I took the California 1 up to Malibu. Again, I got pulled over.
“You need to stop fuckin around,” the officer said. “I’ve seen your kind before. You come around here thinking you solve everything. But you can’t. You’re just one man. You can’t change the system.”
“First off,” I replied. “Weren’t you a sheriff in San Luis Obispo last week? And secondly, I’m just helping the FBI on an investigation into Franco De Werner’s missing property. I’m not trying to change any system. And third, how the hell do you know who I am? Hand me my ticket and fuck off.”
The officer glared at me for awhile then wrote up the ticket.
“I better not see your face around here again. And fuck this piece of machinery that you call a vehicle,” he warned.
“I’ll have you know that I get 12 mpg in this piece of machinery,” I replied.
The cop flipped me the bird and walked away.
I pulled up to Werner’s beachfront property. As I walked towards the house, a 50 cal. machine gun knocked up a bunch of sand and blew my bowler off. I dropped to the ground and pulled out my .45.
Seconds later, there was a laugh and a man walked up. His smile was perfect.
“Those commie bastards did me a favor by shooting out my eye. My aim has never been better,” the man said.
I stood up and knocked the sand off.
“Mr. Franco De Werner, I presume?”
“Indeed,” he replied. “You must be the investigator the FBI sent. Welcome to my humble abode. Can I offer a refreshment? A bourbon perhaps?”
“A change of underwear if you’ve got it.”
We went inside to Franco’s Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home. His servants offered cucumber sandwiches and some 90 proof Elijah Craig.
“I heard you slaughtered an entire mafia up in the mountains,” Franco said.
“How did you hear about that?” I asked.
“For a man in my position, it pays to have eyes everywhere,” he replied. “I could use a man like you.”
“I’m just here to assist the FBI, Mr. Werner. Not for a job interview,” I said.
Franco sat back in his seat and lit up a cigar. Villains love their cigars.
“There was a whole shipment of M4s and Carbon 15s going to counter-revolutionary forces in the jungle. The communists had to of intercepted it,” Franco explained.
“How could they have known?” I asked.
“I must have a rat in my midst,” he explained as he puffed on his cigar. “I need you to sniff him out Mr. James.”
“I’m a simple private investigator Mr. Werner. Not an undercover agent.”
Franco took a drink of his bourbon.
“I know about your troubles. I know about you burning down an apartment building, about the massacre in Big Bear, about your medical bills and unpaid fines to the California Highway Patrol. I can make all your problems go away if you do me this favor: join my team, and find this mole.”
I thought for a second, then poured a glass of Elijah’s.
The phones were ringing off the hook. Everyone was missing something: cat, dog, prosthetic arm, leg, penis, you name it. Business was booming.
But I needed help. I was on the phone all the time. Not solving cases.
Isabella brought in lunch: a Philly cheesesteak from Tony’s off 5th Avenue.
“Gee mister,” Isabella said. “After I sent a butthole pic to that producer on the internet, I’ve been getting all kinds of acting job offers!”
“That’s good to hear Izzy,” I replied. “But you can call me James.”
The calls kept coming. I couldn’t keep up. Unfortunately, between the court fees, medical bills, fines owed to the state of California for burning down a nature preserve, and replacing the window in my office after a man fell through it, I couldn’t afford help.
“Say James,” Izzy said. “You look swamped. Since you saved my life and all, the least I could do is help you out with your business.”
“Oh you’re a lifesaver Izzy. I had to let go of my secretary the other day. If you could sit at her desk and answer phones, that would be great. Just ignore the calls with a Sacramento area code,” I replied.
As I was explaining the job, Sgt. LP Anderson of the LAPD called.
“What do you know about Franco De Werner?” Anderson asked.
“He’s around 5’10.5 with a great head of hair. He’s the biggest arms manufacturer on this side of the Mississippi. He’s been a financier of various counter-revolutionary movements in South and Central America. In fact, his eye got shot out in Nicaragua for which he now wears an eye patch. He’s earned a reputation as a solid middleman between the CIA and various fruit companies in war-torn countries. He graduated summa cum laude from Emory, earned an MBA from Wharton. His wife is Becky, they have two children ages 15 and 18. His drink of choice is Kentucky Bourbon, and he enjoys the works of Dostoyevsky. Otherwise I don’t know much,” I said.
“Well the FBI called, seems like a shipment of Werner’s has gone missing en route to Costa Rica. If you provide your assistance, the FBI said they’ll drop their investigation into you. I’m assuming you know they’re talking about,” Anderson asked.
“Very well,” I said. “Tell your FBI contact that I’ll set up a meeting with Franco De Werner.” I hung up the phone.
“Lazy bastards,” I thought to myself.
I went to Izzy. “I need you to gather all the information you can find on Franco De Werner. Print it off and slide it under the door of the bathroom. I’ll be in there for awhile,” I instructed.
The Philly cheesesteak went out as fast as it went in.
