Honey in the Flesh
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by G. G. Fickling
Description: What happens when Miss California from the Miss Twentieth Century Pageant is found dead in Long Beach harbor? You get someone who is as sexy, beautiful, and as smart as Honey West to investigate the mysterious murder. But the tricky part for Honey is what to do when the real Miss California shows up for the Pageant. The Honey West character was created by Gloria and Forrest E. "Skip" Fickling under the pseudonym "G.G. Fickling" in the late 1950s. The G.G. represented the initials of his wife, Gloria Gautraud, whom he married in 1949 with initials being used so the sex of the author would remain vague. Though Gloria said that most of the writing was done by Forrest, Forrest said Gloria's ideas were used to make a plausible female character with Gloria also providing Honey's dress sense; Gloria having been an assistant fashion editor at Look Magazine and a fashion writer for Women's Wear Daily. Forrest told the Los Angeles Times "I first thought of Marilyn Monroe, and then I thought of Mike Hammer and decided to put the two together ... We thought the most used name for someone you really like is Honey. And she lives in the West, so there was her name."
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks, 1959
eBookwise Release Date: April 2012
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [230 KB]
Reading time: 135-189 min.
When they lifted her from the bay, she came up feet first. She was ashen-white. A jagged raised scar twisted down from her navel. Her stomach was bloated almost to the point of bursting and her once shapely arms and legs showed the effects of salt water.
One of the Sheriffs deputies groaned as he helped lay her on the Coast Guard cutter's deck. His superior, Lieutenant Mark Storm of the Homicide detail, glanced grimly at me, then tossed a blanket over the dead girl's body and said, "How long she been in?"
Watkins, the county coroner, shook his head. "Two days. Maybe longer. Maybe less. I won't know until I get her into the lab. Even then, I may only be able to guess."
A squalling sea gull wheeled overhead, climbing into the hot blue sky above Long Beach harbor.
Mark asked, "How about the scar?"
"What scar?" Watkins asked.
"The one on her stomach."
The coroner lifted the blanket. "Looks like some quack had a field day."
"Doing what?" Mark demanded.
"Removing a baby." He lowered the blanket and turned to me. "'Wouldn't you say so, Miss West?"
I winced. "How would I know?"
"You're a woman, aren't you?" The county coroner was a cynical man who delighted in making people uncomfortable, including his stiffs. He knew I was a private detective, female gender, and it particularly delighted him to see me squirm. Mark and the other men on deck flashed inquisitive glances in my direction.
"I've never been pregnant, thank you," I said.
Watkins laughed. "Don't thank me, Miss West. Thank God and thank--"
"Cut it!" Mark angrily interrupted. "I didn't ask for a sermon, Watkins. How old was the girl?"
The coroner's fat face reddened. "Hard to tell. Nineteen. Twenty-five. Who knows?" He slammed his hands into his pockets and removed a pack of cigarettes. "If you're trying to get me to say this is the missing girl from the Miss Twentieth Century Pageant then you've got another get coming, Lieutenant. Do you recognize her from the photographs you've seen?"
"Of course not. Her face--"
"Sure," Watkins said, stuffing a cigarette in his mouth. "A few fish can do a lot of damage, even to a beauty contestant. Call me tomorrow. Maybe by then I'll have a few answers for you, including whether that abdominal swelling's a few pints of ocean or another--"
"Okay! Okay!" Mark roared. "We'll wait!" He disappeared up some steps to the pilot's cabin.
Watkins exhaled a cloud of smoke and grinned cockily at Mawson Lawrence, the gray-haired producer-director of the international beauty contest. "Looks like you're going to need a replacement."
"For what?" Lawrence straightened up awkwardly and brushed some salt spray from his forehead.
"For our Golden State of California."
The middle-aged producer's hands trembled and a muscle in his cheek twitched nervously. "This isn't Josephine Keller. This is not one of my girls."
"Who said so?" the coroner demanded.
"Perfectly obvious, isn't it?" Mawson Lawrence spoke with a slight British accent.
Watkins laughed, a shrill birdlike sound that shook his short, pudgy frame. "Nothing is ever obvious, isn't that so, Miss West?"
"Leave me out of this." I felt sick at the pit of my stomach for having seen what I had of the dead girl's body. I'd been at the Sheriff's office when the call came in about a nude body in the harbor. There had been nothing official about my joining the search party. Mark had suggested a joy ride to lift me out of my between-cases doldrums. Some joy ride. A trip down the Colorado River in a canoe couldn't have shook me up more.
The coroner joined me at the railing, a devilish gleam in his bloodshot eyes. "Why leave you out, Miss West? You're a beautiful woman. Hair the color of sunlight. Eyes as big and bright as that sea out there. You know, you'd make a dandy beauty queen." He studied the contour of my sweater. "I was wrong, Miss West. There are a couple of things that are obvious in life. And you got 'em. Yes siree, you'd be a first-rate replacement for the--the late Miss California."
"Not interested, thank you."
"You should be," Watkins continued merrily. "The first prize is fifty grand, isn't it? Nice pay for a few hours of spilling out the top of a bathing suit and wiggling a fanny."
My glance told him to stop, but to no avail. He was getting too much pleasure out of embarrassing me.
