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!”