THE MORE some things change, as the saying goes, the more they stay the same. For example -- just for fun -- take sex.
Here I was, standing near the swimming pool clutching a bourbon-and-water highball, and over by the snack bar were Adam and Eve.
This Eve was a long-legged, voluptuous-looking, slinky, busty, hippy bomb, an Adam bomb, and the very male male was Adam Preston, and this was the twentieth century -- so it was the twentieth century: he still looked like a man gnashing fig leaves and it was eight to five she was giving him that old Garden-of-Eden applesauce. The way they were carrying on you just knew those original sinners must have had a pretty good idea in the first place. At least, I'd say so.
But I'd say so anyway; I'm Shell Scott.
I'm a private detective, but for a change I wasn't detecting much of anything, except what was going on over by the snack bar, which even a blind non-detective couldn't very easily have missed. Instead, on this balmy Saturday night, the fifteenth of June, I was sixty miles from Sheldon Scott, Investigations -- my one-man office in downtown Los Angeles -- enjoying myself in Laguna Beach at the newest and jazziest land development on the explosively booming Southern California coast: 1500 acres stretching from the sea up into the low Laguna hills, complete with paved roads, underground utilities, an eighteen-hole golf course, subdivisions containing hundreds of king-size lots, and two dozen model homes ready and waiting for anybody with lots of money.
The whole thing was the joint project and promotion of the aforementioned Adam Preston, and my long-time friend, drinking partner, and lively companion, Jim Paradise. Since Jim, who had invited me down here tonight, was the prime mover and major investor in the project, it was called, appropriately enough, Laguna Paradise.
Jim and I were standing among fifty people or so on the cement deck of a blue-lighted swimming pool before one of the luxurious model homes, and three or four hundred more citizens were milling about on the grounds nearby. Two hundred yards west was the ocean, and midway between the crashing surf and the spot where Jim and I stood was the main sales office of Laguna Paradise.
Atop the office was a large plastic map of the entire development, illuminated from inside, and whenever a home or lot was sold the corresponding section of the map lighted up brilliantly -- while at the same time head salesman Wally West cried joyously over a public address system that "Lot number sixteen has just been sold to DANIEL GRAYMOUNT, the well-known movie producer," or named whoever had made the purchase, repeating the person's name loudly numerous times, much to the delight of said person, who sometimes became so delighted he went back to buy another lot.
Both before and after such exciting comments a five-piece combo played everything from Dixieland to the Twist and its successor, the Grump, which is a combination of bumps and grinds and almost total capitulation. Down on Coast Boulevard three arc lights swept the sky, telling everybody for miles around that something jazzy was going on in the Laguna area.
In addition to all that razzle-dazzle, Jim Paradise and Adam Preston had employed, cleverly I thought, a half-dozen models from Hollywood's top emporium of feminine pulchritude, Alexandria's. These six -- one of whom was Eve, tall, busty Eve Angers -- suitably briefed and clad in suitably brief outfits, were available to answer the questions of potential customers. Since the outfits were high-heeled shoes, net "showgirl" hose, snug white shorts and fuzzy white sweaters, a lot of people asked questions, and a couple of guys even got their faces slapped.
A minute ago Jim had left to get us a couple more bourbon-and-waters. Now he headed back from the bar, nodding to people, waving, flashing his quick grin at others. Jim Paradise was so crammed with energy and male hormones and vital juices you half expected him to glow in the dark, a tall handsome man who looked half pirate and half Apollo. Several people watched him as he walked back, and there had been some eyeballing from the citizens earlier when Jim and I had been standing together. Probably because we're both pretty big, but also because of the contrast between us.
I'm six-two and weigh two hundred and six pounds after three bourbon highballs -- which I'd just had -- and Jim was twenty pounds lighter but an inch taller. My short-cropped hair is as white as the angle-iron brows which shoot up and out over my gray eyes and then slant sharply down like the contrails of pooped rockets, while Jim's hair was coal black and his eyes were the blue-green of deep water.
Both of us got a lot of sun, but Jim was even more bronzed than I. He looked like a tall, civilized devil, burned brown by those flames down where they toast people. There was even a kind of satanic cast to his features, the dark eyes bold, nose straight and a little sharp, a mouth I'd heard women describe as "reckless," and a go-to-hell grin.
He handed me my drink, gulped a slug of his own and said cheerfully, "Shell, this sure as hell looks like success. What does a guy do with a million dollars?"
"Why, he saves it," I said. "What else?"
He scowled. "I never thought of that."
