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"Remember Me" (Part Two)

There not being a lot to do the next day until getting together with
Velma and Hammond I called into the office and told Carmen that I was
taking the morning off. I decided to go out and visit my mom's grave at
Memorial Gardens Cemetary. It had been a good while since I had been
there, and the last time was with Christine. We had just started dating,
then. Driving along the winding lanes of the cemetary I fully expected
that all the memories of that day would go floating through my brain.
But strangely, my mind just seemed almost numb with regard to it, as if
the memories were just a little bit too far to reach.

I walked over to my mom's grave. My knee hurt like hell from the good
chop Hammond had gotten in on it. The distance to the grave seemed
a lot longer than last time. I had to stop and rest along the way as
I went up a sharp incline to the plot.

Standing over the grave, I said my hellos. I thought of the bouquet of
flowers that Christine had brought the last time, and I cursed myself
for not thinking of it. "I should have brought you some damn flowers,
mom" I said. I pulled some weeds out from around the edges of the
headstone. "But here I am anyway."

There not seeming anything left to do at that point, I stood silent a
few minutes longer and then walked back to the car. Back in near the
office I stopped and got a tenderloin at my favorite drive-in. The car-
hop was perky and cute, but in fact she barely registered. I think I
managed to give her a smile before I pulled out. But I don't think it
was a very sincere one. She returned the smile anyway.

It was coming up on noon at that point. I needed to stop in at the
office if for no other reason than to fill in Carmen about the case.
As I rode the elevator up to to the third floor I thought about how I
was going to tell her that I had found Velda. But I couldn't really
think of any delicate way to put it. So by the time I opened the door I
had decided just to give it to her straight.

"You remember yesterday, when I talked about nothing being a waste of
time?" I asked her.

"Sure. I remember."

"Well, keep that in mind." I then told her how I had gone through the
phone book and checked out Actor's Equity, about the interview with
Carol and getting a possible address on Velma. Then I told her that it
had panned out.

"You mean, you found her yesterday morning?"

"Yeah. Well, yesterday about noon, to be exact. I want you to know the
reason I didn't tell you is I wanted you to get the benefit of the
experience in the field. And I wanted you to have that as a kind of…"

I had to stop. I had no idea what I was saying. "Damn, Carmen. I just
didn't want to have you disappointed is all. That's all I can say."

Carmen thought about it a bit. Truth was, in spite of her good nature I
wasn't sure what was going through her head as she sat at the desk and
tapped a pencil against her notepad.

"Well, you found her, then. That's good."

"We found her. Both of us. It could just as easily have been me
covering the dress shops and you checking out the agencies."

Carmen sighed. "I know, Mr. Maginess. I just wanted so bad to be the
one to break the case. I wanted you to be proud of me."

I went up to her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Lord, Carmen. I'm
proud of you every damn day."

She stood up suddenly and almost before I knew it she had her arms
around me in a big hug. After a bit I gently pushed her away. "Now" I
said, giving her hand a squeeze, "why don't you see if you can reach
Hammond at his motel and set up a meeting. Tell him I'll pick him up at
his motel at five-thirty. Don't tell him anything about the case. Just
make the appointment and tell him it's important. If he asks, I'm out of
the office working the case. Got it?"

"Got it. Five-thirty. No details."

Since I thought there was an outside chance that Hammond would get
curious and decide to taxi it over to the office, I went over to the
Alley Cat and had a few drinks. Will the cook had the kitchen already
squared away for the dinner hour, so he joined me at the bar. He sipped
a Bloody Mary and we talked about old times. Eventually we got to talking
about old Jack.

"Did you know he did time in prison? He was a communist. All of that Un-
American legal crap during the first World War got him. He did five years.
Just for disagreeing with things. He was a brave man, at heart."

Will just shook his head. "This country is crazy sometimes" he said.

"Hell, the whole world is nuts, Will. And that's most of the time."

