by Catherine Maiorisi
Still battling each other and the blue wall, NYPD Detectives Chiara Corelli and P.J. Parker catch a new murder case. The victim, a gay man, is posed with a rosary in his hands, the smell of incense in the air and Gregorian chants playing in the background.
While Corelli and Parker search for leads, Kate Burke, the lesbian Speaker of the City Council asks for an update on the investigation. Thinking Burke is playing politics, Corelli ignores the request. In the meantime, two more bodies are found, both laid out in the same way.
Pressured by the chief, Corelli goes to Kate’s office where a photograph of the speaker with a group of friends catches her eye. Corelli recognizes the three victims and, to her horror, three others. Suddenly the case becomes personal.
Fearing a serial killer is picking off the people in the photograph, fearing the next victim will be someone she loves, Corelli races to find the murderer before he kills again.
A Chiara Corelli Mystery Book 2.
Lambda Literary Awards
The Blood Runs Cold — Finalist, Lesbian Mystery.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"KITTENS saving NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli?
No Way! I don’t write cozy mysteries. Corelli is a kickass detective. No crafts, dogs or kittens allowed.
Yet it happened. And I wrote it. How the hell did that happen?
Well, in the writing world I’m what’s called a pantser, someone who flies by the seat of her pants, someone who does little or no planning. While I might have a character, a scene, a snippet of dialogue, an image or a voice in my head, when I sit down in front of a blank screen I have no idea where I’m headed story wise or how I’m going to get there. Everything flows from the connections my brain makes as my characters and I create the scenes that build the story.
When I started The Blood Runs Cold, the second NYPD Chiara Corelli mystery, I knew the main characters and the supporting cast and I had the image of a handsome bare-chested dead guy posed on a sofa holding a rosary. The rest was totally unknown.
Of course Corelli and Parker investigate the murder so suddenly they’re in the image standing in the doorway staring at the body posed by the murderer. I’m there with them but these detectives are so real to me that they take over and do all the work. I see the scene through their eyes, hear the music, smell the incense. They look around and they ask questions. Who was the victim? Why was he posed that way? Who found him? As the scene unfolds in my imagination, characters show up, things happen, and the words describing it all appear on the computer screen in front of me. Because I follow the characters and the story, I discover the story as I write. And I’m constantly surprised. As I was when the kittens saved Corelli. The kittens are the heroes. Not possible. But there they are.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had a huge surprise when writing. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that when I was writing A Matter of Blood, the first in the series, I thought Corelli was straight but when her love interest showed up for the first time it was a woman with the name I’d chosen for what I thought was a male character. I was shocked then too.
There were other surprises for me as I wrote The Blood Runs Cold. I hope you’ll read it and be surprised too."
The Lesbian Review
I think I’ve found a new favorite author! This is the first book that I’ve read from Catherine Maiorisi and I must say that she certainly has my attention because I’m a huge fan of her flawless and captivating writing.
The Bolo Books Review
Maiorisi populates her story with some much-needed diversity, but never strays into exhortative territory: these characters feel like individuals rather than stereotypes intended to fill a role (or purpose). The mystery is suitably complex, sure to keep readers guessing until late in the game.
Lex Kent’s Reviews - This is a tried and true mystery book. It had everything I like in a good mystery and I could not set the book down. While I always suggest reading books in order, I do think you could start here if you really wanted. This book is easy for me to recommend to mystery fans. It is a book to read carefully, but it was a good put together mystery with a worthy pay off. I’m excited about a possible book 3. I sure hope one is planned because I really like the way the story arc is heading.
Map Your Mystery
An excellent police procedural with twists, turns and surprises. Looking forward to other mysteries featuring Chiara Corelli.
Bethany’s Reviews - This is book 2 in a series and I didn't need to read book 1 first, but wish that I would have. This is a fantastic mystery / thriller story and I couldn't put it down! As a seasoned mystery reader, I didn't expect to be still guessing on the bad guy with only a bit to go in the book. Usually I figure that out well before the end, and I loved that Maiorisi kept me in suspense also! This was masterfully crafted, and fans of the genre are going to love this book. I'm really hoping that there's a next one in this series!
Kings River Life Magazine
Love page-turner thrillers? Pick these books up—then try to keep up with Chiara. It’ll be a breathtaking ride.
