Tag Archives: Detective

The Laguna Bungle (Session 5)

The Laguna Bungle. A highway through a desert is partially covered by sand. A woman in a blue dress stands in the middle of it.
Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

The Desert Therapist

I was motoring toward a town called Feldspar, out there on the edge of the nothing land, that deep, crusted sandbox of California, the dim and salty place where the heat stirs like a devil and your own loneliness is echoed. I wasn’t too sure what was going on in the belfry lately, the bells were there and gently clanging, at times misfiring, must be my neurons or electrons or the emojicons in my brain. Regardless of what the science is, I’m never the same person all the time. I am liquid. I am fluid. I break and spill. I flow and damage. Other times I am as still as an unmuddied lake beneath an azure sky, brushstrokes against a canvas of lapis lazuli. It was always difficult to uncover my own thoughts, let alone decipher them.

Driving can be therapy. There’s something soothing about driving alone in the middle of nowhere. It’s akin to survival almost, because what would happen if the car broke down and I was miles from anything. What would happen to me? I would have to survive. That’s a sort of ridiculous notion considering all the eyes on us always — the cameras, the satellites, the snipers with their cell phones. It’s not the 1800s. Someone would find me sooner or later, that is, if I wanted to be found. Sometimes, I do not. Sometimes, I think it would be better to just sink down into the Earth and never return.

As I drove, I started thinking about astral projection and dreams and wondering if they were the same thing. I had a dream last night where I was playing volleyball with balloons, and I wasn’t very good at it. My strikes were continually misguided, and the other players were down on me, so down on me that it came to the point if the ball was coming toward me, they would yell for me to just get out of the way. I quit, walked away because I was purely fed up with people being down on me. I went off to some haunted house and looked out some windows at weird people looking in at me. It was unsettling. I woke up. The sheets were crumpled. Her scent was gone. I looked to my left. Her skin was gone. She was gone. Was it forever? I remembered I had a job to do. I had a case. I was hunting a wayward husband. But maybe she deserved it. Then again, maybe no one deserves it.

And then my cell phone rang. Carola Strawberry’s name illuminated.


“Mr. Smoke. It’s Carola Strawberry. How are you?”

“I’m fine. How can I help you Mrs. Strawberry?”

“Carola, please. For some reason being attached to that last name leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

“Right. So, what can I do for you?”

“My husband is planning a weekend getaway to Palm Springs. Something about golfing or whatever again, but of course I don’t believe him. The only holes he’s really planning on dropping his balls into belong to someone who is not me. I’m talking about another woman if that wasn’t clear.

“It’s very clear.”

“I thought it might be a perfect opportunity to launch your investigation. I mean, it may all be just a smokescreen, but I thought it was important to let you know.”

“Of course. Do you know what country club he was planning on casting away his vows at?”

“That’s an odd way to put it.”

“I’m a natural when it comes to putting things in an odd way.”

“He prefers the Far Wind Resort.”

“Far Wind… Got it. Anything else I need to know?”

Carola Strawberry paused on the other end. Was she shattered or would she stand up on her own? I wondered. She cleared her raspy South American throat. “I know that all this will break my heart, Mr. Smoke, and I know it’s what I want you to do, but if you could, be easy on me with the details. He was still my husband, so of course, part of me wishes it to be untrue. Does any of that make sense?”

“It makes sense. I’ll do what I need to do, Mrs. Strawberry… Carola. I’ll be in touch.”

I ended the call and grabbed the steering wheel with two hands and just hung on as the machine burrowed its way toward the sunbaked playground of the rich and the weak and the broken-souled.   

As I looked out at that chalky chocolate expanse of place, I started to wonder if the world was just done with me from the very start. As one gets older, one has more to look back on. The messes start piling up. The regrets fill every vessel. The guilty things start stabbing your heart. Why do I feel so damaged? Why has the world sat on me so often? Why do dreams always die?

