Our girls, Lady Lynda and Auntie Carol were on the veranda having croissants and tea when a news article caught their attention. Being devotees of the Society Page it was major miracle they noticed at the article at all. It seems the body of a young Chinese student was found in the water tower of the Balthazar Hotel in Los Angeles and no one could fathom how or why this bizarre occurrence happened. Even more noir she wasn’t discovered until six weeks later and people had been drinking and bathing in the water.

Auntie Carol, is your perplexing button tickling you? asked Lady Lynda.

Yes, it is, dear, kind of like a straight flush in poker and I must play my hand,” she replied.

“L. A. is a scintillating city and the capital of “sin on earth.” Shall we?” ventured Lady Lynda.

“Yes, we shall, dear. This is a job for Primrose Detective Agency. This is deep noir, love. Is tomorrow too soon for you?’ said Auntie Carol.

“Fine. I am enchanted by evil. Frankly, I just don’t see how it could be any fun.”

“My thoughts, exactly. It’s kind of like catfish being bottom feeders. Why do people turn to evil if this is indeed a case for evil. Yet how can it not be. Bottom feeders are dangerous. Take your pearl handled derringer, doll,” said Auntie Carol.

So they were off on this dangerous mission as the hotel was near skid row and several serial killers had resided there and there were multiple suicides that occurred. It was also a flop house for lower echelon trollops to ply their trade. God help the innocents in the world. God help this poor dead girl. They knew she was in heaven and at rest with peaceful, glorious angels to attend her needs. They could think in no other way as Lady Lynda and Auntie Carol were like two ripe peaches bursting with goodness. Could this be a case of evil spirits invading her young soul. Oh Heavens, please, no.

They arrived at the Balthazar Hotel as the sun’s long rays were casting ominous shadows on the side of the building. And the lobby looked like a bastion of Damon Runyon types. One young strumpet was servicing a client on the side of the hotel. They scurried past her as quickly as possible.

“Well, did you get a good look. Lynda?

“You were practically gaping at her, Carol.

They went in a battery of “was nots” and “was too’s.” And ended up having fisticuffs at the entrance to the hotel such that the manager had to come running to break up the fight.

“See, here, ladies, and I use the term loosely, you cannot just slug it out in front of the hotel!”

Shamefacedy, they apologized to him explaining that they had reservations and not just “Indian reservations” (“A little bon mots for you, dear”) Clearly, he was not the jocular type. To them, he looked like an embittered writer who had not succeeded. An English major, gone wrong. Terribly wrong. He, in fact looked like the little Figure in Munch’s painting, “The Scream.” They received several hungry looks from the noir types in the lobby who viewed them with cockroache eyes, eyes deadened to the beauty of life.

“I feel a bit like a minnow in the shark tank,” said Lady Lynda.

“Dear, they are tres noir, like tarantulas fornicating in a black velvet bag. That poor girl must have been bamboozled and hornswaggled by them. They sense vulnerability like blood in the water and they think we’re two matrons out of an Agathie Christie’ novel. Well, watch out, you gutter snipes we are armed and nobody’s fools,” said Auntie Carol.
“Did you have to say that last thing out loud so they could hear Carol?”

“I just feel affronted by the way they were looking at us. It’s rude to stare, Lynda.”

“But, why warn them. We want to spring our savoir faire on them at the last minute, n’est pas.”

“Yes, you are right, as usual. It gets tiring. Lynda. Let’s not come to fisticuffs again. We might get thrown out,” replied Auntie Carol.

“Yes, we are accosted by evil at every turn. These people are all wormed over and tainted. Whoever said you can’t tell a book by it’s cover was wrong,” said Lady Lynda.

“We must go to the hotel bar and note the person most exalted in this nest of hornets. We shall watch them from afar, and lure them into our trap. I determine this is a place where many a patron encounters his strumpet. Tarts and money changers, a passel of spiritual lepers, and gamblers,” said Auntie Carol sipping her grasshopper, a milk drink with crème dementhe.

“Crepuscular creeps. They make my skin crawl. I’d like to scrub the whole lot of them in steel wool,” murmured Lady Lynda, who took a big swig of her margarita. She was the one who always drank the “hard” drinks but never to excess. All things in moderations, she believed.

“Boy, if Medusa had an address, it would be here in this hotel, I must say,” said Auntie Carol.

“Well said, Carry on Oh Ye Blithe Spirit,” laughed Lady Lynda.

They observed for about an hour and then as they predicted the Grand Dame of the Balthazar Hotel made her way over to their table. Her body was like a Picasso drawing, fat and moldy like a poisonous mushroom. Her skin, paper thin like Japanese rice paper was as wrinkled as a dry river bed. Her flesh had an overripe, unclean smell that could not be masked by Faberge’s “Woodhue”. To complete the picture she had on as dirty white turban and was, over all, dressed like a gypsy.
She said, in a loud oboe like voice, “Well, what brings you ladies to our neck of the woods,” and proffered her hand to shake Lynda’s.

