I was working late in my office Saturday night, typing up some notes on the Harrison case while enjoying a bourbon, straight up in a dirty glass, and a butt, when in walked trouble. I knew ahead of time that trouble was at my door by the sound of the footsteps in the hallway. You see, they were the footsteps of a dame; and in my book, and at this time of night, a dame almost always spells trouble. I didn’t know just how much trouble I was in until I got a look at the broad. Then I knew for sure that trouble had finally found me, and found me in spades. But here I get ahead of myself. Let me backtrack to earlier in the day and start over again at the beginning.
My name is Harland Case and I’m a private investigator in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. What you might refer to as a gumshoe or a dick for hire. My friends call me Case. Many of my associates and rivals refer to me as Hard Case on account of the fact that I almost never turn down a case, no matter how hopeless it might seem on the surface. What irritates almost all of them, and to a man, is the fact that I quite often end up solving these hard cases, and sometimes with relative ease, even the supposedly unsolvable ones.
The morning that this story really begins, I was sitting at my usual table in Wiley’s Diner waiting for a mysterious client to show himself. He didn’t want to be seen in my office. He was different than most of my mystery clients in that he didn’t want to meet at night. So, to kill the time, I was early, I was perusing the racing form while enjoying a cup of hot java, black of course, and a coffin nail. The sun was streaming in through the grease streaked windows making for quite the cozy scene, so I was almost disappointed when I eyed the squirrelly joe who entered the diner, looked nervously around, and then upon spotting me walked with quick, clipped steps to my booth.
“Mister Case?” he asked using an equally clipped formality.
“Who’s asking? I responded. Normally, I wouldn’t have played my hand so cute; instead, I’d have simply fessed up and identified myself first. But in this case, I didn’t like the guy. My aversion to him was instant and intense. It could have been the pencil mustache perched on a mousey face I wanted to punch, the oily slick, pinstriped, double breasted monkey suit he wore, or even the annoying way he folded and unfolded the brim of his fedora as he stood impatiently before me. Whatever it was, I didn’t like him, and I wasn’t going to make this interview easy for him if I could help it.
“My name is Ernie Chappell,” the squirrelly man said, producing a card and handing it across to me.
“The agent?” I asked, taking his card and examining it. Sure enough, there it was in black and white letters on his card. Well, that at least explained the sliminess and the instant dislike. For if God didn’t do something about Hollywood, he had better apologize for Sodom and Gomorra. After setting aside the form and examining his card in some detail, I noticed that there was no number on it. Apparently this was his “I’ll call you” card that he handed out to the actor wannabes that he undoubtedly was forced to deal with on a daily basis. I was hurt. I looked back up at him expecting further explanation. He instead demanded some show of basic courtesy.
“May I have a seat?” he asked, dipping his substantial beak at the seat across from me. Rather than respond verbally, I nodded my head and laid the card on the table before me. I was interested to hear what the man had to say since he represented only the crème of the crop in Hollywood. If he was meeting with me it meant that some starlet or stud was in real trouble, and I was always up for some juicy gossip if not a juicy case. Maybe the answer was in the thin attaché case that he carried protectively under his arm.
“What can I do for you, Mister Chappell?” I asked lazily, not wanting to give on to the fact that I was excited by our meeting. Before speaking, Chappell looked around the empty diner to insure that he wouldn’t be overheard. Apparently Joe, the cook, and Shelly, the waitress, didn’t count.
“Before we begin, Mister Case,” the suit replied, “you must assure me that what I am about to tell you will be kept in the strictest confidence, and that you repeat these words to nobody. And I mean nobody. Not your wife, your girl friend, or even your best friend.” This last request he made in a voice filled with anguished pleading, which didn’t seem entirely real, and just a touch of menace, which I thought might be genuine.
Again, the guy was rubbing me the wrong way, but I felt that I should make the effort to assure him before he broke down and started bawling. I hate method actors. “I’m currently unattached and don’t have any friends. Don’t worry, your news is safe with me.”
“Very well,” he said, sounding like he wasn’t convinced in the slightest but apparently also having no one else to turn to. “I want you to find someone for me.”
