mystery fiction, mystery serial

Chapter Ten

I looked good when I went to that audition. My hair was up in a long curled ponytail. My make-up had all the highlights I could get away with. I wore my sexiest leotard, a shimmery gray one with narrow straps, a diving back, and leg holes cut up to my elbows. My tights were a shimmery neutral color that matched my tan dance shoes. My black leg warmers had flecks of silver in them.

I did not look that hot on the way there. It was cold and close to sunset. To keep warm, I had on my rip-stop pants and my beat up jacket. But the only person who would see me in those was the girl at the sign in sheet.

She was bored, as usual, and showed me into the warm-up studio.

“Here’s the last one,” she said.

“Fine,” said the choreographer. He was a short, dumpy little guy I’d seen many times before and had yet to learn his name. “You’ve got five minutes to warm up.”

I noticed he wasn’t talking to just me, but also to the other fifteen people in the room. I stripped down, put my pants and jacket in my dance bag, changed from my running shoes to my dance shoes, and pulled out a shimmery, sheer dance skirt.

“Donna’s dressed to kill,” laughed a familiar voice as I tied the skirt around me.

“Mickey!” I yelped. I bounded over and kissed him.

“Donna! Thank God, they called you.” Tina came over and hugged me. “I swear, if they hadn’t, I was going to go straight over and bounce your agent on his ear. You’re looking good. You must have heard who’s directing this thing. You know, that babe of all babes, Phillip DuPre.”

“Uh, yeah, I heard.”

“Rats,” said Mickey. “I thought she was breathing heavy because of me.”

“Shut up, Dooley.” Tina slugged him in the arm.

We all three warmed up, stretching out our muscles, bouncing about.

“Alright,” the choreographer boomed out. “I’ll be teaching you the audition. When you get inside, they’ll work with you. Everybody get partners, male/female, please.”

I grabbed Mickey. Tina didn’t mind. She had an equally good partner. It was a tough routine. After four run-throughs, it looked like we all had it.

A wave of dancers flowed into the studio from the taping room. As they abated, Phillip DuPre appeared, talking to someone in the room.

“Why don’t you start running through it?” He said. “I’ve got a phone call to make.”

He turned into the studio and spotted me. I froze. He smiled at me, then the others then pulled his iPhone out of his pants pocket and dialed.

Tina nudged me. “There he is. The Phillip DuPre. Couldn’t you just die?”

“Yeah,” I whispered. Tina didn’t know the half of it.

I strained to hear what He was saying. It was noisy in the studio, and all I could catch were bits and pieces.

“I’m one of his clients…for one of… Oh. I, uh, that’s too bad… No…” Music drowned out the rest for good. He hung up and disappeared into the taping room.

Mickey looked at me curiously.

“You really have the hots for him,” he observed dryly.

“So? Let’s run through the routine again.”

We kept dancing. It’s what you’re supposed to do, anyway. You wait till after the audition to visit. Even if Mickey had noticed I was acting a little funny over Phillip DuPre, it didn’t affect our dancing. The old magic was still there.

In the audition room, the Phillip DuPre behind the table was completely different from the quiet guy who’d shown up at Mrs. Sperling’s. There, she was in charge, and He seemed content to let her call the shots. At the audition, this same guy was the boss and knew it, and while He didn’t rub it in, He didn’t give up one ounce of authority, either.

“Good afternoon,” He told us after a friendly smile. “You’ll be doing the routine as a group, then as couples. I’m looking for good, precision dancing. I want it sharp, and I want it clean. If you want to show me something, you’ll get your chance later.”

I had about a second to reflect that Mrs. Sperling was right about Him keeping His biases separate, then we worked. And worked. And worked some more. I was dying when we left the room.

“Geez, that was hard,” Tina gasped as we got our outdoor clothes on over our leotards. “I hope I did okay.”

“I think I did,” said Mickey. He looked at me. “You kicked butt, babe.”

“Thanks,” I gasped.

“Donna,” said Tina. “Earl’s working again. Mickey and I were planning on going out to happy hour for dinner after this. You want to come with us?”

“Well…” I hesitated, trying to figure things out. “Mrs. Sperling is expecting me for dinner. But she wants me to run an errand to Emil’s later.”

“We’ll meet you there,” said Mickey. “Say, what, nine o’clock?”

“Okay,” I said. “Tina?”

“Sure,” she said. “Earl will be off by then, too. Come on, Mickey.” She hugged me. “You did great.”

“You did, too,” I answered.

“Later, pard.” Mickey reached over and gave me a good sound kiss.

As he left, I turned back into the studio and froze. Phillip DuPre stood in the doorway with one eye on me, talking to one of the men he’d been with. They moved out of the way to let the rest of the people out. Struggling into my jacket, I fled with them.

My beat up old Altima sat near the studio’s doors. Shaking, I unlocked it and got in, then fumbled around the floor to find my keys, which I’d dropped. I finally got them, for all the good it did. The car wouldn’t start. Swearing, I popped the hood latch, ran around front, and propped open the hood, which did about as much good as finding my keys.

“Hi.”

My heart stopped. Phillip DuPre stood on the sidewalk, looking at me with a half-smile on His gorgeous face.

“Hi,” I said, swallowing.

“Car trouble?”

“Yeah.” I blushed. “You’d think someone who drives a car for a living would know more about the insides.” I slammed the hood shut. “I’ve gotta call the Triple-A.”

“I’ll wait with you,” he said as I got my mobile phone from my car.

“You don’t have to,” I said dialing.

“No. It’s okay.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah,” He said as the operator came on.

I gave him the address, he told me it would take up to thirty minutes, and I was to stand next to the car. I hung up with a nervous sigh.

“Something wrong?” He asked.

“Sort of. It’s going to be at least thirty minutes and I’ve got to wait by the car.”

“It’s getting dark.” He glanced up and down the street.

Cars whooshed past the battered buildings. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood, just not a good one for a woman waiting around alone after dark.

“Yeah. I’ll be okay.”

“I’ll wait with you,”

“Oh. Gee.” My stomach did three kinds of somersaults and my tongue felt paralyzed. “You don’t have to. He said thirty minutes, so you know it’s going to be at least an hour.”

“I don’t mind.”

So we waited. I called Mrs. Sperling. Then we more or less exchanged nervous grins until the tow truck arrived. I was towed to the nearest repair station. He followed in his car, without being asked. I guess He assumed I’d need a ride, which I did. So we exchanged more nervous smiles all the way to Mrs. Sperling’s.

He stayed for dinner. Mrs. Sperling had me change, suggesting that I might as well get dressed for my errand that night. We ate in the dining room.

“So, what’s wrong with your car?” Mrs. Sperling asked me after we’d said grace.

He’d made the same sloppy sign of the cross that only a true believer makes. Then He stared at his plate as he ate.

“Um, the mechanic said he’d have a full list for me tomorrow afternoon,” I sighed. “On the other hand, he said he’d give me five hundred for it.”
“For the parts, I presume,” said Mrs. Sperling. “Does five hundred sound fair to you, Phillip?”

“Um, yeah. I’d hold out for seven fifty. The worst he can do is say no.”

“I still need a car,” I said. “I might be able to work out a loan with my parents, or even use the money from this one as a down payment.”

“That sounds like an excellent plan, Donna. So, Phillip, have you heard from your supplier yet?”

Everything about Him stopped. He set down His knife and fork, then tried to find someplace to put His hands. For the first time that night, He looked up.

“Aunt Delilah,” He said slowly. “I have a confession to make. The reason I didn’t tell you the name of my supplier was that I knew he was selling me hot prints. I was trying to win his trust, and find out how he was getting them. Then the counterfeits showed up at Josh’s place, but they weren’t all the same ones, except for some of the Niedemans, so I didn’t think Josh’s death was connected.”
“Only now something has gone wrong,” said Mrs. Sperling.

“Big time. I called him this afternoon, and they told me he’s dead. They said burglars got him.”

“Who are ‘they’?”

“His landlady and she said that’s what the police said.”

Mrs. Sperling nodded. “And your supplier’s name?”

“Kyle Hoffman.”

“Kyle Hoffman?” I yelped. “He’s that building manager.”

“Phillip, did you know Mr. Hoffman was the manager of the building where Mr. Stein’s gallery was?”

He squirmed. “Yeah, I knew. Why do you think I was suspicious? Besides my Niedemans, Hoffman sold me a couple Gormans, and a Dawna Barton. But Josh didn’t even carry them.”

“Edgar Hendricks does,” I said softly. “Only Hoffman’s alibied for Stein’s death.”

“That does lead to some interesting possibilities,” mused Mrs. Sperling. She faded into her thoughts.

The phone rang. I bounced up, but Glen came running in from the kitchen.

“Sorry, I’m late, Mrs. Sperling,” he gasped, sliding into his seat at the table. “Donna, it’s your brother on the phone.”

“Oh, shoot. He probably wants to know about his Niedeman.”

“You can assure him it’s real,” said Mrs. Sperling. “I had it verified. Now, Glen-”

“I’m sorry, but I met this totally bodacious babe. He’s, like, a total E-ticket.”

My E ticket smiled His fabulous smile and chuckled.

“Love comes before all. Right, Aunt Delilah?”

I didn’t hear what she said. I headed into the kitchen and the phone to do battle with the exact opposite of Phillip DuPre.

“When am I going to get my Niedeman back?” demanded Peter. “You said it’d be Tuesday at the latest, and it’s Wednesday.”

“I don’t know. My car’s broken down, and we’re real busy here.”

“And I’m supposed to hang while you get around to it?”

“Look, Mrs. Sperling went to a lot of trouble to get that print authenticated for you, and she’s not charging you anything, so you could at least be a little nicer.”

“Tell her I said thanks. When am I going to get it back?”

“Hang on.”

Grumbling, I turned toward the dining room.

“So, Phil, how did your auditions go today?” Glen’s voice floated into the kitchen.

I stopped.

“Pretty well,” Phillip DuPre said. “Saw a lot of good dancing. I made my point with Slick, finally. The creep begged me to do it because he ‘trusts’ me, then questioned everything. I told him either pipe down or I walk. But once he saw the dancers, he agreed with me.”

“Gonna be a tough choice?”

“Nope.”

“Come on. Who’re you casting?”

He laughed. “I’m not saying. Got a lot of hassles to get through, Slick’s gotta have his say, then the agents.”

I went in. “Um, Mrs. Sperling, I’ve got to figure out how to get my brother’s Niedeman to him. He’s having kittens.”

“Phillip, would you please drive Donna out this evening before you go to Emil’s?”

“I thought I was going,” I said, surprised.

“But…” He looked puzzled. “Aunt Delilah, you just asked me to go before dinner.”

“You’re both going,” said Mrs. Sperling. “There’s already been one incident. I don’t want another.”

“I told you I wouldn’t go alone,” I said. “I’ve got friends meeting me.”

“All the better,” said Mrs. Sperling. “There’s safety in numbers. Donna, where does your brother live?”

“In Pasadena.”

“Phillip, that wouldn’t put you out, would it?”

“Not at all,” He said quickly.

“I don’t want to impose,” I said.

“If you don’t want me to go to Emil’s, that’s okay,” He said.

“Donna, your brother is waiting,” said Mrs. Sperling. “Phillip will drive you out to Pasadena, then the two of you together will go to Emil’s, and meet your friends. End of the discussion.”

My heart was breaking. Only the ride out to Pasadena was pretty quiet. I tried to talk, but couldn’t think of anything to talk about except the auditions, which I didn’t want to talk about, and Stein’s death, which I didn’t want to talk about either. He seemed to be feeling pretty guilty about Hoffman’s death, so I decided not to bring that up. He wasn’t real talkative.

Peter had plenty to say. Fortunately, Elise wouldn’t let him say it.

“Who’s the babe?” she asked me as soon as Peter had Phillip DuPre fully engaged discussing Niedemans.

“A friend of my boss’s family,” I said, blushing.

He had just introduced Himself as Phil, so I didn’t think He wanted me advertising what He did for a living. Peter had given Him the once over and focused on the single diamond earring He wore and the leather bomber jacket. I called it style. Peter probably had other things on his mind, but Elise kept his trap shut for a change.

“Does she have any other friends like him?” asked Elise.

“You’re taken.”

“You’re not. Anything going on?”

“I wish. He won’t even talk to me. It’s not like he’s a jerk. He’s really nice, but I can’t seem to find anything to say to him.”

The guys came back at that point.

“Donna,” complained Peter. “You didn’t tell us your boss is a private eye. Mom is gonna have fits when she finds out.”

I glared at him. “She’ll have fits when she finds out you and Elise are living together already.”

“You bitch.”

“You wouldn’t,” gasped Elise.

“Peter will just have to see that I don’t have to. We’ve gotta get going.”

“Nice meeting you,” He said.

“Nice meeting you, Phil,” said Peter.

The ride back to Westwood was equally quiet. I wanted to yell at Him for telling Peter what Mrs. Sperling did with her time. I looked at Phillip DuPre and melted. Hell, how was He to know?

 

mystery fiction, mystery serial

Chapter Nine

Back at the house, I hung up the phone and gazed at Mrs. Sperling thoughtfully. She worked quietly on a crewel sampler. We’d just finished dinner, and were relaxing in the living room.

“That was Shelley Carson just now,” I told Mrs. Sperling. “She says she’ll take me on, and is sending me out tomorrow on an audition.”

“How nice,” Mrs. Sperling said innocently.

“Funny. It just happens to be for a video directed by Phillip DuPre.”

“Are you implying something?”

“I don’t know.” I sunk into the sofa. “I feel like I’m being set up.”

