Gumshoe Felix Driscoll
takes on the case of...

The Wrong Twin

A 6-Chapter Hard Boiler!

by Darryl Crawford
About the author


Episode 1: Many Faces


I had had a lunch date with Veronica, the beautiful new girl over at the bail bond place by the courthouse.  When she agreed to go out with me, I considered myself lucky.  She’d come out west in hope of being in pictures and possessed both the looks and the proportions.  Unfortunately she also possessed a prominent Bronx accent, a mountain too tall for dialect coaches to climb.

Hollywood’s loss became Bailey’s Bail Bonds’ gain.

Veronica accepted this cruel turn of events in her career with an optimist’s smile, but she wasn’t smiling when I breezed in that morning.  She pouted so hard her bottom lip stuck out like a diving board.

“You look like you’re in a good mood,” I said, glad I hadn’t embarrassed myself bringing her flowers.

“Your answering service just called.”

“So what?  I’ll call them when we get back from lunch.  Ready?”

She still pouted.  “They said it was an emergency.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll check in real quick and then we’ll go.”  The words sounded hollow to me, probably to her, too.

“I suppose you want to use the phone?”

I said, smiling while I reached across her desk for it, “Don’t be difficult.  This is not past tense.”

“Oh right,” said a voice full of Bronx irony, “sure it’s not.”

I dialed my service.  I was told: “You have an extremely flush prospect.  A Mrs. Starling up in Malibu.  Where the real estate separates the haves from the have nots.”

“I’ll say.  Did she say what she wanted?”

“Call her immediately, it’s of the utmost importance, something involving a large retainer.”

I jotted down the phone number recited to me, hung up sighing.

Daggers flashed in Veronica’s eyes.  “You’ll have to use the payphone in the hall if it’s long distance,” she stated in a display of seriousness.  She even stretched a little behind her desk, to show me what I’d be missing.  Her sweater rode up over her stomach an inch.  She had a nice belly button.  When she saw me looking, she pulled her sweater back down.

I sighed again and went out into the hall to call Mrs. Starling. She answered on the first ring.

“I’m Felix Driscoll, you contacted my office.”

“Oh yes, the private detective.”  She spoke in a contralto, urgent but a welcome change from the bray of the Bronx blonde.  “You come highly recommended.  I need you to do some work for me.  You’re very good at finding people, or so I’m told.  Are you free to start immediately?”

Without much reluctance I said yes.

“Mr. Driscoll, it’s inconvenient for me to come to your office,” she said.  “And I don’t really want you coming here to my home.  Could we meet somewhere?”

“I’m flexible.  Wherever you’d like.”

Mrs. Starling suggested a coffee shop down from Malibu on the Pacific Coast Highway.  We agreed to meet there.

“One more thing,” Mrs. Starling said before I could hang up.

“What’s that?”

“Do you carry a gun?  I suppose you have to have a license.”

“Yes, Mrs. Starling, I’m registered.”

“I’m sure it won’t be necessary, but please bring one with you.”

“I don’t always strap on the artillery, but if it’ll make you feel better.”

“It will, Mr. Driscoll.  Goodbye.”

I went back to see if Veronica wanted to have dinner instead, but she’d already left for lunch. I saw old man Bailey standing around scowling and ducked out of there myself.

Doubling back to my office for a pistol didn’t even leave me time enough for a bag of chips.  Malibu is not a long drive from West Hollywood.  I took Santa Monica Boulevard to the Pacific Coast Highway and went north.  Starting just after noon I arrived about one.  The coffee shop where we were to meet was a typical postwar art-deco monstrosity.  Only two parking spaces out front had cars occupying them.  I parked facing the ocean.  Gulls rode the thermals above the shimmering water.  A fierce wind whipped my tie.

Anticipating a big lunch, I’d skipped breakfast.  I at least wanted to use my comb and maybe grab a quick bite before meeting with my client, but no such luck.  A hostess asked if my name was Driscoll as soon as I entered.  Mrs. Starling was waiting for me at a table in the back.  Would I care to step this way, please?

I was going to have to go hungry.

The Starling woman wasn’t as old as I’d imagined her to be over the phone, but she was fifty easy.  Her friends would refer to her as a handsome woman.  She wore a sun dress and an oversized pair of sunglasses.  All that remained in a Martini glass in front of her on the tabletop was an olive pierced with a plastic sword.  She did not ask the hostess to bring more drinks or, better yet, a late lunch. She merely gestured for me to sit.

That urgent contralto warbled: “You’re late, Mr. Driscoll.”

I shrugged.  “You wanted me to pick up a gun, Mrs. Starling.”

“And did you?  Pick one up, that is.”

“I did.” I patted the left side of my jacket.

She sat staring at me and I was aware of my hair being awry and my tie amiss.  But she forgave me before long and got down to cases.  “I apologize for being unable to receive you in my home.  I don’t want the neighbors speculating on who you are or what you’re doing or why.  I hope we won’t be seen by anyone who knows me.”  She paused to light a cigarette.  Normally she would’ve let me light it for her but she was in a hurry.  “God knows this is far enough away from Malibu.  This must be kept confidential.”

“It will be,” I assured her.  The unmistakable scent of frying bacon floated on a draft of air. 

“I want you to find my daughter, without involving the police.”

