Here’s Part 4 of the story from the filing cabinet. Part One is here.
Eight hours later, the rain was long gone, a beautiful clear spring sunrise was caressing the city, and Diana lifted her head off her desk with a crushing headache. “Whoa, I shouldn’t have had those leftovers,” she groaned. She looked over at Mustapha, who was slumped back in one chair with his feet on another, snoring softly. She patted off to the women’s room without waking him.
Her phone rang right when she was in the midst of washing her face. She let it go to voicemail, then when she dried her hands, looked at the screen. Upon seeing the words Duane Peterson, she just hit redial rather than listen to her message.
He picked up on the first ring. “Good morning, sunshine. Quite a coincidence, ain’t it?”
“I haven’t listened to your message yet. What happened?”
“Your partner put out a BOLO for this Max character last night? I got a call half an hour ago from the manager of the Best Sleep motel back behind the Dunk’n’Dine on Cheshire Bridge, says his housekeeper found a body.”
“You guessed it. Max Washburn, ex-photographer.”
An hour later, Peterson welcomed them into the room. He handed Diana a plastic evidence bag containing a photograph of Roxanne and Cathy standing arm in arm at the Twelfth Street entrance to Piedmont Park. “Here’s your tangible evidence,” he said. “Back of the photo has the first vic’s prints on it.”
Keller opened the dead man’s shirt to reveal a pair of closely spaced marks. “Tasered. Then smothered with a pillow. Maybe one, two in the morning?” He gestured around the room. “And everything wiped clean as a baby’s bottom.”
“Now I know you’ve never had kids,” said Diana. She turned to Mustapha. “We need to talk to Roxanne again.”
“She’s got motive,” he said. “But let’s find the roommate, first.”
They spent the morning and the first part of the afternoon working their way through the hipster parts of town, flashing Ellie’s picture, and getting nowhere, until they made it to the East Atlanta Village district. The barista at Sacred Grounds took one look at the photo and nodded. “Emo shoegazer poetry girl number four,” he said while serving the customer behind them.
“What do you know about her?” asked Mustapha.
“That’s about it. Started coming a couple of months ago, maybe twice a week? Pretty shy. Spent a lot of time writing in a black sketchbook. Nice, but not talkative. Try the Gravity Pub.”
The bartender at the pub talked to them out of one side of his mouth while giving orders to a supplier with the other. “Sure. Lottery girl. She was here last night. Go downstairs and ask for Jason.”
“She bought everyone a round, said she won ten grand off of one of those scratchoff tickets?”
Mustapha’s eyebrows went up. “You mean that really happens?”
Downstairs was a picture-perfect recreation of a suburban basement circa 1978, with ratty couches, an air-hockey table and a Led Zeppelin poster on the wall. Jason was skinny, stoop-shouldered, dressed in full slacker regalia and had straight brown hair hanging over the top half of his face. “Ellie. She was here last night. She won the lottery, you know?”
“How well you know her?” asked Mustapha.
“Well, we’re kind of, like, going out?”
“Really?” asked Diana. “Tell us more.”
“I met her at the coffee shop? She came and saw me spin—I do a classic New Wave show—and I got her phone number. It’s pretty casual, I guess. She’s… got issues. Really likes her privacy. But a nice person.”
“And you saw her last night?”
“Yeah. She just showed up, right before closing. She was all happy, which was weird, cause she was usually pretty quiet. But she bought everyone drinks cos she won a bunch of money. Everyone was hammered. She came back to my place and… was a lot more open than usual.” Even behind the hair, Diana could see his blush.
Mustapha said, “Looks like it was you what won the lottery, kid.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of how I felt. Next time I see her, I’m going to make sure we have a few drinks.”
“Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker,” said Diana. “Have you heard from her today?”
“No. She must have left real late at night, early in the morning. She was gone when I woke up.”
“What kind of car does she drive?” asked Mustapha.
“She doesn’t. Bicycle only.”
Diana started to ask another question, but Mustapha plucked her by the sleeve. “Thanks, Jason,” he said as they left. “My guess, you’ll never see her again.” They left Jason confused at the base of the stairway. Once they were back on the street, he said, “Now we’ve got to talk to Roxanne.”
On the drive back to Midtown, Diana rang her sister again. “I know it’s early for a nocturnal creature like you.”
“Bleah. I’ve been up since noon. Did you catch her killer?”
“Sort of. Where did Roxanne and her crew go last night?”
“Club Baby Seal. But they left early. After that, I don’t know.”
“Do stars ever go out incognito? To clubs, I mean?”
“Sometimes you have a band, and they’ll do a show in a small club under a fake name. Usually it’s when they’re getting ready to do a bigger tour, and they want to work the kinks out of the show without people getting word.”
“But they don’t, like, go out in disguise? Just to go clubbing without getting their picture taken?”
“What would be the point of that? Besides, if it’s a good enough disguise, you’d never know.” Fiona rang off, without saying goodbye.
“Roxanne left the club early last night,” Diana said to Mustapha.
