VALENCIA NOIR II

ACT II

The idea of finding an oasis in the middle of a desert just in time to save the heroes’ lives is one that’s hard to duplicate in the current day and age. In America, the general public will say that the best oasis in which wayward travelers can find salvation is Las Vegas in Nevada. Tyler and I had a different opinion the morning we were supposed to meet Arazia Scavera to discuss her case. We found an oasis in the restaurant where the meeting was to be held. After walking through a better part of L.A. with the heat increasing with every step, the oasis we came upon held more grace, magic and relief than anything we could dare to name. To us, we could declare that Las Vegas looked like a dirty puddle with some stale potato chips left behind when compared to this particular L.A restaurant. Given the client and the kind of places that the case was going to led us, “Moon Cove” was the perfect place to begin the real part of this story.

Moon Cove was exactly the kind of restaurant that was meant to exist in Upper L.A. And to the sweaty detectives straight off the street, it was an air conditioned paradise. An example of the kind of Heaven certain people could afford nearly all year round! The building was an example of how art and function could co-exist, with a beautifully sculpted exterior that was derivative of high cultures around the Mediterranean. The interior was the true selling point of the restaurant-again, beautifully made and kept, white, gold and cream color scheme, with its hints towards the Classical periods while continuing with the modern. From the entrance onwards, a small series of red carpeted steps lead to different levels of the restaurant, each level raised a little higher than the last until it led up to the open patio. Almost all of the levels were full of eating patrons, the sound of forks and knives on plates almost in time and perfect pitch with the live symphony band with a level of their own. The steps through Heaven with all of the sights, sounds and smells to match until it all lead to a bright light at the end…

Needless to say, Dexter and Tyler stood out like a couple of sore thumbs. Moon Cove was more impressive than either one could ever guess and still hard to believe even when they were looking at it. The look of awestruck in their faces was very noticeable. And their sweaty features and disheveled, commonplace clothing gave the regular attendees the impression that they were the sort of people that weren’t meant to be in places like these for long… The maitre noticed the detectives and how they were starting to receive attention from the customers and was quick to meet them at the bottom of the staircase near the door. “May I help you…gentlemen?” It was fakest French accent either of them had ever heard. And the tone at the gentlemen part couldn’t have been a more obvious jab at them being…not the perfect example of how gentlemen should look at the moment.

Deciding not to say anything, they got right down to business. “We’re here to talk to Arazia Scavera.”

“She made an appointment to meet us here this morning.”

“Oh, of course, of course! Right this way, she is on the patio now! Please, follow me!” Again, neither one of the sleuths were going to say anything about the hundred and eighty degree change in attitude. They were just too hot from walking all the way and wanted to get right to the point-and maybe something to drink. The walk up the staircase of red plush wasn’t long and Dexter and Tyler didn’t mind the glances and whispers. They were more focused on what Arazia would have to say to them and if this would take up much of their time. The stairs finally stopped and the party was lead through one last area full of tables and diners before they taken through one of the glass panel doors onto the patio. The sight of the sun should have filled them both with a sense of dread better reserved for nocturnal creatures…but it did the opposite, creating a spectacle that needed closer examination. Rushing over to the railing at the edge of the patio, the detectives looked down below and saw the one thing every oasis needed-water. In the plaza below, there was a massive water fountain that filled the entire space and then some. It was large and complex with magnificent sculptures. Armed with jets, water could touch the sky and mingle with the sunlight to create dazzling effects that left one feeling as though it were returning to the pools as drops of gold, only to return to water to repeat the cycle again. Besides all of that, Dexter and Tyler were enjoying how some of the spray was carried on the breeze and they could catch it on their faces if they leaned out far enough.

With a bit of relief delivered to them in the smallest of ways, they stopped leaning on the railing and noticed…that they were being noticed. Again. It was a little embarrassing to have people stop and watch them over breakfast so they quickly scuttled along like nothing happened-though Dexter was red enough for the both of them while Tyler was just pink. The patio scene was just as elegant as on the inside, with tables and table clothes and umbrellas and potted exotic plants all of a matching color scheme. The live band could still be heard from the inside…even to the far corner of the patio where the maitre was leading them. “Miss Scavera, your guests have arrived!”

