Category Archives: Pulp Fiction

The White Room—4

by Helene Baron-Murdock

The storefront’s narrow glass doorway was papered over with flyers and announcements. Two large plate glass windows, one painted with a depiction of the globe and the initials EAF, and the other featuring a representation of the scales of justice circumscribed by a large peace symbol and the words Justice Means Peace had greeted him as he’d exited his sedan. Like EAF, JMP, or JuMP as they liked to style themselves, had come up in various briefings on local leftist radical groups prone to civil disobedience so he knew exactly whose den he had stepping into.

EAFAmong the array of framed protest placards and posters urging respect for Mother Earth or face the dire consequences, the one that caught Donovan’s eye proclaimed “Braless & Lawless” superimposed over an artfully distressed representation of three women giving the power salute. Another wall was painted sky blue bisected by the darker arc of an image of Earth seen from space against which stood a set of bookshelves lined with somber spines and a sign above it that read Earth Consciousness Library crudely carved into a wide weathered plank. A patchwork of worn and frayed Indian rugs covered a slab floor around which were deployed a variety of mismatched secondhand couches and armchairs and centered on a redwood burl table piled with slick conservationist magazines.

The young woman with the green and purple dyed hair at a small desk off to one corner of the large storefront space looked up from her laptop and smiled. Then her cop radar kicked in and she frowned. “Can I help you?” The tone wasn’t friendly.

“Hi, Jim Donovan with the Sheriff’s Office.” He held out his identification and the young woman peered at it like it was repulsive. “Are you in charge here?”

Her blue eyes behind stylish retro frames shifted left then right and back again as she considered how she would answer the question. “Uh, no, no, uh. . . .” Her voice sounded fearful, panicked. She licked her lips and glanced at the passageway leading to the back of the building. “Can. . .can I ask what this is about?”

“I’m inquiring about one of your members, Dwight Carey?”

She seemed relieved. “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with that name.”

“I am.” A woman in her late forties, dark graying hair cut short below the ears, stood at the entrance to the rear space calmly studying him. She held out her hand. “Ionna Gunn, I’m the director of Earth Action Fellowship.” She smiled and then motioned him to follow her. “Why don’t we talk in my office.” And then to the young woman, “It’s alright, Regina.”

Ionna Gunn’s office was a small cramped space lined with bookshelves and file cabinets. She removed a pile of papers and file folders from a sturdy chair with a dented seat cushion and cast around for a place to put them before deciding to stack them in front of one of the file cabinets. “Please, have a seat.”

She wasn’t what Donovan expected even though he had viewed her booking photos. She looked older, maybe more mature, less defiant. And her complexion was not as dark as in the photos. Dark eyes above high cheekbones considered him after he’d introduced himself again. On the wall behind her desk was a collage of photos featuring Ioanna and associates at protests, at speakers podiums, with bullhorns, and with garden implements in what appeared to be urban community gardens beneath a banner that read Earth Action Fellowship.

“Ike Carey,” she spoke shaking her head, “I read about his accident in the paper just yesterday. So sad.”

“What can you tell me about him? When was the last time you talked to him?”

“I don’t know, years? Maybe about five, maybe more. He was one of our original group when we started Earth Action Front. Always very enthusiastic. Then the beating at the hands of the Santa Lena PD put him in the hospital. He was the youngest of our group with the passion of youth.” She paused as if remembering. “He wasn’t the same after that. He’d always been happy go lucky, up for anything, a trickster of sorts. But after that time something rattled loose and. . . ,” she looked down at her hands, “Well, he never recovered that playful impish quality that we always loved about him.” She sighed then fixed him with a penetrating gaze. “You’re being here would lead me to believe that it might not have been an accident.”

Donovan read her short stature, broad shoulders, knit mauve vest over a gray t-shirt, and a man’s gold wristwatch that spoke of a certain assertiveness. Square northern features softened by equatorial curves, not noticeably made up, suggestive of a lack of pretention and her readiness to engage intelligently marked her as truthful so far.

“Purely routine. At this point just paperwork. I didn’t have a current address for him on file and I’d like to get an idea his movements before he ended up where he did.”

“The article in the paper seemed to imply a hang gliding accident. Isn’t that the case?”

“That’s what we believe. There seemed to be some kind of homemade glider involved.”

“Homemade glider? And at Acropolis Cove? That sounds dangerous.”

“The launch point was probably closer to Sparta Creek Overlook.”

She leaned her chin on a forefinger, considering. “That’s quite a distance.”

“You’re familiar with the area?”

“I had a boyfriend in high school who was a surfer.” She smiled at the memory. “According to him the waves at Sparta Creek Beach were gnarly.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Is there anyone you can steer me to that might have had contact with him recently, maybe friends in the radical conservationist network?”

This time it was a chuckle, genuine in its incredulity that the question had been asked. “No, Detective Donovan, there is no radical conservationist network that I’m aware of. We’re Earth Action Fellowship now, no longer a Front. Letter writing, phone banking, community gardens, neighborhood beautification, and legitimate political action and education are what the Fellowship is all about. And no, there is no one I can refer you to.” The smile had left her face.

“Just thought I’d ask.” Donovan removed a business card from his identification case and wrote on the back of the card. “Here’s my card in case you remember something. That’s another number you can reach me at.”

Ionna accepted the card and glanced at it frowning. It wasn’t a phone number, just the letters U and R followed by a circle with what looked like multiple legs and a plus sign.

Donovan stood up at her questioning look angling his head toward a corner of the ceiling of the small office. “Thanks for your cooperation.” He checked his wrist. “That time of day already. Know a good place around here where I can grab a cup of coffee and maybe a bite to eat?”

“You might want to try Sole Sister Diner down at the end of the block.” She nodded knowingly. “I can guarantee the coffee.”

Donovan remembered when the place had been a paint store and even before that an auto parts store. Now converted into a hip diner, part of the gentrification of the old industrial west side of Santa Lena where they’d paved over the railroad right of way and featured art galleries, antique stores, and trendy boutiques. He’d picked a booth off to the side of the narrow service area by the door to the kitchen. The counter stools were crowded and the spindly two person tables always made him feel naked, unprotected. He sat facing the front of the building looking out the wide window to the street.

dinerThe waitress had a large gold stud through the top of one nostril. The way she was made up he could assume that she was on call to perform under the big top. She smiled and it was nice. “Coffee?” and handed him a printed menu with the Sole Sister logo across the top when he nodded yes.

He checked his phone messages, missed call from Helen in HR, otherwise routine random bullshit. He had to ask himself why was he even concerning himself with this investigation when it was going nowhere. Fingerprints having turned up nothing, his request for DNA analysis of the sweatband on the ball cap he was told was going to be slow tracked to the contract lab considering not enough of the boxes had been checked on the request form. The hair sample stuck to the inside of the crown of the cap came back as non-human. The tech had guessed when he’d called for clarification, “Yeah, goat, or an animal like that.”

The ballcap, he’d also learned, was a one of a kind, a gift to James Lidlaye from his friends, fellow hang gliders, who had given it to him after he had fractured his back on a particularly hard landing. The logo depicting wings signified the hang glider fraternity and the lower case i was a pun on his last name. He’d got that from Lorrain, Uncle Jimmie’s sister when on a hunch the hang glider connection became evident, and he’d claimed the hat as evidence. And evidence of what, a stolen hat, but also of a missing or misplaced person. He pictured a helicopter lifting off the helipad at Santa Lena General and not realizing their mistake, not that anyone would ever learn of it. Besides, Uncle Jimmie was an office nerd, no contact with a goat or animals of that type was likely.

The lab had also referred him to someone he remembered as a lecturer from his academy days, Duncan Betalle, professor of Forensic Archaeology at Weston County Community College aka Wheesies, or Dubya 300 to the hip crowd. He didn’t seem all that imposing twenty plus years later, his beard showing only streaks and patches of the original red color, but still hanging on, semi-retired, at the pleasure of the administration. He’d weighed the medallion in his hand, opened the evidence bag and stuck his nose in the opening, slipped the medallion onto a blank piece of paper on his desk and examined it with the magnifying app on his phone. He’d snapped a photo and sent it to an artifact recognition app as he explained, staring at the rapidly shifting shapes on the screen.

“There, I knew I’d seen it before.” He’d held up the phone for Donovan to see. “Pre-Hellenic, early Bronze age, unearthed, it says here, in the ruins of a temple to Penelope in Ithaca. Apotropaic uses, to bring good luck and ward off the evil eye, probably a replica.” He brought his nose close to the medallion and tapped it a few times with a metal letter opener. “You won’t miss a few atoms. My nose tells me I would like to examine this closer. If it is a copy, it’s a very old copy, a depiction of the Greek god, Pan.”

Evil eye. That’s what  Heron has claimed Dad Ailess had told her about the medallion, it would ward off the evil eye. His coffee appeared before him and he hadn’t even looked the menu over.

“Can’t make up your mind?” Ionna Gunn slid onto the red vinyl bench across from him. She held him with her dark eyes, hands crossed on the Formica tabletop. She had brought her own cup. Faint wisps of steam passed up in front of her face and suddenly she was as beautiful as a photograph. “What I’m wondering is why?”

“Maybe I had questions to ask that I didn’t want overheard.”

“You don’t want your people to know what you’re asking me.” He eyes narrowed. “Is this some kind of harassment?”

“First, they are not my people, not the Sheriff’s Office, directly at least. Our intelligence operation is one guy who doesn’t shower which may be the reason he’s the only guy. He just makes sure to grease the skids for the guys who get the electronic surveillance court orders. In exchange they share any pertinent intelligence which is almost never.”

She had cocked an eyebrow. “And just who are ‘they’?”

Donovan took another sip after blowing across the scalding brew to cool it some. “I have a friend who knows how to do these things and I got her to trace the chain of authority on the court order. When you trace it high enough that you don’t want to know anymore, you say ‘it’s in the clouds’”

“It’s in the clouds.”

“And that makes me curious as to why someone that high up has their eye on you and how that fits in to my murder investigation.”

“Murder is it now?”

“Just a technical term. Ike Carey was a dead man one way or the other. I’d like to hear what you know about him and I have an idea that it’s more than you wanted to spill in your office.”

“It should come as no surprise that I’m not surprised that my phone is tapped. In more radical times,” and her body language said they were behind her, “we always operated under the assumption that we were being watched, that we had to be discreet about what we were saying. . . .”

“Did you talk in code?”

Ionna laughed as if remembering something. “We did for a while but people kept forgetting what the codes were so it just got to be that we didn’t say anything of any consequence over the telephone. Now that everything is digital I guess the same precautions and etiquette would apply, maybe even more so.” She held up her smart phone and showed him the blank screen indicating that it had been turned off. “Snitches I can understand, but a listening device seems a little much. What are they going to hear, my berating of inept, corrupt politicians, intimate conversations with friends, my indigestion?”

“I’m baffled as well. What does it have to do with Dwight Carey? And EAF. As far as I can make out you have yet to sprout into a national security threat. But I did come across something in your file. The protest that Ike was injured at was over the acquisition of property on Mount Oly by a government contractor. EAF and a number of other conservationist groups were opposed to it, demonstrated against it. I didn’t understand the reasoning, an obscure chunk of property out in the middle of nowhere?”

He eyes were focused with deep reflection as she stared at the cup in front of her. “You could possibly be right, and Ike may be the connection, but not in the way you think.”

Dwight Carey, known from the very first as Ike or Ikey, was the son of an old family friend, the nephew of one of the original founders of EAF. His father, who had disappeared around the time of Ike’s birth, was a legend among a small group of avant-garde intellectuals and artists, an older man, easily twenty years older than Ike’s mother, respected for the breadth of knowledge and creativity, his impish sense of humor and cleverness. Ike had been raised in a radical environment of talk should be accompanied by action. To show that they meant business as a community focused action group, EAF saw an opportunity to secure the long shuttered girl’s camp on Mount Oly and return it to its original purpose as a summer retreat, but for underprivileged and disadvantaged girls.

Ionna herself had attended Camp Minnoknosso, or as she called it, Camp Me-No-Know-So, as a young girl and into her late teens.. She became the driving force behind the project to obtain the property, writing grants to philanthropic foundations and conservationist trusts, consulting with a local contractor who was part of their group to assess the property and estimate the extent of repairs needed to bring the old property back into shape to house thirty six girls in three six week sessions across the breadth of the summer months. They had heard through back channels that their prospects of obtaining at least some of the funding were very good. The group rallied around the project, everyone on a positive high. Then the phone call ahead of the official letter of rejection and its oddly apologetic tone. The news was demoralizing. There was much recrimination within the group, power politics demanded that she resign.

“Yet years later, I am still here. To make matters worse we learned that the property had been transferred to a holding company, a shell corporation that no one had any information about, IQ Dynamics. They didn’t waste any time, they had heavy equipment razing the place in a matter of weeks. And the property was heavily guarded so without a satellite photo or a camera drone, which didn’t exist back then, there was no way of knowing what they were doing. We tried court orders, injunctions, all of which were denied. Years later I uncovered evidence that it was funded through proprietary companies working through the highest level of the Defense Department.”

“What was Ike’s father’s name? Did you ever meet him?”

The smiley faced rainbow waitress appeared ready to take his order.

“I recommend the sausage, eggs, and yam fries,” Ionna said pointing at the menu.

“Yam fries?” Donovan raised an eyebrow. “That may be too earthy for me.” He ordered two eggs over easy, bacon and English muffin

“I never met the father though I’d heard a lot about him from the old guard, some kind of natural genius, jack of all trades, and apparently a champion surfer.”

“No name?”

“Peter.”

“Peter Carey?”

“No, not Carey, that’s the mother, Inanna’s name. Ike took her family name. I think his last name began with an N. . .Newton? Something like that. Everyone referred to him as ‘the goat’ though?”

“Goat?”

“Yeah, like ‘Greatest Of All Times’?” Ionna leaned her back against the back of the booth. “Does this have anything to do with the father?”

Donovan shook his head. “Maybe, but I don’t know why. There was someone named Dad that Ike hung around with at the trailer park and the overlook. Could that his father?”

“Oh, the crazy old guy?”

“You know him?

“Know of him. I have friends who were part of the movement and who still surf out there and live in the trailer park. In my last years at Camp Me-no-know-so, I and a few of the older girls would sneak out at night to hook up with some surfers we met at the beach or the trailer camp. Some of those guys never left.”

“The trail from the camp to the trailer park, is that the one the hang gliders use to get to their highest launch point?”

“No, that one’s too steep and dangerous, especially in the dark. There’s another trail, a secret trail that only few of us knew about. Further down by the old waterfall. You would never find it if you didn’t know where to look.”

Donovan nodded as something clicked into place. In the interviews someone had mentioned the old waterfall in association the man they called Dad.

“Anyway, Ike’s name comes up once in a while, mainly his antics and acting out. It’s like time stopped for him. He was still locked into the old Front ways. He could get very. . .vehement at times. I’d heard was that he was hanging out with this crazy old homeless guy who lived in the woods up the creek, someone they all called ‘Dad’ and that Ike actually believed that he was his father.”

Donovan looked up surprised as the waitress placed the plate in front of him. “That was fast.”

The waitress grinned, “The cook’s a psychic, she had you pegged as a bacon and eggs man.” She laid the guest check at the edge of the table and smiled at Ionna.

He cut into an egg and watched the yolk spill out. “How many people know about this secret trail out of the camp?”

“At first it was only a few of us older girls, but someone blabbed, and soon everyone knew about it including the Camp Director and they had the passageway blocked.”

“Passageway, you mean like a tunnel?”

“More of like a long trough that had been eroded by the waterfall into the hillside, and then when they diverted water into the swimming pond for the camp, that part of the channel dried up and was overgrown with brush and brambles. They filled the trough with rubble and large boulders and it was no longer passable.”

“I don’t imagine a mere pile of rocks would keep some girls from the lure of a good party.” He looked up to catch the gleam in her eye and pull of cheek into a smirk.

“A lot of the rubble was washed down the sluice after a couple of years of heavy winter storms. The big rocks stayed in place and created vents and spaces that the adventurous might find challenging but not daunting.” Ionna laid a hand on the table next to her cup and engaged his eyes. “So I’ve been told.”

Donovan stared at the bacon on his plate and wondered how he could get it all in his mouth without appearing like a ravenous wolf. He also wondered about the trail by the old waterfall. How had perimeter security missed that. Just plain sloppy? Or sloppy on purpose? “Do you know if the camp property is still accessible up through the secret trail?”

Ionna leveled him with a long look, gauging his trustworthiness before she spoke. “About nine, maybe ten years ago, when the construction of the facility was going on up on Mounty Oly I snuck in to take a look at what they were doing. Since we couldn’t get any answers from the county planning department of what exactly was going on up there, a few of us decided to find out for ourselves. We crawled up the ravine to the site of the construction, Ike was among the group. It wasn’t completed yet, but it looked like row upon row of container vessels and a large landing area for helicopters.”

Donovan solved the problem by making a bacon sandwich with the English muffin.. “Would you be willing to show me the access to the secret trail?”

He eyes narrowed. “Are you asking me to break any laws? Like trespassing?”

He shook his head and swallowed another bite. “You won’t be breaking any laws. I just want to determine if access to the Mount Oly compound can be made through this trail you’re talking about. I have a hunch that it’s been used or in use since the last time you went up there, possibly by Ike Carey.”

She nodded her head thoughtfully. “Yes, that seems likely. Ike was particularly affected when we lost the bid for the property. He’d wanted to sabotage the construction while it was underway. He wasn’t the only one,” she added with a smile. “But I have to warn you, it’s a maze, and some spots might be a tight fit for someone your size.”

Donovan looked down at where some of the egg yolk had dribbled down onto the napkin tucked under his chin and then back up at Ionna. He didn’t want to admit he was wearing his Kevlar. “It’s just the jacket, it makes me look bulky.”

“If you say so.”


Next Time in The White Room: On Top Of Mount Oly

Contents Vol. I No. 8

Introducing Dime Pulp Number Eight

In Issue Eight of Dime Pulp, A Serial Fiction Magazine, things are heating up in Corkscrew County as former supermodel and now reporter for the Corkscrew County Grapevine, Lee Malone is shocked from a riverside reverie of her time in Sabbia Negru under the protection of the women of SAPHO, Société Anonyme Protectrice des Hétaïres et Odalisques, to learn that she is suspected in the arson of her own cabin as The Last Resort, aka Tales Of A Long Legged Snoop, picks up the pace toward its concluding chapters.

In the third installment of The White Room, Helen Baron-Murdock’s Detective Jim Donovan of the Weston County Sheriff’s Office Violent Crimes Unit ties together more pieces of the mystifying puzzle into the death of Ike Carey that points to a sinister forces operating behind the scenes as he tries to uncover the true identity of “Dad” Ailess and solve the mystery of this latest Hard Boiled Myth.

Lackland Ask of A Detective Story finds himself in a pawn shop at the edge of Chinatown with the young linguaphile minx where the proprietor, Max Feathers, not only appraises the uncut diamond but launches into a hair-raising tale of his escape from St. Petersburg and his harrowing journey on the Trans-Siberian Railroad with jewels sewn in the seams of his clothes, and where they are also introduced to the Empress’s Cucumber.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with the serialization of two full length novels, The Last Resort and A Detective Story, as well as another short story based on Greek myths under the rubric of Hard Boiled Myth.

