|I’m relaxing in my dull-green Packard as I'm motoring up
Orange Avenue, heading for the Hollywood address of the movie queen, Gloria
Mason. The traffic is light, and so is my mood. After months of tracking down
cheating husbands and missing teenagers, a high profile case, complete with a
movie star heart-breaker, just drops into my lap.
Usually, the life of a private dick
is a look into the lives of people who wouldn't exactly look natural on the
cover of Collier's. But every once in awhile, a case comes along that reminds
you why you got into the racket.
I flip on the radio to hear The Mills
Brothers, crooning something from the war years as I hang a right onto Alondra.
I pass Paramount Studios on my left. "I wonder if Gloria Mason hangs her
hat in that dream mill?" I say to myself.
I'm reminding myself the last case I had with
a movie doll in the mix, I almost wound-up with a gold band and spending the
rest of my life as Mr. Monica Malone. This time I don't care what kind of
come-on this bombshell blows my way, James R. Beam is the Ice Man. Just the
facts, ma'am...that'll be me.
With the Malone dame, I took a long
step and fell right down the elevator shaft of love. After a few weeks of
living in a Hollywood dream I came out of it. It finally came to me there
weren't gonna be any white picket fences in that picture. I gave her the
brush-off and kept myself scarce. I don't care how much this Malone
dame bats her eyelashes, I'm the monkey with a note book and heart of stone.
After a short ride through Hollywood,
I turn north on Sunset. I almost miss the left I'm looking for. North Alpine
Drive is just a one lane road, winding up into the woods. I pull up to the
black iron gates at the dead end. I can see the four-story, white mansion up on
the hill. Looks like it's big enough to be a full-sized hospital.
"Is Miss Mason expecting
you?" comes this tinny, upper-crust voice from a horn speaker to the left
of the gate.
"Naw," I answer, "I'm
here to peddle some Girl Scout cookies for the big upcoming knot-tying
jamboree. I'd like to put Miss Mason down for a hundred boxes or so of those
chocolate concrete horse tablets."
It's then I hear a female voice.
"It's alright, Gregory. I'm expecting Mr. Beam. Open the gates,
I hear a hum of electric motors as
the black iron gates part like the Red Sea. I tool up the tree-lined cement
road to a fancy-looking courtyard, complete with a marble pond. Some Greek god
or something is standing in the middle of the pond, relieving his bladder into
The double doors to this high-hat
joint stand about fifteen feet tall. "Guess she entertains a lot of
Watusi," I mumble, getting out of my bucket.
I climb the seven curved stone steps onto a
huge half-circle of a front porch. My peepers try to take in the size of this
overblown, stone mausoleum. The heavy door swings on its iron hinges and I spy
what must be the butler I was yapping with on the horn. He's standing like a
three-hundred-year-old oak in the open doorway. The character is actually
wearing one of those monocles on the left side of his long, skinny schnoz. The
palooka looks to be about six-foot-eight.
The suit spins on his polished heels
and buttles back inside. As he turns, I spot the flash of a .38 parked in his
leather shoulder holster.
"Madam is waiting for you in the
sitting room," he says in this phony Limey accent.
I doff my old fedora and follow him
inside the palace. "The standing room must be full-up, eh Jeeves?"
The bean pole turns to look over his
boney shoulder at me. "Was that a jest, sir?"
"Apparently not," I answer.
I can just see the fun bubbling up under that parchment exterior of his. I do
my impression of the Frankenstein monster, lurching behind the skyscraper in a
So I follow the monkey suit down a
marble floored hallway. Every step we take echoes to the other end and back,
wherever the other end might be. As I pass some sort of ballroom on our left, I
see the two-story, domed ceiling sports a crystal chandelier that must weigh a
ton if it's a pound. Curved staircases flank both sides of the massive room
leading up to a railed third story.
Finally, Jeeves puts on the brakes
and stands at attention by an open doorway. He swivels his scrawny neck and
announces, "Mister Beam, madam." He bows to his boss, putting a nix
on my broomstick theory concerning his walk. As I waltz past the stuffed-shirt,
I smell a cologne, reminding me of dead flowers and dust.
"Mr. Beam!" my hostess calls, real cheerful-like. Gloria Mason
swivels on a fancy wood office chair to face me.
My first thought is that the silver
screen doesn't do justice to this platinum-blond knockout. Her shoulder-length
hair shines like it had its own light source. Those red, full lips and flashing
green eyes set each other off just swell. She's wearing a skin-tight, one-piece
silver pantsuit with a plunging neckline that just naturally draws your eyes to
those milky melons like a magnet.
My second thought...well, I didn't really have a second thought for awhile, at
least none I could share with anyone but a priest or some of my less savory
I clear my throat and happen to
notice that I'm mashing my hat to a pulp in front of me with both fists.
"When did you say your twin sister went missing, Miss Mason?" I
finally get out.
Gloria stands up from her perch by a
pricy-looking table and sort of glides over to me. My ticker seems to be trying
to pound its way out of my ribcage as she gets closer. "That's just it,
Mr. Beam," she says in this soft, raspy voice. "She didn't go
missing. My sister ran off last night to get away from her hoodlum boyfriend,
"If she looks like you," I
begin, "I'm sure Mario is tossing this town to find her."
