Authors: Susan Kandel
A Cece Caruso Mystery
To my nieces and nephew: Zoe, Amanda, and
They write books about women like me, who cancel weddings…
It was three in the morning when I caught him…
The new neighbor’s house was hidden behind a tightly clipped…
I’d always believed you could catch more flies with honey…
I ran faster than I knew I could, my chest…
“She’s coming to,” someone said. It was a woman’s voice.
The next morning I opened the front door and found…
My mother always taught me to dress for the occasion.
It poured the whole walk home.
With its red tiled roof, carved wooden balustrades, and ornate,…
Breaking in may be overstating it a bit. The door…
Neither is babysitting for two children under the age of…
The children slept the whole way home, but Alexander perked…
It had been only a short rain, but Pacific Coast…
They tried, you had to give them that. The walls…
Musso & Frank is the oldest restaurant in Hollywood, a…
I raced inside, Connor at my heels.
It was after midnight, but Jilly’s place was a hive…
The next morning, I got up at the crack of…
The next item on the agenda was a visit to…
One more stop, then I was flying the proverbial coop.
I pulled away from the curb like a bat out…
I didn’t know a person could run that fast in…
Bakersfield is halfway to Fresno, the raisin capital of the…
As we pulled out of the driveway, I sent one…
Before getting onto the 99, I made a pit stop…
Now the rain was coming down in sheets. I’m not…
The bathroom was small, but spotless. The white tile glowed…
Hello Kitty was indeed open. But there were no cute…
I walked back down the stairs. The woman on stage…
The box was lighter than air. Was it empty? Or…
Room 10 was like a cave, warm and dark. I’d…
It isn’t every day you meet a bearded lady and…
Cece Caruso turned up one day like the proverbial bad…
Dorothy lived in a trailer park not far from Sugar…
I leapt to my feet.
I got back to the motel at nine. Roy was…
I was packed and showered before the housekeeper showed up…
The policeman got out of his car and walked around…
The limo glided to a stop in front of Bonhams…
Walking down the aisle at Bonhams & Butterfields felt like…
“You looking for parking?” shouted a six-foot-six, three-hundred-pound Velma, wearing…
I finally understood the famous “vertigo effect,” invented by a…
Gambino gave me his hand and helped me down. We…
At eight o’clock the next morning, I kissed Gambino good-bye,…
The Bob Baker Marionette Theater is located in a white…
hey write books about women like me, who cancel weddings and then go on the honeymoons by themselves.
cracked the little voice in my head.
Freudian case studies. Fat ones, with footnotes.
Thanks a lot,
I said to the little voice.
I’m not crazy. Besides, cruising around the Caribbean by yourself isn’t so bad. Sea air is famously restorative. You can have room service at four in the morning. And no end of me time.
Plus we’d prepaid. No refunds.
I vowed to have a terrible time.
In penance for ruining the best relationship of my life for reasons bafflingly vague to everyone but myself, I left my trousseau behind.
No vintage pineapple-motif Cole of California sarong, perfect for showing some leg while foraging in glamorous
ports of call for well-priced raffia souvenirs. No pre-hippie-era, cayenne pepper red Pucci bikini with coordinating terrycloth hat. And forget about the 1930s peach silk charmeuse negligee that clings like body lotion.
I wore baggy gray sweatpants seven days running.
I refused all invitations to sit at the Captain’s Table.
I swore off men forever.
Then I came home to my Spanish Colonial Revival bungalow in West Hollywood and discovered that the faucet in my turquoise-tiled bathtub had been leaking the whole time I’d been gone and was half an inch away from flooding my entire house.
So I needed a man.
Estuardo Gomez of Handy-Rooter took care of my pipes, but who was going to take care of the rest of me?
Bachelor Number One appeared later that evening at the beautiful old Orpheum Theatre on Broadway. He was tall, dark, and handsome, but it still hurt like hell when he stepped on my toe.
“Sorry,” he said. “Is that seat taken?”
