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A PASSION FOR PASSION
By Nancy Mangano
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Nancy Mangano
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe sweat that spilled off Horace's face was enough to fill a coffee mug. The frisky gleam in his eyes highlighted his noisy clap of approval—a jackhammer eating asphalt would blast a more subdued melody. He cocked his head to the left as his floppy cheek sagged near his shoulder. His baritone, rowdy wolf whistles kept beat to the piped-in music blaring through the club's murky air.
The buxom brunette, dressed in only a leopard print thong and platform stilettos, and who seconds ago had teased the entire audience, now gyrated her fleshy hips for Horace's solo pleasure. She shimmied to the end of the stage, inches from the honorable judge's lustful gaze, rotated her pelvis in seductive circular motions, and surprised him with a blunt forward thrust. His hungry, beady eyes ballooned to the size of quarters.
Natalie grasped her opportunity and pressed four consecutive times on the shutter button of her compact camera. She reveled in her accomplishment as she captured the lewd, gleeful expressions plastered across Horace's pudgy face. She then focused the camera on the obscene tart now draped around the stripper pole, tossing a flirtatious wink at Horace. She was the same female caught on a previous roll of film in a strong lip lock with Horace Grewall.
When Natalie snapped her final picture, the longneck beer bottle clock said 2:15 pm. She empathized with the heartbreak Zola Grewall would undoubtedly endure because of her husband's playboy shenanigans. Natalie's thoughts were broken by a liquored-up wino seated on a nearby barstool.
"If you aren't the classiest little tramp I've ever seen in this dive," the drunk man slurred. He tried to stand, swooned in wonderment at her, his eyes bloodshot as his stare settled on her perky bosom.
Natalie responded with a killer look.
"Today's my birthday," he belched. "Give Papa a present. C'mon—gimme a shot of whatcha' got under there."
I'll shoot you all right.
Natalie tucked her camera into her carrying bag and slipped her elegant fingers around her .38-caliber revolver. Nervous tingles sped up and down her spine. She hoped never to utilize her deadly protective partner, but when conducting fieldwork, her daddy insisted she keep the lethal gun close.
"Takes the place of me," her daddy would profess, "since I can't always be there to protect my itty-bitty baby girl. It's a peril of the business is all."
Natalie analyzed the situation, sensed it was under control, and calmed down some. There was no need for her fatal guardian angel to rear its devilish head. Not this time.
The inebriated fool inched his acne-pitted face close to Natalie's smooth skin, puckered his hopeful lips, and lost his balance. The floor shook as it was pummeled with 285 pounds of perverted dead weight. Natalie smirked, the intoxicated fool the object of her glee, and attempted to step over the heap of booze-perfumed flesh.
"Happy birthday," she said as her spiked heel pierced into his flaccid family jewels.
His yelp was of an unmistakable origin.
Anxious for fresh air and a clear head, she exited the disreputable club and sprinted through the parking lot; the shelter of her luxury car was her destination. She ran the sleaze-infested obstacle course with extreme precision, stepping over numerous cigarette butts, a hypodermic syringe, and two used condoms. She leaped over a scurrying cockroach, but instead felt a squish as the bottom of her shoe smashed the crawly critter to smithereens.
As she stepped into her black BMW 325i, she made a mental note to ask her daddy for hazard pay and to wash the soles of her shoes with chlorine.
"It's my life ..."
Natalie North sang along with the lyrics filtering from her radio as she inched through the endless Los Angeles traffic; grills and bumpers her main scenery.
Yeah, it is my life. How did I ever end up twenty-nine years old, still single, no one to call me Mommy and trailing rotten, cheating, no-good partners to make some fast cash?
Her open window invited in a whoosh of LA smog and a thick, odorous swarm of exhaust. She inhaled with a mighty fervor. It was like breathing in the unsullied air of the Alps compared to the stink she had been surrounded by minutes earlier, with what was to Natalie just another day on the job.
* * *
Relieved to be wrapped in the secure atmosphere of her Santa Monica office, Natalie removed the film she was certain would end Horace and Zola's fifteen-year marriage and packed it away, to be processed. A constant menu of sniffing out deceitful partners and breaking blameless hearts was losing its immoral flavor.
"Any luck finding the Honorable Judge Horace Grewall?" Amy asked.
"If you call following him to some seedy strip club lucky."
"That pathetic hound! So you caught him barking at all those big breasts?" Amy snickered. "What club?"
"It's called The Yearning Den. Nothing but a bunch of drunk lowlifes."
"That strip joint in South Central?"
"You know that loser lounge?" Natalie asked with amazement.
Amy Cobb's plump fingers puffed her bouffant hairdo to perfection.
"I don't know why I'm shocked, but I thought I had seen it all. Then Horace spends his afternoons at the nude bar instead of at the Los Angeles Superior Court House," Natalie said. "On work hours even!"
