Madam X. She isn’t a suspect per se, but she may have been the last one to see Frank Sanchez alive.

When I got to the scene that day, the tow truck was just lifting the car out of the water. Frank was still in it.

Frank Sanchez, the poor schmuck who drove his car into the river and drowned. Until he didn’t. His autopsy shows it was the bullet in his forehead that killed him. I may not be the smartest guy in town, but I’d bet my hat Frank didn’t drive himself into the river.

After taking notes of the details at the scene, I head back to the precinct.

Alan, the deputy sergeant, waves me over.

“Jabberhead was here.”

Sarcastically, I ask, “What’d he want?”

“Undercover protection for his fundraiser. Said I’d pass along the message.”

I roll my eyes.

Mayor Charles Tillis, a.k.a. Jabberhead. He’s the son of the most influential family in the county, and the most corrupt. Taking Tillis down is about as likely as finding clean money in his pocket.

I head to my desk to check my messages. An anonymous caller says he saw Frank Sanchez at Macaw’s Tiki Bar and Lounge 10 days ago. Not the best lead, but a lead nonetheless. The drunk trust fund playboy liked to spend money. At a dollar a shot, Macaw’s was the place to do it.

I head over to talk to the manager. He isn’t impressed by my badge. He’s a man of principles. Five bucks later, he hands over the reservation log. The log shows Frank had a standing booking with a dame known as Madam X. Another name catches my attention, Mayor Tillis. He, too, calls on the dame.

Madam X. Xandra Wilson, daughter of the billionaire who made his fortune publishing risqué pictures. Daddy’s little darling, it seems, is Macaw’s highest-paid call girl. Rumored to entertain movie stars and millionaires, she’s become a legend in this dive.

When I lay eyes on her, silent murmurs fill my head. How I wish I had the dough to sample what those rich sons of bitches did. Stacked, the blonde knockout is as easy on the eyes as a truckload of gifts on Christmas morning.

As she speaks, I find myself staring at her full red lips, wondering where they’d been…imagining the things they’ve done.

Donning a blue silk kimono, she sprawls out on the chaise longue opposite me. I find myself swimming with the koi fish embroidered on her robe.

“Tell me about the last night you were with Frank Sanchez.”

“We had a drink at the bar that night.”

“Just a drink?”

“Maybe two.”

“Wasn’t that his night? Date night, I mean.”

Her sleepy blue eyes wander down my body, stopping at my vulnerable parts, then return their attention to my jawline.

“He said he had business to take care of.”

“Any idea who he was meeting?”

Shaking her head she says, “Clients don’t pay me to probe, not in that way, anyway.”

Maybe it was the way she avoided looking into my eyes, but I got a nagging feeling in my gut. A foot below that, I was doing just fine. I let her off the hook, for now.

A few days later I receive a message. Madam X called. She wants to see me at 5 p.m. Says she has more information on Frank.

I’d been summoned like a stray dog. Being the good dog that I am, I obey.

When I arrive, she answers the door naked.

“You’re overdressed.”

An hour later, I watch her part her smeared lips. Rings of smoke drift from her mouth.

Placing my thumb on her lower lip, I rub it firmly down her chin, smearing her lipstick even more. I do like a dirty woman.

“Is there more you want to disclose about Frank?”

She picks up my shirt and glances at my badge. Marvin Fisher, chief investigator…womanizer. After wiping the lipstick off her chin with my shirt, she tosses it at me.

“You should go.”

“You said you had more.”

“I do, but we’re out of time. I’ll call you. Please go.”

I’d like to say you don’t have to tell me twice, but she just did. I get up and start to get dressed.

As I tie my shoes, I ask, “Do you know if Frank Sanchez and Mayor Tillis did business together?”

Standing at the bathroom door, glistening with sweat, she replies, “I don’t know.” Just before the door closes she adds, “They’re cousins, so it’s possible.”


I look around one last time, hoping to memorialize every detail of a most erotic evening. At $500 an hour, I doubt I’d get another freebie.

On her desk near the door is a neatly folded monogrammed handkerchief. I pick it up and hold it to my nose. The smell of her perfume fills my nostrils. Highly complex, the scent seems to reach right into a man’s innards and take hold of his most valuable bag of gems. Unable to stop myself, I shove the handkerchief into my suit pocket.

Having never filched anything in my adult life, I bolt downstairs feeling like a naughty kid. It’s oddly arousing.

I drive three full blocks before reaching for it again, then tug it from my pocket. As the hanky unfolds, a hidden letter falls into my lap.

