Tuesday, November 9, 2010

La Ronde Part 6: The Lesser Evil by Me


Patti Abbott started this thing five weeks ago, introducing us to a guy named Charles Prescott, who was jealous of a guy named Grady Disch. And so it went. Disch was jealous of James Preston. Preston of Jeanette Campbell. Jeanette of India Hamilton, and India of Walter Raines and his furry friend Scraps. The task of each new writer was to compose a tale centered on the object of the previous protagonist's jealousy.

So here we are at week 6, and thanks to Rob Kitchin I inherited Walter and Scraps. It was a challenge, I admit, especially while immersed in the madness of NaNoWriMo. More than once, I caught myself slipping into first person (the POV of my NaNo novel) and was constantly fighting the urge to let someone talk like Sherlock Holmes. But here it is, and not a moment too soon. Hope you don't hate it.

Next week, I look forward to seeing what my fellow-Discount Noir writer Eric Beetner does with the charming Adam Rubenstein.

What has gone before:
Part 1: The Dish Ran Away With the Spoon by Patti Abbott
Part 2: Blinded by the Brilliance of his Own Reflection by Dana King
Part 3: Provocateur by K.A. Laity
Part 4: Enter the Fat Lady by Sandra Seamans
Part 5: It's a Dog's Life by Rob Kitchin 

and now . . .

THE LESSER EVIL

    Walter Raines pulled the key card from the slot, pushed the door open and smiled as Scraps barreled past him, heading for the water dish. The hotel room was stuffy, and Walter cracked open the window facing the alley. He’d have to remember to shut that before he left. Couldn’t have Scraps getting out again - not like last time.

    Walter padded to the refrigerator, frowned at the meager contents - a half-bottle of Diet Coke and a grease-stained paper carton holding the remains of last night’s mu shu pork. He popped open the carton and dumped it onto a plastic dinner plate.

    “Scraps!” he said, placing the plate on the floor. “Bon appetit.”

    Panting happily, the big golden retriever thrust his snout into the cold, gooey mess. Diet Coke in hand, Walter headed for the bathroom.

    After meeting the subject of his investigation this morning in the park, he’d spent the day visiting establishments she frequented and forming a better picture of her. Was she really a murderer, as his client insisted?

    In person, India Hamilton was softer, shorter and more vulnerable than she appeared on TV.  She’d seemed quite nice, even allowing Scraps to drool on her. Walter had felt a bit guilty handing her those lies about a wife, daughters and a happy homelife.

    But murderer or not, Adam Rubenstein wanted dirt on her, and wanted it fast. The young turk lawyer wasn’t like his father, an honorable man Walter had been proud to work for. Adam had looks, money, women, an Ivy League education - everything Walter had been denied. But Adam was an asshole, with more regard for his ego than for the law. Now he was representing Jeanette Campbell, the busty brunette accused of strangling that so-called movie star, James Preston.

    Walter would have refused the job, but this “new” economy was tough on a private investigator, especially a fifty year old black man many considered over the hill. The only perk to this job was that Adam had put him up in this hotel, just three blocks off Central Park. It wasn’t the Ritz, but it was luxurious compared to his apartment in Queens.

    After a shower, Walter stood at the mirror adjusting his fake mustache. He then got into his rented uniform. The party tonight would be a hectic affair, and no one would be counting waiters. It would give him a chance to study India Hamilton in her natural habitat.

    He clicked on the TV, found Animal Planet for Scraps, and scratched the dog behind the ears.

    “You’re on your own tonight, guy. But if you wait up for me, you’ll get some fancy leftovers.”

##

    The party, held in a Park Avenue penthouse, was like Entertainment Tonight come to life. Katy Perry and Lady Gaga sashayed by, taking martinis from Walter’s tray without seeing him at all. Alex Rodriguez stood swapping stories with Eli Manning. A tipsy Paris Hilton kept trying to sit in the lap of Bill Crider - while Crider was standing up.

    India Hamilton, as Walter had hoped, was oblivious to him. Like three other women, she was doing her best to claim sole possession of Charlie Sheen.

    A voice at Walter’s elbow said, “It’s warm in here, don’t you think?” He turned to stare into the face of the host, Donald Trump. “Would you mind opening a window?”

    A window. Walter nearly dropped his tray. Had he remembered to close the window of his hotel room? He couldn’t recall.

    A hand was passing before his eyes.

    “Hello,” Trump said. “Anyone in there?”

    “Right away, sir.” Walter hurried off, but had no intention of opening a window. He had to get back the hotel to close one.

    A man stepped into his path. “Walter. A word.”

    Tall, wavy-haired Adam Rubenstein glowered down at him. At Adam’s side was Grady Disch, the poet who had hated the murdered man, and had a brief affair with Jeanette Campbell. Disch had an Olsen twin on either arm.

    Adam pushed Walter out of Disch’s hearing. “What did you find out?”

    “About Disch? He was pretty hot stuff at a prep school out in Philadelphia, but they ran him off for getting too cozy with the girl students.”