Vikki the waitress came in and, there being no customers to wait on at
that point, she sat down with us. For a brief while, except for the
absence of Jack, it really did seem like the old Alley Cat again.
Eventually we got to laughing at some of Will's less successful culinary
experiments across the years. After a while Bryce, the new guy, came out
in front of the bar and joined us as well. "Here's to today, just us,
the new old crew" I said, tipping my glass. Will raised his Bloody Mary
and Vikki her Coca-Cola and Bryce his glass of water and we made the
toast. "Except for the 'old' part" Vikki said. "There's no way I'm going
to be labeled as old quite yet."

About quarter to six I pulled into the Starlight motel. Hammond was
waiting at the office entrance, smoking a cigarette, looking rather
unhappy about being kept waiting. I reached over and pushed the
passenger door open and he hopped in.

"Sorry about being late. Had some last minute stuff to take care of.
And, before you go busting my chops about anything, you should know
that I found Velma."

He turned and looked at me. "You found her?"

"That was what you hired me for, right?"

"Yeah, right. I want to see her."

"It's already been arranged. We're on our way there now."

When we got to Velma's building I caught Hammond turning his experienced
investigator's eye to the place. "Not bad. Not bad, but not good. She's
not making as much money these days."

"They say that money isn't everything."

Hammond eventually opened the door and climbed out. He walked so slowly
up the sidewalk that you would have thought there had been an overnight
freeze and that he was afraid of slipping on the ice. When we got to the
main door to the apartment building Hammond stopped. He took the breath
mint out of his mouth and threw it away. Then he straightened his tie
and pulled his jacket collar a bit and ran a hand over his hair.

"How do I look?" he said.

"Dapper Dan" I said.

He seemed relieved. "Good. Let's go."

We rode the elevator up to the second floor. Hammond seemed almost
unwilling to do so, so I pushed the doorbell. When the door opened Velma
looked at me, and then at Hammond.

"Well, two for the price of one" she said. "What a lucky girl. Come in
and have a drink, fellas."

We followed Velma into the room and she poured the drinks and passed
them to us. So far, Hammond hadn't said one damned word.

"Mark" Velma finally said. "How's business?"

Hammond stared down at the carpet a bit, then finally looked up at her
and looked her in the eye. "Good, Velma. Well, not so good. Not as good
as when you were on the team, that's for sure."

Velma smiled, walked up a bit closer to him. "Meet any beautiful women
lately?" she said, rolling the ice around in her glass a bit.

"No. None compared to you, sweetie."

"I'll bet." She walked up a bit closer. Then, remembering that I was
standing there, she gave me a smile, too. "Hello, Maginess. Good of you
to escort the big lug. He loses his way sometimes. Don't you, Mark?"

"All the time" he said, rather nervously.

There was a long silence. Velma went over to the bar and set her drink
down, then walked up to Hammond and took his drink and set it on the
coffee table. Then she stood in front of him, close. She seemed to be
waiting for something.

"Damn it" Hammond eventually said. He rushed up to her and grabbed her
around the waist. "Velma, I can't stand it any more. We're two sides of
a coin, me and you. You, you're the good side of the coin. Come back
with me. Come back to New York."

Velma ran a hand across his chest, looked up at him. "Aren't you going
to kiss me? A promise kiss. Don't do it unless you mean it."

Hammond kissed her hard. Then he slid himself down to the floor, onto
his knees. He held her by the hips and looked up at her. Velma put a
hand on the back of his neck and rubbed it a bit, looking down at him.

"I can't live without you, Velma" Hammond said.

At that point, feeling a lot like a sidecar on a fast moving motorcycle,
I put my glass down on a desk and left them alone with each other.

