Authors: Adrienne & Scott Barbeau,Adrienne & Scott Barbeau
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction
Before I spoke another word to Ovsanna, I needed to talk to the witness who made the statement against her. Pissed that I’d been lied to, I tore up Coldwater, taking the corners too fast and only slowing when I almost drove the car straight through a curve onto that front lawn with the Statue of Liberty on it.
DeWitte’s secretary lived in Studio City, just blocks from my parents’ front door. I made it over the hill with a half hour to kill before our appointment. I hadn’t talked to my mother in two days and hadn’t seen her or my dad in a couple of weeks. I called to say I’d stop by for a minute.
“Good,” my mother answered. “I’ve got steak pizzaiolla for lunch.”
“I can’t stay, Mom, I’m working. I’ve got to interview a witness.”
“Steak pizzaiolla,” she said, and hung up.
I turned left on Moorpark and right on Van Noord and I swear I could smell her sauce from halfway down the block. By the time I parked the car in the driveway under the pepper tree, my stomach was growling.
There was a bottle of Australian Shiraz sliding around my backseat, an early Christmas gift from the Captain’s secretary, who still didn’t know I was off the sauce. As I opened the door to get it, a car pulled away from the curb across the street, the driver giving me a big wave. Two young moms pushing strollers past the house both smiled and said hello. Mrs. Boesch was watering her lawn three doors down, and when she realized it was me she mouthed,
Happy holidays, Peter,
over the noise of the hose. Studio City is less than ten miles from Hollywood and Bel-Air, but it’s like living in another country. It got its name in the twenties when Mack Sennett built a two-hundred-acre movie studio on a lettuce farm on Ventura Highway. He shot his Keystone Cops comedies there. I love it.
My mom never locks the door. Maybe living with a cop all her married life made her feel secure or maybe she just can’t think badly about the human race, but whatever it is, all anyone ever needs to do is yell hello through the screen door and wait for her “Come on in, it’s open” reply. I unlatched the screen and followed my nose.
Mom came bustling out from the kitchen. She’s Italian but the tall and rail-thin Northern Italian type, and looking at her now makes me wonder why she never got more movie or TV work in her youth. She’s still striking and she was beautiful then. She was wearing the
Some Like It Hot
apron I got for her last Christmas, which reminded me that I still hadn’t found her anything for this year.
“I saw you on TV this morning,” she said by way of greeting, kissing me quickly on both cheeks. “You looked tired.”
“And you need a haircut.”
“And some new clothes.”
“Well, I don’t know about that. What’s wrong with my clothes?”
“Never mind. Christmas is coming. Maybe Santa can go shopping for you. Sit. Eat. You want soda or Snapple?” She took the wine out of my hand and headed back into the kitchen, leaving me to trail behind. I doubt she’d paused to draw a single breath during the entire exchange.
“I don’t have a lot of time, Mom,” I protested. “I’ve got to interview someone a couple blocks from here.”
“So, you’re still entitled to your lunch break. It’s on the table in five minutes. Go say hello to your father; he’s in his office.” Although my mother is L.A. born and bred and raised a Catholic, I’d grown up hearing what I later identified as a New York Jewish accent. I’ve never had the courage to ask her why. I once thought it was something to do with a part she’d done. But I’ve seen everything—my older brother dubbed all her appearances from the fleeting two-second glimpses to the longer three-minutes-in-the-background pieces onto a DVD—and in none of her appearances does she speak with a New York accent. Most of her appearances were non-speaking.
This is not the house I’d grown up in. That was a tiny two-bedroom near the Warner lot. My mom and dad slept in one bedroom, the rest of us in the other. Lots of bunk beds. When the girls finally needed their own room, we moved farther into Burbank, and then once all the kids were out of the house my parents bought this one, which is big enough for most of us to move back in if we ever need to. And, believe me, nothing would please my mother more. The best part about it is the kitchen, a huge rectangle built around a center island, big enough to service a small restaurant—which is good, because my mother practically runs one in the house. Between my brothers and sisters, the grandkids, retired cop friends of my father’s, the neighbors and their kids, and my mother’s bunco buddies, there are always extra places set at the table for every meal.
