Author: Lawrence Kelter
Hi All: Frank Mango here. I just dropped by to tell you about my most recent case.
It was a typical summer afternoon in LA, 104 in the shade and enough humidity to peel wallpaper. I was at the town pool when a dear friend asked me to look into a suspicious death at the marina. The details of the case reminded me of Natalie Wood's death--it had all the elements: treachery, deceit, and yes, the body of a beautiful woman was found aboard a millionaire's pleasure ship.
I hope you'll drop whatever you're doing to read this one.
I personally certify this story to be LYAO funny.
Length: Novella - About 15,000 words
Available in .mobi for Kindle, .epub for NOOK and most other e-readers, and .pdf.
MAN CANDY - A Frank Mango Novella
Nothing displaces water faster than a fat man doing a cannonball into a public pool. When I hit the water, needles on seismographs at a nearby research center jumped so high that scientists reported the approach of a tsunami. That’s me, Frank Mango, five foot nine, two hundred and seventy pounds—extra large and loving it. I surfaced and saw that the pool had emptied out. A woman scowled at me while she toweled off her daughter. The poor kid looked as if she had just performed a cliff dive—her teeth were chattering, and her chin was quivering. Did I do that?
“Sorry,” I called to the concerned mom.
“The hell is wrong with you?” she said.
“Hey, it’s a public pool.” It was a typical summer afternoon in LA, 104 in the shade and enough humidity to peel wallpaper. Still, I was sorry that I traumatized her little one. I was feeling the heat, and when I get hot enough to scream, I have to rely on desperate measures—hence the impromptu cannonball.
“Moron!” she yelled.
That’s enough. I dunked my head and swam beneath the surface to the farthest end of the pool, away from the disgruntled mother and toward my friend Dewan. He was wearing at least a dozen gold chains. The sun reflecting off his bling blinded me as I approached. “Hey, Green Lantern, can you throw those chains over your shoulder? You’re searing my retinas.” Dewan was wearing an orange tank top and a bright-green do-rag—back in the day we called that color chartreuse.
“Can’t a brother enjoy a little peace and quiet around here without Magnum Fat Thighs getting all up in his business?” Dewan used to be a successful mortgage broker until the bottom fell out of the housing market. Now he spends his afternoons at the town pool and sells his old crap on eBay.
He was standing where the water was just four-feet deep. He was not a confident swimmer and didn’t like being called on it. No less than three lifeguards supervised the town pool. “Want to venture out into the high seas?” Dewan gave me a get lost face. He was not fond of moving water—I once saw him toss his cookies while on a ferryboat ride. “Why so testy? Want to move over to the kiddie pool?” He flipped me the bird. “You’re six foot six—I think you’re safe in five feet of water with three lifeguards on duty.”
“No, man, I’ll stay put.” He burped in my face. It was the foulest, fishiest-smelling burp I had ever been assaulted with.”
“Dear God, what in God’s name did you eat?”
“Some seafood shit. Kamisha buys some crab crap at the Price Club, only there ain’t no crab in it. It’s made from surimi. Have you ever heard of surimi?”
“Nah. What’s that?”
“Did you know there’s no crab in surimi? I thought it was some kind of fish, but there’s no fish called surimi. I thought it was something small and wiggly like a smelt or something until I looked it up in Wikipedia.”
“So what is it?”
“It’s a paste, a goddamn paste. They take all this uncoctous fish-paste and they mold it into the shape of crab parts.” The word my incensed friend was searching for was unctuous. “Then they fill up a tub with it and charge you $7.95 for fish paste. I don’t know about you; I’d pay $7.95 for crab, but I ain’t paying no $7.95 for fish paste.”
“So why does she buy it?”
“Because she knows I like crab, only it’s not in the budget these days.”
My poor friend had fallen from grace and was no longer able to afford genuine bottom-feeding crustaceans—life was hell. “So tell her to cook something else.”
“Cook something else? Did you say cook something else? How long have you know Kamisha? That girl can’t cook! If it can’t be microwaved or ordered from takeout, I can’t eat it. Damn, Kamisha thinks cooking is a city in China.”
His cellphone was behind him on the pool coping. It buzzed (thank God). I saw that he was getting an alert from eBay. “Goddamn!” he said.
“I’m trying to sell my goddamn six-channel home theater amplifier and the bidding’s only up to one-ninety-five. It’s worth double. Damn!”
“Times are hard.”
He glared at me. “Really? You think so?” he said hotly. “I used to have a successful business. Now it’s a goddamn Korean grocery store, and I spend my days here, with you, thirty sniffling brats, and the cellulite contingent from West Hollywood.”