Wednesday – 7 a.m.
Being ostracized was getting old fast. At least for NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli. And maybe for the press, since they hadn’t shown up this morning. But from her vantage point in a car a block away from the station house, it was clear her colleagues were still in the game.
She hadn’t missed this while Parker was away. And she wouldn’t miss being tied to her desk now that Parker was back. “I’ve been going in alone for the last two weeks, Parker. No need to subject yourself to the gauntlet. You can follow later when it’s safer.”
“Damn you, Corelli, stop playing the martyr.” Detective P.J. Parker made no attempt to hide her anger. “Watkins told me the captain escorted you in while I was away so there was no gauntlet. But I’m back and so is the gauntlet. And just because they haven’t attempted to kill you up to now, doesn’t mean they won’t try today. So don’t even think about going into that crowd or anywhere else without me.”
“Kissin’ my ass won’t change my decision, Parker.”
“Treating me like the enemy won’t change mine. Besides, I’m anxious to get inside where I assume you’ll let me in on your decision about my future.”
Good. Parker isn’t taking my shit. That thought caught Corelli by surprise. She couldn’t remember ever treating anyone the way she’d treated Parker on the Winter case. Nasty wasn’t her style, yet the words slipped out before she could stop them. Parker thought she had PTSD. Could she be right?
Parker got out of the car then leaned in before closing the door. “Better hurry, your fan club is getting restless.”
As they approached, the crowd shuffled into two rows of uniforms back to back forming a gauntlet through which they had to pass to get to the station house. These were her colleagues. She used to trust them to watch her back. Now she had to trust Parker to protect her from them. And, this daily ritual of humiliation had replaced their respect. She hated it, but she’d known the consequences of going undercover to expose the ring of dirty cops. Each time she approached the mouth of the funnel, she remembered the video she’d seen of a snake swallowing a cow—whole. And each time she reminded herself that unlike the cow, she came out the other end a little battered but alive. She’d faced worse things in her life. And survived.
She popped two Maalox tablets, then elbowed Parker. “Here we go.”
Parker rubbed her ribs. “Jeez, Corelli, I don’t need black and blues from you.”
“Oops, did I wrinkle your silk shirt?”
“Crazy bitch,” Parker muttered.
“Could you speak up? I didn’t hear that,” Corelli yelled.
Shaking her head, Parker linked arms with Corelli and they plunged into the belly of the beast, elbowing the line to make space to walk side by side. With the temperature and the humidity both already in the nineties, the stench of sweating bodies, cloying colognes, scented soap, and stale booze was oppressive. And sickening. Although it would serve them right if she vomited all over them, she put a handkerchief over her nose. She stumbled over a leg. Parker steadied her. Corelli kicked the offender. Elbows smacked her arm, her stomach, her back. Only her quick reflexes protected her face and her eyes. She punched to the right, felt Parker punching to the left. Sweat stung her eyes and lips. She gasped for air as the two lines pressed closer, intensifying the heat. Trailed by hissing and muttered insults—bitch, whore, traitor—they fought their way through the roiling mass of humanity.
She strained to see how far they had left to go but could only see the shoulders and heads of the uniforms sucking her forward, like that cow. Just when she thought she might pass out from the heat and the stink, they were at the door to the stationhouse. A uniform blocked it.
Corelli pushed him aside. “Move your fat ass, Donnelly.”
“Bitch,” he said. He raised his hand.
Before she could respond, Parker was nose to nose with him, her hands fisted at her sides. “Don’t even think about it.”
He dropped his hand. “Black bitch,” he muttered and stepped away.
Corelli turned to go after him but Parker clasped her arm, and spoke softly. “I can fight my own battles.”
Corelli nodded. Parker probably faced down the racism of cops and the rest of the world every day. She didn’t need Corelli’s protection. But maybe they needed to have a conversation about racism. Corelli continued forward. During most of her first month back on the job her colleagues had performed a coordinated ballet of standing, showing backs and hissing each time she passed them, but the action disrupted their work and the captain had prohibited it. Now they were confronted by a hostile silence and averted eyes as they made their way up the stairs to the squad and their desks.