“That I can do. Who you looking for?”
“A woman, a very important woman,” he replied, placing his attaché case on the table and popping its single clasp. Peeking inside, he retrieved a manila envelop and slid it across the table to me. “I want you to find her as soon as possible and with as little noise as possible.”
“I can do that too,” I said smugly as I opened the flap on the envelop and removed the single stiff sheet of paper it contained. The paper proved to be a photograph and the starlet depicted was none other than Hollywood’s current sweetheart, Miss Trixie Harrison. “Holy frijoles,” I exclaimed.
“Exactly,” Chappell replied, “but remember your promise.”
I felt no need to respond to this awkward admonition. “How long has she been missing?” I asked instead.
“Since last night.”
“And how do you know that she’s missing and not just off on an extended weekend?”
“First, there’s the fact that she’s never disappeared like this before,” Ernie replied with some annoyance. “Second, there were signs of some violence at her apartment.”
“What sort of signs?”
“I’d prefer that you see for yourself,” he said reaching into his pocket and producing a key. “The address is on the back of the photograph.”
Turning the photo over, I confirmed his statement. The address appeared to be in Century City, a sleepy little suburb of La La land. Pocketing the key I decided that I’d be free to take a little drive out to the country later this morning since my case load was light at the moment.
“So, is she working on anything?” I asked, stubbing out my cigarette and lighting another.
“A movie. Is she doing a movie?”
“Oh, yes,” he said like he was just reawakening to the fact that I was still there and that fact gave him a bad taste in his mouth. Maybe it was the cigarette. “It’s quite unfortunate but a contractual obligation. At least the casting could be of benefit. She’s currently playing the lead in a movie called ‘Satan’s Daughter’ opposite Barry Stanton.”
Barry Stanton. And the names just kept on dropping. That was indeed quite a pairing even if the subject of the movie was not to Ernie’s liking. If Miss Trixie Harrison was Hollywood’s sweetheart, then Barry Stanton had to be the Wood’s favorite gigolo.
“Have you asked Mister Stanton about the disappearance?”
“I didn’t see the need,” he sneered. “Besides, I’m trying to keep this quiet, as I’ve already explained.”
“I’ll need access to the studio lot and will have a few questions for Mister Stanton,” I posed.
“If you insist,” he said, casting an icy glare my way. He was done with the role of beggar. “But you will remember to be discreet?”
“Why, of course,” once more perusing the photograph that he had handed me. Considering the beautiful face that looked back at me, I remembered the fact that I possessed a pin up calendar featuring the same subject wearing the same expression but little more. Chappell must have read my mind since he presented me with yet another sneer. “Is there anything else I should know?”
“Yes. I expect this case to be resolved by the end of the week and to receive a written update from you no later than tomorrow afternoon.” By the way he said this I could tell that this term was nonnegotiable.
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” I said, feeling that finding this dame would involve little more than tracking down her current boyfriend. Looking up in surprise, Chappell smiled for the first time during our interview.
“I’m pleased to hear that, Mister Case.”
“Which leaves only my fee to discuss,” I countered. This statement put an instant end to the smile. “I charge a standard hundred dollars a day, plus expenses. I require two hundred dollars up front which is not refundable.” This last statement seemed to confuse my new client which I could tell by the fact that his eyebrows raised several inches, almost disappearing under his toupee. “In the case that I find the woman this afternoon,” I explained.
Apparently finding the terms satisfactory, Chappell reached into his breast pocket and retrieved his wallet. Counting out ten crisp twenties onto the table, he then considered me with a questioning glance as if to ask, “Are we done now?”
“How do I contact you,” I asked, holding the useless card he had offered me up between us.
“Oh, my fault,” he said, perhaps genuinely embarrassed, and retrieving another card from his wallet. This one contained his phone number and office address. “Force of habit, I’m afraid,” he explained, awkwardly.
That said, our meeting was over. I made this clear by leaning back to shout my order for the usual over my shoulder to Shelly then focus all my attention back on the photo that lay on the table in front of me. Out of the corner of my eye I caught Chappell rising, bowing awkwardly, and then scurrying from the diner. I chuffed a brief laugh as I folded the picture into my breast pocket and picked the racing form back up.