“Yes!” The woman sitting next to me threw her beige cardigan across the seat. “My lover is on her way. She’s been unavoidably detained.” The woman had an anxious look on her face and plastic-wrapped dry cleaning enveloping her feet, like swaddling. “She’s a neurologist, if you must know. There was an emergency.”
“Maybe you meant this one?” I indicated the empty seat on my other side.
“That’s the one,” Bachelor Number One said with a smile.
I smiled back. Then I felt the smile crumble. Fighting a sudden desire to weep, I sputtered, “Actually, I don’t know. About the seat, I mean. I think it might be taken. That could very well be the case.”
The bachelor scratched his head. “Well, are you with someone?”
“That’s rich,” the woman with the beige cardigan muttered.
I looked at her, completely unsure of myself now.
“Am I with someone?” I repeated, as if translating from the Croatian.
A blonde in a robin’s-egg blue dress squeezed past us to a seat at the far end of the row. “Sorry. Close quarters here.” She was juggling red licorice and a large bucket of popcorn.
“I told you I wanted butter,” said her bald boyfriend, snatching the bucket out of her hands.
“Why don’t you just say thank you?” I asked him, my voice rising in something like panic. Then, spinning back around to the bachelor, I said, “Whether or not I’m with someone is an extremely personal question. I didn’t ask
whether or not
were with someone. You’re not wearing a wedding ring, but I didn’t say, ‘Excuse me, sir, are you single, or divorced, or God forbid maybe even married but not wearing a ring in the hopes of misleading trusting young women?’ So what’s your excuse? What do you care if I’m single, or if I’m married, or if I came
close to getting married but didn’t, and had to mail back all the lovely presents, some to Buffalo, New York, even?”
Perhaps I wasn’t ready to start dating again.
“Look, I’m just trying to see a movie here.” The bachelor was now backing into the aisle, hands raised in surrender. “No hard feelings. It’s pretty obvious you have stuff to work out.”
After he walked away, I closed my eyes and imagined myself as a little girl skipping through a field of wildflowers, the sun warming my skin. When my breathing returned to normal, I opened my eyes and picked a piece of popcorn off my vintage black-and-white Lilli Ann suit with raspberry silk lining and three-quarter-length sleeves. Whatever. The suit was tweed bouclé, so debris actually blended in.
As the house lights went down, the collective sound of several hundred people switching their cell phones to vibrate filled the cavernous space. I scrambled around beneath my feet but couldn’t find my purse because the beige cardigan’s neurologist lover had arrived and piled her own plastic-wrapped dry cleaning on the floor in front of us. Plus groceries. Smelled like fish. Brain food. Anyway, it didn’t matter about my phone. It was unlikely ever to ring again. Everyone I knew thought I was out of my mind.
The red velvet curtains parted with a swoosh, and the Orpheum’s magnificent Wurlitzer organ began playing the overture to Alfred Hitchcock’s
I took a deep breath and let the music wash over me, the haunting low harp, the ominous two-note falling motif.
Then, apparently unable to stop myself, I leaned across the first woman, her lover, and the bald man and whispered to the blonde in the robin’s-egg blue dress, “Is it really that obvious? About my stuff?”
She chewed on some licorice and considered. “It’s not like you’re an exception to the rule. You love and lose, and then you
love and lose all over again. It’s all there in the movie. Haven’t you seen it before?”
Twelve times, to be exact.
How I came to be sitting three rows up from the back in a restored former vaudeville theater in downtown Los Angeles where Judy Garland once sang as one of the Gumm Sisters, watching (for the thirteenth time, no less) doomed lovers Scottie (Jimmy Stewart) and Judy/Madeleine (Kim Novak) run circles around one another may require some explanation.
My name is Cece Caruso.
I am approximately forty years old.
I am Italian, named after my fat aunt Cecilia.
My family consists of cops, beauticians, and the people who love them.
I am a former beauty queen, strictly small-time, who married once, early and badly.
I was blessed with a second chance at love, but as you may have surmised, I recently blew that, too.
That is why I made the decision to pour myself into my work (Freud—speaking of—called this sublimation), which consists of writing biographies of dead mystery authors.