Mrs. Sperling chuckled. “Assuming you are, it’s not the sort of set up I’d complain about if I were you.”

“I suppose. It doesn’t seem fair to the other dancers, though. And I can’t help wondering if there isn’t supposed to be some sort of payback if you know what I mean.”

“Your career is in no position for you to be worrying about being fair to other dancers, my dear. Furthermore, Phillip is perfectly capable of keeping his personal and professional biases separate. As for the payback, don’t even think of it. Phillip was well raised in a good home, and it shows.”

“Hmm.” I thought for a few minutes. “You wouldn’t happen to know if, uh, Mr. DuPre has a girlfriend?”

Mrs. Sperling laughed. “Donna, I’m afraid you’re on your own as far as that’s concerned. I refuse to meddle.” She paused. “But Phillip is not seeing anyone at the moment.”

“Well, it’s not going to make any difference. Like I’m really going to say anything.”

“It might not be a bad idea.” She absorbed herself in her stitchery.

“Yeah. Right.” I got up and stretched. “I’m just a peon dancer hyphen chauffeur. He sure is gorgeous, though.”

And nice, with no ego. It was hopeless. So I went to bed.

The next morning, I made a quick run past the Beverly Hills police station before class. I worked out extra hard, so I was dragging a little when I made it back to the house. Mrs. Sperling had me join her for brunch, poached eggs with Benedictine sauce, fresh steamed broccoli and fresh fruit with cream.

“You sound worn out.” Mrs. Sperling smiled softly at me.

“I am a little. I got your notes in, before class even. That Willoughby guy said he’d bring them to Michaelson.”

“Thank you. Speaking of that, I don’t believe you ever told me the results of your adventure Monday night.”

“Oh, that.” I recounted my conversation with the bartender at Hennessey’s. “I also forgot to tell you I dropped by the police station the next morning. They were waiting for me. It turns out Fred Gonzagos did a small stretch for forgery with intent to fraud six years back. He got out three years ago and has supposedly stayed clean since. More like he hasn’t gotten caught. They listed an Anita Llanez as his sister. I wrote the address down somewhere.” I dug through my dance bag. “Here it is. It’s in Montebello.”

“Quite a distance. I’ll try to contact her by phone. While I do, why don’t you rest a little? I assume you want to be fresh for your audition this afternoon.”

“Yeah.” I sighed and sat back in my chair.

“Feeling nervous?” Her smile was a little sly.

“It’s an audition. Of course, I’m nervous. I don’t know. It just feels strange, is all. But like you say, I’m in no position to complain.”

She nodded.

“Mrs. Sperling, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“Why are you helping me develop a career that is going to cause me to leave you?”

She hesitated. “Because of how hard I fought to realize my dream of becoming a detective. I fought tooth and nail to get the state to let me test for my investigator’s license. Almost took them to court. And it was years before anyone gave me any credit for my skills. It was so painful to know how good I was, and yet not be taken seriously because I was supposedly handicapped. For similar reasons, it’s much the same for most young artists. You know you’re a good dancer and actress, but no one recognizes it, and no one will take you seriously until you make tremendous amounts of money. Even then some people won’t. Poor Jimmy felt so bad because his family considered his writing a nice hobby until his first book hit the Bestseller list. It’s a wonderful book, and it had gotten twenty-eight rejection slips before I talked to a friend of my father’s who’s a literary agent. My detecting was a nice hobby, also, and nobody would believe that I could be any good at it. Finally, my father convinced a friend of his that I might be able to tell whether or not a burglary the police considered just a standard break-in was indeed more than it seemed. It was a murder attempt based on an old grudge that I was able to ferret out. I saved that friend’s life. He thanked me, and told me he would tell his friends about me on one condition.”

“What was that?”

“That I promise that if I ever came across another struggling dreamer, I would help him or her achieve that dream. You see, someone had done the same for him, and made him make the same promise. It was such a noble goal, he thought it best to carry it on. And I have.”

“I think I will, too. If I get anywhere. There aren’t enough nice people in the world.”

“Maybe we can change that.”

We were on the road by noon. Our first stop was the security company. The guard we wanted was still out sick. The supervisor did let us see his report. We saw for ourselves that nothing suspicious was seen. Then we stopped at a second gallery near Mr. Stein’s.

A tall, light-haired young man loudly held court at a desk in the middle of the store. He had a phone to one ear and talked to a pair of well-dressed matrons and another trendily dressed man.

“Hal, get a good look at that sculpture and tell me it isn’t the hottest thing in years,” the young man directed. The other man gazed moodily at an abstract plastic contortion of some kind. “Ladies, I’m telling you, the blue frames on those prints. Joe, you’re back. Get your tickets and get out here. That show is going to be the biggest thing this season… You are really gonna regret it, I promise you. Ladies, would I lie to you? The blue frames. Hal, that is the sculpture you want. I’m telling you. Don’t buy it and you’ll live to regret it.”

“I think I’d live to regret owning it,” I whispered to Mrs. Sperling. “It’s plastic and it looks like it’s in pain.”

“That’s probably the point. Are there any other sculptures here?”

“Yeah.” I took her elbow and guided her to a small bronze on a free-standing white carpeted box.

“Lady, lady, don’t handle the merchandise!” yelped the young man. “Joe, there won’t be any selection by the time the show gets out to you. Those pieces are going like hotcakes.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I should have asked,” Mrs. Sperling answered. “Would it be possible? I have no other way of observing it.”

“Oh.” He spotted Eleanor. “I s’pose. Be careful. Maybe the puce, ladies, but I’m telling you, the blue’s better. Joe, you’re nuts. Come on, for me? Are you gonna buy it, Hal, or not?”

In answer, Hal waved and left. The young man cursed him softly.

“The plastic?” Mrs. Sperling asked me. “And what does he look like?”

I took her over. “Tall, with dishwater blonde hair. The plastic is red, the same color and subtlety as a fire engine on a three-alarm fire.”

“Ooph! It wouldn’t go in my home at all.”

The two ladies abandoned the gallery and the young man found himself hanging up.

“Well, ladies, how are you today?”

“Quite well, thank you,” Mrs. Sperling answered. “You are..?”

“Edgar Hendricks.”

“Mr. Hendricks, I would like to speak with the owner of the gallery.”

“It’s your lucky day, ma’am, I am he. Let me tell you about this sculpture.”

“I’m afraid it would be grossly out of place in my home.”

“Personally, I can’t stand it, either.”

Mrs. Sperling’s eyebrow lifted. “The hottest thing in years?”

Eleanor sniffed at the base. If she’d been a male, I would have worried.

“For the right people, like Hal. He’s into trendy. You, ma’am, are much more interested in something of more lasting value.”

“Actually, I’m interested in Mr. Stein’s gallery.”

“That’s closed. He, uh, passed away. He didn’t carry much sculpture anyway. I’ve got a piece over here that I’m telling you, you want.”

I guided Mrs. Sperling to Hendricks’ pride. She graciously put her hands on it.

“I’d heard rumors Mr. Stein had been selling counterfeit art,” she said, feeling a polished wood carving that resembled a twisted blob.

“Everyone’s heard that one,” said Hendricks. “Can’t prove it, of course.”

“I wonder who started it.”

“I don’t give a damn. Stein’s out of my way, and so much the better. He was what you call supercilious. Biggest snob in town. Too good to go to anybody’s parties.”

“I take it, your business did much better than his.”

“Well, yeah! Hell, yes!”

“I can imagine.” Mrs. Sperling did not believe him for a second. “What were you doing a week ago tonight?”

“Me? Let’s see. I locked up, and I… What did I do? Oh yeah. I went to Emil’s for a bite to eat and hung around the bar there all evening. Picked up on a chick and brought her home.”

While Mrs. Sperling and Hendricks were conversing, I wandered around. I noticed that his very large computer monitor was on and a spreadsheet was splayed across it. Keeping one eye on Hendricks, I read his store’s financial history for the past six months. Then I wandered away. Mrs. Sperling convinced Hendricks that she really didn’t want the wood blob and we left.

“I get the feeling you don’t believe Hendricks was doing better than the late Mr. Stein,” I said, pulling the De Ville into traffic.

“Not for one minute.”

“What would you say if I could prove it?” I grinned.

“Donna, you didn’t do anything illegal?”

“I don’t think so. Borderline at worst. The spreadsheet was on his desktop and not minimized or anything. I just looked. They won’t be able to trace it to me anyway because I just looked.”

“What did you find?”

“Hendricks has been operating in the red since July, and he wasn’t doing too well then.”

“Which means unless Mr. Stein was doing worse, a very unlikely situation, Mr. Hendricks has every reason to be pleased by Mr. Stein’s death.”

“Which he as good as said he was.” I checked the rearview mirror and changed lanes. “Looks like we’ve got another suspect.”

“Even more interesting, he fits the description of Dolores’ friend who sold her the Niedemans, and Mr. Hendricks would have access to wholesale prints.”

“But why dump them on Dolores when he could sell them at his store at a much higher markup?”

“What if he got them by dishonest means?”

“That makes sense. Where to now?”

“Let’s investigate the building where Mr. Stein’s gallery is.” Mrs. Sperling got that vague look on her face. “There’s something going on there, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

I went ahead and parked in Mr. Stein’s space behind the gallery, mostly because I knew he wouldn’t be using it. We went around front to the foyer, though. According to the directory next to the elevator, there were four offices in the building, but only one of them was occupied. We took the elevator up to the third floor, confirmed that those two offices were empty, then walked down to the second floor.

The second office there was empty. But the one closest to the front of the building still had an occupant for the moment, at any rate. “Best Rentals,” proclaimed the sign on the glass door, with the website address underneath. There was a man on the other side snarling as he glared at his computer.

He was fairly hefty and wearing a heavy wool sweater and gloves with the fingers cut off. It seemed a little extreme except that the building was still pretty chilly. He looked up and glared at us as we walked into the office.

“Can I help you?” he asked more out of duty than interest as we walked in.

“I’m hoping you can help us,” Mrs. Sperling said with a smile. “We’re investigating the death of Mr. Josh Stein.”

The man shook his head. “Never heard of him.”

“He was your downstairs neighbor,” Mrs. Sperling said.

“You mean the gallery?” The man shrugged. “Huh. Didn’t pay much attention to it. But if he was murdered, you might look at the building’s owners.”

“Why?”

“Simple. They’re trying to squeeze us out of here so they can jack up the rental rates.” The man held up his sweater. “See this?”

“I’m afraid not.” Mrs. Sperling smiled.

The man’s eyebrows raised as he realized his mistake. “Shit. I’m sorry. I didn’t notice. Anyway, I’m sitting here bundled up like a fucking Inuit because there’s no frickin’ heat in this building. And no AC, either, in the summer. New owners came in last year and it has been fucking miserable since. They have to be forcing us out. We lost three tenants in the past six months. I’m only here because my lease isn’t up until next month.”

“That sounds most unpleasant.”

“I wouldn’t put it past them to kill that gallery guy. They’ll sink to no end to get more money out of us.”

Mrs. Sperling smiled sympathetically. “It does sound like it. Well, pray excuse us for interrupting your day.”

We left quickly, although we took our time getting down that spiral staircase.

“So, do we have a new suspect?” I asked as we headed to the car.

“I seriously doubt it,” Mrs. Sperling said. “The new owners may be trying to force the old tenants out. It does happen. But I find it hard to believe they would think it in their best interests to murder one.”

“That makes sense.” I sighed. “Where next?”

“Mr. Stein’s gymnasium.”

Thanks to the magic of GPS, I found it easily enough. It was one of those really posh clubs with carpet that you sink to your ankles in, and good-looking desk clerks in tailored blouses and skirts who take your I.D. and exchange it for their own keys to their lockers. Mrs. Sperling asked for the club manager, a Bernice Lockwell. She was busy at that moment. We were invited to sit in the lobby, next to the pro shop, an open area filled with racks of leotards, skimpy tops, and skimpier bottoms.

I happen to have a body that does well in very high French cut bottoms, as long as I have a belt. I’m too long for a single leotard without something breaking it up. While we waited, I looked through the clothes, hoping to find a gorgeous and sexy ensemble for my audition. It was for jazz dancers, and Carson had said wear high-heeled dance shoes. I might still have worn my traditional black ballet leotard and sheer skirt, except He was going to be there. I wanted to look a little sexy. I mean, if He was going to be hanging around Mrs. Sperling, anyway… You never know.

Miss Lockwell showed up just then and brought me down to earth.

“I understand Mr. Joshua Stein was a member here,” Mrs. Sperling said after introducing herself and me.

“Yes. We much regret his passing,” replied Miss Lockwell, a thin, bland corporate type with light blonde hair.

“Did he keep a permanent locker here?”

“As a matter of fact, he did. I wish I could show it to you, but that’s not allowed. And it’s already been cleared out.”

“By who? And when?”

“A youngish man, light-haired, and fairly tall. I don’t think he gave his name. He had a note from Mr. Stein’s widow giving him permission to clear the locker. He came by earlier this afternoon.”

“Do you have a copy of the note?”

Miss Lockwell blushed. “I’m sorry. I had intended to keep and file it, but during our conversation, the young man must have gotten it back and kept it himself. It’s the only explanation I can think of. I can’t find the note anywhere.”

“Somehow, it doesn’t surprise me.” Mrs. Sperling smiled with chagrin. “Thank you very much, Miss Lockwell. Let’s go, Donna.”

Mrs. Sperling remained preoccupied all the way out to the car.

“That guy that cleared out the locker,” I said as I started the engine. “He fits the description, too.”

“I noticed. The aggravating thing is I’ve been given to understand a lot of young men in Southern California are light-haired and tall.”

“There are a lot of them. Where to?”

