Chapter One VI
I eat as much as I ever did,
I drink more than I should,
and my sex life is none of your goddamned business.
John Wayne, Playboy interview, May 1971
“I got one here that’s deader than my namesake. So’s lots of other cowpokes, but this one didn’t die of stomach cancer like the Duke. You know, Wayne wanted ‘Feo, Fuerte y Formal’ on his gravestone, Ugly, Strong and Dignified, but wound up with a lame ass quote he made to Playboy magazine that I will not ever let pass my lips.”
Janah, “Hello, Joan Wayne. Obviously this isn’t a social call.”
Joan Wayne ignores Janah’s observation. Since it’s obvious, there’s no point in acknowledging it; that's Joan Wayne’s way. The only thing that gets Joan Wayne’s attention are cowgirl clothes, cowboy quotes, dead bodies and Janah. She doesn’t like cows, other than to eat. Janah doubts she’d ever seen a real cow, or ever ridden a horse. Contradiction doesn’t bother Joan Wayne. If anything bothered her, no one ever found out what it was. She’s intolerant of stupid people, which in her world includes 99% of the planet. But stupid people don’t bother her; to Joan Wayne they’re just another fact, not an emotional experience.
Joan Wayne’s full name is Joan Wayne Moon. She’s smaller than Lacy, five two in three inch heels, from a very wealthy family with a zillion dollar condo on Central Park West. She’s Korean, and has the requisite directness, work ethic and lack of simpatico. She graduated from Chapmans, went on to study forensics at Marshall University, directly from Chapman’s to the Master’s program, skipped undergraduate college altogether. She'd spent two extra years at Chapmans, just to blow though the undergrad crap. Lacy made a few calls, Joan Wayne was the top graduate in the Master’s program at age twenty. She knew stuff her professors hadn’t thought of yet.
Joan Wayne, “I got a white female, early twenties, looks like the wrong end of Custer’s last stand. I don’t know if she was fuerte or formal, but she’s feo now. I only know it’s a she because men don’t have ovaries, even the reengineered ones.”
Janah, “You went through the usual police drill, missing persons, similar murders, released mutilation freaks, known sex offenders.”
Joan Wayne, “J, would I be calling you if those cow flops had anything?”
Janah, “Where are you working?”
Joan Wayne, “Santa Monica.”
Janah, “Manhattan girl goes to Huntington West Virginia and winds up in Santa Monica.”
Joan Wayne, “In Santa Monica and Venice Beach they don’t give a shit about how you dress, what passes through your lips, or if just prefer to keep to yourself. In fact, they respect it, or at least honor it. On Venice Beach, weird is normal, really weird is more normal.”
Janah, “Then you’ve found your home and your tribe. I’ll call you when we arrive.”
Joan Wayne skips the formalities and clicks off.
Janah stares at the phone and giggles, “Joan Wayne makes Nishiko look like a game show host.”
Nikko, “I like her. She was finishing her two years of skipping college when I came along. She didn’t talk, sparing me from listening. I recall tiny skirts, curvy legs and when she did talk, it had nothing to do with the topic under discussion.”
Janah, “That would be Joan Wayne.”
“When are we going?”
Janah, “Call Transportation, first flight out after nine tomorrow. We’ll pick up three hours. Hotel on the beach in Santa Monica. No point in suffering. And bring some toys, we never hooked up at Chapmans, but I think she wants her way with me, and I want her to have it.”
“You’re so good when you’re bad.”
The Society books us in a one bedroom suite at Shutters, ocean view, more amenities than God’s house, for a mere $2,300 a night, 5 nights $13,000 and change. The Society is not only very well financed on its own, we’d sucked so much money out of bad guys’ accounts, we now spent only the bad guys' money chasing down the new bad guys. I like the karma of that.
Shutters is only a short walk to the zaniness of Venice Beach, junk shops, t-shirts, head shops, and every third store offering ‘medical’ marijuana. Got a sore toe, hang nail, pimple? Get a scrip and fire up.
We check in, the room is pristine, Janah is hungry, shocking. I order a Riviera Salad for her, vegetables, roasted pepper, artichokes, chickpeas and what they called crostini, which means slices of toasted bread, except you pay more because it’s crostini. Plus, roma tomato soup with mini grilled cheese sandwiches, a salad of apples, pecans, goat cheese and cider vinaigrette and a Caesar salad. Janah and I eat most of everything, Nikko has a slice of apple and I think she slipped in a pecan, plus half an already mini grilled cheese sandwich.
Janah calls Joan Wayne, “When can we see the body?”
Joan Wayne, “Mine or the dead one?”
Janah, “Yours would be nice.”
Joan Wayne, “I won’t have to put a bullet in Daphne will I?”
Janah, “She’s got Nikko to play with.”
Joan Wayne, “Nikko? Who’s…wait! She’s hooked up with that hot Japanese security guard? Christ, when she was at Chapmans, I wanted to wrap her in seaweed and eat her raw. She reminded me of Daphne. You really know how to treat yourself, don’t you?”
Janah, “I got Daphne didn’t I?”
Joan Wayne, “Glutton. Where and when?”