He added quickly, "That's better'n spilling what you got all over the gutter, like your father did, isn't it, Miss West?"
A thin hickory shaft suddenly brought Watkins' words to a halt, pinning him against the railing. Newspaperman Fred Sims, supporting himself against a bulkhead, held his cane on the coroner's Adams apple, his steel-gray eyes blazing. Fred had been injured while heroically rushing a German gun emplacement. Now he steadied his cane as if it were aimed at the man who had cut him down during the war.
"You talk too much, Mr. Watkins!" Fred spat. "I came out here on this overgrown water taxi for a big story. A beautiful Miss Twentieth Century Pageant contestant has disappeared mysteriously. Everybody wants to know if she's dead. Everybody's itching to read the gruesome details and wince at the horrible pictures."
The terrified coroner choked on the steel tip embedded in his throat.
Fred continued tautly, "One more word out of you, Mr. Watkins, and I'm going to give my readers a better story. Ten times more gruesome and ten times more interesting. Wouldn't you look great lying on one of your own slabs? Wouldn't the new coroner have a delightful time trying to put you back together again?"
Mark Storm came down the steps from the pilot's cabin and snatched Fred's cane loose from Watkins' throat. After a quick appraisal of the men on deck, he tossed Fred his cane and smiled thinly. "You're not going to get very far walking in that direction, Fred," he warned. "Take my advice."
Fred nodded, shot another piercing glance at Watkins and then shuffled unsteadily toward the cutter's radio room.
Mark steered me forward, the expression on his face stern, but somewhat understanding. "What was that all about, Honey?"
"Nothing? Listen, you and Fred and the others looked like you'd just been vulcanized in a tire plant. What the hell did Watkins say?"
I shook my head dismally. In my mind was the image of my father, Hank West, private investigator. He was lying in a dirty alley with a bullet in his back. There was water in that gutter from the rain that poured down and it was red. Almost too red to be believable. I glanced up at Mark and bit my lips.
"Watkins suggested I was in the wrong business, that I'd do better in the Miss Twentieth Century contest."
Mark groaned. "Is that all?"
"He further suggested we Wests have an occupational hazard. Gutters."
The big deputy winced. "Dirty bastard. I've warned him a dozen times to lay off, but it doesn't seem to penetrate his thick skull. I've never known a man who hates private detectives as much as he does."
I studied the waves that bellied up from the cutter's prow. "Watkins was the coroner on my father's murder, wasn't he?"
Mark nodded. "Yeah. He'd just been assigned then. Four years ago. I've been fighting him ever since."
"He knows that's Josephine Keller."
"Maybe. She's in pretty bad shape, Honey. Believe me, I wouldn't want the job he's got."
Mark cocked his hat back. "And of course Lawrence said no."
"I can't figure him, Honey. Lawrence says Josephine Keller's for real, but we haven't been able to dig up anything, except a lot of sexy photographs. No family, no address, no nothing."
"Well, what about the California finals, Mark? Where were they held?"
He groaned again, cupping his hands together. "I don't know. Lawrence is vague on that point. Says he was out of the country at the time."
"That sounds strange," I said.
"You can say that again. I got a hunch Lawrence knows that girl is Josephine Keller and he's shaking in his boots because he knows."
"You don't think he killed her?" I demanded.
"No. Lawrence is treading on very thin ice with his Carstairs-Campbell arrangement. He'd be a fool to chance murder. The publicity of this girl's identification may be enough to kill his Pageant of the Century as it is."
"Mark, what if Watkins doesn't agree that the dead girl is Josephine Keller? Or what if he can't reach a decision for several days?"
The deputy shrugged. "We'd be stymied and Lawrence would get the break of the century. But, that isn't going to happen."
"How can you be certain?"
Mark's big six-foot-five-inch frame straightened. "Watkins has got photographs to work with. Fairly detailed photographs of both her face and body. He can't miss."
"You want to bet on that?"
"Look, Honey, Lawrence filed a missing-persons report on his California contestant yesterday. He gave a full description. I'll admit there's not much left to go on, but there's still her height, relative weight, age, coloring, et cetera. The answer is simple."
"Is the answer that simple, Lieutenant? Or is the answer in the county coroner's grubby little hands?"
"What do you mean, Honey?"
"Take a look at those hands sometime, Lieutenant. They have a place where tens and twenties fit very nicely. A lot of tens and twenties. And I've got a feeling our friend Mr. Mawson Lawrence is going to provide just the right amount of greenery to delay Watkins' decision until after his international beauty contest is over."
I shook my head. "The contest officially begins tomorrow, right?"
"You heard what Watkins said about not being forced into an immediate decision. That was for Lawrence's benefit, Mark. Our fat little coroner knows the score as well as anybody. The next move will be a telephone call."
"No, Honey, he could be indicted for a thing like that."
"He's too smart to get caught," I said. "They'll make the money exchange when you least expect it. Probably after the contest's over."
Mark protested, "No. I don't like Watkins, it's true. If I could figure an honest way to get him out of this county I would. He's a blundering idiot, but what gives you the idea--" He stopped, eyes widening as he stared toward the stern of the cutter.
I glanced in that direction. Lawrence and Watkins stood together at the rail. Even from this distance their pleased smiles were unmistakable.