I put my appetite out of my mind.  I got a little notebook out of my jacket pocket.  “When did you see her last?”   

“I spoke with her on the phone a week ago.”  Today was Friday.  “Dana said she was getting married.  I told her I had yet to see the engagement ring, let alone meet the man who gave it to her.”

“Do you know his name?”

“Vinnie something.”

“No last name or you don’t know it?”

“If Dana told me I don’t remember.”

“Is there anything to indicate your daughter may be in danger?”

“Dana was supposed to have come visit me last weekend.  She didn’t and she didn’t call.  I talked to her roommate before I phoned your office this morning.  She said she hadn’t seen Dana either.  But she thought she might be with this Vinnie character.”

“Does Dana’s roommate know Vinnie?’

“Apparently.  And doesn’t like him.”

“Are you basing all your suspicion on this one person’s dislikes?”

I’m not sure if it got a rise out of her, but she audibly exhaled smoke through her nostrils.  “Don’t be ridiculous.  It’s more than Dana just canceling her weekend plans.  This Vinnie may be some kind of,” she hesitated, “of gangland figure.”

I wondered if that’s why she suggested bringing the gun.  I said easily, “Says who?  The roommate?”

She tapped ashes in an ashtray, gave a slight nod for yes.

“I’d like to talk with this friend of your daughter’s.  What’s her name?”   

She told me, and the address, showed me a recent snapshot of her daughter and the roommate at the beach.  She pointed to one of the girls and said: “This one’s Dana.  They look a lot alike.”

“They certainly do.  Twins almost.”

“Both of them blonde, very beautiful.”

“Your daughter is lovely enough to be a screen actress.”

“I’ve seen beauty be the downfall of many a young girl.”  She spoke as if from experience, and seemed sad enough to cry.

To change the subject I quoted her double my regular rate.  The Starling woman didn’t bat an eye.  Her personal check felt heavy in my wallet.

I promised her I’d be in touch and got up from the table.

“Mr. Driscoll,” she said before I left.

“Yes, Mrs. Starling.”

“Find my daughter and find out about . . . this man of hers.”

“You can count on me,” I said as I left.

Outside the afternoon sun had heated the pavement enough to burn through the soles of my shoes.  I got in my car and sat squinting at the dazzling sea.  The noisy gulls rose and fell with the surf, their cries ripped away by the wind.

Dana Starling shared an apartment in Topanga Beach with a girl named Lisa Trowell.

A short drive brought me to a prewar stucco apartment building with four wilted palms lining the sidewalk.  The wind from the sea blew only heat and a little sand through the breezeways.  Somebody had taped a handwritten out-of-order sign to one of the elevator doors.  I took the stairs.  Sweat collected around the straps of the shoulder holster and, by the time I’d finished my climb, rolled down my back.  A trek through a maze of corridors finally brought me to the right door.  I knocked, mopping the inside of my collar with a handkerchief, waited for a response and got none.

More knocking resulted in nothing.

I looked up and down the corridor.  Not a soul in sight.  From my wallet I took a square of plastic and wedged it between the jamb and the lock while turning the knob with my other hand.  The door opened and I let myself in.  Lazy planks of light angled through the blinds, dim but enough to see by.

I stood inside a cozy little living room with framed portraits on the walls.  Two or three of a long-haired girl who was probably Dana in prior years, but all the rest were pictures of who I guessed to be Lisa Trowell.  One artful shot looked like a clever double exposure of Lisa and an identically-dressed twin.  The rest of the poses ran a gamut of hairstyles and costumes.  Lisa had many faces, and moods.

In the small kitchen I found nothing out of the ordinary but the bathroom contained only one toothbrush.  One bedroom had an unmade bed and a litter of cosmetics on the dressing table.  The other had dust on the furniture and very few clothes in the closet.  When I opened several drawers in a bureau beside a neatly-made bed I discovered them empty of any items of consequence.  The apartment gave the appearance of two inhabitants when there was probably only one.

As I stepped into the corridor again, I wondered if Dana had already run off and gotten married.  Back through the maze and back down the stairs I went.

I found the landlord downstairs scooping debris out of the pool with a net attached to the end of a long pole.  He had large sad eyes and a drooping belly.  Sweat darkened his undershirt and soaked through the waistline of his khakis.  Any distraction provided an excuse for a break.  He took a business card I handed him emblazoned with the name of a life insurance firm out of Santa Barbara.  I explained Miss Trowell needed to sign some paperwork before her policy became effective.  I could leave it with Miss Starling if necessary, I offered, just to see what it would get me.

The landlord said, scratching a jowl, “I’m sure I haven’t seen her in . . . it must be weeks now.”

To avoid tipping my hand, I chose my words casually: “I wonder if she still lives here?”

“Imagine so, I’m still getting the rent anyway.”  He thought for a second, “Yeah, they’re like sisters, those two.”

“They look a lot alike?”

“Yeah.  They could be twins.”

“Could you have mistaken one for the other?”.

“Sure, I guess.”  Once started, I couldn’t staunch the flow of information.  Lisa got home about ten, she worked as a waitress at a seafood restaurant.  Did I want to know how to get there?

One thought cheered me on my way: a jumbo shrimp platter with French frieds...

On to Episode 2 :Dangerous Men

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The Wrong Twin is copyright by Darryl Crawford. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)