Angel and the Badman:
The Story of Cort and Blanche
5: Dirty Money
Cort stalked into the living room and went straight to the bar to pour a double shot of bourbon, then moved to the wall of windows. Staring out into the brilliant neon of the Las Vegas night, he sipped slowly, puzzling over the sudden coldness in her. She’d gone from taking him into her body to pushing him away, an about face that set him to wondering if he was crazy to want her.
He was pissed, hell yeah. Maybe a little hurt. He wasn’t used to caring what a woman thought of him, wasn’t used to hearing ‘no.’ Most women he came across in Vegas were only too eager to please, but Cort had no illusions. He knew they all wanted something from him, favors, money, a ride on his big dick. Blanche didn’t seem to want anything but him...but only when she said so. A big difference when a man was used to being in charge. He liked that strength in her, that independence, but it bothered him, too. She swung so fast from hot to cold, he didn’t know where he stood with her.
He reckoned that Blanche was a lot like him, maybe too much like him. They were both stubborn. Independent. Hard when they had to be. So cautious, their reticence bordered on suspicion. And now they were both unwilling to trust that whatever was budding between them could be something good, something that would last longer than a night or two...that something worth having might grow from the meeting of their souls and minds, not only from the need of their bodies.
He sipped bourbon, rolled it on his tongue, considering.
She assumed he was only after her body, and with good reason, but he was no longer looking just for sex. Sex was everywhere in Sin City, he could buy all he wanted from the countless prostitutes and semi-pros who trolled the casinos of the Strip. And Christ, he had. He’d screwed his share of thousand dollar a night hookers, preferring the aloof detachment of payment for services rendered. Slept with barely remembered showgirls and cocktail waitresses who’d gratitude-fucked him when he hooked them up with the right people. Those encounters were meaningless, nothing more than business deals or the equivalent of a bodily function. There hadn’t been a woman in his bed yet he’d really given a damn about. Cort wasn’t proud of using them that way, but he’d learned they expected nothing else. Wanted nothing else.
No attachments. It was the way of this world.
He rubbed his hand over his chin. He had no complaints. It had been good to him, this world. He’d made sure it would be. Money and power were the keys...forget those vows of poverty and service to his fellow man. He’d made up his mind long ago...if he was going to live here, he was going to have the money to get what he wanted, and the power to keep it. Cort had learned the lesson of his past well: it was a hell of a lot better to have control over your life than not. So he took advantage of the unique opportunities in this world, and if his methods of acquisition bordered on the criminal, or even strayed over the line when necessary, so be it. His days of piety were long gone.
But this world was a lonesome place. One afternoon with Blanche was enough to make him realize he was sick of vapid whore’s faces that masked their greedy hearts, bored with the empty soulless sex they sold him. He was beginning to feel the need for something else, something deeper. It would be good to have a woman in his life, someone to give a damn if he dropped dead. He wondered if that woman could be Blanche Donovan. Standing in front of the wall of neon streaked glass with the sweet taste of her still in his mouth, Cort silently admitted that he wanted it to be her. Angel. He shook his head. Devil…he’d learned damn quick that she could be both.
His eyes closed to block out the gaudy lights of the Strip below, and he thought of her skilled hands, comforting him as he lay exhausted and spent over her. Listening to her breathe, feeling the beat of her heart against his chest. The quiet, the peace, the gentleness that flowed through her into him had felt like love. And he knew that would be what he remembered most when he thought of this day. Not his almost overwhelming desire to possess her, a desire that had gnawed at his vitals like a starving wolf from the minute he laid eyes on her. Not this afternoon when he’d finally slaked his lust. What he already cherished was the memory of that quiet time after the storm, when they rested together, his body over hers.
Cort heard the bathroom door open and a moment later, soft footfalls came up behind him.
“Hey,” Blanche said. “I’m gonna go, okay?”
He turned from the window, looked down into her eyes. What was there? He examined her closely, but she wore her poker face again. There was no expression to read, nothing beyond a trace of tenderness in her eyes that gave him hope. He bent to kiss her cheek, murmuring, “Hell no, it’s not okay. But you do what you have to do, Angel.”
