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Authors: Richard S. Prather

Way of a Wanton

BOOK: Way of a Wanton
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Way of a Wanton
A Shell Scott Mystery

Richard S. Prather

 

 

FOR KEN AND LAVERNA WHITE

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

I WAS as confused as a sterile rabbit, primarily because I couldn't make up my mind where to look. The little blonde that everybody here at the party called Dot was doing an impromptu cancan, and even if she wasn't dressed for that kind of dance, she sure had the equipment for it. At the same time, over in the far corner of the living room was a long-limbed lovely built like something designed by a sex fiend.
 

I didn't know whether to look at the dance or the design, but I didn't want to miss anything, so I alternated. My eyes were having such a difficult time of it that a couple of times there I thought they were going to collide. Finally, though, Dot finished the dance and plopped down on a couch. She was a little thing, no more than five feet tall, well rounded, and with pure white skin.
 

I had a swallow of my water highball, hoping it would ease the dryness in my throat. It didn't. I shifted my gaze, waited about a minute, then got up and walked across the living-room carpet toward the long-limbed lovely.
 

She was wearing a strapless white dress and leaning against the wall, looking out the huge window, and smooth silver-blonde hair hung down against her shoulders and curled under in a long page boy. My own short-cropped hair is almost white, like my screwy eyebrows, and this was one of the few women I'd ever seen with hair lighter in color than mine. Except old women. This was no old woman. She was several years under my thirty.
 

The radio was still making a lot of noise and she didn't hear me come up. I stopped in front of her and said pleasantly, “Hello. I'm Shell Scott.” I just left it there till I found out what she'd do with it.
 

She turned her head slowly and looked at me from deep, dark brown eyes with lashes she used like whips. Her skin had been burned brown by countless suns, and the long hair that might once have been golden blonde was startling against the nut brown of her face and shoulders. White, even teeth flashed behind ripe red lips that curved in a smile as she snapped those lashes at me a couple of times and said softly, “Hello, you. I'm Helen.”
 

This was turning out to be one hell of a party.
 

I wouldn't say it was a typical Hollywood party, but it is safe to say it was a typical wild, wanton, hell-raising Hollywood party. And so far it was much like such parties anywhere. As a private detective—the entire staff of Sheldon Scott, Investigations—I was the only outsider here in Raul Evans's home in the Hollywood hills. The other nine people were all part of Louis Genova Productions, an independent film-producing company currently engaged in shooting an opus called “Jungle Girl.” Present were Louis Genova, the producer, and the director, the writer, and the male and female stars. Also present were four of the extra gals who were to run screaming through jungles and burn at stakes. Any minute now I figured they were going to start screaming and running, even though this was late Sunday afternoon and shooting on the picture didn't start again until tomorrow. I didn't especially enjoy any of the men here—except Raul Evans, the host—but the fact of the matter is I hadn't come here to enjoy men.
 

Helen was looking pleasantly up at me. “Helen what?” I asked her.
 

“Marshal.”
 

“Oh, then you're
the
Helen. The Jungle Girl herself?”
 

“That's right. I haven't seen you before, have I?”
 

“I just got here about ten minutes back. Still on my first drink. Nice party.”
 

“Mmm. Nice.”
 

And so was she. Tall and willowy, and smiling at me now, she was a delicious woman. I told her so and added, “While you search for any hidden meaning in that, may I fix you another drink?”
 

“Scotch and soda. And please.”
 

We were in the spacious living room of Raul's hilltop home on Durand Drive behind Hollywood, and we could look through the one entire wall of glass and see the road winding away from us, getting smaller and narrower as it reached nearer to the town far below. The swimming pool was visible fifty feet from the house, and green grass surrounded the pool and extended for a hundred feet down the hillside. Here inside the room the buzz of conversation mixed with the sound of ice tinkling in glasses when the music blaring from the radio didn't drown out everything else. People sprawled on plush divans or sat in heavy overstuffed chairs; everybody seemed to have a drink. I walked across the room to a three-stool bar against the far wall and made Helen's highball plus another bourbon and water for me.
 

While I mixed them I looked at the rest of the people in the room. I hadn't known quite what to expect when Raul had phoned me, but it had sounded interesting. He'd called me at my Hollywood apartment about three-thirty P.M., and after the usual chitchat he'd said, “You hunting down any killers this day, Shell?”
 

“No killers, no nothing.”
 

“Come on up, then, pal. Got a live one going. We'll go for a swim later. A production.”
 

“Party?”
 

“Party. Couple of extra girls—I mean women. Think you can handle them?”
 

“How do you mean that?”
 

“You coming up?”
 

“On my way. Mix me a drink. I'll bring my gaudiest trunks.”
 

“O.K., stupid. You can bring 'em if you want to.”
 

