Posts Tagged ‘To Be Continued’

Under The Killing Moon: A Jeff Grosso, Beach Private Eye Adventure

June 30, 2019

Tangy surf-guitar stabs rippled out of the passing El Camino, along with an acrid stream of PCP smoke. Jeff Grosso wasn’t one to judge, having tied one on himself the evening before. That was a night to forget, and he had. Now he cracked a yellowed grin as the blueish smoke faded into the afternoon haze. To Grosso, it was the smell of money.

His Detroit cop buddies used to call summer the killing season. Here in Aranda Beach, summer lasted all year round. Depending on your business, that could be good or bad. Grosso craned his head, face settling back into the long-worn ruts of a scowl as he strained to make out the police scanner’s drone in the office behind him. The place was his. The letters across the window said so: Jeff Grosso, Private Investigator.

“One side, Flubber,” he rumbled at the seal sprawled half across the office doorjamb. The seagoing mammal snorted as Grosso strode over it, crushed ice sloshing in his empty cup. If he were hunting clues today, that would make it a good bet the seal was alive, appearances to the contrary. Truth be told, though, Grosso wasn’t much of a betting man. More a guzzle-comped-drinks-til-you’re-asked-to-leave type. He turned up the scanner volume and thumbed loose the rum’s flimsy tin cap. Two more bodies fished out the canal this morning. The cap spun loose and tumbled to the floor. Some things never changed.

There were easier ways to make a living in a town like Aranda Beach and Grosso knew most of them. Respectability, good graces, punctuality, personal hygiene — adjectives like these hadn’t presented themselves to the good Lord when He was filling out the great Mad-Lib of Jeff Grosso’s life. Learn a trade, his mother used to tell him. Undertakers make more and get better hours, she said. Since you don’t mind mucking around with dead bodies. That much was true. He never had the heart to tell her that his own talents tended more toward making them, not prettying them up afterwards. Sometimes you don’t need to read the Mad-Lib to the end to get a laugh. Sometimes, you didn’t need to read at all.

Three daiquiris usually were good to get Grosso’s brain limbered up for an afternoon thinking his way around corners, most of which these days had a debt collector on the other side. Afternoons when he got to five, like this one, either meant he’d just closed a case or hadn’t in too long. He slumped back into his chair, scowled again, turned the scanner louder. No ID yet on the bodies. That’d come. And then maybe a case. Another sixteen days before rent was due. Grosso had lived down worse odds.

His last hitch on the force helped Grosso perfect the trick of nodding off with slitted eyes and furrowed brow — “just thinking, is all,” when somebody wandered in. Enough to fool Aranda Beach’s desperates and chanceless tourists whose predicaments got hopeless enough to draw them through this particular office door, on the rougher side of a resort town long gone to seed. But she’d known him far too long, and in all the worst ways, to be fooled when she marched in over the seal and leaned over his desk.

“Huhwuzzah,” Grosso attempted, not well.

“Yeah,” she curled her lip. “Great.”

It’d been years since she’d hosted YouTube video clips for the SoCal action sporting goods chain, but Grosso doubted he’d ever think of her as anything other than Active Erica. Jet-dark curls draped her eyes, fixing him with the look a person might give a dog that blundered into a nest of angry skunks, then caught its tail on fire and ran yipping toward a gas station. A nap he’d figured on this afternoon, a new case maybe. Five daiquiris, hey, it’s almost the weekend. But not this. Not her.

“Erica,” he managed. Blinked twice. “How… expected.”

“Holy shit, shut up.” She relieved a metal folding chair from its lodebearing role beside the nearest wall, opened it and banged it into position across from him. Glaring, she leaned back in. “You owe me. Remember?”

Now, Grosso knew a half-dozen ways to bat a soft ball like that, and the daiquiris humbly suggested a few more. Every once in a while, though, he couldn’t completely hold off the better judgement that he’d occasionally collected over two decades spent rubbing elbows with Aranda Beach’s most forgettable deadbeats and rip-off artists. But he couldn’t help smiling.

“Good,” he murmured, pulling open a desk drawer, setting the rum back inside and holding it open long enough for Erica’s eyes to flick down to the loaded Desert Eagle he kept inside. “This afternoon was starting to look awful boring.”

Now she smiled, too, briefly. “Just like old times.”

“We should be so lucky.”

Instead of the cussing out he probably deserved, he thought she maybe smiled again, and now he knew he was pushing his luck. Her bulky black leather jacket helped conceal it, but he hadn’t missed the shoulder holster’s bulge under her left arm. In Aranda Beach, missing a thing like that could get you killed — or worse, wrapped up in the kind of trouble that had taken daiquiri number six’s spot on this afternoon’s calendar.

“Skate Moss, she goes by,” Erica thumbed onto her phone a photo, a smiling blonde in a pink ski cap. Grosso blinked at it, briefly recalling long-ago California summers and his unpaid dental bills. “Know her?”

Grosso shrugged. “Seen her around, maybe.”

“Nobody else has for the last two weeks.” Erica tapped the screen. “No posts since just after the beginning of the month.”

“So?”

“Her sponsors are worried. That’s not who hired me, though. Her friends say she was headed this way.”

The police scanner barked. “Deceased both male, mid-20s, one reported missing three days ago, other still unidentified.”

They glanced at each other and Grosso creaked back in his chair. Outside, the El Camino rolled by again, now blasting DMX.

“Wonder if he’s back in jail,” Grosso muttered.

“What?”

Grosso grimaced, blinked a couple times, drummed his fingertips on his desk. “Hungry?”

She just looked at him.

“Ceviche. John’s is the place. Over by the pier.”

She didn’t say anything.

“Shanahan’s a good kid, took it over from his pops a couple years back, he’s pretty green still, but sharp, yeah. A lot of nylon and puffy tongues, likes his yellow. But the best ceviche for 40 miles up and down the coast. And he keeps his ears open. If anybody heard what this friend of yours was getting up to, he’ll know.”

Erica nodded and paused, looked at the wall behind him. “Not gonna lie, Grosso. This might get rough.”

He opened the desk drawer again. “I’m hungry. Let’s go.”