Saturday, December 15, 2007

Jayne & the Satanists --Chapter 10

Because of my early appointment with the cops, I got to city hall just after the workday had begun. Hughes’s murder had just been announced and many of the staff were clustered around discussing the news.

I found out that she worked in the engineering department, fifth floor. I asked for her supervisor and was sent in to meet with Chris Canyon. I did not tell him I had discovered the body. I learned Hughes was well-liked around the office, that she was a looker, that Canyon knew she had gone out with Stirling. Her main duties were as secretary of permits and licensing, which meant she also kept things in order in the plans and blueprints office. Recently, she had been working on a number of projects, but the one that caught my attention was the new additions on the pediatric wing at City of Angels Hospital.

Hmm, babies, also the site of one of the child abductions last month. I didn’t know what questions to ask that might further my personal investigation, but I learned that Hughes had access to plans of every square foot of the place, and indeed of most every other building in L.A. A handy person to know.

Lex was weathering his stay in the car just fine. He purred when I entered and I talked to him as I drove to the paper.

I filed an update on the Hughes murder and made some calls until lunchtime. Then, I drove over to City of Angels and went up to see Boyer.

His eyes got real big when I walked up to his bed. He was a handsome guy, but now his face was a mess of bandages, scarlet abrasions and blue-black puffiness. Before he got too agitated, I said, “Look T-Bone, I just want you to know that I didn’t have anything to do with you getting beaten. I got threatened that night myself. I just want to know why you thought I might have been involved.”

“I don’t remember much,” he said, his voice an awkward, spit-spraying slur.

“Now T-Bone, don’t kid a kidder. We know that people don’t issue stern warnings without letting the person being warned in on what it’s all about.”

“It ha somesing to do wit you ratting me out bout shtory I was sposed be wookin on bout buby aducshuns. ’Cet I no wookin gat stoey ‘t all. Ayne was invoved, doo. Bu, I’m fuffed if I know how. Un o da goons ket caaing her da Ledder Lady. Mg any ses to you?”

“Maybe,” I said. I had lots of questions to ask him, but they would all give him an idea of what I was seeing come together. So, I made some small chat and wished him well. He said he would be out tomorrow. Though, with his fingers busted, he would be dictating his stories for the next six weeks. He’d probably get light duty on the edit desk. I told him he could do just as much damage there.

Back in the car, I told Lex that I was going to have to get a date with the lovely Miss Ariana. At the mention of her name, he hissed and bared his fangs.

* * *

Back home, I was relieved to see that no one had broken in. I checked a few places for any disarming presents. Lex sniffed around and seemed satisfied, comfortable enough to make short work of a half can of Dinty Moore. I had Scream’s number from Jayne.

When I got the receptionist, I asked for Ariana.

“Who is this, please?” he asked.

“My name is Samuel Strong, I’m a dealer in arcane literature. I have a recent acquisition that I have been told Miss Ariana might be interested in.” This seemed to satisfy him and I heard the phone ring through to another line.

She sounded like she was pleasantly high. Medicating away a hangover, I suspected, or just coming off the nod. Too euphoric to suspect a scam anyway. I told her that I had come into possession of a Victorian rare edition of L’Histoire de Pasuzu, a chronicle of possessions by the middle-eastern daemon that I suspected was illustrated --uncredited-- by Aubrey Beardsley.

She said she was interested in it as a gift. I gave her a ballpark price of eight hundred dollars and she said she would like to see the book. No, I could not bring it there, but I could meet her in the restaurant of the Metro Art Gallery. She said that sounded stuffy and instead gave me an address in East L.A. “It’s a private club. Tell them that you’re meeting me and they’ll show you to my alcove, Mr. Strong. Shall we say four o’clock?”

I agreed.

* * *

At a quarter to four, I cruised by the address. The neighborhood was mostly industrial supply shops, chandlers and auto parts. Not exactly some ritzy private club address. There was only a black door with a grilled peep window.

Parking down the block, I decided to let her enter first in case she came escorted. At four ten, a yellow cab pulled up and let her off --alone. Rather than walking in, she took a key and unlocked the door and slipped in. This made me nervous. What was I walking into here?

I tried the door, but it was locked. When I knocked, a partition behind the grate slid away and I announced myself and was let in by a small, pudgy, bald man in a black suit with a black shirt and tie. He led me through a curtained doorway into a dim room.

About two dozen high-partitioned booths circled the room and a low stage was set in the center. I was led to the farthest corner of the room. Ariana sat with a martini glass in front of her. The booth was lit only by a thick black candle set on the table. I wondered if she would recognize me. I slid into the seat across from her.

“Mr. Strong.” she said. She wore a black low-cut business suit made her own by the lack of a blouse underneath. Her cleavage was impressive. Her hair was loose and straight, thick black bangs hung to the tops of small, wire-rimmed sunglasses. She smoked black-papered cigarettes with gold filters. Sobranies --cocktail cigarettes.

“Tell the waiter what you would like to drink,” she said.

I said a martini would do. As he slid away, I looked her over. Waiting for her to say that I looked familiar. Whether she had been too blitzed to remember, or whether she was shocked and wondering what to do next, she did not say anything until, “The book?”

The waiter brought our drinks and, when he went away, I asked about the room. ”This is a private club, very exclusive. It caters to those with a need for privacy, yet who share certain tastes.”

I looked around. It was hard to tell how many others were in the room, hunkered back, deep in their booths. I heard some chatter. A cigarette lighter flared across the room. The waiter brought trays of drinks to other booths. “There are performances of a sexual nature on the stage during the evening. But, otherwise, it is just a quiet discreet place for a drink. On occasion, I find it quite soothing. Most places are too bright for my eyes, which are very sensitive.”

I took a sip of my martini. It was everything a martini needed to be: big and cold. I could not read her eyes behind the dark lenses. “The book?” she said, again.

“There is no book,” I said. “I used that as a ruse to get you away from Scream’s residence.” I must’ve been nutted.

She stiffened noticeably, but I kept rolling. “I was a friend of Al Stirling. I cleaned out his apartment after he was killed and hidden away. I found some photos of you.”

“If you are here to blackmail me, I can assure you that with a snap of my fingers I can make sure you never see daylight again.”

“No, you don’t see,” I acted. “I liked them. I loved them. They’re all I can think about. I close my eyes and I see them. I saw your power over Al. Now that he’s gone, I want... to... serve y-you.”

She stared at me, then startled me with a laugh, full and throaty. “You’re just a good-looking young man who has been aroused by some dirty pictures then.”

“I’m sure you don’t find that odd.”

She laughed again and a large dark shape slipped into the seat beside me. Before I could do anything, one arm rammed my head against the wall and I felt the needle slip into my arm through my sport coat. As I was held there, she laughed and laughed.

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