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The New York Times blockbuster from the author of The Golden Orange and The Glitter Dome. Determined to make her way as a P.I., ex-police officer Breda Burrows proves her mettle as she follows a fugitive from remote desert canyons to the golden boulevards of Palm Springs, from funeral parlors to swank hotels, from celebrity golf tournaments to high-speed chases.
"What does it make you feel like?" Mrs. Rhonda Devon asked, as the private investigator studied a painting hanging over the mantel: figures in repose by the banks of the Seine, all done in the remarkable brush dots of Georges Seurat's pointillism.
"A cup of coffee."
"It makes me think of cafés and truck stops all over this desert."
"Why in the world do you say that?" Rhonda Devon asked. She took the P.I.'s cocktail glass to the bar. Behind her the sun was setting west of Mount San Jacinto, cooling down the unseasonably hot desert valley very quickly.
"In every single truck stop and café there's a Dot behind the counter. I must've had a thousand cups of coffee served by waitresses named Dot, more dots than you have in this painting."
Rhonda Devon chuckled and brought the P.I. another diet Coke in a cocktail glass. "What else does it make you feel?"
"Poor. I've heard of this artist. The painting's worth more than every house I've ever owned."
"Possibly," Rhonda Devon said, gesturing palm upward toward the sofa by the Seurat.
The P.I. didn't like the sofa's silk floral print, nor the Chinese Chippendale, nor the lacquered nesting tables. The massive old Spanish Colonial house cried out for some masculine bulk.
"I usually ask clients to come to my office for the first interview," the P.I. said, sipping the freshened drink.
"Why did you make an exception for me?"
"Do you treat rich clients better than poor ones?" Rhonda Devon asked coyly.
"Absolutely. I mean, I would, except poor people don't go to P.I.'s."
"Have you been in business long?"
"Only long enough to get in the yellow pages."
"That's how I chose you, the yellow pages. I liked the name of your firm: Discreet Inquiries. Sounds like a massage parlor."
"How would you know about massage parlors, Mrs. Devon?"
"I used to work in one."
It was best to let that one zing past. The texture of the rosy damask wall covering would absorb the ricochet. The damask was also wrong, the P.I. thought.
Rhonda Devon smiled into her cocktail, then picked up the onion with a plastic toothpick and sucked it provocatively before dropping it back into the gin to bathe a while longer.
Then she chuckled again, and the P.I. wondered how they learn to do that. Regular people guffaw or snicker or giggle. You even meet a few who chortle, but rich people, they chuckle. Chuckling 1A. They must learn it at boarding school and pass it around.
"We could sit here all evening and you'd never ask, would you? I took a job as a masseuse in order to research a paper in social science when I was an undergraduate. It was fun. I learned a few tricks."
When she said it she sucked on the onion again and smiled. That time there was almost certainly a sexual connotation.
It was easy to see the former undergraduate when Rhonda Devon smiled. The intervening years hadn't been hard on her but why should they be? She probably had a personal trainer to keep the belly hard, and a hairdresser to keep every strand of gray from that honeyed Marilyn Quayle flip, and a weekly visit to a manicurist probably took care of those long graceful fingers, two of which wore diamonds that could bail out Lincoln Savings.
The P.I. was wondering what it would be like to be this rich, when Rhonda Devon said, "Your answering service told me you're an ex-police officer."
"Apparently, they do listen to instructions once in a while. I was twenty years with LAPD. Thought it might be impressive for callers to hear about it."
"You can't be old enough for that," Rhonda Devon exclaimed.
"I'm old enough." Then, seeing she wasn't satisfied, said, "I'm going on forty-three."
"And you're right back into police work."