“Merci. Ce sera tout.” The French from the young woman at the table came in as clear as a bell, with the same beautiful tone and clarity to match. It really caught the detectives’ attentions. Tyler’s ears flicked at the perfect French and Dexter had to look to him to make sure they both heard the same beautiful voice. They did and soon the waiter left them with their client. “Is obsession with having French waiters common in America.” The perfect French gave was replaced with an Italian accent that was still rich and vibrant as the Mediterranean Sea. “Does not even fit into theme of ristorante italiano.” Arazia Scavera’s English was functional if not slightly broken but that was only a small detail in the grand picture of the girl’s existence. Sitting there at her table shaded by the umbrella, Arazia was the ideal that Greek artists would have strived for. Her face was crafted by Cupid: almost heart shaped face with soft features, small pink lips with the delicacy of a bow and big eyes matching the color of red velvet cupcakes. Her skin glowed with hints of the Tuscan sun and her long red hair was carefully styled to suit her outfit. From her clothing of high society fashion in cream and olive tones to the way she held her cup of tea, Arazia was the very picture of elegance and beauty that could only come from the country famous for art and culture from across the seas. “…am nymph, by the way.”

“Huh?”

“Am nymph. Is why am spellbound now.”

“Oh-oh! You’re a nymph! Right, right! That makes sense!”

“Yeah, it does!” It was embarrassing that they could both end up dazed by Arazia but nymphs were widely known for that effect. Plus when they heard about the opera star client from Sveta, they were both expecting an older…much heavier lady than the young woman before them. “I should have realized sooner, you have the right scent for a nymph.”

“Mi scusi?” Arazia was trying to process how to accept that comment with one raised eyebrow.

“Don’t mind him! That’s sort of how he gets to know everyone. It’s nothing to be insulted by.” Dexter quickly apologized on behalf of Tyler. The werewolf nodded in agreement before they both pulled out some chairs and sat down at the table. The shade from the umbrella was a blessing to them both. “Anyway, let’s get right down to business!”

“You told our assistant that something was taken from you but you wouldn’t say what until you met us. So, now that we’re here…what exactly do you want us to do?”

Placing down her cup, Arazia adjusted herself so she could face the sitting detectives. Part of her looked…almost a little insulted by something-maybe how they just sat down without her giving them permission to do so. But then it looked like the nymph was willing to forgive them for getting right to the point. “Am surprise by appearance of you... Not like cinema detective appear. Is no important. Is important am freelance and highly recommend. Am need both to recover stolen item, si? Am need before debut opera am perform in by end of week.”

“The end of the week?”

“That doesn’t give us a lot of time-“

“Am realizing that not much time can be spared but it is molto importante that item be recovered by that date.” Despite her calm tones, Arazia’s eyes reflected a sense of urgency and a slight panic as she continued. Reaching for her bag, the nymph pulled out a series of photographs. “Is what am looking for. Keep photos to make sure am getting the right thing. Can not be affording mistakes in this assignment.”

Dexter and Tyler took the photos and studied them to learn what the mystery item was. The black and white pictures captured several scenes of two beautiful women in the middle of a performance. With the focus of the lens on their faces, it was almost hard to guess at what the detectives were supposed to be looking at until their eyes drifted down to their necks. Both women were wearing matching necklaces-simple in design but with enough presence to be the theme in the performers’ costumes and make up. The necklaces both featured a single stone, rectangle cut and large enough to fit into the palm of one’s hand. With one stone sapphire and the other ruby, they were studded with diamonds and hung from black lace choker necklaces. A detail that was hard to make out was the intaligo-a design engraved deep into the stones. But despite the quality of the photos, the vibrancy of the stones almost repainted the whole picture with dueling shades of red and blue. “…so we’re here about these necklaces?”

“Is it one or both of them that have gone missing?”

“Si-the ruby necklace. But no go missing-was stolen, si!”

