MONEY HEALS ALL WOUNDS
by Chris Fortunato
Billie Rae passed through the spacious
lobby with its picture windows overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway and took the gilded
elevator to the fifth floor, and just at four o’clock, as Sal had instructed her,
she put her key in the door and entered their two-bedroom condo.
When she did so, she
heard scurrying footsteps coming from the bedroom. A young woman with tangled blonde hair,
wearing only panties and a bra, stood at the foot of the bed, sobbing while putting on
at Billie Rae terrified. “Oh, my God. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened.
I think he had a heart attack.”
Rae pulled a Sig Sauer .45 with a seven-inch suppressor from her purse and pointed
it at the girl.
for your pain, dearie, but if you think you’re running out of here, you’re
to the side of the massive bed and looked down at Sal’s inert hulk of a body. She
felt his wrist quickly. His heart was beating frantically.
“How did he die?” she asked the pretty
blonde girl, who was now fully clothed and hopping into her flats.
obvious?” the girl said.
you and me need to have a little talk in the living room,” Billie Rae said.
Once in the living room,
Billie Rae shut the bedroom door behind her and confronted the frightened girl who was
clutching her handbag shaped like a heart.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?” Billie Rae asked. She held the
Sig Sauer in her right hand. She was a good-looking woman who had retained her looks into
middle age, although Sal now liked to tumble with tough girls in their twenties. The girl
standing before her was sweet-looking and refined.
Pelton,” the girl said.
Emily Pelton, what do you do when you aren’t doing tricks?”
“I go to college,” the girl said.
“I’m studying business administration. Would you mind not pointing that gun
Rae waved the gun around and stared into the girl’s pretty blue eyes. “I’m
going to keep pointing this gun at you until we come to terms, Emily Pelton.”
do you want of me?” The girl was almost crying. “He could have had that heart
attack at any time.”
wish he had,” Billie Rae said. “He was a real SOB. Anyhow, he was a strong
man, and it took the exertions of a pretty girl like you to push him over the edge.”
“Listen, Mrs. Mardrosian. I’m not some
slut hanging out at the fancy hotels. I only have six more credits before I finish
college. I’d like to go home now and forget all this.”
“Tell me, sweetie. How much did he pay you
to get him all worked up?”
“A thousand dollars,” the girl said. “I’ll give it back
if you want.”
don’t want your hard-earned cash. Did his pillow talk involve his real-estate holdings,
the strip malls and apartment houses?”
“He told me what he did,” the girl said. “All
these guys like to brag. But I got the feeling that he didn’t employ best practices.”
Billie Rae barked out a laugh. “That’s
for sure. He’s a slime ball from the old school. When you think of the world being
an unfair place, think of Sal Mardrosian.”
The girl waited for Billie Rae to get to the point.
“Well,” Billie Rae said, “now that
we’ve established our friendship, and you know what business Sal and I are in, or
I should say, what business I am in, let me tell you what you need to do if you don’t
want me going to the police.”
“All right,” the girl said softly.
“Sal’s business partner, a guy named Jimmy Andropolous,
was trying to buy him out for pennies on the dollar. Now he’ll be trying to buy me
out for even less than that. The problem is that Jimmy has been robbing from the business
for years with all sorts of pretend improvements to the properties. Now, as a poor widow,
I need to take care of Jimmy Andropolous so he doesn’t try to take advantage of me.
Get my drift?”
of,” the girl said.
“Here’s the deal,” Billie Rae said, still
pointing the Sig at the girl. “Go to the Bainbridge Condos tomorrow at 6 a.m. It’s
just down the causeway here. Jimmy and his wife Esilda go to the pool at five thirty every
morning. They pretend to be health nuts even though they snort coke all afternoon.”
The girl listened intently. Billy Rae could
see that under the gloss of sweetness, the girl had a resilient nature, maybe from sitting
in classrooms listening to blather three or four hours a day.
“You are to go out to the pool, wave this
piece of business, and let them know they are to sell to me for the same price they expected
Sal to sell to them. Got it?”
“I think so,” the girl said doubtfully.
“See this extension on the gun,” Billie Rae
said. “It’s called a suppressor. If they try to get rough and you have cause to
shoot them, the sound when you shoot will be no louder than popping open a beer can.”
“Are you giving me the gun now?” Emily
“Not a chance.
Meet me at the Bainbridge tomorrow morning. As you face the building, there’s an
archway to the left. That’s where I’ll give you the gun. Then you can take
a path directly to the pool. I’ll be waiting in the parking lot to take back the
gun. Understand? A good firm warning, report back to me, and your job is done.”
“Sure,” the girl said with evident relief
that she wasn’t going to be shot.
“In the meantime, Emily, I want to see your license and your college ID.
