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NINE

I picked Christine up at the auction house that evening, doing my best
this time to show up at six sharp. According to my watch at least I made
it there at thirty seconds till. As soon as I walked up to the
receptionist counter she stood up and grabbed her purse. She was ready
to go.

We made the usual chit-chat going down in the elevator and out to the
car. She was wearing a tight-fitting red sleeveless dress with a vaguely
oriental look to it and black flat-heeled shoes. She topped it off with
a black beret and a small black stole. I noticed that she had her black
oval eyeglasses on.

"You know, the first time I saw you, you weren't wearing your glasses"
I said to her as we pulled off the curb.

"I know. I saw you standing there and I took them off real quick. Kind
of silly, but I wanted to make a good first impression. I'm mostly blind
as a bat without them."

"Ah, that explains why you called me handsome. I should have known."

We had a good laugh at that, and then the topic changed to where we
should go for dinner.

"There's a really great seafood place over in Hollywood" she said.
"That is, if you feel like spending some money on a girl."

"Uh, sure. It's about time I started spending my millions. I'm really
bad about that."

The Fisherman's Palace was one of those swanky Hollywood restaurants
with great atmosphere and, from what I had heard at least, top-notch
food. Luckily it was a Wednesday and we didn't need reservations. We did
have about a fifteen minute wait, however, during which time we
deposited our hats and Christine's stole at the cloak room and went into
the side-bar to have a quick drink. Christine ordered a vodka martini,
and I had my usual rye and ginger. Since it was a nice place, I ordered
a good brand of rye and not the cheap stuff I usually drank.

"So what's it like being a private-eye?" Christine asked, right off the
bat.

"It's a living" I said, taking a long drink of the whiskey.

"Gee, you make it sound so exciting" she laughed.

"It usually isn't" I told her. I lit a Pall Mall and winked at her.

"But sometimes it's exciting, right?" she said, taking one of my
cigarettes. Trying to be a classy guy, I lit it for her.

"Usually when it's exciting, it's not the kind of excitement you
really want, let's put it that way."

"Kind of dangerous?" she said, taking a puff. From the way she handled
her cigarette, my guess was that she didn't smoke very often.

"It can be" I said. I waved at the female bartender to get another
drink.

"I won't ask you if you've ever had to shoot anybody" she said,
nibbling on one of her olives.

"I appreciate that" I said. "Would you like another drink?"

"I'm fine" she said.

She leaned to her left away from me with her head in her palm and
looked at me rather slyly, still nibbling on the olive. There was
something very seductive about it. Which I suppose was the effect she
intended. The girl was definitely no wallflower, eyeglasses or not.

"You're not so tough" she said. By this time she was pretty near to
licking the olive more than nibbling it.

"You got that right" I told her, laughing. "And you're playing the
vixen for all you're worth, aren't you?"

"You got that right" she said, finally eating the olive.

At that point the maitre'd came up to me to inform us that due to
unexpected events, it would still be another half-hour before he could
get us a table. I didn't bother to mention to him that his original
estimate had been fifteen minutes to begin with.

"Well, my little vixen, it seems that we have more time. You want to
take me up on that drink now?"

"Sure. Why not" she said.

She finished off the remainder of the first drink, then mock-slammed
the glass down on the bar. She leaned over into me suddenly, very very
close, put her hand under her chin and looked up at me with those
emerald eyes.

"To be honest, Mr. Maginess, I kind of got a head start on you. Let's
just say I had a little booze at work."

Her face was about three inches from mine at that point, and at the
angle she was leaning her upper breasts were visible above the edge of
the dress. At that point I just wanted to drag her down onto the floor
right then and there. But I was still trying to be a gentleman. And
gentlemen don't ravage ladies on the floors of restaurants. On the other
hand, I found myself thinking as I peeked down into the dress again,
there might be exceptions.

"Rupert lets you drink at work?" I asked, primarily to get my mind off
my pants, which seemed to fitting me a lot more snugly.

"Oh, Rupert drinks from noon till close. Brandy from a coffee cup. It
makes his leg feel better. Or that's what he claims. He says that what's
good for the goose is good for the gander. Besides, it was dead at work
today. I had three calls all day long."

"No letters to type?" I asked.

"Letters? You must be joking. I don't type letters. Rupert does all his
correspondence by hand. That's the way he likes to do it. And in any
case, I don't type. It's not exactly a subject they teach at the
Sorbonne."

She leaned over into me again and took my hand. Once again, we found
ourselves inches from each other.

"I'm sorry" she said, softly. "That didn't come out right. It must be
the booze. I'm not a snob. I just meant that I don't type"

"That's okay," I said. "I know you're not a snob."

Our faces were inches from each other and I found my lips brushing
against her cheek. I had some new aftershave on, and I found myself
hoping that she liked it. I stared down her dress and didn't bother to
hide the fact.

"My god" she whispered. "Would you like to skip dinner? Go back to my
place?"

"I'm trying my best to be a gentleman" I whispered back.

"Don't try so hard" she said, putting her palm up against my chest and
rubbing it.

It was just my luck that at that moment the maitre'd appeared once
again and told us that our table was ready. Me and Christine looked at
each other, unwilling to tear ourselves apart.

"Damn" she said, leaning back. "Merde."

"I agree" I said, catching my breath. "But let's go eat. The night is
young, as they say."

We sat at a beautifully laid out table and for a period of an hour and
a half were both made to feel like royalty. We decided on the lobster
with the side of Cajun pasta, with a good glass of champagne to open and
a bottle of Beaujolais with the main course. I didn't have to fear that
tight feeling in my pants any longer, as I could feel my wallet
shrinking even as we ordered. But it didn't make any difference. What
had already happened in the bar alone would have made it worth every
nickel.

"So you attended the Sorbonne, then?" I asked her as we ate.

"For a few years. And what about you? Did you go to college? I know
you're hiding something."

