Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The writer's touch

William Powell and Myrna Loy.  In 1934 they were Nick and Nora Charles, husband and wife, in a movie called The Thin Man.

Based on a novel written by Dashiell Hammett published in 1934, MGM picked up the movie rights and began immediately to produce the movie.  For MGM it turned out to be one of the soundest investment franchises it ever made.

Powell and Loy were made for each to for the big silver screen.  The moment the first scene lights up you instantly see the chemistry between the two.  Spontaneous, genuine, with a lot of bantering humor thrown in, The Thin Man became an instant success.  It established the two as being the pioneers in a kind of romantic mystery series which, frankly, both still holds up today as being the best of the lot . . . and rarely seen anymore, much less rivaled, in today's cinematic excursions.

If you haven't seen The Thin Man series you're missing something special.  Especially the first three or four in the series. They are the best.  And there is a reason for it.

Dashiell Hammett.

Goodness, Hammett was a character.  An alcoholic who loved to party from dusk to dawn.  A womanizer of the first magnitude. A social maven who could schmooze with the best.  Yet gracious when drunk . . . most of the time.  Perfectly charming and hard working when sober.  It was just getting him sober which became every one's problem.

But when off the booze, Jesus, this guy could write!  Read the novel and you can see it instantly.  Remarkably the novel was translated into movie format and carried with it the essence, the dialogue, the feel of the novel.  So successful was the first one MGM's moguls quickly tracked down Hammett and signed him to a contract to write the treatments for two more movies.

Hammett did not write the scripts.  He wrote 'treatements' for the movies.  Essentially, novellas entitled After The Thin Man and Another Thin Man.  From these treatments script writers came in and carried the novellas over into the movies.  Almost word for word.  So good in fact was Hammett's writing that, after he left the franchise, other writers were brought in and NEVER caught the wit, the humor, the wise-cracking banter that was the signature of a Hammett creation.

The original dust jacket
So that's what I'm trying to get at here.  The importance of the writer and his creations.  Find a writer who can weave mystery and humor together, and do it in such a way as it comes out so natural, so smooth  . . . well then, brother;  you've got something!  Hammett did it so well no one, in my opinion, has equaled him.

(That last line . . . does it sound like a challenge to you?  It does to me.  Hmmm . . . )

More should be said about Hammett's ability to use humor in a detective novel.  A rarity in the genre.  And always refreshing to the reader if set down properly.  But that's for another time, pilgrim.

For now, run off and get you a copy of the novel.  And then find a DVD of the movie.  You'll find yourself well entertained in both venues.

Friday, January 25, 2013

I got nuthin' . . . except a Turner Hahn/Frank Morales Oldie

I got nuthin' brilliant or original to say today.  The brilliant and original . . . and you can add 'witty' as well . . . packed their bags and left last night in total frustration.  They hopped onto a boxcar heading for San Diego and said they'd maybe be back come Spring time.

That's what happens when you're writing a novel . . . in my case, two novels . . .  and you hit the middle portion of the story-telling and become extremely frustrated.

On one hand I hate it when that happens.  On the other hand I love it.  While I'm not writing like mad and instead, look like I'm picking my nose and eating too many cookies while I watch the Tube . . . actually the blob of gray matter between my ears is sorting out possible plot and subplot deviations that might work.  The problem is, there's a TON of different variations that could easily fit in and move the books along.

So which one do you choose?  Yeah; good luck on that one, Hortense!

So while I'm screwing around with this conundrum, I thought I'd share an old Turner Hahn/Frank Morales story with you.  One I happen to particularly like.   It's called The Dead Don't Complain.
Hope you like it.

Either way, buzz me up in here and tell me what you think.

The Dead Don’t Complain




            The stench was enough to make a drug addict with a burnt out septum want to gag.  A stench so clawing, so thick, it seemed as if it enveloped you like a rain slick and pressed against your clothes.  That’s what you get when you find a body that’s been dead for about two weeks.