The room was empty. Corelli threw her jacket on her desk, stood in front of the ancient air conditioner and raised her arms, trying to cool down and dry her silk blouse. After a minute she went to the water cooler, drank a cup, refilled it and drank that. She tossed the cup, dropped into the chair behind her desk, and rubbed her leg. “Damn gauntlet. Is it my imagination or are they getting rougher? My body is one big black and blue. They getting you too, Parker?”
Looking sweaty but still trim and neat in her navy suit and light blue silk shirt, Detective P.J. Parker ignored the question.
Corelli wiped her face with a handkerchief. “You know, Parker, my navy suit and lavender blouse look nice with what you’re wearing. Maybe we should coordinate what we wear every day.”
As if she hadn’t heard, Parker walked to the cooler, downed a cup of water, and strode back. Placing her hands on the desk, she leaned in so she was eye-to-eye with Corelli. “No doubt about it. Either you’re nuts or you have a serious case of PTSD.” She straightened, breaking the contact, and took a deep breath. “If talking about coordinating our outfits means I’m staying, you could have told me in the car and made it easier.”
“This might come as a shock, Parker, but making life easier for you isn’t in my job description.”
“So am I still working with you?”
The night they wrapped the Winter case, just over two weeks ago, Parker’s father, US Senator Aloysius T. Parker, appeared on TV and used case information that was not public to accuse Corelli of being a dirty cop and a racist. When Parker called to deny being the source of the leak, Corelli was in a rage.
“Does this mean you don’t want to work with me?” Parker asked.
“I don’t know what it means,” Corelli said and ended the call. After she cooled down and was thinking clearly, Corelli could see no reason for Parker to turn on her. Parker wanted homicide and she knew without Corelli she’d lose the opportunity. Besides, she had begun to trust Parker and believed her.
Then Parker hadn’t picked her up the next morning and it wasn’t until she’d fought her way through the gauntlet that she found out Parker had started a two-week detective training program that morning. She’d felt betrayed by Parker, but it turned out that Parker, along with Corelli and the captain, had been blindsided by whoever scheduled the training.
But she hadn’t shared any of this with Parker in the car this morning. She tried not to think about why she enjoyed torturing Parker but she couldn’t resist. “You sure you didn’t give Senator Daddy any information?”
“That’s. What. I. Said.” Parker’s words were clipped, as if she was trying to stay in control. “I distinctly remember telling you that I haven’t talked to the senator in five years.”
“And are you sure you didn’t know in advance about the training?”
Parker rolled her eyes. “How many times do I have to say it? I didn’t know until late the night before. I tried to call you but you were ignoring my calls after the senator’s attack. I wasn’t too worried because you’re my superior and I assumed you knew and forgot to tell me. No, actually I assumed you purposefully didn’t tell me just to keep me off balance.”
Corelli couldn’t fault Parker for expecting the worst of her. And as Parker’s superior, she should have been involved in the scheduling of her training. Also because she wasn’t allowed to work cases if Parker wasn’t there as her bodyguard, the training dates should have been cleared with the captain. But the blue wall punishes however it can.
Corelli flashed a gotcha smile. “We don’t assume, Parker, we work with facts. Didn’t you learn anything during your two weeks of detective training?” She gazed at Parker, pretending to consider the issue. “Okay, since you didn’t leak to Senator Daddy and you didn’t know about the training in advance, you’re staying. But your job description no longer says bodyguard and detective-in-training. You’re now just a detective-in-training.”
“Uh-uh.” Parker’s already tight jaw jutted out. “Until Captain Winfry or Chief Broderick tells me different, I’m watching your back.”
“If you want to work with me, you do what I say. Got it?”
Parker’s eyes sparked. Her face flushed. “Stop treating me like—”
“Corelli.” Detective Ray Dietz appeared at the top of the steps. “Potential homicide on West Twelfth Street and the captain says it’s yours.”
“Jesus, Dietz, Parker just came back, how can we be up already?”
“Look around, Corelli.” He waved his hand indicating the empty room. “We got ongoing investigations, we got vacations, we got sick leave, we got court appearances, and we got whatever. But we don’t got any warm bodies except you and the kid here, so you’re it.”
The anger always just beneath Corelli’s calm exterior bubbled up and nearly erupted before she caught herself. Screw the paperwork and the cold cases. Give her a homicide investigation any time. She grabbed her jacket. “I’m on it, Dietz.” As she started down the stairs, she turned back. “You’re with me, Parker. You can fill me in on what I can’t treat you like later.”
