In a Heartbeat

Meyers stepped into Wichtikl’s high-ceilinged receiving room, closed the left door, walked to the right door and closed it before he turned around to face the room and the muzzles of four handguns. Wichtikl and both DeMilnes held small, shiny, nearly identical twenty-five autos. Archie had his nickel-plated cannon. Rifat, furthest to Meyers’ right, held the pipe wrench in his right hand, cradled the wrench’s jaws in his left. Everyone looked surprised. All but Archie bore varying degrees of fear in their expression.

Other than the palpable tension that accompanies xenophobia, there was a marked lack of character in the room. As if furnished with a blank check and a designer’s catalogue. Well placed, expensive, colorless furnishings, their beigeness highlighted with small, gaudy embroidered silk throw pillows reclaimed from a Hollywood Chinatown whorehouse set. The garniture limited to a vase here and there and several foot tall bronze whisps of smoke statues, an arrangement of books that appeared glued together, placed for visual balance, not to be disturbed or read. A large, framed painting of the British fox hunt ilk dominated the wall behind a drawer-less desk that resembled a dining table more than a place where thought or work took place. Meyers thought of Marcia DeMilnes’ study, a room she wore like a second skin. Contrasted it to this room that, regardless of population, would still feel lifeless.

He took his eyes off the guns long enough to witness a bolt of lightning some distance off the coast silently rip the blue-gray sky apart. He silently counted seconds waiting for the thunder. After twenty without a rumble, he quit, returned his gaze to the sparkling guns. These people. Their chrome weapons fashion accessories worn to dress up their anger and fear. None of them with any sense. Or skill. How the hell had any of them planned to leave this dead room alive? Should he bother to explain their predicaments to them, the old rock in a still, but seething-just-below-the-surface-pond maneuver, and see what happened? Or grab someone’s gun and kill them all? Because if he didn’t, a midget in a top hat on the other side of the doors would clean up any leftover breathers. There were things he needed to know first. Then they could kill each other with no assistance from him or the midget hit man.

“You walk in here like you ain’t, you know, a fuckin dead man?” Archie stabbed the air with his gun.

“Archie, in standoffs like we have here, the first person to shoot, regardless of who they shoot, gets shot by everyone else.” Meyers made eye contact around the room. “So you can all put your guns away, or down, or point them at each other because, as you can see, I’m empty handed.” He raised his chin to Wichtikl, who’d moved behind the dining table desk. “I met your gardeners on the way in.”

That seemed to ease Wichtikl, his gun moved from Meyers to Archie, Archie’s to Wichtikl. Dr. DeMilnes, to Meyers’ near left, was the most uncomfortable person with a gun Meyers had ever seen and he kept it frozen, aimed nowhere in particular. Which made him the most dangerous. Furthest to Meyers left, Marcia, tense as a statue, kept her gun level with her elbow, now on Archie, but ready to swing wherever her scanning eyes landed on a perceived threat or an outlet for her anger.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, people,” Meyers coughed lightly into his fist, “but all the ways any of you thought this was going to play are out the window.” His words met with stares.

“Come, Meyers,” Wichtikl, with an air of superiority saying, “If you think there is an identifiable agenda in this carnival, please. Enlighten us all.”

“Before Cavelli got the money for you, your first plan was for me to pad this meeting. You kill Marcia before she kills you, I kill Archie for you, Rifat too if he tags along. You keep ten grand worth of oxy, use the recordings in your safe to blackmail me into telling whatever home invasion story you come up with because you’re stupid enough to believe I wouldn’t cut your fingers off, a knuckle at a time if I had to, until I got the combination to your safe.”

“Very good. How is it you know the contents of my safe?”

“I talked to Cavelli this morning.” Thunder rumbled far away, echoed off the mountains.

“Mr. Cavelli has a big mouth.”

Had a big mouth.” Meyers checked his watch. “Cavelli is turning into dried baloney in the Nevada desert by now. Word got back to the people keeping him alive that Cavelli was freelancing. Burglary. Mugging. Bug planting. Collecting bids for domestic hits…” He turned to Dr. DeMilnes. “That’s what pissed them off. Cops know Cavelli is connected and the mob doesn’t deal in domestic disputes. Because amateurs like you looking to get their spouse or business partner whacked always make very stupid, very public mistakes. Right now, I don’t know if you’re here to stop what you set in motion, or make sure it’s handled, but the midget in the top hat out there is your wife’s button man.”

