Matthew Licht

JH ghost1

A Big Start, Part 7 (Finale)

The guy at the reception desk had a checkerboard on the counter. His nose was deep in a book of chess problems. He said, wait a minute. I slammed the bell until he understood that having me wait a minute wouldn’t help him work out a new opening gambit or endgame. He muttered something that included “Ofay.” I flashed a C-note. A fifth of it was his, if he’d buzz my room to let me know if two middle-aged women with sweet-sounding names checked in.

The room had a TV set. Adult entertainment was available on closed circuit.

Holmes knew how to treat a lady, at least on-screen. His co-stars were all smiles when the act was done.

The chess wizard in the lobby called to say a couple white chicks just checked into the Matrimonial Suite as Kitty Moisten and Mary Widow. The ladies were regulars. He wanted his $20 before he knocked off and the night man took over.

I doused porn-o-vision, walked down the hall past an ice machine and a room with a Do Not Disturb sign permanently painted under the doorknob as a matrimonial touch. I put my ear to the door and heard rushing water.

I exited the motel from a side staircase without passing reception, got twenties from the Sea Gull’s cashier. No good handing an unbroken C-note to a guy who probably practiced magic tricks between solo chess games.

I snapped the bill. “What do the ladies look like?”

“White girls,” he said, and made a grab for the dough. He might’ve been good at chess, but wasn’t quick with his hands. “Both of ‘em tall, with dark hair.”

“That ain’t much.”

“You just said to call your room.”

“I mean, did you notice anything else about them?”

“They got your same taste in movies.”

He sniggered. I gave him twenty bucks.

I loitered in the lobby, crossed the street for dinner and a beer at the Sea Gull. At 10 o’clock, I retrieved the John Holmes nametag from my car, pinned it back on and knocked on the Matrimonial Suite’s door.

“What is it?” Kitty Moisten or Mary Widow sounded displeased at being disturbed despite the sign.

“Pizza delivery.”

Whispers. “Someone says we ordered pizza.”

“Tell them to go away.”

“But it’s like…” Unintelligible.

The door opened on mature women wrapped in towel togas. Background TV glare bathed the scene in blue light. The sound was off. A dresser mirror reflected adult entertainment.

“So where’s the pizza?”

“Look at his name tag!”

“Get in here, stupid.”

The lady standing closest made a grab. The other lady shut the door on her friend’s towel. The towel got stuck.

The lady who pulled me in punched my chest. “Say the line,” she said. “If you’re going to do this, do it right.”

The nude woman behind me twittered. “It worked! I can’t believe it.”

The woman who punched me wheeled and slugged her shower buddy on the arm. Her towel hit the ground too. “Shut up! How do we know he’s for real?”

They looked expectant.

I fumbled. “Uh well, I gues there ain’t no pizza after all.”

The air was steamy. Everything was out in the open all too soon.

The punchy one said, “It’s not him.”

“But he’s here.”

Motel life turned metaphysical. A glowing woman emerged on a cloud of steam from the bathroom. I would’ve been scared, but she seemed friendly. Her smile was familiar.

The client, Mr Johnson, said his mother was dead, but there she was. She looked as happy a she did on TV. Honey and Sadie didn’t look up, didn’t seem to know she was there, but they moved aside when she knelt down between them.

After an eon or two, the waifish wraith said, “How do you feel?”

Deadly porn dialogue seemed appropriate, but I felt like crying. “Havin’ the time of my life.”

She beamed forgiveness. She’d heard all those lines before.

“Talk like a human being,” she said. “Go on, try.”

I tried. “You ladies are a dream.”

“These two are ladies, not me. And I’m not even a dream. Just here and there and gone. But do you like what you’re doing?”

 “A man hired me to find out who his father was, or wasn’t. He said you’re his mother. He showed me a scene where you and John Holmes were together, at least on film.”

“His story’s true,” she said, and moved aside so Sadie could cut in. Sadie’s eyes stayed closed.

The mystery brunette watched. “Johnson’s my son,” she said, “and John’s. But he wants to be sure, for the wrong reasons.”

“What wrong reason could there be for wanting to know who your father is?”

She looked sad that I couldn’t figure it out. “He just wants to turn a buck. He wants legal proof so his story will hold up in court. He wants the name, the rights, and royalties.”

“Maybe so, but I took the job. Would you tell me where John Holmes is buried? I got a feeling these two don’t know.”

“Nobody knows. These two girls come here together to conjure the spirit of love.”

“I thought love was different.”

“You don’t feel the love here now?”

Her smile faded. I almost yelled a line from a disco hit that was popular then. “I do,” I said. Sadie and Honey either couldn’t hear, or didn’t let on. It wasn’t a wedding, after all.

“Love is love,” the spirit said. “Even if you do it for money. Money isn’t real.”

She said it as though she were revealing a deep secret. “My son might’ve hired you, but from now on you work for me.”

I couldn’t tell her Johnson’s money was real enough. Couldn’t explain the man retained people who’d deal with me if I screwed him. She took me into another world, and then I couldn’t see her any more.

There was another man behind the reception desk when I checked out. He said a pretty lady had dropped something off for me. He’d tried to buzz my room.

He slid a manila envelope across the counter.

I opened it in the car. Inside was a plastic bag printed LAPD and EVIDENCE. The bag was full of smaller bags with case numbers written on in blue ballpoint. “Hair specimen, pubic.” “Poss. blood sample.” Another bag contained a stained scrap of towel: “Semen sample: AB-/secretor”.

The package looked hideously genuine. The client would believe it’d been obtained it through private investigator skulduggery.

Back at Mr Johnson’s Hollywood Hills home, I accepted final payment. He would’ve been suspicious if I hadn’t. In exchange, he got the Bag from Beyond. When he asked how I got it, I said, “Don’t ask.”

Johnson smirked. He probably owned a private DNA lab.

Everything would come back negative. Justice of a kind would be done.

On my way out, I asked Johnson what his mother’s real name was and if he knew where she was buried.

John Holmes was cremated, his ashes scattered at sea. He’d made charitable donations towards dolphin welfare.

Nancy Ebbett Johnson’s last wish was to lie beside her show biz colleagues in Hollywood’s hallowed ground. The graveyard’s caretaker took five bucks and a pint bottle for a grave number, even though he would’ve given the information free. I left flowers, chocolates and a heart-shaped note that said, “Love is love.”

jh ghost finale

A Big Star, Part 1
A Big Star, Part 2
A Big Star, Part 3
A Big Star, Part 4
A Big Star, Part 5
A Big Star, Part 6

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