Elusive film actress hires P.I. to probe a mystery. Prose poem. 2,438 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
It was Halloween for eye-candy around the pool,
starlets, models, actresses of considerable reputation,
trophy wives on the arms of powerful producers.
But they were all extras on this set, a backdrop for Jade Bellinger.
Even the other professional glamour-pusses, present in the hope
of becoming the center of attention, couldn’t tear their eyes off her.
As a final proof of her allure, jealous wives, instead of glaring at
their wonderstruck husbands, had chosen to concentrate their own gazes
on the woman.
"Hello. I’m Jade."
It was gracious, though hardly necessary, for her to introduce herself.
She was the toast of Hollywood. She carried a kind of
deep effortless glamor not seen since the days of Garbo and Dietrich.
She had turned down Vogue and Vanity Fair covers,
and chose not to pimp herself out on talk shows or social media.
Said to be the most elusive interview in town,
she wouldn’t even go out on promotional junkets for her own films.
"You may be wondering why you were invited," she said.
It was a wrap party for her new movie, Seeds Of Doubt,
held at her home high in the Hollywood Hills.
"Are you familiar with the history of this place?" she asked.
"I know the legend, the rumors, nothing in particular.
Didn’t it used to be known as The Spider Pool?"
Cop turned screenwriter Nick Chapel finds another body and puts his own in danger. 3,036 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
I’m riding shotgun in the LAPD department issue Ford Taurus going south on the 405 and trying not to imagine the sources of the stains, tears and burned holes in the fabric around me. The seats are wide and the suspension spongy. My slacks and blazer will have to be laundered and even that may not erase the smell of fried food and cigarettes. I crack the window, but it’s not big enough to air out this kind of stink.
For the longest time Ayers says nothing, focusing on the intricate sequence of lane changes required when traveling through West L.A. and Culver City. He’s a meticulous driver, head on a swivel, checking his mirrors. Perhaps he was in the military, or played ball in college. I sense team sports in his background, but the lanky frame that impressed high school recruiters has gone soft.
“So you and Brandt were a team,” the police detective finally says. “I hear you didn’t suck. A real hard charger.”
“I liked putting the cuffs on bad guys.”
“Hard chargers burn out. That what happen to you?”
I smile at the jab, then explain, “I got a job on a TV show and it stuck. Now I’m a screenwriter.”
“I need you to just remember one thing: you’re not a cop anymore. So who is this mook we’re trying to find?”
Former LAPD detective turned screenwriter Nick Chapel follows a lead in the serial murder case. 2,096 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Five tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
There is a reason I specialize in rewriting crime stories. It’s not just the compelling nature of murder, and the ease of breaking a second act that is propelled by the search for a criminal. It’s the simple motivation that drives the hero to his or her goal. No boring exposition is needed to explain why a police officer or private investigator endures trials and hardships to solve the crime and catch the villain. It’s simply what they do, and who they are. It defines them.
It’s the detective who doesn’t pursue the killer that requires explanation. He knows the criminal is out there somewhere. The same sun beats down on him. He wears sunglasses to cut the glare, just like I am, and maybe even a hat to protect his sensitive scalp. The same hot wind blowing in from the desert burns his lungs. I drive east, sketching out the backstory of a man I’ve never met.
He works in show business, or used to, but the reality never matched his dreams. That made him angry, enough to kill, but he’s no wild man ranting on Hollywood Boulevard about what might have been. He’s quiet and thoughtful. Intelligent. He has a plan and a place to do his work that must be private, where no one would notice his comings and goings, or the bodies he carries.
Driving through Beverly Hills, I wonder if he is shopping at this very moment. Maybe he is sipping a cappuccino at one of the coffee shops on Robertson, or eating lunch at the Beverly Center. But then he is probably more accustomed to brown-bagged lunches and black coffee from a thermos than hipster meetings at The Ivy. I settle into his shoes, and feel the weight of the implements he uses to cut his victims apart. I should be angry with my ex-partner, LAPD Homicide Det. Jim Brandt for introducing me to this character, but only feel an odd gratitude. Finding Sid Shulman is the least I can do.
Screenwriter Nick Chapel is back on the LAPD beat looking for a serial killer. 1,894 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
LAPD Homicide Det. Jim Brandt spreads the files on the table. “Fair warning: these are pretty disturbing.”
“Worse than eyeballs?”
