Originally published in The Harrow Vol. 10, No. 10 (2007)
Men shouldn’t be allowed to look like the one that walked through my door.
It was a good door, even though it was a little on the cheap side of things. Bare and unfinished, like we didn’t have enough male influence around the office to fix things up a bit. If you thought that, you’d be on target. The glass front of the door said A. D. Haus, Private Investigator. Purposefully gender-neutral to get people through the door.
I get enough walk-ins that it was worth the trouble. I’d say that I’m persuasive when it comes to stating my case. Men are watched, noticed, by those around them. Women can sometimes move in company where a man would stand out.
If that didn’t work, there were always ladies, especially ladies married to Hollywood, who wondered why their husbands had to work late every night of the week. Delicate matters that couldn’t be trusted to the opposite sex, and that was where I came in. Adele Haus is my name, a girl of lost fortune turned private investigator, ’cause what else is a girl supposed to do when she’s lived a life like mine?
But we’re getting off the point. I was just about to describe the giant piece of man-steak that filled up the frame of my door like he was about to take its place.
Big, broad shoulders that made him look like he belonged on the docks instead of corseted into that suit. My kind of fellow, all muscles and testosterone. There was no mistaking why Lacey had let him in without the obligatory five-minute wait. I hadn’t been doing anything important, just a few odds and ends for the girls, but nothing I wouldn’t set aside for that face and absolutely incredible body.
“Who’re you?” he demanded, and I caught just enough of the accent to realize how freshly immigrated my young caller was. Italian, then, despite the light brown hair and the beginnings of a California tan.
“Adele Haus, P.I.” I answered. “But you can call me Del.”
“I’m Enzo. Enzo Moretti.”
I stood, because there’s nothing like a pair of heels and the satin silk of nylons on a girl’s legs to make a man forget what he was going to say. With another woman you use different skills, low-key ones, nothing that will make her wonder what I’ll say to her husband when I catch him at nefarious tasks. Women beating down my door because they think I’ve fallen prey to their husbands’ sad come-ons is an experience I’d rather forego. I’ve heard writers call us ‘the gentle sex’ and I wonder where they did their research.
Luckily for me and the young man, I get to use different talents to put him at ease.
“What can I do for you?” One hip wedged against the corner of my desk, I waited for him to light my Parliament with my lips already tightly clamped around the filter. I was wearing red lipstick, of course; it goes well with my chestnut hair and the tiny red barrettes I’d used to pin it up. A discriminating eye might notice that I dress better than the office around me suggests, but people who come to this part of LA are usually too nervous to notice. We’re just off the edge of Hollywood proper, but it could be miles.
If they come to me, they’ve either reached the end of their ropes, or they’ve got stranger motives, like this guy. At first I couldn’t tell why the mob would have sent him to me. I don’t mix with their kind of business and they don’t think dames are qualified for it. For the most part we never even cross paths.
“I need you to find a guy for me.”
“A guy as handsome as you?” I drawled slowly, just to see his cheeks redden. “I don’t suppose you’ve got an older brother?”
“No, ma’am. I, uh, came to see you ’cause a friend suggested it.”
I liked where this boy was going. I didn’t have many friends, and if we were going to count them up, the odds got better and better that I knew exactly who’d sent him.
“A friend. Hmmm.” I let a puff of smoke float through my lips and then took a heavier drag as I leaned off the desk. The way they’re cutting skirts these days doesn’t give a lady much room to stretch her legs, but it sure makes everything sway as she walks. I made a quick circuit around the desk and reached for a folder that was at the top of the shelf. Of course it was too high, so I let him retrieve it for me.
Low, rolling thunder came in through the window and scared my poor little client right into my arms. His muscles were as nice to touch as I would have thought, but the dear jumped away before I could finish my assessment.
I threw the folder onto the desk and slipped out the contract: $400 up front, cause a girl’s got expenses. “You sign on the bottom line and tell me exactly what you need me to do.”