Janah, “Shutters, seven p.m. We’ll eat, then we’ll….”
Joan Wayne, “Eat. Didn’t know I’m a lezzy, or did you?”
Janah, “Don’t care. Tonight we’ll find out if you’ve learned anything.”
Joan Wayne clicks off.
“We came out here to figure out who mutilated a body. Trust you to figure out how to get sex out of it.”
“Hey, it wasn’t my idea. Not that I object, Joan Wayne is cute. Tonight, she’s going to be my stud. I’m going down on her, and she can do what she wants. I hope that includes drilling my brains out.”
“I brought the toy.”
“I’ll bet you whatever she brings one of her own.”
“You already give me whatever I want, and I think you’re right, no point to a bet.”
Nikko, “Tortured dead girl, you two plot sex.”
“Girl will still be dead, you’ll be thinking about sex in a few hours, I have a plan.”
Nikko, “Such a nasty girl. Shall we walk?”
Janah, “Very good. We have three hours, then shower, then dinner, then...ride me cowgirl!”
If you haven’t strolled the sidewalk along Venice Beach, go there and do it. It’s perfectly safe, everyone’s too stoned, or just innately mellow, to bother anyone else. And they genuinely like chewing the fat and hanging out. Laid back isn’t weekends, it’s a total immersion lifestyle.
I talk to every sidewalk vendor that isn’t occupied pawning off crap to tourists. We’re tourists, but we live in Manhattan, we’re friends with the Jamaicans, who also pawn off crap to tourists. Jiving with this crowd is breezy easy. Not to mention that pure white haired Janah and a slimhot Japanese babe doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. We are totes LA girls, at least for a while.
I talk with injured war vets, spike haired black guys, Mexicans, people of indeterminate age and some of indeterminate gender. It is so my element. Nikko says nothing, pretends to be interested in the scenery, watching Janah and me, rather the vicinity of Janah and me.
I’m batting the breeze with a tall mixed race guy and his pal in a wheelchair, they’re selling allegedly authentic one of a kind Hollywood memorabilia. Once it’s sold, it’s replaced by an identical authentic piece of one of a kind Hollywood memorabilia, just like some of the junk the Jamaicans sell to suckers in the Village.
Mixed, “Your Japanese friend don’t got much to say, she’s tight though, like you, like you’re almost sisters.”
“My tight Japanese friend has C-A-D.”
Wheelchair, “I’ll bite, what’s CAD?”
“Complete Attention Disorder. She’s focused on her task, not even God Herself could distract her.”
Mixed, “Yo, I’m on it. She’s watching your back, right?”
Wheelchair, “Morin’ that. You gotta look close, José. She’s keepin an eye on the white haired girl, not on the girl, on the area around the girl.”
Mixed is José, “Yeah, right, you’re all over it. She’s the bodyguard, right?”
“She’s a friend, a very close friend. A very, very close friend. The white haired girl, she’s frequently someplace else. Like she’s here, but she’s not. She’s a….well, let’s say, tuned to a different channel.”
Wheelchair, “So you two, you’re the eyes and ears, the Rottweilers, if the situation calls for it.”
“Something like that. You have good instincts.”
Wheelchair, “Go to war, make it home, another tour, then sit in this, better notice things.”
I nod, “Notice the news lately?”
Wheelchair, “Check the papers every day, go online, TV for local news. Got a lot of time, ain’t like I’m goin’ rollerbladin’.”
“Heard about a badly mutilated body?”
José, “Shee-yit. Everybody on the beach heard about that. Bad damn thing. Brought the cops out here by the truckload. Like beach people be into that shit. Yeah, we got weirdoes, but gentle weirdoes, or zonked ones. Ain’t nobody out here into mutilating some beach honey. Hell, we all knew her. Surf girl, hell of a boarder. Rock hard body, lean steamy machine, no dis’. No steadies, didn’t give it up much what I heard. Hell man, Id'a pushed this old four wheeler off the pier for one night with her.”
He looks down at Wheelchair, “I love you man, but that was one piece of work woman.”
Wheelchair laughs, “Couldn’t blame you. I got nothing for her, would have been worth it, knowing my crazy Mexi-mix pal got some of that.”
“These people have an outlook on life that’s so real it’s strange. Most people say what’s expected. These guys say what’s on their minds. I’m liking that.”
Janah, “Find out what they know. Nikko and I are going for a stroll.”
“What was her name? You know. Like a real name?”
Wheelchair, “Rose, everybody called her Rose.”
“No last name?”
José, “Down here, don’t matter. She wanna be Rose, she Rose. She wanna be Jake, she Jake.”
“Can I download some data to you? Like on the QT?”
Wheelchair perks up, “You lookin’ for who did it ain’t you? Cause the cops ain’t got jack shit.”
“Oh, we’re looking. Difference is, we’re going to find the prick.”
Wheelchair studies me for a while, I’m blank, he says, “Yes, you will. And I’m glad I ain’t the fucker what done it.”
“He’s not going to be glad at all.”
Wheelchair, “You in town long?’
“Long as it takes. We don’t fiddle around much though.”