“What time is it? One thirty?”

“One forty-five.”

“Melrose Avenue, and that designer’s store. Devonaire, I believe.”

The store was in a basic, boring white two-story building. The sign looked like it came straight from Times Square. It was a big black, rectangle, framed by chaser lights. The name, “Devonaire”, flashed on the top half, and a host of existentialist quotes crawled along the bottom half. The store, itself, was actually half-way normal.

It had a white interior, with light pine shelving, and the displays were spare and uncluttered as if Devon didn’t need a lot of stock to make money. He probably didn’t. The prices were incredible.

The clothes were nice, though. He had several knit jumpsuits with stirrup legs, in olives and golds. The dresses were similar colors, but straight sheaths with long sleeves and a variety of back openings and collars, made out of heavy linen.

As we walked in, a clerk folded sweaters with the most wonderful designs on them. The only reason I could tell she was a she was that she had two small bumps on her chest that were too flabby to be pectorals. She wore a clinging black bodysuit, which was the only reason I could see the bumps. Otherwise, her blonde hair had been clipped close to her head, except on top, where it stood up straight. She wore no make-up, and her jaw was unusually masculine. She was at least six feet tall and broad-shouldered. But her hands were small and feminine, and there were the bumps. And one missing between the legs.

“Is there a clerk?” Mrs. Sperling asked softly.

“Uh, yeah.”

“Excuse me, might we see the owner?” Mrs. Sperling said a bit louder.

The clerk looked at us and jerked her head towards the back. We went past her to the dressing rooms, which were stalls with canvas curtains for doors.

The young man was in complete contrast to the clerk. He was male. His hair was black and long, and he wore a black Nehru jacket over black 501 jeans. He couldn’t have been more than five five.

“I am Devon,” he announced with an extremely New York accent. “Welcome to my humble establishment.” He came over and shook our hands. “I’m so glad to see you ladies. And a doggie. I just love poochies.” Eleanor looked at him but accepted the head-scratching as her due. “I know. I know. You’re just browsing. Be my guest. Let’s get to know each other. Don’t worry. You’re in my hands. I will find just the right look for you. Gillian, find these beautiful ladies a glass of wine.”

“Thank you very much, Mr. Devon,” said Mrs. Sperling.

“Oh, please call me Devon. Everybody does.”

“Very well. I’d actually like to ask you a question or two.”

“Ask on, ask on. I’m an open book.”

Gillian, the clerk, pressed a glass of white wine into my hand. I sniffed at it. It wasn’t bad.

“Thank you,” said Mrs. Sperling. She didn’t drink hers. “Devon, I understand you knew Mr. Joshua Stein.”

“Oh, lord. For years. We’ve known each other since we were babes practically.”

“And how long would that be?”

“Let’s see, I came out here, what, four years ago. I had a fling with Jeff, then there was Thomas. Oh, yeah. I met Josh when I was dating Earl. Christmas two years ago.”

“I see. I was told you had a disagreement with Mr. Stein a week ago today.”

“Of course, we did.” Devon laughed. “Josh and I, we’re always tiffing. Last Wednesday was nothing.”

“There was a piece of pottery lost.”

“Oh, don’t tell me, you’re here about the insurance. I told Josh I’d pay for it. I called him up that night. Listen, don’t even worry about it. Or would you rather I paid the company? Honest, I’ll pay for it. It’s no big deal.”

“What were you arguing about?”

“Silly stuff. I get excited, you know? But Josh has a wonderful gallery. It’s over in Beverly Hills. Wait a minute, you’ve already been out there. Of course, you have, for the claim, right? Isn’t it marvelous? He’s got the most wonderful pieces. Did you see that beautiful abstract by Winston Seever? It’s incredible.”

Mrs. Sperling pressed her lips together. “I’m afraid I didn’t.”

“Oh, check it out the next time you’re in. It is simply wonderful.”

“Regarding Wednesday, where were you that evening?”

“Oh, nightclubbing. The usual. I’m all over the place. Where were you? Or does it make any difference? Do you nightclub? I know the most incredible hot spot.”

“Were you there Wednesday?”

“I told you, I’m everywhere.”

“What time did you say you called Mr. Stein.”

“I don’t believe I did!” Devon giggled. “Oh, hell, it was nine o’clock, ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, somewhere in there. Ask Josh. He could tell you. Or is he trying to say I didn’t call? He’d do that. Trust me, I did. Why would I say I did when I didn’t, because I am going to pay for that pottery. I mean I’d be stupid to say I told him I’d pay for it if I wasn’t going to. That man is such a stick in the mud. But has he got a great gallery.”

“Well, thank you very much, Devon.” Mrs. Sperling turned, then stopped. “I just thought, where was Mr. Stein when you called him?”

“Where else? His home. He closes the place at six, on the dot. Are you leaving already?”

“It’s been very pleasant, but we have other appointments.”

“I’ll bet you do. Well, come back soon. We’ll get you something nice to try on. Gillian, take these glasses.”

Devon escorted us out with a running monologue on how nice we were, how great Josh was, and how nice it would be to see us again. Mrs. Sperling let out a sigh of relief when we got back to the car.

“He’s a character,” I said.

“Home, Donna. I can’t take much more of this.”

I chuckled. “At least he didn’t assume you were handicapped.”

“It’s amazing what people don’t notice. And that’s the second time today.”

“Well, you don’t wear sunglasses, and you don’t carry a white cane. He must have figured you had Eleanor in a harness for a different purpose.”

Mrs. Sperling frowned. “He didn’t tell us anything, either.”

“That’s right. He didn’t. And he lied about Wednesday night. Or did he? The coroner’s report said Stein died between eight and ten, or something like that.”

“He also said that Mr. Stein was at home when he called. It’s possible Mr. Stein led Devon to believe he was at home when he wasn’t. But if Mr. Stein was at the house, then Ms. Bistler has some explaining to do.”

I gasped. “He kept talking as if Stein was alive.”

“I noticed. That is easily managed.”

“That’s still another suspect. How many possibles do we have?”

“Well, there’s Fred Gonzagos. He has no real motive visible, but possible because of a suspicious disappearance, compounded by suspicious remarks made the last time he was seen. Until we find him, nothing much can be learned there. Then there’s Ramona Bistler. She took a mysterious drive the night of her husband’s death that she lied about, and she has a substantial motive on several levels. And of course, Devon. No known motive beyond a vague argument, although I did get the impression he was less fond of Mr. Stein than he wanted us to believe.”
“But Devon is short and dark. Wait. Gillian isn’t. She’s tall and blonde, too.”

“But she’s female.”

“More gender neutral,” I said. “Get her out of a bodysuit, and you couldn’t tell by looking at her unless you looked real closely at her hands, and even then, it’s a push.”

“Hm. There is that to consider. We also have Edgar Hendricks. He, too, fits the description of a mysterious young man known to be selling potentially stolen prints possibly belonging to Mr. Stein, and known to have removed possible evidence. We should confirm that note. The only problem is we can’t trust the veracity of the only person who can confirm it. We should also confirm Mr. Hendricks’ whereabouts the night of the murder before it gets too much later and memories get dimmer. I’m afraid, Donna, I’m going to have to send you bar hopping again tonight.”

“Oo. Emil’s is expensive.”

Mrs. Sperling chuckled. “Get Phillip to take you.”

“What?” My jaw dropped. “Are you kidding? I can barely get out a complete sentence when he’s around. He’s not going to want to go out with a peon like me, anyway.”

“Don’t sell yourself short.”

“Oh, come on, Mrs. Sperling. A nobody dancer and he can go out with major players? In my dreams.”

“I could ask him for you, if you like.”

“Don’t you dare!”

“If you insist, I won’t. But please see that you are accompanied.”

“I will.”

 

Greta McKennan on the Merge Between Hobby and Books

mystery author

Greta McKennan, author and stitcher

One of the fun things about heading off to fan conventions such as Bouchercon is the chance to meet all sorts of interesting people. I don’t know a lot of people who get into clothing construction like I do, so when I stumbled across Greta McKennan, who was wearing a tape measure around her neck, I knew I’d met a kindred spirit. Not only that, she writes just the kind of mystery I like. Better yet, she was kind enough to write this up at the last minute.

Many thanks to Anne for inviting me to write this guest blog today! We met at Bouchercon—she recognized a fellow sewer by the tape measure around my neck, an unexpected sight at a mystery convention. I’m excited to have the chance to share some thoughts on her blog!

One of the best things about writing is getting to live vicariously through your characters. You know that thing you’ve always wanted to do but have never done? Your character can do it!

In my case, I write about a historical seamstress, Daria Dembrowski, in my Stitch in Time cozy mystery series. Daria is a lot like me, but she gets to do all the fun things that I might not do.

Daria lives in a big house in Pennsylvania with two roommates: her older brother Pete, and Aileen, the lead singer in a metal band, the Twisted Armpits. She sews for a living: the bread-and-butter custom wedding gowns, as well as her specialty, historical sewing. At one time in my life, I lived in a big house in Pennsylvania with four roommates and worked in a bridal shop sewing wedding gowns. My timing was perfect since I got engaged while working there. I learned a lot of tricks that came in handy when making my own wedding gown. If not for that job, my wedding dress would have had a zipper in the back. Instead, I learned how to make satin buttons with loops for a much more elegant look.

I grew up sewing period clothing for my dolls, which were often the March sisters or the Ingalls family in my games. In college, I majored in History and worked in the theater costume shop. Daria’s black Singer sewing machine with the gold tooling that only sews in one direction is directly based on my own sewing machine that once was my grandmother’s. I love that machine! I can change the belts and do my own maintenance without worrying about computer chips.

I’ve done a lot of sewing in my life, but Daria’s got me beat. She not only designs and sews wedding gowns, but she makes a Confederate uniform coat for a Civil War reenactor in Uniformly Dead, she sews authentic eighteenth-century dresses for two elderly women who are restoring their home to its original condition for a TV reality show in Historically Dead, and she tackles a Scottish kilt in my new release, Royally Dead. Personally, I have never made a kilt, although my husband has been known to wear one while playing the bagpipes. I did make a pleated skirt once, and I agree with Daria that pleats are very, very hard.

There is one aspect of Daria’s life that I hope I never experience. She is one of those unfortunate people who seem to stumble over dead bodies on a regular basis. Her innate nosiness and sense of justice lead her to try to solve the crimes that she encounters, with great success.

Daria and I have a lot in common, and I enjoy hanging out with her when I’m writing my mysteries. I hope my readers like to spend time with her as well!

Thanks, Greta! You certainly have more skill than I have, but what fun. Royally Dead is available at Barnes and Noble, and at Amazon.

Chapter Eight

“Just because I was divorcing the man doesn’t mean I wanted the asshole dead,” Ramona Bistler swore vehemently.

She was scared. About average height, she had dark hair that had been streaked, high cheekbones and a wraith-like figure dressed in a faded designer denim mini and a fuchsia silk blouse. Her tights were fuchsia also, and she wore multi-colored ankle-high leather boots. She paced about her Laura Ashley living room, puffing on a cigarette.

“Why would I jump to that conclusion?” asked Mrs. Sperling.

“You’re here, aren’t you?” She waved the hand holding her smoke, sprinkling ash in a wide arc. “Come on, Delilah. You wouldn’t want to talk to me unless I was a suspect.”

“I would guess, Ms. Bistler, that your friends have been frightening you needlessly. Your closeness to the victim makes you a good source of information. That is why I am here. I’m certainly not about to classify anybody as a suspect with as many questions unanswered as there currently are. Just so I can eliminate you, what were you doing the night your husband died?”

“Nothing. I… Well, I was alone all night. I took a short drive because I felt like it, then came here and watched T.V. until I went to bed.” She sighed. “It doesn’t look good, does it? And no, there wasn’t anybody who could have seen me.”

“Are you sure? Did you make any stops? Even a mundane stop at the grocery for cigarettes or even for gas for your car.”

“None. My maid stocks plenty of cigarettes for me, and Steve, my chauffeur, sees to keeping plenty of gas in the tank. I suppose I should say, my former chauffeur. I fired him yesterday.” She stubbed out her cigarette in the overflowing ashtray next to her sofa.

“Why?”

“Insubordination, for starters, and the bastard was stealing from me. I needed him to get through the funeral, but after that, I fired him.”

“Did he know you were about to?”

“I hadn’t mentioned it to anyone. He seemed pretty shocked when I told him. And pissed off.”

“Indeed. Do you have his home address, and may I have it?”

“I think my lawyer has all that. He takes care of all my financial matters. He’s Eugene Montoinne, over on Sunset. Nine thousand something or other. You know, those big towers where all the agents’ offices are?”

I knew the buildings she meant, rather better than I wished to admit.

Mrs. Sperling nodded. “If you would be so kind as to call him and let him know we’ll be coming, it would be appreciated.”

Bistler walked over to the other end table and picked up the handset to one of those real fancy old-fashioned phones. Not the upright kind with the part you speak into on the base and the earpiece is separate, but the other kind. Anyway, she got through right away and told the person on the other end to answer any questions Mrs. Sperling might have.

“That’s settled,” she said, hanging up. “Any other questions?”

“Yes. Did your husband belong to a gymnasium or health club of some sort?”

“Of course. The same one I belong to. It’s on Santa Monica.”

“Near the Rodeo district, or closer in to downtown?”

“Close to Rodeo.”

“That fits in perfectly. This may seem a rather personal question, but what did your husband wear to bed?”

“To bed? With me?” Bistler fidgeted with her cigarette. “Um. Nothing. If you want the complete truth, Josh was a bore, from the first day to the last. He was a nice person. But he was the worst stick in the mud I’ve ever known. All he cared about was that damn gallery. The only parties he went to were connected to the gallery, and he didn’t go to many of those. The more established he got, the fewer parties he went to.”

