“How did your sister get roped into this, Rose?”
She wiped tears from her eyes. “She knew Bobby before I did.”
“Sounds to me like your sister is partially responsible for turning you into a prostitute, Rose.”
She started sobbing again, “Stop calling me that!”
“Rose, do you want out of this life?”
She nodded. “Yes. But I’ll be dead before I ever get out.”
The door flew open and Cal was standing there, along with Diamond’s two mules that I tangled with at the club.
“That’s right, baby,” Cal said grinning. “You’ll be dead before you ever get out.”
She started crying. I continued.
“They go to the Cherokee Club and then are directed to the bookstore where they’re sent on here. How am I doing?”
She shook her head, “They only go to the bookstore for me. There are other businesses for each of the other ladies.”
“So they go through your sister at the bookstore to get to you?”
That’s what Madeleine meant by I’m tired of doing this.
“And Annie Albert and Connie Graves are also part of this little setup?”
She nodded, still sobbing. “And Tiffany will be next, I’m sure.”
Like hell she will…
“You know who else was in that picture, honey? Bobby Diamond. Remember your old boss?”
She got a terrified look on her face.
“If he finds out you know about this setup he’ll….,” she let that sentence trail off.
I may be thicker than the foreskin of a rhinoceros but I get wise eventually.
“Lemme guess,” I said, “this set up is a high class prostitution ring. Diamond is grooming aspiring singers at his club to be cultured and more refined and then turns them out to be pretty whores for the well-to-do and rich men of Hollywood.”
“Look, lady,” I said forcefully, “I found a photograph in Paige Turner’s apartment that had five women in it. Annie Albert and Connie Graves had been X’ed out. That leaves Paige Turner, Tiffany Cross and you. And Paige is dead. Are you seriously telling me that doesn’t concern you?”
“Not a bit,” she said defiantly.
“Are you stupid or something, lady?”
She shook her head. “Annie and Connie are both fine. I saw them yesterday. Now, I don’t know how Paige got killed but it’s nothing to do with the other four women in your picture, I can assure you.”
“Look, just who are you? A cop?” she asked, getting nervous.
I shook my head, “I’m not a cop and my name isn’t important. I think your life may be in danger.”
She laughed, “My life? I’ve got a feeling it’s your life that’s going to be in danger. You have no idea what you’ve stumbled into, do you?”
“Do you know the whereabouts of Annie Albert or Connie Graves?”
She got up to grab the phone. It was clear she wasn’t phoning down for a bottle of champagne.
I lunged for her, snatching away the receiver from her hand…
I almost felt like I had been reading a novel and accidentally turned over two pages at once. I was confused as hell. I figured I’d just jump into it.
“You are Rose Pepper, right? Former singer at the Cherokee Club?”
She got that look in her eye that someone who’s regularly engaged in nefarious and felonious activities gets when you start questioning them. Like they think you’re a cop or something.
“I used to sing at the Cherokee Club, yes. What is this all about?”
“You did hear about Paige Turner being murdered, didn’t you?”
She looked suspicious again…
I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on and I didn’t want to jump ahead of myself. I stepped into the suite, of which the main room was bigger than my entire apartment.
Rose directed me to a red velvet love seat. I sat down.
“Now, there’s no need to be nervous, Mr. Randall. Would you care for a drink?” she asked.
“No, I’m good, thank you.”
“Why don’t you tell me what you’re interested in?”
“I wanted to ask you a few questions.”
She smiled, “One of those, huh?”
One of those? What the hell?
“Okay. Ask away.”
I knocked on the door a few times and it opened. The woman behind it was indeed Rose Pepper, but she bore little resemblance to the Rose Pepper in the photograph. This version of Rose was glamorous, with not one of her curly hairs out of place. Her makeup was impeccable and she was wearing a white lace nightgown with a white silk jacket over it.
“Hi,” she said in a sultry voice, “you must be Jacob Randall.” Madeleine must’ve phoned ahead and told her the phony name I had used.
“Please come in.”
Said the spider to the fly…
I walked into the lobby and saw the polished marble floor and the giant chandelier hanging from the ceiling in the foyer and made a beeline for the elevator. This was not my kind of place.
The suite was on the fifth floor. I got off the elevator and headed down the hall. I was expecting to see a movie star pop out of one of these rooms at any moment.
If Rose Pepper had, in the parlance of those at the Cherokee Club, hit the big time this big it seems like I would’ve heard about her before then…
That was a bizarre experience. Rose’s sister said she was tired of doing that like people come in there every day asking about her. I just hoped someone with ill intentions hadn’t gotten there before me.
I drove to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, which was at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. This definitely was not the kind of place you’d find Milton holing up in. I was afraid I wouldn’t even be able to afford the parking lot. Celebrities of all kinds stayed in that hotel.
