The Adjal of Jimmy Temple
(AJA Damaged Goods)
I was locking my office just after four on a hot July afternoon when her perfume hit me. Jasmine laced with lime.
Only one kind of woman wears that potion — a blonde with curly ringlets like Shirley Temple made famous. I’m not related to Shirley, she just happens to have the same last name as me. Sight unseen, I’d have bet even money this blonde would be well-endowed and have eyes as blue as the Pacific before a storm.
“Mr. Temple?” she asked as I withdrew the key. Her voice was like I imagined it would be, whiskey and honey.
I turned to look. She wasn’t blonde, but had soft brown hair that laps the shoulder, the kind of hair I like. I was wrong about the eyes too — they were green, darker than emeralds. Made me forget about the Pacific Ocean before, during or after a storm. She had the lean body of a runner.
“Yes,” I said. “I’m Jimmy Temple.” I was sorry I wasn’t her long lost lover because all my life I’ve dreamed about a woman like her looking for a man like me.
“I drove all the way from Malibu,” she breathed. “Could you possibly give me a few minutes?”
I opened my door again and went in. I had turned off the air conditioner for the weekend but there was enough of a chill to make it inviting. I sat down behind the redwood picnic table I use as a desk.
I watched her standing in the doorway as she decided if she should come in or talk to me across the threshold. She turned and looked over her shoulder. Behind her was Bel Air Foods.
The crisp wind wrinkled a white banner over the entrance proclaiming, “We deliver” (if you spent a hundred bucks or more). White clouds played lazy tag in the baby-blue sky. It was supposed to rain, but so far not a drop. My office is on the second floor of a two-story wood frame building that houses a dozen tiny businesses: Mail Room, a pet groomer, a drycleaner, a coffee house; the kinds of places rich people send their servants on errands.
I run a small agency that specializes in finding lost lovers, probably not the kind of lovers you might expect. I bet if you think back over the years there was someone special you longed for, maybe in high school, maybe even in kindergarten, and you moved or they moved and next thing ten or twenty years slip by and you start wondering what happened to that soul mate of yours.
That’s where I come in. You give me two hundred dollars and if your old squeeze is in California I’ll find your long lost love within thirty days. Out-of-state, I charge five hundred. I call my agency Soul Mate Search Inc. I’m even in the Yellow Pages. I take Visa and MasterCard. I get the occasional phone call from people who think I’m a black talent scout looking for the next Whitney Houston.
Between my building and Bel Air Foods is a parking lot. Today it was filled with new Mercedes and Cadillacs. There was a blue limo waiting for some rich country club divorcée to get her claws sharpened in the nail salon. I saw heat shimmering off the hood of a red Lamborghini. It hadn’t been there two minutes ago. It had Malibu tags.
I asked the lady in the doorway what her name was.
“Related to Jack Kincaid?” I opened a new file folder.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I read about his funeral in The Times.”
“He was murdered.”
I leaned back and made a steeple with my fingers, assuming the nonchalant pose I like to think makes me look like Bogart in The Big Sleep. “I saw an interview on television with your mother and no one said anything about murder. I understood it was an accident.”
“My real mother died when I was a child. Trish is my stepmother. She killed daddy.”
“Really?” The room cooled down, even with the air conditioner off.
Little red lights flashed in the back of my mind. I got a strong feeling Wanda was not looking for an old lover. “Has she been arrested?”
“Trish is too smart to get arrested.”
The warning lights swarmed like fire ants. I contemplated my folder. California is filled with all kinds of strange people. Drugs or fame can make you strange, but what makes you the strangest is money. And the strangest of all are the spoiled children of rich parents who are so busy being rich they starve their kids of everything but cash.
I remembered the news clippings and sound bites on Jack Kincaid. Rich and ruthless. He collected people. They threw him a to-die-for funeral and I remembered how happy his so-called friends all seemed at the service which made the 11 o’clock news. Kincaid was the kind of guy who had time for every deal but I doubted if he had a nanosecond left for family.
