Here’s Part 3 of the story I found in the filing cabinet. Part 1 is here.
The manager at the Days Inn tucked into the elbow of land where Buford Highway circled around Peachtree took one look at Peter’s picture and nodded. “Peter. He’s a wedding photographer. Here, I got his card somewhere.”
“He here now?” asked Mustapha.
“I just got on duty. Take the key, let me find his card.”
Room 316 was in need of a thorough cleaning, but there were no other signs of human habitation. Diana sighed. “Eight-hour head start, he could be most of the way to Miami by now.”
The manager met them halfway back. “Here’s his card. You want I should keep an eye out for him?”
Mustapha said, “No, we’re going to do that. Make sure nobody goes in the room until there is a patrolman in front of it.”
The card had DuPlessis Photography: Weddings Gay and Straight on it in old-fashioned copperplate. There was no name to go with the phone number and web address. Mustapha made the call, got the machine, left a message. He turned to Diana. “You want to wait here, or go back and see what we can find in the girl’s place?”
“Well, you found a roommate. That was impressive.”
“All I had to do was look in the back bedroom.”
“Maybe there’s a diary or something.”
“We should be so lucky.”
On the way back down Peachtree, Diana took out her phone and called her sister. Fiona picked up on the second ring and shouted over house music, “Majorly busy, just opened the club, and no, I haven’t seen Grace.”
“And a hello to you. Grace is having some quality time with her dad this weekend. She said he was taking her shooting.”
“I’d rather she were walking the streets. What’s up?”
“Roxanne Stone. Know her?”
“Don’t you only like that organic acoustic crap?”
“Her friend was killed in their building tonight, but you don’t get to repeat that to anyone. Not even Severin.”
“My lips are sealed. Inasmuch as that’s possible. Roxanne? Made a real comeback after that faux-authentic phase. Has about three years left until her sell-by date, unless she starts doing TV: she’s not a good enough actress to keep doing films.”
“What about her personality? You’ve had her at your club, right?”
“Sure. Pretty three-dimensional for a star. Goes through the motions enough to stay in the tabloids, but she knew who William Faulkner was and could actually talk about his books. Severin was quite smitten, really, and you know what it takes to get him to show any feelings at all. I got an autographed picture of her for Grace: didn’t you see it?”
“Why I called. I figured you would know. So, a relatively credible person?”
“She’s tabloid royalty. Well, aristocracy, at least. Do with that what you will. Listen, I got to go: there are wealthy people who need to feel like VIPs.” Fiona rang off without further comment.
“How’s life in clubland?” asked Mustapha.
“Deafening. She likes Roxanne.”
“And here I always thought your sister had good taste.”
Back in Cathy’s apartment, Mustapha in the living room, silent, just looking around. His nostrils flared as he took in the smells as well as the sights. Diana knew better than to distract him, so she went into the back bedroom. It was more of a cell than a room, being in the interior of the building. It contained a futon frame with no futon, a cheap secondhand desk with a pair of cardboard boxes on it, and some loose clothing, mostly worn vintage skirts and sweaters, on the floor of the closet. On the wall above the desk was a map of the world printed upside down so that Australia, Africa and South America were at the top. Diana looked at this for a long moment before investigating the boxes, both of which were full of books. These were American and British literature from the past two centuries, mostly worn and with Used stickers on them. William Faulkner’s Light in August was at the top of the stack in the second box. Diana took it and flipped through it as she walked back to the living room past a motionless Mustapha and into Cathy’s bedroom, where Dave Keller knelt on the floor dusting for prints around the baseboards, though Cathy’s body was gone.
Keller looked up at her and squinted to read the book’s cover. “Got a paper due?”
“It’s the roommates. She didn’t by any chance show up?”
“Nobody but cops and the ME’s office.” He stood up. “I need a break. This is going nowhere.” He followed her back out into the living room and sat down heavily on the couch. Diana continued to flip through Light in August, not really focusing on words, while Mustapha gradually turned around in a complete circle.
The mood was broken by the chime of Mustapha’s phone. He made no move to answer it, but Diana set up and plucked the phone out of his jacket pocket. “Can’t distract the master,” she said to Keller, and answered.
“Yeah, I’m Tommy DuPlessis, and I’m looking for Inspector Ollie?”
“Alawi,” said Diana. She walked into the living room and sat where Roxanne had been sitting several hours before. “I’m Detective Siddall. What can I do for you?”
“Yeah, well, he was looking for Peter DuPlessis?”
“No, that’s the weird thing. There’s nobody named Peter in my family. I don’t even have a brother. He’s got the wrong DuPlessis, is my guess?”
