Carla Warren and Andrew Nunn were lovers. Carla was first violin and concert master for the Mount Felicia orchestra. Her husband was a mediocre cellist, named Ned Warren. The directors of the orchestra board thought they should hire him in order to get her. Andrew was one of those directors.
Annie and Herb Temple, who ran a genealogy firm together, had been on that board before Herb’s death. Annie still loved the orchestra, and came to almost all the concerts, but didn’t stay on the board.
Andrew and Carla were on Andrew’s bed. It was three in the afternoon. Carla rolled off of Andrew. She said, “We should have had Ravel to accompany us.”
Andrew was licking the sweat off her beautiful body, “Shall we try for Wagner?”
“Isolde didn’t have to go home, to fix supper for her husband, before tonight’s rehearsal.”
“Does Ned suspect us Sig?” Sig was Carla’s nickname.
“I don’t know. I don’t much care.”
Carla came to Andrew’s house for afternoon delights three days each week. She told Ned, “I was shopping for dress shoes, to wear on stage.” This excuse got pretty old.
Ned Warren knew he wasn’t much of a cellist. He also knew that Carla didn’t think he was much of a husband because she told him so. She said, “We had such a good time together, when we were first married, Ned. What happened?” Then she answered her own question, “I know what it is. You want a little nest maker, not a rival musician.”
Carla and Ned had an apartment near the hall which housed the Mount Felicia orchestra. The building the apartment was in had been put up in nineteen-forty-two, to house defense workers. It was jerry-built, supposed to be Spanish style. The tar paper roof had been replaced many times. That roof was flanked with uniform red tiles, which had never been shaped over anyone’s thigh. The orchestra paid half the exorbitant rent. In 2016, the place was falling apart.
Carla was in the cramped little kitchen, heating canned spaghetti. Ned sat at the table, tearing Romaine into strips. There was bottled dressing for a Caesar salad. Carla said, “We should have a raw egg to toss with that Romaine, but we don’t. We don’t have lots of things.”
“This dressing will do. It’s okay.”
“I suppose ‘okay’ is good enough for you. It isn’t good enough for me. Okay means ‘not really satisfactory;’ I want ‘beyond my wildest dreams.’”
Ned said drily, “Aren’t you asking a lot of a salad dressing?”
Carla was a passionate violinist, which made her a fine musician. She had loved Ned passionately. Now she was passionate about Andrew.
Ned and Carla drank cheap chianti with their cheap spaghetti, in the little kitchen, which should have been cheap.
After dinner, they went to rehearse the concert they were going to play next. The conductor, Yoshi Yamoto greeted Carla, “I’m glad you’re early Sig. I want to know what you think about our using the Stravinsky in the first act.” Then he said, “Hello, Ned.”
Carla hugged the conductor, and said, “I love Sacre de Printemps, but I think it should start the second act, Yoshi. It could overwhelm the rubes at first.”
“Rubes? Do you mean our fine sensitive concert-goers, Sig?”
“I mean the people who want to be thought of as ‘patrons of the arts.’ Most of them are ignoramuses, Yoshi.”
Ned asked, “Is Andrew Nunn an ignoramus, Carla?” He looked astonished at his own bold naming of her lover. It made him squirm.
Carla was surprised by Ned’s daring. She gave Ned a look that said, “Not in front of Yoshi!”
The room they were in was the rehearsal space, behind the main hall.
The musicians assembled in the rehearsal room. They gossiped and bantered, as do people coming together to perform a mutual task. They greeted Yoshi and Carla respectfully. Ned they saw as Carla’s lame-duck hanger-on. Some said, “Hello, there, Ned.” Some didn’t bother to say anything to him.
Ned took the snubs stoically because he thought he was a lame-duck hanger-on. Yoshi Yamoto felt sorry for him and put an arm around Ned’s shoulder, asking, “How are you and the others doing with that late Beethoven, Ned?”
“It seems fine to me, Yoshi, but I’m not much of a judge.”
“If you say it’s fine, I’m sure it’s fine. We have to do the ‘Siegfried’ now.” Ned moved into the back room in deference to the people he regarded as ‘real artists,’ in contrast to himself. He wasn’t playing in the “Siegfried Idyll,” Wagner’s musical tribute to his son. Carla was.
Carla Warren and Andrew Nunn had transformed from friendship between gifted artist and ardent fan into love between idol and idolater. Carla wanted Andrew’s worship. He wanted to worship her. His job as a lawyer had exacted hard work, but now, in his early sixties, he thought he could drift. He was wrong.
Andrew’s house in Rancho Felicia was made in the Spanish Renaissance style which the apartment building where Carla and Ned lived tried to emulate. Someone had shaped the roof tiles over his leg. The white-washed walls were authentic adobe. The great room was graced by an ornate Renaissance fire place, which some wag said was big enough to burn several heretics. Andalusian grandees would feel at home here. Andrew’s late wife, Harriet loved the place. She had been an attorney also. They worked for a large law office that Harriet Nunn characterized as the firm of ‘Mudge, Grudge, Nasty, Brutish, and Short.’ She had used her wit in gibes at other lawyers, some of whom resented her so much, they were glad when she died of food poisoning. Andrew and Harriet did criminal law in addition to their work at “Mudge, Grudge.” They worked with the District Attorney.