Twenty minutes later I had finished breakfast and having left a generous tip I was tooling in my old Packard down Santa Monica Boulevard through Century City looking for my turn off. As I drove further out of town the high-rises gave way to smaller buildings and I knew that if I continued even further things would eventually turn to orange groves and flower fields. Trixie’s place was located in a new set of apartments near the recently completed Century City Plaza.
Leaving my car at the curb, I wandered the complex until I found her room number and let myself in. The moment I entered the room, I knew that something was terribly wrong.
It wasn’t anything I saw or heard that made my hackles stand up on end. It was more a scent in the air, but not even that if truth be told. If I’d been a dog, I would have growled. The senses upon which a private dick works, the experience that he brings to every situation, are difficult to describe, especially the experiences that I had at hand. Although I can’t fully describe the reason why, I can tell you that my guard was up as I walked into the living room of the cozy little apartment.
Halfway across the room I heard a sound coming from deeper in the apartment that may have been the source of my anxiety. The sound was repetitive, a rasping noise, dragging over wood. I rushed to the back of the apartment, not for the first time missing the heat I packed when I was on the force.
Gently pushing open a door, I revealed a women’s bedroom, complete with canopy bed and vanity with mirror. The rasping sound was coming from the far side of the bed. Walking across the room, I found a woman bent over scrubbing the deep pile carpet. Reaching out a hand, I touched her on the back which almost sent her flying through the ceiling with alarm.
“Madre de Dios!” the woman screamed, sounding like a scalded cat.
“Calm down,” I cautioned, raising my hands in a universal gesture meant to show that I was unarmed and had no intension of attacking her. In response, the woman quickly rose to her feet and placed her hands over her heart. “Relax. No one is going to hurt you,” I assured her. “Do you speak English?”
“Si,” she replied. “Yes,” she added after further consideration.
“I’m the brother of woman who is renting this apartment,” I told her, trying not to stare at her mole. It was the size of a dime with a long hair growing out of it. “I’m here looking for my sister.”
“She no here,” the woman said somewhat frantically. “No one here, I alone.” At the realization of this fact, I noticed her eyes shoot around the room looking for a means of escape should the need arise.
“What are you doing?”
“I scrub the dirt,” she replied, casting her eyes down to the brown stain on the carpet that was now covered in soap suds.
“Dirt, hey?” I said, nudging her aside as I stepped forward and bent to examine the stain. Even through the soapy foam I could tell that this was no dirt stain, but instead a fairly recent, dried pool of blood. And by the looks of it, the pool had been quite large. Looking up and around the room, I noticed that the pieces of a broken lamp sat on the end table before the blood pool and that the bed looked like it had been freshly made. “Did you make the bed?”
“No,” she replied sheepishly, backing away from me.
Standing, I tore the covers from the bed and finding nothing, tore the fitted sheet from the mattress as well. There on the mattress was another large blood stain which had been hidden by someone who had changed the covers. This latest discovery greatly complicated the case. Rather than being a case of missing persons, something the badges rarely took interest in, it had slipped over into a probable murder case. I was not pleased by this latest twist. My brothers in blue wouldn’t be either. You see, the studio would start demanding immediate results with no scandal and homicide would be catching the heat.
“Who hired you to clean this room,” I demanded, turning to face the terrified cleaning lady. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. Turning away from me with a scream, the woman fled the bedroom and did not stop before she was out of the apartment and gone from view. Swearing under my breath, I considered running after her, but rather than potentially causing a scene I opted to continue exploring the room. After almost half an hour I came up with nothing more interesting than a phone number written on a matchbook cover that was jammed into the frame of the vanity mirror along with a number of innocuous photos and postcards from friends. On the match book was the name Barry, making it obviously the number of her costar in her latest film. On the cover was the name of a club, The Morgue. I was betting this was where the rich and twisted went to get their kicks. For what it was worth, I took the match book with me and continued to examine the apartment.
