I’m the first person to understand that murder isn’t great for business.
So the fact that, before I knew it, museum security had ushered patrons out, suspicious old me had been forbidden to leave, and the director had escorted Calvin and Quinn across the massive room, more or less imploring the NYPD to make it quick and get the hell out, was not any surprise to me.
No one wants a dead exotic dancer to outshine the newest dinosaur exhibit.
Bad for donations, I imagine.
Calvin stopped several feet away from me, put a hand on his hip, and ushered me over with one snap of his wrist.
I stepped away from the nearby display I had been planted at while waiting. “I only found her,” I said, reaching his side.
Calvin set both hands on his hips. “What did I tell you?” he whispered. “I told you to go to your father’s. This is not there. What the hell are you doing here?”
“I got another note after leaving the precinct,” I whispered back, rather loudly. “It had this address, so I decided to come. It’s a public place—what was going to happen to me?”
“The same thing that happened to this woman,” Calvin said.
“Well, it didn’t,” I answered stupidly, crossing my arms. “I’m fine.”
Calvin pinched the bridge of his nose. “Sebastian, how did you not learn the first time? How many different ways to do I have to tell you how suspicious you look in these situations?”
“Oh, please,” I hissed. “She’s been dead at least twelve hours. I’ve got alibis for days.”
“And if you keep popping up every time a dead person does, sooner or later you will be seen as a convenient suspect.”
“I don’t even know these people. I have no motive,” I argued.
Calvin raised a finger to silence me. “Motive isn’t important. One person’s reason to kill may not be understood, but it was sound enough for them in the moment.”
I groaned and dropped my head down. “For fuck’s sake, Calvin. Fine. My bad, okay?”
“My bad?” he echoed, voice deep and very much not amused.
“Not the time or the place, gentlemen,” Quinn finally said. “Calvin caught me up on all this shit,” she continued, looking up at me. “What was this new note?”
I reached into my pocket and removed the paper. “I stopped on my street to see—everything. Someone threw a brick at me. And no, I didn’t see who.”
Quinn took the paper, and Calvin read it over her shoulder.
“With this address and the mention of the whale, I thought it must have been talking about that guy.” I motioned above us. “But obviously I got here and there was nothing. I almost left until I remembered this display here. It’s a sperm whale.”
“Yes, fascinating,” Quinn remarked.
“Sort of. Squids and sperm whales are—”
“Focus, Seb,” Calvin muttered.
I huffed and turned to point at the display. “So I came over here and found a newspaper clipping.” I held it up next. “It’s an original, I think. It’s one of P.T. Barnum’s ads for his Feejee Mermaid.”
“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned Barnum,” Quinn said.
“Uh, I guess that’s true,” I said when I recalled my mention of the bricks and the story of Barnum’s unique advertising. “There’s another note on the back.” I turned it around for both detectives to see. “That’s when I saw Meredith.”
Calvin glanced up from the note, narrowing his eyes. “Meredith?”
“She goes by Crystal. A dancer, I think. I called the number on the business card in her purse.”
Calvin took a breath and raised his hands, sort of like he wanted to strangle me, but Quinn took his jacket sleeve and tugged him away to look at the body.
I pulled my phone out once I was alone again. I was supposed to solve the murder. Not that I wanted to win a prize, but anything learned could bring us one step closer to catching a mistake this maniac made and taking them down before another person could be hurt. I pulled up the web browser and briefly checked out Ricky’s online presence. Lots of scantily clad ladies and dubious use of Photoshop. It didn’t look like anything particularly special—one gentlemen’s club is like all the others.
I tried searching for any news related to the club. Maybe there was some dirt on the owner, or bad blood between rival businesses. If I lived anywhere else, I’d say that was ridiculous, that this poor woman just got jumped and the tragedy was that there was no reason for her death, but I live in New York City and last Christmas I was stalked by a guy who planted a heart under the floorboards of my store.
Anything is possible.
Nothing of any particular interest was showing up in Google’s news feed for Ricky’s, other than some sizzling winter ball they’d had in January.
I looked over at the group of police and a few museum personnel. Calvin had climbed into the display and was looking down at Meredith. I squinted—it was hard to see his expression from where I was. But Calvin had certain ticks I had begun picking up on in his posture that helped me understand his mood when it was difficult to read his face. And I think he was surprised just then, because he had a hand over his mouth, rubbing his jaw.
That was interesting to me.
Did Calvin know her?
Not personally, of course. He may have been in the closet until recently, but I knew Calvin wasn’t one for lap dances from ladies either. Now I would certainly sit on his lap and show him a good time, but I drew the line at putting on glitter.
“Fuck,” I murmured to myself, because now I had the image in my head of me naked, riding Calvin’s cock, and having the greatest of times, and that was so not what I should be thinking about at a murder scene. “Get it together,” I muttered.
