Hair of the Dog.
2nd book in "Fish" Fishbein's Adventures in La-La Land series
Prologue and Chapter 1
Your Uncle In The Diamond Business
For the first forty-four years of his life Charlie Kipniss was an honest man. At five-foot four and two hundred seventy nine pounds, he was waddling the straight and narrow, in an industry crawling with temptations and opportunities to adopt a more twisted and felonious career path.
Charlie was a jeweler.
More than that, he was a Beverly Hills jeweler.
“You’ve got an uncle in the diamond business,” the headline on his L.A. Magazine ads always read, set in huge bold type right above a photo of his smiling, pudgy face and trust-inspiring receding hairline, oversized glasses, neatly trimmed beard and conservative tie.
Which was why people just naturally took their business to the family member they couldrely on for prices as good as, or if not better than what they could find at the wholesale Jewelry Mart in downtown Los Angeles.
And as word of mouth and his ad campaign spread, more and more seekers of cut-rate bling stopped by to see their uncle in the diamond biz. Honesty and the public’s trust had been very, very good for business.
Things stayed that way, right up to the day a recessive Republican gene kicked in, and Charlie plucked an almost flawless three and a half carat white diamond from its setting within a necklace that had come in for its yearly cleaning, replacing it with an almost identical cubic zirconium, worth a hundred bucks at best.
He did the same thing three weeks later with the four-carat centerpiece of another necklace.
And as the months went by, Charlie Kipniss liberated more high-grade baubles from the tyranny of their gold or platinum bondage, replacing each with an identically cut and colored CZ.
A stone here. A stone there.
Nothing big, nothing showy. Nothing that would attract attention or arouse suspicion.
But as he dropped his latest acquisition into a velvet bag among its equally illegitimate brothers and sisters, Charlie was struck with the same thought that had been dogging him on and off the past few weeks.
Here he was, with a couple of hundred carats of hot, premium-grade sparklers, worth at least a couple of million smackers. But until he could figure out a way to safely convert them into cold hard coin of the realm, security would continue to be a real concern.
After all, he couldn’t hide them in the store for obvious reasons.
Couldn’t take the stones home for his girlfriend to find and assume they were for her.
And sure as hell, leaving them in the trunk of his car wasn’t even worth considering as an option.
Then the corners of Charlie’s mouth turned skyward in a cherubic grin and his eyes narrowed to a pair of myopic slits behind his oversized, Coke bottle-thick bifocals.
And he started to chuckle, softly at first.
Hell, why not just hide his loot in plain sight, out in the open -- where anyone who stumbled onto his collection of purloined carbon crystals would probably just figure they were anything but what they really were.
Especially Bryana, that unbelievably high maintenance girl friend of his.
That’s when an idea struck him right in the middle of his prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain most responsible for higher level thought, complex planning and the place where one’s conscience is alleged to reside - at least, in those of us who have never practiced law.
Charlie had come up with what, to him, appeared to be the perfect way to hide every one of his stolen diamonds from the entire freakin’ world.
He laughed out loud and clicked his computer mouse, rousing the machine from its electronic forty winks, and then sent it to Google.
Within a few seconds his monitor was displaying the descriptions and web addresses of several hundred pages of websites, all listed under the heading of ‘pet supplies’.
On any other day of the week, the last few furlongs of Charlie Kipniss’ drive home would have been met with a drained and resigned, “Oy”.
Usually followed by a long sigh as he numbly waited for his traffic light to turn green.
Then he would dig deep and summon the strength to pilot his Jag across Sunset Boulevard and up the remaining couple of blocks along Canon Drive, all the way to his house tucked into the foliage that marked the rearmost boundary, the tuchas of the Pink Lady, the Beverly Hills Hotel.
But even though Passover, the holiday that celebrated both the invention of gefilte fish and Charlton Heston delivering the children of Israel from slavery under an eyeliner and Pharaoh drag-draped Yul Brynner, was still half a year away, this particular evening was a shoe-in to be the subject of the first of the four questions traditionally asked during every Passover Seder.
Because this night truly was different from any other night on the Kipniss calendar.
Amen and yea verily.
Instead of a homeward trek that usually became more tiring and oppressive as each of its fourteen blocks slowly rolled by, this evening was a Palomino of a different color.
For one thing, Charlie Kipniss was in a good mood.
He was so charged up he was humming and singing right along with the Frank Sinatra CD blaring over the Jag’s high performance entertainment system.
His little town blues were definitely melting away.
And they had been since about ten that morning, when a Fed Ex driver pulled up in front of his shop and dropped off the package he had ordered online from www.coolstuffforfido.com, a couple of days earlier.
Charlie quickly signed for the delivery, and then spirited the unopened box into his office and shut the door, as excited as a six year-old non-member of the tribe on Christmas morning.
