Another Case of Miss Apprehension

Hollywood Hills

Darcy Clyne was good, very good. Throughout her career as skip tracer, bounty hunter and private detective, she’d never failed to corral her target, be it a person with outstanding debts, serving a a process on some shadowy party of the second part in a legal proceeding, a bail jumper, a wanted criminal, or any other missing person.

She was so good at it, the cops, creeps and cons called her Miss Apprehension.

But her latest case, finding the Academy Award-winning actor Bruce Wilson, who had disappeared just before production was to begin on Mammoth Studies next blockbuster, Deafening Silence, was not what she thought it would be.

“Ms. Clyne, we have secured your services because of your reputation for success and discretion. True, we have insured  his participation in our film, but we want Wilson, we need Wilson, to make this film the success we think it will be. News of Bruce Wilson’s disappearance should by no means leak out to the press or even the prying ears and whispering lips of people inside the industry. In other words, I don’t want to see anything about him in the news or hear it in my club’s restroom until we have him in front of a camera again,” Deafening Silence’s executive producer Sig Schulmann said in their sole meeting at his Bel Air estate.

“Of course, Mr. Schulmann. Our catch rate is only part of the services you’re purchasing. Our ability to do it under the public radar, even here in LA, is what you’re paying for,” Darcy said from across an umbrellaed table next to Schulmann’s pool.

“We’re already working on some leads.”

“Oh, really? What is it you’ve found,” Schulmann asked, leaning forward conspiratorially.

“As I said, Mr. Schulmann, discretion and ‘remaining above the fray,’ if you will, including our clients’, is paramount to our success and your satisfaction with our services. You probably think that’s a unique way of doing business, but that’s the business I’m in. I shall give you what updates I feel we can share as we progress with our investigation and search for Mr. Wilson,” Darcy said, extending her hand to Schulmann’s and giving it a firm shake.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, my colleagues and I have some ground to make up. Wilson’s had three days off the grid and even these days a trail can grow cold in 48 hours,” Darcy said. “I’ll see myself out.”

On her way to her car, Darcy passed three servants, each of whom saw her approach and then averted their eyes or immediately busied themselves with polishing the unblemished, dusting the already mirror-like or entering a side room and closing and locking the door behind them with a loud click.

“The exit is this way, Miss,” a smarmy major-domo said, swooping in to take Darcy’s elbow and steer her down the hall and through the front door.

Jesus, F. Scott Fitzgerald was right even before he got out here and drank himself to death, the rich ARE different, Darcy thought as she climbed into her rental Mustang. At what she was charging Schulmann and Mammoth, plus per diem and expenses, she didn’t think the black Shelby GT350 was out of line for the market or the circles in which she would be investigating.

A call to her New York office had come up with Wilson’s phone and text records. In a case like this, privacy laws were made to be hopscotched. In the days before his disappearance, Wilson had made ten calls to Mammoth and Schulmann and had not answered thirty calls after that from the producer and his studio.

His text history was rich in language, participants and local geography. His girlfriend showed up here and there in cryptic, if only mildly affectionate language. Maryse Langois was a Canadian actress who had little public or professional profile before their relationship began four months ago. Now she was a daily subject for paps and gossips from Hollywood to cyberspace.

Another frequent correspondent was one Alessandra DeGrade, who ran a West Hollywood club called Willy O’Wōntshie.

And, of course there was Sig Schulmann, whose last three texts,  after his last phone calls to Wilson, were all related to holding off on Wilson’s “ vanity project” something until after the release of Deafening Silence.

“I’m gonna check Wilson’s crib first,” Darcy told her associate Ben Pierce, who was working the electronic and cyber end of the investigation from New York.

“Gotcha, Boss,” Ben said. “But no souvenirs, unless they’re pertinent to our investigation, of course” he said with a laugh.

Wilson lived in a glass-encased palace in a Hollywood Hills gated community called Beverly Ridge Estates, where the starter homes went for $19 million. Schulmann’s studio owned the property, which Wilson lived rent-free, a perk many cash cows were only too happy to enjoy.

