It was just after nine when we arrived at Emil’s. It was a bar and restaurant with no dance floor that catered to big business hot shots who worked on Wilshire. Mickey, Tina, and Earl were there. Mickey stood at the bar with a small crowd around him. I could see him working a routine as if he were at a nightclub. Next to him, on the bar, was a glass filled with change and a few bills.
It happened occasionally. Mickey would be entertaining a small group of friends. The group would slowly grow larger as more and more people started listening in. Mickey would set up a glass with some change in it, claiming that he didn’t mind going public with his conversations as long as people paid up. He’d gotten thrown out of a few bars that way, but most bartenders didn’t care.
“The bouncer comes in.” Mickey mugged, instantly turning his body into a Neanderthal. “This guy flunked basketweaving. He says ‘Me bouncer, you dead meat.’ I said ‘But can you shuffle off to Buffalo?'” Mickey did. “He couldn’t. I could. I dazzled him with the fancy footwork and lost three teeth. But, hey, it’s a learning experience, right?”
The group roared. Mickey went on with his Saturday Morning cartoon routine: Muppet Babies meet the Ninja Turtles. Mickey had seen me and who I walked in with. But Mickey is a professional first and foremost. He didn’t miss a beat.
I, on the other hand, was more than a little uncomfortable. I didn’t have an ice cube’s chance in hell with Phillip DuPre, but I didn’t need my ex-boyfriend, who was still in love with me, hanging around at the same time. He’d recognized Mickey, too.
He walked over and put a folded bill into Mickey’s glass. Mickey went right on without blinking. I found Tina and Earl sitting in a large booth in the back corner and steered Him that way.
Tina, thank heavens, is too cool to let anyone see her jaw drop. Earl, of course, didn’t know Phillip DuPre from Ma Bell, so he didn’t care.
“Hi, Donna,” Earl said, getting up. “Nice to see you. Who’s your friend?”
“I’m Phil,” He said casually and shook Earl’s hand. He smiled at Tina. “Tina Paulson, right?”
“Yeah.” Tina smiled back. She was too cool to talk, however.
“You know Tina?” Earl asked.
“I saw her at the audition today.”
“Oh, you’re a dancer.”
“Not professionally. I do dance.”
“Really?” asked Tina.
He nodded. “I studied ballet all through college. Started too late to do anything with it, though.”
“Oh.” Tina grinned. “So how did you and Donna hook up?”
“We’re not hooked up,” I said quickly. “I mean…”
“Uh, Aunt Delilah-” He stammered. “I mean, Donna’s boss. She’s an old friend of the family. A courtesy aunt.”
“She says there’s safety in numbers,” I said, then smiled weakly at Him. “Not that I mind. I mean, I’m glad you came.”
“So am I,” He replied quickly.
Mickey called it quits, singing a little theme song that sounded suspiciously like the old “Tonight Show” theme. Grabbing a fresh drink and his glass, he wandered over and squeezed in next to Earl and Tina.
“We must allow august personages some room,” he said, mugging.
“I don’t see why,” Phillip DuPre said, pleasantly. “I was born in May.”
Well, that broke the ice, at least as far as Mickey and Tina were concerned. I was still hopeless.
“So, Earl, are you in the business?” He asked.
“No. I’m not that crazy. I’m a resident up at the medical center.”
Mickey counted his money. “Crap. Somebody put in a fifty.” He looked at Him.
“Not me.” He grinned. “I didn’t catch the whole act.”
“What took you guys so long to get here?” asked Tina.
“We had to go out to Pasadena,” I explained. “My brother wanted his Niedeman back.”
“Geez. Introducing Phil to Peter already?” Mickey snorted. He was a little bitter.
“My car broke down, and Mrs. Sperling had him give me a ride.”
“That’s a hell of a ride.”
We all shifted. Mickey sighed. He looked at Him.
“Listen, I don’t know what kind of understanding you two got, but can I talk to her for a few minutes?”
“Mickey!” I groaned. “Why don’t you just ask me?”
“Okay. Can we?”
Mickey slid out of the booth. I could see him fighting the jealousy. I followed him to the other side of the bar.
He sighed. “Look, I know I haven’t got any right to demand an explanation, but I would like to know what the hell is going on.”
“My boss introduced us. She’s known him since childhood, his, of course. That’s all there is to it.”
“What difference does it make? He and I do not have a relationship.”
Mickey groaned. “Donna, get real.”
“Okay. I’ve got a crush on him.”
“Just slightly. You sure he’s not using you?”
“For what I used you for!”
“Mickey, you never used me.”
