Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Chapter 24

At the Formosa, I had to valet my car. When I stepped inside the bar, it was packed. I scanned around the noisy room for Harshy and settled on Britney Murphy and that kid from that Roswell show. I took a second look at the crowd and saw that I was in thick entertainment industry people. Fuck! Everyone turned to check me out and see if I was someone they should be talking to. I smiled at them and they all turned away. Suddenly, someone pulled at my skirt and I turned to see Harshy and Guy in the booth I was pushed up against.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here. This is crazy,” she yell-whispered in my ear. I agreed and we all snaked and scooted outside.

“My car’s just around the corner,” said Guy. “Where’s yours?”

“Its valet'd. I can come back for it later. Let’s all go together,” I suggested. “Where should we go?”

“Let’s go to Damiano’s. It has large booths. And it’s dark and quiet so we can talk in private,” said Guy.

“Oh, God, do we have to?” I protested. “I got sick from their pizza once. Bad scene, bad pepperoni.” Although they did have the best beer selection in all of Los Angeles and that was very impressive to this native Northwesterner. Then I changed my mind, “OK, lets go. I’m only eating what’s fresh out of the oven though.”

“Are you sure you weren’t downing cat antibiotics that time?” quizzed Harshy.

“No, no that wasn’t that incident. And, hey, those antibiotics saved my life," I admonished her.

I had had this terrible flu one year, but was still the loyal party girl so I took some hot liquid flu medicine before I hit the billiard bar to hang with my gang of Friday night friends. While partying and playing eight ball, I had forgotten about the medicine I’d taken earlier and drank a six pack of beer to myself. Back at home, at the witching hour of 3 am, my guts were trying to rip me in half. I was dry-heaving and I thought I was going to die. Correction, I wanted to die. The pain was so intense that it felt like I had been poisoned. I pleaded with my boyfriend at the time to help me, but he was of no help. In hindsight, I was pretty sure that he was sleeping off his heroin fix and I was only a bother to him. Only much later would I discover his addiction, but that’s another story.

I had scrambled around my bathroom looking for any sort of painkiller or something that would knock me out. I needed a one-two punch! I wanted to sleep and ride the medical debacle
out. Searching the medicine cabinet and vanity drawers, the only thing I found were Kashmew’s antibiotics for when he’d had an abscessed tooth pulled. I knocked back three of those and curled up on the bathroom floor, at peace with my life, fully clothed, and waiting for death to take me. The next day I woke up in bed, totally fine and not dead. My boyfriend had pulled me from the floor after he’d almost peed on me in the early hours of the morning and put me to bed. God has a plan for me, yes, he does. But who knows what it could possibly be?

We slid into a booth at the back of Damiano’s, ordered the freshest pepperoni, olive, and mushroom pizza and bottles of Jubel Ale for everyone. While we waited for our order and Paul, Guy got down to business. He was buzzing. I’d never seen him like this before. Guy also kept looking over at Harshy, almost gushing. I had to kick him in the shins a couple of times under the table because Harshy was giving me “what’s his deal” looks over the table. Guy calmed down a bit and took out his BlackBerry.

“You want me to start now or wait for Paul?” he asked.

“I know we should wait for Paul, but I can’t stand the suspense,” I bleated. After our initial phone call, I had been on pins and needles.

“Okay, while we wait for Paul, I’ll give you the reason for my trip down to the OC.” Guy beamed, his vast, gossipy knowledge locked inside his pearly whites. Wow, he must be using that teeth whitening gel because his tan is starting to look orange. “It all came together when I was hanging out in Rudy’s barbershop waiting for my haircut and I started reading an article about Charlene Dietz in an old tabloid. Naturally, because she’s Faraday’s ex-wife, I read with more interest than normal. Turned out she was originally from Riverside. Total white trash, but not unexpected. The article showed pictures of her when she was young, her first movies, publicity photos and the like. Well, as I was studying the pictures….” Guy paused for longer than was necessary (at least to my thinking).

“Well, come on. Don’t do this to us!”

Guy was looking over my shoulder. I turned around to see Paul come in. He waved at the owner and continued to our table. Paul seemed to know everyone in LA. I sometimes wondered how that was possible given how much time he spent over at the estate. After Faraday’s death and when we had gone public with our relationship, I had met most of his friends and gone to a few parties, but we still spent a lot of time alone together. Where did Paul have the time to meet all of these people? Maybe I should start tailing him. I scooted over and made room on my side of the booth.

“I see you warmed up my seat for me.” He nodded hello to Harshy and Guy and kissed me full on the lips. He smelled like fresh aftershave. Electricity shot down my body.

“Are you saying I have a big ass?” I asked, teasingly.

“Are you suggesting that I have no ass?” Paul replied.

“Oh, God, you two. Stop it or I am going to barf! I can’t stand you people in love,” Harshy chided.

I watched Guy go a little pale and sweat formed on his brow. He looked over at Harshy who wasn’t paying attention to him at all. “So, Paul, how goes the eulogy?”

“Well, it’s done. Fuckin’ hard. How do you talk about your dead best friend without sounding like a sap or constantly confirming I wasn’t his life partner.” Paul was obviously exhausted. I had tried to help him with the eulogy for the past few days, but he didn’t like the way it was turning out. It was difficult for him and I didn’t have enough history with either of them to make many good suggestions.

“Well, at least it’s done. The memorial service is tomorrow. After that we can take a break from all of this mess for a while,” I suggested.

Paul wrapped his arm around me, kissed the top of my head and turned to Guy, “So, what’s all the hubbub about? What’d you find out?”

“Good. I can finally get to the juicy part. I was telling the ladies why I was in the OC,” Guy continued. “I was reading about Charlene in an old People and how she was from the OC. No big deal until I was scanning each picture of her in her younger days before she started acting.” Guy was a big tease, pausing again for drama.

“Yes, enough already!” Harshy yelled. Guy jumped out of his seat like a tampon had rolled close to his thigh.

“Geez, calm down. What do you care? You’re not implicated in the murder,” said Guy, steadying himself in the booth with both hands. I swear he was pulsating from being both excited by his news and his proximity to Harshy..

Harshy shot him a “duh” look. “You know how I love celebrity scandal.”

Guy shook his head at her. “Anyway, who should I find in a couple pictures with her, but Bruce Hansen!”

Paul and I looked at each other, stunned. Guy smirked and continued, “So, I decide to make my little journey to Riverside ‘cause that’s the town she’s from, and stop by her old apartment complex. Well, none of her family live there anymore so I pretend I’m a reporter from People magazine and start knocking on her neighbors’ doors. I tell ‘em I’m fact checking an article and going to write a follow-up – do they want to be quoted? Suckers. So, I show them the pictures of Charlene and Bruce and I finally get a neighbor who grew up with them. Not just Charlene, but Bruce, too.”

My jaw dropped. I looked over Paul. He was rubbing his hand over his mouth and stubble. He took off his baseball cap, smoothed back his hair and replaced his hat. I took a big swig of my beer and was about to comment when our food came.

“Hey, Sal,” said Paul to the server. He waved his arm around to all of us, “Everyone this is Sal, he owns the place.” We all nodded at him.

“I’m sorry to hear about Mr. Faraday, man,” said Sal, putting down the pie and setting us up with plates, napkins, and cutlery. “How ya dealin’?”

“I’m OK, man. One day at a time. Thanks,” said Paul. Every condolence was making Faraday’s death more real for him. I think he was beginning to wrap his brain around it.

“Pie’s on the house. I’ll run a tab for your drinks,” offered Sal and he left to toss more dough. I leaned over to sniff the freshness of the pie. Smelled like it was right out of the oven. I helped myself to a slice and made up a plate for Paul. Harshy and Guy took their pieces, which were momentarily bound together with mozzarella strands. I watched them lock eyes briefly. I saw a rare softness in Harshy’s brow. Then she cut the strands with a knife, releasing Guy’s slice. I think he was hoping for more of a Lady and the Tramp moment.

“Cool beans. I like this place,” said Guy, recovering his composure. “Anyhoo, this guy, he says that Bruce and Charlene are cousins and that Bruce lived with her and her family when he was a teenager because his mom found out he was gay and kicked him out. Real nice. Quite the start in life, huh?”

“So," I said, obvious to the fact that Bruce was gay, “Bruce and Charlene are cousins. Then how are Bruce and Charlene connected with her marriage to Faraday and to his employment at the estate?”

“Well, Bruce worked for Faraday many years, Paul?” asked Guy scanning his BlackBerry in case he had missed the information.

“Well, let’s see.” Paul mumbled under his breath and counted his fingers back and forth. ”I’d say about six years. I know he was there three years already before Charlene showed up and started dating Kip. If you could call it dating.”

