hear something, my mind is fuzzy and I am finding it difficult to focus. I feel something hard against my left side. I am wearing a wide-brimmed fedora and a long mac coat. I feel the pavement beneath my feet and the smell of salt water.
“Hey Rayburn, you feeling all right?"
I look up, looking for the voice. I see a short, sandy-haired man in a brown derby hat that simultaneously fits but looks too small for his head. He is looking up at me with concern on his face. A name floats to the surface of my mind and I manage to work out how to say it.
I feel inordinately proud of that accomplishment. More information arrives, unbidden about this fellow. He is a decent chap with a nose for interesting information. A few dollars or a drink or two at our common watering hole generally yields the good stuff.
“That's right, Dave. You don't look drunk but you sure are acting like it? Did someone slip you a mickey?”
“Just a little groggy. Must not have gotten enough sleep last night or something," I mumble.
“You must have been at that Twinks and Angels game last night. I know you're a big Twink... er... Stars fan. Musta been rough seein' them get their hats handed to them,” he says, smiling.
He gently grabs my elbow, starts walking me up the street, and continues talking with, “Anyway lets get you up to your office, since it's close and I don't know where you live.”
Things are clearing up in my head. As we walk and my legs get their strength back, I look at the vehicles parked on the street. I see a sharp looking, powder blue, 1948 Packard, an already rusting, dull brown, 1949 Chevy and a sweet, cherry red, 1950 Buick. They are all damp with morning dew.
Whatever I was involved in left me not far from my office apparently. It only takes us about five minutes to walk to and then in the front door. Sam takes me to an open elevator with a gate in front of it. He manipulates the whole thing and gets me inside. I lean back against the back of it and take a deep breath and let it out slowly. The double cage door of the elevator is noisy as he closes it. He studies the panel for a moment then stab a finger at number 4.
“Glad I don't gotta carry you up the stairs.”
“Wouldn't have to! I think I've got my land-legs back again.”
“Land-legs?” he says puzzled, and then a light goes on in his head, “Oh yeah, you was a Navy boy, wasn't you?”
“Coast Guard,” I correct him automatically. I look around the elevator besides the panel full of push buttons for selecting the floor, the walls are mahogany paneling with inlaid mirror. I look at myself in one of them.
Yep, that's me! Long face, blue eyes, brown hair, thin lips but nice teeth. Darn nice teeth. The suit looks a little rumpled, like maybe, I've been in it for a couple of days but it's clean and even the tie is tied straight. Although after looking at my shoes I realize they could use a good shine.
The elevator rumbles along until we reach the fourth floor. Again Sam manipulates the gates and I step out into a hallway. We turn left and pass a couple of doors and stop at one that says David Rayburn, PI. One day I am going to have enough extra to have that spelled out to the full Private Investigator. I fish a set of keys out of my pocket, pick one out and unlock the door.
It's a two-room office with a small front room with a small receptionist desk and a door leading to another room. We go through that door to a large second room. It's big enough t to have two desks, a couple of filing cabinets and yet another door, to a closet. One desk looks well used and the other looks dusty.
“Well Rayburn. I gotta get going. You take care and don't take no wooden nickels,” Sam says as he leaves, shutting the doors behind him.
I open the other door in this room and as I suspected (this is why I am a detective) it leads into a closet. It's a large closet with a few hangers and some coats hooks. There are a few jackets and other stuff on the right side but the left the wall is blank. Ah ha! Now comes to me that this is actually a secret door that leads into the back of a closet on the hallway. It's a sneaky way for me to get the hell out of the office if things should go south in a hurry.
I turn around and look over the room again. I am feeling better and it's all starting to gel. What a weird trip I must have been on. My desk faces the door and the other desk faces the closet. Each is a nice oak veneer desk with nice padded wooden chairs. Before I leave the closet I take off my brown overcoat and hang it up. I walk over to my desk and sit in the chair. It fits my butt like a glove.
The desk has a large dark green felt desk pad centered on it. On the desk pad is a pad of ruled paper, yellow. Directly opposite me, also centered is a pen and pencil holder, wooden with a brass plaque with my name inscribed on it. To the left of that is a fold-over desk calendar with the month of May displayed and 1951 in both upper corners. To the right of the pen and pencil holder is a large brass alarm clock. It is ticking along nicely but probably should be wound. It shows the time to be 8:48 am. To the left of the desk pad is a large telephone, black with a white dial.
There is a main drawer in the center of the desk, three on the left and two on the right. Without thinking about it I open the tall drawer on the right and pull out a whiskey bottle and a small glass. I open the bottle and smell it. It smells like bourbon but I know it is not; I'd given up the sauce a year ago. I keep this bottle filled with apple cider. It looks enough like bourbon that it fools everyone. I also keep a bottle of bourbon for guests. If they wonder why I don't share I just tell them I'm not the sharing type. I pour myself a full glass of the cider and put the bottle back.
I settle back and contemplate what to do about the clock needing winding. I am only half way through my first glass when I hear a knock on the door. Darn, I had almost come to a conclusion about the clock too.
One of the problems with not having a secretary is having go all the way through two rooms to let people in myself. I get up, walk to the front room and open the door. There is a tall, stout man in a very nice suit standing there. I usher him to the back to the office and show him to a chair; I resume my place behind the desk.
“I am Dave Rayburn, how can I help you?” I ask.
“My name is Mortimer Stevenson. I want you to follow my wife and see where she goes. I believe she is having an affair,” he says then he narrows his eyes and asks me seriously. “Can you do this without her knowing?”
While this sort of work is bread and butter for every detective unless they are especially lucky. Almost all of us hate it. Never ends well. Nobody's ever happy that you found out anything or didn't find anything. If they're suspicious then they expected you to find something. If you don't find something that means you're not doing a good enough job, and they won't pay up. It's just ugly all the way around.
“Hmm, why don't you tell me what makes you suspicious?” I ask him. I pick up my pad and I write down his name, just in case I have to take this one. I can certainly use the money, the landlord likes the rent every month, bastard.
“Well, sometimes in the middle of the day I will call home and she doesn't answer,” he replies.
“Do you leave a message for her to call you back?” I ask.
“The maid does not answer the phone. Her English is terrible, so I can't leave a message,” he replies.
“Is that all?” I ask.
"No, of course not. When I get home and ask her about it she's seems evasive, saying she's just out shopping, or picking up something from the grocery, or dry cleaning or something like that. She always has an excuse for not being there when I call,” he says darkly, his mouth pinching into a frown.