"Well not really hiding anything, really. But I did go here locally
for a while."

"What did you study?"

"If I had graduated, it would have been classical studies."

She seemed surprised by that. I had to admit to myself that it was
good thinking about that period of my life again.

"Latin or Greek? Or both?" she asked, rolling some of the pasta.

"Greek. I really wasn't much into the language part of it, though I took
two years. I don't remember very much of it. I mainly liked the
architecture. There was just something about the Parthenon and that kind
of thing."

"Something?" she said, chewing slowly.

"It was like something endured. In spite of everything. That's the best
way I can put it. But what about you? Did you study art?"

"Yes. Art history and painting."

"So do you still paint?" I asked her, taking a bite of the lobster. It
was melt-in-your mouth.

"I can't even imagine life unless I painted. So that's a yes."

"I'd like to see your paintings" I added.

"You already have" she laughed. "Or at least one of them. At the
auction house. You were looking at it when I came up to the reception
desk."

Maybe it was just the magic of the moment, but it didn't surprise me
that the painting had been hers or that I had liked it, and I told her
such.

"So what did you like most about it?" she asked.

"Well, like I said, I don't know much about art. But I liked the
combinations of colors. And I liked the subtly of it, the way the
squares and rectangles were slightly imperfect."

She thought about that a while.

"That's a pretty good analysis, Pat. That's kind of how I think of it,
too."

It was the first time she had called me Pat.

"Slightly imperfect. Like me" she said. She seemed somewhat sad when
she said it, and I found myself thinking that I must have missed
something. But then she looked up and smiled, and the moment passed.

"So you were in the war?" she said.

"Yeah. I actually joined up in '36, after my Mom died. My dad, he
never did come back from the first war. So I was alone. I left school
and joined the Army. Just my luck a war started a few years later. But
it was probably a good thing that I had joined early. By the time the
war started I was older but I had some rank. I was in the military
police. Then in '43 I was promoted again and put in C.I.D."

"What's C.I.D.?" she asked.

"We're kind of like the Army's own internal detectives. We mostly
investigated crimes committed against or by enlisted personnel. During
the war the duties expanded a bit. We had to track the theft of military
goods and such. To their credit, not many G.I.s were involved in that
kind of thing. As for the local populace, the economic situation in most
of Europe was horrifying. The locals would steal anything that wasn't
nailed down and some things that were. One guy even stole a halftrack."

"A halftrack? My god. What did he do with it?"

"Nothing. It wasn't as if he could drive it into the nearest village
and trade it for vegetables or something. I really don't think the guy
was thinking straight. I found the halftrack in his barn, just sitting
there."

"So what did you do?"

"I put him in cuffs and led him to the jeep. Then his family came out.
They were obviously starving. Regulations or not, I just couldn't do it.
I let him go. I gave him a ten spot to get him by for the moment and put
him down for an informant's voucher for a hundred dollars. I told them
he had led me to the halftrack and that it had been stolen by Vichy
partisans."

We were both quiet for while after that, eating our expensive lobster.

"Unfortunately, that was just a drop in the bucket" I said.

"So that's why you became a private-eye, then?"

"Yeah. It was something familiar, something I thought that I was good
at and could make a living at. So, what about you? When did you get
back from France?" I asked her.

"I came back in '49. My father died and I came back home for the
funeral."

"But you didn't go back?" I asked, taking another bite of the lobster.

"No. I had to dispose of the estate, if you want to call it that. We
were fairly well off I guess, but that was only because my father was
working at the bank. He had some life insurance that I tucked away. But
as for the house, I couldn't afford to keep a place like that up. So I
sold it. I gave part of the life insurance money to Julia, my nanny. My
mom died when I was a baby. It was Julia that raised me. She deserved it
as much as anybody. She died just a few months ago. It hit me real
hard."

"Anyway, I paid off father's debts. I could have gone back to
Paris, but I decided to spend the rest of the money opening up a small
art gallery. But it failed after a year or so. That's when Rupert
offered me a job."

"So what happened with the art gallery? If you don't mind me asking."

"I wanted to promote the cause of modern art. My head was reeling from
what I had experienced in Europe. But L.A. isn't Paris. There just
wasn't a market here. Good idealism, bad business sense."

"That's too bad. But I'm glad you found Rupert. And I'm kinda glad I
found you too."

"And why is that, Mr. Maginess?" she said.

I had to think about that a second or two before answering, so I took
a bite of pasta, you might say literally chewing it over.

"I haven't known anyone that I can talk to to like you. I've never
talked about these kind of things before" I finally answered.

"Well I would say that you have been socially deprived, then" she
said, smiling at me. She took another bite of lobster.

We finished our dinner making more chit-chat. The bill arrived and I
almost choked when I looked at it.

"You don't know any famous paintings that I could steal real easy, do
you?" I asked Christine. "Cause I might have to do that now."

"Just be glad that I'm not a dessert kind of girl" she laughed.

"You aren't?" I said.

"No. At least not that kind of dessert."

We picked up our hats at the cloak room and I helped Christine on with
her little stole. We walked out of the restaurant arm-in-arm and headed
in the direction of the Plymouth.

"Why don't we walk to the museum?" I said.

Christine hesitated for a second, but then seemed to change her mind
and pushed herself up against me closer.

It was a warm, beautiful L.A. evening, with a gentle breeze that blew
off the exhaust fumes from the street. As we walked I began to notice
that strange gait to her walk that I had noticed before at the auction
house. I did my best to compensate, slowing and speeding up again.

"I was born with a hip defect, in case you're wondering" Christine
said. "My hip sockets aren't quite in line with each other. It makes one
leg slightly longer than the other."

"I hadn't noticed" I said, trying my best to sound totally innocent.

"You're full of bologna, Maginess. A guy like you notices pretty much
everything. But thank you anyway."

