The Hollywood gumshoe McNulty is on the case again, this time asked to search for his wet dream. 2,296 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
She was as iconic a sex symbol as any film goddess who had ever scorched the silver screen. Even now, some forty years after her mysterious and tragic suicide, Misty Marlowe with her statuesque allure and curvaceous figure was seared indelibly into the male, and a fair number of female, memories as well.
That she should perish in the cold embrace of the Pacific was somehow as sadly fitting as it was ironic. Everyone knew the genesis of Misty’s stardom had been her gasp-inducing debut in the low-budget B movie Neptune’s Nymph. Cast as an uninhibited seductress, Misty emerged from the sea in a glorious slow-motion shot glistening in a barely-there bikini. One critic was so taken with her ample bosom that he was compelled to observe rather cheekily how “newcomer Misty Marlowe is perfectly cast as the titular leading lady.”
That single bikini image had become an instant poster sensation and fifty-five years later was still producing more erections than an ADD kid with a box of Legos. For the last few weeks, Misty’s iconic swimwear was making worldwide headlines once again, accompanied by a photo of Misty in her scanty nymph costume: “MOVIE BABE’S BIKINI STOLEN FROM AUCTION HOUSE!” “COPS CONDUCT TOP TO BOTTOM SEARCH FOR STAR’S STOLEN BIKINI!” “HUNT FOR SEX SYMBOL’S BIKINI PETER’S OUT!” “LAPD ADMITS NO PROGRESS IN BIKINI THEFT!”
“Tits,” McNulty mused as he eyed the famous photo on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. “The mother’s milk of Hollywood.”
“Good line,” said the writer, tapping it into his iPad mini. “I’ll definitely use that. I’m the Boswell to your Johnson.
“Stop saying that,” McNulty demanded. “It sounds like you’re writing about my dick.”
The two men were seated in the dark-paneled Public Kitchen & Bar inside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Like Musso & Frank’s, it had that old Hollywood ambience that was irresistible to McNulty reminding him of a time when glamour, elegance and style were more than just buzzwords in a travel brochure. As he sipped his Glenlivet neat, McNulty thought maybe he was the millennial reincarnation of those long ago fictional gumshoes who cracked wise, rescued femme fatales, sifted through the debris of human failings and rained down two-fisted justice on those who deserved it.
“I’m surprised the auction house hasn’t called you in on this,” the writer said, tapping the newspaper headline above the bikini photo:
“They have,” McNulty said, draining his glass. “I’m heading over there now.”
“No offense, Mr. McNulty, but we would have preferred to leave this matter to the police,” said Julian Hayvenhurst handing McNulty a bone-china cup of tea. “However, the insurance company insisted we call you in.” He was an elegantly-attired man, tall, a bit effeminate, and exuding the same posh bearing of the “la-de-dah” clientele of his upscale art and antiques auction house, Stardust Treasures.
“No offense taken,” McNulty smiled. Calling in an outside investigator was a typical insurance company stall to delay paying a fat six-figure claim. As McNulty once observed, talking your wife into a three-way with her best friend was a hell of a lot easier than prying a check out of an insurance company. “How much was the, uh, item insured for?”
“It was appraised at $750,000. But we were confident we could get twice that at auction.”
“Pretty big bucks for a couple of strips of cloth,” McNulty remarked.
“It’s not the garment,” Hayvenhurst sniffed. “It’s the person who wore it. She was responsible for a billion dollars worth of box office.”
No argument there, McNulty knew. Dealing in Hollywood memorabilia had blossomed into a thriving business. So lucrative, in fact, that one Hollywood auction house recently had raked in hefty commissions on the $5.5 million sale of Marilyn Monroe’s billowing subway dress from The Seven Year Itch, and the $800,000 sale of the Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard Of Oz. Used to be only greedy relatives who picked the dead clean, McNulty thought ruefully. But this was Hollywood and nowadays even the vultures had agents.
It was close to midnight when McNulty finished up his interview with Hayvenhurst, who related the bikini went missing from a secure vault the day after a hosted champagne reception for a select number of wealthy collectors.
“I’ll need to talk to everyone who had access to the vault,” McNulty said.
“Must you?” Hayvenhurst sighed heavily. “The police have already done that.”
“The cops have their methods, I have mine.”
