a Pat Maginess private-eye story
(Proof of 3/21/2007)
What we obtain too cheap,
we esteem too lightly.
— Thomas Paine
Los Angeles, 1953
I woke that morning from a dream about my ex-fiance in which she was
wearing a bathing suit and high heels and for some reason a sweatshirt
over the top of it all. She was looking better than I had ever seen her,
and I wondered just what it was that made her look so awfully good, whether
it was the bathing suit or the fact that I was surprised to see her or whether
it was just the residual fond memory of a past which, these days, I didn't
think about so much anymore.
More surprising than the sweatshirt was the fact that we were standing
in the middle of a group of strangers around the door to some sort of
chapel. I turned from Christine to look inside the chapel, and as I did
so some music started playing in the background and into a flower-lined
niche set into the wall a casket started to slowly slide on some sort of
conveyor into the niche. The people turned to view the casket as it
appeared. As for me, I felt the opposite way about it. I turned back
towards the door and when I did, Christine was gone. Instead there was
Brooke standing there, dressed to the nines in a black dress and hat
with a short veil. She was wearing white dress gloves and held a white
corsage. "It's so sad" she said. Then she extended a gloved hand. "It's
just so sad" she said again. I reached out and took her hand.
I pulled myself up and sat on the side of the bed. I rubbed my eyes as if
doing so might make the memory of the dream go away. It was just one of
those crazy and almost inevitable dreams, perhaps. Nevertheless I didn't
want to think about things like that — coffins and funerals and such.
And I really didn't want to think about Christine, either. There's a
time for everything, I guess; but sometimes you have to force yourself
to move forward whether you feel like it or not. I thought about Brooke
in her black dress and white gloves. It was almost as if I could feel
her hand in mine, just from the memory of the dream, and I began to ache
inside for want of her.
I forced myself into the bathroom and shaved and showered. I put on a
nice light green shirt with my grey suit, put on my shoulder holster and
jacket and headed off to work. It was a beautiful morning, nice enough
that as I drove the good ways from Glendale over to my office on
Wilshire I gradually forgot about the weird dream and set my mind on
what might be in store for the day ahead.
First thing that I noticed when I got to the office was that Carmen, my
secretary and apprentice of sorts, was wearing an outfit that more or
less matched my own. She had on her new, long grey skirt and a mint-
green, long sleeved blouse. She pulled a case file out of the file
cabinet and lifted herself up from a squatting position.
"Well, it seems we're twins today, Carmen" I said, holding out the front
of my jacket. After a bit she got my point. She put the case file on her
desk. She smiled and struck a glamour pose, one hand behind her head and
the other on her hip. "We look so good!" she said. I struck the pose,
too, and she laughed. "And the best pair of P.I.s in Los Angeles, to
boot" I said. She laughed at that too. It was a minor exaggeration,
I grabbed a cup of coffee and started in on the paperback novel I had
been working on. If a call came in for a new case to interrupt my
reading, that would be fine with me. Business had been pretty good
lately. But at that moment we were between cases, and I always hated
that. Carmen read through the old file, a divorce case.
"Can I ask you a question, Mr. Maginess?" Carmen said after a while.
I set the novel down and went for another cup of coffee. "Sure, Carmen.
"What do you think happened with you and Christine?" she said.
I was taken aback at that. I was expecting her to ask a question
concerning the old case she was reading, or maybe a question about
investigative techniques. I didn't expect the question I got, and I kind
of internally shuddered, remembering the morning's dream.
"I don't know, Carmen. I really don't. Not that I haven't thought about
it long and hard. I guess the best I've ever been able to come up with
is that Christine was just too…perfect. Just too much of a perfect
kind of person for a guy like me. I've got too many flaws, I guess."
I went back to my desk and picked up my novel again, hoping that would
be the end of it. But it wasn't.
"And Brooke. She's not perfect" Carmen said flatly.
"Well, she's currently in prison. I'd say that might involve a flaw or
two. Not to mention a few other things."
Carmen half-smiled and shook her head. She went back to reading the case
I was on my fourth cup of coffee and halfway through the novel when the
door opened. A guy walked in, big, confident looking, clean-cut. He
looked over at Carmen at her desk and checked her out. Which made me
nervous. I didn't like the way he leered at her. Finally he took his
eyes off of Carmen's chest and sauntered over, hands in pockets.
"You're Maginess, I take it."
"My name is Mike Hammond. I'm a private investigator from New York. I
think I might want to hire you."
"Okay, Hammond from New York. Why don't you have a seat. You can tell me
all about it."
He looked at the chair in front of my desk as if it might be too dirty
for him to sit in. After a few seconds, he sat down anyway.
"Got any booze?" he said.
I laughed. Then I pulled a bottle of Canadian out of the drawer and
poured us a couple. "You want ice? I got it if you want it."
He took the drink and belted it down with one fluid motion. "Too late" he
said, slamming the glass down. He grinned like a impish schoolboy. I took
a sip of my drink and looked him over. He was about forty or so, tall and
with the body of a boxer. He was dressed in the newest east-coast men's
fashion, thin-lapelled suit and thin tie, crisp white shirt. He wasn't
wearing a hat, and his blonde flat-top looked like he had stepped right
out of the barber chair.
"Were you a Marine?" I asked, just to get things going.
"Well, I won't hold that against you. You any good as a private-eye?"
"I've got a pretty nice little nest-egg in the bank, let's put it that
He shook his head sadly. "Then you must be pretty good. Me, I spend it.
