The Laguna Bungle (Session 3)

I rang the doorbell again, but was I really expecting a dead woman to answer? My thoughts had gotten ahead of me once again because the door slowly opened.

sophisticated woman talking to a man inside an office
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An Unfortunate Meeting

My head was just totally empty for a moment while I stood there by that front door in this void of time stands still, Time Stand Still, (no S) that Rush song from eons ago playing in my head, and the sound of Jennifer Dillinger’s voice caa-kawing like an aggravated crow every time I played one of their CDs in my car. She was a girlfriend. An ex-girlfriend. She was a fox but hated Rush. I think she fell off a cliff and died. Somewhere in Mexico. I sort of remember hearing something about that, but I was usually high back in those days and so I had the attention span of a Tasmanian devil. I suppose it’s somewhere there in my memory banks all lost in the dust. All I know is she never got back to me… About anything. So, I moved on.

I rang the doorbell again, but was I really expecting a dead woman to answer? My thoughts had gotten ahead of me once again because the door slowly opened and in the cracked opening to this other dimension, I saw half an underbaked woman’s face look out at me. “Yes. What is it you want?” she said.

“I’m very sorry to bother you, mam. But I believe I saw someone being strangled out on the veranda and I was just checking to see if everything was all right in there.”

She opened the door wider. She was wearing the pink bathrobe and clutched it closed with a hand. She was the one for sure. But she seemed very much alive to me. There weren’t even any marks around her throat. “I’m afraid I don’t understand. Are you a police officer?”

I retrieved my identification. “I’m a private detective.”

She looked at the ID and then back up at me. “John Smoke? What kind of name is John Smoke? That seems made up.”

“It’s not made up,” I told her.

“But I still don’t understand. I haven’t called for any private detective… And as far as someone being strangled. I’m entirely baffled. No one was being strangled… Not for real, I assure you.”

“Not for real?”

“My husband and I are in show business, and we were merely rehearsing a scene from a movie we’re trying to get off the ground. That must have been what you saw. But why were you looking in the first place?”

“I like birds. I’m a bird watcher. The sights of my binoculars fell upon your veranda while I was doing some of my watching. I saw someone being strangled. I wanted to investigate.”

I’m a very convincing liar.

She looked me up and down like I was crazy. She was a middle-aged woman obviously carved up and pieced back together by an expensive plastic surgeon. She was tying to turn back time, but she should know that’s a losing battle… For anyone. I tried to build a time machine once but failed miserably. I never even knew where to start. And I don’t understand why people get plastic surgery in the first place. It makes them look worse. Fake. Manufactured. Desperate. How do they not see how unattractive they are? The woman before me was a poorly sculpted trainwreck, puffy and taut. She paid good money to look like this, I had to wonder.

“I’m not sure I believe you,” she said. “You don’t look like the birdwatching type.”

“But I am.”

“Really?” She looked past me and out to the yard. “Then what kind of bird is that sitting atop that bush over there?”

I turned to look. “That’s an oak titmouse.”

“Are you making that up as well?”

“No. I take birds very seriously.”

Her stance relaxed and she smiled as best she could with that jacked up face. “Well, all right then,” she said. “Would you like to come in? I may have need of your professional services after all. That is, if you truly are a real detective.”

“You mean a case?”

“Possibly. But we need to talk before my husband returns. This concerns him.”


The house was just as I expected. Large, showy, a blend of light and dark, modern yet strangely cozy. There were lots of big windows with views of the ocean. There was a lot of fancy furniture neatly aligned and looking as if it had never been touched by human hands or asses. She briskly strolled ahead of me across shiny marble floors toward an open kitchen with a long island and a row of perfectly placed stools. She was dwarfed by the sheer expanse of it.

“Please have a seat wherever you like. I’ll bring us some drinks. Do you drink, Mr. Smoke?”

I took a seat in a wide, comfortable chair and glanced out the cathedral wall of windows. “I’ll drink anything,” I answered her. I could hear ice being dropped in glasses and the sound of two rough pours. “You have an amazing view here.”

She came to where I was sitting and handed me a heavy glass of rusted amber liquid. “It’s a very pleasant view,” she agreed. “It’s a big part of the reason we bought this particular property. I hope you like Scotch. It was very expensive. All the way from Scotland that bottle came.” She held up her glass in a gesture of cheers and smiled before taking a seat in a long leather couch across from me. A meticulously kept glass table with a bright green plant in the middle of it sat between us.

“Would you drink poison?” she asked after squirming her ass into a comfortable position.

“Poison?”

“You had said you’d drink anything.”

“I meant anything that doesn’t kill you.”

She laughed at that. “Wouldn’t you consider what’s in your glass right now to be poison? What is it Jack Torrance says… White man’s burden.”

I looked at the Scotch and then took a big gulp. “Depends on how much you let it get to you.” I polished off my drink and set the empty glass down on the table. “I like that you have an appreciation for good movies.”

“I’ve always found The Shining to be one of the most spinetingling cinematic escapades of all time.”

“Right. Now, what about this case?”

She rolled her eyes toward the ceiling and sighed. “I believe my husband is having an affair behind my back. I need to find out for sure. Is that something you do?”

“Sure,” I answered with confidence. “Simple surveillance is definitely in my wheelhouse.”

“Good,” she answered. “It’s not that I really care if he’s screwing someone else, I just don’t want to be made to look like a fool. And I want the end result to be a clean divorce that favors me. I’m the victim of bad love here, and he should pay for that. Does that make sense?”

“Absolutely.”

“When can you start, Mr. Smoke?”

“I usually don’t start until I secure a retainer fee. A thousand up front… And I’ll need any pertinent info you can give me.”

“I’ll pay you whatever you want as long as I get results.”

“You’ll get results. Any suspects?”

“That floozy assistant of his at the production company he runs… Misty something or another. But my husband runs around with his pants down around his ankles half the time, so, I’m sure there are more.” She got up and went to stand against the high windows looking out onto the ocean. She spoke with her back to me, but I could tell she was pressing her intelligent breasts against the glass. “And if he happens to die during your investigation, Mr. Smoke. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit.”

TO BE CARRIED ON

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