"This is nothing like police work Mrs. Devon," the P.I. wanted to say, thinking of the garbage work, such as interviewing witnesses for criminal defense lawyers; that was particularly hateful for an ex-cop. Virtually all defendants brought to trial were about as innocent as Josef Stalin, so most of the defense work consisted of trying to persuade them to cop a plea. This made the local criminal lawyers happier than it made the prosecutors, because the court-appointed lawyer got paid without lifting a finger. The local courthouse, like all others in the U.S., was more cluttered than a dressing room at the Folies-Bergère, so in a sense, it was doing what LAPD detectives did: offering tickets to the slam and hoping the defendants would buy.
But all the P.I. said was, "It's sorta like police work. At least sometimes."
"Why didn't you go into another line of work?"
"Well, if I could dance I'd try ballet but crime and crooks are all I know. Depressing, isn't it?"
The vast desert sky was turning ermine black. Rhonda Devon switched on a lamp behind her and the lemony glow highlighted her cheekbones. When she turned in profile there was no telltale glint from contact lenses in her wide-set eyes.
The forest-green irises came from DNA, not optometry.
"So, Mrs. Devon," the P.I. said, thinking there'd been enough small talk. "How can I help you?"
"It's about my husband, Clive," Rhonda Devon said. "I'd like you to follow him."
That was a bad start. The P.I. never had any luck with people named Clive or Graham or Montgomery, and once had served at Hollywood detectives under a captain named Clive, hating his guts.
"Is it a woman problem?"
"Mrs. Devon, this is a no-fault divorce state. Most places are, except maybe for Monte Carlo. Prince Rainier and Princess Grace couldn't have afforded to get caught chippying, but it's different here. You don't need a private investigator."
"I'm not trying to catch him in a tryst. I don't care what he does."
"Any lawyer would tell you that in a divorce situation in California you don't have to—"
"I don't want a divorce. I just have to understand why."
"Why he's fooling around?"
"No ... yes, that's part of it, but only a small part."
"What's the big part?"
"I think he's preparing to have a child. And I can't understand why."
"You said you don't care if he—"
"I don't care if he has one mistress or ten! But he's having a child. I have to understand that."
"Okay, how do you know?"
"I found something quite by accident. Our business manager writes the important checks and handles our portfolio, but we have separate personal checking accounts. It caught my eye, the monthly statement in the pocket of his blazer. It fell out when I hung the jacket in the armoire. I just got a glimpse before he came into the room, but when I returned to the armoire later it was gone. It was a monthly billing from a place called the Beverly Hills Fertility Institute."
"Did you call them?"
"I had my doctor make a few calls. The sperm banks in Los Angeles are administered by a medical director who insists on absolute confidentiality. All they'd say is that the name Clive Devon is unknown to them."
"How old is your husband?"
"And how old're you, if I may ask?"
"Forty-four. I've never had children, and as of last December I won't be having any. I went through the change rather early just like my mother and both my sisters. Clive's obviously planning to have a child by a surrogate! Perhaps he's planning to leave me!"
"Do you care?"
"Yes, very much."
"Maybe he's one of these movers and shakers that can't depart this earth without leaving his genetic code behind. Maybe he's donated his sperm to some study or experiment."
"He's a terribly shy man, an introvert really, with low self-esteem and very few friends. He's never done any moving and shaking. He's always lived on trusts. I can't imagine him having a need to leave part of himself behind. Clive being part of an experiment? That's preposterous."
"Did he make you sign a prenuptial?"
"Then you stand to inherit when he dies?"
"Oh, yes. We've been married for thirteen years. He can't legally leave all his money to a new wife and child."
"Well, did you ever want children?"
"No, nor did he. Neither of us had happy childhoods so we thought we'd keep our neuroses to ourselves and not pass them on."
"Mrs. Devon, why don't you just ask him why he made this little bank deposit that's driving you nutty?"
"Oh, I'd never pry. Nor would he if the roles were reversed. We're each very independent. We live apart a good deal of the time. I prefer our main house in Beverly Hills and only come here two weekends a month. He stays here all the time, even in summer. I seldom can get him to spend forty-eight hours at our other home."
"Do you and your husband still ..."