“Maybe. Are you a wedding photographer?”
“Yes. Where I am right now, waiting for the in-laws to stop fighting over who gets to stand where in the photos.”
“And you don’t know any other person in your business with the same last name? A tall guy, pretty well built, dark hair and mustache?”
“Doesn’t ring a bell. And there’s nobody else with my name.”
“Because we’re looking for a fellow who was calling himself Peter DuPlessis and who told people he was a wedding photographer. He even gave someone your card.”
“No shit? That’s fucked up.” A long pause. “You know, it makes sense, though. I had this guy calling me all last week, totally cheesed off cos I didn’t show for his wedding. But he was never on my calendar or anything. I kind of felt bad for the guy; I mean, it was his wedding and all. Maybe he made the appointment with this Peter dude.”
“Any reason you could think of that someone would want to impersonate you?”
“Hell no. I’m barely keeping my head above water as it is. Hey, I gotta go: the mother of the bride from hell is waving at me. The mother’s from hell, that is; the bride’s all right.” He rang off without saying anything else.
Mustapha said, “There’s no real Peter DuPlessis?”
“Doesn’t look like it.”
“So who was he, then, and what did he want from the vic?”
Keller spoke up. “You know what’s bugging me about this place?”
“It’s too clean,” said Mustapha. He gestured at the windchimes and wooden dragons on the walls. “And the vic wasn’t all that neat.”
“It’s been wiped clean,” said Keller. “There are almost no fingerprints anywhere.”
“Makes sense,” said Diana. “Your average crook is a big CSI fan.”
“Yeah, but your perp actually did a good job.”
“Like I said.”
“This took hours,” said Keller. “He hung the vic in the closet and scoured the entire place.”
Mustapha said, “That doesn’t really fit with the opportunistic use of the curtain rope to strangle her. So what do we know?”
“Perp is probably in the system,” said Diana.
“And he was posing as someone else. Someone else specific, that is. Why does he want people to think he’s this DuPlessis guy?”
Diana pondered the question on the way back down the elevator and out through the lobby. When they exited the building, she was almost blinded by the sea of lights and flashes. Mustapha used his considerable bulk to push his way through the onlookers and back toward their car, but at the last minute Diana ducked out from behind him and dashed over to where a pair of paparazzi stood, each with long lenses on expensive cameras. She flashed her shield at them. “Hey, y’all.”
“Um, we’re fifty feet from the building,” said the first, a great bald giant.
“We measured it,” said the guy who looked like George Michael back when everyone still thought he was straight.
“I’m not worried about that,” said Diana. “I’m Major Crimes, not crowd control. What I want to know is if any of you have seen this man before.” She flashed the picture of Peter with Cathy.
George Michael took it from her. “Sure,” he said. “What’s his name again?”
“That’s what I want to know,” said Diana.
“Max,” said the giant. “He’s a stringer.”
“Max what? What’s a stringer?”
“Like, an independent photographer,” said George Michael. “Me and William here, we work for papers. Max is a freelancer: he chases a story, gets a picture, sells it to the highest bidder.”
Mustapha came up behind Diana. “Like them guys that killed Princess Diana.”
“Her driver was drunk,” said both men defensively.
“Does Max have a last name?” asked Diana.
“Sure,” said the giant. “But I don’t know it.”
“You know, I probably shouldn’t tell you this,” said George Michael. “But Roxanne was asking about that same guy a couple of days ago.”
“Really? What did you really want to know?”
“Who he was, where she could find him.”
“That’s right,” said the giant. “She said she owed him a favor, wanted to give him some exclusive pictures.”
“What did you tell her?”
“Pretty much what we just told you. Including that we ain’t seen old Max in a couple of months.”
George Michael shrugged. “This business, people move around a lot.”
A great whoop went up from the crowd and people ran forward, toward a white limousine that was trying to exit from the Metropolis’s parking structure. The two photographers lifted their cameras, but Diana held up her hand. “One more question,” she said. She held up the photograph of Ellie. “Ever seen this woman?”
“Yeah, sure,” said the giant. “Nice girl. Lives in the building.”
George Michael nodded. “Came out here last week, talked with us for a while. Just chit-chat, but real friendly. Listen, we got to make our dime now, you know?” They began to walk toward the limousine, snapping photos as they went.
Mustapha said, “Let’s go back to the station. We can scan the picture, put his name on the wire. Put the girl up there, while were at it.”
“What I want to know is, what a paparazzi—what’s the singular, paparazzo?—is doing claiming to be someone else and romancing Roxanne’s friend… oh, I think I just answered my own silly question.”