This is a Tremaine Investigations story. You can read earlier stories in the series here:
Metamorphosis (Part 1)
“You know, Alex, there may be a limit to how much of your arrogance I can overlook.”
Katherine’s eyes remained on the sculpture in front of her as she spoke. A quick glance at her profile told Alex she was pissed, but it wasn’t fatal. A faint smile touched his mouth.
He wasn't worried, a perfect illustration of that arrogance, he supposed. But the flat tone of her voice belied the threat in her words. She wasn't serious. He doubted she’d ever be serious. He created her. She was his, completely. And they both knew it.
His smile widened.
As I move along the along the broad sidewalk with the crowd, I realize that I don’t exactly fit in. I might look like just another New York businessman bustling about his workday if I were not obviously underdressed for the unseasonably cold weather. In a sea of men in top coats, my California-weight Armani suit, well tailored though it may be, stands out. Not that anyone notices. This is New York, after all.
I shiver and hunch my shoulders against a cold gust. The late afternoon sun is thin and doesn’t do much to warm the air. Geez, it’s colder than … well, you know. It’s been a long time, but was it always this cold in New York in November? As I round the corner from Fifth to 57th Street, I notice Bergdorf on my right, its glittering windows featuring mannequins posed amid pumpkins and autumn leaves.
Yeah. A glance at my watch tells me there’s enough time. I turn in at the 57th Street entrance and head to the Men’s Department to get myself a lightweight topcoat. I’m blessed with one of those builds. The grey coat from the rack slips on as if it were custom-made for me. I’m back on the street in ten minutes and immediately swept back into the crowd rushing down 57th.
Funny, I don’t remember so many people completely focused on getting there back in my day. Ha, probably because I was one of them. Carried along by the tide of humanity, I’m actually struggling to keep up. I guess I’ve gotten used to the slower pace out in LA. Besides, we don’t walk anywhere there. LA’s the city Detroit built. I decide I’d better reacquaint myself with the subway.
Still, this walking has to be good for you. Maybe that’s why everybody walks – and quickly, very quickly – instead of bringing a car into the city. Well, that, and the fact that a decent parking space costs more than a Nolet Silver martini, which you’d need anyway if you were crazy enough to drive here. As far as I’m concerned, the martini does a lot more for your heart than racing the streets with the rest of the rat pack. Or maybe everyone just moves fast to keep warm. A martini can take care of that too.
Like the people ahead and behind me, I veer around the huge red number 9 splitting the foot traffic flowing down the sidewalk like a rock in a stream. Just ahead, peeking over an awning on the building next door, I can see the arched glass front of the townhouse housing Rizzoli Bookstore. A glow of light from the chandelier inside beckons warmly like an old friend, and I step it up as I make my way to the right side of the sidewalk. I’m eager to get warm, and even more eager to see the woman I know is waiting for me inside.
Using my shoulder so I won’t have to put my already frozen hand on the cold brass door handle –I should have gotten some gloves too – I push my way through the heavy wooden door. The interior of the bookstore is just as I remember it. Beneath the glittering chandelier suspended from the gently arched ceiling high above, patrons stand browsing through the books displayed on rich wooden shelving and tables. Strains of Mozart play softly in the background. I can’t help but smile. The ambiance here is about as far from Barnes & Noble as New York is from LA. It’s good to be back.
I’m Marty Tremaine, and I’m no stranger to New York.
I spent four years living in the city while I was at NYU. Harry Carrold, my closest friend since forever, and I shared first a dorm room and then the tiny apartment we liked to call our “garret,” both in the Village near Washington Square. After graduation, we moved to LA, I to open a branch of the family business, and Harry, well, because “Hey, what the hell?” And that should pretty much sum up Harry for you.
My dad ran a very successful accounting practice in Hartford. He expected me to come into the business, naturally, since I was the only child. But I’d had my heart set on Southern California for as long as I could remember. I’m a huge movie fan, and the pull of Tinseltown was strong. Oh, I had no aspirations to be the next Hollywood hunk or anything. I just wanted to be in the neighborhood. Being accountant to insurance drones just wasn’t going to do it for me.