“I liked being with you today, Cort,” Blanche said quietly, wondering why it suddenly felt wrong to leave him.
“Yeah, darlin’. I liked being with you, too.” He waited, wanting it to be her who suggested they meet again soon.
But she didn’t speak. A pregnant, poignant silence fell between them, and he wasn’t expecting it when she suddenly reached up and kissed him fiercely. The glass of whiskey he still held kept him from wrapping her up, but he pulled her tight against his chest with one arm and slanted his mouth over hers. His bourbon flavored lips kissed slowly, thoroughly, as if it might be the last time he tasted her. He wanted her to take his kiss with her, keep it in her mind. He wanted her to know what she’d be missing if she didn’t come back to him.
* * *
She didn’t play well. Blanche walked out of the Bellagio only a few hundred dollars richer to show for her night’s work. It wasn’t a loss...but she knew that several times, she’d missed her chance to leave a big winner. Distraction. She’d told him not to come because she didn’t want the distraction of his presence, but Cort had been in her mind all night. And because of it, she’d missed signs a professional poker player should be able to recognize if she wanted to win.
Wearily, she pushed her hair behind her ears. She was tired, and there was a vague but not unpleasant soreness between her legs that conjured a feeling of contentment. She looked at her watch...almost four. She’d played a little too long, thinking she might come back in the end. It hadn’t happened, and before she had to dip into her capital, she folded the last hand and called it a night.
Sport greeted her enthusiastically as she came in through the door from the garage, sniffing fiercely at her clothes as he picked up the unfamiliar scent.
“Hey big fella.” She dropped to one knee and allowed him to nuzzle and lick her face. “Good boy...good boy,” she crooned, scratching his ears. She rose and went to the door that led to the fenced back yard. “You want to go out, Sport? Need to go?”
Tail wagging like an airplane’s propeller, Sport indicated that he did indeed need to go out. She opened the door, watched him move slowly into the yard and circle for the right spot. Good old Sport. He’d be dead now if it wasn’t for her. A retired K9 officer, the German Shepherd was aged for a dog...already ten years old. The LAPD had been planning to euthanize him when she’d stepped in and adopted him. They wouldn’t have given a former K9 to just anyone, but she was a police officer then, and they trusted her.
That had certainly changed. The LAPD definitely viewed Blanche Donovan with suspicion now. Six hundred thousand dollars worth of suspicion, in fact. Dirty money, drug money that disappeared from a major bust. They had recovered the dope, but there should have been cash at the scene. Every cop on the raid knew it, and looked to his brother officers with sudden doubt and mistrust.
Restlessly, she shifted from foot to foot as she stood near the door, wishing Sport would hurry and do his business. Waiting...any long period of empty time...always turned her mind back to things that were better left in the past. But she was tired, and spending the afternoon in Cort’s bed, in his arms, had left her feeling vulnerable. The memory of those days flooded in and she was helpless to stop them.
* * *
Blanche had always been an honest cop, but the prospect of scoring plenty of ready cash to insure her sister’s future was the best incentive in the world to steal and lie. Sent to secure the rear, she crouched in position behind a mid-level dealer’s Los Feliz home. Her partner was posted around the side of the Spanish style house, out of sight but still within calling distance. As she waited in silence, her heart hammering in her chest, a second floor window slid up. Blanche thought for sure their perp was going to make a break for it and she’d have to shoot him. She raised her shotgun, drew down on the square of light.
Instead of a man, a dark bundle fell from the window and landed on the grass with a muffled thud. The light was dim, but she could see it was the kind of bag people took to the gym. While she stared at it, all hell broke loose inside. Her shoulder radio crackled, the CO ordering all officers to remain in position. In the noise and confusion of a raid gone loud, amid gunshots and bellowed shouts of, “Officer down, officer down!” she ran to pick up the duffel. A quick glance inside showed her it was packed with cash banded separately by denominations, from wrinkled, well used fives to crisp new one hundred dollar bills.
