It seems to be part of my job, to have clients tell me only half-truths or omit important info.
I am used to them, of course. The lies. But I take anything anyone tells me with a grain of salt to be honest. It’s the best way to be.
When I first met Alonzo DeMarco, he wedged his ample girth into the booth at Katrina’s Diner opposite me. He wheezed with the effort.
As is the case in my line of work, referrals were great and they seemed to keep me in cash flow.
I set up my fictitious booth between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. as I have done every morning for the last decade. Breakfast and coffee with no overhead.
Sometimes I get legitimate requests. Like wife/husband may be cheating, please catch them, photos please; other times there were insurance scams to unveil, people injured who were tap dancing when they thought no one was looking; other times it was all about bringing in skipped bail paroles who were all innocent.
But sometimes, like with Alonzo DeMarco, I had the feeling he needed my seedier side.
“I need you to steal something for me, Mr. Palace,” DeMarco said, folding meaty slabs in front of him.
I said, “How did you hear about me?”
Yes, I asked this like any questionnaire would.
“My brother worked nights as a bartender. He heard stories about you. Just talk, you know?”
My reputation precedes me, I guess. For the right price, I steal things or do whatever’s needed. It has served me well is all I’m saying.
He reached in his coat and passed me an envelope bursting with cash. “It’s all my savings, everything.”
“So, what am I stealing exactly?” I stuffed the bills in my breast pocket, then thumb-shoved my glasses up the bridge of my nose.
Tears filled his eyes. “My brother.”
As an aside, there are two things I won’t do: kidnapping and murder. Tying someone up and smacking them around to get information wasn’t beyond my methods but kidnapping for ransom or some murder for hire shit…those kinda things came with serious jail time.
“My brother’s ashes, Mr. Palace.”
He pulled a Kleenex from his sleeve like some bloated magician. He dabbed both eyes.
“My brother, Fitz, he died six months ago,” he began, “car accident. We were very close, the two of us. I planned on scattering his ashes on the lake, my brother’s final request. Fitz loved the water. That was the plan.”
“I couldn’t do it. Six months I had that urn and…. It just felt so final to do it. And now I’ve left him on The Lemon Yellow.”
“The Lemon Yellow?” I asked.
“Sorry. It was what we named our yacht. It was a piece of junk really, but we decided it would be our project together, Fitz and I, you know, fix it up. So much wrong with it. It was a lemon, so we painted the f**ker yellow.”
He laughed then and he got a faraway look in his eyes, deep sadness there.
He pursed his lips. “You know, we spent so much time talking, just sitting on that yacht of ours….” His eyes seemed to drift away. “It became our man cave, I guess.”
“So why exactly aren’t your brother’s ashes with you?”
He said, “Pearl, that’s my wife, kicked me off the estate and now I can’t get to him.”
My eyebrows lifted. “Pearl DeMarco? The supermodel?”
“The same,” Alonzo said.
Pearl DeMarco had been a supermodel near 15 years ago I recalled. I knew her from commercials and a few Grade B movies. But mostly I remembered her from the Playboy spread she did in the late nineties. It was tough picturing Alonzo at his size on the arm of a sexy woman like that.
“And she’s determined to give me nothing,” he said, “because of our prenup. I told her, I just wanted the ashes that’s all, I’d go quietly. And she laughed and said she’d blow up the boat with the ashes before I ever got anything from her!”
She was a woman scorned.
I folded my arms across my wide chest. “You cheat on her?”
“And fell in love with the girl. And I told her I was leaving… I owed her that at least.”
“And she kicked your ass out.” Not a question.
“She had security escort me off the premises. I had no chance to grab anything.”
“She has security?”
“A few bodyguards, yeah.”
Already I was wondering what I was signing up for.
He told me most cameras were inside the main house, but as far as the grounds went, it appeared Pearl employed only security guards to patrol the grounds.
“I need this done fast,” DeMarco stammered. “I want my brother back before Pearl decides to flush him or something. She’s very spiteful right now. You understand my urgency here.”