    Adam’s eyes gleamed. “You have proof?”

    “A statement from one of the teachers. Charles Prescott.”

    “Good. Sit on it. What about the Hamilton witch?”

    “Not sure I’d call her that,” Walter said. “Most people like her. And she was nice to my dog.”

    “Hell,” Adam said. “Hitler liked dogs. Look, I’m paying for results. If you can’t find evidence you’ll have to make her confess.”

    Walter blinked at him.

    “She has a daughter. Upstate in boarding school. Drop a hint that unless she admits killing Preston some bad things could happen to the kid. Very bad things.” Adam leaned back, looking quite proud of himself.

    Walter felt sick, unable to speak.

    “Just remember,” Adam said. “I know a thing or two about your past.”

    Walter swallowed. Hard. If Adam talked, he’d be living on welfare, if not in jail.

    “Go. Do it now.”

    Walter stumbled off, his mind reeling. Killer or lawyer. Which was the lesser evil? He had to decide, and fast. Finding pen and paper, he scribbled a short note. If you value the life of your daughter, meet me on the veranda.

    Half in a daze, he placed the note on a serving tray and found India Hamilton. To his relief, she’d lost her grip on Charlie Sheen.

    Walter presented the tray. “From a gentleman across the room,” he said, and hurried off before she could ask questions. He slipped into the next room and out onto the veranda. The night was cold, and he was alone. He stood at the railing, gazing down at the long dark mass of Central Park. Was Scraps down there somewhere?

    India Hamilton appeared, squinted at him, and approached warily. “You,” she said. “You gave me the note. Where is the man who sent it?”

    “That was me,” Walter said. “I had to talk to you. Your daughter is in danger. There’s someone here who wants you to confess to your husband’s murder.”

    “Someone?” she hissed. “Wait! I know you! From the park, with the dog. You dare to threaten my daughter?”

    Walter held up his hands. “No. It’s not like that. I merely want to--”

    The air whoofed from his lungs as the woman’s bony shoulder smashed into him. He turned, trying to escape her flashing nails, and leaned half over the railing. Strong hands grabbed his ankles, yanked his legs. Then Walter was flying, straight down, picking up speed as windows flashed by. If India Hamilton wasn’t a killer before, she certainly was now. Had he done the right thing?

    Below, he saw paparazzi and TV cameras crowding the sidewalk near the building’s entrance. And trotting toward them, hunting his master, came Scraps.

     That was the last thing Walter saw in this life.

##

    The world looked hazy, as if seen though a silk curtain. Walter felt strange, his body weightless. In fact, his body lay far below him, on the sidewalk, while policemen prowled about, keeping the press at bay.

    Scraps was there too, licking his face, until a cop shooed him away.

    Flashbulbs popped as the paparazzi rushed the door. The partygoers emerged,  Adam Rubenstein and India Hamilton in the forefront, posing for pictures.

    Walter heard Scraps’ familiar growl. The dog rushed at Adam, teeth bared. 

    Adam tried to kick him. “Get that mutt away from me! Someone call the pound.”

    “No!” The voice was India Hamilton’s. “He’s mine! Here, Scraps!”

    Tail wagging, Scraps came into her arms, licked her cheeks. More flashbulbs burst.

    The scene was fading fast. Walter had time for one last smile, and one last thought.

    He’d made the right choice. The killer was the lesser evil.

###

© copyright 2010 by Evan Lewis

13 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Great job! I don't know how you got them all in. And such great atmosphere.

Margot Kinberg said...

Oh, this is a terrific addition to this series of stories!!! I love the way you created the atmosphere, too, and you've done a wonderful job with the twist at the end.

sandra seamans said...

Great story, Evan! I love how you've folded all of the characters back into the story without missing a beat. I can't wait to see what happens next.

K. A. Laity said...

A tipsy Paris Hilton kept trying to sit in the lap of Bill Crider - while Crider was standing up.

Hee hee! What a lot of fun this was. I enjoyed the twists and turns. You've set up a nice challenge.

Richard Robinson said...

What a terrific story!!

You nailed it, great job. Plus I can see the headline (below the fold) "Lawyer Kicks Dog". Huzzah.

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks folks. This was fun. Maybe not as much fun for me as for Bill, though.

Charles Gramlich said...

Good fun. I did not hate it. In fact, I enjoyed it considerably. :)

Cora said...

Great job wrapping back round and an enjoyable short romp. And glad that scraps even managed to get folded back in.

Rob Kitchin said...

Sorry, the Cora entry was mine. Forgot to swap household google accounts!

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks Rob. Do you and Cora happen to share your home with an overweight golden retriever?

Rob Kitchin said...

A black lab, a collie and a somekind of collie/terrie cross. And none of them are as well behaved as Scraps.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Top notch, and the Crider/Hilton scene, with a Chandler homage tossed in, was the icing on the cake.

nigel p bird said...

a class act, bringing all those characters together so smoothly. well done.