How could Rose Pepper afford to be here?
I nodded, “Yes, I do.”
“How did you find out who I am and where I work?” she asked with irritation.
“A mutual friend of Rose’s and mine at the Cherokee Club. Tiffany Cross.”
“That figures,” she said. I didn’t understand that remark. This dame was acting weird.
“I’m tired of doing this,” she said as she handed me a card with a suite number at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
“Uh, thank you,” I confusingly said as I took the card.
As I walked out the young man placing books in the display window said, “Have a nice day, sir.”
She was a moderately attractive woman. She looked to be in her early thirties; a slightly older version of Rose.
“Hello, ma’am,” I said, returning the smile. “Are you Madeleine Pepper?”
She got a very suspicious look on her face. “Who wants to know?”
“My name is Jacob Randall. I used to go see your sister sing at the Cherokee Club.”
She rolled her eyes. I couldn’t tell if she thought I was lying about that or if it was for some other reason.
“And I suppose you want me to arrange a meeting with her, huh?” she asked harshly.
The next morning I again told Milton to stay put and drove to Vine Street and found the bookstore. It was a large place with quite a varied selection of books. There was a young man placing a few hardback books in the display window, so as I pushed open the door and went in I asked if Madeleine Pepper still worked there. He didn’t even look up from his work, just nodded and pointed to the woman behind the counter. I approached her and she turned and smiled at me.
“Good morning, sir. Can I help you find anything?”
Rose’s sister Madeleine had been working at a bookstore in Hollywood the last time Tiffany had any contact with Rose. I figured the next day I would see if she was still there and ask Madeleine where I could find her sister. I didn’t want to tell her that I thought Rose might be in danger unless it was absolutely necessary. I also needed to find out from Harrigan if there were any death reports on the two women in the picture who’d been crossed out.
I kissed Tiffany good night and reluctantly went home to find a snoring Milton…
I hated to shower and run, but I didn’t want to leave Milton unattended for too long. I didn’t fancy the idea of playing babysitter to a drunken old friend when I could spend the night in the arms of a beautiful woman, but those were the breaks.
“Listen,” I said, squeezing her soft body to mine, “do you have any idea where I might start looking for Rose Pepper?”
She searched her mind. “I don’t know where Rose is, but I know where her sister works, or used to work, anyway.”
“I’ll take whatever info I can get, beautiful.”
“Why?” Tiffany asked.
“Of the five women in the photo, four of them have been axed as singers of the Cherokee Club, one is dead, and two were X'ed out in this picture, which I’m not sure the significance of but it can never be good when you cross someone out from a photograph.”
“Do you think the other women in that picture are in danger? And is that why you assaulted my front door?”
“I assaulted your front door, as you so delicately put it, because I was worried about you,” I said.
She leaned over and kissed me…
“This is Paige,” she said, pointing to a blonde standing next to Diamond. She was beautiful, and bore quite a resemblance to Veronica Lake. It was easy to see why Milton fell for her.
“What about the other woman?” I asked.
“That’s Rose Pepper. She was just hanging around the club like the rest of us. But when Annie left, Bobby made Rose the featured singer. She was the one just before Paige took over.”
“Do you know where this Rose Pepper is now?”
“Nope. Like the others, when they were gone they were gone.”
“I need to find her.”
“Did you find anything at Paige’s apartment?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I found a picture I want you to look at.”
I reached in my jacket pocket and fished out the crumpled picture.
“Can you tell me who’s in this photo besides you and Diamond?”
She looked at it. “The two that are crossed out are Annie Albert and Connie Graves. Annie was the featured singer at the club when this picture was taken. Connie was an aspiring singer. But why are they X'ed out?”
“That’s what I’d like to know.”
And I was afraid lives depended upon me finding out…
An hour later, we were cuddling on the couch, dressed, dried and drained.
“Now,” she said softly, “why on Earth did you think something was wrong?”
“I broke into Paige’s apartment tonight to have a look around.”
“You know what’s surprising?” she asked. “The fact that I’m not at all surprised by that statement.”
“I’m trying to find out who killed her before the L.A.P.D. sticks it on an old friend of mine, who happens to be innocent.”
She smiled and said, “He’s lucky to have you going to bat for him.”
“Not if I keep striking out, he’s not.”
“I thought something was wrong!”
She laughed, “Well, something’s wrong now! You broke my damned door down!”
“I’m sorry,” I said, faking a sad face, bottom lip poked out.
She slid the shower curtain back. I got the full picture of the water cascading down her body.
“As you can see, I’m alive and well and fully intact,” she said, winking.
“Yes, I can see that,” I said as my mouth began to water.
“Now, are you going to stand there gawking or are you going to get undressed and join me?"
My life is absolutely fraught with difficult decisions…