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Spying in High Heels - Chapter Eight



The first time I ever saw Dana was on the blacktop at John Adams Middle School. She was wearing pink stirrup pants, a Madonna cut black mesh shirt, and way more makeup than any other seventh-grader I knew. She was standing with Alan Miller, our pre-teen equivalent of Donnie Wahlberg, and flirting. And not in the giggle, giggle, hair-flip way other girls I knew did. Dana had moves that made Alan's pants look like a little pup tent. She did the eyelash batting, the hip jutting, the shoulder thrusting, and what was later to become known as her signature move, the Lean and Shake.

Over the years the Lean and Shake has been perfected to the highly effective form I was now witnessing as Dana leaned her elbows on the stained Formica counter of the Moonlight Inn, her boobs threatening to spill from her halter, her round bottom doing a little shake, shake, shake in the air behind her.

And it was no less effective now. The night manager (a short, bald guy with mustard stains on his Metallica T-shirt) stared at Dana with a glazed expression, and I could have sworn I saw something move in his pants. Ew! I quickly looked away.

"So, you can see our predicament," Dana said, her voice sugary enough to create instant cavities.

Metallica licked his thin, chapped lips. "Dude," he said, talking to Dana's cleavage, "I'd, like, really love to help you. What was the guy's name?"

"Mr. Smith." Dana winked.

"Ah." Metallica nodded. "So it's one of those kinds of dates, huh?" He wiggled his sparse eyebrows up and down.

I had a feeling the Moonlight Inn saw quite a few of those kind of dates. As ratty as the outside was, the interior of the office was even worse. The floor was covered in peeling vinyl that cracked under my heels and looked like it hadn't been washed since sometime in the Reagan years. The walls were a dingy gray showing water damage and mold from probably faulty plumbing. Two dim, fluorescent lights buzzed above us, and the air had a thick, uncirculated smell of burnt food and unwashed bodies.

"Alls I know," Dana said, continuing her rump shake, "is Spike, that's my manager, told me to meet Mr. Smith here. And now I can't remember the room number." Dana pouted her lower lip out. "Spike's gonna be so pissed if I come back empty handed. Ya' know?"

Wow, Dana did a really good dumb blonde voice. It was somewhere between Betty Boop and Marilyn Monroe. Totally nine hundred number fake, but Metallica was eating it up. Nothing a metal head loves more than a dumb blonde in a halter top. I could see sweat beading on his upper lip as Dana poured on the charm.

"So, I was thinkin', maybe I could just kinda describe my Mr. Smith to you and maybe you could tell me what room number he's in?"

"We'd really appreciate it," I chimed in, licking my lips and making a kissy face. Okay, so I'm not the flirting expert Dana is. In fact, I felt really ridiculous in this whole getup and totally not sexy at all. Satin lingerie from Victoria's Secret is sexy. Neon spandex is just wrong.

Luckily, Metallica didn't seem to share my thoughts. He continued to eye Dana like a kid in a candy store.

"I don't know," he said, "We get an awful lot of dudes coming through here. I'm not sure I'd remember one from the other."

"Oh, I bet you have an excellent memory." Dana laid her hand on Metallica's arm, and I thought he might start hyperventilating.

"The guy we're after probably checked in on Friday, alone," I added. "He's got dark hair that he wears slicked back from his face and probably keeps a real low profile. He was last seen wearing a leather bomber jacket, black pants, and a red button-down shirt." I'd learned that much from the ten o'clock news last night.

Metallica tore his gaze from Dana's chest to quirk an eyebrow up at me. "How do you know so much about this guy?"

I swallowed. Dana shot me a look that said I should have let her do the talking.

"We've dated him before," she quickly covered.

"Cool." I'm not sure Metallica believed her. Then again, he didn't much seem to care as long as Dana kept crooning to him. I had to hand it to her. She was proving to be a hell of an actress. I hoped she got that Elvira gig.

I, on the other hand, didn't know how much longer I could keep this up. A cockroach crawled across the floor, scuttling under the counter, and I suddenly got that creep-crawly feeling on my skin. The sooner we got out of here the better. "So, is he here or not?" I asked.

"I don't know," Metallica hedged. He took a step back, looking from Dana to me. "You know, it seems kind of greedy, a dude getting both you girls."

