Prevost, PI

Retirement had never looked so appealing. It was a gorgeous evening in Hollywood Hills, and Caroline Prevost, private investigator, was crouched over a producer who’d been murdered at his own birthday party.

None of the guests seemed to care, either: they were hollering at each other around the policemen struggling to restrain them, all shouting about Mr. Gordon’s will, the house, and what this would mean for his picture deal with Gardner. Prevost stood with a sigh.

“That’s enough!” she bellowed. The crowd fell silent. “I’m supposed to be at Lake Arrowhead for my niece’s birthday. I’ve got her present in my trunk and I’ve packed the most audacious swimsuit you ever did see, and I’m looking forward to a nice weekend of swimming and boating with my family, so if you’re gonna stick around and not flee like proper murderers, you can at least be quiet and let me think.”

A bloody pen-knife lay near the victim’s head; it was engraved, but not even this bunch were dumb enough to use their own knives for a murder. The remnants of the birthday buffet sat on the table. Prevost could see shrimp, canapés, olives, and two kinds of punch. At the dining table, the Mr. Gordon’s punch cup sat in its proper place. She picked it up, frowning – it looked like he’d been drinking water from the punch cup.

She turned back to the still-silent crowd. “Right. First of all, whose knife is this?”

A thin, balding man raised one trembling hand.

“Who were you sitting next to?”

“M-Mr. Weiss and Mr. Frederick.”

Prevost nodded. “Excellent. Now, which one of you two rinsed out Mr. Gordon’s punch cup?”

Two seconds of silence, then Mr. Frederick made a break for the patio door. Officer Watley brought him down with one raised foot.

Prevost nodded. “Lovely. Now, if you’ll excuse me, popcorn, cocoa, and mountain air await.”

#

The press, of course, had other ideas. Prevost’s dramatic exit was stalled by numerous reporters – and several of Los Angeles’ finest – wanting to know how she’d figured it out.

“The knife would have been easiest to steal during dinner,” she explained. “Everyone at that party would’ve had some motive, but Frederick, a fellow producer shut out of the Gardner pictures, might’ve had revenge on his mind.”

“So he stabbed Gordon?” shouted a reporter.

“Yes, but not fatally. You really have to do a number on a fella if you’re trying to kill him with a pen-knife. No, the real murder weapon was poison in the punch –”

“Then why was there only one victim?”

Prevost entertained a vision of smacking the reporter over the head with her niece’s birthday gift. It was a hefty model of metal popcorn popper. It would make a satisfying clang.

“Because,” she said slowly, “the poison was only in Gordon’s cup. I’m guessing Frederick used something that would have left a residue because the cup was rinsed out. When he tried to run for it, well, he finished my job for me. Any other questions?”

“What are you doing tonight, doll?” The reporters cackled.

“All right, that’s enough!” Officer Watley materialized from the Gordon residence like a bear leaving its den. A few waves of his huge arms scattered the reporters.

“Sorry ‘bout those hyenas, ma’am.”

“They’re improving somewhat. Usually they lead with that question.”

“They oughta show you more respect. None of us could’ve explained what happened here like you just did.”

Prevost sighed. “Well, that’s because I was in a rush and didn’t clue any of you in. For that, I apologize.”

Watley waved one skillet-sized hand. “If I had a niece as cute as yours, I’d want to get to her birthday, too. How old is she now?”

“Six, today.”

He whistled. “Growing up fast, huh?”

“Tell me about it. She wanted a popcorn popper because she wants to learn how to cook.”

Watley laughed. “Seems safer than a stove, I suppose.”

“Barely. Not sure her mother likes the idea, but I promised I’d supervise.”

“Well, my grandmama makes excellent popcorn balls, if your niece wants the recipe.”

“That sounds grand, Watley, thanks.”

Prevost said good-night and was soon cruising along Sunset Boulevard. It was a long drive to Lake Arrowhead, and her niece would no doubt be asleep by the time Prevost arrived, but she thought popcorn and belated birthday cake would make an excellent breakfast.

And next year, she vowed, neither petty producers nor the Governor of California would keep her from this birthday.

I’d Like To Thank

(CW: self-harm)

#

Night after night, she stays at the studio late, bent over her costumes.

Too derivative, the critics said, so she sought new silhouettes, new textures. Bizarre, distracting, the critics said, so she embraced classic lines, safe colors. Her work lacks imagination, so she crafted in metallic, in vinyl, in light.

She tried to love everything she made, but the nominations never included her, so she didn’t love them, really. Obviously they weren’t worthy. She wondered if she was worthy anymore. No genre seemed to suit her; no awards acknowledged her. After the incident with her last director, no producers even contacted her.

But she has a good feeling about this current project: it’s sure to impress the people who matter.

She doesn’t hear the ticking wall clock anymore, only the hum of the sewing machine, and the failure that whispers when it’s silent.

She doesn’t miss home; everything she needs is here. She used to sleep with her head resting on the bolts of black wool.

She used to sleep.

She keeps herself awake by pricking her thighs. She’d prick her fingers but the one time she did, on accident, she dripped red on the white cotton and it spread like rust, like rot. Now she hides her blood even from herself. It, like her need to sleep, like her failure, is a weakness she can no longer indulge.

The machine stills and the shirt is finished. She presses it in a few swift strokes, then hangs it with the others. There’s almost a whole wall of shirts now. The rows of crisp white are so soothing. She could fall asleep gazing at them.

She cannot sleep. Not until she’s done. The walls are not done.

Her legs and fingers ache.

It is time for black. The trousers take longer. She wishes she could hem them; he’d be so much happier with them if she could hem them. How many hours since she slept?

She likes the wall of black less, but they always wear black pants. He always wears black pants. He won’t be happy with anything else.

She wakes herself with a swift jab of the needle. Somehow she can hear the ticking clock again. It thunders like oxfords marching down a hallway, marching to tell her she wasn’t nominated, the lead hates her dress, the stuntman tore another jacket, the director wants to see her later, privately.

Jab. How many hours since she slept? She only has one bolt of black left, not enough for a pillow, barely enough for all the trousers she must make. Jab. She can’t buy more, can’t leave, she has so much work to do.

She presses neat creases into the legs. His legs will fill these spaces soon. Then he’ll be happy. Then he’ll let her be happy again.

Jab. She doesn’t remember sitting back down at the machine. She’s threaded white when she wanted black. Now the pants are ruined. How many hours since she slept?

The wall of white calls to her, but it’s a different wall of black that consumes her.

unsplash-logoLAIS