“Sure she did. And I’ll bet she was real careful about calling Ellie from an untraceable phone.”
“Which one of them killed Max?”
“That’s what I want to know. My guess, Roxanne paid Ellie about… ten grand and told her to skip town.”
“How are we going to find Ellie?”
“We’re not. She’s a ghost. Girl like that, she’ll change her hair color and disappear. Who even knows if her name was really Ellie, anyway? We were sitting around with our thumbs up our asses while she was giving her friends and her boyfriend one last goodbye.”
“Okay. So how did she get out of town, then?”
“Got in a cab and disappeared. Who knows? She’s in the wind.”
“We can track cabs.”
“Only if we spend all night doing it. By then she’s in fucking Texas. And she’s not Ellie anymore.”
“Oh.” Then: “Oh. Oh!”
“You need me to roll down the window or something?”
“She never was Ellie.”
“Probably not. So what?”
“No. I mean, there never was an Ellie.”
“Right. Who knows if she even remembers the name she was born with?”
“No. I mean that person never existed. Come on, prove me wrong.”
“How can I? I don’t even know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
Diana leaned over the back of the seat to grab the box full of photos. “Take half of these and flip through them. I bet you… delicious Chinese barbecue, that there’s not a one of them that has both Ellie and Roxanne in it.”
A long pause. “I see. I’ll buy you barbecue anywhere, but I ain’t going to take that bet. What did Roxanne want more than anything?”
“Something like a normal life. Read Faulkner in a café, write some poetry.”
“And so Ellie was born. I bet, we go back and look, there never was an ad in Creative Loafing. She and her friend cooked it up from the start.”
When they got to Roxanne’s apartment, she was surrounded by stylists, makeup and hair people, as well as Tyler the entertainment lawyer. She shooed all but Tyler away before sitting down to talk to them. Roxanne was wearing a black, curly, shoulder-length wig, a black leather vest over bare skin, a matching miniskirt and fishnet hose with four-inch heels. She wore an ankh on a chain around her neck and one eye had been done up in the classical Egyptian style, with lines curling onto her temple and cheek. “Sorry for the drama” she said. “Photo shoot. Have you found anything out about Cathy?”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Mustapha. “Your friend was killed by her boyfriend; it was actually one of them paparazzi posing as this Peter.”
Roxanne hung her head. “I should have said something.”
“You see, I think you might have.”
Roxanne started to speak, but Tyler held up a hand. “Is this an interrogation, Detective? I thought you said you found the killer.”
“Yeah, well, someone killed him, is the problem.”
“And that’s a problem because?”
“Because vigilante justice is still murder, even if nobody will miss the guy.”
Roxanne looked properly befuddled. “Are you trying to say I had something to do with this?”
“I just want to give you the chance to tell me all about your relationship with Ellie, the roommate.”
“She killed this guy?” Mustapha just stared at her, but neither the Egyptian eye nor the plain one blinked. Finally, she spoke. “Have you found her?”
“I don’t think we will. You got anything you want to tell me?”
Tyler said. “No, she doesn’t. You have any hard evidence connecting Roxanne to this man’s murder?” When he got no answer, he nodded. “I didn’t think so.”
Roxanne giggled. “Once? Ellie and I figured we were about the same size. She always wanted to know what it was like to be famous. So we switched for the day. She got to go to the VIP room, and I got to walk in the park without people trying to take my picture.”
“That’s enough, Roxanne,” said Tyler.
“It was very peaceful.”
Diana said, “Where were you last night?”
Roxanne looked at Tyler, who nodded. “Clubbing. We hit Baby Seal, but after what happened to Cathy, my heart wasn’t in it. We were back here by one, then I went to bed.”
“Can anyone confirm you stayed in the apartment?”
“No. Like I said before, I like to make my own lunch. And I like to sleep alone.”
Tyler said, “We’re done here, Detectives.”
On the way down, Mustapha punched the elevator wall hard, once, then grimaced as he massaged his knuckles. “The rich and powerful get away with murder.”
“And this is news to you?”
“It just pisses me off, that’s all. Even when it’s a public service homicide.”
“I bet if we could get into Roxanne’s apartment, we’d find a black sketchbook with some poetry.”
“Like anyone would give us the search warrants. Were screwed. She got away with it.”
“She didn’t get away. She lost her best and only friend. And now she can’t be Ellie anymore, either.”
“I wonder which one she’ll miss more.”
They exited the building. The fans and photographers were gone, replaced by ordinary Saturday afternoon traffic. “She’s going to miss that boy the most,” said Diana.
“The DJ from the bar? Kid looked like he just came in from recess.”
“Yeah, but he wanted Ellie even though she knew she had issues. Someone loved the parts of Roxanne that weren’t rich or famous. And that’s what she can’t go back to.”
Mustapha snorted. “She’ll recover, maybe write a hit song about it, or her friend.”
“Yeah. And she’ll never see the inside of a jail cell. But still, she’ll suffer.”