Desert City Diva: A noir P.I. mystery set in California

Desert City Diva: A noir P.I. mystery set in California

by Corey Lynn Fayman

Hardcover(First World Publication)

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Desert City Diva: A noir P.I. mystery set in California by Corey Lynn Fayman

A darkly humorous noir mystery featuring laidback, guitar-playing private investigator Rolly Waters.

Rolly Waters has many reasons to regret going out for Mexican food at 2.30 in the morning. Not least because then he would never have met dance-club DJ Macy Starr – possibly the most infuriatingly unpredictable and secretive client he has ever taken on.

Macy Starr wants Rolly to find out what happened to the young woman she knew as Aunt Betty, the woman who rescued her as a child and who then disappeared without trace. The only clue she has to go on is a curious one-stringed guitar.

Rolly’s investigation leads to a weird world of alien-obsessed cults, a strange desert hideaway known as Slab City – and to a 20-year-old unsolved murder case. But how can he solve the mystery if he can’t even trust his own client?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780727885487
Publisher: Severn House Publishers
Publication date: 01/01/2016
Series: A Rolly Waters Mystery Series , #3
Edition description: First World Publication
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Corey Lynn Fayman has worked as a keyboard player, sound technician, and interactive designer. He lives in San Diego, California, and is the author of two previous Rolly Waters mysteries, the most recent of which, Border Field Blues, won the Genre Award at the 2013 Hollywood Book Festival.

Read an Excerpt

Desert City Diva

By Corey Lynn Fayman

Severn House Publishers Ltd

Copyright © 2015 Corey Lynn Fayman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84751-657-2


The Bite

It was a bad idea to go out for Mexican food at 2:30 in the morning, but that hadn't prevented Rolly Waters from stopping by the Villa Cantina for a plate of machaca after his gig. It wasn't the machaca that was going to kill him, though. It was the bite on his leg. It was a whole string of bad ideas that had brought him to this wretched state, on the nauseous edge of mortality. Bad ideas, bad decisions, bad choices – whatever you wanted to call them – each one had inexorably led to the next. And each had led to this moment, as he barfed his guts out in the emergency room at the hospital. He didn't even know the name of the hospital. He didn't know the name of the town it was in. He only knew that he'd never felt this sick. He knew he was going to die.

Medical personnel dressed in grubby green scrubs gathered around him, thwarting his passage into oblivion, perhaps hastening it. One of them jabbed his left arm with a needle. Another wrapped his right arm in a blood pressure cuff. They pulled his pants off and inspected his ankle as the vital signs monitor beeped in his ear. His left leg felt like burning coals had been inserted under his skin. A woman made him swallow two pills. She gave him a shot glass of liquid that smelled like rotten eggs. Stomach acid swirled up in his throat. The doctors and nurses floated on a bilious green cloud. He lifted his head and leaned over the bucket. His stomach heaved but nothing came up. He closed his eyes and lay back on the bed. The air smelled like old fish. He surrendered to the vivid manifestations of an unsettled sleep.

Poisson. It was the French word for fish. One letter different from poison. There were no fish in the desert. There was no water. The aliens drank gold in their water. The people drank poison. The people couldn't breathe. They gasped for air like fish in the living room.

He opened his eyes. The harsh light of the emergency room glowed with a creeping softness. A nurse came by and gave him two more pills. He laughed. Valium always made him loopy like this. If he was going to die, he would be defiant in death, laughing his way into the great darkness. There were worse ways to go. He would die laughing, with a smile on his face. Out of his mind. Definitely Valium. Over and out.

The man had a gift for him. The man was a bird. The bird sang a song. The song had gold notes. The girl had gold eyes.

He awoke. There was no one around. He watched with dull fascination as the blood pressure cuff on his right arm inflated again. It was going to blow up in his face. As it was about to crush his arm into fractured bits of bone gravel, the cuff exhaled and collapsed. He turned his head on the pillow and looked up at the ceiling. The tiles in the ceiling were damaged. Crumpled and stained. His left leg still burned, but less so than before. His stomach seemed steadier.