“Stolen?” It was a move that neither one of them liked to use…but the detectives felt like that they should suggest sending this case to someone else. They couldn’t forget that their other cases possibly concerned lives... “Well if that’s the case, maybe you’ll have better luck with the police…”

“They have more people that specialize in cases like-“

“No! No polizia! La polizia sono un sacco di ragazzini incompetenti!” The sudden burst of Italian from the red headed nymph threw Dexter and Tyler for a loop. Beyond not understanding her, the fact that she was so adamant against the most obvious thing for people to do told them that there was more to this. And Tyler briefly catching a slight but hostile movement from…maybe three men that were also eating on the patio made him give the angel the nudge that said they should probably watch what they said around Arazia. Realizing how bad this could have looked, Arazia casually readjusted a few locks of hair, smoothed out her blouse and motioned for more tea. “Mi scusi. The police cannot be knowing of theft-no one can. Necklaces are part of important tradition of Scavera family for centuries. Are always used in one hundredth performance of major opera career. If knowledge of necklace being stolen were to be known, the humiliation would likely end career and bring shame to family…and am cause of this shame…” The pride in Arazia’s eyes took on a sad undertone to them as she reached out for Dexter and Tyler’s hands. “Is reason why am seeking private investigators like you, to find without public knowing, si? Am finding necklace before performance and family tradition can continue on! You two only ones am depending on…”

The detectives could only look at each other to determine their next course of action…while trying casually to remove their hands from the nymph’s gentle hold. Mentioning that they both had girlfriends wasn’t the best thing to do in what was essentially a job interview…so they both flagged down a waiter passing by with a cart full of food once they had their hands back-a decent enough excuse to move without offending their hostess. “…it definitely sounds like you need help, that much is clear… You’re in a really tough position without a lot of other options to turn to…”

“…can you tell us about the circumstances in which you noticed that the necklace went missing?” Although they were trying to look busy with the waiter and picking out what they wanted from the cart, it was clear to everyone nearby that the sleuths had made their decision: They were going to accept the case. It wasn’t like they could say no to someone whose reputation, family’s tradition and…maybe even their honor was at stake. Maybe going as far as saying Arazia’s honor was at stake was a bit much…but from the way the nymph acted and the energy she was emitting…maybe honor was involved somehow. Arazia was pleased with the boys’ acceptance of her case, regardless of how they decided to accept it and whatever other reasons they were thinking of. The men that appeared to be watching the nymph’s table settled down and Arazia…almost had a predatory sense of satisfaction in her eyes. A steely edge hidden behind the soft, doe eyed façade that she continued to use in the presence of the detectives. Neither one of them noticed as she smiled in delight of her accepted request.

“Necklaces am bring with for costume designs for opera show two days ago. Assistant am leave ruby necklace with as am stay for fitting with sapphire costume and necklace. Was supposed to keep necklace safe but no! Necklace goes missing, no explanation!”

“Was there any chance that your assistant may have taken the necklace during the fitting? Or maybe hid it to move again later once the initial panic had died down? Giving it to someone else to hide may have been what happened too.” Dexter asked as he started to cut into something that resembled a pot pie but made of breakfast staples. Tyler was already in the middle of downing a piece of sausage and apple mold with diced potatoes.

“No, not possible. Fitting and costume makers were at opera house back stage. Assistant was instructed to watch necklace in dressing room. People see assistant arrive at dressing room with necklace, leave only once to announce that it had gone missing. No one is knowing how this is possible. Am had everyone in theater searched and questioned with help…but could not find necklace.” The mention of ‘help’ made the detectives give a casual glance towards the dining gentlemen who were starting to look like disguised bodyguards the more they studied them.

“When exactly was this? Time wise?” Tyler asked. Dexter was pulling out his notebook and prepared to write with his free hand.

“Was around seven-thirty. Am remembering because time of sunset and designers requested to see ruby again for details in costume. Word sent to assistant to bring necklace back but no longer having necklace! Is impossible to explain, si?”

“Any way we can see your dressing room? And maybe check out the rest of the theater to look for clues?” Dexter asked.

“…later tonight.”