I don’t know why, no one answered. But what about the good things? Why don’t you ever think about the good things, John Smoke? she said. Who was she? My phantom love, that fallen angel with the open arms. Did I pass right through them?

I had to get my thoughts back upon the road. This isn’t about me right now. I turned on the radio and flew upon the miles that waited for me.


You can read the previous part of this story HERE.

The Laguna Bungle (Session 4)

The Laguna Bungle. A golden sunset punctures a deep blue sky over the ocean.

The Nomadic Mind

I’m not sure if the woman in the pink bathrobe had just hired me to kill her husband, but it sure felt that way. And if that was the case of the case, she was getting it for a bargain. But there was no way in hell I was killing her cheating husband for 1,000 clams. I’m not in the business to kill, and I never have been, and maybe never will be. But I suppose I should let it be known that if I had to kill someone, I would. If it came right down to it? Absolutely. I pack a Walther PPK because it’s a messy world out there and sometimes you have to protect yourself, stand up for yourself no matter what, even if that means plugging a guy, or girl, who are ready and all too willing to plug you. That’s how I feel about it. You can’t just let the world cross the line and have its way with you whenever it wants.

My thoughts drift like the sands of the Sahara. My mind is nomadic, and so here I go and go again.

I always find it strange that people are born into this world completely innocent and then they get folded into it with a prodding paddle of good and evil, and it makes them hard as stone, bad-hearted or sad or full of pain for some reason or another. I don’t get why we allow that, as a society, as so-called human beings. Why do we take this simple, fresh from the womb innocence and brand it with the burning hurt of this planet just to make more hurt. Right now, it seems the whole world is so damn backward that people are digging the pain, they’re digging the hurt, they’re digging the hate. The prayer warriors out there are cheering for demons. The leaders are ripe for gleefully tossing bombs. Their goals are suffering and destruction. I just don’t get it. Sometimes I just want off this watery marble. I want to be like Captain Kirk and transport myself somewhere else, somewhere else I can breathe.

Some people would argue and say that none of us are born innocent. They say we’re all born with sin already in us and the only way to get past that is to take a dip in a baptismal bath at the church, like the one of my youthful days, the one on Erie Avenue in my hometown by the sea in a place called Ohio. Well, it wasn’t really a sea, it was a lake. A big lake. A big, cold lake. But it looked like some magical, mystical far-off sea to me. Like the Caspian or something like that.

That’s where they dipped me in, the holy water font in the church, not in the lake, although that may have been better, more real, a far more shocking electrocution of the nerves, an authentic awakening of the newly born spirit. That house of the universal god blessed my throat and listened to my sins, too. And now I’m no better than most coming out on the other end of that long ago gig. Now I carry a gun and my nerves are shot. I get lonely, too, but then sometimes loneliness tastes good and I revel in it. There’s something about loneliness that drives a man’s creativity as well as wanton self-destruction. All my ex-girlfriends think I’m crazy. That’s why they’re exes. Maybe I am crazy, but you sort of have to be in this world and with what I do. I’m okay with my shader pale of madness as I like to call it. It’s like loneliness that you just can’t hold in anymore.

Church. What a bizarre place. So ornate, so golden, so solemnly colorful as the people look up and worship some invisible being or idea. I always liked the smell of the incense burning away in the swinging thurible, always in perfect rhythm to the indecipherable chant of the white-robed holy one directing the show. That exotic scent of the incense mingled with the worshippers, their perfume and the aftershave and the afterglow of rapid morning sex of sinful lovers in heat. I close my eyes and just listen and breathe it all in.

As I drove north on the 1, the PCH, I looked to my left and saw the ocean spread out like a big ruffled blue blanket. To my right it was clusters of buildings, rectangular plug-ins with windows and porches and verandas and parking lots and yards, all of the works of the inhabitants carved into the orange and green and asphalt gray and ancient white and yellow adobe, everyone gathered for a game of real life right there at the edge of the teetering coast.

