Authors: Linda L. Richards
“It’s true. Lotta people in that business change perfectly good names. Let alone Chuck Dick Dickey. Naw, he’s no murderer. In fact, I’d put money on it. I was there. I know what I saw. And you can roll a baby in baking flour, but that don’t make him a polar bear.”
I hesitated, derailed for the moment by the vision of a flour-dipped baby. “Well,” I reminded him hesitatingly, “there was
maybe a lot you didn’t see. You said the bedroom door was closed.”
“Still, I saw a lot of Wyndham through the evening. And he didn’t look like he was fixing to snuff out anyone’s lights.”
“So what do we do?” I asked.
“What makes you think we have to do anything?”
I shrugged. “Dunno, really. It just seems like you know more than most of the people that were there. And you’re a professional. You know what to look for.”
Dex smiled. “You’re a sweet kid, Kitty. I like having you around. I don’t tell you that enough. You brighten the place up. But, in this thing? I just don’t know that there’s anything that can be done. Least of all by us.”
I squirmed a bit under the unexpected compliment. “Thanks,” I sort of stammered. But I could tell Dex wasn’t listening. He seemed to have gone away somewhere quiet where he could think deeply. I read while he pondered. Finally, he spoke again. “You know, this thing with the papers. It’s all a bit too pat.”
I had no idea what he was talking about. I said so. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” is what I said.
“Well, how is it that the newspapers loved Wyndham yesterday. And they loved him all this time. Then, suddenly, he’s got horns and a tail?”
“He’s accused of a pretty horrible thing, Dex.”
“Still. That ain’t enough. The studios care for their own, Kitty. There’s lots of things we don’t read about in the papers. Things that’d curl your hair. The studios fix it. They hush things up. Happens all the time.”
I was skeptical. “How do you know that?”
“Hell: lookit what I do for a living. And I talk to other P.I.s. It’s even a job I’ve had on occasion: making things go away.”
“So what are you saying?”
He stroked what would become a full beard if he didn’t see
to it soon. “What am I saying? Good question. I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to give it some more thought. Meanwhile, do you think it’s possible Wyndham got on the wrong side of someone?”
I was aware of looking at Dex carefully. Of cocking my head to one side like a dog listening. Something must have resonated. “What do you mean?” was what I said.
He pulled the newspaper toward him, read the lurid headline, slapped it back down on the desk. “Well, lookit, Kitty: they’re calling him a murderer. No pussfootin’ around.”
“So you’re saying … what? That someone at the paper has it out for him?” There must have been a skeptical note in my voice.
“I’m just sayin’ it’s a possibility, is all.”
“Anyway,” I pointed out, aiming for a reasonable tone, “it was your job to follow him and you did that. With him in jail, I guess your job is done.”
“What does it say in the paper about evidence?”
“That’s what I mean. If the cops bundled him off to the can, they must have had some reason for thinking it was him.”
I bent back to the paper for a bit. Scanned here and there through the stories about Wyndham. “No,” I said after a while. “Nothing specific. I mean, the cops arrested him, right? You know they’ve got some kind of evidence. But they’re not saying what it is here.”
Dex looked thoughtful but didn’t say anything. Everything that needed saying between us had been said.
“Guess I’ll get back to work, Dex. Holler if you need anything?”
“Well you could try Xander Dean again,” he said. “Other than that, I’m OK.”
The second time I tried Dean’s number brought the same response: a lot of ringing. I would maybe have tried again, just
to make sure I hadn’t misdialed, but I heard the sound of flat-foots snuffling toward the office and I replaced the receiver.
In fairness, there is probably no way I could have known it was flatfoots. But it seems to me I could hear a certain bold incompetence in those footsteps and a certain confidence combined with weakness of character. There weren’t a lot of places you find such deep troughs of that combination outside Chief Roy E. Steckel’s Los Angeles police force.
The cops didn’t even hesitate to give me the time of day. I might not have been sitting there at all. They just barged right through and into Dex’s office, without any by-your-leave. I followed hard on their heels, intending to apologize to Dex for letting them through, but it took me some time to sneak a word in even at the edge.