With Schulmann’s call ahead and key card, Darcy entered Wilson’s home and found it to be furnished in not in Southwestern chic, nor mid-Century modern, but antiques and exclusive stuff from French Heritage in shades of gold and white and pastels of pink and blue.

“Ms. Langois seems to have made herself the home she has always aspired to, it would appear.” Darcy said aloud, which was how she conducted searches since her brother and partner Lonny Clyne was killed by a bail jumper two years ago. “What say we check the boudoir, eh, Lon?” she said.

The master bedroom was another museum-quality show-piece. Darcy checked one of the closets and found full of the slender Wilson’s trademark black outfits from high-end Italian and American designers. On the other side of the room, the closet, which Darcy thought would fit the Mustang, was full of exclusive couture outfits, lingerie and slick club clothes that no doubt were the pride of Ms. Langois’ recent fame and notoriety.

“Nothing much to offer here, Lon, unless I was interested in boosting enough product to retire to St. Maarten’s after we find this bird. Let’s check next door,” Darcy said.

This second bedroom was different from the first, appointed in the mid-century modern she expected to find elsewhere. It’s closet was filled with more of Ms. Langois’ wardrobe, though a look at a few of the dresses left Darcy with a new set of questions.

“Where’s the babe, Lonny? Why isn’t she here pining over her man? Let’s see if we can drum up the Mademoiselle Langois and see how’s she’s holding up in her time of woe and distress<“ Darcy said and headed the Mustang down into Hollywood.

A call to Schulmann, revealed that Langois had left Los Angeles a week before Wilson’s disappearance to film a movie in New Zealand.

“Can I reach her by phone?” Darcy asked.

“I doubt it,” Schulmann said. “We’ve tried and it’s a comeback project by that Australian wunderkind, Pearce, and he’s keeping it an airtight closed set, and I mean the whole project. Totally hush-hush,” Schulmann said. And that was that for Darcy’s most obvious lead to Wilson’s whereabouts.

“Okay, Lonny, let’s head on down to Willy O’Wōntshie’s and have a tête-à-tête with Ms. DeGrade,” Darcy said as she smoothed the Mustang onto the 8000 block of Sunset Boulevard.

Parking in the rear, even before the valet had set up shop, Darcy entered the club through the delivery entrance and slipped through the kitchen and into the main room, where dancers were rehearsing for a new show billed for that night.

Tall, thin and exquisitely costumed and made up women were being put through their routine by another woman who sat between the stage and the bar.

“Who the fuck let this civilian in?” Darcy heard her saying a very loud and raspy voice. A large, angry-looking man burst from the dark outside the stage lights and approached Darcy.

“Show’s not until 10:00, lady. You gotta leave. Now!” Darcy heard as the bouncer reached out to grab her arm.

Darcy grabbed the beefy heavily tattooed arm and used the bouncer’s momentum to enhance the power of her knee-strike to the temple. No more bouncer for a few minutes.

“My name’s Darcy Clyne and I’m a PI working for Sig Schulmann and Mammoth Pictures. I’m looking for Alessandra DeGrade to ask her a couple of questions about Bruce Wilson.

“Take ten, ladies,” the raspy voice sounded from the silhouette standing in front of the bar. “I don’t have anything I can tell you, Ms. Clyne, other than I’m looking for Bruce, too. Eddy, would you see to Odin and tell her she’s back to parking cars tonight?”

Darcy walked up to the Amazonian six-footer who now leaned her hip against the bar, extended her hand and said,” Ms. DeGrade?”

“The woman held up both hands in somewhat feigned fear and said, “I hope you’ll excuse me if I eschew the proprieties, Miss…”

“Clyne, Darcy Clyne.”

“Miss Clyne. But I’m beside myself over Bruce’s disappearance, too. I haven’t seen or heard from him in almost a week and I’m worried sick something’s happened to him. Something serious this time.”

“This time?”

“Well Bruce has had…issues…in the past and I thought I’d helped him get it together since we…well…”

“I see,” Darcy said. “Then the Langois relationship is just…”

“A business transaction, shall we say?