He signed; they all do. “Some of the boys have gotten killed. Vinnie says that I shouldn’t worry, that we’ll take care of the ones who did it. But I don’t think that the Greeks did it. They just shoot a guy, not … not rip his guts out.”
Oh he had my interest.
“First, Johnny. And then four nights ago, we were all supposed to meet to go … well you know.” He waited until I nodded and then went on. “But Dino didn’t show. I found him on the docks down by the big marina. It looked like somebody had shot him and then set something on him.”
“What kind of something?” I asked.
“I dunno. Dogs or something.”
I took the pen that he’d just signed the paper with and ran it across the top of my lip. You’ve got to do it carefully or you can drag off that applied carnation red that I’d had to go to the ends of the earth to find. “And your friend?”
There was that blush again. I swear, I could just eat him up.
“Ms. Tanzy at Le Grande Illusion.”
He’d butchered the accent but confirmed my suspicion. Well, they always say that the best client is one who’s referred to you. But I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be as grateful as Tanzy at the end of the day.
“Oh, Tanzy.” I said softly, and accepted the cash he handed across the desk. “I see.”
“If I could ask, ma’am.” There was something about the East Coast that you couldn’t suck out of a boy, even in the glamorous high life of Hollywood. Of course, he probably saw less of that life than I did, or at least we saw the same kind of shadows. “Why do you do this? The investigator stuff, I mean, it can’t be an easy job for a woman.”
I might almost have called it chivalry.
“Well,” I told him philosophically. “I’ve been married three times and divorced twice. And so far, this is the easier work.”
He caught the slip. “What happened to your last husband?”
I grinned and knew it was all teeth. “The things you find out when you’re a private investigator.”
I felt a little bad, just a teeny bit mind you, after he left. For all his tough-guy attitude, he’d had no idea what to do with me. I hate to admit it, but they never do.
He was only two years younger than me. Lacey wasn’t just my receptionist for the hell of it. She hadn’t bothered to soften him up on the way in, but she’d taken care of it on the way out. If we were cops, it would have been good cop/bad cop, but I found that sweetheart/scary lady worked just as well. So I knew a little bit more about him than he’d bothered to let me know: two years younger and a recent transplant from New Jersey. The mob was trying to fill up its ranks and put some pressure on Hollywood. Get their in on a lucrative investment.
In the meantime, I grabbed a light jacket from the hook. Los Angeles winters weren’t cold, but sometimes you got a stiff breeze, enough to make a jacket a welcome accessory, especially with this storm front rolling in. Lacey was finishing up for the night as I strolled past her desk.
“Where you headed to?” she asked, with a saucy wink.
“I thought I’d put my ear to the ground.” I responded. “See what our boys in blue have to say about the state of things.”
“Mmmm,” came her reply. She rubbed her lips together like she was headed toward a free filet mignon. I couldn’t really blame her; the man I was going to see made a girl salivate like that. “Flynn.”
“Down, girl.” I flapped one glove at her head. “He’s too old for you.”
“And you!” she sallied after me as I let the office door close tightly behind me. But her voice still had a piercing clarity through the walls. “Give him a kiss for me, Del!”
If Lacey wasn’t good at every aspect of her job, and there were a few aspects I couldn’t advertise for, I’d have replaced her a long time ago. Cheekiness from your secretary just makes a girl feel like there’s no respect at the work place. I grinned back at the brick-clothed building as our office light winked out. Damn it all, I liked Lacey and she knew it. Which meant neither of us would be leaving anytime soon.
It took me a few phone calls and a short taxi ride toward the back lots. There were only two black-and-whites and an unmarked police cruiser parked next to the second-biggest studio in town. As I paid and stepped onto the sidewalk, I could see the dead-man’s wagon was ready to go.
I hated the back lot. It was said that they could build any dream you could imagine and make it look real. ‘Course they were pretty crackers about most of that stuff. It might look like a dream on the screen, and for a good solid quarter you got what you paid for. But here, even drawn in the shadows of LA nights, well, these dreams had cardboard façades and flimsy struts. A stiff wind could pull them down.
