Chapters

 

 

TEN PERCENT:
HOLLYWOOD CAN BE MURDER

 

 

 


PART 1
THE COYOTE MURDERS

 


 



“A kingdom like Oz”.
-Adela Rogers St. Johns


1
December 2012
On this particular December evening, Los Angeles was lit up in her holiday finery. Rain-slick streets reflected ripples of multi-hued neon. Windows in stores and restaurants were festooned with Christmas decor and fake snow. There were acres of tinsel and miles of blinking colored lights interspersed amidst the palm trees and tropical flowers. And on every other street corner there was a sullen-faced Santa clanging away with a brass bell at passersby.
The scene was Norman Rockwell on acid. An airbrushed portrait of an aging prostitute, best viewed under moonlight and from a proper distance.
*****
They were parked on a fire road off Mulholland Highway in the hills overlooking the San Fernando Valley. It was just past midnight when the rain began to morph into a fine steady mist. On the CD player Travis Tritt was singing about Livin’ on Borrowed Time.
The girl looked twenty. Pretty in a hard way, with close-cropped blonde hair framing a heart shaped face. When the man had asked her name she’d told him it was April.
He knew she was lying. They all lied.
The air inside the cab was dank with the distinct tang of sex mixed with spilled malt liquor. April’s skirt was hiked up around her thighs and her panties lay in a tiny heap on the floorboards. She straddled The Man and moaned professionally as he thrust himself in and out of her. When she felt him start to climax she reached down with one hand and adroitly massaged his scrotum. That did the trick… as they say.
As he started to cum the muscles in The Man’s jaw constricted and a series of grunts escaped between clenched teeth.
April pulled her blouse down without ceremony and bent over to collect her panties. The Man grinned, reached over and goosed her ass. The girl sprang up, smacked her head on the underside of the dashboard.
The Man laughed.
“Goddamnsonofabitch!!” she swore. “That fucking hurt!”
“That the same mouth you talk to your momma with?”
April rubbed her head and sneered. “It’s the same mouth that was suckin’ your dick a few minutes ago and you didn’t seem to mind it much then.”
She glanced down and noticed his latex-covered prick was rigid once again.
“Geez, mister, you been snortin’ Viagra or somethin’?’
“Or somethin’,” the man replied, grabbing for the girl’s breast.
With a practiced agility April managed to evade his grasp.
“You wanna play again, you gotta pay again, Cowboy. Those’re the rules.”
“Nah, I don’t think so,” he drawled.
He grabbed her, yanked her towards him, pressed his mouth forcefully on hers, kissed her hard.
April pulled away, repulsed.
“I told you not to do that!”
“You gotta lot of rules for a nasty little street tramp,” he taunted, tightening his grip. Then he kissed her again.
The girl’s adrenal glands kicked into overdrive as she struggled fiercely.
“Get off me you sick fuck!”
The Man released his grip and backhanded her across the face.
April exhaled a stunned gasp and pulled as far away as the confined space allowed. She touched the back of her hand to her crushed lip, glanced down and saw blood, began to tremble.
“Nobody does that to me! Nobody!”
She lunged.
At first The Man made no attempt to shield himself from the girl’s rage. He accepted the punishment with an amused grin. Then, in one fluid motion, he snatched her hands and forced them to her side. His strange smile remained fixed as he held her arms pinned. He glared malevolently into her eyes. The Man’s gaze penetrated, chilled the fire right out of her.
And then, in the space of a single heartbeat, April understood…
Time became elastic, slowed like cold molasses, down to the millisecond. The Man felt his heart rate increase and his erection strain. He inhaled deeply, feasting on the aroma of the young woman’s fear.
If he were ever required to narrow it down to just one moment, this was it; that marvelous expression of unbridled terror they all seemed to have in common… once they came to realize the depth of their miscalculation. How he savored this.
The rain began once again, this time in earnest. And the sound drowned out the screams.
It was a considerable time before the truck’s motion ceased. And then, just for the briefest of moments, the only sound to be heard was that of the sheeting rain; a droning that encompassed all, washing away dirt, smog and sin.
The passenger door opened and moments later April’s lifeless form dropped onto the muddy roadway. She came to rest face down, extremities all askew, a macabre rag doll.
The door squealed as it was yanked shut, and then a few seconds later the big V-8 cranked over.
The Man strapped on his seatbelt and turned up the volume on the old Pioneer deck. He paused to check his reflection in the rearview, picked something from his teeth, then slipped the gearshift into drive and crept the two hundred yards to where the fire road joined up with Mulholland Highway. He switched on the headlights and pulled onto the deserted roadway, accelerated to cruising speed, all the while singing along with Travis.


