The Cactus Club Killings (Joe Portugal)

The Cactus Club Killings (Joe Portugal) by Nathan Walpow Read Free Book Online

Book: The Cactus Club Killings (Joe Portugal) by Nathan Walpow Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nathan Walpow
the itinerary?”
    “Might I ask why?”
    Good question. What was I going to do, press it up against my head like Carnac the Magnificent and divine who had killed Brenda?
    I told Sam the truth. “I don’t really know I just have this vague urge to do something about Brenda’s death, and this would be something tangible to … to …”
    Sam laughed. “If you want it, young man, you shall have it. Come inside, I’ll make you a copy. Another omelet?”
    I looked down at my plate. Someone had cleaned it. Chances are it was me, but I hadn’t been aware of doing so. “No thanks. I’m watching my cholesterol.”
    “I’m paying someone to watch mine. I’m glad you want the itinerary; it’ll give me a chance to show off my new toy.”
    He led me inside to a cluttered corner where a plasticcontraption the size of a small TV sat on a desk next to a computer. “Its a combination fax-printer-copier-scanner,” Sam said. “Watch.”
    He pulled open a drawer, riffled through some papers, withdrew one, fed it into the machine. A few seconds later I had a copy of Brenda’s itinerary in my hot little hands. I edged toward the door, but he stopped me. “Great things, these computers,” he said, “I can do things I wouldn’t have dreamed of ten years ago. And, of course, there’s the Internet.”
    Ah, yes. The mighty Internet. I’d managed to ignore it up till then, and I didn’t see any reason to stop doing so. “I’m afraid I’m not very computer literate.”
    “You don’t have to be. Let me show you.”
    He got his computer going. A lot of gobbledygook flashed across the screen. I called upon my acting skills and displayed mild curiosity.
    “And of course there’s cacti et cetera,” Sam said. “It’s what they call a mailing list. You can post questions, and well over a thousand members see them and can give you an answer.”
    “Fascinating.”
    He studied my face. “You really don’t care about this stuff, do you?”
    “I’m sorry, Sam, it’s just not for me. Maybe some other time.”
    “No, no, don’t worry about it. Here, come outside and I’ll show you what needs tending.”
    Three quarters of an hour later I exited the greenhouse, carrying a list of plants that needed special attention. I also had five new plant fragments to shepherd but managed to turn down the wacky euphorbia on the grounds that I wasn’t worthy.

 
    W HATEVER GOD DECIDED THE CULVER CITY CACTUS CLUB should hold its monthly meetings at the Odd Fellows Hall had a marvelous sense of humor. The building was on an especially dull stretch of Sepulveda Boulevard, flanked by a Fosters Freeze and a taco stand whose name changed every three months. It was a relic of the fifties, with a fading-wood-and-chipped-stone exterior overlooking a cracked parking lot. Inside, the dominant theme was paneling. The walls were paneled. The ceilings were paneled. The linoleum of the floor was patterned to look like paneling. Even the bathrooms were paneled, in an especially awful faux mahogany.
    The walls were lined with plaques, proclamations, and photos documenting the history and good works of the Odd Fellows and their ladies’ auxiliary, the Rebekahs. After four years of going to meetings there, I had yet to determine what the purpose of the group was. All I knew was you had to be at least seventy and have no fashion sense to join.
    I got there at
seven
, half an hour before the meeting was scheduled to begin and, most likely, forty-five minutes before it would. I’d brought a flat of cuttings and plants I’d grown tired of to give away, with a book I was returning tothe club library tucked in among them. I was about to lift it all out of the truck bed when a familiar Volvo zipped into the next spot.
    “I’ve got a sandwich for you,” Gina said out the window. “Turkey breast, from Wild Oats.”
    “How did you know I would need a sandwich?” “Because you never take time to eat a proper dinner.” She exited the car and beeped the

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