“We…sort of have tight schedules of our own to get around. Along with cases that really need our attention. Any chance we can come tomorrow morning or-“

“Come tonight. Late rehearsal runs and am wanting you to investigate everyone in theater while full.” Arazia didn’t care about the objections Tyler was trying to rise, or the looks she was getting from Dexter of the same, gentle protest to her request. The nymph just held out her cup for a refill of tea and sipped it with perfect poise. “Scavera family having many enemies meaning anyone be used to harm reputation or person. Is important to assume anyone in theater could be responsible until innocence proven…is how saying goes, si? Am coming tonight then-before sunset. Will have new assistant show you in.”

Feeling as though they would have no say in the matter, the detectives just had to admit defeat in the matter. Their plans until the evening would just have to include squeezing in as much investigating on the missing people as they can. It would be hard but…it had to be done. Dexter slipped his notes into his pocket as it looked like Arazia was finishing up with brunch. He had a few more questions to ask her as she signaled for the check. “When you said enemies…what exactly did you mean by that?” The angel had a sinking feeling in his stomach at what ‘enemies’ could have meant here. Even Tyler had to stop eating for a moment as the idea started to sink into his head. Arazia didn’t see what they could have been troubled by…or she just chose not to let it bother her as she collected her purse and the like.

“Prima donnas are…how you say…temperamental. Easily provoked and jealous types. In case of self, can often be target of jealous women and men alike. As for Scavera family…when come from Sicily and frequent to entertain at certain parties, leave to fill in the blanks.” It was cryptic at first…but when Dexter made the connection, Tyler caught on as well. Arazia having connections to the Italian mob and their enemies didn’t bother her in the slightest as she paid for her meal with large bills. Once the waiter left again, she turned to the stunned detectives with a warm smile. “Am grateful to you, truly. But am hoping for the best also. Of highly recommendation only means so much.” Taking the opportunity of the detectives being stunned, Arazia kissed them both on each cheek before signaling to her entourage that it was time to leave. “Am eager to see if recommendation will hold water with two when time comes.”

Again presented with an example of cultural differences (and something that would compel two men to mention that they had girlfriends), Dexter and Tyler weren’t sure what to do. The meeting felt like it was just about over from the way Arazia was ready to leave…and it looked like she wasn’t going to stick around long enough for the boys to ask her some questions. A list of enemies for example, an estimate on how much the necklace could be worth, how many people were working at the opera house…things of that nature. But the nymph and her party were half way to the door so they could only ask one of the really important questions: “Hey, hold up! How much do we owe you for the meal?!”

Arazia turned back to look at the angel and the werewolf at the table, the mid morning light reflecting off the glass windows and creating a picture perfect scene for Arazia to be an angel from Heaven… The irony between the set up of light and the look she gave the boys made the next thing she said hurt all the more. “Am not charity. Pay only for detectives when case completed and completed before show! On your own to pay for meal. Will be seeing you tonight at sundown and not a moment later. Ciao!” And Arazia was gone without another word…and a smile on her lips.

The feeling of getting kicked in the stomach by the prettiest girl on the playground was felt by both Dexter and Tyler as they looked at each other and then at their food. “It-These can’t be that expensive! I mean, really!”

“Yeah-yeah! It’s only breakfast food too! How much can each plate be?” The laughter typically used for denial was quick to start and quicker to fizzle out before the scramble for a menu began. Finding one on a nearby table, the menu found its way between the detectives as they searched for prices on their respective meals. Once the prices were found…the numbers punched the color straight out of their bodies and left them with horrified looks on their faces. “Dex!”

“I know!” The angel pulled the werewolf down into a huddle on the table top and spoke in a whisper to avoid the attention of the waiters…who were starting to watch them like buzzards waiting for death. “We can’t afford this! I know for a fact we didn’t bring enough money to scrap together this time to get out of trouble!”

“What do we do then?!”

“…start moving around the food and covering up bite marks. Maybe we can send it back without paying.”

“It’s stupid but brilliant!” Now the odds of this…particular plan…succeeding was incredibly slim…but it was the best Dexter could come up with on the spot. So they scrambled with their forks to pile up, chop up and rearrange whatever was left of the food into something that could have been mistaken for…something that hasn’t already been partly eaten. The motions didn’t go unnoticed before a waiter came to the table. The reconstructed food wasn’t fooling anyone, despite the best efforts of the detectives to really sell what they had created. Their nervous smiles looked like they could be used to pull hubcaps off of tires. “So…we’re kind of not feeling the food we’ve selected for this meal.”

