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This story is the fourth in the timeline of eleven Max Pemberton detective stories. You’re encouraged to read “Maelstrom,” “Deception” and “Blindsided” to give you additional background, though this story can stand on its own. It’s a quicker read than the other stories, but sometimes short and sweet is best!
A big thank you to migbird for his thoughts and encouragement over the course of Max’s tortured, twisted and sometimes amusing journey.
Here’s the chronological breakdown of Max’s stories:
Loss of Innocence
Revenge is Best Served Cold
To Hell… And Back
To those readers who are new to the “Max” series of stories, read this first. For you Max fans, you’re welcome to skip this section.
Maxine “Max” Pemberton was a seven year veteran of the Cincinnati police force. She spent five years on patrol in Cincinnati’s notorious West End neighborhood and transferred two years ago to become a detective in the Vice squad. Her partner was Lesley Groesbeck, a short Barbie-esqe blonde, who was a recent graduate of the Cincinnati’s police academy and whose father Saul was a former Chief of Police.
Max was married to Ron Pemberton, then divorced, and finally acknowledged to the world that she was a lesbian.
She was taller than most woman, a big breasted attractive brunette with a weakness for beautiful women and cheap drink. She was fiercely loyal to her friends, chief among them Nicky Flores, the owner of Nicky’s Diner, who inherited the restaurant from her late father Gustave, and Maddie Bailey, the owner of an upscale bar in one of Cincinnati’s trendier neighborhoods.
Max lived at the Royal Palms Motel, a flophouse located in the heart of the West End, whose chief clientele consisted of junkies and prostitutes. Max could never seem to get her finances in order, nor any other aspects of her personal life. She lived to work, and was well regarded by her peers but reviled by management for her irreverent attitude towards her superiors.
Max’s current love interest was an on again off again relationship with Courtney Landry, a twenty-five year old vampy hipster who was five years younger than Max. Courtney was the daughter of Jim Landry, the biggest car dealer in Cincinnati, and reputed to be one of the wealthiest persons in that city. Because of her family’s extreme wealth, she had no need to hold a job and spent the majority of her time chasing women. Though it began as a purely physical relationship, Max couldn’t help but start caring for Courtney but wasn’t sure the feeling was mutual.
Summary of Maelstrom
Nicky came to Max with two pressing problems, the $35,000 she owed in protection money to a Vietnamese gang headed by Trong Lai, an intelligent and ruthless West End warlord, and the $50,000 investment she needed to repair and refurbish her diner in order to stay in operation.
Max tangled with Trong, teaming with DaVanna Caruso, an ambitious, drop dead gorgeous attorney with an Italian father and African-American mother, who recently assumed the top spot in the Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney’s office after the unexpected early retirement of her boss, Maureen McCormick.
All was not copacetic between Max and DaVanna. Max suspected DaVanna used illicit methods to advance her political career, co-opting her younger sister Alessandra to burgle a law firm and steal several laptops with confidential information on them, the subject matter of which was still a mystery to Max. Alessandra was arrested in connection with the theft, but never formally charged.
Max discovered DaVanna made a deal with Trong to intimidate witnesses who would have put Alessandra in jail in exchange for DaVanna deep sixing a murder charge against the crime boss. DaVanna, being a politician without a moral compass (aren’t they all?), reneged on her deal with Trong. Max assisted with the arrest of Trong, who was ultimately convicted of first degree murder and given a life sentence. Trong’s imprisonment solved Nicky’s debt issue.
Alessandra was able to shed her checkered past, using her culinary training to assume charge of the kitchen at Nicky’s Diner. Courtney stepped forward with a $50,000 investment in the diner in exchange for a half interest in the restaurant.
Summary of Deception
Max discovered that DaVanna was blackmailing Maureen, and had forced her boss to resign. Maureen had killed a pedestrian in a hit and run accident, and realizing it could end her political career, switched places in the driver’s seat with her husband. Unfortunately for Maureen, Stewart was an alcoholic and had too much to drink that night. He was stopped for a DUI, and Max was able to piece together that Stewart was involved in the istanbul travesti unsolved fatality. Max had Lesley search traffic cam footage in the vicinity of the hit and run and found that the footage from one of the cameras was mysteriously deleted from the City’s servers. She was able to track down a back-up copy, and much to her surprise discovered that Maureen, and not Stewart was the driver.
