Authors: M.Z. Kelly
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
A long time ago, in a galaxy not so far, far away, it was said that the fortunes of Hollywood depended on talent, hard work, and timing. Nowadays, it can be said those same fortunes depend on a good publicist, several hundred thousand Twitter followers, and a sex tape. Little did I know it, but that truth was about to be brought home to me.
“Nice area,” Leo said as he drove us to Pearl Kramer’s house.
We were near Runyon Canyon, a wilderness area a few miles from Hollywood. The day was warm and sunny, typical for an early summer day in Southern California. The canyon offered hiking trails and was bordered by expansive homes with drop-dead views.
Leo continued. “I might want to keep this place in mind when I retire in a couple of years.”
“You better have about twenty million stashed in a shoebox somewhere.” I brushed my dark hair out of my eyes and glanced out the window as a bough of oak trees skimmed overhead, casting late afternoon shadows on the road. “From what Pearl told me, he worked a murder case up here a few years ago, and the surviving family members agreed to rent him the former caretaker’s cottage on the property for practically nothing.”
Leo went on, telling me about working with Pearl when they were both rookie cops on the police force over thirty years earlier. He laughed as he regaled me with a story about him and Pearl trying to arrest a suspect who was sunbathing nude in her back yard.
I should probably take a moment to fill in a few blanks for you about my job, my partner, and why we were on our way to see a man named Pearl Kramer.
My name is Kate Sexton. I’m thirty-two years old, single, and an LAPD detective assigned to Section One, a specialized unit that works high-profile homicide cases out of Hollywood Station. Leo Kingsley is one of my partners. The other one, Bernie, is a canine who was in Hart Veterinary Hospital recovering from a knife attack he suffered at the hands of a madman during our last case. My furry partner was making good progress, and I hoped he’d be returning to duty in the near future.
As for Pearl Kramer, he’s a retired chief of detectives that I’d worked with a few months back. Now I had reason to believe that he might be my biological father, based on the last words spoken by Ozzie Powell, my former lieutenant, before he passed away. It’s complicated, so I’ll fill in some more details for you later.
I glanced at my fifty-something partner. “Tell me something: What was Pearl like back in his early days on the force?”
Leo belly laughed. He was a big African-American cop, with a shaved head and a perpetual smile. We’d only been partners for a few weeks, but had already formed a solid working relationship.
“Pearl was the life of the party back then, before he got sober,” Leo said. “We closed down more than a few bars and raised our share of hell.” He glanced over at me. “He was one of the good guys who always had your back.”
My gaze held on his eyes for an instant. “Do you really think he could be my father?”
Leo’s dark eyes shifted as the road turned. “It’s possible, but…” He took a breath. “Pearl is one of the best men I’ve ever known. If he was your father, and…” His gaze found me again for an instant. “All I’m saying is that for him not to be a part of your life all these years, it just doesn’t add up.”
I looked back at the twilight dappled roadway, scenes of what I’d learned over the past couple of years drifting back to me. My adoptive mother had raised me, keeping the secret that I was adopted and that John Sexton, the man who had raised me with her, was not my biological father. John, who I call my love-dad, and my biological mother, Judie Crawford, had hooked up at one time, before Judie’s jealous and insane ex-boyfriend Ryan Cooper came back into her life. Fearing for her own life and mine, Judie had given me to my love-dad and my adoptive mother to raise. She’d also kept the identity of my bio-dad a secret from everyone, claiming that my life would be in danger if the truth about him was ever known.
When I was four years old, Cooper had murdered my love-dad. I’d believed he’d acted out of jealousy at the time, but I’d recently learned that his death, and that of a Hollywood actress named Jean Winslow, could have been part of a larger conspiracy. As I mentioned before, it’s complicated. There’s a lot more to the story that I’ll tell you about later.
“How is Bernie doing?” Leo asked, as my thoughts surfaced.
Bernie was part German Shepherd and part rogue DNA, a furry ball of sexual wanderlust when he’s healthy. “Much better. Natalie’s taking him to physical therapy every day. I’m hoping he can return home and go back on duty before too long.
“And the mobile home park? Are you all adjusting?”