"You wouldn't want to spend it on riotous living--"
"Wine, women and song --"
"The hell I --"
"-- or such foolishness." I grinned. "After all, a million saved is a million earned."
Jim nodded vigorously. "That makes no sense at all. By God, you're right! I'll save it!"
"And live a sane, sober life."
"A sober life," he said solemnly. "I'll drink to that." He had another belt of his bourbon and went on dully, "Here's to sobriety, piety, chastity, insanity, stupidity --"
I didn't hear the rest of whatever he was drinking to. I wasn't listening. I was looking -- at something which would cure diplopia at thirty paces, at a woman who had just come to the top of steps which led up here from a landscaped patio below, a woman who was now walking toward Jim and me. She was wearing the Alexandria's outfit, obviously one of the models, and obviously one of the two or three I hadn't met. But I was going to meet her, if I had to walk barefoot through snapping crocodiles.
"Jim," I said, "who is she? Some pal -- why didn't you tell me? Who --"
Ignoring my question he said sadly, "And so we drink to chastity. Yes, we'll have a chastity belt; then a snort to --"
"The hell with that noise. I've given up all that. Jim, dammit, who is she?"
A quick rough guess at those smooth curves, the color and sizzling impact, would have been: About five feet, five inches tall; an incredible 37-22-36 that was much more than the sum of its parts; a puff of blonde hair, impish red lips, sparkling eyes -- evolution's end, no matter which end you were looking at.
"You refer, I presume, to Laurie," Jim said.
"Laurie? Ah...." It was the face of a wise warm angel, plus a body that was the ultimate in feminine voluptuousness, a combination to turn idle glances into double-takes and double-takes into stares.
"Laurie Lee," Jim went on. "I guess you noticed she's a girl. I guess you want to meet her." Without waiting for my answer he called, "Laurie!"
She stopped, turned her head, smiled and stepped toward us. "Hi, Jim," she said. "Going great tonight, isn't it?"
Up close she was even better. She glanced at me from light honey-brown eyes, then looked back at Jim, but that quick glance went into me like a knife into soup. It was a face to stop a heart, a body to make vegetarians eat meatballs.
"Hello!" I said. "Hello there. How do you do? I'm delighted --"
"I haven't introduced you yet," Jim interrupted. Then he bowed slightly and said, "Laurie, this ape is Sheldon Scott. Shell, Laurie Lee. He's a private detective, and you should stay away --"
"What do you mean, ape?" I said. "You selfish --"
"How do you do, Sheldon?" Laurie said, and smiled. The voice was sweet and warm and the glance she gave me could have roasted weenies.
"Hot dog!" I said. "I mean, that's not what I meant. My mind was, uh -- call me Shell, please. Nobody calls me Sheldon. Not even my enemies."
"I'll bet," she said, as if she didn't, "you've got simply ferocious enemies."
"Don't kid yourself," Jim broke in again. "That's what happened to his face. The broken nose, that fine scar over his eye, the small piece missing from his left ear, that's how ferocious. Well, now 'that you've seen the havoc wrought by saps, brass knuckles, husbands, turn your pretty head away --"
But Laurie had stepped close to me, was leaning even closer. "Why, you do," she said. "You do have a bit gone from your ear." She sounded delighted.
"If it will make you any happier I'll snatch the rest of it off, like Gauguin --"
"Van Gogh," said Jim.
"-- like that nut," I continued. She was very close, looking up at me, breath warm on my cheek.
"How did it happen?" she asked, then suddenly said, "But that's none of my business, is it?" "Of course it is," I said, friendly as could be. "Anything, everything --"
"Then how did it happen?"
"Oh, that. A little gunman took a shot at me and missed -- almost missed, that is. He nipped my ear."
She laughed merrily. "Oh, you men! You're worse than Jim."
I'm not exactly the haughty headwaiter type, and probably she thought I'd caught my ear in some gears while working in the corner gas station. The funny thing was that a little hood did shoot it off. And it was the last ear he ever shot off.
Right then a strange thing happened. At least it was strange that I should see the guy when I was casually thinking about guns and gunmen. I'd turned my head the other way for some reason -- actually, if you want to know, so Laurie could see my good ear -- and a not unfamiliar face came into view.
It was a thin face, on a short, thin guy who was standing about where Eve had been earlier. He was leaning against the snack bar, talking to Adam Preston and stuffing bite-size sandwiches into his mouth. I couldn't remember where it had been, but I knew I'd seen him before.
And a nerve in my noodle wiggled: Trouble.
Copyright © 1964 by Richard S. Prather