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Archive for the ‘a Draft Mystery Novel’ Category

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Dragon’s Breath:

Sam Spade: “Then the trick from my angle is to make my play strong enough to tie you up, but not make you mad enough to bump me off against your better judgment.”

 

 

Chapter 2.

 

I watched her disappear around a corner, took a sip of my wine and realized she had not paid for it. “Bitch,” I opined to no one except me. Drank the rest of my Barbera. Began on hers since she had not touched it and I was paying for it and I am opposed to wasting good, or even mediocre wine on religious grounds, being raised Catholic.

Usually tracing a missing person for the price I was being paid warranted about a half hour or so on a computer, a few telephone calls to bulk up the brief final report. A report written in a way that allowed the client to resolve any residual guilt they may be feeling by assuring that he or she had done all that could be done under the circumstances or, if the client is still mired in guilt, suggesting they pay me the rest of my fee and retain me for another week of futility. What the fee did not include, however, was any effort requiring the use of foot protecting composite material or knocking on doors.

Nevertheless, given that the sun was out and it was about as warm as it was going to get in San Francisco; I had just drunk two glasses of wine; the knowledge that the missing Mark’s apartment was only about three blocks away from where I was sitting; and the urgings bubbling out of that dark and defective communication channel that ran between my brain and my groin suggesting that the extra effort could result in my observing Mavis’s tattoos closer up, I decided to knock on his door just in case Missing Mark had decided that Mavis was no longer his playmate and he was hiding from her wrath.

So, I finished the wine, packed the computer in its protective shoulder bag and signaled to Pino to put it all on my tab (which was met with a scowl and a sneer). I then got up, jaywalked across Columbus Avenue and moved on up Green Street toward Telegraph Hill.

I guess I ought to describe how I was dressed so you do not simply picture a dark blob bobbing along the sidewalk. I was dressed like a dark blob. I wore a shapeless grey-brown short overcoat with wool lining, that I picked up at Goodwill, over a yellow sweatshirt with nothing written on it. I do not do advertising. Black slacks below. I don’t do jeans. On my feet are ugly orthotic enhanced shoes to coddle my nonexistent arches. I don’t do sneakers or trainers or whatever those horribly expensive and garishly colored things are now called. Around my neck hung a ratty red and black wool scarf with a fringe on each end.

The sun was shining. The fabled San Francisco fogs of three decades ago a vague memory. It still, however, was about a million degrees colder in the City than in the East Bay but the temperature was still warmer than it had been in times past when one suffered through 12 months of semi-winter. Now, due in all likelihood to global warming, winter in San Francisco lasts only about seven months.

I regretted this change in the weather. Gone were the fogs that cloaked Hammit’s Sam Spade in his daily run from his offices near the Burritt St. ditch to John’s for lunch. You need a real City for mysteries, full of shadows and unhappiness. San Francisco is not a real City. It is too happy.

On the far side of Grant, Telegraph Hill rises. It is capped by that great phallus in the sky memorializing the transcendental virility of San Francisco’s Fire and Rescue personnel. The stunted cement penis also separates the residents of the sunny side of the hill from those fortunate few who really have views of the water. These few live primarily in shacks converted over the years into luxury aeries. These luxury shacks, reachable only by stairs, cling to the side of the cliff like barn swallow nests cling to the eaves of a barn. Among these fortunate few living snug in their aeries live some of the most unpleasant people living on the face of the earth. They are those who fervently believe that their struggles for preservation of their water views and indolent lifestyles benefit the rest of us.

Now do not get me wrong, I hate rapacious developers as much as anyone and believe that most developers should first be boiled in oil and then burnt at the stake in the middle of Union Square, but if these cliff dwellers were so concerned about the rest of us, as they would have us believe, why don’t they turn their happy huts over to the rest of us, say for two days a week, so that the rest of us can sit by the window, smoke a joint, sip some wine and stare slack-jawed at the Bay bridge marching across the water into Angel Island while the ceaseless maritime traffic in the bay passes back and forth under its soaring piers?