“Here’s my theory,” explained Guy. “Small-town, poor-girl Charlene is trying to make it in Hollywood and complains to her cousin, who is her best friend, and also lives in LA. She whines to him that if she could just get the right exposure, she could be a star. After three years of being his assistant, Bruce is now pretty hip to Faraday’s weaknesses and knows the kinks in his emotional makeup. So the two of them put their blonde heads together and concoct a scheme to get both Faraday’s money and make Charlene a star. Bruce works the inside, getting Charlene invited to Faraday’s parties, events he’ll be attending, and so forth. Then he cues Charlene on how to dress and act around Faraday to get him interested. Charlene puts her acting skills to the test. And Faraday falls for her, hook, line, and sinker.”

I swallowed my bite of pizza. “You’re a genius! That is, if the theory’s correct?” I looked over to Paul for his opinion.

Paul nodded his head. “It’s entirely plausible. That relationship accelerated fast and was a done deal before a lot of people realized what was going on. Everyone made it out to be a whirlwind romance, but I could see how Kip could be duped. He had a huge ego when it came to closing any sort of deal. And Charlene was a gorgeous prize; a geek’s ultimate trophy. Kip’s emotional intelligence was retarded when it came to romantic relationships. Still acted like a thirteen year old for the most part. The one area of life he couldn’t beat his colleagues. His Achilles heel. ”

“So Faraday thought that he had shown everyone up when Charlene agreed to marry him. Do you think that he found out about the scheme and that was why he divorced her?” I asked.

“If that was the case, Bruce would’ve been way fired, if not permanently maimed in his privates,” said Paul. That was true. Bruce had continued to work there even after the Faradays divorced. Oh, weird – Charlene Dietz as Mrs. Faraday.

Why had I never known that Charlene ever was Mrs. Faraday? I looked over at Harshy. Maybe Harshy had gushed it out one day and I mentally dismissed her celebrity gossip. Funny that she hadn’t brought it up again when I told her he was my client or even when he died. I had forgotten to ask her about Charlene’s ill-fated cosmetics line as well.

“Harshy, did you know about Charlene and Faraday?” I asked.

“Well, now that it’s been brought up, I do remember it being in the tabloids a few years ago. I really am not into Charlene Dietz and don’t follow her,” confessed Harshy. “I hadn’t even thought about a connection between her and Faraday even after his murder.”

And why would she? It suddenly dawned on me that no one had made the connection that Guy was making regarding the Faraday’s marriage. Had there been no tabloid reports delving into their marriage and a possible connection that Charlene was involved in Kip’s death? Could the E Channel have really missed a scoop as big as that?

“Harshy, what magazines are you reading these days?” I asked her pointedly.

“The usual, Us, People, Latino People, Star, OK…”

I interrupted her litany, “OK, fine. Your usual complement then? Has nothing been written about the Faraday marriage in any of those tabloids?”

Harshy suddenly looked very shocked, “No! Nothing.” She paused, looking as if she were searching the corners of her brain. “That’s weird. It seems as if all the talk for the past few years has always about Britney, Paris and Nicole. Oh, and Anna Nicole.”

I was having a brain cramp. Could he? Would he? How? Yes, it was possible. He would have enough money and enough power to accomplish it. Especially if he had dirt on all of the people and their families. Scary.

“What is going on in the brain of yours?” asked Paul. “I can almost smell something burning.”

“I think I know why nothing has been written about Charlene’s marriage to Faraday in the wake of his murder.” I blurted out.

“I am all ears.” Harshy leaned onto the table and grabbed my agitated hands to calm me down.
Paul and Guy all gathered in on the table for this revelation as well. Looking at them all, I suddenly felt stupid and that my epiphany was preposterous.

“Well, babe, what is it?” asked Paul, slightly bemused at my sudden muteness.

“My theory is Faraday used his wealth and influence to preempt any scandal by strong-arming the tabloids into never discussing his marriage and subsequent divorce with Charlene. And I think I have figured out why Paris and Nicole are so famous now.” I explained.

Everyone raised their eyebrows at this. We all wanted to know why those two had such notoriety for a life about nothing.

“I think Faraday gave those girls over to the tabloids for gossip fodder to keep the papers quiet. I think Kip had something on the Hilton and Ritchie families and forced them to serve their daughters up for the media slaughter in exchange for his silence on their hush-hush matters. He made a deal with the tabloids that they could never resist or they would risk what? Derision? Death? He had to make sure no one ever wrote about Charlene and his relationship ever again.” I continued.

Now everyone’s eyes were as big as saucers, especially Harshy’s. I don’t know if it was because I suddenly had explained the theory of the universe or if they thought I had gone completely bonkers.

“It has all been a distraction like the invasion of Grenada was a distraction from the Iran-Contra affair. Charlene is Ollie North. No one writes about Faraday and Charlene because the house of cards would collapse and everyone would be exposed!” I finished my theory. “Kip had something on everyone in this town and he was so humiliated by his failed marriage that he pulled every ace he had to protect himself and the situation.”

“So you’re saying this is why Paris and Nicole are famous today?” asked Harshy.

“Yes, they’re decoys set up by Faraday so that no one writes, reports or discusses his failed marriage to Charlene. Those two are constant daily reminders to the press, tabloids, and paparazzi that they are never to tread in Faraday waters for fear of great and terrible retribution by Kip Faraday.

“You make him sound like Rupert Murdoch,” said Paul, looking incredulously at me like I had two heads and one spoke a perfect Klingon dialect.

I looked at him, very seriously, “Kip was just as wealthy if not more than Mr. Murdoch.”

Guy broke in. “But now Faraday’s gone. Doesn’t that free everyone up to talk about him and Charlene? To start making the connections that we are? That Charlene could very well be involved to the extent we think she is?”

“I think all of Kip’s secrets on all of those people are locked up somewhere and they are still afraid that the secrets will be revealed if they focus attention on the relationship. Plus, now that Paris and Nicole have their new found fame, they don’t want to be revealed as total media puppets. I wouldn’t think their families would want to be exposed for being a party to it as well. The media would start digging deeper into their secrets that Faraday knew.”

Paul tugged at his ear and looked at me closely, “You’re serious about this theory aren’t you?”

“Well, with all of the weird things I have experienced with you, I’m inclined to entertain the validity of it,” confirmed Paul.

“Me, too. Wow, girl, you have got quite the imagination, but it’s good.” Harshy was studying my face to see if I would reveal any more juicy information. “I believe you. You can’t make that shit up.”

Guy shook his head, “Next you’ll be telling me you were once abducted by aliens.”

I stuck my tongue out at him. “Watch it or I’ll steal your mojo.”

I turned to Harshy, “I guess this lets you off the hook with your lack of celebrity gossip connections in this case.”

“Thank God! I was beginning to think I was in an alternate universe.”

“I guess we could’ve gotten to this point sooner if I had remembered to talk to Harshy about Charlene’s cosmetics line,” I said, looking at Guy and Paul.

“Her cosmetics line? Now I do remember that fiasco! What a stupid bitch to think she could succeed in scenting cosmetics with patchouli.” Harshy laughed, throwing her hands into the air. “Who would want their face or body to smell like mildew? Except hippies, of course.”

Harshy looked back over at me. “How did you know about her cosmetics line? You don’t wear anything, but mascara, eyebrow powder, and lip gloss.”

Paul answered in my defense, “I knew about the cosmetics line. I told Lois about it after we were interviewed by the cops. When Lois started working at the estate, it was the week that Faraday had incinerated Charlene’s entire product line that she had stored on the grounds. The scent was obnoxious and nauseating. We also smelled it again when we broke into the estate a few weeks ago.”

“What? You broke in to the estate?” She turned to Guy, “Did you know about this?”
Guy nodded his head “I drove the getaway car.”

Harshy punched him in the arm. “You all could’ve been caught! Are you all idiots?!”

“Hey, it helped me with my lead and we eventually got here,” explained Guy, rubbing his arm. He was a big guy, but Harshy had pointy knuckles.

“So, to summarize, Bruce is a person of major interest to us right now. Charlene is, as well, if she indeed was in the house the night of the murder which seems likely, given that her perfume aroma was recently noticed by us at the estate,” affirmed Guy. He closed his BlackBerry. "There has to be a reason why she was at the estate the night of Faraday’s death, and it’s got to be about Bruce and Charlene’s old scheme.”

“Unless she was being framed by someone,” added Harshy. “Maybe Bruce is really our only person of interest?”

“That may be so, but how are we going to find Bruce? Or Charlene, for that matter?” I asked, mozzarella hanging from my lower lip. This pizza is so damn good. I prayed to God I wouldn’t get sick that night as I slurped the cheese into my mouth and took yet another slice.

