strength getting that much out. There was no point in making her dig deeper. “You know Helen well?”

“Not really,” She said, finally lifting her head to drag a sleeve across her eyes. “She used to come into the Sportsmen’s Club sometimes to visit Brad. Brad was always there when I was on, sitting right by the stage, and he always made sure nobody bothered me.”

“I would have thought DeMeo would have had that covered. From what you’ve said, I’m surprised Brad was able to get that close to you.”

“Frank wasn’t always there, and the Sportsmen’s wasn’t the kind of place where Frank liked to flex his muscles. He didn’t want his reputation to show there. I really only had problems with one guy, though, a greasy little weasel Brad had to run off.”

I waited for her to finish hacking up both lungs all over my dash and then asked her, more out of curiosity than anything I thought would be useful to the case, what Brad had done to the weasel.

“All he had to do was glare at him, really. The guy was a pompous little ass who thought his money could make up for his bad suits and missing personality. I put up with his flirting because he knew Frank somehow, but I cringed every time he’d show up outside my dressing room with a bottle of wine, or put his hand on my back when I was at the bar. He didn’t deserve what happened to him, though.”

“What happened to him?”

“I heard he was killed just a few nights ago. I guess he wasn’t as close to Frank as he thought.”

“This guy’s name wouldn’t have happened to have been Albert Fierro, would it?”

“You knew him?”

“Only professionally,” I said, dropping two hundreds into her palm and squeezing her fingers over it. She tried to smile, but her mouth wasn’t quite up to it and reached for the door handle. I knew it was none of my business, but I had to ask: “Who’s got the kid?”

“My daughter? My parents have her. I haven’t seen her in six months,” she said before the night dissolved her.


For all installments of “The Tiger,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2