This week, let’s take another look at THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT. The following scene comes at the beginning of Chapter 5. Our PI, BJ Vinson, has called his client, Attorney Del Dahlman, to BJ’s office for an update on a talk he's had with the gay hustler Del believes is trying to use some racy snapshots for blackmail purposes. BJ derives a bit of pleasure out of delivering the message that the gigolo, Emilio Prada, has been using the photos to “prime the pump” with new johns.
Del still looked like an adolescent—great genes, probably. He was blessed with a comeliness that transcended male and female. It was a blend of both, I suppose. But for the first time since I’d known him, he had bloodshot eyes, a refreshing reminder he was merely mortal. The aroma he brought with him was hot, pungent coffee from the deli down the street, and the unidentified stimulus was a warm Danish.
He struggled to balance two plastic-lidded cups of steaming coffee and a white bakery bag, barely managing to set them on my desk without dumping everything all over my pale green Saxony carpet. I reached for one of the coffees as Del plopped into a chair across from me. Wordlessly, he opened the bag and took out a couple of warm cheese Danish.
“You look like hell.” I took a sip of the brew and laid one of the pastries on a napkin. “Damn, that’s good coffee.”
“Yeah, well, you look pretty, too.” He picked up the other cup and took off the lid.
“Speaking of pretty, I don’t think Emilio’s the one trying to yank your chain.”
Del froze with the cup inches from his lips. He put it back on the desk without drinking. “What are you talking about? He’s the only one who has the pictures.”
“Well, strictly speaking, that’s not true.”
Del shrank with mortification as I outlined my findings to date, alternating the delicious bits of narrative with tasty bites of pastry. His coffee cooled as he slumped in the chair, taking the verbal body blows without uttering a word until I finished my report.
“Harding?” he asked in a small voice. “Richard Harding of Premier Tank & Plating? How did he get his hands on them?”
“I’ll leave that to your powers of deduction. You must have some since you claim to be a lawyer.”
“Come on, I’m paying your bills. How did he get them?”
“That’s not germane to the investigation. I found them and retrieved them, and that’s all that matters.”
“Vince, you’re enjoying this way too much.”
I sobered—or pretended to. “Any reason Harding would want the upper hand with you?”
“None that I know of. I was the lead attorney in his plant expansion fight. Still represent him in a union matter. He ought to be cheering me on, not distracting me.”
“Way I figure it, he glommed onto a couple of the photos when he saw them. For leverage in case you had a disagreement.”
Del nodded. “Sounds about right. But he can’t do that now, right?”
“I recovered Harding’s copies of the pictures and deleted them from his computer. I’m no expert, but so far as I can tell, they’re gone. Before we leave Premier, there’s one other possibility to discuss.”
“The pictures were locked in Harding’s office. What if some of the help rifled his files and handed over copies to the union people?”
“Oh, shit!” Del exclaimed. “But wait, wouldn’t they just contact me and threaten to reveal the photos?”
“That makes sense, but maybe it’s like you said; you validate your vulnerability if you pay the five thousand.”
“I don’t think so. Demanding money is a patently criminal act. No law firm would be a party to that.” He paused before shrugging. “But you never know.”
“A law firm doesn’t have to be involved. Maybe the union people are doing it on their own.”
He dry washed his face. “So what do we do?”
“I’ll phone Harding to see if anyone broke into his computer.”
Del seemed to have lost his appetite for the moment, so I confiscated his Danish. No use letting it go to waste.
“By the way, assuming Emilio was the only one with the photos was dumb. He had to get the film developed somewhere, didn’t he? And you never considered he’d use the photos as bait for new johns?”
He groaned. “Never crossed my mind. Damn, who else has seen them?”
“Emilio gave me a few names, but I don’t know if he gave me all of them. He’s pretty active, and having one of Albuquerque’s leading attorneys as a satisfied customer isn’t hurting his rep any.”
“I’ll hurt more than his rep if I ever get my hands on the little shit.”
“In my book it would be justifiable homicide, but the justice system might take another view. Which brings us to the question of why aren’t you returning my calls? If it’s not important enough for you to respond, then it’s not important enough for me to pursue. Maybe we ought to forget about the whole thing.”
How is Del going to react to that veiled threat? You'll have to read on to find out.
I had fun writing this book. Come to think of it, I usually find that I had fun penning a novel – after the agony of the actual writing is over, of course.
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