CHAPTER 39

Like I said, I come from trailer trash,” said Marcia Peaty. “No shame in that, my father, Dr. James Peaty, pulled himself up, it’s even more to his credit.”

“Unlike his brother,” I said.

“Brothers plural,” she said. “And sister. Reyn’s dad, Roald, was the youngest, in and out of prison his whole life, later shot himself. Next up was Millard and between him and my dad was Bernadine. She died after being put away.”

“Put away for what?” said Milo.

“Alcohol-induced craziness. She was a good-looking woman but she used her looks in not the best way.” She pushed her plate away. “I know all this from my mother who hated Dad’s family, so she may have heaped it on a bit. But overall I think she was accurate because Dad never denied it. Mom used to hold up Bernadine as a negative example for me- don’t do what that ‘immoral wench’ did.”

“What’d Bernadine do?” said Milo.

“Left home at seventeen and went down to Oceanside with a friend, another wild girl named Amelia Stultz. The two of them worked the sailor trade and God knows what else. Bernadine got pregnant by some guy on shore leave who she never saw again. Had a baby boy.”

“Brad,” I said.

She nodded. “That’s how Brad came into this world. When Bernadine got put away he was three or four, got sent to California to live with Amelia Stultz, who’d done a whole lot better, married a navy captain with family money.”

Milo said, “Amelia was an immoral wench but she raised someone else’s kid?”

“The way my mother told it, my uncle Millard blackmailed her, said he’d tell her rich husband about her past if she didn’t ‘take the brat.’ ”

“Conniving fellow, your besotted uncle,” I said. “Did he ask anything for himself?”

“Maybe money changed hands, I don’t know.” Marcia Peaty frowned. “I’m aware that this lays responsibility on everyone but my father. I’ve wondered about that, could Dad have been that calculated.” A cheek muscle jumped. “Even if he’d wanted to help Brad, no way my mother would have agreed to take him in.”

“The rich captain was Bill Dowd Junior.”

“ Hancock Park,” she said. “On the surface, Brad lucked out. The problem was Amelia had no interest in raising her own kids, let alone one she’d been stuck with. She’d always fancied herself a dancer and an actress. A performer, Mom called it. Which meant stripping in some of those Tijuana clubs and maybe worse.”

“How’d Amelia snag Captain Dowd?”

“She was great-looking,” said Marcia Peaty. “Blond bombshell, when she was young. Maybe it was like that country song, guys going for women on the trashy side.”

Or family tradition. Albert Beamish had said Bill Dowd Junior married a “woman with no class” just like his mother.

Milo said, “Amelia took Brad in but didn’t care to raise him? We talking abuse or just neglect?”

“I never heard about abuse, more like she ignored him completely. But she did that with her own kids, too. Both of whom had problems. Have you met Nora and Billy Three?”

“Yup.”

“I haven’t seen them since we were kids. What’re they like?”

Milo ignored the question. “How’d you happen to see them as kids?”

“Dad must’ve felt guilty because he tried to make contact with Brad when I was around five. We drove into L.A. and visited. Amelia Dowd liked my dad and started inviting us to birthday parties. Mom griped about it but down deep she didn’t mind going to a fancy affair in a big house. She did warn me away from Bill Three. Said he was retarded, couldn’t be counted on to control himself.”

“He ever act scary?”

She shook her head. “He just seemed quiet and shy. Obviously he wasn’t normal but he never bothered me. Nora was a space cadet, walked around talking to herself. Mom said, ‘Look at Amelia, marrying rich, living the good life, but she ends up with defective kids.’ I don’t want to make it sound like Mom was a hateful person, she just had no use for Dad’s family and anyone associated with them. His whole life Uncle Millard did nothing but sponge off us, and Roald was no picnic either before he died. Also, when Mom talked like that it was always part of complimenting me. ‘Money’s nothing, honey. Your children are your legacy and that makes me a wealthy woman.’ ”

Milo said, “Could we talk to your mom?”

“She’s gone. Four years ago, cancer. She was one of the ladies you see at the slots. Wheelchair-bound, smoking, and feeding nickels.”

I said, “Brad goes by ‘Dowd.’ Was he adopted legally?”

“Don’t know. Maybe Amelia let him use the name to avoid uncomfortable questions.”

“Or,” said Milo, “she wasn’t such a witch.”

“I guess,” said Marcia Peaty. “Mom could be intolerant.”