Because DaVanna was now the Hamilton County Prosecutor, Max was forced to bring in Special Agent Carl Banks of the FBI. The FBI used the information Max gathered to prosecute DaVanna and put her in jail for theft of data from a government server.
During all of this, DaVanna managed to steal Max’s girlfriend Courtney, with Max meeting Leah McArdle on the rebound. Max was falling for Leah, but when Leah confessed that she had lied, and was married, Max dropped her. DaVanna and Courtney eventually lost interest in one another (Max thought it was just DaVanna fucking with Max and stealing her girlfriend for sport). In the end, Max acknowledged her weakness for good sex and took Courtney back.
There was an “all hands” pursuit of a man who had just killed a Cincinnati police officer. Max and Lesley pursued a shadowy figure late at night who could have (and turned out to be) the killer. Max chased the killer while ordering Lesley to wait near an alley. Of course Lesley, being the eager beaver that she was, couldn’t resist going down the alley to assist Max. The killer doubled back, confronting Lesley in the alley. In the shootout, Lesley killed the man but in the process suffered a serious bullet wound to the arm that would potentially end her career in the field. She was put on the most powerful pain killers to dull the devastating effects of the injury.
Summary of Blindsided
Lesley returned to service after a five month recovery from her gunshot wound. Max still blamed herself for the shooting, second guessing her decision to chase the killer instead of waiting for back-up and keeping Lesley safe.
Lesley messed up twice, first assaulting a potential CI, and then later Jumbo Williams, a reputed drug dealer, when he made a pass at Lesley. Max separated them, but in the process of doing so, pushed Jumbo into his mother’s china cabinet, breaking valuable china belonging to Jumbo’s mother, Adine. Max took the fall for Lesley’s screw up.
Given Lesley’s aberrational behavior, Max suspected that Lesley had become addicted to pain killers.
DaVanna got out of jail because she was convicted with tainted evidence. The traffic cam video Max recovered as the incriminating evidence was found to be compromised. Max had no idea how that could have happened.
Max met Lily Chao at Bailey’s, the bar owned by her best friend Maddy Bailey. Unbeknownst to Max, Lily was a drug dealer who aimed to take over Jumbo’s territory. Max later discovered that Lily had already taken over Trong Lai’s operation and that the bar rendezvous was intentional on Lily’s part to extract information from Max. Max also learned that Lily’s assistant, Jasmine, was also Lily’s sub in a BDSM relationship, and that Lily, although married, was a lesbian.
The Chief of Police, Bradley Anderson, blew up at Max when Adine Williams filed a citizen’s complaint against her for the damage to Adine’s china. Mrs. Williams was a prominent member of the community.
The last straw with Lesley occurred with Alessandra’s unexpected appearance at the Royal Palms. Lesley had struck her in the face during an argument. Alessandra’s visit interrupted Max’s rendezvous with Courtney. Max confronted Lesley, and Lesley confessed she was addicted to Oxy.
Max went to Bailey’s to blow off steam and encountered Lily’s Rolls Royce parked outside. Lily seduced Max because of their mutual attraction, and gave Max information that she could use to arrest both Jumbo and DaVanna.
The raids got a mixed result. Jumbo was arrested with a kilo or cocaine but nothing was found at DaVanna’s apartment. Max racked her brain as to how the information was leaked to DaVanna and initially accused Lesley, but when she was convinced Lesley was innocent, she came to the conclusion it had to be Alessandra. Alessandra confessed that DaVanna had blackmailed her for the information because DaVanna had information on an unsolved murder that Alessandra believed she committed. Max arrested Alessandra for obstruction of justice.
Ultimately though, Lily confessed to Max that Max was set up. DaVanna never had any drugs in her apartment. The reason Lily knew is because she and DaVanna were now lovers.
This story begins with Alessandra being released from jail and Max, Lesley and Alessandra attempting to repair their relationship.
Healing Emotional Wounds
It was Wednesday night, and Wednesday night was Ladies Night at Bailey’s, an upscale bar in an up and coming neighborhood near the core of downtown Cincinnati. The lead istanbul travestileri singer of a Rolling Stones cover band was belting out “Satisfaction” to an undulating mass of women on the dance floor. Ordinarily, I’d be in the middle of that gaggle, making eyes with my girlfriend Courtney, and in my half-drunk state, thinking ahead to our nasty sex session in my residence, Room 204 of the Royal Palms Motel.