Almost without thought, Blanche Donovan crossed to the dark side.
Thirty minutes later the area was secured, but there was still the usual confusion of a working crime scene. Blanche carried the black nylon bag to her car and stowed it in the trunk, threw her Kevlar vest over it. Normal procedure, nobody paid any attention to her or to the other cops who were securing equipment and weapons in their vehicles. The street had been cordoned off, but the immediate scene was crowded with rubbernecking neighbors, a hundred milling cops, ambulances and paramedics who’d responded to the officer down call. Flashing light bars strobed the neighborhood red and white, ricocheting off homes and trees, distorting all movement into jerky scenes out of an old silent film. It was controlled chaos...and perfect cover.
Her luck held. Her partner got into the ambulance with his buddy, one of the cops who’d been shot. She drove the cruiser back to Northeast station alone, expecting discovery every minute. Nerves screaming, almost suffocated by guilt, she waited until the parking lot was clear. Nobody saw Blanche Donovan take the black Puma bag out of the cruiser and put it in the trunk of her Chevy.
She couldn’t take the money home. She couldn’t put it into a bank. There could be no paper trail to connect her with any large deposits of cash. As she drove through dark LA surface streets, there was a moment of guilt-ridden panic when she considered taking the money back and booking it into evidence, claim she’d forgotten to bring it in. But the promise of clear sailing for Maureen’s future...college, a wedding, whatever she wanted...kept Blanche driving to West Hollywood, where Gina Poupakis lived in an art deco style duplex on Ogden Drive.
They’d been best friends since the third grade, stuck together through thick and thin. It was Gina who’d comforted a disconsolate Blanche when her mother died of cancer, Gina who’d refused to leave her side when Cormac Donovan was murdered. Only Gina had known what an accomplishment it was for Blanche to be accepted into the Police Academy after her father’s death. She’d been at her graduation, applauding loudly and almost alone when Blanche Donovan, daughter of a murdered criminal, stood proudly on the dais while the Chief pinned her badge to her uniform.
Maureen she loved more than anyone in the world, but Maureen could never know what her sister had done. Gina was the only person Blanche could trust.
In the darkest hours of the night, they worked out a plan. By the time the shit hit the fan at Northeast, Gina was on her way to Nevada, six hundred thousand dollars in bundled stacks of cash in her knock-off Louis Vuitton suitcase. Blanche kept her cool when questioned by IAD...two separate intense interrogations didn’t break her. She denied seeing any money on the night in question, told them truthfully that she’d been posted in the backyard through the entire raid and never once entered the house. When asked, she agreed to a polygraph, and though the results were inconclusive, so were the tests of at least half of the cops who were there that night.
Unable even to prove that any cash was missing, proceeding solely on the assumption that there should have been money at the scene, the Department hit a brick wall. The dealer couldn’t confirm the loss...he was dead, shot by nine Narcotics Division cops when he’d run naked out of his bedroom and opened fire on them.
Without witnesses, there was nowhere to go.
After a month of investigation and interrogation, Internal Affairs let it drop. They had the dope...three kilos of crystal meth, one of black tar heroin...street value, a cool million and a half. The recovery didn’t make a dent on the drug scene in LA, but it was good copy for the Department. The raid was called successful and the rumors of stolen money were quashed, the brass fearing another scandal to taint the already tarnished reputation of the LAPD. Officer Blanche Donovan would have come out free and clear except for one relentless detective who’d noticed the open window in an air-conditioned house, and asked which officers had been assigned to cover the rear.
Bud White was a throwback, an old-fashioned cop who seemed to operate on pure instinct, a quiet man who noticed things other cops didn’t. The open window made him suspicious. He questioned her, followed her, and as his certainty that she had taken the money grew, he got a warrant and checked her bank statements, her credit card bills, even her tax records. In the months following the raid, it seemed to Blanche that every time she turned a corner Bud White was there watching with eyes that never wavered, waiting for her to make a mistake.