I caught a uniformed officer glancing at me in confusion.
I squared my shoulders and took an extra second to look at Calvin as a professional, and not my unbelievably gorgeous boyfriend, which was admittedly a little hard to do. He was saying something to Quinn, who appeared to agree with him. Maybe Meredith had been on the wrong side of the law before. But if Calvin knew her, it had definitely been serious. A suspect in a murder case?
I looked down at my phone again and tried a few keywords that included Meredith, Ricky’s, and murder. I found exactly what I was hoping for, third link down on the list. NYC Exotic Dancer Suspect in Daughter’s Death. That didn’t paint Meredith in a particularly good light. I clicked the link and expanded the page to better read the text. It was a case from two years ago, led by the recently promoted Detective Calvin Winter. DNA evidence had been incorrectly handled at the scene and was unusable in laboratory testing. Meredith’s alibis had apparently been suspicious, but her boss had backed her statement, and Calvin had ultimately ended up with no legal way to prove she had bludgeoned her teen daughter to death.
“Calvin!” I called out, and when a few officers looked at me, I followed up with, “I mean, Detective Winter. Could you come here?”
Calvin got out of the display and walked toward me. “What?” he asked in a low tone.
I held out my phone. “This is the same lady, isn’t it?”
He looked at the article. “Yes. How did you find this?”
I shrugged. “Seemed like she was familiar to you.”
Calvin’s mouth formed a tight line and he gave my phone back. “It’s a cold case. Not enough evidence to convict her, but everyone knew she did it.”
“The note said I had to prove the murder.”
Calvin raised a hand to stop me. “No.”
“No. Stop right now, Seb.”
“But what if it leads us one step closer to who did this? You’re going to ignore that chance to stop this person?”
“I’m not, no. But you are.”
Calvin took a long breath. “We’re not having this argument again. Plant your ass on your father’s couch and stay out of trouble.”
“It seems pretty suspicious to me that one of your cold case suspects was murdered,” I said without regard to Calvin’s statement. “What about someone seeking revenge? The daughter’s father, maybe? A friend? Did the daughter have a boyfriend? Someone who would want to bring closure. Someone who clearly knew the mother was guilty.”
“I know how to do my job,” Calvin retorted.
“I didn’t say you couldn’t. I’m just trying to work this out.”
“Sebastian, what’s your degree in?” Calvin interrupted.
“Uh… fine art.”
“Not criminal justice?”
“I get it,” I stated, crossing my arms.
“No, you don’t,” he said before taking another breath. “Baby, I know you’re smart. I know you’ve got a knack for figuring this shit out. You don’t have to prove it to me.”
“I’m not trying to—”
“This is dangerous. Do you not remember what happened last time?”
All too well, actually. And the guilt hit me like a truck out of control on a freeway. If Calvin ever got hurt again because of my own stupidity, I don’t know what I’d do with myself.
It was painful to swallow. I stared at my shoes. “Sorry,” I whispered.
“I only want you to be safe,” Calvin said after a beat. “If—If your expertise were ever required for me to solve a case, I’d call on them.”
That made me look up. “You would?”
“Not that you expect to ever need someone skilled in trinkets from Victorian America to solve a murder.”
“You helped with Tamerlane,” Calvin pointed out.
“Seb, I don’t want anyone questioning your involvement in this. You understand that, right?”
I nodded. I was done arguing. I hated fighting with him. I really did. I loved Calvin too much to bicker, especially when he was right and I was wrong and I knew that from the start.
But the urge to put the mystery to bed myself was still overwhelming. Maybe I did subconsciously crave some sort of way to prove I was smart. That I was clever. Useful, even. That what I did with my life made a difference, like Calvin’s.
Jesus. I needed a hug or something.
“Can I wait at your place tonight?” I asked.
“I’m going to be working—”
“Come home,” I insisted. “Please?”
Someone from behind called my name, and we both turned.
“N-Neil?” I heard myself stutter.
Neil stood a few feet away, holding a forensic kit in one hand. “Why are you here?” he asked me.
“Uh… getting into trouble. Per usual.”
Neil looked at Calvin. “Detective Winter,” he said coolly.
“Millett,” Calvin said with a nod.
This wasn’t awkward at all.
What were the chances my ex would be the CSU detective assigned to collect evidence?
Someone roll the week back to Monday. I demand a do-over.
I cleared my throat. “Has it gotten sufficiently uncomfortable?”
“Yes,” Neil answered.
“Okay, good. I’m leaving now,” I answered.
“I’ll have an officer drive you,” Calvin said. “To my place.”
I caught the sour look that took over Neil’s face. “Thanks,” I answered.