My father’s office was the converted double garage. I followed the sound of an electric sander to the back of the garden and stepped into my father’s domain, which smelled of freshly sawn wood, turpentine, linseed oil, and paint. In the height of the summer it would also smell of citrus blossoms from the small grove of gnarled orange and grapefruit trees that shaded the building. Starting next month, Dad will be bombarded with fruit dropping onto the roof and rolling down the shingles.
My father was a cop all his life; his only hobbies were cleaning his gun and playing ball with us kids. When he retired two years ago, we all worried he was going to spend his days watching
shouting at the TV, and dying of boredom. Or at the hands of my mother, who wouldn’t have been able to take having him underfoot. But he surprised us all. He spent ten thousand dollars from his retirement fund on every conceivable piece of woodworking equipment available and signed up for a twelve-week woodworking course. Now it’s his passion, and he’s getting quite a reputation at the craft fairs.
He had his back to me when I stepped in out of the early-afternoon sunshine. He was bent over a woodworking wheel, carefully holding a tiny piece of rosewood no bigger than his little finger against the garnet surface of the sander. I’m told I resemble him and, looking at him—tall, handsome, still with a full head of hair even if it is snow-white—I hope I look like him when I’m his age.
I stood back and waited for him to finish. Never disturb a man when he’s working with anything noisy and electrical. He straightened up, the whine of the machine dying away to a murmur. Pushing goggles onto his forehead, he lifted the piece closer to his face to examine it, and then realized I was standing there.
“Saw you on TV this morning,” he remarked.
“Looking tired apparently.”
“Looking as if you were glad you hadn’t eaten breakfast. Bad?”
“Very,” I sighed. “Nine bodies: six men, three women. Bloody. Very bloody. Which I suppose is right for an S&M club,” I added.
“It used to be a bakery in my day,” my father said, handing me the tiny carving. It was a chess piece, a pawn, carved to look like Tony Montana from
complete with machine gun.
I held it to the light, admiring the detail. “This is amazing, Dad. You’ve really got a talent for this.”
“I enjoy it: that’s what makes the difference. People recognize passion.” He took the piece from my hand and added it to a line of others on the shelf over his workbench. I looked closer; it was a chess set where each piece was a character from a movie, all hand-carved from different types of wood. “Your mother’s idea, of course,” he said, adding ruefully, “and she was right. She has orders for sixteen sets so far, at—get this!—three thousand dollars a set. I originally wanted to do a set of American presidents. I did a couple of samples and your mother advertised them. We had two inquiries. Then she advertised the movie set and I can’t keep up with the orders.”
“The workmanship is fabulous.”
“It has nothing to do with the workmanship. It’s because they’re movie related. You can sell any old shit so long as it has a movie connection, you know that.” Crossing to the sink, he started to scrub sawdust out of the creases of his palms. “How are you getting on with the Cinema Slayer case? This morning’s killings related?”
I picked up the queen chess piece—Marilyn Monroe in her classic pose—and turned it over in my hand. “Dad, I just don’t know. It’s a multiple murder, all the rest were single killings, and that’s throwing me, but one of the dead guys this morning was a movie exec from Anticipation Studios, which is tied to all four of the other vics.”
“The effects girl, yesterday. That was Anticipation, wasn’t it?”
“That’s the fourth tie-in.”
“When I heard you’d arrested her ex-boyfriend, I thought it was just a little too neat and far too quick.”
“Nah, he’s not good for it. Just a bone to throw to the press. We’re going to have to street him real soon.”
The little intercom set over the sink crackled with Mom’s voice, coming from the kitchen. “Lunch is ready.”
“Coming,” we both called.
“So you got less than six degrees of separation between the five vics…sounds like you got one person pulling the trigger.”
“Hey, it’d be a lot easier if there’d been a trigger involved. I’ve got five M.O.s, all a little alike and all a little different. I’m going around in circles.”
“You’ll figure it out; you’ve got great instincts. Just follow your gut. But right now you’d better follow it to the table—you know how your mother gets when the food’s been served and we’re not sitting down.”