Ten minutes and two fingernails later, he finally succeeded in opening the tamper resistant packaging, first lifting out the packing slip, then the object of his loud chuckles and squeals of delight: a dog collar.
But this wasn’t just any canine-leash interface.
This one was jet black and worked and polished to a gleaming, patent leather sheen. At five, maybe six inches in length, the tiny collar was the ideal formal fashion accessory for any diminutive pet, from a Maltese to a Chihuahua, a baby ferret to a lovingly overfed rat. It was the perfect ornament for movie premiers, Oscar and Emmy parties, shopping expeditions along Rodeo Drive and Melrose, or any other occasion special enough to demand a 95-decibel fashion statement.
But what really put a larcenous twinkle in Charlie Kipniss’ formerly forthright peepers was the way the collar had been studded with dozens of rhinestones.
He spent the next few hours letting the rest of his staff handle the discount blingatorial needs of whomever happened to sashay in through the front door.
Meanwhile, locked in his inner sanctum, Charlie carefully pried the larger of the ersatz gemstones from their settings on the collar and replaced each with one of his ill-gotten sparklers.
And, being the belt and suspenders man he was, he also made sure to apply a healthy dollop of Crazy Glue to each of the collar’s mountings before inserting one of his stolen diamonds and bending the mounting prongs back into place.
Three and a half hours later he slipped the tiny, evidence studded dog collar into one of his store’s gift boxes.
Then he flipped his cell phone open and pressed Bryana’s speed dial number as he headed for the door, taking the rest of the day to celebrate his recent stroll down the felonious side of the street, with the woman who had unknowingly sparked the whole adventure.
“Hi, Babe. It’s me,” Charlie chirped into his cell phone in response to the beep at the end of Bryana’s outgoing voicemail message. “Listen, it’s a little after two and I’ve got a surprise for you. Whaddya say I swing by and pick you up, and we grab a late lunch at Spago?”
After a couple of hours went by without a return call from Bryana, Charlie’s hunger got the better of him. He pulled his cell phone off the holder on his belt and hit the redial button as he waddled across the kitchen and out to his Jag, resting comfortably in the garage.
“Uh listen, Babe. It’s four now and I’m famished. If you get this in the next hour or so, meet me at Spago. ‘K?”
No big deal, he shrugged to himself as he struggled to get his midsection past the bottom of the steering wheel. Maybe she’s at yoga. Or her trainer’s.
Or the salon, or something.
Without realizing it, Charlie Kipniss had guessed correctly about Bryana’s whereabouts on two accounts.
Yes, she was with her trainer, a former second-string fullback for the former LA Raiders named Jamie, who was everything Charlie wasn’t.
Where Jamie stood six foot four, even wearing lifts inside his shoes Charlie still could have gotten cast as a member of the Lollipop Guild, should anyone ever get green-lighted to film a remake of the Wizard of Oz.
Where Jamie’s steely blue eyes peeked out from under a head full of thick, tastefully mussed and naturally sun bleached hair, Charlie’s few remaining strands on top had a tendency to clump together, pining for the day the doofus to which they were rooted finally got up the courage to lumber in for an appointment with one of the legions of hair transplant clinics that plied the rich and fertile feeding ground that was Beverly Hills.
And where Jamie’s broad shoulders and narrow waist projected a V-shaped shadow onto the ground on sunny days, Charlie’s physique had a tendency to cast one in the shape of a letter a little closer to the beginning of the alphabet. Say, somewhere between N and P.
Yes, Bryana was with her trainer.
And yes, they were working on yoga.
But not the “stretch out on a sweat-stained mat in a smelly room at the gym with forty of your dumpiest friends” kind of yoga.
No, what Bryana and Jamie were working on was more along the lines of the Tantric variety, opening all of one’s Chakras to the energies that flowed up the body at very special times.
Times that left one screaming, laughing and crying. Enervated and totally spent, all at once.
Times that also left one unable to even think about moving, let alone rolling out of bed to answer a call from that fat slob, Charlie.
* * *
“OK, Babe. Close your eyes and hold out your hand.”
Charlie had just finished placing a kiss in the air near Bryana’s cheek, after bounding into the garage at the sound of the opener whirring into life. And tipping the scales at two hundred eighty one pounds that morning, bounding was a move not normally accessible to his biomechanical database.
On the way back into Beverly Hills for his late lunch, he impulsively took a quick left on Sunset Boulevard and headed Eastward, deciding to forego Spago’s healthier fare in favor of his old standby, his comfort food and all time favorite nosh - almost two pounds of steaming, fat-riddled pastrami and Swiss cheese, piled six inches high between two slices of rye bread and riveted together with a toothpick as long as a new, unsharpened Dixon Ticonderoga pencil, then served with a large side of coleslaw and a huge kosher dill pickle.