2
It was the kind of mid-December morning that took your breath away. The sky was an incredible shade of cobalt and the air was fresh and crisp. A rare day indeed for this so-called City of Angels. The storm in the flatlands had drifted east during the night, flocking the local mountains with nearly a foot of snow.
Maxine “Max” Calderas stood on the balcony of her fifth-floor North Hollywood apartment; warming her hands on a mug of coffee and watching the clouds drift by.
Aretha Franklin wafted from the living room and a clock indicated the time as 6:30. A pile of newspapers littered one corner of a dining table, and on the opposite end, a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson semi-auto slept snugly in a ballistic nylon holster. A collection of family photos hung on the wall by the table, one of which, a portrait of a teenage girl, was framed with black crepe paper.
Even at fifty-one, Maxine “Maximum” Calderas was one Los Angeles Police Detective that was especially easy on the eyes. Thick salt and pepper hair and expressive wide-set green eyes complemented high cheekbones. Standing five-nine on an athletic frame, Max was formidable as well as attractive. She’d acquired the handle ‘Maximum” at the police academy, the explanation for which varied depending on to whom one was speaking. In any event, the handle had remained. Even her grandkids referred to her as Maximum: Granny Maximum.
Her shift started at eight and this was her ‘Quiet Time’. Her time to relax and contemplate the day ahead. Quiet Time was a survival skill Max’s mother had taught her at an early age. One of a multitude of character traits they shared in common was the absolute requirement for space away from The World.
Max eyed the traffic on Lankershim and breathed in the fragrant steam rising form the mug. She returned to her thoughts.
Life had been so simple once upon a time, back in Momma’s kitchen, with all those fine spicy aromas and kettle juices sizzling on the old iron stove. Max and her sister, Bernie, older by four years, helped out with food preparation, chopping onions and carrots and celery.
Feeding a household of eight was a full-time job all by itself, but there was still laundry and grocery shopping and guitar lessons for Alonzo on Tuesdays after school, and a whole litany of other chores and obligations, all of which Momma Calderas juggled with a perpetual smile.
Max had enjoyed school, excelled in English and anything related to sports. By age sixteen she had developed a marked preference for one-on-one competition and became infatuated with the sport and art of archery. There was just something so elegant about the entire experience. The tension of the bow. The stillness and concentration. The release of the string and the transfer of energy to the aluminum shaft. The wickedly fast flight, a sunlit reflection of quicksilver and blurred feathers, The sound of the strike, the shaft burying itself in the wired bale of hay.
Max swallowed the last of the coffee and stepped inside the apartment, locked the sliding glass door behind her. She crossed to the dining area, lifted the shoulder holster from the table and strapped it on. She camouflaged the rig with a rust colored blazer, checked her reflection in the mirror, made some last minute adjustments, and exited the apartment.
*****
Greg London didn’t hear the alarm go off at six. He was lost in a tropical dreamscape, cavorting with buxom young women aboard a sleek yacht.
At 6:30, the blaring of the second alarm clock finally roused him as it echoed off the tiles in the master bath.
Greg mumbled profanities as he swung a leg over the side of the bed. He padded barefoot toward the bathroom, smacked the alarm silent, and checked out his reflection in the mirror.