Some people are never happy. They always see conspiracies in those around them. I write down his concerns but I'm pretty sure I'm not gonna take this one. I would end up finding out that his wife does indeed go to the store shopping, picks up the groceries and the dry cleaning. Then I report that back to him and he will not like it, claiming I'm doing a lousy job or worse accuses me of having an affair with her. At this point, I just need to figure out a way to get this guy out of my office without picking him up and throwing him out. Which I'm not sure I can do since he is a pretty hefty guy.
“It is your wife's normal duties to to get the groceries, pick up the dry cleaning and go shopping, correct?” I ask him.
“Do you call every day at the same time? “
“No only once or twice last week.”
“So you call a random times and your wife's not there to answer. You expect her to not only carry out all these tasks to keep your home but to also be sitting at home, next to the phone waiting in case you happen to call?” I ask.
“Well,...when you put it that way it sounds like ...”
“Look, your wife could very well be having an affair but I don't know and neither do you. I could spend a week or two following her around writing down everything she does, taking pictures and in the end we find out that she's not having an affair and really isn't doing anything interesting at all and you'll then claim that I have not done my job or am in cahoots with her and you won't pay me. So I would have wasted a bunch of my time, and my time is money to me, and you're not feeling any better about your relationship with your wife, even though I will have shown you she is taking care of you just like you want,” I pause to let that sink in then ask him. “If I found out she'd been having an affair and I bring it to you, what would you do?”
“I would kill her,” he replies with some vehemence.
“Just like that? She's having an affair and you kill her. You know, in this state, you get the electric chair for murder? The state frowns on people murdering their spouses for any reason,” I say, then stop to let him absorb that then continue. “See, if you came home and found her in flagrante delicto and killed her in a rage, that is one thing, but by hiring me, or even talking to me about it, it becomes premeditated. Is your life that clean? Have you never had an affair?"
“No... I would never," he says but I can see in his eyes that he has something more, at least, he believes he has something to hide about that.
“Sure. You know in a trial that would come out and you would look like not only a hypocrite but a murdering hypocrite. So let's get back to the fundamental question – what is it you really want to know about your wife's activities? It's not the not answering the phone is it?” I ask.
“No, that's not... It's her answers, I feel like she's hiding something.”
"Do you have a birthday or anniversary coming up?” I ask.
“No, our anniversary is... It's next week!” He replies with what looks like the dawning of an idea coming up behind his eyes.
“So there is a good chance she's planning some kind of surprise for your anniversary. You would look like a class A1 fool showing up at your anniversary accusing her of an affair and she has some very nice gift or surprise for you.”
“Oh my god! I am so sorry. This is a huge mistake.”
“That'll be 25 bucks.”
“$25? For what?” He asks with a little incredulity in his voice.
“I just saved your marriage. That's gotta be worth more than that but by law I can only charge that much without actually leaving the office.” I just made that last part up, I hope Mortimer, here, isn't a lawyer.
Mortimer looks like, for a moment, he's not going to fall for it but then he surprises me by pulling out his wallet and drops a twenty and a five on the desk, says, “Thank you” before walking out the door with a smile on his face.
I stare at the money for a few minutes, just amazed that it is sitting there. I gingerly pick the bills up and examine them. They look real enough. I lay them down again. I unlock and open the second drawer on the left and take out a small strong box. I put that on the desk and open it. In it are six ones, one five and a war-bond for $25. A little pathetic but with the $25 I am closing in on the $40 for rent on this place. I need to pull in $7 to cover the rest of the rent and the phone. Today is the 10th. That seems like a goal I can reach without breaking a sweat. Of course, since I don't live in this office I gotta pull in enough to cover food and that 8 by 10 room I call home. I drop the new bills in, lock it up and lock it back in the drawer.
I look at my note pad with Mortimer's name on it. for completeness I write down what I told him and what he paid me on the same sheet. Then I tear off the sheet and walk over to the filing cabinet to file it. Things are in alphabetical order in the drawers but I'm not going to start a special file for Mr. Stevenson. I will just put him in the generic S file since it took so little paperwork to complete.
I walked out into the front room and check the door to see if it's shut up properly, only to have someone knock on it just as I am standing there. As I open it, the person standing there steps back startled. That person is a fine, young woman, right about 5ft., slim and a brunette. She is dressed nice but not rich. She is pretty with dark brown eyes. I usher her into my office and into the chair that was recently occupied by Mr. Stevenson. I sit down and look at her.
“I am Dave Rayburn. How may I help you Ms …?” I ask
“I am Annabelle, wife of Dr. Dale Harper, DDS,” She says like I should know her dentist husband.
I just stare at her with my eyebrows raised until she continues.
“I need your help for a problem my sister is having. My sister is getting married to a man who is totally inappropriate for her. I am sure she can do better. I would like you to put a stop to it,” Annabel begins.
I dutifully write that down on my notepad, beneath her name and then I ask, “Just for completeness where to you live Mrs. Harper?”
“I, I mean, we live at 3762 Sunnyridge Road in Palos Verdes,” Again she pauses and looks at me like I should be impressed. I am a little impressed, to live in Palos Verdes as a dentist, he must be doing quite well. I smile back and dutifully write her address.
“What is your sister's name and where did she live?”
“Her named is Maribelle Bradford. She lives in an apartment 6A at the corner of Belmont and East Vista.”.
“Your maiden name is Bradford?” I ask.
She stares at me for a moment, a frown creasing her pretty face, then nods.
“And what is the name of her fiancé?” I ask.
“Oh, they're not engage yet!” She says with some force as a look of determination comes over her face. She continues, “I only remember his first name: Ferdinand. His last name is foreign sounding, di something. That sounds Portuguese to me, doesn't it to you?” I just nod my head, writing it down.
“So if they're not engaged how do you know she's getting married?”
“She told me!” She says, like I am an idiot for asking then continues with. “She said 'Annabelle! This is the one! Ferdinand is the one I'm going to spend the rest of my life with! He's wonderful. He's bright. He's funny. He's an artist!' An artist! Oh my god! I can't just allow all her to throw her life away marrying some artist!” she says with alarm.
“How old is your sister, Mrs. Harper?”
“She will be 23 in a week and a half. I don't know how old Ferdinand is, it's hard for me to tell with these foreigners,” She replies with a hint of disgust in her voice.