Wednesday – 9 a.m.
Even in death, Leonardo del Balzo was gorgeous. He lay on his back on the sofa, wearing only pajama bottoms, hands folded over his bare chest, a rosary entwined in his fingers. Except for the small hole Corelli knew was at the back of his head, he could have been sleeping. Of course, if he was sleeping, two NYPD detectives wouldn’t be staring at him from the doorway of his living room.
The room was cool. The black glass beads of the rosary glittered in the dim light of the lamp on the end table near del Balzo’s head. The scent of incense lingered in the air, and a Gregorian chant played softly in the background. The phrase “may your soul rest in peace” echoed in Corelli’s mind along with the image of another beautiful young man, Luca, her adored older brother, in his casket with his confirmation missal and black-beaded rosary clasped in his hands. A sudden stab of loss took her breath away. Twenty years later and she still ached for Luca. She had been too young to find the man who killed him, but she would track down Leonardo del Balzo’s murderer, whatever the cost.
Aware of Parker waiting for instructions, Corelli forced herself to focus. The killer had obviously taken care and spent time setting up the scene. What did it mean? A religious fetish? A funeral fetish? Did the killer bring the incense and music or did he just take advantage of what he found? Were they dealing with a serial killer? “Parker, ask Dietz to find out whether we’ve had other vics posed like this.”
While Parker made a note, Corelli turned her attention to del Balzo, the “what” of him: curly sandy hair, tanned skin now drained of color, and a lean, muscular body, now flaccid, tall enough that his feet hung over the arm of the six-foot sofa. Like her, he had the blue-green eyes characteristic of Italians whose families carried the blood of the Norman conquerors of Southern Italy in their veins. The “who” of him they would learn by talking to family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors, enemies—anyone who touched his life. And from those interviews, hopefully, they would identify the one person who wanted Leonardo del Balzo dead. A serial killer would be another story.
“Ready to go in?”
“Yes.” Parker sounded tense. Recently promoted out of uniform after saving a family in Harlem, she still wasn’t totally comfortable in her new role. And she was still wary of Corelli.
They donned the requisite protective gear, and placing their feet carefully, stepped into the living room. No sign of a struggle. No sign of a gun. A small incense burner filled with ash sat on the coffee table near an open bottle of San Pellegrino water and a half-empty glass. They circled the room slowly, touching nothing, observing everything.
When they stopped, Parker took out her pad and pen and started sketching the scene.
Corelli was pleased to see that Parker had learned the value of sketching as a tool to really seeing. “What do ya see?”
Parker chewed the top of her pen. “He’s laid out as if in a funeral parlor, though the smell of incense and the religious music suggest a church. He’s in his pajamas, let the killer get close enough to put a bullet in his head, and there’s no sign of a struggle. So probably the vic, um, Mr. del Balzo knew his killer.”
A burst of sound in the hall signaled the arrival of Detective Ron Watkins and other detectives who would work the case. The crime scene team crowded in behind them. The photographer greeted Corelli as she moved into the room and began to photograph the scene.
Archie Blockman, the Medical Examiner, appeared in the doorway. As usual, Archie’s clothes draped his elongated body perfectly. Today he wore a forest-green suit with a pale green shirt, a silk tie with green and brown and orange streaks and a matching handkerchief in the breast pocket of his jacket. “Ah, Chiara, I see I’m in the right place.” He suited up and pulled on gloves.
When the photographer signaled she was done, Archie picked up his bag and moved to the body. He grunted as he lowered himself to his knees next to the sofa. Then he was silent, his focus on the body. Corelli had never asked and he had never said, but she had the impression he said a prayer before examining a victim, that the prayer and the extreme elegance in clothes and manners he affected were his way of distancing himself from the dehumanizing aspects of his job.
He examined del Balzo, then waved Corelli over to help turn del Balzo on his side, revealing the hole in the cerebellum the EMTs had reported when Corelli and Parker arrived. He muttered to himself as he stepped through the process. Then he sighed and pulled himself to his feet.
“So what do we have, Arch?”