If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume One, Number Eight

  —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


TLR banner321Deep in the redwood wilds along the Corkscrew River, someone is shooting neighborhood dogs. The year is 1985 and Lee Malone, former fashion model, queen of the runways from Paris to Milan, once dubbed the most beautiful woman in the world, now a part-time reporter for The Corkscrew County Grapevine, is looking for a story to sink her teeth into. When Lee finds the owner of Kelly’s Seaside Resort brutally murdered, it leads her on an adventure that includes a mysterious gray van, another murder, extortion, pornography, sex slavery, and a shadowy organization of militant feminists known as SAPHO.  In the process, Lee Malone’s notorious past catches up with her. 

The Last Resort, Chapters 26-27

HBMbanner421

Greek myth is rife with murder, mutilation, cannibalism, mayhem, and the ever popular incest.  Weston County Sheriff’s Detective Jim Donovan of the Violent Crimes Unit wouldn’t know a Greek myth from a Greek salad, but if he did he would find some troubling similarities to the cases he’s investigating.  Revisited as crime fiction are the strange death of Hippolytus, the agonizing death of Heracles, the slaughter of Penelope’s suitors, the Fall of Icarus,  the sparagamos of Orpheus, and the cursed lineage of Pelops.  Helene Baron-Murdock’s Hard Boiled Myth taps into the rich vein of classical literature to frame these ancient tales in a modern context.

The White Room I
The White Room II
The White Room III

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Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde. 

A Detective Story—8

 

The White Room—3

by Helene Baron-Murdock

Donovan knew he had to face the music sooner or later. Later found him sitting across from Sheriff Tim Collins, a big man behind a big desk—they had served as deputies together, but ladder climbing and a regular diet of ass kissing had added a puffiness to the Sheriff’s face and midriff making him look overinflated. He leaned back in his large red leather office chair looking through half closed eyes before pointing a finger and raising an inquisitive eyebrow. “That’s your story?”

sheriff  “It’s a murder investigation, Tim, plain and simple, body, gunshot wound, a potential crime scene I’ve been denied access. . . .”

“You’re not going to get anywhere with that. Even if I wanted to help you, my hands are tied. These people have a lot of clout. I have budgetary concerns to look after and I can’t risk someone stepping on the supplementary funding pipeline, too many jobs at stake. If this was strictly a law enforcement matter, you’d have your search warrant, but it’s not, it’s political. Technically, it’s an accidental death. Let’s leave it at that.”

“Someone’s shitting on your turf, Tim.”

“I’m not saying I’m happy about it. I’m up for reelection in eighteen months. I can’t piss the wrong people off. Besides I had nothing to do with it. It was signed off by the Board of Supes and the State before I became Sheriff. Until now I’ve had no cause to complain. Put together a case file on it. Maybe after I’m reelected I’ll have another look.” He gave that shit eating grin he was famous for. “You could even be retired by then.”

“I don’t know how that rumor got started.”

“Well, now that the hiring freeze is over I can now hire a chief of detectives instead of handling the job myself.

“I don’t think I want the responsibility.”

“Like you had a snowball’s chance.” Collins chuckled. “And maybe promote a couple of deserving young officers into your slot. I can hire two for what I’m paying you.”

Donovan canted his head rolling his eyes, as if he cared. “It was never enough.”

“It works for me, movement in the ranks is always good for the department. It’s trickledown theory, you’ve heard of trickledown theory, haven’t you?”

“I have. I learned it from a plumber.”

“A plumber?”

“Yeah, ‘Shit flows downhill.’” Donovan rose from his chair, the ass chewing obviously over. “I’ve got a couple of angles to look at before I file this one away. Just to make sure the paperwork’s in order and we can cover our asses if something goes sideways in the future.”

Collins made a face. “It won’t, but go ahead, as long as it doesn’t impinge on any other ongoing investigations. And once I hire the new COD, it’ll be his call.”

foggy coast

Donovan was on the road back to the coast and Sparta Creek Trailer Park the first thing next morning. There was a gap between the approximate time of death and the time the body was discovered that might never be completely filled in. He’d stared at the timeline spreadsheet, checking off each item, time of his dispatch, travel time to Acropolis Cove. The vehicle accident, a junker versus an SUV had slowed traffic on Corinth Bay Road. He recalled the demolished older model sedan on the shoulder of the highway and the near pristine Suburban, tinted windows, on the flatbed of the tow truck thinking it odd and that the junker should have had priority if the intent was to clear the roadway. He’d accessed the accident on the Highway Patrol incident log and noted the case number. Logging in to the incident file with his interagency LEO password, he read the at-scene officer’s notes. 11-80, major injuries, driver of a pre-millennium Mercury GM transported to Santa Lena General. Vehicle info: registered owner William Bailey Yates, current address Site 11A, Sparta Creek Trailer Park. That the vehicle information on the Suburban was simply Federal Government Fleet gave him pause. He recognized the name of the reporting officer, Zara Valdez, and left a message on her voicemail to call him back.

It was another grim gray day at the coast in the shade of a huge fog bank. And windy, flags and pennants rippling furiously like they wanted to break free and fly away. The awning on the battered trailer at site 11A was shuddering from the gusts and sand was swirling around the aluminum steps leading to the door. A head peeked out the narrow doorway to register his presence and then closed. Either the wind or those within made the trailer shake slightly from side to side.

After Donovan 10-97’d his 10-20, and as dispatched acknowledged, he answered the incoming call on his phone. “Officer Valdez, thanks for returning my call.”

“What’s up, Donovan, run into some more highway trouble?” She was a perky little number he remembered. It had been a Charity Slow Pitch Softball Tournament, street cops versus highway cops. He‘d gone from home plate ump to UFC referee in a matter of seconds. The street cop catcher was talking trash to the batters, but whatever he’d said to her, she erupted and almost took the guy’s head off. He’d stepped in, cautioned the catcher, and assessed her one strike. The pitcher, a tall gal who worked in city dispatch and a former amateur player, couldn’t stop from laughing. Once she caught her breath she threw a fast ball and Valdez hit a line drive right at her head. Later he’d learned that the catcher had made disparaging remarks about what he thought her sexual preferences were. “The V stands for Volcano,” she’d told him.

“Word gets around fast.”

“That’s why we have radios. What can I do you for?”

“That TC outside of Dardanelle two morning’s ago? An 11-80 involving a Suburban. . . .”

“Yeah, yeah, I remember. What about it?”

“The Suburban belongs to. . . .”

“It was Fed fleet. The driver badged me, Deputy US Marshal.”

“You used to get those in cereal boxes but since the world went granola. . .got a description?”

“Of the fed? Yeah, universal soldier, definitely military type, by the haircut at least, high and tight. Impressive, imposing, and full of himself. Name was Brick or Dick something. Tiller? Tillis?”

“How about the other driver, the transport?”

“A mess, older guy, lotsa blood, fire and rescue had to use the can opener to extricate.”

“What was it? A 102 or a 103?”

“I don’t think it was a 2. A 3, maybe, but on the other vehicle’s part.”

“Oh yeah?”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d say some tactical driving was involved, at an unsafe speed, and the driver looked like someone who might have had the training. The Merc flipped a couple of times according to witnesses.”

“No take on the vehicle assignment?”

“I wanted to take a picture of the registration but he wouldn’t let me. Some weird agency I never heard of.”

“What about the transport, description?”

“Like I said, old guy. Despite the blood, my impression was leathery, like he’d been out in the sun a lot, like forever. No ID on him, wrote him a citation for driving without a license, not the vehicle’s registered owner from the DMV database photo, wrong age, too. He was out the entire time. Even in the hospital, they couldn’t ID him to see if he had insurance. But from the car he was driving, I’d say he didn’t.”

“What happened to the vehicle?”

“County impound yard, why?”

“I’m looking at the registered owner right now. He might want to know.”

“Oh yeah? I hope he has insurance because it’s totaled.”

An angry face surrounded by a shaggy bush of salt bleached hair stared at Donovan through the windshield of the sedan. When he stepped out, the mop retreated toward the trailer atop a wiry frame, feral in posture, mean-eyed as a cornered rabbit. “What you want?” a near soprano voice demanded. “I ain’t done nothing!” And then as a last recourse, “She ain’ta gonna press charges,” pointing at the woman named Heron cowering in the doorway of the trailer looking more harried than the last time he’d seen her.

If Donovan’s glare had been a thumb, it would have crushed the man like the insect he was. He addressed the woman in the doorway. “Ms. Heron, I have a few more questions concerning Dwight Carey.”

“She already told what she knows!” The boyfriend puffed himself like a bantam rooster and moved to block Donovan’s path to the trailer.

“I’m not here to talk to you. Get in my way and I’ll arrest you for obstruction of a murder inquiry.”

At the word “murder” the tenor of the man’s aggressiveness changed and his mouth opened and closed like a gasping goldfish undoubtedly mimicking his sphincter. He stood frozen with his arms stiff at his side, fists clenched.

“Ms. Heron, I would like to speak to you in private if I may.” He beckoned to her to step down out of the trailer. A few of the neighboring residents were drifting over to satisfy their curiosity.

Heron, her head down, eyes on the ground, came to stand next to him. “When I asked you about Dwight Carey yesterday, someone named ‘Dad’ came up. Do you remember?”

She nodded and cast a glance over her shoulder at her boyfriend.

“What else can you tell me about Dad?”

She shook her head, “Nothing I ain’t already said.”

“He’s a dirty old man and I’ll kick his ass when I get my hands on him!”

Donovan gave the boyfriend the practiced hard cop stare. “I’m not going to tell you again. Stay out of this.”

“He stole my ride!”

Donovan nodded and addressed Heron. “Did you loan Billy’s car to Dad and that’s why he beat on you?”

Heron whimpered and nodded her head.

“Did he tell you why he needed to borrow the car?”

“Said he had a doctor’s appointment in Santa Lena first thing in the morning but he’d bring it right back before Billy even knew it was gone. I ain’t lying, but he never did.”

Billy had got some of his nerve back and had edged closer, anger contorting his face. “This stupid bitch traded that old bastard my Merc for a stupid medal. Said it was worth a lot of money when it’s just a cheap piece of crap. Ain’t worth nothing and now I ain’t got wheels neither.”

“You have this item he gave you?” Donovan pointed a finger at Billy. “You stay where you are. If you wanted to file a stolen vehicle complaint, I’ll have the deputy come by and take the report.”

Heron reached down the front of her blouse and pulled up a round flat object attached to a thin leather cord. “It’s bronze, he said,” she spoke quietly, reverentially, “said it was ancient, magic, s’posta ward off evil spirits.” She looked at Billy. “Guess he was just making all that up cause he wanted me to let him borrow Billy’s ride. He’s a real slick talker when he wants to be, really smart, used a lot of big words. Talk anybody outta anything. I seen it. Said if he didn’t come back I could sell it to a collector for enough to buy a new car and a trailer. . . .”

“It’s a piece of junk!”

She handed it to Donavan who asked, “Did the thong come with it?”

“No I added that, There’s a little hole for it at the top.”

pan2He held it by the length of rawhide and examined it closely. It was the size of a cast belt buckle although solid and crude in its depiction of a face, what looked like a tongue protruding below a bushy mustache, the eyes round with terror or menace. The weight of it belied its size, encrusted in hues of coal black to greenish blues, there was nonetheless something intriguingly authentic about it.

Donovan set the medallion on the hood of his sedan and took pictures of the bronze medallion with his phone. He retrieved a plastic evidence bag from the driver’s door pocket.

“That’s mine!” Billy challenged and started toward him. “You can’t take that!” The nosey neighbors were joined by additional onlookers, curious, grim faced, but not their first police action.

“What did I say about staying put? This is evidence in a criminal inquiry. It’ll be returned to you as soon as it’s declassified. Step back or I’ll take you down and take you in!”

Someone in the crowd asked loudly, “Can you keep him longer this time?” A titter of laughter and grunts of approval rippled through the crowd of onlookers, some with smart phones recording the proceedings. A woman at the front of the neighborhood watch group held up her phone to get a better angle and yelled “Don’t let them take your property, Billy! You got your rights! They’ll be coming for your guns next!”

On cue Billy launched himself at Heron, punching, slapping and kicking, screaming “See what you did! This all your fault!” Heron cowered, screeching in surprise and pain.

Donovan moved quickly, grabbing Billy’s arm before the next blow landed and twisting it up behind his back in one swift practiced motion, knocking the man’s feet out from under him. Face down, Billy struggled to get up but Donovan, with a knee on his spine, snapped the cuffs on one wrist and final caught hold of the wildly flailing loose arm to bracelet it to the other. The wind, in a furious gust, whipped them both.

“Put your knee on his neck!” the woman filming with her phone yelled as if she were the director of an action movie.

Donovan stood up slowly, his breathing heavy. Two days running his adrenaline had kicked in and he could feel the cool itch of sweat breaking along his brow and under his eyes. He bent down again catching the glint of the medallion he had dropped in the wind shifting sand. For a moment he had the impression that it was mocking him as he hooked his finger through the leather strand and dropped the sturdy amulet into the evidence bag.

A couple of concerned neighbor women were comforting Heron, helping her over to the wood bench outside the trailer. One of them glared at Donovan as he approached. “You need to keep him in jail,” she said indicating Billy thrashing on the ground demanding his rights and the return of his property, “he’s always beating on her.”

“Do I need to call for a medic to take a look at you?”

Heron, sniffling between sobs, shook her head. “No, I’m ok,” she spoke feebly, “Are you gonna arrest him?”

Donovan pursed his lips. “He didn’t give me much choice. I witnessed an assault. I’m going to arrest him and leave it up to the DA to charge him. If he’s got a record for this kind of behavior it’s likely he’ll be doing some time. It’s the law and I have to enforce it.” He held up the evidence bag. “I’ll have you sign a receipt for the medallion. It’s interesting enough that I want to have the lab take a look at it. When we’re done with it, I’ll get it back to you. Promise.”

Heron looked up at him with tear reddened eyes and nodded. “Ok,” she said weakly.

emergencyWhy connecting one dot made him feel like a bloodhound hot on a trail he couldn’t say although it did energized him. He could draw a line from Ike Carey to Dad Ailess by association and by the odd coincidence that Carey was wearing a blue jumpsuit two sizes too small for him, a blue jumpsuit that was described as Dad’s usual attire. Now he had a link between Dad and the vehicle accident the morning Carey’s body was discovered. His next stop was Santa Lena General to learn what had become of the driver of the totaled Mercury. Once he reported his 10-15, the coast deputy arrived to take custody of Billy and await transport to the county jail.

The security guard at the ER recognized Donovan and nodded as he held the door open for him. He paused at the receiving counter for one of the nurses in blue scrubs to notice him. A young nurse, severe dark framed glasses, dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, walked up to the counter.

“Hi, Jim Donovan with the Sheriff’s Office. I’m inquiring about the victim of a TC brought in here two days ago, mid-morning?”

“I’m sorry, do you have a warrant for that information?” She looked around and called for the attention of another nurse with her back to them. “Maria?”

Maria turned and then smiled. “Jim Donovan. I have not seen you in a while. I thought maybe you have retired.” She was a sprightly slightly rotund Hispanic woman with streaks of gray in her otherwise jet black hair.

“I don’t know how that rumor got started.”

“If you ask me, I think Tim Collins start it in hope he get rid of his bad boy detective.”

“You might be on to something.”

“Jim, this is Tess, she is new here.”

Donovan gave an affable smile and claimed to be pleased to meet her.

“Have you heard from Marion recently? How she is liking Baltimore?”

Donovan scratched his chin. “Not in a while, but last time I talked to her she was liking it just fine.”

“Tell her ‘hi’ from the SaLeGen gang next time.” She addressed Tess. “Marion was one of the top ICU nurses here and a frequent companion of the Sheriff detective and we adopt him as ‘our guy’.” She beamed a big smile, warm and affectionate. “So what bring you down to the ER, Jim?”

“He wanted information on a TC admit. Doesn’t he need a warrant for that?”

Maria looked taken aback. “Why he need that? He need a court order to get private medical information, sure, but information on a patient status is entirely appropriate, especially if it is in the course of an investigation.” She turned to Jim, “I assume it is, yes?”

“Absolutely. I merely need to determine the victim of the traffic collision. . . .”

Tess looked confused. “But the others showed me a warrant and said. . . .”

“Others?” Donovan and Marie asked in near unison.

“The others came shortly after this man, the one who was in the vehicle accident two days ago, we had him as a John Doe, admitted him for assessment. They said they had a warrant for him but the on-call emdee said he was too fragile to move and they’d have to wait till he regained consciousness. Then later, I was off shift but I learned from Miguel, the late shift nurse, that they brought in their own doctor, a woman, and he said he didn’t think she was an emdee, but she had a lawyer with her, and they were going to transport him to another facility, and even the director of operations had to be called because the old guy had never recovered consciousness and the on-call refused because he was already tied to in-hospital life support. . . .”  She paused as if out of breath.

“So that what that was all about,” Maria nodded sagely. “I am looking over the shift note and here is this whole kerfuffle about the transport. They want to send their own helicopter to medivac. So we get him ready to move. But wherever it was come from, there was a weather delay, so he have to wait.

“A cluster kerfuffle, you might say,” Donovan interjected.

Maria chuckled, “Jim, you always make me laugh.” Tess gave a tentative smile and added, “But they got it all resolved this morning. The helicopter medevacked him to another hospital I’m assuming.”

“Ugh!” Donovan shook his head. “Was there any identification made on the patient, his name? Anything?”

“There was a name on the warrant. I saw it when they showed it to me.” Tess made the helpless gesture. “But I don’t remember it. Sorry.”

“Could it have been Daniel Ailess or Alaz?”

“Mmm, I don’t think so. It was the full name, you know, first, middle, last.”

“I should have acted on my hunch yesterday,” he groaned.

“Wait,” Maria said, “there must be a copy of the warrant if the hospital authorize the  release.” She held up a finger. “The director of operations! I will call his office,” she smiled picking up the hospital phone.

Donovan addressed Tess, “Can you give me a description of the patient, anything you can remember about him that might have struck you as odd?”

“No, not really, just that he seemed really old, you know, his skin was dark but the intern checked Caucasian on the admittance form.”

“Anything else?”

“Just that there was a lot of blood on his clothes. From the accident, you know.”

“What were his injuries?”

Tess shrugged. “I don’t know. I wasn’t part of the triage team. But I remember Marcus, one of the nurses on the team, saying he didn’t know where the blood came from.”

“It didn’t come from the injuries?”

“I didn’t ask him what he meant. We had a busy patch right around then. The on-call had him transferred to ICU almost immediately so it must have been pretty serious. I don’t think he regained consciousness, at least not under our care.”

Maria hung up the receiver shaking her head. “He is in a meeting and cannot be disturb.” She stared at the phone set. “The problem with hiring the children of the board of directors as receptionists is that they do not know anything and they do not care that they do not know anything.” Her eyes narrowed. “Tess, who was the on-call that day?”

“Meridan.”

“Oh, Merry Dan? That is disappointing.”

“No, wait, it was Fatima! Meridan was working another incident. Like I said we were slammed that day.”

Maria nodded. “Fatima Fattah. Now Doctor Fattah I know we can trust. She is not on call today. But!” with a spark in her eye, “I can review her patient log. If I know her, she count the buttons on his shirt.”

