INNOCENCE: Chapter Six

 

 

                              CHAPTER SIX

 

My head lolled lightly from one side to the other, almost, but not quite waking me. It was a pleasant dream, and as such, starred Maggie in the leading role. We worked together, side-by-side, in our garden. Never mind that we didn’t have a garden in real life. Mag and I had talked of it many times, and I always agreed, never actually getting around to starting one however. In the dream, I was a green-thumb; again, in real life—not so much. We spoke of little pleasant and precious things, there in our sunny garden. And I knew, with one-hundred percent clarity, that I was the luckiest man on the planet.

The pilot’s announcement finally brought me out of my brief slumber. I smiled at the best thing that had ever happened to me, and told her that I loved her. Maggie smiled wordlessly back at me, she being one of those that do not seem to be able to sleep on an airplane whatsoever. Me—I manage it in fits and bursts. It’s not a restful sleep however.

This time was no exception. By now, Maggie and I had spent enough time in the air to begin to be sick of it. The good news was that our destination was now not far off. The regional airport in Shreveport, Louisiana, to be precise. We had started our journey in a small private jet, and then a smaller yet single-engine prop. Now we were back to the other end of the spectrum—a Boeing 757-200. A good-sized aircraft in anybody’s book.

The plane was a charter, and was designed to hold a couple of hundred people. Today, it carried just two—Maggie and me—along with a flight crew of three. A pilot, co-pilot, and a hostess named Amelia. She looked around the right age to be working her way through college. Nice kid—friendly, and she did a wonderful job of keeping our coffee cups filled. She was well on her way toward a generous end-of-flight gratuity.

The plane looked like a flying cavern with its row upon row of empty seats. Maggie and I were settled in on the starboard side, in the roomier first-class section. The curtain into coach was wide open, but not a sound came from that area of the jet. It was an odd sensation—kind of like the feeling, I imagined, that a couple of survivors of some weird otherworldly thing would have, in the middle of a Stephen King horror novel.

 

 

Holman had chartered the plane, just for us. I’m a guy that doesn’t mind throwing around a bunch of money on occasion, but even I shuddered to think what it must have cost him. His own private jet was grounded in LA—the pilot a victim of an apparent case of stomach flu. Holman didn’t want to hold up my investigation, he explained. I also suspected that, once again, he didn’t mind passing up a chance to show that he was loaded.

It was what the man was made of—bravado—and big bucks.

And perhaps more than a few ulterior motives, as well.

I was learning more about him and strange sidekick as the countryside rolled by beneath us, courtesy of Wikipedia. There was plenty to read.

My initial assessment of Holman’s rise to fame was largely correct, just a bit out-of-date. He had made his rather sizable fortune in potty-humor teen comedies all right, but of late had upped his game to more substantial fare. Documentaries and historical pieces. The impetus for the late career quality upgrade was Mr. Vincent Dalgetty, the much peer-honored film star. He had met Dalgetty a few years before, and the friendship had been instant, he explained. I didn’t doubt it—where else would two egos that big have to go, but to each other.

 

 

Dalgetty had begun his acting career after just barely clearing the womb, starring first in baby product commercials, and then moving on to cute-kid cereal spots. Mom and dad—both parents and agents—were the driving force in his ascendency. Next up was a stint as a Disney kid. It was short lived however. Dalgetty might have been a darling little shaver, but apparently wasn’t aging well, and by the time he hit his late teens, the pretty-boy child actor was turning into a guy that was unlikely to snag the gal at the end of the movie. The big problemo?—he was ugly. So, he completed a sharp U-turn, and created a new career of not getting the girl—ever. What he got instead, was wildly successful, and incredibly wealthy.

In short—the guy could act, despite the stage-fright. He loved the camera’s eye, but shrunk before a live audience, turning to jelly every time. The theater was out for Mr. Dalgetty.

Now in his early fifties, he had amassed a resume of repute, and sprinkled with gold—Oscar gold. Dalgetty was known for turning down roles that were supposedly fail-proof, to take lesser parts that simply interested him. It paid off. Playing gangsters, crooked-cops, pirates, pimps, and other assorted odd-balls in everything from fantasy to docudramas. And occasionally, just for good measure—a hero—although good guys were not especially his forte. I glanced down the list of his films. I wasn’t particularly surprised to note that I had not seen any of them.

I made a mental note to try to get out to the movies more.

For a movie star, Dalgetty had engendered little scandal—another oddity.

The man we were on our way to meet in Shreveport was most decidedly not a movie star. Mr. Sabe Rees. It was a first name that I had not encountered before. I had messed it up pretty good when I spoke with his secretary earlier in the day. She had chuckled when I stumbled over it, pronouncing it “say-bee.” She corrected me immediately, even as she told me not to worry; absolutely everyone, she assured me, did exactly the same thing.

The actual pronunciation was just like “Gabe,” or “Abe,” only with a “S.” Unusual names always interest me, and as I had the Google-machine up and running, I plugged it in. An English/Welsh name, same as the surname Rees. Sabe, as it turned out, meant “Black,” and Rees, “Fiery-Warrior.” Didn’t sound much like the individual his secretary described to me. She might as well have been his professional agent and personal booster, as she told me that Mr. Rees was, “the human form of sunshine.”