I said, “Captain Dowd didn’t mind another child?”

“Captain Dowd wasn’t a real tough guy. Just the opposite. Anything Amelia wanted, she got.”

“Did your mother ever say anything about how Brad fared psychologically?”

“Her name for him was ‘the Troublemaker’ and she warned me away from him, too. She said unlike Billy he was smart, but always lying and stealing. Amelia sent him away several times to boarding schools and military academies.”

Persimmons and more. Alfred Beamish had pegged Brad’s behavior but never uncovered the boy’s origins.

Mansions, country clubs, rented elephants at birthday parties. A mother who really wasn’t. Who fancied herself a performer.

I said, “How did Amelia Dowd channel her interest in acting?”

“What do you mean?”

“All those performance dreams that never came to pass. Sometimes people live through their kids.”

“Was she a stage-door mom? Brad did tell me she tried to get the kids on TV. As a group- singing and dancing. He said he could carry a tune but the others were tone-deaf.”

The photo-covered wall of the PlayHouse theater floated into my head. Among the famous faces, a band I hadn’t recognized.

Kiddy quartet of mop-haired youngsters…the Kolor Krew. “What was the name of the group?”

“He never said.”

“When did all this take place?”

“Let’s see…Brad was about fourteen when he told me, so it must’ve been right around then. He laughed about it but he sounded bitter. Said Amelia dragged them to talent agents, made them sit for photos, bought them guitars and drums they never learned to play, gave them voice lessons that were useless. Even before that she’d tried to get Nora and Billy Three jobs as actors.”

“Not Brad?”

“He told me Amelia only included him in the band because the other two were hopeless.”

“He call her that?” I said. “Amelia?”

She thought. “I never heard him call her ‘Mom.’ ”

“Nora and Billy have any success at all, individually?”

“I think Nora got some dinky modeling jobs, department store stuff, kiddy clothing. Bill Three got nothing. He wasn’t smart enough.”

“Brad told you all this,” said Milo. “You and he talk often?”

“Just during those parties.”

“What about as adults?”

“Except for one face-to-face twelve years ago, it’s been the phone and not often. Maybe once every couple of years.”

“Who calls who?”

“He calls me. Christmas greetings, that kind of thing. Mostly showing off how rich he is, telling me about some new car he bought.”

“Twelve years ago,” I said. “That’s pretty precise.”

Marcia Peaty fooled with her napkin. “There’s a reason for that and it might be important to you guys. Twelve years ago Brad got questioned on a Vegas case. I was doing hot cars, a D from headquarters calls me, says a person of interest is tossing my name around, claiming we’re kissing cousins. I find out who it is, call Brad. It’s been a while since we’ve talked but he turns on the charm like it’s yesterday, great to hear from you, cuz. He insists on taking me to a big dinner at Caesars. Turns out he’d been living in Vegas for a year, doing some kind of real estate investment, never thought to get in touch. And once he didn’t need me I didn’t hear from him for seven more years- Christmas, to brag.”

“About what?”

“Being back in L.A., living well and running the family real estate business. He invited me to visit, said he’d give me a spin in one of his cars. As in he has a lot of them.”

“Platonic invitation?” I said.

“Hard to say with Brad. I chose to take it as platonic.”

Milo said, “What kind of case was he questioned on?”

“Missing girl, dancer at the Dunes, never found. Brad had dated her, was the last person to see her.”

“He ever go beyond person of interest?”

“Nope. No evidence of a crime was ever uncovered. Brad said she told him she wanted to try for something better and left for L.A. That happens a lot in our town.”

I said, “Something better as in breaking into acting?”

Marcia Peaty smiled. “What else is new?”

“Remember this girl’s name?” said Milo.

“Julie something, I can get it for you- or you can call yourself. The primary D was Harold Fordebrand, he retired but he’s still in Vegas, listed in the book.”

“I used to work with an Ed Fordebrand.”

“Harold said he had a brother who did L.A. Homicide.”

“No evidence of a crime,” said Milo, “but what did Harold think about Brad?”

“Didn’t like him. Too slick. Called him ‘Mr. Hollywood.’ Brad wouldn’t take a polygraph but there’s no crime against that.”

“What was his reason?”

“Just didn’t want to.”

“He get lawyered up?”

“Nope,” she said. “Cooperated fully, real relaxed.”

“Mr. Hollywood,” I said. “Maybe some of Amelia’s aspirations rubbed off.”