Donovan and Tess exchanged a hopeful glance as Maria manipulated the mouse, and a few keystrokes later nodded her head and said “Ok, here we go.” Her eyes scanned the screen and she frowned. “I have not seen that one in forever, a BOP billing code.”

“BOP? Bureau of Prisons?” He nodded his head. “Ok, that gives me something to chew on. Anything else?”

“Here, his name is Philip Andrew Nichols.”

“No joy there, and I’m almost back to square one.”

“This is odd.” Maria pointed to the screen. “Dr. Fattah could find no injuries that would account for the blood on the clothing.”

“The clothing? Any chance that they would still be around?”

Maria shook her head, “No, they were his effects, they probably were pack up with him when they transport.”

“Can I  get a look at his room in the ICU? Maybe something of his was left behind.” He shrugged. “I know it’s a reach.”

Maria put the phone to her ear. “You will have to mask and gown, but I will ask Debbie.” She smiled. “You remember Debbie, don’t you?”

Donovan remembered Debbie and Debbie hadn’t forgotten Donovan. Debbie had had a huge crush on him and had made a move on him at a Christmas party, one that Marion hadn’t been able to attend because she was working that evening. That had been some years back when he was still working Narcotics. Nothing had ever come of it mainly because Debbie had been very drunk. He’d driven her home, helped her find the keys to her front door, end of story. Except for the ones wagging tongues were tempted to tell.

Martina PapponettiDebbie talked a lot when she was nervous and that made Donovan nervous. “The room was scrubbed soon after they transported, I doubt you’ll find anything. There’s already a new patient in there. And even if I did, I could get in serious trouble if anyone found out I’d let you in. Privacy rights, you know. I don’t know what Maria was thinking.” They were standing by the double doors that led into the ICU. She had her mask pulled down under her chin, a large sterile cap covering a pile of blonde hair, and a full blue gown and matching booties.

“How about blood or tissue samples?” He felt stupid. He knew the answer as soon as he asked the question.

She answered anyway, “You’d have to have permission of his custodian or a court order, or both.”

Donovan looked around, a security guard was hurrying to the nurses station. “You’re right, of course.” He sighed, “Grasping at straws.”

Debbie had a nice smile even if it had a little edge of smug superiority to it. She tucked a stray strand of blonde hair under her cap and asked, “Have you heard from Marion since she moved back to Baltimore?”

He was about to give his boiler plate answer when an angry voice erupted at the nurses station. Another security guard was hurrying down the corridor crowded with idle machines, gurneys, nurses, orderlies, and patients hobbling along grasping their mobile IV poles or in wheelchairs. The loud voice belonged to an older woman. “I can’t believe this! How can you lose a man who can’t walk?”

The nurse, embarrassed and flustered, was losing her patience over the presumed lost patient. “Please, calm down! I’m certain it’s just a mistake. He’s here in the hospital, I’m sure of it.”

The loud woman was accompanied by a younger woman, likely her daughter, and a young girl not much older than five who was tugging insistently at the young woman’s jacket. The young woman tried to shush the girl but looked up in the direction the girl pointed as she announced in the clear voice of a precocious pre-adolescent, “That man has a hat just like Uncle Jimmy’s.” That caused the loud woman to whirl around. “Someone’s wearing my brother’s hat?” Then she screamed pointing at a now empty wheelchair in the cluster that had gathered to view the ruckus. All heads turned, including Donovan’s, to catch a leg disappearing behind the corner of the corridor. The security guards looked at each other perplexed. They had no idea what had just happened. They’d been called to quell a commotion. They weren’t at all certain they were supposed to chase someone down the hospital corridor even as the woman screamed “He stole my brother’s hat!”

Donovan was around the corner in a couple of strides. A gurney with attendant IV pole was waiting to be loaded on the elevator at the far end of the hallway flanked by two orderlies in pale green scrubs. Other than that, the people in the hallway looked like they belonged there, their demeanor professional, some flashing him questioning looks. Then he saw it on the floor between a soiled linen hamper and a medical waste disposal crate, the uncle’s hat. He bent down and with the pen from his pocket lifted the ballcap to take a closer look. There was an unusual logo on the front of the hat, a lower case i framed by a pair of wings.


Next Time, in Part 4 of The White Room: The Lab In The Labyrinth

A Detective Story—8

by Colin Deerwood

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stormy sky allywayI instructed the boys to park mid-block in the shadow of the cone from the street light. Max’s Triple A Loans was half a block down and locked up tighter than a spinster’s legs on a full moon night. I squired the dame around the corner and into the alley that ran behind Max’s pawn shop. She didn’t hesitate once as we entered the narrow unlit corridor of discarded crates and overflowing overturned garbage cans, a sliver of gutter water gleaming down the center, the scramble of rats scurrying away. Visible in between the gap of tall buildings the sky was filling with the dark billowing clouds and in the distance a flash then a rumble sounding like someone was moving furniture around in the apartment upstairs, really heavy furniture.

I’d been there before and even though the sign on the large metal door claimed to belong to Ho Gung Import Exports, I banged on the door a couple of times. I knew Max burned the midnight oil counting his filthy lucre and probably even slept there. All I got for my trouble was a reminder of how hard a metal door can be. I tried again, this time adding my voice. “Max! It’s me, Lackland Ask, open up!” I thought I heard a movement on the other side of the door and put my ear up to it. “Max! Open up!”

“Go away,” a faint tired voice answered.

“Come on Max, it’s me, Lack Ask. I found your stupid niece for you when she ran away upstate with that travelling Bible salesman!”

Nothing. Except for the raindrops that were falling with increasing intensity.

“I don’t know what was worse for Max, that she ran away or that it was with a Bible salesman,” I said from the corner of my mouth. I slapped  the palm of my sore hand on the door a few more times. “Come on, Max! It’s important! And it’s starting to rain!”

The gal thought she’s give it a try, stepped up and rapped on the door delicately with her knuckles. “Mr. Fedderman,” she called out, “my name is Rebecca Levy. I request a special favor of you. I am here with my betrothed, Mr. Ask, and we have an item we wish for you to appraise if you would be so kind.”

What she said was more of a mouthful than Open Sesame, but it worked. I could hear the bolt being slid back and the tumblers turning and finally the heavy door creaking on its hinges swinging outward to reveal Max with a Louisville slugger in one hand and a very perplexed look on his mug. He stared at Rebecca and then at me and back again. “Betrothed?” he croaked.

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“Come in, come in” Max waved his hand impatiently, smiling at Rebecca and frowning at me. There was the stink of old in the little storage room in the back and it wasn’t just Max. And as I had guessed, a cot pushed against the wall under some shelves crammed with pawned items. He led us into the cage that was his office just off the main showroom and pulled the chain on the overhead light. In among the clutter was a rolltop desk and a work bench.

Max sat in the only chair and looked up at us. He was a sight. A halo of wild white frizz surrounded his mottled dome, wrinkles on his forehead stepped down to a pair of cheaters like the bottoms of jam jars astride a carbuncled schnozzle below which sat a smear of liver lips on a bed of untrimmed whiskers. No wonder he was known as The Owl on the street, but an owl that had just smoked an exploding cigar. He smiled and showed that he was running out of teeth and the ones that he still had weren’t in that good a shape. The smile was aimed at the dame. Me, he fixed with a squint.

Max grunted and placed the pebble in the palm of his hand and poked at it with a finger. “The first difference you will notice between a pebble and an authentic uncut diamond is that an uncut diamond has a faint oily feel to it.”

“So you are getting married? The temperature in Hell must have dropped below zero.” The liver lips shaped a smirk.

“Thank you for agreeing to see us, Mr. Fedderman.” The kid beamed her glow at him. “It is the matter of a stone and its authenticity. Mr. Ask. . .I mean, Lackland, doubts that it is real.”

“A stone,” Max breathed noncommittally.

“Yeah, Max, it’s supposed to be an uncut diamond, but how can you tell? I mean, it looks like a pebble you might find in your shoe.”

“Uncut diamond?” Now the old guy was interested because instead of slouching in his chair he sat straight up.

“Lackland says you are an expert in such matters and can appraise its value for us.”

From the look on Max’s face maybe he took the term “expert” to  be some kind of insult. He stood up and I realized how short he was. Still, puffing out his chest he said, “Young lady, I will have you know that I was the most respected and renowned purveyor of gemstones in the international community of Shanghai. I handled only the finest in jewels, from diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, and jade. . . .” He was about to go on but the tailor’s daughter jumped in.

“Oh, jade, I love jade. My mother had the most beautiful jade necklace. . . .”

Not to be outdone, Max dismissed what she had to say. “I carried only the finest of Burmese jade, the jade of emperors and empresses, to some more valuable than diamonds!”

Now it was my turn. “That’s what I told them, Max. . . .” And at the dame’s scowl, corrected myself, “Uh, her, that’s what I told her. You know your gems, diamonds especially.”

“Of course, if I do say so myself.” Acting humble didn’t suit him. “If I may examine the specimen.” He held out his hand and the girl reached into her coat pocket and produced a small white box. Max took it from her and opened the box and muttered a hmmm. He set the box on his work bench and found a pair a tweezers which he used to hold the rock up to the light.

“Like I told you, Max, it looks like something you might find on the beach.”

Max grunted and placed the pebble in the palm of his hand and poked at it with a finger. “The first difference you will notice between a pebble and an authentic uncut diamond is that an uncut diamond has a faint oily feel to it.” Then he parked his glasses on top of his dome and pulled a loupe from his vest pocket and fit it in his eye socket. “The next detail is the surface of the stone, its facets, what are their shapes.” He dropped the diamond back into the little white box and handed it to me. “Congratulations! You are in possession of a genuine diamond. Quite a valuable one, I have to tell you.”

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money eyesWell, that cinched it. I was going to be a rich man. My eyes and my grin were competing with each other over which was going to get bigger. I looked at the dame and her smile was trying to make up its mind if she was pleased or now what. But I didn’t care. All I could think about was what I was going to do with all that money once I turned those diamonds into cash. A new roadster like a Torpedo or that Roadmaster I had my eye on, an apartment in a classy neighborhood with a doorman at the entrance, new suits, none of those second hand threads, dames, booze, travel, maybe catch a train to Frisco and look in on Della who I heard was working for a slick lawyer on Mason Street and flash my roll and say “who’s the loser now.”

Luck was finally turning my way. I could open my own office instead of just passing out business cards in cocktail lounges and night clubs. I would certainly be looking at a more upscale clientele. I’d actually have customers I could call clientele. I would need a receptionist, someone to answer the phone and show the clients into my private office with Lackland Ask, Confidential Investigations in gold lettering on the frosted glass pane of the door, maybe a dame like this one, smart, sassy, and eager to learn. Happy days were here again where actually they had never been before or if they had, they didn’t stay for very long. I was going to be rich!

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No doubt I was taking advantage of the situation but I reached around and put my arm over the frill’s shoulder and pulled her to me. “Hey baby, how about that. we got a real diamond. It’ll make a beautiful wedding ring!”

I got a sharp elbow in the ribs for my trouble. “Yes, of course, darling,” she said between gritted teeth and giving me a firm no smile avoiding the closeness of my face like I had three day bender breath. “Maybe we should be on our way and thank Mr. Fedderman for his kindness.”

I looked at my cup. Maybe the joy juice had affected my hearing. “You mean Dracula country? Don’t tell me you’re a vampire, Max.”

“Leaving?!” Max’s whole body, head, arms, legs shook no. “I would not think of it! This happy occasion calls for a drink! I insist!” and he produced a short round bottle from the bottom drawer of a dusty wooden file cabinet, the kind of bottle Sinbad might have rubbed when he was calling out the genie. He had a glass but it was greasy and finger stained. He shook his head and scurried to a set of shelves along the wall crammed with odds and ends, mostly glass and porcelain figurines like you might find in a Chinese variety store. He reached into the clutter and with a grin that was startlingly sinister, produced a pair of blue and white tea cups, setting them on the edge of the desk, and proceeded to drip some of the liquor into each of them before pouring a generous helping into the smeared glass for himself.

I didn’t see why not. A drink always went a long ways to settling my nerves. It was the best tonic I knew. Besides I was in a mood to celebrate. The frail wasn’t so sure and stared at the cup Max had handed her.

“Mazel tov! To the health and prosperity of your union. May you have many offspring to see to you in your old age!”

She went all red in the face and I almost felt sorry for her. She hesitated and Max leaned forward to say something like it was going to convince her. “Ming dynasty,” he said indicating the cup, “Very rare.”

She pass the cup under her nose, still uncertain.

“A plum brandy from the old country.”

She took a tiny sip to wet her lips. She smiled at the sweetness of the taste and tried a little more. By the time it reached her throat her eyes were watering and she was trying to catch her breath. She began to cough.

“Where are my manners?” Max gently steered her to the only chair in the room. “Here, sit, sit.”

She thanked him and asked, “Where is your old country?”

“Transylvania.”

Dracula_(1931I looked at my cup. Maybe the joy juice had affected my hearing. “You mean Dracula country? Don’t tell me you’re a vampire, Max.”

“Pah!” Max spit, “The fever dreams of an Irishman. In the Carpathian Mountains there are many strange legends, but none of them are about vampires.”

Rebecca took another sip now that she was sitting. She nodded. “I have heard many of the folk tales from that region. They are similar to the ones I grew up with.”

Max was pleasantly surprised from the way his whiskers parted to form a smile. “And where is that, my dear?” So when she said the name of the place that sounded something like Salami-ka, he exclaimed, “We’re practically neighbors!” He poured himself a little more of the liquor and then a dab into each of our cups. “To the crucibles of civilization!” he toasted and took another big gulp and just to be polite I followed suit. The girl, too, though maybe not so eagerly.

Then she asked the question that set it all in motion, and gave Max the opportunity to tell his story. “How did you end up in Shanghai?”

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“When I was a young man I had to leave my tiny village in the shadow of the larger castle town of Sibiu because of a matter of honor. It was a matter of honor for the father of a young woman who vowed he would kill me on sight. I offered to marry her but because of who I was that was impossible. I come from a poor family, my father an itinerant tailor, and she was the daughter of a prominent man in the village. I was quite handsome in those days and was known about the village as “zilbertung”. My father went to the mayor of the town and begged him to intercede. Being a wise man, the mayor proposed a solution. The man’s honor needed to be appeased but he was not an unreasonable man except for the fact that he wanted to kill me. He would accept satisfaction on two conditions. One, that I was to be banished from the village, and two, that a compensatory payment be made. As I said, my parents were very poor. The first stipulation would break my mother’s heart but at least I would still be alive, but the other was beyond their means. The mayor had an idea that would resolve both of the demands. With my parents’ agreement, my father was ready to kill me himself, the mayor took me to Sibiu and sold me to a travelling merchant as an indentured servant.”

“Oh, how awful!” the kid breathed, and accepted another drib from Max’s bottle while I leaned my rear on the edge of the desk. Max had the floor.

“It was the best decision I never made in my life!” Max held his glass up in acknowledgement and lapped up more of the juice. “From that moment on, I trusted only fate, dame fortune. Decisive action is for schnooks. And most of my life has proved me right. Opportunity is always underfoot, you only have to trip over it.

“As it turns out, the man I was sold to was a trinket merchant, a man who bought, I should say swindled poor peasants out of their family heirlooms. And he beat me horribly at first, especially when he was drunk, but I learned that he had a weakness for folk tales and so with my silver tongue I beguiled him with stories from my village, some that I had heard at my grandmother’s knee and others that I made up ex nihilo, especially the ones with fantastic beasts and enchanted maidens who would lure young men with their whiles. And so I always made certain that he had plenty to drink at whatever inn we stopped at and I would tell him stories until he fell asleep.

“By the time we arrived in St. Petersburg, he had me reciting my tales to the denizens of roadside taverns and passing the hat. Of course I never saw any of the money because I was essentially his slave, a slave to a Slav. But in St, Petersburg, creditors caught up with the merchant who was known as Ursulov, by the way, a bear of a man. He owed many debts and to pay them off he had to sell me even though he had become very fond of me and my stories.

Soviets-2“And I had landed in St. Petersburg at the turn of the century, a simmering cauldron of political dissent and talk of revolution, but now as the servant of a man who was a jewel merchant or a jewel thief, depending on whom you spoke with, a tiny man with a very bad temper who was not quite Russian and not quite Chinese—he claimed to be from the region near Lake Baikal which later proved useful in extricating me and my companions from a very dangerous situation.

“But I digress. At first I merely swept the shop and washed the windows and kept the fires going in the winter, and because I was quite strong, I accompanied him when he thought he might need protection. He carried a pistol and allowed me a knife. A known jewel merchant was not safe on the streets of St. Petersburg and he had made many enemies over his gem transactions. He had a young apprentice as well, a boy of about my age, perhaps younger, named Freddy, from Switzerland, and we became fast friends.”

“Ah, Switzerland,” the dame murmured, leaning a little sideways and accepting more of the fruit juice from the bottle. I had a refill as well. After a while, that stuff made you feel kinda warm and cozy, like you didn’t have a care in the world, and added to the fistful of diamonds I had in mind, I didn’t.

“I attended boarding school in Zurich,” she said dreamily, “I learned French, Italian, German, and English while I was there, and I had a friend in each of those languages.” She looked up at me trying to focus her eyes, “And now I am learning American.”

“The discontent in the streets of St. Petersburg and Moscow came to a boil and the people revolted against the government. The revolt was quickly put down but it paved the way for the Bolsheviks a dozen years later.”

“A woman of words in the ways of the world!” Max raised his glass again and we all downed a slug. “I too learned many new languages during my time working for Otobayar as the merchant was known. Chinese and Russian, German, and French. Because of my silver tongue, languages were easy for me, and soon Mr. Otobayar came to trust me as someone who could always bargain a good price for the merchandise, either up or down, depending on the circumstances. I also learned much about the gem business, especially that stones were an international currency, and quite easily transported across borders sewn in the lining of a sleeve or the cuff of trousers, and were accepted everywhere.”

“Kinda like diamonds,” I said and I sounded stupid saying it.”

“”Exactly,” Max said passing the bottle around.

“Diamonsh,” the kid echoed and sounded just as stupid.

“Those were wild and dangerous times in St. Petersburg. There were strikes by workers and peasants alike. Factions of the military were trying to gain power by overthrowing the Tsar’s rule. There was fighting in the street, soldiers killing many of the citizens who were protesting, demanding food, better wages, or even wages. Much of this fomented by the disciples of a dead Engländer by the name of Marx. Less than half a dozen years into the new century, Russia had started a war with Japan. The discontent in the streets of St. Petersburg and Moscow came to a boil and the people revolted against the government. The revolt was quickly put down but it paved the way for the Bolsheviks a dozen years later.”

“The damned Reds,” I growled and emptied my cup

“Soon Mr. Otobayar, whose full name by the way had thirty letters to it and was unpronounceable to anyone not familiar with the Mongol tongue even when they were sober, realized that a man in a business such as his was in more danger than a mere bodyguard could protect him from. It was time to flee. He had Freddy and I pack up as much as we could carry, sewing strings of gems into our clothes, in the linings of our suitcases, and the heels of our shoes, and we boarded the Trans-Siberian Railway and headed east. The streets of the capitol were running with blood and the Russian Empire was losing the war to the Japanese.”

“The Japanese,” Rebecca spoke dumbly and I had to agree with her.

