Jude spoke to the drivers one by one, asking them first, in a friendly fashion, if they minded being recorded. Baskin, Lumis and Finn had been told to take whoever Angus Avery told them to take anywhere Avery said they were to go. Baskin had wound up running errands for Avery himself—buying tobacco, a special mineral water and picking up his glasses, which he had left in his apartment. Lumis had run with the costume designer to a fabric shop, picked up special makeup for Sherry Blanco at a Fifth Avenue shop. Finn had spent most of the day sitting in his car; at four he had made a run, collecting costumed extras from a theatrical agency. All three had returned their cars and clocked out by six. A man named Joe Hutchins had been assigned to Sherry Blanco; he returned her to her maisonette on Park Avenue at four-thirty, and returned his car. Sam Eagan had driven Bobby Walden; Walden had left the set at seven, and the car had been turned in right after. Eric Len had driven Angus Avery, and he verified that he had taken the director to speak at the dinner, and then brought him home and returned his car. Nothing that any man said contradicted what any other said. All cars had been returned before nine-thirty the night of Virginia Rockford’s murder.
When the interviews were over, Whitney asked Jude, “We’re heading to Not Your Mama’s?”
“Before following up on Melody Tatum?”
He nodded. “I’m trying to ascertain if we are seeing a pattern,” he told her. He shook his head. “Ellis Sayer will make sure that no one leaves the city—and that Harold Patterson is available when I’m ready to drop in on him,” he added dryly. He actually offered her a grim and weary smile. “Let’s go.”
It seemed that today was going to go just a little bit differently; Jude actually waited for her to grab her shoulder bag before heading out with his long strides.
As they walked down to the car, he was on the phone with Hannah, having her draw up the address of the establishment. It was in the Bowery, on the edge of the old Five Points area. It wasn’t just a strip club; it was one of the seediest joints Jude had ever seen. The interior was dark and filled with curved back booths covered in some kind of black velvet that reeked, most probably there since the early seventies. When he and Whitney entered, blinking to adjust their eyes to the darkness, it looked as if rats scurried away. Giant rats; the clientele who had been in the club who, in all likelihood, had pockets full of drugs. There was one woman dancing; she had the look of someone very young—and far too slim to be an exotic dancer.
Cocaine. Cocaine took that kind of toll on the body, he thought.
A woman walked forward; either a waitress or a manager. She was the opposite of the woman dancing—tall and buxom, over forty and if he had to pick a single word to describe her, he would probably think, blowsy.
She seemed to have radar for cops and was well on the way to absolute belligerence as she approached them.
“You’ve just ruined our business for the day,” the woman complained. “Our permits are in order. What do you want?” She looked from Jude to Whitney as she spoke, and she was obviously sizing Whitney up as a new morsel to put on the menu.
“I wish I could ruin your business for eternity,” Jude said, keeping his tone even. “Are you the owner? Owner or manager, I’m thinking, because it doesn’t look as if you’re on the drugs you get your girls taking—free, at first, I imagine. Then you get them hooked and they’re yours until they’re all used up.”
She was angry, of course.
“I am the owner, Myra Holiday. What is it that you want—Officer?”
“Detective, Ms. Holiday. Detective Crosby. And this is Agent Tremont, FBI. Congratulations. You’re a suspect in a murder investigation.”
That at last brought a real reaction from her. “Murder? No way in hell could we be associated with a murder investigation.”
Whitney arched a brow and lifted the newspaper with the picture of Sarah Larson.
“Sarah quit. She had some big-time offer, and she was quitting. She told me that she’d gotten a real chance. You’re in the wrong place—you ask the other girls—she left here about two weeks ago, full of herself. She said that she couldn’t tell us what was going on, but that we’d be seeing her soon enough, and that we’d all be pea green with envy.”
Whitney was angry, he saw, looking at the woman with fury and loathing. “You saw the paper—you saw the paper and you knew exactly who the woman in the picture was—but you had no intention of helping the police!” she said indignantly.
“Hey, I don’t want any trouble. And you say she’s dead? Well, she was always after something, always after somebody with money. And she was willing to go anywhere with anyone. She was gone from here, I swear it! You can ask any of the girls. They’ll tell you that what I’m saying is true.”
“She was willing to go after anyone with money after you turned her into a junkie,” Jude said, his voice soft.