They made their introductions all smarmy and saccharine like sweet explaining they were set designers scouting a movie location for a crime drama. Her eyebrows went up like two exclamation points and she said she used to be in theater and maybe she could have a small part in the movie and her stage name was “Madame Zorra.” Then she coyly put her hand over her mouth and giggled. It sounded like the sound a patient makes after he has been taken off life support. They said it was a definite possibility as she seemed to be a person of large talent.

Then she proposed that she give each of them a free palm reading. Lynda said, “Nonsense”, and layed a hundred dollar bill on the table which Madame Zorra picked up like a hawk trolling for sparrows. She told both of them they had the same problem. There was a curse on them due to the jealousy of one truly evil person and she would light ten black candles for them and remove the curse. She leaned close in grabbing both their hands and talked jibberish or bad scat singing, and Auntie Carol winced being in such close proximity as the woman was sweating in an oily sheen. Then at the end she had a conniption fit and passed out. This was an unforeseen occurrence and they were unsure of what to do.

The old skeevy bartender seemed quite able to handle this. “Okay, Mable, you’ve had your fun with these rubes now shape up or go to your room,” and he poured a whole glass of ice water over her head.

Mable was up immediately and said. “Ollie, you SOB, you didn’t have to douse me like a dead rat. I would’ve come out of it shortly.”

“Like every night you pass out here and I have to get you to your room. What about that. Leave the tourists alone. They’re a decent lot and ladies do wear white gloves,” he said.

“Listen ladies, maybe I am a bit under the weather. I apologize for my fit. It comes from communing with the spirits. You haven’t lived until you’ve talked to dead people.” she said.

They thanked her graciously and commiserated with her over the “uncouth cad who had abused her”, and invited her to their room for High Tea on the morrow at 3:00 PM. She floated away in a haze of pink neon like a Fassbinder film. Lady Lynda and Auntie Carol slapped a high three when she left. High three is for when you’re too damn exhausted to do a high five.

She came with bells on (literally) promptly at three and had actually taken a bath. Already the world was better for it. They pumped her for information particularly on the dead girl and each time she got a fearful look on her face and said she knew nothing. She repeatedly warned them against Viscount Wilhelm who had the suites on the thirteenth floor right under the water towers. They watched in amazement as all the petit fours disappeared into cavernous bowels of the red mouth. She ate like it was The Last Supper and when the Earl Grey Tea was all gone, asked for a shot of brandy to “steady her nerves.”

“Auntie, I feel as if we should investigate this Viscount Wilhelm. From what Mable said he is a cultist with a large following in the building. A dastardly bastard, for sure. Neither a leader nor a follower, Be, as the saying goes,” said Lady Lynda.

As it turned out the Viscount approached them while they were in the dining room.

“Hello, my dears, I see you are new to our little group of travail and earthly cares. I am having a formal soiree in my salon this evening at 7:00 sharp on floor thirteen. I hope you’re not superstitious. Superstition is the opiate of the masses. If not why do we have virgins giving birth to babies, and men rising from death. Don’t tell me you are rabid Christians not with those devil may care smiles,” he said.

“I did believe before I got a flat tire in the Mojave dessert,” said Auntie Carol. “We’re agnostics. We pray just in case. They say don’t hedge your bets.”

Do I detect an English major. Your speech is so erudite,” queried Lady Lynda.

I have a PHD in English and a BS in icytheology. Mostly I am a student of human nature.”

His eyes had the look of the vampire in Nosferatu as he told them to wear their little black dresses. “It will show off you’re roseate complexions. Two such ripe, pretty peaces and the gloves are a nice touch. Kind of like the elegance of the fifties. See you there or Be square.”

They felt the chill of ill will as he departed. This man was no one’s friend. No, not at all. Lady Lynda duly noted that she had the derringer in her purse, and Auntie Carol finally exhaled.

The soiree was quite a display of decadence. Sculls were placed along the book shelves and the room was lit by candle light producing horrific shadows on the walls. The furniture was old, seedy, and threadbare and the rooms smelled of mold and musk like cheap tawdry sex. The only thing that was beautiful where the silver serving chalices. The handles were carved mermaids with naked breasts. The entire motif of the main salon was of mermaids. Two alabaster mermaid statues stood on opposite sides of the dance floor and the dark paneled walls were festooned with mermaid watercolor paintings. Their skin glowed like the sky after a rain.

The Viscount explained that his followers were devoted to the Goddess of Althea, the Mermaid Queen. He espoused the belief that all life came from the sea and that mermaids were the first hominids on the planet and that one day he and all his followers would return to the sea from which they came and live as immortals. He was searching for his mermaid queen and it was a constant search, and often frustrating. Each day he had his followers dunked their heads under water and each time to make it a little longer. The idea was that one could develop gills just as mermaids had developed lungs. He had one major failure in a love interest and he grieved for her. But what could he do she was unfit to be a mermaid. She failed to pass the ultimate test.

Lady Lynda looked at Auntie Carol and their eyes locked together. And they knew what had happened to the poor, sweet dead girl. What monsters walk this earth. What monsters indeed.

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