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Robert Crais

Lullaby Town

The third book in the Elvis Cole series, 1992

Dedicated with love

and respect to

my mother,

Evelyn Carrie Crais,

who saved me from the monsters.

There's a quaint little place they call Lullaby Town -

It's just back of those hills where the sunsets go down.

Its streets are of silver, its buildings of gold,

And its palaces dazzling things to behold.

There's a peddler who carries, strapped high on his back,

A bundle. Now, guess what he has in that pack.

No, he's not peddling jams nor delectable creams.

Would you know what he's selling? Just wonderful dreams!

– from Lullaby Town

by John Irving Diller

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.

We're so glad you could attend.

Come inside! Come inside!

– Emerson, Lake, amp; Palmer

CHAPTER ONE

Patricia Kyle said, 'Is this Elvis Cole, the world's greatest detective?'

'Yes, it is.' I was lying on the leather couch across from my desk, enjoying the view that I have of the Channel Islands. I used to have chairs, but a couch is much better to relieve one of the rigors of world-class detecting.

She said, 'Were you sleeping?'

I gave her miffed. 'I never sleep. I'm waiting for Cindy to come out onto the balcony next door.' The glass doors leading out to my little balcony were open to catch the breeze that was blowing up Santa Monica Boulevard into West Los Angeles. It was a nice breeze, cool and smelling of salt and sea birds. The open doors were also better to let me hear Cindy.

'Who's Cindy?'

I switched the phone from the left ear to the right. The left ear was still sore from having been hit hard two times by a Cajun with large forearms and no teeth. 'Cindy is a beauty supply distributor who took the office space next door.'

Pat Kyle said, 'Hmm. I'll bet I know what she distributes.'

'Your callousness and insensitivity are unbecoming. She is a very nice woman with a ready laugh.'

'Uh-huh. I know what's ready.'

'The private-detecting life is a lonely one. After cleaning the guns and oiling the blackjack, what's a guy to do?'

'You could have lunch with me at Lucy's El Adobe Cafe across from Paramount.'

I said, 'Cindy who?'

Pat Kyle laughed. It was clear and without apology, the way a laugh should be. Pat Kyle is forty-four years old and five feet four, with curly auburn hair and good bones and an athlete's build. When we met six years ago, she looked like the Graf Zeppelin and was having trouble getting out of a bad marriage. I helped. Now she ran four fast miles every day, had her own casting agency, and was engaged to a dentist from Pasadena. Maybe one day I'd learn to like him. She said, 'I'm casting a film for Kapstone Pictures and a director named Peter Alan Nelsen. Do you know who he is?'

'He makes action pictures.'

'That's right. With great success. Time magazine called him the King of Adventure.'

'They called him a few other things, too.' Arrogant, demanding, brilliant. I had read the article.

'Yes. There is that.' You could hear something behind her. Voices, maybe. 'Peter has a problem and I mentioned your name. The Kapstone people want to talk with you.'

'Okay.' I swung up into a sitting position and put my feet on the floor. The detective, ready for action.

'When Peter was in film school, he broke up with his wife just after they had their only child. A boy. Peter hasn't seen or heard from his former wife or their son since, and he wants to find them. I told him that finding people is one of your best things. Are you interested?'

'It's what I do.'

'Kapstone has offices at Paramount. I'll leave a pass at the main gate for you to see Donnie Brewster. Donnie's the head of production.' Donnie. A twelve-year-old running a film company. 'Can you be here in about twenty minutes?'

'Let me check my calendar.'

She said, 'Ha. What calendar?'

'Callous. You dames are callous.'

She made the nice laugh again and hung up.

I pushed up off the couch and thought about Kapstone Pictures and Peter Alan Nelsen. The Big Time. I was wearing a white Mickey Mouse sweatshirt with a mustard spot high on the right shoulder. Mickey would be okay, but the mustard spot was definitely unacceptable. Did I have time to race home for the tux? I looked at the Pinocchio clock. Uh-uh. I took off the Mickey and put on a yellow-and-white Hawaiian beachcomber's shirt, a Dan Wesson.38 caliber revolver, and a light blue waiter's jacket. Dress for success. I began to hum. There's no business like show business. I turned on the answering machine and listened to the same message I'd been running for two months. 'Elvis Cole Detective Agency, we're cheap.' Maybe it was time for a change. You work for a major film company, you need something a bit more show business. Elvis Cole Detective Agency: There are no small cases, only small detectiveshire the biggest dick in the business! I decided to leave well enough alone.

I walked the four flights down to the parking garage, got my car, and drove east along Santa Monica Boulevard through the belly of Hollywood. It was October, and the air was cool. I've got a 1966 Corvette convertible, but it wasn't so cool that I had to put up the top. It rarely was. Global warming. With the end of summer, the cars from Utah and Michigan and Delaware were gone, but the cars from Canada were arriving.

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