I cursed under my breath as Smith unlocked the car and I prepared to dash across the street and take Smith out. I hefted the revolver in my pocket and was just about to run when a police cruiser pulled round the corner and stopped in front of the sedan. Two officers stepped out and one of them walked over and put his hand on the car door. I shrank back into the shadows and strained to hear what was being said.
“Mrs Lillwhite? Mrs Chastity Lillywhite?” said the officer.
“Yes?” said Chastity, frowning.
“I’m arresting you on suspicion of fraud.”
“What?” she said.
At this point Smith butted in.
“What’s going on here?”
“Sorry sir, you are?” said the officer.
In the light of the streetlamp, I could see from Smith’s face that he suddenly realised that this was a conversation that he’d rather not be having.
“Smith.” he said. “I’m, er... I’m just taking Mrs Lillywhite to the airport.”
“I’m afraid that’s going to have to wait, sir.” He turned back to Chastity. “Mrs Lillywhite, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used against you in court. You have the right to an attorney. If you are unable to provide an attorney, one will be apppointed for you by the court. Do you understand?”
“What’s this all about?” said Chastity. “What am I supposed to have done?”
The officer looked at her, over at Smith and then back to Chastity. “You are suspected of passing forged cheques on at least eight separate occasions. Now Mrs Lillywhite, you will be taken to the West Hollywood Police station where you will be charged and an attorney appointed if necessary.”
Chastity looked terrified and turned to Smith.
“What’s this all about?” she said. “What’s going on?”
“Hey,” said Smith taking a step back. “I was just going to take you to the airport, this is nothing to do with me. In fact,” he said, addressing the officer, “I should get going, I’ve got a pick up to make.”
“In the car please, Mrs Lillywhite.” said the officer. His buddy opened the back door, and pausing only to put a pair of handcuffs on her, they placed her in the back of the car and took off. Smith meanwhile was hightailing it in the opposite direction.
The bellboy, who was still holding Chastity’s luggage, stood there looking dumbfounded.
I took off at a run, in the same direction that the Police cruiser had gone. Two blocks up, it was parked a few yards down a side street, and the two officers were getting Chastity out of the car.
“Ms Lillywhite!” I called, as I rounded the corner.
She turned to me. Her face was streaming with tears. I hate making dames cry.
“Mr Able! What’s going on? What’s this about fraud?”
“Sorry about that,” I said. “Had to get you away from Smith, and had to improvise a bit. “This,” I said, pointing at the arresting officer, “is a pal of mine, Rick O’Shea. “And this,” I continued pointing at the other officer. “Well, it’s probably best if we don’t know who that is. Thanks pal,” I said, saluting the officer. “Owe you one.”
He grinned. “Tea break’s over - back to catching bad guys. See you later, Rick.”
The officer jumped back in the car and pulled away. Rick took his cap off and unclipped his tie.
“Sorry about all that ma’am.” he said to Chastity. “Chuck here called me up a little while ago, said we had a damsel in distress. Always happy to help a lady in need.”
“Thank you, Mr... O’Shea?” said Chastity, still looking a bit dazed. She turned to me. “So what happens now?”
I checked the time - 8.15pm.
“Right - I reckon Smith will have doubled straight back to the hotel. He’ll want to let Barclay know what just happened. Meanwhile, I think we should make ourselves scarce for a couple of hours, and then head out to the studio.”
“I’m going back to the office,” said O’Shea. “Care to come back for a drink?”
I got the feeling the question was directed at Chastity more than me.
“Sounds good.” I said, and went to flag down a cab.
Fifteen minutes later we were sitting in O’Shea’s office and he’d dug out a bottle of whiskey.
“Cheers, Rick.” I said. “Have to say, I didn’t think you were going to make it.”
“Fashionably late amigo, fashionably late.” he smiled, raising his glass to me.
“So does somebody mind explaining what just happened?” said Chastity. Her first drink hadn’t touched the sides, and she was now working on a second.
“Mr. O’Shea here used to be a Police Officer,” I explained, “and fortunately for us, he still has some good friends on the force.”
“I called up a pal,” continued Rick, “and said I just needed to borrow him and a car for five minutes. Fortunately he was ok about it. Unfortunately he’d had to take some drunk into custody about an hour ago, and it took him a while to do the paperwork. I was waiting for him, two blocks from the hotel, but he got there pretty late. Looks like we made it just in the nick of time.”
“So what happened to you?” I asked Chastity.
“Well,” she said. "About half an hour before you called, there was a knock on my door. I was taking a nap - I thought it would probably be a late night tonight, so decided it would be sensible to get some sleep. When I answered the door, Mr Smith pushed me inside, and said that I wouldn’t be going to the studio tonight. He made me ring reception and tell them that I wanted to check out today instead of tomorrow, and after that he just sat there. Who is he? You said you knew him?”
“Well,” I said. “We’ve had a few run ins over the past couple of days. I’ve no idea if Smith’s his real name - I doubt it - but he appears to be working for Barclay. Looks like he’s in charge of the muscle. He usually has a couple of goons with him - Lloyd and Floyd.”
“I didn’t see anyone else.” said Chastity.
“No.” I said. “Lloyd’s currently in Mercy Hospital back in NYC, and Floyd... Floyd’s kinda tied up at the moment.”
I thought back to ‘Crazy’ Colwell. ‘At least I hope he’s still tied up.’
I had one more drink, but then called it a day. Needed a clear head. The clock had rolled round to 10.15, and I stood up.
