THE GOAL OF an unspoken pact between my parents and me was to prevent embarrassing situations for all of us—all of the time. Mom didn’t inquire about the possibilities and I didn’t offer any explanations. Eat that, Mr. Freud.
I shook my head, a little embarrassed to bring the police into the sacred house of my parents, gave my face a wash over the kitchen sink and went into the den. On my way, I quickly checked myself in an Indonesian antique mirror, black teak wood and little Asian dragon figurines framing my face. My hair could use a cut one of these days, definitely a wash after last night’s events. On a good day, my big blue eyes dominated my face but today they looked dull and puffy. Well, it had to do for the cops. Clothes check: black slacks and figure-hugging black shirt made up my Thanksgiving wardrobe and always made a good impression. My flat Prada shoes pushed me up half an inch to five nine. No make-up. I stood straighter to appear reassured and a little larger than life.
The den was a huge reading room in the back of the house overlooking the wild garden. It had glass bay windows down to the floor and hosted about ten thousand books in all formats, colors, languages and subjects. The books climbed the walls all the way up to the eleven-foot ceilings. Comfortable sofas were arranged in a semi-circle around the bay window and a small coffee table offered two steaming mugs on little tea lights to the cops. I hoped that Mom hadn’t served them poison ivy tea.
The two plain-clothes detectives looked up, put the books they were looking at down and rose when I entered the room. We shook hands and they introduced themselves.
The male detective was a handsome guy, in his early thirties, probably near my own age. He had dark blond hair with a tendency to curl—some other adjectives that applied were big and strong, a body to rest your head on. Or whatever else. I immediately wished for a closer acquaintance. As I squinted at his left hand, wondering if he was attached, he flashed his shield, ID and professional smile, and announced, “My name is Ron Closeky, detective second grade, San Diego PD homicide.”
His partner was Hispanic. She was small, compact, with coal black penetrating eyes and short black hair. She looked as if she could handle her share of a barroom fight without a problem. “Juanita Garcia, pleased to meet you,” she recited, obviously without meaning it, “from B and E SDPD.” She threw out the acronym as if I should know it by heart.
“Excuse me, B and E?” I inquired innocently enough.
“Breaking and Entering Unit,” she explained, “San Diego Police Department. Burglary, thieving, car-jacking, you know?”
“No, I don’t,” I said.
Detective McCloseky sat down beside me and Detective Garcia stood over at the bookshelf, almost out of my line of vision, pretending to study some titles while she listened in. Good cop, bad cop, here they come. I thought.
Detective McCloseky explained the reason for their visit. “Miss Moonstone, there is an issue that we have to clarify… ”
At that instant, Mom popped her head in the door. “Can I bring you anything more? Coffee, lemonade, soda?” Good timing, Mom! I bet she had been eavesdropping the whole time.
If Detective McCloseky was annoyed, he did not show it. Instead, he gave her a charming smile that offered her all of his perfect teeth. “Thank you, Mrs. Stone, we are fine.”
“Oh, all right then,” Mom’s head disappeared but I wondered if she continued listening in.
“Miss Moonstone, do you know why we are here?” He began again. So Mom had already ousted me as not-married and had qualified him as a suitor.
“A parking ticket too much? Or did someone feel ripped off with the price they had to pay for one of my pieces?” I offered, trying the dumb Californian version first.
He gave a quick glance toward Detective Garcia. “No, Miss Moonstone, we are here because of a murder.”
I turned serious. “Then I have nothing to do with it, of course.” Sometimes people try to read irony into my words but they always fail to do so. Same here.
“Of course,” He gave me an insecure smile. “Could you tell us your whereabouts last night?”
“In bed in Redondo Beach.”
“Redondo, of course.” Another smile, more mechanical.
“Anyone to support the fact?” Detective Garcia piped from her corner.
I didn’t give her the pleasure of turning my head; I looked at Detective McCloseky instead, which was easy. “The bed thing you mean?” I noticed that it was his turn to squint at my ring fingers. No luck there, buddy, I was sitting on my hands. “Yes, there is someone to support my bedtime story. My boyfriend, Mundy.” Mom, are you listening in?