“Lets not discount Trevor,” brought up Paul. “He may have found out what we found out, killed Kip, and then used the information to frame Charlene and Bruce.”

“But why would he want to kill Faraday? I think he’s too small potatoes and too much of a pea brain to be a criminal mastermind,” I countered, “He freely admits to just being a petty thief.”

“Bruce and Charlene devised a plan. So why not Trevor?” asked Guy.

“I just don’t think he did it. I have a feeling.”

“So what are we going to do next?” Paul asked Guy.

“We are not going to do anything. I’m taking this information to Detective Patrick,” said Guy. “You two are going home to get a good night’s rest before the memorial service.”

“Good point. We should be going. I’ll have Sal’s boys box up the pizza,” said Paul. “I’m gonna sleep like timber.”

“Do you mind if we give the rest to Brian?” I asked. “I’m sure he’s fallen asleep in front of the TV again without eating.”

“What are you? His mother?” asked Paul.

“No, I’m his friend. Besides, he looks out for me.” I shot him a ‘Don’t you mess with what you don’t know” look. Paul feigned fear and started to open his mouth. “And don’t say “whatever.”

We grabbed the box on the way out. Paul and I got into his truck to go pick up my ride up at the Formosa. Harshy and Guy left toward his car parked down the street. She actually rides in his car? Will wonders never cease? I watched the two of them go. They really did look good together. I was relieved to see that Guy had finally gotten a decent haircut even if he still did needed to work on his transportation. I wondered if Harshy had actually said something to him? Before I turned to get into the car, I saw Harshy slide her arm into Guys. He looked at her in profile, obviously stunned, and then broke into a big smile, his whitened teeth reflecting in the lamp light. She kicked him in the bum from behind across her left leg, school-yard style.

I smiled and closed the passenger door of the truck. Paul looked over at me, took my hand and kissed the top of it. I leaned over and kissed him, running my hand up his thigh and pulling the hair at the nape of his neck. We kissed for a long time, like horny kids in high school, ‘til the windows fogged up. When we’d satisfied ourselves for the moment, we broke apart and, laughing, started the defogger. As I wiped my side window with my sleeve, I looked beyond the steam and saw Sal waving and giving us the thumbs-up through the storefront. I waved back. I slid in my Steve Miller CD and, all the way to the Formosa parking lot, mused about shaking Paul’s peaches that night.

Chapter 23

I breezed into the office, set my bags down, and slugged down my third mocha of the day dry before three-pointing it into the trash. Word of my work, or I should say, the scandal surrounding my work had made its way through the LA gossip grapevine. I took the referrals, however in bad taste that was, at least for consultation. A few of the potential clients were looky-loos who only wanted to know what I knew about Faraday’s death and were tweekin’ for gossip. I didn’t mind charging them double my usual consultation fee. Others were titillated just to be near me because I was a “Person of Interest” in a murder investigation and they got off on it. They were usually good for a few consults before they lost interest and stopped returning my calls. Who knew rich nerds and socialites could be such closet cases? I made my monthly bottom line in one week, plus gravy.

The only consultation that had turned out to be an actual job so far was a friend of Jasmine’s, but he also just happened to be a colleague of Faraday’s as well, and that was the deal clincher- my involvement with the case. I know, it’s an extremely tacky way of picking a designer, but I’ve voted for political candidates for weirder reasons.

After our weird restaurant encounter weeks earlier, Jasmine didn’t seem put off anymore about my choice of boyfriend material, and she was still recommending my design services to her friends. At least I thought that they were people she liked. She could’ve just been trying to get her 4th-tier, B-list friends off her back and sent them my way for distraction away from her. I was thinking that I should have a more extensive client screening process. So far, it’s all been fine and they’ve paid their bills. Maybe I should start interviewing assistants just so that I can hire someone to screen potential clients.

I had returned from an appointment with one of my new clients and was ready to tackle my large pile of project information and start my listing and delegating of tasks. God, I wish I had an assistant for real. Who am I kidding? Well, maybe an intern? Don’t they work for free? Get school credit or something? I’d have to call UCLA when I had time. Time – yeah, what’s that? With the barrage of phone calls I was getting, plus the check-up calls from Detective Patrick (“No, I’m not planning on leaving town this weekend”) and spending all of my free time with Paul preparing for the memorial service and the reading of Faraday’s will, I had no time.

I needed to call Harshy. I hadn’t talked to her for a while and I knew that my “friend” head would be on the chopping block. I dialed her number and spun in my chair, buzzed from all my coffee. I seriously needed to invest my new funds in some Starbucks stock. In no time, I was wrapped in my phone cord like an outlaw.

“GGMC. How may I direct your call?” answered the receptionist.

“J’Neene Harshbartle, please.”

She put me on hold while checking to see if Harshy was available. I listened to Ashlee Simpson sing some song about how her heart was tortured by her slacker boyfriend. Wasn’t she like twelve or something? Silver spoon up her ass. What the hell did she know about anything except that she looked like a more edgy Tweener as a brunette than a blonde? Having traveled as a blonde for a while, I knew it was better to be brunette. Blonde is fun, but predictable.


“Hey, babe, what you up to?” I asked, slowly uncoiling myself out of the phone cord.

“Who is this? Wait, no! Is this the Ms. Lois Pushkin? Why, I thought she had changed her number and moved away,” Harshy berated me.

“Hey, low blow. It’s been only two weeks. I’ve had a lot going on. Continuing crime investigation with a staring role as “Person of Interest”, boyfriend, cops, even a new client,” I excused myself from her blame. I was now out of my lasso and scooted myself up to my desk.

“New client? Ooo, who?” asked Harshy. On to bigger and better things already. Murder? Oh, that was so twenty minutes ago.

“No one you know. Actually a friend of Jasmine’s, who happened to also know Faraday.”

“Hmmmm.” Harshy was bummed, I could tell. “So, what’s up, lady?”

“I was wondering if we could get together tonight. I need a drink. I am so buzzed off of coffee, I could cut the rug out of the floor at the Dresden,” I said. “Are you up for it?”

“Well, I do have a date, but it’s for much later tonight,” said Harshy. “I could hang with you until then.”

“A date? Is this really J’Neene Harshbartle? Please identify yourself. What is your mother’s maiden name?” I was incredulous. Harshy hardly ever dated and definitely not casually.
He usually had to be rich and famous with a wardrobe and car to her specifications, minimum.

“Has it been that long since I’ve seen you? Who is this lucky guy? Must have a spankin’ pair of shoes to be with you.”

There was silence on the phone and then a huge fit of snivelling giggles and then all-out snorting. “Arrrggghh, I can’t keep it from you any longer! You are never going to let this go, never.”

“It’s Guy, isn’t it?” I let my cat out of the bag.

Instant silence on the other end. I could hear the click-clacking of keys far off in some distant cubicle, office crickets. “How did you know?” asked Harshy. “I haven’t hung out with you in so long and when we are together, that’s not for long either.”

“Sorry, lady. This is sooo my fault. I feel like I’ve been simutaneously cheating on you and spying on you.” I did feel badly even though earlier Harshy had said she wouldn’t hold my relationship with Paul against me. “I see Guy a lot because of the investigation and he talks about you. I could tell from the way he talked about you that you were actually reciprocating the same feelings. I had a feeling, but it was still a guess.”

“Damn girl, you’re good. They teach you that psychic mumbo-jumbo at design school?” Harshy sneered. She was pissed. I must’ve spoiled her surprise.

Miffed or not, she’d crossed the line. “That’s not nice or fair, Harshy. I’m sorry for neglecting you. But you need to remember what you told me when I first told you about Paul and me. I would appreciate a memory jog, please.”

Again, silence on the line. I waited. “Oh, all right. Shit, yes, I know. Fuck! OK, you’re forgiven and I see here on my calendar now that we did have dinner ten days ago and not ten
business days. And I’ll count it even though it was the four of us.”

“Well, thank you for your acquiescence, my empress.” I snorted. Did she also now consider it a double date? “So, I’ll see you at the Formosa in fifteen?”

“Make it an hour. I gotta fire an account rep,” said Harshy. “When you get there, order me a side car with Tuaca. I want it fresh and ready to drain when I get there. Little punks’ crying jags exhaust me.”

I hung up with Harshy and stacked my papers in order of to-do for the next day. I could be a little late meeting Harshy as sometimes those firings took an hour and sometimes they took fifteen minutes. Sometimes they took the bomb squad evacuating the building. But only once in a while.

This new project that had come my way had a huge scope and working on it took my mind off of the murder. For a few hours a day anyway. The whole ordeal was emotionally taxing and draining. I needed time to tune it all out and recharge my brain and my heart. I found that for me work was like a meditation. Especially the more clerical the task such as listing or doing the billing and accounting. Cleared the cobwebs from my mind to have instant gratification and a sense of accomplishment. Math is pure fact; a beginning, middle, and end. A good basis for trying to ground one’s self.