The slide went back on Marcia’s pistol, latched forward with a small, bright ‘chink’ like a piece of chunky jewelry.

“And you,” he locked on to Marcia. “You had it in mind for me to kill Wichtikl for you as soon as you were sure he had your dog stolen. Him dead, oxy scattered around… Another bored rich man playing a dangerous game with bad people. Certain that with a fat enough check in my pocket I’d sign off on it and walk away. It’s irrelevant now because your bigger problem is the blue Lotus in the driveway that says your husband thinks he’s already off the leash and allowance you keep him on. I don’t know if you have it in you to kill him and Wichtikl, but they both have it coming.”

“Say we ease up,” Archie waved his massive gun in an arc, “you know, on all you white people killin each other over dogs an allowances an other shit I don’t give a fuck about, know what I’m sayin, an somebody, you know, get me my fuckin money. Or, I kill all you motherfuckers with your pussy ass little guns, know what I’m sayin, so none a you gotta worry about who kills who, an me and my sand nigger be on our way with the forty-seven K.” Lightning flashed, closer.

“First he opens the safe,” Meyers moved toward Wichtikl, “or none of us gets what we want.”

“I could kill you now, Meyers.” Wichtikl said, raising his pistol.

“Like I said. Shoot me, everybody shoots you. At that point what’s in the safe only matters to a cop, a friend of mine and Archie. But the truth is I’m your only way out of this room alive. In fact,” He turned his head, clocking each of them, “I’m the only way any of you get out of here alive.”

Wichtikl laughed short and shallow. “I fail to see how that’s even remotely—”

“The DeMilnes are both on the midget’s list. Marcia on the Doc’s order, the Doc for booking it with Cavelli in front of witnesses. You and Archie were already walking dead. Archie makes too much noise in the street, you hired him. Even without that monkey on your back you’re being investigated by half a dozen government agencies. You’re a serious liability, Wick, and I’m all there is between you and your headstone. Open the safe.”

“Wait…” Archie’s voice now into angry female range. “You be callin’ me a fuckin monkey?”

“Metaphorically, yes.”

“Motherfucker, say goodbye, know what I’m sayin? You been nothin but—”

Meyers took a step, slapped Archie’s hand, caught the .357. “You aren’t killing anyone. Yet.”

“God dammit.” Archie stared in disbelief at his empty hand.Coulda shot you you walked in the fuckin door,” his voice still elevated, turned to Wichtikl. “You said no. The fuckin dee-teck-tive, the Messkins took his bullets, let him talk his shit, you know, we kill him later. Mother fucker…”

“Do I need to remind you it’s your gun he’s holding?” Wichtikl raised his pistol a little more.

“I wouldn’t.” Meyers had the .357 lined up on Wichtikl’s forehead. Archie moved slightly. “Don’t,” Meyers said without looking. “I blow Wicky’s arm off, get the combination any way I have to, then blow your foot apart with your own gun and you both stop being my problem. I leave you two to the midget and walk.”

“You be lettin that, you know, fuckin freaky ass midget motherfucker kill me?”

“In a heartbeat.” He pulled the hammer back on the .357. “Open the safe, Wichtikl.”


Huntley drove the rutted dirt track atop a ridge in the Santa Monica mountains until he found a tractor track leading from the back of Wichtikl’s horse ranch to the stables. Past the stables, the path became a well-maintained gravel road slightly wider than the Rover. Glaring by their omission from the thirty-acre horse ranch with stables and training courses was horses.

 Wichtikl’s two landscapers blocked the gravel road with their golf cart fifty feet from the main house. One had his right hand on top of a knife in a sheath, parked at a gunfighter’s cross draw angle. The other held a polished, freshly sharpened four prong spading fork. Parked in the grass ten yards to the right of the gravel path was a yard tractor hooked to a forty-eight-inch-wide aerator with eight sets of four prong spikes. Someone had strapped concrete blocks to the top of the aerator.