“O’Reilly,” Dex said warmly. “Houlahan. Great to see you ladies. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I’ve got a feeling it wouldn’t take you much to guess.” The speaker was short and dangerously red in the face, like an encounter with too many stairs would put him in the hospital. Maybe keep him there forever. I wasn’t sure if this was O’Reilly or Houlahan, I’d never taken the time to tell them apart, but on consideration, I figured it didn’t much matter.
“Well, maybe yes and maybe no,” Dex said affably. “Why’nt you boys come on in. Take a load off.” He shifted his attention to me, standing in the doorway, not sure what to do or say. “It’s OK, Kitty. I know they didn’t ask your permission. You go on back and get that typing done.”
I shot Dex a look he didn’t see. I didn’t have any typing to do and I was pretty sure Dex knew it. And I was unconvinced of Dex’s need to impress the flatfoots with his busyness. Still, Dex had asked for typing so typing he would get. His was the name at the bottom of my pay checks, after all. His was the name edged in gold letters on the front door.
I scooped up the newspaper on my way out and told Dex to
holler if he wanted anything more from me. Then I left his office door open a crack. That way, I reasoned silently, I’d be able to hear if he did indeed holler. I didn’t dwell on the fact that it also made it easier to hear what was going on in there.
The flatfoots didn’t waste any time. I was still rolling paper into the typewriter when they started up. “We heard you was at a party last night, Theroux.”
“Yeah, sure.” Dex is good at seeming relaxed and comfortable around the law. It’s one of his gifts. “What can I say? I like a social gathering. Helps me hone my people skills. Maybe you and the missus here should attend one once.” I sucked in my breath soundlessly. O’Reilly and Houlahan. We knew they weren’t the sharpest chips off the edge of a dull block. Still, poking at them with a stick didn’t seem such a good idea.
I was relieved when one of the cops picked up the conversation apparently unperturbed. Maybe he’d missed the insult. Or maybe he was used to it.
“Party you was at? Someone got fogged.”
“Yeah,” said the other, “good and fogged.”
“I heard,” Dex said, still sounding comfortable. “It’s in all the papers.”
I threw some typing into the mix here. Rapid-fire: rat-tat-tat. I could hear them getting warmed up. I figured I may as well fulfill Dex’s request before they got to the good stuff; and I did have a feeling that good stuff was coming.
“People say they saw you there.”
To my surprise, Dex laughed outright at this. I took the opportunity to fire another round of rapid typing into the breach. “What’s with the fishing expedition, boys?” he asked good-naturedly. “Way I understand it, you’ve already landed the big one. What the hell do you need me for?”
I was glad Dex had asked it. I’d been thinking the same thing: Wyndham had been arrested. Why question Dex?
“You’re lucky we got someone in custody, Theroux.” It was
the same voice and it held an edge. I didn’t much like it. “If we didn’t, we’d sure as hell be looking at you more closely.”
“Well, you’re here, ain’t you? Any closer and we’d be doin’ the tango.”
“Boys, boys, c’mon.” I think this was O’Reilly. There was a placating note in his voice. “No need for any of that. Theroux’s right, anyway, ain’t he? This
a fishing expedition. ‘Course it is.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t like the bait you’re usin’.” This was Dex.
“Well, you was there. We figured you was there for a reason.”
Dex laughed. “Sure, there was girls there.”
“That’s not what we mean.” Houlahan. I could imagine his intense face. Under the right circumstances—or the wrong ones—I knew it was a face that could scare me. “To be there, at that party with those people, we figured you had to have a special invite.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Dex wanted to know. “A ‘special’ invite. This fishing is lost on me, boys. If you’re figuring something, maybe you just oughta say it.”
“Face it, Theroux,” this was Houlahan again, “this ain’t a crowd you run with. Too swell.”
“I clean up pretty good,” Dex said. “You should see me after I pull a comb through my hair and a razor across my face. Hell, even you apes could pass for human after a trip to the barber.”
If either cop took offense at this I didn’t hear it in their voices. Maybe they were too focused on their goal.
“Anyhow,” Houlahan said, “what we’re getting at is this: we figured you had to have been there for a client.”
“Is that what you figured?” Dex said. I could imagine him eyeing both flatfoots as he said it. “Well you figured wrong. I mean, if I
have a client—and I ain’t sayin’ I did—but if I did, I sure as hell wouldn’t tell the two of you about it. And I know I can say it all straight up and honest to you like that because you knew that before you ever walked in the door.”