 Holding handkerchiefs to our noses we tried to view the body with a distant, professional gaze.  Being homicide detectives it goes with the territory at examining dead bodies.  No matter how bad they stank or how decomposed they were.  But when a body’s been dead for two weeks, lying in a bed in an apartment room with the windows closed and locked and no ventilation even two old dogs like Frank and I think about transferring to something more mundane like Parks Patrol or Administration.

            From what we could tell the man had been stabbed twice in the heart by a wide, long blade.  At one time the dead man had been in his early forties, going bald, with a body that belonged to an athlete.  The two room apartment we found him in was down on Fourth Street.  A bad neighborhood filled with drug addicts, prostitutes, and other assorted fauna and flora of the discarded.  Just a two room apartment with broken furniture, a battered looking window unit air conditioner in the bedroom, and a big iron bed large though to sleep maybe three people in it.

            Someone had been thorough in searching the dump.  The man’s clothes were strewn all over the place and ripped to shreds.  The large, broken four drawer chest of drawers had been completely dismantled.  Chairs shredded and pillows ripped to pieces.

            Someone was really interested in finding something here.  Obviously something important enough to warrant murder.  We stood back and watched the forensics team begin their methodical fugue of the dead.  But glancing at my no-necked, red haired Neanderthal wannabe for a partner I nodded toward the door and silently we made our way out of there.

            Frank Morales is the lovable teddy bear kind of guy.  If you can image a six foot three, three hundred pound gorilla with stringy red hair and a chin built out of plate armor as lovable.  Actually he is.  He’s married to an Italian ex-model and has a passel of kids and lives in traditional suburbia.  But he’s also a cop.  A damn good cop.  And he’s my partner.

            “I'm gonna throw away this suit.  You’ll never wash the stench out of it.  Momma’s not going to be happy.”

            I nodded and grinned.  Claudia, his wife, would blow a gasket at the thought of throwing away a perfectly good sport coat and slacks only two years off the racks from Walmart.  A breath-taking beauty Claudia was.  But she was a penny pinching tight ward as well.

            “You’ll look good working this case in your underwear and loafers,” I quipped, grinning. “Maybe even start a new trend.”

            “Shut up, pretty boy, and let’s go talk to the apartment manager,” Frank grunted, a twitch at the corners of his lips—the only kind of grin he had in facial expressions—“And loan me a couple of hundred so I can get a decent set of threads.”

            No problemo.  If the big lug needed money I was more than happy to oblige.  The guy had saved my neck in more tight spots than I cared to count.  A coupe of C notes meant nothing to me.  The pretty boy clip he threw at me was an old joke between the two of us.  Unfortunately I’ve got two strikes against me.  I’m rich and have the mug of an old movie star from back in the ‘30’s matinee idol days.  Won’t mention any names, but the unruly black hair and the thick mustache and dimples are enough to give anyone a jolt—if they know their movie trivia.

            The money was an inheritance.  Came suddenly and unexpectedly from a grandfather I had, until about three years ago, never met.  Before that I—like every other cop I knew—I lived from pay check to pay check and felt lucky if I carried a ten dollar bill in my billfold on any given day.  But let me tell you, brother, being suddenly rich and with a mug like mine it isn’t something I’d wish on anyone.  You’d think sudden wealth would make me want to leave the cop business and live on a sunny tropical beach somewhere in the Bahamas surrounded by beautiful women.  Sorry.  Not me.  It so happens I like being a cop.

            Listen.  If you’re a cop and suddenly fall into a shit-pot load of money unexpectedly and from a secretive family member who doesn’t like limelight thrown his way, and you’ve got problems.  Cops—being cops—are a naturally suspicious lot of cynics.  Comes with the territory.  So old friends in the department look at me warily.  They don’t say it to my face but many of them think I’m dirty.  I’m on the take. 

            And yeah, to answer the unsaid question; it sticks in my craw.

            But those are the crosses I carry.  No big deal.

            The apartment manager was about five foot four and close to the weight of a Chevy Suburban.  He answered his door wearing slacks, chopping on an unlit cigar like it was a loaf of bread, wearing nothing but a t-shirt that did little to hide the thick forest of coarse black hair covering his chest and arms.