I’ve known a lot of people in my life. Very few of them I would describe in such terms. Especially one that was, as Mr. Rees was, the Assistant District Attorney for the Northern District of the State of Louisiana. I’ve dealt with many a man that held that title, and putting it, along with “nice-guy,” in the same sentence was just a little bit more than oxymoronic.

 

 

His secretarial cheering section was my first surprise. The second was when she told me that Mr. Rees would be more than happy to meet with me at my convenience. “Just drop by anytime, Mr. O’Brien,” she had said. Amazing, I thought. At most District Attorney’s offices, private-investigator is a dirty word. Most times when I had dropped it, I was told to go somewhere all right, but not generally their office door.

Might turn out to be an interesting meeting, I thought.

The plane began a sharp descent in its final approach to the airport. The sky was clear and sunny, and offered a nice view of the countryside just outside Shreveport. Farms, homes, and a lot more gravel side-roads than are present in my neck of the woods. It had a friendly look to it, if such a thing can be said about scenery. Lots of bodies of water. Large, small, and long and narrow. Again, restful to the eye.

Plenty of green.

My mind drifted back to a motion picture that I had seen many years before. It was called Blue Velvet, an example of the neo-noir genre, an incredibly scary psychological horror film, and a perfect vehicle for the late, famous scenery chewing actor Dennis Hopper. The thing kept me awake for half the night after I saw it, and I’m not exactly a shrinking violet. It was set in a little fictitious burg called Lumberton, North Carolina. It’s a sweet looking place. Probably a lot of folk’s idea of the perfect spot to retire and settle down to some well-earned peace and quiet. Far from it. The opening credits roll over such bucolic scenes as the ones I watched below the belly of the plane. It’s all a façade, of course. Just under the surface of all that small-town sweetness and light, there lurks complete and utter turmoil. Not to mention a lot of pain, agony—and death.

I remembered my reading material of the night before, and the three thick dossiers enclosed in my briefcase.

I knew all is rarely ever as it seems at first glance. I knew we needed to be very careful here. I knew we were a long, long way from home.

And, I knew very well, that this place, might just be exactly like that one in the movie.

 

 

Thanks so much for reading. See you in a few days with Chapter Seven of INNOCENCE, by Lee Capp.

 

INNOCENCE by Lee Capp: Chapter Five

 

 

    CHAPTER FIVE

 

The day turned out to be a complete surprise. Over the years, I have often reflected on the fact that I am no mystic. This day had turned out to not be an exception to that rule. Only difference this time around was the way I was wrong. After our little stunt in Holman’s back yard, I was expecting a quick dissolution of our employer/employee relationship, and I can’t really say that would have broken my heart. Truth of the matter is that I’m a whole lot more comfortable working a case for an indigent for free, than I am taking a pile of money from a rich guy.

The fact that Holman had a big pile of it was again made manifest by his digs. They were grand indeed. A living room best described as majestic, up to the standards of a rather large commercial ski-lodge. Complete with mounted game-heads, bear and lion skin rugs, and cavernous fireplaces. Three of them to be exact. Holman was a big-game hunter, and apparently good at it. There were many corpus delicti. For sure, and despite what I had said, I had not expected in the morning to be sitting in his living room by evening, but that was just exactly where I was at the moment.

Meeting Hollywood Hank for the first time in a “little” group of eight was hardly what I would have imagined the way to an ideal working relationship. I had fully expected to make him a “every last cent” refund of his million dollars out there on his tarmac, and had even brought along my checkbook just for that purpose. As it turned out, the only thing that got signed away that day was my life for the next several weeks.

Turned out too that Holman knew almost as little about me as I did about him. I had least had a working idea of what the dude looked like, being a very public figure, as he was. He, on the other hand, really didn’t have a clue as to who it was that had buzzed his house and landed virtually on his back patio. Holman had hired me by reputation alone—and on the advice of one of his attorneys. I guess word of me had spread in legal, as well as law-enforcement circles.

Following the first few moments after I had announced who I was, Holman had just continued to stare at me. Then, mentally assembling all the jigsaw puzzle pieces, threw back his head and roared with laughter. For like a good solid half minute or so.

Finally bringing himself under control, he strode forward to shake my hand. Hard enough to darn near pull my arm out of its socket.

“O’Brien—I’ll be damned if that’s not the coolest entrance I’ve seen in a long, long time. Sure as hell got my attention!”

“Thanks,” I responded. “I felt a little put-off by Gerald back at the hotel, and I decided to do something about it. I needed to find out if I wanted to work for you or not.”

Holman cocked his head expectantly. “So—what do you say, O’Brien?”

“Looking good so far, Holman,” I smiled.

He pumped my arm a couple more times. “Excellent!” he thundered. “Just Hank, if you don’t mind, O’Brien. Surnames are way too formal for me.”

“Same here,” I replied. “Just Johnny—to my friends.”