After wasting a good two hours checking the rest of the place out, I had to admit that I had come up dry. This Hollywood starlet had apparently lived the life of a nun. And a boring nun at that. I was left with only three facts: the blood stains which indicated violence, or maybe even murder, the phone number of Mister Stanton on a match book from The Morgue, and the fact that neither of these two facts were what had raised my hackles on the way into the apartment. Feeling parched, I lit up and decided to stop by my favorite bar and pool hall for some liquid sustenance since it was well after lunch time.
Things being as they typically are, I didn’t get out of Murray’s until later that afternoon. While I was there, I borrowed the phone to call Chappell with the news but got no answer. As I sat at the bar, I pondered my situation. Surely Chappell must have known about the blood stains before he sent me to the apartment, so he must have suspected murder as I did now. Then why not go to the police? Maybe he was really trying to keep things hush-hush until he could confirm his starlet was dead and possibly find the killer. Maybe he knew other things that I didn’t.
Hitting the sidewalk, I knew that the first thing I needed to remember was where I had parked the car. Of course, this would only lead to the next thing I needed to remember; namely, how to drive. Suffice it to say that I was a little shaky on my feet when I hit that sidewalk. Unfortunately, I wasn’t much better when I climbed behind the wheel and found myself squinting at the setting sun. Fortunately, I seemed to retain the wherewithal to navigate from Century City to the lot of Magnus Pictures in nearby Culver City.
Announcing my name to the security guard on duty at the gate, I was pleased to see that Ernie had apparently done his part by clearing me onto the lot after our rather abrasive meeting earlier in the day.
Receiving instructions from the no-neck in rented uniform, I drove directly to sound stage number ten where ‘Satan’s Daughter’ was shooting. Parking the Packard before the huge sliding doors of the sound stage, between a pair of black limos, I walked up to the guard protecting the human-sized entrance, announced myself in a subdued voice, and entered without incident. Instantly, I was hit by the same feeling that I had been struck with when I’d walked into Trixie’s apartment. I felt a pressure pressing upon my chest which felt like what I’d expect a heart attack to feel like, but maybe even a little worse.
Arrayed before me was the most evil looking scene that I had ever encountered in my oh too short life. Of course, given the locality of my typical operations, I was already familiar with the miracles of bad taste that Hollywood wrought given even the slightest impetus and budget. But this was something beyond the standard perversions of the silver screen.
The sound stage was done up in black and blood red. At the rear of the stage was a gigantic human heart, exposed through a set of mammoth ribs that had been separated by who knows what means. Plastic tubes filled with red lights had been strung across the set to simulate the arterial flow from the faux heart. In the lower right of the stage was an iron cage which could serve no other purpose than to incarcerate a fair damsel in distress. I was disgusted by what I saw. Not only by the lurid detail, but by the campiness of the arrangement. I had strolled no more than a handful of feet onto the set before I was addressed by a young man wearing what could only be described as classically romantic dress.
“Hello, may I help you?” he asked in what sounded to me like a mock British accent.
Instantly recognizing the young man I was somewhat taken aback at first, and half tempted to immediately ask for his autograph. Maybe I was startled by his intense beauty, maybe it was his commanding presence. What ever it was, I instantly felt that I was in the shadow of a force to be reckoned with.
“You’re Barry Stanton, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Barry replied with a sigh, looking as if he wished this wasn’t the first thing that came out of the mouth of everyone he met. “Can I help you with something?”
“Yes, I’m looking for Trixie.”
“Join the club. Everyone’s looking for Trixie. We’re supposed to be shooting this afternoon,” he informed me with visible irritation. “Why do you need to see her?” he asked, suddenly sounding suspicious.
“Oh, I’m her brother, Dan,” I said, deciding to stick with the sibling routine that had worked so well back at the apartment. “I just blew into town and was hoping to link up with sis.”
In response to this statement, Stanton flew into a rage. Seriously, his face turned bright red and I was expecting steam to start blowing out of his ears at any moment. Grabbing me by the arm I heard my shoulder pop as he nearly lifted me off my feet on the way to propelling me to the stage door. This was one strong individual and someone I was sorely sorry to have provoked.