Huntley acknowledged the tractor with a slight nod. “What’s with the blocks on that thing?”

“Ground must be hard,” Meyers said. “Or the yard needs to do some deep breathing.”

“Looks like some kind of torture machine.”

“Torture and farm maintenance share several tools.” Adding under his breath, “Grab your gun. It’s showtime.”

“This is all improvised with you, right?”

“You need a plan?”

“Wouldn’t hurt.”

“If I guess wrong, shoot whoever you have to, drive through the golf cart and haul ass. Otherwise, don’t take your eyes off them and make sure they see your gun when you walk over and check for keys in the tractor.” Meyers slipped out the passenger side of the Rover saying, “Good afternoon, gentlemen.”

“You must be Meyers.” Knife Landscaper wagged his index finger. “We hear you have many tricks,” the big Bowie knife flashed in the sun. “We need your gun, amigo.”

“That won’t happen in your lifetime.”

“Theez close?” The knife came within a foot of Meyers’ face. “I cut you before you touch your gun. With two fingers you get it, eh? Por fav—”

Meyers hand shot out, grabbed Knife Landscaper’s wrist, spun him to face the opposite direction. Landscaper’s arm was on fire with pain, his knife on his Adam’s apple and his friend’s helpless expression staring back at him.

“I was saying this morning how sick I am of fucking amateurs. Pull a weapon, amigo,” he clamped down harder on the bent arm, “don’t talk. Use it or put it away. Never get it close enough for someone to take it away and feed it to you. You hear that, Huntley?”

“Yes sir.”

“Now, paisajista, who’s here?”

“Yo no hablo so good Eng—”

The knife drew blood.

“Okayokayokay… the black one, ee comes in the beeg car. Meester Wicky, he say these times, let eem keep eez gun.” Landscaper licked his lips. “The man with eem? No gun, pero un chingando grande wrench.”

“Who else?”

“Miz Marcia, she come in the leetle truck.” Meyers had seen the camo ATV with a small bed on the back parked at the edge of the scrub brush line.

“How? From the back, like us?”

“No, senor… there is a way… Through the brush. Her husband, he come later, by the road. In a leetle car I never seen before.”


“Meester Wicky, he no say nothing about no guns for Miz Marcia.”

“The husband?”

“Nothing about no gun. But the husband? I theenk he is a surprise.”

“But you needed my gun?”

Si. Only to remove your bullets. Then you get eet back.”

“Mmm… That’s it?”

“A meedgit. Eez got un sombrero de copa an theenks eez sheet doan stink.”

“All the players plus a surprise husband and a midget in a top hat. Sounds like a real party.” Meyers released the landscaper’s arm to drop loosely by the man’s side. Meyers threw the knife overhand whizzing inches from Spading Fork and embedding nearly to the hilt in the seat back of the golf cart.

“My arm, senor?” Landscaper’s face warped with pain. “What deed you –”

Meyers grabbed the man’s wrist, yanked out and up. Landscaper yelped at the pop, rubbed his shoulder, swore in Spanish.

“You and your friend,” Meyers jerked a thumb at Spading Fork, “take a break for an hour or so. Drive down the hill, get some ice and aspirin. Come back early? My driver will shoot you on sight. Comprende?”

Huntley and Meyers watched Knife and Spading Fork quick step away in their never tied work boots. When they got to their pickup, Spading Fork had to dig the keys out of Knife’s pocket before they climbed in and threw up a momentary burst of blue fog, rattled out onto Wichtikl’s formal drive and rolled away.

Huntley walked from the tractor to Meyers’ side. “Now what?”

“Are the keys in the tractor?”

“Key switch is long gone. Whole thing’s hard wired to the start button. Why?”

“Any and all escape possibilities.”

“No offense, but we ain’t outrunnin nobody in that tractor.”

“If we’re all that’s left, it doesn’t matter. Back the Rover out. Don’t turn around on the grass. Take the back road to the other property, pull up in back by the garage. Break off a scrub tree and drag it behind you when you walk back.”

“I’m more a driver than a walker.” Huntley held up a foot encased in a polished, pointy toed wingtip.

“Jesus, kid, it’s half a mile. Besides, I know a lady. She finishes with your shoes you’ll be able to shave in them. On me.”