If Michaela and her army wanted to lay siege to this cabin, I was fully prepared.
After Isabella said her final goodbye, I began work on a defensive attack. Booby traps, trip wires, and explosives were scattered around the perimeter. Thanks to my father’s arsenal, I had RPGs, M16s, M4 Carbines, AKs, AR-15s, Uzis, and all the usual weapons you’d find in these stories.
I climbed up into a deer stand, and watched. Waited. I stared down the scope of my rifle. A caravan of black SUVs was rolling down the dirt road.
The first vehicle struck a trip wire, causing a massive explosion. It obliterated the SUV and the one behind it. Eight people were killed immediately.
Men in the vehicles behind began fanning out into the woods, but they kept triggering the C-4, causing more explosions and death. The unlucky ones got caught in bear traps where they became easy prey for the mountain lions.
I realized that I created a horrible, if not tragic, death trap.
I climbed down from the deer stand and ran back to the cabin. I knew that the men who survived the initial barrage would eventually breach the defensive perimeter. So I armed myself with multiple automatic weapons.
Meanwhile, explosions kept going off. I grabbed the RPG-7.
I knew Michaela was getting close. One of her men yelled “you fucking bitch! You told us that we’d only be facing three people! Not the threshold of hell!”
Her men started to retreat. So my defensive campaign suddenly became an offensive one. I fired an RPG right at her gaggle of men, killing or maiming all 20 of them.
The few survivors that weren’t screaming in agony began to fire back. So I let loose another RPG.
I looked out into the woods. Fires were emanating from the charred remains of hundreds of dead bodies. It was lighting up the night sky. Yet none of the bodies were Michaela.
I slowly paced through the woods. Then a bullet went right through my left kidney. I fell to the ground and Michaela popped out from behind a tree, doing all kinds of strange martial arts.
She round house kicked my face. She broke one of my arms, both legs and my eyes were nearly swollen shut. I was helplessly crawling on the ground.
“Where’s Isabella?!” Michaela kept asking while punching me in the face.
“If she was up your butt you’d know where she was,” I replied.
Out of frustration, Michaela stood up and pointed her Glock 19 at me. “Goodbye, private dick!”
Luckily, I had dozens of sidearms on me. So I managed to rip a clip into Michaela before she got off a shot.
With fire all around me, I managed to craw back into the cabin. I might’ve been a fuck up my entire life, but at least I’d go out the way I wanted.
I lit up a cigarette and looked over to a picture of mom and dad.
“I’ll be with you soon Ma and Pa!”
And I closed my eyes.
Unfortunately I woke up in the San Bernardino Community Hospital. Isabella and an FBI agent were in the room.
“I couldn’t leave you there mister,” Isabella said. “You were sitting in a pool of your own blood with all your limbs broken.”
“Despite the horrendous injuries and the state we found you in, you’re expected to make a full recovery!” the doctor said.
I didn’t have health insurance.
“You somehow managed to slaughter the entire west coast mafia. There will be a federal investigation into this,” the FBI agent said.
“Do I need to lawyer up?” I asked.
“Oh yeah, BIG TIME,” the agent replied.
“Aren’t you so happy to be alive?!” Isabella asked.
I put a hurtin’ on the whisky bottle, hoping that it would clear my head. Nothing about this case made sense.
I met Mr. Leather at UC Irvine. He was sitting alone in an empty theater.
“What’s this about?” I asked.
“Take a seat. I’m about to make your life a little easier,” he replied.
Two other people entered the theater. The lights dimmed and the curtains opened. Entering stage left was Isabella, all alone.
“I guess I owe you a refund,” I told Mr. Leather.
“Forget it,” he said.
Isabella began her solo performance with a vaguely racist monologue. Then she stripped to her underwear and two nude men flanked her on both sides and they began rolling around on the floor.
“The fuck is going on?” I asked Mr. Leather.
The two men then turned around, spread their ass cheeks, and took a squat while Isabella pissed all over the stage. The performance ended with her reciting the lyrics to Motownphilly. When the curtains lowered, no one clapped.
“That was godawful,” I said to Mr. Leather. “I’ve never seen anything more disgusting in my life.”
But when I looked over, Mr. Leather was nowhere to be found.
I went back stage. Isabella was in her dressing room removing the clown makeup.
“Keep trying kid,” I told her as I lit up a cigarette. “You’ll get em next time.”
“Did you enjoy it?” she asked.
“No, my mother was Canadian so I’m partly offended. But keep your head up.”
“Oh,” she replied and slumped back in her chair. I walked over to cheer her up.
“Look,” I said. “If you’ve got a passion, you gotta keep chasing it. Sure you’re gonna hit some potholes in the road, but keep going. You’ll get there eventually.”
“There’s just nothing that I’m good at.”
“That’s not true. You’ve got talent. It just needs some finessing,” I said.
“Yeah I guess,” Isabella said while she was packing her things. “Say, who are you mister?”