“He actually learned how to act?” she said. “I never thought of it that way, but maybe. Bradley can definitely tell you what you want to hear.”

I said, “Those birthday parties Amelia threw. Were any of them for him?”

“Nope, just for Billy Three and Nora. That had to suck but he never showed any anger. They were great parties, rich kid parties, I always looked forward to them. We’d drive up from Downey with my mother complaining about ‘those people’ being vulgar and my father giving that little smile of his when he knew better than to argue.”

“Brad showed no resentment at all?”

“Just the opposite, he was always smiling and joking, would take me around that huge house, show me his hobbies, making wiseass comments about how lame the party was. He is a few years older than me, was cute in that blond surfer way. To be honest, back then I had a crush on him.”

“He ridiculed the parties,” I said.

“Mostly he poked fun at Amelia, how everything was a big production with her. She was always trying to time stuff precisely, like a stage show. She did tend to go over the top.”

“Rented elephant,” I said.

“That was something,” she said. “How’d you hear about it?”

“A neighbor told us.”

“The grumpy old guy?” She laughed. “Yeah, I can see why it would stick in his mind, the smell alone. It was for Billy Three’s thirteenth. I remember thinking this is baby stuff, he’s way too old for this. Except he was younger mentally and seemed to be digging it. All the kids were digging it, too, because the elephant was messing the street big time, we’re whooping and pointing at pounds of stuff coming out, holding our noses, you know? Meanwhile, Amelia’s looking ready to faint. Doing the whole Marilyn Monroe platinum-blond thing, tight silk dress, tons of makeup, running after the animal trainer on these gigantic spike heels, everyone’s waiting for her to step in elephant doo. Real tight dress, busting out of it. She was about twenty pounds past her prime.”

Milo took out the photos, showed her Michaela and Tori Giacomo’s head-shots.

“Nice-looking girls,” she said. “They still that cute or are we talking bad news?”

“Any resemblance to Amelia?”

“Maybe the blondeness. Amelia was more…constructed. Fuller in the face and she looked like she took all morning putting herself together.”

“What about Julie the Missing Showgirl, see any similarities?”

She peered closely. “I only saw one picture of her and it was twelve years ago…she was blond, too, so there’s that. She did make the Dunes stage so we’re not talking a toad…yeah, I guess, in a general way.”

“What about these people?” Flashing the MP shots of Cathy and Andy Gaidelas.

Marcia Peaty’s mouth opened and closed. “This could be Amelia Dowd, she’s heavy around the jaw and the cheeks in the exact same way. The guy’s not a dead-ringer for Bill Dowd Junior but he isn’t that different, either…similar around the eyes- the crags, the whole Gregory Peck thing.”

“Dowd looked like Peck?”

“My mom said Amelia bragged about it all the time. I guess there was some truth to it, except Captain Dowd was about five five. Mom used to say, ‘He’s Gregory Peck on the morning after an earthquake and a tornado and a flood, minus the charisma and sawed off at the knees.”

I said, “This guy’s been compared to Dennis Quaid.”

“I can see that…not as cute.” She studied the pictures some more, returned them. “You guys are dealing with serious bad, aren’t you?”

“You said Captain Dowd was no tough guy,” I said. “What else can you say about him?”

“Quiet, inoffensive, never seemed to do much.”

“Masculine?”

“What do you mean?”

“Manly man?”

“Hardly,” she said. “Just the opposite. Mom was convinced he was gay. Or as she put it, a homo. I can’t say I saw that, but I was too young to be thinking in those terms.”

“Your father have any opinions about it?” said Milo.

“Dad kept his opinions to himself.”

“But your mom was definite about it.”

“Mom was always definite. Why’s it important? Amelia and the captain have been dead for years.”

“How many years?”

“It was between the time Brad got called in for questioning and the next time I heard from him, which was five years later…I’m thinking ten years ago.”

“They died at the same time?”

“Car crash,” said Marcia Peaty. “Driving up to San Francisco. I think the captain fell asleep at the wheel.”

“You think,” said Milo.

“That’s what Mom said, but she was big into blame. Maybe he had a heart attack, I can’t say for sure.”

“At the birthday parties,” I said, “when Brad took you around the house and showed you his hobbies, what kinds of things was he interested in?”

“Typical boy stuff,” she said. “Stamp collection, coin collection, sports cards, he had a knife collection- is that what you’re getting at?”

“It’s just a general question. Anything else?”

