Read The Man With the Iron-On Badge Online

Authors: Lee Goldberg

Tags: #Mystery

The Man With the Iron-On Badge (11 page)

“Yeah, why?”

“I’d like to take it to work with me; maybe I can use Arlo’s VISA number to run a credit check on him and get you an address.”

That was a great idea.

Who’d have thought having a friend at a mortgage company would come in handy on an investigation?

I was learning that there were other ways for a private eye to get information without having a love-hate relationship with a cop.

“You’re my Peggy
my Susan Silverman,” I said.

“Who are they?” she asked.

“Peggy was the secretary for private eye Joe Mannix. She did all the important research for him while he ran around beating people up. Susan Silverman is a shrink who sleeps with Spenser, another private eye. She gives him philosophical insight into how noble and good he is and they are, and how it’s okay he’s killed a dozen people because he’s so noble and good, and then she fucks his brains out.”

“Is this your way of saying you expect me to go to bed with you now?”

That hadn’t occurred to me, but since she’d mentioned it, I didn’t want to entirely dismiss the idea.

“No, but if that’s what you want …” I let my voice trail off suggestively.

“Get me the rental agreement, Harvey.”

She said it in a way that not only made it clear my suggestion was rejected, but that she was disappointed with me again. Somehow, that made me feel a lot more at ease with her.

I got up. “Can I use your computer while you’re at work?”

She tossed me the keys to her place. “Make yourself at home.”

I started for my apartment, then turned back to look at her and caught her looking at me. The expression on her face wasn’t the lingering traces of disappointment I’d expected. I saw warmth and concern and even some sadness.

“Why do you want to help me?” I asked.

“I’ve never seen you care about something before,” she said. The answer came so easily for her, I wondered if she’d been waiting for the question.

“I care about you,” I replied.

“It’s different now,” she said.

I supposed it was, but I didn’t want to get into it then. I didn’t know if I ever wanted to. I nodded in what I hoped was a deep, introspective way, and went to get her the rental agreement. I felt her eyes on me the whole way, but this time I didn’t look back.

Carol’s apartment had the same floor plan as mine, but that’s where the similarities ended. It was decorated like some kind of frilly country cottage, with yellow walls, white trim, and everything she could afford from the Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn catalogs.

She’d replaced all the door knobs and drawer handles and faucet fixtures with replicas of old-fashioned stuff, and every surface in her place had some kind of cutesy accessory, whether it was the colorful oven-mitts on the kitchen counter, the napkins in their special holder on the table, or the seat covers on all the chairs.

There were also plug-in air fresheners in every electrical outlet, which made the whole apartment smell so strongly of pine sap, I felt like I was visiting an upscale tree house.

Ordinarily, I felt uncomfortable in her apartment and fled as soon as possible. But this time, I was concentrating so much on her computer screen, I was oblivious to my environment.

First, I used a search engine to see what I could find on the Internet about Lauren Parkus. I found lots of articles, mostly local society columns, about parties and fundraisers she either organized or had attended. The events were always very pricey affairs for good causes at five-star hotels, and the guest lists usually included some movie stars, major sports figures, and big corporate leaders.

There were also a few pictures of her. Each time one came up on screen, it startled me. Her eyes always looked so alive. Of course, nothing about her was alive any more.

Cyril Parkus was often in the photographs with his wife, a big, proud smile on his face. He seemed so glad to be there, as if he was having such a good time battling cancer, illiteracy, lupus, sudden infant death syndrome, teenage drug addiction, and pollution of our groundwater. They were just parties to him—I think they were more to Lauren, or at least I wanted to believe they were. He also held her in a possessive kind of way that declared,
I get to take her home and fuck her and you don’t.

I looked up Cyril Parkus. There were even more articles about him than his wife, mostly business pieces about the financial side of the movies. Apparently he was a major player in the international sale and distribution of movies. Anytime there was an article about the field, he was the expert they quoted. I guess he qualified as an “industry leader.” I figured it was his stature in the business that got so many people to contribute and participate in the charities Lauren was involved in.

