I made a corned beef sandwich for the road and put it in a bag with an apple and a can of Coke Classic. It was 12:20 and time for the Silver Fox to leap into action.
I drove to Montecito to wait for Loretta the Lascivious. I parked in the shade of some enormous pittosporum bushes and enjoyed my lunch.
The subject came into view just before 2 p.m. I pretended to be looking at a map. Then I swung out behind her blue BMW sport coupe to the beach. I knew where she was headed, thanks to her husband Mason, who had hired me to follow her.
I turned off on the narrow side street that runs along the freeway so she wouldn't notice me, then doubled back and drove to the side street, which dead-ends into a small parking lot. No Beamer there. Only one other car, a mommy van, parked by the small stone staircase down to the beach. You can walk on the beach, theoretically staying on the ocean side of the mean high tide line. Otherwise the beach was private. Loretta must have driven on into the residential driveway that branches off the main drive. I parked next to the van.
The private driveway continued into the woods westward toward Santa Barbara, past some staggeringly expensive properties that are practically on the sand. Stone had said the driveway ended at the fourth mansion - the Poubelle place, as indicated by the number 666 (the devil's number!) on a little reflector sign. Stone said he had pursued Loretta nearly to the house in a brazen fit, but had thought better of it and gone home.
Mason believed that Carlos Carranza, a suspected drug lord, lived in this place, as the long-term guest of Webley (Web) Poubelle, local playboy.
Mason didn't really know much about these characters. Loretta had dropped a few tidbits, like Carranza being from Colombia. Finding out what they were all about. . . that's my job. I'm the detective.
I needed to snoop around a little bit, staying extra alert - not that easy at age sixty-four. It was possible, even likely, that danger lurked in the mansion.
I strolled along the pathway in the wooded area between the houses and the railroad track that runs parallel to the freeway.
That is the only discordant note in this little Eden. A train is a noisy, beastly thing, but at least there aren't many of them roaring up and down the coast anymore.
I sniffed the eucalyptus and honeysuckle vines on a rustic fence and admired the periwinkle vines under oak trees, with their little blue flowers. Nice here. Very woodsy.
Poubelle's place was just ahead, around a bend in the direction of the shore. Sound of surf coming through the trees.
I was trying to focus my attention on crime instead of periwinkle blue as I rounded the bend, but my thoughts were disrupted by a couple of bums lounging in the weeds under an oak tree, like dogs. They probably hung out here often, and now they knew about me.
I glared at them. One got up as I approached. He was gray-haired, about 45 going on 60 and was dressed in formerly nice clothes: a baby blue turtleneck sweater and gray slacks. It looked like he hadn't changed them since the first Bush war. And the tattered white New Balance tennies didn't go with the slacks.
"Hey dude," he said, "spare some change?" His pal, younger but even more tattered, in jeans and grimy once-white T-shirt, gazed balefully at me. He had on a Dodger baseball cap, backwards.
"Lemme think about it," I said and continued on. "Aw shit," he muttered as I passed. "Fuck you," I muttered back.
I was out of their sight when the target property hove into view. I could see the house's slate roof over to the left, behind the high wooden fence surrounding the yard. A red sign warned: "Protected by Control Security Systems."
And there was Loretta's BMW, next to a big ol' black Cadillac. Such monsters were out of synch with the times but still loved by geezers and real estate sales people. I wondered why it was parked outside. It was a bit rimy from the salt air.
I walked around the north side of the property and saw that the big fence ended halfway along the house, which was a massive structure looking vaguely like an Elizabethan manor house, with stone walls, leaded windows. . . the whole nine yards.
But, aha, the fence around the front was merely spiked wrought iron. It wouldn't be hard to climb.
There was easement property between estates. Low dunes with ice plant-type stuff and wild grasses. Nothing said I couldn't walk on this sand, so I did, staring. Nothing to be seen anyway. Trouble with mansions is that they are dark, shaded by their own overhangs. At the front of the fence there was a heavy metal security gate with electronic code buttons.
My damn cell phone went off. Blasted thing. I always had to fumble to stop the music, which was the can-can dance, from the Orpheus in Hades overture. It was Mason. The call could wait.
I could see into the dining room, which was lighted by the southern sun beaming through enormous bay windows. I saw somebody walk through the rear of the room, but that was all. Had I been "made"? I walked back toward the woods, staying close to the fence and staring with my excellent peripheral vision.
OK, I had the place scoped. Now to get a "bug" so I could return after dark and listen through the glass. I needed some idea of how and if drugs were being smuggled in, and whether Loretta was in cahoots crime-wise with these scoundrels. Maybe she should simply be turned in to the cops.
Back on the pathway, the homeless guy stood with his arms folded across his chest and leered like a cop about to make an arrest.
I walked closer to him.
He continued: "Gonna break in? Can I go with ya?" The leer broadened and I glared at him as hard as I could. I had practiced this mean look scowling at high school kids.
I squeezed my right hand into a fist. His leer changed to a twitchy grin.
"No offense, dude. Just wondering. You know. . . What yer doin' here."
"Look," I said, moving to finger-jabbing distance from his chest. "I'm a private investigator and I'll buy you guys a nice jug of wine if you keep your yap shut."
He brightened. "Hey no problemo, dude! I'm a clam. Count on it. So is Rocket Man." He gestured back toward his pal.
"OK, here's a sawbuck." I held the bill out. He took it and looked confused. He said, "A sawbuck's a ten. This is only five."
"That's enough to get you both plastered," I said. "I'll be back and I'll keep you in wine if you'll keep forgetting about me. And if you don't, I'll beat the living shit out of you."
"Okay," he said quietly.
"What's your name?"
"Tom. But my friends call me Whanger."
"Uh huh." We looked at each other like guys from different planets.
"So long, Whanger." I turned to leave and he said, "So long. What's YOUR name?"
"Richard," I said.
"So long, Richard."
I passed his pal. "See yuh, Rocket Man." Rocket Man's mouth dropped open. I stopped and said, "Remember - say anything to anyone and you're dead meat." He looked adequately shaken up. I would have felt sorry for him, but I felt more sorry for me.
I got back to my car, climbed in, and waited a LONG hour for Loretta to come driving out to the street. She passed slowly but didn't look my way. She had the slightly dazed, sappy look of someone stoned. My, my. Have a fun afternoon, did we?
I needed more info about what was going on inside that house. This led to a possibly fatal mistake, damn it.