by Claire McNab
Kylie’s relationship with paramour Ariana Creeling has reached a new level-until she disappears. There’s no sign of violence, no ransom demand-she simply vanishes.
Kylie is distraught, not knowing whether she’s alive or dead. Convinced there’s a link to the prestigious Clarice Turner Evenstar Home, where aged show business stars fade not-so-gently away, Kylie disguises herself as a volunteer and finds herself on the trail of the culprit-but will she be too late to save the woman she loves?
Fifth in the Kylie Kendall Mystery Series.
Originally published by Alyson Books 2007.
“G’day,” I said. “I’m Kylie Kendall. Would you mind telling me where the administration office is?”
The Clarice Turner Evenstar Home was much grander than I’d expected. Set in a sea of manicured lawns and gardens were three buildings, each in a distinct architectural style—the first, Gothic, and the second, neo-Mayan. The third modernist structure’s metal walls dazzlingly reflected the morning sun.
I’d left my car in the landscaped parking area and set off hoping to see a sign of some sort, but so far there’d been nothing to indicate where to go. I’d asked the first person I ran across for directions—an old bloke apparently having an animated conversation with a clump of flowering bushes.
“Do you mind?” he said. “I’m rehearsing.” He spoke in the strangled vowels of an upper-class English accent.
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
He inclined his head graciously. “One isn’t always to know. Your name again?”
Taking my hand in both of his, he said in a rich, fruity tone, “Good morning, Kylie Kendall?” He flashed a set of chalk-white teeth—surely dentures—and raised his snowy eyebrows. “I imagine I need no introduction. You will know who I am.”
Crikey, I didn’t. I knew that there were many retired show-business celebrities at the Clarice Turner Evenstar Home, but I couldn’t place him, although with his strong hooked nose and determined chin he looked vaguely familiar. I decided that was probably because he was dressed like a classic British gentleman with a deer-stalker hat, silk cravat, tweed jacket sporting leather patches at the elbows, and tan slacks with knife-edge creases. Becoming aware that the bloke was staring at me expectantly, I gave him a rueful smile. “You’ll have to give me a bit of a hint.”
My hand was dropped like a hot potato. “A hint? Sir Rupert Martindale doesn’t give hints.” He regarded me narrowly. “Your voice—Australian? And from the outback, I fancy.” When I nodded, he added, “Hah! A gel from the Colonies. Ignorance not surprising.”
That really got up my nose. I felt like snarling, “Typical Pommie comment,” but managed to stop myself in time. “Sorry, Sir Rupert. Now I recognize you. You’re the famous Shakespearean actor.”
Somewhat mollified, he said, “Rather more than simply famous, don’t you know? My Lear is widely regarded as the interpretation for the ages. Why, even Larry Olivier himself said to me, ‘I came to your performance a colleague, and left a student.’ ”
“Blimey,” I said, “that’s a crash-hot compliment.”
A regal nod. “One becomes accustomed to praise, but one is particularly delighted with the unfettered admiration of one’s peers.” His good humor restored, he went on, “But enough of my storied career. What do you do, Kylie Kendall?”
“I’m a private investigator. Well, more a trainee PI.”
Sir Rupert recoiled a little. “A private investigator?” His thick white eyebrows formed a disdainful V. “I imagine you handle grubby little divorces and matters of that ilk.” He gave, appropriately, a theatrical shudder. “I myself would feel besmirched, sullied.”
“Kendall & Creeling are more into security consulting and industrial espionage,” I observed. “Plus undercover investigations and skip tracing.”
“Creeling? Would that be Ariana Creeling?”
“You know Ariana?”
“Our paths often crossed when she was visiting her friend in the Evenstar special-care facility. Ariana is a charming woman. And those eyes! Of deepest azure! Sapphire-hued!”
“Ariana has got bonzer blue eyes?”
Sir Rupert frowned. “Kendall & Creeling? Are you saying you’re Ariana’s business partner?”
“I reckon so?” And much more, I hoped and prayed.
“A mere slip of a gel like you?”
I had to grin. No way could I be described as slender.
His frown deepening, Sir Rupert said, “In all the times I’ve spoken with her, Ariana has never mentioned her participation in the private detecting profession.” It was obvious that she had abruptly gone down in his estimation. He flung out one hand and pronounced, “The cruelest lies are often told in silence.”
This was obviously a quote, but I had no idea where it came from. There was an awkward pause, then Sir Rupert, his disapproval plain, went on, “So, Miss Kendall, you’re here at Evenstar to investigate some malfeasance?”
Actually, I was. Someone had been embezzling considerable sums of money, and the company owning Evenstar wanted a hush-hush undercover investigation with no police involvement.
“Not at all,” I assured him. “I’m here to volunteer for the extravaganza’s fundraising committee.”
“Indeed?” His expression appreciably warmer, Sir Rupert declared, “Excellent! Have you been privy to a performance of Swan Song for the Luminaries? Last year my selected soliloquies from Hamlet received a sustained standing ovation.”
I had to admit I hadn’t even heard of the extravaganza until quite recently.
He sighed and muttered something about Philistines. Then, in the tone of one speaking to someone who was a bit of a nong, he said, “Once a year the extraordinarily talented individuals at Evenstar provide an invaluable opportunity for the ordinary citizens of Los Angeles to see the stellar heights quality entertainment can reach. The modern so-called star is but a pigmy when compared to the giants of the stage and silver screen, such as myself.”
Sir Rupert paused, then made a sweeping gesture. “ ‘He doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus.’ ”
“Julius Caesar.” I spoke with confidence, having been given the part of Brutus in Wollegudgerie High School’s staging of Shakespeare’s play, when it became clear that there was a shortage of males auditioning for fear of being called sissies.
It seemed I’d redeemed myself, because Sir Rupert gallantly offered me his arm. “Let me escort you to the administration office.”
This suited me, because I’d decided to cultivate him as a source of information. I’d just grit my teeth and smile if he made any more snide remarks about Aussies.
“There are no signs indicating which building is which,” I said.
“That’s to maintain a friendly, neighborly atmosphere,” said Sir Rupert. Indicating each as he spoke, he told me that the Gothic-inspired building housed administration offices and special-needs patients, the massive Mayan building was entirely residential units, and the modernist structure held the most luxurious of the apartments plus a theater, meeting rooms, and a dining hall.
As we walked along at a leisurely pace, he said, “I’m delighted you’ll be involved in Swan Song of the Luminaries. You’ll find it an enriching experience that will nourish your very soul. It’s more than quality entertainment. It’s more than mature star power incandescently glowing. Swan Song is, not to put too fine a point upon it, a vital necessity in this cultural desert.”
I thought of the old belief that swans sing before they die. Personally, I thought mentioning a swan song in the title of a show starring rather ancient celebrities was a touch morbid, as if the audience expected performers to fall off the perch at any moment.
Sir Rupert broke into my thoughts by inquiring, “Do you yourself have any facility in the performing arts?”
“’Fraid not. Except I can carry a tune pretty well.”
“Carry a tune? Pretty well?” He gave a scornful snort. “My dear gel, that’s more American Idol than the top-notch performance art to which I refer.” He patted my hand indulgently. “But I’m asking too much of you, Miss Kendall. You are an Australian, after all, with every element of artistic impoverishment that entails.”
I gritted my teeth and smiled. Fair dinkum! Wouldn’t it rot your socks?