We walked for a minute or two, content to be with each other and
taking in the local scene around us. Slightly imperfect, Christine had
said at the restaurant. So that was what she had meant, I thought,
holding her close. She had been talking about her hip.

Christine finally broke the silence.

"Did you visit any museums when you were in Europe?" she asked.

"Yeah, a few. I hit the British Royal Museum when I was in London, and
I finally got the time for the Louvre when I was in France. And then
there was the Prado."

"You visited the Prado?" she asked, suddenly excited.

"Yeah" I said. "Me and Jim, Jim was my partner at C.I.D. back then, we
had to track some Vichy politician and ended up in Spain. Very under
cover stuff, I won't bore you with the details. Anyway, I was able to
visit the Prado a few afternoons while we were tracking some leads. The
Prado was very impressive, I'll have to say that."

"So was that your favorite, then?" she asked.

"Well, I think I liked the British Royal Museum best."

"Because of the classical art?"

"Yeah."

"Did you ever go to Greece?" she asked me.

I had to sigh at that one.

"No, never did. After being over there so long I just wanted to get
back home for a while."

"Maybe you can go back someday" she said.

"Maybe. But I have a job now. And I'm not exactly rolling in the
dough" I said.

"Especially after those lobsters" she said, laughing.

"Yeah, especially after the lobsters."

Once at the museum Christine pretty much became my tour guide. I had
been in the museum only once since the war and they had changed things a
bit since I had been there last.

"They have a small Velasquez here" she said, pulling me by the arm.

We stood in front of the painting and looked at it a while.

"You probably saw quite a few paintings by Velasquez at the Prado" she
said softly.

"Yeah. Lots of him. And Goya, I remember that one too."

"No Goya here, I'm afraid. But lets get to the modern. We don't have a
lot of time left before closing."

We walked into a fairly large room with about a dozen paintings and
about half as many sculptures in it.

"The museum doesn't have a very good collection of modern yet"
Christine told me. "Hopefully, that will change. But let me show you
what they do have. If you're interested, that is."

"Sure. I'm up for it if you are" I said, with more optimism than I
actually felt.

Christine took me around and gave me a little summary of each work.
She mentioned the artist and tried to give me an idea of what was behind
each painting. She was good at explaining things. I understood, or
thought that I understood, most of what she said. And what she told me
about them did kind of help me to look at them with a little more
appreciation. We passed a sculpture, and I stopped to look at it. It was
about five feet tall, thinnish, and made of shiny metal. It had some
sort of vague form to it. I thought that it might be a vegetable of some
sort.

"I don't get this modern sculpture" I said.

"You studied the classical Greek. But it's pretty much the same thing,
once you get used to it. Walk around the statue, slowly."

"Why?"

"Just walk around it…"

I walked around it, slowly, like she said.

"You actually see the statue from a sequence of angles. But in the
end, it forms a gestalt."

"Yeah, I feel it getting all mixed up in my brain as we speak."

I spent some time looking at the sculpture. She was right. It wasn't
exactly Phidias, but it had an interesting form nonetheless. I finally
decided that the statue was probably a woman.

"I've decided that it's a woman. Not a vegetable."

"I'm sure that women the world over will be happy to hear that" Christine
laughed. "So. What about you? Do you have any art on your walls?"

"What would you consider art?" I asked her.

"Umm, that's up to you. Just whatever you have up on your walls. I
find it interesting to find out what people put up on their walls."

"Why?"

"I guess it tells me something about the person. Kind of like clues to
the person's personality. You should know about that, being a
private-eye."

"Well, I think I have the front page from the Times when the First
World War ended, in a frame. My mother kept it, thinking she would
show it to my dad when he got home. But he never got home. I've also
got about six or seven cockroaches at any one time. Do they count as
art?"

"Are they in a frame?" she said, mock-serious.

"No, but sometimes they get kinda plastered when I hit them with my
shoe."

"Maybe they would count as mobilary art."

"Well they're damn mobile, I'll tell you that."

We walked over to the next wall of paintings. Christine continued the
tour on this wall also, telling me about each one. In between we talked
about other things.

"I don't have roaches in my apartment" Christine said.

"That's impossible. This is Los Angeles."

"I'm serious, I don't have any."

"Well I'm packing my suitcase. I'll be right over."

She stopped suddenly, and so I stopped with her. She gave me a look up
and down, then looked me in the eyes. "That's a good idea. Move in with
me."

"What?"

"Move in with me."

As I had when I first met her, I felt terrified.

"I'm not the marrying sort" I finally told her.

"I didn't say anything about marriage."

"Isn't that the usual deal?"

"Not in Europe" she said, laughing.

"This ain't Europe, my little vixen." I had intended to joke with her,
but it came out serious instead.

She pressed herself up to me, face to face and leaving no daylight
between us. She turned up those gorgeous green eyes to me, the wisp of a
smile on her face.

"It's wherever we want it to be. Use your imagination."

I walked over to the next painting, some sort of expressionist work
with a lot of horizontal and vertical lines and a very narrow color
range. But that lasted about five seconds. My mind wasn't on the
painting. I kept thinking, who is this girl, she must be nuts. Doesn't
know me from the milkman, really. And here she is suggesting we live
together.

Christine pulled up next to me and looked at the painting. I looked at
her looking at the painting.

"Offer's good until the end of December, in case you decide" she said,
without looking at me.

"What's with December?" I asked her, curious.

She turned and frowned in a mock sort of way and poked me in the tie
with her index finger.

"Nothing lasts forever, silly"

****

Once back to the Plymouth I drove Christine home. She spent the time
alternating between giving me directions and talking about Julia, her
nanny.

"I was thinking about taking off early Friday and going out to
Memorial Gardens and putting some flowers on her grave."

"Memorial Gardens. My Mom is out there."

"Seriously?" she said. "I don't suppose you would want to go out there
together or anything. Not exactly what you would call a swinging date."

"I think I could do that, yeah. It depends on how this new case goes,
but I think I could take a few hours."

