By Jerry Wennerstrom
The winter rain sliced through the palpable gloom over the mansion. A phone call from Richard Kelvin’s butler requested my presence. Seems his son, Bobby, bought the last ride to nowhere.
Cops found Bobby’s body dumped in the desert with two holes where his baby blues use to be. Kelvin said he wanted me to find his son’s killer. Said he didn’t trust the cops. Said they’re too easy to pay off. He should know.
We talked until he received an important phone call. He asked for me to step out and make myself at home. I decided to check out the laundry room.
Nosing around a person’s dirty laundry can tell you a lot. The sterile tidiness of the laundry room offered no clues, let alone lint. I heard a female voice behind me say, “You must be T. B. Cloudmason, the PI my father hired to find Bobby’s killer.”
I turn to see her nude. A bit of a cliche, I thought.
“Yes, yes I am. You must be Vicky, the daughter, the sister.”
“Nothing gets past you, does it?”
“I try not to let it.”
“I heard about you.”
“Now you’ve found me.
“It seems I have.”
“What does the T. B. stand for?”
“I see. You’re one of those guys with a stupid Indian name to impress clients and naive little girls.”
“I’m named after my Cherokee father.”
We sized each other up in the silence. I couldn’t tell if she inherited her mother’s blondeness. Too clean to show. She must have been satisfied with what she saw. She spoke first.
“Why did you become a PI and not a cop?”
“I wanted to be a detective, not a cop.”
“Aren’t they the same?”
“No. An old Indian proverb says, ‘Soldiers make poor scouts’.”
“Tribal cops do little detective work. The FBI does most of it.”
She considered what I had said, and then addressed the elephant in the laundry room. “You’ve probably wondered why I’m nude.”
“Thought crossed my mind.”
“Perhaps you think I want to make sure you find my brother’s killer and I’m here to throw myself at you?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Perhaps you think this will be your lucky day?”
“Perhaps you’re wondering if I’m old enough?”
“I’d show you my ID, but as you can see I don’t have any pockets.”
“I’m nineteen. Makes me legal.”
She moved closer, dropped to her knees, looked up at me and breathed, “Perhaps you’ll fuck off while I take my clothes from the dryer and dress?”
Obviously grieving, I thought.
I wandered back upstairs. I stopped to admire the paintings of two beautiful nude redheads when I heard the butler from behind me say, “Mr. Kelvin’s first wife on the left, Ruth, and his second wife, Victoria.”
“They look like sisters. How many has he had?”
“Two. Mr. Kelvin will see you now.”
Kelvin never looked up when I entered. I sat in the same chair.
“Mr. Cloudmason, I won’t need your services after all.” He held out a check, still he didn’t look at me, “This will cover your time. Thank you.” He gave me a check for the full ten thousand. A buy off.
“Mr. Cloudmason, this way please.” A hand caressed my shoulder. Vicky, now dressed, at least halfway, in pink tap pants and a white crop top. Either the air conditioning kept her visibly alert, or her fantasies about us did. “Mr. Cloudmason, I’ll show you out,” she said.
I stood and held out my hand to Kelvin. He nodded toward Vicky and dismissed me with, “Victoria will show you out.”
Vicky took my elbow. I followed her.
In the hall, we passed the nude paintings. I said, “I can see the resemblance between you and your mother.”
Vicky didn’t linger. While she walked me down the stairs she said, “My mother was a beautiful woman, Mr. Cloudmason —”
“Call me Tully.”
“As I said, Mr. Cloudmason, my mother was a beautiful woman. Her natural blonde hair rivaled the sun. My father had her dye her hair red. She did whatever he told her to do. He attempted to make my mother like Ruth. Mother even had her breast reduced to wear Ruth’s clothes.”
At my car I asked, “What happened to your mother?”
“Mr. Cloudmason, may we meet later?” Vicky opened my car door.
“When and where?”
“I’ll contact you.”
I entered my car and started it. Vicky closed my door, and like a catwalk model returned to the house. A man, not Kelvin or the butler, lingered in an upstairs window. I pretended to not notice him as I watched Vicky glide into the house. I said to myself, “Looks as if I’ll be earning the ten grand.”
Two hours later, my phone rang. Vicky asked to meet at the Jolly Roger. The JR I knew, I wouldn’t expect Vicky to know. I put my .38 in place and left for the JR.
Can’t say the place is a dive, but you wouldn’t find even semi-celebs ducking paparazzi here. I parked the car and gave a kid the torn half of a hundred. Bribery? Nah, more like insurance. What they can do to a car in seconds, my deductible wouldn’t even start to cover.
The doorman looked at me and coughed, “Pig.”
I coughed back, “Faggot.” He smirked, and I entered.
The place looked neat but old. Built in the 1980s when the Yuppie mayor earmarked the waterfront as the place to be seen. The 2008 Stock Market crash brought back the old gang. The bartender sized me up and said, “Apple-Tini, Dick?”
Nice of him to leave off the ‘head’ part, I thought. I grabbed the bar towel from him. I scrubbed my stool and the bar top in front of me and said, “No, but you can buy one for your boyfriend at the door. I’m meeting a lady here.”
Without taking his gaze from me, he shouted, “Yo, Vic, that cop’s here.”
A door marked PRIVATE opened. “Mr. Cloudmason, come in, please.” Vicky, in a designer navy blue suit and white blouse, waved me into her office.
“Karl Lagerfeld?” I said.
“Excellent. You know clothing.”
“Shoes, Jimmy Choo.”
“Now, I see what you mean about soldiers make poor scouts.”
Vicky shook my hand and sat behind her desk. I sat in one of the paired red velvet Victorian Grandfather chairs in front of the desk. Her office reflected nothing of the bar side. Behind her hung an oversized portrait of her blonde mother with little Vicky on her lap.
The rest of the room had the splendor of a 1920s library. In the middle, surrounded by the bookshelves, a bed made for a queen.
Vicky watched my eyes rove. When they returned to her, she said, “This use to be my mother’s bar. Now it’s mine. She read all the time, I imagine to escape. At three, I picked up the habit. Books and this bar gave her refuge from her husband. Now it’s mine. Did I answer your obvious questions?”
“Now to the question: why did I want us to meet?”
“My mother and Bobby are both dead. I believe my father had them murdered.”
“I want you to find out. I will pay you whatever you want.”
Vicky moved to the bed. She stepped out of the Jimmy Choo’s. She removed her jacket and placed it over a chair. Like in a bad B-movie she unbuttoned her blouse and with an unsteady voice said, “You can have me also.”
I walked over to the bed. Vicky took a deep breath. She pulled her blouse out.
I mentally kicked myself and handed Vicky her jacket and said, “Let’s keep this professional. Later, we can personalize our relationship if you still want to. Right now, all I want is more information.”