Chris Guthrie stood to greet the woman standing inside the door and wondered if she had the wrong address.
“You’re Woody Guthrie?” Her rich voice felt like a basting brush coating his whole body. Her eyes might have been black agate in a brown silk face. In spite of the July humidity, she wore a pale blue linen jacket over an ivory blouse and pleated slacks.
“That’s what my friends call me.” He tried to judge her height without the heels. “Please, come in and have a seat.”
She crossed her legs, then uncrossed them and crossed them again the other way, her hands fumbling with her purse.
“Can I get you something? Tea, coffee?”
“No, thank you.” She inspected his office, which took about ten seconds. The file cabinet in the corner came with the place and he’d never bothered to move it because the potted plants on it caught the sunlight through his window. His carpet was worn to the color of the pavement outside. He liked to say the place matched his personality, low-key and comfortable. Other people suggested “cheap.”
The woman looked at the vine on the file cabinet and the spider plant hanging across the room from it before she looked back at him.
“I guess I expected someone bigger.”
“My ego makes up for it.” He smiled at her to loosen her obvious tension, but it didn’t help much. “You seem to know who I am and what I do, so why don’t you tell me what you need.”
She looked at her hands in her lap. “It’s sort of complicated.”
“That’s good.” He tried another smile with even less success. “If it were easy, I’d feel guilty charging you my usual fee.”
“I know,” she said. “You cost. I expected that.”
“OK,” he said. “But you need to tell me a few things. Why don’t we start with your name.”
“Saidah Olembe.” She glanced at the legal pad on his desk. “You want me to spell that?”
“Please.” He tried to remember why her face looked familiar.
“Lots of people know me better as Sadie Hawk.”
“OK, right.” He didn’t quite snap his fingers. “I have your CD. But you dress a little differ—”
“More of my natural gifts, yes.” The woman rolled her eyes. “Sex still sells, doesn’t it?”
He remembered the cover of the CD, the woman in a dress with a “V” cut to her navel and a skirt slit to her armpits, red, yellow, and blue lights reflecting off her face as she wailed into a microphone. Legs Tina Turner would die for and a voice that would make a banshee weep. Today, off-duty, she rocked the jacket and slacks, looking competent and professional, but still lovely.
“I kind of wish you were a woman,” she said softly. “But a couple of…friends…told me about you, said you were good to work with, so…I went to an attorney first. A friend of mine suggested him.”
“Who was the attorney?” Guthrie told himself to be patient. People visit private investigators because something sucks, and it’s usually something they don’t want to post on Facebook.
“John Warfield, but he said I didn’t have enough for him to work with for a lawsuit. He mentioned your name, though, and some musicians he’s worked with said you helped them out, too.”
Guthrie put the pieces together.
“Sugar Crisp? And maybe Quince Peters?”
Eben Crisp’s seven-stringed guitar supplied the background on dozens of local recordings before he joined Promise, a band Guthrie still followed.
“Yeah. And he says you’re the best PI in Detroit.”
“That’s up for debate, Ms. Olembe.”
“Call me Sadie.”
“Sadie,” he said. “But I’m not sure I can help you. Johnny Warfield’s a terrific attorney, and if he thinks there’s not enough to work with, I don’t know what I can do. Especially if this is something like, I don’t know, copyright infringement.”
“It’s not.” When she looked at Guthrie again, her face looked both older and childlike.
“I was raped.” The words floated across the carpet, so faintly he heard them only because of a lull in the traffic outside.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That’s terrible, but I’m not the person you should talk to. That’s a police matter, and they—”
“Three years ago,” she continued.
He managed not to say, “Oh, shit.”
“Did you report it?”
She shook her head. Her knuckles looked huge on the strap of her purse and her foot tapped on the carpet.
“It’s hard,” he said. “It’s terrifying when it happens, and you may have been hurt. But the police have officers trained to help—”
“I couldn’t report it,” she said again. “It…well…I told you it was complicated.”
She looked at him, her eyes blurry. He pulled a box of tissues from his desk drawer and carried them over to her and watched her blow her nose, drop the tissue on the floor and take another.
“Fuck.” She dabbed her eyes with a fresh tissue, blew her nose again and looked up at him. Even with no make-up and her face contorted with her pain, Guthrie found her regal and lovely.
She gathered herself as though she were about to perform for a tough audience.
“I wanted to sing.” Her voice fought through mingled pain and rage. “I busted my butt practicing and listening to everything out there and talking to other singers and getting voice lessons and never smoking. I sang at open mics and church talent shows, I got into a couple of bands with players who couldn’t keep a beat if their life depended on it, and I made them sound decent. I sang backup for crummy bands and singers in studios. And I wanted to make a record of my own. I recorded demos and went to every frickin’ producer in Detroit. Most of them turned me down cold, didn’t even listen to my tapes. But Mitch Sykes…”
Guthrie knew what came next.
“He offered you a try, didn’t he? But in return…?”
The tissue in Sadie’s hands resembled confetti, little pieces floating in the sunbeam around her fingers.
“He said if I could make his puppy bark, he’d let me show him I could sing.”