A soft Santa Ana breeze warmed the L.A. night as McNulty steered his 1965 El Dorado convertible onto Sunset and, on an impulse, headed west for the beach. Traffic was practically non-existent at this hour, and he made it to Pacific Coast Highway in a fast twenty minutes. Turning right, he headed north toward the Malibu pier. On the way, he passed the Paulist Productions building, a onetime nightclub owned by Thelma Todd, a popular 1930s platinum-blond actress whose mysterious death was unbelievably ruled a suicide, even though her cracked ribs, broken nose and bruised throat indicated that she had been the victim of a brutal homicide. One rumor was that she’d been done in by Lucky Luciano himself. Maybe one day he’d look into it, McNulty promised himself.
Pulling into an empty parking lot next to the Malibu pier, McNulty killed the engine and let the warm breezes wash over him. He got out of his Caddy and ambled toward the wooden structure jutting out over the Pacific. mcNulty knew it was here, on a night much like this, where Misty Marlowe had strolled to the far end of the pier, stripped off her monogrammed silk robe with the neatly-written suicide note tucked into a pocket, and slipped naked into the pages of Hollywood legends. Despite a massive week-long search, Misty’s body was never found, leaving only a handful of movies and one iconic image as her legacy.
As any reader of detective fiction knows, a good P.I. requires a keen eye for observation. But to be a great P.I. requires something more: a vivid imagination that allows him to translate his observations into a mental picture of what might have been. And McNulty was a great P.I..
Walking slowly down the pier, his footsteps thudding on the thick planks, McNulty closed his eyes. Within seconds, a gauzy vision from forty years earlier appeared in his mind’s eye. It was as if thin layers of time were peeling away, and he saw her. Her robe was falling away, swirling around her feet, and she was climbing gracefully atop the wooden railing and staring down at the swirling wet blackness.
And, suddenly, McNulty felt compelled to call out to her:
“No, wait!” he shouted, a desperate futile plea. He saw her looking back at him, a sad smile on her lips. He instinctively reached out to stop her, but the ghostly apparition was stepping off the railing and disappearing into the watery depths of oblivion.
“You okay?” asked a raspy male voice, immediately snapping McNulty back to the present. “You look like you seen a ghost. I see ‘em all the time. A few slugs o this,” the man cackled, holding up a pint bottle of cheap whiskey wrapped in a crumpled paper bag, “an’ the whole damn pier will be swarmin’ with them soulless brain-dead zombies.”
He offered the bottle to McNulty. “No thanks,” McNulty replied. “The last thing I need to see is more Trump supporters.”
It was early when McNulty plowed his way through the Original Pantry Café’s breakfast crowd to a back booth where Lt. Tony Ventura, the head of the LAPD’s Art Theft Detail, regularly forked down his morning ration of pancakes, bacon and scrambled eggs.
“You won’t find Misty’s bikini under those eggs,” McNulty said, sliding in opposite Ventura. “Try looking under the hotcakes.”
“Well, if isn’t my old pal McKnucklehead,” Lt. Ventura said sarcastically. “I heard Hayvenhurst called you in. Don’t tell me you’ve found the missing bikini already.”
“Lemme finish my morning jolt first,” McNulty grinned as a bow-tied waiter filled a white mug from a pot of black steaming java.
McNulty and Lt. Ventura were old acquaintances and had graduated from the police academy together. While Lt. Ventura quickly adapted to the “yes sir, no sir” culture of the department, McNulty’s brash insubordinate personality was as welcome as Edward Scissorhands at a prostate exam.
“I’m thinking it’s an inside job,” McNulty said. “You looking at anyone in particular?”
“C’mon, McNulty, you know I can’t discuss an ongoing investigation.”
“That’s what I’m talking about. The bikini was stolen two months ago and your investigation just keeps going on… and on… and on…”
“Look, asshole,” Lt. Ventura growled, “my squad’s got over a hundred open cases. How many are you working?”
“Gosh, Tony, you know I can’t discuss my confidential investigations,” McNulty said, a wise-ass smile on his face.
Lt. Ventura’s anger drained and he smiled back.
“If it were me,” McNulty continued, “I’d say it was a toss-up between three people: Hayvenhurst, his assistant Tina, and the security guard what’s-his-name…”
“Bobby Roscoe. He’s at the top of my list.”