“Would Mr. Mundy… ”
“Millar—Mundy Millar.” I spelled the name for him.
McCloseky was scribbling on his pad. “So you were home, in bed, with Mr. Mundy Millar.”
“The home part is your deduction.”
“So, whose bed was it?”
“Mr. Mundy’s, he also lives in Redondo.” I gave them Mundy’s address and number.
“Would Mr. Millar mind if we called him up?”
“Do you mean whether he is my legitimate boyfriend or a married man or he has another steady?”
“Yes, you know, sometimes not all relationships are easy.”
I curled some hair around my finger. “No, Mundy is all mine.” I felt my chances with Detective McCloseky vanishing. Next time, I would arrange for a Monopoly all-nighter with an overweight gay guy.
Detective Garcia gave a small chuckle from her corner and walked out to find a phone.
Showtime for Mundy.
For a minute, Detective McCloseky and I sat looking at each other and the garden.
“You know, this is a special house,” he offered to start a conversation.
“I know,” I stated the obvious. Cops and their urges to talk.
“Wild. That describes Mom and Dad,” I nodded.
He rolled his nice eyes, very nice eyes. “I see I can’t land here with small talk.”
“You know what makes you suspicious in my opinion?” He tried the direct approach.
“Is that an answer?”
“Semantically it is. But probably not the one you were expecting.”
He studied me for a moment. “You do it intentionally, I mean, playing it cool, not asking why we are here.”
“I already know why you’re here,” I offered.
“You do?” He raised an eyebrow.
“In your eyes, I am suspicious because I am not asking questions. Why are you here? Why are you suspecting me?”
“But, I already know. You are here about a murder; you said so in the beginning.”
“What a gift of deduction!” he exclaimed, clapping his hands once.
“Your partner is from ‘B and E,'” I imitated Detective Garcia, “so that makes it a murder in conjunction with another crime. A burglary?” I dazzled him.
“I am impressed.”
“It’s all over the news on the radio. There was a break-in at a Downtown San Diego art gallery. The night watchman died.” I gave him my dumb puppy look once more.
He bowed his head in mock-admiration. “Very good.”
“But I am cool because last night I was in bed with my boyfriend.”
Detective Garcia came back in, closing the door behind her. She looked at McCloseky and gave a small shake of the head. He looked at me and shrugged.
I looked back and forth between them. “Hey, what’s going on? I told you, I was home with my boyfriend. What did he tell you?”
She raised an eyebrow; I think she was pleased that she had me in a corner. “He told me nothing, he wasn’t in. I asked his answering machine to call me back.”
I slumped back in my sofa. “Ouch! Will you arrest me now?”
“We have to wait a little longer to scratch you off our list, that’s all.” Detective McCloseky offered helpfully, not meaning it.
“I know, you know,” I mocked his matter of speech.
“We know you know now.” He even played along. Such a cutie.
Detective Garcia played with her jacket pocket where you could make out a pack of cigarettes. Or a tape recorder.
“Why did you come to me in the first place? There must be a million better suspects in San Diego and L.A. both?”
Garcia gave me a hard stare. “Wonderful computer age. We have our own criminal Google search system—enter jewels, crime, San Diego—and the database doesn’t show too many names. And yours was among them.”
“I have never had anything to do with the police before, you must be mistaken.” I lifted my voice.
“No Ma’am, you are mistaken.” Detective Garcia’s voice was like a razor blade, the switch between bad cop and bitch cop was effortless. I bet she scared the shit out of other suspects. “There was an incident report three years. An insurance company accused you of reworking some stolen gems.”
“That was not even an accusation, it was simply reported to the police, anonymously, or so I was told at the time. The police investigated and found nothing.”
McCloseky shrugged apologetically, “But it left your name in the database.”
“This is ridiculous. Had I not had my boyfriend over, I would have been booked for murder? Civil rights here we go.”
“Let us say, we would have looked a little harder. But if your friend supports your story, you have nothing to fear.” Garcia smoothed her notebook on the table.