Uh-oh.

"Hows about I tell one of you what room he's in and the other stays here and keeps me company."

Ew, ew, ew! I pasted a fake smile on my face, willing myself not to barf.

Even Dana looked like she'd just about had her fill of this guy.

"Oh, that's quite an offer," she said through a fake smile of her own. "But, see, I'm not so sure you could afford us. We're high class ladies, if ya' know what I mean."

Metallica smiled, showing off the gaps between his teeth. They reminded me of a jack-o-lantern, a cross between really goofy looking and kind of creepy.

"Well, how about you just do me a little favor for free then. I might remember all sorts of stuff for a little favor."

Gag.

Dana sighed. She leaned over the counter until her cleavage rivaled the Grand Canyon. She ran her tongue slowly over her lower lip. She slid a manicure hand up Metallica's shirt. His forehead beaded with sweat, and his breath came out in quick gasps. I didn't dare look, but I was pretty sure his pants were in pup tent territory.

Dana slowly slid her hand up his chest until she reached his collar…then she grabbed a handful of T-shirt and yanked him off the ground.

"Listen you little turd," she breathed, her nose inches from his. "We need the room number, and you're going to give it to us."

Metallica suddenly turned white, his feet dangling off the ground as his eyes bugged out. "Jesus, okay. Just, put me down lady."

I stifled a laugh. Don't piss off the Aerobics Queen.

Dana's sweet smile returned as she put him back down. But she kept her fingers wrapped around his collar. I had the fleeting thought she'd need some antibacterial cleanser for her hands after this.

"That's more like it. Now, where is our friend staying?"

Metallica looked from me to Dana, the pup tent suddenly more like a wet noodle. "Room two-ten," he finally spit out. "Second floor. Jesus, lady."

Dana let go of his shirt, patting him on the cheek. "Thanks a ton, dude."

I couldn't help it. I laughed out loud at the stunned expression on Metallica's face as Dana shook, shook, shook her way out the door.

I followed closely behind her. "Whatever happened to sweet-talking him?" I asked.

"The cockroaches were making me antsy."

I couldn't argue with that one.

"So, now we know where Greenway is. Let's go call Ramirez," Dana said.

Right. We should call Ramirez. I mean, he was the cop, after all.

But something held me back. Maybe it was the ditzy blonde syndrome that struck me every time I encountered Ramirez. Or maybe just the way he'd smirked a little too much at the sight of me in the Purple People Eater. But I really didn't want to look stupid in front of him again. If we called him now and it turned out Greenway wasn't in that room, I was going to look like a total flake.

"Maybe we should make sure he's here first," I said.

Dana looked at me as if I'd just suggested we go service Metallica. "Are you kidding? You want to go knock on the door and just ask, 'Hey, you're the guy who killed his wife, right?'"

Put like that, it didn't sound like such a hot plan. "No. Yes. I mean, what if Ramirez sends a swat team out and the room is empty. What if Greenway went across the street for a cup of coffee? If he sees the place swarming with cops, he'll be long gone again."

Dana chewed her lip for a beat. "Okay, fine. We'll knock on the door and see if he's home. But, for the love of God, leave the talking to me this time."

Right. No problem there. I wasn't exactly dying to speak to Greenway again. I cringed. Ouch, bad choice of words.

Dana and I clanked up the metal staircase to the second floor. The walls of the Moonlight Inn were thin, and I could hear the sounds of "favors" being given out all over the place. "Oh baby," seemed to resonate in stereo from behind the thin wooden doors, mixed with a steady bass rhythm from warring rap and heavy metal stations playing at top volume.

And I'm not ashamed to say, my heart was beating almost as loudly as the guitar riffs. Being on the phone with Greenway had been unnerving enough, but my teeth were starting to chatter at the thought of a face-to-face encounter. Our pace slowed as we neared two-ten. On the other side of that door was a murderer. I suddenly felt very vulnerable. And, I realized, thinking about Ramirez's big black gun, very unarmed.

Dana and I paused outside the door. The room had one window facing the parking lot. It was covered from the inside with a faded green curtain and, from the absence of light peeking between the ratty fabric, it looked like no one was home.

