The Wine Bar is on Sunset in West Hollywood. There’s nothing much to see from the outside. There are no windows and a very discreet sign. I park the car and Harry and I go in through the rather elegant door. The place is dark as pitch, except for the center of the room.
“Whoa,” Harry says in a low voice as he takes in the nearly naked woman writhing around a pole on the lit platform in the center of a large oval bar. “This place is a strip joint.”
“Strip club maybe,” I reply, “but I wouldn’t use the word ‘joint’. The place is pretty elegant.”
As my eyes adjust, I make out a scattering of men seated around the bar. The tables are all empty.
We head over to the bar, and I tell the bartender, a bouncer-type guy, that we’d like to talk to the manager. Never taking his eyes off us, he picks up a phone, punches a button and speaks softly into the receiver.
“Take a table. The manager’ll be right out,” he tells us.
Harry and I move to a table against the wall and away from the other patrons. We are both mesmerized by the, um, ‘dancer’ and her pole. Who knew a woman’s body could bend like that?
Our entertainment is interrupted by a sultry voice.
Standing over us is a woman, her silhouette against the bright lights of the stage giving a hint of a fantastic figure.
“You wanted to see me? I’m Zin, the manager here.”
I jump to my feet, and realize that this babe is towering over me.
“Uh, yeah. Could we talk to you for a few minutes?”
“Sure,” she says. I pull out a chair and she sits down. I return to my seat across from her.
Now that she’s no longer backlit, I can see that not only is the woman a virtual Amazon, she is absolutely gorgeous. Dark auburn hair frames an exotically beautiful face. It’s easy to see she is what Harry likes to call “mixed spirits.” She looks like the perfect blend of Asian and Mediterranean, with perhaps a touch of something else thrown in. And that hint of a great body? Oh, yeah.
“So, fellas, who are you, and what can I do for you,” she asks.
I get myself together and reply, “I’m Marty Tremaine and this is my partner Harry Carrold.”
I glance at Harry and see he hasn’t quite gotten himself together yet. I give him a kick under the table and he comes to life.
‘Yeah, hi. Did you say your name was Zin?” She smiles and nods. “Interesting name,” he says.
“It’s short for Zinfandel. This is ‘The Wine Bar’, you know?”
Ohhh, I get it. Clever. I explain why we are here.
“I’m hoping you can fill in some blanks. We have a picture. Perhaps you will recognize her.”
Harry digs into his jacket pocket and pulls out a copy of the photo of him and Miranda. He unfolds it and slides it in front of Zin.
“That’s Chardonnay,” Zin gasps. “She hasn’t been working for the past several weeks. She called about three weeks ago, and said she had to take some time off. Something about her husband not finding out. Tell you the truth, I didn’t know she was married.
“Wait a minute, is she one you said was dead?”
“Yeah. Sorry to be the one to tell you.”
We spend about ten minutes talking to Zinfandel, and learn that Miranda – Chardonnay – has been working afternoons at The Wine Bar for almost a year, until she called three weeks ago. That’s just about the time she called us too. Oh, and she’s never been there with a sister, according to Zin.
As we leave, Harry says, “I’m thinking we should stop over at Pacific and give Sullivan what we’ve got.”
I agree, and head down La Cienega, cut over on Venice to Culver, and we’re there in twenty minutes. I hang a u-turn and park out front.
Harry and I head in, stop at the desk to ask for Mike, then take a seat. It isn’t long before he comes out, and leads us back to a desk in the bullpen.
“What’s up, guys?
Harry shows him the picture.
“You and the deceased.” Mike looks up at Harry. “I wasn’t aware that you knew the lady quite this well. When was this taken?”
“That was our first and only meeting. We had breakfast while she gave me background info on Wilson before I set up the tail. Miranda was a hot dish, but that look of appreciation you see on my face is all for the dish on the table in front of me. Great eggs.”
“And you got this picture how?”
Harry goes on to explain about Wilson and the cross-surveillance that was going on.
Sullivan shakes his head. “If there wasn’t a woman dead here, this would be pretty funny. It’s like some Doris Day-Cary Grant movie.”
“Yeah, and about that woman,” I add, “she wasn’t quite the lady we thought she was.”
