Life Sentences, Day 136: “Topanga Hearts,” Part One

February 13th, 2011



It’s a real pleasure to begin (and end) the Valentine’s Day countdown with a new story from Everett Kaser.

It’s a pleasure, first, because I like it so much; and second, because I didn’t have to write it.

I have to tell you, though, reading it for the first time was kind of weird, not just because here were my characters, doing things I didn’t remember them doing (I had that experience practically daily back in the days when I wrote drunk).  It was because I’ve been writing Simeon’s house again recently for the first time in 17 years, and it was strange to open up Everett’s story and find myself still back there.  And then there’s the fact that Simeon is with someone else in the new book, and here he is, back with Eleanor.  She should kick him out, the philanderer.

But I think this is a terrific story, and here it is.

Oh, and this is written in four parts.  Part One is below, and Part Two will follow later today.  Parts Three and Four will get me off the hook tomorrow.

Enjoy.

Topanga Hearts

By Everett Kaser

Based upon the characters and settings created by Timothy Hallinan

SIMEON

Something awakened me. I kept still in the darkness, but heard nothing except the warm night wind trying to blow the house down the steep side of the canyon where it had somehow clung to existence for the last eighty years. After listening for several minutes, I rolled off the mattress onto the bare floor.

Eleanor and I were sleeping in the spare room under my house, on a mattress on the floor, like something out of The Godfather, and for similar reasons. While trying to find the thieves who had stolen a Juaquin Sorolla painting from my client Madame Choy’s home, I’d tracked them to a Vietnamese gang who turned out to be less than friendly. One thing led to another, as it frequently does, only this time I was the one thing and Eleanor was another. Trouble follows me like a family dog, and after one dicey threat to Eleanor, I was making sure trouble didn’t find her again before I’d taken care of this problem. I’d just recovered the painting that afternoon and the gang wasn’t happy.

Eleanor and I were in an on phase in our on-and-off relationship. We’d been together, even when we were apart, for more years than either of us liked to admit. She was the best damn thing that ever happened to me, and like any healthy, red-blooded fool, the fast-closing arms of a relationship had scared me nearly to death, and I cheated on her. Repeatedly. And then some more. It was all my fault, a failure of my moral fiber. Even I am a big enough man to admit that. I eat oatmeal every day to try to strengthen my moral fiber, but too little, too late. Eventually, she’d had enough and left me. But neither one of us had ever really let go completely. Gravity seemed to be too strong around us, and we kept circling around each other, closer and closer.

Eleanor was still breathing softly and evenly on the mattress. I slipped into my shoes. As I reached for my gun, my hand hit the empty wine bottle we had left sitting on the floor, and I grabbed at it with both hands. Setting it back down level, I felt around until my fingers found the gun. The Great Defender, that’s me. I unhooked the string from the door that was connected to a pile of tin cans and quietly opened the door to the outside. That one door is the only way in or out of the room under my house. I’d kept its hinges oiled, so it opened without a sound.

The narrow goat trail across the steep hillside is difficult enough to find in the daylight if you don’t know where it is. In the dark, I had to be careful or I’d quickly find myself at the bottom of the canyon some six hundred feet below. Nothing looked out of place. As far as I could see, the usual cars were parked on the neighborhood street, the usual dim lights burned in the usual windows in the five houses within view, the usual glitter of L.A.’s lights stretched out to the southeast, and the usual smells of sage and pine carried on the warm night air. I looked up, but saw no lights in the windows above me.

As I turned to move up the trail towards the driveway, something round shoved itself up into my crotch, and I nearly screamed like a girl. Barely keeping from shouting, I grabbed a handful of fur and held on to Bravo, Topanga Canyon’s canine free spirit, and all-around champion Crotch Sniffer. I pulled him back to the door, shoved him inside and pulled the door closed without latching it. I just wanted to slow him down. If he felt trapped inside, he might start barking or howling.

On the steep, rutted, unpaved driveway, I climbed the rest of the way up to the little corridor that led to the front door. I stood and listened, but couldn’t hear anything out of the ordinary. I could catch the vague smell of hydrocarbons, but that was not unusual since liberal amounts of gasoline had once been used to give much of the house a distinctive bouquet.

After a few moments, I turned the doorknob as quietly as I could, but quickly and smoothly, then pushed the door open fast and flipped on the lights in one motion.

A man, spinning around to face me, stood ten feet away beneath the light in the center of the room, holding a little black leather satchel in one hand. He was big, about the same size as I was, and he stood motionless, staring at the gun I held pointed at his mid-section.

“Who the hell are you?” I asked.

He raised his eyes to mine, pursing his lips and rolling them around like he was sucking on something sour. “Obviously in the wrong house. If you don’t mind, I’ll just mosey along.”

“I don’t think so. I want to know why you’re in my house in the middle of the night and how you got in when the door was locked and the dead-bolt was locked.”

He looked at me for a minute, then said, “You must have forgotten to lock up.”

I knew I’d locked the door. With a gang of teenaged Vietnamese hounding me and with Eleanor in the house, I wasn’t about to forget something so important.

I pointed with my chin and asked, “What’s in the bag.”

“Lipstick, mirror, blush.” He shrugged. “The usual.”

Something about him felt familiar, but I couldn’t place it. He made me uncomfortable though. He stood completely still. Not relaxed, but still, calm.

“Again, why are you here?”

A pause. Something was spinning awfully fast behind those eyes.

“Do you know a slippery little shit named Tiny Tim?”

I shook my head. “Never heard of him.” I did know about Tiny Tim, but there’s no sense in giving information to the opposition.

“He’s why I’m here.”

“You have a name?”

His eyes stared into mine and mine stared back. I took a graduate-level course in eye-wrestling.

Finally, he nodded.

“Junior.”

Part Two, JUNIOR, will follow in a few hours.

4 Responses to “Life Sentences, Day 136: “Topanga Hearts,” Part One”

  1. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Everett-this is wonderful! I’m breathless with anticipation. (Did you know there is a website called willamettewriters.com? I came across it by accident)

  2. micael hallinan Says:

    Everett deserves some champagne too. I’m hooked,bring Junior and Tiny Tim on.

  3. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I agree completely. And it just gets better.

    I think Everett may be out of touch today (he’s on a desert island writing the next James Patterson book) but he should be checking in later tonight. And all day tomorrow he’ll be online and interactive, if I can just work out two buggy lines in his coding.

    So glad you’re liking this.

  4. EverettK Says:

    Lil and Micael: Glad you’re enjoying it so far. The 4-part piece was an experiment, which I’ll explain more fully when the end has been posted. I’m not entirely happy with how it turned out, but it was fun writing it anyway, and of course, it’s fun to share it, too! 🙂

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