            “So you gonna clean up that mess up there?” he growled after we showed him our badges. “The sonofabitch is stinking up the whole goddamn building.  Someone’s gotta kill that stench before it drives out the rest of us.”

            “We’ll remove the body,” I said, frowning, pushing my way past him and entering his hovel uninvited. “But sanitizing a rat hole is your kettle of worms.  What we want to know is who this guy was.  How long has he lived here. And when did you see him last alive.”

            The fat man’s castle looked like it came out of a dumpster.  Newspapers were stacked a foot deep beside a worn out looking reclining chair.  Beer cans and filled ash trays littered the place.  A glance at the kitchen told me the slob must have had a phobia about washing dishes.

            I turned back to look at the fat man.  He was chewing on his cigar and his cheeks were turning to a kind of purplish crimson.  He didn’t like me pushing him back and walking into his hive.  Touch shit.  I didn’t like him.

            “Listen, before you say something stupid, just give us what we want and we’ll leave.  Otherwise we haul your ass downtown and I’ll let my partner here introduce himself to you on an intimate basis.”

            Frank has an interesting trick in his bag of goodies.  He can take a can full of beer with his big paw of a hand and squeeze it hard enough to blow the pull-tab off completely.  Beer flies out of the can with such force it usually splashes golden rain drops from the ceiling of a room.   Sitting on the floor beside the recliner was a six-pack of Budweiser.  Not saying a word he bent down, retrieved a can, and demonstrated.  It was enough to make the slob reconsider his righteous outrage.

            “Called himself John Simmons,” he growled, pulling the cigar from his mouth and looking angrily at Frank. “And I just bought that fucking six pack, you ape!  Look at the goddamn mess you’ve made!”

            From my slacks I pulled out a money clip and rolled out two twenties and tossed them onto the seat of the recliner.

            “That’ll cover the damages, friend.  Now, next question:  how long has John Simmons lived here?”

            “Lived here he hasn’t.  Comes in regularly with a broad or two and spends the weekends.  Maybe once or twice during the week as well.  But he doesn’t live here.”

            “How long has this been going on?”  I asked,

            “A couple of years.  Maybe a little longer.  Pays his rent in cash like clockwork.  Never talks to me or to anyone else in the building.  Just brings his women in here and screws the hell out of’em.  I get complaints all the time about the noise they make when he brings company.  But I don’t say a thing.  He’s about the only person in here who paid his rent on time.  I couldn’t care less what he did with his women friends as long as I got paid.”

            “When did you see him alive?” Frank grunted, tossing the empty beer can onto the man’s favorite chair.

            “Jesus,” the slob grunted, genuinely surprised, as he stuck the stub of his cigar back between his thick lips. “I didn’t know apes could talk.  But to answer your question.  I saw him come in with some bimbo blond about a couple of weeks ago.  The woman was a looker.  A real class act.  Not like the women he usually brought with him.  She had money.  Lots of money.”

            “Did they say anything to you?”

            “I saw him through my window.  They came walking up the sidewalk.  The guy owns a fancy car and parks it in a parking building a block over. One of those foreign jobs that costs a lot of money.  Red in color with some kind of Italian name I’ve heard of before.”

            “Name of the parking building?” Frank asked.

            “Claussen’s, I think,” cigar man said, frowning and lifting a hand to scratch an arm pit. “Over on third.  Half way up the block.”

            We thanked the man for his gracious willingness to help an on going investigation and left him standing in the hallway scratching his other armpit as we walked out of the building and headed for the parking building.  A quick walk over to third and we found the parking building and flashed badges into the face of the young black man on duty and told him what we were looking for.  A big grin instantly flashed across the kid’s face.

            “The Lamborghini Contouch. Jesus!  What a gorgeous set of wheels!  I get a stiff one just looking at the damn thing.  Yeah, it’s here.  Up on the second deck.  Still in one piece.  The guy who owns it has paid enough to all of us working  here to make sure no one touches it.  Big bucks.  Here, I’ll take you up there and show you.”

            The kid was more than happy for an excuse to go up and look at the car.  Can’t say I blamed him.  A bright red Lamborghini Contouch is modern Italian sculpture.  A Star Wars kinda looking thing on wheels.  And it says money as well.  About two hundred grand worth.