I've been hoping to save some up for retirement, buy a little bar or
something. No money. Court costs, mostly. I can't seem to stay out of
"So what's your trouble now?"
"My secretary is missing. I have a hunch she came out here."
"How long has she been missing?"
Hammond hesitated, then stood up and put his hands in his pockets. "Over
a year now."
I swore under my breath. A year. I would be lucky to find the wallet in
his damn pocket after a year. "Christ, Hammond."
"I know. I wasn't thinking straight. I kept thinking she'd just dance
right back into the office one day and give me a big kiss. I was
stubborn. I admit it."
"Well, that's all water under the bridge. Let's start with what we've
got. You say she came out here? To Los Angeles?"
"I think she did, yeah. I'm guessing. She always did talk about us
coming out here, moving the agency. She likes warm weather. She likes to
show off her curves. A winter coat isn't for Velma. In any case she's
not in New York, I know that much. So this made the most sense."
"Family? Friends?" I said.
He shook his head and sat back down in the chair. "Pour me another, will
ya?" I poured him a double this time. He took it a little slower with
the new one. "No, all her family was from New York. They don't know
anything. She wasn't really all that close to them anyway."
"Uh huh. Look, Hammond. Why don't you look for her yourself? You're in
"Two reasons. First, she knows me. She might spot me checking around and
then fly farther. And she knows how I think, too. She's good, Maginess.
The smartest gal around. She's got her own P.I. license and she carries.
Second reason, I don't know the lay of the land. This might as well be
Borneo. I'm lost here. I need some local talent."
I turned my chair slightly and looked out the window. It was a big city
out there. Maybe not as big as New York, but big enough. I turned back
to Hammond, who in the interval had gotten up out of his chair again and
was walking around in a tight circle. And every once in a while he'd
take a good few long seconds intermission and look over at Carmen.
"Carmen" I said "would you go down to Eddie's and get me today's
newspaper, please? And see if they have the new issue of Strange Stories
"Okay, Mr. Maginess." Carmen grabbed a few dollars from the petty cash box
and headed for the door. Hammond's eyes followed her the entire way. I
noticed that Carmen was looking Hammond over a bit, too. And that one
really did make me nervous.
"She's a tall one, isn't she? And built. What's with the shoulder
"Her choice. More convenient that way. At least when it doesn't scare
the crap out of everybody she runs across. She usually wears her suit
jacket over it."
"Hmmm. Maybe I should get to know her a bit" Hammond said. "Give her the
benefit of my…experience."
My temper rose a bit at that, but I let the comment slide for the time
being. "Hammond, you could get a new secretary. They got agencies for
that. What is there between you and this girl, Velma?"
He suddenly got defensive. "That's none of your business."
I got up out of the chair and went to the front of the desk and leaned
against it. I pulled a pack of smokes out and tapped a few up and
offered Hammond one. He took it and lit it. I lit mine. When I figured
enough time had gone by, I continued.
"Don't be stupid" I said.
He looked at me like a fighter would sizing up the guy across from him
in the ring. Then he smirked, and laughed to himself like he had just
remembered some ridiculous joke he had heard.
"Okay, Maginess. Fair enough." He pulled an envelope from his pocket and
handed it to me. "I'm just a schmuck. I don't have the right words to
talk about it much. That's a letter she left on my desk. Before she
blew town. It'll explain a few things."
I read through the letter. It was only a good sized paragraph long, but
she didn't mince words. The feeling I got as I read it was that she had
put up with too much, and was tired of it all. It was the letter of a
woman spurned, but not because of someone else, but simply because
someone didn't seem to care nearly enough in return. "But no matter what
you do, Mark" the letter concluded, "take care of yourself. And if you
can, remember me sometimes. You know, good old Velma. The girl you've
kissed a thousand times. Remember me good or remember me bad. But
"So she didn't really disappear, then. She left you. She quit."
He got defensive again. "Yeah, she left me. So what? She left me. And
now I want her back. She belongs with me, Maginess. We're a coin, me and
her, there's no one side without the other."
Whatever Hammond's motivations might have been, a job was a job. And
there certainly wasn't anything illegal about realizing what a fool
you've been and wanting to get your girlfriend back. I thought there was
a pretty good chance that even if I found her, Velda might not want him
back. But that was between her and Hammond.
"I assume you brought a photo with you."
He reached into his inner jacket pocket and pulled a picture out and
handed it to me.
"That's Velma. Velma Kazanzakis."
The woman in the photo was about thirty or so, with short dark hair and
full lips. She was beautiful, and it was easy to see why a guy would
travel across a continent to find her.
"How old is the photo?"
He had to think about that one. "Shit, Maginess. Five years maybe."
"So she'd be about thirty-five now?"
"Yeah. Thirty-six, I think. So where do you plan to start?"
"First things first. I've got two rules on this one, Hammond. First, no
interference. As you say, if she spots you and she doesn't want to see
you, she might leave town. Assuming she's here in the first place, of
course. For the interim, you're on vacation. Just go out and do the
tourist thing for a while and call in once a day in case I need to talk
to you. If you want to work a case, go back to New York and work some
other one. This is my case. And the second rule is, keep your frigging
hands off my secretary. And I'm very serious about that."
He thought about it. It was obvious he didn't care much for either of
the rules. In fact I doubted that a guy like Hammond cared about any
rules whatsoever. But he relented. He didn't like it, but he knew he
wouldn't have my help if he didn't. "Okay. I agree" he said, crushing
out his cigarette on the floor.