“Excellent!” he roared once more, waving off the two security guards. “Friends it is then.” Holman raised his right hand to just above shoulder level and motioned to the odd-looking man standing behind him to come forward. The small man did so, obediently and immediately, just like a well-trained puppy dog.

The little guy was some piece of work—an assessment I reached even before he opened his mouth to speak for the first time. He stood motionless before me. I stuck out my hand. Reluctantly he took it. It was a sensation somewhat akin to picking up a dead wet fish. I had never much liked the experience. That was why I had given up fishing after only my first try. I still didn’t like it, and I made up my mind on the spot to avoid future hand shaking with this person at all costs.

We stared at each other for what seemed a long time. He refused to speak. After what seemed an eternity of silence, I sallied forth. Perhaps, I thought, he hadn’t heard my name clearly just a few minutes earlier.

“Very nice to meet you . . .” I ventured. Silence. “I’m Johnny O’Brien,” I tried again. Again—nothing. I went in for the third attempt. “I’m afraid I didn’t catch your name, Mister . . .” At last something seemed to register in his rather pale and at the same time insipid looking dark eyes.

“That’s because I didn’t throw it to you, Mr. O’Brien,” the odd creature said in a low-toned and somewhat sultry voice. He almost slurred his words, although I could detect no hint of alcohol. I decided it was most likely an intentional speech affectation. A thin smile formed on his lips.

I guessed that was what passed for humor with this rather unique individual. I was at a loss as to how to proceed, and simply stood there in silence blankly staring at him. Finally, Holman stepped in.

“Vincent,” he said with impatience. “Please play nice with our guests.”

“Very well,” he said, throwing back his head and rolling his eyes as he simply turned and walked away—again with the dainty, mincing, and almost lady-like steps. This time he raised both of his hands to shoulder lever—as though to increase his balance. Again, almost lady-like. I simply watched his retreat, as I mildly shook my head.

“Vincent can be an odd duck,” Holman explained, watching the creature’s retreat, a hint of distain in his voice.  “I had to accept his last Academy Award for him. Total stage fright, incredibly enough.”

“What does he do?” I innocently asked. I had him figured for a best-boy, key-grip, or something like that. Holman looked surprised.

“You don’t know who he is?” Holman asked with amazement.

“Sorry,” I explained. “I’m not a movie-buff.”

It was Holman’s turn to shake his head. “Vincent Dalgetty, Johnny. Perhaps the best known and hottest superstar in the motion picture industry today. Two Academy Awards and two more Golden Globes, and several more nominations. His last film was a Cannes favorite. It’s already being talked about as his likely third Oscar.”

 

 

“What’s it called?” I asked, trying my best to focus.

Love me to Death,” he replied.

“Murder mystery?” I asked—beginning to get a little interested.

“Hardly, Mr. O’Brien,” he said, slipping back into surnames, and sounding a bit peeved. “An examination, and an indictment of mainstream Christianity’s abhorrent treatment of women, people of color, and gays.”

I wanted to take my turn at head shaking and opinion making, but in fact I hadn’t come here to debate the “merit” of modern American film production—so I mentally bit my tongue and changed the subject.

“Sound interesting,” I faked. “But let’s get down to business, shall we, Hank? I still don’t have the slightest idea of why I’m here, or what it is you were so willing to part with a million dollars for. Frankly, I’d like to hear about it before I make my final decision as to whether I can help you or not.”

“Sounds fair, Johnny. Please, you and your companions come inside for some refreshment, and then we’ll meet—just you and I in private. Let me assure you of one thing though, before we even begin. I’m an extremely wealthy man, Mr. O’Brien. A million dollars really means nothing at all to me. But the fact of the matter is that I’m also an extremely practical man. If I’m going to spend a million dollars, it’s because of one really, very, simple fact.”

“What’s that, Mr. Holman?” I said, observing the latest surname rule.

“Because I expect to make it back well over a hundred-fold.”

“And that sounds fair to me,” I agreed. “Let’s get to work then.”

Smiling and nodding his head in agreement, complete introductions were made all around, and we headed en-masse off toward the house.

We were treated to a sumptuous lunch and later on, a dinner as well. Old Hollywood Holman, as it turned out, was quite a loquacious host—never tiring of telling us of all the rich and famous swells that had been guests in his house before us. By the time evening rolled around, Maggie had had enough, and begged off further entertainment by claiming a splitting headache, leaving me to converse with Holman by myself. Instead of that however, he just piled a mountain of reading material into my arms and wished me a good night. Morning, he said, would be soon enough for our meeting.

Vincent minced his way in and out throughout the day, but never stopped anywhere long enough to engage in conversation again. I was happy about that. The guy, quite frankly, freaked me out just a little. All in all, I reasoned, I’d rather have a pet ferret.

Now, sitting in Holman’s living room alone—the others had retired for the night, Matt and Linh having decided to return in the morning—I was reading three amazingly thick criminal court case files, one for each of three different individuals.

At last, I felt just a bit more in my natural element.

The crime was murder.

 

Thanks for reading! See you again in a few days .  .  .