It’s entertainment time, and if you look in the following for anything deeper than an indoor-outdoor piece of carpet, I guarantee you, you’re wasting precious minutes of your life.
Do you remember the detective genres of the 40’s and 50’s with the corny dialogue and scenes? Here’s an attempt at mimicking one of those… enjoy… S’T
ENCOUNTER AT SELDA’S
I don’t know why I noticed her. You’d think I would have had enough on my mind. But the way she stepped across that street, shaking her head, looking up and down, I knew something was wrong. I thought she looked at me, but why should I care? I told myself it was her miniskirt and halter top, but you really got to want to fool yourself to do so, and I wasn’t trying. I’d been fooled enough. Here I was, everything the same as every other day, except, as of 5:00 P.M., I was out of a job. For twelve years, I’d built my position inside Extel, and just after they promised me a management job: re-structure. Replaced by a bank of robots with flashing lights. My good friend, Carlos Rivaldi gave me the boot, just like that. Not even a sorry, just a cold stare from his piggish little black eyes and an envelope from his fat fingers bulging between an assortment of rings. “See you around, Al.” I was torqued. Yeah, I’d see him around, all right, and when I did, he wouldn’t be the one saying good-bye…
It’s not the end of the world; the weather’s hot and I can still run, though it won’t be to the shop anymore. I can still get my dinner special at Selda’s. I’ve got $3000 dollars saved up and I intend to play that for all it’s worth. I force on my T-shirt and after wiping off some sweat, slip into Selda’s greasy spoon. Place is full now, near six. I don’t worry. They always make room for me at the staff table near the back. There’s Dino coming to usher me away from the rest of the crowd: he doesn’t care for my attire, never has, but my money’s good.
“Hi back!” she says between trays and deftly stashing some tips in her glass. Elaine’s OK. We’ve been out a couple of times, but we don’t quite hit it off. My exercising, especially the water sports, scare her, and I won’t be tied down to the land for any woman, so, it’s a stand-off.
I sit at the table and try to think. Damn that Carlos. I’ll see him in hell. “Regular please, only skip dessert this time, OK?”
“Ain’t we the last of the big spenders tonight!”
“We sure are. We got the boot today.”
“You too? But I thought you were getting a promotion? Susan told me…”
“Susan was right: we both got promoted… to the street. Look, I don’t want to talk about it Jody. Do you know that woman in the black skirt just came in, the one Dino is eating raw?”
“No. Ain’t from around. Why?”
“Don’t get testy. Just asking. She was eyeballing me outside. What the hell? Dino’s pointing her this way…”
“It’s your party, big spender. Gotta look after the rest of my customers before they starve…”
The skirt swivels to my table, stops. I motion to the empty chair. She slides into it in one incredibly fluid motion. I scan the menu: shoulder length dark-blonde hair, green eyes (could have been the lighting), short finger nails, pretty mouth, not too big, long neck, medium breasts, well-exposed by skimpy black halter, backless, tanned. A swimmer. My eyes quit roving and my other senses get their chance. She smells outdoor: sunshine, moonlight, salt water and eucalyptus—definitely exotic if not intoxicating.
Me: “Hi!” How’s that for an original?
She: “I was following you when you came in here…” How’s that for a repartee? We are definitely on to something.
“Oh?” A two year old could have figured my next line: “Why?” and hers: “It’s a long story.” Do tell!
“Really…” I’m pretending no interest but she’s gaining fast. My omelet arrives. She orders soup and salad—I should have known. Oh, well, the food’s as good as usual, or as bad. I play the salt and pepper over my plate. She’s watching me, and I get nervous. She sips some water from my glass and lowers her head.
“Can we talk here?”
I look around, focusing on the din and answer caustically, “If you can make yourself heard!” Why am I being so difficult with the lady? Because I haven’t seen her before and she’s tailing me? Because she’s interrupting my dinner? Because I’m in a bitch of a mood and don’t want to talk to anyone, least of all a total stranger, female, desirable and quite likely dangerous to be seen with? Because… Oh, hell…
She sighs. No, I didn’t hear, I saw, and she opens up.
“Rivaldi dumped you, hey?”
I feel a cold shiver up my spine. Suddenly, I am all ears. “What?”
“Carlos – he gave you the boot this afternoon.”
She says it so damn matter-of-factly I nearly jump up and flip the table. “What the hell are you talking about?” She puts her nicely tanned hand on my arm and grips so hard I wince. “Hey, watch it!”
“Relax. I don’t want a scene. I need to talk.”
I know when I am beat and my curiosity is now well beyond retrieval. “Shoot. Whatever it is, it can’t be worse than what’s already happened” and sardonically: “please DO fill me in on the details!”
She sips my water again, sloshing the ice. “Want a beer or something?” I ask, trying to sound casual about it. Didn’t even fool me.
“Thanks! A Caesar, please!”
Quick at accepting freebies; have to watch that.
“I’m Sylvia Rivaldi. Carlos is my brother-in-law. My husband, Bernardo, was the main power behind Extel. Carlos, the front man. He’s been after his brother to break up the company and sell it for parts for quite some time. Bernardo refused. He said he liked computers. Bernardo, being the eldest, always had the last word, until last week, that is…” She reaches for the drink that has materialized and takes a long swallow. I watch the muscles on her extended throat contract and expand and I hold my breath. Even that part is tanned. I imagine very little of that lithe, healthy-looking body is untouched by the sun… or a man’s hands. “…so that’s when he disappeared…” I crash from my lustful reverie to land in her husky voice and my cold toast and omelet. “Disappeared?”
She looks around apprehensively and I think, “Oh, boy, what a ham. Does she think I just got off the bus?”