“If you could send this back to the kitchen, we’ll head out of here without asking for anything else. We didn’t eat any of it so we shouldn’t-“ Dexter and Tyler didn’t even get out of their seats before they were blocked from the path to the doors and a bill was presented to them. “-have…to pay…” Again, seeing the exact numbers of the food was a sledge hammer to the soul. “Right. Look…we don’t the money to pay for this. I mean, we do have…but it’s not enough to cover the cost…so, we-we’ll just have to-NOW TY!”

The table was flipped by the werewolf with ease and the sudden opening of large wings from the angel provided them both with the necessary confusion and opening needed…to run towards the balcony’s edge and jump off screaming like little girls caught in the cookie jar. The chase to pursue them died at the balcony rail as they jumped and Dexter took off over the fountains with Tyler in tow. With the pair disappearing into the distance, they continued their flight until the restaurant was gone from their sight and they were safely hidden away in an alley. The adrenaline from the escape was quick to fade away and leave two sweaty detectives with a deep depressing feeling in the pits of their stomach. “A dine and dash…a dine and dash! She forces us into a dine and dash! I can’t believe it!” Dexter exclaimed as he sat down to place his head between his knees as he rested against a wall.

“I know! I haven’t done that in…forever! And this-this wasn’t even a cheap a** diner in the middle of nowhere in the dead of winter with poor hunting! This wasn’t a life or death matter! It was just someone being cheap on us!” Tyler fumed as he paced up and down the alley. “Man! The food wasn’t even all that good. Lulu’s mom can make everything we ate but three times better!”

“I’m going to burn for this. I stole food…” It was a silly fear of his...but Dexter thought about and worried over the conditions in which an angel could become a fallen angel...and what being a fallen angel meant exactly. But he was certain that it wasn't a good thing.

“You’re not going to burn, Dex. You know we’re going to have to go back and pay for everything once we get paid.” Tyler was one of the people in their group that knew about the angel's fear and how to talk him back to his normally rational state of mind.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right…no, you are right. There’s no way either one of us would just forget and pretend like we don’t owe anything to the restaurant.” The angel picked himself up and adjusted his clothes. “I really don’t like that woman much now.”

“Me either. But she’s loaded so we better show up on time tonight for this thing.”

“In the meantime, we better work while we can. We’re close to the address of one of our missing people. We’ll look for clues and see what could have happened.”

“That’s the spirit!” The werewolf led the way out onto the street and followed Dexter’s directions as he recited them. “…in the event that someone from that restaurant finds us, you know I’m going to have to run faster than you. Just a warning.”

“Fair enough. I know I’ll have to fly faster than you then too.”

“What?! Come on! You’re the honest one here!”

“Honest, yes. Stupid, you wish.” The light hearted banter between the sleuthes continued as they walked through the hot streets of the city. Their conversation was a shield against the blistering heat and a distraction from their conscience made sharp with guilt because of their hasty flight from Moon Cove. The thought that Arazia Scavera may have been a cheap woman who liked to play slightly cruel games was present but it wasn’t enough to eclipse what was present and true: She was powerful, influential and likely to have enemies. The detectives would need to remember that in order to complete the task they were assigned before the deadline at the end of the week. It would be a hectic time for them both-they never had so many cases floating around with the same level of priority to them. But they couldn’t turn any of them down. So they would be running nonstop until every last person was found and returned home safely and Arazia could go up on stage with both necklaces for all of the world to see. However, despite the urge to take to the streets and run until justice was served, there was caution in both Dexter and Tyler. They knew what summer in L.A. could do. Running forever with no leads and nowhere to go was dangerous to everyone. Eventually, people could burn so hot that they burst into flames of ignorance, rage and finally, self destruction. And the detectives becoming engulfed in these flames in the streets because they ran for too long with nowhere to go was a secret fear in them both. Because if they did burn away in these flames, then there was a chance that everyone who could be depending on them would be caught up in the fire. And there was no guarantee that they would be able to find an oasis together afterwards to heal their burns...or worse,have a place to let their scattered ashes rest in peace...