Wanda had probably displaced her resentment onto her stepmother, who probably was a first-class bitch, as the second wives of rich men often are. God only knew what the stepmother thought of Wanda. What a tragedy. But then California is filled with tragedy these days — earthquakes, mudslides, fires, gyrating real estate prices and beautiful women like Wanda.
I closed the folder and got up just as Wanda decided she was going to come in. She backed reluctantly out onto the walkway. I pulled the door shut and re-locked it.
In a few moments I would walk a hundred yards to my small studio apartment, close the door, shake off my clothes and pour myself a shot of Crown Royal. I would drink it slowly, then put on swim trunks and do laps in the pool until sunset, which would be in about thirty minutes.
Later I would watch television and dream about a woman like Wanda, but one who was not a card-carrying member of the strange children of California’s rich and famous.
“Won’t you help me?” she asked.
“No.” I dropped the key into my pocket and looked at her. She was a knockout, no question. A stone fox. High heels that made her legs seem to go on forever, lithe legs that could crack me like a walnut.
“I can pay whatever you want.”
“Miss Kincaid, I’m sure you could buy Catalina Island with change left over to make a dent in our national debt. I find old boyfriends for old girlfriends and vice versa, nice and romantic. And if I think a client is going to harm an old lover, I pass. I make between forty and sixty grand a year doing something I’m good at. I am not good at homicide.”
“I bet you could be.”
“I don’t want to find out. When you start investigating why people die in Los Angeles that usually leads to a body bag and probably you’re the one in it, having been personally checked out of this life by someone you’d be horrified to find in your living room. I do not like blood, bullets, toe tags or the smell of formaldehyde. I do, by the way, like your perfume.” I turned away. “Sorry I can’t help you.”
She followed me down the stairs. I headed for Bel Air Foods to buy milk. I walked by the Lamborghini Diablo and in the back seat I noticed a big teddy bear with a broken eye.
Looking totally out of place in one of the world’s most expensive cars, it wore a ratty white sweater that said “Wanda’s Baby.” I didn’t need milk but I didn’t want Wanda to find out where I lived.
“You have to help me.”
I gave her a glance. She looked as good from the side as she did from the front, in a loose gray silk blouse that both hid and suggested everything. Damn.
“Wanda, if I may call you that. There are dozens of agencies in this city. Any one of them will take your case, maybe for even less money than I charge.”
“I need someone psychic.”
Rich and strange and, of course, into the paranormal. Maybe next I’d find out she’d been abducted by aliens. “I’ll have to change the name of my agency. It may be called Soul Mate Search but it’s got nothing to do with me being psychic.”
“Yes, you are,” she said. “You just don’t know it.”
I studied her as if the thought had just occurred to me. “Bet you’re psychic, aren’t you?”
“And this psychic gift enables you to divine that your stepmother killed your father?”
“Then divine that I do not believe in psychic phenomena, telepathy or predestination. I don’t even believe much in luck.”
Her emerald eyes were twin pools, deep waters into which I longed to dive. She smiled, great teeth that didn’t look porcelain. “You want to believe, but you can’t,” said those clean white teeth that I wanted to nibble me.
“That’s a pretty easy guess. Everybody’d like to be psychic, insightful, special, powerful — ”
“Mr. Temple — ”
“No. Stop. You’re an attractive woman. I like the way you smell and walk and hold yourself. I like your teeth. But I’m going home. Drive your Lamborghini back to Malibu and watch the sunset. Enjoy something you can’t buy.”
A mysterious smile, disturbingly like that of the Mona Lisa, drifted across her delicately tanned face. “If I can prove I’m psychic, will you let me take you to dinner?”
“Sure.” I said, trying to concentrate on Crown Royal but finding myself thinking about her.
“When you were locking your door and I spoke to you, and you couldn’t see me, you thought I had blonde hair, blue eyes and big hooters, didn’t you?”
“Pretty good guess.”
“You were also thinking of Shirley Temple.”
I don’t know how she had guessed what I had been thinking but I had just lost the bet. We would have dinner. I was in trouble…
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