He removed his gloves and pushed his manicured fingers through his rust-brown curls. “As EMS reported, a single shot to the cerebellum with a small-caliber gun. No exit wound. Probably killed him instantly. Off the cuff, I’d say TOD somewhere between nine last night and three this morning. Probably killed here. No apparent defense wounds. Can’t say much more until we get him on the table. We’ll take him now.”
“When do you think—”
“Today, if I can, Chiara. If not, tomorrow morning for sure.” He waved his team in from the hall to remove the body, his thoughts already somewhere else as he removed the protective gear. The CSU moved into the room, energizing it with their sense of purpose as they began performing their assigned roles.
She supervised for a while, then turned to Watkins, watching from the hall. “Parker and I are going to take a quick look in the bedroom. Keep an eye out for a phone, address book, appointment book, or a computer. Also, get a team out to canvas the neighborhood. Let’s go, Parker.”
“Got it,” Ron said, opening his phone.
Corelli stopped in the doorway to the bedroom and Parker slammed into her.
Corelli threw up her hands. “Christ, Parker, I thought we already had the don’t get up my ass discussion.”
Parker staggered back. “Sorry, I didn’t know you were going to stop.”
“Don’t you remember what I said? Bumping into me irritates me, breathing down my neck irritates me, but apologizing irritates me worst of all. Suck it up, Detective. Concentrate. Observe. A homicide investigation is not the place to daydream.”
Corelli glanced over her shoulder. “And, don’t just say fuck you to my back and ignore what I say. You should know by now I always stop before entering a room to get an overview, and so should you.”
When she turned to survey the room, her eyes widened at the large crucifix hanging over the bed. Maybe it was the lack of a wedding ring, or something about the apartment, but she had assumed del Balzo was single. How did he have sex with that in the room? She could never do it. But then again, it wasn’t an issue for her these days. She was still mourning Marnie. So, despite her attraction to a suspect on their last case, the job was her life, twenty-four-seven. Some role model you are. You tell Parker not to daydream and here you are thinking about a woman instead of del Balzo. She shook her head and focused on the room.
The bed was neatly made, so probably no sex in bed with the killer last night.
Parker was already at work. “Have you ever seen a closet like this?”
She joined her in front of the closet. Suits, shirts, ties, pants, and jackets, hung by type and color, sporty on the right, more formal on the left.
Corelli snorted. “Not in my apartment.” She moved to the night table, opened the drawer and pulled out a wallet. “We can rule out robbery. His American Express, Master, and Visa cards are in his wallet along with nearly three hundred dollars. Driver’s license indicates he’s thirty-three, employee ID card indicates he works at the United Nations. Only other thing in the wallet is a business card for an attorney, Scott L. Sigler.”
Parker checked the pockets and linings of all the garments, taking care not to disturb the arrangement. “Nothing here. Just some change, a couple of paper clips, and a napkin from the FruFru Club on Bleeker Street. Sounds gay.”
“It is.” Corelli bagged the wallet.
Parker examined each of the ten boxes on the shelves and found only shoes. “Nice soft leather,” she said. “Italian, I guess. There’s nothing in the clothes or the shoeboxes. And nothing but a cardboard box on the floor, not even dust bunnies.”
Corelli searched the other night table. “Just some condoms, loose collar stays, and some change here.”
Parker rifled through the contents of the box. “Magazines and newspapers, all in a foreign language.”
Corelli took a look. “They’re Italian. I’ll check them later.”
“I’ve heard you speak Italian but I figured it was because your parents didn’t speak English when you were growing up. So you read too?”
“Yup. Gianna and I spent summers in Italy when we were kids and our cousins taught us to read and write. You impressed?”
Parker closed the box of magazines. “Let’s just say I’m surprised.”
“You think I’m just a dumb ass Italian from Brooklyn?” Corelli moved to the large dresser.
Parker spoke to Corelli’s back. “You used those words to describe yourself, not me.”
Corelli glanced over her shoulder. “Touché.” She turned her attention to the dresser. Like everything else, it was neat. A comb and brush, a bottle of cologne, and what looked like a family picture. A striking older woman, maybe his mother, a man who looked like him, probably his father, and two young women with del Balzo between them, maybe his sisters.
Corelli started going through the drawers. “You think his closet is neat, wait until you see his drawers.”
Parker started on the other column of drawers, whistled again at the neatly folded clothing separated by type—underwear, T-shirts, socks, shorts, handkerchiefs.