“Worse than eyeballs. The Starlet Stalker takes different body parts every time. We’re keeping the specifics out of the press. They know disfigurement is part of the MO, but not the details of what he’s taking. The first victim, Mandy Monroe, played the oldest daughter on the sitcom Daddy’s Home. She was found five weeks ago in a dumpster in back of a Pizza Hut on Pico Boulevard with her breasts cut off.”
Brandt slides the file across the desk to me. I brace myself, then open it, revealing photos of Monroe’s savaged torso. She lies naked in a tangle of garbage, her face frozen in a beatific gaze, a purse and its contents scattered around her crudely slashed torso. Where her breasts should be, eye-shaped holes reveal red musculature and white ribs. For a moment, it’s difficult to process the discrepancy between her external beauty and internal meat. I close the file.
“I flagged the case, but pegged it as a one-off,” Brandt says. “Figured some angry boyfriend or crazy fan, but I was wrong. The second victim, Victoria Foster, was in the teen comedy Senior Year. She got a lot of press from her nude scene. Her body was found in a half-pipe in a Venice skateboard park. Again the breasts.”
“Your guy likes the publicity,” I begin. “This town is full of hot young women, but he goes after the ‘it’ girls, the ones with heat on their careers. He makes no effort to hide the bodies. He wants you to find them. Leaves their purses to help you identify them. And he keeps killing even after you put him on national television. Talk about your ego strokes. This gives him something he’s missing in life, a feeling of importance, that his existence has meaning. I’m sure your profiler has told you he’s probably single, a loner, maybe the victim of abuse.”
LAPD detective turned screenwriter Nick Chapel is consulted on a serial murder case. 2,272 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
The elevator doors open at the lobby revealing Russell, the day man on the front desk.
“Mr. Chapel, are you okay?” he asks. “I caught the whole thing on the security cameras. Should I call the cops?”
“I’m fine, Russell. No need for the police, but don’t open the garage for them. Maybe they’ll miss their deadline.”
Finally, I let out a long sigh. I am home and safe behind metal gates, doors with biometric key card locks, and Russell with his security monitors and taser. With each passing floor, I feel cleaner and safer, high above the dirt, poverty, illegal-immigrant desperation, multi-cultural conflict, gangbanging violence, and star-struck disillusionment of the city below.
The doors slide open, and we are greeted by a reproduction Louis XIV side table topped with a vibrant bouquet of bird-of-paradise. There are only two condos on this level and Lee Chang stands outside the open door to my unit, no doubt having watched the entire affair on the security system inside. He’s not much older than my college roommate’s daughter, Megan Davies, but already a veteran of the industry. Three months as my assistant will do that to a person. Gone is the boy band haircut and saggy skateboard jeans he wore to his interview, replaced by dressy-casual attire from the vintage stores on Melrose. Right now he is bringing me up to speed with his usual efficiency.
“Housekeeping has the guest room all set up for Megan. Mel called about a deal at Paramount. Mrs. Henderson from next door is threatening to take you before the tenants’ board because of all the paparazzi outside. And you’re all over the news. The landline’s been ringing off the hook. Channel 4, Channel 7, the L.A. Times, Entertainment Tonight. I’m letting the machine pick up. What the hell happened?”
The showbiz murder attempts mount as famed P.I. McNulty tries to prevent more. 1,570 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Mandeville Moving Pictures was six weeks into a ten-week shoot on A Whisper In The Dark when the stalker finally made his move on Jade San Vincente, Hollywood’s newest and brightest young star who also happened to be the lead actress in Mitch and Billie Mandeville’s newest movie.
“Quiet, please!” the assistant director called out. “This is picture!”
Everybody was gathered at the far end of the Malibu Pier to film a crucial scene where Jade must wordlessly decide if her character will honor her dementia-stricken mother’s pleas to help her die. As Jade took her place at the rail, her assistant held up a parasol to shade the actress from the bright Malibu sun. After a few quiet words with Jade, the director nodded to the A.D. who then ordered the camera operator to “roll camera!”
All eyes were on Jade as a range of emotions flitted across her face. It was a touching moment and Jade was capturing her character’s anguish beautifully. Then, from the corner of his eye, private detective McNulty caught a flash of movement. Someone on a ten-speed bicycle was hurtling down the pier toward them!
The bike knifed through several crew members, knocking them down, and raced straight for Jade. McNulty saw the rider was holding a plastic drink container in one hand. Moving reflexively, The P.I. grabbed the parasol and stepped in front of Jade just as the rider squeezed out a long stream of hydrochloride acid from the container.