“A little down in the dumps today, Sunshine?”
Dewan grunted. He was really struggling with poverty. “Goddamn Obama—he took all of my money and gave it to the Mexicans.”
“I don’t think that’s accurate.”
“Oh yeah, how come every Mexican’s got an iPhone? They don’t pay taxes, but they can all make sweet talk with Siri. Do you believe that? They can’t speak English so Siri talks to them in Spanish. I don’t get to make sweet talk with Siri. I got this hunk of junk smartphone, only there’s nothing smart about it. They should call it the retard phone. I hear the landscapers on their iPhones all day long: ‘Hola, Siri. Dónde está la bodega, Siri? Usted quiere hacerlo doggy style, Siri?’ I should have married, Siri—Kamisha don’t let me do it doggy style.”
TMI. I guess Kamisha didn’t know where the bodega was either. As Dewan alluded to with his Magnum PI play on words (before going off on his lunatic rant), I’m a private detective. I used to work from the Club Room Suite at the downtown Sheraton, but I lost that privilege on account of I didn’t pay any rent and didn’t belong there. Go figure. Business was slow over the summer anyway, so I was now performing the duties of my profession here at the town pool--al fresco, as they say. The term al fresco generally refers to outdoor eating—speaking of which, my girlfriend Carla was grilling lunch for us and the first smoky scent of charbroiled sirloin had just wafted through the air. I allowed the aroma to fill my nostrils and then sprang from the pool so quickly you’d have thought piranhas were nipping at my scrotum. To tell the truth, my quick exit was only half motivated by the scent of the aromatic barbecue. I just couldn’t listen to Dewan’s deprecating rhetoric any longer.
“Hey, what the—” Dewan said as he called after me. “Where are you running?”
“Chow’s on, Sunshine,” I said as I made a beeline for the grill. Carla was serving the first burger as I approached. I knew it was for me because it was as large as a dinner plate and was smothered with cheddar and bacon. Carla’s a chef at a busy pub called the Flagon. She was grilling with prime ground sirloin, which I assume she liberated from the pub’s refrigerator. I know that we certainly didn’t have money for that cut of meat.
Carla handed me the massive burger. “Super-sized for my super hero.” She gave me a kiss on the cheek.
I would have given her a hug but I was dripping wet from the pool. “You’re the best, baby.” You know what they say: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. If that’s true, then Carla’s scrumptious burger was about to give me a vigorous heart massage. I grabbed the barbecue sauce and sat down at the picnic bench. I was chewing on a mouthful of hamburger ecstasy when Dewan’s shadow covered me.
“Look at that. You gonna eat that whole thing yourself? Don’t you know the country is in the midst of a recession?”
“Sure I do; this is my personal contribution to the ongoing success of the meat-packing industry.”
“That burger’s obscene.”
I was in hamburger heaven. My tongue was having a three-way with charbroiled sirloin and bacon. I was so happy I didn’t hear what Dewan said.
“Did you hear me? I said—”
“You know, Dewan, you’re about as stimulating as a conversation on hemorrhoids. You used to be a fun guy. What happened to you?” Fortunately, Carla had his burger ready. It wasn’t as big as mine, but it was definitely man-sized. She held it under his nose so that he could savor the aroma.
“Oh, you’re a crafty bitch,” he said to Carla. “You think you can shut me up with this here . . . oh hell.” He grabbed the burger and wolfed down a huge bite. “Damn, you can cook, girl.”
Carla’s burgers were so good they transcended description. They were savory, hypnotic, and I dare say, atmospheric. They were so good that they transported you to another time and place. Dewan was salivating with each bite. I could see in his eyes that he had been transported back in time. He was once again a successful businessman, who pulled down a six-figure income.
“Goddamn, this is good,” he said to Carla. “If you ever decide to leave Barnaby Jones here—” Apparently Dewan was full of old television-private-detective references.
“Ain’t happening,” she said to Dewan. “I like my men big.”
“I’m big,” Dewan protested.
“I’m not talking about your stature.”
Dewan gave Carla a smug grin. “Neither am I.”
“Hey,” I said, “Leave your Jimmy Dean pork sausage out of the conversation, will ya?”
Carla sat down sidesaddle on my lap and took a bite of her burger. It was petite, like her—small enough for a guy my size to inhale. Carla is a little bit of a thing. If you’re wondering, yes, she’s on top when we do it. “I don’t like a man with a bony ass,” she said.