“Anything else I should know?”
“Pearl throws dinner parties on Friday nights,” he said. ”Not sure if you can use that. She invites close associates, lifetime friends, that kind of thing…”
I said nothing.
Two days till Friday. That gave me today and tomorrow to plot.
“She just kicked you out,” I said. “You sure she’ll follow routine?”
He smirked. “Absolutely. She loves being the center of gossip. She’ll want to bash me in front of anyone who’ll listen. Yes, she’ll have her party. Security will be tight is my guess. You may get in but you’ll never get out. Not with the urn at least.”
I considered this while scratching days’ worth of stubble. If I was going to a party, I best make myself respectable.
Then, “Does the Lemon Yellow run?”
As I stood outside on the DeMarco terrace I snapped a couple of pics of Pearl talking with another model I recognized.
People milled about, chatting, drinking wine, laughing. The outdoors and indoors were abuzz with the hum of many varied voices.
I let my lens wander to the lake and land again on The Lemon Yellow. I took a couple of shots.
Painted a garishly bright yellow, the “yugly” yacht bobbed at the end of a long dock, waves lapping at the hull.
As a bit of comedy, I must point out that The Lemon Yellow’s name had been carefully painted in sharp black calligraphy across the bow.
The wind ruffled my hair. I raked it back with my fingers. Higher winds were expected later, which would work to my advantage.
So, how did I get into this soirée?
Fake ID. I happen to know a near-perfect forgery expert who’d transformed me into Seth Seavers, Sports Illustrated photographer.
I’d had my male secretary – me – call Pearl yesterday and set up the appointment. My goal, I told her, was to compile some candid shots of one time supermodels in their home environment among family and friends.
Friday? She asked. Too soon?
Not at all.
Pearl couldn’t resist being in the magazine any more than I could turn down easy money. What former supermodel didn’t want to be back between a Sports Illustrated’s glossy pages?
So here I was now, snapping pics no one would ever see and getting a lay of the property. Security guards, as I’d been told, patrolled the lawn, flashlights proceeding their footsteps.
I’d never make it to The Lemon Yellow with them there.
I wasn’t worried.
Close to midnight, I excused myself from the party and managed to end up in the master suite upstairs. It was a massive, plush carpeted area. The king-size bed appeared dwarfed by the sheer size of the room. I lifted a facedown picture frame from a bedside table.
The once-happy couple: a much thinner Alonzo and a “before rhinoplasty” Pearl beamed at the camera.
No guarantees in life.
I took out a lighter and started the bed on fire.
As I casually strolled back to the terrace, I checked my watch.
The fire alarm sounded.
Over the ear-shattering squeal, Pearl’s guests looked confused as to what to do.
It didn’t take long for someone to spot smoke billowing down the upstairs hallway and then people made a dash for the front door.
I watched lawn security rush to the side entrances. While they did that, I leaped over the terrace wall, plants and all, and landed in a crouch in the bushes.
I ran to a large oak, scaled that to the first branch, waited and then when I saw no one fleeing my way, I dropped to the ground and flew to the dock.
In seconds, I’d removed The Lemon Yellow’s slipknot from the dock's railing and quickly scampered aboard the ugliest yacht I had ever seen.
And I waited. I let it drift slowly away from the dock, letting the wind work for me. Blowing in my direction? I mentally joked.
While the alarm continued to echo out over the lake, the sound of fire engines and police cruisers only added to the cacophony of noise bleating the night air.
I glanced up to the bedroom where I’d started the fire. It was going, a few windows were blown out. Flickering flames licked skyward, the wind further feeding the inferno; the blaze reflected in the lake.
While The Lemon Yellow drifted I took a quick swing down to the lower berth.
The plain metal urn sat in the bunk room, beside an unmade bed.
“Hello, Fitz,” I said.
Within the half-hour, thinking I might be far enough away and covered by the emergency crew sirens, I turned The Lemon Yellow’s starter and while it sputtered several times, the motor finally caught and urging the throttle forward, I chugged away.