The plot thickens and then doubles as McNulty investigates. 1,922 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Coffee bar manager Billie Franklin was startled by the sudden arrival of four men. She recognized Vanguard Studio’s Chief of Security and two of his uniformed security guards. She didn’t know who the other man was but suspected he was the private detective McNulty hired to investigate Mitch Mandeville’s hit and run. And from the looks on their faces, they weren’t there to order chai lattes.
“What’s going on?” Billie asked, clearly puzzled.
The security chief explained that they were searching the premises.
“Do you have a warrant?” she demanded.
“Don’t need one,” McNulty informed her. “The studio lot is private property and its security personnel is authorized to conduct any search they deem necessary.”
During questioning, Billie freely admitted that she and Mitch had been having an affair when she learned of his engagement to his Director of Development Tessa Gower. “He didn’t even tell me to my face,” Billie sobbed. “I had to hear about it on Access Hollywood!”
After turning the coffee bar upside down, the security chief informed McNulty that nothing was found tying Billie to Tessa’s drugging.
“My gut tells me something’s here,” McNulty insisted. “Have you looked in the coffee urns?” They hadn’t. “Empty ‘em.”
Tinseltown’s renown P.I. is back solving movie mayhem and murder. 2,268 words. Part Two tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
“Didja hear?” Micki Finch asked. “Mitch Mandeville died this morning.” She waited a beat, then added: “They say it’s permanent this time.”
“Third time’s the charm,” McNulty said sardonically. “They say how?”
“Died in his sleep at an assisted living facility.”
They were seated at a table at the Spring Street Smokehouse, a small funky joint on the edge of L.A.’s Chinatown. It was a semi-annual get-together the two friends enjoyed when they wanted to catch up over some authentic southern barbecue.
“He finally got it right,” McNulty said.
“Sure as hell had enough practice,” Micki giggled. “Is it true he died twice before this?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘die’ exactly. Murdered twice would be more accurate.”
Micki practically spit her Pinot Grigio across the table.
The TV showrunner’s betrayed wife is intent on vengeance. But can she get it? 2,207 words. Illustrations by John Donald Carlucci.
Outrageous! The price had jumped to eighty-five dollars for a dozen pieces, each no larger than a thimble.
Yet Condazini Triple Chocolate Italian Crèmes were worth it: roasted almond butter with a hint of espresso, and in a dark chocolate shell that melted slowly on her tongue. The complex aroma alone stimulated her taste buds. It was heavenly, and Valerie Lasky adored every sinful calorie.
She paid cash, then watched the sales clerk slip the slender gold box into an elegant Chocolatier bag and slide the guilty pleasure across the gleaming glass counter.
The saleswoman smiled and said, “Enjoy!” Valerie nodded but didn’t speak, careful to do nothing the clerk might recall. A word or a glance could form a memory. Though low odds of that; she was one customer of many. Besides, Valerie felt anonymous behind her dark sunglasses and her hair folded under a generic baseball cap. Plus, Chocolatier was too many zip codes from her Pasadena neighborhood for anyone to make a geographical connection.
By late afternoon, Valerie had disarmed the alarm in the large Craftsman house on leafy Laguna Road. It was empty except for the family’s calico cat. Their eldest son was at Stanford, and the twins, were at summer camp.
The solitude was lovely, the only sound her stiletto heels clicking on the heart pine floors. Valerie now needed privacy. Her husband Raymond had texted in the morning that he would be working late. Again. Something about an emergency reshoot. Again. Such was the predictable unpredictability of a highly paid TV showrunner with a moderate hit and a homelife relegated to a footnote.
This showrunner, at least.
Private eye McNulty returns to flim-flam a filmdom fugitive. 1,765 words. Part One. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
The ex-President of Production of Vantage International Pictures, Vern Clybourne, was aware that Cuba had long been a haven for celebrities and scoundrels. Author Ernest Hemingway made it his home for 20 years,. Then there was fugitive financier Robert Vesco, a close friend and contributor to Richard Nixon, who took advantage of Cuba’s lack of an extradition treaty with the U.S. to create the perfect sanctuary for a wanted multimillionaire evading American justice. Despite the U.S. government’s 50-plus year travel and trade embargo, the mystique and charisma of the Caribbean island nation’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro proved an irresistible lure to many of Hollywood’s A-list filmmakers. Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, Steven Spielberg, Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio were just some of the names who over the years openly defied the travel ban. Their positive comments about both the country and Castro were later decried widely by the conservative media and U.S. officials. Vern basked in the warm realization that soon he, too, would join the ranks of these illustrious film names.