Detective Greg London was thirty-nine, with a mostly full head of nutmeg colored hair, and a baby face that belied his true nature. He’d been married and divorced twice, and after his last experience at the hands of the California Family Courts, swore an oath to God and Universe that there would never be a third Mrs. London. However, his current squeeze, Denise, a twenty-four year old pre-school teacher, had different plans entirely.
Greg glanced at the time.
“For fucks sake.”
He kicked in the afterburners, showered and dressed in record time. Then, as was his custom, he headed for the automatic drip coffee pot that had been set the previous night to begin brewing at six a.m. sharp. Fuck strolling around on the moon. As far as Greg London was concerned this was the epitome of Mankind’s technology.
In his hurry, Greg overfilled the coffee mug, and then compounded the gaff by attempting to slurp the overage. Having sat in the pot those extra thirty minutes or so had turned the liquid molten. Greg jumped back, knocked the mug across the counter, and splashed hot coffee all over the silk tie Denise had just given him for his birthday. Worse still, he didn’t have a clean replacement or time to go digging through the laundry hamper for a less soiled alternate. He hadn’t been up an hour yet and already he was in a foul mood.
Less than five minutes later, on the way out of the apartment building, he stepped off the stairs at an angle, twisted his ankle and very nearly completed a full face-plant.
And of course, when he finally got to the station house, Max was waiting for him by the cruiser. She glanced down at her watch.
“Sorry, Max. Goddamn alarm didn’t go off.”
“Nice tie there, Chief,” she smirked, always happy to add insult to injury. “Let’s shake it. We have a call.”
London climbed into the passenger seat and clicked on the seatbelt.
“Another long night?” Max queried.
London pretended not to hear her.
Max continued the needling. “You should marry that girl before she wises up.”
“Like I really need to hear this shit first thing in the morning,” Greg replied with a caustic tone.
Max chuckled.
Twenty minutes later, Detective Calderas nosed the cruiser off Mulholland Highway onto a dirt fire road that had been marked off with crime scene tape. The prior night’s storm had reduced the roadway to an impassable mud hole. There were a couple of black and white prowlers on scene as well as a coroner’s wagon and a four-wheel-drive news van. The muscles in London’s jaw tightened as he surveyed the panorama.
“Ever have the feeling you should’ve just stayed in bed?”
“Frequently,” Max responded.
Beverly Crescent, newscaster for local channel six, along with her crew, was shooting a sequence for the evening news. Just a few yards behind her the blanket-shrouded remains lay in plain sight.
“Hello, I’m Beverly Crescent, and you’re watching channel six news. This morning at around five, a local man out for a jog made a grisly discovery; the body of a young woman apparently dumped here sometime during the night.”
The cameraman adjusted the depth of field on the lens and tilted the camera in such a way as to take in as much of the body’s exposed extremities as possible. Death was always good for ratings. Death by homicide, even better. Throw a dash of kinky sex into the mix and we could be talking Pulitzer here!
The newscaster continued her monologue. “Police are refusing to speculate if this is the latest victim of the serial killer who’s been terrorizing Los Angeles; the elusive stalker know only as ‘The Coyote’."
Beverly’s pause was dramatic. “For those of you keeping count, in just the past two months the bodies of four young women have turned up in semi-rural locations throughout the county.”
At that instant detectives Calderas and London came into Beverly’s field of view. The newscaster was quick to capitalize on the opportunity, shoving a microphone under London’s nose.
“Excuse me. Excuse me, detective London. Is there anything you’d like to say to our viewing audience?”