But that night wasn’t an ordinary night. Courtney informed me she wasn’t coming back anytime soon, this time in a text message from her father’s yacht (of course anchored off the Gold Coast of France). She included a picture of herself with her arms draped over the shoulders of two skimpily clad women holding drinks and toasting me. The caption read:
Met these two lovelies in bar in St. Tropez. Too much fun. Maybe back in six months… maybe not
Life was too short to wait for her. And in any event she never promised herself to me. She was a free spirit, living off her father’s wealth and chasing as much pussy as she could. I told myself I’d never take her back, but I’d made that pledge before.
I’d also just eaten a double helping of humble pie, courtesy of my chief nemesis Lily Yang, who not only fed me false information on DaVanna Caruso, causing me to expend valuable police resources on searching her apartment for a phantom kilo of coke, and then wrongly arresting Alessandra Caruso, my partner Lesley Groesbeck’s girlfriend. I wasn’t used to eating shit, but Lily was no ordinary criminal.
Frustration boiled over as I rapped my empty glass tumbler on the bar.
“Hit me again,” I growled. I could still remember the seductive smell of DaVanna’s perfume when we searched her apartment. Smug bitch. She gamed me. So did Lily. It wasn’t often that someone pulled the wool over my eyes.
“Haven’t you had enough?” asked the bartender. I wanted to tell her to mind her own fucking business but she was my best friend.
“I’m still conscious Maddy,” I replied. Drinking to forget was my specialty. I just usually did it in the comfort of my motel room, not at Bailey’s, Maddy Bailey’s pride and joy.
“Max, you’re so full of shit. Just because DaVanna…”
“Don’t mention her fucking name right now,” I said, not in a particularly good mood to hear her name spoken out loud.
“Fine, fine,” said Maddy, holding up her hands. “You’re clearly in one of those moods,” she said to me, trying not to sound disgusted but failing. “It’s not like the first time someone…”
“Are you really going to say it?” I asked, interrupting her again.
She shrugged her shoulders. I was in one of those moods and she knew better than to poke the bear.
“I’ll get you your drink,” she muttered.
“Thank you,” I said sarcastically. I was becoming a mean drunk, and that wasn’t very becoming. I owed Maddy an apology, just not then. I was still stinging and the hurt had to stop first.
Maddy came back with two shots of Jack Daniels. She put one in front of me and held one for herself.
“Might as well drink with you Max,” she said. “You clearly aren’t in a mood to do anything else.”
“You’re the best Maddy.” She did understand me, and that’s why she was my best friend.
We toasted and downed our shots. I usually drank cheap vodka to get this drunk. Jack Daniels gave me a luxurious ride.
“You’ve got some fence mending to do,” said Maddy, bringing me back to earth.
I knew I did. Even though I was right at the time to do it, I did arrest Alessandra for obstruction of justice, and she did spend a month in the county lock-up before she was cleared of a crime. That unfortunate incident would tend to sour a relationship.
“Yeah,” I acknowledged. “I just haven’t figured out how to do it.”
“Just go talk to them,” Maddy said, offering her usual sage and common sense advice. “Once you start talking, it will all take care of itself.”
“Lesley’s still on administrative leave and neither of them will return a call or a text.”
“Since when has something like that stopped you?” she asked me, rightfully questioning my weak excuse. She knew the real reason, that I was afraid to see them and afraid I wouldn’t know the right words to say. What could I say to Alessandra, who I arrested, and to Lesley, who I reported to my commander that she was using?
Maddy answered her question because I didn’t. “I’ll tell you why. Because you know how to save everyone else but you don’t know how to save yourself. Max, Lesley’s your partner and Alessandra is one of your best friends. For God’s sake, you introduced them to each other. They love you. You did what you did for the right reasons. If they can’t see that then they’re not deserving of being your friend.”
Why did she always have to be right?
“OK, I’ll go see them,” I said, telling myself as well as her.
“Yes, yes, I fucking promise,” I said, now getting my back up when pushed.
“Great,” Maddy said, reaching across travesti istanbul the bar to pat me on the shoulder. She stepped away for a moment and came back with another shot for me.
“Here’s one for the road,” she said. “I’ll call you a Uber.”
