Authors: Elizabeth Adler
Meet Me in Venice
Sailing to Capri
The House in Amalfi
Invitation to Provence
The Hotel Riviera
Summer in Tuscany
The Last Time I Saw Paris
In a Heartbeat
Sooner or Later
All or Nothing
Now or Never
The Secret of Villa Mimosa
Legacy of Secrets
Fortune Is a Woman
The Property of a Lady
The Rich Shall Inherit
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
ONE OF THOSE MALIBU NIGHTS.
Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth Adler. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Design by Sarah Gubkin
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Adler, Elizabeth (Elizabeth A.)
One of those Malibu nights / Elizabeth Adler.—1st ed.
1. Private investigators—Fiction. 2. Actresses—Fiction. 3. Americans—Foreign countries—Fiction. 4. California—Fiction. 5. Mexico—Fiction. 6. Rome (Italy)—Fiction. 7. France—Fiction. I. Title.
First Edition: July 2008
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For lovely Aunt Bebe Sell,
still reading and still enjoying
at the age of ninety-two
It was not the kind of night, nor the kind of place, where you’d expect to hear a woman scream. It was just one of those Malibu nights, dark as a velvet shroud, creamy waves crashing onto the shore, breeze soft as a kitten’s breath.
Mac Reilly, Private Investigator, was walking the beach alone but for his dog. His lover, Sunny Alvarez, had taken off for Rome after a slight “disagreement” concerning their future. But that was an ongoing story.
Mac lived in the famous Malibu Colony, habitat of movie stars and showbiz moguls and megabucks persons of every sort, each one richer than the next, give or take a couple of million, or in some cases billion. Their fancy beachside mansions didn’t look so fancy from Mac’s angle, but then the beach was also not an angle from which most people ever got
to see them. In fact the public rarely got to see them. The Colony was gated and guarded, one gate in or out, and though the beach had free access it was only along the water’s edge with no loitering. Any unknown caught prowling along it at midnight would be in for some tough questioning.
The Colony’s mansions were mostly the simple second or even third homes of rich people, understated in their beach chic and with the narrowest bits of oceanfront deck known to man, at a cost per square foot that boggled the accounting.
Mac’s own place was a more modest dwelling, a forties bungalow he had bought cheap years ago in the big real estate slump and which had once been owned, or so he’d heard, by the old-time movie star Norma Shearer. Or was it Norma Jean? Norma or Marilyn, it made no difference. A shack was a shack whichever way you looked at it.
The house’s saving grace, apart from its ritzy location and the view, was a small wooden deck with steps that led directly to the beach. It wasn’t unknown in a winter storm for the ocean to come thudding at the wooden pilings under that deck, slapping over the rails until Mac felt as though he were on a boat, but he liked the excitement and even the possible danger. He was happy in Malibu, he wouldn’t live anywhere else if you paid him. Except maybe Rome for a week or two, in the company of Sunny.
Mac kind of looked the PI role, six foot two, longish dark hair still thick on the head, thank God, even though he
was forty. Dark blue eyes, kinda crinkled from too many days on the beach and too many nights spent propping up bars in his youth. No facial hair—Sunny didn’t like it. A lean athletic build, which since he was a lazy guy gym-wise, was mostly earned from jogging along the beach with his rescued three-legged, one-eyed mutt of a dog, Pirate, who was pretty fast when he had the wind behind him.
Pirate was Mac’s best buddy, and you’ve never seen a more perky little tyke. With his long spindly legs and ragged gray-brown fur, plus a severe underbite that left his bottom teeth exposed in a perpetual grin, he’d win Malibu’s ugliest dog contest easy.
Of course Sunny adored Pirate, even though she wouldn’t let him near her Chihuahua, Tesoro. Strong on the claws, quick with a bite and weighing all of three pounds, Tesoro outsmarted Pirate at every turn.
Sunny believed it was the animosity between their dogs that was preventing their marriage, but Mac was not quite certain on that score. Why spoil a good thing? Sunny and he were
together just the way they were, i.e., unmarried.
Sometimes Mac thought maybe it was his alter ego that appeared on your TV screens Thursday nights, in real-life documentary style reinvestigating old Hollywood crimes, of which there were more than you might imagine. His show was titled
Mac Reilly’s Malibu Mysteries
, with yours-truly looking extra-cool in the Dolce & Gabbana black leather jacket Sunny had bought him.
When she’d told him it was a Dolce, Mac had had no idea what she meant. It sounded like Italian ice cream to him. Later, he’d discovered it was an Italian designer and the jacket was without doubt the coolest garment he owned. Soft and pliable as wet putty it had become part of his onscreen image, though God knows he was more usually to be found in sweats slouching up Malibu Road to Ralphs supermarket in search of beer and dog food, or breakfasting in Coogies coffee shop in a T-shirt and shorts rather than decked out in black leather.