I strolled around the corner and saw a big man dressed in a well-cut suit look up at me. Phil Flynn scowled for a brief moment before he realized who I was. Well, maybe the scowl didn’t leave as I fast as I would have liked it to, but it did leave.
“Del,” he said. “How do you find these places out?”
“You’d be in trouble if I were a reporter,” I teased him. “Man, these places all smell the same: blood and unwashed bed sheets.” I stepped into the open warehouse door since he didn’t make a move to stop me. The set inside had been made up to resemble a cheap hotel; the kind you could rent by the hour. The bare mattress was still marked with a marbled black stain.
“What do you want?”
I let my lips fall into a moue of disappointment. Phil was the kind of guy who could make a girl want to try out husband No. 4. Honest, hard-working, he’d played a few years of college football but hadn’t let the easy life go to his paunch. He was good-looking to boot; not movie star good, but he had deep-set intense eyes and a way of looking at a girl that told you he was listening.
“And here I hoof it all the way ‘cross town to give you information.”
“Except with you, it’s a two-way street.” He gestured for me to follow him deeper inside the room. “What do you think about this place?”
Phil and I hadn’t met officially. Or at least not in the normal way. I’d been nicked as a possible Harpy Helen suspect. At the time I’d been more amused than angry; she’d been a nutter who’d given the rest of the predators a bad name, and I looked nothing like her. Phil was my arresting officer and hadn’t paid much attention to me when I’d told him exactly where to find the real Helen. Later, when they’d found her, Phil had looked me back up to find out how I’d known.
Women’s intuition, I’d told him. He’d never believed me, but when we happened to meet at crime scenes, he’d trade me information. I’d only known where Helen was because the girls had been watching her, but I could read crime scenes easily. It was never the evidence you could see, but what you could smell.
I turned my attention back to the bed with its mute blood stains. No struggle, as most of the set was still in its ramshackle form. And the location probably meant something to the killer; you didn’t break into a movie set for the hell of it. The studios had enough security that they’d probably found the scene shortly after the murders occurred. Then I caught it: the faint aroma of cheap perfume. There were three different scents. Two were perfume that I wouldn’t bother lifting up at the five and dime, but the third was the important one, an acrid, angry sweat.
“He killed both women. You’ll know the sort. And I’m guessing they were tied up; no screams, no struggle.” I stepped past Phil and examined the room again. “You already found some sort of evidence. It was planted.”
“Planted?” Phil knew me well, but there was always that little bit of doubt.
“Planted,” I affirmed. “The killer wanted you to believe his movie. Why else would he kill them here? It definitely wasn’t a crime of passion — not with those girls. So he’s trying to accomplish something.”
“A normal serial killer would have used a real hotel.”
I had to give Phil credit; occasionally he surprised me. I guess that was why he was a detective. He’d had a fairly good record before he met me, just not stellar.
“Davis! Get me the studio! I’m going to need employee information from them!” The flatfoot nodded and ran for the nearest phone.
He led me outside. We stood under the solitary lamppost and stared at each other.
“Why are you here, Del?”
“You’ll want to keep an eye on the Italians and the Greeks. I heard there might be some action between them.” I got a serious nod in response. The LAPD had been having a lot of trouble with both groups.
“Probably the usual stuff,” he mused. “But how did you know there were two women? The whole bed was covered in blood.”
An easy answer. “I smelled them.”
“Someday you’ll have to tell me how you do that.”
I doubted that Phil would ever really want to know, but I enjoyed his company as much as he enjoyed mine. And he’d never kick me out of a crime scene as long as he realized that I was the key to solving them. Up close I found myself wondering just where on his shoulder I would reach without my heels on. Distracting thoughts. Handsome men have that effect on me, which I suppose makes me an eternal optimist. I mean, there’s got to be at least one modern man who’d understand a girl like me.
“I need to know something.”
“You always do,” he shot back.
“Have there been any strange murders lately? Any bodies found in back alleys?”