They moved back into the living room. Corelli stopped to talk to Ron. “We’re done in the bedroom. Nothing there except his wallet. Any luck with a phone or computer?”
“Not so far,” Ron said.
“We’ll be out back questioning the witness.”
On the way to the kitchen, they passed a small room set up for exercise with a Bowflex Home Gym, an elliptical trainer, a treadmill, a punching bag, and hanging on a wall, skis, rollerblades, and a mountain bike. Mr. del Balzo worked at looking good.
The sliding glass door in the kitchen opened out to the backyard where Officer Williams waited with the cleaning woman who had found the body. As she stepped into the sunlit yard, Corelli slipped on her sunglasses, then inhaled deeply, replacing the smell of death with the smell of newly cut grass and the fragrance of nearby flowering bushes. The backyard was quiet except for the drone of an electric saw somewhere in the neighborhood and the songs of the birds that seemed to be enjoying the late August morning.
Miranda Foxworth slumped in a chair at the picnic table, knees pressed tightly together, head in her large hands, a waterfall of long blond hair sheltering her face. She wore a tropical-looking yellow and coral blouse tucked into a solid peach skirt, and sandals with laces that crisscrossed her toned calves. Her nails were coral and looked recently done. She looked too dressed up to clean, but maybe she carried a change of clothing in the enormous bag on her lap.
Corelli sat at the table. “Ms. Foxworth.”
Miranda Foxworth looked up. She brushed the hair off her face. Lips quivering, red eyes brimming with tears, she hunched into herself. She clamped her shaking hands on the purse. She looked poised to run.
Was it finding del Balzo dead? Or fear? As Corelli studied the woman, the small pink, white and blue enamel pin on the strap of her purse caught her eye. She recognized the transgender flag. A trans woman? She wouldn’t have high expectations for any interaction with the police and many would have run rather than get involved.
Corelli removed her sunglasses, looked in Foxworth’s eyes, and smiled. “Thank you for calling this in and waiting to talk to us. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.” She tilted her head toward the purse. “Nice pin.”
Foxworth’s eyebrows shot up. “Um, thanks.” She seemed to relax at the acknowledgment.
“You clean for Mr. del Balzo?”
“Every Wednesday for the last two years.”
“Tell me about this morning.”
“I got here at eight thirty, same as always, and used my keys to get in. The alarm was off, the top was unlocked, and the bottom was locked but not double-locked. I didn’t think anything of it because he’s often late getting out and sometimes he forgets to lock up. But I was surprised to see him lying on the sofa when I walked past the living room door. At first I thought he was asleep, maybe hung over or sick, but then he looked…” She shrugged. “Not right. So I got closer. And I knew.”
“Did you touch anything?”
“No. I couldn’t breathe so I ran outside. Then I used my cell to call 911. Thank god Officer Williams got here so fast.” She smiled at the officer, who pretended not to notice.
Corelli turned to Williams. He didn’t wait to be asked.
“When we got here EMS was already with the victim—”
“Mr. del Balzo, Officer.”
He flushed. “EMS verified Mr. del Balzo was dead so me and Santiago checked the house to be sure the killer was gone. Then Santiago went out front to wait for the detectives, for you, and I took…um, the witness, um, Ms. Foxworth, back here so we wouldn’t contaminate the scene.”
“Good work,” Corelli said. “Was the sliding door locked when you came out here?”
Williams flushed again and glanced at the door. He cleared his throat. “I…I don’t remember.”
“It was locked.” All eyes shifted to Foxworth. “He fumbled with the lock. I was surprised he was nervous too.”
“Excuse us.” Corelli stepped away from the table, signaling Parker and Williams to follow. She spoke softly to Williams. “Is this your first murder scene?”
“I appreciate your honesty. Whether or not the door was locked is an important detail for our investigation. Make sure your report says you checked the door and found it locked. In the future, be more careful and more observant.”
He nodded. “Thanks.”
She stepped back to the table and sat across from Foxworth. Parker and Williams followed. The conference seemed to make Foxworth anxious again; her face glistened with sweat and she was gnawing her cuticles.
“Ms. Foxworth, you told the officers Mr. del Balzo was the son of an ambassador at the United Nations. Are you sure?”