"You know, I've never been to New York, but here in L.A. we've got these
nifty things called ashtrays. You should try one. They work real good
when they're not too full."
"Sorry, Maginess. I just had my mind on Velma. Wasn't thinking
I went back to my chair. "There aren't that many investigators here in
L.A. Maybe fifty or so, last time I counted. And not all of them use
secretaries. The chances of her finding a vacancy with one of them isn't
good. She might have gotten lucky, of course. So I'll check them out
anyway. If Velma didn't get a job like that, her options are limited. At
least doing anything that she's used to. House dick somewhere, maybe.
But she's a woman. They might not want a house dick who's a woman.
Anyway, if she sticks to her trade, we might have a chance there. If she
just gets a job among a million secretaries or waitresses, I'd never
find her that way. But I'm going to start with the peepers and security
places. See if she's playing the old trade somewhere. And I'll check out
her permits, too. See if she's gotten new ones here in California."
"Yeah, that sounds good" Hammond said, pulling his chin. "And if you
come up with anything, let me know and I can trace an address or
"Uh uh. Remember rule one. It's my case. I'll track her down. And then
I'll let you know when I've actually found her. Where are you staying?"
"The Starlight Motel, out by the airport. A real fleabag. All I could
"Go back to the motel. Get drunk or something. Call me at five o'clock
tomorrow evening and I'll give you what I've got up to that point."
Hammond didn't much like that plan, either. But he left anyway.
When Carmen got back to the office I filled her in on the details of the
new case. I left my own estimate of Hammond's personality out of it,
inasmuch as it didn't effect how we would proceed. Our job was to find
Velma. My own view, that Hammond was a licentious jerk with the mind of
a teenager, wasn't relevant in this instance.
There being three more hours of the regular business day left at that
point I got out the telephone book and put Carmen to work calling the
various private investigators around town. I tossed some ideas around
with Carmen as to how we would play it. We decided to use the cover of a
life insurance agency in New York who was trying to find Velma to return
some monies available due to an lapsed policy. If Velma didn't want to
be found she may well have people covering for her in case of any
inquiries. But an insurance company inquiry sounded relatively innocent.
In any case it was better than barging right in and announcing that we
were private-eyes. The idea seemed a decent one. We refined it a bit to
allow for the case that Velma was working under a different last name.
About that one we decided just to be up front and admit that the person
we were looking for might have changed their name. There was always the
chance, of course, that Velma had either officially or unofficially
changed her name completely. But there was very little we could do about
"Sometimes you just have to go with the best you can come up with,
Carmen, and hope that it works. You can't always cover all the bases.
You just do your best to cover most of them."
While Carmen worked that end of it I got on the other phone and made
some calls up to Sacramento. It was long hard talking getting through
the various levels of the bureaucracy, but I was eventually able to find
out that Velma didn't have a P.I. license for the State of California.
After that I switched to a different government office, and after
another good while found out that she didn't have a permit to carry a
firearm, either. Finally, I called a local contact of mine at the
L.A.P.D., where I also came up short with regard to a driver's license
or automobile registration.
Then I started helping Carmen with the private investigator's list. By
five thirty we hit the bottom of the list. None of the local peepers we
talked to seemed to know anyone named Velma. There were eleven
investigators left on the list who were out of the office, probably
working cases. I decided that trying them again early the next morning
would be good enough.
"Well, Carmen, we've still got the rest of those people to call
tomorrow. But unless we get lucky with one of them, my view at this
point is that if Velma is in Los Angeles then she's gone clean off the
"Then what do we do now?" Carmen asked.
"To be honest, I don't know. There is the Social Security
Administration. But I doubt we could get any information out of the
Feds. That department keeps things private. You might be too young to
remember, Carmen, but back when Roosevelt first proposed the idea for
Social Security there were people who had real problems with that.
Issuing numbers to people seemed to a lot of folks a little on the
totalitarian side, kind of a George Orwell kind of thing. You ever read
the book 1984 when you were in school? Well, let's just say that
a lot of people didn't want Big Brother breathing down their necks and
issuing numbers. Anyway, the Bill eventually got passed. But not before
a lot of promises were made about how all the information was going to
be kept confidential. They said that Social Security numbers would only be
used by that department alone. Well, look what you've got these days.
These days you find a lot of people using the numbers. Businesses and
such, people who aren't collecting your payroll deductions. But in
actual fact, they don't have a right to your Social Security number."
"In any case" I added, "that hardly helps us find Velma. What say we
pack it in here for the day. I missed lunch and I'm starving. Time for
A half hour later I was at the Alley Cat with a rye and ginger in front
of me and dinner in the works. Truth was, I didn't stop at the Alley Cat
nearly as much any more. It was a long drive back to the valley after a
good number of drinks.
But I always liked stopping in anyway. There was a lot of my past in the
place. Jack Blumenthal, the former bartender who had served me up my
booze there since the 30s, had died the previous year. He died quick, of
cancer. I hardly had time to say good-bye to him he went so quick. One
day he was behind the bar. And then, it seemed only a few days later, he
was lying in a hospital bed looking emaciated and tired, a ghost of his
former self. If nothing else, going into the Alley Cat for me was a way
of preserving his memory. And I also had a few other friends there, Will
the cook and Vikki the waitress. I had known both of them for ages, too.
I knocked off early that night and drove east to Glendale and my little
house. I had owned the house almost a year. But I hadn't exactly gotten
around to getting any furniture for it yet. The only place I had to sit
was on my bed or on a few pieces of lawn furniture out on the rear deck.