Against his increasingly blatant surveillance, Blanche stubbornly persevered. Her brother officers heard the rumors of her suspected theft and all of a sudden she was no longer invited for after watch beers down at the Long Shot, or to their homes for Sunday barbeques. Nobody wanted to associate with a dirty cop. The easy camaraderie she’d taken for granted with the guys at the station melted away to be replaced by suspicion and coolness.
It made her irritable, quick to anger. She was withdrawn and caustic with her team at work. And at home, she snapped at her blameless sister so often she drove her to tears. Drove them both to tears, followed by abject apologies from Blanche, and confusion and wariness from Maureen.
And then there was Steve. She’d met him last year when she attended a conference for her sister at Hollywood High. An American History teacher, dating Steve Bedell was a departure for Blanche. Until she’d met him, she’d always preferred her men a little edgier, a little tougher. But she was twenty-eight, and Blanche had begun to think it was time to give the bad boys up. It was time to think about marriage and kids, building a future with a man she could trust. Steve, with his easy going temperament and firmly rooted conservatism, inured in the solid middle class values that she had grown up without, was ideal husband and father material. That had been the greatest part of his charm for Blanche, coming as she did from a family where a ten year old girl looking to play dress up in her mother’s high heels had found a cache of guns wrapped in oily rags at the bottom of the closet. Steve was respected, Steve was sensible. Steve was normal. He’d never be the kind of father Blanche and Maureen had grown up with. Steve Bedell would be out there on Saturday mornings coaching his daughter’s softball team instead of lying in bed nursing a hangover...or worse, a cut from a knife wielded by a crazed junkie that had laid open his arm to the bone.
It had seemed a sensible trade-off...a secure and solid life in exchange for the fire he was never able to generate in her blood. And when he’d asked and shown her the half-carat diamond solitaire, the best he could do on his teacher’s salary, Blanche had said yes to his proposal, knowing that she didn’t love him the way she should.
As the pressure mounted and Bud White crowded every inch of her life, Blanche began to argue almost constantly with her fiancé. If only she could talk about what she’d done with him, it might have been all right. But Blanche knew better than to tell a man like Steve Bedell that she’d stolen half a million dollars from a drug dealer. She knew what he’d think, what he’d do, and she resented it. The resentment carried over into their relationship, and Blanche couldn’t hold her sharp tongue. She was cutting, critical, impatient with everything about him that had once been so appealing. It wasn’t long before she began to dread their time alone, for too many of their evenings together ended in heated arguments that left her feeling shallow and a little cruel.
Blanche rarely spoke of Steve and never wore her modest engagement ring on the job. She preferred to keep her secrets, she’d formed the habit in her childhood and saw no reason to give it up. It was better that way for the daughter of a career criminal, and maybe she’d known all along it wasn’t going to work out between Steve and her. It shouldn’t have surprised her that Bud White found out about him and paid a visit to her fiancé. And it shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did when his accusations spooked Steve enough that he decided she wasn’t worth the trouble that came with her. He never gave her a chance to explain, though God knows what she could have told him. Blanche came home from a bad day that got infinitely worse to find her fiancé waiting for her on the porch. Without bothering to cushion the blow, Steve told her coolly he didn’t know who she was anymore, and asked her to return his ring. Unspoken, but still understood, were the words he didn’t say, “You are your father’s daughter...”
The taint of her childhood returned with all its humiliation and insecurity. Blanche Donovan wasn’t good enough for decent people. Ashamed, feeling as though she was trapped in a recurring nightmare, Blanche went into the bungalow she shared with her sister and got the ring from her drawer. Curling her fist around the tiny circle of gold and sparkling stones, she brought it back to Steve and silently opened her palm. It lay there cold and lifeless, and pride kept her from saying a single word when he plucked it out of her palm and turned to leave without a word of regret. Bitter tears of pain and shame tracked down her cheeks, but she didn’t make a sound as she watched him climb into his Honda Hybrid and drive away.
