Hollywood’s best P.I. McNulty helps a comedian corpse get one best laugh. 1,848 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“Okay, let’s do this,” McNulty said aloud as the sun slowly rose over the San Gabriel Mountains.
Seated in a florist’s van rented from a movie vehicle supply house, Hollywood’s most in-demand private eye waited to see if the first minor obstacle, namely getting screen siren Eden La Peer’s actor fiancé out of the house, had been successfully handled. The answer came shortly after 7 a.m. when the gate to their Beverly Hills home opened and the fiancé’s Jaguar convertible headed off to Palm Springs for a two-day gig that McNulty had arranged through a TV producer who, like most people in the industry, owed the P.I. a favor.
So far so good, McNulty thought.
A few minutes later, the florist van rolled up to the gate intercom and buzzed.
“Yes?” a woman’s tinny voice asked.
“Floral delivery for Miss La Peer,” the uniformed driver said.
The gate opened slowly. But, before the van moved, the side door slid open and one of McNulty’s men hopped out wearing a rented security guard uniform. His job was to keep any unwanted visitors from passing through the gate while the van headed to the house.
A few moments later, the van driver carried a large floral arrangement wrapped in clear cellophane to the front door. McNulty followed but hid himself off to the side. The door opened and Eden La Peer was standing there in a low-cut satin nightgown, her hair tousled and her eyes sleepy from the early hour.
“With the studio’s compliments, Miss La Peer,” the driver said, placing the arrangement in her arms. “Best wishes for a successful premiere this evening.”
“How lovely,” Eden said, unable to suppress a yawn.
She peeled back the cellophane and, just as McNulty knew she would, inhaled deeply to enjoy the sweet aroma. She had no idea that all the flowers had been laced with a nasal cocktail of Benzodiazepine and Propofol, carefully prepared by an anesthesiologist at Cedars-Sinai. Its effect was even faster than if it had been injected into her vein. Eden’s head began to swim, and then her eyes fluttered and rolled upwards as a curtain of darkness quickly enveloped her. But just as her legs buckled, McNulty and the driver caught her. McNulty swept the actress into his arms and carried her upstairs to the master bedroom.
“Bring Sasha in,” he told the driver. “And find Eden’s phone.”
The driver found the cell on the kitchen table. He went to the van and handed it to Sasha. “The boss is upstairs,” the driver said, slipping behind the steering wheel. “Break a leg.”
The van pulled away. It would have looked suspicious for a floral delivery van to remain on the premises.
Sasha found McNulty in Eden’s master suite, where she was laid out comfortably on the bed and covered by a thin duvet. “How is she?” Sasha asked.
McNulty checked her pulse. “Resting comfortably,” he smiled.
Sasha handed him Eden’s phone and disappeared into the adjacent bathroom.
McNulty pressed Eden’s finger to the home button to unlock her iPhone. Once it was opened, he went to her contact list. Because her movie premiere was scheduled for that evening, Eden’s assistant, PR team and hair, make-up and wardrobe stylists were scheduled later that day to ready her for the Red Carpet. McNulty sent them all a text from Eden’s cell: STAY AWAY! FLU BUG. DOC COMING W/B-12 SHOT! UR FIRED IF U COME. C U TONITE!
As McNulty knew it would, Eden’s phone rang. Her assistant, Julie, was calling. McNulty went into the bathroom and handed the phone to Sasha. “It’s for you.”
Sasha took the cell and perfectly mimicked Eden’s voice. “Julie, I’m coming down with something and I don’t want to give it to any of you. Make sure you let everyone know, okay? Tell the studio I’ll be there tonight. And I mean it about firing people.”
Sasha clicked off and handed the phone back to McNulty. So far everything had gone as planned.
All McNulty had to do now was wait for the van carrying Lenny’s corpse to arrive. He checked on Sasha’s progress in the bathroom before settling in a chair across from Eden’s bed.
The funeral home’s van was late. Normally, the trip from the mortuary to Eden’s residence should have taken twenty minutes, tops. But thanks to a visit by the President of the United States, all the streets along the motorcade’s route were n closed, trapping the van in a massive carmaggedon. “Dammit!” McNulty muttered as the local TV stations faptured the gridlock.
Timing was critical now. McNulty knew the effects of the anesthesia would be wearing off soon and it was imperative that Lenny be there when Eden woke up. What’s more, the studio limo would be arriving early to ensure that Eden would make the premiere in plenty of time. Which meant that Sasha would be exposed even longer than planned.
McNulty was pondering these problems when Sasha slinked out of the bathroom. “How do I look?” he asked demurely, perfectly mimicking Eden’s voice.
The transformation was startling and McNulty’s jaw nearly bounced off the floor. Standing before him in a long glittering, figure-hugging dress was the spitting image of Eden La Peer.
“Amazing,” McNulty said, a bit awestruck. It was truly a stunning transformation. No, make that a metamorphosis.
“Don’t look so shocked,” Sasha smiled, patting McNulty’s cheek. “It’s why you hired me.”