“Has she done this before?”
“Oh, yes. Every couple months it's a different guy she's in love with. She drives me crazy, sometimes.”
“So what makes this different than the others?”
She pauses for a long time before saying, “Can't you just investigate him or something or whatever it is you do, scare him off?"
“Well, I can certainly investigate him. I can do my best to find out more information about him for you and your sister. It just seems a little pointless if in three weeks she's going to dump him for somebody else. Why not just wait this one out?”
She compresses her full, pouty lips into a thin line and she stares at me. Obviously there something else going on behind the scenes and she really doesn't want to tell me what it is. Now my curiosity is up and I really want to find out what it is. Blame it on the apple cider.
She looks like she is about to get up and leave but then sighs and says quietly, “On our 23rd birthday we will inherit a lot of money. She's not a mature as I am, she is much more flighty and prone to doing things spontaneously. I'm afraid she will waste her share on supporting some foreign artist or god forbid marry him!”
“So you are your sister's twin?” I ask and start to write that down.
“Triplets. Our sister, Julibelle, is studying law at that new college on Anaheim Road. She's had the same boyfriend for ages; he comes from a very wealthy family. I have no worries with her.”
I cross off twin and write triplet. Annabell, Maribelle, and Julibelle, three short, fine figured, brunettes with full pouty lips and big, dark brown eyes. How could I have missed them? I gotta get out more. It appears Annabelle is playing big sister attempting to save her sister from a gold-digger or at least wasting her money on another one. I can check this artist out and see if he is legit at least. That's worth a couple days effort. It sounds like a job for me. I should be able to charge her a nice sum for saving her sister. The trick is to set the rate so that makes her feel she is getting a good deal but not too good a deal. With this woman setting it to low would make her think I wasn't going to do a good job; setting it too high would drive her away.
I put on my best sympathetic smile and say, “All right Mrs. Harper, I will look into your sister's current boyfriend and see exactly who he is. My rate is $25.00 a day plus expenses. And before you ask, yes, I itemize my expenses and I will check with you for anything over $150.00. I require two days in advance before I begin.”
She sits for a moment thinking about it, apparently, and then nods her head. She opens her handbag and pulls out her wallet. She withdraws two twenties and a ten out of it and hands them to me. I take the money and lay it on the desk. I ask her for a description of Ferdinand and her sister. I know there triplets but that doesn't mean they are identical. She informs me that they are indeed identical triplets. I also ask for Julibelle's address, she reluctantly gives it to me, it's off Los Flores near the new college.
“Anything more you can tell me about Ferdinand?” I ask.
She pauses then says, “Now that I think about it I believe he has a studio on East 1st at Paloma or Orizaba.”
I escort Mrs. Harper from my office and watch her take the elevator down. She knew I was watching and didn't hesitate to put a little extra swing in her walk. I go back to my desk and pick up the money and look it over. It looks real. I open my wallet and put the ten and one of the twenties in it with the lone $1.00 bill already in there. The other twenty I stick in the strongbox.
My stomach takes the opportunity to remind me that man does not live on apple cider alone. The money means an upgrade in lunch today. I lock up the office and head over to the elevator, then change my mind and take stairs down to lobby. The lobby is empty and there's nothing really interesting in it anyway, so I pass through it and step out on to the street and head up to the deli at the corner. But as I get there I see the sign for Mel's Diner down the block. I decide on a better lunch and head towards the diner. The lunch crowd is just starting to pick up but there is still still room and I get seated right away since I'm fairly regular here.
Cindy the waitress stops by my table and says, “Hi ya, Mr. Rayburn. What can I get ya?”
“The special and coffee, sugar, no cream.” I reply.
“Gotcha. Be right back with the coffee.” She says as she walks over to the counter to pass in my order.
I watch the patrons as they file in and wait for a table, or take a seat at the counter. A few wave and I wave back. Cindy drops off the coffee and sugar. I fix the coffee the way I like it and just look up as a large, fit man drops into the seat opposite me. He's a handsome man. Clean shaven face, little salt and pepper at his temples, clear blue eyes and wearing coast guard dress whites. An insignia on the collar looks a vaguely like Captain's rank.
Before either of us can speak Cindy has returned to the table and asks, “What can I get for you, Captain Peters?”
“Whatever Dave's having, I'll have that also. Except bring some cream for the coffee, darling,” he replies in a deep voice.
Cindy almost swoons taking down his order, then using all of her willpower turns to me and asks, “What can I get ya, Mr. Rayburn?”
“I’ll have the special.”
“OK, two specials coming right up,” she says as she scampers over to the counter to put in the order, she returns quickly with his coffee and cream and then, reluctantly, leaves to continue her duties.
“Captain? As I recall when you were tossed out of the Coast Guard you were only a second Lieuy.”
“So I gave myself a little promotion. Who's to know?” he replies with a toothy smile.
“The commission but then as long as you don’t try to get on base, they won’t check. You know, a while back somebody asked me how long do I think a man could live without actually having a job in this place? I immediately thought of you. It's been, what, two years since you worked in the shipyard?”
“Don't remind me. That was positively the worst job I have ever had. Every day was unload this boat, load that boat and then! And then, on top of that, I had to pay the God damn union dues! No thank you,” he replies with mock disgust.
“How did that turn out? I lost track of it last year sometime during the trial.”
“Three managers and about five stevedores were sent off to the state pen but they never really caught the higher-ups that were doing the smuggling. Typical of the sorts of things. Fortunately, I didn't get my name involved any higher than just doing the basic investigation. Somebody accidentally ran over the police detective that was in charge of the investigation about three months ago. Hit and run, no witnesses.”
“Ah. So that's what that was about,” I say then pause thinking that publicity is a fine balance. You want the good people in need to find you but you don't want the bad people to know who you are. I shake my head and then ask. “So what's up with the uniform, Jack?”
“I'm tailing some bimbo. Her hubby is suspicious of all the money she spends. What better way to blend in here? Besides my regular suit is in the dry cleaners., he replies, pauses and then continues. “I have to say this is a huge hit with the ladies. I don't know what it is about uniforms but I have to fend them off with a stick when I wear this,” he finishes touching his chest were a half a dozen medals hang.
Cindy manages to drop both are lunches off without spilling them, even though, she didn't take her eyes off "Captain Peters". He smiles back and thanks her. Again, she reluctantly returns to her duties.
