Richfield & Rivers Mystery Series 2 - Stellium in Scorpio

BOOK: Richfield & Rivers Mystery Series 2 - Stellium in Scorpio
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Stellium
In Scorpio

Second
In The Richfield & Rivers Mystery Series

By
Andrews & Austin

Prologue

It
was at once the most prestigious and whispered-about evening in Las Vegas,
replete with drag queens, mafia dons, and upscale hookers, all of whom, having
had enough alcohol and drugs to sufficiently numb the senses, displayed no
remorse as they bet on who in this gambler's paradise would most likely die in
the next twelve months: a macabre game for the rich and bored.

Gypsy
Rose Ross, a twenty-three-year-old Las Vegas showgirl with the requisite long
legs and cover girl complexion, followed the flickering black candles held
aloft by the beautiful bronze chorus boys in feathered masks and leather
breastplates as they wafted through the marble arches and down a long tunnel
where the walls parted, revealing a small but dramatic theater-in-the-round.

The
processional formed a circle around the stage, a forty-foot metal disk, a
polished steel mechanical masterpiece, a series of precisely engineered circles
within circles, each able to spin at varying speeds to create theatrical
illusion-for this was a town of illusion. Tonight, its highly polished metal
surface reflected the ring of costumed guests, as if they'd fallen face up into
a large silver pond.

Marlena,
a particularly striking drag queen, yelped as she hit her foot on the edge of
the metal circle. "Ouch, this thing is hard!"

"You
never complained before," Joanie Burr, another drag queen, said slyly as
fog began to seep out below the disk, enveloping the guests' legs in a
mysterious mist.

A
deep, disembodied voice welcomed the guests to this All Hallows' Eve Ghoul
Pool.

"I'm
into the ghost," Marlena purred.

"I
heard he's into you about twice a week," a chorus boy sniped, and Elliot
Traugh, an erudite gay man, looked away, obviously pained.

A
Latin chant arose, and the mirror-like disk turned slowly at their feet; its
inner circle spun faster, hypnotically, and then separated and rose into the
air as the chanting reached a crescendo. The swarthy ghost arose from the
Underworld beneath the disk-bare-chested, black-booted, leather-strapped,
spike-balled-an apparent denizen of West Hollywood.

Elliot
Traugh held the silver bowl aloft as the ghost drew thirteen names, reading
each one slowly before tossing it into the cauldron of flames that skirted the
stage.

The
redheaded young Gypsy Rose Ross leaned into Sophia, a tall, brashly handsome
Italian woman. "Do people on the list ever really die?"

"Don't
worry about the list. It's just a stupid game," Sophia said, keeping her
eye on Elliot Traugh. Rose gasped as two male dancers coupled in a shadowed
corner, one having mounted the other from behind. "It's a hologram, an
illusion. Faux-fucking," Sophia whispered very close to Rose's ear.
"Personally, I like real fucking."

"Rose
Ross!" the ghost intoned. Sophia's wineglass slipped from her hands and
shattered on the floor. Rose's eyes darted away from the ghostly lovers, and
she stared at her host in disbelief.

All
heads swung to observe the statuesque showgirl, and the room raised its
collective glass, their voices like thunder. "The ghost has got us, the
ghost has hung us, and now we toast the ghosts among us!"

Chapter
One

The
large, ninety-pound, tricolored basset hound was approaching at warp speed
across the backyard, past the lemon tree, over the flagstone patio, ears spread
wide like the wings of a 747, going airborne three feet from me and belly
flopping into my lap, snatching half of the ice cream bar out of my hand and
gulping it down in one joyous swallow.

"Damn
it, Elmo! You've wrecked my suit! What in the hell am I going to wear?"

Elmo
licked the side of my face to remove the chocolate he'd splashed there and then
gave me two more licks out of sheer gratitude. I had thought he was safely in
his wicker basket in the living room taking a nap, otherwise I would never have
sat down on the back steps to indulge in Elmo's one uncontrollable addiction.
He gave me one more lick, this one decidedly a kiss for my not having berated
him further, and he buried his head under my arm, smearing more ice cream onto
my suit. I sighed in resignation of the disaster he had wrought and patted his
head in sympathy. "I completely understand a craving you can't
control," I said, thinking of Callie and how I hadn't heard from her in
more than a week and how every time the phone rang I dove on it like Elmo on
ice cream.

I
pulled myself to my feet, shrugged out of my Ralph Lauren suit, tossed it into
the dry-cleaning bag, and rummaged through the closet for something else that
matched. I settled on a double-breasted blazer with a matching vest and a
starched pair of jeans.

"This
is the last clean outfit I have, so stay away from me with those
chocolate-covered jowls," I warned the large hound, who merely belched in
reply and closed his eyes, having reached some basset nirvana brought on by
dairy products.

I
grabbed the folder labeled
Midnight Rodeo,
picked up my car keys, and
headed for the door. I couldn't concentrate on anything these days, not even
the network movie I was about to pitch in an hour.

Elmo
watched me with furrowed basset brow as I breezed past him, gave him a quick
pat on the head, and said, "Back by noon. Guard the joint and stay out of
the freezer."