Just for the hell of it, I tried looking up Arlo Pelz in a few of those Internet phone book and “find your lost friend, lover, or relative” websites, but came up empty. I also ran my name on those same sites, and wasn’t surprised that nothing turned up for me, either. We were both as irrelevant in cyberspace as we were in the real world.

But I was going to find him, somehow, and I was going to make him pay for blackmailing Lauren Parkus and driving her to commit suicide. I also intended to get him back for kicking the piss out of me.

Intention and ability are two very different things.

I wasn’t martial artist or a boxer. I had no self-defense skills at all, unless you include running and hiding. The last actual fistfight I’d been in was in the fourth grade and it went a lot like that fight in the elevator, with the other guy doing all the hitting and kicking and me doing all the crying.

I didn’t have time to find a master of the ancient art of Sinanju and learn how to turn a napkin into a lethal weapon.

If I wanted to take Arlo, it couldn’t be a fair fight. I needed an edge.

With that in mind, the next thing I did was go back to the search engine and type in the phrases: “‘Realistic toy gun’ AND ‘police shooting.’” The search engine coughed up a couple hundred articles about police officers shooting kids and morons who pointed fake guns at them. I scanned the articles and narrowed my search until I found the brand name and model of toy gun that did the best job of fooling the police and getting kids and morons killed.

It was an exact, plastic replica of a Desert Eagle semi-automatic pistol that fired BBs. I found the manufacturer’s website and learned they also made detailed replicas of just about every other pistol, machine gun, and rifle you could imagine.

The air-fired BB guns were intended mostly for target shooting, but were also used a lot in movie and TV production as stand-ins for the real thing. By law, the replica guns came with a bright orange tip on the barrel so they couldn’t be mistaken for genuine firearms. But it wasn’t hard to break the tip off, or paint it, and trick someone holding a real weapon into shooting you five or six times.

The fake Desert Eagle semi-automatic pistol sold for about forty bucks, a fraction of the cost of a real one, and required no license or waiting period. All you had to be was over twenty-one years old and gun crazy.

That’s when Carol called, excitement in her voice. She’d discovered that the credit card Arlo Pelz used was shared with his wife, Jolene, that the card was officially in her name, and that the bills were sent to her in Snohomish, Washington, which was just outside Seattle.

I got a chill up my back, just like the one I got when Bruce Willis saw the wedding ring drop out of his wife’s hand in The Sixth Sense.

I checked the article about Lauren Parkus’ suicide again, to be sure the chill I felt wasn’t lightheadedness from inhaling all that pine air freshener. It wasn’t. The article said Lauren’s mother lived in Seattle.

I got the chill again and told Carol why. I think I heard her swallow a squeal. It was kind of like we were having phone sex, saying the things we knew would get the other person off.

“If anybody finds out what I was doing, I could get fired for this, but I don’t care,” Carol admitted, her hushed voice tittering with excitement. “It was fun.”

She’d discovered my awful secret. Snooping was a thrill, so much so that she’d easily forgotten the dark side, the whole reason she was looking into Arlo Pelz for me: somebody died. I didn’t have the heart to remind her. Carol did me a favor; she deserved to enjoy it.

“You have something else I can do?” she whispered conspiratorially.

I told her there wasn’t and thanked her for what she’d found out. I also told her I wouldn’t be around when she got back and that I’d leave her keys in my mailbox.

Then I called my supervisor at the security company, told him I had a horrible stomach flu, and that I’d probably be out for a couple days.

And then I printed out the specs on the Desert Eagle and a list of the manufacturer’s retailers in Seattle.

When I got to LAX, I discovered that the airline had overbooked my flight. They were offering four hundred dollars in free travel vouchers to any volunteers who were willing to give up their seats and wait for the next flight to Seattle in three hours.

I wasn’t in a hurry. Lauren Parkus was already dead. Three hours wouldn’t change much. I volunteered my narrow coach seat and five inches of legroom.

I got my free travel voucher and, feeling flush, went to the restaurant and treated myself to one of their $8.95 cheeseburgers and $2.50 Cokes.

It was only while I was sitting there, eating my insanely expensive fast food, that I started thinking about things. First, I wondered how the public allowed airports and movie theatres to charge so goddamn much for food. Then I thought about what I’d do when I got to Seattle.