A nurse appeared next to him, acting like she wanted to take his temperature. He opened his mouth and took the plastic tip under his tongue. She checked the number, nodded and removed the thermometer.

'Coming down,' she said. She looked at the display on the blood pressure monitor. 'Blood pressure's down too.'

'I'm not gun' die?' Rolly said, nodding his head in affirmation.

'No. Doesn't look like you're going to die today,' the nurse said. She smiled at him. 'Of course, we'll need the doctor to confirm that. He's the one that gets to decide.'

The nurse was cute. Real cute. Macy Starr was cute, too. In a different way.

'How's your leg feeling?' the nurse asked.

'Bedder,' said Rolly. His mouth felt like it had been blasted with fine sand.

'Good. I'll check back in a little bit. It's going to be a couple more hours, to make sure you get down to normal.'

'Where am I?'

'Brawley General Hospital. Do you remember checking in?'

'I remember driving in a rocket ship. There were some blue lights. It smelled like fish.'

'That's Brawley, all right. It's the fertilizer that smells. I don't know what the rocket ship part's about.'

'Something bit me.'

'A black widow spider. Probably not a good idea to go tramping around barefoot in Slab City like your friends said you were doing.'

'My friends? Are they here?'

'I can check if you want. Do you feel ready to see people?'

'In a little while,' Rolly said, feeling sleepy again. The nurse closed the curtains and left. He lay back on the pillow.

He was sitting in a rowboat on a sandy hill. His father was there. They were in the same boat. His father shouted at him, giving orders. His father handed him a ukulele. He said there was a bomb in the boat. His father saluted, then jumped out of the boat and swam away.

Rolly opened his eyes. He remembered where he was. The Brawley General emergency ward was quieter now, last night's hubbub reduced to a muted hum. He wondered if the staff had forgotten about him and closed the place down, gone to lunch, or breakfast, or whatever meal it was time for.

The monitoring equipment they'd hooked him up to continued to beep at regular intervals, but it seemed less alarming now. The swelling in his leg had gone down, along with the pain. He felt almost normal. He felt ready to check out. That didn't count for much. He knew how it went in the emergency ward. Like Zeno's arrow, each minute got longer the closer you got to being discharged. He lay back on the bed, stared at the crumpled, stained tiles in the ceiling.

Three days ago, he'd gone out for Mexican food at 2:30 in the morning. That's when he'd met Macy Starr, at the Villa Cantina. If he'd gone home right after his gig, or just gone to the grocery store, he would never have taken her case. He wouldn't be lying in the hospital in the rotten fish city of Brawley with a black widow spider bite on his ankle. Things would get complicated with Macy now, accounting his hours, parsing them into the personal and the professional. Last night they'd had sex in the Tioga. The spider bite was a message. The message said he was an idiot.

Macy Starr had golden eyes.


The DJ

Macy Starr had golden eyes. She had strawberry-blonde hair. It hung down in dreadlocks that surrounded her tan, freckled face like a halo of soggy breadsticks. At this moment, she was drenched in sweat, the kind of sweat that pours off your body when you work a room with bright spotlights and poor ventilation. It was nightclub sweat, an affidavit of her vocation, and Rolly's, the sweat that blooms off the bodies of musicians, strippers and stand-up comedians. No amount of antiperspirant or hygienic preparation would hold it back.

Macy was a dance club DJ, cranking out beats until the early hours of morning. She'd just finished her gig at the club adjoining the Villa Cantina restaurant in downtown San Diego. Rolly had stopped in at the cantina after his own gig that night, bending guitar strings at Patrick's Pub six blocks away. Under normal conditions, an old-school guitar player like himself and a young beatmaker like Macy would have little to say to each other. They would not have crossed paths. Vera, the hostess, had introduced them. Macy needed help. She needed advice, the kind only a guitar-playing private detective could provide.

Macy had tattoos all over her thin muscular arms – geometric marks and mythical creatures, symbols of something. Rolly had no idea what. She was a small woman with the nervous energy of a flycatcher. Her eyes were amazing. They sparkled with bright flecks of gold that seemed to illuminate the dim light of the back corner booth. A bead of sweat dripped down Macy's neck and fell into her lovely jugular notch. She was at least twenty years younger than Rolly.

