Janet Lynn and Will Zeilinger write mysteries both individually and together. Their latest book, Slick Deal, is about the interesting history of a location in Southern California. They’ve posted on my blog before about their Skylar Drake murder series, and they often describe the research for the mysteries they write. Please enjoy their description and excerpt from their latest mystery. Welcome, Janet and Will!
My husband, Will Zeilinger and I co-write the Skylar Drake Murder Mystery series, a hardboiled series that takes the reader to 1950s Los Angeles and other areas of the West. Our new book, Slick Deal, begins News Year’s Eve 1956 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The first murder and clues lead to Avalon, Catalina.
We spent a week in Catalina researching 1950s Avalon Catalina. We took the traditional way from Long Bead to Avalon, the ship, The Starship Express. Though we had been to Catalina for weekends away and vacations, we looked at the journey to the island with a fresh pairs of eyes. The first thing we noticed as we entered the harbor was Holly Hill House. You can’t miss the striking red roofed mansion on the hill facing the harbor. So we researched the house. We had planned to have our character notice the house when he sailed in, but its quirky past deserved more than a mention!
Peter Gano, was engaged to be married when he built Look Out Cottage in less than 18 months. Unfortunately, his fiancée refused to move to the island. Forced to choose between her and the house, he opted for the house. He lived in the red-roofed storybook home until the early 1920s. He refused to associate with women after his broken engagement and posted “No Women Allowed” signs around the property.
Subsequent owners changed the name to Holly Hill House because the vegetation surrounding the house was covered with holly. The cupola burned in a 1964 fire and was carefully restored to look much as it did when Gano finished construction in 1890.
From the hallway in the house, a narrow staircase ascends to the cupola, about 100 feet above sea level. Top of the dome rises an additional 40 feet or so. The copula was originally painted a solid barn-red. After restoration, the dome now has red and green stripes. The cupola’s 22-foot-diameter platform has nearly 360-degree views, including Catalina’s mountains and a broad view of the Southern California coast.
SLICK DEAL is the fourth in the series and yes…we are still married!
A Synopsis of SLICK DEAL
On the eve of the New Year, 1956, oil tycoon, Oliver Wright dies suspiciously at a swanky Hollywood New Years Eve party. Some think it was suicide. His death is soon followed by threats against the rest of his family. Private Investigator Skylar Drake and his partner Casey Dolan are hired by an L.A. gangster to protect the family and solve Oliver’s mysterious death. Clues lead them to Avalon, on Santa Catalina Island, a Hollywood movie star playground. A high profile scandal, mysterious women, treason and more deaths complicate matters, putting Drake and his partner in danger. Twenty-three miles may not seem far away, but false identity and corruption on this island could squash their efforts to answer the question—How in the world can a dead man commit suicide?
CHAPTER ONE of Slick Deal
Almost midnight. I was working security for the New Year’s Eve bash at the posh Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel with my partner Casey Dolan. The rented tuxedos we were wearing made us look like we belonged with the rich crowd down on the ballroom floor, but we were working. This was one of the most exclusive parties in the city. I’d been here before and I’ve never known any other hotel with the kind of history this place had. Our job tonight was to keep an eye out for trouble…and I suppose this was a much better way to greet the new year than sitting at home in front of the television with a bottle of whiskey. As a matter of principle, I didn’t take security work. But Dolan thought D&D Investigations would benefit from this job by keeping the lights on and paying our secretary. He was right.
I scanned the crowd and checked my watch—a minute before midnight. The noise level in the room escalated with anticipation. I spotted Dolan at his post under an archway on the other side of the room and smiled. He nodded. From my spot on the catwalk above the ballroom floor I watched as they counted down the last seconds—five, four, three, two… Just as the clock on stage struck midnight, the room exploded with shouts, horns, balloons, and a snowstorm of confetti. The band played “Auld Lang Syne” while a banner unfurled above the bandstand that proclaimed: HAPPY NEW YEAR 1956.
It seemed as though everyone in the world was dancing, hugging, and kissing. My mind disappeared into the past. I remembered my late wife, Claire, and how we celebrated every New Year together. Even when she was big with our daughter, Ellie, Claire was stunning. I pulled out my wallet and gazed at her photo. I miss you honey, so very much.