“And those beautiful clothes in master Bedroom’s the second closet are yours.”

“Guilty as charged, but only of having a fabulous wardrobe as befitting the lady of the manor.”

“Gotcha. I thought something was fishy when I found those size twos in the next-door bedroom. No offense, Ms. DeGrade,” Darcy said.

“Call me Alley, please. Have you found anything new about Bruce? I know he was having a terrible time with that bastard Schulmann.”

“About what?”

“Bruce just thought it was time, you know? His career is winding down and he’s made his gazillions. He just doesn’t want to keep up with this career-long role they’ve made him play,” DeGrade said.

“The fact he’s gay and you and he are…?”

“Engaged, actually,” DeGrade said and began to cry. “I’m so worried. I’ve stopped him twice from killing himself. He told me I was the only reason he hadn’t since then. But Schulmann  needs this last big score himself. Mammoth lost big on that last Cruise flick. He and the Scios take a huge cut up front and on the back-end. And that left mammoth on its heels.”

“I see. You don’t think Bruce would attempt to take his own life again, do you? It sounds like he was ready to make that huge leap and you two were ready to make that commitment for good.”

“No, I’m sure he wouldn’t. Like I said, he loves me and he’s ready to come out. No more closets, no locked up secrets.”

“I think I may have figured out something, Alley. Do you have any time over the next few hours?” Darcy said.

“Place opens at 8:00 and the show starts at 10:00. I really need to be back here by 6:00, but the is more important than any club or show. You’ve got me as long as you need me. Let me fetch my purse.”

Darcy and Alley DeGrade drove back to Schulmann’s estate. She made a call on the way, informing Schulmann she believed she’d found a real lead and wanted to discuss it with him in private.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to bring a confidential informant with me,” Darcy said.

“Informant?” Schulmann said. “Uh, of course. Anything to get this horrible affair over and bring Bruce back.”

“You know where he is, don’t you” Alley DeGrade said, hope shining on her face.

“Pretty sure I do, but I’m going to need your help.”

“I’ll do whatever you need.”

Darcy made one more phone call to an old friend before they arrived.

They were met by Schulmann’s major-domo in the entrance atrium, who quailed when he saw Alessandra with Darcy.

“Ms. Clyne, just what kind of freak show are you bringing into Mist Schulmann’s home?” he blustered.

“Nip it, Jeeves. The lady and I have business with your boss. now take us to him.”

“This way, please,” he said, sounding none to pleased and all too scared.

Schulmann met them in the hallway on the way to the pool patio. His expression of confident concern collapsed and was rebuilt as nervous anger.

“What is this…person…doing her, Ms. Clyne? We don’t have time for a burlesque. I have a movie to start filming in ten days,” he said.

“Ms. DeGrade has informed me that you and Mr. Wilson had been having harsh words about this project and where he wished to take his career, Mr Schulmann. Is that correct?” Darcy said, looking over the producer’s shoulder to the gold face of an 18th Century Seth Thomas clock against the wall.

“Temperamental these artists, Ms. Clyne. I hope I don’t have to explain that to you,” he said.

“Yeah, ego and demands and possible drug relapses and even some silly personal quirk could cost millions. I mean, you even insured Bruce’s being ready to go before you even had the production buttoned down. Am i right?”

“He is known as a professional, a fine actor, but has been much distracted of late.” Schulmann glanced at Alessandra.

“You know where Bruce is, don’t you, Schulmann?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Why would I hire you if I knew that? He’s the indispensable man for this production. If we don’t have him, well…”

“I believe the insurance pays something like $200 million?”

“The cost of doing business these days, Ms. Clyne. Now I thought you said you had real information for me.”

“Yes, Ms DeGrade informs me she and Wilson have an intimate relationship. More than that, actually.”

“Preposterous. Why would one of Hollywood’s greatest action stars have a relationship with some WeHo drag queen. I think your services will no longer be needed, Ms. Clyne,” Schulmann said and turned toward the locked room to his right.

“Just hold on a second, Schulmann,” Darcy said. She pushed back her coat and placed her hands on her hips, exposing her holstered Beretta PX4 Storm Compact pistol.

