Grist 01 - The Four Last Things

BOOK: Grist 01 - The Four Last Things
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The Four Last Things
Simeon Grist Mystery [1]
Timothy Hallinan
Hallinan Consulting (1989)
Rating:
****
Tags:
Mystery, Detective, murder mystery, Los Angeles, Simeon Grist Book #1

### From Publishers Weekly

Simeon Grist, former professor of English at UCLA and fledgling L.A. private eye, makes his debut in this clever mystery. To propel his plot, Hallinan adroitly depicts a new religion with avaricious leaders, New Age channeling and an overlay of California kookiness. Hired by the head of security of Monument Records to follow employee Sally Oldfield, suspected of selling information to competitors, Grist develops a liking for the woman. Then she is brutally murdered, and Grist is shocked to find that an impostor assigned him to the case. Investigating on his own, he follows leads to the Church of the Eternal Moment, with its child oracle Angel Ellspeth, her oh-so-smooth personal physician Dick Merryman and its crew of Listeners to whom the faithful confess all. As Grist searches for clues, aided by a former girlfriend, Eleanor Chan, now writing for the Los Angeles Times , he is threatened, beaten and involved in another murder. Televangelism, brainwashing, research into the early 19th-century diaspora of new American religions and a most unusual ally lead Grist to the denouement of this very satisfying mystery.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

### From Library Journal

Soon after the alleged head of security for a record company hires Simeon Grist to watch Sally Oldfield, a nasty man kills her and then the so-called security head. Grist's investigation (he liked Sally from afar) leads to predictably questionable goings-on at the Church of the Eternal Moment. Hallinan delivers these somewhat muffled connections in mostly flat, charmless prose, so that Hollywood settings and Grist's quirks do little to relieve the boredom. Not recommended.-- REK
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

THE
 
FOUR
 
LAST
 
THINGS

A Simeon Grist Suspense Novel

by

TIMOTHY HALLINAN

The Four Last Things
previously published in print by: 

NAL BOOKS NEW AMERICAN LIBRARY

A DIVISION OF PENGUIN BOOKS USA INC., NEW YORK

PUBLISHED IN CANADA BY PENGUIN BOOKS CANADA LIMITED, MARKHAM, ONTARIO

The Four Last Things
digital and ebook editions published by
Hallinan Consulting

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 1989-2010 by
Tim Hallinan

All rights reserved.

ISBN:  0-453-00650-7 (Print Edition)

eISBN:  978-0-982-8302-0-8 (Digital Editions)

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Hallinan Consulting.

Without limiting the  rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or  otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.  Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.  Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. 

Cover Design:  Allen Chiu

Digital ebook editions (for Nook™, Kindle™ and iPad™ - epub and mobi) produced by:  
Kimberly A. Hitchens
, [email protected]

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

 
Hallinan, Tim.
 
The four last things : a Simeon Grist suspense novel / by Tim Hallinan.
 
p.        cm. ISBN 0-453-00650-7 I. Title.
 
PS3558.A3923F68 1989
 
813’.54—dcl9 88-33381
 
CIP

First Printing, June, 1989 123456789

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

This one is for my
mother, who read it,
and my father, who
said he did,
and for
Munyin.

 
Your past is your enemy. 
 
—Attributed to 
 
L. Ron Hubbard
 
The Four Last Things: In Roman Catholic theology,
the final events in human existence:
Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.
 

Encyclopedia  of Religion
 
I - Death

Chapter 1

I
was just beginning to like her when she got killed. One of the interesting things about surveillance—make that the only interesting thing about surveillance—is the relationship between watcher and watched. Study the outside of anybody’s life long enough and you’ll develop some sort of emotional reaction. Sometimes you feel like an entomologist looking at a particularly loathsome new insect; you wish you could do it from farther away. Sometimes you fall in love.

I wasn’t in love with Sally Oldfield yet, but I knew I’d like to get closer than across the street.

Sarah Marie Theresa Oldfield,
née
Murphy, thirty-two years old, married. Light brown hair, gray eyes, tiny hands and feet, skin with a natural golden cast to it. Big thick horn-rimmed glasses that she wore on top of her head when driving. Farsighted. The cleanest automobile I’d ever broken into. You could have performed brain surgery on the front seat. Ms. Oldfield also had a quick, broad smile, sturdy runner’s calves, and an utterly guileless demeanor.

A thief and a spy, according to the man who had hired me. A dangerous drain on the precious capital of Monument Records. He obviously expected me to break out in a cold sweat when he uttered those accusations. I didn’t, but I worked up a sympathetic shiver when it became apparent that the man was willing to pay about twice my usual fee.