A man’s voice boomed over the P.A., “Is there a doctor in the house?” My dream with Claire evaporated. I looked down at the stage where a man had grabbed the microphone from the band leader’s hands and shouted, “We need help in the main lobby.”
I motioned for Dolan to stay put while I ducked behind the heavy drapes and crossed the hall to the lobby mezzanine. Fourteen steps would take me down to the lobby floor. I think I only used five. My hand automatically went to my holster, just in case. Pushing through the crowd, I found a portly man on his back in a pool of blood on the terracotta-tiled floor. A tuxedo-clad man loosened the tie of the victim but I knew he was gone. I’d seen that vacant look in his eyes a hundred times back when I worked LAPD homicide.
Somewhere in the crowd I heard “Make way please, we’re nurses.” A couple of women in evening gowns appeared. I held the curious crowd back while the women knelt on the bloody floor and checked for a pulse. One shook her head and placed a lacy handkerchief over the dead man’s face.
Screaming sirens outside announced the arrival of the police. Partygoers scrambled. More than a few were probably here with someone other than the one to whom they were legally and lawfully wed. I identified myself as hotel security to the first officers to come through the door.
“You were first on the scene?” one asked.
I nodded. “Me and about a hundred other people.”
“You see this happen?” I shook my head. Another officer shouted to the crowd, “Anybody here see this happen?”
More police swarmed the lobby with news reporters on their heels. I wasn’t surprised. This party attracted reporters like flies on a dead cat. All around camera flashbulbs popped, making the room as bright as day.
Someone grabbed my arm. I looked into the eyes of a dark-haired woman wearing a full-length fur coat. With all the commotion, I thought she was a tipsy guest who wanted to kiss me. Instead, she pulled in close and whispered in my ear, “Please help me get out of this place. I can’t be seen here.” She turned her back to the cameras. With one hand, she yanked the combs from her hair and let it cascade down to her shoulders. She had the aroma of flowers. Then she turned up the collar of her fur coat to cover part of her face. Tears rolled down her cheeks. I saw the desperation in her eyes.
“Please.” She squeezed my arm. “I don’t know this hotel.”
The elevators and outside doors were blocked by uniformed cops. I whisked her toward a side room.
A cop in a cheap brown suit noticed us walking away and yelled, “Hey, you two. Get back here.” I used to be a cop and I knew one when I saw one. This guy was probably a plainclothes detective. “You’re interfering with a police investigation,” he yelled.
“Maybe we should go back.” She stopped. “I’d hate to get you into trouble.”
“Believe me. It wouldn’t be the first time. This way.”
I noticed her striking resemblance to Ava Gardner. I pulled her along and headed to an empty room.
The cop caught up with us as I pushed open the door and turned on the light. I pulled out my PI license. He grabbed it from my hand just as I moved my jacket to show him my gun.
“Oh hell. Skylar Drake. I should have known.” He tossed my license back. “Why do you have to mess around with this investigation?”
“You have your job and I have mine.” I nodded toward the raven-haired beauty standing behind me.
“You stay put, Drake, while we sort this out.” I held up three fingers in a Boy Scout salute. He frowned and backed out the door.
I reached into my tuxedo jacket pocket and handed her my business card. Her perfectly shaped eyebrows went up. “Skylar Drake, Private Investigator.”
I nodded. “Now I need to get back to work.”
“I can’t be seen here.” Her tearful emerald green eyes sparkled in the light. “May I count on you to be discreet?”
My mind raced with a hundred things she wanted me to be discreet about.
Another plainclothes detective from my old precinct stormed in. I remember him as a real blowhard. “Drake. What the hell are you doing here?”
“Working and I was just leaving.” I nodded to the woman. “Nice to have met you, miss.”
Before the detective could get out another word, I slipped out the door and walked back to the lobby.
I checked the time—two a.m. The police had finished with most of the guests and allowed them to leave. The party was over. My job was done.
Published authors Will Zeilinger and Janet Lynn wrote individually until they got together and created the Skylar Drake Mystery Series. These hard-boiled tales are based in old Hollywood of 1955. Janet has published seven mystery novels and Will has three plus a couple of short stories. Their world travels have sparked several ideas for murder and crime stories. This creative couple is married and lives in Southern California.
Website and to order: Janet Elizabeth Lynn
Website and to order: Will Zeilinger