At that, Alessandra grabbed the pistol and pointed it at Darcy.

“I didn’t come her to be bullshitted by you, you little bitch. Or by this pompous crook, either,” she said. She wagged the gun to move Darcy over toward Schulmann and his man.

“Now, if someone doesn’t tell me where my Bruce is I shoot this arrogant queen first,” pointing to the major-domo, then Miss Bitch here. I’ll save the last for you, Schulmann. I think you know exactly where Bruce is.”

“Calm down, Alley. I’ve got this under control.”

“Bullshit. I want my fiancé and I want him now! You know, I think I’ll skip the preliminaries and start with the one with the most to lose. And I mean LOSE. What do you say Schulmann? Everyone on your knees.”

Alessandra pushed the muzzle to the pistol to Schulmann’s temple and sobbed, “What have you donate my fiancé, Sig?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. For all I know, you’re the reason he’s disappeared,” Schulmann said.

Alessandra pulled the muzzle of the Beretta from Schulmann’s temple, leaving a 9mm red circle in the skin. She pivoted and squeezed a round off into the face-off the Seth Thomas.

She brought the hot barrel back to Schulmann’s head again and said, “Last chance Sig. If I don’t have Bruce, I’ve got nothing live for, so I’ve got nothing to lose in killing you right here, right now. So you’ve got five seconds to tell me. Five, four…”

“Let’s be reasonable, my dear. You know why I couldn’t let him make that announcement before the film premiered.” Sweat beaded oh Schulmann’s forehead, dripping onto the pistol.

“…three, two…”

“I needed the insurance and the carrier made me hire Clyne. We were desperate  and couldn’t afford for Bruce to be found until after the carrier paid off. But I wasn’t sure how to keep him out of the way. I’m sorry.”

“If you killed him, you bastard…” She pushed harder and Schulmann’s eyes teared.

“He’s in the basement. I couldn’t kill him. He’s behind the bar in that room on the right. Just don’t shoot!”

The butler made his move and Darcy caught him in the throat with a punch she’d trained a decade to make lethal or just shy of it.

“Open the door, Schulmann,” Darcy said. “It’s over. My old friend Lieutenant Galea from major crimes is waiting in the entry, listening to the whole thing. Now open the doors and let Wilson go home to his partner, his fiancé.”

Galea had Schulmann wrapped up and held for kidnapping, assault, unlawful imprisonment, insurance fraud, the list was as long as his potential stretch in Chino.

Two weeks later, Bruce Wilson announced he was taking time off from his film career, not to enter a hospital for the euphemistic “exhaustion” following his kidnapping or for rehab, but to begin the life he cutoff too long with his fiancé, Alex DiGrasse.

Darcy Clyne attended their Malibu wedding. She told them she regretted her misapprehension of Schulmann’s nefarious motives, and how that slowed down finding Bruce Wilson and freeing him from the very real potential of his death.

But, owing to ‘the award-winning performance of Miss Alessandra DeGrade as Best Actress in a Supporting Role,’ Darcy was able to keep her perfect record intact, as well as he own professional name as Miss Apprehension.

Here’s Day13’s very long (for an online story) Story-a-Day response to writer Tony Conaway’s prompt for a story  revolving around misapprehension. In this case, it was Darcy’s misapprehension of Sig Schulmann’s motives. Should I ever return to this story and this character, I can see a revision easily turning this into a 5,000-plus word story. Hope I hit the mark for Day 13.

Angel on Her Shoulder


It’s just a hair, maybe
an inch or so long, not
perfectly straight
nor perfectly curved.
It’s of a shape and color
all too familiar to us.
It looks for all the world
like one of the millions
we swept, dusted and
vacuumed up for 13 years.

She keeps her photo bedside,
like her yearning to see,
to touch her angel dog again
after these three empty years.
This may explain the dream visit
they shared two nights ago,
but not the single golden hair
she found this morning on
the shoulder of the robe
I gave her last Christmas.

Sweetly spooky slice of life, for which I have not nor need any explanation, from the lives lived here.