“But what did he wear when he wasn’t with you?”

Bistler hesitated. “I… Shit, I don’t know. We weren’t exactly a close couple. He kept to himself mostly, and I didn’t butt in. I’m a night person, anyway, and he’s the morning type. For two people who lived in the same house, we didn’t see much of each other.”

“Why did you marry him?”

Bistler laughed. “Why else? For his money.”

“Was he aware of that?”

“Beats me. I couldn’t have cared less if he did. I only wanted to stay married long enough to get a good settlement. It was all part of my game plan. First, I had to get a guy like Josh, who could be counted on to ignore me. Then I had to get him to marry me, wait a few years until I had a good case, then sue him for divorce and get as much money as I could. In the meantime, I stashed away some more cash in a Swiss account, so if I couldn’t get a decent alimony, my butt would still be covered and comfortable.” She stopped and examined Mrs. Sperling. “It was heartless, I know. But I couldn’t afford feelings. I grew up dirt poor. That’s why I came to L.A. I was gonna be rich or die trying. I really wanted to be in the movies. Was that ever a joke. Nailing a rich husband was a lot easier. As soon as I had a few million in the bank, I told Josh goodbye. Kicked him out two weeks ago today. And this is his house. I’d do it again in a minute.”

“You were certainly motivated,” replied Mrs. Sperling without a hint of judgment.

“Not enough to kill him. There are things even I won’t do.”

“Of course. Is it safe to assume you didn’t share a bedroom?”

“We didn’t. Actually, Josh played right into my hands on that one. About six months after we were married, Josh asked me to take my own room because I was so prone to staying up late, and he didn’t like being wakened up when I finally went to bed.”

“May I see the room?”

“Sure. I was going to have the maid clean it out this afternoon. The police haven’t released the stuff from the gallery yet.”

The room was kind of dark, and very neat, perfectly fitting what we knew of Mr. Stein’s personality. After I described it, Mrs. Sperling had me go through the closet and chest of drawers.

“It’s the same sort of stuff that was in the police report,” I said. “Not as much. Looks like he took the bulk of his stuff when he left. There’s only a couple pairs of pants, three shirts, some sweaters.” I opened the chest. “I don’t see any undershorts. Hey, look at this. Two pairs of pajamas. They look really fancy.” I handed a pair to Mrs. Sperling.

“Silk,” she observed. “Are there any other pairs?”

I hurried through the drawers. “Nope. Not much else here, either. He took all his shoes and belts. About the only thing he left was eight suits.”

“That’s interesting,” Mrs. Sperling nodded. “It would appear Mr. Stein did not like dressing up.”

Bistler had nothing to say because she had shown us the room and left.

I checked under the bed just to be thorough. “Nothing under the bed. Do you want to take the room apart?”

“No. I don’t think we’re going to find anything revealing here.”

I ran my hand between the mattress and box springs.

“You’re probably right. I don’t see any signs of counterfeiting.”

“That would take a great deal more space than is in this room. We’ll go finish speaking with Ms. Bistler.”

We returned to the living room where Bistler smoked and paced.

“Ms. Bistler, did your husband have a studio in the house?”

She snorted. “Josh was no artist. Couldn’t even draw stick figures.”

“That’s odd. I believe there were rumors going around that he was counterfeiting artworks.”

“Could be.” Bistler shrugged. “If he was, someone else was doing the work. I heard the rumors, too. It doesn’t sound like Josh, him being such a bore and all. But I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Did he ever give you any indication he was?”

“Josh gave me no indication of anything he was doing. I didn’t really care, either. As long as the money came in, I didn’t give a damn what he did.”

“Have you seen the terms of his will?”

“Yes.” Bistler paced even more frenetically. “Would you believe he left everything to me? Does not sound good, does it?”

“It’s not an unusual way to dispose of one’s money. Do you know of anyone who might have had something against your husband?”

“Oh, come on! I didn’t even know his friends. How am I supposed to know his enemies?”

“Maybe you’ve heard rumors.”

She shrugged and lit another cigarette. “Maybe one of his competitors. That gallery did a good business.”

“That is an angle I didn’t think of.”

“The cops sure did.”

“Have the police spoken to you since you identified your husband’s body?”

“Yesterday. What’s his name, Michaelson? He came over asking where I was that night and about enemies. I told him what I told you.”

“Excellent. Well, I’d better not trouble you anymore, Ms. Bistler. Thank you very much for your information.”

We left, much to Bistler’s relief. Our first stop was her lawyer’s office. The receptionist sent us back almost immediately. Mr. Montoinne was a fairly short man, balding, and dressed in the required dark pin-stripe three-piece suit. He looked to be as honest and humble a family retainer as one could want.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Sperling,” he said with sincere warmth. But something about him didn’t feel right to me. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Your reputation is outstanding.”

“Thank you, Mr. Montoinne.” Mrs. Sperling graciously took the seat she was offered. Eleanor curled up at her feet. I was left ignored and standing by the door. “What I came for was an address that your client, Ms. Ramona Bistler, said you had.”

“The chauffeur’s. Yes. My secretary is digging it out now.”

“Then while we’re waiting, would you mind answering a few questions?”

“My pleasure.” He scurried around his huge oak desk and sat down.

“How long have you been retained by Ms. Bistler?”

“For about two and a half years. Her late husband recommended me when she wanted someone to deal with some investments for her.”

“Why not a regular stockbroker?”

“Part of it was the legal awkwardness of maintaining separate ownership. California’s divorce laws are such that anything acquired during the term of the marriage is considered community property unless there is a special contract drawn up. Mr. Stein had made some gifts of cash to his wife, and she wanted to invest them, and at the same time maintain sole ownership of the funds and whatever profit from them against the possibility of a divorce. She was also afraid Mr. Stein’s attorney would be biased in his favor, so at her husband’s suggestion, she retained me. Through power of attorney, I eventually became responsible for managing her household affairs, including retaining an accountant, hiring her staff and seeing to it they were paid, overseeing her stockbroker, details like that.”

“So you are well informed as to her financial status.”

“Intimately so.”

Mrs. Sperling’s eyebrow lifted. “Interesting choice of words.”

“You are referring to Ms. Bistler’s reputation?” Mr. Montoinne leered slightly. “With her promiscuous tendencies, it’s not at all surprising. And I can see you asking yourself if I have… Well, gone beyond the usual bounds of attorney-client relations.”

“I blush to confess the thought did cross my mind.”

“You’re blushing in this town? Mrs. Sperling, I am a man, and Ramona Bistler does have a way about her.”

“I get the point. We needn’t be salacious.”

“Your good breeding shows. I don’t run into much of that anymore. It’s a pleasant change.”

“Thank you. To return to my original line of questioning, being so knowledgeable about Ms. Bistler’s assets, perhaps you could confirm the existence of a Swiss bank account in her name, and give me a rough estimate of the amount therein.”

“She has one in Zurich. If she continues investing at her current rate, she should be able to better her standard of living on the interest alone.”

“That’s a great deal of money. Is she aware of that?”

“I would say not. I have yet to tell her the exact figures, beyond mentioning that she needn’t be concerned about her settlement. Fortunately, I do not need to inform the court about the Swiss bank account, since those assets cannot be recognized. Or I wouldn’t have had to. But some caution had to be exercised regarding her investments, on the odd chance the judge developed sympathy for Mr. Stein, and imposed an alimony payment on her. For that reason I purposely kept her in the dark regarding her assets, thus making it harder for her to perjure herself on the witness stand.”

“You thought she might?”

“I didn’t want to give her the opportunity. And being aware of her tendencies, I also strongly recommended she refrain from adulterous liaisons, or at least be extremely discreet about them so as not to give her husband a case against her, which in turn could result in a minimal settlement or in her paying alimony. It’s all a moot point now. Her husband left her everything.”

“What are the odds of his family fighting the will?”

“Fair to middling, I would guess. They’ve got plenty themselves, or so I hear. But that doesn’t mean they’re generous. A lot depends on how they feel about my client. That’s the reason I have strongly recommended that she avoid overt romantic liaisons with men for the time being.”

“Have you heard anything regarding her husband’s gallery?”

“I never paid any attention to it, to be honest, beyond sending my son there for his Niedeman serigraphs.”

“He has an HN6?”

“I have no idea.”

“If he does, I would suggest having it authenticated. There’s a possibility someone switched counterfeits for Mr. Stein’s genuine ones. And could you please call me with the results?” Mrs. Sperling reached into her purse and removed a small leather case. “Here is one of my cards.” She stood as she handed it to him. “I appreciate the way you took time out of your busy schedule to speak with me.”

“It was my pleasure, Mrs. Sperling.” Mr. Montoinne was up and around his desk in a second. “If there is anything I can do for you in the future, please do not hesitate to call.”

“I won’t, Mr. Montoinne.”

I opened the door and we left, stopping only to get Steve Lansky’s address from the secretary.

“Where next?” I asked as Eleanor jumped into the back seat of the Rabbit. “Mr. Lansky’s?”

“Not yet.” Mrs. Sperling tied a scarf around her hair. “I’d like to speak with Sergeant Michaelson before he goes home today.” She got into the passenger seat next to me. “I don’t believe we’re far from there anyway.”

“It’s what? Four o’clock?” I snapped on my seatbelt. “We should be able to get there pretty quick.”

“And where is Mr. Lansky’s address?”

“Studio City.”

“Good heavens. We’ll end up on the freeway during rush hour. We’ll just see Sergeant Michaelson.”

“Fine.” The VW caught immediately, and I backed out of the parking space. Mr. Montoinne’s secretary had validated our parking ticket and we got out of there without any money left behind.

In spite of a quick ride over there, Sergeant Michaelson was getting ready to go when we arrived.

“I knew it,” he grinned ruefully. “I knew I’d never make it out of here early.”

“Is it urgent, Sergeant?” asked Mrs. Sperling. “I can always return tomorrow morning.”

“Nah. I take it you want the latest on the Stein murder.”

“It would help.”

“Okay. What do you know about a Steven Lansky?”

“Ms. Ramona Bistler’s chauffeur, or former chauffeur. He told Donna that Ms. Bistler spent the night of Mr. Stein’s death joyriding, and later filled the tank of her car to cover up her trip.”

“Before or after he was fired?”

“Before.”

“That lends even more credence to his story, which was basically the same, except with an even stronger implication that Ms. Bistler was involved in her husband’s death. I, however, spoke to him after he was fired, trying to confirm Ms. Bistler’s story that she was home alone after a brief drive.”

Mrs. Sperling nodded. “She seems to be keeping her story straight fairly well.”

“Ah-hah. You think she’s lying.”

“So do you.”

Sergeant Michaelson laughed. “I got one on you, Mrs. Sperling. I know she is. After hearing Lansky’s story, I spent a good day and a half checking out gas stations in the near vicinity of Ramona Bistler’s home. It was a long shot.”

“All the more satisfying when it pays off.” Mrs. Sperling smiled, as anxious as a kid on Christmas Eve. “What did you find?”

“That Ms. Ramona Bistler did indeed fill her tank with gasoline around eleven-thirty on the night her husband died. She paid for it with a charge card, so there’s a written record of it. And the station attendant particularly remembers her because her engine died just as she pulled in, and they had to push the car to the pump. Her tank was completely empty.”

“Very supportive of our current theory, but for one thing.”

“What?” Michaelson groaned.

“I’m not sure about the theory.”

“Keep plugging, then. And don’t worry about Bistler. It’s pretty suspicious, but not enough to arrest her on. We need a lot more evidence.”

“Too true. Still, it was a fortunate discovery, Sergeant.”

Michaelson chuckled. “That’s not all we discovered. It didn’t get in the initial report because the lab boys didn’t get to it until Friday, but they found something a little odd in the gallery, itself.”

“They did?” Mrs. Sperling’s eyebrow lifted.

“Yeah. There were about five prints stacked in a corner with a note that said they weren’t for sale.” Michaelson flipped through his notepad. “A Yamagata, two Sumners, and two Niedemans. We got them authenticated.”

“And..?”

“All of them were fakes.”

Mrs. Sperling nodded. “So Mr. Stein knew about the counterfeiting. Well, thank you for sharing all that with me. I’ll organize my notes this evening and send them over first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Thanks a lot, Mrs. Sperling. I’d better get going. My wife thinks I’m on the way.”

“Give her my regards, and tell her I’d like to have you and the family to dinner soon.”

“I’m sure she’ll look forward to it. See you around.”

We left the office, but not the building. Mrs. Sperling’s contacts with the police are pretty good. We spent an hour and a half on the firing range. The idea, of course, was not to use the gun at all. Mrs. Sperling makes a point of confronting her criminals in such a way that they can’t use violence. But criminals being criminals, they don’t always make that an option.

 

mystery fiction, mystery serial

Chapter Seven

I got my gratified smile Sunday evening. Mrs. Sperling didn’t say whether or not my information meant anything. I got the feeling it fit in with some hypothesis she had, and she was holding her cards close to her chest, so to speak.

The next morning, I got back from dance class and cleaned up just barely in time to drive Mrs. Sperling to the Braille Institute, on Vermont. I thumbed through my Backstage West while she tutored Delsie Simmons, a young black girl recently blinded in a gang altercation. One of the aides told me that Mrs. Sperling always got the tough ones because she was the only one who could handle them.

Delsie was not only prone to skipping her homework, she was also very belligerent, and had yet to accept her handicap. I got a little nervous when I heard yelling coming from the room. It soon stopped and eventually, Mrs. Sperling came out unscathed and unruffled. She waited until Delsie had left the building before giving me our next destination.

