To my left, the uniform said: “Flamingos make me smile.”
To my right, the double-breasted suit leant over the edge of the darkened, drained swimming pool and said: “He doesn’t see the funny side of it.”
In an Andrews Sisters-like synchronised movement, we rose from our crouching positions, turned as one towards the steel ladder dropping into the pool, and climbed down.
Three men, two flashlights and one corpse – plus a pair of flamingo statuettes with their beaks impaled in the pool owner’s chest.
Pulling the shiny peak of his LAPD cap lower, the uniform accepted the cigarette I offered, cupping his shaky hand over my match flame, his face half-shadowed.
The suit, working a cigar stub in the corner of his mouth, shone a bright light on the dead man’s open eyes. Looks surprised was the verdict.
“I’m not surprised,” I said.
Standing over Jacques “Jacky Two Fingers” Offenbach, I tried to give the impression of someone who knew what had happened.
“Any ideas?” asked the uniform.
My torch beam danced over the body. “We can rule out suicide,” I said.
The uniform stayed by the body while I led the suit back to the porticoed house where Mrs Offenbach greeted us in the time-honoured Los Angeles tradition of slamming the door in our faces. At a side window, I held out my wallet with the buzzer pinned to the flap. “Open Sesame.”
An Ali Baba fan, she allowed a crack of light to appear around the edge of the door. The suit’s shoecap opened it wider.
“A warrant?” she asked.
I reminded her that Mr O was a flashy well-dressed pin cushion lying in their pool and, at three o’clock in the morning, she could either talk to us inside or down at the station.
She didn’t offer us a drink and I didn’t offer her a cigarette. She already had one between scarlet lips with another smouldering in a silver ashtray. A scotch and soda stood to attention on a chair-side table. It looked good and so did she.
I asked about Offenbach’s enemies. Handing me the city phone directory, she said she didn’t have all night. “This’ll give you a head start,” she said.
Reaching over, the suit took the book from me and dropped it into a large fish tank. The splash wet the fluffy white carpet. The three of us kept up the silence for almost a minute before Mrs O tapped the ash off her cigarette and rehearsed her resigned look. Or it could’ve been a lopsided sneer. At that hour I gave her the benefit of the doubt and, in return, she delivered a list of names at a canter. It ended with … “oh, and there’s Leslie.”
She explained Leslie Crawford was a landscaper who had a personality clash with her husband. “Who knew Jacques had one to clash with?” she added.
The highball glass was suddenly upended between glossy lips. The scotch and soda vanished. I offered to fix her another one. “You’re taking your loss very hard,” I said.
“Your sarcasm is as dull as your tie. Tartan ties are for high school teachers. I’ll find you one of Jacques. Come into the bedroom.”
My hand touched the knot. My collar was getting tight. Shaking my head, I asked about Leslie Crawford’s whereabouts.
Another cigarette was lit. “You’re the detective. You find him. In the meantime, you can call off that cop I saw out back.”
The suit took a break from admiring the floating phone book to tell her there were only three of us. “And the uniform is guarding the body.”
“Really?” In a few strides she reached the kitchen door and jerked it open. A young police officer lay on the porch. Stripped to his underwear, gagged and trussed, he looked unhappy.
As I cut him free, I called back to the woman. “Why did the landscaper and your husband fall out?”
She said Leslie Crawford wanted to introduce a touch of flamboyance with figurines of waterbirds around a shallow pond. Offenbach demanded fountains of water arcing from the breasts of a marble Venus de Milo. Crawford said his idea played off the Offenbachs’ address. Offenbach countered that Venus signalled gold standard classy.
“Leslie said flamingos made him smile.”
I beat the suit to the front door by one pace before we went out into the night.
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Copyright © 2013 GREG FLYNN