"He had a cardiac bypass. Arterial insufficiency allows him to ejaculate, but he can't get an erection. We haven't had sex for about five years." Then she added, "At least together."
"Have you discussed this with anyone else? I mean, why he maybe wants a kid?"
"We have the same attorney in Los Angeles, a good friend. He hasn't a clue."
"Of course he wouldn't dream of just asking Mister Devon, either?"
"I would never permit it. We do have our private separate lives and we ..."
"Respect one another."
"Where's your husband today?"
"I have no idea. When I come here we're only together long enough to have dinner or a game of golf. He likes to spend most of his time hiking in the desert. Or so he says."
The P.I. put the cocktail glass on an onyx coffee table that was bigger than a squash court—the only piece with the right scale—and said, "So you want me to conduct a surveillance and find out who, what, where, when and why?"
"Just who and why. I particularly have to know why. If once, in all these years, he'd ever expressed the slightest wish for a child we could have ... at least talked it over."
"Surveillance is very expensive. It can go on for days and weeks with no satisfaction whatsoever. And by the way, I don't do illegal phone taps."
"All right, just find out who the surrogate is to start with. Who may lead to why."
"Sixty dollars an hour charged against a one-thousand-dollar retainer is what I get for surveillance work," the P.I. lied, half hoping Rhonda Devon would change her mind. This could turn into real garbage work. "And when he goes to bed I go to bed. I don't sit outside a client's house running up the meter.
If he gets up in the middle of the night for a run to his hired bake-oven I'll never know about it."
"You're very flippant," Rhonda Devon said.
"I don't think I really want the job." The P.I. hesitated for a moment, then said, "I have to ask you, Mrs. Devon, after the cardiac surgery did he try with you? Are you sure he has vascular insufficiency?"
"There were a few pathetic attempts. No, I do not believe he's capable of erection."
She looked thinner than ever in the lemony light and shadow. The P.I. was unaccountably sorry for her, and felt odd pitying someone this rich.
"Mrs. Devon"—the P.I. touched an urn on the coffee table—"are you afraid he's found someone he cares about? Someone he wants to raise a child with? No matter how the conception gets accomplished?"
"That's an Etruscan vase," Rhonda Devon said, as though she hadn't heard the question. "Please be careful. I've prepared a file for you with everything you'll need to know about Clive, including a photo. The file's on the table by the door."
Rhonda Devon arose languidly, but staggered a step from too much predinner booze, and swayed across the marble foyer, leading the way to the door.
Before leaving, the P.I. looked at the client, and said, "What'll you do with the information if I'm able to get it? I mean, the name of the surrogate and the reason for your husband doing this? What would you do with the information?"
"You don't have to worry about that," Rhonda Devon said.
"Oh, but I do. In fact, I'm not taking this case if you refuse to tell me."
Rhonda Devon studied the private investigator for a moment, showed perfect orthodontal teeth, and said, "Absolutely nothing. But I have to know." Then she added, "I'd be happy to pay a bonus for results. Say, five thousand dollars? I won't pretend that my husband and I have a close relationship or even a normal one. But I have to know. Surely, as a woman, you can understand?"CHAPTER 2
On the fourth ring, he picked up the phone, or tried to. He made a swipe at it, but the phone fell off the nightstand. Somebody had squeezed him like a grapefruit. He was all acid and pulp, juiceless. Dry as tumbleweed.
On the seventh ring he found it, a phone in the shape of a boxing glove. The guy whose mansion he was sitting probably had had one intramural match at prep school when he was ten years old, and had gone goofy over prize fighters. The study was full of Leroy Neiman's nervous sports prints, as well as lots of boxing photos. Undoubtedly, he was the kind of guy who wouldn't travel without his Water Pik.
"Hello," he croaked into the boxing glove. He heard a muffled reply and turned the phone right side up. "Yeah?"
A woman's voice said, "Detective Cutter?"
