TOC page here.
Now we shift the action to a new place, so we start a new chapter. Technically, the Grady scene should be a chapter of its own, but it’s so short it’s hard to justify that.
Cabbagetown is a small neighborhood of narrow streets a mile due east of downtown Atlanta. It lies tucked in the shadow of the train yards and the giant brick buildings that had once been a cotton mill but were now loft spaces for bohemian twentysomethings. Once, Cabbagetown had been home to the millworkers, and got its name from the food that symbolized their poverty. Today, it was an insular and funky homebase for bohemian fortysomethings. Most of the small houses had been refurbished or added on to since the neighborhood had been colonized in the 1980s, but Rosa Pinelli’s house was an unvarnished original: the yard was overgrown, the siding falling off the front, and the gutter on the left side of the house had fallen entirely off. The shades were drawn, the lights were on, and the 1991 Toyota Corolla registered to Rosa was parked in the driveway. The DMV had no records of her owning a van of any color.
“You think I should go around back?” asked Mustapha.
Diana held out the DMV photo of Rosa Pinelli “Does this look like a woman who runs from the police?” Rosa was short, squat and ferociously ugly: she looked almost noble against the backdrop of 21st-century perfection.
“If I hadn’t been your partner for three years and knew you would get pissed off at me, I would say she was the kind of woman the police run from.”
“And if I hadn’t been your partner for three years, I would never have expected you to say something like that.” Diana rang the doorbell, but the chime could not be heard above the loud, dark dance music that was playing in the house.
Mustapha lost patience almost immediately. He yanked open the screen door and beat on the door with his fist. “Atlanta Police! Open up!” The door had not been fully latched, so his fourth or fifth blow sent it swinging open. Like a lot of the small houses in the neighborhood, this one opened right into the living room, which was pristine, modernist, spare and very beautiful. There was a large painting in deep, rich oils of a pastoral scene over the low, black table where most people’s house would have had a big-screen TV.
Diana ducked underneath Mustapha’s arm, walked into the living room and took a few steps sideways into the hallway. “Ms. Pinelli?” The loud music was coming from a closed bedroom door. She knocked on this as hard as she could, thinking that by the fourth or fifth blow she might crack the thin veneer over the softcore door. As Mustapha came up behind her, Diana her a woman’s scream over the pounding music. She pulled her sidearm from her holster and kicked the door open.
The first thing she saw as she got the weapon’s sights up to her eyes was a woman in chains, naked, screaming, and a man in a black mask holding a whip above her. Both turned to look at Diana, her face red and strained under its mop of frizzy red hair and his unseen beneath the mask. Diana’s gaze shifted to the man, but before she could begin to tighten her finger on the trigger, she realized that the man was in a corset and leather chaps, and that the handcuffs pulling the woman’s wrists up toward the headboard of the bed on which she lay were padded with purple fur on the insides. She rolled her eyes and stowed her weapon.
“What the fuck?” said the man.
“Get the hell out of my house!” Rosa Pinelli, in person, was even more hideous than her driver’s license photo.
“Hands where I can see them,” said Diana to the man.
“Like I can move them,” said Rosa.
“This isn’t a crime, you know,” said the man.
“At your age?” Mustapha laughed. “It’s a crime against fashion, buddy.”
“My doors and windows were shut,” said Rosa. “We’re consenting adults.”
Mustapha laughed again. “Your private life? That’s your own concern. Ms. Pinelli, we need you to get up and talk to us about Alex Dawson.”
“Alex? I haven’t seen him in a couple of weeks. And I can’t get up: it took Roy here half an hour to get me chained up like this.”
“It was my first time,” said the man. “It’s more complicated than I thought.”
Diana pulled out of the chair and sat down, then took out her phone, all as a way to keep from laughing. “Have you been… um, at this, whatever you’re doing, all evening?”
“No,” said Rosa. “I took Roy out for Indian food after he got off work. You know where I mean, over by Lawrenceville Highway and 285?”
“Those vegetarian places? My daughter loves those. I gain weight just thinking about that food.”
Mustapha leaned against the doorjamb. “What time did you get off, Roy? I mean, get off work?”
“Quarter to six? Probably closer to six, really.”
“Which restaurant did you go to?”
“I don’t remember the name. It was the one with all the blue neon.”
“Madras Palace,” said Diana.
“Yeah, that was it. Man, I never even knew that food existed. It was delicious.”
“That’s just great,” said Mustapha. “You guys come right back here, afterward?”
Rosa shook her head, sending rolls of flesh rippling and lengths of chain clanking. “We stopped at Starship and bought a couple of toys. But we were back here by about 9:30.” She sighed. “If you guys are going to stick around, can you get Roy to unchain me? I gotta work a double tomorrow.”
“Just a couple of more questions. That Toyota in the driveway: is that your only car?”
“Yeah. I’ve had that thing for about 15 years.”
“How about you, Roy? What do you drive?”
“Ford F-250. Dark blue, custom grill.”
Diana spoke up. “You know, Roy, we’re going to have to see your ID.”
“I was afraid of that. I probably have to take off the mask, too, don’t I?”
“You got that right,” said Mustapha.
“Because, see, I know you guys. Or at least, I know who you are.”
Roy took off his mask to reveal the face of an ordinary fortysomething white man. Diana knew that she recognized him from someplace, but couldn’t remember exactly where. Roy extended a hand to Mustapha, then noticed he was still wearing a black leather glove. He peeled this off, then offered his hand again. “Steve Littleton. I’m a Lieutenant over in Traffic.”
“That’s it,” said Diana. “You did the video about hot pursuit techniques.”
“I sure did. Listen, anything that can be done to keep my name out of the incident report… well, you’d be doing me a solid.”
Rosa spluttered. “You’re a cop?”
“Sure am. And since we’re not on the Internet anymore, I guess I should tell you I’m not really divorced, either.”
Diana bit her knuckle to keep from laughing. “And people tell me I should date.”
“My wife? She went through the change, you know? She’s just not interested anymore. She knows I have… you know. But she doesn’t know the specifics.”
“We got your back, Lieutenant,” said Mustapha.
“What one of you please unchain me?” Said Rosa. “Jesus. I knew you were too good to be true.”
This is a long scene but worth it, because a) it establishes that Rosa is not Alex’s killer (they have receipts!), b) that kink is as mainstream as it gets, c) that Rosa dumped Alex some time ago and therefore that the killer was not only posing as Rosa but also has information that is somewhat out of date; and d) that Lieutenant Littleton is a decent guy except for the whole lying to both his wife and Rosa thing, and he owes D/M a big one now. This might come in handy later on.