We both look at our meals and see that is meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy and something that may have been squash or some other kind of plant but it has been cooked basically to mush. We both looked at each other and say simultaneously, “Frank must be cooking today.”
We take up napkins and tuck them into our collars to protect our shirts and dig into the meatloaf and potato avoiding the "squash". It's a decent meatloaf. Frank does pretty good at meatloaf and a couple other similar dishes, even the potatoes are done well. Frank's only real problem is non-starch vegetables; he doesn’t have a clue how to cook them.
Jack and I make small talk while we're eating the lunches. We finish, pay up, and then outside we say our goodbyes. He heads off to get back on his tail, he had left her at a fancier diner down the block, and I head back towards the office. I walk slowly and think about how to start this investigation. I should find this guys studio and get his full name then I should visit Maribelle and see what her angle is then Julibelle, too.
Suddenly large man is standing in front of me. I look up and up and up. I'm just shy of 6 foot tall and this guy's gotta have another 5 or 8 inches on me with a face that says thinking is not his strong suit. He also has a nice scar on his forehead. Looks like a sideways exclamation point.
He pokes a large, square finger in my chest and says, “Okay Pickford, this is your first warning. Back off or it's gonna go down hard.” Disappointingly his voice is quite normal. I expected something deeper or gravelly or threatening; this was just like he was telling me price of beans in the market. The bad guys rarely turn out to be as colorful as in the flicks.
“First off I'm not Pickford. Second to really get put more threat in your voice, there buddy. This normal voice is just not cutting it.”
“I said I am not Pickford. I am David Rayburn.”
“You're not Pickford?”
His eyes narrow and he stares at me for a long moment. I can almost see the gears turning behind his eyes. I decide to prove my point by pulling out my wallet, flip to my PI license and shove that up into his face.
He squints at it and reads out loud, “David Rayburn, Private Investigator.” He pauses and then says, “Crap.” He turns to the car parked at the curb and makes a downward gesture. I put my wallet away.
The window goes down and he says louder, “This guy ain't Pickford. Name is Rayburn.”
I can just barely hear some voices arguing in the car. Seems the whole team is undecided on what to do.
The big guy says, almost apologetically, “Uh, I gotta go … talk to them.”
“No problem, I can wait.”
Pickford is a friend of mine, without looking obvious I memorize the make, model and license plate of the car while the big guy shoves his head into the car window. More arguing ensues. Eventually, they reach some sort of accord and he comes back.
“Do you know where Ray Pickford is?” he asks sheepishly.
“For ten bucks I'll tell you exactly where Pickford's office is,” I offer with a smile..
He thinks about it for a moment and says, “OK, I'll give ya $20 if ya promise not to call him.”
“That's a deal. I won't call him. I rarely talk to him anyway.”
He hands me a twenty and I tell him how to get to “Ray” Pickford's offices in Belmont Shores.
He squints at me and says, “This guy must not be a friend of yours.”
“I barely know him, only met him once and he was a little standoffish. Besides, all I know is you are going to give Pickford a warning, right? Warnings don't hurt, do they?”
“Ya that's it. Just a warning,” he says as he climbs back into the sedan.
As I watch the sedan head off, I start up again toward my office thinking about “Ray”.
I met Raylene Pickford about five years ago while I was working a case. I found a tall, slim brunette hiding outside a warehouse in the exact spot I wanted to hide out. After a short discussion it turned out we were both working on the same case just from different ends. I was representing the insurance company and she was representing an investor. We pooled our knowledge and ended up slipping in to the warehouse together. We'd found a lot of interesting and useful things and were just about to get out when three bad guys showed up. They didn't waste any time attacking us. I'd had only a little training in any kind of fighting (my drill instructor, after a particularly disappointing effort, suggested that I stick to using a gun or go into logistics, I thought that was a bit harsh) and lucky for me neither had the guy that went after me. After about five minutes of slugging it out with one guy I finally managed to knock him out. I look for another one and see Raylene is sitting on a crate watching me, the other two guys were out cold on the floor. All she said was my technique needed a little work but she thoroughly enjoyed the show. After the case we shared a few dinners and she told me her life story. Her father is an archaeologist interested in ancient Japan. He dragged her all over that island and Okinawa and she managed pick up quite a deep knowledge of various martial arts. She taught me a few things that I can pull out when needed but to me, it always feels like a bit of a failure if I have to resort to violence in a case. Or maybe I'm just lazy.
The rest of the trip to my desk is uneventful. I sit down to organize the rest of the day. Since I need to talk to both of the sisters and their beaus I will need to get the Buick out. I should probably start with the artist-beau first since he is not that far from here. But first things first, I pick up the phone and dial.
“Hello Pickford P. I., this is Pickford. How can I help you?” A pleasant feminine voice answers.
“Raylene, it's Dave. Dave Rayburn. How are you?”
“Dave? It's been a long time! How are you?”
“Good, I'm good.”
“I am doing alright. Got enough going to get me by. You know I might need your help on one of them, I'm a bit stalled.”
“I can help but I gotta case now but it should wrap in a day or two.”
“Hey, I don't have a lot of time to talk right now but I have to tell you I was accosted today on the sidewalk by big fella looking for you. He gave a twenty to not call your dad.”
“Yeah, he kept referring to Ray Pickford as a him. I figured he was talking about you but hey he might have been talking about your dad. What do I know?”
“You are just a clever guy. Hey, so was this big guy about six-eight with a scar on his brow?”
“That's the guy. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.”
“Excellent! I've been trying to find that exact guy! You are truly a great detective; giving me the help I need before I even ask!”
“Yep, that's me, the PI's PI. Let me know how it turns out.”
“I will. Thanks again,” She hangs up and so do I.
My duty done, I fish my car keys out of the desk, locked up and head down to the garage. The Buick starts right up and I wave to the garage attendant as I head out. I cruise on down to East 1st and stop at Paloma. Of course, there is no parking on the East 1st at this time of day, so I turn on Paloma and slide the Buick into the first parking spot I find, a block and a half away. Good thing I wore my comfortable shoes.
I get out and walk to the corner and look over the stores on all four corners. There is a drugstore, tobacco store, shoe store, and a bookkeeper/accountant place. As I stand there a petite brunette walks from drug store, across Paloma and into the bookkeeping office. She looks just like Annabelle. I cross East 1st Street and look in through the front window to see if it is indeed Maribelle. I catch her profile as she turns to sit at a small desk. Looks like she's a receptionist for the office. Definitely Annabelle's twin, er, triplet.