"Yeah, who's this?" He felt like somebody had inflated his skull with mustard gas.
"Is it a bad time to call?"
"No, it's a bad day to call. What day is this?"
"It's Monday, February fourth."
"Am I disturbing you?"
"No, I had to get up and puke anyway. Who the hell is this?"
"My name's Breda Burrows," she said. "I'm a P.I. here in Palm Springs, retired from LAPD."
"Yeah, so whadda ... oh, shit!"
Lynn Cutter slouched from bed in his gray silk pajama bottoms (property of the guy who was nutted out over boxers) and scuttled toward the bathroom like somebody trying to run underwater. Because the bathroom was bigger than the Palm Springs police station he didn't quite get to the toilet, but did manage to upchuck in a Jacuzzi tub with gold-plated faucets.
Lynn went down on the cool tile for a minute, examining a crumbled line of grout from a roach's-eye view. He raised up, wiped his mouth on a monogrammed towel, and picked up the extension: a Sports Illustrated phone shaped like a sneaker.
Speaking from the supine position, he said, "I'm dying."
"I can call back in thirty minutes."
"They'll be pulling a sheet over me," he moaned. "Look, lady, it ain't easy talking into a tennis shoe. Whaddaya want?"
"Well, Detective Cutter," she began, then thought it sounded stiff and formal. So she said, "Whadda your friends call you?"
"I don't have any." He was feeling more bile bubbling and rising. "But mother calls me Lynn. Kiss her for me. I'm all through."
"Yeah, Lynn! I know! Marion Morrison didn't like a girl's name and changed it to John Wayne! I know! Lynn's not a common name but life wasn't easy for a boy named Sue, was it? Now, lady, will you tell me what the hell you want this time a morning?"
"It's one o'clock in the afternoon, Lynn."
"Morning, afternoon! Kee-rist, have a heart!"
"Can I drive over and talk to you? I have something to discuss that might be to our mutual advantage."
He paused, then said, "Save your gas. I ain't about to jeopardize a disability pension by doing favors for private eyes, okay?"
"Hey, I wouldn't jeopardize your pension," she said. "We're in the same society. Society of the badge."
"Used to be. You ain't carrying a badge no more. Far as I'm concerned, you're just fuzz that was. Like just about every other P.I. I ever met. Fuzz that was."
"But I'll always be a cop at heart," she said. "How about a brief meeting?"
"I gotta go," he said. Then it occurred to him. "How'd you get my number?" He wobbled to his feet, weaved a bit, and considered peeing in the bathtub.
"I'll tell you," she said, "if you'll meet me for lunch."
"Lunch?" He'd only raised his voice to twelve decibels, slightly louder than the sound of human breathing, but it sounded like a concussion grenade. When he turned on the faucet he heard Chinese New Year.
"How about a drink?" she asked. "Let's meet in one hour and have a drink. Whadda you got to lose?"
"The Furnace Room," he said, spotting an empty cognac bottle on the counter beside one of the bathroom sinks. The only thing he remembered clearly was that what's-her-name drank every drop of booze in the house. "You'll love the joint. It's about as bright and cheerful as Gotham City. Can we hang up now? This conversation's going on longer than the Lebanese civil war."
Excerpted from Fugitive Nights by Joseph Wambaugh. Copyright © 1992 Joseph Wambaugh. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted July 5, 2012
Posted July 3, 2012
Toru stops running and rests, panting. However, the sound of feet crushing undergrowth nearby is enough to get him running again. He runs to 'safe place' result six and is gone before anyone comes here.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 4, 2010
I have enjoyed Joseph Wambaugh's work in the past but this novel defies explanation. It contains possibly the worst dialogue I have ever read. No one talks the way this man wrote the characters in this book an its so odd based on some of his other work. Maybe he's making fun of people similar to this but I doubt it. The plot is absurd. This is a big miss. I bought this for fifty cents at a library sale and grossly overpaid.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 25, 2012
No text was provided for this review.