“As a matter of fact, there is,” Greg replied. Then he looked directly into the camera and smiled all warm and toothy. “Change the channel, folks. These people are fuckin’ ghouls.”
Beverly’s lips stretched back over artificially whitened teeth into what could only be described as a snarl. But always the consummate professional, she managed to regain her composure in just under a nanosecond.
“Thanks a lot, London. Now we’re going to have re-shoot the entire sequence.”
“Uh, no Bev. I don’t think so,” the detective replied. I think what you’re going to do is pack up all this crap and vamanos the hell outta here. You’re standing right in the middle of a crime scene for chrissakes. I can’t have you and your crew contaminating the scene and destroying evidence.”
“What about the people’s right to know?”
“Inform the people,” London continued. “Be my guest. Just do it from the other side of that tape.”
Beverly opened her mouth as if to say something pithy in reply, but her brain engaged before her tongue did. She turned on her cameraman instead.
“Alright Les, you heard the detective.” Her voice was cold, taking on a tone not associated with her on-air persona.
London shook his head.
“Is there something else, Greg?”
“Yeah Bev, as a matter of fact, there is. You know, ever since I got handed this assignment there’s been one thing eating at me.”
“And what might that be? How you’ve managed to rise to the lofty rank of Lieutenant despite your obvious lack of competence?”
“Actually Bev, you’re not even close. What I was wondering was where you come up with those moronic names? I mean ‘The Coyote’, what the fuck is that about anyway?”
“The last girl had bite marks…”
“So the media alleges,” London snapped back.
“People saw the body Greg…”
A sardonic smile spread across London’s face. “That’s right, Bev. ‘People’ did see the body. But as you know, people frequently don’t know what the fuck they’re looking at. There are a lot of ways for a stiff to get marked up.”
Looking for a way to end the conversation, Beverly opted for candor. “It was either going to be ‘The Coyote’ or ‘The Grim Raper’. I made an executive decision.”
“Really? You mean to tell me you made up that shit on the spur of the moment?” London asked, utter amazement in his voice.
“That is what they pay me for Greg,” Beverly replied icily, annoyed with the banter.
London turned to Calderas. “Damn, Max, I was wrong.”
Calderas raised an eyebrow.
“Whoa, there. Hang on a minute, Beverly. This is a real piece of late-breaking news. Greg London has just admitted to being wrong. I’ve never heard him use those three words in a sentence before.”
London shrugged. “What can I say? There has to be a first time for everything, no?”
“What are you talking about?” Beverly demanded.
“Well Bev, I was sure that a select group of you media jackals got together at the beginning of the year around some waterhole, and picked names out of a hat. You know, like the weather guys do with hurricanes.”
Calderas smiled at the insult.
“If that’s your idea of comedy Greg, I hope you plan to keep your day job,” Beverly retorted.
“Nice talking with you Bev.”
Detectives Calderas and London picked their way across the muddy access road and approached two uniforms.
“You guys first on the scene?” detective Calderas queried the older of the two.
“Actually the snow queen over there beat us in,” he replied, referring to the news team.
“Find anything interesting?” Calderas continued.
“We found a purse. Got the vic’s ID.”
The officer handed detective Calderas a plastic baggie that contained an Oklahoma driver’s license. Max scanned it.
“Ellen Pomeroy, D.O.B. March 21, 1993. Jesus Greg, another baby.”
“What can I say, Max? This prick likes them young.”
“All men, regardless of age, race, creed, religion, or infirmity seem to like them young, Greg,” Calderas responded acidly.
“Aw shit Max. Don’t go getting all gynocentric on me.”




