mystery fiction, mystery serial

Chapter Fifteen

Phillip DuPre was waiting for us when we got back to the house. He was dressed up in a dark, shimmery jacket with a dark purple shirt, tie in gold, olive green and purple, and black dress slacks.

“Splice-Man’s got her covered,” He told Mrs. Sperling. “Iggy and Bernie are waiting elsewhere. I figured I’d better take restaurant detail, just in case she goes someplace where we’ll need some influence to get a last minute reservation.”

“Excellent, Phillip.” Mrs. Sperling smiled. “Donna, why don’t you get dressed and accompany Phillip? I’m sure he won’t want to eat dinner alone.”

Not to mention how much I wouldn’t mind being his guest.

“Won’t you need me?” I asked anyway.

“Not tonight. I’m staying in.”

“Well, I do have that money from my car.”

“My treat,” He said quickly.

“Oh. You don’t have to.”

“No problem.”

“Hurry, Donna.”

I dressed in record time. They were in the living room when I finished.

“I’m ready,” I announced a lot more casually than I felt.

“Well, Phillip,” said Mrs. Sperling. If I hadn’t known her better, I would have sworn she was smirking. “How does Donna look?”

His eyes went up and down my yellow polished cotton shirtwaist with the full skirt. I was wearing black patent sling back pumps and black chunky jewelry, too. I’d also left the bottom two buttons on the skirt undone. My legs are my best asset, and so what if nothing was going to happen. I had a black lacy cardigan in my hand in case it got cool.

“Very nice,” He said softly.

“Good. Now where were we?” Mrs. Sperling thought. “Ah. We talked with her attorney. He’d told her to avoid romantic liaisons until the will was settled. He seemed to be afraid it might be contested.”

“Montoinne would,” He said with a chuckle.

“You know him.”

“Sort of. He’s a funny old bird. Was basically straight and sober until his wife died a couple years ago. Then he went into a mid-life crisis for the books. Started hanging around some pretty interesting females, including Ramona.”

“He did indicate that their relationship was more than professional. However, strangely enough, Paul Grisom, Mr. Stein’s lawyer, said there was only a minimal chance that the will would be contested. I wonder if Montoinne knows that?”

He shrugged. “He could. He’s got pretty good hearing, if you know what I mean.”

“Then why would he be interested in restraining Ms. Bistler, so to speak? And why would he be concerned, when he knows Ms. Bistler doesn’t need Mr. Stein’s money to be comfortable? Although, I might add, Ms. Bistler doesn’t know it.”

He laughed. “It’s perfectly simple. Montoinne’s jealous.”

“Jealous? Of what?”

“Of dear Ramona’s many other boyfriends. Mid-life crisis or not, Montoinne’s still a stuffy old bird at heart, and firmly believes in one man per woman, even if she has to share. A sexist attitude, admittedly, but not surprising from one of his generation.”

“Not in the least.” Mrs. Sperling shook her head. “How do you know so much about him?”

“I’ve seen him at parties, things like that. And I hear things, too.”

“And how do you know what’s malicious gossip and what isn’t?”

“That’s just it. I don’t. But I heard them fighting a few weeks back. I didn’t catch much, but more than enough to know what it was about.”

“Hm.” Mrs. Sperling mused.

“Um, might I ask what we should be looking for?” He looked at her hopefully.

“Anything and everything, of course,” Mrs. Sperling replied blithely.

“What are we doing?” I asked.

Mrs. Sperling smiled again, that almost smirk. “You are going to be, as it is known in the jargon, tailing Ms. Ramona Bistler.”

“Why?” I asked.

“To see what happens.”

“Oh. We’d better get going.”

Mrs. Sperling shook her head. “Not yet. Phillip’s friend, Mr. Davies, hasn’t telephoned us with Ms. Bistler’s whereabouts.”

“What if she stays home?”

“I had Glen call and ask if a mutual acquaintance might drop by this evening, and she insisted she would be out.”

A cellular phone tweetered. He picked it up.