On the sunny side of the hill, the streets get steeper as they approach the crest of the peak. The sidewalks change into steps about halfway up the hill. The houses on this side sit cheek by jowl crammed one next to each other. Built about 100 years ago as immigrant tenements, over the years they have been stuccoed, shingled, painted or wood or aluminum siding as fashions dictated. All now painted either white or some pastel shade of pink, blue or green. All except missing Mark’s building located about where the sidewalk changes into steps. Sometime in the late 1950s someone tore down a number of older buildings and replaced them with a dark shake sided five-story apartment in the then fashionable but utterly boring international style. It gave that side of the street the appearance of an ancient bleached jaw bone with a few molars missing.

I knew this building well. In it lived Ann Kennedy who, as serendipity dictated, lived on the same floor as Missing Mark. Ann Kennedy was a masseuse that I visited now and then. She was the type of masseuse that one finds in the back pages of monthly alternative newspapers or on Craig’s List.

Because of the steepness of the hill the entrance to the building was on the second floor, Ann and Missing Mark’s floor. Various stacks of construction materials lay about as they always have as long as I had come here, but no one was ever working.

I marched up to Ann’s door first, because I thought she may have some information about her neighbor. Also, I contemplated the possibility of spending some of my fee on relaxation and release before embarking on my job. Knocked on the door and rang the bell which buzzed with that grinding sound that I hate almost more than anything I could think of.

The door opened about a foot wide. Now, if one were expecting that curvaceous, cleavage exposing, lingerie wearing, red-lipped, dark-eyed beauty in the photographs that often accompany the ads, it was not Ann. Ann more resembled a reject from a model call for a Dorothea Lange photo shoot on the ravages of the Great Depression, right down to her shapeless house dress.

“Yes,” she said?

“Hi, Ann,” I said with a big smile.

I was met with a grey-eyed, pupil-less stare of non-recognition.

“Do you have an appointment?” she asked?

Thought she was either stoned or my belief in the memorability of my presence was overrated. Decided I would save some money and later resolve by hand any uncontrollable urgings I still may have. Said, “Do you know Mark Holland?”

Long stare. “No.”

“He lives on this floor. He is your neighbor,” and I gestured toward the other end of the hall.

She slowly turned her head and looked in that direction, which made no sense since she was standing inside her apartment and could not see down the hall. Slowly turned back to me.

“No,” and she closed the door in my face.

Stood there wondering if I should kick the door in frustration. Decided I would only hurt my foot. Turned went to the other end of the floor to stand in front of Missing Mark’s apartment door. Looked down at the doorknob. Saw scratches and splintered wood. Thought, “Uh-oh, run!”

However, like touching just to see if a sign announcing “wet paint” means what it says, I reached down to turn the doorknob just to see if what I knew to be true really was.

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My partially completed but never to be finished novel, Dominion, can be found at, https://papajoesfables.wordpress.com/dominion-an-unfinished-and-never-published-novel/. Below is one of the draft chapters in which the main protagonist, Vince Biondi, is confronted by San Mateo County Sheriff Megs Polan.

JOEY’S MYSTERY NOVEL: “Dominion.” When Vince Meets Megs.

Chapter whatever:

Vince took into the office washroom the overnight suitcase he always kept available in his office in case he had to make a sudden short business trip or pulled an all-nighter like this one. He washed as best he could, shaved, changed his clothing and returned to his office just as Ray arrived to accompany him to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s office. Ray had obviously been called by Ike and was dressed in what for him passed for business attire, pearl button earrings, a military-style camouflage jacket, matching camouflage pants and neon green Crocs on his feet.

When they arrived at the Sheriff’s office, they were immediately ushered into the office of Sheriff Megan (Megs) Polan, former beauty queen, bodybuilding champion and a rising star in local Republican politics. Vince and Ray sat in chairs across the hygienically clean desk behind which Megs sat enthroned like a medieval duchess. Her still super toned body so filled out her tan uniform that it looked painted on. She had curly auburn hair that hung down to her shoulders and the steely blue eyes of either a stone cold killer or paranoid schizophrenic. She did not rise to greet them or speak but leaned across her desk and pushed a transparent evidence bag containing a small piece of paper towards them. As she bent forward, Vince caught a glimpse of cleavage struggling to escape the casually unbuttoned shirt. He also noticed the large black pistol riding high on her hip. Vince disconcerted that he found himself turned on, covered his embarrassment by dropping his eyes to the proffered evidence bag and studying its contents.

Inside the bag was a piece of paper torn from a small spiral bound notebook and on it, written in a shaky hand, was the message, “If anything should happen to me, call Vincent Biondi,” along with Vince’s personal mobile phone number.