I turn from the window before she can see me and crossover Paloma. I walk along East 1st Street looking at storefronts on both sides. I reach Orizaba without finding anything that looks like an artist's studio. I walk back looking at each door in between the storefronts. About halfway between Paloma and Orizaba I find a narrow doorway leading to a stairway. On the right hand wall is a set of signs with arrows pointing either up or straight back. One of them has the name Ferdinand di Marco and is pointing upstairs.
I climb to the second story and walk down a short hallway with doors on the right. The third one is Ferdinand's. I knock and wait. And wait. I knock a little louder and wait some more. Eventually the door rattles from someone undoing locks and it opens to an upset young man with paint on his clothes.
“Yes?” He says with barely masked hostility.
“I'm Dave Rayburn, PI. I am here on behalf of Annabelle Harper who is deathly worried that you are a gold-digger interested only in her sisters fortune and that you are nothing more than a no-talent ruffian living a hedonistic lifestyle. Does that about sum you up?” I say as I pull out my note pad, pencil and give him my most serious questioning look.
“Anna … wha...” he started then a set of emotions fought for his face. It was fascinating to watch. He eventually settled on righteous indignation and sputtered, “Hedonistic lifestyle? No talent? That woman is a menace! Look at this place!” He flung the door open and I got a glimpse of an open space with canvases in various states around the room before the door bounced back hitting him in the arm and slamming shut. I can hear him cursing behind the door. I try the knob and it opens.
I enter and see him rubbing his arm where the door hit it. He stands about five-eight and can't be more than 140. He has dark eyes and a handsome face with long black hair. I guide him gently over to a chair and manage to find a bottle of medium priced Vodka on a shelf next to a statue of Aphrodite (I know, because it said so on the base) and a spectacular glass vase. It's about 2 feet high with streaks of yellow, red and orange. The top is folded over like a lily and the base is shaped like a leaf. I find a reasonably clean shot glass, pour it full and take to the artist.
“Thanks, what was your name again?” he asks me.
“Dave, Dave Rayburn.”
He downs half the shot, grimaces, puts the glass on a side table next to the chair and says, “Annabelle is a nosy bit...” He stops, thinks better of it, sighs and says, “Ah, hell, I know she means well but she has nothing to worry about. See that Aphrodite statue? I designed that and get residuals from it. Plus I work for Disney off and on as an animator.”
“What about the vase?” I ask, since he is talking. I can't see how it has any bearing on this case but I do like it.
“It's good isn't it?”
“Yes, when did you make it?”
“I didn't. I wish I had but that's not my work. It took me 2 years of glass work to make a paperweight. Maribelle made that after only 3 months. She has a great talent but then her sister, Annabelle, convinced her that she needed to get a job instead of wasting her time with art.”
That pretty much fits in with what I'd already guessed about my client. No life of her own so she drives her family crazy trying to run theirs. That dentist husband of hers must be a cold fish, if she were married to me we'd be knee-deep in children. I decide to see what he knows about the other sister.
“What can you tell me about Julibelle?”
He thinks for a moment and says, “She pretty much ignores Annabelle. I remember the arguments between them when Julie wanted to go to that new college.”
I thought about that for a minute and then ask, “I thought you'd just started dating Maribelle within the last couple months?”
“That's what she tells Annabelle. We have been dating, now engaged, for the last 3 years. Every time Annabelle starts nagging Maribelle pretends to dump me and date someone else. If you ask Annabelle to describe any of those other guys she can't because they don’t exist. On hindsight, that was probably not the best strategy,” he says ruefully.
“If that queer husband of hers would man up and knock her up it'd take the strain off the rest of us,” he says.
Well that answers my unasked question. I ask, “Do you know Julibelle very well?”
“Yeah, the three of us used to hang out here a lot. Now she is hooked up with that Carl-guy. There is something not quite right with him. He nice enough and seems to care about Julie but he is constantly on business in LA,” he says while shrugging.
We talk a bit more but he offers nothing useful and I start to take my leave when he offers up, “Carl gave us tickets to the show at the Fox tonight. Julibelle and he are going to meet us at the corner at 7, if you want to meet all of us.”
I thank him and take my leave. Once I am on the sidewalk, again, I debate with myself if I should approach Maribelle. I decide against it. She might have something to say about her sisters but I don't need much more and in fact I am probably done but I'd like to see all three of the sisters for, uhm, completeness sake.
I get in the Buick, back out on to Paloma and head up to the next block, turn right, then right again and then left on to East 1st. The traffic is still light as I head south to Julibelle's apartment building. The drive is quite pleasant and takes only 45 minutes to get to the three-story pale blue Victorian with a nice porch in front at that address. I park across the street and sit for a few minutes just “tuning in” to the neighborhood. It's pretty quiet, so I decide to head up to the house and see how this is organized.
It turns out the owners are just renting out rooms. Inside the front door is a narrow stair leading up and a slightly wider hallway to the left of the stair. Using my detective abilities to their full extent I deduced that apartment 2b would be on the second floor so took the stairs to the next floor. To the left is a hallway going back along the stairs with a nice railing. The right is a short hallway and a door with the letter 'B' on it.
I knocked on the door, just under the 'B'.
After a few moments it opened and a duplicate of Annabelle stood there. Only this one is disheveled, wearing an oversized sweat-shirt and little else.
“Hel-,” she starts to say, then after looking me up and down, starts again, only more melodic. “Well, Hello!”
“Hello, I am Dave Rayburn, PI.”
“PI? Do you need to frisk me? I am totally sure I am hiding something!” she says as she opens the door and waves me in.
The door opened on to a large room with a bed, a small table with papers and books scattered on it along the far right wall. There is a dresser and an open closet. Clothes are scattered about the room. Pretty much the typical college student room during a semester.
I step past her into her room, turning to face her. I did want to frisk her. I am sure she is hiding something, too. I manage to find my detective and bring him to the front.
“I am a private detective. Your sister, Annabelle, asked me to look into Ferdinand di Marco. What can you tell me about him?”
“All business?” she says, sighing. She steps past me, making sure to rub against me as she steps over to the bed and sits on the edge. Even with the disheveled hair and ratty ill-fitting sweatshirt, she is very appealing. She brushes a stray lock of hair out of her eye and says, “Oh, sit down. There is a chair over there.” She waves her hand toward the small desk.