My best friends Natalie Bump and Mo Simpson and I had moved into the Starlight Mobile Home Park a few weeks back. It had been a rocky beginning in the park, which was mostly full of elderly residents. They’d tried to have us evicted, claiming that when Natalie sunbathed by the swimming pool in a skimpy outfit, we were all in violation of the park’s code of conduct. We’d recently won the case, and avoided having to live on the streets, thanks to a minor miracle that our attorney managed to pull off.
My friend Natalie is blonde, British, and a babe, as men would say. She also defies the stereotypical reserve often associated with the English, using colorful language to give everyone a piece of her mind. Mo is her opposite: big, black, and bad, as in having an I-don’t-take-no-shit-from-anybody attitude. I had to admit that she
intimidating, even to some cops I’d worked with over the years.
My friends work part-time as PI’s and also as aspiring actors on a cable TV show called
When they’re not working, they insist on inserting themselves into my cases every chance they get. Despite their faults, Natalie and Mo are my best friends and my loyalty to them is without limits.
“We’ve actually taken a little break from the Starlight,” I said to Leo. “We’ve been staying at the Mission Bell Inn in Malibu. They’re renovating the place, turning it into a luxury hotel and spa. Natalie and Mo worked for the owners at one time, so they got us a deal on the rooms.”
“I’ve heard of that place. Didn’t some rock star nearly burn it down a few years back?”
“Billy Marshall and the Bronx Bombers. They rode their motorcycles through the lobby, and someone threw a flare. It’s been entirely rebuilt.”
I glanced up ahead, seeing where the road turned. “Pearl’s place is just beyond the bend. There’s an intercom at the gate.”
We’d just pulled into the driveway when my phone rang. It was Natalie.
“Mo and me need your help, Kate. We got us a dead body.”
I put the call on speaker so that Leo could hear. “Tell me where you are and what’s going on.”
“We’re at Nirvana, that fancy place overlooking the city where they film that reality TV show,
The Princes of Beverly Hills.
Mo and me have been doin’ security work for the bunch of loonies. The maid just found the daddy of the family tits up. He’s deader than a dick at a nun’s picnic.”
“The Princes?” I said, trying to make sense of what Natalie had told me.
“They’re that big family that’s got more drama than if the Dalai Lama got it on with Michelle Obama.”
I looked at Leo, did an eye roll, then said to Natalie, “You’d better call the police.”
After a moment, I heard her say, “I’ll have a large pepperoni with extra cheese.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
talkin’ to the police, but I might as well be orderin’ a flippin’ pizza from the way you’re actin’. We got us a murder here, Kate, and we need your help. I think word’s already leaked out to the press. There’s a couple of them TV news copters buzzin’ ‘round overhead like mosquitos at a blood bank.”
I looked at Leo as he said, “I’ve seen the reality TV show that she’s talking about a couple of times. I think the couple lives with their kids and a bunch of groupies. There’s lots of yelling and screaming, even some fistfights.”
“Swell.” I sighed and said into the phone, “Leo and I are on our way, Natalie. Try to keep everyone calm.”
“I’ll try, but…”
When she didn’t go on, I said, “What’s happening there?”
“There’s a bunch of paparazzi that just arrived at the front gates. They’re trying to get inside. We got us a riot.”
“I’ll make some calls and get some police units over there. Try and keep things under control until Leo and I get there.”
I ended the call and looked at my partner. “I guess we’d better put off talking to Pearl.”
He motioned to the intercom. “Why not tell him that we’ll come back later.”
I hit the call button and announced ourselves. We waited several seconds before we heard Pearl’s distinctive baritone voice. “Good to hear from you, Kate. Let me open the gate.”
I glanced at Leo, trying to decide how much to tell him. I decided to keep things brief. “Leo and I need to talk to you, but we’ve got something that just came up in Hollywood. Can we come by later?”
After a moment, we heard him say, “Sure. You’re always welcome. Stop by any time you get a chance.”
As we headed back down the canyon into the city, Leo told me more of what he knew about the Prince family.