Phil gave me a funny look. “It’s LA. I’ve got four dead winos, a couple of runaways from the East Coast, and a guy who beat his wife to death. And that was just last night’s shift. You start adding this shit in and I’ve got an entire morgue filled.”
“I said strange.” Lord, one minute they’re listening to you and the next, the brain just shuts off. “Strange, Phil.”
He thought about it. “We’ve got a stray dog problem out toward the desert.”
Thank God for patience. Any longer for him to get my point and I would have strangled him, myself.
“Yeah, a couple of bodies got dumped. You know how they like to cross the city line and leave ’em.”
Yeah, I knew how they liked to do that.
“Anyway, there’s gotta be some loose dogs, maybe coyotes, working over the bodies before we get to them. Is that what you’re looking for?”
“Hey! Detective Flynn!” A studio exec came fluttering toward us. I really couldn’t stand the type; they were as real as the back lot around me. A more honest girl might have noted that I wasn’t everything I appeared to be, but I’d paid too many dues to get where I was. A few lies just kept the world in place around me.
“I’ve got to go,” Phil said apologetically and caught my hand. “Catch me for a cup of coffee after shift?”
“When do you get off?” I couldn’t believe I was asking him the question.
“Six. Bertie’s on Alameda?”
He smiled, an optimistic look. “Good. Be careful, Del.”
I didn’t bother to tell him that I didn’t need the warning. I could take care of myself. I always had.
3.Well, I didn’t need any more to go on. Truthfully, I’d had enough information the moment that Enzo had described the injuries to his friend. Of course he’d assumed they were a few hours post-mortem; most people did. It was no worry these days, but someday they’d get better at reading the clues on dead bodies and figure it out. I was trying to fix the problem before it came to that, because the essence was that the girls were getting lazy.
I caught a late-night taxi from the back lots. Luckily there was some kind of big premiere going on, so there were plenty to chose from. I could see the tiny pops of light against the black sky and hear the cheers as people entered the theater. Like I said before, the kind of Hollywood that mob boys on Enzo’s level never got to see.
The driver, a beak-faced man, gave my legs one long look. “Where to, doll?”
“Le Grande Illusion.”
If his mouth had split any wider, I’d have pulled his silver fillings out. “You working tonight?”
“Business.” Just not the kind of business he was thinking.
We pulled out into traffic and I leaned back to enjoy the ride. Lights flickered overhead. Pale white, they flashed across my face and then gave way to the next one in the sequence. I loved Los Angeles. There were so many places in the world that the dark just came right down to the edge of the walls; cities that were surrounded and overwhelmed at night, with nothing to hold back the monsters that crept through the shadows. Not LA. Electricity showed everything here. So instead, the monsters walked without hesitation under halogen to do their deeds. You might have thought they’d detest the notoriety, but no, they loved it.
“Don’t your husband worry when you’re out this late?”
“Not married,” I said idly.
“Haven’t met the right kind of man?”
I laughed softly. “I keep meeting the right kind of men. I just get tired of them quickly. You see, there’s three kinds.”
“Three kinds?” He chortled. “I thought it was two. The ones you keep and the ones you throw back.”
His sense of humor worked for me. “That’s pretty close.”
“You’ll have to tell me next time, doll.” He slid the taxi over to the curb. “Name’s Harvey. You ever need a ride again for business, you just give me a holler.”
I leaned up against his seat back so I could look him in the face. “You don’t even know what kind of business I’m in.”
But Harvey surprised me. He pointed out the window toward the sky. The object he aimed at was one that I knew intimately.
The moon was bursting full and low on the horizon. That time of year, she’s so full that it seems like she’s on a collision course with Earth. Through the taxi window I could see her curves, almost abnormally swollen and heavy, pushing through the cloud cover.
“You’d think a cabbie ain’t got no sense of things in the world. But I’ve done business with your kind before, and I’ve heard the stories from the old country. There are people you don’t want to know and there’s those you want on your side. I’m happy to work for your side.”
“A dangerous choice.”