As I drove back to Glendale I got to thinking about the Hammond I had
observed in Velma's apartment as opposed to the Hammond I had come to
know over the past couple of days. It wasn't that he had lost any of his
toughness around her. I doubted whether a man like Hammond could ever
put aside that type of thing. But there was no doubt that he was more
unsure about things, more just an ordinary man who had to whistle in the
dark occasionally, who had to admit that he didn't have the whole world in
his pocket. There's an old saying that it takes a woman to bring out what
is best in a man. If that were the case, then I thought that it would
never be so true as it was with Mark Hammond and his Velma.

Back home, I made a drink and went out on the patio. It was another
wonderful night. There seemed to be even more stars out than on the
previous evening, and I started thinking about the names of
constellations again. I decided that the name Constellation of Whatever
wasn't good enough for some reason. So I thought about it through
several more drinks, and it eventually occurred to me that there could
never be a good name for that type of thing. I thought about Brooke
and Christine and the dream I had. And somehow, it didn't frighten me
any more. It was all too big to worry about, there was just too much of
it, and it all seemed to just fly out into an eternity of stars.

"Hell. It ain't so sad, I don't think."

I pulled out my .38, opened the cylinder and then, remembering Carmen
doing it, flipped it closed with a flick of my wrist. It had been a
while. I guess I still had the knack.

"Well, old Smith, I suppose I'll always have you, no matter what" I said,
returning it to the holster. And after a bit I fell asleep on the lounge
again. It was a deep sleep, with no dreams.

************

About noon the next day Hammond walked into the office. He had the big
smirk above his tough jaw and he came over to the desk like he had just
turned up a royal flush in a high-stakes poker game.

He took a little packet out of his pocket and ruffled through it.
"Two tickets to New York. Via St. Louis. Afternoon flight."

"Congratulations, Hammond. I'm happy for you."

"First class, too. But before I did that, I guess I wrote this for you."
He pulled a check out and handed it to me. "Don't worry, it's good. But
cash it quick. I'm now totally broke. I guess I'll have to find a case
real fast when I get back. Anyway, does that clear us?"

The check was for five hundred dollars. Which was more or less what he
owed me at that point plus a halfway decent bonus. "That'll do it" I said.
I held the check up and Carmen came over and then went back to her desk and
put it in the cash box. I noticed that as Carmen crossed the room Hammond
did his best not to look at her. Which was a pretty good idea, considering.

"Great. We're square then. I'm a changed man, Maginess. I swear. From now
on, it's just me and Velma. Me and Velma against the world. Which is how
it should be."

He walked toward the door, then turned. "And thanks, Maginess. It's
been a pleasure drinking with you."

I laughed. He had meant the fight in the alley. "Sure, Hammond, you too.
And take good care of her."

After he left I kicked back at the desk and put my feet up. I looked
over at Carmen. She had a hand on her chin, and was seriously going
through another old case file. So young, I thought. And yet it was time
to get her started on things. I almost didn't want to admit it to
myself, but I didn't know how much longer I could continue in the
business. I was only forty-five. But I was just getting too old and beat
up, and I had the heart problem on top of it. I figured I had five years
left at it, maybe seven or eight if I was lucky. It was time to start
training Carmen. There was something about it that I regretted. It was a
tough way to make a living and I didn't want to see her end up like me
twenty-five years down the road. But it was obvious that it was what she
wanted. It was time.

But it wasn't going to be today. Tomorrow would do just fine. I pulled
myself up slowly and went over to the coat rack and grabbed my hat.
"C'mon, Carmen. We're locking the place up and going for a walk."

"We are?"

"We are. Just me and you."

Outside the building a ways we passed a flower vendor. I stopped and
picked out what I hoped were a nice bunch of flowers, paid for them and
handed them to Carmen.

"What are these for, Mr. Maginess?" She stuck her nose down into the
flowers, and then smiled.

"Just something to remember me by, Carmen. Someday up the road, if I'm
not around any more. Never say that I didn't buy you any flowers. Never
say that I didn't care about you so, so much."

She smiled at that, too. I put my arm around her waist and we walked
up Wilshire. It was a perfect afternoon, just perfect. And we both
knew it.

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