"You drive, I'll bring the flowers?" she asked.

"Sure. I'll call you Friday morning at the auction house."

When we got to her apartment building I parked the car and walked her
up to the building. We stopped and kissed at the entrance. Then I walked
her into the lobby and to the elevator. We stopped and kissed again at
the elevator, and when the elevator arrived we got in and kissed on the
way up. The next thing I knew I was carrying her to her door, kissing
her, stopping just long enough now and then to let Christine give me
directions to her door. And then we were on the living room floor,
kissing and exploring each other. I felt my shoulder bump against
something solid but fairly rickety to my left.

Christine stopped suddenly.

"My easels" she said. "Let's go back to the bedroom."

But we never made it to the bedroom. Halfway through her small kitchen
we were back at it again. Soon our clothes were all over the kitchen and
I was on the hard floor, my back propped up against the cabinets, and
Christine was on top of me. And then there was suddenly no kitchen, no
world, but only Christine, all of her, every bit of her.

A half hour later my senses opened out once again. Christine was
collapsed on my lap with her arms around my neck and her nose pressed
against my chest. She still had her eyeglasses on.

"What's with us, anyway?" I said to her after a while.

"I don't know" she whispered. "I don't know."

She snuggled a little bit closer and turned her face to the side, my
chest becoming a convenient pillow. After a few minutes I thought she
had fallen asleep. But she hadn't, not quite.

"I don't know" she said once more.

TEN

I've always had a thing about sleeping in strange beds. Even when I was
a kid I found it difficult to stay over at another kid's house for the
night, no matter how much fun it was otherwise. Before my Dad left we
took a vacation to Connecticut on the train during which time I spent
about two consecutive weeks tossing and turning in the bunks in the
Pullman cars or the cot my Dad's relatives provided for me in their
garage. Moving around like I did in the Army I was lucky to sleep in the
same place a few months in a row, and when I was changing bunks more
often than that my life became a miserable sequence of sleepless nights.
That was one reason that I didn't like to take on cases that involved
overnight travel that would involve strange motel mattresses and pillows
that just never felt right.

After getting a little rambunctious in the kitchen me and Christine
had moved into her bedroom. Christine fell right to sleep. I spent some
time looking at her sleeping, turned over and tried to get comfortable,
turned back again and watched her sleep some more, sat up and smoked a
cigarette, then laid back down and rolled back and forth some more. The
night was probably half over when I finally managed to fall asleep.
Which of course seemed to be almost immediately followed by Christine's
alarm clock going off summoning her to get up for work.

Christine told me that I was welcome to just sleep in at her place,
and though it was extremely tempting I still had a case to work on and
needed to get going. I gathered up my clothes in the kitchen and dressed
and found the stuff to make us a pot of coffee with. By the time
Christine got out of the shower the coffee was ready. We drank a cup
together, neither of us saying very much but doing a lot of petting and
kissing.

Back at my apartment I shaved and showered and dressed and had another
cup of coffee. My main objective for the day was to interview Brooke
Pirelli. I wasn't sure if she had any real involvement in either the
Fischer or the DeMargio matter, but there had been something about the
way Olsen had spoken of her that told me that I should at least find out
what her story was.

****

Since it might very well be a long day I stopped in at a luncheonette
and had a quick early lunch. There was a telephone booth in back of the
place and I decided that was as good a place as any to make a call and
would save me a trip to the office. Before I went out to interview
Brooke Pirelli I wanted to find out what information I could about her
and I knew just the person that might know that kind of thing.

Squeezing myself down into the seat in the little booth I managed to
get the door shut past my legs. Then I got out my notebook and looked up
the number for Helga Parks. Helga was a society reporter for the L.A.
Times. We had dated briefly back when she was still doing copy editing
and I was just setting up my P.I. business. We always got together
around Christmas to have a drink and touch bases.

"Hey, Helga honey. Pat Maginess" I said as she came on the line.

"Pat, how simply wonderful of you to call. And how horrible of you not
to have called sooner, you old devil" she laughed.

We made chit-chat for a while, and then I turned the conversation
towards business.

"You know anything about a girl named Brooke Pirelli, Helga? She lives
in Beverly Hills. She's probably rich, given the address. You ever run
into her or anything? Just give me everything you got handy."

"Brooke Pirelli. Yes, I have had the dubious pleasure of meeting her.
Married to Antony Pirelli and, yes, very rich. Pirelli is the Pirelli of
Tony's Pies, the national chain. They may be just pies, but he's made a
fortune off of them. Antony likes racing cars and goes to the private
gambling clubs. He throws a lot of money into both. From what I hear
he's been in Europe for a while. France or Germany, maybe both. Some
sort of amateur racing circuit or whatever. As for Brooke, she plays the
ponies, I hear. Seems to play around in other ways, too."

"With the stallions, you mean?" I asked.

"Well, I was at a party last year. A fund raiser for Carl Luce. He was
running for District Attorney back then. That's your neck of the woods.
Do you know him?"

"Yeah, I know him. A total jackal."

"So of course he won the election by a landslide. It helps to have
rich friends. Rich friends like Antony Pirelli. Anyway, Brooke and
Antony were both there. Brooke spent most of her time flirting with
various men. Antony stood in the corner and downed martinis and fumed."

"So he's the jealous type?" I asked.

"That's the thing, Pat. He didn't seem too happy about it, but it
didn't seem to surprise him either. So it probably wasn't the first
time. I don't have a camera pointed into their mansion or anything, but
my guess is they both have their extra horses in the stable. And then
they come home and fight about it. Couples like that always do."

"So this Brooke, you think she fools around a bit. What's she like
personally? Did you talk with her?"

"She wasn't really interested in talking with me. I'm a woman. And
trust me, this one is one-hundred percent man-centered. My suggestion is
stay away from her, Pat. I hate to sound cliche, but she's bad news. I
could at least tell that much."

