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High Crimes on the Magical Plane

Chapter One

Samantha

When the clown car burst from the underground garage of the tony Bonne Chance tower, my only thought was whether I could scoot from its path fast enough to avoid being sent on to my Final Reckoning. I felt no inkling of the dark force that vehicle carried. Nor the hellish turn my life had already taken.

What can I say? I am not clairvoyant. Really not. I am so lacking in prescient powers that, if I were about to be hit on the head by a two-by-four, my premonition of pain wouldn’t kick in until the headache wore off. Not such a startling admission perhaps—except when you take into account that I garner the lion’s share of my totally inadequate income by making predictions about the future for anyone gullible enough to believe me. Consistency is overrated in my opinion.

I’d been hoofing my way up Wilshire Boulevard in the Westwood section of Los Angeles, to the poshest joint in that corridor of high-rise, high-priced dumps, where I had an appointment with an occasional client, Dodi Drake. You know Dodi, of course. She’s the widow of Manfred Drake, the conservative vice president from a few administrations back. A man so inflexible that, in a poll taken during his lone term, the majority of Americans chose him as the politician most likely to be hiding a broom up his ass.

Prior to today, I’d always driven Lady Stang, my oxidized blue 1966 Mustang convertible, up to the door, so the valet attendant could stow it in the building’s garage. Only the last time I came, the valet informed me the Bonne Chance’s management would rather I park it elsewhere. Okay, maybe ol’ Stangie leaked more oil than the Valdez left in the Gulf of Alaska, and the cough of smoke she blew out her exhaust pipe when I gunned her, did cause people for miles around to question whether a nuclear power plant had exploded. Was that any reason to turn my poor baby away? Rich folks—they just don’t appreciate a classic.

Having parked blocks away, and being in lousy shape, I was moving kinda slowly when I crossed the Bonne Chance driveway. And that was why the clown car nearly made me into a permanent driveway stain, which I bet they wouldn’t have liked darkening their doorway any better than my car.
I leaned against a lamppost to catch my breath. And it was only then that the oddity I’d witnessed tickled my curiosity.

That was a car full of clowns, for chrissakes. Black SUV, the size of a moving van, to be precise. But clowns. Now I wasn’t using that word as a colorful euphemism for your usual L.A. jokers—Westside lawyers, drug dealers posing as indie producers, show biz agents and such, who hurl their Mercedes sedans into traffic without regard for riff-raff like me. I’m talking actual Bozos, with painted faces, frizzy wigs and big red noses. There weren’t a million of them stuffed into that land boat, circus-style, but there must have been at least four. Hard to say for sure, since the windows had been tinted pretty darkly.

That wasn’t a sight you see every day, even in a city as reality-impaired as Los Angeles. I looked off in both directions, for anyone I could share my observation with. Only L.A. wasn’t a city of walkers, either, unless you count the getting-nowhere-but-getting-there-fast treks people take on their electric treadmills. I was the only pedestrian for as far as I could see.

So I had only myself to confer with, my favorite conversationalist anyway. Clowns…? Suddenly, that bizarre event seemed a lot more interesting. Even before my mind made a conscious link, my gaze traveled up the Bonne Chance tower to a floor higher than the one Dodi occupied. And I flashed on a connection.

Movie star Molly Claire, the sweet and sexy eternal ingénue, with her quirky, chopped blonde hairdo and her beguiling grin, was not only America’s cinema sweetheart, she was Hollywood’s biggest box office draw. Dodi told me that Molly had quietly moved into the Bonne Chance’s penthouse after the collection of weirdos who had been stalking her were acquitted at their celebrated trial.

Around here, the whack-jobs who stalk prominent folks can usually count on a fast trip to the Big House. At their trials, it was invariably obvious to the jury that: a) the celeb was genuinely frightened, and b), the alleged stalker was not rowing with every possible oar. But Molly Claire wasn’t as fortunate as most of her colleagues. Not when Eddie Plotnik, the most outspoken of the little group of nerds who idolized Molly from afar, if not far enough, made an impassioned plea at their trial. “Can’t a clown gaze at a queen,” he’d cried, “without meaning her harm?”

The press took to calling the four defendants “Molly’s Clowns.” And thanks to the nightly rerunning of Eddie’s moving speech at the televised trial, the derogatory term took on noble proportions. Eddie’s testimony was said to be so stirring, there wasn’t a dry eye in the courtroom that day. Including those of the jury members, who let him and his cohorts go free.

Unfortunately, Molly’s Clowns took their acquittal as a license to harass the object of their desire more than ever. That was said to be why, using an alias, she gave up her Beverly Hills home the Clowns had broken into on a regular basis, for the Bonne Chance’s more secure penthouse condo.
That penthouse far up in the tower above me, I thought, as I squinted at its smoky-colored windows. The penthouse in a building that an SUV full of men dressed as actual clowns had raced away from.

As the toes of my scuffed black boots kicked my long skirt out of their way again-and-again, while I paced on the sidewalk, my mind shifted into overdrive. I never had much patience for math, but even I knew when one and one could add up to a big payoff for me. Everyone, except for the bird-brained members of that jury, knew that Molly’s Clowns really were stalking her. And stalkers often escalate to more serious crimes. If those Bozos had just abducted Molly Claire, this could finally be my big break, even if it wasn’t such a hot one for Ms. Claire.

I had to admit I wasn’t doing well at all financially, which was really surprising when you consider all the creativity I bring to the job as my clients’ spiritual advisor. And I wasn’t a kid anymore. When I hit the twenty-eight and three-quarters mark, just five days back, I knew I had to get on the stick soon, if I was going to make something of my life.

Maybe this was my chance. Though countless cars had driven past the building, I had to be the only person who’d seen the odd occupants of that SUV and put together what it meant. If I timed it right, I could appear to predict what had happened here before anyone else knew. If only one reporter said on the nightly news, “Psychic Samantha Brennan is helping the authorities with the case,” even I could predict that I’d be on my way to Easy Street.

Still, I’d have to be sure about this, or I’d look like a flake. More of a flake than usual, that is. And I had to be quick, before Molly’s Clowns contacted the cops themselves. Prior grabs at the brass ring had taught me that a prediction after the fact serves no purpose at all.

Somehow I had to get into Molly’s condo to scope out whether she was indeed gone, and if something violent had happened there. And I still had to make enough time to see Dodi, since I needed the bucks she’d throw my way today to make ends meet until my big score hit.

I gave the little drawstring purse that dangled from my wrist a shake, as I started toward the entrance to the Bonne Chance at a trot. I felt a grin tugging at my cheeks, the one I wear when I feel especially clever. I might not know a psychic vision from an enema, but nobody can sniff out opportunity like me. Before pushing through the smoked-glass door to the lobby, I took one last glance at the brilliant, cloudless sky above me, serene in my good fortune.

I know I said I wasn’t psychic, but even I should have seen that bad moon hovering overhead.