            “Got the keys for it?” I asked, holding out a hand.

            “Right here,” the kid grinned, reaching over and dropping a set into my hands.  I noticed on the key chain a house key as well.

            I opened the driver’s side door and carefully looked around.  Forensics would be over to give it the detailed once over so I didn’t want to leave stray prints behind.  But I did find an insurance card stuffed in a sun screen and used a pair of tweezers to pull it out and look at it.

            “Colby Winslow,” I said, frowning.  “Sounds familiar . . . Colby Winslow.”

            “He should sound familiar to you, you big oaf,” Frank grunted, shaking his head sadly. “He’s big in stocks and bonds.  Handling a boatload of your money for you. Has an office over on Jones Street.”

            Grinning, I glanced at the kid staring up at me with big eyes and a surprised face and shrugged.  I admit it.  To be honest at times I forget I’ve got money.  Lots of money.  I don’t handle it myself.  When the inheritance came I did some research, found four or five experts in financial planning and split the inheritance into five equal amounts and let them handle it.  Colby Winslow was one of the five.

            “Guess you’re gonna have to find another money guru, pretty boy.”

            Smiling, looking at the hunk of Italian steel, I nodded.

            “Been here how long?”

            “Damn near two weeks,” the kid said, white teeth gleaming in the twilight light of the darkly lit parking building.  “Way too long for me to guarantee he’ll have his set of wheels when he comes back.  Already had to run off a couple of bros’ who wanted a piece of it.”

            “Remember the last time you saw him?”           

“Sure.  When he came in last he came in with that woman of his.  Jesus.  Talk about a looker,” the kid sighed, hands on his hips, shaking his head in quiet admiration.  “Like something out of a movie, mister.  Fine. Fine. Fine!”

            “Describe her,” Frank said, watching the kid and almost smiling.

            “Oh shit, legs about a mile long.  Wearing a tight blue number that showed every curve she had.  And bubba, she had the curves.  Long blond hair fell down to her waist.  Maybe in her early thirties.  Only thing outta place was this big loaf of bread kinda envelope she held tightly under one arm.  Like it was money itself.  But hell, a woman with legs like that, she could wear a chicken on her head and I wouldn’t give a shit!”

            The kid whistled softly through his teeth again and a smile played across his young, handsome face.  He was maybe twenty at most.  Just a young black kid going to college.  I spied the stack of textbooks lying on the desk in the parking booth he occupied when we came up to him.

            “He’s down here a lot in that car?” I asked.

            “Like clockwork on the weekends, mister.  Always with a different piece of ass.  Always.”

            The kid asked when the guy was coming to pick up his wheels.  We told him it wasn’t going to happen soon.  We left the kid standing beside the Contouch staring at us when we told him patrol car would be over soon to tape off the parking spot and car.  No one was supposed to touch it until then.  Walking back to the flop house I noticed it was a little past midnight.  It was time to go home and get some rest.  So we climbed into one of my babies—a dark green with white stripes SS 396 Camaro—lit up the engine and growled away into the night.

            Remember.  Rich cop.  Collects toys.  In this case American made Muscle Cars.  Yeah, I know.  Some collect bottle caps or barbed wire.  I collect cars.  Go figure.

            The next day we were looking through the desk of Colby Winslow’s at his office.  In the outer office two lovely ladies, his secretaries, were crying their hearts out after hearing their boss was dead.  Between the two was an elderly man dressed like a conservative banker.  He was handing dry tissues to one girl and then to the next as needed.  His name was Konrad Bonner and he worked for Winslow has a stock and bonds acquisition expert.   The man, in his middle sixties, had been Winslow’s first employee.  Knew all of the customers the firm serviced.  Knew me by my first name.

            “Don’t worry about your investments, Turner.  They’re well protected and doing quite well on the market.”

            “Uh huh,” I nodded, frowning as I thought about it. “Who runs this place now that he’s dead?”

            “Well . . . for the moment, I will until we can find a buyer for the firm, I suppose.”