“Thanks, Rick. I think it’s time we were heading out.”
“No problemo, mes amis. Stay frosty, dude.”
I tried to ignore Rick’s wanton abuse of the English language, and shook his hand.
“I owe you one. Any time you’re in NYC, look me up.”
“Will do. Good luck tonight.”
“Cheers. Oh, one more thing. Can I borrow a flashlight?” I said.
“He dug a pocket torch out of a drawer.
“You can bring it back when you return the revolver, right?” he said with a wink.
“Sure thing.” I grinned. “Right, Ms Lillywhite. Let’s go and see if we can’t straighten this mess out.”
We left Rick’s office. Fortunately, being a Saturday night, it didn’t take too long to find a cab.
“Goldstar Studios, please.” I said to the driver. Just like the first guy had done, he turned round with a puzzled look on his face.
“Goldstar?” he said. “That’s closed down y’know?”
“That’s the one.” I replied.
He looked us up and down, figured us for normal but eccentric people and shrugged.
“Okay.” he said. “Next stop, Goldstar studios.”
Chastity was quiet on the drive, and I left her to her thoughts for a while. With about fifteen minutes to go, I turned and spoke to her.
“Everything ok, Ms Lillywhite?” I asked. She sighed like no woman should have to sigh.
“It’s just this whole business,” she said. I can’t imagine why somebody would behave like this. Do you really think you know who’s behind it?”
“I’ve got a pretty good idea,” I said. “But I’d rather wait and see how this plays out tonight before I make any accusations.”
“Ok.” she said. “So what do you need me to do?”
“Right. As far as Smith is concerned, you’ve been arrested, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be showing up tonight. That’s what he will have told Barclay, and that’s what Barclay will have told... whoever he’s working with. So. The will’s being read in large abandoned studio. The place will likely be dark with the exception of a small area that’ll be lit. I’ll walk you part of the way, but what I want you to do is wait until Barclay starts reading the will, and then take a seat. Just apologise for being late and don’t say anthing else. There’s nothing they’ll be able to do at that point, as I’m expecting a few other people to be around. Old friends etc. Just sit down, listen to what he says and sit tight. I’ll take it from there.”
“Alright.” She said. “But I wish it didn’t have to be like this. I’ve heard terrible stories about the studio. I know you’ll think I’m being stupid, but... well, ghost stories...”
“Now and then, these haunted places turn out to have a completely rational explanation, so don’t you worry your pretty little head about it.”
‘Completely rational?’ I thought. ‘Well. Rational. Just about.’
I asked the cabbie to pull up a few hundred yards short of the entrance. Didn’t want to go advertising our arrival.
In the moonlight, I could see a couple of cars parked up by Mr Smithers' trailer. First off though, I headed off right, for the smaller buildings.
“Can you wait here for a minute?” I said to Chastity. “I just need to check something.”
I found the door with the bolt cut off, opened it as quietly as I could, and made my way forward very slowly, very quietly in a big arc off to the right. After a minute I stopped and listened. Somewhere from off in darkness to my left, came the sound of snoring. Sounded like Floyd was still around. I toyed with the idea of sneaking up behind him and cackling, but figured I could do without him screaming the place down. Let sleeping thugs lie is my motto.
Slowly I retraced my steps until I came to the door, and slipped back out into the moonlight. Chastity was waiting at the corner where I left her. I looked at my watch - it was eleven thirty.
“Ok, now we need to wait a while,” I said. I don’t want to get you in there until the last minute. If someone discovers you before you can get into view of everybody, they could still try and get you out of the way.”
We stood and waited. The hands of my watch seemed to be going slower and slower, but eventually they dragged themselves round to eleven fifty.
“Ready?” I said to Chastity.
“Ready.” she replied.
We set off.
I peered round the corner of the building at the two cars parked up. There didn’t seem to be anyone around, and unless they were lying down, there wasn’t anyone in the cars either.
“Nice and quiet.” I said, and we made our way down the side of the big studio. We reached the open door and made our way inside. Like it had been this afternoon, the interior was pitch dark, apart from the small area lit by spotlights. The only difference this time, was that I could see figures moving about in the light. Chastity grabbed hold of my arm, and we made our way very slowly towards the light. One or twice we almost stumbled, but managed to keep our footing. When we were about twenty yards away, I leaned over and whispered in her ear.
“Right, as soon as Barclay sits down and starts speaking, just walk straight in, apologise for being late and sit down. Don’t say anything else. Got it?”
“I won’t be far.”
With that I moved off to my left to work my way round the lit area to the far side. I didn’t want to be standing there in the dark and have any other late comers, friendly or otherwise, bumping into me.
I studied the group in the light. There was Barclay behind the desk. Then either standing around talking, or already seated, I could see Lily and Hayden, Jezebel and Kennedy, an elderly couple I didn’t recognise, a short balding man who appeared to be by himself, and last but not least, Smith, sitting at the back and trying to look inconspicous.
I saw Barclay look at his watch, and then he cleared his throat.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “If you’d like to sit down...”
The group fell quiet and all found themselves seats. For what seemed like the fiftieth time I checked the contents of my pockets. I hadn’t managed to lose anything, thankfully.
Barclay looked up, shuffled the papers and cleared his throat again.
“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for coming under these... unusual circumstances. It is now twelve o’clock, and we may proceed with the reading of the will of the late Norman Lillywhite Senior...”
‘Ok,’ I thought to myself.