"Don't worry, Helga. I don't plan on dating her. This is for a case."

"Care to give me the scoop? I could make it worth your while."

"Uh, thanks, Helga. But I'm just getting going on this one. Maybe
later. Anything else you can think of that I should know on this one?"

"Yes. The pies are mediocre. Don't waste your money on one."

****

After talking with Helga I had a quick drink at the Alley Cat and then
drove over to see Pete Collins. The L.A.P.D. station house was housed
back then in a large single building over by Union Station. After a few
minutes I finally found a parking spot that was legal and a bit later
found myself climbing the old dirty stairs up to the detective offices
on the second floor. I found Collins at his desk behind a pile of
reports. He didn't look too happy.

"Hey, Collins. Writing a novel there?" I said.

Collins stood about an inch taller than my own six feet but was a bit
lankier. He had a rectangular face with a long nose and a strong jaw
that almost advertised Irish cop, and a mouth that no matter what the
situation was always set and determined, even when he laughed. We had
served about three months together at C.I.D. in Italy before we both
ended up in L.A. In a fight he could take me, but I could out-drink him;
on the shooting range we pulled just about dead even, odd gusts of wind
excepted.

"Maginess" he said, "You're the last thing I need right now. And no,
I'm not writing a novel. These are cases I have to go through. Crime is
up and they still won't put on any new detectives. I've had it."

"Well, you can always become a private-eye" I suggested. "Be your own
man, take on your own cases."

He gave me a sceptical look.

"Uh huh. Still working on that antique clock case?" he said, putting
as much sarcasm into it as he could muster.

"As a matter of fact, yeah. How's things going on the DeMargio case?"

"Not good. There's a guy named Olsen. He worked with DeMargio and he's
got a temper. I think he did it, trouble is the prints off the shell
casings on the murder weapon don't match. If he did it, somebody else
loaded the bullets."

"Any match on the casings at all?" I asked.

"Nope. Nothing. I guess the only thing to do is to print everybody at
the damned Aquarium. And then everybody DeMargio knew. And then
everybody in god-damned L.A."

"You ever come across somebody named Brooke in the case?" I asked him.

"Brooke?" he said, thinking about it a bit. "No. No Brooke. Why?"

"Oh, no reason" I told him.

"Don't screw me around Maginess" Collins said, throwing a file down on
the desk. "I thought we went back farther than that." He leaned back on
his chair, lit a Lucky Strike and put his feet up on the desk.

"Sorry, Pete. It's just that I'm not so sure what I'm working on
has anything to do with this DeMargio murder."

I spent the next few minutes laying out the cards. I told him about
the clock at Tony's shop and about Fischer's disappearance. I told him
about my interviews with Jenkins and with Rupert at the auction house
and how the later had led me out to the Aquarium and to DeMargio. Or at
least to what was left of DeMargio. Then I told him about Olsen and the
interview I had with him and how Brooke's name had come up. And then I
mentioned what I had learned about Brooke and her husband.

"The trouble is" I finished up, "is that I don't know yet how all this
fits together. I don't see why a rich girl like Brooke Pirelli would be
involved in a clock scam. The clocks are worth money, but nothing to
what she has in the bank. For her, that would be milk money. But as far
as DeMargio's murder, I'm not so sure."

"So what do you think her involvement is, then?" Collins asked,
flicking a long length of ash into a large, overflowing ashtray. As the
ashes hit the top of the pile they caused an avalanche of older ashes
to flow onto the desk.

"Well, you know how it goes. It's either love or money. And in this
instance I doubt that it's money."

"So, let's think about this" Collins said, lighting another cigarette.
"This Brooke girl, she's maybe seeing DeMargio. And somebody finds out
about it and gets jealous. Somebody like Olsen, maybe. But that would
mean that Olsen was seeing this Brooke girl, or at least had fancy ideas
about it. And you say Olsen did admit to knowing Brooke."

"And Olsen does have a temper" I added. "I noticed that myself. And he
has the keys to the Aquarium. He could have let himself in Sunday night.
On the other hand, this may have nothing to do with Brooke Pirelli. It
could be that DeMargio was involved in a clock scam and got knocked off
by one of his partners. Maybe Jenkins out at the estate, maybe somebody
else. That would be another reason why Olsen's prints weren't on the
shell casings."

"And then there's the husband" Collins added.

"Yeah. Pirelli. He might have gotten fed up with his wife's little
dalliances. Especially if she was getting rather blatant about it. But
he seems to be in Europe. If that's true, that's a pretty good alibi."

"Shit, I don't know, Maginess. Maybe it's time I brought Olsen back
in" Collins said. "His prints might not be on the casings, but that
doesn't mean he didn't have somebody else pull the trigger. All he had
to do was open the gates. Simple."

I thought about that for a minute.

"I'll tell you what" I told Collins. "Why don't you lay off Olsen for
now. He isn't going anywhere. Let me interview Brooke Pirelli first and
see what information I can get out of her. Once I do that, I'll get back
with you. It might save you some time, if nothing else."

Collins nodded his head.

"Yeah, that sounds okay. But I want everything you get, got it?"

"Sure" I said. "And you know, Collins, you really should empty that
ashtray every year or so. It clashes with the rest of the lovely decor
around here."

"Go to hell, Maginess" Collins said in a pure monotone, waving me off.

****

After seeing Collins I stopped off at a filling station. My gas gauge
was sitting on empty, and if I was going to get over to West Beverly
Hills and back I was going to need some gas.

"Fill her up?" asked the attendant.

"Yeah. And if you could, maybe wash the front windshield off too, would
ya?"

"Sure, mister" the attendant said. He stuck the nozzle in and turned on
the pump, then went around to the front and washed my windshield. Then
he went back to the nozzle and looked after it until the tank was full.
He came back around to me, wiping his hands on a rag.

"That'll be three dollars twenty cents" he said.

