returns to P&D in...
2: Cut to the Chase
I FEIGNED DISBELIEF
FOR A FORMER SCHOOLMATE: “That can’t be true.” I felt a bit
guilty after saying it and decided to shut up.
“I think so, man. It’s the celebrity thing. She’s
surrounded all the time with handsome movie stars, actors, rich guys.”
“You’re rich,” I pointed out.
He blew a raspberry and shrugged: “So what? I ain’t the only
one. She doesn’t know who her real friends are anymore. She
can’t talk to me, we always fight. Lately she can’t even act,
she’s too preoccupied.”
”You want me to talk to her?”
“I want you to check things out.”
“Talk to her as a friend?” I asked, “Or are you wanting me to
“Investigate? Yeah, absolutely, I just couldn’t come out and say
it.” Bobby blinked and shook his head. He heaved himself
out of the swivel chair behind the desk, his slacks rasping as he
paced. Whiskers bristled darkly on his unshaven face.
Memories roiled like storm clouds behind his
I sat down in the chair in front of his desk and did a bit of
remembering on my own. “Is she still friends with Robin?”
He nodded. “That’s not going to cause a problem, is it?”
I hoped I sounded convincing. “No. I’ll give her a call, I still
have her number. What about Alena’s other friends?”
“Like I said, amigo, she
don’t know who her friends are these days. But the ones she has
sure don’t talk to me.”
Which translated to they probably wouldn’t talk with me either.
Bobby said, “I moved into my brother’s place. Just for a while.”
I weighed my words before saying anything. “Are you sure you want
me to nose around? You might not like what I find out.”
“I gotta know, Felix. Alena’s cheated on me before.”
That I knew too well. If Bobby knew, he never said anything to me
about it. Melissa -- or Alena as I’d come to think of her -- and
I bumped into each other at a party in L.A. right after she got her
contract with Silver Cinema. Business commitments had Bobby, then
Alena’s manager, out of town. She drank too much and I was a
familiar face. We left the party together. That night I
hadn’t behaved like much of a friend of Bobby’s. He and I never
had been really close, but we saw each other once or twice a year,
usually when I did some work for Silver Cinema. Each time I
wondered if that would be the time he’d bust me in the mouth for it.
I was afraid to ask, “Did she tell you who with?”
He turned his back to me and studied something outside the
window. Crumpling up an empty cigarette pack he rummaged through
a drawer, produced a fresh pack. He lit up again, jammed his
lighter back in his pocket. “Lots of guys. It doesn’t
matter who, I’m over it.”
Sure he was. “Last chance, do you really want me digging for
dirt? You know what they say about the truth hurts
sometimes?” He already looked hurt.
“I said I wanna know. Find out for me, Felix. Investigate
“I’ll sound her out for you for nothing. A favor to a
friend. If I go to work I’m a hundred bucks a day.”
He took two crisp fifties out of an alligator wallet, handed them to
me. “That’ll get you started. Okay?”
“No contract for this little caper, Bobby?”
“Nah! This is personal, not company business.”
I stood up and said nothing.
He broke the silence: “So . . . you going to see her?”
“That seems like the best way to go about it since we know each
other. She may just blurt out what’s wrong to me. She still
live on Mulholland?”
“Yeah. Call whenever you find anything out, I don’t care what it
is. Or what time it is. Okay?”
I told him I would.
“You gonna do this today?”
I patted him on the shoulder. “Sure. Right now.”
I put his money in my billfold and
walked around the building to the parking lot where I’d left my
car. Who first, Alena or Robin? Mulholland was closer and
Alena the actual subject in question. Why involve Robin
unnecessarily? As an ex-school chum, I should be welcome at
Alena’s mansion in the hills. Feelings do exist between us but
not romantic ones. Our one night together had never evolved
Robin was another story; maybe I wanted
a reason to see her.
The movie and my conference with Bobby lasted through lunch and my
stomach was growling. It so happened one of my favorite Italian
restaurants was near Robin’s bungalow. That was out of the
way. It would be easier to just call her, eat somewhere
else. It made no sense but I decided to go see her first.
I never did stop to eat.
Never gave Veronica, my girlfriend, a thought.
I drove east into Glendale where Robin lived. Abruptly her
unmistakable red flivver turned out of her suburb and zipped down the
street ahead of me. If she saw my car, I doubted she’d remember
it. Just the sight of her caused my heart to pound. I
cursed myself and lit a cigarette, threw it out of the car after two
Keeping some distance between us I followed her. We wound up in a
modest neighborhood in Pasadena. I sped up to get closer behind
her but still kept about a block between us. When I saw her brake
lights I rolled over to the curb.
She pulled into the driveway of a house where an enormous avocado tree
dominated the front yard. The tree plunged the front of the house
into murky darkness in the early afternoon. Robin crossed its
shadow to the front porch with a big purse tucked under her arm.
She knocked on the door and a man appeared in the doorway. My
heart pounded even harder still. I glimpsed Robin hugging him
before they disappeared out of sight into the house.
My heart sank. I reached for my cigarettes and sat there and
smoked. I turned on the radio. I lit new cigarettes from
the old ones. I turned off the radio.
After fidgeting a moment, I slid out of my car and strolled down the
toward the house. I cleaned my sunglasses on my tie as I walked,
squinting into the sunlight. Before I took ten steps I froze.
Robin strode purposefully through the front door carrying both her big
purse and a cat. She fired up the flivver and quit the
scene. When she backed out I saw she would be heading in my
direction. She would see me if I didn’t act fast. I went up
to the door of the first house I came to and pretended to knock.
As her red Ford drove by I had my back to the street. I looked
after her, she paid no attention to me.
What a waste, I’d lost her! By the time I made it back to my
wheels half a block away she would be on the Pasadena freeway.
I wondered whether to make the drive to Alena’s place or try to find
Robin. With a cat in hand she’d likely return home rather than
take it shopping or with her to get her nails done. A year ago,
before Veronica, when I’d dated Robin she owned an orange tabby.
The cat she had carried was gray. Maybe she’d acquired another
cat. Maybe she was only cat-sitting the gray one. Who knew?
I switched the radio back on to mull things over. My mouth was
dry from all the cigarettes so I didn’t light another. Should I
knock on the door of the house with the avocado tree? Good
afternoon, sir, I’m selling subscriptions to The Times; do you take the
paper? I sat there undecided when another car turned into the
driveway of the house. A big white Cad. A woman emerged
from it, a knit cap pulled down over her hair did a good job of
obscuring her features, the kind of hat called a cloche. The
woman teetered on high heels through the yard and up three steps to the
Unlike Robin, the girl in the cloche walked in like she owned the
place, without knocking. Having learned my lesson, I stayed put
and watched the house. Less than a minute later I saw the knit
cap moving in the shadows of the avocado tree. Her head ducked
out of sight and she was in her car before I could see her face.
What the hell was going on? Was no one home or were they dealing
dope out of the place? In the space of fifteen minutes two women
had been in and out of that house, one with a cat.
The Cad bumped out of the driveway. It raced my way and hurtled
by my car parked at the curb. Behind the tinted windshield the
lady with the knit cap was crying.
Even disguised in big sunglasses and the cloche I recognized her.
It was Alena...
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