Anyhow, the show, which took old murders and reckoned to solve them, had given him some kind of fame. It was all relative of course, because as everybody knew in Hollywood, once your show went off the air you were as forgotten as last week’s dinner. And now it looked as though Mac’s time had come and gone and the show was likely not to return for another season. Too bad, because the income had come in handy and he’d gotten to keep his day job, investigating for all those nice rich folk. And surprisingly many of them were genuinely nice. Plus they had the same troubles as everybody else. Sex and money. In that order.
He gave Pirate the low whistle that meant get the heck back over here, and the dog came running from whatever exciting secrets he’d found on Malibu’s most expensive bit of shore. Together, they turned and headed for home. They were strolling along, minding their own business, listening to the crash of the waves, breathing in the salty ocean air
and keeping an eye out for shooting stars, all that romantic stuff. And then they heard the scream.
High pitched. Quivering. Terrified.
It didn’t take a PI to figure out that the screamer was female. And that she was in trouble.
Mac quickly scanned the houses. All were in darkness save for a glimmer of light on a deck a couple of houses back. He stumbled through the soft sand toward it, followed by Pirate.
He paused at the foot of the wooden steps leading to the house, listening, but there were no more screams. What he did think he heard though was a sob. Muffled, but nevertheless a definite sob.
Telling Pirate to stay put, he inched his way up the steps onto the deck, which was only about ten feet deep, a usual size for the acreage-tight Colony. The house loomed in front of him, a glass-and-limestone cliff that was more modern than the millennium and more stark than the architecture of Richard Meier, famous for the design of the L.A.
Getty museum among other things. It was also as dark as the night outside.
Suddenly a lamp was turned on. Through the window he glimpsed a woman. A redhead wearing a sheer black negligee and, if he was not mistaken and even though it was at fifty paces, very little else. Now contrary to the popular belief, this was not your normal bedtime attire in Malibu and nor was midnight a usual hour to retire. Most everyone in the movie biz had an early call and were in their flannel PJs, curled up in a bed, learning the next day’s lines by nine.
Mac knocked on the window but the woman didn’t seem to hear. She just stared down at her feet as though there was something fascinating there. Like maybe a body, Mac thought.
She was young, maybe twenty-three, and beautiful, with everything in the right place as revealed by the sheer bit of black chiffon and lace she wore. Plus she had the face of a naughty angel. Mac felt glad to be of help. He checked, saw that the glass doors were unlocked, and in his knight-in-shining-armor role he slid it open.
Her head shot up and he flung her a reassuring smile. “Hi,” he said, “I’m Mac Reilly, your neighbor. I thought I heard a scream. Are you in some kind of trouble?”
The woman tossed her long red curling hair out of her tearful green eyes, lifted herself to her full statuesque height and pointed a gun at him.
“Get out,” she said in a throaty whisper.
Mac eyed the gun. It was a Smith & Wesson Sigma .40, and definitely not to be messed with. He paused long enough to wonder why she was not pressing the button to summon Security from the gate instead of threatening him. And then the gun went off.
The bullet ricocheted from the polished concrete floor near his foot, shattered a crystal vase then buried itself in the back of a nearby sofa.
Mac didn’t wait around for a second shot. He took off down the steps, sprinting back along the beach a couple of paces behind the cowardly dog.
“Oops, sorry, my mistake,” she called after him, her voice floating eerily on the breeze.
Sunny Alvarez was lying on the bed in her room in the Hotel d’Inghilterra in Rome, dialing L.A. every ten minutes and wondering where on God’s earth Mac Reilly was. It was nine a.m. in Rome, which meant it was midnight in Malibu. Could Mac be out on the town the minute her back was turned? When the truth was she’d only come here to stir him up a little. She’d figured a little jealousy wouldn’t hurt. They’d always said absence made the heart grow fonder. Now she wasn’t so sure.
Restless, she got up and began to pace, running her hands distractedly through her long hair that swung around her shoulders like liquid black satin, with just enough wave in it to give it bounce. Sunny’s eyes were amber brown and fringed by lashes so thick they were like miniature shades
on the windows of the soul. Her skin was golden, her legs long and her skirts usually short. She was, as Mac often told her, in between kisses, a knockout.
“Even though you’re ditzy enough to drive any man mad,” he’d once said to her, causing her to swat him with a handy cushion, which in turn sent Pirate into a barking frenzy because nobody—not even Sunny, who he loved—was going to harm his “father.”