“Not really.” He grinned at me again in a wide jack-o-lantern smile. “Better than the mob.”
“My pleasure then, Harvey.” I reached over the seat and shook his hand in a dainty manner. Lady-like, if you’re so inclined. “I’ll remember you, then.” I’d slipped him the fare inside my grasp and he tried to pass it back to me. “Oh no. Like I said, I’m on business tonight. Keep the money.”
“Good evening, Lady.”
I nodded and stepped out of the cab. He pulled smoothly back into traffic, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised when the second cab pulled up to me. It wasn’t trying to pick me up, but to disgorge its own passenger. I told you, the mob doesn’t trust women, and Enzo was nothing but a loyal goon.
He tried to unfold himself with as much machismo as he could, but the boy was just too big to do it elegantly. The mood already spoiled, he argued with the driver over fare, using threats and perceived violence to work the man down to half price.
The mob was so inelegant. They’d never survive as long as we had. Life was all about subtlety.
“Why are you here?” he demanded.
Here was Le Grande Illusion: gentleman’s club and occasional burlesque revue. The only club in town where you could pick the dancer of your choice to go upstairs for a more private party. This was where he’d met Ms. Tanzy. This was where the trail led, although he didn’t know it yet.
I glanced up at the moon and then at him. Juicy was the only word that came to mind.
“First you talk to the fuzz. And now you come here? What’s the deal?”
Le Grande’s doorman opened the door for us as I walked up the stairs and left my young man to follow me. He was fuming, so I put a little extra sway in my step and tried to look innocent. Lacey says it’s my worst look. I think she’s just jealous that I can pull it off on a regular basis. It’s got to be the bone structure; Lord knows there’s nothing real behind it.
Inside was a strange combination of opulence and sleaze. Enough money had been spent on the interior to make it look like a quality gentleman’s club — leather recliners, good booze on every sideboard, and several butlers who worked the leisure rooms while the stage was set. A gentleman’s club where women lounged on the furniture in the least amount of clothing possible. Usually that was a silk robe drawn tight or left so loose that only gravity and some unique posing kept it on.
The girls smiled as I entered, and some even paused in their conversations to watch us walk slowly across the floor.
“Where is she?” I asked Lilah. She was closest and obviously caught Enzo’s eye, as he lost focus on me to follow the sweeping curve of her breasts.
“In the back. Hiya, big fellow.” She stepped close to him and pretended to nip at his throat. “Maybe you’ll have some time for me later.”
I cleared my throat. “He will.” And then to Enzo. “Come on.”
“What’s going on?” he demanded as I left the main suites behind and walked through the empty theater seating toward the back. “Why are we here?”
“I had the funniest conversation earlier. We were talking about how many kinds of men there are in the world.” I touched my hair to make sure it was still in place. “I’ve always been of the mind that there are three. My first husband was one of the first: a good man, just limited by his perceptions. He went off to the Navy, left me on my own, and expected that I’d just survive without changing. The world doesn’t work like that. So when he came back, well, we just didn’t fit together the way we used to.”
“I don’t see….”
“Hush.” I snapped at him. “I’m the investigator. You paid me to hear this. So listen.”
We entered the back stage. It was still a good forty-five minutes before the next show, so the stage hands were moving on their errands. None of them bothered us.
“My second husband was a looker, and I’ve always been fond of handsome men. But he was the second type. Very impressive on the surface but nothing underneath; no steel. I guess you’d call him an average man. He tried for a while, but in the end he took the divorce and found himself some pretty little widow from San Diego.”
We reached another set of doors. I checked my purse. Everything was in there, including the Colt 1903 Hammerless tucked under my lipstick. “And there was my third husband.”
“But you didn’t divorce him.”
I felt my lips curl into a smile that he didn’t see. “He’s the one that’s relevant to your case.” The door opened under my key and I ushered him through. It was the large store room at the back of Le Grande where they kept everything that the business, or the girls, might need. They were already there waiting for us, although he didn’t know it yet.
