Authors: Adrienne & Scott Barbeau,Adrienne & Scott Barbeau
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction
There are days when I hate being a cop.
I hate the petty bullshit. I despise the bureaucracy, the endless rules, the forms. And I have a real hard-on for psychological profiles. If you ask me, they’re not worth the paper they’re printed on. Like the one on the table in front of me.
“Obsessive…white male…probably collects movie memorabilia…lives alone…could be a movie extra or failed screenwriter.”
Well, dammit: that could be me. Except for the screenwriting part. It could also be a good twenty percent of West Hollywood.
These profiles are useless. I once spent a full afternoon going over cases I’d closed, comparing the perps to the profiles the department’s resident shrink presented me with when I first started the investigations. You know how many times she came anywhere close? Six out of eleven. And she got the sex wrong on one of those.
Not that she’s a bad shrink, she’s not—well, based on what little I know from seeing her when Jenny and I pulled the plug. No, it’s the profiling system itself. I just don’t buy it. And if I took it seriously, I’d never make a collar. It’s just another example of Hollywood stretching the truth.
Don’t get me wrong, I love watching B. D. Wong do his stuff on
and the girl with the blue eyes on the
reruns and Robson Green in
Wire in the Blood
on BBC, but come on, real life ain’t like that. Real detective work is slogging around in bad air and unhealthy temperatures, getting the truth out of people. Or getting lucky. The best detectives I know are just plain lucky.
I dropped the profile back on the table and added more sugar to my espresso. Across the counter, Reynaldo watched the white crystals dissolve in the brown sludge.
“Peter, do you want I should just give you the sugar jar, you can add a couple of drops of coffee and eat it with a spoon?” With a little weight on him he could have been Agador in
“Get off my back, Reynaldo. You’re lucky I come in here at all. If I didn’t hate all that ‘double-grande whipped non-fat-soy’ B.S. over at Starbucks, I’d take my business to one of the three down the block.”
“Ooo, sweetie. Not in a good mood today, I see. I’ll just leave you to your detecting, Officer King.” He started away and turned back. “I keep hoping you’ll want to investigate
You wouldn’t need to add sugar.”
“Are you propositioning an officer of the law, Reynaldo? Do I need to get my nightstick?”
“Oh, promises, promises.” He went dancing to the other end of the counter to serve two thirty-somethings in sweats and ponytails. I couldn’t tell if they were male or female. And I’m the detective.
I finished the coffee and left a dollar on the table for Reynaldo. He settles for that ’cause he knows damn well I’m not going to take him up on his offer. Ten years I’ve been drinking espresso in California Coffee on Beverly Drive. Ten years Reynaldo’s been making a pass. It’s nice to have certain things you can count on.
Not that there’s that much that changes in my job. Beverly Hills isn’t exactly a hotbed of crime. Last year we had eighty-three larceny cases, nineteen burglaries, a couple of vehicle thefts, robberies, aggravated assaults, and one rape. No murders. I spend my time smuggling drunken starlets past the paparazzi and settling celebrity nightclub altercations without unwanted publicity. I’m good at that. I know how to keep my mouth shut. And I know how to do my job. After fifteen years with the Beverly Hills Police Force, I should. I even got asked to be a technical adviser on
—a piece-of-shit series UPN ran for a season before they went under. “Real Cops, Really Undercover” was the tag. They should have put a tarp over it and covered it for good. But what the hell…I got paid. Even better, I got my name on screen and on IMDb. That’s what matters in this town.
I picked the profile off the table and headed for my car. One-thumb Manny keeps an eye on it for me, hiding it behind the Rolls and the Bentleys on the second level of the parking structure for the Regent Beverly Wilshire. I can’t afford to tip him, but he knows he’s got a friend on the force and he’s happy to do it. It’s a 1967 Jaguar XKE, which might be impressive if you didn’t know my father was the original owner. Not something I mention in casual conversation. It did the trick when I was at UC Santa Barbara, pulling in chicks like the proverbial magnet. It does the trick now, making studio execs feel like I’m one of the gang. Plus, let’s face it, it’s a classic car. Maybe once a week, as I’m sitting at a stoplight, some kid who’s just learned to shave will pull up alongside in his Lamborghini or Thunderbird and ask if it’s for sale. Nope. My pop would turn over in his grave. And he’s not even dead.