“Anything else…let’s see…he flew kites, had some nice ones. Lots of little metal cars- he was always into cars. There was an insect collection- butterflies pinned to a board. Stuffed animals- not the girly kind, trophies he’d stuffed himself.”

“Taxidermy?”

“Yeah. Birds, a raccoon, this real weird horned lizard that sat on his desk. He told me he’d learned how to do it at summer camp. Was pretty good at it. Had these boxes- fishing tackle boxes with compartments full of glass eyes, needles and thread, glue, all kinds of tools. I thought it was cool, asked him to show me how he did it. He said, ‘Soon as I get something to fix.’ He never did. I think I went to maybe one more party and by that time I had a boyfriend, wasn’t thinking about much else.”

“Let’s talk about your other cousin,” said Milo. “Any idea how Reynold came to work for the Dowds?”

“That was me,” she said. “That bragging call from Brad five years ago. Christmas, there was lots of background noise, like he was doing some heavy partying. This was after Reyn’s trouble in Reno. I told Brad, ‘Seeing as you’re some big real estate honcho, how about helping out a country cousin?’ He didn’t want to hear about it. He and Reyn didn’t know each other, I don’t think they’d seen each other since they were kids. But I was in an obnoxious mood and kept working on him- working on his pride, you know? ‘Guess your business isn’t so big you’d need outside help,’ that kind of thing. Finally, he said, ‘Have him call me but if he fucks up once, that’s it.’ Next thing I know Reynold’s calling me from L.A., telling me Brad’s gonna hire him to manage some apartments.”

“Brad hired him to mop and sweep.”

“So I’ve learned,” said Marcia Peaty. “Real sweet, huh?”

“Reynold accepted it.”

“Reynold didn’t have too many options. Brad ever let on to anyone that Reynold was family?”

“Nope,” said Milo. “Would Billy and Nora be aware of the connection?”

“Not unless Brad told them. There’s no blood tie there.”

“Or Reynold told them. We’ve heard he and Billy hung out.”

“That so?” she said. “Hung out how?”

“Reynold dropped by Billy’s apartment, allegedly to drop off lost objects.”

“Allegedly?”

“Brad denies sending him on errands.”

“You believe him?”

Milo smiled. “They’re both your cousins but you’d prefer we focus on Brad, not Reynold. That why you came down to L.A.?”

“I came down because Reynold’s dead and no one else is going to bury him. He’s all I’ve got left in terms of family.”

“Except Brad.”

“Brad’s your concern, not mine.”

“You don’t like him.”

“He was raised in another family,” she said.

Silence.

Finally, she said, “Julie the dancer. That bothered me big time. Now you’re showing me photos of other blond girls. Reynold was dumb and sloppy and a drunk but he was never cruel.”

“So far you haven’t told us anything Brad did that was cruel.”

“No, I haven’t,” said Marcia Peaty. “And I guess I can’t because, like I said, he and I haven’t exactly been hanging out.”

“But…”

“You know, guys,” she said, “this is real weird and I don’t think I like it.”

“Like what?”

“Being on the receiving end of what I used to dish out.”

“It’s for a good cause, Marcia,” said Milo. “In terms of Julie the Showgirl, did Harold Fordebrand’s gut say anything more about Brad than he was slick?”

“You’d have to ask Harold. Once he found out Brad was my cousin he kept me out of the loop.”

“How about your gut…”

“Brad’s demeanor bothered me. Like he was enjoying some private joke. You guys know what I mean.”

“Despite that, you got Reyn a job with him.”

“And now Reyn’s gone,” she said. Her face crumpled and she turned to hide it from us. When she faced us again, her voice was small. “You’re saying I screwed up big time.”

“No,” said Milo. “I’m not trying to guilt-trip you, far from it. All this stuff you’re telling us is beyond helpful. We’re just groping around here.”

“No case yet.”

“Not hardly.”

“I was hoping I was wrong,” she said.

“About what?”

“Brad being somehow involved with Reynold’s death.”

“No indication he is.”

“I know, an altercation. You’re saying that’s all there was to it?”

“So far.”

“The old stonewall,” said Marcia Peaty. “I’ve laid a few bricks myself. Let me ask you this: The way Brad treated Reyn, giving him scut work, the Dowds owning all those properties, and they stick Reyn in a hovel. That add up to the milk of human kindness? These people are just what Mom always said they were.”

“What’s that?”

“Poison palming itself off as perfume.”

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