“The only thing you’ll be linking up with is the pavement, buddy,” he said as he hurled me forward the rest of the way to the door then stood back and pointed the way out. “Now, get out of here before I tear you limb from limb.”
“What gives, mack?” I asked massaging my aching shoulder while cringing back against the door in response to a pending attack.
“If you’d done any research at all, you’d know as well as I do that Trixie is an only child.”
Oops. Realizing that this was no time to show weakness, I decided to press the attack. “Of course I’m her brother. If I’m not then who am I? The fact that she never mentioned me to you just shows that you don’t know her as well as you think you do.”
“I know her very well,” he countered.
“We are engaged to be married.”
Game, set, and match. It looked as though this case was going to have to go beyond simply finding the boyfriend. It was also time to give up the convenient bluff and start playing hardball. However, before I could try turning the tables on my adversary, Stanton served up another fast ball.
“How did you get in here, and which rag are you reporting for?”
So, he thought that I was a gossip column writer. Rather than deny the charge, I decided to run with it and see where it would take me. Sometimes the press had even more power than the police.
“Sure, I’m a reporter. What of it? Why don’t you tell me more about this upcoming wedding?”
It was obvious by his expression that Stanton wanted to tear my head off at this pronouncement. However, he advanced only a few feet, to the end of the gloom that enveloped the set on the sound stage and would come no further. Each of us looked down at the floor to the shadowy line that separated us. We then looked up at the same time to stare into each other’s eyes. Feeling a strange sensation come over me, I quickly averted my gaze and then leaned back through the door into the warming rays of the California sun.
“You’ll get yours tonight, flatfoot,” I heard Stanton call to me before the stage door closed.
At the sound of these words I felt my skin crawl. So, apparently he knew that I was a private detective. He must then also know exactly who I am. I wondered how he had found that out? I had my suspicions. Fortunately, I also had developed a theory on what had happened to Trixie Harrison and what I needed to do about it before this night was over. I had just one more stop to make before I could wrap this case up and toss it back in the lap of the wise guy who had dumped on me in the first place.
On the way off the lot I stopped the car and called the rent-a-cop to my window. “So tell me, you ever heard of a club called The Morgue?” I asked him with authority.
“Sure,” he replied. “That’s the crazy place the cast of that horror film on stage ten hang out at.”
Bingo. Just as I suspected. Now all I needed to do was take a little peek to confirm my suspicions and I could dump this case like the bucket of bad clams it was beginning to smell like.
Driving east on Wilshire Boulevard I noticed that the sun was beginning to set behind me. This gave me reason for concern. First of all, I never like to be out at night in this city, especially not after the episode that prompted me to leave the force. Second, I really didn’t want to be out during this particular night if my suspicions concerning the Harrison case proved true. So, I gave the old Packard some gas and sped to the address printed on the match book I held in my hand.
The Morgue proved to be a seedy dive, not the kind of place at which you’d expect Hollywood’s elite to hang out. But then again, this didn’t surprise me. As a mater of fact, I don’t think that anything could have surprised me this evening given my current suspicions. I parked the old Packard between a Ford Deluxe Two Door Sedan and a Willys Coupe then walked back down Wilshire Boulevard to enter the club through the main entrance.
Inside, the joint was hoppin’, and man was it crowded. A black band was playing on a small raised stage where a fella with a sax was blowing up a storm. This was all quite surprising given the fact that the sun hadn’t even set so the evening had yet to begin. But then I wasn’t complaining; the crowds and noise would do me well by covering what I needed to get done before leaving the place. And judging by the chill I felt in the air, I knew I was most likely going to find what I was looking for. But before I got to work, I needed a drink to complement my smoke.
Shimmying up to the bar, I got the tender’s attention and ordered a bourbon on the rocks. I was rather nonplused by the covetous expression he gave me as he took my order and then served me my drink. Downing the beverage in only a few extended sips, I leaned back against the bar to scope the place out and finally identified the cubbyhole I was looking for down a side hallway.