Everyone is living on top of each other here. I live on top of others in a place called Huntington Beach. It’s crowded. My apartment is small, but it works. It has big windows at least, but the rent kills. It’s hard to find a place to park. I don’t have a bedroom because it’s a studio, so the rumpled bed is in the main living space. So is the refrigerator because the kitchen is too small. I don’t have a stove, only a two-burner hotplate. I eat out a lot which is fine because there are so many restaurants pressing in on me, just like everything else. It all presses in, there’s no room, it’s jam packed here. Every space flows into the next. There are no borders here.

But I can walk to the beach, and looking out at the endless ocean gives me a sense of release, and relief. I’m on the third floor and I have a small balcony so I can sit outside and drink coffee or read a book and look out upon the hive of madmen. I can listen to all my neighbors screw each other, too. No one is ever quiet about it. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a dirty movie but I’m always the guy on the sidelines just watching and sweating, craning my neck trying to focus in on the penetration and I’m just puzzled as to how they get themselves in such positions. I can also hear the punches crushing faces and the screams and the cops knocking on doors.

Did I mention that the air all around me smells like the ocean and exhaust. It’s weird, but I kind of like it. It first hits you out around Indio when you come in from the east. It smells different than anywhere else I’ve ever been — this carnivorous California. These endless rows of mad life.

The woman in the pink bathrobe who hired me to throw surveillance on her cheating husband has a strange name. Carola Strawberry. That’s what she told me and that’s how I got her saved in my phone now. Carola Strawberry. Before I left her house, I made fun of her name because she made fun of mine — John Smoke. She thought it was made up, so I told her I thought her name was made up. Then she told me her husband’s name and I just about lost it — Garola Strawberry. “Granola?” I asked her.

She repeated it, slower so that I could understand her because she had a strange accent, like something out of South America. I got my money and told her I’d follow up in a couple of days after she emailed me some more info and logistics. I was heading home to get cleaned up before I headed out to the desert for a night or two just to get crazy lonely and moon high and wild like a wanderer. I needed time to think about everything. I needed time to consider my future in this world.


The Laguna Bungle (Session 3)

sophisticated woman talking to a man inside an office
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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.


“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?”


“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.”


The Laguna Bungle (Session 2)

Colorful house made of candy at death's door at miniature golf course with palm trees and trimmed green bushes.

At Death’s Door Again

The house was an orgiastic glory hole of shining metal and stunning stone, sharp lines, and tall windows. It had a mid-century centurion vibe to it, the slopes and angles of it crooning Albuquerque hipness in the hills. I imagined the interior to be gloomy and plush while at the same time being glittery and cold as ice in a crystal glass. I wanted to get in there. I wanted to get lost in someone else’s life — even if that life included some devious murder plot carried out to completion.

The murdering man must still be in there, but just as I completed that thought, the garage door opened like the bay of a star cruiser in vast space about to eject a fighter into the realm of another galaxy. And I saw him twaddle nervously around the car. He opened doors, looked inside, and then closed them again. I watched as he lifted the trunk, studied the inside for a moment, and then slammed it back down. He turned and looked out at the street, and I feared he had sensed my presence via telepathy or some other psychic ability. He withdrew and lit a cigarette and for a moment it seemed our eyes connected, like a hard plug into a wet socket, and some evil drenched electricity was about to flow. I was sure he would cross over at any moment, and halfway to my car he would pull out a shiny black revolver and start shooting with little to no mercy. I was ready to bail in a raucous squeal of burnt rubber and smoke. But just as I was about to ignite the ignition, he tossed the cigarette out into the street and turned away.

He then walked around the front yard a bit looking at his pristine ornamental shrubbery and rock gardens. He kneeled in the grass and plucked some weeds from one of the flower beds. The funny thing is, he was still wearing his suit, complete with the strangling, murderous necktie. Then he stayed like that for a while just staring at the dirt like he was talking to someone buried in it, like people do at the cemetery.