I hadn’t made any concrete, or even sketchy, plans yet. I’d been so caught up in the excitement of my discoveries, I’d just let the momentum carry me along.

The only thing I knew for sure was that I was going to the Snohomish address where the credit card bills were sent, but I didn’t know what I was going to do when I got there, how I’d capture Arlo, and what I’d do with him once I did.

I wondered what the Seattle connection was, and if maybe Arlo or his wife Jolene were relatives of Lauren’s. I also wondered what kind of woman would marry Arlo Pelz and if she was involved with the blackmail scheme, too. And if she was, what was I going to do about her? What if neither one of them was there? What would I do then?

I could go and talk to Lauren’s mother, for one thing. Maybe she could tell me something about Arlo or Jolene or Lauren that would help me figure everything out.

And that’s when I realized there was something else I didn’t know: Lauren’s maiden name.

How was I supposed to find her mother without knowing at least that?

It was a good thing I volunteered to sit the flight out, because I wouldn’t have discovered until much later how ill-prepared I was for the journey.

So I sat there in the criminally overpriced airport restaurant, nursing my Coke and thinking hard, hoping the slow trickle of sugar and caffeine into my system would jump-start my brain.

I started by asking myself who would know the name of Lauren’s mother. Cyril Parkus certainly would, but I couldn’t ask him. The police probably knew, but I wasn’t brave enough to call them. I was fucked.

If only the LA Times reporter had asked for Lauren’s maiden name when he was writing his story, he could have saved me a lot of trouble.

Thinking about the LA Times made me think about what I read on the can in the guard shack. I mean, what I read besides the paperbacks and the two-year-old copy of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

I found a pay phone, called the Camarillo Star-News, and asked for the city desk. I told the editor I was from The AIDS Crack Baby Rescue Alliance, and that we wanted to send a wreath to Lauren Parkus’ mother, in honor of all the money her daughter had raised to help crack babies with AIDS, and asked if he had a name or address for her. I even started sobbing to drive home my sorrow and genuine desperation.

He gave me the name, Mona Harper, and told me that she lived in Seattle, and that was all he knew. He did ask me why it sounded like I was calling from an airport. I sobbed some more and told him I was on my way to South America, to help all the malnourished, crack babies with AIDS down there. He was so touched, he wanted to make a donation to the A.C.B.R.A. in Lauren’s name. I made up a post office box address and tearfully hung up.

There’s a good reason why an editor ends up at the Camarillo Star-News instead of the LA Times, and that’s why I called him.

I wiped my eyes and went to the newsstand, where I bought a couple Sue Grafton and Robert Crais mysteries. I found a seat and started reading right away. I couldn’t help feeling like I was cramming before my final exams.

Chapter Thirteen

y the time the plane landed at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport early that evening, I’d finished the Grafton book and was almost finished with the Crais. I can’t say I consciously learned anything from the exploits of Kinsey Milhone and Elvis Cole, but I hoped something had sunk in by osmosis.

On my way through the terminal, I stopped at a gift shop and bought some Pepto Bismol and Advils which, in my haste to get going, I’d forgotten to pack. Between the uncomfortable coach seat and my anxiety, my accumulated injuries were flaring up badly.

I washed down five or six Advils with a mouthful of Pepto Bismol, then hobbled over to the Swift Rent-A-Car counter, which was located in the parking structure outside, across from the terminal.

I’d never been to Seattle before, and I didn’t know what kind of trouble I might get into or how far I might have to travel in the course of my investigation. So, I decided to step up from my Kia into something a bit more aggressive. The best they had to offer was a Buick LeSabre Custom. I took it and was careful to choose every insurance option they offered.

The LeSabre was the size of my apartment. The simulated wood-grain interior trim and the decoratively patterned cloth seats gave me a flashback to my mom’s Oldsmobile Cutlass station wagon and the fights my sister and I used to have over who got to sit “in the way-back.” When my mother abandoned us, she gladly left the Cutlass station wagon behind. My father lost it a few months later to pay gambling debts, but we really didn’t miss it.

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