Maureen found her on the porch hours later, silently crying in the dark. Her frantic questions got no answer, and she followed, confused, when a suddenly enraged Blanche rushed into the house, went straight to her bedroom and ripped her wedding dress from its hanger in her closet. She carried it to the kitchen and a horrified Maureen watched her stuff hand beaded ivory silk into the trash can, then dump a plate of leftover spaghetti on it for good measure. Mo understood then and went to her sister, ready to comfort. She expected Blanche to cry in her arms, but her sister allowed only one brief hug, and as far as Mo knew, Blanche never shed another tear for Steve Bedell.
Old friends now cool strangers, her job a highwire balancing act, her fiancé running from her as if she was a leper, and a relentless cop on her tail from morning to night...her life had turned to shit and Blanche would have said the money wasn’t worth it but for one thing. Maureen.
The money guaranteed that Maureen’s education would be paid for, free and clear. Her little sister wouldn’t have to borrow more money for school and begin a career already buried in debt. Loans were in place for her first semester and Maureen had been awarded several small grants from the Federal government. But having one semester paid for wasn’t enough. It was the money in Nevada, hidden in a safe deposit box in the Bank of America vault that would get her sister through college and law school. All Blanche had to do was see Maureen graduated from Hollywood High and get her off to Philadelphia in the fall. Then she would decide her next move.
Another miserable month went by while Blanche played the waiting game. Promotion time came and she was passed over for sergeant, the position going to a woman with less experience and a lower test score. She gritted her teeth and took it, but when she was taken off the plainclothes detail in Narcotics Task Force Division and put on Central Traffic, Blanche knew the end was near.
She was on day watch, had just finished her shift, and came out of the station to get in her car to go home only to find Bud White waiting in his unmarked. Furious, fed up with the unrelenting suspicion that had ruined her career, Blanche stalked over to his car and leaned in the window.
“What the hell is your problem, White? Get the fuck off my tail or I swear I’ll file harassment charges on you.”
He opened the door and got out, forcing her to step back. “You want me off your tail, Donovan? You know what you have to do.”
Her eyes narrowed into furious slits. “You have something you want to ask me, ask straight out like a man instead of dogging my ass.”
“No point asking,” White shrugged, unruffled. “You’re a liar.”
He gave her a long look and leaned against the car, his hands jammed into his pockets. “Okay. What did you do with that shitbird’s money? He threw it out the window, you took it. But you ain’t spending it, not a fucking dime. So where’d you stash it, Donovan? Got a locker in the bus depot? Bury it in the backyard?”
Blanche looked unflinchingly into his eyes and coolly lied, calling on skills she’d learned as a child. “There is no money, White. Nobody threw anything out of that window. End of story.”
He shook his head as if it pained him to see her sink so low. “I know all about your old man,” he said, and her blood froze. “Busted him myself once. It’s old history and it wouldn’t matter if you were a straight cop. But you pissed it all away, Donovan. Followed right in your old man’s footsteps. You’re bent, crooked as a duck’s ass. And cops like you make the rest of us look bad.”
“You’re full of shit, White.” She turned away, started for her car, and then stopped. “I didn’t take that money,” she spat, and anger had her eyes blazing enough to shroud her fear. Fists clenched at her side, her fury boiled over and she screamed at him, “You bastard, you fucked my career for nothing!”
Her outburst didn’t faze him. “You took it,” he said softly. “You saw a sure thing and you crossed the fuckin’ line.” He stared at her, his lip curled in disgust. “It’s dirty money, Donovan, and you’re a dirty cop. I don’t like dirty cops. So get used to seeing my face, doll. I’ll be on you until you crack, and then I’ll take your badge and put your guilty ass in Frontera where it belongs.”
“You’ll shit in your hat first,” Blanche snapped, and got in her car to squeal out of the lot. She’d brazened it out, but he scared her. Looking down the road at another fourteen years until she could pension out at twenty, Blanche knew she wouldn’t make it. Her career was ruined, her reputation stained. There would be no promotions, no opportunities, no advancement to look forward to. If she managed to hang on, she’d spend those fourteen years in Traffic Detail, chasing down speeders and writing up tickets. And the entire time, she’d be friendless. Outcast. And always afraid, thanks to Bud White.