He eventually got up and strolled around some more before going to the trunk of a tall palm tree and there bent his neck like one of those weird birds that drinks water upside down to look up into the underside of the fronds. I’m not sure why he did that unless he was looking for coconuts or something. He then went around the side of the house and then came back lugging a black garden hose behind him. He twisted the pointy brass nozzle and started watering all the greenery like he didn’t have a care in the world.

When he was satisfied that he had gotten everything wet enough, he turned the nozzle off and returned the hose to its place at the side of the house. He went back inside the garage, glanced at his wristwatch, and got into the car there. It was a black Mercedes. He carefully backed it out. The garage door slid back down into place, and the man sped off as if he had suddenly remembered he had to be somewhere.

As soon as I was satisfied that he wasn’t returning because he had forgotten something, I got out of my car and went across the street to the house worthy of a spread in Architectural Digest. I’m really into architecture and even went to school for it until things derailed as they usually do.

I went up the curving walkway neatly lined with dew-dappled greens and flowers. I went to the wide front door of ornamental brown wood. There was a tall vertical window to the side of it, but the glass was colorfully stained so I couldn’t really see in. It didn’t depict anything about Jesus or sheep like in a church, but it was more artsy Bohemian pieces of color is all. I jiggled the doorknob, but it was locked. My hand reached for the illuminated bell switch, but I pulled it back just before pressing it in. Instead, I put my ear to the door to see if I could hear anything going on inside. It was silent and I backed away.

I’ve stood upon the threshold of death’s door more than once in my life. I’ve pressed my fingertips against it and gave it a slight push and that’s always when the light begins to leak out and try to take me over. For some reason, I’ve always been pulled back into the world of the living, or the dead. I suppose it depends on how you look at things. Some people believe life on Earth is really just hell in disguise. I can go along with that notion to a degree. All one has to do is look at the news of the day. Seems like hell to me. But then again, I’m a private detective and I’ve seen a lot of bad things. I deal with people’s problems when they can’t.

I haven’t always been a private detective, and that’s okay because I’m not really all that great at it. I’m not really great at a lot of things, and I guess I haven’t been for a long time. I’ve dimmed as I’ve grown older. But high school, now that was the time for me. I was bright back then. In fact, I was so bright my nickname at Cerritos High School was Star. Why Star? Plenty of reasons. I was a start athlete. I was a star academic. I was a star in school politics. I was a star in popularity, especially with the girls. Everyone wanted to be like me, and everyone wanted to be with me. I was the one that was supposed to go the furthest. I was the one who was to become rich and have a killer wife with great tits and live with her in a magnificent house… Just like the one I was at, right now, 26 years later. I haven’t even gone that far down the road. What the hell am I doing here? Some days I just don’t care, and so I rang the doorbell after all.


Refrigerated Dreams (Act 6)

Adam Longo was still and quiet atop his perch at the abandoned Grainer Falls shoe factory. He was looking down upon the people surrounding the body. Some were squatted and taking photos. Others were scribbling notes and shaking their heads. Others still were talking on cell phones and with each other — dark whispers of a tragedy unfolding like layers of Christmas wrapping paper.

One of the investigators suddenly looked up when a pigeon fluttered, and Adam Longo closed his eyes to hide. “Maybe he fell, and then the animals got to him,” the man said to his peers without looking at them, his eyes still fixed upon the rusted rafters. “You know how these stupid kids are always screwing around in here. Damn fools think they’re going to live forever and do crazy things… Like climbing around where they shouldn’t.”

A woman kneeling beside the body of Andy Bliss turned her head to look up at him. She wanted to call him an idiot, but she didn’t. “There’s no sign of fall trauma. Not at all,” she said. “You should rethink that theory… Detective.”

He shrugged off her comment for the moment. “I merely suggested a possibility, Ms. Lassiter. That’s what we like to call investigation where I come from.”