When I arrive at my flat, I draw the blinds, then pour two stiff fingers of whiskey. It burns down my gullet as I hurry to the recliner to enjoy what I suspect is a titillating letter.

It’s titillating all right, but it isn’t hers.

Written by the attorney for Chester Tillis, grandfather of our esteemed mayor, it’s an announcement. It appears Grandpa Tillis recently changed his will. Being that Frank Sanchez has always been his favorite grandson, he’s leaving his entire estate to him.

I wonder, What’s worse? Tillis learning he’d been disinherited, or discovering Frank, the town drunk, was his grandfather’s favorite? Either way, it had to have been a punch in the gut.

No doubt Tillis lost this letter. But why would Xandra hide it?

It occurs to me the letter makes Tillis a suspect.

The following evening, I tail Tillis to Macaw’s. I meander to the bar, order whiskey, and wait.

A half hour later, Tillis comes down the stairs. He looks rattled. So much so, he doesn’t even notice me.

The next morning, as I pull into the precinct parking lot, I see Xandra is making her way up the steps to my office building. I whistle. She turns, then waits.

I point to the shiner on her left cheek.

“What’s this?”

“Tillis is threatening me for ending our relationship. He got a bit rough last night.”

“Report him.”

Shaking her head, she says, “He’ll retaliate. He has connections.”

She’s right, of course. Tillis would pay to discredit her.

“Will you help me?”

“I can’t get involved if you won’t report it.”

She shows me the butt of the gun in her pocket. “Fine. I’ll take care of him myself.”

I grab her shoulders. “Going after Tillis will get you a lot more than a knuckle sandwich!”

With puppy eyes, she asks, “You’ll help me then?”

Forgetting to kick myself in the head, I agree.

“Give me the gun, Xandra. It’s not an option.”

Reluctantly, she hands it over, then heads back to Macaw’s.

What if he kills her? The question nags at me, but I shrug it off. By nightfall, I’m still second-guessing whether taking her gun was a good idea. Maybe it’s an excuse to see her again, but I find myself stashing the gun in my front coat pocket.

On the way over to Macaw’s, I see Xandra in the back of a cab. I make a U-turn and follow it to the park.

When I come upon her, she’s with Tillis. They’re arguing.

As I move closer, a branch snaps under my foot.

Tillis turns toward me. I see he’s pointing a gun at Xandra.

“I warned you, Xandra, don’t call the police!”

“I didn’t. I swear!”

Tillis growls, “What are you doing here, Fisher?”

“Freezing.” I blow on my hands, pretending to warm them, then shove them in my front coat pockets.

Spilling his guts, Tillis says, “She’s blackmailing me. If I don’t pay, she’ll tell a cockamamie story about me killing Frank Sanchez.”

“Did you?” I ask.

Tillis raises his gun at Xandra’s head. “No. She killed him.”

“I…I did it for you, Charles. I thought you said you loved me! If I go down, you’re going down, too!”

Tillis shoots her. Her body slinks onto the dirt.

I curl my finger around the trigger of Xandra’s gun.

Agitated, Tillis turns toward me. “You’ve seen too much Fish—”

A shot rings out. Tillis crumples to the ground.

I wipe my fingerprints from Xandra’s gun and place it in her hand.

Just another lovers’ quarrel gone wrong.

mary taylor
Mary Taylor

About the Author

Mary Taylor is a writer who lives in Southern California. “Dirty Secrets” is her first stab at writing noir and her first submission to any story contest. She is currently at work on a trio of thriller novels about a serial killer.

About Alta Journal’s Noir Story Contest

Nearly 100 people from across the United States and a half dozen other countries entered our 2021 Noir Story Contest. Participants submitted original fiction inspired by writers like Paul Cain, Raymond Chandler, Walter Mosley, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and Dashiell Hammett. The criteria for these hard-boiled tales? One story, 1,500 words or less, that includes the following five elements: (1) a lost letter, (2) a nearby tiki bar, (3) “Don’t call the police!,” (4) a blue silk kimono, and (5) “I thought you said you loved me.” The winning entry received a leather-bound edition of “Arson Plus” by Dashiell Hammett, printed and published by Thornwillow Press ($2,000 value)—a one-of-a-kind copy. Two runners-up received a numbered Patron’s edition of the Hammett story, also printed and published by Thornwillow Press ($138 retail value)—one of only 75 copies.

Thank you to everyone who entered and made this contest a huge success.
For more on the contest, click here.