I don’t like surveillance. I didn’t like him, either. Nevertheless, I picked her up at lunch time on the first day right where he said I would, just outside the Monument Records building on Gower.

Even in Hollywood, which has the same relationship to architecture that the radioactive bug movies of the fifties have to biology, the Monument Records building is a standout. To the best of my knowledge it’s the only structure ever built intentionally to look like a stack of records. With a stylus on top. It was built to suggest forty-fives back before the era of the LP; now that forty-fives are no-tech, they’re talking about chrome-plating it and rededicating it to CD’s.

One-ten on a glum, gray November afternoon. I was stopped in a no-stopping zone and trying to blend in with all the other illegally parked cars when the first few raindrops took the big jump and splattered on Alice’s dusty windshield. The dust was Alice’s camouflage: she’s a dumped, vintage Buick painted horsefly metallic blue. I’d removed the furry dice that had dangled from the rearview mirror the night I won her at a game of poker in a garage somewhere in Pacoima, but otherwise she was still Jaime’s dream of heaven on wheels. Jaime was the guy I won her from. I’d never seen him again, but I had Alice to remember him by.

Rain always catches Californians by surprise, even when it’s been gray for days. There was the usual sidewalk scurrying in anticipation of Noah’s flood. People looked at the sky disbelievingly. The weatherman had said it might rain, so everyone was sure it wouldn’t. In L.A., where the weather is the same three hundred and fifty-five days a year, the weatherman is right about fifteen percent of the time, roughly the same average as the handicappers at Santa Anita, astrologers, and the guys who predict lower gasoline prices. Faith in the U.S. Meteorological Service does not run high in Los Angeles. Astrologers, on the other hand, do a boom business.

In all the hubbub, I almost missed her. A bunch of people rushed into the stucco entrance to Monument Records as another bunch of people rushed out. In the day of the forty-minute lunch hour and the fifty-minute psychiatrist’s hour, the hungry and the disturbed do not dawdle. There was some milling around and a few collisions, and Neil Diamond managed to escape from Alice’s radio. I looked down to change the station. When I looked back up, Sally Oldfield was crossing the street.

She walked fast. She was wearing a bright print dress and as the rain increased she glanced up and laughed. Everybody was standing in doorways looking like bums, except for the real bums, who were using the shower to get clean. She bounced down the sidewalk alone, happy, and wet.

When she turned the corner onto Fountain, I pulled Alice out into traffic and followed. The light at Gower and Fountain was red. It’s always red, no matter which street you’re on. I sat there muttering at it, and she darted across Fountain and jumped into a white late-model Corvette with a man in it. The car pulled away from the curb, fishtailed on the wet asphalt, and sped down the block. I looked both ways carefully, like they tell you to do in driving school, and ran the light.

She surprised me twice the first day. Surprise number one was the little white car’s destination: a run-down hot-bed motel on one of the worst blocks of Sunset, and Sunset has a lot of bad blocks. At least four colors and three sexes of wet hookers squinted into the rain, trying to catch a glimmer of interest behind the busy windshield wipers. Nobody was buying.

The white sports car was already parked when I hit the first speed bump in the motel parking lot. Sarah Marie Theresa Oldfield was halfway up the stairs, followed by a slender, well-dressed man with blow-dried blond hair. No check-in for them; they already had a key.

After the door closed behind them I went upstairs and checked the room number: 207. Getting progressively wetter and feeling progressively sillier, I went back downstairs to note the number of the sports car’s license plate and take a look inside. Nothing of interest but the fullest ashtray this side of Philip Morris corporate headquarters. Then I dodged wet traffic to get to a phone booth on the north side of Sunset and called the number I’d been given.

“Harker,” Ambrose Harker said. The guy didn’t waste a lot of energy on charm.

“And a good afternoon to you too,” I said. “It’s raining. The old dog is snoring.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” he said. He said that a lot, I’d noticed.

“It’s code,” I said. “If you had your one-time pad with you, you’d know that it means she’s in the Sleepy Bear Motel, 1589 Sunset, in room 207, with a light-haired guy who drives a white eighty-six Corvette, license number 1LBS004. Why do you suppose they don’t start license plates with zero? It’d give them another twenty-six trillion numbers to play with.”

He didn’t say anything.

“I’ve got a lot of interesting questions,” I said. “Would you like to hear some more?”

“No. What does the man look like?”