Where the hell was Mundy? I sighed, “Don’t tell me that I am not allowed to leave town.”
Detective McCloseky stood up and gave me a professional smile. “Don’t leave town, be available, Miss Moonstone.”
Garcia didn’t give a smile, she just handed me her card. I showed them to the front door, through the kitchen, where Mom made a little fuss about them leaving already.
Detective McCloseky opened the front door and with perfect stage timing, fake boyfriend Mundy was standing in the doorframe, hand balled to a fist in midair, ready to knock.
So he had been on the road following his ‘girlfriend.’ Mundy was my age. We studied for our master’s together at Berkeley University. And although it frequently came up for discussion from Mundy’s end—to state it clearly—once and for all—we never had been an item and we never would be.
Mundy and I lost contact after I went to New York to begin my jewelry apprenticeship with Uncle Mortimer. But after the move to Redondo to open my own shop, it turned out that Mundy was living nearby, working as a reporter for the local paper after he had worked some jobs on the East Coast as well. Mundy wasn’t much of a man. Well, he was a man—of course, just not my type of man. Come to think of it, he wasn’t anyone’s type of man. He was lanky and he always wore thin flannel shirts, Levis and sneakers. Depending on his state of absenteeism, he sported beard stubbles and a brown uncombed mop of hair, Rubber Soul Beatles style 1965.
Mundy looked at the detectives, his reporter mind had probably just told him, ‘Cops! Get nervous’ and he stammered the obvious, “I… I was about to knock.”
Detective McCloseky looked at him skeptically. On the verge of amusement, he was obviously close to offering a spontaneous repartee, but instead kept it neutral, “We were just leaving.” He said.
Time to step in; otherwise, I would never leave this town again. “Stop! No one leaves!” I shouted. “Time to clear things up.” My voice echoed from the pots and pans on the walls.
With all eyes on me, I pointed at the detectives. “Mundy, tell them where we were last night and what we did!”
Mundy’s mouth opened. Torn between truth, lies, embarrassment and loyalty, he looked desperately between the detectives, my mom and me.
I pointed at Mundy. “Please meet Mr. Mundy Millar. He can confirm… ”
Garcia gave a sharp cat-like growl and McCloseky lifted his hand to stop me.
“Mr. Millar?” Detective Closeky’s tone made it clear that he meant business. I love it when men talk that way. Does that make me a bad person?
Mundy swallowed and only managed a nod. I gave a small prayer to the god of the trees that he didn’t mess up our plan.
McCloseky asked Mundy for his credentials and then he studied them.
Garcia asked, “Where were you last night, Mr. Mundy?”
Again, Mundy’s haunted look between Mom and me. “I was home,” he squeaked, cleared his throat to make it sound more truthful and repeated, “I was home.” Fail!
“Your own home?”
“I mean home in Redondo.”
“In your apartment or house or whatever?”
“No, I was with Calendar, Miss Moonstone here.” Growing beet-red in the face. Good, his earnest embarrassment covered his bad lying.
“You were at Miss Moonstone’s home, with her?”
“Yes, I mean no. I was with Calendar at my home.”
“The whole night?”
“Sure, we… eh… we spent the night… ”
“All evening, all night?” Caging him.
“Yeah, I think Calendar left early.”
“I know… I mean… I think she did.” Again that helpless, very believable look. Atta boy. “I mean, I was asleep when she left.”
“You slept. Soundly?”
“All right. I slept all right. We were up until late, two or so.”
“You can vouch for her until two.”
“Yeah, then we slept and I got up around eight. Cal was already gone.”
The detectives simultaneously gave me a quick look, as if to corroborate the story with me—or it could have been pity that I had such a fried brain ball for a lover. I felt all chances dwindling with Detective Ron.
“You agree with his story, Miss Moonstone?”
“Yup. Up until about two, went to bed, I left around 7:30, took the laundry with me and drove here. To spend the holidays with the police.”
As Detective Garcia picked up her notepad, she prompted, “You didn’t mention the laundry part before. You got a name and number for the laundry service?”