“According to what I heard, the mother calls herself ‘Lady’. She’s the matriarch of the clan and is quite the looker. She was in the movies about twenty years ago, but hasn’t made a decent film in years. She’s got a couple of daughters by a previous marriage, before hooking up with Bert, who has a son by a prior relationship. I think there’s also another daughter that they adopted together. If Bert
the victim, he’s got a reputation as a lady’s man. He even wears pajamas around all day, kind of like Hugh Hefner.”
“You seem to know a lot about the family.”
He shrugged. “You reach a certain age, you spend more time in front of the TV than at clubs and parties. And they don’t call it ‘the boob tube’ for nothing.”
I smiled and brushed my unruly hair out of my eyes. “You’ve got about two decades on me, and I don’t spend time at clubs or parties, either. What does that tell you?”
He smiled. “You’ve got better ways of spending your time.”
“Yeah, like with dead bodies.”
He shrugged. “It goes with the territory.” He regarded me for a moment. “Don’t tell me you’re burning out.”
I took a moment to think about his question. “To tell you the truth, I’m not sure. All I know is that I’m…sometimes I feel like I’m just spinning my wheels.”
We were winding our way down the canyon now, entering the outskirts of the city. I could see the lights of Hollywood starting to come on below us as Leo said, “The job will do that. You have to focus on what’s in front of you, day to day, otherwise the work can take a toll.”
I glanced back at him. “You sound like you’ve had some burnout in your own career.”
“I’ve never known a decent cop who didn’t burnout a time or two.” His eyes held on me for a moment. “Maybe you should think about spending some more time at the Mission Bell. The time away might do you good.”
I’d spent the past few days at the resort in Malibu with my friends. What he’d said about spending time away made sense, but I’d used a lot of leave time in recent months, both to deal with burnout and with my family issues. I wasn’t sure if the time off had helped me. I was also having some relationship problems, which seemed to be a constant theme in my life.
Leo spoke again, causing my thoughts to surface. “It’s your family situation, isn’t it?” He looked at me. “You’re never going to rest until you find out who’s behind John’s murder.”
I met his dark eyes, remembering that he had a doctorate in psychology. “You’re pretty perceptive, Dr. Kingsley. Maybe you should think about becoming a shrink when you retire.”
He laughed. “I’ve had enough of other people’s problems to last me a lifetime. When I retire it will be with a fishing pole and a few good books.”
After some more chit chat, I made a call to Lieutenant Edna. He’d recently taken over supervision of Section One after our previous lieutenant, Ozzie Powell, had passed away. Edna was old school, for the most part doing everything by the book, except for one fatal flaw. His favorite word began with f and rhymed with duck.
“According to Natalie, the press is already at the house,” I said, after filling him in on what I knew. “We’re headed over there to take a look. I mapped the residence, and it’s just outside the Beverly Hills city limits, in our jurisdiction. It sounds like the kind of case that will probably end up with Section One, anyway.”
“Fuck. Since you’re on the way over there, go ahead and check it out. I’ll send Hall and McCade to help out, and I’ll make sure the brass knows what’s going on. The fucking Princes, are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Natalie and Mo have been helping out at the estate, working security.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
Edna had a few run-ins with my friends in the past and knew they could be difficult. “I’ll try to keep them out of things.”
“See that you do. I’ll try to meet up with you at the scene later.”
When I’d ended the call, Leo asked me what Edna had said. I told him, “If you leave out the expletives, not much, other than we’re cleared to work the scene.”
As he drove, I googled the reality TV show and learned that
of Beverly Hills
was filmed at Nirvana, a legendary estate that had been the home to several stars of old Hollywood over the years. Photographs of the sprawling mansion reminded me of a French chateau, complete with spires, columns, and a stone façade. The only thing that similar homes in France lacked was an army of press that we saw assaulting Nirvana like the German army on a World War II mission when we got there.
A couple of marked patrol cars had arrived at the same time we did. Leo and I asked them to get some barricades set up on the street. We then went to the front gates of the estate, where a half dozen reporters were assembled, trying to convince someone on an intercom to let them inside.
“You all need to clear the area, now,” I said, as Leo and I made our way up to the gates and showed our credentials.
“Can you tell us what’s going on here?” one of the reporters said, coming over to me. He was about five-six, a good three inches shorter than me. “We heard it was a murder.”