“She anything like your nurse?”


“Sold.” Huntley situated himself behind the Rover’s steering wheel, dropped it in reverse. He turned to look out the back, smiling, remembering the ‘nurse’ where Meyers had taken him for a bullet graze.


The middle twenty yards across the back of Wichtikl’s mansion comprised a ‘viewing room’ wall made of eight-foot-tall casement windows with another two feet of transoms tacked on. In the middle of those a double door identical in design to the windows, except for handles, opened inward off a large, stamped concrete patio strewn with various sized cushionless metal furniture frames and rotting, rolled up umbrellas. Meyers opened the door without issue.

Inside the viewing room, what looked like at least a forty-piece sectional sofa, a few wingback chairs and a grand piano were covered in white sheets and scattered without design. Several pieces of sectional had been uncovered and shoved into a pair of small crescents close to a long, fireless fireplace. The room smelled of disuse and cigar.

A black satin top hat poked above the cushions in the center of the crescent on Meyers’ right. He made his way to the opposite crescent.

“Take a load off,” Top hat, his voice honky, like a duck call crossed with a kazoo, motioned with a long cigar toward the crescent behind Meyers.

“Love to, but I have business.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Top hat honked. “Everybody’s got business. You’re late ahready, so siddown a minute, I’ll tell you mine.”

“No need. I can read.” Meyers eyed the overdressed “meedgit”, checked the clock above the fireplace, eased down onto a chunk of sectional. “But you’re right, I’m already late. What’s your stake, Benoît? It can’t be me, or one of us would be dead by now.”

“You know me.” Benoît exhaled smoke, checked his cigar. “That saves time. I usually don’t introduce myself. Not a real need in my line. But when I do… I’m at a loss. What do I say? Benoît, the naughty midget Poirot? Tatto the hit man?” He ashed his cigar in an empty vase stuck between the cushions next to him. “You said you could read?”

“You’re here on a job. You see a circus coming together, act like a house man, ask a few questions, wait out here knowing I won’t use the front door. Unless you’re here till all the bodies drop so you can walk with the money.”

“I take nothing that isn’t mine except a life that someone has decided needs to end. Burglary, the concepts of ‘home invasion’ and ‘heist’ are crude, classless acts. Which brings me to – What’s your idea for the tractor?”

“Escape possibilities.”

“Bullshit.” Benoît leaned forward, jabbing the air with his cigar. “Y’know what I think? Body hash. You’re here on a personal and maybe you’ll have to clean up the mess if the citizens make a cluster fuck outta killing each other. Who shot who when with what is hard to figure with the bodies turned inta soup bones.”

“Are we done?”

“Sure, Meyers. Go to work.” Benoît leaned back in the cushions, pointed at Meyers, the cigar between his fingers. “I’ll make it worth your while if everyone that’s supposed to say goodnight does it without me tucking them in.”

Meyers stood, tipped an invisible hat. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“You have my every confidence.” The cigar pointed toward the foyer. “They’re all in the receiving room. Out there, to the right.” He tilted his head back, blew a smoke ring. “Enjoy.”


Shit… I should’ve just shot him and gotten it over with… Well, Meyers stretched his neck back, shrugged, rolled his shoulders, it makes sense now. In a Simple Simon gets to play Agatha Christie way. Except every damn one of these people is guilty… He could see through the grand staircase balusters that the receiving room was wide open. No time like the present…

What the Hell Am I Saying

The Bishop slowly nursed two fingers of Meyers’ expensive scotch and smoked an illegal Cuban cigar he’d found sitting next to the bottle while Meyers snored in the bedroom. He made a few calls, found the Circle Room at the top of the Deuxième Maison Hotel still had eight tables going at one AM. On one hand he wanted to go. On the other he thought Meyers could use an extra set of eyes. He decided to put Meyers’ pocket gun, a Walther like the Bishop’s own, in Meyers’ hand, moved an end table with a large glass vase where anyone opening the door without squeezing in would knock it over, let himself out.


The yellow-orange glow from at least thirty identical cylindrical stained glass table lamps dimmed further by a smoky haze and the uncomfortable warmth of the Maison’s Circle Room resembled, if there could be such a thing, a claustrophobic tropical sunset. There was more than some truth to the proverb that Hollywood leaked out into all aspects of Los Angeles. Bishop checked in, walked the tables. The mainstays of these games remained out-of-state conventioneers and a handful of regulars.