I went into the bedroom and took off my jacket and tie and holster, then
made myself a drink in the kitchen and went out on the patio. I
stretched out on the chaise lounge and gave my sore knee a good rub.
The night was as fine as the day had been. In the canyons there in the
valley, away from the lights of the city, it was possible to see a good
number of stars on a good night that was free of haze. I looked up,
trying to see if I could make out any constellations. But I had never
been any good at identifying them, and after a few minutes I gave up.
Then, on a sudden whim, I decided to see if I could make up my own
constellations. I tried grouping various stars together in my mind in
various ways, thinking about the shapes. As it turned out, I wasn't very
successful at making them up, either. I decided to just group every one
of them together. "The Constellation of Whatever" I said to myself.
"Yeah, that's a pretty good name, I think."
A little while later, on my second drink, I fell asleep on the lounge
thinking about the entire universe resting on the back of a giant
I decided the next morning not to wait to talk with Hammond. I needed
some fresh ideas, and in the case at hand Hammond was my only informant.
I dialed up the Starlight hotel and they put me through.
Hammond wasn't very happy to hear from me at that early hour. I reminded
him that I was getting fifty bucks a day and that it might be in his
best interest to wake himself up and get some water running over his head
and meet with me. I suggested that he could get some breakfast, and that
did the trick.
"There's a steak house down the street from the dump here" he said. "They
serve up breakfast, too. I'll be there in an hour."
Me and Carmen spent some time recalling the investigators who had been
out the day before. At the end of it, we got the list reduced from
eleven to seven. Carmen said she would keep trying the remainder. I
grabbed my hat and drove over towards the airport. After circling around
the Starlight Motel for about ten minutes I found the steak house that
Hammond had mentioned. Hammond was already there, sprawled out in a
semi-circular booth like he was the owner of the place. I normally
didn't eat breakfast, but since it was going on Hammond's tab anyway I
ordered a cheese and banana omelette and some coffee.
"Okay, Hammond" I said, lighting a Pall Mall. "I called around. Velma
doesn't have any new P.I. license or carry permit for California. She
doesn't have a driver's license or auto registration, either. We've been
calling the local investigators, but at this point it doesn't look that
we'll find her that way, either. We've still got a few to call. Maybe
we'll come up lucky. If Velma is here in L.A., she's hiding pretty
At that point my breakfast came and I dug into it. Hammond watched me
eat, smoked a cigarette, scowled at me a bit and put it out. Then he
came right out with it.
"I'm paying you good money, Maginess. You mean you're stumped?"
"Well, I wouldn't put it that way" I said, taking a sip of coffee. "But
what I do need is more information about Velma. That's why I called
"So what do you want to know, then?"
"I really don't know. Just general background. A little more on what she
is like. What her hobbies and interests are. What's important to her in
life. What kinds of places she likes to shop at. In general, everything
you can come up with. You don't have to bring yourself into it. I just
want to get to know Velma."
Hammond nodded. "Well, she sure as hell likes to shop, I'll tell you
that. She loves going out and buying new clothes."
"Does she go for the regular places for her clothes, the department
stores? Or do her tastes run to the high-priced kind of stores?"
"Boutiques" Hammond said. "Designer stuff. Nothing but the best for
Velma. How she affords it I don't now. But she made a pretty good salary
with me. We pretty much split the fees down the middle, expenses
excluded. Anyway, she likes clothes. And I like the clothes she likes."
"Uh huh. So she shops at the good places. Tell me something else about
Hammond thought about it a bit. "She used to be a dancer" he said.
"Yeah, back in the early days. Ballet. And modern dance, too. That's one
reason she has that great shape on her. She stays fit. Had her own
exercise bar in the spare room of her apartment. She did it
professionally, at least for a while, before she got into the P.I. game."
"What kind of dance places did she work at?"
"When I first met her, she was dancing at a burlesque thing. Pretty
sleazy. She had men all over the place chasing her. I was one of the few
that managed to catch her. She'd also do the Broadway and off-Broadway
thing a bit, when she could get it."
"Well you know, this is Los Angeles" I said. The waitress came and took
our plates away and refilled our coffee. Hammond gave her a wink and
stuck a toothpick in his mouth. After a bit what I had said finally
registered with him.
"That's right" he said. "Hollywood."
"Exactly. If she was looking to start a new career, she'd have at least
a shot here at getting work with the studios. The competition is tough.
But you said she was a smart gal…"
"The smartest" he threw in.
"Yeah. So maybe she got in somewhere. Anyway, that's another line I can
A half hour later I was at the office. I had decided on the drive over
that it might be a good idea on this one to break up the duties a bit.
It might shave some time off the investigation. And it would give Carmen
a little bit of experience. She had been chafing at the bit for a good
number of months wanting to do some investigation.
"Your going out into the field, Carmen."
Her eyes widened considerably and she came near to jumping out of her
chair. "I am?"
"Yeah. Take this photo around to clothing stores. Start with the swank
places on Rodeo. Cover all of those, and then work your way down the
price scale. See if anybody has seen her in their store. Be sure to
watch them real close when you hand them the photo. Most people will be
straight-up with you. But sometimes people will lie, for all sorts of
reasons. But if you study them close, you can sometimes tell that they
are lying. They look at the photo for too short a time, for example. Or
they turn their head away as if they are embarrassed to be asked. Those
are cues. Anyway, just keep an eye out for anything that seems odd about
the way they handle you showing them the photo."