It was. In order to arrange for Eden La Peer to be in two places at once, McNulty had contracted with Sasha Vivacious, the star female impersonator from Popped Cherry’s drag wildly popular nightly show, to stand-in for Eden at the premiere of her new film.
Just then, McNulty’s burner hummed with an incoming call. It was his phony guard at the front gate informing him that the studio’s limo had arrived amidst a knot of paparazzi outside.
“That’s good,” McNulty told him. “If they buy that Eden’s in the limo, they’ll follow her.” He turned to Sasha and said, “You’re on,” giving the impersonator a friendly pat on the ass. “Go get ‘em.”
From Eden’s upstairs bedroom, McNulty watched the gate swing open and the limo travel up the driveway. He counted a dozen or more paps out there, all with cameras equipped with telephoto lenses ready to record Sasha as Eden sweep out the front door. Fully aware of the lenses trained on her, Sasha paused and struck a few sassy poses. He blew kisses to the cluster of paparazzi, who continued to shoot as the limo transporting Sasha passed through the gates before running to their vehicles to give chase.
McNulty smiled. The ruse was working. But still no Lenny. A soft murmur came from the bed, and McNulty saw Eden’s body move under the duvet. The anesthesia was starting to wear off.
“Son of a bitch!” McNulty swore as he reached for the burner. He was about to call it off when the cell hummed.
“We’re moving,” said one of the men riding with Lenny. “Be there in fifteen.”
“Make it ten,” McNulty snapped.
When she finally came out of her drug-induced slumber, Eden began to stir under the duvet. Still dazed, she sat up and winced in pain, her head aching dully from the anesthesia. Confused, she saw that she was still in her satin nightgown.
She asked herself aloud, “Why am I still in bed?” She took a few more moments to process. Then, a sudden realization. “Oh my god,” she gasped. “The premiere!” Panicked, she looked at the time. Just after 5 p.m. “I don’t believe this!” she cried out.
Flipping the duvet back, she tried to clear her head. But she saw that the other half of the cover was pulled up against the headboard. And something was under it.
“What the hell?” she muttered softly.
Eden grasped the duvet’s edge with both hands and yanked. And that’s when she saw what could never be unseen again. There was Lenny, propped up against the headboard!
Eden jumped back as a scream formed in her throat. But when it erupted, it wasn’t a shriek of terror. Instead, it came out as an uncontrollable belly laugh that morphed into uncontrollable guffaws. Eden was literally howling with laughter. And who could blame her? For there, splayed out on her bed, lay the naked corpse of Lenny Hazeltine, a crooked smile on his lips and his body sporting four pointy party hats: one atop his head, one each over his nipples, and one more over his penis.
Eden La Peer howled for ten solid minutes.
Lenny Hazeltine had won his bet.
McNulty managed to pull it off. He and his crew had cut it damn close, but in the end they were able to give Lenny Hazeltine his last laugh. McNulty had concealed several mini-cams around Eden’s bedroom in order to capture everything on digital video. And what he and more than 2.7 billion YouTube viewers saw was one of the funniest pranks ever recorded.
To this day the gag still makes Eden giggle. And why shouldn’t it? In the end, the publicity solidified her standing as a down-to-earth diva who, despite her ultra-sexy stardom, didn’t take herself too seriously. “Yes, I’d heard about Lenny’s bet,” she confessed on all the late night talk shows afterwards. “But it would have e a lot more than romance or money to get me into bed with him.”
“What else would it have taken?” the hosts asked.
“Chloroform and a gun.”
The line never failed to trigger gales of laughter from the audience. And no one would have laughed louder and harder than Lenny, whose entire act was built around his self-deprecating humor.
“Didn’t think you could pull it off,” Solly Teesdale confessed a week later while settling in next to McNulty at the usual back booth at Musso & Frank’s.
“It was touch and go for a while there,” McNulty admitted.
Solly handed McNulty the napkin with his IOU on it. “We’re square now,” Lenny’s lawyer said. “Oh, and then there’s this.”
He removed an envelope and slid it over to McNulty.
“What’s in it?” McNulty asked warily.
Inside was a cashier’s check for $250,000.
“It’s Lenny’s winnings from the bet,” Solly smiled. “He wanted you to have it.”
McNulty was clearly stunned. “But why?”
“For not letting him down,” Solly said sincerely. “He knew he could count on you.”
McNulty pocketed the windfall, knowing exactly what he would do with it.
A few days later, a messenger delivered a sealed envelope at Eden La Peer’s home to be opened by her and her alone. Inside, Eden was surprised to find a receipt for a generous donation of $250,000 in her name to the Good Shepherd Shelter and Safe Horizon, two of her favorite charities dedicated to preventing violence against women and children.
There was also a brief note that brought a smile to her lips and warmth to her heart: WITH APOLOGIES AND THANKS FOR HELPING AN OLD COMIC GET ONE LAST LAUGH – LOVE, LENNY.