I took a big hit off the flask and offered it to Isabella. “I got some bad news kid,” I told her.
She took the flask and waited for the news.
“Your father is dead,” I said.
A blank look came over her face. Then she took a drink. “Was it Michaela?” she asked.
“I suspect it was.”
Isabella sat back down and looked at the floor. “I knew this would happen.”
“Your life is probably in danger,” I said. I took out the wad of cash that Mr. Leather paid me and I handed it over. “You need to get out of town.”
“But there is nowhere I can go where they can’t find me.”
I took out a pin and paper and wrote down an address. “This is my father’s old cabin up in Big Bear. Lay low there and I’ll come and get you in a few days.”
“But who are you?” Isabella asked.
“I’m James, Private Detective.” I handed her a business card. “Also, one other thing.” Then I handed her a .38 special.
“You may need it.”
She packed the items into her purse.
“Go now,” I said. “There’s some things I got to take care of here. I’ll see you in a couple of days when I have more information.”
I drove back to the office for the night. The apartment was still burned to shit. I walked in the office, removed my coat and holster, turned on the light, and there was Michaela and Luigi.
“Sorry, business hours are over,” I said.
Luigi picked up a phone book and ripped it in half. Michaela stood up from the couch, again with a glass of brandy in her hand, and walked towards me in her form fitting gown.
“But darling,” she said. “We’re just here to check in on a case.”
When she got close, Michaela head butted me and I fell backwards into the filing cabinets. While dazed, I tried to stand up and reach for my holster. Luigi grabbed my hand and threw me over the desk.
“Couldn’t this have waited until morning?” I asked.
“You need to tell us where Isabella is going,” Michaela said.
Luigi picked me up by the shirt and held me to the wall. I thought that this was the end until Mr. Leather busted in with his Tommy Gun.
“Let him go,” he said to Luigi. “Or I’ll blow you ten new assholes.”
I woke up in Vito’s guest house. I was alone. Except for the large bald man standing over me.
“Who the fuck are you?” I asked
“Luigi. Michaela wants to talk to you.”
“Can you give me a minute? I still got morning wood.”
Luigi escorted me through the garden to the large chateau. There, standing in the kitchen, was Michaela holding a glass of brandy.
“Vito died”, she said.
Luigi punched me in the stomach and I fell to the ground. While on my knees, I tried to catch my breath.
“My condolences, Mrs. Stararo,” I said.
“Don’t give me that shit. What happened to Vito? Where were you?” She asked.
“I think you know where I was.”
Luigi then socked me in the face. I got up and wiped the blood from my nose.
“Does it look like foul play? The man was 90 years old and drunk as hell last night,” I said.
Michaela downed the brandy.
“No,” she replied. “I need to know if I can trust you.”
For good measure, Luigi kicked me in the dick.
“I don’t know who any of you are! I was just hired by some man with a leather briefcase to find Isabella!” I said.
She waved Luigi out of the room and handed me a towel.
“Is this how you treat all your guests?” I asked.
“Sorry, a lot of people have wanted Vito dead for a long time. With him gone, I don’t know if they will come after me,” she said.
Michaela grabbed an ice pack and put it over my eye. “I’m going to need protection,” she said longingly.
“I just got my ass kicked. Are you sure you’re asking the right person?” I replied.
“Don’t go back to LA. Stay here with me.”
“I gotta find Isabella.”
“I don’t know where she is. But as long as she stays away from here, she’ll be safe.”
“I can’t take that chance.”
I grabbed my bowler hat and coat. “I’ll check on you soon. If things get tough, come to LA,” I said.
I took a shot of brandy and departed.
It was clear that Michaela was behind the death of Vito. I’ve seen these cases hundreds of times: wife gets jealous of husband, wife kills husband, wife takes husband’s place as head of a crime family. It’s a tale as old as time.
But one thing was clear: Isabella was certainly in trouble.
I arrived at the LA office. The secretary said that the strange man looking for Isabella was sitting in my office. I walked in and hung up my coat.
“Well well well Mr. Italian Leather, perhaps you have answers for me,” I said.
“That’s what we’re paying you for Jimmy,” he replied.
I sat down at the desk and put my feet up. “Who’s ‘we’? Vito’s dead,” I said.
“I know. I see that Luigi paid you a visit,” Mr. Leather said referring to my bruises. “She’s dangerous you know?”
“You don’t say?” I said sarcastically. “Do you really think this is my first rodeo?”
“I know that you’re a busy man, so I don’t want to take up too much of your time. But I want you to meet me on the campus of UC Irvine on Thursday,” Mr. Leather told me.
“You could have told me this by email,” I replied.
“I just wanted to make sure you got the message.”
Mr. Leather stood up and as he was walking towards the door, I said: “if you’re gonna make me drive all over SoCal, I’m gonna start charging by the mile.”
“Keep sending me the bill,” he said. Then he shut the door.
I told the secretary that I didn’t want any interruptions. I popped open a beer and a Vicodin and took a nap.