"Observe their behavior" she said.
"Exactly. That's nine-tenths of what this business is all about, Carmen.
Just human behavior. Your lock-picking kit and your Smith are only minor
and infrequent tools. The main tool is your brain. My dad once told me
something, and I'll pass it on to you. Use your head, Patrick, he used
to say to me. He told me that there would always be someone bigger or
tougher than I was. But that if I learned to use my head, "the good head
on your shoulders that God gave you" as he put it, that I would do okay.
So that's my advice to you. It's about human behavior. It's about how
you use your brain to find things out and deal with what comes up."
"I'll remember that, Mr. Maginess" she said seriously. She pulled her
Smith M&P out of the holster, released the cylinder and spun it,
checking the chambers, then flipped the cylinder back in place with a
quick flick of her wrist. I had never seen her do that before, and I
had to admit that I was impressed. Carmen was like a daughter to
me. And at that moment, I was the proud parent.
She grabbed a small notebook and a couple of short pencils. "I'm ready"
Carmen said, putting on her suit jacket.
I handed her the photo of Velma. "Then get to it, Miss Valasquez."
"And one more thing" I said, as she headed to the door.
She stopped and turned toward me. "What's that, Mr. Maginess?"
"Well, I hate to get personal, but your breasts tend to pull your jacket
open a bit. Which makes your holster visible sometimes. Just something
you should be aware of."
Carmen looked down at her blouse and tried to pull the front of her
jacket closer. "Damn breasts" she said, pulling the lapels a bit more.
I was still laughing when she went out the door.
After Carmen left I went to work on a second track that had occurred to
me based on my interview with Hammond. I got out the trusty old
telephone book again and flipped through it.
Everyone in Tinseltown, from the biggest star to the smallest bit player
in a chorus line, worked through an agent. That was just the way things
were done. If Velma wanted work in the entertainment industry — and in
L.A. even a dancer in a sleezy dive was a member of the entertainment
industry — she would have to go the same route. Smart or not, there was
no way she could stay out of the stream on that one. That was the good
news. The bad news was that because of the importance of agents in town,
as well as the amount of money involved in the industry, there were
simply a huge number of agents that she could be registered with. The
telephone section for agents, in fact, went on for five pages. There was
no way I could contact all of them. But at least it got my brain moving
in the right direction.
Besides agents, there were all sorts of affiliated organizations in the
industry. Like the Screen Actors Guild. I wrote that one down on a
notepad. I flipped through the book some more. My eye eventually caught
on Actor's Equity. That was a possibility also. The trouble with SAG and
AE was that both were essentially labor unions for movie and theatre
people and it wasn't mandatory to join them. Most people who worked in
town, though, belonged to one or the other, or both. Voluntary or not,
Velma might find that joining one of them was almost inevitable. I wrote
AE down on my notepad, too. As it happened, the main office of Actor's
Equity was right up the street from me on Wilshire. I grabbed my hat.
The Actor's Equity office was a large one on the first floor of one of
the newer office buildings along Wilshire. I took a direct approach on
this one. I just walked up to the young woman working at the front desk,
told her I was trying to find an old friend who was a dancer, and asked
her if they had a member by the name of Velma Kazanzakis.
"Well, I don't have that kind of information, sir."
"Could you hook me up with someone who does?" I asked.
She considered that a second, then decided what the hell. "Come this
way" she said. I followed her around the front desk area and into
a large room which was filled with desks and lined along one wall
with small offices. She came to a desk along the back wall and stopped.
"Carol, this is…"
"Pat Maginess" I said.
"Mr. Maginess" she repeated. "He's trying to find an old girlfriend or
something. You think you could help him?"
Carol looked me up and down, then shrugged. "Sure. Have a seat" she
said. She had a very husky voice, so much so I wondered if she might not
be a man in a skirt, quite literally. This was L.A., after all.
"Thanks for seeing me" I said. "I'm looking for a Velma Kazanzakis.
She's a dancer, and I was thinking she might be a member here." Then I
spelled out the name for her to make sure she got it right.
Carol reached over to a small bookcase and pulled out a binder. She
flipped through the pages, giving me the eye every now and then. As she
flipped through the book I noticed that her hands certainly seemed
"Let's see" she said. "No, nothing under that name."
"Oh, that's too bad." I was just about to suggest that maybe I could look
through the book in case she had gotten married and changed her last
name when Carol broke in.
"There is a Velma Kane listed" she said. She gave me that odd look again
and pulled at her blouse lapels with the tips of her fingers. As she did
so I noticed that the exposed portion of her chest seemed a little on
the odd side, the skin rather rough looking. My guess on her gender
tilted back the other way.
"Velma Kane, huh? Maybe she's using that now as a stage name. Is she a
"We don't keep that kind of information" she said. "The only thing I can
tell you is that she's been a member since…let's see, about eight
"Eight months. You got an address for her?"
Carol pulled a notepad over, scrawled the address down quickly, ripped
off the note page and handed it to me.
"There ya' go" she said, smiling.
I took the address and stuffed it into my pocket. Carol smiled at me
again. She did have nice lips, I had to give her that. The scale tilted
back the other way.
"Definitely a woman" I said to myself as I walked out of the office. But
to be honest, I had no idea.
Velma Kane lived in one of the more vague areas of Hollywood on the way
to Burbank. The building was one of the new boxy types, only three
stories, each unit with a tiny patio that you could probably get
yourself and your dog out on. I rang the doorbell, pretty much convinced
that the whole trip was going to be a waste of time. I was just about to
ring the bell again when it opened suddenly. Standing at the door, a
towel wrapped around her neck, was Velma Kazanzakis. There was no doubt
"Velma Kane?" I said.