I’d forgotten how good home-cooked food was and especially how good my mother’s was. I didn’t get the cooking gene in our family, so I didn’t eat as well as I should. The three of us ate in easy silence in the completely enclosed back garden. It was relatively peaceful, the roar of traffic on Coldwater reduced to a dull murmur by the thick grove of avocado, sapote, and persimmon trees the previous owners had put down. They’d matured into a nice, natural sound break. I forked down the last of the homemade cannoli and licked the crumbs up with my finger.
“That was fabulous.”
Mom beamed. “You’re not eating right. You’ve lost weight. Hasn’t he lost weight, Seth?”
“The boy looks fine to me,” my father said evenly. His people are Welsh and he’s got that unflappable quality to him. “Besides, at his age he has to watch his weight. Puts on a few pounds now and he’ll never get them off, head into middle age with a gut.”
“Middle age? He’s still a baby!”
I changed the topic before it got ugly. “I saw Little John, Mom, he sends his best.”
“How is he? He keeps inviting me to stop by his tattoo parlor. He’s even offered me a free tattoo.”
My dad and I looked at each other and said nothing.
“He’s such a nice boy.”
“I think John Trueblood is many things, Mom, but nice is not one of them. I’ve seen his rap sheet.”
“Well, he’s always been very nice to me.” She looked sidelong at me as she poured the espresso and then passed the plate of lemon peel to go with it. “He’s not in any trouble, is he?”
“No, he’s not. I had to talk to him yesterday about Ovsanna Moore.”
“The Scream Queen?”
“You know her?”
“Peter! Of course I know her. I’ve never met her, but I used to see her mother around all the time when I was younger. She’s one of my big sellers. I’ve sold a lot of Moore memorabilia over the years. I love those horror fans; they’re my best customers. Very discerning. Very loyal.”
“Very gullible,” my father muttered.
“Listen, buster, are you implying my stuff isn’t legit?” She was holding the paring knife she’d used to cut the lemon with and she playfully threatened him with it. “You know damn well, Seth King, that I authenticate every item I sell. And you shouldn’t denigrate horror fans; collecting is their hobby just like woodworking is yours. Shame on you. You want any more food today you’d better watch your mouth.”
My dad laughed and pushed away from the table. “Yeah,” he said, “I’ll watch it all right. I’ll watch it right on your cheek.” And with that he gave her a kiss on her cheek and took his plate into the kitchen.
“Well,” I said, “I met with Ovsanna yesterday and then again this morning. I’ve asked her for a signed photo for you.”
“You’re a good boy, Peter. I’d love one for myself, but get a couple if you can, and ask her just to sign them, no dedication. Makes them easier to sell,” she added.
“Do you have anything of hers or her mother’s in stock at the moment?”
She nodded. “A few bits and pieces. Little John buys just about everything of hers as soon as I find it. And he has a lot of her mother’s stuff and her grandmother’s, too. They were all in the business. Let me go see what I have,” she volunteered, and darted away.
I checked my watch. I was late for my appointment. “Hurry, Mom, I’ve got to go.”
My father came back out with another cannoli in his hand. “I swear I’ve never seen her happier than when she’s selling her stuff,” he said. “Did she tell you Jack Nicholson himself phoned her last week, wondering if she had anything from
The Cry Baby Killer
? He wanted that and something for that skinny girl he used to date.” He shook his head. “Only in Hollywood.”
Mom returned with a couple of thick padded envelopes. “I knew I had something….” She started to push the envelope across the table toward me, then suddenly pulled it back. “Are your hands clean?”
I held them up for inspection.
She passed me a pair of white cotton gloves, two sizes too small. “Use these anyway.”
Slipping on the gloves as best I could, I pulled out an eight-by-ten black-and-white photo of Ovsanna Moore. The pose was a classic: she was wearing a pillbox hat and her face was half in shadow, a thread of gray smoke curling from a cigarette held between two gloved fingers. It was signed in a looping flowing signature across the bottom right-hand corner.
“For Ronald, with Love and Respect.”
I glanced up at my mother. “Any idea who Ronald is?”
“Was, dear, was. Ronald Colman died in 1958.”
It took me a second to put it together. “This is Ovsanna’s mother?”
“That’s Anna Moore. Surely you didn’t think it was Ovsanna?”