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LIGHTS! CAMERA! MURDER!
, what they were calling the program book planned for Left Coast Crime 2003 in Pasadena, CA, Feb. 27-March 2. I was invited by the editorial committee to contribute "an article or, maybe even a short story, something tied to this area." Here's the result. The piece contains several Alfred Hitchcock-related references that movie buffs attending LCC found and sought me out to comment about. You?

_____________________________________________________________________________

HAS ANYBODY HERE SEEN RAYMOND?

By Robert S. Levinson

When I visited him at the County Jail a few months ago, Judge Raymond Harvey told me he was planning to attend Left Coast Crime. "Assuming my damn lawyer can get me out on bail," Judge Harvey said. He cackled at the prospect, remote at best, given the overwhelming evidence presented by the DA at the prelim that the judge had more than earned his Murder One indictments.

"I've been going to them for years and years, Bobby, getting some of my finest inspirations, and this year it's close to home, Pasadena," he said, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper.

I said, "The other reasons, too? Kit Marlowe? To revisit an old haunt, Pasadena City Hall?"

He had one of those blinding neon smiles, and this time he used it at full wattage, as if we'd become the best of friends the moment he insisted we put our ranks aside and treat each other to first names.

"You said it, not me. If I tell you something, though, about Kit and Pasadena, everything between us is off the record, right, Bobby? The way our dear old fart of a friend, Augie Fowler, swore it to me, or I would not have agreed to you being here?"

This was the fourth time he'd asked. "Yes. Everything, until and unless you say otherwise, Raymond."

"Cross your heart and hope to die, you're not telling me the truth, Bobby?"

I raised my hand, like I was taking an oath.

"Haw. Good. Excellent. If ever I thought not, Bobby, I would find my own very special way to cross your heart. You do understand that, don't you?"

"Like we're sharing the same shadow, Raymond."

He nodded agreement. "Move in closer. I don't need to be shouting any of this...Good. Much better, Bobby." And his words became barely louder than a whisper. "Yessiree, Bobby. I did it, I did her--Kit. As sure as push came to shove. Haw."

______

Raymond Harvey began describing Pasadena's City Hall on North Garfield as if I had to take his verbal tour in order to understand about Kit Marlowe, appreciate what he did with her.

He explained in punctilious detail how City Hall had been built seventy-five years ago as the centerpiece in a three and a half-million-dollar Civic Center construction project, a grand structure in the California Mediterranean style, based on the visions of sixteenth century Italian architect Palladio, who favored a serene early Renaissance style over the Gothic and late Renaissance styles popular in his time.

"You must go see for yourself," Judge Harvey said, his voice as soothing as cough syrup. "You'll discover the City Hall tower and dome owe as much to the great man's vision as the Church of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, the Hotel des Invalides in Paris and, of course, St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

"Yes. I will. I'll do that."

"A paean to Heaven on earth, that circular tower. It rises six stories. Its fifth story forty-one feet high and punctuated by four majestic round arches and four smaller arches. Capped by the dome, twenty-six feet high, fifty-four feet across. The dome punctuated by the lantern, a column-supported cupola forty-one feet high, surmounted by an urn and ball. The highest point two hundred and six feet above ground. Originally covered in multicolored fish scale tile, but now red, as is the Cordova clay tile roof."

Raymond Harvey's cold blue eyes glistened with appetite and clear saliva bubbles played at the corners of his razor- thin lips, as if he were contemplating a thick, juicy steak, not an edifice.

He devoured other aspects of the City Hall like a fine dessert, a fruit cocktail of facts and figures. I listened patiently while he carried on about the floor of the main lobby (red Padre tile), the interior woodwork (vertical-grained white oak), the stairways (Alaskan marble treads, balustrades of wrought iron handrails).

He studied me for any sign that I doubted his superior intellect, at the same time showing that he for one doubted it not a whit. "But I digress, isn't that so, Bobby?"

"I'm sure what I'm learning is relative, Raymond."

Raymond Harvey touched the tip of his aquiline nose--decorated in the fine-lined blue and red broken veins of a chronic drinker--and smiled in acknowledgement.

"I knew she was the one for City Hall the first second I spied her in my courtroom. I found a pretext for summoning her into chambers. Haw. Quicker than a card cheat's deal she showed me she knew the ruse and didn't mind. Brains as well as the beauty I had hungered after for so long."

"And your love affair began."

"The intellectual is what it was all about, Bobby. Damn it. The intellectual. That and only that as a prelude to the end game."

"Her death."

He cocked an eyebrow in amusement, but said nothing to the point.

