I’ve been filling holes in the SepScene project. I jumped from the body to the police station with information out of the ether — here’s a rough of that ether chapter. Long read. Blow it off if you want. This fulfills my need for deadlines.
I pulled the bottle of Scotch Ms. Lorelei Laurier left behind out of my bottom desk drawer, wiped out a coffee cup, and poured myself a quick drink. A dead fat man, an edgy client related to same, knowing I’d have to tell the cops what I knew about it which was next to nothing. None of that required sticking my nose in a bottle looking for answers. Although it was a nice bottle, and the liquor was liquid gold.
I thought I’d have a while to wait, wished I’d eaten something and was working out what that might have been when Lorelei let herself in. She turned to shut the door and swished, the way women move when they are secure in who they are, what they’re doing. Even in an evening coat at one AM after finding her grandfather dead in the family digs. She sat across from me, deliberately, without pretense. Like we’d known each other for years, not since roughly twelve hours ago.
“I should apologize for getting you mixed up in this.”
“In this what?” I leaned across the desk, lit her cigarette. “I haven’t been on the job long enough to know what I don’t know, much less what I should know.”
“Elliptical, but well said.” She watched me take a hit from the coffee cup, glanced around the office. “Is that coffee?”
“Scotch. Your Scotch.”
“Is there another cup, or do we share?”
I pulled a cup out of my desk, wiped it down.
“On second thought,” she rose, brushed imaginary wrinkles out of her coat. “I think coffee would be better. And you will want to speak with Trevor. Coming?”
“I don’t know his name, but he seems competent. Sullen. Could stand to wash his hair.”
“You took a cab?”
“Our building has several limousines and drivers on call. I asked for the least ostentatious model available. They obliged.”
Lorelei had no preferences in coffee shops, and the driver knew squat except for franchises. I gave him directions to a Brazilian place called Lito’s, a few blocks off Sunset in West Hollywood where the coffee will stand your hair on end. It’s in the same block as an infamous after-hours bar so the clientèle ranges from hard partying movie stars, musicians, lost dopers, drunks of all types and people like Lorelei and me, all looking for some jet fuel to finish out the night. A small, dark man with wiry hair named Bernie, or Barney or Barley runs the place. In five or six years I haven’t been able to make out his name exactly because everyone who works there speaks some blend of Mex and Portuguese at speeds approaching the sound barrier.
We took a seat on worn, red-vinyl-topped stools at a cement countertop littered with mismatched dining accessory and condiment holders all overloaded with sugar, fake sugar, dried milk packets, bent forks and dull knives. I held up two fingers, and within seconds, two large coffee cups with a dark muddy mix in the bottom landed along with a small white beaker of cream. Lorelei tilted her cup, inspected the muddy paste in the bottom.
“Americain!” She snapped her fingers and again in a matter of seconds a small white and blue refugee from a Japanese restaurant teapot full of boiling water appeared in front of us. She poured cream and a sugar packet in her cup, added water, and stirred.
“Been here before?”
“In Italy. Spain. South America. Nowhere else do they drink coffee the way we do.”
I mixed my coffee without the sugar. “The pie is worth the atmosphere.”
“It better be.” She held the cup with both hands, let the steam warm her face. “I thought you’d take me somewhere intimate. For our talk.”
“We can talk here. If they understand us, they’re too wasted for it to register, or they don’t care. The help has no idea what we’re saying.”
“I’m starting to appreciate you being unpredictable.” She tested her coffee. “There’s nothing much to tell that you don’t already know. Someone had been sending my grandfather telegrams and letters, and they upset him. Upset him enough to meet with his lawyers after a visit from a tall, younger man.”
“You’d recognize this man?”
“No, I only saw him from the back. He was going down the hall to the rear elevator when I got off the lobby car.”
“You know he was young how?”
“No hat, a full head of sandy hair. Square shoulders, long stride.” She glanced down. “Noticing physiques is… habit. I’ve studied horses since before I can remember.” She turned, her expression earnest. “I didn’t know he’d been in the apartment until I walked in. Grandfather and Grandmother were in a real scrap. ‘Do you know what that bastard wanted?’ and ‘So what’ was the gist. The old man gave me a shot of his steam, so I heeled it long enough for them to get sorted.”
“Your guess is as good as mine. They’d wrangle, they’d get over it. It’s been worse since the Sausalito trip.”