The woman laughed to herself. “I’ll be sure to never go there then.”

He quickly turned his attention from what was above him to the woman examining the dead boy. “Are you criticizing my work?”

She looked up at him confidently. “Yes.”

“Well stop,” the detective said. “We got a dead kid here. This isn’t the time to be stepping on people’s toes. Got it?”

“Whatever you say… Detective.”

Veronica Genesis clutched her schoolbooks as she walked down the sidewalk on a warm afternoon. She stopped in front of Rude Rudy’s run-down house and looked at it. His bike was toppled in the front yard, so she knew he was home. She steadied herself, walked up to the door, and knocked.

A few moments later, Rude Rudy appeared in the open doorway. He glared at her. “What the hell do you want?” His orange hair was a bushy mess. His shirt was stained with food or milk.

She was angry at herself for ever becoming involved with such a loser who didn’t realize he was a loser at all. They’re the worst kind of loser, she thought to herself. “I don’t want to go steady anymore,” Veronica bluntly told him.

He scoffed at her, but inside he was hurt. “Good,” he stammered. “I don’t want to go steady with you either. You’re not any fun at all. You’re just way to into yourself… Besides, there are tons of babes I could replace you with.” He slammed the door in her face.

She knocked again and he yanked the door open. “What!?” In some small way Rudy hoped she had reconsidered.

“I thought you might want to know that Adam Longo is alive… Sort of.”

“What do you mean sort of?” Rudy wondered.

“He showed up at school, but he was different. He was acting weird.”

Rudy laughed. “There’s nothing different about that. That kid is weird.”

“I’m serious,” Veronica stressed. “If I were you, I’d be concerned.”

Rudy shook his head at her. “He’s the one who should be concerned if he comes around here.” He poked his head out and looked up and down the street to steady his sudden creeping doubts. “Now get lost,” he said, and he slammed the door in her face again. Veronica flipped him off from the other side.

Adam Longo waited until they removed the body of Andy Bliss and secured the scene. When they were finally all gone, he leapt from the beam and floated down to the floor of the factory. It was dark. But somehow, he could see through it. He walked to and pushed on the heavy metal door that led to outside. The sudden rush of the fresher air felt good to him, even though he wasn’t sure if he was breathing air like he used to. He looked up at the sparkling stars and the 100-watt lightbulb moon that hung there like a bleached Chinese buffet plate. He turned back once to look at the brooding factory crawling upon the lightweight veil of darkness like untamed vines before he started walking toward the scattered glow of Grainer Falls.

When he emerged from the suburban brush, he knew just where to go, even though he wasn’t sure how he knew. So many things were different now and becoming more different every day and night. He roamed the streets like it was Halloween. He touched his cold face and thought it must be a mask.

He kept to the shadows, softly crawling through the dark spaces between the streetlamps and their fizzing pink light, like a raspberry in champagne. He caught a smell in the air and suddenly turned his head toward a white house with a high window that glowed golden yellow. He moved closer, undid the gate, and moved up the walk. At first, he stood on the porch at the front door. He could hear a man and woman talking inside. He lifted his fist, but just before he was about to strike the door with his white knuckles, he quickly withdrew it. He came off the porch, stepped back out into the yard, and looked up at the high window again. He saw a shadow move against a wall.

“Veronica,” he mumbled to himself in a strange voice that was not the voice he remembered having. He mumbled again. “Veronica.” He floated up and brought himself down on a lower pitch of shingled roof just below the window. He carefully peered in through the glass. She was standing in front of a full-length mirror and looking herself over. She placed her hands on her chest and shook her head in disappointment with her body. Veronica moved away from the mirror and sat down at a desk and opened a laptop computer. Her face was quickly bathed in the light of burning technological fuel. A moment later, her young heart jumped, and her head quickly snapped around when there came a light knocking on her bedroom window.


You can read the previous part of this story HERE.