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WOULD you believe me if I told you that when I opened the door that Thursday afternoon in September an absolutely stunning and stupendously shaped strawberry-tressed lovely was standing there naked? Right there in the second-floor hallway? Of the Spartan Apartment Hotel in Hollywood? Wherein I, Sheldon Scott, reside? And that this magnificent nude beauty was calling my name and pleading with me to let her inside?
Well, in that case, you probably won't believe the other wonderful things that happened either. But I think you ought to try. Because I would lay upon you — for your own good, of course — a truth known to the old wise men for billions of years. According to them: If you don't believe good things are going to happen to you, there's only a fat chance that they will.
Fortunately, I have believed in gorgeous naked babes for half — actually, more than half — of my thirty years. That's how long it took — thirty years — before I managed to open a door and find a stupendously gorgeous and stunningly shapely lass standing there with no clothes on, burbling:
Oh! Let me in! Are you Mr. Scott? The detective? Oh, of course you are. Let me in quick! Please?
It was late afternoon, but there was still bright-enough daylight outside. And I knew I had never seen this eye-cooking creature before, because I would have had no difficulty in remembering the occasion. So where had she come from? Where were her clothes? How did she know my name? Why had she been hammering so frantically on my door while letting out little yelps?
All these questions occurred to me a bit later.
But it did occur to me almost immediately that because during my years as a private investigator in the L.A.-Hollywood-San Andreas Fault area I had sent a large number of hoods to the joint, and several much farther away than that, there were dozens of local slobs who sincerely believed a lot of very bad things were going to happen to me if they could manage it. And the more perceptive among them must have realized that the best way to catch me off guard would be by attacking me at my weakest point. Which, in case this is not instantly clear, is the same as yours. Consequently, the thought brushed my mind that this could be some kind of trick. A way to trick me into one of the local graveyards. A wonderful way to.
So I had my guard up. But not way up.
Is this a trick? I asked her.
But by then she was inside, and had slammed the door shut.
She leaned back against it, her head — covered by masses of hair the color of crushed strawberries mixed with a little cream and a lot of brandy — pressed against the wood, eyes the bright blue of those little flames in gas ovens open very wide and fixed on my face, tender-looking lips parted, magnificent heavy but high breasts rising and falling quickly as she breathed through the provocative Oof her mouth.
After a moment she said in a rush, You've got to help me, Mr. Scott, you've just got to. I didn't know what else to do, and I knew you lived here, so I just came here first thing, the very instant I could. You will help me ... won't you?
It was some kind of plot, all right.
Her last sentence was spoken more slowly, more softly, in a warm low lilting voice smooth as honey ice cream but several hundred degrees warmer, and the heavy lids blinked over those blue eyes, sweep-sweep of long curving lashes a guy could comb his hair with — my hair, anyhow, which is white like my peaked eyebrows and militarily erect, sticking straight up into the air for a mere inch.
Her last ... won't you? came out like an invitation to an orgy with a hundred other people. She could not have made that sound and that question more seductively attractive, more half-growlingly appealing if she'd practiced it for hours in a bubble bath with Tarzan of the Apes.
Sure, I said. Of course.
Oh, good! I just knew, as soon as I thought of you, you were the one.
Uh-huh. What's the problem?
Well, there's this man.
He just tried to kill me.
He did? Ah ... I looked her over again, trying not to be obvious about it. How?
Well, when I found out he was there, he had a gun in his hand.
About that, miss. Where's this there? I mean, where in the world did you —
But he said he didn't want to shoot me because it would make so much noise. And it was supposed to look like an accident, anyway. Then he decided to rape me, and made this awful —
Wait a minute. You're making this up, aren't you? Ah, I'd hate to believe that. A man's got to have something to believe in —
I don't know how to describe it, but it was awful. He made this funny little sound, sort of like ssscck. And then he just fell over. So that's how he is now. He's dead, I think.
I'm pretty sure I missed something along the way. Where is this guy?
In my apartment. Just down the hall.
You mean here in the Spartan? Down this hall?
Of course. How do you think I got here dressed like ... Oh, goodness! I forgot I was — you must think I'm some kind of freak!
No, no. I wouldn't say that. Now, about this stiff —
Have you got a — a robe or anything? Something I could put around me?
Sure. This guy's dead, huh?
I think so. He looked awfully dead, but I don't know much about things like that. You'd know, though, wouldn't you?
Yeah, I sure would. So he's lying there now, dead or alive, on the floor of your apartment, right?
Yes, but I'm almost certain he died when he fell over. He didn't wiggle or flop around or anything, just lay there naked.
Naked? You didn't mention that.
If you did, I must not have been listening closely.
Well, he is. That's partly what made it such a mess. I didn't know what to do. Until I thought of you, Mr. Scott.