“The place,” Mundy prompted, “on Pacific Coast Highway, PCH, near Torrance Boulevard.”
Garcia nodded and closed her notepad. “You are in the clear if this checks out. Are there any other people who would have called last night? Friends, family, customers?”
“No,” I shook my head.
Mundy followed my lead. “Just us two,” he piped, suddenly turning red again.
The detectives exchanged glances to see if the other one still had some question for Mundy or me.
“Consider yourself off the hook, Ma’am,” Garcia stated in my direction. I was under the distinct impression that they both knew more about me than they pretended. With that, the detectives said ‘Good-bye’ again—and they left, finally.
Mundy closed the door behind them. I went over and gave him a welcome kiss—I bet he had waited years for that one. I managed to touch his lips without exchanging too many body fluids.
“Hi, Mum-bun. What brings you here?”
Mundy needed a second to recover from the unexpected treat. “I had heard… ” He noticed that my mom was still around, trying to make herself as invisible as possible in order to eavesdrop as much as possible.
“Oh, hi, Mrs. Stone, how are you?” Beet-red, he could light the kitchen.
Mom buzzed forward, glad to be back in the game again. “Mundy, long time no see. Last time we met was at Berkeley U’s graduation, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was. You look great. Your kitchen does, too.” As was every other new visitor to the House of the Moon, he was impressed by what he saw, the eclectic mixture of designer kitchen, witchcraft accessories and the big tree growing in the wall.
“Why, thank you, Mundy.” Then going for the kill, “Calendar never mentioned that you two are an item.”
Looking at me and mouthing a silent ‘… like thirty minutes ago.’ Mundy looked back at her and winked. Don’t overdo it. “You know, Mrs. S., she is a grown woman and she lives her own life. It is not that we live together. Though I brought it up just recently, didn’t I, Callie?”
I forced a smile. Bet you would. “I invited Mundy for the weekend, if that is all right with you?” Get this, Mundy, for changing the plan.
Mom was delighted and intrigued. This was a first. “Of course it is…. A pleasure. We will have a full house, Calendar’s sister Sunny will get here anytime, with her kids. It will be wonderful to have so much life under our roof again. Where will you be staying, Mundy?”
Obviously, good old Mundy hadn’t thought of this trivial little detail when he hatched his ill-fated plan to join me in San Diego. He stalled and Mom offered, “What I mean is, will you stay in Calendar’s room or do you want a separate room?” Mundy’s head played traffic light again. I rolled my eyes and couldn’t suppress a smile at Mom’s wickedness. She had us made, of course.
We bathed in Mundy’s dilemma for a few seconds, then Mom turned the wicked witch thing on me and said, “Oh, Mundy, don’t be embarrassed, I took part in so many hippie orgies when I was your age. Of course, you can sleep together in one room. We are quite liberal here. Is that all right with you?”
For a good American kid like Mundy, even though a Berkley graduate, this was clearly too much. He stammered a weak agreement while I put on my sweetest smile and placed another kiss on his cheek.
Mom picked up her knife again, made a dangerous swirl with it to remind us who the peace-loving boss was in the house and she continued cutting vegetables.
I grabbed Mundy’s arm and we went out of the kitchen into the back-hall and from there into the den. The second I closed the door of the den, I rubbed my sleeve over my mouth to get rid of any Mundy-germs that remained on my lips and then I pushed Mundy violently onto the same sofa that had been occupied by a very kissable police officer just moments earlier.
“What, in God’s name, brings you here, you moron? Can’t you do one thing right? What were my instructions? Stay. At. Home. Do nothing. Collaborate with the police.”
Mundy looked scared, but I didn’t know whether it was me or the situation in which I was in that scared him. He stammered, “Wh… when… I heard on the morning news that there had been a murder in an art gallery involving jewelry in San Diego, I knew that day ‘X’ had come.”
“That’s what alibis are for! So why not ride it out in Redondo as planned?”
“I would have, I swear, Callie.”
“You know, the last person who ever called me Callie was a football jock in high school? He was able to play without a crotch guard fort the rest of the season after I was through with him.”