"Yeah?" she said. She held one end of the towel and leaned a hip against
the door and gave me a vixenish smile that just blew me away. She was
a small woman, about five-foot-four at best. But the various parts of
her were in such perfect proportion to each other that it looked like
she had been drawn by an artist.
"You just gonna stand there admiring the view, big guy? Or are you going
to introduce yourself?" she said.
"I'm sorry. My name is Pat Maginess. Truth is, I'm a private investigator.
And truth is too, you're Velma Kazanzakis."
Her smile disappeared for the briefest fraction of a second before she
regained her cool.
"Ah. I guess I knew this would happen someday. I hoped it wouldn't, but
I think I always knew." She waved an arm back into the room like a
show model advertising a new car. "You wanna come in, Maginess?"
I took off my hat and then followed her in. It was a nice apartment, in
spite of the cracker-box exterior. The furniture was modern, and there
were a number of Degas prints decorating the walls. She had some sort of
exercise equipment set up in the corner of the living room.
"I hate to disturb your workout" I said, dropping my hat on an end
"I was pretty much finished up" she said. "Just about ready to get into
the shower, in fact." Her smile and the tone of her voice and the tilt
of her head as she mentioned the shower were what you might call non-
committally flirtatious, promising nothing, promising everything. "But
first, I think I worked up a bit of a thirst. Would you like a drink,
"Sure. Just to be sociable."
"It'll do, yeah."
She made two light ones with plenty of ice. She floated across the room
and handed me one of the glasses. I took a sip.
"Jack Daniels" I said.
I walked over to one of the Degas prints. It portrayed three dancers, as
if they were backstage.
"Triangular composition in this one" I said. Velma walked up close to
me, very close, and looked at it. "Triangular?" she said, puzzled. Her
hip touched mine, so lightly that you could barely feel it and very much
on purpose. It was getting easier and easier to figure out just what
there was about Velma that could drive a man nuts, nuts in a good way.
What I couldn't figure out is why the hell Hammond seemed to have a
problem with it.
"See, one point is here, at the top of this dancer's head. Then down to
here and this dancer, her knee. And then over to the backside of the
third one. A triangle. One of my former girlfriends was an artist. She was
always trying to teach me things about art. I guess a few of them stuck."
She looked at me, opened her mouth a bit, cocked her jaw to the side.
"You married, peeper?"
"Nope" I said, taking another sip of the bourbon.
"Got a steady girl, then."
"Oh, she's steady all right. You might say she just kinda sits around
waiting for my visits. She doesn't have much else to do, actually."
"Huh" she said. "Sounds familiar. I was like that with…Mark. For a long
time. I just kept waiting. Things kind of half-happened. But they never
happened all the way. If you know what I mean."
"I know Hammond a bit. So yeah, I know what you mean."
Velma finished off her drink and put the glass on the coffee table. "So
he's here. And why is it that he didn't look for me himself?"
"He wanted to use local talent. This was out of his sandbox."
"Oh, you mean he played it smart for once? That's surprising. And how
long did it take you to find me?"
I looked at my watch. "Looks like about twenty four hours. Give or take
a few hours."
"That's pretty damn good, Maginess. It's a big town. I don't have a phone
and I'm not in the phone book. I use an answering service for my acting
jobs. And I didn't even bother with a driver's license. I kept myself
out of things as much as I could. So, how did you find me?"
"Ah. That was one I really couldn't avoid. At least not if I wanted to
find work. How did you think to look with them?"
"I interviewed Hammond. He said you had been a dancer a few years back."
"More than a few years, I'm afraid. Anyhow, that was good investigation.
"Thanks, considering the source. Hammond says you're good. The best, in
"Yeah, he did."
She folded her arms and studied the carpet a bit. "I don't know. I've
been happy. I just don't know if I want to see him or not. The guy just
has a way, I don't know what it is. It's almost masochistic, me and him.
It took every ounce of strength I could muster to leave him. That's why
I came all the way out here. I knew I had to distance myself."
I put my empty glass on the table beside hers and lit a smoke. "I read
your note to him. The one you wrote when you left. It was the note of a
woman in love with somebody. Who might have been disappointed at things,
but who nevertheless was in love. I don't know. I can't say I'm great at
that kind of thing myself. But I do know this. To find that kind of
thing, I think it's a kind of minor miracle."
She looked into my eyes, and for a brief second I thought she was going
to cry. But she didn't. "I just don't know. I don't think I want to see
him. But now that you've found me, I guess I've got no choice."
"I'll tell you what, Velma. Tell me that the guy is the biggest jerk
you've ever run across. Tell me that there's no way in hell you want to
look at his face again. Tell me that you don't care for him one bit,
that it's all just dead in you. You do that, I'll leave here and forget
I ever found you."
She thought about it. Then she crossed her arms and turned to the side a
bit and looked out the window. "He is the biggest jerk I've ever run
across" she said. Then she turned back to me. "But I don't know about
the rest of it. It depends, Maginess."
"What does it depend on?"
"On him. Whether the big dumb guy has learned anything over the past
year. I just don't know."
"Then find out."
She sighed. "Okay, then. Set it up. I have an appointment tonight. And
I'm working tomorrow on a film. Soonest I'm free is tomorrow evening.
Say six o'clock. You think you can set that up?"