“When I was growing up I always wanted to be Someone. Now I realize I should have been more specific.”
-Lily Tomlin


3
(A couple of days later)
The morning sun illuminated the traffic that was backed up outside the office building at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Ashleigh way.
In its heyday the building was occupied by the likes of Herman Cardell, the world-renowned attorney-for-the-stars, and Jake Epstein, Hollywood agent turned Hollywood producer; the very first of the breed. But that was a long time ago, way back in the mid-fifties, before crack babies and drive-by shootings. It was a time when the neighborhood was considered upscale and its proximity to the major studios, desirable.
That was then. Today nothing is the way it was: not the Town, not the Industry.
Currently the building’s occupancy rate hovered in the neighborhood of twenty percent, which gave the owners little in the way of motivation regarding upkeep. The few tenants that remained were a reflection of the times.
The entire bottom floor was home to ZT Systems, an answering service bureau utilized by the entertainment industry since ’79.
On the second floor there was a company called Keyhole Investigations. Keyhole was directly across the hall from an outcall massage service, the sign on that door read: PRIVATE in oversized, blood red lettering. At the end of the hallway, a large, five-room suite was currently being utilized as a dental clinic, the primary clientele being illegal immigrants; people used to paying cash for services rendered and ignorant of their rights under personal injury law.
On the third floor there was an accountant, three attorneys, and one low-rent talent agency. The sign on that door was in an elegant script more befitting Rodeo Drive. It read: MONROE TALENT GROUP, LTD.
On the wall right beside the door some artist wannabe with too much time on his or her hands had spray-painted a primitive rendition of a penis, in day-glow neon pink, along with the catchy phrase: PORNO MEAT RENTAL CO.
The Monroe Talent Group’s offices consisted of three rooms. First, there was a tiny reception area dominated by a battered green naugahyde couch. In front of the couch, at the perfect shin-crunching distance, there was a decrepit coffee table with months-old copies of the Hollywood Reporter and Actors Log strewn about.
Referring to the second area as a 'room' was an out and out fabrication concocted by a rental agent of questionable repute. In reality it was the size of a large walk-in closet and served only to store the ‘Files’. The Files were large vertical cabinets containing mostly pictures and resumes of the current clientele, along with various contracts and the like. This entire system was a remnant of the prehistoric time before submissions became mostly digital in nature.
The room where the actual work got done was about three times the size of the reception area but felt cramped nonetheless. Two large desks faced each other at one end of the room. And at the opposite end there was another beat up couch. The walls were a nicotine-tinted shade of eggshell, and the earth tone carpet was pitted and water-stained.
Such are the stuff Hollywood dreams are made of.
Shelly Ilene Monroe sat at her desk gazing out the window at the alley below, a Camel filter tip dangling from her lips, and a phone cradled between shoulder and doughy cheek.
“…Of course he can scuba dive. It’s right there on his resume for chrissake… It’s not?”
Shelly improvised as she adjusted the bra that was cutting into the ample flesh of her bosom. “Has to be some sort of computer glitch. What do you think, Bruce, I’m going to risk my reputation sending you someone who can’t deliver? ...Of course not, sweetheart. No problem. I’ll have him there tomorrow at five-fifteen. Ciao for now.”
Shelly glanced across her desk at her lone employee, Irv, who was calmly losing a hand of solitaire. “Irv, get me that lox Jimmy Bodine on the phone.”
Irv looked up from his cards and blinked. “That wasn’t Jimmy you were hyping to Bruce Kanter just now?”
“Sure as hell was. What about it?”
Irv removed his gold wire-frame glasses and nervously polished the lenses. “But Shelly, Jimmy Bodine doesn’t know how to swim.”
Shelly’s eyes narrowed to slits as she bored a hole through Irv’s forehead. “Yeah, so? What’s aqua ability got to do with the price of tea in China? Jimmy Bodine doesn’t have a fuckin’ prayer. You read the breakdowns. He’s all wrong for the part.”
“Then why are you wasting Bruce’s time sending him Jimmy?”
Shelly shook her head, and as if addressing a slow child, continued, “Let me explain it to you. The rumor going around town is Bruce and his most recent fuck-buddy are on the outs. So I figure what the hell. I know for a fact Bruce’s taste in men leans toward big, dumb country humps like Jimmy. So I…”
“You thought you’d set the two of them up?” Irv interrupted.