“He has a very good haircut on the back of his head.”

“That’s amusing,” Harker said in the tone of voice of a man who hadn’t laughed since the day the hogs ate grandma. “Is that your entire description?”

“Until he turns around. I could tell you that he moves with an easy, athletic grace or that he has a port-wine birthmark covering the left side of his face, or that his knuckles scrape the ground, but none of it would be true.”

“When will he turn around?” Harker said patiently.

“Most likely when he comes down the stairs. Graceful or not, he’ll probably come down facing front.”

“Call when he does,” Harker said.

“When they split up, who do you want me to follow?”

“Who were you hired to follow?” Harker asked. Then he hung up.

I was debating whether to call him back and blow the whole thing off when I saw the bum. He was standing outside the door, waiting to get into the booth and away from the rain. I hung up the phone, fingered the coin return out of habit, and came up with a quarter. I gave it to the bum as I came out. He looked at it as if it were a button.

“Get a cup of coffee,” I said.

“You can’t get a cup with a quarter,” he said sullenly through all four of his teeth.

“Then get a saucer.”

He mumbled something unpleasant and I reached out and took the quarter back. Slowly he looked down at his dirty, empty hand and then back up to me.

“Have a nice day,” I said.

I’d taken the job, in spite of my dislike for surveillance in general and Harker in particular, first, because I couldn’t afford not to, and second, because I wasn’t working on anything else except the Case of Mrs. Yount’s Cat. Mrs. Yount had a pendulous lower lip, a mountainous bosom, and a European buffer-state accent that was as Balkan as Polish sausage but not as identifiable. She also had the house I lived in, such as it was. Mrs. Yount was my landlady. She loathed me. I wasn’t crazy about her either, but it had seemed politic to say I’d look for her cat. She’d named it, in a burst of inspiration that must have left her limp, Fluffy.

I thought briefly about calling her to report my total lack of progress, looking back at the phone booth while the bum mumbled mutinously over my shoulder, and decided I wasn’t up to it. I waded back across Sunset to the car.

The rain stopped while I sat in Alice, looking up at room 207. Across the street the bum huddled in the phone booth and looked at me. I was checking the street to see if anybody was looking at the bum when the door to room 207 opened and the man came out. He came down the stairs alone, gave me an incurious glance, and climbed into his car. He was in his middle thirties, Germanic-looking, with sharp features and a long needle nose that looked like it ran a lot. He wiped it once on his elegant coat sleeve, smoothed his hair in the mirror, and scooted the little car out into traffic.

Five minutes later a Courtesy Cab pulled into the parking lot and honked twice. Sally Oldfield came down the stairs, looking buoyant, and hopped in the back. She’d been inside thirty-eight minutes. I took it on faith that they’d be going back to Monument Records, but I followed anyway. Faith carried the day, as it so infrequently does. I called Harker, gave him a riveting description of Sally’s boyfriend, and settled in to wait for quitting time.

I got my second surprise at six-twenty-three that evening, after I followed Sally Oldfield home. When her electric garage door opened, there wasn’t another car there, just stacks of boxes that looked like they were filled with papers of some sort, a bicycle, and some dumpy-looking furniture. I drove casually past as she pulled into the garage, and then I tore around the block and parked a few houses down.

Maybe her husband didn’t drive, I thought. There must be someone in L.A. who doesn’t drive. Maybe he parked on the street. Except that the lights in the house were out. She’d stopped at a Ralphs’ supermarket to pick up dinner or something, so she had to unload the car before she went to the door, and the house was darker than Monaco’s Olympic hopes when she finally got up to the door. She flipped on the porch light, fumbled around with her keys, brushed a wisp of hair away from her face, and pushed the door open with her foot. One of the grocery bags slipped from her grasp and hit the porch. She looked down at it for a few seconds and then laughed and left it there. I watched lights come on as she made her way to the kitchen to stash the groceries. A few minutes later she retrieved the bag she’d dropped and went back inside. Then the living-room light came on.

Maybe Mr. Oldfield got home late. I’d been told to watch until nine, but I sat there sacrificing my eardrums to L.A. radio until ten-forty, when the house went dark. There was a new disc jockey at the top of my lengthy list of most-hated disc jockeys, but there was no Mr. Oldfield. So it wasn’t an earth-shaking point. Maybe the man traveled. All I knew was that I’d have been home if I’d been Mr. Oldfield, even if Mrs. Oldfield did have a boyfriend.

I was already beginning to like her.

BOOK: Grist 01 - The Four Last Things
4.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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