I was pretty damn sure that I could.
Driving back to the office I got to thinking about Carmen. She had been
so excited about her first field assignment. I hated to tell her that it
had all been sort of redundant, having already found Velma. I would have
to tell her eventually, of course, inasmuch as I would have to put it
down in the case file. But I figured I would let her ride high for the
time being and tell her the following morning when she came in to the
As for Hammond, I wasn't going to tell him either. I knew his nature
well enough by now to know that if I told him I had found Velma he would
go crashing through her door like a bulldozer without even thinking
about it. The appointment was for six o'clock the next evening. I
figured that telling him about five o'clock would be good enough. He
would no doubt be waiting for a daily update from me, and I would give
him one. I was just going to leave a few things out.
Carmen would no doubt be out of the office the rest of the afternoon on
her assignment. There was little point in going back to the office right
then. I stopped at the Alley Cat and got a drink and phoned Hammond and
set up a new appointment for later that evening. He wanted to meet at the
steak house again, and I agreed. He certainly did seem to like that
steak house. I figured it must be a New York thing.
I had a few drinks and after a bit had an early dinner and then headed
back to the office. About five-thirty Carmen walked in. She looked tired
"No luck, Mr. Maginess. I hit every shop I came across. None of them
knew Velma. I studied their faces as they looked at the photo. I think
they were being honest. As you say, straight-up about it. I guess it was
all a waste of time."
"No, it wasn't" I said, going over to her desk. Carmen had collapsed on
her chair and had one of her heels off and was massaging a tired foot.
"Everything counts. The nature of investigation is that you might draw a
blank ninety-nine times. But then on the next one, you find what you
need to know. That's the important one, of course. But they all count.
If you hadn't gone through the ninety-nine, you would never have found
the information. You know what I'm saying?"
Carmen nodded and put her shoe back on. "Yeah, Mr. Maginess. It all
counts." She took off her other shoe and started rubbing the other foot.
"Right now, my feet are telling me that it counts a lot."
"Maybe you should keep a pair of flat-heeled shoes around the office.
For the days when you'll be doing this kind of thing again."
She got all excited at that. "So I get to do this kind of thing now?"
"Well, let's just take it nice and slow. You got your feet wet today.
Let's let them dry off a while."
That had the effect of putting her back in her disappointed mood again.
But there was nothing I could do about that. I didn't want to promise
her something and then not go through with it. I went over to the little
refrigerator and got her a Coca-Cola and took it over to her. It was the
only thing I could think to do for her at that point.
Right up on seven o'clock I walked into the steak house. Hammond had the
same booth as the morning before. In spite of the supper crowd Hammond
was getting some pretty specialized service from the waitress. Having
already eaten, I ordered a rye and ginger and took off my hat.
"They seem to think you're Frank Sinatra in here" I told Hammond.
"No, just my normal charming self at work, Maginess. Besides, that
waitress? Let's just say it's not true what they say about girls who
wear glasses. I did a little investigating last night. She's wilder than
I could only shake my head. I had no idea what a girl like Velma saw in
the guy. And as far as him changing over the past year, I feared she was
going to be very disappointed.
"So, you found her yet?" Hammond said. He ordered us a couple of
bourbons without asking, Jack Daniels on the rocks. I guess that was one
thing Hammond and Velma had in common. Along with about fifty million
I went through how me and Carmen had hit all the clothing stores and had
come up short. Then, as if I had suddenly thought of the idea, I told
him that the following morning I was going to check out the possibility
that she was working as a dancer and how I was going to cover the
agencies and such. Not knowing anything about the way Hollywood
operated, he just nodded.
"I have to tell you, Maginess. I don't have much money left. If you
don't find her real quick I'm going to have to get on a plane without
I thought that perhaps Velma might in the long run be happier if that
exact thing did happen. But that wasn't my call to make. "I'll find her,
Hammond. I can almost guarantee it."
Hammond smiled. "That's what I like to hear" he said, tipping his glass
to me. "I like men with confidence about them. These wimpy types just
make me sick. Frankly, I think men are just turning into women these days.
I really do."
I thought of Carol at Actor's Equity. Now that was one "woman" that I
would just love to introduce Hammond to. For the most part I just drank
the seemingly endless chain of bourbons that Hammond ordered and
listened to him go on about a variety of subjects. He seemed to think
that today's women were mostly sluts, that criminals were getting off
way too easy, and that Los Angeles was filled with nothing but
After a while the Jack Daniels atarted having its effect on me and I
started talking a bit more. "But if a woman is a slut because she has
sex with a man, doesn't that make the man a slut, too?"
"How you figure that?"
"Well, doesn't it work both ways? What's good for the goose is good for
the gander, is I guess what I'm saying."
"Women are different" he spat.
"Oh, how so?"
"They just are."
"Oh, that explains it then. Thanks for filling me in."
We set to work on another round. Not that we exactly needed it at that
point. Hammond started talking about Velma. I don't remember all he
said. I found myself wondering whether Hammond loved Velma or whether he
just needed her. And I wasn't sure if there was a difference, really.
Perhaps there is a difference, I kept thinking. But I was drunk and not
"Hammond" I finally said. "If we find Velma, maybe you should just make
up your mind to treat her a little better."
"What do you mean? I treat her great. She knows that."
"What I'm saying, Hammond, is that if you truly care for Velma then
maybe you should keep your eyes on the sidewalk and your dick in your
pants for a change."
"Go to hell, Maginess" he said.
"I've been told that before" I said. "I'm still here."