"Maybe he isn't here?" I whispered.

"Maybe he's sleeping."

"Maybe we shouldn't wake him up."

"Hey, this was your idea," Dana whispered.

I know. And it sounded good downstairs. But close up, I was having second thoughts. Before I could act on my newfound chickenhood, Dana rapped her knuckles against the wooden door. I bit my lip, resisting the urge to run and hide.

Nothing.

Dana knocked again, this time yelling, "Hello?"

Nothing. I heaved a sigh of relief strong enough to ruffle my fake bangs.

Then I heard it. A gun shot.

It cracked like thunder on the other side of the door, rendering both Dana and me paralyzed for one awful second.

If this were the movies, we would have rammed our shoulders into the door, busting it open and tackled the perp without breaking a nail. But, since neither of us was under contract with Warner Brothers, we did what all Los Angelinos are trained to do when confronted with real live gunfire. Run.

Dana and I turned as one, diving to the right amidst high pitched, "ohmigod"s. We clacked back down the stairs as quickly as our insanely high heels would allow and made a mad dash for my Jeep, parked across the lot. Dana hiked her dress up and was charging with quarter back determination toward the car. I was a short step behind her, my arms flailing for balance like a crazy woman as we sprinted across the blacktop.

Metallica poked his head out of the office doors. "What was that? What the hell did you crazy ho's do?"

"Nothing," Dana yelled, reaching my Jeep.

"I heard a gun."

"No you didn't," I said. I know, world's lamest comeback. But at the moment speed was more my goal than wit.

We climbed in and were just pulling out of the driveway when I swore I heard a second gunshot. I didn't stop to make sure, instead pulling down Vanowen, going two blocks before circling back around toward the freeway.

I was still reeling from the adrenalin high when Dana voiced the obvious.

"We just got shot at. Can you believe someone just shot at us?"

No I couldn't. This was so not my life. Somehow I'd been transferred into Lucy Liu's body. I was sure of it.

"Do you think it was Greenway?" I asked.

"Uh…duh! Do you know any other homicidal maniacs that would shoot at us?"

Good point.

"So, do we call Ramirez now?" Dana asked.

I couldn't help it. The smart-aleck in me reared its ugly head. "Uh…duh!"

I pulled into the parking lot of a Denny's at Van Nuys and Oxford and reached into my little bag for the card Ramirez had given me. I'm not ashamed to say my hands were still shaking as I dialed the number on my cell phone. I let Dana do the talking on the off chance Ramirez recognized my voice. I knew he'd want to ask me all kinds of annoying questions like, how did I know where Greenway was staying? How did I get his room number? Why did he shoot at me? Questions I would much rather avoid altogether. So, Dana put on her Betty Boop hooker voice again and left the anonymous tip with the desk sergeant who answered the phone.

"I don't know about you," Dana said when she hung up, "but I could use a stiff drink."

"Me too." Only I couldn't drink. Not until I knew if that line was pink or blue.

"Want to start happy hour early?"

Honestly, all I wanted to do was go home and take about ten showers to wash the creep off me, but considering I was the one who'd dragged Dana out to North Hollywood in the first place, not to mention got her shot at, I felt like I owed her.

"Sure. You have some place in mind?"

Dana flipped down the visor and began touching up her makeup again. "I know a guy who bartends at Mulligan's. It's just a couple blocks over on Van Nuys."

I pulled out of the Denny's and drove down Van Nuys, following her directions until we pulled up to a brick building with a blue neon sign above the door, blinking the word Mulligan's. A steady stream of people in business casual attire filtered through the door. I looked down at my spandex. Silently making bets on how many propositions I'd get before the day was out.

The lot was packed, so I found a place on the street, and after reluctantly feeding the meter, Dana and I emerged into the dimly lit interior of Mulligan's. I immediately recoiled as the sounds of bad karaoke echoed from a small stage in the corner where a pudgy, middle aged man was belting out a Shania Twain song.

Dana immediately ordered two vodka martinis with extra olives from her bartending friend, a Bruce Lee look-alike dressed all in black. If any day of my life ever called for a martini, today was it. However, counting selfless act number two, I promptly changed my order to a Diet Coke. Once they arrived, Dana only had time to munch one olive before Bruce Lee grabbed her hand and dragged her over to the karaoke machine for a duet of "American Pie."