And that had been all there was to the invitation. I've known Raul for over six years, just about the length of time I've had an agency in downtown L.A., and he's one of the few guys I know in the movie-making industry that I really get along well with. Lately he'd been throwing so many eyebrow-raising parties that it was getting talked about and even mentioned in some of the nosy columns. But, unlike the columnists, I figured it was his business.
 

So, even though I wasn't part of the filmflam crowd, here I was. When I'd first come in Raul had handed me a glass and introduced me around in that en-masse fashion common to many of these affairs, but I could remember most of the names he'd rattled off.
 

Raul was Genova's director on “Jungle Girl,” and he and Genova himself, a dark, worried-looking man about five feet nine inches tall, were poring over some papers on top of a grand piano while fashion plate Oscar Swallow, who had written the original of “Jungle Girl” for Genova, peered over their shoulders. Swallow was a bachelor like me, and he obviously considered himself eligible.
 

The only other man present, Douglas King, was also the only sensible one present, it seemed to me. He was the male star of “Jungle Girl"—and very male he was, too. He had on swimming trunks, though nobody had yet been in the pool, and he was built like a couple of Greek gods mashed together. In the movie, I understood, he was Bruta, the guy who swings through trees and rescues everybody from the apes and things. I say he was sensible because little Dot was on his lap and whispering in his ear. I guess she was whispering. She was doing something up there.
 

The three other girls were giggling together as I finished mixing the drinks. I eavesdropped on their conversation for a few seconds as they passed it around.
 

One of them, a redhead, was saying, “...a real
big
shot—he's got
two
pools. He's casting the chorus for it like Ziegfeld used to—you know, put a quarter between their thighs, knees, and calves. Have to hold all three—”
 

“Sylvia couldn't make it using rolls of quarters. Hell, she won't have to. It isn't by holding quarters between her—”
 

“That Sylvia! She lifts her lips and she's acting. If I—”
 

“That's not what she lifts, darling, not when she's—”
 

I grinned happily and walked back to Helen carrying the two drinks. I gave her the scotch and said, “I missed you when I came in. Usually I'm wider awake.”
 

“You can make amends now.” She peered up at me. “You must be the biggest man here. How big?”
 

“Six-two. A shade less. And about two-oh-five. O.K.?”
 

“Very.” She reached up casually and with one red-tipped finger traced a line down the bridge of my slightly bent nose. “What happened?”
 

“Busted. In the Marines. Not the police action; the one before that. One of the big wars to make the world safe for the dead.”
 

She was looking at my left ear, the ear from which a small slice is missing, so I said, “Bullet—in a private war.” This seemed like the kind of party where a man could press his luck, so I added, “As long as we're on vital statistics...” and shifted my gaze downward.
 

She smiled and said softly, “Thirty-five. A shade more.”
 

I shifted again.
 

“Twenty-three.”
 

I shifted again.
 

She didn't say anything. I waited a moment, then looked back at her face. She was laughing silently. I said, “No statistic?”
 

“Try that again. Where were you looking?”
 

“Why—oh, ha. Well, you know. Well—”
 

She interrupted my logical explanation with “Thirty-five, too. That all right?”
 

I grinned back at her. “It will do.”
 

Somebody clapped me on the shoulder just in time to keep me from getting completely lost in this conversation. I turned around.
 

It was Raul. “Hello again, Shell,” he said. “Glad you came?” I nodded and he added, “I see you've picked off our star.”
 

“Uh-huh. The movie's bound to make money.”
 

“Thank you, sir,” said Helen.
 

I looked over toward the piano, where Genova and Swallow still stood, Swallow towering over the much shorter producer. They were quite a contrast in other ways, too. Swallow was a Hollywood writer who apparently tried to look and act like a Hollywood writer, and he was a big gob of color next to Genova, who was wearing a plain dark single-breasted suit. Swallow was slow-talking, slow-moving; Genova was a little forty-year-old dynamo of rapid-fire chatter and quick, darting movements who impressed me as a man who would walk down escalators. Right now he was waving a sheet of paper in his left hand and nervously snapping the fingers of his right hand, using up some of his excess energy. The most obvious and notable part of his features was the pair of huge black eyebrows that traveled up and down his forehead as he talked. I'd heard that Genova had one god and one only: money. He was much like many men obsessed with the desire for money and the power it represents, and I'd have given odds he took pills.
 

I nodded toward the two men at the piano and asked Raul, “Business?”
 

“Yeah. It came up after the party started. Actually Genova doesn't quite fit in with the—uh, somewhat abandoned atmosphere here. He phoned about some last-minute changes for tomorrow's shooting and I almost had to ask him over.” He grinned. “Damned if I was going to leave.”
 

Raul's grin lit up his entire rather homely face. Invariably it made me feel like grinning back. He was almost as tall as I, but thin, and with a thick, neatly trimmed mustache riding on his long upper lip. Raul and I didn't sit around pounding each other on the back and saying how much we liked each other. The affection was there, though, and it was mutual.
 

BOOK: Way of a Wanton
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