Ted Milo, until recently the Charles Dickens of obit writers, is dislodged from his carefree new life by a bizarre collision of homicides and hemorrhoids in the fancy Los Angeles suburb of Friendly Lake. Actually…not so friendly, Ted and his wife, Liv, soon discover.
Ted has ditched his long newspaper career to embrace the nouveau riche life he’d always ridiculed after inheriting a fortune from a distant relative. He is floating blissfully, contemplating the fruits of wealth, little on his fiftyish mind beyond bladder control, when a visit to a physician turns him into a sleuth with cold-blooded murders to solve.
“You’re doing this why, because the Navy SEALS aren’t hiring?” chides Liv when learning she’s now married to Sam Spade. “And your dream of playing center field for the Dodgers—dashed?”
Every gumshoe requires a “tomato,” though, and Liv is Ted’s when bodies hit the slab in this twisty mystery that exposes the warty underside of seemingly tranquil suburbia.
He paused a few seconds and massaged his money hand, which I was sure he packed in ice each night. “Look, this is quite awkward. I know it’s a small case, Ted, but I don’t feel like I’m in a position to do it myself because I’m part of it.”
Do what? I didn’t like the way this sounded.
“So, I was wondering, since you’re a private eye now…”
“Since you’re a private eye…”
“I was wondering if maybe you could look into it, as a favor, and see what’s going on with Sammy.”
“What makes Sammy run, right?”
“Huh?” The man was a fence post.
“Nothing. An investigation, you mean?”
“Of Sammy, his goofs with pills, that sort of thing.”
“You mean investigate him myself and not have one of my operatives do it.”
My sarcasm whizzed by him like a meteor until he finally caught up with it. “What? Oh, c’mon, Ted, you know what I mean.”
I knew exactly what he meant. And as someone celebrated for an impressive body of work memorializing the dead, or “unliving” as we titled them in my racket, I was somewhat offended. Hadn’t I been a media star in Los Angeles and published a collection of my favorite obits titled “Uncommon Lives,” earning me membership in the literati? We were hardly buddies who hung out together, but Brownie surely knew me well enough to realize that if I was to be a private eye, I would do it big time and not squander my investigatory gifts on trivia. And relatively speaking, trivia was what Sammy’s problem sounded like to me. I felt cheapened, devalued, as if someone at the paper had assigned me to write an obit for a parakeet. Besides, I knew a thing or two about this terrain. I’d read my Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane, seen more than my share of heat-carrying, hard-boiled sleuths on the screen and knew what they required. What about my retainer? What about my expenses?
“I don’t know, Brownie…”
Then I got hold of myself and remembered I’d been a private eye for less than five minutes. I didn’t have a retainer; I didn’t have expenses.
So I said yes.
About the author
Howard Rosenberg earned a Pulitzer Prize and numerous other honors during 25 years as TV critic for the Los Angeles Times. He teaches news ethics, critical writing and a TV symposium at the University of Southern California and resides in a far-off Los Angeles suburb with his wife, two cats and a bird, all of whom tend to ignore him.
His favorite pastime is slam dunking and working out with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In his dreams.