I checked the clock on my computer. Ah, I still had time to hit the Pacific Design Center. As I was gathering up my bags, the phone rang.

“Pushkin Atelier,” I answered in best receptionist voice. God forbid that any of my new high-end clients thought I actually answered my own phone! I was expected to have at least a receptionist and an assistant for me to have any clout. But it looked like I was going to be wearing these three hats for a long time to come. Perhaps I should give my receptionist an accent? English? No, New York. I should practice with Lacey. Wow, I haven’t seen her in a long time and I’m due to go to the PDC now. I should give her a ring before I head out.


I was startled back into this world, “One moment. Who’s calling please?”

“Lois, it’s Guy.”

“Hey, where have you been? We’ve been waiting to hear from you since that night,” I said, relieved it was a friend. I was very tired. “Did you find out anything down south?”

“Yeah, and we need to talk and soon,” said Guy, very excitedly. “Can we meet tonight? Make sure Paul is with you, too. He’s going to shit his pants.”

“Can’t you tell me now?” I asked. What the fuck? The anticipation was too much. I was feeling my adrenaline surge and my mocha kicking into gear.

“No, we need to talk face-to-face. What are you doing now?” asked Guy. It sounded like he was in his car. I could hear Steve Miller in the background. Really love your peaches, want to shake your leaves. I should really remember to put that CD on the next time Paul and I are together.

“Well, I’m meeting your girlfriend over at the Formosa in an hour,” I said.

The crickets started up and I thought the line had gone dead. Steve Miller was suddenly gone.

“Did you just say my girlfriend?” asked Guy quietly, genuine gooey increduality coming
over the line.

“Yeah, dude.” I felt kinda bad calling him out like that. I thought I would be met with more bravado.

“Are we talking about the same person? Did she really say I was her boyfriend?” continued Guy, quietly.

“If her name is J’Neene Harshbartle, then, yes, we are talking about the same woman,” I confirmed.

More crickets. Then the phone fell down on his end, banging electronic noises into my ear. I heard a screech and then a weird creaking sound. Suddenly, I heard a lot of muffled whooping and hollering. Then more creaking. Then a large intake of breath. Such clarity for his cell phone. I should really get one of those Blackberrys.

Eventually, Guy returned to the line, “Well, that’s great. What time will you guys be there?”

“In about an hour. I’ll call Paul to see where he’s at. We have to be at the memorial service tomorrow and he has to deliver the eulogy,” I told Guy.

“That’s cool. So, do you think Harshy really digs me?” asked Guy, again, still distracted from my news.

“You’re a piece of work,” I said. “And try to contain yourself at the bar. I said she was your girlfriend, she didn’t. Although, I know she is really into you and she isn’t really into anyone, ever. Don’t fuck this up for me.”

“Cool beans. See you in a few,” confirmed Guy and he hung up. That’s who says ‘cool
beans’! I should’ve cottoned on to Harshy along time ago. Forest for the trees. Dork. Guy, not

I clapped off the lights and went to retrieve my car from the garage. Joe gave me the Queen’s wave when I passed through the lobby. He was now watching football people. I drove through rush hour traffic to the PDC. An hour didn’t leave me much time to look around, but I wanted to at least stop in and see Lacey. I called Paul and told him about the meeting with Guy and Harshy at the Formosa. He grilled me for more information even though Guy had kept me clueless.

Lacey saw me as I trotted down the design center hallway and waved me into her showroom. She greeted me at the door with a flourish of her hand and a semi-curtsey.
“Wow, do I have the honor of a real notorious celebrate in my showroom?” Lacey asked with a Cheshire grin. “Or should I call the cops?”

“What?! Oh, you can’t be serious,” I said. “I’m only a “person of interest”.

Lacey laughed at that, “Glad to see you still have a sense of humour after all that’s happened. You’re quite the buzz at the Center.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. No one ever talked about me. Even when they should have.

“Oh, girl, everyone is following this case like it was OJ. They all want to know if they’re gonna lock you up or if you’re really innocent.”

“Of course, I’m innocent,” I raised my voice at these accusations. “My client died at his house. The police think it’s suicide.”

“But the case isn’t closed yet,” said Lacey, pushing her finger to her nose like Santa Claus. “Why would that be?”

“That’s true,” I agreed. “But I really didn’t murder anyone. Faraday was my best paying client and the first step of my successful Hollywood design career ladder. Why would I kill that?”

“For love,” she said matter-of-factly.

I nearly choked on my own saliva. “What? Kip Faraday?!” I instantly got a bad
case of the heebie-jeebies and started to physically writhe.

“Oh, honey, do you need to sit down again?” Lacey led me over to the chaise. “Can I get you something to drink?”


“One moment,” Lacey sang as she went into the back. I hoped she wasn’t calling the cops, thinking she had caught a fugitive who had just confessed to a crime of passion. That would make tabloid headlines. She definitely was reading too many of those if she thought I could possibly have been in love with Faraday. My skin creepy-crawled again.

Always prepared, Lacey returned with a shot of whiskey with a slice of lemon. After squeezing the lemon in, I shot it to the back of my mouth, the warmth first stinging and then soothing my throat. I composed myself and looked Lacey directly in the eye. “I was not in love with Faraday and we had no relationship other than that of designer and client.”

“Well, that’s not the talk around town,” She rebuked. “Town” being the LA design community. In that regard, we were a one-cow town where everyone gossiped about everyone else like a bunch of farmers. “We heard you were mad about the guy.”

She cocked her head and seemed to actually expect a denial or confirmation from me. I owed her. “I am in love, but not with Faraday. And I can’t tell you who it is, because he is notorious in his own right.”

“Oooh, you’re giving me goose bumps.” Lacey laughed as she showed me her arm. Wow, she actually shaves her arms. How weird? Snap out of it, Lois. Focus. “Really, tell me who it is?”

“Sorry babe, I can’t. We’re very private especially with everything that’s going on,” I said. She looked very disappointed.

“Oh, all right. I understand,” Lacey surrenderd. She took my glass and helped me up. “So what are we looking for today? Prison stripes?”

I shot her a look.

“Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”

I looked at my cell phone, “Shit, I gotta go. Sorry, lady, I’ll catch up with you later in the week.”

“Hot date with the mystery man?” she asked coyly.

“No, meeting the gang as usual.”

“Oh, them. Well, tell everyone hello for me.” Lacey lead me to the door and saw me out, locking up behind me. As I went down the corridor towards the parking garage, I turned to look back. She was still standing at the door, looking at me through the glass. No expression and she didn’t wave. Creepy. I turned back around and picked up my pace all the while plagued again with the heebie-jeebies. I began to think that maybe it was Lacey who was spreading the rumours around that I had killed Faraday. Attention for herself inside her fishbowl world?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chapter 22

What we were doing was insane, dangerous, stupid, and, of course, my idea. Paul was just as cuckoo for going along with me, but after my completely logical persuasion (“What do we have to lose?”), he agreed to join me on my little adventure. Where did we go? Faraday’s estate, of course. And why did we go? To snoop – what else? The questions that the police had posed to Paul during his interrogation had sparked my insatiable curiosity. And since they didn’t seem to be in such a hurry to check out their own theories, I thought we should. Oh, and I pulled Guy along with us to cover our asses. He was more experienced than us at stakeouts of any kind, although mostly disability fraud cases for him, so I thought that he should be our getaway driver. Guy snorted into his beer when I brought up my idea to him.

“You’ve got to be kidding! You and Paul snooping around a closed crime scene and me, sitting in my car, incognito. I'd be a sitting ducks for the cops,” expounded Guy. “Yes, I know
my job can get boring and tedious, but I have a nice, stable career with the insurance company. I like my life in Woodland Hills. I like my TGI Fridays and the mall. I’m not going to blow my license for the two of you!”

Shocked, my mouth dropped open almost to the bar top, “You live in Woodland Hills? I thought you lived in Silver Lake!”

Guy squirmed and fussed with the coaster under his glass, pretending to align the planets within his drink. “Well, no, actually only Drew does. I just told you that so you wouldn’t think I was, um, lame.” I cocked my head at him. “I know, I know. That’s the furthest thing about me that makes me lame.”

So then we went to the Faraday estate in the back seat of Guy’s non-descript Chrysler K car. (I thought only Christians drove those?) Once we got there, we got a lecture from him about how to best gain entry to an estate and all of the necessary safety precautions via his personal PI code.