The deli was situated right across the street from Cedars Sinai Hospital, a location and menu that probably explained the land office business the hospital’s ER did during the hours that immediately followed the end of the traditional Yom Kippur fast.
Bryana smiled warmly at her long time roommate and benefactor as she pulled into the garage, looking as glowing and radiant as a woman who had just chugged her way through a six-pack of earth shattering orgasms with her fullback/trainer/Tantric Yoga maven could possibly appear.
“You look fabulous.” Charlie held out his hand to help Bryana out of the car. “Lemme guess. You just come from Yoga?”
All she could give by way of an answer was a coquettish smile and a badly suppressed giggle as she offered her cheek to Charlie in the standard entertainment industry “air” kiss.
“Maybe I should try it,” he continued cluelessly, while almost unnoticed, Bryana retrieved her hand from his fleshy digits. “I mean, whatever you do there, it’s definitely worth the money.”
Bryana St. Cloud had come into his life eight years ago, six months off the Greyhound bus from Minneapolis, walking into his place of business one day. She was on her lunch hour from selling men’s cosmetics a couple of blocks up Wilshire at Neiman’s, window shopping and staring wistfully at the displays of platinum and gold bracelets, rings and other baubles she couldn’t hope to afford. But some day, after her movie career took off and she had become the next Jessica Alba, then it would be a different story.
Strolling into Charlie’s shop that afternoon, she was still Lorelei Spivak from Bemidji, Minnesota. Born twenty-four years earlier, she was tall and blessed with a milk-fed complexion that bespoke her Midwest upbringing, and packing a resume that identified its owner as her county’s Hoop Cheese Queen of 1996.
She was easily a 9.5 - in a town that regularly chewed up 10’s for breakfast.
On the other hand, short, balding, myopic and Jabba the Hut-like Charlie Kipniss was a Jewish 10.
Which meant, he was a 3.
But with money.
Before long, the two had set up house at Casa de Kipniss and Lorelei Spivak officially became Bryana St. Cloud. Freed from the drudgery of spritzing strange men with foul smelling samples of cologne, with Charlie’s blessing and financial support, she could now devote herself fully to her career.
But between a new wardrobe every season, acting lessons, photos for a new head sheet, hair dressers, manicures, new tits, Invisalign braces, botox injections, newer and bouncier tits, the lease on a new SL Mercedes, more botox, lunches at only the hottest new Beverly Hills bistros, a smidge of liposuction, a chin implant, still newer and perkier tits, photo sessions with a better photographer for a new head sheet, a personal life coach and monthly stipends to her publicist, her hair colorist and her fullback/trainer/ Tantric Yoga master, becoming an overnight star was a daunting, if not insanely expensive proposition.
Especially for the poor schmuck paying her freight.
Underwriting Bryana’s career was so pricey, Charlie could barely meet the monthly payments on the first, second and third mortgages on his home. Let alone the leases on both Bryana’s SL Mercedes and Land Rover, the payments on his Jag, his dues and green fees at the Brentwood Country Club, his own publicist, the mortgage payments on his mother’s condo and the miscellaneous fortunes he laid out every month to his housekeeper, gardeners, car detailers and security service.
Not to mention the king’s ransom he dropped, month in and month out, for the care, feeding and upkeep of Mr. Foo, that vicious, snarling and biting little long haired rat of a Lhasa Apso he was stupid enough to have bought Bryana for her birthday three years ago.
And after all this time living with her and all the money he’s laid out on her looks, training and career development, the only professional work for which Bryana had ever been hired for was a non-paid photo session for the local animal rights group.
The photo showed Bryana in her oversized Chanel sunglasses and that psychotic little rat-dog, perched on her lap with its tiny paws on the steering wheel. And they were both in her SL with the top down in heavy traffic on Wilshire Boulevard, starring in an ad and a billboard for treating one’s pet more safely and intelligently while driving.
“THE DUMB ANIMAL IS THE ONE IN THE SUNGLASSES”, was how the headline read. Which was how all of Los Angeles in general, and his neighbors in Beverly Hills in particular, got to think of his significant other for the nine months the ad campaign ran.
Small wonder Charlie Kipniss eventually lumbered off the straight and narrow, and into a part-time job in the wide-open field of jewel theft.
After eight years with Bryana, he really needed the money.
“I think I should have my eyes done,” Bryana turned away from him to bend over and study herself in the SL’s driver’s side mirror. “God, I look like someone’s grandmother. What do you think?”
“C’mon, you look terrific,” Charlie tried to laugh it off, thinking, Yeah, sure. What’s a measly nine grand for an eye job between friends? Hey, it’s only money, right? “What I think is you should close those beautiful, perfect baby blues and stick out your hand.”