I want to know exactly who you are. Don’t think you’re walking your pretty
little self out of here, never to be seen again. I’m a desperate woman, Emily. Alone
in a world full of creeps trying to rob me. I’m prepared to use every weapon at my
I understand,” the girl said. “You really have to be tough.”
The girl left with a promise to be at the
Bainbridge complex the next morning.
Billie Rae opened the door to the bedroom. Sal was sitting up in bed reading a
magazine. He was a big man, big stomach, big nose, big hair.
“How’d it go?” he asked, looking at her over
the rim of his bifocals. He spoke with the baritone growl of a bear. He would have been
cast as the dyspeptic bartender in a crime movie.
“She seemed genuinely scared,” Billie Rae said. “But
I think it’s a lousy plan. I should just plug you with this gun and have done with
you before. I’ll give you the divorce, but let’s grab ahold of the whole business.
Why settle for half of a half? You want the nice life in the Sunshine State, you gotta
play along. I’m the guy who knows how to make money, remember that.”
“Well, using this girl worries me,” Billie
“She’s the smart type,” Billie
Rae said. “You should have used one of your dumb, street girls who wouldn’t
process things so much.” She disappeared into the bathroom. She kept her purse with
her with the gun inside.
The next morning, Billie Rae met Emily Pelton under the archway at the Bainbridge
Condominiums just before 6 a.m. Billie Rae
handed Emily the Sig Sauer with the suppressor and showed her how to release the safety.
and firm with Mr. and Mrs. Andropolous. Tell them Mr. Mardrosian is deceased and that Mrs.
Mardrosian will buy out their share for a mill five and not a penny more. If they don’t
agree, other people will pay them a visit, and the offer will be for much much less. In
a sense, Emily, you’re playing the role of good cop.”
the girl said, taking the gun with a shaking hand. “You know, you people are weird.
Mr. Mardrosian told me he’d pay me five thousand dollars in cash to kill you.”
so,” Billie Rae said. “Well, he can’t follow through with that plan, can he?”
not.” The girl tried to force a laugh.
to you, Emily,” Billie Rae said cheerfully. “You did a good job once, now do
it again. I’ll be in the parking lot when you’re done. If anything goes wrong,
and you can’t find me, come to the condo at ten. I’ll have an envelope for
have a class at ten,” the girl said.
noon,” Billie Rae said. Looking at the girl made her yearn for her own lost innocence.
The girl walked down
the path to the pool, and Billie Rae walked to her car in the lot. Nearby, two men in matching
windbreakers got out of a white Cadillac and began strolling toward the entrance to the
complex lobby. They had a purposeful way about them that Billie Rae didn’t like.
She thought she recognized one of the men as a man who had played golf with Sal a few weeks
earlier. She didn’t like his looks, and she didn’t like the looks of the other
man, either. She didn’t like that they were here at the Bainbridge Condominium complex
just after six in the morning. She wasn’t liking anything right about now. And she
certainly didn’t like Sal. Years ago, when she first met Sal, he was a lot of fun
and he seemed to have a magic touch for making money. He still knew how to make money without
even trying, but he was no longer fun, at least not with her.
She decided to leave. Emily Pelton would just have to be resourceful if she ran
into problems. She was the smart type. Let’s see how smart. This was Sal’s plan,
after all, not hers.
it go?” Sal asked when she got back to the condo. He was sitting in the screened
porch overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, glancing through the sports section of the
don’t know. I didn’t stick around.”
you to,” he said.
got to trust my instincts,” she said. She didn’t tell him about the two men
she saw. “I told the girl to be here at noon if she didn’t see me afterward.”
have been better,” Sal said.
had a class. You should have picked one of your tramps for this job. There wouldn’t
have been any conflict with academics.”
making breakfast?” he asked.
didn’t want to deny herself the beautiful Florida morning, so she ate her scrambled
eggs and bacon with him out on the porch.
a phone call to one of his buddies then returned to the porch.
Coppeli is putting together a foursome at the club. We’ve got a nine o’clock
tee time. Jimmy was invited. I can scope things out then.”
An hour after departing, he was back, shutting the door hard.
a quick eighteen holes,” Billie Rae said.
girl must have gone crazy,” he announced. “Jimmy and Esilda were both found
dead in their condo. Both shot in the chest.”
wasn’t the girl,” Billie Rae said, thinking of the two men in windbreakers.
Who could it have been?” He was such an actor. She should have shot him when she
had the chance. Maybe she should have shot the girl, too. Sometimes you just don’t
a rapping sounded on the door.
“Go hide,” Billie Rae said to Sal,
who was sitting on the sofa, drinking a brandy and soda. “That will be her.”
don’t need to hide now. Anyhow, she’s the killer here. We’ve just got
to get the gun from her. Maybe pay her a little money to disappear. Money heals all wounds.”
Sal. Just like that. Your partner and his wife dead in their condo. This college girl with
a gun we gave her. She’s no fool. This is complicated beyond measure.”
damn door,” Sal said.
