Death is just around the coroner when you're Shell Scott roaming the streets with a nose for danger and a sharp eye for the dames. On a trail leading from the high-class mortuary to the local cemetery, I realized the mob wanted me exactly where I was as a permanent resident!
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June 01, 2002
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Excerpt from Dig That Crazy Grave by Richard S. Prather
The Rand Brothers Mortuary was so beautiful it almost made you want to die.
Lustrous in the afternoon sunshine, it was low and graceful and white, like a squashed Taj Mahal or a tomb for Greek gods. It was located a few miles north of Los Angeles, directly across the street from the Rand Brothers Cemetery, a lavishly-landscaped twenty acres which included a gemlike lake and two small streams winding among the headstones like silver veins feeding the dead marble nymphs and fauns, and the shells of departed people.
I am a Shell, too, but not that kind. That's my name: Shell Scott. And I am ordinarily found around people with much more wiggle in them. But this wasn't a social call, it was business.
Business: I'm a private detective, detecting from the L.A.-Hollywood madhouse, and this balmy Thursday afternoon in May a bit of imminent skulduggery had brought me here. Imminent, indeed; less than five minutes remained before the wild noises would start. The loaded .38 Colt Special was under my coat, my pulse was as normal as it was likely to get, and the time was now. So I took a last look at the graveyard, then turned, went up smooth steps between wide, fluted columns and through the Rand Brothers Mortuary's front doors -- maybe to get shot and processed.
As I walked inside, hidden speakers poured soft music over me like thin embalming fluid. The melody was "I Love You Truly," but it had a faintly cold and hollow sound, as if Death were humming it. My heels clicked on marble tiles, and the scent of lilies crept into my nostrils and clung there. My shoes squeaked. They squeaked abominably for ten paces down a cool, dim hall, then the hallway broadened into a large room. Dark red carpeting, oil paintings on the walls, gilt chairs, a black vase containing gladioli on a white marble table.
To my right was a small desk, on the desk a triangular wooden plaque bearing the name "Mr. Truepenny," in gilt letters. Behind the plaque sat a long thin man with a long thin face and the morose, saintly, weak expression of a starving gazelle.
He stood up, stepped without haste around the side of his desk. He was so thin he could have been hung up in anatomy classrooms, a very tall egg with large luminous eyes.
"Ye-es?" he said, the deep voice soaring slowly upwards like the soft swoop of a dove's wings. "May I help you?"
It was spooky. He sounded too eager to help me, and I didn't want the kind of help he was used to giving to people, anyway. He advanced toward me with the slow and measured tread of a pallbearer carrying an invisible casket. The large eyes roamed over me, as if measuring me for size.
Maybe, I thought, he recognized me. I'd never seen this guy before, and didn't think he'd ever seen me, but there was a chance my two friends -- I use the word loosely, since last night they had beaten hell out of me -- had described me to Truepenny. I'm easy enough to recognize, from even a garbled description: six-two, two hundred and five pounds, short blond hair sticking up in the air as if turned white overnight and still suffering from the shock, sharply angled eyebrows obtrusively white against the deep tan of my ex-Marine chops. It is well known, too, that I like a little color in my apparel, and he was now staring, eyebrows rising, at my tie, which resembled red and blue boa constrictors fighting to the death in a tub of milk.