We compromised, Pop and I. I would join Tremaine & Co but I would do it in Los Angeles. I had grand dreams of bringing in some of the money that flows in and out of Hollywood.
So Harry and I headed west. I opened the West Coast branch of Tremaine & Co, putting my finance degree to good use. I did very well, though oddly, few of my clients came from the movie business. Harry is a techie, and he bopped around from company to company, changing jobs whenever he got bored. Since the world of computers was growing like crazy and relatively few people could be called “experts” yet, LA was Harry’s oyster. Interestingly, many of the pearls in that oyster did come from the entertainment world. Go figure.
We both got married, with similar results. Neither of the marriages had long-term staying power, Harry’s much less so than mine. But I did come out of it with a couple of great kids. We won’t talk about the woman who became the ex-wife from Hell. I did manage to get even with her eventually, but that’s another story.
A few years ago, Dad died, leaving Tremaine & Co to me. I wasn’t having a whole lot of fun crunching numbers by that time, so I sold the business. I’d been drawn to my romantic Hollywood image of being a P.I. for quite a while. Yeah, me and Philip Marlowe. So I took some classes, got myself a license, a gun permit and a cool fedora, and stenciled my name on the door to Tremaine Investigations. It wasn’t long before Harry quit his programming job and came in with me, because “Hey, what the hell?”
We’ve been doing pretty well, and all of the profits these days are by way of honest labor. I have to admit that back at the beginning, that wasn’t always the case. Harry and I had a unique combination of skills that had enabled us to collect a “fee” from both parties in a divorce action. Hey, what self-respecting bean guy doesn’t know how to cook the books a little? And, luckily, this one has a computer whiz around to clean up the kitchen after him.
But a hard-earned windfall, courtesy of my ex-wife, gave us the cushion we needed to switch lanes and travel the high road. Business could be better, but what we do bring in is coming in via the old-fashioned route. I’m not saying I’ll never take a short cut again, but for now, it’s all on the straight and narrow.
I've got to say, though, that being a private dick hasn’t turned out to be quite as glamorous as I expected. There are a lot of days when I get to sit with my feet up on my beloved battered wooden desk and imagine myself recovering the Brasher Doubloon.
It all began on one of those days. I was at my desk reading the week-old Variety Harry had left on behind when Steve appeared at the door to my office. Stephanie – “don’t call me Steve” -- McGuire is our receptionist, secretary and all around Jill-of-all-trades. She may be Tremaine Investigations’ most valuable asset, present company excepted, of course. There’s not much she can’t do, from playing “mom” to her two sometimes-irresponsible employers to fixing the copier.
“You’ve got a call, Marty. You want me to put it through?”
I lifted my eyes from yet another article about the rise and fall of Charlie Sheen. “You know who it is?”
Steve waggled her eyebrows at me, green eyes sparking. “Yup. A sexy-sounding lady from New York named Katherine-with-a-K Bell.”
I think my heart stopped for a moment. Kate Bell. Back at NYU, Kate Bell was the object of my desire – OK, let’s be honest here, it was out and out lust -- the love of my life and ultimately, the one who got away. Kate Bell.
I realized Steve was waiting, looking at me with her freckled face full of questions. “Uh, yeah, put her through.”
At the sound of her voice, my mind went into instant flashback, replaying steamy scenes from the Marty and Kate Story.
Kate was the sexiest woman I’d ever known, hands down. She was about 5’8”, and at a time when being as thin as a runway model was considered ideal, Kate was all curves. She wore her dark hair long, and when she allowed it to float loose to her shoulders, she looked like Jane Russell. Most often, though, she tied it up in a perky ponytail that bounced happily behind her as she ran out to Washington Square most afternoons to get a lemon gelato from the old Italian guy with the cart.
I never really knew what happened between us, but we were a hot item, and then we weren’t. Though I’d thought about her plenty, I hadn’t spoken to her since I left New York.
“Kate. How are you?”
“Marty, I need your help. I think I might have killed someone.”
Continued in Part 2.
Written for the Tenth Daughter of Memory.