“Donna, you know I did. And I’d do it again if we ever got back together, and we both know it.”
“And you’re still jealous.”
“Yeah. A lot. But how would you feel if I started hanging with some gorgeous powerful lady?”
“Probably the same.” I sighed. “But we’re not hanging.”
“Then why is he here?”
“We’re verifying an alibi. So I happen to be nuts over him. I’m sorry, Mickey. I don’t want to hurt you. But I’m not going to live like a nun just because we can’t live with each other, and I don’t expect you to do the same.”
“That’d be a little hard.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah.” He sighed again. “You ever read ‘Little Women’?”
“I feel like Laurie right after Jo turned him down.”
“Have you met my sister, Denise?”
“Yeah. She’s a nice kid. You got her number?”
“If you call her, don’t let my dad know. You got a pen?”
“No. Now what?”
“I’ll bum one off the bartender. I’ve got to ask her some questions anyway.”
“Alright. I’ll stand guard.”
“Did anything happen the last time?”
Mickey shook his head and went back to the booth. He said something to Phillip DuPre, and they both watched me. I was about to crown Mickey, then thought it was just as well. I looked around the bar to see if Mr. Hendricks was around. He wasn’t.
On the other hand, Devon was. Strangely enough, he was surrounded by women at two small tables near the front.
I squeezed onto a vacant barstool. The bartender, a young woman about my age with lots of hair, came up for my order.
“A white wine, please,” I said. “And do you have a pen?”
“A singles’ joint like this?” Grinning, she handed me one. “You’re the twentieth person tonight.” She poured my drink with professional ease.
“You usually work Wednesday nights?”
“Every night except Monday and Tuesday.”
“How well do you know the regulars?”
“Pretty well. A few of them, very well. Why?”
“Last Wednesday, a friend set me up for a blind date, only I chickened out. We were supposed to meet here, and I think he chickened out also. His name’s Edgar Hendricks, and he says he was here all evening, ate dinner, then picked up on a chick and brought her home.” I settled in better as the woman next to me left.
“Ed Hendricks?” The bartender laughed. “Since when? Well, maybe once or twice. He’s one of those thinks he’s so hot types. Most the ladies round here don’t need that kind of jerk. They put up with him, but he only scores once in a blue moon.”
“Was he here last Wednesday?”
“Let’s see. That was the night Harry got sick. No, Ed was definitely not around for that.”
“Are you positive?”
“Very. Ed would’ve gotten sick, too.”
“Well, doesn’t that beat all.” I wrote my sister’s phone number on a cocktail napkin. “He did lie. Somehow, I’m glad I chickened out.”
“You didn’t chicken out.” Ed Hendricks appeared from nowhere and grabbed my upper arm. “You’re checking up on me.”
I stayed cool. “With good reason, it would appear. You weren’t here Wednesday night. Where were you?”
“I don’t have to tell you.”
“But I still know you lied, and my boss will know, too. Why don’t you-”
I didn’t get to finish. Hendricks backhanded me so hard, I fell off the stool. He was on me in a second, yanking me up, bruising my arms with the force of his grip.
A leather-covered arm dropped around Hendricks’ neck in a stranglehold. Hendricks hung on, dragging me along as Phillip DuPre pulled him back.
“Let her go!” He yelled.
Hendricks sent me sprawling backward, then kicked Phillip DuPre in the shins and struggled out of His grasp. He grabbed at Hendricks and missed. Hendricks turned toward Him and tried to run for the door.
People screamed and pulled bar stools out of the way. Phillip DuPre dived. Hendricks got caught and pulled down. Squirming and flailing, Hendricks refused to be pinned. He twisted on his back, swung, and missed. Pulling back, Phillip DuPre lost some of His grip on Hendricks. Hendricks squirmed closer to the door.
Grabbing Hendricks’ arms was like trying to catch a windmill. Hendricks’ legs whipped about, too, keeping Him straddled over Hendricks’ hips, lest the flailing legs put Him out of commission. He flopped down onto Hendricks’ left shoulder and immobilized that arm. Hendricks twisted his hips.
The shoe came from nowhere. One second, Hendricks’ right hand was empty and the next the dark loafer crashed onto Phillip DuPre’s ear. He pulled back in pain. The loafer struck again, landing on His shoulder.
“Yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo-yo!” The cry rang out even over the screaming and shouts.
Mickey stood on a nearby table and beat his chest. For a split second, everyone froze.
“To the rescue!” Mickey dove into the fracas.