“So Mr. Biondi,” Megs intoned in her surprisingly whiskey edged voice, “what can you tell me about this note and what may have happened to Mrs. Stephanie Coign last night?”

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Dragon’s Breath:

Vivian: So you’re a private detective. I didn’t know they existed, except in books, or else they were greasy little men snooping around hotel corridors. My, you’re a mess,
aren’t you?

Philip Marlowe: I’m not very tall either. Next time I’ll come on stilts wear a white tie and carry a tennis racket.

Vivian: I doubt if even that will help.

 

 

Chapter: 18

 

I was awakened by the screeching doorbell. I had hoped it was Mavis bringing me café latte, donuts and some after dinner sweets. It was not. It was Joe Vu.

“Hiya Boss. You’re gonna be late. You look like hell. Nice place you got here,” he added as he walked by me into the loft.

“Did you bring the coffee and donuts? I can do without the sweets.”

“Huh”

“Never mind.”

Joe puttered around the house while I showered and dressed. We left and got into the car. It was a big black Lincoln.

“We’re downscale today,” I commented.

“Martin is using the Lexus.”

“How many cars does he have?”

“Lots, he collects them.”

“I saw the movie,” he added as we drove away from the curb.

“Movie?”

“Yeah, The Big Sleep, with Bogart and Bacall that you told me to watch. I don’t know about that Bacall, skinny bitch, no tits or ass.”

“They liked them like that then. Skinny ment rich and elegant. Today we still do skinny, but we add the tits and the butts, often fake ones, like ornaments on a Christmas tree. Zaftig is out in the modern world.”

“I couldn’t figure anything out. Who killed the chauffeur and Rogan? And why was everything so dark? I liked the car though.

” Yeah, it was a sweet Plymouth. Nobody knows who killed the chauffeur or Rogan, not the guy that wrote the story, not the director of the movie and certainly not the actors. Life is like that and so is the private investigation business. Sometimes, hell most times, you simply do not know what happened and never will. And, just like in the movie, it probably doesn’t matter.

As for the dark and the shadows, in films and books that’s called noir. It’s French for dark. Dark shadows, dark thoughts and dark deeds. It’s not like real life at all. Everyone likes light in their life. If it gets too dark they go to sleep. Even bad things are usually done in the light, behind closed doors and in secret perhaps, but the lights are usually on.”

“So, I guess it was like the last one you had me watch, there’s nothing in the movie to learn about bring a private eye?”

“No, in this one there is a lot to learn and remember. For example, you’re never hired by people who have to choose between food and you. It’s always someone who has a some spare cash around. They can spend it on you or a new piece of matched luggage. It’s all the same to them. So make sure you get paid. Up front if you can.

The movie also tells you, don’t work at night. Its dangerous. Sometimes you have to work at night. Like when you’re sitting in your car with your camera watching, hoping to catch client’s husband disappearing into the motel. Still, in the world of private detecting or in life itself, nooners are safer or right after work. Late night trysts interfere with your sleep and should be avoided. Always try to charge more for night work.

Also, if your client has a good-looking daughter, sleeping with her makes the job more interesting. And if he has two, and you have to choose, choose the skinny one.

And finally never, ever have dealings with someone named Eddie Mars.”

“You’re very sick, boss. Why the skinny one?”

“I don’t know. It is one of life’s mysteries.”

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We arrived at IHOP about 10 minutes late. Martin Vihn had not yet arrived. I took a seat at a booth against the back wall and sat down facing the entrance. Joe slipped into the seat opposite me. A window was on my left through which I watched a man assemble a sidewalk stand. The waitress brought the menus. Joe got right down to studying it. I watched the man struggle with some pipes that held up an awning over his stand while I thought about my upcoming meeting with Vihn. My usual bouts with fear and uncertainty slithered through my mind like minks in heat. The worst part was wondering about what people, like Mavis or Fat Al would say if I was wrong and died. I imagined something like, “What on earth possessed him to take such a risk.” Last night I thought I had good and compelling reasons, but now I realized they were mere rationalizations for whatever was so deeply imbedded in my psyche that impelled me to act as I did.

Nothing new in that, I have become convinced most of the reasons we tell ourselves that we need to do something have little to do with why we do whatever it is we end up doing. They are merely a handy thing, whenever we are successful, to tell ourselves and others. You know, “I knew what I was doing all along.”