'Not much to look at down there,' she said, interrupting his gaze.

'Your shirt is, uh ... kind of unusual,' said Rolly, raising his eyes from Macy's chest.

'You like Stoner Mickey?' she said, looking down at the front of her tank top, a rainbow-eyed Mickey Mouse wearing headphones and smoking a king-sized joint.

'I assume that's not officially licensed?' said Rolly.

'It's a one-off. I made it myself. Disney's lawyers would tear this off my body in copyright-induced rage if they ever saw it. They're hardcore about branding. That's what I heard anyway. What do you think?'

'About Disney?'

'No, dumbass. About that guitar thing. You ever seen anything like it?'

The guitar thing in question wasn't really a guitar. It was a one-stringed instrument propped up on the booth in between them. It was well made, with a finely finished wood body, a gold-plated tuning peg and a vintage single-coil pickup. You could make some noise with it, but it lacked the refinements and playability of a real guitar.

'I'd call it a diddley bow,' said Rolly.

'Diddley what?'

'Diddley bow. They started in the South. Sharecroppers would attach a piece of wood to their house, drive in a couple of nails and stretch a wire between them so they could thump on it. Kind of a poor man's guitar. Homemade. Not usually this nice.'

'What about on the back?' said Macy.

Rolly grabbed the diddley bow and inspected the back. A photograph had been laminated on to it, a black-and-white photograph of a teenage girl and a young man in a baseball uniform. The man had his arm around the girl. Both of them were smiling. There were palm trees in the background. Their smiles looked genuine.

'You think this is your aunt?' Rolly said.

'I guess so. Daddy Joe called her Aunt Betty.'

'Who's Daddy Joe?'

'I'll get to that.'

'You don't know Aunt Betty's last name?'

'Not unless it was Harper. That's Daddy Joe's name.'

'And you think it was Daddy Joe that left this here for you?'

'Vera said the guy who left it was a big Indian.'

'The woman in this photo doesn't look Indian.'

'Because she's black?'

'Well, she does look more African-American than Indian, don't you think?'

'You're an expert on racial distinctions?'

'No. I just ... Are you ... Native American?'

'No. Not now that there's money on the line.'

'What's that?'

'Nothing. I don't care. I got out of that damn place. I don't need their money.'

'What money?'

'They built a casino. If you're part of the tribe, you get a share of the money. I ain't on that list.'


'Yeah. DNA.'

'You mean your genes? They check your DNA?'

Macy pointed at three letters tattooed between her jugular notch and her left breast.

'This DNA stands for Do Not Ask,' she said. 'Get used to me saying it.'

Rolly nodded. 'OK,' he said. 'But I'm an investigator. I have to ask questions.'

'It's my personal credo,' said Macy. 'Do not ask. DNA. Just do what you want to do. But if I say DNA to you, that means I want you to shut up.'

'What about Daddy Joe?' Rolly said. 'Can I ask you about him?'

Macy stared at Rolly for a moment. He stared back. She broke first.

'OK, just give me a second,' she said, looking away. 'You can fantasize about what my little tits might look like or whatever else you want to think about this crazy bitch you just met. But don't ask me anything else until I say it's OK.'

Rolly nodded. He tried not to picture what enticements lay under Macy's shirt, but it was like trying not to think about pink elephants once somebody had mentioned them. He scraped at his plate, but there was nothing left worth eating. The refried beans had gone cold. He looked around the room. The cantina was busy. Staying open after last call had been good for business. At three in the morning, it became a refuge for the after-hours crowd with no place to go, for the leftovers who needed sustenance, a greasy ballast to diminish the hangovers they'd be nursing the next day.

'OK,' said Macy. 'I'm ready.'

Rolly nodded. He liked Macy. He liked her directness.

'So here's the deal,' she began. 'I was adopted. I think. Nobody ever explained a damn thing to me and I never cared much, I guess. You could say I've got some parental issues, if you wanna go all Doctor Phil on me. Anyway, I grew up on the Jincona Indian reservation. It's out east, in BF Egypt.'

'My band's playing at their casino tomorrow.'