Wheelchair, “Come back afternoon tomorrow or day after. I’ll check around.”
“Done, and remember, you’re just curious, we don’t exist.”
Wheelchair, “Nobody gonna know jack, not from us.”
I walk off to find Janah and Nikko, they’re headed to the hotel, catch up to them in five.
Janah, “Better than no leads at all.”
“I hope Joan Wayne has something, anything. A piece of hair, a fiber, a special kind of sand or dirt. I give it to Wheelchair, I’ll bet five to one he comes up with something solid.”
Janah, “Yeah, I caught that vibe. He has to roll around courtesy of Vietnam, but he isn’t rolling around with no brain. He pays attention, he knows the hood. Good catch for day one.”
Chapter Two VI
On this lonely road, trying to make it home
Doing it by my lonesome-pissed off, who wants some?
Gangstagrass, Long Hard Times To Come
We have dinner delivered, it arrives along with Joan Wayne, dinner looks scrumptious, Joan Wayne looks better. Changed from cowboy ten gallon to a Fedora, a vest, buttery leather with nothing underneath, and a skirt that resembles a ribbon around her waist. She has knee socks and boots, snakeskin, fashionable, not particularly cowboy. Her hair is longer, straight to just below her neckline, like Janah’s.
Janah, “Wow! You reek hot,” she gives Joan Wayne a hug, Joan Wayne gives Janah a tongue in the mouth.
Janah, “Let’s set up dinner, you want wine, beer, a drink?”
Joan Wayne, “Got vodka?”
“Lot of ice, olive if you have it.”
I hand her a drink, glasses of wine for Nikko and Janah, I sip a Coke Zero.
Joan Wayne, “You guys were in the temple while I was at college. Tell me about it.”
Between courses of salad and seafood, I give her an abbreviated bio update. She tells us about college, then the job offer in Santa Monica. Her life busy with work, not much time for socializing, she isn’t much for groups anyway.
Joan Wayne, “I have girlfriends on and off, mostly off. They want to couple up, like heteros, make a nest, have friends over, throw parties, start talking children. Might as well be straight. When they say ‘move in,’ I hear move on.”
Janah, “Shucks, the food’s gone. Whatever can we do now?”
She takes Joan Wayne to the bedroom, Nikko and I move to the couch to digest, that lasts about fifteen minutes, Nikko says, “Take my clothes off, put the toy on me and suck it, then I’ll send you an alternate universe.”
I never object to being sent anyplace a beautiful woman wants to sexually ship me. I follow the simple directions and am carefully and lovingly led into an orgasmic hurricane. The virtues of strap-ons…they don’t get tired, sweaty, cum or go soft.
After Nikko humps me, slow strokes, bringing me to a peak, then pumping me into a coma of bliss, I lick her tight silky skin, then spend a long time on the softest part. It is Nikko’s third or fourth orgasm when Janah and Joan Wayne emerge.
Janah has that look, sexual satiation, dreamy and creamy. Joan Wayne sits on the couch while I finish up Nishiko.
The hurricane passes, or at least we’re in the quiet part, the eye of the squirm. Something tells me more is coming, and so will I.
Joan Wayne and Janah pile into the Jacuzzi, Nikko and I shower, leave our hair damp and we meet up to graze on desserts, another round of wine and cocktails. We watch a movie, Salt, Angela Jolie kills a lot of people. We never get around to the case, Joan Wayne has something else on her mind. She re-straps, Janah watches while she drills Nikko and me. When she’s done, we take turns licking her exquisite….you know. Korean mumbles; we don’t understand, but catch the drift, very sensual.
Joan Wayne, “Story can wait until morning. Nothing to do tonight, and no point in coming down off a sexual high like this with an ugly description. Rode hard and hung wet don’t cover it. What time shall I come back tomorrow?”
Janah, “You aren’t leaving tonight. We’ve got a king sized bed, we sleep together every night, you won’t take up enough space to matter. I want you curled in next to me, we’ll be surrounded by the tall girls.”
Joan Wayne, “You sleep like that every night? Surrounded by perfection?”
Janah, “Do I look like an idiot?”
Joan Wayne, “Don’t have to invite me to heaven twice, pilgrim.”
We sleep like Joan Wayne’s latest victim, except we wake up, something Rose won’t be doing, not on this planet anyway.
We’re on the balcony, overlooking the beach, sipping coffee and tea, a table set up with double orders of crispy bacon, Koreans like meat, Nikko likes bacon, a pile of scrambled eggs, wheat toast, the room comes with fresh fruit. For twenty three hundred a night, it ought to come with hot silken nymphomaniacs. We’d brought our own nymphos, we overlook the oversight.
Joan Wayne dives into the story, “A girl was tortured and slaughtered in an abandoned house near the beach. Not on the beach, a couple of blocks back. There’s lots of little streets, back alleys, they aren’t crawling with people during the day, near nobody at night. She was almost unidentifiable, we found dental records, just enough, she had great teeth. She was flayed, after being pierced by a long bladed screwdriver in the eyes, ears and vagina. There are no records of similar murders in California, or around the country. If it’s going to be a ritual serial killer, he’s just getting cranked up.”
