It was not the kind of night, nor the kind of place, where you’d expect to hear a woman scream. It was just one of those Malibu nights, dark as a velvet shroud, creamy waves crashing onto the shore, breeze soft as a kitten’s breath.
Mac Reilly, Private Investigator, was walking the beach alone but for his dog. His lover, Sunny Alvarez, had taken off for Rome after a slight "disagreement" concerning their future. But that was an ongoing story.
Mac lived in the famous Malibu Colony, habitat of movie stars and showbiz moguls and megabucks persons of every sort, each one richer than the next, give or take a couple of million, or in some cases billion. Their fancy beachside mansions didn’t look so fancy from Mac’s angle, but then the beach was also not an angle from which most people ever got to see them. In fact the public rarely got to see them. The Colony was gated and guarded, one gate in or out, and though the beach had free access it was only along the water’s edge with no loitering. Any unknown caught prowling along it at midnight would be in for some tough questioning.
The Colony’s mansions were mostly the simple second or even third homes of rich people, understated in their beach chic and with the narrowest bits of oceanfront deck known to man, at a cost per square foot that boggled the accounting.
Mac’s own place was a more modest dwelling, a forties bungalow he had bought cheap years ago in the big real estate slump and which had once been owned, or so he’d heard, by the old-time movie star Norma Shearer. Or was it Norma Jean? Norma or Marilyn, it made no difference. A shack was a shack whichever way you looked at it.
The house’s saving grace, apart from its ritzy location and the view, was a small wooden deck with steps that led directly to the beach. It wasn’t unknown in a winter storm for the ocean to come thudding at the wooden pilings under that deck, slapping over the rails until Mac felt as though he were on a boat, but he liked the excitement and even the possible danger. He was happy in Malibu, he wouldn’t live anywhere else if you paid him. Except maybe Rome for a week or two, in the company of Sunny.
Mac kind of looked the PI role, six foot two, longish dark hair still thick on the head, thank God, even though he was forty. Dark blue eyes, kinda crinkled from too many days on the beach and too many nights spent propping up bars in his youth. No facial hair—Sunny didn’t like it. A lean athletic build, which since he was a lazy guy gym-wise, was mostly earned from jogging along the beach with his rescued three-legged, one-eyed mutt of a dog, Pirate, who was pretty fast when he had the wind behind him.
Pirate was Mac’s best buddy, and you’ve never seen a more perky little tyke. With his long spindly legs and ragged gray-brown fur, plus a severe underbite that left his bottom teeth exposed in a perpetual grin, he’d win Malibu’s ugliest dog contest easy.
Of course Sunny adored Pirate, even though she wouldn’t let him near her Chihuahua, Tesoro. Strong on the claws, quick with a bite and weighing all of three pounds, Tesoro outsmarted Pirate at every turn.
Sunny believed it was the animosity between their dogs that was preventing their marriage, but Mac was not quite certain on that score. Why spoil a good thing? Sunny and he were good together just the way they were, i.e., unmarried.
Sometimes Mac thought maybe it was his alter ego that appeared on your TV screens Thursday nights, in real-life documentary style reinvestigating old Hollywood crimes, of which there were more than you might imagine. His show was titled Mac Reilly’s Malibu Mysteries, with yours-truly looking extra-cool in the Dolce & Gabbana black leather jacket Sunny had bought him.
When she’d told him it was a Dolce, Mac had had no idea what she meant. It sounded like Italian ice cream to him. Later, he’d discovered it was an Italian designer and the jacket was without doubt the coolest garment he owned. Soft and pliable as wet putty it had become part of his on-screen image, though God knows he was more usually to be found in sweats slouching up Malibu Road to Ralphs super-market in search of beer and dog food, or breakfasting in Coogies coffee shop in a T-shirt and shorts rather than decked out in black leather.
Anyhow, the show, which took old murders and reck-oned to solve them, had given him some kind of fame. It was all relative of course, because as everybody knew in Hollywood, once your show went off the air you were as forgotten as last week’s dinner. And now it looked as though Mac’s time had come and gone and the show was likely not to return for another season. Too bad, because the income had come in handy and he’d gotten to keep his day job, investigating for all those nice rich folk. And surprisingly many of them were genuinely nice. Plus they had the same troubles as everybody else. Sex and money. In that order.
He gave Pirate the low whistle that meant get the heck back over here, and the dog came running from whatever exciting secrets he’d found on Malibu’s most expensive bit of shore. Together, they turned and headed for home. They were strolling along, minding their own business, listening to the crash of the waves, breathing in the salty ocean air and keeping an eye out for shooting stars, all that romantic stuff. And then they heard the scream.
High pitched. Quivering. Terrified.
It didn’t take a PI to figure out that the screamer was female. And that she was in trouble.
Excerpted from One of Those Malibu Nights by Elizabeth Adler
Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth Adler
Published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.