Of the three murders I’d involved myself with, Fierro, Mannering and Helen’s brother, it was pretty clear who’d been behind two of them. Only Mannering had a question mark after his name. It was also clear whose money I’d been spending. DeMeo had known Fierro and had been stupid enough to make the same mistake Fierro had. He’d taken the mob’s money and invested it poorly. Killing Fierro wouldn’t have been enough to get DeMeo’s neck out of the noose. I found the black sedan, parked conspicuously across the street from my apartment, and slid in the passenger side.

“You know it’s easy to lose you when I know where you are,” I said, disappointed the fifth was gone.

“Maybe I just wanted to remind you you’re on the clock.”

“I’m not the one who should be watching the clock. You know your boss isn’t walking away from this, not after getting taken in by a scheme cribbed from the Sunday funnies. He’s going to be seen as a liability now.”

“It didn’t sound so farfetched from our end. You have any idea how much you can make moving exotic animals? Fierro’s pals were lining up to paint our palms green. The problem is there’s a lot involved in acquiring and transporting living creatures. There’s a lot of extra cost involved that drives down the profit margin. Making the damn things on the spot sounded pretty appealing.”

“So does finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but I don’t see the mob funding any leprechaun hunts. DeMeo got fleeced by a well-known con who wasn’t even half trying.”

“So you figured out who’s signing the checks. So what? Frank is a pretty well-known guy.”

“So is Vince Taylor. You sold yourself short, Vince. You didn’t tell me about the purple heart.”

“It was none of your business. Now why don’t you tell me what’s really on your mind.”

“DeMeo’s on the way out. That means you’re most likely on the way up, so long as you don’t have too much of the stink from this Tasmanian Tiger business on you. After DeMeo gets his, it wouldn’t hurt your chances for promotion if you got the money back.”

“Go on.”

“I get you the money, but the girl walks away from it intact. That’s the deal: the money for the girl.”

“I got no problem with that,” he said, pulling two cigarettes from the pack in the console. He handed one to me and we both lit up to seal the deal.

“I’ll be in touch,” I said, climbing out of the car. I’d just closed the door and was about to walk away when the window came down.

“Hey, Doverman. Watch your back.”

“I’m not sweating DeMeo. I’ve been up against worse.”

“I wasn’t talking about DeMeo,” he said as he flicked his butt out the window and pulled away from the curb.


“I need you,” said Helen said through the phone. “Come over as soon as you can.”

The breathless desperation in her voice left no doubt what she needed me for. I was up for it, but I wasn’t ready to pull myself away from my seat at the bar where Glenn was regaling me with tales of missing millions. I told her I would be at least an hour.

Searching for a motive behind Mannering’s murder, Glenn had discovered over four million had passed through various accounts Mannering maintained under several aliases. The money had trickled in over a period of a few months and trickled back out just as quietly. Mannering obviously didn’t want to raise any red flags by shifting around large sums. None of the money was found in Mannering’s apartment, but two airline tickets for Acapulco, purchased two days before Mannering gave up breathing, were discovered in the drawer of his night stand along with a passport. There had been no progress made in tracking down the blonde my friend on the porch had been so enamored with.

As I drove to Helen’s place, I wondered if my deal was unraveling. If the money had all passed through Mannering’s hands and not Helen’s, there would be nothing to turn over to Vince. There might be a bit lying around if Mannering had passed any to Helen before the blonde assassin helped herself to the bulk of it, but it was more likely a guy like Mannering would have stalled the payoff until he’d flown out of Helen’s reach. While thinking she was in on the con, she was probably being conned herself.

The bath towel Helen answered the door in didn’t match the black choker and thigh high black stockings that made up the entirety of her wardrobe, but it didn’t matter. The towel fell away as soon as she’d pulled me inside. She mashed her lips against mine, and I mashed back as I swung a leg back to kick the door closed. I was locked in a cage with a wild animal, tearing at my clothes and dragging me down to the carpet, where she fed on me until every last drop of vitality had been sucked from my veins.

“Let’s go out,” she said, standing over me, raking her thick black hair back from her face before stretching out her arms toward the ceiling in triumph. Not having enough breath left to force out any words, I nodded, sending her slinking off toward the shower.

Still panting, I dressed quickly and headed for the bedroom where I rifled through every drawer and peeked behind every curtain. The locked suitcase under the bed could have meant something. The nylon head cap in the drawer with her panties definitely did. I was feeling better about my deal with Vince, but was feeling worse about my relationship with Helen. I suspected there would be no more wrestling matches on the carpet.