Good thinking. Call me Shell, huh? Well, I suppose I could go check this chap, see if there are any wiggles left in him —
Weren't you going to get me a robe, Mr. Scott?
Yes, of course. Call me Shell. Incidentally, I'm not a policeman, you know, just private fuzz, but if I were a cop, I'd think it was a little strange that this gentleman in your apartment appears not to have any clothes on, and you yourself are, ah, um ...
Well, the way it was, Mr. — Shell, I'd been soaking in the tub, and when I came out of the bath — I just had a towel wrapped around me — there he was! In the living room, I mean. I told you what he said, he was going to kill me and all, and he really meant it! I got — frightened, excited, and that's when my towel fell off. And that's when he decided to rape me.
That's when it was, huh?
He said if I was going to get killed anyway, what was the difference, and if I was cooperative — imagine, cooperative — I'd live that much longer. Anyway, that's when he took his clothes off, and for a little bit he just stood there, staring at me. With his mouth open. Like yours.
Ah ... mmm. Yes. Go on, please.
That's all. That's when he made the funny little ssscck noise, and keeled over. Please get me a robe or something, Mr. Sc — Shell. I keep thinking of that man standing there, just before he died, with his eyes bugging and his mou —
Yeah. Right away. No sooner said than done.
I turned and stomped into the room farthest from the front door of my three rooms and bath, the bedroom. But once there I did not immediately seek a robe for my unexpected guest. Instead, I walked over the black carpet to the king-size bed and sat for a moment on its edge, and while sitting there shook my head back and forth like a silent, solid bell.
Damnedest story I'd ever heard. Dead guy, indeed. Naked, indeed. Made a funny little ssscck noise and just keeled over.
Well, I'd do what the lady wanted. I would check her apartment and look all about for the late rapist. Probably nobody there at all — nobody dead, that is. Maybe three guys with clubs and guns, and not quite enough keen psychological know-how about my weak points.
But, wow, I thought, they, whoever they turned out to be, had sure picked a marvelous weapon to employ in their attack upon my foible. That girl in my living room was truly one of the most ravishing, one of the most blisteringly lovely and miraculously fashioned women I'd ever seen, and I've seen a bunch. Perhaps in my time I had lamped a few approximately her equal, but none measurably superior, none with a more harmonious and sweetly unique combination of face and form, bright glance and wanton lips, torches in her voice and sparks in her eyes.
Wouldn't it be great, I asked myself, if she's really telling me the truth, and I can dash to her aid and win her sincere gratitude and things? But even discounting the various little doubts I'd been experiencing, I would have dashed with some caution today, because this, already, had been an unusual day.
The reason I was home on a Thursday afternoon instead of at work on the streets or in my office — Sheldon Scott, Investigations, up one flight in the Hamilton Building on Broadway in downtown L.A. — was that I had only recently departed from the L.A. Police Building, wherein I had been thunderously chewed out by the captain of Homicide.
My best friend in Los Angeles is Phil Samson, who is also the captain of Central Homicide. Good friend that he is, Sam is also a very good cop, and a stickler for the letter of the law, with reference to which he often feels I do not stickle sufficiently. Indeed, that was what he had been colorfully informing me about once again, earlier this afternoon.
Even the passing thought made vivid before my eyes the ferocious picture of Phil Samson sinking strong teeth into an unlighted black cigar, burning holes in me with sharp brown eyes, hurling at me words that should have been considered individual felonies.
I am a six-foot-two ex-Marine, and weigh two hundred and six solid pounds, but when I left Sam's office in the LAPD I felt — for a minute or two, anyhow — as if he'd sliced an inch and twenty pounds off me.
But it was merely a warning — final warning, he'd told me — and all I had to do was stay out of trouble for a while. And not annoy any more citizens, especially innocent ones. And make Captain Samson very happy. Which, even on normal days, wasn't the easiest thing in the world for me to do. Besides which, I knew Sam was trying to clean up work on his desk in preparation for a long-delayed vacation, commencing on this upcoming weekend, and therefore fervently desired that I not present him with any little calamities that might require his personal attention, certainly not for at least the next fortnight.
I shook the appalling image of Samson out of my head and let the much lovelier view of my unexpected visitor enter, then got up and walked to my bedroom closet. I'd been wearing canary-yellow slacks and soft-soled shoes, with a white knit short-sleeved sport shin, so I grabbed a white loafer jacket and slipped it on, then stepped to the dresser.
My gun harness was there, where I'd left it earlier. I slipped my Colt .38 Special from its clamshell holster, dropped the revolver into the right-hand pocket of my jacket, moved back to the closet. A few seconds later I walked out of the bedroom carrying a blue robe for my guest. A thin blue robe. For which I'd lost the belt somewhere.