Rae opened the door and Emily Pelton strode into the room with an assurance she
hadn’t possessed before. She stopped when she saw Sal on the couch, living and breathing.
you were dead,” she said.
hope it isn’t nursing school you’re going to, honey,” he said. “You
would have flunked out.”
“I’m a business administration major.
I told you.”
She opened her oversized purse and pulled out the Sig Sauer with the suppressor.
Billie Rae reached for it, but the girl stepped away and pointed it back and forth between
Billie Rae and Sal. “You two were trying to game me,” she said, her voice raising
“That’s not true,” Billie Rae said. “Do you
want a drink, dear?”
“Are you kidding,” Emily said. “I have a two o’clock class.
And stop reaching for the gun. I’m not giving it back. I want some answers.”
“That’s what we’d like,”
Sal said, sipping his drink and acting like he wasn’t taking her seriously. “What
happened with Jimmy Andropolous?”
“It didn’t go at all as Mrs. Mardrosian said
it would. First of all, only Jimmy was at the pool. I gave him the message, and he said
for me to come up to the condo in fifteen minutes and meet his wife, that she was the brains
behind the business. I waved the gun in his face, but he didn’t take me seriously.”
She seemed about to cry.
“That was probably expecting a little too
much,” Billie Rae said.
“Oh, thanks for the critique, professor,” the girl snapped.
Sal smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “That’s
Jimmy for you. What happened next?”
The girl looked around the expansive living room, at the leather furniture
and glass tables and paintings that were all idealized and sentimental representations
of water crashing against rocks, birds in flight, swaying palms, and kittens and puppies
with angelic faces and big eyes.
“I hate your art,” the girl said.
“We bought the place furnished, and I just never got around to
changing things,” Billie Rae said.
The girl had pointed out a sore point
between her and Sal. They hadn’t really bought the place furnished. Billie Rae purchased
the furniture and art at one of the department stores that had a big sale because Sal could
be cheap as hell sometimes and would have made fun of the abstract art she wanted to buy.
She should have shot him when they first bought the place in Florida.
“You’re under a lot of stress after taking
care of Jimmy and Esilda,” Sal said to Emily Pelton. “I can give you some money,
and we can pretend this never happened.”
“You think I killed them? I didn’t kill them. I went up
to their condo and the door was ajar. I went in and they were both on the carpet shot dead.
I got out of there fast. Then, when I took the elevator down to the lobby, I saw these
two men coming out of the door from the stairway. They looked like murderers right out
of a TV show. I bet they did it.”
“Let me get this straight,” Sal said.
“Jimmy didn’t want to talk to you about selling. He said Esilda was the brains
behind the business?”
It seemed to Billie Rae that Sal was trying to keep her there, keep her talking
for some reason.
the girl snapped. “If you want to know every lousy detail, he wanted me to come up
and have a three-way with them. And then he said he’d pay me five thousand dollars
to take care of the both of you. What kind of people are you?” She was almost sobbing.
a guy who makes money, Emily,” Sal said. “Join me or leave me.”
As Billie Rae walked toward the sliding
doors leading to the porch, hoping to position herself so she could tackle the girl from
the side, she caught sight of two men down below. The same two men from earlier. The suspicious
college girl moved over to see what had caught Billie Rae’s eye. Billie Rae could
see that the girl spotted the men, too.
The girl pointed the gun at a painting of a
cat with huge glowing eyes and fired. The bullet ripped through the canvas and into the
wallboard, barely making a sound.
“Each of you wants the other dead, and both of you want me to work with
you so I will be the victim if there’s a price to pay for the mess you’ve created.”
“Let’s try to talk reasonably,”
Sal said in his honeyed baritone voice.
“Those men are on the way up and I have a
class in an hour and I don’t want to be late,” Emily said.
She fired a shot
at Sal and he fell over backward onto the sofa pillow with the embroidered whale. Billie
Rae let out a squawk at the sight of the blood that burst onto his chest. She launched
herself at Emily, but Emily pushed the business end of the suppressor against her
chest and fired.
Billie Rae fell to the floor. She felt the gun being placed in her
right hand, but she didn’t have the strength to grip it.
“You should have shot Sal earlier when you
had the chance,” the girl said, her voice sounding far away.
Billie Rae heard the girl open the condo door, but she didn’t hear it shut. Sal should
have known that the girl was far too smart to be working for them. Her last thought as
she shut her eyes was that she should have shot Sal when she had the chance.###
Chris Fortunato is a former editor at
Bantam Books (1990s) and at other houses. A story of his was listed as an “Other
Distinguished Story” in Best American Mystery Stories of 2019. He had a recent
story in Thriller Magazine (Vol. 2,
no. 2), and Econo Clash Review is
publishing a story of his in Summer/Fall 2020.