Tinsel-town wasn’t all that tinselly when we arrived. It was smogged in, instead. The EPA had done a wonderful job in recent decades of cleaning up the air quality of Southern California, but every once in a while, when the high and low-pressure systems were just so, LA could still experience a real “hard to breath” type day. This day was one of those.
The dead and heavy air was not helped much by the heat of the afternoon.
The limo had arrived in all its glory, but even that seemed dreary at the moment. The driver didn’t seem in a mood to chat, although I tried several times. A faint smile played on Mag’s lips. She was nearly always amused when one of my “adoring” public found me somewhat less than so.
We slogged our way into town from the airport in silence.
Part of the problem was me—and I knew it. Since the most unnerving telephone call the morning before, and the short visit that followed it, my own mood had been in the crapper. I was hoping that the balance of the day was going to improve somewhat, but as they say— “You can wish in one hand and poop in the other, and get pretty much the same result either way.” And that was just about what I was expecting—more poop.
As it turned out, I didn’t end up needing to shoot someone to death at my front entrance. Even after being nearly beaten to death on that very same stoop just a few years before, I really wasn’t in the habit of answering it armed to the teeth. So, when I wrenched it open and found no one on the other side except my dear friend Matt McCabe, I felt pretty sheepish. I uncocked the little gun and stuffed it in my pocket as I silently motioned him in.
Matt entered, hands held high in mock alarm.
“Getting a little jumpy in our old age, aren’t we buddy?”
“You might too if you’d just got the call I did.”
“Tell me about it, Johnny, but hold off a minute. Linh’s out in the car finishing up a phone call. She’ll be right in.”
“Great, Matt. I’d like to have her take on it too. How you guys doing, by the way? We don’t get together these days near as much as I’d like.”
“Well, that goes both ways, Johnny, and I apologize. Linh’s been crazy busy at the department and being a mother to Albert, and I’ve been working on my own little project as well.”
“I’ll get around to that in a minute. You got a case?”
“I’ve got something, but to tell you the truth, I’m not too sure what that ‘something’ is.”
“You get any cash?”
“Yeah, kind of. A million dollars.”
“As a retainer? You joking?”
“I don’t joke about a million dollars.”
“Suppose not, knowing your cheap Irish butt.”
I was about to return an equally sharp and witty barb when Linh walked through the door. It was good to see Matt, as always. And also, as always, it was great to see Linh.
“How you doing, Johnny?” Linh pressed in close for a brief hug.
“Not bad for an old guy, Linh.”
“Anything new in your life?”
“Life is great, Linh. I was just telling your husband about a case I kinda, sorta, maybe got. I’d like you to listen too.”
“You bet, Johnny—nothing I’d like better.”
“You drove all the way over here just to have me dump some problems on you?”
“We drove all the way over here to visit with our friend. Problems and cases are part of that. If all of a sudden there wasn’t any intrigue going on around you, I wouldn’t be sure it was really Johnny O’Brien.”
I laughed. “True that, Linh. Where’s little Al?”
“Spending the day with his grandmother. Maggie home?”
“Due back any minute. Why don’t you guys join me at the bar for some Shirley Temples, and we’ll wait her out. She knows about most of this, except for the last bit.”
“Sounds great, Johnny,” Matt replied. “We’re not leaving here without seeing your lady.”
With that we adjourned to my amazingly dry wet-bar while I prepared the drinks. When Mag returned about twenty minutes later, and after preparing a round for her, we got down to business. For the next hour, I went over in detail, my nightmare of a few days before, the middle of the night call from Holman’s office, and the much more recent phone call from Hell. This time I hedged nothing, telling all in complete detail.
Matt spoke up first. “Well, Johnny, I think only a fool would think there’s not a connection.
“Connection to what—and who?”
He shrugged for an answer.
“I’ll tell you what I want you to do, Johnny—and that’s to give Matt and me a call as soon as you meet with Holman. Nobody offers a million for nothing. There’s gonna be a hell of a back-story here.”
“You don’t think I’m nuts then?”
“We didn’t say that, Johnny,” Matt grinned. “We just don’t think you may be crazy this time.”
I smiled. God, how I loved these people. My friendship with both of them, I thought, along with my marriage to Maggie, would be at the very top of a personal list of things of greatest value a man could possibly ever have.
“Thanks,” is what I said.
Linh spoke up. “If need be, Johnny, Matt and I can be down to LA in a matter of hours.”
“You’ve come up with another pocket watch, Matt?”