“You’re the best Maddy,” I said, trying not to slur my words.
“I know Max. Sometimes even with your good intentions you still need a swift kick in the ass.”
That was Maddy, voice of my conscience.
* * *
Thank God the next morning I didn’t have a hangover. Maybe quality booze was the answer. After two pints of cheap vodka I always had a raging headache the next morning. Maddy’s advice was still ringing in my head. Since they were ignoring my calls and texts, I decided I was going to go to Lesley and Alessandra’s house after work to pay them a visit. Just having a potential solution in hand lifted my sunken spirits. Even the squalor of my disheveled motel room didn’t dampen my spirits. With a spring in my step, I put on a freshly pressed uniform and left for the station.
As usual, my boss, Lieutenant Billie Odell, was already in her office working on her second cup of coffee. She was shuffling paperwork when I rapped on the glass panel of her partially open door. I leaned in.
“Got a minute boss?” I asked.
She smiled instead of scowled. That was good. That meant I hadn’t done anything recently to piss her off. She was pleased when we busted Jumbo Williams, a major drug dealer in Cincinnati’s rough and tumble West End neighborhood, but also upset with me when it was apparent I was played by DaVanna Caruso. I’m sure my impending hearing before the civilian Police Review Board on the botched raid of DaVanna’s apartment was still weighing heavily on her mind. No section leader wanted one of their own in the spotlight.
“What do you want Max?” she asked back.
“I’m not here to ask about me. I wanted to know what’s up with Lesley… when is she coming back?” I’d heard rumors that her forced medical leave due to her Oxy addiction was about to end.
“Next Monday. Her toxicology came back clean and she’s completed the mandatory drug counseling.”
No wonder she was in a good mood. We were a person short in our department and Lesley, up until her addiction got the best of her, was someone our commander could count on.
“Told her yet?” I asked.
“Nope. I was just about to call her. I just signed her paperwork to make it official.”
“Can I tell her?” I asked. “It would mean a lot to me,” I added.
“Of course Max. If you want to. She’s your partner.”
“I want to.”
“Great. Tell her to come to my office at 8 a.m. on Monday. She got a few things to sign and then she’s all yours.”
I started to pull her door shut.
“Don’t call me boss.”
“Yes, Lieutenant Odette.”
“That’s better. Now get the fuck out of here.”
* * *
The day crawled by. I wanted to call Lesley to give her the good news, but I wanted to deliver it in person, which meant at the end of the day. I had to keep myself from calling her, which nagged at me all day. I finally signed out at six and made my way to Lesley and Alessandra’s house.
The house Alessandra and Lesley lived in started as a rental, but with the money Alessandra made as a chef at Nicky’s Diner, and Lesley’s salary as a police officer, the two of them purchased the home, a relative bargain because of its dilapidated state. Alessandra was a woman of many skill sets, and one of them was carpentry, which she learned while incarcerated as a juvenile. She viewed manual labor as therapy, and given the tumult of the last few months, the amount of therapy needed translated into a full makeover of the house.
Her current project was repairing the front entrance, which was perpetually blocked by an abandoned refrigerator. She had the refrigerator taken away and was replacing damaged floorboards when I arrived for my unannounced visit. We hadn’t seen each other or spoken for over a month.
“Hey,” the tall, slender brunette said to me, on her hands and knees with a hammer in hand. It was a casual greeting but I could tell it was forced. I could still sense a tension between us.
“You look good, Alessandra,” I said to her as I approached the new front entrance. Her long, thick brown hair was braided in cornrows and pulled back in a ponytail. She was wearing faded, paint splattered overalls with one of the shoulder straps ripped and hanging free. She wasn’t wearing any make-up, but of course she didn’t need any for her flawless mocha complexion. She would have looked terrific in a plastic garbage bag with holes poked out for her arms.
She had spent a month in lockup while the charges against her were cleared because she was unable to raise the money for her $100,000 bond. Even though her family was one of the wealthiest in Cincinnati, she’d been estranged from her parents ever since the wild days of her youth, when rebellion was her code. Her juvenile arrest record took up multiple web pages, and the list of offenses ranged from drug possession to grand theft. She was past all of that, in good part due to her position as head chef at Nicky’s Diner. I introduced Alessandra to Nicky Flores, one of my closest friends for over twenty years.
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