Authors: Martha Steinway
“I’ll do my best.”
She practically ran back out onto the lot, holding her child by its hair. I turned my attention to the names she’d selected. Tomasky. It rang a bell with me too. Tomasky.
Then it came to me.
I delved into my case and found Clara’s head shot. I looked at it again: I was starting to feel like I knew the girl. I turned the picture over to reveal the photographer’s stamp: Tomasky Studio. 6118 Hollywood Blvd.
I managed to speak to a few of the names on the list while I was at MGM. The problem I was up against was that the guests had been so entertained by the animals that no one remembered seeing Clara. There had been lions, apes, snakes and even an elephant—and any one of them could have done her harm. But that still didn’t explain how Gloria Butterfield ended up with her necklace.
It was getting toward the end of the day, and I supposed that I really ought to get back to the office. There were lots of things Red and I hadn’t discussed—like remuneration and her hours of work—and I knew I couldn’t expect her to hang on waiting for me. Equally, it was now nearly two days since anybody had seen Clara. And that meant if I saw a lead I had to follow it, so I decided to swing by the Tomasky Studio on my way.
It was in a single-story building behind a busy gas station and looked very run down. One of those odd places where you couldn’t tell if you were at the front or the back of it: there was no sign, no buzzer, just a door and a barred window on one side, and another door and a barred window on the other. I thought about the photo of Clara, with its silky feel and soft lighting. I couldn’t quite match up the grubby building in front of me with the glamor it produced inside.
There was no answer when I knocked on both doors, no lights on and no noises coming from within, so I jumped back in the car and returned to the office.
“Oh, thank goodness!” Red was far more pleased to see me than I could have expected. “Are you all right?”
I hung my jacket on the coat stand. The office didn’t seem significantly tidier than when I’d last seen it.
“Of course I’m all right.”
“You’ve not heard then?” She pulled a chair out for me, just in case I was incapable of doing it for myself.
“My word, it’s just about the biggest thing that’s ever happened to this town.”
I took a seat. There was a grid pattern of notes spread out across my desk. I stared at them long and hard. It seemed the girl had been busy.
“Don’t you want to know?” She seemed a little perplexed that I wasn’t desperate to hear her news.
“Sure,” I said, without looking up. I didn’t need to see her face to know my nonchalance was infuriating her.
“I’m not sure I believe it myself… Everyone at the diner was talking about it.”
I carried on looking at the papers arranged on the desk.
“There’s a big cat stalking the streets of Beverly Hills!” she blurted, unable to keep the news to herself a moment longer.
“You better believe it.”
“So you know about it? The people at Joe’s said it’s huge! Eyes like dinner plates, long claws like talons and a sleek, black coat.”
I looked up at her. “I saw it myself only that description isn’t—”
“Oh my!” Her eyes widened.
“It was closer to me than you are now. It certainly had big eyes and sharp claws, but sleek and black it wasn’t. Orange and white from head to toe.”
“It was a tiger.”
“Stop making fun of me, Spencer.”
“Trust me, this was real. About an inch away from being too real.”
“But the sightings are of a panther. A big black panther.”
I didn’t doubt Red was relaying everything she’d heard at Joe’s, word for word, so that meant there were only two possibilities: she had poor information; or there were two big cats making their home in the Hollywood Hills. Normally I veer toward the more likely of two options, if I have a choice, but after what I’d seen at Powell’s place and heard from the stable boy at Goebel’s Farm, I had a bad feeling there really were two big cats on the loose. Two big, hungry cats looking for their next meal.
No wonder no one had noticed what had happened to Clara at the party.
Red tried to pump me for the details of my feline encounter. Though it was a great story to tell, especially if I embellished the details a little here and there, I reminded Red I had an important case to solve and she could hear all about my adventure after we’d located Clara Lockhart.
“So, what did you find out from the hospitals?”
She talked me through the various notes on my desk, each one representing a careful record of her conversations with every hospital in the city.