I scrambled to pull Phillip DuPre back. He scrambled to catch Hendricks. Mickey reached for Hendricks and got Him. Hendricks scrambled between Mickey’s legs and got out the door. The three of us fell over each other like the Three Stooges running out after him. Hendricks took off down Broxton, towards Westwood Boulevard. I ran after Hendricks. Mickey ran next to me.
Hendricks crossed the three-way intersection. Tires squealed as cars slammed on their brakes and metal crunched. People were all over. Mickey stopped me at the corner.
“No. We lost him. We’ll never get through this crowd.”
Something was missing. “Where’s, uh..?”
“Phil? He’s still at Emil’s. He couldn’t make it. Said for me to go with you.”
“He’s hurt? Oh no!”
I ran back to Emil’s even faster. He sat in a booth near the back. Earl flashed a penlight in His eyes, checking for dilation. Tina held a towel to His ear. A large distinguished looking man in a white shirt, black vest, tie, and pants solemnly watched the proceedings.
“How’s your head feel?” Earl asked.
“Okay, except for my ear,” He replied.
Earl grinned at me. “Looks like your gladiator is fine. His ear’s cut, but the bleeding’s slowing down. Probably won’t need stitches.”
“Oh, no.” Sniffing, I flopped down next to Him. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright,” Phillip DuPre sighed. “At least you didn’t get hurt.”
Mickey appeared. “He got away. It was my fault. Sorry.”
“I don’t care,” He said. “Your damned Tarzan act saved my ass.”
“It is him,” said an average sized man coming up. “Excuse me, Mr. DuPre, I’m Levi Stims, from the L.A. Enterprise.”
He groaned and uttered something foul.
“Will you get out of here?” I snapped.
The large distinguished looking man stepped in.
“Mr. Stims, I appreciate your interest, but I must ask you to leave my guest alone.”
“And who are you?”
“I own this place.”
“But I’ve got a photographer coming!”
“He will not be allowed to enter.”
Mickey slipped away.
“You can’t do that,” protested Stims. “Freedom of the press.”
“This is private property. I am well within my rights to refuse entrance, and to evacuate people when necessary.”
Stims took the hint and left.
“We’d better get you out the back,” said the owner to Phillip DuPre. “Provided the doctor thinks you can be moved safely.”
“Hell with him.” He winced as He got up. “I’m moving anyway.”
Tina hung onto His ear, as I wedged myself under His arm. I could only hope He wouldn’t notice how hard my heart was beating.
“Where did Mickey go?” I asked.
“To get my car,” said Earl. “He anticipated our good host’s intentions.”
For someone in as much pain as He was, He moved pretty quickly. The kitchen glared after the soft light in the bar. At the back door, Earl looked around, then waved. The sound of his Honda Civic roared up.
Tina, Phillip DuPre, and I squeezed into the back seat. We were barely settled before Earl was in the passenger seat and Mickey peeled out.
“Oh, I love sneaky escapes!” Mickey chortled.
“Sort of makes up for missing out on the fight, does it?” Tina teased.
“Damn you, Phil,” Mickey complained good-naturedly. “You get my girl, and you hog the fight. How are we supposed to get along?”
Phillip DuPre laughed weakly. I directed Mickey to the parking lot where His BMW was. Mickey helped us out of the Honda.
“Can you drive?” he asked Him.
“I can,” I heard myself say.
“Thank you, guys,” He smiled. It was gorgeous. “For everything.”
“No sweat.” Mickey lightly punched His good arm. “You take good care of her now.”
“Mickey, leave!” I yelped, turning purple.
Mickey nodded, then traded places with Earl. I waited until the Honda had disappeared before getting the keys. I helped Phillip DuPre into the passenger seat, then ran around, and slid behind the wheel. He looked at me.
“Um. We’d better got back to Aunt Delilah’s. She’ll want a report.”
“Won’t she be asleep?”
“No. She stays up pretty late.”
Mrs. Sperling was up. We found her in the living room. The lights were on, although it was some minutes before it dawned on me that they didn’t have to be.
“Donna?” Mrs. Sperling asked. “Is someone with you?”
“It’s me,” He said. “We had a little problem tonight, and I’m a little sore.”
“Oh, dear. Phillip, I really wish you’d take some self-defense training. What happened?”
“Edgar Hendricks caught me checking up on him,” I said. “He was really mad that I was, and he wasn’t there last Wednesday. I also saw Devon there. You know, the clothes designer?”
“Hm.” Mrs. Sperling mused. “Was he also there last Wednesday?”
“I didn’t get a chance to check,” I sighed.
“Nonetheless, it’s been a profitable evening. You’d both best get to bed. Phillip, come on up to the guest bedroom.”