She bit her lips. “I wasn’t a little girl, I’d been with men, but I went back to my apartment and spent the rest of that night throwing up. The next day, he called and said he’d listened to my tape, but he hadn’t made up his mind yet.”
Guthrie felt his own fists clench. “He wanted to talk to you again.”
She nodded. “Talk, my ass.”
He could guess how that session fared because he had her CD on his shelf.
Guthrie felt himself shrinking.
“I’m not sure I can help you, Sadie. But let me get my partner in here.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want to go through this again, not with another stranger.”
He tapped on the door.
“Shoobie? Got a minute?”
The door opened and Eleanor “Shoobie” Dube stood in a polo shirt and jeans.
Guthrie motioned toward Saidah Olembe.“This lady wants to hire me—us, actually—and it’s more your bailiwick than mine.”
“‘Bailiwick?’” Shoobie cocked a playful eyebrow.“Someone’s been doing crossword puzzles again.”
Guthrie turned back to the woman. “Ms. Olembe, this is my partner, Eleanor Dube. We’re both former police officers, and we went through training together.”
“I don’t—” Sadie Hawk stood in her linen jacket and Guthrie raised his voice a little.
“She worked the sex crimes unit before she moved to homicide, and she can probably give you a much better idea where to go with this than I can.”
The woman stopped and Guthrie turned back to Shoobie. “Shoobie, this is Saidah Olembe, better known as Sadie Hawk, the blues singer.”
“Shoobie?” Sadie looked Shoobie up and down.
“It’s a family nickname.” Shoobie took the chair across from the woman. “Not very exciting. And not as important as what you have on your mind, either. Why don’t you tell me about it?”
Sadie did. Shoobie’s eyes narrowed and her lower lip moved forward.
“Bastard. He had you where he wanted you, didn’t he? If you complained, it was your word against his and you could kiss the record good-bye.”
“Yeah, pretty much.”
Shoobie crossed her legs and her worn sneakers looked huge next to the singer’s black heels. “No witnesses, of course. Did you tell anyone about it when it happened? Friends, another singer, anyone?”
Sadie closed her eyes. “I mentioned it to a couple of other girls. Since then, I’ve heard stories, like this guy’s whole stable is women with lipstick on his junk.”
“Would any of them back you up?”
“They might. I don’t know.”
“Give me names.” Shoobie motioned to Guthrie and he pulled his legal pad forward again.
“Uh, Stacy Stratton. She’s another singer, does lots of back-up. Aiko something. Hadecki, Hidecki, Asian. Got a great voice. We did some stuff together, she’s doing a few clubs now.”
“Do you have emails or cell numbers?”
“Um, no. But they’re all on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.”
“Well, we can probably find them, then.” Shoobie sat next to Sadie, delicate as a daisy and projecting the strength of the Incredible Hulk. “Anyone else?”
“Maybe Darla Villanueva?”
Guthrie jotted the name down. The Japanese singer would be easy to find in Detroit. The minority population was 80%, but mostly African and Mexican. He caught himself pondering the oxymoron of “80% minority.”
Shoobie let out a deep breath. “I have to tell you, Sadie. Even if these women will back you up, it doesn’t prove your case. I don’t think we could get an arrest. And if we did, and it went to trial—which is one in a million—the defense attorney would go after you with an ax.”
Shoobie held up her hand. “He’ll ask what you were wearing. Were you using drugs. How many other men have you slept with? Do you always dress the way you do on your CD cover? Did you wear sexy underwear? Or no underwear at all? Was sex really your idea instead of his?”
The woman drew herself up to her full height and glared down at Shoobie.
“What the hell is this? Whose side are you on?”
“Yours,” Shoobie said. “But this is how it works in a rape case. Even if the man has served jail time for rape ten times, it’s inadmissible in court. But everything you’ve ever thought, seen, or done from the time you came out of the womb is up for grabs.”
Shoobie rolled her eyes. “Innocent until proven guilty. Unless you’re a woman.”
Sadie stared at her. “And black.”
Guthrie tasted bile.
“We can’t take this case, Ms. Olembe,” he said. “There’s no way we can give you what you need. You’d be throwing away a lot of money.”
“What’s my other choice? Hire a hit man?”
“Bad idea,” Shoobie said. “You blow his head off, you go to jail.”
“Yeah, well I blew something else, look where it’s got me.”
Shoobie stood and pulled the other woman up with her. She was five inches shorter, but her strength and anger filled the office space.
“Woody has some friends, and I do too. We can talk to these women, and maybe find others. I don’t know if we can really prove a rape that happened—how long ago?”
“Shit.” The word came out of Shoobie’s mouth and nearly impaled Guthrie. He felt the same way.
“That’s a long time. But it means he may have done this again, and often. Maybe some of those women will talk about it, too.”
“What if they won’t?”
“Well, you’ve already been screwed once, right?”
Half an hour later, when Saidah Olembe left the office with a contract and Shoobie stamped the retainer check, Guthrie couldn’t decide whether he was more pissed off at Mitchell Sykes or at his own partner.