Pushing through the throngs of people, I made it to my destination having only one or two drinks spilled on my person and only having to use my cigarette in a very limited way to force a path through the heaving multitudes. Far from the Red Sea parting for me, I was barely able to carve enough of a gap across the ridiculously overcrowded dance floor to make it to where I needed to be.
Checking to insure that I remained unnoticed, I ducked into the cover of the deserted hallway and began searching for the clue I needed to complete my case. Halfway down the hallway, I found it. Clearly hidden in the floor of the hallway was a trap door leading into the cellar below. It was obvious from the looks of the thing that the door was recently and frequently opened, even though its awkward location should have made it a little used feature of the establishment. Reaching down, I found a metal ring embedded into the hinged floor panel and used it to open the door, revealing a staircase leading into the stygian darkness below.
Looking around one last time to make sure that I was still unnoticed, I quickly slipped down the stairway pulling the hatchway closed behind me. Soon I reached the bottom of the stairs and was surprised when I stepped onto bare dirt which constituted the floor of the cellar. Taking a whiff to sample my surroundings I detected a fetid smell that overpowered the underlying damp earth scent coming from the floor. Flicking my lighter alive, I held out in front of me to light my way as I reluctantly stepped forward to explore.
If the dance floor above was crowded, this place was positively jam packed. Instead of bodies, each side of the cellar was lined with wooden boxes. Each box was around seven feet long, long enough to hold a body if need be. Good thing I no longer needed to look inside any of the boxes to know what they contained. I was afraid that the sight and smell of the expected contents would be enough to turn even my rock solid constitution sour. I did on the other hand feel a need to count the boxes, just to see how much trouble had been packed into this tiny place.
I made it to box number twenty before I was distracted by the unmistakable sound of the cellar door being heaved open and a pair of footsteps descending the stairs. Desperately searching around the far end of the room, I dropped to my knees when I found what I was looking for. It was the rear exit, in the form of hole pounded through a brick wall at the rear of the cellar. I knew there would have to be one in this place considering the value of the merchandise stored here. Holding my lighter within the hole, I got a general lay of the land beyond. I was preparing to jump by placing my hand on one of the box lids when I was shocked at feeling the lid under my hand begin to shift. It must be sundown outside I thought as I stifled a scream and scrambled for the passage way beyond the hole.
Landing with a splash, I flicked my lighter and found that I was in a cement passage way, probably an underground storm drain. I had to crouch to keep from banging my head on the ceiling while I shuffled through the ankle deep water and muck on my way from the cellar. Eventually I came upon an iron ladder embedded in the cement of one wall. Looking up I saw that there was a manhole cover atop the opening several feet above my head.
As I placed my foot on the first rung of the ladder in preparation of climbing, I heard a skittering sound coming from the direction of the cellar. Looking back in the direction from which I’d come I thought I saw several red lights blinking at me, that made me think of demons from hell contemplating their prey. At the sound of angry hissing, I was startled out of my frozen contemplation of the inhuman eyes and dashed up the ladder to potential safety of the outside.
Sure enough, my exit was blocked by a heavy round cover. Placing my back against the blockage, I braced my feet on the ladder and pushed until the heavy cover was lifted barely far enough for me to shove it aside and continue my ascent. As I started to climb once more, I felt something grab my ankle. Kicking what ever had touched me aside, I continued my scramble for safety, throwing myself in a sprawl out of the mouth of the opening.
Once out of the hole, I found that it was indeed night and that I had regained the surface in what appeared to be the alley behind the club. Looking back down the hole I had just vacated, I now witnessed the unmistakable sight of many red glowing eyes blinking up at me from the floor below. Before those eyes could get any closer, I desperately clawed the manhole cover back into place and sat on it to prevent any further advance.
No sooner had I landed my derrière on the lid of the hole then I felt myself being lifted upward by a powerful force from below. Finally deciding to stop fooling around, I reached into the breast pocket of my coat and retrieved the phial that I’d placed there during my drive from the studio. Popping the top on the phial, I looked down to see hands clawing at the asphalt around the hole. Splashing the contents of the bottle onto these appendages, I had the satisfaction of seeing the flesh on the back of the hands begin to bubble and smoke arise as the manhole cover and me with it were abruptly dropped back into place recovering the hole.
