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«Dating Is Murder», Harley Kozak

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The second book in the Wollie Shelley Mystery series, 2005

For my mother,

Dorothy Taraldsen Kozak,

who would’ve gone to the ends of the earth for

us… and no doubt still does.

 

1

“ Moth harmonica.”

That’s what it sounded like, the guttural, heavy-accented syllables coming through my answering machine. A piece of haiku, until the woman rattled off an almost unintelligible series of digits that went on and on, like a credit card number or the miles from earth to Jupiter. I picked up the telephone.

“Hi, this is Wollie,” I said. “Who’s this?”

“ California? America? Ja?”

“Yes, California, America. Who’s this?”

“Encino?”

“No, not Encino, West Hollywood. Forty minutes away, traffic permitting. Who’s this?”

“Ja, ja, who this?” she asked.

“That’s what I’m asking,” I said. “Who are you?”

“I am Moth Harmonica.”

Okay, I’ve heard worse. My own name, Wollstonecraft Shelley, is no picnic, especially for a girl. Or woman, as my friend Fredreeq insists I refer to myself. “Who are you trying to call, Moth?” I asked.

“Who are you?”

“No, who are-” I stopped. This could take a while, and I didn’t have a while. “I think you have the wrong number,” I said, and this brought forth a flurry of words that started with “Nein! Nein!” and ended with “Annika.”

“Annika?” I said. “Wait. Not moth-you’re-mother. Of Annika. You’re Mrs. Glück?”

There was an excited assent, lots of Ja! Ja!s, and another flurry of words. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to dispel a sudden bad feeling.

“Meine Annika,” Mrs. Glück said, “called not tomorrow-no, no, yesterday-and yesterday is Sunday, we call every week Sunday. So I leave message for host family, but called me not back. I feel for Annika Gefahr, um, danger, sie ist in big danger, as sie call not Sunday.”

I was nodding now. My friend Annika had called her mother from my apartment the previous week. “She would freak out if I did not call each Sunday,” Annika had said. “But she will call me back so it will not be on your bill.” Which was why Mrs. Glück had my number.

I said, “I’d really like to help you, but I have no idea where Annika is. She’s tutoring me in math, and we were supposed to meet last night”-I hesitated, not wanting to admit how I’d worried, thinking, Annika’s never even late-“and she didn’t show.”

“Ah, Gott im Himmel, sie is dead.”

“No, I’m sure she’s not dead, I’m sure she’s-” The doorbell rang. “Can you hold on?”

I zipped through the kitchen and living room and opened the door to Fredreeq, told her to give me two minutes, and zipped back to the kitchen. “Mrs. Glück?” I said. “I’m sure Annika will turn up, and if I hear from her first-”

“Nein, nein, for me you must to find her. The host family call me not back, and the agency call me not back, no one in United States of America to-”

“But if she’s really missing, I’m sure her host family will contact the police-”

“Nein, no Polizei, no trouble-you are friend, ja? So you are to ask host family what is happen. For my daughter. Mein Kind.”

Fredreeq, having followed me into the kitchen, pointed to her watch and mouthed the words “Joey” and “double-parked.” I nodded and waved her off. “Okay,” I said. “Do you have the host family’s number? All I have is Annika’s line, with her machine.” On which I’d already left two messages.

Minutes later I hung up and turned to Fredreeq, who was studying the contents of my refrigerator. It was early evening in late November, dark in my kitchen, but my friend was illuminated by the utility bulb. It was enough. She wore a tight, fringed jumpsuit in hot pink, low-cut with a big plastic zipper running the length of it. She had the kind of va-va-va-boom body that could pull this off, and the kind of temperament that would want to. Her hair this week was as blond as mine, not unusual in Los Angeles, but whereas I had pale skin to go with it, Fredreeq was black, a less common combination. “Where’s your water?” she asked.

“In the sink.”

“You don’t have bottled water? What do you take on the road?”

“I don’t take water on the road.”

“Sister, you have got to change your ways,” she said, herding me into the living room. “You have cosmetic responsibilities now. Who is this Monica person?”


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