The sex goddess gives me just the
hint of a smile. "I'll take that as a compliment, Mr. Beam."
"Did she call to tell you where
she took a powder to?"
"Roberta called me early this morning.
She told me she was still in L.A., but she wouldn't tell me where. She sounded
frightened out of her wits. Apparently, she saw Mario shoot a man to death in
his own home. When she witnessed the murder, she ran out the door and stole
Mario's automobile. Then then drove around all night, trying to figure out what
to do. Roberta is afraid Mario will kill her because she witnessed him murder
Suddenly, Mason's frown turns into a blinding smile. "May I offer you a
drink?" she asks, a little too cool for my taste. I mean, her twin sister
is on the lam from a killer and this broad is acting like she's entertaining
old pals at a Sunday social. Something isn't clicking.
I decide to try my vocal cords and
see if they can do more than croak for me this time. "No thanks, Miss
"Please, call me Gloria, Mr.
Beam," she butts in.
I flash my own pearlies. "In
that case, Gloria, you can shorten my handle to Jim. Can you clue me as to why
Mario bumped off this jasper?"
Gloria frowns in a way that makes her
puss look even more gorgeous. "She said the other man had a rather large
brown package to sell to Mario. Roberta thinks it might have been heroin."
"What scotched the deal?" I
Gloria turns her back and slinks to
the table she'd been parked at earlier. I'm thinking, the way those hips move
could be put to music. She parks her round tush and crosses her long, shapely
"It seems that Mario hadn't the
money to pay for the transaction," says she, "so he simply murdered
the dealer. That is the sort of animal my naive sister has gotten herself
involved with. You simply must help me find her before Mario does. That brute
will surely kill her to keep her from testifying against him. It's only a
matter of time before he catches her. Please, will you help me? Money is no
object, of course."
I stroll back over to where Gloria is
sitting. I start straightening out the crumpled wool in my mitts, managing to
turn it back into some sort of hat shape.
"If I were to take this case
Gloria, it'll be to the tune of three hundred clams a day, plus expenses. I
don't mambo with the mob for a dime less. But this seems like a job for the
local coppers. Why didn't you get them on the horn as soon as your sister
The movie star stands up and parks
her plush can on the edge of the table, leaning over to give my peepers a clear
gander at those smooth melons trying to pour out of that V-cut silver job. I
know this is the oldest trick in the dame book, meant to get a sap like me to
feel like co-operating with whatever she has in mind. Some tricks never stop
working, and she knows it, even better than I do.
Gloria lowers her long lashes.
"My sister may have been involved with some of Mario's illegal activities,
Jim. I don't want that coming out in the papers. She might have to go to prison
if this sordid affair comes to light. She has no money of her own. This house
and all the assets of the estate is controlled by our grandma. Roberta and I
are her only heirs. I have my film career to live on, but poor Roberta has
nothing of her own except a small allowance of ten thousand dollars a month.
I'm afraid that is how she fell in with that scoundrel Mario in the first
"A small allowance of ten large
a month, eh? That's hardly enough to keep a girl in fresh mink coats."
I can see by the look on Gloria's pretty pan that I'm starting to get under her
skin. I flash my best winning smile at the star to get her mind off my last
comment. "So, where's granny now?"
Gloria shakes her platinum mane. I have to remind myself that I'm dealing with
a very talented actress. That pout could mean something, or just another
performance for a private audience.
"Grandma is upstairs, Jim. The doctor administered a sedative so the poor
dear can get some rest. She's quite frail and this awful business is a terrible
strain on her."
I mull this over for a few seconds. "No promises," I tell her.
"I'll nose around for a couple of days and see what we can dig up. If
everything doesn't look on the complete up and up, I scram and you owe for
services rendered. I'll need a list of all of Roberta's friends and places she
likes to haunt, natch."
I expect her to start gushing her gratitude at me. What she does is waltz
across the room and call for her butler. I see the guy slip her something.
Gloria then slinks back to me with a piece of paper in her slender fingers. She
looks up at me with a smile the cameras would just eat up.
"I anticipated that, Jim," she purrs. "I think you'll find
everyone on this list you might need to question. Please find my sister. She
and Grandma are all I have in this world."
"Show Mr. Beam to the door,
Gregory," she tells the butler. "I'm feeling rather tired. You will
find me out by the pool if anything requires my attention."
"Yes, madam." The servant
bows and turns his dead, gray eyes to me. "If you will kindly follow
With that, his spit-polished dogs go
clicking down the hallway.
Gloria turns her back on me and
gathers up the papers off the table. She goes to a wall safe and shoves them
inside, closing the round door. "I will be expecting a report from you
I may not be in show biz, but I
know an exit line when I hear one. I follow the armed butler back out of the
museum and climb into my heap.
I know this dish is a swell actress
by the way she managed to keep her obvious lust for yours truly under wraps. I
just know it couldn't be the old Jimbo charm is beginning to rust.
I start my trusty Packard and head down
the hill toward the gates, trying not to think about my possibly fading charms.