“When we arrived in Moscow to board the train,” Max said, steeling himself with a sip for the next part, “there were soldiers everywhere. They were heading to the battle front. We feared we would not be allowed to board. But there were also poor peasants conscripted to hard labor in the east and so we rode in the boxcars with them, with Mr. Otobayar disguised as our servant.”

Max stared at the wall of his office like he was looking out a window and shook his head like he didn’t like what he was seeing. “It was an incredibly long journey across the wilds of Russia complicated by the fact that the train heading east, the one Mr. Otobayar, Freddy and I were traveling on, was regularly sidetracked to let pass the trains heading west that were loaded with the dead and wounded from the war with Japan.

transiberian“Even in your most extravagant moment you could not imagine the horrors I witnessed. Peasants starving or killing each other over a crust of bread, soldiers committing suicide or deserting which was almost the same thing as they had no hope of surviving in the wilderness, and particularly after a troop train of their wounded comrades passed the other way, there were always the wails of inconsolable desperation. We had to be continually on our guard and Mr. Otobayer and I had to deal forcefully with the growing insolence of the peasants. We feared for our lives and the gems we carried which of course would mean nothing to them. They wanted our clothes and our shoes.”

Max talked in a way that put pictures in my head and I just stared at him looking at what his words said. The girl was looking up at him with her mouth hanging open.

“Fortunately for us, as the train rounded the southern tip of Lake Baikal, we took on a contingent of soldiers native to that region whose language Mr. Otobayat was quite familiar with and was able to convince them to allow us to continue to our destination in their company and under their protection.

“When we arrived in Harbin we waited for weeks in vermin infested lodgings along with other Russian refugees who had arrived before us and were still waiting for the Eastern Chinese Railway train to take us to Peking  We roomed alongside criminals and deserters, Japanese agents and Chinese soldiers. Our lives were more in danger than they had been on the train for these men, and women, knew the value of the gems they suspected us of carrying.

“Mr. Otobayat had engaged one of the servants at the inn to be our ears and eyes and keep us informed of the intentions of the other guests. The night of the train’s arrival he warned us that several of the toughs and army deserters planned to attack us in the morning of the train’s departure for Peking. Mr. Otobayat on hearing the news came up with a plan. He paid the servant to betray us and tell the bandits that we had got wind of their plan and were fleeing to a neighboring village. As there was only one road in that direction the gang of ruffians set out to follow us, assuming that we could not have gone very far. We waited for them outside the city limits hiding in ditches alongside the road. Once they came into view, we had Freddy run down the road in full view. As they ran past us, we jumped out of the ditches and beat them with our clubs. Mr. Otobayat had to shoot one of them and I cut another one’s throat.” Max held his hand like was holding a knife.

The dame’s eye opened wide and rigid like the slots on a pay phone. He kinda got my attention, too. And as if to fan all the smoke away, he said, “A week later were in the international settlement in Shanghai. Mr. Otobayat acquired quarters where we could continue our business in gems and sent Freddy on a steamer across the Pacific to America to look for further opportunities. Mr. Otobayar always thought of the future. Unfortunately his past caught up with him and he was murdered in a deal with a Burmese jade dealer.”

Max held the smoked glass of the bottle up to the light and squinted with one eye. There was a corner left, probably enough for one more round whether we needed it or not. “Fortunately I knew enough of the gem business to continue in the trade, I had my silver tongue, and by then I was considered a yu shu lin feng, a handsome young man, and cut quite a dashing figure among the emigres of the international settlement as well as the citizens of the middle kingdom. I even became the president of League of International Gem and Diamond Merchants, Shanghai chapter.” He frowned. “Until they brought false charges against me and had me barred from membership.” He dismissed them with a wave of a hand and downed the last in his glass. He peered at the tailor’s daughter. “And that is how I ended up in Shanghai, my home for a quarter of the century. I won’t bother you with the details of my having to flee before the Japanese invaded, the fascist Blue Shirts I had to bribe, the tongs, the Green gang, and Shanghai gangsters like Crater Face Huang and Elephants Ears Wang!”

Now there were some names for a Dick Tracy funny book and maybe the girl thought so too because she started giggling and then broke into a loud guffaw. “Elephant Ears Wang!” she snorted, and then let out a very unladylike gut splitter, tears running down her cheeks.

They say laughter is contagious. I thought it was kinda funny myself and volunteered a couple of chuckles. They bounced around the small office and the next thing I know, we were all practically rolling on the floor, pointing fingers, crying, and trying to catch our breaths with a bad case of the yuk-ups and ho-ho-hos.

Ads49

Wheezing and holding a hand up in surrender, Max wiped the tears from his eyes. “Thank you for your gift of humor, Miss Levy, soon to be Mrs. Lackland Ask.” That only caused to her to laugh some more, but not as heartily. He gestured to the interior of his shop. “Let me offer you something for your trousseau. Pick any item of clothing, silk dresses imported from China, or silk pajamas for the wedding night, perhaps. With my compliments.” He winked at me and I gave him a big wink back like we were part of some vaudeville routine.

“Oh, I just love the feel of silk on my skin,” she said getting to her feet, a little wobbly but managing a cross ankle dance to the clothing racks Max was pointing to further in the shop.

“Ah, yes, yes, the Empress’s Cucumber.” Even he looked a little embarrassed, clearing his throat

Max gave me the raised eyebrow and called me over for a tête-à-tête which I knew was French for a mouth to ear. “These diamonds, they have relations?” He was trying to be subtle but it almost went over my head.

“Uh, yeah, about a half dozen, I’d say. And if this deal works out, they’ll be all mine.” I couldn’t help grinning but Max’s grim mug made me stow it.

“Deal, what deal?”

“Don’t worry Max, I’ll cut you a commission for moving the rocks for me.” I looked over my shoulder to see if the dame was still occupied with sorting through the rack of dresses and pajamas. “See, I had this address book that belonged to one of Kovic’s goons and unbeknownst to me it was full of information about this mob called the Black Hand.”

At the mention of the Black Hand he gave me the Felix the Cat bug eyes. And nodded impatiently.

“These guys, the girl, this rabbi and his group are fighting them or something like that. It’s got everything to do with what’s going on. . . .”

“Yes, yes, I am getting the flavor of what you are saying. And it is you that Kovic is looking for?” He was giving me the once over like he didn’t think I had it in me. “There is a price. . . .”

That’s when we heard the kid scream and then start laughing again. I figured she spotted a rat but why was she laughing? It sounded hysterical.

She was holding a bright red Chinese dress to her neck with one hand and standing by one of the glass display cases, pointing to a brocade cloth Chinese box on top. “What is that?” she said, looking as she if she was pleasantly mortified.

I was kinda brought up short myself. I knew what it looked like and I could give a guess at what it could be used for, but I didn’t want to say. I left that up to Max.

“Ah, yes, yes, the Empress’s Cucumber.” Even he looked a little embarrassed, clearing his throat.

Now that he said it, I had to agree, it did kinda look like a cucumber. It was green and longer than it was wide, rounded and curved at the tip, with some carved leaves around what looked like a stem or handle at the other end. It looked like something valuable or at least expensive tucked in the plush padded red lining. On the other hand, it also looked like something you might find in the bedside table drawer of some lonely old maid.

“This once belonged to an empress?” The disbelief wasn’t hidden.

“Oh, no, no, this is merely a soapstone replica. They are also known as ‘auntie’s friend.’ The original one belonged the Empress Dowager Tzu-zi and made of the finest most translucent Burmese jade.”

“Her name was Suzy?” Now I was doubting what I was hearing.

“No Tzu-zi, although I know it does sound like Suzy. The original Empress’s Cucumber mysteriously disappeared after her death shortly after I arrived in Shanghai. Being in the jade business at the time I had heard rumors that it was for sale to the highest bidder. Mr. Otobayar thought he could broker a deal with a rich Japanese industrialist but it was all quite secret and I was kept out of the transactions. Although his death was attributed to a jade deal gone bad, I believe Mr. Otobayar was murdered by a sect of loyalist bent on restoring imperial rule. They believe that possession of the Empress’s Cucumber will boost their claim to legitimacy among the people of the middle kingdom. And from what I hear from my informants even though no knows where it is, treasure hunters and agents loyal to the throne of Heaven are still searching for it.” Then dropped his voice confidential like. “There is a rumor that the jade has been sighted recently. Whoever has possession of it is holding millions of dollars and the fate of a people in his hands. No wonder they would kill for it.”

traditional-chinese-bridal-dress001Max turned his head and smiled at the frail as if he hadn’t just been talking about conspiracy and murder. “So you’ve picked the red cheongsam dress with the gold embroidered birds of paradise. Excellent choice. The size looks right but maybe the hem could be let out a bit otherwise you might show a little more ankle than is proper. I can have it done by tomorrow and delivered to your address.”

As Max was showing us to the back door, Rebecca asked. “I was wondering, whatever became of your friend Freddy after he left for America?”

Max shook his head. “Sad story that. He returned to France and joined the Foreign Legion to fight in the Great War, and was wounded, lost his hand. Now I hear he seeks out the company of Bohemians and degenerate artists.”


Next Time: Full Flush Or No Flush

The Last Resort 26-27

by Pat Nolan

Chapter Twenty Six

SAPHO

The waves washing across the black gravel of Sabbia Negru made a sound in their receding like that of distant applause. I might have been feeling nostalgic for the attention I received as a celebrated beauty. There was no doubt that I was conflicted. To say I had family and friends who were concerned for my well-being would be an understatement. I had been kidnapped after all. On the other hand, my captors were kind, generous women who had rescued me from sex slavery. Though when I reflected back on it, didn’t my life as a fashion model constitute a kind of slavery?

I’d been keeping track of the passage of days by the phases of the moon and my own cycle. In that time I had changed. My once pampered alabaster skin had darkened to a bronze hue under the unrelenting Mediterranean sun. And I was growing hair in places that had not seen a follicle in decades. For as long as I could remember I had been peeled, plucked, waxed and shaved of any growth that would hint at a more aggressive sexuality. As now, my hair fell to below my shoulders, streaked with salt bleached strands. And I had come to look forward to my daily jogs along the beach and my visits to Treyann’s stone cottage. Xuxann was often too busy with her other duties to continually watch me and she had to trust that I wouldn’t do anything foolish, like try to escape. Much of the time I was left on my own. I got a chance to know myself in those hours of solitude.

And I was learning things I had never imagined. For one, the group that was holding me was known as SAPHO, Société Anonyme Protectrice des Hétaïres et Odalisques, which, loosely translated, stands for Anonymous Society for the Protection of Prostitutes and Concubines. As their name indicated, they were an organization of anonymous female humanitarians engaged in the rescue of sex slaves and women forced into prostitution. They were a modern reimagining of nunneries in the Middle Ages coming to the rescue of wayward girls. Their sign was the ancient Greek letter psi which consisted of three lines converging on a single point at the base to form a bisected V, and the first letter in the Aeolic name for the great woman poet, saphoSappho. Some of the women had the mark discreetly tattooed on a shoulder blade or an ankle. Their totem was the octopus from which they derived their organizational structure, the nine: eight tentacles and one body. The head of a group of nine, usually the eldest, acted as the body, and directly beneath her were two women who in turn each directed a group of three. But despite their hierarchal structure, the women seemed to act by consensus. There were SAPHO octopi cells in every country around the world who worked to rescue young woman from sex slavery, usually operating as clinics and halfway houses. It was even hinted that Mother Teresa belonged to SAPHO. Only cells like the one that held me were clandestine operators. Known as the Erinnyes, they engaged in sabotage to disrupt the operations of the vast networks of the international sex trade. Each clandestine cell specialized in a particular type of operation. Those holding me specialized in being invisible and providing safe houses while others, like those who had rescued me, were more militant and lethal.

I was informed that it had been white slavers from the Sophia Syndicate, purveyors of female flesh since the days of the Ottoman Empire, who had kidnapped me at the behest of some sandcastle despot. SAPHO intercepted my transport at a private air strip in Moldavia and spirited me to their hideaway in the Mediterranean. Unable to deliver the goods, the Bulgarians claimed to be holding me for ransom and were demanding five million dollars. They were certain the Prince would pay the price.

SAPHO had their motives for keeping me under wraps. Through private channels, they released a picture of me holding a copy of Le Monde with the news of my kidnapping to prove to the Prince that my custody was under their aegis. They proposed a less costly solution, but one that was more politically delicate. And they had to move cautiously. They suspected that some of the Prince’s advisors were complicit in the original plan to kidnap me. When Mohamed el-Ipir’s name was mentioned, I wouldn’t believe it. And when Preston Carmichael’s name had come up, I dismissed him as merely that lawyer who had gotten me out of a drug jam.

Urann, the elder of this particular SAPHO cell, had been candid in explaining why I was being held. They were negotiating with the Prince to intervene in gaining the release of women from harems controlled by less enlightened oil royalty. The Prince’s professed affection for me would be the incentive to free the women from the basement sex dungeons. When I was released I would be at liberty to tell anyone who asked what I knew about the organization.

“Do you think they will believe you?” she had asked, allowing a glimpse of her cold determination. “You are a woman whose sole function is to serve as a display of a man’s idea of beauty, a measure held up to the women of the world. Your words on politics or the rights of others will be dismissed as that of a vacuous female icon.”

As it was, once I was allowed to tell my side of the story and counter the spin that appeared in the tabloids, hinting at wild lesbian adventures or just the antics of a fading star looking to attract attention, I opted to say as little as possible. I did speak out against sex slavery and the plight of women around the world. Not surprisingly, little of what I said was reported. I was much more of a photo op, and innuendo is always so much more interesting than fact. For me it was like buying a beautiful gown and not being able to remove the price tag. Every time I cut off one tag another appeared as a reminder of what it cost to be me.

Trayann also became a member of one of the clandestine cells working to disrupt the transport of women. They called themselves the Erinyes. . .Their power was the hypnotic blurring of the edges of reality, confounding the already befuddled minds of men.

My greatest lessons, however, were learned in the presence of Trayann. Together we explored the pine woodlands and meadows situated at the base of the monolithic crag I named Mother Mountain. She was intimately familiar with the surroundings and where to look for wild herbs, berries, and mushrooms. She tried to teach me the ancient names of birds and their calls. It was hopeless. The only name I remembered was Pica, the persistent woodpecker with its nest in the pine near Trayann’s hut. Between my quasi-Parisian French and her provincial argot, we managed to establish a rapport that included much gesturing, head nodding, and sympathetic understanding.

There were places that were obviously sacred to Trayann. She would stop and raise her arms to the transparent blue to incant a prayer or sing a song of praise to the great goddess. Then she would show me the herm hidden in the foliage or a stone column representing a wood nymph. Other times I just sat with her in her garden or beat the midsummer heat in the cool of her stone hut with a cup of herb tea. Conversation was nearly impossible unless Xuxann was in attendance. I would ask her to tell me the names of plants she had gathered or objects that adorned her tidy stone hut. And patiently, she did.

Once I noticed what I thought to be a vaccination scar on her left shoulder but when I looked closer I saw that the scar was the result of a hot brand. The image was that of an octopus with eight radiating tentacles. She had run her fingers over it, speaking words heavy with sadness.

Xuxann had been with me that day and as we descended the path back to my cell, I asked her if she understood what Taryann had said about the brand on her shoulder. I assumed that it must have had something to do with SAPHO as the octopus was their totem. Xuxann had given me a long searching look as if she were trying to discern my trustworthiness and then told me the story of Trayann.

What Trayann had said was something like “this is where I began.” As a young girl, she had been kidnapped by white slavers and ended up in the clutches of the Sophia Syndicate, the very same group that had tried to kidnap me. The SS, as they were known in the trade, had long branded their property with the octopus symbol. Even their luxury yachts on the Black Sea, essentially floating bordellos, flew the octopus pennant. After years in a brothel specializing in young girls, Trayann escaped and made her way to a convent in the eastern forests of Czechoslovakia where she was given refuge by nuns of the Order of St Hildegard. The nuns ran a sort of underground railway for refugees from the sex trade. They put Trayann in touch with other escapees similarly branded by the SS. She was introduced to a secret society whose mission it was to put the Bulgarians out of business. With the help of the Hildegardian nuns, Trayann and her associates set about establishing a variety of fronts and charities whose purpose was the rescue of at-risk young women. In an ironic twist, they appropriated the Sophia Syndicate brand as the symbol of their own organization.

Trayann also became a member of one of the clandestine cells working to disrupt the transport of women. They called themselves the Erinnyes or the Furies. That had been years ago, between the wars. During the war, the women of SAPHO had devoted themselves to working in hospitals and relief organization, sheltering young women who had been displaced by the fighting. Organizations like theirs, often headed by nuns, had existed in one form or another for centuries. The brutal lessons of the war had convinced SAPHO that they needed to be more militant and meet their foes head to head on the field of battle. Their lack of physical strength and fire power was more than made up for by their womanly wiles. They had to become invisible. This was accomplished by being what men thought they were, compliant and subservient. They learned to shape shift as the ancient shamans had. Their power was the hypnotic blurring of the edges of reality, confounding the already befuddled minds of men.

Trayann, because of her age, was no longer a participant in the day to day activities of SAPHO. Nor was she one of the nine. To the women of the organization, she was a model, a symbol of the ongoing struggle for the rights of women to be recognized as human and not chattel to be bought and sold like livestock.

Something else began occurring with regularity in the early months of my safekeeping and that was the arrival, every five to seven days, of motor launches crowded with woman, young and old, of all shapes and sizes. They were excursions from the woman’s resort on the grey shadow of land on the far horizon that I sometimes glimpsed from the vantage of Trayann’s garden.

The women at the villa, as a cover for their presence at Sabbia Negru, hosted overnight retreats that included vegetarian meals, herbal tonics, and accommodations in cabanas set up along the base of the cliff. Late into the night I listened to the joyful shrieks of female voices accompanied by the hypnotic rhythms of drums and flutes. I was not allowed to participate because I would surely be recognized. Only on those occasions had I felt a twinge of isolation. By the time the festivities began I was usually looking forward to a restful sleep after an exhausting and fulfilling day traipsing around in the woods with Trayann. Those who knew me would have been shocked at my indifference. I had a reputation as one of the most intrepid of party girls.

Like clockwork, I watched the boats arrive. First a sparkling wave at the prow would glimmer like a faint blinking white light. Then as the shapes of the large motorboats became more apparent, the rough rumble of their engines would reach my ears. At times three or four boatloads of women would disembark at the jetty and then proceed up to the villa, a procession of colorful beachwear flapping in the shore breeze like festive drapes set against the blackness of the sand. As I sat on the stone bench high above them in Trayann’s garden, the sound of their voices, a musical incomprehensible babble, would reach me, too often drowned out by the rumble of the motor launches returning.

I didn’t think I’d fallen asleep. I was hearing those motors only much louder, as if they were directly overhead. I opened my eyes and looked across the river. Rikki was waving his arms and shouting something to me. I might have been at the edge, where reverie turns to dream. And I’d barely touched my drink. Using my sandals as paddles, I made my way back to the dock where Wallace and Lalo stood shading their eyes and looking in the direction of the sound. Rikki directed my attention. “Look! A fire!”

It took me a while to focus at where he was pointing, but eventually I made out a column of black smoke roiling out from the hillside of firs and redwoods in the distance. Then I saw the source of the noise, a large white helicopter with a huge red bucket suspended beneath it, dipping into the river further down around the bend.