            “A buyer?”

            “Turner, this nest is a freaken’ cash cow,” Frank chided, looking at me and shaking his head. “They invest money—you’re money, pretty face—and they rake a percentage off each account.  Jesus, take a look at his list of clients.  Maybe three hundred of’em, and not a one of them worth less than a million.  If he rakes in three percent off each client’s portfolio . . .”

            “Ahumph,” the older man growled, lifting a hand politely and clearing his throat, “That would be four and a half percent charge, Detective Morales.”

            “Jesus,” my partner grunted, staring at the man in admiration. “That could be millions, Turner.  Millions in sheer profit.”

            “How much would it cost for someone to take over the business?”  I asked as I looked the office over.

            The ex-banker in his conservative brown suit and wire rimmed glasses mused over the question for a moment or two and then mentioned a number.  My eyes narrowed as I turned and stared at financial genius.  A thought crossed my mind.  An idea . . .

            “Look at this, Turn,” Frank said behind me.  Twisting around I saw him lay a big finger on a name written hastily down in a small file book.  “Kathryn Valenski.  Six p.m.  At Europa’s.  Dated exactly two weeks ago.”

            Europa’s was a very fancy restaurant on the north side of town.  A place where you needed a reservation and a black tie to get in.  A place where the food was excellent but about the size of a postage stamp. And usually costing a couple of C-notes to eat there.  Lightly.

            “Who is Kathryn Valenski?” I asked, turning my attention back to Bonner.  “Another investor?”

            “One of our largest,” the white haired, bespectacled man nodded, smiling. “I perhaps should clarify that and say her father is one of our largest investors.  Although her own portfolio is quite sizeable as well.”

            “Describe her.”

            “Long blond hair.  Quite tall.  In her early thirties.  Quit friendly.”

            “You could describe her as beautiful?” I asked.

            “Oh . . . my!”

            Yeah.  They way he said it.  The layers of tone in it.  Yeah.  She was beautiful.  Grinning, I nodded and asked Bonner to find her address for me.  And as we left the office I handed him one of my cards and told him to give me a call later in the week. 

            Kathryn Valenski lived in a luxury apartment, top floor, in one of her father’s buildings down by the Little Brown River.  A doorman dressed like an Italian general opened the glass doors for us as we entered.  Entering a cocoon of wealth the building was as silent as a funeral parlor on a Wednesday afternoon as we rode in silence up the elevator to the nineteenth floor.  She met us as the doors opened and we stepped out.

            “Did you find them?”

            “Find what, Ms. Valenski?” I asked, the first to step out of the elevator.

            Let’s just say that Kathryn Valenski lived up to her billing.  Beautiful.  Scratch that.  Beautiful—simply doesn’t come close for a description.  Suck the air out of your lungs gorgeous would be a better description.

            “The portfolio.  The bonds!  Did you find them?”

            Frank and I watched her face closely.  Clearly there was genuine worry in those dark brown eyes of hers.  A look of real dread only made her look more breathtakingly gorgeous. 

            “Let’s start from the beginning, Ms. Valenski.  I’m Detective Sergeant Turner Hahn and this is my partner, Detective Sergeant Frank Morales.  We’re here investigating the murder of Colby Winslow. We have a few . . . . “

            “Yes, yes, I know dammit!  He’s dead.  But that doesn’t mean anything to me.  The one million in unsigned bonds is what I am worried about!  If dad finds out they’re missing I will be severely pressed to pay him back.”

            “Your father’s bonds?”

            “Yes.  Part of my inheritance,” she said, waving a hand around impatiently before touching her lips and eyes filling with tears. “Dad told me to take them personally down to Winslow’s office and make damn sure they were deposited according to his instructions.  So I did and Colby started to  . . . well . . . . “

            “Hit on you,” I said bluntly.

            “Yes.  In only the way he could.  He was really a darling, sergeant.  Kind.  Generous.  Handsome in an offish way.  Knew how to make a woman feel like, you know—wanted.”

            “So he invites you to speed a weekend with him in a sleaze hole down on Fourth Street?  I said, sounding distinctly suspicious, as my eyes played across her face.  “I betcha your father has a Learjet.  Why not a weekend in Las Vegas instead?”