“If you’re not back in an hour, I ‘m driving down the street and waiting for you there. If you’re not back an hour after that, I’m leaving. That means you’ve been fucked and I don’t want any part of that. Especially if the media shows up. I can’t compromise my status with my insurance work.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Guy. I assure you we will be very careful. But when you see us running down the drive like bats out of hell, be prepared to put the pedal to the metal.” I had to make sure that he wouldn’t just bolt at the sight of two crazy people running from attack dogs and estate security.

Paul grabbed my hand and my bag, “Dammit, Lois, quit being so dramatic. We’re not going to get fucked! Jesus, somedays…” Someone was nervous. I laughed and we exited the car. We ducked into the hedges, helped each other over the iron fencing hidden inside and dropped down onto the daphne path. We weren’t going to try to enter the estate through the main floor. I thought it would be better to try to get in through the damaged bathroom skylight. I always have to make things more complicated – it’s all in the details.

Paul had found out that security wasn’t so tight around the estate any more via a slip-up by Detective Patrick. Guy had been able to confirm this from a stakeout the night before. Apparently, the police weren’t concerned about maintaining a police presence at the estate. Maybe dragging Paul, Trevor, and myself all in for questioning had been a practice of smoke and mirrors by the LAPD for the sake of the media to make it look like they were doing something about the case. Perhaps they were resting back on their original theory that Faraday’s death had been a suicide. I didn’t know how they could still think that when given a body with a pristinely burned hole in the skull annihilating half of the brain. But what did I know?

We did know the alarm still functioned throughout most of the estate, but no one had gotten around to repairing the executive bathroom yet, because it was still a closed crime scene. There was really no one at the estate anymore to be concerned with at night anyway, except for
maybe Bruce. We still didn’t know where he’d gone. The police hadn’t seemed so concerned about him either, according to Paul. What’s the adage – “Look close to home”? Could Bruce have had anything to do with the murder? What would he have had to gain from Faraday’s death other than the end of a tortured fantasy he expressed as love?

Anyway, Paul had called the estate earlier on the pretense of looking for Bruce to talk to him about Faraday estate matters. That was when he learned that Bruce hadn’t been at the estate since the body had been discovered. The house staff that Paul talked to then proceeded to let him know more details about the memorial service and the cremation. After he was forwarded to the event coordinator, Paul was told that secure e-vites would be sent out with ‘Save the Date’ time and location. Shit! We had totally forgotten again about how Faraday’s remains would be handled and the typical funeral protocol.

Had time really flown so fast that it was time for a funeral? I guess you couldn’t keep a body on ice for long. I hoped forensics had taken really good pictures and evidence from the body. Was Faraday to be buried? I would love to see that casket up close and personal. But what if the event coordinator was to cremate Faraday? Then there would be no body to dig up if the police changed their minds and decided his death was a homicide. I wondered if how the body was to be inturned was in Faraday’s will? Wait, a will.

After reading my note I had shoved in front of him, Paul asked the event coordinator about that subject. She said we would be notified of the day and time of the reading of the will by Faraday’s lawyers. The same lawyers who were representing Paul and me. In the meantime, she had to get off the phone because she still needed to locate Bruce who was required to be at the reading as well. Interesting.

After breaking and entering onto the estate grounds, we rounded the house over to where we knew there was a sturdy iron trellis. We climbed up and scrambled onto the tiled roof. Then we crab legged our way over to the shattered dome of the executive bathroom. There was no light coming through the hole. We shined our flashlights into the opening, sweeping the floor for
possible obstacles, police tape, or other evidence- gathering devices. Naturally, we didn’t want anyone knowing we’d been here. This was our entry point. When it seemed all clear, Paul rapelled down smoothly, like the pro he was. I, on the other hand, fell through the skylight and swung like a monkey on a chandelier until Paul caught the belt of my pants and guided me down.

“Dammit, Lois! We practiced this. You could’ve really fucked this up. I thought I was going to shit my pants. You were swinging around like a crack head.”

I whisper-yelled back, “Hey bucko. I did the best I could with one lesson, OK? Did you just call me a crackhead? How eighth grade is that!”

Paul hung his head, his body shaking. He reached over and shook me by the shoulders. “You are going to be the death of me. Either from crazy hare-brained shit like this or just laughing straight into my grave.”
“Fine, Captain Attitude.” I smiled. “Now let’s get down to business.”

From what we could remember from all the construction meetings and site visits, Paul and I had outlined specific things that we were going to look for that seemed suspect. A lot of what Faraday had done with his specialists and technicians and electricians had gone over our heads, but we were going to try to see if there was anything we could figure out that was strange. We had brought our gobbledygook of notes and diagrams from those meetings as well. Who knew how much help those would even be?

Once I got into the bathroom, I gasped, putting my hand to my mouth to stifle the sound. The place was really torn up. Glass and mirror shards and tile and crap everywhere. My beautiful bathroom destroyed! Nine months of hard work and putting up with an inane client and his annoying assistants to remodel a bathroom to its true, executive inspiration. The only worthwhile thing to come out of this whole ordeal still fully in tact was my relationship with Paul. I never would’ve met him and fallen in love if it hadn’t been for crazy Faraday and his cuckoo bathroom. Now it was all in fucked up. Maybe Faraday’s death had even fucked up Paul and I a little bit.

Paul said “Pssst” over near the shower and I shined my light over his way. The police had outlined Faraday’s body and you could still see the blood stain on the floor.

“Are you OK?” I asked, realizing that all of this had suddenly become very real for Paul.

He assured me that he was and squatted down to shine his light over the outline, the floors, the wall, and the shower curb. Peering closer, Paul shined his light on some marks on the tile and grout. “What do you think this is?”

I crouched down next to him. “Looks like the tile’s been scored. Smells funny though. Like it’s been burned.”

“Like Kip’s head wound. Maybe that’s what we should be looking for?” suggested Paul.

“Burn marks or etching-type marks?” What type of thing did that? Certainly not a gun. Maybe a machine gun? But the police hadn’t mentioned that. And from looking around, I couldn’t see any bullet holes in the walls. Just all of the scoring marks on the finishes.

“Well, you and I know that they are not part of the finishes palette so maybe if there are other things that look like this around here. If there is a pattern or some discernible direction, we might be able to figure out what went on here,” suggested Paul.

“Paul, we may find nothing. We’re already risking our asses by being here. Let’s just look around quickly and get out,” I cautioned. Even though this had been my idea, I was beginning to have second thoughts.

“Fine. I’ll look at Kip’s electronic gizmos, you look at all this crap on the floor. Figure out the glass and mirror pieces. I want to know how that frickin’ dome got smashed,” said Paul. “That was one hell of a piece to get in here, and it cost a bomb.”

I set about scanning the mess with my flashlight. I could see the glass from the dome; it had alabaster veining. Mixed in with those pieces were some mirror shards plus some amber glass and some other clear glass. Was the amber glass from the dome as well? I compared it with the dome pieces. Having looked with my designer eye, they seemed to be connected. I had only ever had a ground-level view of the skylight while it was being installed, so I was not really sure what the glass make-up of the panes were. I saw some clear glass there, but there wasn’t much of it. It looked like coke-bottle eyeglasses glass. But there was more on the floor than would make up a pair of eye glasses. What was this clear glass? Think, Pushkin.

There were no other windows in the bathroom besides the dome. There was no glass shower door because the shower was a huge walk-in room of its own. Besides, this clear glass sparkled way much more than typical glass in the beam of my flashlight. I crouched down and picked up some pieces that looked alike. The glass looked like it had been polished by the ocean. It was also scratched like the tile. No, wait. No, it’s not.

Upon closer inspection, I could make out letters - Bacc. What could that be? I sounded it out in my mouth. Shit! This was a Baccarat highball glass. I picked up other clear pieces from the floor. I picked up the amber ones again on a hunch. I smelled those. They smelled like alcohol. Bourbon. Plus something else I couldn’t quite place, but gave me a heady sense of déjà vu. I picked up all the similar pieces I could find. There seemed to be enough clear and amber glass to make up two drinking glasses. The kind Trevor used to make me my drinks in while I met with
Faraday. So, was Trevor involved in this after all? That little shit! What the fuck did he think he was up to? Who else knew I drank bourbon? Was he trying to frame me? For what? No, that was ridiculous. He made drinks for everyone in those glasses. Calm down, Lois, and keep a level head (if that’s possible). You’re not the only person who drinks bourbon and Trevor is not the only person that knew that about you. So that leaves Bruce? And Faraday? And Paul?

“I don’t think Faraday was alone in here when whatever happened happened,” I said to Paul. I put the all the pieces into the empty soap dish. Faraday used only a pump soap container; the dish was for decoration. He hated soap slime. Who didn’t?