“Not one had admitted a woman named Clara Lockhart, either dead or alive. But when I pushed, I did discover three patients without identification that match Clara’s description. Two are yet to regain consciousness, and the other is down at the morgue with a “Jane Doe” tag on her toe.”
“Good work,” I smile encouragingly at her. “I mean it—real good work. I’ll check them out tomorrow.”
“What do you mean?”
“I thought I should strike while the iron was hot.”
“You’ve visited the hospitals?” I didn’t know if I was angry or impressed.
She nodded. “Those poor girls were in a desperate state.”
“You’ve been to the morgue too?”
“Why, yes. Of course I have. I couldn’t very well wait for you to reappear. What if one of them had been Clara?”
“And what exactly did you say to the doctors and the coroner’s clerk?”
“I merely explained that I needed to ascertain if one of the girls they had was the girl we were looking for.”
I tried to take a breath, count to ten. I got as far as two.
“And they agreed to speak to you? Let you see their patients and corpse? Just some strange dame who walked in off the street?”
“Naturally I showed them your card. That seemed to suffice.” She pulled one of my calling cards from her purse and waved it at me.
I snatched it out of her hand. Beneath my name she had written: “Associate, Rose Randall”.
“Jeez, will you quit? I can’t have you steaming into places, letting them think you’re some kind of… lady P.I., goddammit.” I got to my feet and started pacing the room.
“But they were quite happy to speak to me.”
“That is not the point!”
She started relaying what she’d discovered at the hospitals but I was too het up to listen to her.
I stopped pacing.
“This isn’t going to work out,” I told her. “I need you to leave. Right now.”
“Oh come on, Spencer. Don’t overreact. Don’t get mad at me for showing some initiative. There’s a girl missing and you expect me to do nothing?”
“I expect you to file.” I shook my head. “And answer the phone when it rings. Take messages.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Keep the place clean and tidy. You know—what a secretary is supposed to do!” I banged a fist against the file cabinet. “Dammit, Red, you don’t work with me, you work for me. There’s a big difference. I need someone who’ll stay in the office.”
“Yes—I think you’ve made that quite clear.”
“Obviously I’ll pay you for today but—”
She turned away and grabbed her purse from the desk. “Don’t insult me with your money. I wouldn’t take it if I were hungry and homeless.” She picked up her hat from the coat stand and marched toward the door.
I bit my lip. I’d done nothing I needed to apologize for. So why was she making me feel as if I should? She opened the door and hesitated for a moment on the threshold. “Good day, Mr McCoy.” And with that, she left.
I listened as her heels clicked and clacked their way down the stairs. I heard her open the door onto the street and listened as the traffic noise rose up with stairwell. Then I heard the door slam shut behind her.
Probably for the best, I told myself. I mean, I really couldn’t have some broad who didn’t know the first thing about investigations setting off fires all over town. Fires that I’d have to put out. I guess I shouldn’t have let her walk out like that, but she had wound me up so tight that telling her to leave felt like the only option I had. I just knew I should have been a bit nicer about it.
Annoyed at myself, I turned to the pieces of paper Red had left on my desk. She’d made meticulous notes of her conversations with every hospital admittance officer in the county. She’d listed the name of every female patient between the age of fifteen and thirty who’d been admitted between ten o’clock on Sunday, when Benny Bowers had said they’d arrived at Powell’s place, and ten o’clock the following night. Where the information had been recorded by hospital staff, Red had even bothered to add the names of the people accompanying the sick and injured girls. I couldn’t accuse her of not being thorough. I was left with a whole heap of names on my desk, names of girls that meant nothing to me. I sifted through the sheets and found the guest list from the party. It took me a while to realize that Red had cross-referenced all the names from the hospitals with the ones on the guest list.
It seemed she’d found a match.
She’d circled just one name on the list: Eddie Mannix.