            Las Vegas is so passé,” she answered, her voice filled with discord. “Been there a thousand times.”

            “But a run-down shanty flop house on Fourth was something new to you.”

She hesitated, nodded, biting on a perfectly manicured fingernail with eyes tearing again.

            “Oh, I know I sound horrible!  More concerned about Dad’s money than about poor Colby getting murdered by that . . . by that . . . woman!  But he convinced me to go with him into that part of time and walk on the fringes of darkness.  To taste danger and crime at an intimate level.  I . . . I. . . god help me!  I found myself hypnotized by his words.  I agreed.  We left his office immediately and drove down in his car.  Left so fast we forgot to deposit the bonds in his safe.  He laughed, said carrying such a large bundle of wealth around like it was a grocery sack would make the experience more titillating!”

            “What happened next?”

            “Drink?” she asked, looking intently into both of our faces before turning and entering her apartment, talking over her shoulder.  “I need a drink.  A very stiff one.  Scotch maybe.  Or Jim Beam.”

            She had a stiff drink.  Big glass.  Two cubes of ice.  Half full.  Drank it down like a submariner straight off a six month stint at sea.   She was beautiful.  Rich.  Bored.  And a well kept lush.  Trouble quadrupled.  I watched and said nothing until she had drained the fuel tank.

            “You were saying?”

            “Ah, the woman.  Well, let me see,” she sighed,  reaching up with one hand to pull on strand of hair which had slipped across the front of her shoulder and faded off into time. “We got there late.  Maybe around eight or nine that night.  We fooled around a little and then I got up and went to the bathroom.  Hmmmm . . . I’m in there only a few moments and then I hear this angry pounding on the apartment door and a woman screaming furiously!  I slip my clothes back on and open the bathroom door up just enough to see what’s going on.  My god!  What anger she had!  Absolutely furious and waving this big knife around like a madwoman!”

            She poured another glass of booze.  This time topping the glass and stirring the ice around with a finger as she stared at the dark liquid and relived that night two weeks earlier.

            “What happened, Ms. Valenski.”

            “Huh?  Oh.  She came in screaming and waving that knife around and demanding to know where this bitch was he was with tonight.  Wanted to know where I was, sergeant.  Me!  Said she was going to kill us both.   I got so frightened I . . . I don’t mind admitting it.  I pissed in my underwear and almost fainted with terror.”

            “Winslow tried to stop her.  Tried to stop her and that’s when she knifed him,” Frank pitched in behind me.  But the tone in his voice told me he wasn’t buying it.  Any of it.

            “No.  Just the opposite, dammit.  He laughs.  Colby just laughed at her.  She’s dancing all around him waving this big fucking knife around like some witchdoctor and he just turns with her and laughs at her like it was some kind of big joke!  It was the most outrageous. . . most erotic . . . sight I had ever seen!”

            “She doesn’t kill him,” I put in, priming the pump again.

            “No!  Not then.  Not at the moment.  Instead a hand flashes out and he slaps the knife from the woman’s hand.  He grabs her and crushes her to his chest and buries’ his lips onto hers.  And that’s when I left detectives.  He turned her away from the bathroom door and motioned me to leave and leave fast.  I left.  Left as fast as I could.”

            “Left forgetting the portfolio and the bonds behind,” I said.

            “Jesus fucking Christ, yes!  Ran for my life, dammit.  Ran like a frightened little girl.”

            “But you came back,” Frank grunted behind me.  “And found?”

            Tears rolled down her perfectly formed cheeks as she played with fingernails across her lips and nodded.  God.  She was good.  A rich, bored, beautiful lush.  But a great actress as well.  Hollywood missed out in not throwing her up on a silver screen.  She was that good.

            “Came back.  Found Colby dead.  Blood all over him and that bloody knife lying on the floor beside the bed.  I took the knife and I . . . I went crazy looking for the bonds.  I must have torn the place to pieces looking for them.  But they were gone.  Gone.”

            “You touched the knife, leaving your fingerprints on it” I said.