He stayed shadow bound until he stopped behind a table of sweating athletic footwear reps, and two familiar faces. One of two was boisterous, had had too much to drink, and flashed a small roll of hundreds when he did business with the chip hostess. He was losing, didn’t seem to mind as talking appeared to be his reason for staying. Finally, a large, gone soft athlete with sweat stains on his vest said, “Look here, big shot. If you’re gonna talk, walk. Or for fuck’s sake shut the hell up and play.” The tall, thin gambler decided to cut his losses and excused himself demonstrably, with drunk clumsiness and muttered profanity. He tried it on with a hostess on his way out, waving a hundred in her face. Bishop had to intercept a bouncer by putting a palm in the man’s chest, the bouncer deciding it was a good night not to question Bishop’s icy eyed interference.


“Don’t you have a home?” Meyers scratched his upper arm under the shapeless t-shirt, poured himself a cup of steaming, strong enough to wake the dead coffee. “I thought you were playing cards.”

“I didn’t like the lay of the tables,” Bishop said. “Amateurs, mostly. And women.”

“I wasn’t aware you had a problem taking money from either.”

“After the scotch and cigar, and the way you sounded last night, I felt obligated to take your temperature this morning.” He held out his cup. “Thoughts on the coffee?”

“Strong. Smooth. Probably expensive. I didn’t have to make it, so I couldn’t bitch if it was dishwater.”

“I get it from a South American bodega. The woman blushes the entire time she’s grinding it.”

“That line was loaded…” Meyers stretched, hitched up his sleep pants. “But I’ll leave it alone.”

“Good. You’re awake. We need to talk.” Bishop repeated his trip to the Circle Room, down to following the loud drunk outside. “Then I stuck my gun in his ear to get his attention and got the story of what happened to you while I was off sweating the black wannabe.”

“I knew it was Cavelli,” Meyers said. “Right before the lights went out, I caught a whiff of that lime infused sewer gas he calls cologne. The lot man describing the Legionnaire’s hat sealed it. Why isn’t Cavelli dead?”

“The mob has a rule. Unless he tries to stiff them, he lives till he pays his debt. You know who he was working for?”

“Wichtikl was my first guess. He’s got the electronics connections to bug my office.”

“Wichtikl it was. I told Cavelli if he wanted to see the sunrise he should go to Vegas, blow his roll, and stay off the phone for a few days.” He locked eyes with Meyers. “A bug is not good news.”

“If Wichtikl has anything, he won’t have it long. If he farmed it, you get to kill whoever brings us the blackmail attempt.”

“Gladly. One more thing. Before Cavelli walked, he was playing next to Dr. DeMilnes. As in Mr. Marcia DeMilnes. How do you take that?”

Meyers stared into his coffee cup for a few beats before he set it down. “If I don’t come back from Wichtikl’s, kill all of them.”

“Including the DeMilnes woman?”

“Including her. Send the bill to her husband, or kill him, too. I’ve been set up six ways from Sunday on this case by a bucket of fucking amateurs.” He finished his coffee, stood. “I need a shower.” He pulled off the T-shirt, walked toward the bathroom saying, “If there is a We’ll Miss You Meyers massacre, leave Sunny and her beau out of it.”

“They’re not involved?”

“Hell yes, they’re involved. But I’m a romantic.”


“You believe that shit? Motherfuckin dee-tective don’t let me outta the crib til ten somethin. You know how hard it be to find some brothers detail my car that late that ain’t a chop shop in fuckin Compton? I hadda find some Meskins, know what I’m sayin, an I couldn’t leave it an get no sleep cause those motherfuckers, you know, I shut my eyes, I never be seein my ride again.”

Rifat stood back from the gleaming Lincoln that sat in his warehouse, tried to hide his indifference, offering, “The smell is gone. The first one, I mean. Are you certain you like the new one better?”

“Not the point, Raghead. Point is none a that exploded fat bitch be stuck to my ride no more.”

“Or any of your yesterday’s breakfast. What happened to your face?”