Bryana immediately straightened back up and her attitude toward Charlie warmed considerably as she watched him pull the small gift box from his pocket, knowing that a package that diminutive had to contain something worth a ton of smackers.
Little did she know.
“Here,” he said, chuckling as he placed the box in her hand.
“For me?” As she stared at the small container in her hand Bryana’s eyes were so wide that, at least for the moment, crow’s feet and an eye job ceased to be an issue.
“It’s just a little something. Go ahead, open it up.”
Bryana did as she was told, tearing the gold ribbon and bow off the box and opening the lid.
Then she removed the contents, laughing as she realized what she was holding.
“Charlie, it’s beautiful!”
“It’s for Mr. Foo.”
“Yeah, I figured that. But I thought him and you weren’t exactly the best of buddies.”
Charlie had given her the Lhasa Apso puppy three years ago for her birthday, and was a mutual case of love at first sight. The two were inseparable and Mr. Foo matured into an affectionate, obedient and irresistible little black and white ball of fluff that was truly a joy to be around.
Unless your last name happened to be Kipniss.
From the moment he picked up Mr. Foo from the pet shop in the Beverly Center, the dog developed an instant and rabid hatred for Charlie, barking, snarling and going the doggie equivalent of postal whenever Charlie came into the room.
And since it was Charlie’s house, he had a maddening tendency to come into the room often.
Only to be chased right back out by his girlfriend’s ten-pound purebred, snarling and biting little psychotic.
Over the years, Mr. Foo had bitten Charlie too many times to count.
And chased him through the kitchen and into the garage every one of the thousand and twelve mornings since Charlie brought him home from the pet store.
Successfully cornered him in his own shower.
Bitten through and shredded the cuffs of every pair of pants he owned.
And gifted him with a surprise of his own one morning, leaving a fresh deposit of warm, runny Lhasa Apso byproducts inside one of the brand new, $450 Salvatore Ferragamo loafers Charlie was planning on wearing that day.
“I figured, what the hay. Maybe we just got off on the wrong paw.”
“You mean foot?”
“Foot, paw. What’s the difference?”
“Well, I think it’s beautiful, and Mr. Foo’s gonna love it.”
Bryana held the collar up under the garage’s overhead light to examine it.
“Jeez, they look so real. You’d never know they were fakes.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.”
“Charlie, that’s so sweet.” She gave him a huge hug and planted a kiss on his cheek. “C’mon, let’s go inside and give Mr. Foo his surprise. And since you were so nice, why don’t you put it on him? I bet he’d like that.”
Mr. Foo loved his new collar so much, Charlie’s hand only needed a couple of stitches at the ER, getting him in and out of Cedars Sinai in record time.
And almost immediately, things seemed to brighten up in and around Charlie’s life.
First, there was the boost in self-confidence that came flooding in with the realization that he had just pulled off his first big jewel heist.
And as far as he could tell, he had also managed to hide his entire cache of ill-gotten gems right under nose of the woman whose love of, and demand for the good life had driven him to it.
Damn, but he felt good.
There was nothing like the successful completion of a Class-A felony to make a guy feel like a new man.
The next morning, an entirely new and different Charlie Kipniss looked back from the mirror while he was flicking tiny specks of tartar onto the glass as he flossed.
This one had a gleam in his eye.
A purposeful new set to his jaw and confident tone in his voice.
And despite his physical bulk, there was actually a bounce to his step that hadn’t been there even a day ago.
During the night, the old Charlie Kipniss, the obese and servile, almost tragically nice Jewish zhlub had struck off for parts unknown, leaving behind this new Charlie. A take-charge kind of character who radiated so much charm, energy and self-confidence he even made fat look a little sexy.
His friends noticed it.
His staff and customers noticed it.
Even Mr. Foo picked up on it, growling a little at the new Charlie Kipniss that morning, but deciding not to try and chase him across the kitchen and into the garage for the thousand and thirteenth time.
And, actually feeling a little attracted to the new and improved Charlie Kipniss, Bryana called Jamie to reschedule her standing Thursday afternoon Yoga session.
Yup, there was a new sheriff in town and things were going to be different.
And things stayed that way, with the new and improved Charlie Kipniss gleaming, laughing and charming -- all the way up to 2:30 on the afternoon of the sixth day, when Bryana called on his cell phone, hysterical and blubbering.
It was Mr. Foo.
They were stopped at a red light someplace along Sunset Boulevard in Bel Air. Bryana had just put the top down on the SL and the freshly groomed little dog was sitting in her lap, looking radiant in his sparkly new collar.
Then he barked at something he saw at the side of the road, jumped out of the car and tore off into the bushes.