@partnersincr1me, @hotchoc84, @GValjan/,
Whether it’s Hollywood or DC, life and death, success or failure hinge on saying a name.
The right name.
When Charlie Loew is found murdered in a seedy flophouse with a cryptic list inside the dead script-fixer’s handkerchief, Jack Marshall sends Walker undercover as a screenwriter at a major studio and Leslie as a secretary to Dr. Phillip Ernest, shrink to the stars. J. Edgar Hoover has his own list. Blacklisted writers and studio politics. Ruthless gangsters and Chief Parker’s LAPD. Paranoia, suspicions, and divided loyalties begin to blur when the House Un-American Activities Committee insists that everyone play the naming game.
He suggested drinks Friday night at the Cocoanut Grove, with dinner afterwards. The weekend wasn’t quite on the horizon but the doctor’s voice insinuated he had intentions.
The Cocoanut Grove club was part of the Ambassador; and like most places in Los Angeles it took forever to get from the curb to the front door of the hotel. Then there was the nightclub. The hotel, like a Henry James preamble, sat at the far end of a very long cultivated sentence of twenty-four acres off Wilshire Boulevard. The logic was deceptive but calculated, its geometric lawns and trained trees were way out in front like a mirage of color schemes, the designs descended from gardeners who created the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. It was here Bacchantes of another day and age descended from the Hollywood Hills or from elsewhere in the desert to have their Award ceremonies, sexed-up affairs on hearths of Italian stone, their celebrity tantrums, complete with champagne glasses dashed against tiled floors while the fountain’s water out front pulsed the rhythm of time’s cruel cadence.
The Cocoanut Grove was dedicated to nocturnal decadence. Palm trees were imported inside, stuffed monkeys sat on top of them, their choreographed arms groping the leafy foliage and their glass eyes forever gazing at a ceiling painted midnight blue with unmoving stars. Here the desert people came to dance and forget their troubles and mingle with matinée royalty. Here they dined and here they listened to music beneath Moorish arches and tried to forget the Crusades and the inconvenience of Christ on the cross. On a grand night they might see ghosts or the gauzy image of Pola Negri walking her pet cheetah on a long leash through the garden.
7pm and early, Leslie saw Ernest at the bar in tailored silk pants and a patterned jacket, white shirt, and no tie. She might’ve walked fast across the floor to surprise him, but she enjoyed every set of male eyes (and some female ones, too) on her in a strapless cocktail dress made of plush black velvet and layers of cream tulle. Leslie didn’t believe in makeup. Simple pink lipstick sufficed. In her small purse she carried cash and a .22 caliber pistol, a gift with a red Croix de Lorraine on the white grip enamel. Neither the gun nor the caliber punched like a .45 automatic, but at close range the .22 was feminine and lethal.
“You’re early, Dr. Ernest.”
“Please call me Phillip, or Phil. A drink?”
“What are you having?”
Brandy and crème de menthe. Upper-crust choice of either flyboys or college men. She motioned the bartender over with her gloved hand. He ambled over, a big man in a tuxedo. He offered his clientele cool stoicism while he made their drinks or dried glassware. He listened, or pretended to. His hand on the counter and the forward tilt at the shoulders signaled he was eager to take her order.
“An Old Fashioned, please.”
The barkeep smiled when he set down her short tumbler not far from her date’s Stinger. He put in the sugar cube and doused it with Angostura bitters, added water halfway up the sugar cube before he dropped ice cubes and added a shot and half of rye whiskey. He hitched a maraschino cherry on the back of an orange wedge.
The jazz musicians in the background burned through a slow number of horns and muted drums. He moved near her and she smiled. She could smell his cologne. Not bad. Not overpowering. She wore no perfume. Leslie learned perfume always lingered in the air, or on fabric. It left a trace, a damning signature. Phillip pushed the cocktail to her on a napkin
“Quite the drink you have there.”
“I can handle it.” Let him think I’m easy prey. “So, Phillip, what do you suggest for dinner?”
“Place up in the Hills, exotic and with a spectacular view of the city if you don’t mind Asian food.”
“I’ll give it a go. That’s what the weekend is for.”
“You’re full of surprises, Maggie. Didn’t figure you for the living type.”