“Not exactly, Johnny—I’ve been working on another superpower. This one of a decidedly less occult nature.”
“Tell me about it,” I prodded.
He did, spending about the next twenty minutes in doing so. To say the very least—I was more than a little surprised. I shouldn’t have been; by now I might have known, you never underestimate Matthew Mason McCabe.
The arrival of the limo at our hotel jarred me out of my reverie and returned me to the present. It felt good to be there. I figured an hour or two nap and my mood would have to improve. Follow that with an all-expensed steak and crab-leg dinner and a good night’s sleep with my honey, and I’d be ready to meet Holman at his office early in the morning. Of course, nothing was ever quite as easy as that for me.
We had barely settled in our room before there was a knock at the door. Opening it a few seconds later, I found myself facing a tall, thin, stuffy looking older man, dressed in a very fashionable gray three piece suit that probably cost considerably more than my first automobile.
I was pretty sure I knew who he was.
“Gerald?” I opened.
“Yes, Mr. O’Brien. Gerald Williams—personal assistance to Mr. Holman.”
“Nice to meet you,” I offered, extending my hand.
“And you as well, Mr. O’Brien.” He didn’t accept my hand. Instead, I got a short, and somewhat curt, brief, old-worldly bow—little more than a bob of the head really. No handshake. Oh well I thought, maybe he was a germaphobe or something. Lots of people are.
Apparently reading my mind, he apologized immediately.
“Sorry, Mr. O’Brien, I’m just recovering from a summer-time virus, and don’t want to take a chance making you sick.”
I appreciated the gesture, and was beginning to warm up to the guy. “Just Johnny to my friends, Gerald.” He smiled broadly and repeated the head bow. I turned to Maggie and introduced her. Gerald smiled graciously and did the little head bobbing thing for a third time.
“I’m afraid you may not think of me as a friend when I give you the bad news, Johnny.”
I grinned. “If you’re firing me, I’m afraid you’re too late,” I joked. “I already cashed the check.” He looked a bit nervous at that, but sallied forth.
“Hardly, Mr. O’Brien. Johnny, I mean. It’s simply that Mr. Holman isn’t going to be able to meet with you in the morning as he planned. He’s been called to his home on important personal business, and may be gone for several days. I’m very sorry, Johnny, but I’m afraid it’s unavoidable. We can fly you and Mrs. O’Brien back home to Seattle, or if you prefer, entertain you right here in Los Angeles. There are many things to see and do.”
“I’m not much of a movie buff,” I confessed. “How ‘bout if I meet with Holman at his house?”
Gerald looked mildly amused. “Mr. Holman’s ‘house’ is out of state. He does not entertain guests there under any circumstances. Few even know where it is. We are very sorry, Mr. O’Brien, but I’m afraid those are the only two choices—either return briefly to Seattle until a new meeting can be arranged, or wait here for Mr. Holman to return. I’m guessing it won’t be longer than a few days.”
I thought my limited options over for a long time—probably two or three seconds. “We’ll wait,” I said.
Maggie shot me a quizzical look, but didn’t say anything.
“Wonderful, Johnny. Capital! We’ll look forward to entertaining you and Mrs. O’Brien while you do. I would suggest a tour of the studio. There are several motion-pictures in production there at the moment. I think you both might find it very entertaining.”
I guess he forgot that I had said I wasn’t a movie buff.
“Sounds good to me, Gerald.”
“I’ll send a driver around in the morning, Johnny—say eleven o’clock?”
“Perfect, Gerald. We’ll be looking forward to it.”
With our business concluded, Gerald turned and exited the door, but not before giving us his fourth and final head-bob. I was beginning to wonder if he ever got a neck ache from all the exercise.
As soon as the door was closed, Maggie was all over me. “What’s going on, Johnny? You don’t ever let someone manipulate you like that, and I think you’d rather visit Gitmo for a little water-boarding session than hobnob with the rich and famous Hollywood elite.”
I laughed. “You got that right, love. Holman’s trying to instill a little shock and awe in us—reason for it presently unknown. We’re gonna find that out. How you feel about having a bit of fun and dropping in on old Hollywood Holman after all?”
“At his ‘house’—that’s where.”
“Which is where?” she prodded.
“I don’t have an idea in the world—but I know who can find out.”
“You’ve got it. We’ll call the McCabes too.”
“Why the McCabes?”
“Because I think it’s just about time we put that new found super-power of Matt’s to good use.”
Maggie grinned. That’s one of the things about Mag that I really, really loved.
She catches on to me fast.
Thanks for reading! See you again next week . . .