It was a luxury condo nestled in one of those high rises along Wilshire, just past the crossing with Santa Monica Boulevard. I don’t know if that’s Beverly Hills proper, or West Los Angeles, but it’s still rich kid country, and not far from U.C.L.A. Being help, I got to park the car myself after Mrs. Sperling had been helped out of the car by the building’s doorman. She was waiting in the lobby for me when I got back.

“What took so long?” she asked.

“They don’t have visitor parking here,” I grumbled. “Parking in this city is insane. It’s a good thing we didn’t bring the limo.”

Mrs. Sperling nodded. “I understand it’s worse in New York.”

“That’s what I hear. Know where the elevator is?”

“Actually, no. Why don’t I just take your elbow?”

I looked around, searching for the conveyance, then took off at a brisk pace. Mrs. Sperling matched it, with Eleanor matching us both.

“He said it was three doors down to the right,” Mrs. Sperling said as we got off on the twelfth floor.

She and Eleanor took the lead from there. The door opened seconds after Mrs. Sperling rang and he ushered us in. I saw the condo first. It was mostly a huge living room furnished in black, white and royal blue minimalist with a long window taking up most of one wall and which overlooked Wilshire Boulevard and the condominiums across the street. The view made me woozy. I looked away. In the center of the room, a spiral staircase led to a loft. Under the loft was a tiny kitchen which matched the living room, and a black and glass dining room.

Then I saw Him. Tall and slender, with a chest that was just broad enough, lightly tanned skin, a fabulous face and beautiful, laughing green eyes. His sunbleached hair was dark rooted and clipped and arranged with stylish abandon. I’d seen His dark bomber jacket, yellow print shirt and baggy pants on mannequins on Rodeo Drive. Not that exact ensemble, but things like it.

It was Phillip DuPre, live and incredibly handsome, right in front of me. I was in shock. I mean, I figured Mrs. Sperling might have a few industry contacts, having been married to a cinematographer and all. But Hollywood’s latest golden boy director? A guy who had directed two mega-hit feature films, among other things, and now had every big name in music screaming at Him to do their videos? This was the son of some old family friends?

I had first seen Him at a cattle call for His second rock video. The first was from His movie “Five Alarm”, and that was the one that got the music industry so excited. He was behind the table with the casting director and producer, although He was obviously in charge. I remember joking with Tina that I would have loved a chance to fall in love with Him.

At the time, of course, it was ridiculous. I was just one of a thousand dancers who were auditioning for a role. He’d smiled at me. He’d smiled at all of us. I got called back, and He smiled at me again. I didn’t get the role. I don’t know if it was intense jealousy that she was working with that gorgeous man and I wasn’t, but I did not like the girl they chose.

“Phillip, I’d like you to meet my new chauffeur, Donna Brechter,” Mrs. Sperling was saying.

It dawned on me I’d been so busy ogling I hadn’t heard or seen any of the traditional greetings.

“Hi,” He said, pleasantly. He held out His hand.

“Hi,” I said.

Really winning dialogue, I know, but my heart was pounding so hard I couldn’t think straight. The man was just that gorgeous. I remembered to shake His hand, only He’d already started withdrawing it. I grabbed, He fumbled. It went back and forth for an hour, it seemed like. Mrs. Sperling says I didn’t, but I turned three shades of purple.

He laughed, quiet and really cute, then looked at me again.

“You’ve auditioned for me, haven’t you?” He asked.

“You remember?” I was in seventh heaven.

He actually blushed. “Well, not quite. It’s something more along Aunt Delilah’s line. Uh, deductive reasoning. I’m pretty good at faces, and if I can’t attach a place to one, I probably saw it at an audition. You look vaguely familiar, but nothing else, ergo…”

“Yeah. It was for the ‘White Heat’ video. I got called back.”

“Right. I remember now.” He smiled even more warmly if that were possible. “You were good.”

“Thanks.”

“Phillip, I believe you have some sculpture to show me?” broke in Mrs. Sperling.

“Yeah. It’s right this way. Would you like me to take you around the room first?”

“Thank you, Phillip. That would be quite nice.”

He took her elbow and guided her around the room, letting her place the furniture, warning her about a wobbly stand here, or a sharp corner there. His Niedemans hung all over, the only other colors in the room besides the main decor. They were all in thick black lacquered frames. He had several bronze sculptures and some clay ones, and one beautiful white porcelain figure of a woman. It was to these pieces that He drew Mrs. Sperling’s attention.

“A Remington?” Mrs. Sperling chuckled, going over a bronze of a cowboy on a bronc.

“I have my moments.” He shrugged. “Besides, that’s investment art. I got a good deal on it and give me a few years and I’ll get a hell of a profit on it. In fact, I’ve got a signed Ansel Adams print in the dining room. I could get some real bucks on that.”

“Your deals are legendary, Phillip,” replied Mrs. Sperling. Everything He did was legendary. But Mrs. Sperling seemed immune to it. She moved to another bronze. “And what have we here?”

“Now that was a real find.” He leaned against the back of the black leather sofa and folded His arms across His chest. “It’s a bronze by Hans Niedeman. I got it about a year before he died. They’re real rare. He did not do many of them. It’s like the Remington, in that the sculpture is almost a three-dimensional version of the painting.”

“So this is what all the fuss is about.”

“That and the investment value. Most of it isn’t worth that much, more for rich teenagers and upper-middle-class types. But I’ve got some signed pieces that will bring in some money. I’m glad I got into it when I did. It saved me a few bucks.”

Mrs. Sperling laughed. “Young man, when have you ever wanted for anything? You are as penurious as your father.”

He shrugged. “So Dad made sure I knew the value of a buck. You know the industry. I’m doing good now, but it won’t necessarily last. I gotta invest in something to keep me comfortable when the glow fades.”

“Phillip, I find your complete grasp of reality utterly refreshing.” Mrs. Sperling smiled at Him with genuine affection. “And your lack of an over-inflated ego even more so.”

“Who can keep an ego with two younger brothers? Say, Aunt Delilah, have you seen Richard lately?”

“He’s not back from law school already, is he?”

“I heard you were back east last week.

“Briefly. Jimmy’s tour kicked off, and I visited a few friends, but I didn’t leave New York.”

“He’s graduating this December, and at the top of his class. He is so thrilled. He wants you at the graduation.”

“I wouldn’t dream of missing it.” Mrs. Sperling cleared her throat.

I remembered my job. I wandered over to the HN6 where it hung by the window, out of which I refused to look. Reminding myself that I was twelve stories above solid ground was not going to do my nerves any good.

“My brother just got one of these,” I said.

“One of what?” Mrs. Sperling walked over to me.

“This Niedeman print. He says it’s one of the commemoratives.”

“Well, Aunt Delilah?” He ambled over. “Real or fake?”

She sniffed. “The smell seems genuine, so it’s not one of the fakes I’ve been chasing. Where did you get it?”

He held up his hands. “Sorry. Gotta protect my sources.”

“Phillip. I’m certainly the last person to be creating competition.”

“Aunt Delilah, I’d love to tell you. But the guy is real nervous. He’s getting me some terrific deals, and I don’t want to ruin it on an accidental slip of the tongue. Besides, I promised I wouldn’t.”

“I see.” She didn’t believe Him for some reason.

“I bet you do. How about if I offer lunch as a consolation prize, including your dancer hyphen chauffeur.”

“That sounds worthwhile.”

Mrs. Sperling didn’t press the issue.

He insisted on driving us in His BMW. Mrs. Sperling insisted on sitting in the back with Eleanor, which meant I had to sit up front. I was heartbroken. I tried to make some intelligent small talk, but what do you say to a god?

Mrs. Sperling kept the conversational ball rolling and even set up a few opportunities for my brilliant wit and dazzling charm to shine out. I managed not to get tongue-tied and sounded like I had a reasonable command of the language. Other than that, I was pretty quiet.

He was kind of quiet, too, which surprised me a little. At the audition, He’d seemed really outgoing, the kind of person who knows He’s in charge but doesn’t have to ram it down everyone’s throat. He answered Mrs. Sperling’s questions about His family and other little things. He smiled at me. I smiled back, trying not to melt.

We ended up at this little eatery in Santa Monica where several more distinguished members of the Industry were dining. After having been dazzled by Phillip DuPre, and I confess, still under His spell, these other big shots had no impact on me whatsoever. I was so cool, it was disgusting.

It was very satisfying, too, when our waitress just happened to be this little witch I knew from my dance class who was a horrible name dropper and treated me like I was the biggest no-talent in Southern California. She recognized Phillip DuPre immediately. And there I was, having lunch with Him, and on a first name basis. It was certainly one of my better days.

Mrs. Sperling waited until we were eating dessert before bringing up the murder.

“Phillip,” she began, after wrapping her hands around a cup of very good cappuccino. “I know you think you have very good reasons for keeping your friend’s name from me, but please consider, your supplier could know something related to Joshua Stein’s death.”

He winced. “Uh, yeah. I suppose it could.”

Mrs. Sperling sighed. “You know very well it could, young man. I don’t want you doing anything foolish.”

“I’m not going–”

“Phillip.”

He grimaced. “Tell you what. I’ll talk to my source. If he agrees, I’ll set up a meeting between you two. Will that redeem me?”

Mrs. Sperling smiled with maternal affection. “It’s a start.”

After lunch, we went back and got the De Ville. We paid a call on Sergeant Michaelson, who growled that there were no new developments. We tried to pay a call on Ramona Bistler, but she was gone. In desperation, Mrs. Sperling directed me to Dolores Carmine’s. She was in, but not much help.

“You have no idea where Fred Gonzagos might be?” Mrs. Sperling pressed.

“If I had I would’ve told you,” replied Dolores.

“What did he say the last time you saw him?”

“Nothing. He complained about the capitalist fucks and how they don’t recognize his art, and I sympathized. He asked me to loan him a few bucks. I said go piss up a rope. I don’t have a few bucks.”

“What did he want the money for?”

“For a few drinks. What else? The way that son of a bitch drinks, it would take more than a few bucks to get him drunk. But, shit. That’s his problem. I can barely eat as it is.”

“Did he say anything about going anywhere?”

“Just to his favorite bar. Hennessy’s. Down on Sunset, near La Cienega. It’s an okay place. A little too capitalist for my tastes. But it’s okay.”

“About this latest shipment of Niedemans, how many did you get?”

“Shit, about five of them.”

“That’s a lot.”

Dolores just shrugged. “Since when am I gonna argue with some asshole who wants wholesale cost for them? I grabbed the whole bunch.”

“Did it occur to you they might be hot?”

“Why would I think something like that? Fuck, yes, I thought they might be. But I didn’t ask questions. I’m not stupid. Besides, he was Fred’s friend. Fred don’t send me no shit.”

“And Fred is missing. Does he have any relatives that you know of?”

“A sister, I think. Maybe an ex-wife. I don’t know any names.”

“Somehow, I’m not surprised. Well, thank you, Dolores. You’ve been exceptionally kind.”

“Right. See you later.”

We went back to Beverly Hills to find out what company was the private security patrol around Mr. Stein’s gallery. We did get that name. We drove out to their offices only to find that the guard who had been patrolling the night of the murder was sick, and, no, the receptionist could not give out his address or phone number.

Before giving up, Mrs. Sperling had me take her to the Beverly Hills P.D. again. There, she tried to get the girl in the records department to see if Fred Gonzagos had a file in the national crime computer. The girl said she couldn’t. Mrs. Sperling had her call the chief. The chief had already gone home for the day.

“That settles it,” said Mrs. Sperling. “It’s a sign from God. We may as well go home. Eleanor, forward.”

In the car, I tried to cheer her up.

“We’ll get the record tomorrow,” I said. “I’ll run over there first thing after dance class. Or I could even skip dance class.”

“Oh no. Don’t do that.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Darling, you need to keep in shape. I also agreed to support your efforts.”

“You don’t have to. I mean, I’m working for you. You get first priority.”

“Which I’ll take when I need it.”

“Tell you what. I’ll call a couple of my friends and we’ll go out to that Hennessey’s bar tonight. I’ll ask around for Fred and see what I find. If he’s truly a regular, someone will know him.”

“Donna, you do realize that could be dangerous.”

“I’ll call Mickey. He loves a good fight, remember?”

“I do. I hope that is the least of the trouble you find.” Mrs. Sperling sighed. “There is a possibility that Mr. Gonzagos is a pre-meditated killer, and he may not appreciate someone trying to find him. It’s also not unlikely that someone else again might not want Mr. Gonzagos found.”

“I’ll lie about my identity. No big.”

“It could be. You’re as bad as Phillip. The both of you have this fantasy of playing detective. This isn’t a child’s game of cops and robbers. We’re looking for a cold-blooded murderer.”

“I know basic self-defense. And I don’t see you carrying a gun.”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t.”

“But–”

“If I can hear it, I can hit it, and my hearing is very good. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve hardly had to use it. I might also add that there’s a gun in the glove compartment of each of my cars. Just keep in mind the objective is not to use it.”

“You really think I might need a gun if I go to Hennessy’s tonight?”

“Probably not. But it could stir up trouble.”

“Yick. On the other hand, it could probably help things.”

“True.” There was a pause. “Very well. Call your friends, if you wish. However, before you go, we will go over the proper use of firearms, and you will carry one. You’re not permitted for it, but I’d rather pay a fine than for a funeral.”

“So reassuring. You sure you don’t want to come along?”

“No. It’s better that you go without me. I’m hardly inconspicuous.”

Dinner was ready when we got back to the house. I called Tina and Mickey right away, then sat down to eat. Earl was working that night, so Tina was looking for an excuse to get out. Mickey just wanted to go, and a bar suited him fine.