When he did, finally--when Raymond Harvey was barely into recounting the details of the murder that shocked the nation beyond anything it already knew about the man who'd styled himself as "Number Thirteen" in the notes, clues and taunts he'd left behind at his killing scenes--I was unable to keep my lunch down. The stream of green, yellow, brown, and pepper red puke splattered over Raymond Harvey's stolid face and dribbled onto his orange jump suit.

The judge finger-wiped his mouth clean.

He said, finally, quietly, as if he were sharing a secret with himself, "Haw. How unfortunate, Bobby-boy."

I had no way of telling if the judge meant for himself or for me.

______

 

The next day, shortly before two o'clock, I took the same route through the Spanish Colonial courtyard of Civic Center on which Raymond Harvey had guided Kit Marlowe. I imagined them strolling along the crushed granite paths as if they owned time, the sun bright and warm in a cloudless sky, the judge identifying the tile on the cloistered arches for Kit, lecturing her about the live oak and silk floss trees shading the azalea, hydrangea and rhododendron flower beds alive with color; intoxicating the impressionable young woman with everything but the truth.

With every step I heard the judge's commentary, spoken as if he were narrating a documentary on the Travel Channel, things like, It vastly amused me, Bobby, Pasadena's Police Department headquarters being right there. How we waltzed right by them like two June and December lovers out for a stroll.

Raymond Harvey couldn't have been more full of himself.

Inside City Hall, I crossed the main lobby and took my time working up the stairs to the highest point in the tower open to the public.

I located the service door with the busted lock that the judge had used to maneuver Kit higher, to the off-limits area directly underneath the dome, bragging to her how this type access was one of the special entitlements that came to him as a judge.

"She was hesitant," he'd said to me. "Telling me she feared her vertigo might kick in, but at the same time she was one of those adventurous, try anything sorts--the dear foolish child.

"Once arrived, I threw the bar lock and guided her to one of the small open arches. I told her to climb onto its base for a view of Pasadena not to be imagined and the vigor that comes from the feel of the charging fresh, clean air.

"She told me: I'm too afraid to do that. Too scared to do that, Raymond. I said: Don't be. I'll hold onto you, keep you as safe as a dream while you strike a blow against this vertigo of yours. Haw.

"After she removed her heels, I guided her up there and engulfed her thighs in a tight, protective grip. She pressed her hands against the walls to steady herself, and a moment later was high on the thrill, laughing at the sky, giggling with delight. At the same time, her body was quavering with the fright of her height. She demanded the vertigo go away, but her shaking only got worse. Finally, she asked me in a voice as unsteady as her legs had gotten to help her down.

"I said, With pleasure, you sweet creature. I moved my palms to her firm buttocks. I gave her a shove and down she went, screaming under my watchful eye, all the way down into a broken, bloody mass on the courtyard tile. I'd transformed Kit into a work of fine art, but I only had fragments of a moment to admire my creation.

"I quickly deposited my usual calling card for one of my adventures and was gone from there and safely away long before anyone could even determine the dear creature's point of departure.

"Truthfully, Bobby, it was one of my finest adventures and, ever since, I've relished the prospect of repeating it. I had this vision of finding another Kit Marlowe during the three days of Left Coast Crime, where I'd have my choice of enchanting creatures from all parts of the country, many of whom would enjoy the architectural raptures of Pasadena City Hall. Not to be, I fear, given the ongoing incompetence of that damned lawyer of mine and his failing on every front to arrange for my bail."

______

 

There was a surprise waiting for me when I reached the County Jail later that afternoon, to tell the judge I was too upset by what I'd seen to any longer play the game by the rules we had in place.

I was reneging on our agreement.

I intended to go public with everything I had learned from the murderous "Number Thirteen" himself: Judge Raymond Harvey.

Tell the D.A.

Tell the news media.

Tell anyone who'd listen.

My thank you to the judge for the gift of a nightmare that would stay with me forever.

Or longer.

My own special gift to the memory of Kit Marlowe.

Only, he was no longer there.

His lawyer had managed to make bail for the judge.

______

I've been looking over my shoulder ever since.

He's still out there somewhere, Number Thirteen.

They're crediting him with the body in the trunk the police discovered last month in one of those posh million-dollar high rises on the Wilshire Corridor.

And I keep remembering what Raymond Harvey had to say about being at Left Coast Crime, so, please--

--You be careful, too.

o - o - o - o - o - o

 

Best-selling author Bob Levinson (HOT PAINT, THE JOHN LENNON AFFAIR) is president of the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America. This excerpt from his novel-in-progress, WITHOUT A HITCH, was inspired by the theme of Left Coast Crime 2003.