“That’s ugly, geez.”
Janah, “Does Rose have a last name?”
Joan Wayne, “I see you’ve already begun working. Took a walk down the beach, Daphne was Daphne, she struck up a conversation with the locals.”
Janah, “That’s what she does.”
Joan Wayne, “Some things never change.”
Janah, “Nothing changes, just repeats, according to Rob Zombie.”
Joan Wayne, “Well, everything isn’t boring now. I don’t know, maybe it is to him. I doubt he’s seen a body in that condition. Who’s the hard rock fan?”
Janah, “Daphne. I like it too, but Daphne’s the rockstar.”
Joan Wayne smiles, “Nickelback, most hated Canadian band in America.”
Nikko, “If we’re done with Octane references, can we wander around to the forensic details? I want to find this prick and do my thing. According to the street, she was a great girl, surfer, roller blades, energetic, not an enemy in sight. When I’m done with the prick, there won’t be a complete body part.”
Joan Wayne, “There wasn’t a shred of perpetrator DNA. I looked myself, I don’t miss things at a crime scene. If it's there, I find it. Blood was all hers, no stray hairs, no fibers.”
Janah, “Nobody cleans up that well. This might be simpler in a way. He was naked when he did it, and he was shaved…all over. Hair always falls out, can’t run a vacuum through that much blood.”
Joan Wayne, “No vacuum, just a big pool of blood and skin, all of it hers.”
Janah, “What about her clothes?”
Joan Wayne, “Gone, she usually wore a cheap beaded headband, a few rings. She had a pierced nose, little diamond, a tattoo around her ankle, just a common chain, black. No other distinguishing marks, flawless skin, barely a mole or a freckle.”
Janah, “How much skin was removed?’
Joan Wayne, “The easier stuff, torso, face, thighs and calves, the feet were intact. He cut down to the tattoo, but left it.”
Janah, “Hands and fingers?”
Joan Wayne, “Intact, and the tattoo was well known. She seldom wore anything but tiny bikinis, shorts, everyone saw it. That was as good an ID as her teeth. The skin was removed from her nose, the hole from the piercing was there. No prints of any known criminals. Like I said, the place was abandoned, there were lots of prints. We ran them all, a few vagrants who had been picked up and booked before. Cops checked out the ones they could find, hard for a vagrant to have an alibi, but they are mostly well known in the community. Not the type. Doesn’t mean a vagrant didn’t do it. Just that the ones the police could locate have no violent record. They can’t handle that level of detail, and they all have hair.”
Janah, “This doesn’t smell like a one off, vagrant killing. She might have been raped by one, but my guess is she wasn’t raped.”
Joan Wayne, “She was clean vaginally. She wasn’t a virgin, but her rep was she was not sexually active. Once in a while, a guy caught her eye, but it was one night and adios. She was popular, friendly, and a loner. Blood samples showed no STDs.”
“Shame, smart, popular, pretty…and dead.”
Joan Wayne, “Everybody’s got ‘em. Hers live East, Virginia. Successful, wealthy, a doctor and a dentist. She went to a private boarding school back East, couldn’t stand the rules, told her folks she was going to California. They say when she got off the plane and hit the beach, she said, ‘This is my place, my tribe. I’ve never felt so at home.’ She loved the freedom she felt here.”
“Confirms the little bit I picked up yesterday. Guy in a wheelchair, hangs with a Mexican dude, selling knock off Hollywood memorabilia to tourists.”
Joan Wayne, “That would be José and Jimmy. You did make the rounds.”
“I like them. They’re a mini version of Jamaicans we know in the Village. Honest and loyal to friends, consciousless when it comes to pimping their goods. The Jamaicans have more Rolexes than Rolex, more Pateks than Philippe.”
Nikko, “You got anything to hang on to? Even a hunch?”
Joan Wayne, “Janah’s gotten to where I am. We have a guy who likely manscapes. We have a beach full of bodybuilders, lots hopped up on steroids. They have the strength for the job, the attitude in some of them, maybe. The regulars are pretty well known, pumping iron all day. They know each other, no reports of an odd muscle head popping up. But they come and go, it isn’t out of the question. Rose was at the beach all the time. Naturally the muscle heads who aren’t gay took an interest.”
Janah, “Tell me about the weapons.”
Joan Wayne, “Screwdriver, six inches long, not including the handle. Maybe not new, but no rust was found in her. Body was flayed with a scalpel, meticulous work. Must have taken hours, four if he’s good, I think he’s okay, it wasn’t super clean, but not a butcher job.”
Janah, “Time of day, or night?”
Joan Wayne, “After midnight, finished before daylight.”
Joan Wayne, “Nope. Parents were supporting her California girl fling. She called them regularly according to her cell phone. Parents are ambitious and conservative, but it was their little girl, living her life. They respected that. Incidentally, she made a little money as a personal trainer.”
Joan Wayne, “Yeah, it occurred to me too. Cops did a cursory run though people she was known to train. Mostly women, Pilates ponytail types. A few men, ran to older ones. Young men don’t have the extra cash for a personal trainer, the couple that did were the same profile as the vagrants, body hair, not bald, and solid alibis for the time of the murder. Cops dropped that line of inquiry.”