The look on Rikki’s face mirrored what I was thinking. Wallace spoke for both of us. “Lee, isn’t that smoke coming from over near where you live?”

 

Chapter Twenty Seven

BURNT OUT

The roof had caved in exposing charred rafters. Trails of smoke snaked up through the already choking air. The rear end of a fire truck, beeping a warning, nudged past me, backing toward the ruins of the fire demolished cabin. My cabin, half of which was now nothing more than brittle charcoal sticks. The fire chief took me by the elbow and led me back to his pick-up truck. I’d made the acquaintance of the fire chief when I first moved to Timberton. He was a moderately good looking guy in his late forties. I went to dinner with him once. Like most firefighters, if it’s not on fire, they’re not interested. And I don’t catch fire for just anybody.

burntcabinLike giant bumble bees with axes, the firefighters in their yellow protective gear tore away at the scorched, discolored walls of the back bedroom that had served as my clothes closet. The chief spoke close to my ear to make himself heard above the din of the engine pumps and the chainsaws. I didn’t want to hear what he had to say. He explained anyway. The closely packed garments in the back bedroom had somehow slowed the spread of the fire to that part of the house. This was supposed to be some sort of consolation? The clothes were so smoke damaged that they wouldn’t even make good rags. The Valantini’s, the Borochios, the Kokolas, my beautiful Yamita silks, a classic fashion wardrobe that held the history of my career. Gone.

What I felt was more like disappointment than anger. I was still trying to puzzle the pieces together. How did my home, my refuge, become a smoking mass of rubble? What he was telling me didn’t help. Besides it was competing with what I was trying to sort out in my own mind. It started when I had seen the smoke from Nathan Thiele’s beachfront. I had a sinking feeling that the black column was somehow a signal to me. I had to rush home to confirm for myself that what I was imagining was just paranoia, that it was just me, crazy me. But not crazy enough to go the way I was dressed, teensy bottoms and an improvised halter top. I’d come with a wraparound skirt but that didn’t seem to be quite appropriate to go meet my insane intuition. I needed something to throw over myself.

Thiele didn’t have anything in the way of women’s clothing, nothing that would fit me, anyway. There was just one item, a collector’s piece that had once been worn by Audrey Hepburn in some horrid movie that had never been released, and when it occurred to him, it was as if he were having an epiphany. Personally, I was a little appalled. It was a sixties-style woman’s trench coat, deep red in color with large black polka dots. The movie it had appeared in might have been shelved solely on the basis of that coat. Rikki couldn’t help but quip, “I knew there was a Madam Butterfly but now I see that there’s a Madam Ladybug as well.” I couldn’t stay to laugh. My house was on fire.

The access to Primrose was blocked by fire trucks. I’d ditched my wheels and made my way up the street through the runnels of ashy water, my gold flip-flops slipping and sinking in the mire of soggy grime. I saw billows of black smoke pouring out of a broken window. Firefighters were working the hillside where the tall weeds and the oaks were burning. I began to understand then that the cabin I had called home was gone. There was nothing anyone could do.

I felt numb. My cabin wasn’t just a home, it was a connection to a part of my life that had always seemed safe. It had belonged to my stepfather, Frank Zola, and he had come by it in a high stakes poker game. This was long before he’d met my mother. He’d been a brash upstart Wall Street lawyer. She claimed to have civilized him, and maybe she had. But the cabin, for me, represented that side of him that had never been tamed. After I had been rescued by the Prince’s elite security force and then turned over to the authorities who were intent on charging me with fabricating my disappearance, I wasn’t feeling all that great with the world. I’d had to stay in Paris until the legal wrangling was over. Frank had been in touch with me much of that time. The transatlantic phone calls alone must have cost him a fortune. He wasn’t living with mother anymore. And I didn’t realize how sick he was. He passed away shortly after I was vindicated.

    I wanted to be free to explore the world in anonymity, as an unknown. I wanted to reconnect with the person I had started to become on the beaches of Sabbia Negru, but this time on my own terms. I wanted to get to know that person.

I could have cashed in on all the attendant publicity. There was not one tabloid that didn’t carry a story about me somewhere in their pages, barely any of it true, mostly rehashing past indiscretions. I was in demand at social occasions and public spectacles like gallery openings and premieres. On the other hand, I wasn’t hearing much from the agencies. But I was fairly ambivalent about it all. My time in captivity on what turned out to be the southwestern tip of Corsica on the Straits of St Bartholomew had given me a new perspective. I had come to think of myself differently. I tried to keep a low profile in spite of being hounded by paparazzi. I had been evicted from my posh apartment. I stayed with friends, putting all that I owned, which was mostly clothes, in storage. Then I had to fly to Chicago for the funeral.

It wasn’t quite a circus, though it was trying hard to be. Wisely, mother had convinced someone high-up on the police commission of the possibility of an unruly crowd and that he should have a riot squad on hand. Fortunately it didn’t come to that. Still flashbulbs sparked like thousands of tiny random white holes in the gray mass of on-lookers that rainy Sunday afternoon. Men with telephoto lenses had climbed into trees just to get close-ups of the grieving bad girl. I would have traded every bit of my notoriety for just five more minutes with Frank Zola, to enjoy his kindliness and humor, and his common sense. Later that day his lawyer advised me that Frank had left me the cabin in Corkscrew County in his will. The mystified expression on his face said he had no idea where that was, certainly no place in the civilized world. But, considering my mental state, I took it as a sign, Frank’s last bit of advice. Lay low for a while, regenerate yourself, rediscover yourself.

From the moment I parked the rental in front of the cabin on Quince, I knew I had come home. Financially, Frank had me covered, setting up a trust fund and investing my earnings while I was a minor. Even as an adult and accustomed to extravagances, he managed to convince me to contribute a percentage to the “strong box” as he called it. I sent for the things I had in storage in Paris and moved in. I wanted to be free to explore the world in anonymity, as an unknown. I wanted to reconnect with the person I had started to become on the beaches of Sabbia Negru, but this time on my own terms. I wanted to get to know that person.

Someone had once suggested that I write the story of my life as a top model. It would make a good book, they said. I never thought so. But I did start a journal and wrote down my thoughts on a daily basis. That’s easier said than done. But I kept at it. And I came to realize that I had a knack for observation, for detail. That’s how I ended up writing for the Grapevine. It was in answer to a plea for local news and events. I wrote a scathing review of a gallery show up the coast in Healy, the upscale art colony, and sent it in under a pseudonym. I heard back from JJ not because she accepted my article but because she said I had talent that could be used in a positive way. And I was probably the only one who had answered her plea. When we met for the so-called job interview, she recognized me immediately from one of the old cigarette billboards. She had been elated at first and then uncomfortable. And finally, very business-like in a tremulous sort of way. She couldn’t pay me much, she explained, but I should consider my assignments as part of an apprenticeship into the world of journalism. In reality she just wanted someone else to write the puff pieces, a soul deadening task in any language.

The fire chief directed my attention to the tall gray haired woman in uniform approaching us from the edge of the fire. “May Ann Young. The County fire cop,” he nodded toward her almost respectfully. “She’ll want to talk to you.” When she reached us, a fiftyish, weather scarred, no nonsense square ruddy face, he made the introductions. “May, this here’s the property owner, Lee Marlowe.”

“Malone,” I corrected, and extended my hand in greeting.

She looked at it. “You are the legal owner of this property, is that correct?”  She didn’t blink and I had the feeling my every scintilla was under scrutiny.

“Yes, I inherited it from. . . .”

“What time did you leave the house today?”  She held a small yellow notepad in her hand.

I didn’t know what time I had left the house this morning and I said so.

“So you left this morning. Early, late?”

It had been closer to noon.

“Are you having financial difficulties, Ms. Malone?”

I didn’t know how to answer that. What had my finances to do with my house burning down?

“Arty, show the lady what we found,” she said to the firefighter with the shovel who had accompanied her. “Recognize that, Ms. Malone?”

The firefighter extended the shovel in my direction. I looked at a vaguely familiar shape of burnt plastic and discolored metal sitting in the shovel but couldn’t say exactly what it was.

“That’s an electric iron. Or what’s left of one.”

I jumped involuntarily as if I had touched the hot iron itself. I had an electric iron. And I had taken it out when I thought to use it on the scarf I chose for my halter top. But when I realized that it was not a material that would take heat, I’d thought better of it. I didn’t think I’d plugged the iron in. But I had been in a hurry so I wasn’t certain. “You mean that my iron started the fire? It was an accident?”

May Ann looked at me without a change of expression though I could tell she was weighing her words. “Normally, I would say yes. You wouldn’t believe how many people lose their homes to fire through carelessness. But in this case there was just too much accelerant splashed around to make it anything but deliberate.”

I was stunned. “Ok, you just said two things I need to understand better. You said accelerant. What’s that?”

“In this case, I’d say gasoline. That’s what you would use so that what you wanted to burn burned hot and fast.”

“And deliberate, I know what that means. Arson. Are you saying someone purposely set fire to my house?”

“And tried to make it look like an accident.”

“Why would anyone want to do that?” As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew the answer.

May Ann spoke, wearily, as if she were tired of saying it. “Why, to collect on the insurance money, of course.”

I felt stupid, but I played it smart and stopped talking. Something Frank Zola had taught me.

“Ms. Malone, I have a lot of questions to ask you. I would like to establish your whereabouts from around noon today to approximately half an hour ago, three o’clock. Sheriff’s deputies will be questioning your neighbors to see if they saw or heard anything suspicious. But I think we might accomplish more if you accompanied me to my office for an interview.”

I hesitated. I was under suspicion of setting my own house on fire. “Do you actually think that I burned my own home?”  I tried to sound irate but it came out with too little conviction. I was starting to doubt myself.

“The facts haven’t been established. But I’ve been a fire cop for a long time, and a fire like this,” she indicated the pile of smoking debris with the jerk of her head, “it’s usually the property owner who has the most to gain.”

“Am I under arrest?”

A ripple of a smile or smirk flexed her stern jaw. “Not unless you wanna be.”


Next Time: Audrey Hepburn’s Raincoat

Contents Vol. I No. 7

Introducing Dime Pulp Number Seven

In Dime Pulp, A Serial Fiction Magazine, Issue Seven, Helena Baron-Murdock’s Hard Boiled Myth featuring Weston County Sheriff’s Detective Jim Donovan, drops more clues than an Agatha Christie mystery to the Greek myth she’s adapted. Part two of The White Room finds Donovan looking into the mysterious restricted zone at the top of Mount Oly and almost being run off the road by ominous tinted window dreadnaughts as well as concluding that answers to the identity of the murder victim might be closer to sea level at the Sparta Creek Trailer Park.

The Last Resort continues the adventures of Lee Malone, former super model and now small town reporter for the Corkscrew County Grapevine, with a close call from a presumed friend now antagonist, and a deep dive into her kidnapping by the radical underground feminist group known as S.A.P.H.O.

The latest installment of A Detective Story finds our semi-hero with a chance to get a handful of uncut diamonds in exchange for an address book possibly belonging to a member of The Black Hand, get next to a good looking dolly all the while while teaching her the subtleties of American slang.

Dropping A Dime, News, Views, and Reviews in which yours truly, Perry O’Dickle, aka The Professor, offers up his considered and considerable opinion on the fine art of pulp fiction, reviews of crime fiction, old and new, as well as news of upcoming publications features another look at Max Allen Collins’ Nolan saga from Hard Case Crime with reviews of Two For The Money and Skim Deep.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with the serialization of two full length novels, The Last Resort and A Detective Story, as well as another short story based on Greek myths under the rubric of Hard Boiled Myth.

If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume One, Number Seven

  —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


TLR banner321Deep in the redwood wilds along the Corkscrew River, someone is shooting neighborhood dogs. The year is 1985 and Lee Malone, former fashion model, queen of the runways from Paris to Milan, once dubbed the most beautiful woman in the world, now a part-time reporter for The Corkscrew County Grapevine, is looking for a story to sink her teeth into. When Lee finds the owner of Kelly’s Seaside Resort brutally murdered, it leads her on an adventure that includes a mysterious gray van, another murder, extortion, pornography, sex slavery, and a shadowy organization of militant feminists known as SAPHO.  In the process, Lee Malone’s notorious past catches up with her. 

The Last Resort, Chapters 1-3
The Last Resort, Chapters 4-6
The Last Resort, Chapters 7-10
The Last Resort, Chapters 11-13
The Last Resort, Chapters 14-20
The Last Resort, Chapters 21-23
The Last Resort, Chapters 24-25

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Greek myth is rife with murder, mutilation, cannibalism, mayhem, and the ever popular incest.  Weston County Sheriff’s Detective Jim Donovan of the Violent Crimes Unit wouldn’t know a Greek myth from a Greek salad, but if he did he would find some troubling similarities to the cases he’s investigating.  Revisited as crime fiction are the strange death of Hippolytus, the agonizing death of Heracles, the slaughter of Penelope’s suitors, the Fall of Icarus,  the sparagamos of Orpheus, and the cursed lineage of Pelops.  Helene Baron-Murdock’s Hard Boiled Myth taps into the rich vein of classical literature to frame these ancient tales in a modern context.

Long Shot I
Long Shot II
Notification Of Kin
Valentine’s Day I
Valentine’s Day II
The White Room I
The White Room II

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Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime friction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde. The brownstone was on the Westside and easy enough to find. So was the mug’s yellow roadster. It stuck out like a new shoe in a cobbler’s shop. I was being a sap again. I woke sitting straight up, sweat pouring out and over me, my undershirt drenched. I was going to have to change my shorts. Some dream. They worked me over, demons in dingy cable knit sweaters. They pumped my arms and peered in my face with eyes as black as eightballs. He handed me a hat. “The pièce de résistance.” He said it like he was serving me dessert. The gat fell from his hand and clattered across the marble floor. It looked like something that might have survived the battle at Ypres. I looked at him and back at the hand and then at the rabbi and his granddaughter who all seemed very pleased by what was being offered. “You’re offering me pebbles? Little gray rocks?”

This kind of story always starts with a blonde
“I was being a sap again.”
“Some dream”
“demons in dingy cable knit sweaters”
“He handed me a hat.”
“The gat fell from his hand” 
“You’re offering me pebbles? Little gray rocks?”

dime-reviews-hdrOnce again from Hard Case Crime, the imprint that is doing it’s darndest  to resuscitate pulp nostalgia with it’s tantalizing cover art and reprints of  of crime fiction classics as well as original contemporary genre fiction comes Max Allen’s Collins’ continuing saga of master thief  Nolan and his young, comic book-loving partner, Jon, matching wits with mobsters while trying to hang on to their lives as well as their stash of bank heist loot. This installment of Dropping A Dime takes a look at the origins of the Nolan and Jon team in Bait Money as well as the contemporaneously penned wrap-up curtain call (but not “curtains”) for the duo in Skim Deep.  

Dime One
Dime Two: Come Back, Nolan, Come Back
Dime Three: He’s Back! (Nolan, that is)

DIME THREE: He’s Back! (Nolan, That Is)

I gotta come clean. Once again the gang at Hard Case Crime have crossed the transom with the requisite paper in the form of two novels in the Nolan series by Max Allen Collins. If Dime Pulp were a legit operation, we might expect more, but since it isn’t, we don’t. The latest from Hard Case Crime did keep these offices burning the midnight oeil. Not due to a guilty conscience, however, but in pursuit of guilty pleasure, i.e., reading crime fiction.

To make up for the gap in our limited knowledge of the Nolan saga, those Hard Case types bookended these offices with the original Collins foray into Nolan territory, and then an encore, as a wrap up to an epic crime career, written thirty three years later. Collins’ origin stories for the Nolan and Jon characters begin in a novella titled Bait Money, a boy meets thief story, in which the bond between apprentice and master is forged and sets the tone for all the Nolan-centric adventures to follow.

twoferHard Case Crime has reprinted four novellas from that late 80s period,  Two For The Money and Double Down  (reviewed in Dropping A Dime Two) each in the twofer format, which will be joining another two (four) titles slated for publication in 2022 and 2023. Skim Deep, the encore curtain call for Nolan and Jon, is novel length in its own right.

The incredibly prolific pulp polymath Max Allen Collins is a Hard Case Crime franchise author, it should be noted, Mickey Spillane’s heir apparent, and author of the Quarry assassin series (also well represented under the Hard Case Crime imprint). In the author’s note to Two For The Money, Collins reveals that the idea for the title and the plot of the first story, Bait Money, was inspired by his girlfriend who worked in a bank. The story starts off solid with a portrayal of Nolan, heist meister extraordinaire, trying to smooth things over with the mob over his killing of one of the bosses’ relatives. The mobster wants a blood price and Nolan has to find a way to pay it. Enter Jon, a comic book aficionado and amateur who has come up with a plan to take down a local bank. Needless to say it’s a bad plan, but the pro sees a way of fixing it and potentially clearing his debt. And naturally there are double crosses, unfaithful women, killing, and last minute glitches.

The Nolan character, Collins admits, is based on Richard Stark’s Parker. And to fix him in the reader’s mind, he is described as looking like Lee Van Cleef. If you were reading Bait Money when it was first published, you would know who Lee Van Cleef was and what he looked like. For the new generation of readers, Hard Case Crime has commissioned covers featuring the likeness of a Van Cleef-ish looking protagonist. And while Parker is a meticulously formulated character, Nolan, ostensibly just as tough, is humanized by taking on an heir apparent in Jon who also adds some comic (book) relief as it is his naivete that informs the narrative. There the resemblance ends, due primarily to a difference in styles.

Donald Westlake’s Richard Stark, author of the Parker novels, presents a casebook for the terse, uncompromisingly “stark,” stoic, “just the facts, ma’am,” Joe Friday deadpan voiceover narration. It is a style Stark is known for, and one admired by countless crime fiction buffs and aspiring writers. The economy of the prose finds it source in an older generation of writers who knew the value of counting words, as they were paid by the word, and well aware of the editorial constraints on length. The Parker novels may be formulaic but they have an edge that never gets dull. Combined with nearly imperceptible cinematic scene transitions and you have a style well worth emulating.

Max Allen Collins’ Nolan stories have what might be termed an improvisational discursive style, aka the kitchen sink approach, in which everything you need to know (cue Ed McMahon) about the characters’ looks, motivations, hopes, fears, hangnails, and warts are presumed open secrets from the discourse of the omniscient narrator who does not hesitate to tell the reader how it is. Collins is a good storyteller whose style is no style, just a recounting of the honest to goodness facts of a story that is too good to be true and bound to go south at any point, and of course that’s what the reader is looking for behind the feints and dodges, and seemingly untenable albeit predictable situations.

In some sense Parker doesn’t seem to have a future, going from one heist to another, scrabbling to stay even. Nolan, on the other hand, is trying to get just enough ahead so he can open up a snazzy club while staying out of the clutches of the mob. He wants to retire from the heist biz and lead a normal and happy life without a .32 Colt breathing down his neck. It would be difficult to make Nolan into a petty bourgeois but he has the dreams of one, a quintessential American dream, though with more than a little tang of cynicism. Parker is an untamed animal, a force of nature, with which nature will deal.