            She nodded, watery eyes filled with fear.

            “But you didn’t kill Colby Winslow.”

            She nodded again—meaning she didn’t kill Colby Winslow.

            “This woman who came in with the knife, can you describe her?”

            Tall.  Thin.  Flat.  About thirty.  Kinda of cute in a tom boyish way.  An athlete.  Raven black hair.  She remembered seeing her several times over the years in Colby’s office.  She was sure the tom boy was another investor.

            “Okay, we’ll find her,” I said, nodding and turning to leave.  “But just to let you know, Ms. Valenski.  Right now you’re number one on our suspect list.  If I were you I’d call daddy up and get him to find you a good lawyer.  A team of good lawyers.”

            On the way down in the silence of the elevator I half turned and asked.

            “Believe her?”

            There was a grunt.  Maybe more like a hippo snorting. 

            “Maybe.  Let’s see if we can find the knife-wielded chic.”

            We did.  It took a few phone calls.  A little footwork.  Cop work is like that.  Ask questions.  Make some phone calls.  Slide miles of leather across hard pavement.  Ask more questions.  A lot more questions.  Repeat the process.

            Her name was Gail.  Gail Oppenheimer.  Widow of a man who became wealthy creating a string of gym/martial arts palaces across four states.  She still taught classes herself.  Her specialty—fencing.  Cold steel.  Long blades.

            Violet colored eyes watched us with a quiet resignation registered in them.  She saw us enter her place and knew instantly who we were.  Frank and I both dress in comfortable slacks, sport coats, comfortable shoes.  We wear shades.  Either we’re classy thugs working for some mobster.  Or we’re cops.  She chose correctly.

            “You’re here to arrest me, aren’t you detective,” she whispered, looking up at me as she sat behind a wide desk in her office.

            “Maybe,” I nodded but not sounding optimistic.  “Depends on what you say.  Depends on what the evidence tells us.  But you know why we’re here.”

            She nodded, ran a calloused, fighter’s hand across her face and used a finger to wipe a tear out of the corner of her eye.

            “I have a temper, detective.  One that can sometimes get out of hand.    But that doesn’t mean I killed Colby.  I couldn’t kill him.  I loved him too much.”

            “Just start from the beginning and tell us what happened that night,” I said, the two of us standing in front of her desk with me looking the office over.

            She had an office with two large plate glass windows which looked out into the main part of the dojo. As I looked two men wearing the black pajamas of karate instructors stood side by side and watched us with silent interest.  Behind her on the walls were row after row of trophies of various sizes.  And swords.  Several different lengths of fencing foils, rapier, knives, and daggers.

            This chic was seriously in love with cold steel.

            “I saw Colby leave with Kathryn Valenski that night.  Saw them get into Colby’s car.  I knew where they were going.  To his love nest.  To screw her.  After he had promised me the night before we would go down there for the weekend.  I blew up.  I went crazy.  Followed them down there.  Pounded on the door wanting to catch them in bed.”

            “To kill them,” Frank grunted.

            “I know I must have screamed something like that at him.  But no.  I couldn’t kill Colby.  Love is a terrible mistress, gentlemen.  I know of his infidelities.  I know he didn’t love me.  Sex addicts usually don’t love anyone but themselves.  But I loved him.    Loved him terribly.”

            “But you did come at him with a knife.  A very big knife,” I put in.

            “Just to scare him.  Just to frighten him.  Just to show him how much he meant to me!”

            “And it worked?”

            “Ha!” came the barking reply.  A surprising jolt of a woman jilted often.  “Colby knew me too well.  He just laughed at me.  Just laughed and took the knife out of my hands and threw it to one side.  And then he grabbed me and took me into the bedroom.  We made love that night.  Several times.  All weekend.  Sunday afternoon I had to leave him lying in bed asleep.  I had a major tournament to go to and I had to leave.”

            “He was alive when you left him,” I asked.

            “Yes.  Alive and sleeping like a baby.”

            “What about the portfolio?”