As I strolled back into the living room, my guest was sitting with her back to me on a big leather hassock before the chocolate-brown divan to my left. She was not, I was pleased to note, staring with a dubious expression at Ameliaon the wall above my fake fireplace.
Amelia is a large and colorful nude done in bright oils, perhaps a bit fleshy, even a mite bawdy, and some babes appear to become less than thrilled upon lamping her. This one, however, was gazing with apparent interest in the other direction, at my two tanks of tropical fish in the corner of the living room.
That gave her a few more points in my book, as did her reaction when I stopped before her and handed her the blue robe. She merely said, Thank you, Shell, and stood up, shrugging into the robe like a gal slipping a coat on over her sweater and blouse and overalls.
Well, I said when that was done, well. Well, I guess we're ready to go. By the way, miss, what's your name?
Aralia. Aralia Fields.
Splendid. Which apartment is yours?
Since I am in two-twelve, that made it only three doors away. I'll find it, I said, smiling, as if I had not a care in the world.
She smiled, too.
So, smiling together, we went out of my apartment and down the hall a few paces to 218.
The door was unlocked, slightly ajar. We went inside, me first, hand in coat pocket, gripping the butt of my gun.
Inside, I glanced around. Setup the same as my own apartment: living room here, small kitchenette ahead on the left, bath beyond it, bedroom all the way back, its door open. Large, fluffy-cushioned purple couch placed at an angle on our right, about where the chocolate-brown divan is in my living room.
But here, a few feet from the couch, approximately where my big leather hassock rested down the hall in 212, a blob of white. A bath towel, crumpled. And a yard from it ...
How about that? I said. It sure looks like there's a dead guy in here.CHAPTER 2
WELL, of course there is, Aralia said from behind me. I told you —
Yeah. Hold it a shake.
I gave the apartment a quick prowl, then came back into the living room and looked down at the brawny, thick-muscled, hairy-chested guy motionless on the floor. I knelt by him, felt for the pulse in his neck, then stood up again.
So far, Aralia Fields was batting a thousand.
There was, indeed, a man sprawled on the carpet, and he was naked, absolutely without a stitch. He was still fairly warm, but he would never get any warmer.
Who is the guy? I asked Aralia. You know him?
No. I don't have any idea, I never saw him before. Doesn't he look awful, lying there all sort of waxy?
Aralia, that's no way to talk about ... Yeah, he does look pretty pasty at that. Must not have got out in the sun much. I guess those are his clothes. I pointed toward some garments scattered on the carpet near the wall.
Yes. He just threw them away. Like they were hot or something.
Probably were. Well, maybe he's got a wallet in his coat — there. Or his pants — there. Pink shorts, why would a big husky guy like this cat wear pink shorts? You don't need to answer that. Yeah, here it is.
I'd found a billfold in his inside coat pocket by then. A thin job, shiny-new, expensive, made of tough alligator hide. The coat itself was lightweight, a rich brown, very soft fuzzy fabric. Our boy must have had a little money — yeah, bunch of hundred-dollar bills in his wallet, along with some small stuff. Like twenties, fifties.
The dead man's trousers were gold-tinted beige, woven brown leather belt still in the loops. A hip holster was on the belt. Not in the holster, but on the carpet near one alligator-leather shoe, was a .357 Magnum, well worn, not new.
Squatted on the floor, I said, Looks like this guy was serious, all right.
He was serious. Aralia's bright blue eyes widened again, flashed a spark or two. You should have seen him. I did see him, you know. And, believe me, Shell, he was ... serious. A girl can tell.
Yes, I, ah, was thinking about this here gun here.
That was the last thing he got rid of. First his clothes, even his shoes and socks — why would he take off his socks?
Beats me. I suppose he ... is it important?
Anyway, when he had everything off, but still had that ugly thing in his hand, that awful gun, he just threw the gun away, too. And then he stared at me, you know, and sort of advanced upon me, his intent unmistakably clear.
Well put. Then what?
That's all. Then he got all rigid, I mean all over, and fell down. Right where he is now.
O.K. Now, we're up the point where he conked out. Did he say anything significant just before that?
Like ... help? I'd like a glass of water? Ack?
Are you all right. Shell?
Of course — I am pretending I'm him. I'm probing for clues.
Oh, did he say anything — intelligible, just before he died? No. Just toppled over, and all the air went out of him in a whoosh. And didn't come back.
Uh-huh. Before he keeled over, did his face get horribly contorted, or purple, anything like that, as if he was having a heart attack, or was painfully constipated, or —
Excerpted from The Amber Effect by Richard S. Prather. Copyright © 1986 Richard S. Prather. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted March 1, 2011
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