Having
set the burglar alarm, I dashed out the door, jumped into the Jeep, and backed
up at high speed, narrowly missing the lilac bush with the left side mirror and
the side of the house with the right side mirror as I maneuvered down a
driveway the width of a bike path. No scrapes. Pretty good depth perception for
a person who never slept. My nights, and a good part of my days, were spent
obsessing over Callie Rivers. Our final lovemaking had been nothing short of
spectacular. If we had been tires, we would have been treadbare from the
friction. We fell asleep only to awaken a few hours later, wet and wired to
make love again, as if our bodies, without any help from our minds, were
magnetically drawn to repeating the orgasmic sensation again and again. How,
after that, could she have postponed our meeting in Las Vegas? First a week, then
two, now ten weeks had passed, all due, so she claimed, to her work.
Maybe
for her it was just great sex. Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am. Maybe she's seeing
someone else. Maybe psychics are basically crazy. Maybe I'm going insane from
thinking about it. I've got to stay focused on this pitch to the network... and
not wreck the car!
I thought as a man swerved, narrowly missing me, and
shouted, "Fuck you, lady!" I almost smiled at the oddity of
"fuck you" and "lady" in the same sentence.
Fuck you,
bitch, maybe. But fuck you, lady must mean that, basically, he likes women,
unless they're trying to crush him with their cars.

The
Hollywood Bowl marquee flashed news of last night's Halloween Concert as I
drove by, heading over the hill.

I
recited my pitch notes that lay on the seat of the car. "Bobby Jo was a
raw-boned girl from Alabama whose horses often exhibited more sense than she
did." I said the line again into the air, more casually this time, as if I
were just formulating the thought. The light turned red at the corner of Sunset
and Highland, trapping me alongside a transient wearing a propeller beanie on
his head. He leaned into the passenger side of my car and waved a ragged piece
of cardboard at me:

Will
work for food.
I waved him off,
having seen the recent expose on L.A.'s transient population who apparently
collected ten bucks from people like me, headed for a pay phone and dialed
their "junk dealer," and within twenty minutes, a beat-up car would
cruise by with a dirty needle full of forget.

Minutes
later I rolled through the Fairfax District where two elderly Jewish men,
wearing yarmulkes on their heads, were entering Cantor's Deli for a morning
bagel. It dawned on me that society drew a very fine line between a beanie that
was acceptable and one that wasn't. It apparently had to do with the propeller.

Turning
left on Beverly Boulevard, I pulled onto the CBS lot, found a parking space
along the narrow alleyway that faced the executive offices, and entered the
main lobby. Unlike the vaulted ceilings of the ABC lobby or the more horizontal
quarters of NBC, the CBS lobby felt genteel even if, on this particular day,
the huge windows could have used a good bath. I reported to the receptionist
that I was waiting for Nan Connors, vice president of Mitafilms, and director
Granger Goodman, who would be joining me at ten o'clock, and then we would all
be seeing Marshall Tevachney.

"Your
name, please?" the receptionist asked.

"Teague
Richfield," I replied.

"I'll
ring Mr. Tevachney when you're ready."

I
stared out the window and continued rehearsing my pitch. "Bobby Jo had no
idea that the cowboys she'd befriended that night would turn on her. She'd
known one of them for years. He was like a brother. But the heat and the
alcohol changed all that."

I
tapped my foot nervously.

My
cell phone rang. It was Barrett Silvers, the tall, handsome, androgynous motion
picture executive who held the distinction of being the only Hollywood
executive to have both physically and psychologically fucked me. We hadn't
spoken since midsummer, when she'd admitted to planting a little artifact on me
that had endangered my life, and Callie's. Hearing her voice brought that up
again.

"Hi,
Teague, Barrett. Where are you?"

"I'm
at CBS getting ready to go into a pitch."

"I
thought you only pitched to me." Her voice sounded seductive.

"Not
lately," I said with an edge to my voice.

"I'm
back at work now, and I'm feeling better. I was pretty out of my head on drugs
when we last spoke. Anyway, I'm figuring I owe you one." She paused, and I
said nothing to let her off the hook. She sure as hell did owe me one. In fact,
what she owed me would overflow Yankee Stadium. The silence between us was
palpable. She finally continued, "There's a big director friend of mine
who's bankable, and he's looking for material. I told him about you. I want to
get the three of us together."

"And
do what?" I tried to sound disinterested, but I was already mentally
whoring out. Bankable directors could get movies made.

"Make
one of your theatricals, if all goes well." She kept her voice silky
smooth.

"And
what do you get out of this?" I asked with unveiled sarcasm.

"I'd
like to say a weekend with you, but from the look in your eye when I saw you at
Il Faccio's with the pretty blonde, I'd say you look...taken."

I
didn't know if I was taken or not. Barrett Silvers's voice had more urgency in
it than Callie's these days. At least Barrett wanted to see me soon. I had no
idea if or when Callie would finally decide the same.

"Are
you taken?" Barrett probed
seductively.

My
mind slid back to Barrett on top of me in bed, inside me with the same kind of
urgency she had in her voice right now. I had to remind myself that while she
was technically brilliant in bed, she was also emotionally heartless and had
slept with every female writer in LA.

"I'm
not up for games, Barrett. If you've got someone who wants to make a movie,
great, but that has nothing to do with my personal life-Through the tall CBS
plate glass windows, I spotted Nan clacking along the concrete walkway in her
spike heels. Granger, in ragged blue jeans, trailed her with the studied
nonchalance of one who has a studio deal and is loved by the networks. His
presence at this pitch was purely sales insurance.

"I
gotta go," I said to Barrett. "My guys are here for the pitch."

"We'll
talk soon," she said and hung up.

I
straightened the collar on my starched white shirt, buttoned my blue blazer,
and dusted off my starched jeans before shaking my head vigorously, much like
Elmo when he wants to get rid of a bad conversation.

Nan
came through the big double doors, looking tense, crisp, and businesslike.
Granger was tall, wiry, bushy-haired, and looked distracted. We said our hellos
and gave each other Hollywood air-kisses.

BOOK: Richfield & Rivers Mystery Series 2 - Stellium in Scorpio
3.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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