EDITOR'S NOTE: Wimpole Street Gazette is proud to introduce our first serialized novel, the mystery DESERT HOUSE by ROMEY KEYS. Every two weeks we will be adding a chapter, so stay tuned.
CHAPTER 5: SEACOLE
After breakfast, Frank went to find a private space from which to call Seacole. He walked outside past the pool toward the chimnea, the site of last night’s confessions. The cool desert night had faded in the sun. It was still cool enough to walk around, but the morning was about to evaporate into the mean heat of midday. The gardeners were rolling up hoses and tossing empty flats into their truck, preparing to seek shelter. They still moved quickly through the landscape.
Frank picked a spot and stood with his back to the mountains, watching the house. He was one of the few people left outside. He made his call. Seacole picked up on the second ring.
"Frank, how was the first day?"
"Hot and we had an intruder. I think a photographer."
"He catch Ryan doing anything interesting?"
"Just talking to me. We need to tighten the place up.”
"Who else have you talked to?"
“Josh Rubens, Ryan's business manager, guy named Johns, the Major Domo, a few of women, Susan Yee, Naomi Sinclair, and Maggie Chow."
"Watch out for Rubens. I've dealt with him.” Seacole sounded serious. “He's entertainment law. Works for Ryan and a couple of bands and some TV actors. What do you make of him?"
"Rubens wants to pull me into seeing Ryan's position. He'd do anything to protect his fees."
Frank could feel the sun beginning to transform the day. He could feel the sweat coming out on him. A drop rolled down his chest. The gardeners had finished packing up their tools and had escaped in the air-conditioned cab of an F-150. The pool began to look attractive.
"That's my take on him," said Seacole. "Ryan's the client. Just hold to that and don't commit to anything or anyone beyond the contract."
"Rubens talked about the blackmail. He'd like it if I handle the illegal part of it and kept him clean."
"Keep notes,” Seacole said. “Email me and copy Johnny. Johns I've known for a while. He's okay. A great cook. It's worth going down to Palm Springs just for his duck. Naomi Sinclair I've met. She’s been hanging out with him ever since I’ve known him. Don't know much about her. See if you can get her talking about the old days. What about the other two girls? You want me to do a background check on all three?"
"Yeah, I'll email you the vitals. So far, I’ve got nothing, other than a tendency to walk around with no clothes on."
"Do they look legal? If they are, don’t sweat it. If they aren’t, tell Ryan to get them out of there. But do it in a way that won’t create blowback. You keep your clothes on."
Then Seacole spoke to someone in the room with him. "Frank Caldwell. He's down in Palm Springs. Check in the drawer I keep my cuff links and things in. I know it shouldn't be in there. They live in the client's house, Phyllis. A lot of people walk around without clothes, it's hot in Palm Springs. Sorry, Frank. You were saying."
Frank imagined Seacole in his office at home, sitting behind the big mahogany desk that would be covered in papers. The dark blue curtains on the two windows that looked out onto the street. The pictures on the walls of the Kennedy brothers, Mohammed Ali triumphant over Frazier, and an autographed photo of Eartha Kitt. Seacole had told Frank about being taken to see Eartha Kitt at the Howard Theater in Washington, D. C. “She was the most sexual woman I have ever seen,” said Seacole. Keeping the picture up was part of a deal he made with Phyllis. For his part, he agreed she could keep a picture of Johnny Mathis on her dressing table.
"I'd guess they’re in their twenties."
“Don't guess, find out from them. This is California, nobody looks their age. Always, make sure our ass is covered.”
"Will do," said Frank.
"Send their license plates too." Seacole paused. "Those the two who were in the accident?"
"Yeah," said Frank.
"No fraternizing. That's my official word." Seacole laughed. "You can take care of yourself."
"It's the rock star lifestyle. Nothing I haven't run into before. Ryan talked about the accident. His account sounded incomplete."
Frank rested his hand on the chimnea. It was warm.
"Don't waste time on it," said Seacole. "Focus on the blackmail. The accident is his lawyer's problem. You don't want to end up being called to testify. We have to protect Ryan from the blackmailers. You have to protect yourself from Ryan and his people. The police get to sort out traffic accidents."
“So if I hear something?”
“Don't hear anything," said Seacole. “And that is an order. Do nothing illegal. I don’t want to hear that you got arrested holding any bags of anything.”
“So, how crooked are these guys?”
“Frank, it’s the music industry. How crooked do you think that gets? You know what they’re like. It’s a business full of desperate people. Am I going to be a star, will I last, whose coming up behind me, can I get lounge gigs. You’re going up or you’re going down and where’s your money?”
“I did learn one thing.”
“Don’t cook bacon in Johns’ omelet pan.”
“Jesus Christ, Frank. Never do that. You’re lucky you survived.”
“You don’t sound like you laughing,” said Frank.
“I’m not. Some mistakes can be fatal. Stay away from the kitchen. Even if you just want a glass of water, ask somebody to get it for you.”
“Understood,” said Frank. A cold glass of water was exactly what he needed.
But Frank didn’t like the order to keep his distance. There were things he needed to know. He didn’t think he could hold himself to just doing the job with no concerns about anything else.
Frank looked around him at the shadows that were rapidly disappearing. It was time for him to retreat back into Desert House.
ROMEY KEYS was born at home in Lanham, Maryland in 1947. The doctor delivered him between breaks to catch a boxing match on the radio. He has a Ph.D. in English Literature. He taught at UCLA for eight years. Now he's a Documentation Specialist for hire.