Sunday, November 18, 2007

Chapter Fifty-One

When Jacoby walked into the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton he realized he didn’t exactly blend in and that’s what he had intended. He wanted Jaffe to notice him. Most of the men were in formal attire. The women looked like they’d spent the afternoon at the beauty shop. Most of them had chosen some variation of the same black dress. He followed the crowd to the stairway that led up to the ballroom. As he passed a muted flat screen television at the end of the lobby he noticed the silent images of the rioting in Pakistan. The camera panned slowly over bloody bodies. It always struck him that people like him spent hours and hours pursuing a single criminal while the slaughter that took place in other parts of the world was no more than a blurred image a television screen. Jacoby scolded himself. He should save the philosophizing for later. He and Lieutenant Columbo had a killer to catch.

It wasn’t hard to locate Jaffe in the crowded ballroom. The Senator was surrounded by his minions. Jaffe looked around for Stone but he was no where to be seen. Jaffe looked relaxed and confident. If he was worried about anything it didn’t show on his tanned, unlined face. His grey eyes managed to focus on the people around him and the room at the same time. His right arm never left the shoulder of the striking, dark haired woman at his side but the woman appeared to be more interested in her drink than in whatever the Senator was saying. She was obviously the Senator’s wife. As he moved closer Jacoby got a better look at the woman. He imagined she must have been a beautiful woman at one time but time and the booze had taken their toll. A waiter walked by carrying a tray of drinks and Mrs. Jaffe handed him her empty glass and helped herself to another. It looked like the Senator tried to whisper something to his wife but she pulled away from him and moved a few feet away. Soon the gulf between the Senator and his wife was flooded with well wishers and hangers-on. Jaffe took advantage of the opportunity to approach Mrs. Jaffe. He helped himself to two glasses from a passing tray and worked his way to her side. “Thought you might like a fresh drink, Mrs. Jaffe.” She accepted the drink, and finished the drink she’d been holding before handing the empty glass to Jacoby.

“Thank you. I don’t think I know you.”

She was hiding it well, but Jacoby could tell from experience that Mrs. Jaffe was smashed. “Sorry. I’m Detective Jacoby. I’m here to talk to your husband in connection with a series of murders. One of them occurred in my district.”

She didn’t flinch. Maybe she was too intoxicated for his words to register with her. She took a sip of her drink. “Detective Jacoby, I have no doubt that my husband is guilty of many, many things, but I don’t believe murder is among them. However, Detective, as you may know the Senator and I have – drifted apart of late. Perhaps I don’t know him as well as I once did.”

“Tell me this, Mrs. Jaffe. Does the Senator have a tattoo on his shoulder?”

She laughed. “Detective, the only thing on my husband’s shoulder is a giant chip.”

She laughed again at her joke. Jacoby found the joke neither funny nor terribly accurate. “I heard he had gotten a tattoo recently. Are you sure?”

“As I’m sure you already know, the Senator and I don’t spend much time together these days.” She pointed to Jacoby’s drink. “You gonna’ drink that?”

Jacoby handed her his glass and disposed of the empty one she handed to him. “You know, I was wondering, Mrs. Jaffe…”

She interrupted him by placing a perfectly manicured finger on his lips. “Why don’t you call me Bonnie?”

“I was wondering, Bonnie, is the Senator’s little friend here tonight?”

He let her stew for a moment in a mixture of shock and confusion before clarifying. “I’m referring to Carl Stone. Bonnie, you didn’t think I was asking you.... Forgive me, Bonnie. I have been anxious to meet the inscrutable Mr. Stone this evening.”

“I haven’t seen Carl since I got in this morning. And that’s unusual now that I think about it. Carl is usually closer to my husband than --- I was going to saw his shadow, but maybe I should say a tattoo.” Her second quip of the evening sent her into another ripple of drunken giggles. Before she recovered, they were joined by Senator Jaffe.

“Ah, Senator. I was hoping to have a chance to chat with you this evening. Bonnie and I were just getting acquainted.”

“Yes, Stuart, Detective Jacoby is much more attentive than you are dear.”

“Detective? What brings you to our little gathering this evening?” Jacoby had to hand it to the Senator. He was one cool customer.

“Like I said. I was hoping to have a chance to talk to you. I had a few questions for you.”

“He wants to know if you have a tattoo, Stu. I assure him that you are unblemished.” Bonnie looked like she was in danger of losing her balance. Jaffe reached out to steady his wife but Jacoby didn’t miss the stunned expression on his face. “He also want to talk to little Carl, don’t you Detective?”

“Detective, in the future, if you have questions, you please direct them to me.” The Senator had abandoned his good manners. He was clearly furious. Jacoby could see white patches under his tanned cheekbones.

“Very well, Senator. What do your know about the death of Lillian Petulengro?”



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