Andrew mourned Harriet. He missed her so much that he didn’t see how this longing for Carla could be taking over his life, but it was.
When Andrew and Carla were introduced it was at a meeting of the orchestra board, which was interviewing musicians to fill the position of first violin left open by the departure of a player who went to work for a larger group. He stayed to help find a successor. When he heard and saw Carla he said, “Better snap her up. She’s good, and she looks like Sigourney Weaver!” Hence the nickname.
Rehearsal began. Yoshi led the players into the soft opening bars of ‘Siegfried.’ From the back room came the noise of a shot. The musicians ran, some, the brave, foolhardy ones, toward the sound. This group included Carla. The others abandoned their instruments and sprinted for the exit. Ned Warren lay wounded, moaning on the floor. While Carla used a makeshift tourniquet, Yoshi called 911. Kneeling by Ned’s side, Carla asked, “Who did this, Ned?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see…..” Ned fainted. The bullet had ripped through the arm which Carla was trying to tourniquet, and entered Ned’s heart. He died in the ambulance.
Lieutenant John Fargo and Annie Temple were in his office. She had an appointment to see him. “What can I do for you, Mrs. Temple?” meant, “How are you going to screw things up for me now, Annie?”
“It’s that poor Ned Warren getting killed. He was a harmless nebbish. Who would want to shoot him?
Annie was echoing Fargo’s thoughts. He nodded, “Well, Mrs. Temple, I’ll find out.” He meant, “Don’t play your DIY tricks here, like you did in the Alonso case.”
Annie shrugged in self deprecation. She said, “It’s just that Andrew Nunn-you know- Carla Warren’s um, friend- wants my help. Someone told him about my getting that shiksa at the zoo to ‘fess up. I won’t step on your toes, Lieutenant.”
“Mrs. Temple, I’ll need a podiatrist when you get through with my toes. Do you want me to skip the ‘police-work-isn’t-for-amateurs?’ lecture?”
“Yes please;” Annie gave the lieutenant a snappy salute, and left his office.
Carla was sad and distracted. She decided that, after the coroner had done his grizzly work, she would opt for cremation. She, Yoshi and Andrew devised a memorial concert. Almost every player took part. After all, Ned was a fallen comrade, if a barely competent one. The concert took place, with an invited audience of the orchestra’s faithful, including Annie. Annie noticed a stranger, someone she didn’t recognize. He stood at the back of the hall, watching Andrew Nunn. Annie left her seat, when the concert was over, and hurried toward the place where the stranger was standing. He disappeared when he saw her.
Annie rushed to the doorway, and ran outside, but she didn’t see where he had gone. She told herself, “That goniff must be a magician.”
The hired gun, for that’s what he was, saw Annie’s rapid approach. He faded outside and into the bushes. From his hiding place, he made a call, “The subject was here to greet people. He made a speech about how wonderful the guy I offed was. Didn’t sound so fucking wonderful to me!”
“Are you trying to excuse your horrible mistake?”
“No sir. I’ll make up for it, boss.”
“See that you do.”
Annie lived in Mar Vista, not as ritzy a suburb as Rancho Felicia, but more up-scale than Encino. She went from her house to talk with Andrew at his place. Carla was there. Annie noticed the Daumier prints making fun of lawyers on Andrew’s walls. Annie had known Andrew’s wife Harriet, and thought that Harriet must have put up the prints.
Annie said to Andrew, “I saw a stranger at Ned’s memorial. He was watching you. I tried to catch him after the concert, but he melted away. You know, he could be after you. He looked thuggish. That guy must have thought Ned was you. What a klutz! Shooting the wrong man! Clueless! Of course he saw Carla with both of you, so it’s not so meshugenah.”
Andrew said, “Doesn’t all that mean he was a hired killer? He’d been told that I hung around the symphony more than my office, which is true.”
Annie moved uncomfortably in her chair, “Why are you making excuses for a gunsel? We have to keep him from correcting his mistake, and shooting you.”
Annie was going through Andrew’s computer files, looking at cases in which he had put someone in prison. He had been Assistant to the DA, when he could leave his more lucrative practice. She found five cases in which people were inside for many years, because of Andrew. Some of these jail birds were dead, or living in Mexico, so they didn’t count.
Lieutenant John Fargo was not far behind Annie. He thought of going through Andrew Nunn’s files five days after she did. Of course he didn’t know about the thug Annie saw at the memorial because Annie didn’t tell him.
Annie discovered a promising lead. She found a man who was put in prison for running a protection racket. He, or an operative, went to stores in Encino and offered them fire insurance. If the proprietors refused to buy this insurance, their shops burned. The perpetrator of this scam was named Alison Aires. The name sounds phony, but it was the only real thing about him. Before the ‘fire insurance’ caper, Aires, a good looking bounder, sold ‘Elixir of Heavenly Life,’ which sounds vaguely Asian. It was vodka flavored with frangipani. The marks whom Aires induced to buy and drink this happy juice were indeed joyous, until the hang over set in. It went for $59.99 for a 16 ounce bottle. Each bottle had a picture of cherry blossoms on it.