I pull out the chair and set it down in front of her with the back facing her. I think it’s best if I keep a solid barrier between me and this lovely young woman.
“Ferdinand is a wonderful guy. He is talented, honest and loves Maribelle. She is so lucky to have him. Certainly better than that ancient, cold fish Annabelle married. Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with Dale but he is cold to all us girls … he does like Ferdinand, though. I think that makes Anna jealous. She is wasting your time. There is nothing wrong with Ferdinand and he treats Maribelle like a princess.”
“Can you think of,” I start to ask but am interrupted by a rattle at the door and it opens.
Julibelle is up off the couch in a flash, squealing, “Carl, Darling!” She throws her arms around the neck of a tall, handsome man that just stepped through the door. The sweatshirt rises up just enough for me to glimpse pale blue panties. I stand up quickly and step a little closer but not close enough to crowd them. I watch his face (when it's not obscured by the young lady) and notice that his eyes do not reflect the joy showed on the rest of his face. There is also something familiar about his face but I can't quite place it.
He steps around her and holds out his hand to me saying “Carl.”
“Dave,” I reply, shaking his hand. I look at Julibelle and say, “I think that is all I need. You have the right of it, I think. I will drop by your sister’s house tonight and see if I can put her mind at rest over this. If you have … well I really don't need any more information.”
I smile and we shuffle around so that I can get to the door. I open it and say, “You two have fun at the show tonight.”
As I close the door I hear her voice ask, “What show? What’s he talking about?”
As I make my way downstairs I can't shake the feeling I know that guy from some where and his name is not Carl Costner. As I reach the road I step around a very well taken care of '48 Packard parked in front. I peak in the windows as I wait for the few cars on the road to clear but I don't see anything at all. Not a book, magazine, newspaper or scrap of paper. Immaculate.
I look around my own car and see receipts, movie tickets and odds and ends of things scattered around. It's not dirty but it looks like it's a car that gets used. Just another oddity in this case, I guess. I fire up the Buick and head back uptown.
Some simpleton rear-ended a guy and blocked the road back to Long Beach. It takes me an hour and a half to get back to downtown. I decide to get an early dinner then head to the office, write up what I have and then head over to the Harper's place to give her the bad news, that Ferdinand is a stand up guy. Carl on the other hand …
The diner is only half full and I get a nice booth with a view of the front door. Not that I need to, it's just habit, I guess. A different woman stops at my table and asks, “Hey Dave, nice to see ya. Want some coffee?”
“Yes, Bernice, and a steak, potato and whatever vegetables haven’t been overcooked,” I reply.
She is a pretty, older woman with just a touch of laugh lines around her eyes. She is just starting to slide into plumpness that some women can't help. She walks back to the counter. Still has a good swing to her hips, though.
I look back and Peters is sliding into the other seat of the booth. He looks the same as he did at lunch.
“I should have been here an hour ago but there was an accident on the road South of here and I got stuck. Mrs. Danvers headed straight home after we got through that and then her hubby came home, so here I am. In case you were wondering.”
“Oddly enough I wasn't,” I reply.
Bernice returns with my coffee and asks Peters, “Hello Jack, want to see the menu?”
“Naw. I just have whatever Dave is having, except cream for the coffee,” Jack replies.
“Why is it you always order what he orders?” Bernice asks.
Before Jack can reply I say, “Well Bernie, it's because … please keep this under your hat. Jack is illiterate. We all try to cover for him.”
Jack takes a look of embarrassed, innocence and asks her, “Please, Bernie, don't tell anyone. I've tried to learn but … maybe I just haven't had the right teacher? If only there was someone mature enough to keep a secret and generous enough to help a poor man learn to read? Bernie, do you know anyone like that?”
Bernice looks back and forth between the two men, backs up throwing her hands in the air saying, “Why do I even talk to you two? There must be something wrong with me! I must be retarded to keep doing this to myself.” She ranted all the way to the kitchen.
“Pure genius, Dave! You are the best setup man a guy could have!” Jack says with a huge smile.
I smile back. Jack and I go back aways. We were both in the Coast Guard during the war, same unit. I took leave from the North Los Angles Police to go in and after the war I put in another two years in LA. I quit after my wife and daughter died in a fire. Hindsight tells me I should have stuck it out another 5 and gotten my 20 in but … now it's just my son and I. He joined the Army as soon as he turned 18 and is now in Korea. We both had to deal with the grief, I guess that was his way. Jack had been a Deputy in the San Diego County Sheriffs Department. He quit the year before I quit LA. He doesn't talk about why but it was something to do with a raid near the Mexico border. He quit and moved here to Long Beach and became a PI. He is the reason I am here doing this work.
“I am just glad you use your extraordinary powers for Good!” Jack says as a different waitress drops off his coffee and cream.
“It is all in a days work, my friend,” I say then shift to talking about the last government screw up at the docks and what the idiots in Congress are up to while waiting for the food. When it arrives it's a Salisbury Steak, baked potato and broccoli that hasn't been cooked to mush. We finish at the same time and are just leaning back with sighs when a sultry voice says “Can I interest you boys in some pie?”
We both look to the end of the table and are mesmerized by the woman standing there. She has blonde hair, blue eyes and perfectly shaped cherry red lips. I am blind to anything but her face. She is stunningly beautiful.
“Hello?? Anyone home? Pie? Cake?” She tries again.
“Hmmm, yes pie. Pie is good,” That is all I can manage to stammer out. Jack is not in any better shape; he just nods.
“Apple? Blueberry? Cherry?”
“Cherry. Good,” I manage to say.
“Ya,” Jack says.
She smiles, turns toward the counter and saunters away.
With a mighty effort I tear my eyes off of her and turn back to Jack. He is still mesmerized. I wave my hand in front of his face and finally he looks at me with a blank look. He seems to return to himself and asks, “Did I just order cherry pie?”
“Yes, you did,” I reply.
“I hate cherry pie,” he says, still in a kind of daze.
“Yeah, I know,” I say with a smile then can't help myself and start laughing.
“Kee-rist! At my age,” he says, shaking his head and then he starts laughing too.
We are still snickering when the young woman comes back with the pies. This time we are able to talk coherently to her.
“What is your name?” I ask.
“How long have you been in town?” Jack asks.
“I got here a month ago. This is the first decent job I've gotten. It's been nice so far,” She says with a dazzling smile.