I was sitting in the overstuffed recliner, sipping on her bourbon, when Helen emerged from the bedroom, dressed in a white gown that showed she meant violence to my wallet.

“Ready to hit the town?” she asked, striking a pose that should have been accompanied by applause.

“Almost,” I said, lighting a cigarette. “How about you tell me about Brad?”

“I didn’t figure you for the jealous type,” she said, running a finger over her tattoo. “If you must know, Brad was my brother. He died.”

“That’s old news. What I want to know is how many people have to die before you get him out of your system.”

For just a moment, the animal in her returned, poised to devour me in a more literal sense this time. Her head lowered and she glared at me over lips sucked in between her teeth. She snapped out of it probably seconds before the lips started bleeding. I was sure there were nail marks in her palms.

“What a silly thing to say.” she said, unclenching her fist to brush her hair back again. Just like that she was soft again, even playful. I pulled the nylon cap out of my pocket and let it dangle off my index finger.

“I suppose you ditched the blonde wig that went over this,” I said, expecting the claws to come back out. They didn’t. She calmly walked over to me, refilled the glass on the end table I’d been drinking from, and took a sip.

“Mannering was a slug. Nobody is going to miss him.”

“You could have let him go to Acapulco, but I suppose he would have wanted to take the money in that suitcase under the bed with him.”

“It wasn’t about the money,” she said taking another, bigger, draw from the glass.

“I believe it wasn’t—at first. You seduced Mannering and Fierro to get to DeMeo. Your goal was to set up the man who’d had your brother killed by getting him to invest in a harebrained scheme and then absconding with the money, but you should have let Mannering take it. It would have produced the results you wanted. Instead, you got greedy. Revenge wasn’t enough for you. Or maybe it was still about revenge. Maybe you wanted Mannering and Fierro to be punished for what you had to do to get them to play along. Was I next?”

“Not you,” she said, reaching down to stroke my cheek. “I liked you.”

“That makes what I have to do harder,” I said, grabbing her arm and pulling her down into my lap. “You killed a man, maybe not much of a man, but a man all the same. You killed Mannering, and set Fierro up to be killed. DeMeo might have deserved it, but Fierro’s only sin was being stupid enough to let you get your claws in him. You have to account for what you did.”

“Don’t be a fool. Do you have any idea how much money is in that suitcase? We could live like royalty, you and me together,” she said, bringing her lips close to mine. It took a lot, but I turned my head, putting that kiss out of her reach.

“Fine then,” she said, crawling off my lap and walking to the dresser across the room. “Do what you feel you have to.”

I watched her lean on the dresser with her back to me, unable to determine if the sobs coming out of her were just for show, then stood up and dug my phone out of my pocket. She was only out of my sight for a few seconds as I scrolled through my contacts, searching for Glenn Kraft’s number, but it was long enough to change the ending I had planned. I spun around at the sound of shattering glass and saw Helen fall to the floor. There was no need to check her. The bullet had torn away the back of her head.

I dropped the phone and pulled my revolver from my waistband, but I knew as I nudged the curtains aside—curtains that should have been closed—and peered out through the side of the window, there would be nobody staring back. Vince was probably halfway down the steps of the apartment across the courtyard and would be climbing into the car he’d arranged to pick him up out front. He wouldn’t have risked being seen in his own car.

Vince had been sharper than I’d given him credit for. I’d probably led him to her the first time I picked her up. He’d been holding off in the hope she’d lead me to the money. We must have given him quite a show.

But why break off the deal now? If he’d decided I couldn’t be trusted, I would have been on the floor next to Helen with my brains leaking out. I looked to the dead woman for an answer and got it in the form of a .22 caliber pistol on the floor, just out of reach of Helen’s dead hand. Missing it when I’d searched the dresser had been my first mistake. My second had been taking my eyes off her.

I’d stash the suitcase in the Nova before coming back up and calling Glenn. It was only fair Vince got what he’d paid for, and I did owe him my life. He wouldn’t get it until after DeMeo got what was coming to him, though, because that was fair, too. DeMeo ended two lives and ruined two others. Brad, Camille, and even Helen deserved some kind of justice. Fierro deserved it, too, though Vince had already taken care of that.

As I stared at the ruins of the once magnificent creature in a bloody heap at my feet, I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of the whole thing. I’d been hired to find a fake tiger and had ended up almost being devoured by a real one.


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

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3