Blanche decided to cut her losses and quit the LAPD. As soon as Maureen left for college, she resigned from the Department and with Gina, went to Vegas. Together they devised a scheme to launder the money...a faked winning streak at the poker tables that would last until the money was clean. When Blanche hesitated, positive something so simple wouldn’t work, Gina explained that poker winnings were untraceable because casinos had no stake in the games...it wasn’t the house they’d play against. As long as they didn’t stay in one casino more than a night, Gina said they could fake their way enough to finally get the cash out of the safe deposit box at the Fremont Street branch of the Bank of America. All they had to do was make a big enough show, get some notice that they could use as proof of a streak. Give the IRS their cut. They had to act, a grinning Gina said, and for women born and bred in Hollywood, that shouldn’t be too hard. Showbiz was in their blood.
It was a plan that seemed ridiculously easy to Blanche after what she’d gone through to keep the money. She expected it to fail, and visions of Bud White and his threat of prison made her sweat. But the farce was easier to pull off than she’d thought. After all, this was Sin City, where fraud was a way of life. And in the big picture, it wasn’t all that much money...not for Vegas. Six hundred thousand dollars was chump change in a place where billions routinely changed hands.
So for a few months, Blanche acted like a lucky dumb blonde and made giddy scenes when she opened an account at Wells Fargo and began banking amounts that ranged from a few thousand to thirty thousand dollars at a time, until she’d deposited over four hundred large in cash. Not once had anyone questioned her luck. People won money at poker in Vegas, it happened every day. Never made a blip on the radar, wasn’t on the news like a big hit on a slot would be. She duly reported her winnings to the IRS and paid her taxes. And when all but a hundred thousand was out of the deposit box, she gave Gina her key and told her that everything left was hers. Blanche believed in showing her gratitude.
She laid low for a while, just to be sure they’d pulled it off, then started spending. She bought herself the house out in the suburbs near Henderson, paid off Maureen’s school loans and sent her checks for tuition and living expenses while she attended Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. She bought her sister a car. And Blanche, having learned that she loved it, made poker her occupation, winning enough to support herself handsomely.
She didn’t feel guilty anymore. She refused to feel guilty. What she felt was relief and pride. Mo was taken care of, better than her father could have done it, and Blanche had made a good life for herself in Vegas. Hell, she’d made a dream life, and she didn’t care that it was built on dirty money. The longer she lived and learned, the more she realized that everything in the world, even organized religion, was built on dirty money. Six hundred thousand dollars worth had set her and Maureen up for life.
Outside the door, Sport whined and startled her out of her memories of the past. She let him in and locked up. He followed her eagerly to the pantry where she took out a box of dog treats and gave him a handful to crunch. The light from the refrigerator illuminated her face as she reached in and got a Diet Coke. She took it with her upstairs.
Her mortgage-free house was cool and quiet, a peaceful refuge. But the sky outside her window was fading from black to gray, and in an hour’s time there would be traffic on the residential street as people began their day. None of that would bother her, she was used to sleeping while others were up and about. But before she could go to bed, she had to dial her tension down a few clicks or she would just lie awake for hours.
Blanche ran a bath and leaned back, in warm water up to her neck. She lay with her eyes closed and thought about Cortland Davis. Instinctively she knew that unlike Steve, Cort would understand what she had done and why, and applaud her instincts. Two of a kind, that’s what they were. Realists who took advantage of opportunity when it came knocking, and to hell with the straight arrows who called it criminal.
Blanche thought of his eyes, the way they’d looked at her first with heat, and then with interest, even wonder. The comfort of his arms, holding her so that she understood she meant something more to him than a means to satisfy his lust. The heat of his body lying next to hers, the unfamiliar but welcome sense of security that had lulled her to sleep as easily as if she’d been in her own bed. In a few short hours, he’d given her exactly what she needed, and she had rewarded him by leaving.
Her warm bath suddenly felt cold, her peaceful house lonely, and Blanche found herself wishing she had gone back to Cort instead of coming home to an old dog and an empty bed.