“Well, Kim, welcome to town. If you need help with anything please do not hesitate to call on Dave here. He is the best PI in town,” Jack offers.
“Thanks. I'll remember that,” She walks away with a swing that could start a war. Or at least a food fight.
“Thanks, Jack,” I say with a little sarcasm. If she wasn't just a hair over 17 I might be more appreciative.
Jack opens his mouth to say something and we both hear the screech of tires outside the window. We both watch a car launch out of the parking lot of the market across the street and come straight at us. It turns at the last instant and swings right just missing a parked car. My parked car. I see a guy in the passenger seat but not clearly. He is hunched down with a brown cap pulled low. Looking past the car I see a crowd gathering in the parking lot of the market.
“Looks a hit and run,” Jack says.
“Yes, it does,” I reply.
We watch the activities across the street in silence as we eat our pies and drink our coffee. The police arrive and people start drifting away from the crowd. An ambulance pulls up facing toward us so we can't see what is going on. After about 5 minutes it takes off with the lights flashing and siren going.
“Hey, I gotta go. See you tomorrow,” Jack slides out of the booth, drops a couple dollars on the table and leaves.
I finish my last cup of coffee, pay up and head outside. The police are winding down their investigation and the crowd has completely dissipated by the time I get into the Buick and head back to the office. This time I just park in front rather than in the garage. The lobby is empty and the two offices on that floor are closed. I take the elevator to the 4th floor and let myself into my office. For the next few minutes I type up my report for Mrs. Harper. I just finish up when there is a knock on the door. I ignore it and yet it doesn't go away. They keep knocking until I finally get up and walk in there.
“Yes?” I say with more than a little irritation in my voice as I open the door.
Standing with a raised fist is a cop. A sergeant in the Long Beach Police Department. A Sergeant by the name of Samuel Brown. I frown, turn and walk back to my desk, confident he could figure out what to do. He drops his ass in my client chair starts with the questions.
“Hey Rayburn. What case you working on?” He asks.
“The missing brain of a police sergeant that should know by now that I don’t divulge that information,” I say looking at his flat face. Sam is a pretty good cop. He is just lazy; he much prefers mooching off me than working his own brain.
A variety of emotion play on that flat face: puzzlement, irritation, annoyance then resignation.
“Why are you here? Isn't there a purse snatcher or jaywalker you should be after?” I ask.
“You notice a little accident at the Supermarket across from Mel's this evening?”
“Notice? I thought Jack and I were going to be hood ornaments! Did not witness it but did see a vehicle, a dark blue or black Ford with a Louisiana license plate, exiting at high speed. Would you like the license plate number?”
“See I knew this was a good idea. Jimmy said it would be a waste of time. That guy don't know you like I know you. Yeah, why don't you give me that number?”
I give him the number and wait for him to get to the point. There is a slim chance that he or one of his men noticed my car at Mel's and so he figured I might have witnessed something or they might have interviewed someone at Mel's but somehow I doubt it. He uses my phone to call it in to his men. Luckily it's a local call so shouldn't cost me an arm 'n' leg; maybe just a knee-cap and three toes.
When he finishes he says, “We found your card on the seat of a car of the guy that was run over in that parking lot.” He tried to effect a look of significance but it just looked like indigestion.
“Really. You got the card?” I'd taken to putting my cards in various places to be found by people that might need my services. I also put a number on the back to I can see which place works the best.
He pulled it out of his coat pocket and passed it over. It was my card alright with a 23 on the back. I'll have to look at my list to see where that came from.
“What's the guys name? Is he dead?” I ask.
“Harper. Dale Harper. A dentist and maybe, he wasn't looking too good when they put him in the wagon.”
“No kidding,” I reply. Damn. What are the chances? I tell the good Sergeant about Mrs. Harpers visit but not what I found out, mostly because it would sound pretty pathetic next to a hit and run.
“Hmm. I don't see a connection.,” he replies.
We sit in silence trying to find some connection but, apparently, we both fail. Or at least I did. Although there was something nagging at the back of my mind but I couldn't bring it up.
The phone rings and I answer it. It's for the sergeant. I hand it to him with a frown. He just flashes me a toothy grin. Great, now his apes will be calling here to find him.
He nods his head and says “yeah” a few times into the phone then hangs it up and says to me, “Well, Mr. Dale Harper, a dentist, was pronounced dead at 6:42 pm today.”
He pauses to let that sink in and then adds, “How about you head up to Mrs. Dale Harper's place and I will meet you there?”
I nod and he gets up and lets himself out without another word.
I pull out an envelope and write Mrs. Annabelle Harper on it, folded up the report and put it in the envelope. I sit for a moment, then pull open my drawer and my hand hovers over the bourbon but instead I grab the cider. I pour my self a glass, put the bottle back and stare at the amber liquid for a few minutes before taking a swallow. The memories come unbidden to my mind ...
By the time I got there the fire was out and they were putting their bodies in bags. I knew the procedure but it didn't make it any easier. My wife and daughter … They had been inside. My son came running up yelling “Dad! Dad!” He stops dead when he sees the body bags. I run to him and hug him to me, he struggles for a moment then grabs me and starts crying. I cry too.
The phone rings. I stare for a moment trying to refocus on the here-and-now.
“Hello, Dave Rayburn, Private Investigations,” I say automatically when I pick it up.
“Dave, Raylene here.”
“Huh? Oh, yeah just winding up a case. Brought back some memories I rather not have again.”
“Oh,” She pauses then hurriedly continues. “Finishing a case is good. Thanks for sending those guys my way, I learned a lot,” she pauses again, “but I think I need your help on this one. I can't quite pull all the pieces together. Can you come by tomorrow morning, 9?”
“Yep. Shouldn't be a problem, I will see you then,” we ring off and I stand up, grab my coat and hat then lock up the office on my way out.
The drive to Palos Verdes is uneventful. I get there about 7:30pm. It is just getting dark when I arrive at Annabelle's address. I pull in the driveway and park next to the 1951 Cadillac parked there. Dale must have been doing well for himself to afford that baby. I hadn't noticed any police cars on my way here.
I knocked on the door and Sam opened it.
“Where's your car?” I ask stepping past him to a wide nicely appointed hallway.
“I walked,” is all he says.
“Yeah, right,” I mutter.
The hallway has a closet on the left and an opening on the right into a front room. Also nicely appointed. Annabelle is sitting on a nice brown leather couch. The hallway continues deeper into the house but that way is dark and I can't see any details. I step into the front room and walk up to Annabelle.