“It has to be a guy?”
Joan Wayne, “Not necessarily. A screwdriver wouldn’t take a particularly big person, the flaying requires skill, not much strength, just persistence. But this is a gruesome business. It doesn’t feel like a woman’s crime. Rose wasn’t gay, at least not openly, and as far as we know, she wasn’t doing anyone’s boyfriend or husband. Doesn’t mean she didn’t, might not have even known. She was into infrequent casual sex. It would be unlikely that a jealous partner would find out about a one off quickie. It wasn’t like she planned to marry any of them. And there aren’t that many bald women around, not intentionally. Crazed cancer victim seems to be stretching the point.”
Janah, “We’re going to visit the beach, make more friends. When can you come back?’
Joan Wayne, “For sex, anytime. Although I had more sex last night and this morning than in the last twelve months if you don’t count vibrators.”
“In my world, vibrators count.”
Joan Wayne, “Then a couple of times a week.”
Janah, “Give it full day, come day after tomorrow, call it seven p.m. and we’ll compare notes…and other stuff. That gives us today, tomorrow and the next. I need to sit with this for a while, or walk with it. Daphne can chat up the locals, Nikko can intimidate everyone, and I’ll have time to gaze off into the distance and see what comes to mind.”
Joan Wayne, “Good. I’ll be here and queer. If I don’t catch the bad guy, at least I’ll catch the bad girls.”
Janah, “Oh, we’re gonna catch the bad guy. We just need you to pull out all your forensic stops. If there’s lint in her toenail, analyze it to death.”
Joan Wayne stands, “Ma’ams,” tips her hat and leaves like we’d just been casually introduced.
Chapter Three VI
It will be found, in fact, that the ingenious are always fanciful,
and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic.
Edgar Allen Poe, Murders in the Rue Morgue
Janah, “I packed your robe, I want you to wear it today.”
“You think it’s something to open people up?”
Janah, “You wouldn’t have trouble opening people up if you went in jeans and a t-shirt, but it may help them think extra hard, to impress the monk a little. Also, wear your neutral expression, not too much happy face. I don’t want people distracted by the dazzling smile and twinkling eyes. I don’t know if it will accomplish anything, that’s what we’re going to find out.”
Nikko, “I’m going locked and loaded.”
“Good. I’ll pack a few shuriken in my sleeves, wear my chain under the robe.”
We leave the hotel, get a bit of attention through the lobby. Janah is in a lightweight cotton dress that hugs her curves, it comes to about mid-thigh and it doesn’t take much imagination to see there are no panty or bra lines. She wears Tremblay wedge sandals, with a raised heel. She likes them because they strap, none of us likes that flap, flap, flap sound of backless mules, and flip flops are just disgusting.
It’s only ten, the walk pleasant, it’s less than two and a half miles from Shutters to Venice Boulevard, on the Ocean Walkway, crammed with shops on the left going down, and a few tables of crapola on the beach side.
We start with our new friends, José and Jimmy.
Jimmy, “Hey, hey, now, look at these girls José. One of ‘em a flipping monk, a Shaolin monk if I’m not mistaken, and I rarely am.”
I bow slightly, saying nothing.
He continues, “Welcome. Couldn’t resist coming back to check out my hunkiosity, huh?”
Janah, “Busted, handsome. Plus there’s that Latin American smooth as silk macho dude. What’s a girl to do?”
José grins, “Seniorita, it would be an honor, but José thinks he don’t see women that got much interest in men.”
“Good eye, José. Bet you have a good eye for most of the stuff goes down on the beach, you and Jimmy. I suspect you are a wealth of information, an oceanfront Wikipedia. And I am in search of sharp eyes and good ears.”
Jimmy is fascinated by the robe, tall female with shimmery black hair who rates a saffron robe.
Jimmy, “I know some gung fu guys, there’s a Shaolin temple in Los Angeles.”
Janah “Yes, the Abbott is Shifu Shi Yan Fan, Master in the art of Qi Gong
34th Generation Disciple of Abbot Shi Yongxin, who was the disciple of the previous Abbot Xingzheng.”
Jimmy looked over at me, “I thought you were the Shaolin.”
“It’s complicated, she’s a fact sponge,” I didn’t want to tell him she was Abbess of our temple, or where we were from.
Jimmy, “And you trained….?...Never mind, you aren’t gonna tell me are you?”
“Can’t do it Jimmy. We’re going to find Rose’s killer. It’s a matter of discretion. We don’t mind putting ourselves at risk, that’s what we do. You get the idea?"
“Yeah, you can’t put people you know at risk. Miss, I lost these legs courtesy of special ops. I understand need to know, and why. So you came back for me and José to do something, what is it? We want this fucker dead. The tourists, they don’t know. It’s Venice Beach, the sun’s out. For the locals, the core locals, the sun won’t be out until Rose is revenged.”
Jimmy, “You want us to put the word out that you three are looking into the case. And that unless the shitheel has left the planet, you’re going to keep looking, is that about it?’