I didn’t tell them I was packing a heater, as they say. I knew how to shoot it, too. Mrs. Sperling made sure of that and promised I’d get some time on a shooting range in the near future.

Hennessey’s was a pretty basic place. A nice restaurant lurked beyond the bar, which was dark and decorated in a pseudo-Victorian style. In one corner a huge projection T.V. displayed a football game. A crowd had gathered around it and cheered on one of the teams. I think it was the Rams, Forty-niners game, but that might have been the following week. I don’t remember, which is odd because I’m an ardent Rams fan.

Mickey and Tina groaned when they saw me heading for the television. Mickey all but picked me up and sat me down at the bar.

“You’ve got other things to do,” he told me.

Tina and I ordered white wine and Mickey got a gin and tonic. The bartender returned with the drinks grumbling about the game. He was bent over and balding and looked as though he’d been mixing drinks since before he was legal.

“You here a lot?” I asked.

“Most every night.”

“There’s this guy, his name’s Fred Gonzagos. I’ve heard he sells artwork. Somebody told me he likes to do his drinking here.”

“Yeah, he does. Hasn’t been in while though.”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“Last Wednesday.” He squinted at me. “You a cop?”

“Me?” I started. “Are you kidding? I just want to track Fred down. I heard he’s got Niedemans for sale, and he’s the only person in town who’s got ’em. I gotta get one.”

“Well, if he had ’em, they’re all sold by now. He came in here Wednesday pretty happy and with a bit more cash than usual. Said he sold some art. Must be them Niedemans you’re talking about.”

“What time was he here?”

“Early evening, I think. I remember it was later than normal. He missed happy hour. I do know that. He often comes in and eats the hors-d’oeuvres for dinner. Must have been closer to nine, now that I think about it. Bought a couple rounds for these two girls, then made some stupid joke about saving some money for gas.”

I swallowed. “No kidding. You wouldn’t happen to know if he has any relatives or friends that might know where he is, would you?”

“Well, he spends a lot of time cussing out his sister when he gets drunk. I believe her name is Anita. Think she’s married, too.”

“Oh. Great. Well, thanks for the info.”

We only stayed long enough to finish our drinks. I wanted to watch the rest of the football game, but Tina insisted we go someplace either a little quieter or with dancing. We got stuck with the quieter. Most places don’t have dancing on Monday nights. Mickey was disappointed that things had gone so smoothly.

The next morning, I visited the police station briefly after class. When I got home I was surprised to see the kitchen empty. Voices floated in from the dining room.

“Has she considered a breast augmentation?” asked one, a male voice. My heart stopped. It was His.

“Phillip!” gasped Mrs. Sperling.

“It’s a professional issue,” He protested.

“Phillip.”

“Aw, come on, Aunt Delilah. You know that doesn’t turn me on. I think she’s perfectly gorgeous the way she is. But it wouldn’t hurt her career, and we both know it.”

Mrs. Sperling coughed, then called, “Why don’t you come in, Donna?”

They were having brunch, spinach souffle, and baked applesauce. Mrs. Sperling invited me to join them.

“I, uh, don’t exactly smell good,” I protested. “I’ve been working out.”

“Won’t bother me any,” He said, staring at His plate for some reason.

“It’s well within bearable limits for me,” added Mrs. Sperling. “And you need to eat.”

“Well, uh, thanks.” I sat down nervously and helped myself.

“Donna, what was your agent’s name?” asked Mrs. Sperling.

“The theatrical one I’m giving up?”

“You are?” He finally looked at me.

I felt myself blush and really worked at sounding cool and calm. “I’m not getting sent out on enough auditions. It has been a slow season but not that slow. My friend, Tina, has gone out on three or four and got called back twice.”

“Is your friend, Tina, a dancer?” He asked.

“Yeah. She’s really good, and beautiful. She has this really exotic look, almost like a cross between a Black and an Asian, only she’s all Black. She’s real pretty and a terrific actress.”

“We want to know your agent’s name, dear,” pressed Mrs. Sperling.

“Jerry Lawton, over at Lawton, Wheaton, and Weiss,” I said.

“Sh–” He saw Mrs. Sperling’s frown and shook His head. “Him.”

“You seem to know him,” said Mrs. Sperling.

“The man is scum. He does great for his men, but if a girl isn’t into fun and games, he sends her out to just enough auditions and for bad jobs.”

“He’s never made a pass at me,” I said, indignantly.

“He probably has.” He went back to His plate. “You’ve just missed it, is all.”

“Well, there’s got to be at least one honest agent out there,” I grumbled.

He looked at me with a guilty smile. “Yeah, Diogenes, there are a few.”

“Well, why don’t you recommend one, Phillip,” said Mrs. Sperling with a sly grin.

He smiled at her. “Um. She could try Shelly Carson, at the Talent Company.”

“I thought you didn’t like her,” said Mrs. Sperling.

“Okay, she gets more money out of me than I want to spend.” He smiled at me again. “Sometimes there are more important things than budgets.” He got up and wiped His mouth. “I gotta run, Aunt Delilah.”

“Off to cast your new film?” She smiled as He kissed her cheek.

“That’s tomorrow. And it’s a video.”

“That’s right. I had forgotten.”

During that time my heart took a diving leap to my feet. If He was casting a video, there were good odds He needed dancers. And there I was, selling Him on my friend instead of me. Not that I begrudged Tina the sell. I just could have spent some time on me, too.

He turned that wonderful smile on me then fled. I melted and forgave Him for every time He wouldn’t cast me.

Mrs. Sperling only waited long enough for the door to shut.

“My dear Donna, it would appear to me that you are completely infatuated with Phillip.”

“Fat lot of good it’s going to do me. I can’t even put in a plug for myself.”

“There, there. Don’t give up hope yet. If you’re finished eating, hurry and clean up, and call that Shelley Carson. Tell her you can bring her a picture and resume today. Then bring the V.W. around. I’m in a top-down mood, and we’ve got other errands to run, too.”

 

 

 

Vicissitude Alert

You may have noticed that posting has gotten a bit spotty. Well, Life Happened. Anyway, since I can’t do everything (who knew?), I’m having to take a bit of a break. I hope to be back by September with new chapters of A Nose for a Niedeman, new guests and more observations and even some cooking lessons.

Sign up for the Robin Goodfellow newsletter, and you’ll find out exactly when all this is coming back. And thank you for your patience.

Janet Lynn and Will Zeilinger and a ’50s Big Band Leader

If you like old-school noir, you’ll probably like the Skylar Drake series, by my friends Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger. More fun is that they love doing the research, and you can tell because they come up with fun bits like the below.

My husband, Will Zeilinger and I co-write the Skylar Drake Murder Mystery series, a hardboiled  series that takes the reader to 1950s Los Angeles and other areas of the west. Our new book, Slick Deal, begins News Year’s Eve 1956 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, The first murder and clues lead to Avalon, Catalina. During our research we find the most amazing historical pieces we try to use in our books.

Donnell Clyde (Spade) Cooley was an American Western swing musician, big band leader, actor, and television personality. He was also sentenced to life in prison.

Spade Cooley played fiddle with one of the groups that performed at the Venice Pier Ballroom in Venice, California, led by Jimmy Wakely. When Wakely got a movie contract at Universal, Cooley replaced him as bandleader.

Cooley’s 18-month engagement at Santa Monica’s Venice Pier Ballroom in the early half of the 1940s was record-breaking. His recording Shame, Shame on You, was recorded in December 1944, and was No. 1 on the country charts for two months. The song was the first in an unbroken string of six Top Ten singles including Detour and You Can’t Break My Heart.

Cooley appeared in 38 Western films, both in bit parts and as a stand-in for cowboy actor Roy Rogers.

June, 1948, Cooley began hosting a variety show on KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, broadcast from the Santa Monica Pier Ballroom and the show won local Emmy awards in 1952 and 1953. The Hoffman Hayride was so popular that an estimated 75 percent of all televisions in the L.A. area were tuned into the show each Saturday night. However, by 1956  Cooley’s ratings dropped and was eventually replaced with Lawrence Welk.

His career came to a halt when Cooley beat his second wife, Ella Mae Cooley, to death on April 3, 1961.

Cooley was indicted for the murder and convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Cooley had served nearly nine years of a life sentence, and was in poor health from heart trouble. When, on November 23, 1969, he received a 72-hour furlough to play a benefit concert for the Deputy Sheriffs Association of Alameda County. During the intermission, after a standing ovation he died of a heart attack.

For a trip down memory lane, listen to Shame, Shame on You by Spade Cooley on YouTube

You can find Slick Deal at BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com. Enjoy!

mystery fiction, mystery serial

Chapter Six

Glen’s door was open when I got home, leading me to deduce that he was still out. A frigid breeze blew into the hallway from his open window. I didn’t know if Mrs. Sperling was up or not. No lights were on, but that didn’t mean anything. I knew she was home. She’d left a note on the bulletin board between Glen’s and my rooms informing us that there was no need to be up early as she had no plans and was absolutely not going to receive.

I took advantage of it and slept until noon. I beat Glen to the bathroom. He was still in there when the phone rang. It was my mother wanting to know if I was coming to Sunday dinner the next day. I told her I’d call her back after I’d talked to Mrs. Sperling.

I decided to try the kitchen first. At bare minimum, I’d get something to eat. Mrs. Osgood was there, putting together a tray.

“Mrs. Sperling is not feeling good today,” she explained. “Will you bring this up for her?”

“Sure. Can I eat first?”

“You should.”

“I’ll get it. I thought I saw some cereal in the cupboard.”

I had. Glen came in as I got out the milk.

“She’s having one of her days,” he grumbled.

“Mrs. Sperling?” I asked.

“Yes.” Glen morosely removed a bowl from the cabinet. “She has two kinds. A kind where she just doesn’t feel like getting out of bed. Those are okay. Then she has sick days. Those are totally awful. I gotta be around to carry trays, but she doesn’t get many, so I’m stuck waiting all day.”

“You could do homework,” volunteered Mrs. Osgood.

“I should, but it’s totally boring.”

“You’re in school?” I asked.

“Yeah. U.C.L.A.”

“No kidding. My best friend’s fiance is a resident at the medical center there. What’s your major?”

“Psych.”

“The tray is ready,” Mrs. Osgood broke in.

“I’ll take it up,” I said. “I’ve got to talk to Mrs. Sperling anyway. I haven’t got anything better to do, so if you want to ditch, Glen, why don’t you?”

He grinned. “You don’t mind? Awesome.”

I put my bowl in the sink and picked up the tray. Mrs. Sperling’s room was dark. Light filtered through the sheer curtains on the long window leaving a square patch on the king-sized bed. Eleanor lay curled up at the bed’s foot. She looked as dismal as her mistress.

Mrs. Sperling was on her back in the middle of the bed with an ice pack covering her eyes.

“Mm?” she softly moaned as I entered.

“It’s me, Donna. Mrs. Osgood sent me up with this tray.”

“Put it on the bedside table.”

“There’s tea here and some toast.” I set the tray down where she’d asked. “You wouldn’t happen to be suffering from a migraine, would you?”

She winced. “You would have to guess that. I hate admitting it, but I am. I’m not the fuzzy slipper type.”

“Actually, highly creative and intelligent women are more likely to get them.”

“Where did you read that?”

“I was told by my doctor when I had one. It’s not an experience I’d like to repeat.”

“I wouldn’t wish it on Alisa Montrose, even though she is probably behind this one.”

“Was she the lady last night who was so surprised that you could get from one end of a room to the other without killing yourself?”

“Yes.”

“May her face fall even faster this time. I felt like punching her.”

“I abhor violence. If it wouldn’t be so unfair to the poor man, I’d wish arthritis on her plastic surgeon.” She sighed loudly. “It’s so aggravating, Donna. Why can’t people understand I can get along, in many ways, just as well as they can?”

“I don’t know. It seems pretty amazing to me that you do, especially when I think of how much I use my sight. We used to do trust walks in my acting classes. We closed our eyes and just walked, trusting that our classmates would catch us before we bumped into anything. It was the scariest feeling. And yet you do it all the time. It’s hard for me to understand how.”

“It must be as hard for you to imagine being blind as it is for me to imagine seeing. There’s no sense in it, though. Why do some people insist on treating me like glass when the evidence of my capabilities is thrown in their faces?”

“They’re blind to it?”

That got a chuckle out of her. “Certainly in the case of Alisa Montrose. My heavens, that woman is disgusting. She yells at me as if I were deaf, holds me up as if I were a cripple, then gushes on incessantly about what a miracle I’ve achieved in spite of my tragic affliction. I ask you, is there anything tragic about me?”

“Well, you’re a widow.”

“That isn’t tragic. Heartbreaking, but not tragic. If anything, John’s death was rather mundane.”

“It was?”

“Yes. He had your basic heart attack. It all happened almost twenty years ago, and he died almost instantly. He understood, and he was a cinematographer, one of the best. His eyes were his living, and yet he rarely noticed my lack of sight.”

“You still miss him.”

“A husband is a hard thing to lose. Still, I’m a strong person. There is a great deal of truth in time’s healing powers. Sometimes I think that’s Alisa’s whole problem. I’ve had it fairly easy, but that woman has never known a moment’s adversity. The worse trauma she’s suffered is a broken fingernail. Poor thing, she deserves pity. Of the two of us, I’d say she’s the handicapped one. A lack of basic intelligence is far more devastating, don’t you think?”

“To those who have to put up with her, it is. She probably doesn’t know the difference.”