I sat at the bar by myself and sipped my Diet Coke. Generally, I'm not much one for the happy hour crowd. I prefer places where you can actually hear your friends talk, like Starbucks or Nordstrom. For me a night on the town consisted of dinner and a Julia Roberts movie at Citywalk. But something about the loud, crowded, anonymity of Mulligan's was oddly soothing at the moment. Like a huge, badly sung escape from my real life.

My hands were only slightly shaking as I took another sip of my Diet Coke. It really was a poor substitute for a martini.

I was dying to know what was going on back at the motel. Had Ramirez gotten the tip? Was he arresting Greenway right now? I wondered if there was a big shootout with the cops when they arrived. God, I hoped nobody got hurt. Well, I guess I wouldn't mind Metallica taking one in the ass, but I really didn't want anyone to get killed. Least of all me, which is why even though I was dying of curiosity, I made myself stay right where I was and sip my Diet Coke. I'd give it two hours. Then I'd call Ramirez's number again and nonchalantly ask if there'd been any new developments. I would, of course, leave out the part where I gloated about finding Greenway when the whole police force couldn't. Ha, who's girly now?

Dana jostled up beside me, diving for her drink again, and took a long sip. "Ohmigod. I forgot what an awesome singer Liao is." She drained her glass and crunched down hard on an olive. "Come up with us. We're gonna do 'I Got You Babe' next."

"No thanks. I'm not really in a karaoke mood."

Dana cocked her bobbed wig to one side. "Hey, are you okay?"

No, I was not okay. I'd just been shot at!

But Dana had been nice enough to come all the way to the Valley with me, even though I'd almost gotten her killed, so there was no reason to ruin her evening with Bruce Lee.

"I'll be fine," I said. Eventually.

"You sure?"

I fake smiled. "Yeah. Fine. Really."

"Okay. Well, in that case, you wouldn't mind driving home alone would you? See, Liao's house-sitting for this guy in the hills, and he says he's got a hot tub that looks out over the Hollywood sign."

I looked down at her outfit. I hoped the invitation didn't have anything to do with the miniskirt. Then again, knowing Dana, she probably hoped it did.

"Yeah, go. I'm fine."

"Cool. I'll call you tomorrow, and we'll read all about the arrest over bagels." She gave me coconspiritorial wink before disappearing back into the ever-growing mob of happy hour patrons.

Right. The arrest. I just hoped there was one. Again I got that itch to see what was going on at the motel. Was Greenway in custody? If he was, I was sure Perky Reporter Woman would be singing all about it on the evening edition. If Richard saw news of the all clear, he might even be back in his condo tonight. I took another sip of my Diet Coke, wondering just how I felt about that.

Now that Cinderella was in the picture, I wasn't a hundred percent sure I knew how things stood between Richard and me anymore. I mean, of course I was pissed at him, he was married to a freaking Disney princess. But, as I'd learned from Mrs. Rosenblatt's parade of husbands, there were all kinds of married. Maybe they were separated, estranged. So what then?

And, to make matters worse, I couldn't stop thinking about that heated panty thing that Ramirez seemed to inspire in me, which I'm sure was just a bad case of not getting laid in awhile, but was a little unnerving all the same.

I took another sip of my Diet Coke, really wishing it had a higher vodka content. Which was a sad commentary on my life. Fashion designer wannabe yearns to get drunk after being shot at by her lying, cheating ex-boyfriend's murderous client. While thinking really unwholesome thoughts about annoying, yet oh-so-sexy, homicide detective.

"Excuse me," a voice said behind me, catching the attention of Liao's replacement behind the bar. "I'll have a Coors."

I froze.

Have you ever noticed that some people have a tendency to show up just when you're thinking of them? Mrs. Rosenblatt would undoubtedly say it was the cosmic thread that bound us all together. Personally, I think it's just dumb luck. And my luck seemed to be really bad tonight.

I resisted the urge to slink away into the dancing crowd (Because he'd probably find me anyway. After all he was a cop.) and turned around to face him.

"Well," Ramirez said, a sly grin creasing his features, "Fancy meeting you here."

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