“OK, it ain’t just that,” Houlahan said.
“It never is.”
“We also wanted to know what you seen while you was there.”
“Say it plain, boys. What you really wanna know is did I see anything that will help you nail Wyndham. Am I right? Fact is, I didn’t. I saw Wyndham on and off all night. Always alone. Sometimes with a phone pressed to his ear. But never with a girl. He looked … he looked like he maybe had a lot on his mind, but he didn’t look crazy or anything else you might find helpful. I’d say he wasn’t even drinking, or else he was drinking, but so little it won’t be of use to you.”
“He didn’t look mad or anything? Like he was ready to snap?”
“Naw. Not even close.” A pause, and then, “In fact, when I think of it, I’d say the opposite. He looked very far from snapping. More like maybe he was worried about a business deal or something. If you asked me, I’d tell you: I’d say it had nothing to do with a girl. But listen, while I got you here, the papers didn’t say how the girl died.”
“We’re not at liberty to say.”
“Ah, sure you are,” Dex said. “‘Course you can. That way if I get information, I trade it right back to you, see? Otherwise, what’s the point in me telling you anything at all?”
Did the two cops see how flawed Dex’s logic was in this? I was guessing maybe not, because after a brief hesitation, O’Reilly replied. “Neck was broke,” he said in a confidential tone.
“Broke neck,” Dex commented, just to say something, I guessed, because the guys would be expecting it and because he wanted to bring them along.
“We ain’t supposed to talk about that part,” Houlahan reprimanded his partner mildly.
“Well that’s that then,” O’Reilly said. I could hear the end of the interview when a chair scraped back on the scuffed
wood floor. Then another. “We won’t take up any more of your time.”
“Too bad I can’t get the last ten minutes back,” Dex said with a smile in his voice. “Maybe I’d do something useful with ‘em, ‘cause I sure as hell wouldn’t want to spend them with you two again.”
Whatever answer they might have made was lost in the smatter of rapid typing I sent into the air, hoping it would keep Dex’s mind from the fact that I hadn’t done much typing at all while he was in with the two cops.
“Call us if you think of anything, Theroux.” The flatfoots were moving through my office area now, putting hats back on and puffing themselves back up with the importance they understood about themselves. “Anything at all that might help.”
“Sure, sure I will,” Dex said, escorting them out. “You two will be the first I call.”
And when the door closed behind them, Dex added quietly, “when hell freezes over and Christ needs a crutch.”
ONCE THE COPS were gone, Dex slunk back to his office and closed the door with a nice solid thunk. Whatever life I’d managed to breathe into him with coffee and cleanup had puffed away like the angel’s share on a glass of single malt. There was a grayness around his edges. Tinged with green. I figured only part of that had to do with all the firewater he’d put away.
I stayed at my desk and determined to fill what little was left of the work day with normal tasks. Clearly, there was no more typing to be done. Ditto filing. I tried Xander Dean again. No dice. I contented myself with sweeping the scuffed wooden floors, polishing the brass on the desk and the door and doing other chores that were clearly more housekeeping than secretarial. But it felt right somehow on this odd day. Anyway, it filled the time. I’ve never been a girl who could spend much time filing her nails and there simply wasn’t any other type of filing to do.
An hour passed. Maybe a bit more. I hadn’t heard even a peep from Dex. I was thinking about going in and checking on him when the front door opened and in walked Xander Dean with enough of a puff to his breath that I figured the elevator must be acting up again. Five flights of stairs will put anyone’s wind back, especially someone who’d skipped as few meals as Dean obviously had.
The spiteful child who lives in each of us was sorely tempted to turn him down flat. To tell him Dex was out on a job and would he like to make an appointment? That was how it was supposed to work, after all. Not just show up like he figured Dex would just be sitting in his office with nothing really to do and never mind that this was pretty much the truth.
“I’m … I’m not certain, Mr. Dean,” I said, and it was only half a lie. This wasn’t a day when anyone was getting in to see Dex unannounced. “Please have a seat and I’ll see if his schedule can accommodate you.”
I didn’t hang around to watch Dean shoehorn his bulk into our waiting area again. Instead I made a beeline for Dex’s office, slipping through the door while opening it as little as possible, just as I had the day before.