“Aren’t you listening to me?”
This time I detect a touch of self-pity, perhaps even fear, in her voice. “It’s been a hell of a day and you’re not helping. Sorry but you’re the only person I can trust and you’ve got a stake in this too.”
“Oh, I do?” I drawl the sarcasm out. “Well, that explains everything, don’t it!” She starts to cry and that’s when I begin to take her as the genuine article. Yeah, I’d thought someone’d put her up to this, but it was getting too good. “OK, I’ll listen, if you let me eat.”
“Thank you.” She dabs her eyes with my paper napkin. “As I said, Bernardo disappeared and I became frantic, all alone in that big house. Carlos tried so many times to get me there alone. He calls me and says, “Hey, kid. Where’s big bro? Gotta talk to him pronto.” I told him he wasn’t home and I hadn’t seen him for two days. “That so? Getting lonely? Want company? I could come over and make you comfy until Bern shows up, whadya say?” Forget it Carlos, I say, and he continues, “Well, maybe I will and again, maybe I won’t. Listen, bitch. Don’t think you can order me around. I’m gonna get what I want and you’re part of the picture, get it? Expect me at eight, and have cocktails ready. You’n me gonna party tonight, baby. We sure are gonna party…” and he hung up, laughing like a hyena.
“I was so scared! Then I realized I didn’t know where he’d called from. Maybe he was waiting down the drive for me to make a dash from the house. He knew exactly where I was and I didn’t know where he was. All I knew for sure was his ‘eight’ could mean any minute now. There was only one way out. The house is on a point across the bay and I keep a kayak down in a shelter by the rocks. I packed a few things, then remembered the safe. I found the combination, opened it and took all the cash and important looking papers; stashed the works in my waterproof belt pack and took off. I paddled across the bay and hid my boat in a place I know. I booked into a small beach-front motel and I’ve been watching developments ever since. I have a contact inside Extel and I learned what Carlos was doing. I knew about the so-called restructuring several days ago. I sent messages to Bernardo, but I knew it was useless…”
I raise my hand to stop the avalanche. “So you figure he’s dead?”
“I’m sure Carlos killed him.”
I brush a finger over my lips. She reads it like a pro and becomes absorbed by her salad. I say zip during Jody’s ritual coffee re-fill. She has big ears and a mouth to match. Once she’s absolutely out of ear-shot, I say: “You positive?”
“Yes, damn it. None of what’s happened would have if Bernardo was alive.”
“Seems like your boys like to play rough. Do they have any connections with…”
“You naive? Of course they got connections: all the way to Sicily. Don’t you know you were on the payroll of the Family, for Chrissakes? That Extel was a front for a drug channel from Columbia via Mexico and here? Bernardo was the kingpin and, get this, Carlos doesn’t know anything about the drugs, that stupid oaf!”
“OK. Let’s fast forward to the present. Why were you following me, and what do you want from me: protection from the goddam mob? Are you crazy?” She laughs. Such a beautiful, if unexpected, sound to emanate from that luscious package! For a mourning widow of a recently murdered husband, she presents a bit of a puzzle. “What the hell’s so funny?”
“You! I don’t remember the last time I met anyone as naive as you. It’s so refreshing!” She lets off another peal of laughter, and worse, some of the male customers are mentally taking out their measuring tapes. Already, I feel defensive and jealous and think, “Here we go. I’ll pop someone and never see her again. Women don’t like jealous males, don’t I know it, but I can’t help myself. “Quit that laughing, will ya?” I’m as tense as a startled rattler.
“Sorry!” She looks anything but. “I don’t need protection; I need a partner…”
“A what???” Now I’m shouting!
“Shhh. Carlos did you in like he’s trying to do me. With Bernardo dead, I own that damn Extel. I’ve got the papers. That’s what the fat slob’s after, not to mention me. I want him dead and that’s where you come in, partner.”
She’s so cool, the ice-cubes in the glass are growing! I splutter: “Are you nuts? I don’t know you. I don’t know if what you’re telling me comes from the back of a three dollar bill. D’you realize what you sound like, for Chrissakes?”
“Sure!” She purses her lips and moves in for the kill, her fingers resting lightly on my thigh. “I’ve got something you’d like, and I think we can work together.”
“What you got, I can get any time. This is LA.! And whatever else you got is trouble. I don’t need either.”
She smiles angelically. “You are naive. I love that! I’m not offering sex…” Smiling: “not yet, and as for trouble, nothing ventured, nothing gained!” She unsnaps her belt pack and slides it over her knees. Such shape, even in dimmed lighting. She unzips, pulls out an envelope, pops the end open and reveals a stack of heavy-duty bills. Must’ve been a hundred thou in there. She puts it back, pulls out a folded paper and opening it, traces some faint lines with her index. “What are those?”
“This is the route. Bernardo kept it in his safe and now I’m the only one who has the picture. We’re talking quick, easy millions, but I need a trusty sailor who knows the channels like the back of his hand to man a boat tonight. Did I make a mistake, Roger?”
Impossible! How could she know my real name? I was snared and shrugged helplessly: “No. I’ll get the boat.” She slips me several bills which add up to five thousands. I stuff them under the insole of my sweaty runners and lace up again.
“You’re fabulous!” With a feline stretch, she plants a full-lipped kiss on my mouth. I grope for more of her kelp and palm oil and whatever else she makes available in such tight if public quarters. Too late now to pause and consider a minor question like: “Who really killed Bernardo?” Good-bye Carlos! And inspector Dinsdale you dirty snake in the grass, am I going to have a nice little surprise for you, and this time won’t be me serving time for Uncle Sam.