Shelly fluttered her eyelashes. “There could be romance in the air.”
“But Jimmy is straight! What’re you thinking, Shelly?”
“Give me a break! Jimmy-Fuckin’-Bodine grew up in the hill country of Tennessee for chrissakes. Didn’t you ever see Deliverance?”
“As I recall, that film took place in Georgia.”
“Tennessee, Georgia, whatever!” Shelly fumed. “If I tell him it’ll be good for his career, trust me, Jimmy’ll show up at the interview wearing a wetsuit and kneepads.”
While Irv blinked a silent response Shelly dialed out on another line.
“God if only we had a couple more clients like Cody Clifton…” Shelly added dreamily. “That boy’s got winner written all over him.”
“Let’s not forget who brought him over,” Irv reminded.
“You’re right, Irv. We should give credit where credit is due. Jimmy-Fuckin’-Bodine may be a lox, as well as a colossal pain in the ass, but he did bring us Cody. God bless him for that.”
Shelly turned her attention to the telephone. On the other end of the line a machine picked up after the fourth ring.
“Cody, darling, this is Shelly. Give me a call as soon as you get this message. I have an interview for you. Another callback for Chuck Dallas, Private Investigator. I’ll give you the details when I hear back from you. Ciao for now, honey.”
Irv Birnbaum was forty-eight years old. He’d started working with Shelly back in ’96 when they were both schleppers for the Spielman Agency. Over the course of three decades in the Entertainment industry, Milt Spielman had cultivated a reputation as a tyrant as well as a tightwad. Under his tutelage Shelly and Irv learned the ropes of the talent agency business. And for that privilege they were ruthlessly overworked and severely underpaid. It was Shelly who dreamed of bigger things and always kept her eye on the ball.
Then in 2002, Shelly’s mother, Lillian Monroe nee Himmelstein, did the only unselfish thing she’d ever done in her entire life; she died suddenly, leaving all her worldly possessions to her only child, Shelly Ilene. The inheritance hadn’t been much, but it had been enough to tell Spielman where he could stick his shitty job. She’d emptied her desk and opened her own shop and asked Irv if he’d care to tag along. He’d agreed, and spent the following decade with Shelly, eking out an existence pimping, what is referred to in the Industry as, day players.
Irv’s great ambition in life was to become a full partner in the agency. An equal. A peer. But Shelly liked things the way they were, with her name on the top line of the franchise.
“Shell, how many callbacks does this make?” Irv asked.
Shelly held out her hand with all five plump fingers fully extended. “The casting director told me the writer loves Cody’s delivery.”
Irv’s face took on a sour expression. “Who cares what the writer thinks? Writer’s are the bottom of the food chain.”
“In this particular case the writer also happens to be one of the producers.”
“Oh my!”
Shelly continued, “The bad news is he’s only one of four.”
“There’s always bad news, isn’t there?” Irv responded, once again removing his wire-rims for a quick polishing.
“Just the same, I’m starting to get excited. The Network’s so completely apeshit over this show, they actually gave the producers a deal for a guaranteed thirteen episode run!”
Irv adjusted the nose piece on the spectacles and his eyes grew wide, magnified four-fold by the lenses. “Are you serious?”
Shelly beamed a smile. “Serious as a heart attack. Brings back sweet memories, doesn’t it?”
The corners of Irv’s mouth curled upward in a faint smile. “The good old days, eh Shell?”
“That’s right Irving, The good old days. Back before a show got bought for six and canceled after two.”
Shelly sat back in the chair and propped her feet up on the desk, gazed out the window into the distance.
“And you know what it’ll mean if Cody hits, don’t you?”
Irv chuckled nervously. “No more wrestling with the junkies to get out of the parking lot?”
Shelly didn’t even hear the response. Her mind was off planning the future. “It’ll mean the Monroe Talent Group’s name will be on the lips of every power broker in town! That’s what it’ll mean! After all these years scratching I think we finally got a ‘Contender’.”
Shelly turned her eyes toward Irv. “And Irving, doll, do you know what the best part’s gonna be?”
Irv’s lower lip quivered. “Tell me about The Rabbits again, Shelly."
Her grin broadened. “The best part’s going to be when I negotiate a five year deal for our young Mr. Clifton, so that no matter what big agency the ingrate prick eventually leaves us for, we’ll continue getting paid each and every episode.”
Irv sat back in his chair and put his feet up on the desk, emulating Boss lady. “And let’s not forget about the residuals!” Irv added.
Shelly laughed. “No, Irv, we most certainly won’t forget the residuals. God, how I love this Business!”

 

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