“Yo, Splice-Man.” He listened. “No kidding…. If I can’t, I’ll have Iggy get some chow for us…. Uh, yeah, Aunt Delilah’s new driver…. Don’t ask me…. Never mind. You meet up with Iggy, and we’ll call with the next location…. Yeah, bye.” He flashed a weak grin at me, then turned to Mrs. Sperling. “She went to Mr. G.’s.”

“Oh, dear. Will you be able to get a reservation?”

He shrugged. “It’s Thursday night, and they’re really Industry conscious.”

He looked up the number on his iPhone and dialed. He looked at me, and I swear, blushed as He made the reservation for twenty minutes later. He looked over at Mrs. Sperling.

“Geez, it’s so embarrassing when I have to play Industry heavyweight,” He told her.

“Well, darling, be thankful you are, and I’ll be thankful you don’t have the ego to go with it. Run along, now, both of you, and be careful.”

It was another quiet ride over to the restaurant that was currently “the place to be.” It was so hot, even People magazine hadn’t caught onto it yet. I tried to be blase about it. It was filled with “names.” Several came over to say hello. He was cool, and greeted them politely, and introduced me as a friend of a friend.

One producer, I forget his name, made some inane comment about blind dates. I thought I would sink through the floor. My sort of date just laughed and said even blind dates sometimes worked out.

Ramona Bistler was there, but didn’t see us. She was with another woman.

“You wouldn’t happen to know the woman she’s with?” I finally asked Him as we ate.

He looked over my shoulder, then back at his plate.

“Rita Cartlin. She’s married to Niles Cartlin.”

I grimaced. “I should know that name, shouldn’t I?”

He shrugged. “He produces a few sitcoms. Not a bad name to know, but not a real heavy hitter, either.”

“Oh.” There was silence. “What do you know about his wife?”

“Rita?” He chewed thoughtfully, then fidgeted with his fork. “I’ve heard she’s no stranger to other men’s beds. There’s another rumor floating around that she slept with some nameless network mucky-muck to get her husband’s first series on the schedule. His ratings are respectable, so it may or may not be true. She and Ramona seem to be soul mates.”

He looked over at Bistler and Cartlin speculatively, then looked at me and went back to His plate. He paid as soon as He ordered dessert.

“Got to be ready to move,” He explained.

“Right.” I, too, concentrated on eating. I couldn’t think of anything to say.

I figured He thought I was a total idiot. He only had me with Him to please Mrs. Sperling. I must have been boring Him silly.

He started. “They’re leaving.”

He ducked His head as they went past, then looked at me. I gave them half a second’s lead.

“They’re almost to the door,” I whispered.

“Good. Let’s go.”

We ambled out. He pretended He didn’t hear some big shot saying hi. Cartlin was getting into a limo, while Bistler waited for the valet to bring her car. We were self-parked on the street. We slid out behind her, and got into His BMW, just as Bistler got into a bright red Ferrari.

“That’ll be easy to follow,” He said, then smiled.

We followed her to Westwood. She had her car valet parked off of Westwood Blvd., and went into a bar there. He parked near there and grabbed the phone.

“Hey, Bernie, she’s at The White Elephant…. Okay, we’ll park it, and next stop, we’ll all rendezvous….” He wrote down a phone number. “I’ve got it…. See ya.”

He hung up.

“Wh-whose number?” I asked.

“Splice-Man’s new phone. I’ve already got Bernie and Iggy’s numbers.”

“Oh.”

“They’re friends of mine from film school.”

“Oh.”

I tried to figure out who they could be. Given Phillip DuPre’s status, they had to be some kind of hot shots. I didn’t want to embarrass myself by asking who they were.

Meeting them didn’t help. We rendezvoused in Santa Monica, at another fancy hot spot. Splice-Man turned out to be Edouard Davies, a short black man wearing black 501s and a red double breasted western shirt. Iggy, or Ignatius McMartin, was taller, quiet, with curly brown hair and glasses. He held onto Bernie, who was really Bernadette Bernstein. She wore a bulky sweater over dark, slim pants, and was a buxom lass indeed.

I was introduced as a dancer, moonlighting as Mrs. Sperling’s chauffeur and aide-de-camp. That’s when Bernie decided she did not like me. It was more of a mama-bear type reaction. She and Iggy were obviously very tight.