“Well, duh, we do think he was murdered. Did you find something?” he asked. Paul was now standing on a chair he had pulled from the office and was inspecting with a a pair of needle nose pliers the damaged security camera, which dangled from its mount above the shower wall. It looked like a deranged octopus that had caught on fire in mid-swim.

“I found the remains of what I think are highball glasses, two of them, and they’ve been used.”
Paul stepped down and came over to inspect my cache. He picked up the pieces, eyed them, and smelled the pile of amber ones. He pulled back with a snort, “I haven’t smelled that in a long time.”

“Smelled what?” I asked bringing the same glass pieces to my nose. I pulled away fast at the overwhelming stench.

“Remember that smell? Remember when you first started working on the project, you told me you smelled something funny in Faraday’s office?” reminded Paul. “You thought it was disgusting – like patchouli?”

Oh, yeah, I remembered that. I had to endure it for a few weeks and then one day it was gone. I remembered mentioning it to Paul. “What is it?”

“It’s her smell; it’s Charlene’s cosmetics and perfume line. All of the products were scented like this with her perfume, in large quantities. God, it reeks,” explained Paul.

“I’ve never heard of it. What a bizarre concept. Scenting cosmetics?”

“Exactly, so bizarre and stinky that it bombed instantly and horribly. Ask Harshy about that fiasco – I’m sure she’ll remember,” laughed Paul. “Charlene tried to store her crap here after Kip kicked her out. When Kip found out, he incinerated the whole lot. That was a bad idea, because the smoke plume lingered for days around the estate. I think that was when you had your first meetings with him. His last encounter with her was what really motivated him to renovate this bathroom.”

God, I had so wanted to barf from that stench when it first assaulted me during my initial meetings with Faraday. For God’s sake, who would want to smell like mildew much less put it on their lips and eyes? What was wrong with that woman that she actually liked that scent? I still don’t know how other people can wear it and enjoy it unless they are part of the hippie culture where it is a requirement for membership like homecoming sweatshirts for sororities. It’s a wonder Faraday could’ve remained so non-chalant about that smell during our meetings. Must’ve been ripping him apart inside. But, like any successful professional, he had a good game face. Bet he was a killer in poker. I wondered if the police had picked up on the cosmetics angle. Do they smell evidence?

“So does this mean we should tell the police about what we suspect?” I asked. “It seems like Charlene was here the night Faraday died. Maybe she killed him? Or maybe she knows who
did? Why would Kip have tolerated her in his house again? How could she have gotten access to the property with no video record of it?”

“We can’t even let them know we’ve been here,” cautioned Paul. “Let’s tell Guy and have him hang around the police and see if he can get any information about their forensics results from this mess,” suggested Paul. “We’ll see if they know about the cosmetics. If our suspicions are true, that means Charlene was here or least someone who used her products.”

Didn’t know who that idiot would be, but I did know that it wasn’t Jasmine, so that ruled her out for now. Only Chanel #No. 5 for her. Even if she did shower in it sometimes. Bitch. She’s rich; she can afford to do so and afford to have people put up with her for it. Plus, if Jasmine was fucking the man and enjoying it, why would she kill him? But maybe that wasn’t why she had taken up with him again. Spurned love? A lover’s revenge? Frame the woman who stole her man?

“I want to look at this security camera again,” Paul said, motioning for me to come back over to the shower. The side of its box was melted and scorched, and its mounting bracket was bent.
“It’s got the same scoring marks as the shower tiles. What could make burn marks like that?”

“Maybe he was playing laser tag in his new uber bathroom.” Geek.

“That’s it! A laser! I’d bet these are laser burns. Lasers can kill. With Kips cache of geniuses working for him, to kill him with a laser would be brilliant as well as a total cliché. But then that would mean that it could’ve been anyone who killed him. It would only be narrowed down by who had access to the estate… or those working at the estate?” Paul was very excited about his new theory. “I wonder if the police suspect that this was the way Kip was killed?”

“Paul, get real. A laser?” I asked.

“Well, you know that even we ourselves don’t know all of the components that went into the walls of this bathroom other than the phone, the alarm, and the cable wires. Why couldn’t it be a laser?” he asked, his little boy imagination glossing over his eyes with the fantastic.

“Did Faraday dabble in laser technology? He knew everything that was going into his bathroom with all of his specialists ad naseum. Why would he have a laser, which could kill someone, installed in his bathroom; his thinking spot?” I asked, ever incredulous that this bathroom could get weirder. “There has to be some other explanation. This was his temple. Was he preparing for the abiliy to shoot someone on the spot for invading his pot?”

Paul thought about what I had said. “I don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t a laser. Maybe it was a light saber. Maybe he fantasized about beating Darth Vader after a hot shower? Maybe it’s really late and I can’t think clearly.”

“Let’s get out of here and give all of our information to Guy, even your ‘theories’,” I suggested. “See what he can get from the police. In the meantime, I think we need to go over the project file and search for anything unusual like security cameras with lasers or Jedi knights lurking in closets. There’s got to be something that would shed light onto why Faraday ended up dead in his bathroom.”

Instead of hitching ourselves back up our ropes through the shattered dome, we opted to exit through Faraday’s office onto the daphne path. Paul didn’t think he could survive watching me flail around while attempting to exit quietly and unobtrusively the way we came in. Plus, with all of the evidence we were carrying out of there for Guy, I didn’t think I would’ve made it. At the threshold, I stubbed my toe and fell out of the door into the pea gravel.

“Shit! Yow! That hurts. Fucker!” I pounded the pea gravel and gave it what-for.

“Lois, be quiet,” shushed Paul. Then thinking better of it, he asked, “Are you OK?”

“Yes, I’m fine.” I started to get up and snagged my finger on something in the path. I picked it up and looked at it. I couldn’t tell what it was, but put it in my pocket for later inspection. We rounded the corner and crept to the hedge we had scaled earlier. Guy was still in the car off of Mulholland Drive even though we were more than an hour late. When we got closer, we discovered that he was actually sleeping, head back, mouth wide open, snoring up a storm.

“Boo,” I whispered into Guy’s ear. He shrieked like a girl. I tried to get him to recognize me before he enacted his fight or flight response and wet his pants.

“Bitch! Don’t scare me like that. Fuck.” He wiped his hands on his pant legs.

“Let us in. We gotta go before someone catches us,” I hissed into his face.

Guy unlocked the doors of the car and Paul and I scrambled into the back seat, falling over each other. We started laughing, much to Guy’s annoyance. “So what did you find? Anything useful? Do you know who killed Faraday and how?”

“Shit, Guy, we’re not freaking psychic Columbo. We don’t know what we’ve found. That’s why we have you. Take us back to Paul’s, and we’ll show you what we’ve got. This is going to be your time to shine, ‘Mr. Hammer’,” I said as we drove off Mulholland Drive and down into the dawn towards Studio City.

Back at Paul’s house, we replayed our every step in Faraday’s bathroom. Surprisingly, Guy took meticulous notes and made an outline. I guess it shouldn’t be so surprising to me. I mean it is his job to do investigation. I just suddenly realized that I had never seen him at work. Only at bars. I glanced over at Paul. He was watching me watch Guy and angled his head questioningly in return. I slapped his knee in response and went into the kitchen. I returned with beers for everyone.

“Good work, people,” said Guy, swigging a big gulp from his bottle. “Right now I have crap, but a lot of crap. Usually there’s something worthwhile in crap; you just gotta find it.”

Now there’s a mission statement I hadn’t heard before. “Let us know what you find out from your lead at the police station. Tell us everything he says. Because Paul and I were both on the build, we may know something about the construction or the materials that may be a little unusual.”

“Cool. I’ll get on it tomorrow. In the mean time, I’ll continue to stake out Trevor and Bruce. I’ve got one thing to check out regarding Bruce so I’ll be gone most of today in Long Beach,” informed Guy. He pressed “Save” on his BlackBerry and stowed it in his jacket. Cool. No Post-it-Notes. I should look into this new and wonderous device.

“I hope you emailed that to your office in case someone mugs you,” I said.

“Yes, Ms. Pushkin, and I E-mailed you a copy too,” replied Guy, smirking. “I’m on to you, little Miss Anal Retentive.”

“Oooh, speaking of that.” I pulled the object out of my pocket. “I forgot I picked this up. Never bothered to see what it was.” I turned over the black disc in my hand. Actually it was more like a filled horseshoe. Guy and Paul both took a peek.

“That’s from a high heel,” announced Guy. “Where did you find that?”

“On the daphne path. So, it’s nothing. It could belong to any woman who was ever at the estate.”

“Do all those women have a reason to use that path?” asked Guy.

“I don’t know. I know that when I first arrived for the project I wasn’t allowed on the path.” I explained. “I started using the path only when the project was in progress. I would exit through the panel door for an easy escape from everyone.”