I handed him four ones. "Keep the change" I told him.

"Thanks, mister" he said. "Have a great day now, okay?"

I pulled out of the station, talking to myself.

"If gas prices get much higher, Maginess, you're going to have to raise
your rates."

It was a long drive out to the Pirelli place, and even though I had
both my side windows rolled down there was hardly enough air generated
by the Plymouth to cool things down to any extent. I really didn't care
what this Brooke girl would think of me personally but I at least wanted
to look presentable enough for her to take me seriously on a
professional level. I took off my jacket waiting for a red light to turn
and during another one opened my shirt and applied some extra deodorant
that I had in the glove compartment. The only thing the deodorant did
was to make the sweat drip down in big drops on the insides of my shirt.
I had the heavy Smith and Wesson in its holster pushing into my left
side, so I took it out and laid it on the passenger seat thinking that
might help keep my shirt a little drier beneath the holster. But that
didn't seem to do much either. I took off my hat and put it on the
passenger seat also and wiped my forehead with my handkerchief. By the
time I turned up Roosevelt Avenue I felt like I had just flown in from
Algeria.

I found the right address and turned in through the gate. The Pirelli
place was surrounded by a tall wrought-iron fence that I imagined
continued around at least the front part of the property. The single
drive up to the house split off in two about halfway up, with one path
heading off to the left and the port-cullis at the side of the house and
the second heading off to the right to the front entrance. Although I
usually had better luck at places like this ringing at the port-cullis,
where most deliveries were made, I decided in this case to go the more
formal route and ring at the front.

The Pirelli place was pure Beverly Hills. It was a large, southwestern
style mansion of off-white stucco and red tile, and from the look of it
contained several different wings at several different elevations, like
boxes that had been assembled together almost at random. It was
impossible to tell from the exterior what the interior plan of the
mansion would be. If the Fischer mansion had been old-world elegance,
the Pirelli mansion was pure I'm-rich-and-you-know-it ostentation.
Nevertheless it was quite impressive, and I guessed that the Pirelli
place outdistanced the Fischer mansion when it came to pure floor space.
In fact, the Fischer place seemed almost small by comparison.

I pulled the Plymouth up in front of the large double doors of the
front entrance and killed the engine. Before I rang I wanted to tidy up
a bit. I put my .38 back into the holster and put my jacket on. I wiped
my face and forehead again and smoothed down my hair using the rear-view
mirror, straightened my collar and tie and gave the collar of my jacket
a tug. Figuring that I was as presentable as I was going to get given
the heat I walked up to the entrance. After a brief search I found the
doorbell and gave it two good long rings.

Just as I was about to ring again one of the doors opened and a
black-haired older woman of about sixty wearing a pink uniform centered
her rather plumpish form in the door frame.

"Si?" she said.

Since I only knew about ten words of Spanish, I stuck with English.

"Good afternoon" I said. "Is Mrs. Brooke Pirelli home, by any chance?
I would like to speak with her a minute, if possible. Brooke Pirelli.
Per favor."

"Mizzuz Pirelli? Si, Mizzuz Pirelli. Si."

The maid opened the door wider and stepped to the side, which I
interpreted as an invitation to come inside.

"Thank you" I said, walking past her a few feet.

She closed the door. "Mizzuz Pirelli, si. Mizzuz Pirelli. I get her."

She walked off down the long wide hallway, repeating "Mizzuz Pirelli"
over and over to herself. I decided that I should probably wait where I
was.

The entrance to the mansion opened out into a long hall about thirty
feet wide and about sixty feet deep. I found myself thinking that if you
could get them through the double doors, and you probably could, you
could park about ten or twelve cars right there in the hallway. Closer
towards the door there was a large oriental rug that gave some relief to
the gray tile floor that covered the entire hall from front to back. The
hallway was devoid of any decoration on the walls and the only piece of
furniture was a small table with a telephone located at the back end of
the hall. The ceiling was in the stratosphere, about fifty feet above
the tiles. One nice thing about the high ceiling and the tile floor was
that they tended to keep things cooler. I was glad for the relief.

I heard some heels clicking on some hard surface from deeper into the
mansion, and a few seconds later a young woman emerged off of a wide
staircase that came down from the left from an upper floor. She walked
toward me with a rather stiffish, almost military-like step, her left
arm stationary at her side and her right arm swinging slightly at her
hip. I took the initiative and bridged the remaining distance a little
myself, matching her formality with a loose, hands-in-pockets,
freewheeling approach.

The first thing I noticed about Brooke Pirelli were her eyes. They
were incredibly blue and crystalline and beautiful, an appearance that
was somehow only intensified by the traces of anger that flickered in
them like lightening bolts over water. Added to the effect of her eyes
was the rather contradictory smile she put on, her lips clamped together
tightly in a way that suggested more of an office-type efficiency than
any real good nature. She had pale blonde hair that reached to just
above her shoulders and which was devoid of any type of added beauty-
salon wave. Her dress was a light pink sleeveless number that hugged her
perfectly curved hips and continued down to below the knee. The matching
pink pumps she had on added a few inches to her height, which in bare
feet I figured couldn't have been much more than five foot, maybe even
less. I guessed her to be about twenty-eight or so, but she had a kind
of pristine, young-girl look about her that, combined with everything
else, gave her a strong if rather coolish seductiveness that was all her
own.

Even in just the few seconds that I had been around her I realized
that there was no way that I could interview Brooke the way I would most
people. I was standing about eight feet from her, and even at that I
felt like I had moved in way to close on a sleeping panther. I was going
to have to take this interview nice and slow and be careful to let
things out a little at a time.

"Mrs. Pirelli" I began, "My name is Pat Maginess. Thank you for seeing
me. I promise not to take too much of your time."

As I spoke I could tell she wasn't so much listening to me as studying
me. She just stood there with her arms lightly folded against her chest,
her hips jutting slightly forward. She didn't respond to my opening
statement, so I continued on.