“The picture you showed me. Their troubles heated up after that? April or May?”
“That’s when Grandfather heated up, started leaning on her harder.”
“What’s more often than often?” She’d finished what she wanted of her coffee, stared at her hands in her lap.
“Not tonight.” She opened her purse, laid three times more folding money on the counter than needed, swished off the stool. She stopped at the door, checked her lipstick in the glass, pulled the handle. “Let’s go to Trevor’s and get this night over with.”
Trevor’s place was a weekly apartment in an adobe-being-replaced shotgun style two story off Fairfax called Hacienda Javier. It was outfitted with clinging-for-their-lives window unit air conditioners and a few plywood-covered windows. The sign out front stating “Pardon Our Dust – We’re Improving!” looked weathered. In this part of town, and this time of night the crime rate required an elevated level of vigilance, so I removed my pocket .380 from its holster, put it in my jacket pocket, safety off. After he’d parked, the chauffeur opened the glove box and lifted out an old war model pistol that took .45 slugs or .410 shotgun shells. We made eye contact, but no conversation. I’d need to get his business card before everyone unhooked for the night.
Lorelei knocked on the door of #8. From behind it came the sounds of deep coughing, bolts sliding and chains rattling before the door cracked open. Lorelei waited a few seconds, pushed the door inward.
“Trevor?” Lorelei spoke with a gentleness I hadn’t heard. He answered with more coughing. I hit the light switch and got a feeble yellow glow from a table lamp by the bed for my effort. Trevor leaned out of the bathroom in a hooded bathrobe, a scarf around his neck, black circles under his eyes.
“Sorry, Lori…” He wheezed, coughed, turned, and treated us to puke and splatter toilet noises. He coughed out, “Still feel like shit, girl.”
I moved closer to the bathroom door. “Tell me about tonight, Trevor.”
“Who the hell are you?” His voice a mixture of concrete mixer scratching and mouth marbles.
“Trevor, this is Mr. Meyers. The man I told you about?”
“Fuck him.” He spit into the toilet. “You, too. Sorry Lori, I can’t…” he broke into a coughing fit. “Tommy. Tommy S… I can’t talk, Lori. To nobody.”
She edged closer to the bathroom, turned her confused face my way.
“I told you he’d back out of it.” I wanted to rip the door off the bathroom, grab him by the throat, make him man up, but didn’t want to get that close to his cough and splatter routine. It’s also bad practice to thump a client’s sick boyfriend for being a jerk. At least in front of her.
While Lorelei pleaded with him, I went through his closet and dresser. One good, new suit and a pair of recently shined shoes in the closet. Socks, underwear, and a week’s worth of folded shirts with a cleaner’s band around them. His wallet was reasonably new, contained a Pennsylvania driving license, $311, and a receipt from a drugstore. After the fifteenth repetition of his “I can’t, Lori. It’s Tommy, I can’t” litany I stepped over, caught Lorelei’s arm. “He’s useless.” I raised my chin to the front door. “And we’re done.”
She backed away from the bathroom door, and Trevor reappeared. His macabre appearance enhanced by chunks and light orange stains on the front of his hooded bathrobe.
Outside, Lorelei paused in the breezeway to fumble her cigarette case open. She broke the first one on the way to her lips. I took the case away, held a cigarette up in front of her face. She took it, hand trembling; I lit it.
“Professional card man, you say?”
“Known him long?”
“A little over three years. I met him when I was finishing at Bryn Mawr.”
“I thought that was an ivy league college for women.”
“It is. I was out one night… A hotel party in Philadelphia. I was in the hall. He saw me.” She dropped her head, raised it back and further up at the inky sky. “He invited me into the room where he was playing cards.” The exhale was deep and slow. “For luck.” I let that and all it implied settle.
“He lives light.”
“He moves around a great deal.” She glanced back over her shoulder at Trevor’s door.
“Where’s his car?”
“He… He doesn’t own one.”
“How’s he get around?”
“Cabs, mostly. Except when he’s here and then I make arrangements for him.”
“Hmmm…” I took her cigarette away, hit it, returned it. “I could go back in, straighten him out.”
“No, please…” Her hand was on my arm again. Her eyes tired, bloodshot saucers.
“He’s hanging you out to dry, lady.”
“I didn’t kill my grandfather, Mr. Meyers, nor did I have anything to do with his death. I’m trusting you to prove that for me.”