Janah, “That’s exactly it. Be specific, we’re going to have lunch at James’ Beach, linger and talk things over. We’ll bring back something. In the meantime, however the grapevine works here, start the chatter. We’d rather not involve cops. By tonight, I plan on being buds with as many street people, shop owners and muscle heads as I can find. Then back again tomorrow for the ones we didn’t catch. Be cool, tell everyone to be cool. The act is, I’m a journalist. I’m not here to write book or profit from her death. One companion is a monk, skip the Shaolin part. We want to make the guy think she’s a Dalai Lama peace freak, the Japanese girl doesn’t speak much English, I’m writing an full length article about Rose, gathering material. Can you do that?”
Jimmy, “If it’s gonna catch the asshole, I can rise up and walk.”
Janah, “You’re good men. If we play this right, the guy will come to us, even come after us. That’s what we want.”
José, “You got cojones, girl. This dude, he’s a psycho speedball freak-out. You gotta watch your back, and your front, and both sides. We don’t need another dead girl on the walk.”
Janah, “I got it covered, José. I got it covered in steel coated titanium,” she picks up a fake bronze Oscar. It isn’t solid, hollow inside, about eight inches high. But it’s bronze, not aluminum. Janah crushes it in the middle, then folds it in half, then in half again, then squeezes it into a ball. She hands it to José.
Jimmy, “Fuck me sideways. Do me a favor sweetheart, don’t shake my hand.”
Janah, “I’m not the dangerous one, that’s what the other two are for.”
José, “Have lunch, we eat anything you bring. Maybe a cerveza or two? Give us an hour and a half, tops. You be introed all over by then.”
Janah, “Don’t mention the statue. That was just to assure you we can take care of business.”
Jimmy, “See you in ninety.”
We walk off to the restaurant.
James’ Beach is nice, lots of menu choices, enough vegetarian for Janah, she has a Greek sandwich, I order shrimp tacos and a Frisee salad, bleu cheese, walnuts cranberries French vinaigrette, Nikko nibbles off my plate, a whole shrimp, and a cranberry with a peanut sized chunk of bleu cheese, stuffing herself as usual.
We bring back half a dozen tacos, three shrimp, three chicken, stop at a small store and buy a cold six pack of Dos XXs and a bag of ice to keep the beer cold.
Jimmy, “Word’s been passed, and thanks for the food,” José adds, “And the beer.”
Janah, “We’re going to tour the neighborhood, check you later.”
Our first stop is a medical marijuana clinic. Janah has a story ready, unless she spots someone lying, she’ll tell the same version to every shop owner and table vendor we can get to.
Janah is talking to the girl who checks in people to tell the doctor they have a headache, or bruised their thumb with a hammer ten years ago, and the only relief is marijuana.
The girl, Cynthia, and Janah chat, “We’re looking into the death of Rose, nobody knew her last name, turns out it was Rosalind Buckley, but to everyone on the beach, she was Rose.”
If they knew her, or of her, Janah has a short list:
-know any new friends?
-know where she lived?
-anyone besides us asking about her?
-know anyone who was jealous, mad at her?
-where did she hang out, not just the beach, but bars, coffee shops, restaurants?
She stops there, intentionally skips mentioning a hairless guy, or a bodybuilder new to the area, nothing about steroids. What she wants is for him to find out two girls and a monk are asking questions. If it’s a him, and Janah thinks it most probable, the idea is to make him nervous, just not nervous enough to leave. Maybe nervous enough to start tracking the nosy girls.
We hit a dozen and a half places by six o’clock.
“Geez, is there anyone that didn’t know Rose?”
Janah, “I have no idea how a girl who was so well regarded, who knew everybody on the Ocean Walk, could have been stalked, or hauled off to an abandoned house without anyone seeing her.”
Nikko, “What if she went willingly?”
“Doesn’t sound like her. Spend a couple of years down here, know all these people. Why does she go to an abandoned house with a psycho?”
Janah, “Obviously she didn’t know he was a psycho. Wait….something’s coming. I’m going to sit on the balcony, you two take a shower, order something for dinner. I need some time to stare out at the beach.”
We follow directions, we’re tired, and it’s three hours later where we come from, seven is ten.
The food arrives, we sit on the balcony and enjoy the evening. Janah is still marinating her idea.
Nikko and I turn on FX and watch an episode of Justified, spooned into each other on the couch.
Nikko, “I like this program, some personal drama, but not overdone angst, and the good guy kills everyone.”
“Me too. I’m going to fire up the first season on Amazon. I’d like to see the program develop from the beginning. It’s got everything we like, violence, dumbass people, attractive women, my kind of story.”
Nikko, “Master J is going to be silent for a while. I think it would be helpful if we slipped into the bedroom and I took advantage of you, just so we can relax and rest.”
So, we do.
Nikko and I are starting to doze when Janah creeps between us. We kiss her and snuggle. She’s obviously tired, her brain had been in overdrive. We sleep, hard and fast.
Chapter Four VI
I became a lesbian because of women,
because women are beautiful, strong,
Rita Mae Brown
Suspect Ms. Brown was indulging in hyperbole.