Predictably, Mundy started to stutter, “I… I… I made it up on the fly, I swear. It sounded cute.”
“Is that what you call me in your fantasies? You dirty fink!”
Mundy looked trapped. Suddenly, the fun was gone out of Mundy-bashing and I sat down beside him on the sofa and sighed, “Well, so what?”
“I swear to you, I planned to stick to the arrangement. But then, maybe half an hour after you left, around 8 o’clock there was a knock on the door and this guy wanted to see you.”
“Police, in Redondo?” That’s what I needed, the local police on constant vigilance around my shop.
“No, not police. It was a guy from a big insurance agency, Limes and Limes, London.” Mundy fished a business card out of his shirt pocket.
“Fowler Wynn!” Slumping back, I was holding my head before he could even produce the card.
Mundy gave me a surprised look. “Exactly. A skilled guy, I couldn’t make up the story as fast as he was asking for details. Fortunately, I could block the more intimate parts but I bet he goes sniffing around. He made a very determined impression on me. He’s out to get you, you know.”
I scratched a worn patch on the old sofa fabric. “You bet,” I said, “he will never let go until he has found all the angles.”
“You know him? Ever met him before?”
“Did I ever? He is a pest. He is convinced that I am Jane Ruby, the cat thief, and that I am responsible for half of the jewel heists in this country.”
Mundy gave me an ‘As if you weren’t’ look. I threw my hands up. “Even if, it doesn’t matter. He has never been able to find a shred of proof, not even leads. What is disturbing though, is the fact that he knows that you are playing my boyfriend and that you are my standard alibi.”
Mundy looked stunned, he hadn’t thought of that yet. “So he knows everything about you?” I held up my hand, heard a familiar rumble from the front side of the house. “What is that, an earthquake?” Mundy looked into the garden and onto the shelves.
“No, my father,” I said.
Harry Moon was a big man and he came from a big family. When I was a small girl, I used to pray that I would grow up to be as strong and big as my dad, so I would be equipped against all the evil dangers of the world. However, after I discovered boys, around sixteen or so, I prayed that I would inherit Mom’s slender feline bones and that I would not develop into ‘Hilde, the Norwegian troll girl.’ A good mixture of them both had won.
With Mundy on my trail, I walked back to the kitchen to greet Dad. He still held his motorcycle helmet in one hand and had just finished kissing Mom, “Hello Calendar, my surfer girl.” He gave me a bear hug, lifting me off the floor and forcing all the air out of me. We held on to each other for a few seconds, and then he put me down again, the gentle giant.
“Dad, do you remember Mundy? I invited him over for Thanksgiving; otherwise he would have stuffed himself full of McDonald’s chicken burgers.”
Dad shook Mundy’s hand, a bear paw crushing the slender fingers of a boy. “Welcome to the House of the Moon, Mundy. Of course, I remember you. You turned to journalism, I heard.”
Mundy and Dad started a chat about working conditions at the Washington Post, one of Mundy’s former employers, while Dad took off his leather jacket and stored the helmet in the cupboard. He rode an old Harley from the 50s, meticulously restored during countless mornings in the garage. Although he was pretty wild in the old days, and he belonged to the hippie generation of Monterey and Berkeley, it was only a few years ago that he started restoring the bike. Before that, he was more into gardening and surfing.
Mom and Dad were very well off, an unusual thing for the hardcore hippie generation where many had taken the road to the American way of life quite late. Of all things, Dad had made some clever investments that turned out extremely well. He had only invested in outcast stocks as he called them—the likes of AOL, Apple and Yahoo had turned Dolores Stone and Harry Moon into rich people, who now held various social functions in San Diego.
The rest of the morning and early midday was rather unspectacular; we helped Mom prepare Thanksgiving dinner, even Mundy managed to peel his share of potatoes without jeopardizing his typing career. Later, I saw Mom and Dad in the garden. In low tones, she updated him on the detectives’ visit—while they pretended to pick fresh herbs. No further remarks were made about the visit or any possible predicaments of their daughter. The pact of silence and ignorance was intact. But it lingered between us all, unspoken.