O’Brien’s is an Irish bar on Pico, not far from 20th Century Fox. I needed to stop there before hitting the studio where two of the vics had got their start.
The first O’Brien’s went up right after Zanuck and Schenck merged with Sidney Kent to form the Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation in 1935. Despite seventy years of earthquakes, floods, fires, and riots, it’s managed to survive more or less intact. Never an art deco showpiece, it has an unwelcoming storefront that was probably beige at birth but gave in to age and pollution and is now closer to baby-shit brown. It has got one door and no windows. You go in there to drink; you come out drunk.
I pulled up outside the bar and parked in front of a fire hydrant. There isn’t a meter maid in town who’ll ticket the Jag. There was a bum camped out in the alcove between the bar and the trophy store next door, reading a crumpled, water-stained paperback of George R. R. Martin’s
. The back cover was gone and it looked like the last twenty pages were also missing.
“Keep an eye on the car and I’ll tell you how it ends.”
He squinted up at me, and I realized he was a lot younger than he smelled. “I already knows how it ends. I read the end first. Had to use the pages for the crapper.”
“Okay then, how about keep an eye on the car and I’ll buy you a roll of toilet paper.”
“How long you gonna be? I got rounds to make.” He patted the grocery cart parked beside him. It was stacked with empty Gatorade bottles, plastic shopping bags, Krispy Kreme donut boxes, and a set of women’s hot rollers.
“Shouldn’t be too long. You on a schedule?”
“Gotta get to the Ralphs on Olympic before the trash truck makes its pickup, that’s all. Tell you what, forget the t.p., bring a bottle out with ya and I can sit here all day. ’Sides, it’s too hot to be movin’ around.” He was barefoot, in a heavy woolen jacket over an open plaid flannel shirt with a Metallica T-shirt underneath. I couldn’t swear he was wearing pants.
“What’re you drinking?”
“You got it.”
The inside of O’Brien’s isn’t any more inviting than the outside. A long wooden bar on the right, O’Brien’s office at the back. Five booths on the left, wounded leather banquettes patched with silver duct tape. A single bathroom behind the booths and a center hallway with a door leading out to the back alley. There’s an air conditioner set into the wall above the back door and an old-fashioned ceiling fan in the center of the room, rotating in slow, solemn circles. There’s no jukebox and the television set is a black-and-white, the type that came with a knob to dial up channels. The dial is long gone. The TV was turned to FOX News. It’s always turned to FOX News; the O’Briens think Bill O’Reilly hung the moon. The sound was off, which is probably the best way to watch FOX News. There’s no good way to watch Bill O’Reilly.
There was a time, back when Jenny and I were going through the worst of the breakup and I was drinking non-stop, when I used to see three men tending the bar, seven in the morning till four in the morning. Catch the gaffers and grips coming off a night shoot and the accountants and assistants getting ready to face the day. Those were the days before it became cheaper to film on location and L.A. lost out to Vancouver, Florida, Toronto, Prague, even Rhode Island. Those were the days before professional drinking bars went out of style. Now the young bartenders know they can make better tips at the sports bars and dance clubs where there’s more eye candy on show.
These days only Young O’Brien works the bar. Young looks to be about seventy, give or take ten years. He was here the first day I stepped into this bar more than fifteen years ago and he’s never changed. He’s got an Irish accent that would make Barry Fitzgerald proud, but I doubt he’s ever been to Ireland in his life. Just something he picked up from his dad, who ran the bar before him. He hadn’t been to the Old Country, either. The customers love it.
O’Brien looked up and smiled when he saw me and moved down the bar with that curious gliding motion that old-time bar-keeps seem to perfect. “Heineken or Bud?”
I eased onto a bar stool that was more tape than leather. “How about a Coke.”
