Sample Sunday: "Cold Reading" by David Wisehart — Chapter Five
A Nick Shaw Mystery
by David Wisehart
Private detective Nick Shaw is hired by a Hollywood theater producer to find a missing actress.
[Chapter One] [Chapter Two] [Chapter Three] [Chapter Four]
Antonio stood in the shadows and leaned against the masonry between the restaurant's back door and the dumpster. His nose was runny. He let it run. His eyes were moist and red. They twitched and didn't look at me. I wasn't the one he was afraid of. His gaze darted from the alley to the parking lot, caroming between the Beemers and the Buicks. With a shaky hand he lit a cigarette. Like it was his first. Or maybe his last.
"She's in trouble," he said.
I kept my hands in my pockets. I was standing away from the door, but I could still hear the chopping noises in the kitchen, like someone had a grudge against carrots. "What kind of trouble?"
"Not the good kind."
"You like her, don't you?" It was obvious enough.
He tried to shrug off the idea, but couldn't manage the effect. I figured he was Stella's ex-lover, or wanted to be. Antonio was a good-looking kid, tall and strong—and tough as a chinchilla. I felt sorry for him and didn't know why. Girls must have felt the same. It was a neat trick, and probably kept him in company.
"Was Stella your girlfriend?" I asked.
He hesitated. Then shook his head, but couldn't say it. His eyes misted a bit more. I stopped feeling sorry for him and fought back a wave of revulsion. He was the kind of man who dropped his dignity for a Delilah. Which is no kind of man at all. More of a house pet. I didn't want to pet him, I wanted to punch him. He looked like me at seventeen.
I changed tactics. "Your boss says she only worked Fridays. Is that right?"
"What else did she do for money?"
"She ever temp?"
"I think so, sure."
Caroline Myers had mentioned a temp agency, but I'd forgotten to ask the follow-up question, and left her apartment without the agency's name or number. Not like me at all. That woman was a distraction.
And not in a bad way.
"You know the name of her agency?"
Antonio said, "CineTemp."
I knew the one. They operated out of Century City. Some of my actor friends had punched their clock.
"They're pretty exclusive," Antonio said. "You have to know someone to get an interview."
"Who did Stella know?"
"Could you be more specific?" I asked.
"Some guy at a party. He got her in the door."
"The bedroom door?"
Anger sparked in his eyes. "Agency door."
"See, that's why I asked for specifics. Otherwise, I get confused."
And with that, the spark was gone. He took a long drag on his cigarette and held the smoke in before letting it out. "She got me a job interview there, CineTemp, but I wasn't what they were looking for."
"What were they looking for?"
I nodded. That sounded about right. CineTemp only worked with the major studios, mini-majors, and top production companies, placing admin assistants to the mucky-mucks. CineTemp traded in a type, and everyone knew the type. Trophy temps. Arm candy with brains. This was Hollywood, after all, where everyone likes girls.
Even the girls.
I caught a quick flash of reflected light coming from the public parking lot behind the restaurant. I glanced over and saw a sudden movement in one of the parked cars. A silver Mustang. It faced away from me, but my view of the rear license plate was blocked by other vehicles. Someone was inside the Mustang, but had ducked out of sight. I was being watched. By an amateur.
I let that go for the moment. The Mustang was staying put. I didn't want to scare it off.
"When was the last time you spoke to Stella?"
"Four days ago."
He nodded. "I think maybe she was going somewhere."
I let him continue.
So I rattled his reverie. "Did Stella tell you where she was going?"
Antonio shook his head again.
I wanted to shake the rest of him. "You're hosting this party. Show me around. What can you tell me?"
He swallowed hard, sucked on his cigarette, and tapped some ashes on the ground. "She was seeing some guy."
"You know his name?"
He looked down. "She wouldn't say."
"Could it be 'Bernard Sands?'"
"Could be anything." He seemed real interested in his shoes. "She didn't tell me much about him, and he never came around. He was a bigshot, though."
He looked up. "What?"
"Theater producer. Bernard Sands. The guy she was shacking with."
He stared at me. None of that seemed to register. "I don't know about him. She wanted to act, so maybe that's true. But there were lots of guys."
"Tell me about the guy you know."
"She kept talking about this group. I think he ran it."
"This group have a name?"
"She just said, 'The group...I'm meeting the group...late for the group.' Like that."
"You didn't ask?"
"She didn't talk much about it. Not to me. But I saw the bruises."
"What kind of bruises?"
"On her arms, the back of her legs. Marks on her wrists, like she'd been tied up. Bites on her neck."
"And what did you think of that?"
"I didn't like it."
"Maybe she did."
He sucked on his cigarette some more, and let the hurt wash over his eyes. "Yeah."
From inside the kitchen, the manager's voice bellowed: "Antonio!"
The waiter said to me in a quiet voice, "I thought we had stuff in common, me and her." He dropped his cigarette and crushed it with his heel. "But I don't like getting smacked around."
He apologized and went back inside.
I kept my hands in my pockets and walked back to the parking lot. My Rambler was parked to the left. I walked to the right, angling toward the silver Mustang. I kept it casual, like a stroll on the beach.
When I was three car lengths away, the Mustang roared to life and spun out of the lot, screaming and smoking. There were too many cars between us. They cut my view. I chased the Mustang to the street. Head up, eyes on target.
The driver wore some kind of mask.
The left rear hubcap was missing.
The bumper was dented in the middle.
The license plate frame was empty.
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NEXT: Chapter Six
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