Joe brought me out of my musings. “I’m having the Belgian waffles. What about you?”

“I’ll probably have the blueberry short stack and fried eggs. For some reason I always get the same thing when I come here.”

Martin Vihn entered the restaurant followed by two of the young men I had seen before. One was dressed like Joe in tee-shirt and windbreaker. The other had on a dark hoodie. Martin had on a dark blue jacket over a white button down shirt and jeans. He came over to our table.

“Sorry I’m late. Traffic and parking”

Joe slid out from his seat. Said, “I’ll sit with Vinnie and Chang.” He walked over to the table where the other two young men who accompanied Vihn sat. Vu’s arrival prompted a lot of laughing and fist bumping. Martin nodded to him and sat in the seat Joe vacated. The waitress arrived and we ordered. She then went over to the table where Joe and the others sat.

“Any word from the police on the cause of Clarence’s death?”, he asked.

“The autopsy scheduled for later this morning. The cops are being close-mouthed.”

“How do you think he died?”

“I’m not paid to guess.”

Martin rarely raises his voice but his anger blazed out of his eyes like campfire embers poked with a stick. “I’m paying you and if it is your opinion I want than then it is your opinion I’ll get.”

“He could have been walking along the shore reciting poetry tripped and fallen into the bay and drowned. I doubt whether it makes much or a difference to anyone how he died, even to the murderer, if he was murdered.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I can’t see you shipping drugs or anything else illegal this way. By reputation, you’ve been able to bring thing like that into the States with no problems in the past. There’s too many better ways. Dropping packages into the water offshore at night, trans-shipping through Alaska. Even if you were to do something like this, certainly not through the Port of Oakland. There are other less watched small ports like Eureka and Redwood City. So, I can’t figure you for something like a dope deal in this case. So, I ask myself, although he is such a prick I am sure a lot of people would like him dead, why would anyone involved in this case kill Clarence? Then there is the hiring of me. It can’t be all that important to hire a second-rate shamus like me.” I stopped there and stared at him.

Martin’s silence lasted a long time as he stared at me. Our orders arrived before he answered and we began eating. After swallowing his first bite, Martin sat back and said:

“Look, whatever you think I may also be mixed up in, I am also a legitimate business man. I invested in a business to import into America furniture made in South-east Asia. Now the man who talked me into the investment and was supposed to manage the business is gone along with he merchandise.”

“But even so, two containers of furniture could not have been valuable enough for all your interest, not to mention knocking off Reilly if in fact he was killed.”

“You figured it out already. You’re cheap. I only spent $1000 dollars so far.”

“What about Joe?”

Vihn looked down at the table for a while. “He’s my brother’s son. I care about him. He refuses to go to college and is too interested in the wrong part of the family business. I thought following you around a while would help to get him interested in something else. That was a spur of the moment thing, I’m afraid.

“So you hired me as a babysitter?”

“A thousand dollars a month is pretty cheap for baby sitting these days,” he said with a smile.

We ate our breakfasts in silence. Over coffee I assured him, I will try to find out how Reilly died and what happened to the furniture.

I then asked, “What’s Lilly’s role in this?”

“She’s my lawyer.”

“Nothing else.”

“It’s none of your business.”

I smiled, got up, collected Joe and left Vihn to pay the check.

On the way back to the car, I called Mavis. Told her that I would come by that afternoon and that we were going to attend Reilly’s wake.

For some reason the thought of Mavis, death and my current role got me ruminating about God and humor, God’s humor to be precise.

Humans are a fascinating species. I am convinced God created us because he or she (I refuse to take sides on the issue of God’s gender — although the Good Humor Man of my youth was always male) found presiding over the rest of the universe dreadfully dull and craved some amusement. While growing up I always thought that God was the Good Humor man. Every afternoon the Good Humor man rang his bells in front of my house. The sound of those bells filled me with hope. Would your God do as much for you?

I was pulled from my reveries by Joe shouting “Boss, boss!’

I stared at him as the world around me came into focus.

“Is there something wrong? You were talking on the phone and then you just stopped staring off at nothing. Are you OK? You thinking about the case? “

“Yeah. I’m OK. Rule whatever number… in private investigations there are no cases only assignments. And your current assignment is to find us some ice cream and drive me to Crissy Field.”

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