“Interesting,” mused Guy. “Anyone else know about the exit from Faraday’s office besides you two and the assistants?”

Paul laughed and nodded his head. “Everyone knew about that door. Kip thought he was being sooo cool with his secret door. He used it every chance he had, especially when he had an audience in his office. I think the whole world knew it was there.”

“Well, there goes that idea. You’re probably right, Lois, it’s probably nothing,” agreed Guy, handing the disc back to me.

I looked closely at the small piece of heel again. It suddenly glistened in the light. There looked to be tiny bits of glass embedded in the black. Baccarat? I suddenly had a thought and brought it up to my nose. The smell of mildew and alcohol was faint, but there. Something that had lain in a daphne path for a long time should smell like a daphne, but this didn’t.

“It’s her smell. It’s Charlene’s ‘mildew’ perfume. Could this be from her shoe? Does this piece prove that she was the one at the estate when Faraday died? Did she kill him?”

Paul paled and sat down abruptly. Guy looked at me and then at Paul. Paul locked my eyes with his. He whispered, “We’ve got to talk to her.”

“We will. We’ll find her,” I turned to Guy and walked him to the front door. “Call us when you get back tomorrow. By the way, why are you going to Long Beach?”

“Got a lead. Could be fruitful. I’ll call you as soon as I get back.” Guy shut the door behind him, and I turned my attention back to Paul, who’d gotten up and was banging around in the kitchen. I wrapped my arms around his waist and hugged him tightly to me. He let out a long-held breath and relaxed. Turning around, he pulled me into his chest and kissed my hair, breathing in deeply.

“Lady, I am sooo tired and it’s all your fault, dammit,” drawled Paul.

I smiled. “Let’s go to bed then.”

“Don’t have to ask me twice.”

Leaning down, he pulled me close. Then he nuzzled my neck, biting at my ear. I went limp and he picked me up and carried me upstairs to his room. It was dark and warm. Paul laid me down on his bed and pulled off my black spy boots and spy socks. He tugged on my black spy jeans until my hips gave in and they slid off too. Sliding on top of me, he pulled up my black, knit, spy sweater and pulled it over my head. I lay there in his bed, under his warm body, feeling his chest hairs tickling my cleavage. I shuddered.

“Are you cold?” asked Paul.

“A little,” I replied – big lie. I was never cold here. How could a Northerner like myself ever be cold in Los Angeles? Where I came from, we would wear shorts at the first sight of the sun and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Paul stood up and whipped off his own black spy t-shirt, undid his black spy leather belt, and let his black spy jeans drop to the floor. After kicking off his black spy boots, he climbed into bed with me.

“You forgot your spy socks,” I reminded him. I couldn’t stand a guy that slept with socks on. That was just creepy.

Groaning, Paul rolled over and took off his black spy socks, dramatically tossing them to the side of the bed. He pulled the comforter over us like a big, fluffy, warm cloud.

(Fantastic sex scene omitted here and available when book is published.......)

“I love you,” I told him.
Paul looked me straight in the eyes. “You have no idea how much I love you, Ms. Pushkin.”

I stared back at him. “I think I do. I’m just glad that you do so much.” I kissed him full on the lips and then nipped at his bottom lip. His beard was growing in and it felt weird against my teeth.

“Lois, I couldn’t deal with this nightmare if you weren’t here. You’re like my cosmic partner. You always know exactly what I’m all about, how I feel, and how to be with me.” Paul drifted away for a bit. “You’re a part of me that I didn’t even know I was missing until I met you. I guess that’s why I couldn’t let you go after the marble yard encounter. I can’t ever let you go now.”

My eyes stung. I blinked the pending tears away. No one had ever said anything remotely like that to me my entire life. Well, maybe my daddy, but he had died when I was little. I had wanted to say those exact words to Paul for so long, but I hadn’t known what they were. The symbiosis we had was eerie, but spiritual and unquestioning for me. I wrapped my arms around his neck, salty tears running down his chest. “I know, babe, I know.”

As I drifted off to sleep, I started thinking again about a possible future with Paul. Maybe this was the start of the future and I should live in this present. Would we get married? Would I actually have kids? I shuddered. Paul pulled my closer and wrapped the comforter around me, wrapping me up like a bug in a rug. Ugh! Now I really was hot. Before falling asleep, I managed to release my bonds and relax into my last waking thought. Please find out something good, Guy.

Chapter 21

Paul and I screamed as well, but to each other in shock and surprise. Us? We shot down the boulevard, my poor little Subaru screaming under the strain. Wild eyed and with our jaws hanging open, we were literally vaklemped. Several blocks later, we escaped into the Trader Vic’s parking lot at the Beverly Hills Hilton. Sitting in the dark of the bar, our booth illuminated with a little tea light, we chanted “Oh, shit” until we laughed ourselves hoarse. Then we sipped on fruity drinks and munched on chi-chi (but still fried) appetizers in bewildered silence.

“Darlinnnn…” someone purred into my ear. Gripping my seat, I slowly, cautiously turned to find Jasmine standing at our table, hand on her hip, toes turned out to accentuate her figure. “What are you doing here getting sloshed in the middle of the day? Shouldn’t you have your little nose to the grindstone in that cute boutique office of yours in the oh so trendy Wiltern?”

I pointed over at Paul, who leaned forward into the tea light. Jasmine let out a gasp of surprise and looked from him to me. “What are you doing here with him?”

I looked at Paul, who just shrugged his shoulders. “Um, sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, but, well, Paul and I are together.”

Jasmine promptly dropped her pose and slid into the booth next to Paul. Totally focusing on me, she continued, “What? Are you kidding me? When? How? Why?”

“What do you mean ‘Why’? Look at him. Why not?” I shot back.

“Thanks babe,” said Paul. “Nice to know you’re with me for my looks.” Paul smiled and turned back to Jasmine, who was having trouble controlling some emotion I couldn’t quite make out in the shadows of the tea light. I squeezed Paul’s leg. It was warm.

“Lois, you should not have kept this from me,” Jasmine said in unusually clipped tones. “How long has it been that you two have been together?” Her very expensively manicured finger ping-ponged back and forth between Paul and me.

“No offense, Jas, but since when are you my mother?” I was curious aboutt her new attitude. I was also tipsy enough to put aside the fact that she was my best referral that I tried hard never to offend or embarrass.

“This is all a shock. Is it not enough that Kip is gone and no one knows why?” Jasmine dabbed at her eyes with a Hermes handkerchief. “Now I find that you, Lois, have taken up with this man, a man who labors with his hands and carries dirt and filth around on his clothes.”

As I recall, Jesus labored with his hands.

She continued, “I wanted you to succeed, Lois. You had so much potential. You were perfect for the right man with means. That is why I pushed Kip to hire you.”

“OK, stop right there.” I put my drink down and lit a cigarette. This was making me nervous.
She was starting to sound exactly like my mother. I squinted into the darkness. No, it was still Jasmine. “What do you mean?”

“I wanted you in a position to meet someone who could give you the lifestyle you deserve. You struggle so much, darling. Working at what you do is not going to make you rich.” Jasmine continued to dab at her eyes. “You deserve better.”

“Fuck you.” I said it. “Fuck you.” I said it again.

I could hear Paul breathing, the warmth flowing over my neck and collar bone. “Jasmine, I think it’s time for you to leave,” he told her. “No one is in a good place right now. The cops will figure out what happened to Kip. I know that you’re hurting and you’re taking it out on Lois.”

Jasmine turned and glared at Paul. “Bastard! You didn’t deserve Kip and you don’t deserve her!” She gestured at me.

Then Jasmine stood up to leave, poised as ever. Turning on her toe, she looked me right in the eyes and said, “Stupid, silly girl. You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself involved with. TTFN.”

What the fuck! All right! I had to know once and for all. I started to slide out of the booth, but Paul grabbed my arm, “Where are you going? She can’t help it. She was in love with Kip.”

“It’s not about her. I want to know what that god damn fucking ‘TTFN’ means!” I hissed.

“Well, I know what it means so sit your drunk ass down and be calm,” said Paul, pulling me back into the booth next to him.

“How would you know?” I demanded, arms crossed, daring him to educate me.

“ ‘Cause I’m an uncle, that’s how.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” I demanded again.

“It has to do with Winnie the Pooh. Tigger says it all the time,” he explained. “It means ‘Ta-ta for now’.”

I gasped. “You have got to be kidding? I have been plagued by a rich bitch’s use of a term from a children’s story?”

Paul smiled in affirmation.

“I thought I was so old and uncool that I didn’t know what that meant,” I confided. “And I was killing myself over a children’s story. Bitch.”