She tossed her hair and looked up at the tree. “Um. He never said, but you know, gossip around the clubs. And there were stories in the newspapers this week about the ambassador and the man in the newspaper was the same man in that picture on his dresser. Anyway, same name and Nardo was a dead ringer for him…oh, sorry, uh, spitting image.”
Corelli had also recognized the name and the face in the photograph. Last week Ambassador del Balzo was named as a possible replacement for Italy’s prime minister and the New York papers had been running stories about him. An angle to be considered. Could be the murder was politically motivated. Maybe a warning to Ambassador del Balzo? “He’s called Nardo?”
“Yeah. Short for, you know, Leonardo.”
“Do you know if Nardo had a cell phone or a computer?”
“Um, yes, an iPhone. I know because he advised me to get one.” She dug in her bag and pulled out her iPhone. “I have his number if you need it.”
Corelli nodded. Parker wrote the number Foxworth read from her phone.
“What about a computer?”
Foxworth hesitated. “He had a laptop.” She closed her eyes. “A MacBook, I think.”
“How did you come to work for him?”
“I only take referrals. A client must have given him my name.”
She closed her eyes and pressed her fingers to her temples. “I’m sorry, it’s been two years. I can’t remember. Maybe later?”
Corelli handed Miranda a card. “Call me as soon as you remember. Did Nardo keep valuables or money in the house?”
“Not since he was robbed about six months ago. The robbery really freaked him. That was when he installed the alarm and bought a gun.”
Human nature. Install the alarm after the robbery. “Do you know where he kept the gun?”
“In the table next to his bed. He told me where it was in case someone broke in while I was cleaning.” She shuddered. “As if I could shoot someone.”
“Did you ever notice a prayer book or a rosary?”
“You mean like what was in his hands? I never look in my clients’ drawers and I never saw anything like that lying around.” Miranda pushed the hair out of her eyes. “There’s a cross in his bedroom.”
“Where were you last night?”
Her eyes filled with fear. “Me? Um, at the QueensBartique, a bar in Queens, until about eleven and then home with my partner. We live near there.”
Parker asked her to spell the name of the bar and her partner’s name. Miranda licked her lips and cleared her throat before responding. She watched Parker write it down.
“I didn’t kill him. Nardo treated me with respect. He didn’t care that I was his cleaning lady. He always introduced me to his friends and invited me to join them when we ran into each other at a bar or someplace. I could never hurt him.” Tears streamed down her face. “I swear,” she said, her voice husky, her palms up, pleading for understanding.
“It sounds like you traveled in the same circles. Did Nardo have any enemies?”
Foxworth pulled a tissue out of her pocket, dabbed at the tears in her eyes, then blew her nose. “Not the same circles. But once in a while we ran into each other at a bar. He was always a real gentleman. Everybody liked him.”
“Was Mr. de Balzo transgender?”
Parker sucked in her breath. Williams was suddenly interested in the birds on the lawn.
Miranda didn’t seem fazed. “No. But, um, I don’t know. I guess it’s okay. I mean he’s dead…He’s gay, um, was gay.” She rubbed her eyes, blinked rapidly, and looked down with great interest at her fingers plucking threads from the handbag in her lap.
Gay. And he had a crucifix over his bed. How did he reconcile his homosexuality with religion? Many people believed they were mutually exclusive. She still didn’t know where she stood on the issue. Not that she was religious, but she had gone to church every Sunday until she’d left home at eighteen, and in her experience the indoctrination of those early years was not easily erased. If the cross was any indication, he still believed. Snap to it Corelli. Your mind is wandering again.
Corelli sensed Foxworth hesitating to share something. “Is there something else, Ms. Foxworth? Please don’t hold back. Something you know could help us find the murderer.”
Miranda chewed her lip. “Well, like I said, as far as I know he wasn’t trans or a cross-dresser, just a vanilla gay guy.” She looked at Corelli. “But he called me in a rage Monday night. He said, ‘It’s payback time. I need you help.’”
“Who was he paying back?”
Miranda squirmed. “He didn’t say. And I didn’t ask.”
“And why did he call you about this?”
“He wanted me to dress him like a woman—you know, clothes, makeup, wig, spiked heels, everything. We’re about the same height so he thought my clothing would fit him. Said he was having a coming out party at the end of the week.”