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 . . .