It was the next day, and Alex found himself alone, cold and sleep deprived.
The passion that had fuelled last night had worn off and Alex found himself longing for the warmth of Eveline’s slim body as his body shuddered in the cold dark, and he padded naked to the shower to restore some heat in his body.
She had disappeared shortly after they made love twice, citing that she needed to prepare for work the next day.
“Promise me, you won’t keep me in the dark, Alex.” she had whispered as they laid intertwined on his small single bed, pale moonlight shining through, and illuminating her blue eyes.
Alex had silently nodded, his paranoia still screaming in his mind. He didn’t trust himself anymore. Things were moving so rapidly that he wasn’t sure how to feel, behave or act.
Eveline sealed his lips with a kiss, before slipping her clothes on and walking away with her laptop.
Alex didn’t sleep at all, choosing to stare at the ceiling and just appreciate sex for the first time in many years.
When he felt energised to move again, he booked a PC at the local internet cafe and went through the footage, making a phone call to trace the garbage truck’s route with an irate operator.
By the time it was 5am, Alex was jumping onto a train, to the city where he would walk the rest of the way to South Melbourne.
He had passed through the suburb earlier, on his tram trip to St Kilda, but he was venturing on the elite side of the neighbourhood, with its’ high rises, corporate buildings, and brothels.
The entire area, was split by St Kilda Road, in which multiple tram tracks and roads ran down, into the centre of the Melbourne CBD. On one side, it was dominated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, a beautiful parkland that was guarded by the Shrine of Remembrance, a stunning replica of the ancient Wonder, known as the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.
It’s presence, a sobering reminder of the ANZACs that fought for Australia since its inception, a place all too familiar to Alex.
However Alex was walking on the other side, a strip that boasted luxurious apartments like the Melburnian, with its sweeping, ultra modern sleek design, and another reminder of his past, the Victoria Barracks, its tall stout brick exterior betraying nothing within.
However, the true undercurrent that always accompanied the military, were the numerous brothels hidden and scatted amidst all this honour and prestige. They could be found tucked next to tall buildings, their single storey design, unassuming and innocuous, barely risque signs at the front, with vague promises, like The Cherry Blossom.
Alex, already harbouring suspicions about Francois’ whereabouts, had already googled the Pink Palace, and noted that it was not on the route that the garbage-men took. However, the brothel was only less than a kilometre away at certain points.
Candice the Collateral thought Alex, as he recalled the image of the slain prostitute whose services Joel nee Francois frequented. She was attractive in a heroin chick sort of fashion. Her features were similar to Kate Moss in her hey-day, with sharp cheekbones, straight blonde hair, doe-eyes and a sensual mouth that was perfected by a small sharp chin.
The similarities between Eveline and Candice’s facial structures were striking, however Eveline’s eyes were far too cold and intelligent, giving her a razor-sharp maturity and mystery. Her figure was a classic hourglass, the silhouette strong and curvaceous.
Candice’s eyes, even in death, were tragic and soft, her body more girly, with smaller breasts and a slimmer profile hinting at innocence and purity, an irony considering her job.
The two women provided a fascinating dichotomy in Francois’ taste and an insight into the man himself.
It also solved the mystery as to who the red Agent Provocateur bra belonged to. It was Candice’s.
Wondering what she might have been like, Alex kept walking along the garbage truck route, as the rain slowly intensified until it reached its zenith, before subsiding into a soft mellow rhythmic pitter-patter that coincided with his footfalls in puddles.
His peacoat soaked through, Alex ignored the water that sluiced its’ way down his neck, and kept following the route, until he finally came across an alleyway.
The emerald eyes widened in recognition as he recalled the work car that was parked behind, and the angle of the bins.
Taking a brief look at the front, the shop that had all the drama, revealed itself to be Alan Grant’s Antiquities, a store that specialised in European furniture and French decor.
Alex smiled to himself, and wandered around the back, looking for clues.
The footage from the video played constantly in his mind, as he mimed it, in the drizzling rain, and paid extra care as to whether he could see any tracks left behind by Francois’ Renault.
Determining there was nothing he could discern, Alex looked hard at the rear door and the size of the alleyway. Making a face of consternation at the mental calculations he performed in his head, Alex moved away and began to make a beeline to the Pink Palace.
He took the most direct route, pretending that he was driving a gold Renault, and to his shock, after 15 minutes of walking he saw such a car parked at the Pink Palace.
Incredulously, he walked closer to the hatchback, and confirmed the number plate.
9KM 87L – Victoria The Place to Be.
Was this really where Francois, the man who was accused of murdering his mistress, was hiding?
Was the art thief on the run from a shady Mercenary, cavorting his way through women?
After all this searching, had Alex really found the notorious owner of a Cezanne?
Alex, remembering his encounter with Flat Cap and Liverpool, kept ambling past the Pink Palace, painstakingly checking his tail for a solid walk around the block, before walking back to the Renault, which was parked at the rear entrance of the Palace.
Alex, shaking his coat to get it something akin to dry, walked in and was assailed by 70s nostalgia and neon pink.
Disco was playing softly, the music giving a fun and energetic vibe to the brothel, emphasising the carefree nature of the transaction that was about to take place.
Amber striped walls, with erotic photos and artwork were accented by honey coloured lights and neon lava lamps. The carpet was a psychedelic cascade of circles, swirls and spirals, that reacted crazily to the lighting.
Even the smell of the Pink Palace, hinted at its unique groove; sweet, sharp and citrus, the neon orange diffuser in the corner of the reception desk pumping out its sensual mist into the foyer.