Currently, I’m researching the auteur Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, he of the portly silhouette and legendary perfectionism.
Pay attention now.
Alfred Hitchcock is the most recognizable director in the history of the cinema, with a career that encompassed fifty-three
films, two long-running television series, and a magazine that still bears his name.
That’s what I’ve got so far.
The sum total of eight months of research.
You’d think a person could do a little better.
Hitchcock was, after all, a man who infected the world with his deepest neuroses and darkest obsessions, a man whose stated aim was to leave not a dry seat in the house, a man who liked to introduce himself to new acquaintances as “Hitch—without the cock.”
Okay, I did know this: he liked practical jokes.
Practical jokes, expensive red wine, dark suits, and Dover sole he had flown in from England and stored in his walk-in freezer in Bel Air. Also cool blondes that got hot in taxicabs.
What he didn’t like was sex (Had It Exactly Once) and cops (Was Locked in a Jail Cell as a Boy as Punishment for Naughty Behavior). Or so he said.
Ask him a question, and he’d toss you a red herring.
Look for a person, and he’d offer you a persona.
Perhaps you see my problem.
Hitch’s movies are equally dissembling, all reflective surfaces, switchbacks, and spirals: Janet Leigh’s blood swirling down the drain in
Tippi Hedren’s lingerie circling her ankles like shackles in
Jimmy Stewart’s corkscrew iris and Kim Novak’s coiled chignon in
Oh, but what the man could do with a chignon. A chignon, a glimpse of white neck, and a tailored suit. If Hitch couldn’t undress his leading ladies, he’d fetishize every detail of their dress.
Some of them rebelled.
Tallulah Bankhead, the star of
—who came to Hollywood to sleep with Gary Cooper, which a person could well understand—refused to wear panties, leaving Hitch to moan, “I don’t know if I should consult wardrobe, makeup, or hairdressing!”
Kim Novak—Hitch’s second choice for the role of Judy/ Madeleine after Vera Miles had the temerity to get pregnant by her husband, Gordon Scott, the movies’ eleventh Tarzan—wouldn’t wear a brassiere, but he showed her.
is the only one of his love stories to end with the leading lady’s death.
“I’m not buying it,” said the beige cardigan, gathering up her dry cleaning as the lights came up. “Is this yours?” She handed me my purse, which had gotten mixed up with her things.
“Thanks.” It was Lucite, from the fifties, with a tortoiseshell handle that didn’t quite close. I’d gotten it cheap, like most of my vintage wardrobe.
“Of course you’re not buying it,” said the neurologist girlfriend. “Vertigo is not psychological in origin. It’s a problem relating to disequilibrium. Calcium buildup in the inner ear. Makes you feel dizzy, light-headed, and faint.”
“Sounds like love to me,” said the blonde in the robin’s-egg blue dress, stepping over them.
“Actually, overuse of antidepressants,” the neurologist interjected. She handed me her business card. “I see it a lot in my practice, this being L.A. and all.”
I mulled that one over in the parking lot, waiting for my turn at the ticket kiosk. Then I got rear-ended. Well, you could barely call it that. More like a tap.
“Hey!” I said, leaning out the window.
Bachelor Number One leaned his head out his window. He had one dimple, which made him appear rakish as opposed to cherubic. “Hey.”
“Look, I’m sorry about before,” I said.
“I’m sorry about now,” he said, “which makes us even.”
I put the car in park and met him at my rear bumper, which looked fine.
“It looks terrible,” I said, snapping pictures with my cell phone. “I’ll have to take it in.”
“We should probably exchange numbers,” I said.
I followed him back to his shiny black car, which was a total mess inside. I like that in a man. Schizophrenia. Keeps you on your toes.
The bachelor scrawled his number on the back of a Chinese menu he found in his back seat, and I scrawled mine on a parking ticket he pulled out of the glove compartment, dated two years earlier.
I drove away feeling dizzy, lightheaded, and faint.
It wasn’t love, though.
I didn’t believe in love at first sight.
I did, however, believe in déjà vu.
Which turned out to be one hell of a problem.