Fire Horse Medium Rare


It was as the sun crossed the Virginia horizon, bounced off the sizzling cars on I-95, eventually streaming nearly horizontally through my room’s curtains that I noticed someone’s secret sitting there on the desk where I rested my laptop.

In that late afternoon light, the shadows of a prior guest’s last message written on the hotel’s notepad showed like filigree etched into fine glassware, like the pattern embossed on the shin-high leather of my Justin boots.

None of your business, I thought. You’ve gotta make it down to the Longhorn before half of Fredericksburg decides they want your rib-eye, medium, baked potato and cold beers. Okay, a little salad, too.

For most of my life this inquisitive nature of mine and blessed curse of turning a phrase paid the bills, put two daughters through college, paid off one mortgage and half of another and let me retire at 62. Besides, who the hell would know or care?

I reached into my laptop bag and pulled out one of the school kid’s thick soft-lead pencils I started using when the arthritis made it too painful to write with a yellow #2 like other folks. That is, those folks who actually write anymore.

I rubbed the graphite equivalent of an illegal phone tap lightly from the upper left to lower right of the notepad. And then I read the transcript of someone’s private life:

Jax — 8:30
Pkg Gar 3-24
Black Accord
No cpos

Well, that was more than the something like Large half pepperoni w/small antipasto no onion I expected. This was more like one kilo, no B12, no glucose.

Of course, it could be just someone doodling, a mystery writer or some lame fan fic geek still trying to get Crockett and Tubbs in the sack together after twenty-five years. The misspell of “cops” might confirm the latter.

No, the depth of these imprints showed some emotion pushing down the pedal and the pen. This ghost note’s writer was fairly intense, as least within their own mind.

Okay, Mr. Retired Newshound, what’re you gonna do? Telling the cute Pakistani girl and the fat Bubba sweating through his shirt down at the main desk might get the ball rolling. And then you won’t be late for that hot date with Ms. Well-Marbled 2016.

Besides, you’ve had no excitement since you piled a career’s notes, files, plaques, pics and bye-bye kisses into that small cardboard box on your way out of the city room. You know you want one more first on a story before all the talking hairdos and oh-so-serious news bunnies set up their lights and cameras to tell the same story for the next three days at Noon, 6:00 and 11:00.

That’s how I found myself sweaty and squinting into the shadows of the garage across the way from the hotel. I figured its proximity made the hotel and I-95 made it worth a shot. I’d climbed the stairs to the third level and realized why I didn’t chase ambulances anymore. Young guy’s game.

But those kids lack your chops, Woodstein, I wheezed to myself.

At column 24 I could feel my heart flutter like an old fire horse’s when it heard a bell even after being put to pasture. I had to admit, this was an excellent place for a money drop for any nefarious reason — drugs, kidnapping, extortion — down on the dark far corner from the exit. Down where there wasn’t a Honda to be found.

Daughter 2 taught me how to use my iPhone as a flashlight, so I thought I’d give the scene a cursory flyover and then head on down to the Longhorn before they closed the kitchen. That’s when I spotted the business card in a dark puddle. A dark puddle in a parking garage was no surprise, but the red stain it imparted on the card was.

Shit. Damn it. Oh boy.

I turned off the flashlight and hit 911. Two hours later, the cops let me go after I gave them my statement, my cell number and the land line at my new home in Florida.

Yep, that was blood and the name on the card was that of Elise Weston, a Richmond bank exec who hadn’t shown up at work since Tuesday. I left the sherlocking to the Sherlocks and stepped out into the warm Virginia night. The midnight night.

I finally ate, though not that rib-eye, dammit. No, here in the room where it all started this afternoon I’m munching on this personal half-pepperoni and small antipasto, no onions. Sipping this Sweetwater IPA from the supermarket down the road. Glad the cashier could handle the C-note I paid with. Wiped the worst of the blood off so…

Discovery draft free write I managed in the past 90 minutes of toddler nap time. Gotta learn how to write something like a flash fiction mystery/thriller someday, I reckoned. Today was the first toe in the bloody puddle.