I looked over at Paul. He was an uncle. How come I didn’t know that? I knew who his mechanic was and the name of his gardener, but I hadn’t known he was an uncle. I am an idiot in the forest of trees.

“Do you think it’s safe to leave?” I asked.

Paul thought for a second. “Yeah, if they haven’t found us by now, I don’t think they’d still be out looking for us.”

We shimmied out of the booth and made our way to the front door. There were no suspicious characters in the parking lot, so we got the valet to get my Subaru. Paul drove back to my place so I could check on Brian and Kash.

No cat greeted us at the door when we arrived. That worried me. I checked the doors for forced entry. Would someone steal Kash? Would they hold him for ranson and blackmail me
until I confessed to Faraday’s murder? Wait, what would they have to blackmail me with? I think kidnapping my cat would be enough leverage. I stepped across the threshold into the kitchen and continued to the slider. As soon as I clicked the lever, Kash’s head popped up from the couch outside. So he was cheating on me with Brian. Caught you in the act, cat!

Kash looked at me with half-lidded eyes, yawned, and then stretched his legs over the back of the couch. Brian’s head instantly shot up as I’m sure Kash had dug his hind claws into his thighs. He looked at us with glazed eyes and then lazily waved when he saw that it was just us. Well, at least everything was right with this world. Paul went out on the patio to talk with Brian while I gathered up more clothes and amenities that I needed over at Paul’s. I wondered if Paul would give me a drawer? Better yet, a dresser. Did Paul even own a dresser for himself? I would have to check. Maybe I was getting ahead of myself. Just pack your suitcase, Pushkin.

Paul came back in and we set out. He had briefed Brian on what had happened to us at the lawyer’s office and told him not to answer my phone or the door. Brian was also to call us everyday and update us. And I needed him to take care of the apartments while I was gone. Let the tenants know that I had a ‘family emergency’. With any luck, my picture wouldn’t end up on any tabloids to dispel this white lie.

Chaptee 20

We made our way over to Westwood for our scheduled appointment with Paul’s lawyer’s office. As we pulled into the parking garage under a huge marble edifice rising above, the dollar signs started reeling around in my head. I knew I couldn’t afford these people. I was beginning to wish I had stuck with my mother’s lawyer friend. My eyes must’ve been as big as saucers because Paul grabbed my hand to bring me back down to Earth.

“Don’t worry about the cost, babe,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Yeah, like you have the money for these fancy cats. I can’t ask you to do that for me,” I said. “If they’re as good as you say, then they’re worth all my dollars. I’ll spend the rest of my life paying them back if it’ll keep my fanny out jail.”

Paul laughed, “I’ll help you out then, OK? They are worth every penny and they’ll get the cops off of our backs. The statements from this office should keep the authorities at bay and give us some peace.”

We ascended in the lavish, silent elevator to the higher floors of the marble-clad monolith. The doors opened onto a compact, but sophisticated and tailored lobby with an equally tailored receptionist sporting a high-tech, silver Janet Jackson headset with nails to match.

Immediately, we were seated to wait complete with complimentary mimosas. Presently, we were shown into a small conference room with a round table of Brazilian walnut surrounded by modern, hand-stiched leather chairs in a complementary chocolate color. The room was small and understated, but rich with wood paneling to match the table and a million-dollar view of Westwood and Beverly Hills. I felt like Charlie in the Great Glass Elevator. In this room, my life would now move in all sorts of new directions. Was I capable of staying in control? Paul sat next to me, facing the view and we waited for his lawyer.

Soon, a young man, possibly Brian’s age, came in and greeted us. He introduced himself as Ari. Ari informed us that he and the senior counselor for our account would be taking our statements. His boss arrived shortly after and greeted Paul heartily. They embraced and Paul introduced me to Clive Blackwell, his corporate lawyer. I looked at Paul questioningly – didn’t we need a criminal lawyer?

Mr. Blackwell spoke up. “Don’t worry, ma’am. Before I succumbed to the lure of the big bucks, I was a defense attorney in Newark.”

New Jersey. East Coast. Seeing the mischievous gleam in his eye, the word Mafia floated through my brain. I smiled my best “Oh shit” smile and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

As Paul and I took turns giving our statements and the young lawyer scribed furiously and monitored the tape recorder, I began to feel more at ease. These guys were going to be worth every penny. The spin and sparkle that our statements were taking on were simply gorgeous and hypnotizing. I was relaxing and enjoying the view when the receptionist came into the room
bearing a tray of drinks in sparkling, heavy, highball glasses. Baccarat, of course. The bicep in her beautifully tanned serving arm was taut with tension, but she moved with effortless grace, balancing her charge as if it were a powder puff. I took the glass she offered and sniffed it. Whiskey and soda water. Mmm, delicious. Tasted like Ballentines. No expense spared, even for those low on the economic totem pole. I think I melted in my chair. I would’ve nodded off if I hadn’t caught Paul staring at the receptionist. I went to kick him in the shins. No, wait, he was dictating something to her and she was writing it down. My head turned to fuzz and I resumed enjoying my different view of the world.

After I didn’t know how long, my reverie was interrupted again by the receptionist, this time bearing coffee. Thank God. I think I would’ve relaxed right into the Aubusson carpet. Perking up from the first sip of the rich, silky, obviously European-roasted coffee, I sat up straighter in my chair and tuned in.

Paul reached for my hand and held it while we listened to Mr. Blackwell tell us our next steps and what we should expect. Also, what our rights were as suspects and what the police could and could not expect of us. We were to call him at any sign of harassment or if we were suddenly arrested. Well, duh.

“Thank you so much for agreeing to do this for us,” I said shaking Clive and Ari’s hands as we were leaving. “I will spend the rest of my life paying your invoice.”

Clive laughed and the young lawyer ducked out of the room. “Don’t worry ma’am. We’ll make sure that you’re taken care of. You have a good man here in Mr. Atkinson. And he is very lucky to have you.”

Shouldn’t he have meant that I was the lucky one to have Paul? Did he think I was paying Paul’s bill? I looked over at Paul, confused as usual when trying to understand this inner
sanctum of the wealthy and its accoutrements. Paul was shaking his head and smiling.

“Clive, you were always the smooth talker. Must be what kept you alive and allowed you to walk away from it all,” Paul chided him in a friendly manner. “Thank you and we’ll keep in touch.”

“I’ll see you at the memorial service,” said Clive. “How are you doing with the eulogy? I know it’s probably the hardest task for anyone to do.”

Paul shook his head. “Yes, I have to work on that. With the statements out now, I hope to have the time to do Kip justice.”

I looked at Paul, “Memorial service? When is that? When was that decided?” That had thrown me for a loop and I was embarrassed that I had not known. My eyes stung as I looked at Paul, hurt that he was hiding this horrendous task from me.

“Now, don’t look at me like that,” Paul pleaded. “I forgot about it myself. Only today did the receptionist here remind me. With all that’s been going on, keeping my mind off of Kip’s funeral is what’s been keeping me going.”

I looked at him closely. There were dark circles under his eyes and his face looked worn. He had a 2-day growth of beard and his lips looked chapped. (Although I thought that I was guilty of that last detail.)

My voice came out strained and a little scratchy. “So do you have to plan the service and notify family and friends?” That all seemed gi-normous and not within the realm of Paul’s skills.

Paul exhaled audibly. “Thankfully, no. Kip had planned his own memorial service while he was still alive and his entertainment coordinator is taking care of every detail. I was asked to do the eulogy only.”

Ah, yes. The entertainment coordinator. I should’ve guessed. Was this the posthumous continuation of the three-ring circus that was Faraday’s life or finally the grand finale? Had he scripted himself in death? Funeralpalooza?

Clive had been watching me and chuckled. “That was Kip. I wasn’t ever one of his personal lawyers, but we did hear the stories of how he planned out everything to maintain the ultimate control. Except, of course, where Charlene was concerned.”

Interesting. I waited for Clive to go on with more elusive Charlene information, but he didn’t.

“Now, stay out of trouble. Don’t call attention to yourselves,” warned Clive, “and don’t talk to the media.”

Yeah, like the media would want to talk to small fries like us. The receptionist escorted us to another bank of elevators and accompanied us down to what was the back lobby. Guess it was her coffee break. We continued down to the parking garage to get the car. Pulling it out onto a side street, we rounded up back onto Wilshire. There, we saw the receptionist outside the building fending off a throng of reporters, their camera people, and TV vans. That would make sense in the timeline. Word would’ve gotten out that these lawyers were Faraday’s lawyers. I was sure the world wanted to know what was to become of his estate and heirs. They could care less how he died.

As we continued on our way down Wilshire, past the mass of news people, one reporter looked right at me. As I turned away to say something to Paul, I heard her scream, “It’s them!”