"I'd just like to ask you a few questions, if you don't mind."

She spent a few more seconds studying me before she answered.

"And how can I help you?" she said, somehow sounding not very helpful.

"Well, I was talking with a guy named Ray Olsen the other day. It was
Ray that gave me your address, in fact. You know Ray Olsen, right?"

She crossed her arms a little tighter, looking directly at me. She still
had that tight-lipped smile going, but the anger in her eyes seemed to
intensify. The panther was fully awake.

"I don't know anybody named Ray" she said flatly.

I made a show of getting out my notebook and flipping though it. As I
did so I took a few steps forward and circled to her right. I looked up
from the notebook and gave her legs an obvious stare, then looked back
into her eyes.

"Hmm, that's funny" I said. "Because he seems to know you pretty well."

"I don't know him" she repeated simply. She turned slightly to keep me
face-on to her.

I gave her legs another long stare, making sure that this time she saw
that I liked doing it. From the look of it, she had perfectly curved
calves. She wasn't wearing any stockings. Given the dress she had on, I
decided that the look of bare leg was much more seductive. In the
interval I took a few more steps to her right.

"He works out at the Los Angeles Aquarium" I said, looking straight at
her once again. "He seems to have a bit of a temper. Of course, that's
something I seem to be running into lately. Maybe it's the heat or
something. You ever go out to the Aquarium, Mrs. Pirelli?"

I didn't really wait for an answer this time, but took a few more
steps to the right. Each time I had moved she had adjusted herself to
face me directly, the result being that I was now facing the front entry
and she was facing into the interior.

"Maybe you know somebody named DeMargio. Do you know that guy? Steve
DeMargio?"

"I don't like fish" Brooke said, skipping my last question entirely
and answering the previous one instead. There was a hint of an
accusatory tone about the way she said it, as if I was some fish-vendor
that was trying to sell her some cod that was on sale.

I circled around to her right again, and once again she followed me.

"Steve DeMargio is rather a cold fish himself right now, it seems. He
was murdered at the Aquarium last Monday night. Three shots to the
chest. Not a pretty sight. You know anything about that, Mrs. Pirelli?"

Brooke just continued to stare at me, tilting her head slightly and
looking bored, as if to tell me I was wasting my time. But I knew
better. I was starting to get under her skin, and that wasn't wasted
time.

"Sure, of course not" I continued. "But Olsen says he knows you. And
he says that you knew DeMargio. And I believe him."

I flipped my notebook closed, as if to say that pretty much settled
the matter.

Brooke suddenly unfolded her arms and moved herself around to my right
and behind me. At that point we were facing each other as we had been at
the beginning but about thirty feet deeper into the hall. We were off
of the oriental carpet now and standing on the bare tiles.

"I don't like you, what's-your-name" she said, in a mildly insulting
way. "And I don't know who these people are you are talking about."

"What about your husband?" I asked. "Maybe I should talk with him. Maybe
he knows something about all of this that you're not telling me."

Brooke once again folded her arms tightly. She seemed about to loose it,
like an injured animal that was ready to strike out.

"My husband is in Europe. Racing his stupid little cars."

I just stared at her. And I continued staring at her, hoping she would
finally break. Unfortunately for me but perhaps to her credit she just
stared back at me. At one point she leaned onto her left hip, arms still
folded tightly, still with that false smile and that fuming look to her
eyes. She extended her right leg out in front of her slightly and I
somehow got the idea that she was daring me to look at her legs again.
So I took her up on the challenge and stared. But that didn't work
either. She simply tapped the toe of her shoe and gave me more of that
false, tight-lipped smile. We both stood there in silence, the seconds
passing by, each determined not to be the one who would crack first. I
finally surrendered. I already knew that this was only the first inning
for me and this girl.

I walked up close to her and handed her my business card from my
wallet.

"If you can think of anything else, I'd appreciate a call" I said.

She leaned forward and snatched the card to the side of her without
looking at it.

"I don't think so" she snapped, as if it would be useless to expect
anything more of her, anything of all, even so much as the time of day.

I put my notebook back in my pocket and walked to the door. Halfway
back I stopped and turned. She was still standing there, one leg out,
watching me.

"So long, Brooke" I said, giving it some volume to span the distance
between us in the cavernous hallway. I tipped my hat to her.

"I'm sure I'll be seeing you again. Real soon."

I pulled out of the Pirelli place and headed back east. The sun was so
bright that I had to squint in order to keep my eyes on the road, and
the heat was as bad as on the trip out. But the sun and the heat were
only minor irritants given my general mood. The truth of it was that if
I had managed to get under Brooke's skin a bit, well then she had gotten
under my mine, too. And she was still there, taking big, deep, totally
famished bites from inside of me.

I figured that if Olsen was lying about knowing Brooke then he
wouldn't have known her address and he wouldn't have reacted in the
angry way he did when I asked him about her. In fact there seemed to be
a lot of anger floating around, and the most obvious explanation was
some sort of romantic triangle between Brooke and Olsen and DeMargio.

Over the years in the military police and C.I.D. and then on my own as
a private-eye I had heard just about every kind of story imaginable,
from the plausible to the completely absurd. Whether it was a drunken
G.I. who honestly couldn't remember where he had been for the last three
days to philandering husbands who had every detail of their lie down
perfectly, I had learned that sometimes what people tell you isn't
always as important as the way they tell you. I had learned to trust my
instincts over the years. And every instinct I had was now telling me
that Brooke Pirelli had killed Steve DeMargio.

I was just going to have to find a way to prove it.