'Yeah, great, whatever. Daddy Joe Harper and his wife were the ones that took care of me, until Mama Joe died. Then Kinnie took care of me. She's Daddy Joe's real daughter. Kinnie never liked me much. I don't blame her. Aunt Betty was there, for a little while, when I was a baby. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I'd remember her if it wasn't for that picture there. Daddy Joe kept that diddley bow thing in his closet. He'd bring it out sometimes and tell me about Aunt Betty.'

'What'd he say?' said Rolly.



'No questions right now. Not while I'm trying to get through this.'

Rolly nodded. Macy fingered the gold charm that hung from her neck. The charm was shaped like a tube. There was some sort of inscription on it.

'Anyway,' Macy continued, 'Daddy Joe always used to show me that photograph. He'd say "This is your Aunt Betty. She brought you to our house. She brought you here. We never want to forget her." He'd tell me that, and then one day I asked him, you know, "What happened to Aunt Betty? Where did she go?"'

Macy paused. Rolly waited. DNA.

'He said she went to be with her friends,' Macy said. 'That her friends had all gone away, so she felt lonely and sad. He said she took a walk in the stars.'

Rolly nodded again. 'Is it OK if I ask another question now?' he said.

'Yeah. I guess. If you can make anything out of all that.'

'Do you know who your birth mother was?'

'I knew you were going to ask me that. Seems like the obvious thing, doesn't it?'

'That Aunt Betty's your mother?'


'You think this baseball player might be your father?'

'That makes as much sense as you being my father. Less, even.'

'What do you mean?'

'Look at me. I've got lighter skin than either of them, and freckles. This blonde, kinky hair? There's no coloring. It's my natural hair. I mean, it wouldn't make sense, heredity-wise, if they were both my parents, right?'

'Yeah. I guess. I don't really know how that stuff works.'

'I did some reading. I'm a mutt, not a purebreed.'

'We're all mutts, in one way or the other.'

'What's your background?'

'Norwegian on my mom's side. My dad's more Scotch Irish.'

'Yeah, well, some of us are more mutty than others,' said Macy. She lifted her eyelids and stared at Rolly again. 'You ever seen anybody with eyes like these?'

'No,' said Rolly. 'I can't say I have.'

'Wolf Girl,' she said. 'That's what the kids on the rez used to call me. Because of my eyes. That and because I ran around in the hills by myself all the time.'

Rolly considered several things he could say about Macy's eyes but none of them seemed appropriate; nothing a portly, fortyish man could say to a woman her age without sounding desperate or foolish. He resisted the temptation. The reservation kids had it right, though. There was something like wolf light in Macy's eyes, a fierceness in her that stirred something inside him. He needed to stop it from stirring. He needed to keep his professional pants on.

'When was the last time you saw Daddy Joe?'

'Five years ago.'

'Have you talked to him?'

'Not since I left. There were some issues. We weren't really on speaking terms when I left.'

'What happened?'

'Just the usual teenager stuff. I had to get out of that place. DNA.'

'OK. You're sure it was him, though, that brought the diddley bow tonight?'

'I'm just going on what Vera said. A big guy. Older. Looked Indian. Daddy Joe's big, enough that you notice it. He used to be chief of tribal police.'

'Your Daddy Joe was a cop?'

'I wouldn't call the tribals real cops.'

'You don't get along with them, either?'

'DNA,' said Macy. 'Anyway, it must be something important, this diddley bow thing. I don't see Daddy Joe driving all the way down from the rez to give it to me otherwise.'

'Maybe you should call him tomorrow.'

'Can't go there. Too complicated. How is it with your dad?'

'My dad?'

'Yeah. How well do you get along with your dad?'

Rolly smiled. 'DNA,' he said.

Macy laughed. 'That bad, huh, Waters?'

Rolly nodded.

'Yeah, I get it,' said Macy. 'Thing is, I can't figure out how Daddy Joe found me here. He's retired. He just sits up there on the rez all the time, in his house, going over his old files.'

'Maybe he saw your name in the paper or something.'


Excerpted from Desert City Diva by Corey Lynn Fayman. Copyright © 2015 Corey Lynn Fayman. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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