I didn't become a lesbian, I was born one.
I don’t think it’s a choice.
We spend the next day jawboning with clerks and owners of the zillion various shops and stands along the Walk. Janah in a gauzy micro skirt, devoid of underclothes, showing herself off gets her flaming. Guess who cools her down? The DFD, Daphne Fire Department. She gets the requisite stares, not a few from other women. Girls these days cross the aisle a lot more often, or maybe a lot more openly. Lesbian porn is hot, and a fair number of girls find a girl is frequently more fun, and more understanding of what feels good when. I’m feeling downright ignored, my self esteem is hard to damage though, and, after all, I’m in a robe.
We return to the hotel around six, with little more than we’d left with. Janah talked to Jimmy by phone three times. The last at five. He has a name for us, Sherry.
Janah, “Tonight, we’re going to a strip club.”
Nikko, “We go to a strip club every night.”
Janah giggles, “Tonight, it’s to watch other women take their clothes off. You’re going to sit with me, we’ll watch, make out enough to attract interest, Daphne will make the rounds and ask about Sherry. You and I go in together, Daphne twenty minutes later. We aren’t together. I watch the babes, you watch me, Daphne sticks her nose into Sherry’s business. We see what falls out.”
“It’s a plan. What does a girl wear to a strip club?”
Janah, “Nikko is going in dyke mode, full refocusing gear. You’re going in a very short skirt, A silk shirt, with the buttons halfway unbuttoned, I’m going in another short skirt, with a vest like Nikko used today, except shorter and flimsier. Heels and a thong the size of a quarter. Nikko will play around with me, I’ll gawk at the strippers, you do whatever you need to do to find out who Sherry is, what her relationship with Rose was, and if anyone had entered the scene recently. Or if Sherry had a jealous boyfriend, or girlfriend. We ran into one bitch bull dyke up North. I can’t just rule out a woman, dykes like to think of themselves as macho.”
“Seems rather a dichotomy, women who claim to hate men, but dress, walk and talk like them.”
Nikko, “I can pull off dyke. Janah is an expert fem. We’ll handle our end. Daphne has the heavy lifting, asking questions on a still sensitive subject. People are likely scared, and when they get scared, they get stupid. Stay in our heads, if there’s a surprise, we need to be all over it. If the shithead escapes, well, too bad, but that isn’t going to fix Rose’s problem. Her problems are over.”
Janah, “We don’t even know if this is a blind alley. But the girlfriend angle makes more sense than some random creep pulling Rose off the street. I’m changing my mind about the serial killer bit. I’m thinking whoever it was, was mad at this girl, not all girls.”
We hit the club at nine thirty, the place is filling up. It’s typical ‘gentlemen’s’ club. Table cloths, they don’t serve alcohol, you have to smoke your joint outside, do your coke in the restroom. A ‘drink,’ anything from club soda, to red bull or diet coke, is seven bucks. Cover charge fifteen, one drink minimum.
Janah watches for awhile, Nikko plays with her legs, slides her hand under the small vest. Janah buys a lap dance, then another. I could feel her having fun, but the purpose of our visit doesn’t leave her mind. She’s making out with Nikko, which draws a fair amount of attention.
The third of Janah’s lap dancers suggests they to go to a private room, Janah says her pal has to go with them.
The girl takes a look at Nikko, she’d seen a lot of dykes, it doesn’t faze her, “If your pal doesn’t care, let’s do it honey.”
Janah, “Don’t worry about her, she’s a bitch, but she’s MY bitch.”
The girl says, “My name’s Sherry, what’s yours?”
“What are the odds?”
Janah, “I don’t even want to think about it. If this is Rose’s Sherry, I can see what attracted her, she’s hot.”
“I can see that, I’m on the other side of the club, chatting up one of the dancers on a break. So far her break has cost me fifty bucks.”
“Keep checked in.”
“Nikko, what are you going to do?”
“Watch J have a nuclear meltdown. Going to see who succumbs first, her or Sherry. I’m hoping it takes a while.”
They get up, Janah pays the gatekeeper two hundred, says she wants a lot of lap dances, the bouncer smiles politely, “Enjoy, ladies.”
While Janah is on her knees between Sherry’s legs, I’m chewing the fat with my off duty dancer, Jocelyn, told her mine is Liz. “Geez Jocelyn, I blew into town from Austin, doing grad school there at UT. Walked the beach for a few days, heard about some girl named Rose, awful story. I thought southern California was laid back. Psycho freaks in Texas, I can understand. I hate all that cowboy crap, but Austin is cooler than most of Texas. I wanted UCLA, but the grad program was filled, I study rhetoric.”
Jocelyn, “What you gonna do to make a living in something like that. What is it anyway?”
“The definitions of phrases, like Latin, logical argument, effective speaking, anything to do with the use of language. It’s not good for much I suppose. I like the logical argument stuff, not that anybody thinks logically. Maybe that’s why I like it. How’s the money in this business?”
Jocelyn, “The men in here think with their dicks, which turns them into ATMs. I make three to four thousand a week sometimes, never less than two. Course I dance my ass off. It’s a money machine for me. I don’t fuck on the side, which is why I have to dance every night. I’m good at it, and the dollars pour in. I buy stocks, a little real estate.”