A neon pink sign hung behind the attractive receptionist, clad in the stereotypical sexy secretary garb.
TRY NOT TO BLUSH
“How can we help you today stranger?” said the receptionist sexily.
“I would like to see the Madam of the house, if you don’t mind” replied Alex.
The receptionist lost her smile, replacing it with a frown of confusion.
“OK,” said the receptionist recovering, “just give me 5 minutes.”
Alex nodded and looked around, noting the thick book on the table, which allowed visitors to look at bios and photos of the girls they wanted for the night.
About a third of the way through, there were empty sleeves, no doubt the bio for Candice removed and the Madam of the Brothel unable to find a replacement girl just yet.
“How can we help you?” said a husky voice coldly.
Alex turned around, and saw the receptionist standing behind the Madam of the Brothel, a pale, tall curvaceous woman with dark eyes and even darker hair. The Madam looked like a pin-up woman come to life, the thin eyebrows perfectly arched, the red lips wrapped around a cigarette and the curly sable hair parted just so.
“Don’t you recognise me?” said Alex with a smile.
The Madam stared at Alex for a moment, before her lips curled upwards in a smile.
“Alex Ryder. I haven’t seen you in over 4 years. Now here you are, even skinnier and closer to death than when I last saw you.”
“It’s good to see you too” remarked Alex drily.
“Now what trouble are you bringing to my establishment Mr Private Eye? You scared Tilly here a bit with your attitude.”
Alex made an apologetic face to the receptionist who pouted prettily back.
“I’m here about Joel McNamara.”
The Madam raised a perfect eyebrow. “Joel?”
The Madam stared at Alex’s emerald eyes, questioning his motives, looking for any signs she could actually trust him to do right by her and her girls.
“You can trust me. I helped you once, that wasn’t just a one-time thing. I can help you again. Let me help you. This isn’t just about Joel. It’s also about Candice.” said Alex gently.
The Madam sighed in an exasperated manner. She turned to Tilly. “He was exactly the same way when we first met. I can’t deny him when he talks like that.”
“Very well Alex.” sighed the Madam, relenting. “I had a feeling someone was going to come for him sooner or later. Better you than some asshole who wants to hurt one of my girls. Take this card. You’ll find him in the Pink Room. Tilly, show Alex the way please.”
“Thank you.” said Alex gratefully. The Madam nodded and blew a kiss his way, before walking back to her office, disappearing behind a curtain.
Alex followed Tilly up the affectionately named “Stairway to Heaven”, Tilly taking the time to study Alex’s gaunt features and his intelligent attractiveness. She smiled to herself. If only all clients were so unique looking.
They passed down the hallway, filled with alluring pictures, warning posters about condoms and the rules of the brothel.
The hallway itself was hazy, dim and alluring. The sounds from the speakers was rhythmic and throbbing.
It was the music of improper girls, doing naughty things to bad, bad boys.
Alex thought he could hear soft moans, but ignored them, keeping his eye open for fire escape doors and quick exits. Tilly paused outside a beautifully crimson door, with the words The Pink Room labelled in cursive script.
“Here it is, Mr Ryder. Knock first and then slide the card the Madam gave you OK?”
Alex nodded his thanks and she pouted prettily at him, before flicking her blonde hair over her shoulder and making her way back to the reception desk.
Alex looked at the door, and found himself shaking his head.
A French art thief caught in a brothel. How novel.
Alex knocked twice and entered, using the keycard. He stood in the doorway, a barrier for any escape and looked cautiously in the room.
Designed after the infamous Red Room in Twin Peaks, the floor was black and white, with scarlet curtains covering the walls. The bed was black to match the couch in the show and beside it stood two simple lamps. Much to Alex’s surprise, another replica of the Venus De Milo statue was also staring at the bed, mirroring Joel’s house.
Joel McNamara himself, was sitting on the bed, reading a book.
Alex wondered whether he was in some surrealist dream. Shaking himself out of his paranoia, Alex shut the door behind him gently and introduced himself.
“Mr McNamara. The name is Alex Ryder, private investigator. You’re a hard man to find.”
The story is being made up as I go along. But I can definitely feel the world starting to become more real in my mind.
In this part, I wanted to add a few more layers to the subplot about Francois being a suspect to a murder, but I will be the first to admit, it’s a weak one and I kind of want to remove it. However this is what it’s all about, making mistakes and learning to tighten things in future stories.
So I tried to flesh out Candice, the murdered girl more. But it is very weak and probably my least favourite part of writing this story so far. I wanted to show that Francois was possible of loving two girls, hence the similar facial structures, but he had to want more than just what Eveline offered to him, hence the variance in body style and shape.
I might find a way to strengthen this subplot, but I get the feeling, it’ll be too much of a distraction to the real plot, regarding the Cezanne.
I also wanted to just subtly hint at extra parts to Alex’s past. I won’t mention any details, as it is important to me, that you, the reader, have your own image of Alex and fill him out with your imagination.
Your interpretation of him, is just as important as me writing him.
The featured picture is an legit photograph of The Pink Palace in South Melbourne. However, it has long been sold and renovated into something else. I was struck by the interior design, as it was built during the 70s and knew I had to incorporate it into my story somehow.
I also hoped the details about interiors have helped you, the reader, better picture the place in your mind. I really wanted them to stand out as unique locations in this story. The idea for Joel’s French-centric design was born out of a pure random flash of inspiration as I wrote it, and that literally let to the idea that he was an retired art thief, who adored his home country and wanted to own a piece of artwork from his culture.
I will get into more detail about the Cezanne robbery in the next chapter, but note it will be a fictionalised version of the real heist itself.
Part 5 will come soon.