I turned the lights on when I felt I was far enough away.
Alonzo promised to be waiting for me a few miles up the lake in a boat. To the east, I saw a flashlight blink several times and steered The Lemon Yellow to meet him.
Once onboard, Alonzo started laughing. “You did it! Did anyone see?”
“They’ll come looking soon. She as ugly as you remember?” I asked of the yacht.
He clapped me on the shoulder hard. “Uglier. My brother?” he asked.
Down to business. “Downstairs.”
He pushed past me and was soon coming back up, wheezing, clutching the urn.
I watched him throw the lid off and rush to the gunwale. One hand out, the other gripping the vase, I watched DeMarco slowly pour Fitz’s ashes over the side into the breeze, dust sifting between fingers, dust blowing back into his face, onto the scarred deck.
What? No words.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
With an angry grunt, Alonzo hurled the urn over the side and swung toward me, handgun gripped tight in a trembling fist.
“Where the f**k are they?” he asked, teeth gritted.
It was never about his brother’s ashes. People lie to me.
“Where the f**k are they!!?!!”
He pulled back the hammer on his gun. The cords on his neck stood in stark relief to his red face. Visible sweat dotted his forehead. He wasn’t thinking rationally right now. He’d kill me first and think about the whereabouts of the diamonds after.
Diamonds, I now fished from my coat pocket. I’d dropped them in loose and held them out on the flat of my hand. One of the twelve was a bright yellow.
Because my business is not only stealing things, but in knowing things, or pretending I do, I recalled a yellow diamond once selling for 16.3 mill at auction.
DeMarco beamed, facial muscles visibly relaxing, eyes captivated by the jewels in my hand. He started to reach out and stopped, met my eyes.
“You were stealing diamonds from your wife.”
Pearl DeMarco had done several marketing ads for jewelry stores years ago and in one, I clearly remembered her on her belly, head up, a sheer sheet draped over her, and as the camera pulled back it revealed Pearl’s sexy body inside a heart made of diamonds.
Diamonds are a Pearl’s best friend, I think the slogan went.
“I was never going to see dime one,” he spat. “I saw a chance to get some cash out before I left her.”
“So, you put them the only place you knew they’d be truly safe. On the Lemon Yellow with your brother.”
“I had to go slow with it. I didn’t want her getting suspicious but I needed enough to start over.”
I nodded at the diamonds. “I think you did okay.”
“I did.” He waved the gun. “So sorry about all this. But I can't…”
His face paled suddenly and he stumbled back then, gun slipping from limp fingers.
“…I can’t have you telling stories…I don’t feel…”
About time, I thought, a sigh of relief expelled.
I deposited the diamonds back in my pocket.
“What did you do?” Alonzo asked, falling to the deck, hand pressed to chest. He tried to get up, but he was done.
“Added cyanide powder to the ashes,” I said. “I brought some along. People lie to me so I always plan ahead. Fast-acting stuff. I believe you inhaled enough to cause death.”
His breathing grew shallow and then his eyes went vacant.
Not killing people, yeah, I lied about that.
I hopped in Alonzo’s boat, primed the motor and gave the cord a yank. The engine revved to life. Time to go.
Within seconds I was bumping the boat over low waves, guiding myself toward shore.
Somewhat absently, I pulled the yellow diamond from my pocket, examining it in the moonlight as it sat pinched between my thumb and index.
I cast a backward glance at The Lemon Yellow and -.
I blinked against the sudden bright blast. Shards of wood and fiberglass shattered in all directions, yacht debris raining down within a whirl of acrid smoke.
The way I figure it, Pearl rigged it by a remote detonator. I hadn’t seen any explosives but hey, I didn’t look. She was true to her word, I’ll give Pearl that… she’d rather blow up The Lemon Yellow than give it back to Alonzo.
A woman scorned and all that.
She must have just noticed The Lemon Yellow missing from her dock.
I’m one lucky guy, I suppose.
As I drove, I tucked the yellow diamond away and looked to the sky. The stars seemed incredibly bright.