Episode IV: Part VI - The Case of the Conniving Gun Moll
“The car is registered to a Matt Duggan. I did a little more checking, so buckle your seatbelt: He’s a private eye,” the unknown caller reported.
“Hold on a sec,” the Lexus driver ordered, tossing his cell phone on the drivers’ side passenger seat before turning into a run down strip mall. Parking his car in the shade of a large palm tree, he reached down and grabbed the phone, “Did I hear you say, ‘Matt Duggan?’”
“That’s what I said — why, do you know him?” the caller asked.
“Let’s just say that in my line of work, word gets around regarding certain cops and private dicks. Unfortunately for him, that’s going to be a problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“It means I caught Duggan snooping around our home."
“You want me to take care of it?”
“No. I’ll deal with him down the road. He’s likely done nosing around for the day — at least at the house. I’ll swing back around after dark. Sit tight with your phone. I may need you later.”
Ending the call, the Lexus driver rubbed his forefinger against his top lip, pondering the implications of Duggan’s involvement in unison with his girlfriend suddenly MIA. Hmm … super sleuth shows up at the door, but not the cops or the feds? That tells me the boys in blue and J. Edgar don’t know anything — and Duggan’s just snooping. If Joan was there, she pretended not to be until he left. Pausing, he took in a breath before slowly exhaling. If not, where the hell is she — and why isn’t she returning my calls?
“Thank you” the sultry young blonde whispered to the bellhop. At her direction, he removed her suitcase and bags off the luggage cart, setting them on the floor in the center of the suite. Acknowledging a twenty dollar tip with an appreciative smile, the attendant exited the room, pulling the door shut.
Ten minutes later the phone rang. The digital display confirmed it was the lobby desk.
“Hello,” she answered.
“Good morning, Ms. Russo,” the front desk clerk chirped. “We’re extending a courtesy call to ask whether your room and our service have been satisfactory.”
“Yeah, everything’s been ducky,” she drawled.
“Wonderful,” the caller replied. “If there’s anything further we can do to make your stay more comfortable, please do not hesitate to …. “
“Yes, as a matter of fact there is,” she broke in. “I was about to make dinner reservations for early this evening. You can do it for me. Which of your restaurants do suggest?”
“Our resort offers several exquisite dining experiences, Ms. Russo,” the caller continued in a cheerful tone. “I would personally recommend ‘Season’s 52,’ located inside the main villa. Would you like for me to make the reservation?”
“Make it for seven,” she said.
"Consider it done, Ms. Russo. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Thank you. I’ll let you know,” she replied, hanging up the phone. Walking around and admiring the lavishly decorated room, she placed the suitcase on top of the king sized bed, then threw the seabag onto a large luggage rack. She grabbed the pink duffel bag stuffed with her personal care products and set it on the decorative marble top next to the sink and vanity adjacent to the bathroom. Grabbing her purse, she began digging through it, stopping when she located the fake passport.
“Bingo,” she shouted, a shifty smirk appearing.
“His name is Denny Lopato," the owner of the cab company divulged. "He’s one of my part-time drivers — a really nice young man. I dispatched him to pick-up up that particular fare after she called for a cab. She didn’t even tell him where she was going until she was in the back seat.”
“Where did he take her?” Matt asked.
“To the Ocean View Resort — our drivers are required to complete and submit a waybill at the end of their shift." A pause. “Oh, and by the way -- you and I never had this conversation.”
“Understood — and thanks. I owe you one.”
“You don’t owe me a thing,” the voluptuous brunette replied. “I haven’t forgotten the clientele you and your partner funneled in my direction when I left the burlesque business and opened up this hackney service." She looked at Matt with a gentle, sad expression on her face. “I was devastated when I heard about your partner. He was a good guy. I liked him.”
Matt stood there, a grateful, appreciative look on his face. “Thanks, Fonda. That means a lot.”
Smiling, she placed her hand gently on his forearm. “My name is Julie,” she whispered softly. “Let me know if there’s anything else I can do.”
Waiting until dark, the Lexus driver turned slowly onto the street where he resided. Parking next to the curb several houses away, the gang leader exited his vehicle and headed toward the leased home. No lights on inside, he thought. Unlocking the front door, he walked cautiously inside. Where is Joan? What the hell is going on? Even in the dark, nothing appeared out of the ordinary; nothing that is, until he walked into the bedroom and opened their closet door. “Damn, her clothing is gone,” he mumbled. Stepping out of the closet, the kingpin checked their dresser, quickly confirming her side of the dresser drawers were empty. Shit. Panicking, the gang boss removed a small flashlight from the night stand next to their king size bed before moving it away from the adjacent wall. Kneeling, he removed a section of false flooring, revealing the crawl space underneath the home where the stolen loot was hidden. Aiming the flashlight at the seabags, the gang’s mastermind noticed one was missing. He took in a deep breath, then angrily pressed his lips together. "God dammit, I’ll kill that bitch.”
“Her name is Joan … uh, let me think … uhm, yeah, it's Joan Russo. That’s the name I heard when she was on her cell phone while on the way to the Ocean View Resort. I guess it was in reference to reservations she made or was making to stay there,” Denny Lovato divulged, standing next to his cab in the parking area just behind the cab company’s call center.
“We appreciate your help,” Matt acknowledged, patting the driver on the shoulder.
Snorting a smile and completing a quick shake of his head, the young driver confessed: "To be honest, I thought she was gorgeous, and I liked the way she talked to me. Why, is she in some kind of trouble?”
Delia flicked a smile. “That’s what we're trying to trying to find out," she piped in, "so it’s really important our conversation remains confidential — until this is all sorted out.”
He nodded. “Yeah, I get it.”
“Is this her?” Delia asked, handing the cab driver the photo she printed from the police rap sheets.
Denny glazed over the photo. “Yeah, that’s Joan,” he sighed, nodding, “but the photo doesn’t do her justice … if you get my meaning.”
“I get it,” Delia replied, flashing a smile.
“Are we done?” Denny asked, a somber note in his voice.
Matt pursed his lips and rendered an appreciative half-smile. “Yeah, we’re done — and thanks again.”
Returning to his vehicle, Matt and Delia stopped, then faced each other.
“Ready to peep through some keyholes?” Matt asked, a mischievous grin appearing.
“Dirty old man — you would think of that,” Delia teased.
“A metaphor for some old fashioned surveillance,” Matt explained. “Odds are our suspect is still there. We may catch her milling about. That’s the beauty about resort hotels. There are restaurants, shops, and other activities that continue into the night. It’s doubtful she’ll hunker down in her room all evening — she’ll want to check it out.”
Delia smiled coyly. “It so happens a friend of mine told me about this really nice restaurant inside the resort …”
“Yeah yeah, I know -- dinner,” Matt snickered.
Click to read Episode IV Part VII - "MATT DUGGAN - Detective Series"