“Good for you. Obviously this career has a relatively short life. It’s hard work, and younger girls keep coming along.”
“I’m only twenty two. I figure I’m in until I’m twenty five or six. Maybe I’ll go to college, but I’m not sure I see the point. I take accounting and finance courses, just a class a semester. But I’m learning money and taxes.”
“Smart. Watch your back, don’t end up like that girl I heard about.”
“Bouncers started walking us to cars, checking out the back seat, open the trunk. I take a different route home every night. Got me a Rottweiler the size of a moose. Already trained for the kill if I say the magic word. I know it isn’t perfect, but it might scare a creep into finding a different victim. I don’t mean….”
“I know you don’t mean for some other girl to get what Rose got instead of you. It’s just a way of saying you want him scared off period.”
“Yeah. I knew Rose, a little. Cute, sure of herself. So many people liked her, I wonder if it made her too open, trusting.”
“Some guy on the beach said he heard she danced a little. Didn’t say where.”
Jocelyn, “She danced here! Just like once in a while. She was pretty good, for an amateur. She and Sherry got….close. They went off together at closing when Rose was here. Rumor had it they got off together other times too. Rose was just playing, Sherry likes girls, like all the time.”
“Good for her, I like girls all the time too. That’s why I came here, check out girls.”
I give her another fifty. She has a roll going, it’s her turn up. I watch her dance, she’s not Janah, but really good. The money hits the floor, she scoops it up, comes back to me, her other ATM.
“Three hundred. Course I got to pay the bouncers a cut, the club makes its money from covers and drinks. You like girls? We could do a private room, if you’re interested.”
“Some other time, I’ve got to check out soon.”
She shrugs, I don’t bother to find out if she meant sex or I pay her for more intimate lap dances.
Janah is wrapping up, Sherry says, “God, you guys are….there aren’t good enough words,” she starts to cry.
Janah plays dumb, holds the girl, “Those aren't tears of joy sweetie, what is it?”
She knows quite well Sherry is thinking of Rose.
Sherry downloads, “I had a girl, a friend, she was killed, butchered if the rumors are right. The cops haven’t said much.”
“Recently?” Janah asks.
“Six weeks, something like that. I stayed away from the club for two weeks, but I got bills, you know? And we were basically fuck buddies. I’m a lez, but Rose, that was her name, just liked shopping around. I didn’t care, she was adorable, I knew we weren’t a thing, it was fun, she was fun. She didn’t talk much about it, I got the impression even men were only casual entertainment. She didn’t want a steady, one of the things she liked about Venice Beach was the sense of freedom. She was chasing freedom like some people chase money.”
Janah, “She got murdered, do I have it right?’
Sherry, “Like I said, cops are playing it down. But some of them come in here. Word has it she was tortured, then…..I can’t bring myself to say it.”
Janah, “Then don’t. I don’t need to know.”
Which she doesn’t, she already knows more than Sherry does. She needs to know if Sherry can shed some light on Rose, anything. Janah wants to know if there was a tie between Rose’s murder and something, or someone, Sherry knows. Janah reads the girl, Sherry isn’t lying, or hiding anything. She also knows Sherry doesn’t have the capacity to analyze deeply, put two and two together. Despite her line of work, she’s a gentle soul. Not being attracted to men makes it easier for her, not harder. To Sherry, men are paychecks, like my new pal said, sucker ATMs.
Janah, “It’s possible Sherry doesn’t know jack. She’s not hiding something. I have to convince her to do a mind dump.”
“In other words, she’s carrying around stuff that she doesn’t know is useful. Some relationship between her, the murderer and Rose.”
“You got it. I’m sending Nikko to the bar. If anyone tries to come up here, even a bouncer, she will insure they don’t. I’m going to get Sherry to tell me stuff she doesn’t know she remembers.”
Nikko leaves, she passes the bouncer, “Girls want a little more time.”
The bouncer nodded, “It’s good.”
Nikko, “If anyone tries to go up, other than me…”
The bouncer nods again, “Nobody going up.”
Nikko, “Any other way up?”
Nikko hands him two hundred, “Cover it with someone you trust. Tell him I’ll be out to check every ten. I don’t want any cover charge shit going in and out. There’s a matching set of bills if all goes well. No more than another hour.”
The bouncer looks dubious, “Look Miss, a girl that came her once in a while got herself murdered. That unfortunate, but fortunately not in here. The boss is on edge. You get my drift?”
Nikko, “Tell you what, call the boss, ask him about a blond girl and a Japanese. Then do whatever you need to do.”
The bouncer takes out a cell, hits a speed dial, gets as far as, “There’s a blond woman and a Japanese girl in here…..yes sir, I’m clear.”
Bouncer, “It will be handled, just like you asked, no need for tips,” he offers her the two hundreds.
Nikko, “Domo, keep it. Nothing happened, you don't know jack, it’s another night at the club.”
He slips the bills in his pocket. Nikko goes to the bar, the Society has its usual extended reach.