Is it a case of mistaken identity or masterful acting? 2,153 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
"I’ve solved the case."
In the name of showmanship, I had come through
the tunnel and into the house from the wine cellar,
though without any wine. Jade barely lost her composure,
greeting me as though I’d been expected. "I was wondering
how long it would take you to find the other end,"
she said. "Have you made any progress?"
She sounded genuinely hopeful.
"Yes. I even know who moved the body.
We should have champagne to celebrate."
I went to the fridge, lifted the metal cap off the half-filled
bottle of Taittinger, made a point of noticing that
that no pressure was released, and said,
"What do you know? It’s flat. Those things usually work so well."
"Well, tell me. That’s what I’m paying you for, isn’t it?
It wasn’t a superintendent of police, was it?
That would be too much to ask for."
"No," I said, taking a hit off the bottle. Only
private eyes can enjoy flat champagne. "It was you."
"Me?" Her eyes opened, but only by a fraction, with mild
indignation mingled with anticipation. "Why would I
move her, and where would I move her from?
Are you saying I killed her?" "Oh, no. That wouldn’t
line up with 1957. In fact, symmetry with the events
at The Spider Pool may be the only reason you took
the trouble to move her at all, since you only
moved her from the jacuzzi to the pool."
She smiled, indulgently. "Our screenplay
appears to have gone off the rails," she said.
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Clues start coming together for the P.I. and his film actress client. Prose poem. 2,084 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
Jade had walked me to my door the night before,
and draped one of the plumeria leis around my neck
before kissing me goodnight on the cheek.
Her breath smelled of apples, and in her eyes,
when she looked at me in close-up,
an irreconcilable cocktail of mischief and injury glimmered.
Who was she, I wondered, when she wasn’t busy being someone else?
So I climbed out of bed and into my ragtop woody
to stop at the "Made In The Shade"
nursing home in Sherman Oaks where Maggie Amberson
was playing out her string. My timing turned out to be good.
Carrying a box of profiteroles from John Kelly, a confectionary
in Santa Monica, I found her in a reasonably cozy room,
lying abed watching an early Jade Bellinger movie
streaming on Netflix. It had been her first starring role
and offered the pleasure of seeing a good actress
caught in the act of becoming great. She played
a high school teacher accused of having an affair
with one of her students. Somehow, she made this piffle believable,
walking multiple tightropes without ever missing a step.
A nurse nearly Maggie’s age, her name tag identifying her as "Millicent,"
shuffled in balancing a tray of lime jello, a scoop of mashed potatoes
and what appeared to be a cube of meatloaf with carrots and
peas around it segregated into their own little compartments.
She paused on her way out to glance up at the screen and mutter,
"She ain’t no Kate Hepburn, but she’ll do." I felt bad for her,
stuck in a deadly dull job where nothing new would ever
happen, unless you counted the patients passing away.
She didn’t even have the comfort of a glamorous past to look back on.
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The film actress assists the P.I. in uncovering his father’s police past. Prose Poem. 2,257 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
I found a stack of yellowing index cards.
On them, in scrawled handwriting I knew well from long-ago
Christmas and birthday cards, were my father’s case
notes about that night at The Spider Pool in 1957.
In pencil, he had created a maze of scribbles, cross-outs,
arrows, diagrams, rewrites, question marks, underlinings,
erasures, names I recognized and names that meant nothing to me.
I laid the cards out in what I thought was chronological order.
Once I had a handle on his system, I was able to follow his surmises.
At first, he had thought the girl’s secret sugar, Harold Lloyd himself,
to be the killer. But a number of witnesses had testified
to his presence at The Spider Pool when the girl’s life ended
in another location, and his suspicions fell upon Mildred Davis.
He’d gone exhaustively over the phone records
of all the principal players and found a series of calls
initiated by the girlfriend to the wife. He’d been unable to find
a scrap of hard evidence proving that a confrontation had followed the calls,
but it seemed not unlikely. At that point, he’d been stymied. He believed
that Mildred had put up with a series of minor and meaningless
physical collisions between her husband and various young models,
but that this time Harold had fallen in love with one of the girls,
leaving Mildred’s whole life suddenly situated over a fault line.
Then my father had been suspended and lost all official powers.
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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?"
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