The next morning, I arrived at the office just after nine. I heard the phone ringing from downstairs as I opened the door, so I rushed up to the second floor in double time, in the hope of answering before the caller rang off. I reached the office and fumbled with the keys, unlocked the door and dashed over to my desk.
“Spencer McCoy,” I said, trying not to pant too heavily into the mouthpiece.
“Hello Spencer, this is Miss Randall.”
The voice was familiar, but not the name.
“Rose Randall. I was with you yesterday.”
It took another moment before the penny dropped.
“Or maybe I should say I was for you yesterday. Today I am most definitely for the other guy. Any guy who isn’t you. That was a poor show you put on last night.”
I heard a lot of noise in the background, like fans whirring.
“About that…” I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. “I guess I was a little… out of line. I would’ve called you, but I didn’t have your number.”
She let out an impatient sigh. “That is somewhat irrelevant. I’m calling you… that is… Look I just want you to know that what I’m about to tell you isn’t for your benefit.”
“I’m doing this for Clara.”
“Yes?” I figured the less I said, the better.
“I’m at a beauty parlor over in Silverlake.” The hair dryers in the background made it hard to hear her. I strained to make out her words. “I saw the reservations book as I came in,” she continued. “There’d been some kind of mix up when I called to make the appointment, so they made a big production of showing me the book, to let me see just how popular they are and how darned lucky I am that they could squeeze me in.”
Red struck me as the kind of girl who would be squeezed in pretty much anywhere she chose to go.
“I noticed that Myrtle Willoughby is coming in at eleven this morning.”
“Should the name mean something to me?”
“Check your list, Mr McCoy.”
And with that, she hung up.
I took off my jacket and pulled out the Powell guest list from my case. Sure enough, a dozen or so lines down, there was Myrtle, her name emphatically underlined in pencil by Mary Treen. I called the operator.
“Good morning,” I said. “ I just got cut off. Could you please reconnect my last call?”
I got the address of the parlor in Silverlake from the receptionist who answered the phone. I had just finished writing it down when the phone rang again.
“This is Mary Summers. Mary Treen.”
“Good morning Miss Summers, I was about to call you.”
“I wanted to give you an update… I think it may be time to inform the police.”
“I really don’t think they’ll take me seriously—”
“It’s been two days now, the police have a duty—”
“No, you don’t understand. That’s why I’m calling you. I’ve heard from Clara. Or at least… I think I have.”
“What does that mean?”
“Would you be able to come over and see me?”
We made an arrangement to meet up at lunchtime and she hung up before I could ask her anything else.
Silverlake was not a part of Los Angeles I ever had much to do with. It wasn’t near the ocean, it wasn’t in the hills, it didn’t have the busy hum of downtown or the glitz of Hollywood. To me Silverlake has always seemed like a little piece of Milwaukee dumped, by some freak accident of geology, in the middle of the gleaming metropolis.
Maybe if I’d needed the services of a beauty parlor I might have known the streets a little better. Lorimer’s had quite a reputation among the women of Los Angeles. It was run by an old guy named Clark Lorimer who used to work for the studios. The way he liked to tell it, he’d styled for Garbo, Clara Bow and Dietrich, and made his reputation by treating his regular clients at the parlor as if they were movie stars themselves. And, as there isn’t a single woman in California who doesn’t secretly hope she might one day be up there on the silver screen, Lorimer attracts a loyal following.
As I got out of the car I noticed the newsstand on the corner was doing a lot business: the good people of Los Angeles were lapping up big cat stories like kittens at a saucer of cream. People were buying the Times and the Chronicle, just in case one reported more sightings than the other. I’d already read them both: neither said how the panther had gotten to Beverly Hills, and neither mentioned the tiger I had most definitely seen. I’d heard some reporters refer to Howard Strickling as “The Strangler”, such was the man’s grip on their profession. Seeing as, according to the press, the tiger didn’t even exist, it seemed Mr Strickling was living up to his reputation. I was surprised he hadn’t managed to snuff out stories about the panther too.