The second novella in Two For The Money is titled Blood Money in which the bonding between Nolan and Jon solidifies in their quest for revenge against the men who killed Jon’s guardian uncle, the “Planner” (shades of Dortmunder). The “eye for an eye” theme is big in the Bible Belt Midwest where most of the action takes place: Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, anywhere the mob and fundamentalism might have its tentacles. There are no shortages of derring-do, shootouts, kidnappings, and miraculous rescues. Enough twists and turns to keep the pages turning, a few slapstick moments to offset the more compelling business of getting the money and getting revenge, and the hedging justifications for that chosen lifestyle of outlier/outlaw. Yet there are consequences: that butterfly whose butt you kicked is going to come back around in the form of a homicidal maniac looking to get even. And take all the money.

skimCan an author go back to a character thirty three years later and pick up where he left off? What will have changed in experience and maturity of style? These are question the curious reader might ask as they dip into Skim Deep, the epilogue to the Nolan saga, the last ride into the Acapulco sunset.

Nolan is retired from the heist biz with that snazzy club he always wanted and the soft life is making him sentimental so he pops the question to his longtime live-in gf. Enter Vegas, where Jon now resides trying to make a living as a comic book artist keyboardist for a casino cover band and where Nolan and his bride-to-be are heading to get hitched. Enter, also, revenge, in the form of “Maw” Comfort, matriarch of a clan of crooks from (where else?) Missouri, three of whose members Nolan has had to eliminate for stepping on the toes of his thief’s integrity and going for the double cross. And, of course, money, the root of all robbery, in the form of a casino skim. This one time, the coming together of the retired robber and his now journeyman partner is not with the object to plan a job but to celebrate and “legalize” a relationship about which Jon’s feelings are ambivalent (incidentally). Not to spoil all the machinations of the plot, but like a Jacques Tati movie, everything that goes around, comes around and meets at the intersection in a head-on collision. The pitch might be spun as: they fall in shit and come out smelling like roses.

As for the difference in style, Collins has not abandoned his fussy omniscient narrator nor the breezy improvisational writing style. The sex scenes have improved in detail if not in sensitivity. In the portrayal of Jon, Collins allows more of the autobiographical nature of the character emerge (which has always been there on one level of emphasis or another). That the main action does not take place in the Quad Cities area somehow ups the ante on the techniques of graphic violence. In Skim Deep, the pulp adventure returns to its roots as a Western, and Collins’ long expertise in the pulp genre skillfully brings about the denouement to everyone’s (characters included) satisfaction.

To read in this crime fiction genre is to discover something about the American psyche, the deep rooted divide of oblivious well-off swells and the continual rebellion of the have-nots who want theirs. The symbolic outlaw then becomes valorized to justify contravening societal norms as a leveling of the playing field, a kind of grass roots communism, a Utopic equitable community. Yet the myth of egalitarianism posits a level playing field in which universal values are applied equally when obviously this is never the case—the “nature” of humans intervenes—hierarchies or boundaries are created depending on the circumstances. Idealized individuals (such as Nolan and Parker) stand symbolically for the masses, and differences are glossed over to align with the symbolic outlier outlaws who are too unruly to fit into the narrow category of convention and reside at the periphery where dogs howl to be let in, but flee the multitude once the gates are opened (thus their tantalizing mystery). Fiction can only deal these issues a glancing blow in the hazy nostalgia for a way it has never been.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,
Perry O’Dickle
for Dime Pulp

A Detective Story—7

by Colin Deerwood

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Her eyes never left me as she steered the old gent to a chair alongside Soloman’s desk. They were blue shiny pools and I was drowning in them. She stood behind him once he was seated. Gramps had perked up since the fainting episode, his cheeks had a little color and he was focused, attentive. He pointed a gnarled finger in my direction. “You have more of these documents?”

I drew myself up to my entire height, pulled in my gut, and put as much authority as I could in my stance. It was all an act. I was wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into. “Yeah, I do. It’s an address book.”

Soloman threw old Joe a look and then said, “You can read the Cyrillic?”

“Ixnay, Doc, I’m just guessing from the way some of it was arranged. Plus there were street names in American I could figure out.”

Now it was Rabbi Joe’s turn. “You are in possession of this dress book?”  There was a fierce gleam in his eye as he leaned forward.

“Yeah, yeah, I just brought that page to see what it might be worth. I coulda brought the whole works but you guys mighta said it was nertz and I woulda never known the diff.”  As it was the book was digging into my backbone just about the beltline.

Soloman and Joe looked puzzled. Finally the old rabbi asked, “What is this ‘nertz’?”

Soloman shrugged. “It is not Yiddish to my knowledge. And this ‘diff’ I do not know also.”

JELLO ADThe tailor’s daughter smiled and I about swooned. She spoke and I felt my knees turn to Jell-O. “I think I know, zayde. I have been studying my American. Nertz is a Brooklyn pronunciation of the expression ‘nuts,’ maybe meaning crazy or perhaps nonsense, also a negative term for bankrupt or no good.”

Even I didn’t know that and I used the word all the time. This frail would be a smash on Information Please.

Soloman looked surprised and the old guy beamed a prideful smile at his granddaughter.

“Also,” she continued, “I believe that ‘diff’ is a shortened form of the word ‘difference.’  Americans speak like telegrams I have learned.”

Just like that I was laid bare by some Jane who just got off the boat.

Soloman harrumphed to get the conversation back on track. “I would say that if the rest of the book is similar to what you have shown us, we could come to a lucrative arrangement.”  He smiled what wasn’t really a smile.

I figured when he said ‘we’ he meant more than just those present in the room. I had to be extra cautious around these jokers. There was a whole dining room full of tough kikes on the other side of the door. And once the dolly had opened her yap instead of flapping her lashes some of her glow had dimmed for me. She was out of my league, besides. “Yeah, doc, what you got to offer? I’m all ears.”

Rabbi Joe gave a knowing nod and Soloman went to the wall of books, moved a couple aside to reveal a tiny wall safe. He looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was peeking and then spun the dial. When he rejoined us he had a tiny cloth bag in his mitt like a miniature Bull Durham pouch.  He loosened the ties and poured the contents into the palm of his hand and held it out for me to take a gander.

I looked at him and back at the hand and then at the rabbi and his granddaughter who all seemed very pleased by what was being offered.

“You’re offering me pebbles? Little gray rocks?”

It took a while to register and then Soloman almost choked on his goatee laughing. Rabbi Joe’s laugh was wheezy squeak. The girl held her hand over her mouth but her eyes were yukking it up. When Soloman finally caught his breath he intoned, with all his puffed up superiority, “But Mr. Ask, these are uncut diamonds.”

You coulda fooled me. What do I know of uncut diamonds? They looked like rocks to me. And then as if a light had been shined in my eyes: rocks, diamonds, ok, I got it. But who could tell the diff. Maybe I sounded suspicious. “How am I supposed to know that these aren’t fake?”

“I can assure you, Mr. Ask, these are diamonds of the highest quality. From Africa,” he added.

Learn something new every day. Diamonds that look like driveway gravel from Africa when all I thought they had was bananas and coconuts.

“Maybe you are who you say you are, Doc but I only met you and Rabbi Joe here less than thirty minutes ago. I need to get the say-so from someone I’ve known a bit longer.”

Soloman looked astonished. “You have an appraiser?”

“Yeah, guy I know runs the pawn shop over on Fourth near Chinatown. He was in the diamond trade years ago. He knows his stuff.”

Now Soloman was almost on his tippy toes with indignation. “Stuff? If he knows this stuff then I knows of his stuff. I am familiar with everyone in the diamond trade. Name your stuff expert!”

I’d obviously hit a nerve. And again I was distracted by the comely granddaughter and feeling like the big bad wolf. “Yeah, sure, everyone knows him. Triple A Pawn, Max Feathers proprietor.”

Two bigger bug eyes you couldn’t find in the cartoon featurette at a Saturday matinee.

“Feathers?” he moaned the name as if was a curse. “Max Feathers was disbarred from the League of International Gem and Diamond Merchants. Feathers is a fraud! A cheat! A scoundrel! A confidence man!”

I shrugged. “Yeah, but he knows his diamonds.”  From the shade of crimson creeping up toward his popping temple veins I figured my bird in the hand had flown the coop. But I was saved by an angel.

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“Herr Doktor” she said, and why he wasn’t charmed is beyond me. He raised an eyebrow as if being spoken to by a woman was highly irregular. “Zayde,” she also invoked the protection of the old rabbi, “I have a suggestion if you will indulge me.”  Of course I was enchanted and I’d have to say she’d been doing pretty good at learning her English. Old Joe gave a nod lifting his hands to Soloman as if asking what’s the harm?

“Just as Mister Ask has brought only one page, perhaps we can allow him one,” and she smiled at me, “pebble to verify with Mister Feathers. In exchange for the book he will receive more.” She beamed, proud of herself although gramps wasn’t so sure.

Soloman didn’t like the idea as soon as she started talking and when she was done he liked it even less.  “Nein, nein. What if he did not return? He has gained an item of value and we have nothing but a scrap of paper! Does he take us for fools?”

The thought had crossed my mind. If the diamond was real I could be on a boat to Havana before anyone was the wiser.

“It was my suggestion, uncle, and I have a feeling that Mr. Ask is in a situation unlike any other he’s been in before.”  She came at me with her eyes as if she were boring in and I began wondering when I’d last changed my underwear.  “Here he is with the opportunity to make a considerable amount of money, enough to give him a vacation from his dangerous profession for a very long time. I don’t think that he would pass up that opportunity.”  Now she was appealing to my mercenary side: with a load of dough I could ditch this burg, maybe move to Hollywood, reconnect with Grace. “Furthermore, I think that Mr. Ask is a man of honor, a man of his word who would not consider betraying us.”  By “us” I was sure she meant “her.”  And the way she said it, the implications were tempting. I just wanted to see how committed she was to her scheme.

“There was an expression I liked to see after I’ve made love to a woman—shock and pleasure. I recognized it immediately because it was so rare of an experience.

“Thanks, miss, I forget your name, but you are correct. I am a man of my word. Once I shake on a deal it is solid. And if what I have is that important to you,” and I meant to her, “then it is just makes good business sense for us to conduct this exchange, the book for the rocks.”

Soloman sniffed like something didn’t smell right. He squinted one eye at me as if trying to view me from a different angle.

“Like the girl said, I take one diamond to Feathers. He looks it over. If he gives the ok, I get the gravel and you get the book. No one breaks a sweat.”

Soloman was shaking his head. He didn’t like the logistics. “How will we make the exchange? The Rabbi nor I cannot go abroad.”

“What? I ain’t asking you to leave the country.”

“No, no we have to be careful in this city. We have enemies. We cannot be seen in public.”

“How about a coupla your minions. They look like they can handle themselves.”

Soloman gave a sour look. He didn’t like that idea either.

“How about the dame?”

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There was an expression I liked to see after I’ve made love to a woman—shock and pleasure. I recognized it immediately because it was so rare of an experience. That’s what was missing in my life. I could tell by the demur smile that she liked the idea. Shock for being put into that position and pleasure because it felt good.

Soloman sputtered like he’d inhaled something down the wrong way and coughed till his eyes bulged holding on to the edge of his desk for fear he might fall down.  Then it translated into, once he caught his breath, “absolutely not, impossible, I won’t hear of it.” And in a couple of other languages, I couldn’t be sure.  In a way it made the objection international, like we were hemmed in by little flags stuck in a map. The old rabbi looked uncomfortable, color coming to his ears, and lowered his eyes.

But she knew her mark. “Zadye,” she began, “if you send Mr. Ask with your men to the Feather Diamond place he will become suspicious and might not want to verify the authenticity of . . .” and looked directly at me, “the pebble.”

The rabbi had lifted his eyes. They asked what are you getting at?

“Now if I were to accompany Mr. Ask to the pawnbroker, he would not be suspicious because we could pose as betrothed,” she smiled, pleased with herself, “and we are inquiring as to the authenticity of the stone.”

It sounded so simple. And naive. I know, I’d been there.

Soloman wasn’t buying it. “Nien! Nein!” He was pacing now. “It is not safe! Who knows who we’re dealing with.  This might all be a ploy. He could be working for them. To kidnap Rebecca!”

“Herr Doktor, they could not have known that I would be involved. I didn’t know it more than a minute ago when I suggested it.”

“Rebecca, my child, these are cruel and evil people we are dealing with. They are clever, insidious.”  His head wagged back and forth like a dog’s tail.  That meant no.

“Listen, Hair Doctor, do we have a deal or don’t we? Otherwise I’m wasting my time here.”

“What you suggest is impossible. How do I know you have what you’re claiming to have in your possession? That it is authentic. What else is there beside this single page? What am I buying?”

“First of all, Doc, suddenly you’re worried about authenticity. You musta thought that this page was the hoot’s snoot otherwise you wouldn’ta asked me into the inner sanctum. You were gonna offer me a bag of gravel in exchange for the book. That’s how authentic you made that single page. I get it. You think you need to be extra careful because you don’t know me from Adam. But lemme put you straight. This book usta belong to one of Yan Kovic’s goons, a guy by the name of Yamatski who is now swimming with the fishes in the East River. How I got it is a story we won’t get into. Just let’s say I got wet and the pages only suffered a little water damage around the edges, but everything is still readable because it was written in pencil. It’s an address book and doubles as a wallet, about the size a cigar case, leather like one, and it’s got a wraparound zipper that closes up the three sides.” I don’t know why I felt I had to claim the wallet was empty, but I did. “There are pages of what look like names and addresses like I said, and what looks like some kinda codes. I couldn’t figure out what they said because my Buck Rogers decoder ring got lost in the mail.  Besides they mostly was all in that serialic writing.”

Now the doc and old Joe were trying to say something to each other without opening their mouths.

I gave them a nudge. “I saw you flash the old stink eye when I mention’s Kovic’s name. He’s from that part of the world you were showing me on the map, am I right?” I pointed to the map on the wall. Mrs. Peabody would have been proud of me—maybe something did sink in after all.

“Yes, the name is known to us. America is truly the land of opportunity when a petty thief in his home country can become an American gangster and make more money than even the President of the United States. Is that what you call democracy, rule by the petty?”

“He’d be part of this secret society then, the Black Hand, I’m guessing.”  Even the frill took a breath in fright at the mention of the name.

Soloman nodded glumly. “They are a network of thugs and murderers who prey on the vulnerable, the fringes of society and culture where the powers that be often look the other way. We are the mercy of their genocidal schemes. There is a chance, a slight chance, that the address book will provide information that will aid us in our resistance and thwart their aims. These fascists are drunk with power! The Black Hand must be stopped from terrorizing our people!”

“You don’t have much of a choice then, do ya, doc. Me and the bird take a rock over to Feathers’ shop. He scopes it and it’s either deal and you get the book you wanted or no deal and I get a free ride downtown in the company of a beautiful young woman.”

Soloman made a face that made him look like he had exclamations points all over his mug!!!  “They are real, that you can count on, and I would expect delivery of the address book upon verification!”  He glanced sideways at the rabbi whose head reluctantly nodded yes. “Simon and David will drive you there and make certain there is not a. . .double cross, as you American’s like to say.”

I shook my head. “The girl is right. Max sees a couple of mugs with us, he’s gonna smell something fishy. Just me and her. Nothing to worry about. Max won’t bite. You just watch.”

“Nonetheless, they will accompany you and stay discreetly hidden but nearby. Should the need arise, Rebecca, do you know what to do?”

“Surely my father must have told you of what I and my troop of Red Kerchiefs did in the hills above the city.”  Before Soloman could interject, she said, “We secured the parachute drops and parachutists and hid them from the authorities.”

“Ja, ja, we are well aware of your exploits. And that is why you are here in the United States. To keep you safe, out of harm’s way. You are, after all, Rabbi Joseph’s great granddaughter and ark of his ancient family line. Your father was foolish to leave you behind.”

“I stayed with my mother, to fight in the resistance.”

“And sadly she is no longer with us.” Soloman lowered his head. “And you are here in relative safety.”

“I would have stayed behind! I wanted to avenge her death! Instead you had me kidnapped and brought to this country!”

I had to step in. “I hate to breakup this family tussle here, but missy, if you want to get your revenge, the quickest way is to get going with the plan.”  I coulda asked her if she had a backup plan but this was looking like taking candy from a baby. “Only I need to use the can before we head out.”  With the quizzical looks they gave me I had to add, “My bladder’s lapping at the overflow valve.”  Still nothing. “The facilities, the toilet?”

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They rolled a big Packard around to the front entrance. The tailor’s daughter didn’t look a bit like the kid in Soloman’s study. She was wearing a dark wool skirt and a beige blouse with a collar tied in big bow under her porcelain chin, a russet three quarter length wide lapeled tweed coat, and a tiny brown Robin Hood peaked cap with a black and red band propped jauntily on the luster of her long auburn hair. Looking like she just stepped off the silver screen, she smiled at me as I held the door open for her, long lashes blinking a beguiling thank you.

1940-packard-1Two mooks sat like bowling pins in the front seat of the Packard—they couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old—the one who looked like he was working on a ‘stache driving. The other one had a head of curly hair no hat, even the bucket he was wearing, was going to hide.

I sat in the back seat with Rebecca. I’d made a detour to the water closet before we left, pretended to make my business all the while wedging Yamatski’s address book up behind the gravity flush water tank. Then I flushed.

I even felt a little flush—sitting next to this specimen of female flesh had worked up my blood. It was her feisty nature as well as her good looks that kept my interest. She, however, was interested in only one thing. Learning how to talk American.

“What is this stink eye?”

“Uh well,” I was at a loss, “it’s just kind of one of those looks you give somebody who says something that spills the beans when they shouldn’ta.”

“Beans? In the kitchen? I see, they have spilled a pot of beans and you are giving them this look that you are disappointed, no, angry! Angry eye, yes?”

“Yeah, angry, maybe the evil eye without all the hoodoo voodoo behind it.”

“ Hoo-doo voo-doo. This is your American tall tales you are telling me. I have heard that they are told and one must be cautious because they have flam flam. No, flim flim, that’s it!”

She had such a little pink innocence to the scrunch of her nose, such a determined set to her lips, such an intense gaze I couldn’t decide if I wanted to kiss her or laugh in her face. “Flim flam.”

“Yes, that is what I said. And this stink to the eye. It smells, it emits an odor, and you are . . .threatening with it? No, you are giving them this, this. . .stentsch with the look of your eye! Yes?”

She had my mind taking corners I didn’t even know were there and it was making me dizzy. I was on the verge of asking her if she wanted to see Niagara Falls because I was about to change my name to Niagara and I was falling for her. But it would have just added to the confusion. I didn’t want to look like a dumbo so I said, “The look says you can see the reek rising up off them and lets them know that you can.”

She cocked her beautiful head to one side as if considering the explanation “And who is this Buck Rogers, an associate of this Feathers man?”

I don’t know why all this wasn’t covered at Ellis Island but all of a sudden I was feeling like a tour guide at the Statue of Liberty. “Naw, Buck Rogers, he’s this guy who flies around in a rocket to other planets in outer space. In the funny papers, the brats, you know, the Katzenjammer Kids? He’s on the radio, too, and in the movies, that Olympic champ, Buster Crabbe plays him.”

Her pretty little forehead gave a frown. “This is your flam flim, yes?”

She was a real doll, and I can’t say that I’d ever met one before, not one like this, not putting on a front, acting tough or sexy, but smart as a pistol, and from what I could see, some terrific gams. She caught my gaze and pulled the hem of her skirt to cover her knees. “I am curious also. A hoot’s snoot, this is more of your filmy flam?”