“I don’t have a bony ass.” Dewan pulled off his soaking wet tank top and placed it on the bench. What is it with black guys? Dewan lived on chips and fried chicken, and he didn’t have an ounce of fat anywhere on his body. He was as chiseled as Michelangelo’s statue of David.
“I hate you. How do you stay so thin?” I asked.
“I’m an athlete,” he said, “I’ve got an athlete’s metabolism.” He tugged down on his swimsuit waistband to give Carla a glimpse of his impressive glutes. “You’ve got a problem with that ass? That ass is perfect. Women kill to be around an ass like that.”
“Pull down your shorts, Frank, show him what a real man looks like.”
I gave Carla a squeeze on her arm. “You’re a real team player,” I said. “I think I’ll spare Dewan’s feelings.”
“And my lunch,” he interjected. He turned to Carla. “You know what I like about you, Carla? You’ve got that pretty, long hair.”
“Your wife has pretty hair,” Carla replied.
“She’s got beautiful hair, only I can’t touch it. You know what that’s like? She spends hours on it—hair products up the wazoo. It’s a goddamn tease, that’s what it is. I’ll bet you let Frank touch your hair.”
“No way, you think I’d take a chance and let him pull out my hair extensions?” Carla laughed and then snorted. She was a little girl, but she had a hearty laugh.
“Damn,” Dewan complained. “White men are so damn lucky; women with naturally straight hair, damn.”
I saw Dewan’s wife rushing toward us. “Speak of the devil, here comes Kamisha. I think something’s wrong.” I could see her face clearly. She looked distressed.” I swallowed the last of my burger as Kamisha approached—it would have taken an act of God (or sudden, violent cardiac arrest) to keep me from finishing that mound of meat. Like I said, that burger was tasty.
“Dewan, Dewan,” she called with panic in her voice. I could see that she was crying. Dewan jumped off the bench. She grabbed Dewan and laid her head on his shoulder.
“What’s wrong?” Dewan asked.
“Whitney’s dead,” she blubbered.
“Houston?” Dewan asked.
“Not Whitney Houston, stupid. My friend Whitney, Whitney Coggins.”
“Who?” Dewan asked.
“Whitney Coggins,” Kamisha blurted, her voice filled with frustration. “Whitney Coggins, my girlfriend.”
“I ever meet her?” Dewan asked.
“You’ve met her.”
“I don’t remember meeting no Whitney Coggins.”
Kamisha began to hyperventilate.
“Calm down,” I said. I poured her a glass of iced tea and handed it to her. “Here, drink this.”
She sipped the tea. “Whitney’s what I call her on account she sings so pretty in church,” she told Dewan. “Her real name is Joyce.”
“Joyce Coggins? Nope, still don’t ring a bell,” Dewan said. “Anyway, what happened?”
Kamisha’s lips were trembling. “I don’t know. They found her body at the marina. My girlfriend Naomi just called the house with the bad news. Oh Lord.” She opened her purse and took out a tissue to dry her eyes.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “Is there anything we can do to help?”
Thank you, Frank” she said. “Can you come down to the marina with us?”
“Me? Sure, anything I can do to help.” I wasn’t sure how much I could really do. LAPD was undoubtedly on the scene. They don’t look kindly on PIs butting in on their investigations. In their eyes, a PI was one step below a leper. Still, I understood police protocol. I could explain what was going to happen and try to ease Kamisha’s burden. “Give me two minutes to change.”
“Thanks, Frank,” Dewan said. “We appreciate it.”
“No problem, but don’t expect much. We’re not family, and we’re not witnesses. We probably won’t get past the police tape. The body may have been moved already. They like to get them over to the medical examiner’s office lickety-split.”
“I understand,” Kamisha said. “I just feel like I need to go. You understand?”
Carla took hold of her arm. “Why don’t you go wash your face? It’ll make you feel better. I’ll take you to the ladies’ room.”
Kamisha nodded. “Okay.” The two ladies walked off.
I grabbed my duffle bag, yanked out a towel, and began to dry off. “Kamisha looks devastated. I guess they were close.”
“I suppose,” Dewan said. “Sounds like a friend from her former life.”
I understood the reference to “former life.” I knew the new Kamisha as well as the old. In fact, I was the one who introduced her to Dewan. Kamisha was a great gal, but she and Dewan had both grown up on the mean streets. Their pasts were far from illustrious. “An old friend from the hood, I guess?”
“This trip may be a big waste of time. Like I said, LAPD isn’t prone to extending courtesies. I’m afraid your wife is not going to have a great day.”
Dewan shrugged. “What the hell, man, it’s cooler by the ocean anyway.”
I threw my duffle bag over my shoulder and headed to the men’s room. “Be right back.”