“I didn’t kill anybody!” the woman protested.
“Actually, I’m pretty sure you’ve managed to kill a lot of women throughout the years, Ms. Holiday,” Jude said. “I’ll need a list of your regulars.”
The woman started to laugh. “My regulars? I don’t have a list of any regulars. What, do you think customers sign in or something? I don’t have any lists. And I didn’t call the police because Sarah Larson was just trouble. A little bitch. I haven’t seen her—I’m telling you that she was out of here weeks ago, and no one has heard from her since.”
“I’m going to suggest, Ms. Holiday, that you get something together for me, because we are in the middle of a major murder investigation—and I’m going to have a team out here to rip the place up looking for evidence. Some of them are really good friends with some of the vice and fraud guys, and…”
His voice trailed; the woman was suddenly white, and not because he had threatened her with a vice squad. She was horrified.
“You—you think that Sarah’s murder had something to do with…the women who were butchered. You think that she was a victim of the Ripper?”
Jude shook his head with disgust. “She was murdered and dumped in the river, Ms. Holiday, and you couldn’t even bother to identify her for the police. We don’t know if her murder was associated with the other murder. We do know that she’s dead, throat slashed, and that you’re going to cooperate in any way humanly possible. I have a team coming in to speak with your girls, and to go over this place with a fine-tooth comb, and if you make me have to waste the time to get a warrant, I’ll make sure that I take so much of your time, you’ll be ready for retirement when I’m done.”
“Whatever you want, whatever you want,” Myra told him.
Whitney brushed by her and headed for the skinny woman dancing on the stage.
“Hey!” Whitney called. The skinny woman didn’t notice her at first. She was just swinging around the pole, eyes lackadaisical, moving only vaguely to the music.
“Hey!” Whitney called again.
The girl blinked, noticing her. She smiled curiously. “Hey, sugar. You don’t look like the kind of woman who likes women, but, hey, you are a pretty thing and I promise I can make you real happy.”
“I need to speak with you,” Whitney told her, flashing her badge.
The woman froze, and looked backstage as if she wanted to run. Whitney quickly hopped on stage and showed her the picture of Sarah Larson. “Was she your friend?” Whitney asked.
Again, the girl looked longingly backstage, dying to flee.
“Look at me—talk to me,” Whitney said firmly.
The young woman’s shoulders slumped. “That’s Sarah,” she said softly. “She was my friend. She’s dead, isn’t she?”
“I need to know who she was seeing,” Whitney told her.
The skimpily clad girl winced, shaking her head. “She wasn’t seeing anyone. She said if you closed your eyes and dreamed, it didn’t matter that they were smelly creeps. She wouldn’t have seen anyone here, I mean, not beyond work. She told us all that we had to be strong and keep dreaming, even when…she was going to be a star. She was a real dancer.”
“And she left here, to go somewhere else?” Whitney asked.
The girl nodded, slowly at first, then strenuously. “She said she was going to go off and be a star.”
“Where? With and for whom?” Whitney persisted.
“She wouldn’t tell us. She said that she’d been promised a role.”
“As a dancer?”
The girl nodded, looking past her at Myra.
“Think, please, it’s very important,” Whitney persisted gently.
“I swear, that’s all that she would say,” the skinny woman said.
“What’s your name?” Whitney asked.
“What’s your real name?” Jude said, coming forward.
“Debbie. Debbie Mortensen,” the girl said.
Whitney started to hand her a card; she realized that the girl had nowhere to put it, except in the string of the ridiculous studded thong she was wearing. Jude drew out his own card and joined it to Whitney’s, then stuck both cards in the band of the thong. “The police need your help. Anything you can think of might be important. Other officers will be around questioning everyone here—talk to them, or call us.”
He turned and strode out. Whitney followed him. He dialed Sayer and told him to get officers down to the place to question everyone involved. He called Hannah and told her to get on the business records.
“You don’t believe Myra or Debbie?” Whitney asked.
He sighed. “No, I do believe them. And one of those girls will notice if someone was in here who was a bit above the usual clientele.”
As they stood there, Debbie Mortensen, now wrapped in a red, faux-silk housecoat, came rushing out into the street.
“I thought of something!” she told them. In the garish light of day, her age was visible. Debbie Mortensen wasn’t a girl. She had to be at least thirty-five. And, like Myra, she was scared. Her face was white and pinched.