That’s not the scam he went to prison for. As noted above, Aires sold fire insurance, and burned down stores whose owners would not buy it.
When he left stir this con man became legitimate. He opened an antique store in the same mall where his erstwhile marks sold. His Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Wedgewood wares were almost genuine. Some furniture pieces were modern copies, tatted up with old wood. The nouveau riche denizens of Rancho Felicia and Mar Vista loved being fleeced here.
Annie entered the shop and saw that the proprietor was handsome, with white-blond hair. His face looked too young for a racketeer who’d spent ten years in prison. He’d had a lift and Botox. Aires came to greet Annie, “Hello. What may I show you, madam?” He made an expansive gesture with both arms, “My shop abounds in objets d’arts to tempt the discerning customer.”
“My late husband said that I didn’t know Steuben glass from a horse’s ass. He was the discerning customer. Without him, I shift for myself around fancy-shmancy; so I’ll need your advice. I want a set of dishes.”
Alison Aires heard a demanding cough from his back room. He said, “I’ll just be a moment, madam. My helper wants me.” He bowed and went through a curtain into the back
“What is it Murry? Why are you interrupting me? This better be good.
“Mr. Aires, that’s the woman who tried to catch me at the memorial concert!”
“Are you sure? You’d better be. No more mistakes, Murry.”
“Yes sir. Sure as shit that’s her.”
“Keep your voice down. And don’t swear so much. It doesn’t add to the tone of the place! “
“What shall I do, Mr. Aires? Should I off her?”
“Not just yet. You know Murry, your impulses get us both in trouble, and my calculations get us out. Stay here.”
Annie bought the almost real Wedgewood dishes with an expired credit card. Then she gave Aires the wrong address to which to deliver them. She believed in tricking the trickster. She had seen enough in Aires’ shop to know that he was still crooked. Was he behind the mistaken shooting?
Back at Andrew’s house, where Andrew and Sig were, Annie reported on her trip to the dealer’s, “He’s as smooth as schmaltz. I half believed him about those dishes. Shakspeare said that a man may smile and smile and be a villain. I don’t know if he’s behind Ned’s death, though.”
Andrew joked, “If he succeeds in killing me, that’ll help. Fargo’s minions will get him.”
Sig put her arms around him, “That isn’t funny!”
“I don’t like admitting it, Murry, but you were right to want to kill that woman. She bought those Wedgewood plates with an expired credit card, which is not the worst of her sins. She pretended to be a customer in order to spy on us, and find out if we intended to kill that meddling, sanctimonious lawyer. I’m afraid she came to the right conclusion. Get her address and go take care of her, Murry.”
Murry grinned, “I’ll do that, Mr. Aires.”
Annie still lived in the house she had shared with Herb. They had no children, so there were a master bedroom, a guest room and the office from which they ran their genealogy service. Herb had had an alarm system installed when they restored the house in 2006. He said, “Some no-good-nick might try to rob us of our hard earned sheckles.” A bell was set to ring at the office of a private concern and the police were to be alerted. Murry Crump knew all about systems like this. He used a hand held remote to disable Annie’s. Annie was at her computer when Murry walked in on her. She saw that he was the watcher from Ned’s memorial. Instead of screaming she said calmly, “How clever of you to get by my alarm. How did you do it?”
“I used this remote. Now I’m going to kill you
Annie said, “That smooth talking blond coyote will let you go to prison for killing me and Mr. Warren and God knows who else he sends you after. He wants you to get Andrew Nunn, doesn’t he?”
“What’s your name?”
Annie put out her hand. She did it slowly, the way one approaches a nervous dog. She said, “Hello Murry. I’m Annie.” That made Murry switch his pistol to his left hand, and shake. Annie didn’t let herself sigh with relief. She said, “Murry, let me tell you something, you know, that goy traitor thinks you’re a klutz who’s dumb enough to be his cat’s paw.” Annie took a chance, hoping Murry was Jewish and spoke some Yiddish.
Murry moved uncomfortably. “Mr. Aires likes me. He thinks I’m a mensche.”
Annie heard doubt in his voice. Quickly, she pounced on it, “Does he? I don’t think you want to find out. If we get him arrested, and you turn state’s evidence, Andrew Nunn can see to it that you spend only a few years in prison. That Aires goniff will let you take the rap for him. He won’t even bring you a cake with a saw in it. Come on over Murry!” She gestured with her arms wide, “Do it Murry!”
Murry said, “I want to think about it.”
“Think, Think. But give me the pistol while you’re thinking.” She took the gun.
“I’ll do it.”
“You’re a genius, Murry!”
Sig Warren said, “If I had been confronted like that, by a man with a gun, I would have wet my pants.”
Annie grinned, “What makes you think I didn’t?”
“I’ll try to see that he gets the lightest sentence, Annie.” Andrew Nunn assured her. They were in his great room.
Lieutenant John Fargo was there. “You did endanger yourself, Mrs. Temple.”
“I think, after everything we’ve been through together, we should be John and Annie.”
“Okay, don’t do it again Annie.”
But she would do it again.