“She doesn’t.” Mrs. Sperling suddenly smiled. “It’s terrible how that woman brings out my worse instincts. I was unforgivably rude to her last night, and worse yet, I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

“What happened?”

“She was displaying her Niedeman serigraph, the HN6. She was bragging about it, when I, with tremendous pleasure, informed her that it was a fake. She was aghast. How could I possibly know? I couldn’t see it. I pointed out that she could, and it hadn’t stopped her from being fooled. Of course, she wouldn’t believe me, so I told her about the smell, just to prove I knew what I was talking about. I doubt she believed me even after that, but Norma Delgado said she heard Alisa mention something about an appraisal later.”

“Was it a fake?”

“Certainly. Do you think I would risk her calling my bluff? Furthermore, she got it from Mr. Stein.”

“So maybe he is counterfeiting.”

“Possibly. I also ran into the son of some old friends of my family. Phillip has been collecting Niedemans since before the artist’s death. He, naturally, has all of the commemoratives. I overheard his comment that he was very unlikely to end up in Alisa’s predicament, even though he’d recently made a purchase. I found it interesting that he was so certain of his serigraph’s authenticity. So later I managed to obtain an invitation to look at his sculptures on Monday afternoon.”

“Okay. Is there anything planned for tomorrow?”

“You may have the day off after church. Do you belong to any?”

“Not really.”

“Fine. You will accompany me then. I am a practicing Catholic, and I hold the Church’s view that a little religion once a week is essential for personal growth, even if that is a minimum. Unless you have some serious objections.”

“No. I guess not. I’m Catholic, too, but I haven’t been to church in a while.”

“A providential meeting, then. We’ll be going to nine o’clock mass, after that you’ll be free.”

“Fine. My mom wants me to go home for dinner. My brother and his fiancee are coming.”

“That should be pleasant. Did you find anything out from Mr. Lansky?”

“Oh boy, did I.” I told her the whole story. She tsk’d over the fight.

“I shouldn’t have let you go. I was afraid there might be trouble. Was Mr. Lansky hurt?”

“Mickey didn’t think so. Lansky was pretty looped, too.”

“It’s fortunate that your friend was there, although I deplore the necessity.”

I shrugged. “Mickey probably enjoyed it. That’s one of the reasons we never made it as a couple. I can’t handle fighting, and Mickey loves it. He was always trying to get some debate going with me. I hated it, and he hated it when I refused to argue back.”

“All for the better then. Mr. Lansky wanted to know what I had on him?”

“Yeah. I never told him who I worked for. I figured he overheard me talking about you to my friends and realized I was pumping him and got scared. But why?”

“That is the question. Another piece for the puzzle and precious few of them are fitting with any other.”

“Did you get to talk with Ramona Bistler?”

“Only long enough to secure an invitation to her home sometime this week. What you’ve just told me shall make it a very interesting visit indeed.” She paused. “You say this Mickey is just a friend of yours.”

“Alright,” I groaned. “He was more. It just didn’t work, and it never will.”

“Indeed, and all the more painful because you two truly care for each other.” She yawned.

“I guess I ought to take off. Feeling any better?”

“Some. I expect I shall have to just sleep it off. Would you please take Eleanor on a walk for me?”

“Sure. Eleanor, come.”

Eleanor got up slowly, looked back at her mistress, then padded out of the room at my side.

My whole family showed up on Sunday. It made for quite a crowd around the table, especially since my brother’s fiancee, Elise, and my brother-in-law, Ernie, were there also. My other sister, Denise, and I were the only singles left, something Peter made a point of rubbing in. He also made a couple cracks about the odds against Debbie’s marriage working out. Ernie just laughed and said he was used to beating the odds. Debbie laughed also, but I could tell she wanted to slug Peter one. Elise did.

“Hey!” Peter yelped.

“You quit being so snotty,” reprimanded Elise.

“That’s right, Elise,” I cheered. “Keep him in line.”

“Thanks, Donna.” Peter glared at me.

“Children,” sighed my father.

“Let’s not get into an argument,” Mom cut in.

“So how’s the drug-making business?” Debbie asked.

Peter’s a chemist for a pharmaceutical company in Pasadena.

“Good,” replied Peter, ignoring Debbie’s cut. None of us would ever let Peter live down that he was into drugs for a living. “I’m working.” He looked right at me.

“So am I,” I said with a slight grin.

“I heard. Driving a car. Some great career that is.”

“I think it’s a perfectly good one,” said Denise. “It’s honest work, for one thing.”

“And I can still work on my acting career,” I added.

“Still thinking about that, huh?” Dad asked with a worried frown.

Mom sighed. “I hope you’re not endangering your job.”

“Not in the least.” I squirmed under Peter’s grin. “Mrs. Sperling says it’s perfectly alright. In fact, she’s encouraging it.”

“That is terrific,” said Denise. “I wish I had a boss like that.”

“It sure is nice of her, isn’t it, Peter?” Elise looked at him. Peter didn’t answer.

“Mom says you’re living in Beverly Hills,” said Debbie, still trying to get Peter back.

“Yeah. It’s a real nice house. I’ve got my own room, but I do have to share a bathroom with the houseboy. He is a slob, too. He’s into collecting Niedemans.”

“Really? I just got one this morning, the HN6,” said Peter.

“No kidding. Where?” I asked.

“A little place down in Hollywood. This lady owns it. She always sells them cheap.”

“You got it this morning? That’s weird.”

“I know. I got a hell of a deal. I get all my Niedemans there. I’m on the broad’s waiting list. I’ve been looking for HN6 for a while. Then yesterday she called me and said she’d found a couple extra and did I still want one. So I hot-footed it out there this morning, and grabbed it.”

“Peter is such a sexist,” sighed Elise. “Have you seen those prints?”

“Just the one,” I said. “And you’re right.”

“I’ve seen a whole bunch,” said Debbie. “Peter, your taste is despicable.”

“That’s not fair,” Denise said. “Niedeman’s women are idealized, the embodiment of the perfect woman. I think they’re fascinating.” Denise is an art major.

Peter laughed. “I’m just buying them for the investment value, and, Elise, you know it. The guy is still hot and the prices are going up.”

“Only because he’s dead,” said Debbie.

Denise shook her head. “Not necessarily. He was very popular before he died.”

“Either way,” I snickered. “Peter, are you sure you haven’t got a counterfeit?”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Peter retorted.

“I might be able to tell,” said Denise.

“So can I,” I said, smugly.

“Since when are you such an expert?” said Peter.

“Since Glen Weir got stuck with a fake.”

“Who’s he?”

“Mrs. Sperling’s houseboy. She spotted it and told me how.”

“Well, most knock-offs of Niedemans are easy to tell because they’re such bad quality,” Denise said.

“These are really good ones, Denise.” I smiled. “Most people can’t see the difference.”

“Well, my supplier could,” bragged Peter. “She may be pretty flakey, but she knows her art.”

“Flakey?” I asked. “How?”

Peter shrugged. “She’s old, and she dresses like she’s from the sixties, and she’s a space cadet, keeps talking about her past lives.”

“Dolores Carmine!” I almost jumped.

“You know her?” Peter was as shocked as I was.

“I’ve met her. Mrs. Sperling knows her. We were checking out Glen’s fake.”

I have to admit I enjoyed the sick look that came over Peter’s face just then. As soon as we finished eating, he had Denise look over his print. She said it looked good. I sniffed it but couldn’t be sure.

At about two thirty Peter couldn’t take it anymore and talked me into following him to Hollywood in my car and going to see Dolores Carmine. It wasn’t too hard. I wanted to talk to Dolores, also. Fake or real, the source of that print could be very important. I could just see Mrs. Sperling’s gratified smile.

Most of the stores on Dolores’ block were closed. But there was a light on in the gallery. I held Peter and Elise back.

“Peter, I’ve got some very specific questions to ask,” I said. “So will you please let me do the talking, and play along?”

“Why?” he asked.

“Just trust me.”

“Peter, can you please?” Elise asked.

“Alright.”

I led the way in. Nothing had changed in the musty old shop. Dolores shuffled in from the back, muttering obscenities. She smiled when she saw me.

“Hello, little bitch,” she said, grinning, then noticed Peter and Elise. “And you two shits are back.”

“They’re with me,” I said. “Mrs. Sperling wanted them to come. She asked me to ask you a few questions about the serigraph you sold them this morning. She’s kind of tied up right now, or she would’ve come herself.”

Dolores shrugged noncommittally. “What the fuck.”

“Where did you get it? Peter, here, told me you’d just got some others in.”

“Yeah. This young prick came by and sold them to me cheap.”

“What was his name?”

“Do I fucking look like I’d ask?”

“Do you remember what he looked like?”

“Tallish with dishwater hair.”

“Are the prints genuine?”

“Fuck, yes.”

“But how do you know if you don’t know the person who sold them to you?”

“He said he was a friend of Fred Gonzagos.”

“Those aren’t exactly the best credentials.”

“Fred’s not gonna stick me with shit. He knows better, and he’s a friend anyway.”

“Speaking of Fred, have you talked to him lately?”

“Not since early last week.”

“Any idea where he is?”

Dolores frowned. “Why? Is he missing?”

“Yep. Since Wednesday night. If you hear anything, will you let Mrs. Sperling know?”

“I suppose.” She stopped and looked at me. “I knew you. You were a queen, a Goth queen. Do you remember?”

“Uh, no.”

“I was a Roman decurion. You bore three sons for me.”

“Great. Listen, Mrs. Sperling’s waiting for me. I’ve gotta run. Thanks for the answers.”

I pushed Peter and Elise out of the shop ahead of me.

“She said I saved her from an evil wizard,” Peter chuckled.

“I never knew you were that noble,” I returned.

“He has his moments,” said Elise.

I remembered there was something she saw in him. My sisters and I could never quite figure out what. Peter can be charming and warm, but all my sisters and I usually saw was his more odious side. I have to be fair. We weren’t always very pleasant to him.

“Listen,” I said. “I don’t want to take Dolores’s word on that print.”

“Why not?” asked Peter.

“Because Fred Gonzagos happens to be a counterfeiter of fine artwork.”

“You know some pretty interesting people,” teased Elise.

“I don’t know him.” I sighed. I didn’t dare take a chance on letting it get back to my mom that I was mixed up in a murder. “Mrs. Sperling thinks that Glen’s fake was done by this Gonzagos guy. It’s a long story. Anyway, why don’t I take your print and have Mrs. Sperling check it out? I’ll get it back to you Monday, Tuesday at the latest, I promise.”

Peter grumbled. “Oh, alright. You got my work phone?”

“Sure. Or will Elise be at your apartment?”

“Of course,” Elise replied. “I don’t go into the store until five Monday and Tuesday.”

“Elise.” Peter shifted with the guilty warning.

I laughed. “Don’t tell me…”

“Yeah, she’s already there,” sighed Peter.

“Don’t tell our parents, please?” Elise begged. “My old roommate’s covering for me. My dad’d kill me if he knew.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t tell the folks,” I said. “But I’d sure like to tell Debbie.”

“Donna!” Peter groaned. “Come on. We’re already getting married.”

“Okay. But no more cracks about her and Ernie.”

Peter nodded reluctantly and went and got the print. It was rolled up in a large cardboard tube. I put it in my car and again talked the motor into running.

 

Terri Gregg on Finding Time to Write (Or Not)

Terri Gregg

Please welcome author Terri Gregg, who’s working on finding the time to write. Who said retirement would make it easy?

During most of my adult life, I’ve had a strong desire to write fiction.  I spent 9 years as a science writer for an encyclopedia and wanted to try my hand at something more creative.  But as has been said before, life has a way of getting in the way of your best-laid plans.  Three children to raise (we had a child under the age of 8 for 21 straight years) and a series of demanding jobs left a shortage of time for creative writing. The six months I spent in Australia with my husband while he was there on an exchange teaching post did allow me to complete my first (but probably never to be published) novel.

Ah, I thought as the children launched into their own adult lives and retirement loomed, now I will have all the time I need to write book after book.

Silly me. The first years saw us traveling full time around the country in an RV. My husband is also a writer, so we sat with two laptops facing each other across the dining table in the RV trying to be creatively productive.  Not much of any value was accomplished.

After two years we settled down, bought a house in Sarasota, Florida, and prepared to get some serious writing done. But part of my platform for my first series is archeology. (I got my M. A. in Archeology at age 60 partially for background for the books and partially because it fascinates me.) That lead to travel—Stonehenge, Machu Picchu. Great Wall of China, Great Pyramid of Egypt and of course Cahokia, the great Mississippian Indian city in Illinois where the first book of the series, Bones Unearthed, is set. (Photos of some of the sites appear in the gallery on my website, terrigregg.com.)

So here I am.  One book out. The second in the series moving slowly along. For those of you that are not familiar with Sarasota, Sarasotans are surrounded with a myriad of distractions—golf, tennis, concerts, theater, not to mention beautiful beaches and a huge number of restaurants.

So here I am.  I keep working, even though slowly.  Maybe someday, my life will settle down to the point where I can join the ranks of other mystery writes who manage to get one or two books out a year.

Hope springs eternal.

Terri Gregg’s books is available at Amazon, and you can find out more about her on her website, terrigregg.com.

mystery fiction, mystery serial

Chapter Five

I spent that afternoon reading. Around six I took the limo out to see if it needed gas. The tank was half full. I went ahead and filled it the rest of the way. At seven-thirty I got dressed and braided my hair. I didn’t have a uniform. Mrs. Sperling had told me I wouldn’t need one. I still felt I had to look something like the part. Besides, I had a plan.

“I do hope you will keep your ears open while we’re at the party,” Mrs. Sperling said on the way over. “Hired help is notorious for gossiping, and you never know when you might pick up an interesting tidbit.”