“Ah jeez, Peter, I don’t see ya for months at a time and then ya ask for a Coke? Don’t tell me you’re doin’ the meetings now, will ya?” He looked as if he was about to cry.
“No meetings, Young. Just common sense. Don’t want one of your sleazy customers calling the
to report Beverly Hills’s finest was drinking on the job.”
“Ah, you’ve gone all holy on me. I’ll be goddamned,” he whispered, shaking his head. He popped the cap off a Coke and slid it toward me, then moved down to the other end of the bar. The guy sitting down there looked to be asleep. O’Brien put a bottle of Dos Equis in front of him, added a whiskey chaser, and rang up the sale, pulling a twenty from under the guy’s fingers and placing the change on the bar. He came back down to join me.
“So if you’re not drinkin’, then you must be here on business, and if you’re here on business, you don’t even have to tell me: it’s the Cinema Slayer thing, right?”
I stopped the Coke halfway to my mouth. “The what?”
“The Cinema Slayer. That’s what they’re callin’ it in the papers this morning. Everything’s got to have marquee value, don’t y’know. A logo. Son of Sam. Zodiac Killer. Helter Skelter.”
I held up my hand before he listed every case from the past thirty years. “How’d you know I was here about the murders?”
“It’s elementary, my dear Watson. You’re not here to drink, you’re here to talk. And the only thing anyone in law enforcement is talkin’ about these days is the Cinema Slayer. So…I figured it out, just like Sherlock Holmes.”
“You’ve watched too many movies, Young. You should go back to the printed word. Holmes never said that in the books. He never said ‘Elementary, my dear Watson.’”
“Did he say ‘Catch the local news at nine’?”
“They announced it? On the news?”
“Ah, you’re such a fine detective. In fact, that’s even what they said. ‘One of our finest officers is in charge,’ if I remember correctly. Then they showed that picture they always show, the one with you gettin’ the medal.”
That medal will follow me to my grave. I pulled a kid out of the Los Angeles River in the middle of the rainstorm and suddenly I’m the poster child for heroics. The kid was so scared he bit me on the butt before I could get a good hold on him. That’s not water dripping off my face in the news pics; it’s tears from clenching back a scream. I’ve still got the scars, two semi-circles of perfect teeth marks.
“So I’m glad it’s you that’s in charge, Detective, and I’m glad you know where to come for information. I was hopin’ you’d get here. If you hadn’t, I’d of called you myself.” Young ran up a “no sale” on the cash register, opened it, and removed a business card from under the cash drawer. He pushed it over to me.
It was a black rectangle of cheap cardboard. Tiny twinkling stars dotted above a graveyard and a tilted cross. Embossed across the heavens was the legend “Death Star Maps. The Ultimate Guide to the Dead Stars.”
“You remember Benny?” O’Brien said.
“I remember him. He still around?”
“Yeah. Only now it’s Biblical Benny. He got religion. He sells these Star Maps over on the corner of Sunset and Rexford.”
“Him and a hundred other guys.”
“Benny specializes. Sells tickets to the Grave Line Tours and maps to the places where celebrities bought the farm. Tourists eat that stuff up. He’s got himself a good spiel, a smart black suit, and a white clerical collar. He’s doin’ okay.”
I didn’t see where this was going, but I know enough to let Young tell his stories his way. “Yeah?”
“So Benny added the three Cinema Slayer stars to his collection, already had the maps printed up. He uses my nephew’s one-hour print and copy shop over on Olympic.”
“Well, he’s up-to-the-minute; I’ll give him that.”
“He’s up-to-the-minute, all right.” Young leaned across the bar, enveloping me in a cologne that smelled like Jade West gone bad. That stuff must be thirty years old. My father wore it when I was a kid. “Benny had these maps printed up ten days ago.”
“Ten days ago? You’re sure?” I felt a little brain rush and it wasn’t the Coke kicking in.
Ten days ago Benny printed maps showing the places where three top celebrities had died—that’s no big deal, you’d think: a budding entrepreneur out to make a buck beating the competition. Nothing wrong with that.
Except Tommy Gordon died eight days ago.
The maps preceded the last death…by two days.