Now he licked his lips in anticipation as Senior Miguel Chavez opened the polished teak box. Nestled inside was a Soviet made TT-30 automatic pistol which was an exact replica of an American-made Colt M-1911-A1.
“Magnificent,” Vern whispered with lust in his eyes. “Che Guevara’s authentic sidearm.” He eyed Senior Xhavez suspiciously. “What about Che’s M-16 shotgun and grenade launcher that you promised me?”
“Still in Havana,” Chavez apologized. “It will be presented to you upon your arrival.”
“I see,” Vern nodded. Clearly the Cubans wanted to be sure he wouldn’t renege on his commitment to serve as an international judge for their newly revived Cuban National Film Festival. “As long as there’s still no extradition treaty between Cuba and the U.S., I’m there,” he promised.
P.I. McNulty is back to uncover a major con by a moviedom con artist. 1,764 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
The big muscled middle-aged guy stormed through the front doors of LAPD’s Hollywood Division police station so forcefully that the duty officer instinctively reached for his holstered sidearm. There was no telling what kind of freaked-out meth head or crazed gangbanger might come bursting through those doors at two a.m., but this dude, apart from being pissed-off, was clearly none of those.
“I need Detective Whitley,” the man barked, the fire in his eyes as intense as a blast furnace. “Tell him McNulty’s here.”
A quick phone call later, the private eye was issued a visitor’s badge and directed to the desk of Detective Owen Whitley. Not that McNulty needed directions. The infamous investigator had been here many times before, usually to bail out some of Tinseltown’s higher profile celebrities. The last time was when his late friend Lenny Hazeltine was clocked doing 120 mph on the 101 in a brand new Ferrari and arrested for speeding, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. (“Like I told the officers,” Lenny said, a twinkle in his eye. “My first wife ran off with a cop. I thought they were bringing her back!”) But there was nothing funny about McNulty’s early morning visit now.
“Where is she?” McNulty snapped.
Hollywood P.I. McNulty pieces together the puzzle surrounding the missing TV showrunner. 2,160 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
McNulty was finishing a fourteen-hour day piecing together all the images related to the year-long disappearance of TV showrunner Dana Delongpre. The images from his iPhone. The surveillance video from the convenience store where she’d last been seen. And all the photos posted by CHP Officer and wannabe screenwriter Chet Nichols on his Facebook and Instagram pages expertly hacked courtesy of McNulty’s Nerd Ninja team.
Blurry-eyed from hours of frame by frame studying on his notebook screen, McNulty leaned back in his chair and knocked back the last mouthful of Glenlivet, his mind still sharp and focused. And now he was damn sure he knew what had happened to Dana. And it wasn’t murder at the hands of her husband.
“Wanda!” the Hollywood P.I. barked into the office intercom. “Get me Shamrock!”
‘Shamrock” was the code name for Killian Cleary, a former IRA soldier and roguish Irish mercenary who’d seen action as a private CIA contractor in many of the world’s hotspots. A dead shot and skilled martial arts expert, Killian Cleary was McNulty’s secret go-to guy whenever back-up was needed on an investigation.
“Got one, boyo?” Shamrock laughed, recognizing the number on the burner phone McNulty used exclusively to contact him.
“It could get sticky,” McNulty admitted.
“Where and when?” Shamrock asked.
“Tonight,” McNulty replied. “Bring the beast.” That was another coded reference for Shamrock’s armored Hummer which he’d outfitted with an impressive array of firepower.
Hollywood P.I. McNulty is back, hired by a missing TV showrunner’s husband accused of murder. 2,064 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Nearly a year had passed since Dana Delongpre had gone missing. She and her Range Rover had seemingly evaporated into thin air on a dark and lonely stretch of Mojave Desert highway. Now you see her, now you don’t like some spangled magician’s assistant in a Vegas lounge act. But this was no magic trick, nor was it just another routine missing person’s case. This was news. Not just in Hollywood where Dana was the creator of a hit TV series, but throughout the world because, well, she was the creator and showrunner of a hit TV series.
“Dozens of people go missing every day,” McNulty grumbled at the time. “But when there’s a Hollywood connection, the media’s all over it like glitter on a pole dancer.”