“I don’t have any details, but I’m sure once we’ve done a preliminary investigation, our Media Relations Section will give you all an update.”
What I said caused a flurry of other questions that we ignored before managing to escort the gaggle of reporters away from the house and down the street. As we walked back up the sidewalk to the estate, I saw and heard the TV news copters Natalie had mentioned hovering overhead.
“Got a feeling we’re gonna be on the six o’clock news tonight,” Leo said as we got back to the gates.
I ran a hand through my wayward hair, thinking I needed to go back to my brother’s salon. Thanks to my unruly hair, I cringed every time I saw myself on TV working a case.
I said, “Let’s get inside and do our best to avoid any more contact with the press.”
After some preliminaries, a manservant, who referred to himself as Dupree, granted us access to the residence, where we found Natalie, Mo, and a couple dozen other people, some with camera equipment.
“They’re shootin’ a segment of the TV show as we speak,” Natalie explained. “The murder is gonna be part of the show.” She lowered her voice. “And, just so you know, some of these people oughta be cleanin’ bird shit out of cuckoo clocks.”
I saw that several cameras were pointed in our direction as Mo put her hands on her wide hips and regarded Leo and me. “We’ll show you where the body’s located. This place is like a circus on steroids, so watch yourselves.”
I didn’t know exactly what she meant by needing to watch ourselves, until a man came up to us and introduced himself as Sly Sylvester, the director of the TV show. “I’d like to get some shots of you moving through the house, your reactions when you find Bert’s body. I promise to get some close-ups and that you’ll get union wages for your work.”
“The vic is belly up in the den,” Mo explained.
I looked back at Sylvester, who had his camera crew marshalled behind him. He was a wiry man in his sixties, with jet black hair. I noticed that he’d had some work done, not all of it successful. His face looked like a rubber mask, with painted brows, and unblinking brown eyes.
“No pictures,” I said to Sylvester. “And your people need to clear the area.”
“We have a contractual right to film everything that happens in and around the grounds of Nirvana. You have no right…”
I took a step closer to him. “STOP.” I then lowered my voice a notch. “This is now a police investigation, a crime scene. So pack up your equipment and your employees. You can wait outside until we clear the scene.” He started to protest, and I held up a finger. “If you argue, I will have you escorted off the premises.”
After another brief protest, Leo reaffirmed what I’d said, telling the director he needed to cooperate. He then got some uniformed officers to begin ushering the camera crew and assorted groupies out of the house. While Sylvester made a reluctant retreat, he continued to argue, making statements about lodging a complaint with our superiors and filing a lawsuit.
“Just another day in paradise,” Leo said, lowering his voice as we followed Natalie and Mo down a hallway to the den where the body was located.
We stopped outside the den. While Leo and I gloved up, I asked my friends, “Do either of you know where the maid is who found the body?”
“Last I heard, she fell over backward and cracked her noggin when she saw Bert,” Natalie said.
“They got her in one of the bedrooms, with ice on her head,” Mo confirmed. “I think she’s got a concussion.”
I told them we would need to talk to her later, then added, “You’ll both need to stay back at the door while Leo and I take a look.”
Mo looked at Natalie and shook her big head, which tonight was adorned with a long golden wig, like you might see a Disney princess wear. “After all these years workin’ cases, she still treats us like a couple of rank amateurs.”
“We get no respect,” Natalie confirmed. She looked at me. “Mo and me should be gettin’ junior detective pay for helpin’ you out.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, “but don’t take this personally. I’m just following the department’s protocol. I’ll check back with you in a couple of minutes.”
Leo and I found the victim face down on the polished hardwood floors of the den. Even though it was late afternoon, the patriarch of the clan was wearing pajamas. We turned the body over and saw there was a gunshot wound to his chest. There were no other obvious signs of trauma.
After a preliminary examination, Leo said, “No rigor. Probably only dead a couple of hours.” He looked at me. “Looks like a single shot, small caliber.”
We heard someone screaming and turned in time to see a woman coming into the room, followed by a small cadre of cameramen and Sly Sylvester. She had a gun in her hand that she raised to her temple and said, “I can’t go on like this.”
Then she pulled the trigger.