“No problem,” I answered. “Maybe we ought to set up some sort of signal in case I catch something hot.”

“I was about to suggest that. Your predecessor used to whistle.”

“I can do that. I’m something of a virtuoso.” I snickered with pride.

“Mozart, Symphony Number Forty, in G Minor.”

“Uh, which one’s that?”

Mrs. Sperling whistled from the first movement.

“That one.” I started whistling along.

After a few bars, Mrs. Sperling dropped out and just listened.

“I’m impressed,” she said.

“I have a weakness for Mozart,” I confessed.

“That’s a blessing. All Jimmy could manage was ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’  I enjoy Mozart, although Beethoven is my weakness.”

“Really? Do you just listen to classical music?”

“Heavens, no. Glen recently introduced me to Beyonce and JayZ. I also like Glen Miller, Ray Charles, the Beatles, Wagner, Lady Gaga, Beach Boys, some Van Halen, Benny Goodman…”

“And the list goes on. That’s quite a combination.”

“I have very eclectic tastes, and I make a point of keeping up on what’s current in the popular arts, as well as the more esoteric ones. My father always encouraged me to try new things. He was the only adult I knew who liked rock and roll when I was young.”

“I hope I stay that young. Looks like we’re here. Why don’t you stay put when I stop, and I’ll strut out all the hot stuff I learned in chauffeur school.”

Mrs. Sperling chuckled. “Most certainly. I love a good entrance.”

Eleanor was the first out of the car. Mrs. Sperling first tested for the curb with her foot, a movement so smooth I barely noticed it. As she stood, she stumbled and caught my shoulder.

“You okay?” I asked as she righted herself.

“Perfectly all right. Give me an hour, then you can go dancing with your friends.”

“Mrs. Sperling!” I groaned.

“Those were your tentative plans, weren’t they?”

“Yes. Another educated guess?”

“Confirmed by your clothing.” She ducked her head mischievously. “I’m sorry. That stumble was no accident. I was trying to confirm my guess. Spaghetti straps under your sweater and a full jersey skirt?”

“I wanted to look like a chauffeur and save time by not changing. You take as long as you want. My friends know I may not show.”

“I don’t want to take very long anyway. At this point, I’ll use any excuse.”

“Okay. You know your way up the drive?”

“Yes, thank you. Park the car around back, and don’t worry about whistling loudly. I’ve pretty sharp ears.”

“I can imagine.”

I parked where she indicated, next to one of several limos already gathered. Another chauffeur headed into the back of the house, so I followed him. There were about eight of us in the brightly lit kitchen dodging the caterers. I was the only female in the group. I guess the guys figured I was with the caterers because they left me to myself at first. Then one noticed that I wasn’t carrying trays and ambled over.

He was about my height, attractive, with dark hair and a roundish face aged slightly with a thick mustache. He wore a black vest over a white shirt with a black tie and black pants.

“Hi. You’re new,” he said with an obvious sort of grin.

I smiled politely anyway.

“I’m Steve Lansky,” he continued. “I drive for Ramona Bistler.”

“You do?” My interest picked up a lot. “No kidding.”

“No kidding. The boss told me I didn’t have to wait. She’ll probably be going home with some stud. I just stopped in to say hi to the guys. Looks like this is my lucky night.”

“Maybe.” I hesitated. On one hand, I wanted to keep his interest and possibly find something out about Ramona Bistler. On the other hand…

“Do you have to wait?” Lansky asked with a leer.

“Well, I… I might be able to get out of it. How do I get to the party?”

“Follow the trays, sweetheart. Tell you what, we’ll go dancing, then…” He smirked. “We’ll see what comes up.”

“I’ll go check.”

I hurried after a tray laden young woman down a hall to a packed living room. Standing in the doorway, I began the first movement of Symphony Number Forty. It took a minute, but Mrs. Sperling appeared at my side.

“You’re working very fast,” she said softly.

“So’s Bistler’s chauffeur. He wants me to go dancing with him.”

“Convenient.”

“It was his idea, I promise.”

“I’m sure it was. It sounds like a golden opportunity.”

“For information, yes.”

“Not to your liking?”

“He thinks he’s hot stuff.”

“Don’t sacrifice yourself, dear.”

“So I put up with the jerk for an hour or so. I’ll ditch him fast enough. In the meantime, I’ll pump him for what he knows.”

“It’s not part of your job description.”

“Maybe not, but I want to know.”

“Good for you. Please wait here a minute.”

She listened for a moment, then walked off across the room. I wondered where Eleanor was. The crowd shifted and I saw her tail listlessly thumping the floor from behind a sofa. Mrs. Sperling talked with Mrs. Delgado who nodded vigorously. Mrs. Sperling then threaded her way through the people back to me.

“The Delgados will give me a ride home,” she said. “Go to your interrogation with my blessing and ditch the clod the moment you get a chance. I don’t want you endangering yourself.”

“I won’t. Thanks.”

“Oh, Delilah!” oozed an older woman as she slid up. Her skin was tan and freshly lifted, with perfect make-up and hair. “Darling, how did you get over here?”

“I walked,” Mrs. Sperling answered with irritated politeness.

“But how?”

“I stood and put one foot in front of the other. The same way you do.”

“But there are so many people here. It must have been positively terrifying.”

“Not in the least.”

“Here, darling, let me help you back to the couch.”

“I’d really rather mingle, thank you.” Mrs. Sperling moved off into the swarm. If she bumped into anybody it was because the room was so crowded everyone was bumping into everyone else.

Taking a deep breath, I returned to my waiting swain. It took a little doing, but I convinced him that I really had to return the limo to Mrs. Sperling’s house. I also insisted on driving.

“I know a really hot spot in Westwood,” I said when we were finally on our way in my Altima.

“Great.”

“So how come your boss doesn’t care where you leave her car?”

“Cause she’s not going home in it. She don’t care about nothing but getting laid and getting a good settlement from her husband. Or she cared about the settlement. Looks like she’s getting the whole pile now.”

“Yeah. She sure is lucky.”

“She’d better watch her step. His family is supposed to contest the will. It’s like before she had to be careful so no one caught her sleeping around so she could get plenty of alimony. If she wants that money, she’s going to have to convince some judge she’s a grieving, faithful widow.”

“I hear she’s not.”

“You think your boss is weird. Mine is completely bananas. She’s taken up joy riding lately. In fact, night before last she took off again. I know cause the gas tank was full the next morning.”

“Full?”

“Yeah. She’s trying to cover it up now. The tank was half empty when I left it that day. The next morning it’s full. You try to tell me she didn’t run it down driving all over kingdom come, then filled it up so I wouldn’t think she’d been out.”

“Did you hear the car running at all?”

“Nah. I was out all night. I tell you, the broad is crazy. Why should I care if she goes driving?”

“Beats me,” I replied. He wouldn’t care, all right. But she might, if she needed an alibi, and a car running in a garage does empty the tank.

I parked in a parking structure about a block from the disco, after getting Lansky to cough up the parking fee. It was a rotten move, considering what I’d just gotten, and what my intentions were. But Lansky got on my nerves.

I walked quickly to the disco. Lansky kept up but was a little winded when we reached the door. I got my hand stamped and went in with Lansky right there.

The music was good and loud and drowned him out. The generous dance floor was across from the bar, and busy but not overcrowded. Tables were scattered about and mostly filled. Single men and women stood about watching and plotting. I had to complete a circuit of the room to find my friends.

There were five of them, including a couple I didn’t know very well. Their names were Jan and Lee. Tina Paulson, my best friend, stood when she saw me. Tina’s a black woman with a real exotic look that reminds me of Sade, only Tina’s prettier. With her was her fiance, Earl Cartwell, and a mutual friend, Mickey Dooley. Mickey has bright red hair and an outrageous personality. Besides dancing, Mickey is trying to break in as a stand-up comic. Tina’s a dancer, like me, and Earl is a doctor. He was a second-year resident at U.C.L.A. Earl looks like a basketball player with a tall-skinny figure and close-cropped hair.

I said hello all around as best I could and didn’t introduce Lansky. The set up was just perfect. Mickey and I are old buddies. Mickey threw his arm around me and flagged down the cocktail waitress.

“Bring my lady here a gin and tonic,” he yelled.

“Mickey, I’m driving!” I yelled back.

“So have some potato skins first. Here!” Mickey crammed a sour cream filled skin into my mouth. I laughed and tried not to get it all over my skirt. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Lansky sulkily pull up a chair and sit down. The next thing I knew, Mickey had pulled me onto the floor and we were off.

I met Mickey in a partnering class in college. We danced together the second day and it was like we’d always been partners. Something just clicks when Mickey and I dance together. It took a year of dating to find out our partnership was limited to the dance floor. But we’re still good friends, and we love to go dancing.

I hoped that when Lansky saw me and Mickey he’d throw in the towel. No such luck. I have to give the guy some credit for persistence. He even managed to get something of a conversation going with Earl.

Unfortunately, I had to share Mickey. Earl dances, but he’s such a klutz Tina goes crazy if she doesn’t get to dance with Mickey every so often. I decided to rest.

“So why don’t we blow this joint?” Lansky said in my ear.

I noticed he was drinking from my gin and tonic.

“Why?” I asked. “I’m having a blast.”

“What about something coming up?”

“The only thing coming up around here is the dance contest, and Mickey and I are going to win it.”

“But you came here with me.”

“Lansky, face it. This relationship is going nowhere. You’re an okay guy, but you’re not my type. It was a nice try. I appreciate it.”

Lansky grumbled something and left. Tina came up and dared me to go to the bathroom with her. Laughing, I went.

Tina wanted to know who Lansky was, so I told her as she washed her hands. That led to Mrs. Sperling’s generous arrangement with my career.

“You lucked out,” said Tina. She turned off the water.

“You’re telling me.”

“But this murder thing. Is she a cop?”

“Well, a private eye.”

Tina looked around for a towel. “No shit.”

“By all accounts, she’s pretty good at it.”

“Sounds kind of creepy to me.”

“Hey, the bucks are coming in, and I’m not living at home. I couldn’t ask for more.”

“Yes, you could.” She shook droplets of water all over me. “How about a leading role in a major motion picture starring also your best friend?”

“And how about an Oscar on top of that?”

“How about several million dollars?”

“How about numberless gorgeous men falling at my feet?”

“How about… Oh, damn! You topped me again.”

I pushed her out of the restroom.

Mickey and I won the dance contest, but I have to admit it was close. I knew the other couple were pros also. I’d seen them at auditions. I offered Mickey the prize money since I was working.

“No, my dear,” he replied. “We’ll split as usual. I just signed a contract with a lovely little club down in Hollywood. It’s called the Laugh Factory.”

“Mickey! That’s wonderful!” I screamed and threw my arms around him.

“It seems you’ve heard of it. I’ll only be there for three weeks. But the pay should feed me for somewhat longer. I’ve got some residuals, too, so I’m in the black for the time being.”

We all danced a while longer then mutually decided to call it a night. Earl and Tina left first with Jan and Lee. Mickey and I did one more song, then Mickey insisted on walking me back to my car.

It was definitely the element of surprise that knocked Mickey over. Neither of us could figure out quite what happened. We were almost to my car on the top floor of the parking structure when all of a sudden Mickey landed on his backside and my head was in a hammerlock. Lansky’s voice slurred as he cursed me.

“What’s Sperling got on me?” he growled. “Huh? What’s she got?”

He choked me so badly I couldn’t speak. Then I fell under two bodies, each scrambling for the other. Groaning, I managed to crawl out from under Lansky and Mickey.

They rolled together. Mickey showed on top and pulled back for a punch. It landed on Lansky’s jaw but didn’t do much. Lansky latched onto Mickey’s throat. Mickey broke the hold but fell backward. Lansky popped up. Mickey dodged just in time and staggered to his feet. So did Lansky.

The two men gasped as they glared at each other. Lansky danced in and swung first. It connected with Mickey’s eye. He faded back as Lansky came in again, this time to the stomach. Mickey got in a punch to Lansky’s nose. Lansky landed two more in Mickey’s stomach. Mickey stepped back and bumped into the retaining wall. Lansky grinned. His hands shot out and grabbed Mickey by the throat. Mickey grabbed on for dear life.

I watched in horror. At first, I couldn’t even yell, I was so scared. Lansky started pushing Mickey over the wall. That’s when I got angry. I ran over and pounded on Lansky’s back. Mickey broke his grasp and pounded on Lansky’s front. Lansky sagged to the ground.

“Oh no.” I started crying. “Is he still alive?”

Mickey checked him. “Oh, yeah. He’ll be sore in the morning but fine.”

“Are you okay?”

We staggered over to my car.

“I’m fine.” Mickey slid on his best Irish brogue. “I’m an Irishman. I love a good fight.”

“Mickey, that’s not funny. And you’re half Swedish. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” He held me by my shoulders and looked into my eyes. “I relaxed with the punches and he didn’t hurt me.”

“Okay.”

I sniffed again and Mickey kissed me. It was one of those wonderful, full kisses that had kept us dating for a year. We both sighed as we came apart.

“It’s mighty tempting,” Mickey said. “We wouldn’t last five minutes, but it’s mighty tempting.”

“You think..? No. No way. I don’t want to get messed up in that again. What are we going to do about him?”

“Leave him. You gonna come see me at the Laugh Factory?”

“With as many friends as I can drag down there.”

“Great. I’ll call you.”

“Or I’ll call you. As soon as the next dance contest comes up.”

“Right.” He took my keys and opened my car door for me. “There you are, my lady.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

He shut the door for me, then waited while I coaxed the Altima’s engine into starting. We waved as I drove off.