I fill Mike in on my conversation with the housekeeper, mentioning the stuff I picked up from her. He puts out his hand. I dig into my briefcase for the papers and hand them over. While he looks at them, I describe our visit to The Wine Bar. He isn’t happy.
“Damn it. I was out in Van Nuys to meet with Wilson at his house this morning. Never saw a housekeeper. He gave me her address book, so I’m guessing these names will be in it. But the calendar? What I got was the kitchen calendar, a lovely thing with polar bears on it. Damn it to Hell!
“OK. I know you guys are detectives and all that, but it’s time for you to drop this. I’ll keep these,” he waves the papers and photo we’ve given him, “and you back the hell out of it. You got me? Otherwise, you may find yourselves with an obstructing charge.”
About a week later, Harry, Steve and I are in Harry’s office enjoying a Friday afternoon beer. The office closed at five and the front door is locked. There’s a knock, and Steve goes to the outer office to open it. Sullivan walks in followed by Steve, who grabs her beer and leaves, closing the door behind her.
Harry holds his hands out in front of him, and says, “I been good, Officer, honest.”
Mike laughs, picks up the stack of papers on the client chair opposite the one I’m sitting in, and dumps them on top of the already littered desk between Harry and us. Have I mentioned that Harry’s a slob? Yeah, world class.
Harry hands Mike a Coors from the half-gone six-pack on the floor by his feet.
“So I thought you’d wanna know,” he says, grinning broadly. “We got him.”
Harry and I speak in chorus. “Him?”
“Yeah, him. It was Wilson. I thought it was him all along, but it wasn’t until you guys told me about the sister that we could get a toe-hold on it.”
“No fucking way,” Harry exclaims. That guy was a wimp of the first order. No way could he have slit that woman’s throat.”
“Looks can be deceiving, my friend,” Mike says before downing about half his beer. He wipes the back of his hand across his mouth. “Your nice little client lady turned out to be a stripper, right?
“We brought her sister in and leaned on her a bit. At first, she was all ‘Oh, my poor sister, who could have done such a thing?' Lots of tears and hand-wringing. Then we showed her some pictures. Some shots of her sister that the lovely Zinfandel gave us, and some not so nice shots of her sister in your kitchen. And the lady sang like a bird.”
“You’re kidding,” I say.
“Nope. First off, she never knew her sister was a stripper. And according to Zinfandel, our ‘Chardonnay’ was willing to provide a few more afternoon delights if some guy struck her fancy. Off the Wine Bar premises, of course.”
“Of course,” Harry snorts.
“But she admitted to the affair with Wilson, and said she suspected that something was up with him. She knew he thought his wife was fooling around and that he’d hired some private dick to follow her. Ha. She saw the humor in that. I think the words she used were ‘fucking hypocrite.’ She knew the dick had discovered something that made him livid, and it didn’t have anything to do with her messing around, though he still believed that too. And get this, Harry. She said Wilson was convinced you were the guy. He said some stuff to her that sounded like he’d like to get you by the short hairs.”
“No surprise, what with that love-struck look on your face in the picture,” I say.
“It was the eggs, I’m telling you,” Harry bellows. “The eggs!”
“Well, anyway, she ended up saying telling us that Wilson had said something about getting two birds with one stone.”
Harry and I look at each other, eyebrows raised.
“We talked to the PI, and confirmed that he had followed Miranda to The Wine Bar. He said he thought Wilson was gonna have a heart attack when he told him she was a stripper, and probably more.
“Enough for me. I brought Wilson in, told him Miranda’s sister had given us an earful, baited him a bit with Chardonnay’s exploits, and next thing you know, the guy’s all red in the face and talking about how he’d shown her. And that’s all she wrote, my friends.”
Sullivan finishes his beer, and gets up and heads for the door. With a finger to the brim of his imaginary hat as usual, he says “So long. You might be called to testify when this gets to court. In the meantime, stay out of trouble.” Then he is gone.
“’A wuss,’, huh? What kind of detective are you, anyway?” I smirk at Harry.
He unceremoniously shoots me a bird.
“Oh, and you better lay off having two over easy with a nice Chardonnay,” I add. “It’s really bad for your health.”
This was written for The Tenth Daughter of Mamory.