I hung back and let them talk. From the conversation, I guessed that Splice-Man and Iggy were both film editors, and Bernie was a sound engineer. Bernie and Iggy were finally getting married because Bernie was pregnant. During the cheering, I noticed Him looking at me. For no reason at all, I went purple, and gazed about the bar.

Bistler was busy dancing with anybody and everybody. She didn’t seem to know the guys, or even care. A tall, blonde figure that could have been a man or a woman, glared from the bar.

“Gillian,” I said suddenly.

“Who?” He asked.

“Gillian. She works for Devon, from Devonaire. She’s standing at the bar.”

Bernie shrugged. “Devonaire. That’s that boutique down on Melrose. The clothes are nice, but too pricey for me. That Devon sure is weird, though.”

Phillip DuPre laughed. “I’ve met him before.”

I pointed to the dance floor. “And he’s here, dancing.”

“So, Phil,” teased Splice-Man. “You’ve got a dancer with you. Why don’t you ask her to dance?”

He looked at me and got up. “Sure. If you want.”

“I guess.”

Not only was He gorgeous, He could really dance. I was in heaven. All I lacked was something to say to Him. Bistler left, and Splice-Man slipped out after her. He kept me dancing. The D.J. called a break. As we went back to our table, Devon took off. I hurried after, but by the time I hit the street, he was gone.

I went around the table to the restroom, sulked for a minute, then went back to see if Gillian was still around. She wasn’t.

With the music off, the rumble of voices filled the room. Bernie and Iggy were facing me, and He had His back to me as I came up to the table.

“I don’t know,” He was complaining. “I just don’t think Donna likes me.”

“I don’t like you?” I heard myself screech. “Where’d you get that crazy idea?”

He whirled and turned red. “But… But… You won’t talk to me.”

“Well, you won’t say anything to me.” Utterly frustrated, and embarrassed to death, I flopped into my chair. “Besides, what do you say to your favorite god?”

“Who? Phil?” asked Bernie.

“Shut up, Bernie,” he said. He turned back to me. “Am I that intimidating?”

I grew hotter, if that were possible. “I don’t know. I’ve never known any big names before, and I can’t imagine you being interested in a peon like me.”

The phone had to ring then. We took off to meet Splice-Man in Century City.

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you in front of your friends.”

“You didn’t embarrass me.”

“I said some pretty stupid things.”

“What? Like I haven’t?” He checked his blind spot, then whipped into the next lane.

“You must think I’m an idiot.”

“I don’t think you’re an idiot.”

“But-”

“Will you please be quiet for a few minutes? I’ve got to think this out.”

Like I was going to say anything more? My head filled with visions of my career going down the drain, all because I opened my fat trap one time too many. I was certain he hated me and would see to it that I never worked in Hollywood again.

“Alright,” he said as we pulled onto the Avenue of the Stars. “You like me. That’s fine. You’re too intimidated to say anything. I can understand that, sort of. Hasn’t Aunt Delilah said I’m okay?”

“Yeah,” I sighed.

“Then what gives?”

I glanced at him nervously. He smiled gently. Oh well, He could only blacklist me once.

“I remember the first time I saw you, I joked with my friend, Tina, that I would love a chance to fall in love with you. Then Mrs. Sperling brought me to your door, and I went under. I was floored. It’s not just the name. You’re so good looking, and nice, except you didn’t say anything to me. Not that I was that brilliant.”

His hand softly took mine. “I remember White Heat. I loved your dancing, but I needed lusty, which is why I hired a girl with tits. When you turned up on my doorstep, I about died. You were even cuter then.” He pulled his hand away so he could get the car parked. “I guess I’m just like everyone else in Hollywood, completely neurotic and no self-esteem. I get around a woman I like, and I’m completely tongue-tied. I go back to being that nerdy fourteen-year-old whose only experience with women was reading Playboys stolen from my best friend’s father.” He looked at me again, a bemused smile lighting up his face. “You like me.”

He opened the door.

“Um,” I said.

He grinned. “Yeah. I like you. A lot.”

Anne Louise Bannon

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