****

That evening I grabbed some Chinese take-out and took it to my office
and spent a few hours updating my case files. I wanted to get my
interview down with Brooke while my memory was still fresh and think
about possible courses of action. At that point I thought it pretty
clear that the antique clock case and the DeMargio murder had only the
most tenuous of connections to each other. I was essentially dealing
with two different cases. The clock matter was still under
investigation. But as far as the DeMargio murder went that really wasn't
my business, at least not if you would take the word business literally.
Nobody was paying me to investigate DeMargio's death, and it was really
more a matter for the police at this point. On the other hand, I wasn't
getting paid for the Fischer thing either.

I kicked back on my chair and put my feet up and picked at the food. I
sipped at the beer and let things settle in my mind. As far as the
Fischer matter, I decided that Jenkins had no doubt been sliding the
occasional clock to DeMargio before he died. There were a lot of clocks
at the Fischer place. How Jenkins had gotten around Fischer knowing
about it wasn't really clear, but I seriously doubted that a case
involving a petty scam like that would result in murder. That would have
meant that Jenkins had killed DeMargio and maybe even Fischer to hide
his involvement in the deal. But I doubted that Jenkins had it in him to
commit two murders, even if his retirement was on the line. If Pauly the
cab driver's memory was any good then Fischer had left town. And as far
as Jenkins killing DeMargio, if DeMargio had been putting the screws on
him in some way it would have been easier for Jenkins to pay him off out
of petty cash money. I was sure that a clever gentleman's gentleman like
Jenkins could figure it out somehow.

"First things first" I said, sitting up to the desk.

I got out the telephone book, the private investigator's best friend,
and looked up Travel Agencies in the yellow pages. On the fourth try I
dialed one that was still open at that hour. The youngish-sounding voice
on the line told me that I had reached All Ways Travel, that her name
was Karen, and that she would be glad to help me with all of my travel
needs.

"That's just great, Karen" I told her. "Hey, I want to go to Vienna.
You know, in Europe. What is the most direct route I could take out of
Los Angeles?"

She told me that she would be happy to find out, and then spent about
the next three minutes finding out.

"The most direct flight is to New York" she told me, coming back on
the line. "Then to Paris. Then to Vienna. That's aboard Trans World."

"I'd like to leave on a Wednesday, if possible. Does that direct route
you mention leave on a Wednesday, maybe a flight in the late afternoon?"

She spent some more time finding out.

"There is a flight from here on Wednesdays at six fifteen. Trans World
to New York and points east. Would you like me to make a reservation for
you?" she said.

"No, thanks. But you've been a most helpful travel agent, Karen. Thanks
for your help."

I hung up. It wasn't anything totally solid, but it sure beat spending
a day out at the airport trying to coax reservation information out of
busy ticket agents. I decided that since time really wasn't an issue
that I would just follow my hunch.

I got out a piece of paper and composed a note.

DEAR MR FISCHER. A CLIENT HAS ASKED ME TO CONTACT YOU REGARDING AN
ANTIQUE CLOCK THAT YOU LEFT IN HIS BARBER SHOP. TALKING WITH STEIN I WAS
ABLE TO GET AN ADDRESS FOR YOU IN VIENNA AND AM SENDING THIS TO CONFIRM
YOUR WHEREABOUTS AND TO ASK YOU HOW TO PROCEED. IT IS NOT MY INTENTION
TO INVADE YOUR PERSONAL LIFE BUT THERE ARE SEVERAL PEOPLE HERE WHO ARE
WONDERING WHERE YOU ARE. IF YOU WOULD PLEASE CONTACT ME AS SOON AS
POSSIBLE ABOUT THIS MATTER I WOULD GREATLY APPRECIATE IT. PATRICK
MAGINESS, PRIVATE INVESTIGATIONS, LOS ANGELES.

I added my office address to the bottom and put the note aside.

If my hunch was right, Fischer was in Vienna. According to Pauly,
Fischer had stopped at the Savings and Loan on his way to the airport. I
figured that would have been a good place to hit a safe deposit box and
get some money and maybe a passport. And although there was no guarantee
that he would contact me even if he was in Vienna, I figured that making
the attempt was a good start.

Then there was the DeMargio matter. I decided that it really wouldn't
hurt to spend a few more hours on the case, seeing as I had gotten this
far into it already. In spite of my suspicions about Brooke it was still
too soon to rule Olsen out entirely. It would probably be a good idea
to stop in and interview him again, and I put that down on the schedule
for the next morning. I also had to see Collins about my interview with
Brooke and give him my best judgement in the matter before I handed it
off to him. And I found myself thinking that it really wouldn't hurt to
have Collins owing me one.

I closed up and hit the nearest Western Union office. I took the note
I had written to Fischer and copied it onto the form. I paid the fee for
the telegram, thinking to myself that there was more money the free case
had cost me.

Stopping at the Alley Cat I had a rye and ginger and tried to clear my
mind for a while. If nothing else it was cool in the bar due to the new
refrigeration system that they had installed the year before. I drank
and smoked while Jack dried bar glasses.

"Maybe time is the root of all evil, Jack" I told him.

"How so, Pat?"

"Well it just seems that the further I get into a case the deeper into
the tar I sink. It never fails."

"I know what you mean, Pat" Jack smiled. "I've got a motor on the old
Ford that I just never seem to get out from under."

"Oh crap, Jack. I hate to ask this, but can I use your phone? Just
real quick, I promise."

Jack handed me the phone and I dialed Christine.

"Well, how nice of you to call" Christine said. I could sense the irony
in her voice and had to laugh.

"Sorry" I said. "I got to working on a case and lost track of time."

"Want to come over?" she asked.

"Yeah, but maybe I better not. I need a decent night's sleep."

"That's too bad" she said. "We could have had a really good time."

"I imagine we could have. Anyway, I'll call you tomorrow about going out
to the cemetary."

"Till then" she said, and rang off.

I had a few more drinks and shot the bull with Jack and Will. Somehow,
before the end of the evening, I found myself thinking about Brooke
Pirelli, about the curve of her hips in that tight pink dress, about
those perfect calves and the toe of her shoe tapping time on the hard
tile floor.

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