He realized his awkward turn of phrase. She saved him from embarrassment. “As opposed to the alternative?” she asked. “Don’t worry, I know what you meant. You don’t do so bad yourself.” Awe and flattery always chipped a man down. “It can’t be easy listening to people’s problems all week. Shows character.”
“Nothing too challenging or anything I can’t handle.”
“You’re saying you don’t feel challenged?” she asked.
“Not at all. My patients are motivated, which is crucial to the therapeutic process, and I enjoy guiding them to recovery so they can live meaningful, productive lives.”
“Say, ever had a client you couldn’t help? Someone you couldn’t fix.”
“I’ve had my share of difficult cases, but I try to persuade them to see the destructive consequences to their choices,” he said, between sips of his minty drink.
Leslie drank a small sip of hers. “I never hear frustration in your notes. You’re always clinical, very professional. I daresay you sound confident. Self-assured.”
“You haven’t seen all my cases, Maggie.”
“Really?” she asked, letting him see her take a hefty gulp drink from her glass, turned so he saw more flesh. He responded with another sip of his toothpaste drink.
“I’ve had two, maybe three intractable cases. All men. One with inordinate guilt, the other one, a thief, and the last one was a deviant. The thief and deviant I thought I could cure, but not the guilty one. All three men kept company with people who exacerbated their conditions.”
The doctor explained all of this as he paced his drinking until he emptied his glass. Leslie left a wee bit of drink in her glass. There was an uptick to the drums and the soft shudder of cymbals. A piano added light sprays of laughter from the high keys. Smoke floated over the crowd.
“I’m no clinician, Phillip, but I’m clueless as to what constitutes deviant behavior. As for criminal urges, I’d suggest an avoidance strategy. Not much I can say about regret. I’ve always thought guilt was a useless emotion.”
“I wish it were so simple, Maggie.”
“It is. The human mind confuses childhood with the responsibilities of adulthood.”
The perplexed expression on his face arrived on time. “That sounds familiar,” he said.
“It should, Phillip. I quoted you.”
Quoting him had worked. He smiled, his shoulders rounded and he leaned forward and intent, relaxed. She savored that small victory more than the cherry clinging to the orange wedge on her glass.
“Shall we go eat?” she asked and deliberately misplaced her foot as she stepped off the metal chair. He caught her arm in time. She released that little laugh all women practiced for embarrassing moments. He left a generous bill to cover the drinks, as the drum kicked the air with a one-two beat and a crash of cymbals.
Ernest drove the roads above Hollywood Boulevard to the restaurant. High up in the hills and under a half moon, The Mountain Palace rested on a hilltop like a shogun’s castle carved out of teak and cedar. There was a pagoda, too. An architect plotted, a landscaper tilled the California hill into an enigmatic kōan with trees, shrubs, numerous gardens, and waterfalls. Koi fish meandered through ponds. The only thing missing was the plucking sound of the koto asking for rain.
Excerpt used with permission by author and publisher, Gabriel Valjan and Winter Goose Publishing (May, 2019)
4 out of 5 (very good)
Independent Reviewer for Archaeolibrarian - I Dig Good Books!
Gabriel Valjan has done it again.....Woven an intriguing story of mystery and murder with snippets of history that not only enhance what you're reading but gently educates you along the way.
Front and centre is Walker working undercover. He's a pleasure to read as he's so well written. He's intelligent and very observant which enriches the story. By his side is Jack, his ex-army buddy and boss. I like Jack more in this book, I like how there's more of an insight into his life and what drives him.
Full of details from the first page and a few surprises to keep you guessing.
** same worded review will appear elsewhere **
* A copy of this book was provided to me with no requirements for a review. I voluntarily read this book, and the comments here are my honest opinion. *
This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Gabriel Valjan. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on April 22, 2019 and runs through June 24, 2019. Void where prohibited.
Gabriel Valjan is the author of the Roma Series and The Company Files from Winter Goose Publishing as well as numerous short stories. In 2018, he was shortlisted for the Bridport and Fish Prize Short Story Prizes.
Gabriel lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where he enjoys the local restaurants, and his two cats, Squeak and Squawk, keep him honest to the story on the screen.
Tour hosted by: Partners in Crime Tours