“You’re right.” I told him. “He was a bastard. I fell for the pretty face and his lies. And I learned the thing that made private investigation the career field for me. You see, a man will cheat on his wife and expect her to take him back. To forgive him. But sometimes that doesn’t work. Sometimes you want to make him suffer. I get a lot of clients who feel that way.”
“So you put a hit on him?” Poor boy was confused. “But Johnny didn’t have an old lady.”
“No, but there’s a certain kind of man who won’t ever learn from his mistakes. He’ll beat his wife, leave his mistress pregnant with his kid, run over his neighbor’s dog. There’s all sorts of crimes that don’t get punished. And before I knew the girls, there wasn’t anything that women could do about it.”
He’d just started to smell it. The odor. It was what every crime scene smelled like, blood and unwashed bed sheets. Or maybe it was just this place that I carried with me.
But there was another subtle scent underneath it, a musky smell of fur and dirt and sexuality all mixed into one. And then something shifted in the shadows and he jumped, reaching under his jacket for the weapon there. I stopped his hand only an inch away from it and surprised him with the strength in my grip.
“You g-got some kind of f-f-fighting dogs,” he stuttered.
“Not dogs. Wolves.”
And I knew he recognized the girls as they moved out into the open. It’s amazing how sensually a woman can move, how much she can look like a predator. But no one ever expects the two to be so similar until they see her cloaked in teeth and claws.
“Werewolves.” I said with a hiss. “Enzo, sweetheart. The third kind of man is the one that nobody misses. You and your boys strolled in here and thought you could throw your weight around. You didn’t want to pay full price, but you wanted twice the time and, frankly, the girls weren’t impressed.”
His eyes got wider and wider. Tanzy huffed deep in her throat and set pale grey eyes on him as he took a single step backward. Her head reached above his belly button. One hundred and fifty pounds of woman meant a whole lot of wolf.
“You’re a werewolf?” he shot at me.
“No, no.” I almost felt sorry for him. He hadn’t been the worst of the three, but he wanted to ask questions. If he’d listened to his bosses, they would have gunned down a couple of Greeks on the dock and he might have lived a couple more years on the sunny California coast. But here we were.
“What are you, then?”
“You can be a predator without being a werewolf.” I reached inside my purse. “I’m just their broker.”
As I cleaned up in the little sparse bathroom just off the store room, Tanzy lounged against the doorway naked. She always looked so beautiful in wolf-skin, it was a surprise to see that she was just a normal-looking human girl — pink-cheeked and full-bodied with heaving round breasts. A heavenly burlesque dancer, for which I’d always envied her.
“Don’t dump him in the desert,” I warned her and reapplied my lipstick. Carnation red would always be my favorite, no matter what the fads said. “The vultures aren’t picking them clean fast enough.”
“So where are we supposed to put them?”
I loved it when I knew the answers. The little notepad I carried was useful for some things. Occasionally, I even took notes on it. So I wrote a single name and gave her a peck on the cheek.
“Where you off to?” she asked me.
I shrugged. A girl’s got to have secrets, even from her sisters.
EpilogueI slid into the diner seat with a sigh. I’d decided to follow up on a couple of other legitimate cases before my early-morning date, and they’d almost run me late. It was already light out, even though the sun hadn’t breached the horizon.
Phil was waiting for me. He looked tired, too, but he had great timing. A steaming cup of coffee was laid out for me.
“How was your night?” he asked with a smile, and I thought, a girl could get lost in those eyes.
“The usual,” I told him. “But I was thinking about the coffee.”
“Something’s wrong with it?” He seemed startled.
“No, it’s fine.” I took a hearty gulp and decided that it would be fine — after six or seven sugar cubes. It was so bitter I’d lay money that it could cauterize ulcers. “I was just thinking about the kind of man who has a cup waiting for a lady.”
“What kind of man is that?” Phil’s face lit up. I guess homicide detectives don’t get flirted with as often as they might like.
“I have great hopes,” I told him, “that it’s the best kind.”