“Naw, just something I made up. ‘don’t give a hoot’ means ‘I don’t care,’ and ‘snoot’ means ‘nose,’ kinda like I’m ‘thumbing my nose’ and I just threw them together because they sound the same. It’s jive talk, that’s all.”

“A whole other American language?

“You might say that. It’s what you might hear on the street, you know from the hep cats or if you hang out in jazz clubs.”

This is something you can do in American? I am unaware.”

“Well, yeah, you can if you’re good at it”

“And you are good at this, what would you call, improvisational arabesques, verbal flourishes? Maybe you should be a writer.”

“Yeah, I thought about it once.”

“What happened?”

“I ran out of paper.”

She laughed, peals of amusement filled the entire car, and even Mr. Hair had to look over his shoulder to make sure we weren’t being unruly.

“Ah yes, I understand,” her eyes widely innocent,  “Jive talk, a kind of argot.”

She wasn’t going to get me with that fancy word because I knew exactly what she was talking about so I said, “No, it ain’t like them snails you eat at fancy French restaurants.”

This time she chortled behind her gloved hand and her eyes gleamed merrily reflecting the neon night of the passing streets. “Mr. Ask, I find you extremely charming which belies your rough exterior and manner. This is a most wonderful and informative conversation.”

“Pigs who speak Latin, another one of your American tall tales, yes?”

The beam of her smile blinded me and tangled up my tongue. I didn’t know what to say, besides my heart was in my mouth and I didn’t want to spit it out and hand it to her because that would definitely be uncouth, and what little couth I had I wanted to wait and use at the right time so I said “Yeah, I was thinking the same about you, and maybe sometime you and me, we could, ah, get to know each other a little better, you know, over a cup of coffee or a drink, I could take you to a club, go dancing, hear some jazz.” I put my arm across the seat behind her and moved in her direction. “We probably got a lot in common. I mean, you’re doll and I’m a guy.”

She shifted toward the door on her side and I felt something hard poke against my ribs. I looked down at her hand in her coat pocket and up into that determined look I had found adorable earlier now steely and uncompromising. “You are suggesting what it is called a date, but not from a palm, one agreed on ahead of time on a calendar. I don’t think my father would approve or allow it. Our supposed engagement is a ruse, Mr. Ask, nothing more. Please do not try to make more than it is. I am fully capable of taking care of myself.”

I shrugged and sagged back to my side of the bench. I felt the breeze of being blown off followed by the disappointment of being wrong about a dolly again, I always end up leading with my chin wearing my heart on my sleeve, and falling for a herring, the operator behind my eyes putting me through to a wrong number.

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I’d been shot down before so I laughed it off. “I dunno why you need any help from me. Your English ain’t so bad.”

“Yes, but it is my American I must improve. I am curious again for a word. What is this ixnay?”

“Nix, no. What you just said to me, notta chance. It’s pig Latin.”

“Pigs who speak Latin, another one of your American tall tales, yes?”

“No, it’s for real, something we used to talk in the neighborhood among us kids. Only thing I still use is ixnay, anybody who’s ever spoken it still does, that and amscray.”

“Amscray, I have not heard.”

“It means scram, beat it. . .go away?”

“I must remember these, scram, beat me. . . ? I am still confused as to why you speak the Latin of pigs as a child.”

“Well, it ain’t really Latin, it’s a made up language, kind of a code so you can say stuff that somebody who don’t know the igpay ain’t gonna understand, like if they ain’t part of your gang, see?”

“Now I am very confused. Are you being truthful or are you with me making a toy?”

“No, it’s all true. Now I wasn’t as good at it as little Stevie Silverman, he’s the guy who taught igpay to most the guys in our gang. We called him “Stubby” cause he was so short. He could hold whole conversations in pig Latin. Once he recited the preamble to the Declaration of Independence in pig Latin to history class. Mrs. Peabody didn’t know if she shoulda been shocked or amused, but it got Stubby beat up on the playground for being a showoff anyway.”

“This is fascinating. How is this pig Latin spoken?”

“It’s pretty easy. You take any word, like say ‘pig’ and you move the first letter of the word to the end and add ay, a-y, so pig becomes igpay. Or, like scram, you take all the letters bunched up before the a and move them to after the m, add an ay, and you get amscray. Simple.”

“That is easy for you perhaps, but let me see if I grasp. Pig is igpay. If I wanted to say  pig Latin I would say igpay. . .atinlay?”

“Yeah, I suppose, if you wanted to say that. Usually we just said things like amscray or uckday.”

“You would say a duck? For whatever purpose?”

“That is a very short question to a very long answer, but the gist is ‘keep your head down.’ Unray was always popular when we seen the cops coming.”

“Run, am I correct?”

pawnshop“Yeah, I think you got the hang of it. Try this one on for size. Ouyay areyay ayay ishday.”

“I am at a loss. It sounds like an infant’s babble.”

“It means ‘you are a dish.’”

“A dish? What is a dish? Do you mean a place setting. . . ?” She blushed, “Oh, porcelain.”

I laughed “No flies on you.”

She brushed at her shoulders, suddenly alarmed, “I hope not!”

I laughed again. And we were there.


Next Time: Max and The Empress’s Cucumber

The Last Resort 24-25

by Pat Nolan

Chapter Twenty Four

FIVE MILLION DOLLAR BABY

“I have always been bait.”

Chandler moved his head slightly from side to side in disbelief. “That’s crazy.”

smoky cafe“Why are you so surprised? It’s just another name for seductress.” Albért Picón, the French poet and lecher had pointed that out to me over a glass of Pernod in a smoky café on the Left Bank years ago when I was still actively playing that role.

“You had no idea that I would get your phone message telling me to meet you out here because you said you had some new information on the Fashwalla murder. Good thing I was out this way when my secretary paged me. You saw how angry Blackie was when he left.  Don’t let the white hair fool you.  I don’t think you realize what kind of danger you’re putting yourself in.”

I shrugged and toyed with the ice in my glass.  “I’ve been bait since I could walk.  Practically every woman is.  When you’re made out to be the pinnacles of feminine perfection, in the eyes of men at least, it becomes obvious that you’re a lure. It’s even a quality you can have. Allure. Rich men want you gracing their arms like expensive jewelry. Men are impotent in the face of real beauty. And if they’re not, they’ve still got mother issues to resolve.  As for Blackie, I can handle him.”

Chandler smiled wide enough to give himself dimples.  “You think you’re tough, don’t you?”

I shrugged.  “I think I’m a realist.  At least about what I’ve been, what I’ve done.”

“Well, you might be a little out of your league here.”  He was serious again, little ridges of worry crinkling his smooth Asian forehead.

“Blackie’s been eavesdropping on the conversations in the Grapevine office. You can sit in his workshop and hear everything that’s said upstairs. I made up that story about new evidence to get him to follow me out to the coast.”  I bit the straw and wet my whistle with a little of the diluted soda. “I had to prove to myself that I was right about him. I still don’t know how he managed to beat me out here. Unless he was on his bike before I got to my car. . . .” My reasoning was beginning to sound farfetched, even to me. “But he’s involved in all of this, I’m sure of it.  I just haven’t figured out how.”

Chandler worked up another smile but this time it had a smug edge.  “Not even close.”

There was something about Chandler Wong that I liked, but I also got the feeling that I baffled him. He was certainly intelligent, but guy enough to always want to be right.  I gave him my extraordinary smile and “You’re probably right, but help me out, just to satisfy my curiosity.”  A three quarter profile and a little lean forward.  “Where am I wrong on this?”

He started to speak but then exhaled a slight chuckle.  He shook his head and stared down at the edge of the cracked formica table. “I can’t.” And then up to meet my gaze.

His mistake.  I let my eyes do their special pleading.

He folded like a bad poker hand. “Alright, Hollis Ryan, or Blackie as you call him, is involved but probably not in the way you think.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “He was a potential witness in the Fashwalla murder.  He happened to be here, at the Chicken Fish, on that day.  But then this is one of his hangouts.  As he said in his statement to Detective Santos, he was inside and not outside.  He only saw the food on his plate and the beer in his glass.”

“That sounds like something he’d say.”

Chandler cleared his throat, annoyed perhaps.  “Blackie was known to Detective Santos when Santos was a deputy assigned to the Timberton substation. There had been an incident with Mr. Ryan and in the course of a background check, it turned out that your antique shop owner had once been arrested for murder. He copped a plea and had it reduced to manslaughter.  He did time. This was down south, long before he moved up to Corkscrew County.”

My surprise must have shown.

“It turns out that Mr. Ryan was muscle for a small time pimp by the name of Tommy Perro.”

Tommy Perro.  I mouthed the name to myself.  That was the name of one of the men in the photo at Blackie’s workshop.  One of the old motorcycle gang.

“Perro branched out into dirty movies.  Ryan doubled as one of his actors as well.  He killed another male actor on the set of a shoot.”

This was a little more than I’d bargained for, but I was fascinated.  “Don’t stop now.”

That chuckle again, with a slightly embarrassed shy boy sideways glance at me. Quite charming. “When Fashwalla’s brother came forward and confessed we thought we wouldn’t need the testimony of witnesses so that part of the investigation was shut down.  His recanting of the confession and the similarity with the killing at Franklin’s Resort put a different spin on things.  Again Ryan’s presence at the resort raised a flag but his alibi checked out so now he’s just what you might call a person of interest.”

“I think Blackie has something to do with the murders.” I tried not to sound too self-righteous. “Why aren’t you investigating him?”

A frown greeted my insistence. “Well, for one, I’m not in charge of the investigation.  It’s the District Attorney’s call.  He’s the one who sets the schedule.”  By the way he said it, he obviously wasn’t happy with the progress of the case.

“Anyway, we’re after bigger fish.”  Chandler sat back in the booth and considered me with a serious stare. “This cannot be repeated to anyone. Do you understand?”  He lowered his voice to a near whisper.

I nodded dumbly and leaned forward.  “Of course.”

“After Fashwalla’s brother recanted his confession and retained the high priced attorney. . . .”

“Preston Carmichael.”

“Right, we started taking a closer look at all the players.  A common thread emerged.  Both Fashwalla and Franklin owned old rundown resorts.  The other thing in common was that they had both refused to sell their properties to Ramparts Corp, a real estate developer with international connections.  It turns out that there’s been a steady rise in title transfers of ranch land and old resorts in the county, the majority being grabbed up by Ramparts. We’re pretty sure there was coercion in more than a few of the sales.  A lot of the property is being converted to vineyards.”

“Let me guess.  Montague Winery.”

“Very good. Ramparts, it turns out, is an umbrella corporation fronting a lot of questionable enterprises and headed by a certain Thomas Montague.”

“Tommy Montague?”

“Senior.  His son is the executive in charge of the Winery.  But what’s more interesting is the fact that Montague is not the old man’s real name.”  Chandler paused.  He must have realized I was mesmerized.

“Perro. He used to go by the name of Tommy Perro.”

The bus boy rattled past with a cart full of dirty dishes.  A group of couples had entered the dining room and were assessing the best place to be seated. The waitress waved them over to the tables overlooking the crashing surf with a handful of menus.

“Which brings us back to Blackie.” I thought my point had been made.

“This is much bigger.  Sex trafficking, child pornography, wire fraud, extortion, money laundering.  We’re working with the Department of Justice, State and Federal.”

I wasn’t all that convinced.  “I still think there’s more to Blackie than meets the eye.”

Another chuckle, this time a rolling rumble of pleasure.  “My contact at Justice is an old college friend.  He asked about you last time I spoke to him.  He saw an item on TV that said you lived in Corkscrew County and he wondered if I had ever met you.”

“And you have!”  I wasn’t surprised.  “What a coincidence!”

“He reminded me that you had once been kidnapped and held for ransom.  I remember reading something about that when I was in law school!”

“That was quite some time ago.”  I didn’t like thinking about it, let alone talk about it.

He frowned as if the math was not adding up.  “Not that long ago.”

waitress-main“Maybe it just seems that way.”  Now I was uncomfortable.

“You were held for ransom by some radical feminist group, right?  And what was the ransom?  Two million dollars?”

“More like five million.”

The waitress appeared suddenly, pad in hand, casting curious glances at each of us.  She was an older woman with weary road worn features and dyed blonde hair gathered in a bouquet of split ends on the top of her head.  She extracted a long orange pencil from the haystack.  She had on a blouse that had once been whiter and a wrinkled faded black skirt.  A nametag partially covered the discoloration of an old stain over the left breast.  It read Guess.  She looked at Chandler and then at me.  “Well, now that we’ve decided on a price, are we ready to order?”


Chapter Twenty Five

IN THE SWIM

I had four men staring at me and two of them were pointing, but not with their fingers.

The day started innocently enough. The heat wave of the past several days had subsided to a mere swelter. I’d received a call from Rikki inviting me to a swim party at the home of an acquaintance. The temperatures had been pretty unbearable and with the exception of my lone foray out to the coast, I’d contented myself with iced drinks, an electric fan, and the occasional cold shower. The thought of spending time in water that didn’t come from a pipe was tempting. There was a problem though, and that’s what had dissuaded me from going to the beach before. I didn’t have appropriate swimwear. I had plenty of stylish bikini and mini thong bottoms but no tops. I’d spent most of my time on beaches in Mediterranean countries where tops were optional so they never got packed or were simply abandoned in boutiques. Hard to believe that in all the years I’d lived near the Corkscrew River I’d never dipped in a toe.

laloRikki’s friend was someone he’d known in Hollywood, Nathan Thiele, the legendary stage and screen production designer, now retired. So Rikki had informed me over the phone. I wouldn’t have had a clue. Nat’s partner was a young Haitian man named Lalo with the cutest accent and the smallest most revealing swimsuit, which, with the speed removed, left only the oh to the imagination. Rikki and Wallace were both conservatively attired in clashing neon Hawaiian shirts and rather unimaginative baggy swim trunks. Nat himself looked like he might be preparing to go on safari. Nat’s cabin, as he called it, was a dreamy redwood Arts & Crafts gem with a wide sweeping deck sitting at the top of an apron of manicured lawn that ran down to the sandy shore and the water’s edge.

I had shown up a little late, having resolved my dilemma by grabbing an old scarf from my scarf drawer and fashioning it into a halter top. I thought Nat’s eyes were going to pop out of his head. He’d pointed a trembling finger at me. “That’s not a Héléne Mouchoir, is it?”  I admitted to that possibility, after all I did own some of her creations. And he’d replied, “Well, in that case, I wouldn’t think of allowing you to go swimming in a priceless designer scarf!” Rikki spoke up and suggested that I just go topless. His words were “After all, we’re gay guys, we’re not gonna get all weird at the sight of your tay-tays.”  I considered it and thought why not, it’s perfectly natural in the civilized world. There was an embarrassed silence while they all stared at my breasts. Finally I had to say, “Lalo, Wallace, it’s not polite to point.”

Nate and I compromised. He had a large rubber raft that featured inflated back and arm rests. There was even a place for my cocktail. After spreading lotion all over myself, I climbed on, launched the raft away from shore, and settled back. I donned my Fabregianni sunglasses and trailed a finger in the cool green waters. What there was of a current steered me down away from the dock into the shade of bays and willows on the opposite shore. The little alcove of shade was a perfect place to observe the world even if it was just four guys posing, posturing and frolicking in the shallows. I was like Cleopatra on her barge, the queen of the Nile with sun-dappled ankles.

The tranquility of water, I’ve always appreciated the tranquility of water, especially in the Mediterranean where the sparkling azure sky reflecting off the undulating expanse was magical. Just the thought of it transported me there. And the beach at Sabbia Negru, the black sands where Xuxann bent over me, nipples as dark and plump as rum soaked raisins.

Only at first did it ever seem like captivity. Protective custody, the council of nine had called it. I had been confined to a small cell for possibly a week, disoriented at first, while my captors decided whether I was to be trusted. Eventually I was allowed to roam the grounds but only if accompanied by one of the nine. Most of the time it was a woman named Xuxann. She was my guide as well as my guard. A tall, lithe North African with a mass of dark ophidian locks, Xuxann was what the poets meant when they referred to Abyssinian maids.

Once I’d concluded that I was not in eminent danger, I took stock of my situation. By the angle of the sun crossing the sky, I figured that the rugged landscape faced south. My first guess was that I was on an old Roman estate tucked among pines, cypress, and aromatic cedars on a rocky hillside overlooking a cerulean sheet of sea. The main house, a large villa roofed with red tile, was perched on the edge of a table of land above the seashore. A winding stone stairway cut into the face of the cliff led to the beach below. My cell was among a collection of wood and stone structures on the hillside behind the villa indicating that at one time it might have functioned as a monastery and that my tiny austere room may have once been a monk’s. There were places on the compound where I wasn’t allowed, and on certain occasions I was held incognito in the confines of my room. Otherwise, I was free to roam and explore.

Behind the compound, thick nests of conifers populated the creased gray stone face of an ancient mountain. On the west side, an old Roman arch led out to a treacherous rock and thorn-bush infested ravine. A frothy white stream tumbled over smooth rounded boulders on the east side of the property and dropped over the edge of a precipice onto the beach below. Xuxann called it Alleca Diva, the milk of the goddess.

The two of us often spent the early part of the day running along trails and paths of the wild flower carpeted cliffs, pausing to absorb the enchantment of a particular sea-shaped formation or gaze over a sheer decline at the rocks milling in the surf. It was then that I developed my passion for running and the love of freedom and power it gave me. We ran or jogged everywhere we went, especially on the wide stretch of black sand from the waterfall on one end to the jetty at the other. We were like wild mares galloping through the shimmering surf. When the sun rose to its peak at midday, weary from our exertions, we splashed in the refreshing turquoise waves.

I remembered sitting on that beach and watching as Xuxann rose out of the sea, a blast of setting sun framing her like a golden shell, a dripping wet wide-hipped silhouette creating a presence as well as an absence that pulled me in and yet repulsed me. I sensed her strength, a power representing all of life.

minoan“All of life,” spoke the shaman, stretching out her arms to indicate the world of the hillside garden outside of her ancient stone abode. Xuxann had repeated the words in French as I was not yet accustomed to the old woman’s coarse dialect.

It had been a little over a month after my arrival that Xuxann took me to the top of the property and through a small stone arch that was obviously much older than the Roman period one. We had followed the path along the milky stream up to a terraced garden at the top of which a primitive stone house commanded a wide view of the sea and the shadow of a far off shore under a mantle of cloud. Out in front a tall woman with a halo of wiry silver hair framing a perfectly symmetrical face greeted us. Her eyebrows were still as dark as her eyes and her nose drew a narrow angle down to her welcoming smile. She wore a colorful tiered skirt and a little embroidered sleeveless vest joined by a macramé clasp of gold thread in the middle. That was my introduction to Trayann, the old woman of the mountain.