Hammond called the waitress with glasses over and pushed up some money
for our bill. As she reached out to take it he pulled her into the booth
beside him and gave her a long, deep kiss lasting almost a minute. After
he was through kissing her he turned and looked at me, that impish look
on his face again.
"Asshole" I thought to myself. But I didn't say it. That probably
wouldn't be a good idea considering how drunk we were. Fifty dollars a
day, I kept telling myself. Fifty dollars a day, plus expenses.
We walked out of the steak house. I figured that since the tab had been
on him that the least I could do would be to drive him back to his
motel and save him some cab fare.
"You're hardly one to talk anyway, Maginess" he said, crushing out a
butt with his heel. "About keeping it in your pants, I mean."
"What are you talking about, Hammond?"
"I mean that tall stacked secretary of yours. You can't tell me you
don't have that girl moaning on the top of your desk every other
I lost it. Client or not there was no way in hell I was going to allow
that shit to pass. Hammond was walking on my right. I jerked his
left shoulder back and landed a very solid left jab to his nose.
Hammond staggered back a few steps, but in the main he took the punch a
lot better than I imagined he would. He got that boyish smirk on his
face and came at me. He ducked down and threw a right uppercut. I
redirected the punch off to my right with my right hand and
simultaneously grabbed the material of his sleeve and pulled his arm
forward, landing another left to his head. I stepped forward and to the
side a bit and kicked him in the back of his right knee. Hammond hit the
sidewalk hard. This time I heard a noticeable grunt from him. I figured
that would subdue him for at least a few seconds, but I was wrong. He
landed a judo chop right about my left knee, which sent me back a foot
or so. That was all the time he needed. He was on his feet and came at
me like a wrestler this time.
We grappled a bit, neither gaining the advantage as our bodies headed
into the marrow alley at the side of the Steak House. We fell into a
line of trash cans outside the back door of the restaurant and rolled a
few times. Hammond finally got me on my back, grabbing onto the top of my
shirt collar. He was just about to punch me when I gave him a straight-
fingered punch to his neck in the vicinity of his carotid artery. He
came very near to blanking out for a second, which gave me enough time
to roll him off. I stood up again, and then he stood up, too.
The thing was getting pretty serious, and we both knew it. My breathing
was already labored and my knee hurt like hell. It was time to finish
it, one way or another. I went after him, and finally managed to land
another punch, this time a right roundhouse to his jaw. He took the
punch and came in closer, grabbed my jacket at the edge of the lapel,
blocking an additional right I threw. I tried to free his grip on my
lapel with my left hand and arm, but he had too tight of a grip. Which
had the effect of making my left hand practically useless. I tried
another right, which was again blocked.
He pulled his left fist back, and at the the close distance we were to
each other I knew that one of the next ones was going to score. To
my surprise, he didn't take the punch. Instead he slowly uncurled his
fingers and ran them across the bottom of his jaw. He pulled his fingers
away and looked at the bit of blood on them. Then he let go of my lapel
and went over to the side of the building and sat down, leaning against
the old bricks. After a second or two I joined him. My heart was rushing
and my chest felt like there were steel bands around it.
Hammond chuckled. "Son of a bitch" he said. "I've got to hand it to you
Maginess, you can hold your own."
"Some consolation that is, Hammond. I think I'm going into respiratory
"You're out of shape."
"No, it's a bum ticker" I finally managed to wheeze out.
He looked at me like I might be bullshitting him. "No joke?"
He shook his head. "Ah, hell." Then he looked around at the alley, shook
his head sadly. He laughed. "We're in a damn alley, Maginess. Like a
couple of punks. Maybe we are a couple of punks, ya' think? Anyhow, it's
been a long time since I've gone toe-to-toe and got cut. You're good.
Army, you said?"
My breathing was getting more back to normal. "Yeah. Military Police."
"Yeah. Your Ju-Jitsu is pretty good, by the way. Do any investigating
while you were at it?"
"I was in C.I.D. at the end of the war."
"Yeah, it figures. Look, I'm sorry about the crack, Maginess. That was
just the Jack talking. And in any case, I'm just not thinking straight.
I guess I love her. That's the trouble. I guess I just love her."
There was nothing much I could say to that. So I just kept quiet. He was
quiet for a bit, too.
"Oh, if she could see me now" he said. He pulled out a handkerchief and
used it on his jaw. "You ever been in love, Maginess? I mean, stupidly
in love. A love so strong it makes a man stupid."
"Yeah. I know that one."
"What was her name?"
"Her name is Brooke."
He nodded at that, as if to say that was a pretty good name. "Brunette?"
"So what's going on with her? You still see her?"
"She's currently doing 20 years in the California State Penitentiary for
He looked over at me. "Are you serious?"
"Shit, how'd all that happen?"
"It's a long story, I'd rather not go into it." My breathing being back
to normal now, I did the sensible thing and pulled a smoke out and lit
it. Hammond took my pack and lit himself one, too.
"She's my tiny witch" I said.
"Jeezus, what planet are you fucking living on, Maginess?"
"Hell if I know. Like I said, it's a long story."
"Okay. I'll keep my trap shut."
He exhaled smoke from the cigarette with his chin angled up, slowly,
like it meant something to do it. And then he started laughing. And
after a bit I started laughing along with him. So we sat there in the
dark dirty alley for a while, next to the trash cans from the restaurant
and with just the bare bulb from the back door of the place to give us
any light, just laughing, laughing like a couple of drunken idiots.