            “What portfolio?” she asked as curiosity lit up her face.  “You mean that big brown bundle Kathryn carried with her?  Oh.  That.  I dunno.  I saw it lying on the coffee table in front of the divan when I came in.  Thought nothing of it.  As far as I know it was still on the coffee table when I left.”

            One of the two male instructors walked away as several students entered the dojo.  The other, a tall man with big hands and a bushy mane remained standing on a mat and watched us intently.  He looked concerned.    He kept reaching up and rubbing his lips in a fitful gesture of someone really nervous about something.  A gesture both Frank and I were quite used to seeing.

            “When did you go back to the apartment?”  I asked, returning my attention by to the woman.

            “I didn’t.  The tournament went all afternoon and late into the night.  When it was over I drove back to my place and went to bed.”

            “And that’s the last time you saw Colby alive,” Frank asked behind me,

            “The last time,” she nodded.

            “When we came in here you knew why we were here.  Knew who we were,” I began, my voice hard. “We’re homicide detectives.  You knew he was dead.  How?”

            She shrugged with a smile of infinite sadness on her boyish lips.

            “I just knew.  I’ve been calling his office, his apartment, just about every number I know trying to find him.  Every day for two weeks.  And then last night,  for some odd reason, I drove down to the parking garage where he always parked his Lamborghini and saw it still in the same slot he had parked it in two weeks ago.  That’s when I began to fear the worst.  You two coming into the dojo confirmed it.”

            I nodded and glanced out the window.  The big man with the shabby mop of hair was gone.  Frowning, I glanced at Frank and then looked back at Gail Oppenheimer.

            “Did anyone else know you loved Colby Winslow?  Anybody here in the dojo, for instance?”

            She nodded with a cloud of questioning filling her eyes.

            “It’s no secret. The staff and I are quite close.  We share or woeful tales of our love lives almost daily here.  Both Doug and Marlin—my instructors—know how I felt for Colin.  Why do you ask?”

            “If you didn’t kill Colby Winslow and Kathryn Valenski didn’t ill Colby Winslow then who did?  Who else had a motive to stab a man to death and steal a million dollars in bonds?’

            “A million dollars . . . . in bonds!  Oh, my god!  Marlin!”

            “Marlin?  Big man, shaggy mop of hair, one of your instructors?”

            “He’s been moping around in the dojo for a week or two now.  But he bought himself a brand new car.  Said he paid cash for it.  Said he’d won some cash on a roulette table in a casino in Kansas City.  My god.  Marlin!”

            “What about Marlin?”  Frank asked irritably.

            “Oh . . . Marlin has had a crush on me since the day I hired him.  He thinks he’s in love with me.  But I always thought it was just an infatuation.  Still, he always was forceful in his efforts to dissuade me from getting involved with Colby.  Very heatedly so sometimes.”

            “Where does Marlin live, Mrs. Oppenheimer?”

            She quickly wrote it down and handed us the paper.  Without another word we left and climbed into the Camaro SS and left.  About the time I pulled away from the curb the cell phone buzzed loudly inside my sport coat.

            “Turn, this is Joe down at the morgue.  Thought you should know.  The dead guy?  Someone popped him in the jaw with a big hand and big ring.  Broke the jaw.  Didn’t see the bruising at the crime scene because the body was too decomposed.  But a closer look at it down here and it’s obvious as hell.  I’m pretty sure it was a man who killed your dead guy.”

            Joe was Joe Weiser, a smart-assed, gum chewing kid for a forensics expert who worked with the coroner down at the morgue.  Kid or not Joe was damn good at his job.  If he said he thought a big man with big hands was our probable killer that’s all I needed to know.  It fit.

            Fit indeed.

            We found Marlin at his apartment hurriedly throwing clothes into a suitcase.  When we walked in he glanced at a .357 magnum lying on the bed beside the suitcase.  But, glancing at us and seeing us shaking our heads and reaching for our own iron, he decided a sudden invitation to lie on a morgue slab himself was not the way he wanted to go down.

            Let me tell you, friend.  Money will get you in trouble.  Money and beautiful women will kill you.  And oh yeah. . . .the old ex-banker and I got together.  Seems like now I am a part-owner in a thriving investment company.