"Sweet deliverance, on taxpayer dollars? Men! That Horace sounds like a damn dumb one!"
"Yes, he does! That simpleton is taking a big chance. Someone could recognize him from his position on the bench."
"Now someone's going to identify him from his position on the floozy." Amy reached into the open bag of corn chips perched on her desktop and plopped three into her mouth. "What in the Good Lord's name happened to that man's brain?"
"It obviously went berserk," Natalie said. "I sure hope his rendezvous with Strippy Poo is worth it when Mrs. Grewall views the evidence."
Three years as a private investigator, swallowing a continual dosage of adulterous monkey business, had taught Natalie that lust and passion adhere to their own decadent policies.
"Have you scheduled Zola Grewall's next appointment?" Natalie asked.
"All taken care of. It's one week from today. I've ordered the extra tissue, like you asked me to."
"Glad to hear it! We're going to need it with our little Zola."
"You think she'll gush the tears of a toddler's temper tantrum?"
"Worse! Her eyes will spill so much liquid we'll be bobbing for our lives, and that's with life jackets!"
"That bad, huh?"
Amy plopped a corn chip into her mouth up and over, as if tossing a basketball into a hoop.
"That well-respected, prominent official of a husband of hers used his smutty hands to fondle every inch of that stripper's va-va-va-voom bust," Natalie said.
Amy's eyes remained glued to Natalie's fingers as they ricocheted through the lobby, demonstrating Horace's touchy-feely hand motions. Natalie stayed authentic to Horace's actions and plastered the judge's filthy facial gestures across her own appealing face. Amy's noticeable features were bathed in disgust.
"I sure hope His Honor is willing to pay a hefty price for his flagrant dishonor, because I have a suspicious hunch that the next thing to go bust will be his marriage," Amy said.
The two women broke into boisterous laughter.
Chapter TwoZero to sixty. That's what his mama said, and she was right. He was zero to sixty when he was born—she delivered him in forty-five minutes. He got through grade school a year early, and high school was even easier, but he hung around for the girls and later, the drugs.
Victor Jurado sat inside his car and laughed to himself; then he let go an audible snicker and said, "Zero to sixty. Not tonight."
His car smelled of stale beer and pine. The interior was in shambles, as he hadn't touched it in weeks; he'd been too busy plotting her murder, and cleaning the car—cleaning anything—was damn woman's work. His wrinkled clothes stunk with a musty hamper odor.
He scanned the neighborhood to guarantee that no maggot neighbors were in sight, waiting to trip him up. He flicked on the dome light and ran a comb through his hair; it looked steely to him tonight, with an odd black sheen. He checked his look in the rearview mirror. His eyes were familiar with a hint of something new thrown in, and only he knew what it was.
But she'll know soon.
She had told him he had a distinctive face—he could pass for an accountant or a banker. He didn't think he was handsome at all, but when Gretchen Carlson told him he was good-looking, nothing could match that moment. She was shining to him, as if he had looked up after raking leaves to see an angel set itself down, only to hear her say "Hello." As he got closer to her, he could see she wasn't ethereal at all; cinnamon freckles were sprinkled over her almost childlike nose. Her eye color held him next, a hard but warm green that offset full, red lips. She must have dyed her hair more than once, he remembered thinking that day to himself. Using bleach was a pity; a true auburn color struggled beneath a rusty blond.
Nerves would not overcome his usual confidence, but adrenalin knows no gate, and he started to sweat just a little. Not for himself, but for the rush. He was getting excited. He reached down, rubbed his groin, and within the same instant told himself to wait.
Better to wait.
He chugged one last swig of whiskey straight from his flask and shoved the small container beneath the seat. He removed his car keys from the ignition and got out of his vehicle; the darkness in the air poured into his head.
No zero to sixty, he told himself.
He was edgy but denied it as he walked to his trunk, and he took advantage of the quiet peace of the moonlight to visualize his plan. It's a perfect scheme, he reminded himself. Faultless.
He popped open the trunk and looked inside—his first slipup glared back at him. He cursed as he realized he should have put the knife inside his jacket pocket before he left the house. Cautiously, he removed a seven-inch butcher knife from beneath a few oil rags and sheathed the blade with a less grimy one. He carefully tucked the weapon down the front of his jeans and held it in place by tightening his snakeskin belt. He closed the trunk as if he were no more than a businessman recalling he left a box of snacks in the trunk of his car.
The thought of treats forced the image of a skinny punk he knew.
Scumbag Timmy. Who calls a grown man Timmy?
Victor half expected to see Timmy's mommy tagging close behind him anytime he saw the man, who had to be in his late thirties. He was a punk, for sure—body odor and no money—punkass.
He pictured Timmy's scrawny white butt parked in the manager's office, kissing ass by staying late, and forging through the end of the day's paperwork.
Victor also remembered catching Timmy leering at Gretchen and zero to sixty became zero to ninety; the freakin' lightweight. Then Victor stopped for a moment: Maybe Timmy's gay?