Recognizing that I’d most likely overstayed my welcome, I jumped up off the pavement and proceeded at a light jog down the alley until I ran out of breath several feet away from the manhole. I then lit a cigarette and walked at a brisk pace the rest of the way to the old Packard.
A short drive back to the office found me nursing a bourbon and a smoke while typing up some notes. Looking up from my notes, I contemplated that ceremonial samurai sword that hung on the wall, the only ornamentation this office contained. The sound of a woman’s footsteps in the hallway outside my office door was followed by a knock which broke my concentration.
“Come in,” I called, remembering something about these types having to be invited before they could enter a place. In response to my call, Trixie Harrison strolled into my crowded, one room office. Of course she was beautiful and had legs to went all the way up; unfortunately, she was followed by the Stanton joker before the office door had closed fully. “Good evening, I’ve been expecting you,” I said with probably a touch more confidence than I felt.
“Very amusing, Mister Case,” Stanton replied. “May we have a seat.”
Funny, I didn’t remember them having to be invited to sit down. Never the less, I nodded my head in the affirmative and waited while Stanton held the chair for Trixie and then took up some pine of his own. Looking across my desk with a steely cold gaze, I quickly averted my eyes from Stanton’s using the excuse of having to refresh my drink.
“Can I offer either of you two a drink,” I asked, only realizing the irony of that statement after it had left my lips.
“No, thank you,” Stanton replied. “Neither of us imbibes.”
“Really, that isn’t what I’d heard.”
“Then you heard wrong, Mister Case.”
“Can’t the lady speak for herself?”
“I’m afraid she’s come down with a serious case of laryngitis.”
Apparently finding it hard to remain out of the conversation after this latest jibe, Trixie leaned forward across the table and hissed, opening her mouth wide and exposing and impressive, extended set of canines. A viscous slime dripped from her fangs onto my blotter and she expelled a breath that was strong enough to knock a buzzard off a shit wagon. Squinting my eyes at the assault, I couldn’t help but pull back at the grizzly sight. America’s sweetheart wasn’t so sweet anymore, at least not in my eyes.
“Now, now, Trixie,” Stanton said calmly, placing a restraining hand on Trixie’s shoulder. “It isn’t time for that… yet,” he concluded, looking back to me with a broad smile that provided a peek at his own massive fangs.
Well, we can now at least say that all of our cards are out on the table. “What is it you want, Stanton?”
“First, I want to know who hired you. I have my suspicions, but it would make everything oh so much easier if you were simply to tell me.”
“I see. And what if I happen to have forgotten?” I asked, crushing out my butt and lighting a fresh one.
“That would be most unfortunate, Mister Case,” Stanton said, leaning menacingly across my desk. Trixie hissed again but this time remained glued to her seat, I supposed by order of the Master.
“You know, Stanton, you probably think that you’re very cleaver, but you made several mistakes.”
“Oh? Please, explain.”
“First, you waited too long to clean up the blood stains at Trixie’s and did nothing at all about the blood on the bed. In fact, it was foolish in the first place to turn her there. You should have used the club instead.”
“Trixie refused to join me at the club. You see, she was a good girl. Drastic measures had to be taken after I showed my hand.”
“Maybe so, but it was still sloppy. Especially leaving the club match book cover in the vanity mirror.”
“I’ll do better next time.” In response to his chuckle I raised an eyebrow as if to convey that I didn’t see a next time in his future.
“Then there was that little piece of hell that you created on the sound stage. I don’t know all of the rules, but it was pretty clear that you were comfortable there, even during daylight.”
“A little piece of hell is completely accurate. Please, do continue.”
“Well, that was your second error. I’m telling you, there is no way that anyone from the outside is going to set foot on that sound stage without picking up the evil, undead vibe that permeates it.”
“I’ll have to take steps to insure that the set is secured. Thank you, Mister Case. Any other suggests?”
“The Morgue is an obvious cesspool. It stinks of death even worse than the sound stage. And the place lacks all security.”