She has been crying and when she looks up and sees me she, inexplicably, leaps up and throws her arms around my neck crying into my chest. I look at Sam and that coward pantomimes drinking a glass of water and heads down the dark hallway.
“I am so sorry for your loss, Annabelle,” I say in my most soothing voice.
She just sobs into my chest. I hold her and pat her on the back, saying what I think of as soothing words. I certainly can relate but I am trying mightily not to; I don't want to start crying too. I take deep breaths. I don't know how long we stood like that but eventually she calmed down.
“Thank you, Mr. Rayburn,” She says pulling away from me.
“You are welcome, I just-” My words are interrupted by the front door bursting inwards and a man leaping in, waving a gun.
“Don't move, Rayburn!” Carl Costner says point his gun at me.
“Carl?! What is the meaning of this?” Annabelle says, with more than a little bewilderment in her voice.
Suddenly I can place this guy. I know him from my days on the North Los Angeles Police Department.
“His name isn't Carl,” I say, it is very clear when I see him in that stance with the gun. “It's Carlos Constantino. A punk in the.-”
“Shut up, Rayburn. I knew you'd eventually figure it out but it won't do you no good now. I gotta plan and no washed-up flat-foot is going to ruin it,” he actually cackled at that point.
“What are you on?” I ask curiously.
“I ain't on nothing. NOTHING!” he practically yells.
“I don't understand,” Annabelle says quietly.
“I have no doubt Carlos will explain,” I say under my breath.
“Anna baby, you were supposed to go to the store so my goons could run your fine little ass over but no your queer husband goes instead. Then Dale was going to kill himself over his grief at losing you,” he says in a voice that starts loud then slides into desperation while staring at her accusingly. “But that's OK. I gotta back up plan and it works out real nice for me. I get rid of two pains in the ass.”
He stands, grinning like a hyena, his gun wavering just a little.
“Yeah, you are two are going to have a little lovers spat tonight. So you, Anna dear, are going to shoot poor Dave and then you are going to kill yourself. See? It's perfect,” he cackles again and looks around the room like its new to him.
“Yes, it will all work out in the end. You will be dead, so will your sister Maribelle and that useless turd Ferdy, when my boys take them out at the show tonight,” he pauses and glares at me, then in a rising voice says. “Damn near screwed that up with your comment about going to the show tonight, Rayburn. You are such a prick. I had to promise her all kinds of shit to keep her from calling her sister. S'OK though. After tonight she will forget all that. We'll get married and Julibelle will inherit all that money. Then she too will have a tragic accident. So sad.”
“So, what do you think, Sergeant, heard enough?” I ask Sam.
Sam had quietly walked up behind Carlos. He pressed his pistol against the back of Carlos' head and says, “Yeah. Why don't you drop that pistol and we'll let you talk some more down at the station, since you seem to be in the mood.”
For a moment Carlos looks like he is going to take his chances, but then he sags and the Sargent takes his gun away. Two uniforms come running in and cuff Carlos and hustle him out the front door.
“Thanks, Rayburn. You were a great help,” Sargent Brown says as he leaves.
“What was that he said about Maribelle and a show?” Annabelle asks.
“Oh, crap. We've got to warn them.” I look at my watch. The show usually starts at 8:30. It's 7:45 now.
“Call Maribelle!” I ask Annabelle.
She runs to a phone at the back of the room and dials. After several minutes she hangs up saying, “There is no answer. They must be already on their way.”
“Try his studio or apartment.”
“I don't know either number.”
I don't either, I'd gotten sloppy, I usually have all that background before I start. I'd taken this as too easy a case.
“There is no help for it. We have to get to the theater and see if we can stop the killers. Lets go.”
I decide to bring her along. She can look for the car while I drive. Plus Carlos may have a back up plan to have someone come by here after we leave.
We slide out of Palos Verdes in my Buick and on to Pacific Coast Highway South, heading into downtown Long Beach. I don't know which Fox theater they are going to but they are next to each other so it probably doesn't matter. I am assuming they are going to try to hit them with a car, since fits in better with Carlos' plan. If they shoot them the police would investigate and that might lead to Carlos.
The traffic is light but I can only go so fast through town. We swing right on to Long Beach Blvd. And have to slow down. The traffic picks up the closer we get to the theaters. It's 8:10 before we can turn on to Ocean. It's a beautiful clear night but that doesn't help in the dark, even with street lights, it seems every other car is a dark blue or black.
I finally find a spot a block away from the theater and park. Annabelle and I get out and walk fast down that block. I scan looking for the car but see nothing. We make it to the corner and turn to cross to the theater side.
“Annabelle!” I hear a voice from the other side. It's Julibelle. She is standing there with Maribelle and Ferdinand on the corner.
Three things happen at once: Julibelle starts to step out into the street, I start to yell and an engine races. Out of the corner of my eye I see a car at the curb, diagonally opposite me start to move. The headlights are off and I can see two shadowy figures in the front seat. Julibelle is one step into the street just as car clears the center of the intersection. I start moving, even knowing I'll never make it.
Ferdinand reaches out and pulls her back to the curb, sending all three of them sprawling and the car slams into the rear of the car parked on the street at the corner. I keep moving and arrive just as the driver door opens. I slam it shut again, trapping the driver inside. I can see the passenger slumped over but it is too dark to see how badly he is hurt.
For the second time that night a cop is johnny-on-the-spot. A patrol car slides to a stop right behind the crashed car with the light flashing.
I turn to the first cop that steps out and say, “You need to call an ambulance. The passenger look hurt pretty bad, I think.”
He turns and says something to the other cop in the car. He continues to get out and walks up to me and asks “What was that all about? We were coming down Ocean and see this guy fly across the intersection and slam into this car.”
“These thugs” I point to the guys in the car, “were trying to kill that young man and those young ladies with him over there,” I tell him while pointing to Ferdinand, Julibelle and Maribelle, who were just picking themselves up from the sidewalk.
He looks at them and asks me, “Why would they want to do that?”
“Sergeant Brown can fill you in on the details. I am going to take their sister home. If the Sergeant needs me, he knows how to reach me.”
“Who are you?” The cop asks.
“Rayburn, Dave Rayburn, PI,” I reply.
Annabelle has joined us briefly then went around the car and to her sisters, helping them get up.
Copyright 2019, Dirk Hill