No time for thoughts about Timmy the Tulip. He smiled at his own wit, and he rounded the corner, heading straight for Buddy's Burgers. He entered through the back; the employees' entrance would suit his needs and give him the element of surprise he'd need.
Timmy would have to wait.
Victor turned in from the short hallway; restrooms were on one side, the wall between the kitchen and the main dining area on the other. He could now see Gretchen as she scoured the grill. Next she'd head into the dining room and refill the condiments on each table in the eating area.
The hired cleaning crew wouldn't make their grand entrance until 4:30 am.
Gretchen was right on schedule, and so was Victor.
Before she hit the ground dead this night, she would have to be reckoned with.
* * *
The Los Angeles diner lay silent without customers. The air smelled thick with rancid, stagnate cooking oil. The starlight peeking in through a side window accentuated Gretchen's feminine silhouette, like a sultry lounge singer illuminated in the spotlight before the sheer curtain has lifted. For an unguarded moment Victor startled himself and softened.
The contour of the knife tucked in his jeans rubbed hard against his skin, though, and the power from the lethal object oozed hatred back into his veins. Victor would carry out Gretchen's demise, but the damn whore was the one truly responsible for her own death.
He walked up quietly behind her, wrapped his arms around her dainty waist, and planted a light kiss on her soft cheek.
She jumped and turned, and then released a hard gasp, her eyes wide. "Victor, you scared me!"
She was almost angry.
"Sorry, baby. It's good to know seeing me still takes your breath away."
He shook his head to shift a section of hair that had sunk over his right eye, and he stepped back.
"What are you doing here?"
"You smell great. What is that—something new?"
He watched her move away and walk toward the back of the restaurant and grab bags of napkins. She started to pop the black and silver containers, filling each one, and then pulled out the first napkin for the breakfast crowd.
"Well?" he urged.
"No, it's not new. Stuck in the back of my cabinet somewhere, and I was cleaning the house is all."
She was visibly nervous now, but she wouldn't have appeared so to anyone who didn't know her. Victor could tell; he smelled more than gardenias and roses. Then he remembered that was the same bottle of perfume he had purchased for her a few months ago when they'd spent her eighteenth birthday together. That was before she dropped the ax on him and tossed him away like he was last week's trash.
With the next whiff of gardenia, memories of the breakup brought back a gut-wrenching humiliation. He considered having his way with her as his mind stirred at the scent of her fleshy, silken skin, hidden beneath her cotton uniform. A physical reminder of who held the control.
Victor's mind drifted back to his mom: zero to sixty.
Not tonight, Mom.
"I came by to see you. To convince you of what a mistake you're making."
"Vic, don't start now."
"You know I'm your man, Gretchen. We met for a reason, don't you think, you dumb bitch?"
He shot her a half-crooked smile.
"Vic! You have a filthy mind and a ..."
"Easy now, I just wanted to stir up a little passion out of that predictable nature of yours."
She troubled him when she suddenly stopped working and directed her eyes straight into his. She looked lifeless to him now, and he thought it a bit like a premonition: she'd be gorgeous alive, or dead.
"We've already had this discussion." She lowered her voice. "You know I love you, but we're so young. And I'm going away to college in the fall."
He conveyed his distrust in her words by his silence.
Zero to ...
"Look," she pleaded, "you know it may not be forever. Who knows the future? You can stay in touch; I wouldn't mind that. In fact, now that I think about it ..."
Her abrupt change in tune wouldn't change his mind, but it did get him thinking. When she brushed up against him, she may have felt the knife, so the game was truly on. "Where's Timmy the Tulip? Hiding in his office?"
"He had to leave."
"Who in their right mind would leave a lamb like you all alone in some burger joint? Hell, it's after midnight."
"He's due back any minute. He had to pick up his son from a school dance."
"I don't get you. No girl of your class should be doing this grunt work."
"I don't mind it," she said.
Victor caught the way her throat was drying—she was either thirsty or frightened, or both
"How come he never helps you?"
"Sometimes he does. He'll probably pitch in when he gets back, so I can take a short break. Let's sit down and we can talk."
"Now you wanna talk? Now? You kicked my ass out. I did nothing but love you, care for you. Did he buy you things? Did he take care of you?"
"You know, this stuff can all wait until tomorrow. Let me lock up, and let's get out of here."
Victor gave it one final shot. "Want to find an all-night diner
and grab something to eat? Talk about you being my girl again? Don't you get it—it's why I'm here."
"C'mon, Vic. Don't make this more difficult than it already is."
"Look in the mirror, sweetface. You're the one complicating things."
"I need to get home."
Victor detected panic in her voice, and he applauded himself for being the catalyst of her terror.
Excerpted from A PASSION FOR PASSION by Nancy Mangano Copyright © 2010 by Nancy Mangano. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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