It made sense. According to the police report, Misty Marlowe’s bikini had been stolen from the showroom’s locked vault on the same day when, coincidentally, the security system was taken offline for routine maintenance. It was unlikely that an outsider could have gained access to the vault, let alone know the combination, without help from an insider.
“Trouble is, they all have alibis,” Lt. Ventura confided. “And I don’t have the manpower to run ‘em all down.”
“How about I lighten your load on this one,” McNulty offered. “Let me check out the alibis and see if they hold up.”
“Could work,” Lt. Ventura conceded, also knowing that, unlike the Art Squad, McNulty didn’t need search warrants to dig up evidence. “I got your word you’ll bring whatever you find to me first?”
“Pinky swear,” McNulty agreed, holding up his right little finger. He slid out of the booth and pulled a roll of twenties from his pocket. “Breakfast’s on me,” he said, slapping a Jackson on the table.
Before Lt. Ventura could object, McNulty was halfway out the door.
McNulty counted three shots — BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! — all fired rapidly from the shadows as he was about to unlock his parked El Dorado. Luckily, he had leaned over the windshield to pluck a flyer from the wiper when the first bullet shattered the driver’s side window. The second and third shots punched two holes in the driver’s side door. McNulty reflexively hit the ground and pulled his Sig Sauer automatic. There was a sudden screech of tires and a dark BMW 7-series sedan roared out of the darkness and sped off. McNulty fired two rounds, one slamming into the trunk lid, the other blasting out the rear window.
A moment later, the back door of a small Echo Park bar burst open and the voice of the bartender called out: “Hey, gumshoe, you okay?”
“Still vertical!” McNulty answered, holstering his weapon and sweeping glass shards from the front seat. “But you’re not gonna like my Yelp review!”
He had come to follow up on Bobby Roscoe’s alibi. On the day of the theft, the security guard claimed he’d left work early and had been drinking and playing pool at the bar until closing time. The bartender confirmed that Roscoe was a regular but couldn’t swear he was there when he said he was. That put the security guard at the top of McNulty’s suspect list.
“You get a look at the shooter?” Lt. Ventura asked when McNulty told him about the ambush.
“Too dark,” McNulty admitted. “And Roscoe’s in the wind. Nobody’s seen or heard from him since the theft.”
“What about Hayvenhurst’s assistant?”
“Alibi holds up. She had her wisdom teeth pulled that day and stayed at her cousin’s place afterward.”
“Looks like Roscoe’s our guy.”
“For now,” McNulty conceded. “But I still want to check out Hayvenhurst’s alibi.”
“Okay, but tread softly,” Ventura cautioned. “The bikini’s owner, the Grandstones, are Hollywood royalty.”
After swapping his Caddy for a Japanese loaner, McNulty made the steep climb up Loma Vista Drive into the heart of Trousdale Estates. Built in the 1960s, Trousdale was a pastiche of architectural styles that the local realtors called mid-century moderne. But in McNulty’s view, they were like something out of The Jetsons with a flying car in each garage. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he spotted a car rolling up fast on his tail. The light bar on the roof and the blue and white striping were dead giveaways: a private security patrol car. As McNulty pulled into the courtyard of the Grandstone mansion, the patrol car followed.
“You have business with the Grandstones?” the uniformed guard asked, his demeanor standard tough guy. He was tall, muscular, with a chiseled jawline and a crewcut. The name tag on his blue shirt read: REXFORD.
“Yeah, I sell tampons door-to-door,” McNulty said glibly. “You look like you could use one.” The P.I. saw Rexford bristle and the guard’s hand go slowly to his holstered .357 Magnum. It was clearly a move meant to intimidate. But McNulty quickly swept aside his sport coat, giving the guard a good look at the P.I.’s own holstered automatic.
“Mine has more bullets,” McNulty said evenly, staring hard into Rexford’s eyes.
The guard stared back, his face relaxing into a tight smile. “Mine makes a bigger hole.”
Just then a woman’s voice called out. “It’s all right, Rexford. Mr. McNulty is expected.”
The pissing contest ended as quickly as it began. “Have a nice day,” Rexford sneered as he sauntered back to his patrol car.
“Don’t let those menstrual cramps ruin yours,” McNulty said with a mocking grin.