Forced Perspectives – Snippet 15
“Not a picture,” Vickery told him. “I’m looking for Supergirl.”
“Got a couple of such, mate,” said the Jack Sparrow.
“I mean –” Vickery paused; Rachel Voss might not want her name known to just any superhero on the boulevard. “She used to be Wonder Woman, but she was really too short for that.”
The Jack Sparrow nodded and reached out and took the bill. “She was over by the Ghirardelli a few minutes ago. Can’t have got too far.”
Vickery nodded and took Castine’s elbow again as he eased and sidestepped back out to the sidewalk. As they pushed their way through the crowd to the right, toward a crosswalk, she leaned in close to him to be heard over the multilingual babble around them.
“Supergirl?” she said again, more insistently.
“When I was an L.A. cop,” he said, “she was what they call a CRI, confidential reliable informant. You’re supposed to register all your CRIs with a central database, but I kept a few of them secret, and she was one of those. She was very good with some ATM fraud cases I handled, but she was always –”
He paused while they separated around a Captain America.
“She was always,” he went on when they had rejoined on the far side, “telling me about occult activity in Hollywood. When I was a cop I didn’t pay much attention to that stuff, but last year I looked her up because I needed to get in touch with somebody who could allegedly talk to ghosts.”
“Right,” he said, pausing at the crosswalk. “She steered me to him. Of all my old contacts, she’s likeliest to know who to ask about our haunted house visions.”
At the curb below a towering Madame Tussaud’s wax museum sign, a man was hunched over a smoking grill, turning browned bratwursts and sliding them into split rolls.
Castine nodded in that direction. “I once thought we were going to get lunch at that deli.”
The light turned green, and Vickery stepped into the street. “You had a tamale,” he said. “And I’ve got stuff in Barstow.”
“Stuff,” she said, falling into step beside him. “But you’re right, we shouldn’t slow down any more than we — maybe — have to.”
“There’s a good chance that Rachel’s worth the delay,” he said, standing on tip-toe to scan the crowd to the east. “I just wish she were taller.”
They had sidled and edged their way past the ornate foyer of the El Capitan Theater when someone tapped Vickery on the shoulder, and when he quickly turned around he saw the short, blonde figure of Supergirl, still trim and fit-looking in her red and blue Krypton suit.
“I think you’re Herbert Woods,” she said, using his nearly forgotten real name. She had stepped back, apparently leaving herself room to duck away if he was not.
“Hi, Rachel,” he said. He pulled Castine back and said, “This is Ingrid, a friend of mine.”
Rachel nodded politely. “Jack Sparrow sent a relay hand-jive signal that somebody was looking for me and coming this way, so I was waiting behind the box office here to see who it was. You’re lucky I recognized you again — a beard now? And where have you been? I’ve heard some weird stories.”
“Out of town,” he said. “Is Supergirl thirsty?”
“What do you think? It’s got to be after four, Boardner’s should be open.”
The crowd thinned out when they had walked the two blocks east to Cherokee Avenue, and Rachel was able to stop explaining to tourists that she was on a break and not open to posing for photographs. Vickery led the way around the corner and across the narrower street, and as he held open the door of Boardner’s he looked back and scanned the 180-degree view, and sighed with relief to see no sign of pursuers or watchers. He stepped inside after his two companions.
The interior was dim, lit mainly by the glow of blue lights under the glass shelves behind the bar, but Rachel led the way to the booth she and Vickery had occupied a year and a half ago. Vickery and Castine sat down on one side, facing Rachel.
“I bet,” Rachel began, then paused when a waitress stopped at their booth to take drink orders — a large Coke for Castine, a Coors beer for Vickery, and a sidecar for Rachel; “I bet,” she went on when the waitress had moved away, “you’re the woman this guy is supposed to have gone to Hell with!”
Castine looked at Vickery, who nodded. “Yes,” she said.
“I’d like to hear that story sometime,” said Rachel, scratching at her scalp under the blonde wig. “I heard you flew out in a hot-air balloon.”
“A hang-glider, actually,” said Vickery. “I’ll tell you about it another time. Right now we need a pen and paper.”
Castine slid the billfold from her inner jacket pocket and unclipped a pen from one side. “You can draw on the back of the rental contract for the Honda,” she said, pulling that free. “I’m afraid I’ll never return it.”
“Okay,” said Vickery, beginning to sketch on the back side of the stiff paper, “we’d like you to ask around among your witchy contacts, Rachel, to see if –”
Castine was watching him draw. “Leave room for two gables on the roof,” she interjected.
“Oh yeah,” said Vickery, nodding.
The drinks arrived, and he paused to take a long sip of the cold beer. “I think I’d be wise to have another of these,” he told the waitress.
When she had smiled and nodded and withdrawn, he went on, “Ask your people if they know anything about a house that looks like this.” He inked in the ground floor verandah, tilted and partly sunk in the ground on the right side. “This is sand,” he said, writing the word below. “And the whole building is dark — brown or gray.” He drew wavy lines behind the drawing of the three-story house, then decided that they just looked like smoke, and wrote “dirt slope behind the house” to make it clear.
Rachel put down her drink and craned her neck to see the picture. “It looks kind of wrecked.”
“Yeah, there’s sand piled up on the left side here too.” He drew some bumps there, and wrote sand below them. “I think the whole ground floor was flooded sometime, and it’s probably full of sand all the way through.”
“And –” said Castine, hesitantly touching a rectangle that represented one of the left-side ground floor windows, “there’s a spiral staircase inside.”
Vickery frowned. “I never saw that.”
“Somebody was going upstairs once,” Castine said. “I could tell.”
“It’d help if I knew where it is,” said Rachel.
“We don’t know,” Vickery told her. “We think it’s probably in the L.A. area.”
Rachel was staring at them. “But you’ve seen it; seen people moving in it. What, in a movie?”
“Inâ€¦visions, sort of,” said Vickery. “And I think it involves a group of people who tried to grab us a couple of hours ago.”
Castine had been crunching an ice cube from her glass of Coke, and now swallowed it and said, “And maybe an Egyptian artifact.”
“Oh, right,” said Vickery, “these guys may have some sort of artifact that the Egyptian government wants back. We’ve got to run, but could we meet here again tomorrow? Say four o’clock?”
Rachel gave him a suspicious look over the top of her glass. She set it down and said, “Is your ‘group of people’ still after you?”
“I don’t think they can trace us,” said Vickery, “and anyway we got here fast — but yes, I’m sure they’re still after us. So we really should go. What sort of donation to the Justice League of America do you think would be appropriate?”
“Am I going to get in the middle of something, even just asking about this place?”
“I — don’t know,” said Vickery. “I don’t know the shape of this situation at all.”
“You always were honest, and you did keep my name off the LAPD snitch list. A long time ago.” Rachel stood up and drained the last of her drink. “I think this is a thousand bucks, Woods. Even if I come back here tomorrow with nothing for you — even if I plain stand you up.”
Castine had squeaked when she heard the amount, but Vickery hesitated only a moment before nodding and reaching into his pocket. Before becoming Bill Ardmore, he had cashed out his old Secret Service 401k and a settlement from the Transportation Utility Agency, and divided the cash and hidden it in several locations; and he had brought five thousand dollars with him when he had driven down from Barstow.
“You’ve always been honest too, Rachel,” he said. He pulled the roll of hundred dollar bills from his pocket and peeled off ten of them.
Castine gave Rachel a wide-eyed look. “You can at least pay for the drinks!”
Rachel smiled and adjusted her wig and cape. “I got it. You two split.”