As the days blended into weeks, media speculation about Dana’s disappearance ran the gamut from running off with a lover to alien abduction. What was known for sure was that Dana was driving back from a location shoot near Lone Pine, a three-hour drive from L.A., after filming on her series The Paradox Files had gone late and she’d left sometime after eleven p.m. Pings from her cell phone showed her heading south on 395 before taking the southbound Antelope Valley Freeway. She was even picked up on surveillance cameras buying gas and coffee at a convenience store on the outskirts of Palmdale. That was the last time anyone saw her. Authorities quickly launched an intensive week-long ground and air search along the freeway and the intersecting California Aqueduct, but found no trace of Dana or her Range Rover.
Now, as the first anniversary of her disappearance approached, the media was interested in the case once again. Only this time they dug up new information that Dana’s marriage had been a troubled one. She and her husband were on the verge of divorce, and police had responded to at least two domestic violence calls. As a result, what had started out as a tragic missing person was now being looked at as a possible murder investigation. And that made Dana’s talent agent husband the prime suspect.
A wannabe filmmaker finds an unconventional way to get his horror script made. 3,216 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
“You understand what I want you to do?”
“Yeah,” I said. It was easy to say it. Flowed off the tongue. I wasn’t even worried. What was that line from that Hannibal film, the one with the lambs? His pulse never got above a certain number, he was so relaxed? That’s how I felt. Relaxed.
“And you finance my film.”
“And I get gross participation, backend, off-the-top. The works.”
“The works,” he agreed.
I didn’t smile. But I should have. You don’t smile, though, when you make a Breaking Bad deal like that. I don’t mean a deal with AMC; I mean, a deal that will put you on the other side. For good. I was about to become a Walter White. And I was only in my early 20s.
Got to start sometime in Hollywood.
Hollywood private eye McNulty is probing a crime puzzler that’s more complex than a missing two-piece swimsuit. 2,782 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Guiding his El Dorado off the 101 Freeway in Hollywood and down Gower toward Sunset, McNulty put in a call to LAPD Lt. Tony Ventura. “That last location you gave me for Tabasco was old and cold. But I’ve got a pretty solid lead I’m following up now.”
For the past two hours, the Hollywood gumshoe had been canvasing Downtown L.A.’s pawn shops and pumping the brokers on the high-end for Tabasco’s whereabouts. McNulty was almost certain Ramon De Soto, the fence’s real name, was involved in the theft of long-ago actress Misty Marlowe’s billion dollar bikini from the Stardust Treasures auction house. The P.I. was well aware that many of the pawnbrokers were into hot merch themselves and might be inclined, for a price, to put a competitor like De Soto out of business. By the time McNulty got a good lead on the fence’s latest location, his wallet was $1,600 dollars lighter.
“So where is Tabasco?” Lt. Ventura demanded.
Laughing, McNulty responded, “He’s in the movie industry.”
According to McNulty’s snitch, Tabasco had set himself up in the property rental business and occupied office and storage space at the newly renovated Hollywood Global studios. “It’s not exactly the heart of Tinseltown,” McNulty joked, “but when you get to the spleen, turn right.”
Hollywood P.I. McNulty pursues missing movie memorabilia only to find mystery and murder. 2,079 words. Part One. Part Three tomorrow. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
As he approached the woman standing in the open doorway, McNulty nearly froze in his tracks. Though she was clearly in her early sixties, the wife of the legendary movie producer Nathan Grandstone was a much older and still strikingly attractive mirror image of dead Hollywood movie star Misty Marlowe.
“You’ll have to forgive the security guard,” Mrs. Grandstone smiled. “He’s become a bit overprotective since my husband’s stroke.” She ushered the Hollywood gumshoe inside and they retreated to the rear terrace where they seated themselves. “Lt. Ventura said you were coming by. Something to do with Julian Hayvenhurst and the auction house selling Misty Marlowe’s swimsuit.”
“Just a formality,” McNulty said, unable to take his eyes from her face which was so much like the one on the iconic poster of Misty in the missing billion dollar bikini. If sixty was the new forty, he thought, she was living proof. At first he thought she was winking at him, but quickly realized it was a slight facial tic next to her right eye. “We just want to confirm that Mr. Hayvenhurst was here when the bikini was stolen.”
“Indeed he was,” she said, pouring cold lemonade into two tall glasses. “We were discussing the auction, as well as some of Misty’s other mementos we were thinking of offering at future sales. He was here until quite late.”
“Mind telling me how Misty’s belongings came to be in your possession?”
“Not at all. She left them to me in her will.”
“You’re a relative?”
“A very close one,” she said, a Mona Lisa smile creasing her lips. “I’m Misty’s sister. We were twins.”