“Some shit that dee-tective threw my way. You not hear what I been sayin to you?”

“Not really… What does the detective you think was following Arias have to do with you staying inside your ‘crib’?” Rifat thinking ‘crib’ the best word to call where Archie should stay.

“Motherfucker tricked me, know what I’m sayin, got my number, sayin, you know, he knew where my money be at but I hadda go sit by the phone, you know, till he called, like I got nothin better goin on than be his bitch.”

“You stayed home because he told you to?”

“He sent some psycho motherfucker behind me, you unnerstand, sayin, you know, how the psycho would kill me if I tried to leave the crib.”

“And your face is what happened when the psycho reminded you to stay home?” Rifat turned away, faced his workbench, suppressed the urge to laugh.

“You fuckin with me, Rifat?”

“No, Archie, but you must see the humor in you calling another man with no inhibitions about using his gun a psycho.” He modified his tone before sarcasm got too far out in front and said “What did the dee-tective say when he called?”

“He said we meet up at Wicky’s, 2:30 in the PM too-day, you know, an I get my money. Same goddam thing Wicky-tickle say, know what I’m sayin, only Wicky call it in three fuckin hours sooner. Both of ‘em callin, you know, ‘bout my money?” Archie patted his .357. “Niggers both know I ain’t playin.”

“Sounds like they know something,” Rifat grabbed his pipe wrench, turned, let himself down into the Lincoln’s passenger seat that smelled like vinegar and lavender got in a fight with puke, the match contentious, the winner undetermined. “If I were you, Archie, I’d take your car back to the detail shop and ask for a refund.”

“Said I found some Meskins, know what I’m sayin. Din’t say I paid nobody.”


Huntley Bryston, on call chauffer to hotels, motels, no-tells, studios, the famous, the infamous and one private eye rolled up in Meyers’ parking garage at one PM on the dot driving a faded red, old, boxy, four-wheel drive Rover. He climbed out, unfolded a map, laid it on the fender. “Here’s what you were asking about, Mr. Meyers.” He traced his finger along a faint pencil line in the Santa Monica Mountains.

“How’d you find out about this?”

“I have clients up there. One of them showed me. She called it the ‘back door man’ alley. I was, uh… taking her home. After…”

“No need to break a confidence.”

“No sir, nothing like that. She was, um, changing clothes, in the back of my big car, see, cause she needed to look like she’d been riding… Well,” a sheepish grin got out, “If you ask me, she had been riding, but at a No-Tell off the One in Las Tunas—”

“That’s the second line today I’m going to leave alone. Go ahead.”

“She put on some riding clothes, you know, with the funny pants, and showed me this double-rutter that runs along the backside of those places above the Getty. It’s how to get to the stables and garages without going in the front door. Most people, even the ones live up there, don’t know about it.”

“And she couldn’t go in the front door?”

“Not since she was supposed to be out riding. Horseback riding. And taking a fall. Why she was walking in from the back side.” The grin was out for an instant before a frown took over. “Then she gave me fifty dollars and told me to slap the shit out of her.”

“You obliged?”

“Listen, I didn’t get no kick out of slappin the lady, but fifty bucks is fifty bucks. Plus, she said if I didn’t, she’d scream rape so loud they’d hear it in Van Nuys, and I believed her. So I slapped her. Twice. Cause she asked for another even after she had a bloody nose from the first. Then she bent over and rubbed dirt all over her face and shirt, rolled around in the road some, got up and told me to get lost.”

“If I ever get out of the detective business maybe I’ll turn chauffeur.”

“You’ll meet a lot of interesting people.”

“Sounds like it.” Meyers tapped the map. “This road goes behind the two addresses I gave you?”

“Behind the one with all the land. The other you could hike it easy enough. See,” Huntley dragged his finger again, “by the street-sign roads up there that’s, three, four twisty miles from one to the other. This way, it’s less than half a mile.”

“Got your baby shotgun in the glovebox?”

“Yeah…” Huntley folded the map, looked up, furrowed his eyebrows. “But Jesus Christ on a crutch, Mr. Meyers. We gonna get shot at?” He looked at Meyers, tossed the map in the Rover and answered himself with “What the hell am I saying…”