How I arrived in this dream of peace and beauty was nothing short of a nightmare. I’d just finished an exhausting round of fashion shows and soirees and was on my way to Budapest to meet with the Prince for an opening of East European modernist art at a gallery he sponsored. I had asked the driver of my limousine to take the old road between Prague and Budapest. We had just passed through a small farming village and into a forested region. It was getting on toward evening and I had just begun to nod off. I opened my eyes when I felt the limo come to a stop. A black Mercedes blocked the two-lane road and a green panel truck had pulled in behind the limousine. I was trying to make sense of what was going on when the rear door was yanked open and I was pulled from the back seat. A pungent rag was forced over my nose and mouth. As I faded into unconsciousness, I made out two burly square-headed men in black hoods. It didn’t seem odd that I would think Bulgarians. I awoke next when I felt a pin prick on my thigh. A man with a narrow face and a dark moustache glanced up from the syringe in his hand. The walls were red, the bed was red, the chair was red, the floor was red, the light was red, and then everything went black. I was jolted awake by a violent crash and found myself strapped to a gurney in the back of what appeared to be an ambulance. I heard a commotion, shouting, outside the vehicle, and then gunshots. I told myself, this is it, this is the end. My ears rang with more excited yelling in a language I couldn’t quite make out, this time closer, at the doors to the rear of the vehicle. It seemed curious that they were women’s voices. My heart beat harder, faster, and I lost consciousness again.

A pale white light edged with red insinuated itself through my closed lids. I opened my eyes to see the face of an older woman bent over me with a look of concern and relief. She straightened up and I saw that she wasn’t alone. There were eight other women of varying ages surrounding my bed in a large white room. I had known females of great physical beauty in the fashion business, but it was mostly skin deep. A beauty of wisdom and compassion emanated from the assembled women, generating an aura of calm benevolence. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.


Next Time:  Enter S.A.P.H.O, Société Anonyme Protectrice des Hétaïres et Odalisques

 

 

The White Room—II

by Helene Baron-Murdock

mt oly1Donovan followed Delphi Road up the lee side of Mount Oly. The narrow paved road wound around the base of the coastal peak still shrouded in fog. Vistas of dry yellow grass and oak woodlands, dotted in the near distance by grazing animals, stretched on either side broken occasionally by a trailer home set back under a cluster of trees or a barn and some farm machinery. Driveways were indicated by rural mailboxes and posts marked with large red reflector buttons. Some areas included sheds, corrals, and chutes indicating working ranches. Then a manicured hedge, stone or stucco wall and large wrought iron gates spoke of money that could afford to live that far out and not worry about the commute.

Baxter had remarked when he’d pulled up to the fire station, “They got you driving an unmarked patrol ride now?”

He could have offered the explanation that his assigned vehicle was in the shop for routine maintenance. “It’s a nostalgia ride,” he’d answered instead. And that it was. It certainly rode heavier than his sedan and just tapping the accelerator said that there was more under the hood, much more. It had taken a few miles on his return to the coast to get used to the dashboard mounted shotgun in his field of vision again. And the heads-up display mapping the road ahead along with speedometer and a variety of indicators that he didn’t want to bother deciphering, made him feel like he was in the cockpit of a fighter jet, or what he imagined that would be like. The radio was a new high end digital voice activated model that did just about everything except talk for you. At least the rig was still equipped with a push bar on the front end, a pit bull bar to tactical drivers, that hadn’t changed. It was a familiar space, nonetheless, one he had not been in for many years, more high tec than he remembered, but the sense of consoleidentity as law enforcement, of purpose at its most elemental was still there. Gadget porn was not his thing yet there was also something to be said for its effects.

Curious, he’d checked his console mounted computer for the County GIS topo before leaving the fire station. There in big red letters was the warning, Restricted Area, hashed over with wide red bars obscuring the topographical features along with the small print Federal Code citation. He’d switched to satellite image and encountered a blur no matter how far down he zoomed in. It didn’t make any sense, and that bothered him.

Baxter had laid out an old site map of Camp Minnoknosso across his desk. “This is what it used to look like before the feds took over.”

Donovan followed as the fire chief’s finger conducted the tour. “These squares here represent the tent platforms scattered along the main trail kinda like in a maze. Back then, the site had a functioning fire lookout staffed by the gals here at the high point in a structure they called the Mini-Tower. It’s the highest point on this part of the coast. Unobstructed view all the way to the east side of the county. Of course, no telling what it looks like now.”

“When did all this happen? Was it in the news? I don’t recall it being disseminated in operational bulletins.”

“Oh, probably ten or so years ago. There were protests by the local tree huggers when the land was handed over to the feds.”

Donovan remembered vaguely. He’d been in Narcotics at the time and his focus had been mainly on gangs and drugs. “No one’s been up there since? Folks around here must be curious about what they’re doing up there.”

Baxter shook his head. “There’s some who’ve tried. Met with dogs and armed patrols on ATVs. Scared the bejesus out of most of them. They’ve got a helipad up there and occasionally there’ll be heavy duty whirlybird traffic flying in and out. Road up’s been blocked and according to some when you get up close all of a sudden your GPS and digital gadgets stop working or go glitchy like there’s a big electronic shadow over the whole area. Once you get past the second cattle guard up on Delphi you’re playing by their rules. Some folks report being harassed or being run off the road by security vehicles.” Baxter didn’t hide his disgust. “It’s like someone took a dump on your living room rug and won’t let you get near it.”

Donovan had just bumped over the first cattle guard as the road began winding up through a switchback toward the summit. The landscape had changed from rolling yellow hills to a mix of a tangled foliage, pine, and fir into whose upper reaches the coastal fog lapped. He encountered the first yellow and black road sign, Not A Through Road and Turnout Ahead. He passed the turnout and a few hundred yards later rumbled over the second cattle guard. There followed a red and white sign with a more forceful message Do Not Enter Restricted Area Ahead Authorized Personnel Only. The road had stopped climbing and around the next curve he encountered the barricade with the same red and white sign and an even more dire warning Lethal Force Authorized. The road at that point was too narrow to make a three point turn and he had to back up to a break in the thick roadside understory.

restrict1Once he nosed the front end into the gap, he saw that it was the beginning of an obscured fire road. He steered around the rutted unpaved path several hundred yards in to a clearing and a cyclone fence topped with razor wire. Along with an identical red and white sign threatening lethal force and the specific Federal Codes that allowed the authority was another official sign.

He stepped out of the sedan, following with his eye the fence as it disappeared into the woods on either side of the gate, and walked up to the sign. Large letters stated Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency followed below by an even larger set of initials, IDA, the acronym revealed by the third line as Institute for Dynamic Application.

“There’s a name that says a whole lot of nothing,” he muttered to himself. Requisite fine print followed, restating the prohibition on trespass and the likelihood of death by armed guards.

Before getting back into his rig and returning to Delphi Road, he took a picture of the sign and the fence with his smart phone, and peered through the diamond links at the road continuing further on into an overarching tunnel of trees.

He didn’t noticed at first, occupied with mulling over the implications of the restricted zone, on auto pilot as if he were in his own sedan. The heads up display was showing just a row of meaningless blank squares, the GPS was flashing like it was trying to establish a link to a signal, and the readout on the radio console scanned furiously from one end of the band to the other.

He’d had the training on the new Voicue radios. “Manual” he spoke. The readout scanning stopped and showed a set of red zeros. “Channel 3,” and the frequency flashed on the display once and then read Channel 3. Nothing but static from the speakers. So much for high tech. At least the mirrors were still working.

Donovan glanced in the rearview again. Now the hint of vehicle he’d noticed earlier as a vague shadow rounding a bend in the road behind was gaining steadily and soon was close enough to make out the blocky front end of a government issue Suburban. Then it was in tailgate range.

He maintained his speed anticipating the road ahead while considering his options and any evasive action he might need to take. He gripped the wheel. With a high powered roar, the dark hulk overtook him and passed close enough to cause his ride to shudder and almost leave the pavement. Then the tinted window Suburban was in front and no longer accelerating as the road made a gentle curve in its decent into the switchbacks before the straightaway to the valley floor.

Another glance in the rearview and his suspicions were confirmed. There was another Suburban drawing up behind. Whoever they were, they weren’t playing around.

“10-BOY-9, what’s your 10-20” It was a long shot. The SUV behind was closing fast. He was about to try the coast deputy again when riding a garbled static wave came the transmission, weak, distant, “. . .oy-ni. . .elphi. . .oad. . . .” Whatever he’d said,  it sounded like Greek to him.

Donovan started down the switchback in among stands of eucalyptus, thick foliage on the upside and the downside of the narrowing road. The vehicle in front was slowing, brake lights flashing. He was in a pocket, and it was making him sweat. The adrenaline had kicked in. “BOY 9 confirm you are on Delphi Road.”

“Victor 5, affirm,” the radio crackled.

As the vehicle ahead started into the outside turn, he closed on it. “Code 30. I’ve got two 11-54’s, one on my tail and one hindering forward progress. Code 3 to my location. Evasive tactics in progress.”

bullbarHe took a breath. How long ago had he taken that advanced tactical driving course? Something you don’t get much practice doing once you become a detective. He closed on the bumper, aiming the bull bar for the right rear. Current speed dropping to 30 MPH, he had to hit it just right. Activating the lights and siren as a distraction, he wheeled a sharp turn. The bull bar made contact with the outer edge of the Suburban’s bumper. He accelerated, pushing the large SUV off center to deprive the rear wheels of traction. The Suburban went into a skid, swerved to regain control but only ended up facing the way it had come, what Tac drivers euphemistically called a “committed lane change,” both side wheels dangling over the steep drop.

There was enough of a gap on the inside heading into the next turn. Low branches and  shrubs scraped the driver’s side, snapping the sideview mirror. Donovan pulled a hard right as he approached the bend, engaged the emergency brake long enough to fishtail, cant on two wheels, and come down facing an unobstructed road. Punching the accelerator he skidded around the last switchback at top speed. Out in the clear he had a good view of the road snaking its way up the gentle curve of the coastal hill and the flashing lights of the patrol unit speeding in his direction. A quick glance in the rearview and it appeared that his pursuers had given up the chase.

He pulled over to the side of the road adjacent a sagging rusty barbed wire fence holding back a large field of tall dry grass. And waited for the patrol unit to arrive. He was shaking, breathing hard, the adrenaline sending his heart rate through the roof. His eyes were watering and he had to step out of the vehicle. He held the door open and used it do steady himself.

Royce pulled his unit to a stop and shut down the flashing lights. He stepped out and jogged over to Donovan. “You alright? What’s going on?”

“I had a couple of dreadnaughts on my tail, they tried to get me in the pocket.” He took a breath. “And they weren’t at all friendly about it.”

Royce was nodding, a look of concern in his eyes. “You gonna be alright?”

Donovan laughed. “Yeah, yeah. Just as soon as my asshole unpuckers.” He laughed again, looking back the way he’d come. “I’m good.”

“I thought you knew about the top of Mt Oly being off limits. That’s why when I heard you going 10-8 to the old Girl Scout camp I thought I’d head up to warn you off. But I was all the way down at Argo State Beach coordinating with the new Park Ranger down there.”

“How long’s the restriction been in effect?”

Royce shrugged. “I don’t know. It was that way when I took up this post. That’s what it says in the procedure manual for the coast district. The feds want hands off, no peeks, no peeps, their personnel handles everything up there. It’s their own private country. They get to do what they want and how they want was the way it was explained to me by the coast deputy I replaced.”

“Baxter says there’ve been complaints of threats, intimidation by their security?”

“Yeah, I’ve taken complaints, sent them on for review. Next thing I know the complaint’s been dropped. Word comes back to me to warn potential hikers in that vicinity to steer clear. The ranchers round here know the drill so I don’t hear from them too often.”

Donovan’s head shook in disbelief. “No, this is bullshit. I’ll be looking into this.”

Royce smiled in return. “You mustn’t be planning to retire any time soon. You’re gonna run into an avalanche of paperwork that’ll keep you in the courts till you’re pushing a walker and dragging an oxygen cannister.”

“You’re probably right, but what the hey, if I’m on my way out, why not stir a little shit, light a fire under some bureaucrat’s ass.”

Royce’s radio squawked. “10BOY9, status of VICTOR5?” He keyed his epaulet mic, “Code 4.”

“Request VICTOR5 10-21 SAMOCEAN1,” dispatch returned. “10-4.” Royce answered and then to Donovan, “Sounds like the Sheriff wants a word with you.”

“Won’t be the first time,” Donovan said as he looked up from his device. “Finally got an ID on the flyer, and not coincidentally, a frequent flyer.” He held up his device so Royce could see the booking photo. “Dwight Carey.”

“That’s Ike! Or ‘Ikey’ as he’s known at the Sparta Creek Trailer Park.”

“You know him?”

“I’ve had interactions with him, 5150, disorderly conduct mostly. He gets a little manic when he’s off his meds. Not violent. just what you might say, too happy.”

“That scares people.”

“Apparently.”

“I’d like to go to Sparta Creek Trailer Park and ask around about Ike Carey. Interested in being my tour guide?”

“Follow me.”  Royce started toward his unit. “Aren’t going to call the boss?”

“Why bother, he’s only going to chew me out,” Donovan said, getting back behind the wheel, “and after what I did to his brand new tactical rig, can’t say I’d blame him, but I’m not interested in getting my ass chewed over the phone. If it’s going to happen, I’d rather it be in person, and later in the day. Otherwise, I’ve got work to do.”

trailer-parkThe gravel road into Sparta Creek trailer park ran along a wide dribble of questionable water between sand dunes and beach grass, and was accessed from the paved road that wound up to the parking lot of the overlook popular with hang gliders. A few bright colored sails had drifted down onto the wide beachfront as he turned off the coast highway and followed Royce down the narrow track into the nest of antique trailers, really tiny homes, rusty camper shells, and lean-to’s, most supplemented with one or more blue tarps. He didn’t want to guess how many vehicle violations were parked in front of the dilapidated aluminum dwellings. A profusion of surf boards, either atop of dune buggy type vehicles or leaning against old board fences, spoke of the occupants’ preoccupations.

Royce said he wanted to check up on the victim of the domestic from the previous day. Being a long time resident, she would likely know Ike Carey. Her name was Heron. “Like the bird,” he’d added.

The woman who stepped out from under the awning of the trailer had a young face struggling to stay that way framed by a tangle of gray and blond deadlocks. A bruise burnished one cheek and above the other, a pale blue eye contained by purple lids engorged with blood. Skinny tan arms clustered with tattoos jutted out from an oversized  mauve down vest and across her chest, pale thin lips turned downward, licked by a nervous tongue.

“I wondered where he’d got off to.” She dropped her head and shook her mane, “So sorry to hear. I just thought he’d gone off with Dad.” She paused to give Royce a meaningful look. “Besides I had other things to deal with.” And addressing the deputy “They gonna let Billy go? I ain’t gonna press charges. He was just mad cause I loaned his car without asking.”

“Dad is his father, his next of kin?” Donovan wrote in the battered notepad he carried in his jacket pocket.

“Uh, no, don’t think so, just an old guy everybody calls Dad, kinda looks like that poster of Einstein, you known, big floppy moustache with the tongue sticking out? He stays mostly up in the parking lot with the hang glider schleppers. And so does Ikey. Kinda funny, they are almost like father and son, the way I’ve seen them argue and get on.”

“Schleppers?”

“The guys the hang gliders hire to carry their gear up to the highest point above the overlook.” She pointed up toward the top of the cliff, scrawny wrist bespangled with bracelets. “We call them schleppers, kind like Sherpas, because they have to cart the sail outfits up a skinny dirt trail to the higher point and help with the setup. Course they can’t go to the highest point because of the dogs and barbed wire.”

Of course. The other residents knew about as much as Heron did about Ike Carey, or even less. They all agreed that Dad did not live in the trailer park but showed up every once in a while to watch the hang gliders. He didn’t have wheels according to one resident because he had asked to borrow his Datsun station wagon. “Said he’d give me a hundred bucks, he just had to get to Santa Lena for a doctor’s appointment. I wanted his driver’s license for collateral. That stopped him. But the next day, he shows up with this out of State drivers id. So I said what the heck, a hundred bucks is a hundred bucks.”

“Remember what the name on the id was?”

“Well, it wasn’t Dad, that’s for sure. Daniel something. Something weird like Ailess or Ailuz, I don’t know.”

Donovan sat at his desk where the real work got done unlike how it was portrayed on TV cop shows. Detective work was essentially paperwork, scanning the details, sorting the facts, gathering the evidence. He had a friend who was a program analyst for Social Services and she had put together a timeline spreadsheet template for him. All he had to do was fill in the cells with approximate times and dates, add a few notations, and look for any patterns that might emerge.

Working backward, 12 to 36 hours prior to the discovery, calculating the dates which placed the TOD within a two to three day period. He had interviewed a few idling schleppers in the overlook parking lot. No one had seen Dwight Carey for at least two days prior to his drowning. When informed of the young man’s death, one of the schleppers had mentioned something about going into a “white room.”

hangglidingHe consulted his notebook. A “white room” was the interior of a cloud and a very dangerous place to be as it was disorienting to the hang glider. Entering the white room was also a term used to signified someone who had died while hang gliding.

Had Ikey gone into the white room and had that led to his demise? Not unless someone else had also been in the white room and gut shot him. The bullet had entered the abdomen above the hip. Whoever shot him would have been positioned lower or below the subject assuming that he was in the air and attached to a pair of homemade wings. He examined the stick figures drawn and numbered in his notebook. Number one was the victim, number two, the assailant. Obviously #1 was in the air. Where was #2 standing when he or she fired the shot? He had a hunch.

Quizzing the schleppers and the gliders waiting for what they called “magic air,” Donovan had learned that there were three spots to launch from: the overlook by the parking lot where mostly beginners were “chucked off the hill” by their instructors, and the next highest point on the bluff overlooking the beach some three to four hundred feet further up where the “sky gods” might “glass off” and no “launch potatoes” were allowed. The third level was for the advanced “airborne,” as they were sometimes called, high enough that sky gods or goddesses might catch a “bullet thermal” and “speck out,” but it was no longer accessible because it was in the restricted zone. That had been the most frequent gripe in all the interviews, that the government was spoiling their fun.

The phone on his desk warbled. He stared at it, distracted. He had a good idea who it might be and let it go to voicemail.

Looking over Carey’s arrest record, he came across an old booking entry, almost a dozen years prior. His first, in fact. Resisting arrest at a demonstration by the local environmental group, EAF, Earth Action Front. He’d required hospitalization and had been released on probation. There’d been a lawsuit, dismissed. All subsequent arrests had been for disorderly conduct, nothing criminal.

Donovan paused his finger on the keyboard and then with a few deft pokes called up the EAF file. It was password protected. He paged back through his notebook. He wondered if they had changed the password since the last time he’d accessed a secure file. They hadn’t.

The EAF dossier was mostly routine. Court orders for communication monitoring, CI interviews, a few audio files indicating listening devices. He was surprised at the extent of the coverage. EAF (the D is silent, as the cops liked to say), once a fairly radical militant group, had not made the news cycle in quite some time, now mostly affiliated with more mainstream enviros, limiting their activities to leafletting and demonstrations. He scanned the membership list. No surprise, there was Dwight Carey’s name.

Dad had come up in the interviews about Ikey with a few of the schleppers. No one knew where he lived. Not at the trailer park, that had been confirmed. He’d show up out of nowhere. Some suspected he was camping up the hill near the old waterfall. He always dressed in the same ratty blue coveralls. Ikey followed him around like a lost puppy. Nor had Dad been spotted in the last few days. One of the schleppers had mentioned that he thought that Dad might have been going somewhere. The last time he’d seen him was the same morning that Ike’s body had been found. He looked different, too, shaved off his moustache, slicked his hair back, might have even cut it, wearing a sports jacket and slacks.

Donovan stared at the notebook where he had written Daniel “Dad” Ailess followed by a question mark. What was his connection to Ike Carey’s death, if any?


Next Time: What Is EAF, Who Is IDA?