“Thank you for the insights. I’ll see what I can do. Anything else?”
“No, that about wraps things up,” I said stubbing out my cigarette and grabbing my pack for another. After all, it was way past time to end this thing.
“In that case, I’m afraid it’s time to say our farewells, Mister Case,” Stanton said as Trixie became visibly excited, squirming in her seat at the news.
“Look, you’ll do what you have to do,” I said, calmly looking across the desk at Stanton. “But do you mind if I have one last smoke?” Stanton seemed confused by my nonchalance. “This pack is empty, but I have a fresh one in my coat pocket,” I said, cocking a thumb at the closet beside my desk. Nodding his head, Stanton gave tacit approval for me to go after my smokes. In response, I walked to the closet while Stanton held out a hand to keep his dog from hell at bay.
What happened next happened quick, and all the action I’m about to relate was over in a matter of seconds. Opening the closet door, I reached inside to retrieve my crossbow hanging from a hook in the back. Turning in one smooth motion, I pointed the ash stake that was loaded into the crossbow at Stanton’s chest and fired before he was even halfway out of his chair. Even his incredible speed was not enough to save him as the stake impaled him through the chest and stuck him back into his seat. Immediately, black puss started to pump out of his chest around the stake, making a terrible mess of the floor. In response to the attack, Trixie was thrown back into her seat as if she too had just been impaled. Dropping the crossbow onto my desk, I didn’t waste any time as I marched to the samurai sword mounted on the wall behind my two guests. Pulling it out of the display, I unsheathed the blade and in one strong slash severed Stanton’s head from his body sending it rolling across the floor. It fetched up hard against the door. Retrieving a handful of garlic gloves from the filing cabinet below the sword display, I marched across the room and stuffed this bountiful harvest into the mouth of the slain creature. Only then did I take a moment to retrieve the fresh pack of cigarettes and light up.
Sitting down behind my desk, I leaned back and watched the show as the two bodies before me started to ooze green slime all over my office. Actually, only at first did they ooze after which time they squirted and finally ran like a river as the two bodies dissolved. If you’re not as familiar with vampires as I am then you may be surprised to hear that when the master dies, all the vampires he’s turned die with him. And watching them die, although satisfying, is far from pretty. It was certainly a shock when I had to watch my partner on the force dissolve in this way after killing my first master. At the time I didn’t possess the skills to even recognize my own partner as one of the undead. But then, that’s a different story.
The oozing had stopped and the skeletons beneath the flesh had already dissolved into dust when my door was thrown open by none other than Lieutenant Wade, followed by his partner, Phillips, and my client, Ernie Chappell.
“Ah, Case,” Wade began, looking at the mess on the floor amid empty piles of clothing. “We knew you could take care of this little mess for us.”
“You set me up, you bastard,” I exclaimed.
“Now, now. No hard feelings, chum. You just have more experience with this sort of thing. We knew you could handle it, no problem,” Wade said with a smile, while Phillips snorted and hid his own broad smile behind his hand.
“You knew all along, didn’t you?” I asked. “Chappell came to you first, and you knew. So, you sent him to me.”
“Hey, we figured you could use the business,” Wade replied, throwing his hands and shoulders up innocently.
“You know I hate vamp cases.”
“What? Hard Case never turns down a case, right?”
“Yeah, the jokes on you,” I said to Wade. “You’re going to have a huge mess at a club called The Morgue to clean up. And you better get yourselves down to sound stage ten before any reporters get a look in there. I have this suspicion that all hell has broken loose there. Literally.”
“We’ll get on it, right away,” Wade said, pulling a bottle of bourbon from the pocket of his oversized trench coat. “But first, we were hoping you would join us in a little drink to old times.”
To old times, sure. I was still plenty mad at Wade and Chappell, but I’m never one to turn down a free drink. Leaning back in my chair, I stubbed out my butt and lit a fresh one as I contemplated the insanity of living in this crazy town. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and I wouldn’t leave the City of Angels if you paid me.
It’s just that sometimes I wish there weren’t so many vampires.