The Case of the Valentine’s Day Ex
Through a haze of smoke a smooth-skinned sista called my name. “Yes, I’m Hammett, please, come in.” My secretary was on permanent vacation after her no-account motofreak boyfriend had breezed into town with a fifth of Jameson and keys to a cheap motel room downtown.
She sniffed at the smoke, looked at the cigarette-burned chair and decided to stand.
“Do you always spend your days like this?”
“I don’t so much spend my days as owe them.”
She wrinkled her nose and looked our into the permanent glare of Los Angeles, my new home. Her features were intriguing, aquiline and aristocratic, but her shoes looked old and her face was fatigued, termite-infested beneath smooth mahogany.
“It’s my husband… I’m… afraid he’s seeing someone else.”
“What gives you that idea?”
“He moved in with her.”
“And what do you want me to do about that?”
“I need to find out who she is. He won’t tell me.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea? You don’t look like you could handle another shock.”
Her eyes hardened and she turned towards me, fire in the furthest pit of her eyes. “I can handle whatever that bastard throws at me. But I have to know who she is.”
Usually in cases like this, the woman knows who the other woman is, but needs confirmation. Probably a relative or a best friend, or she wouldn’t care in the first place. Usually these kind of cases depress me, but I was nearly out of herb and the rent was due. I told her I’d take the case with a downpayment of $100 cash. She pulled out two 50s and placed them on the table along with a scrawled note on a napkin. It said “Smokey and Miho, Feb 14th.”
“I found this in his pants a week ago, it may mean something.”
“Probably nothing, but thanks. Now look hear, mama– you gon’ be alright. You see, I’m a PI but I’m also a man of the world and a brotha who knows how to treat a lady right…”
After she left I pulled on my shirt, lit another one and let the sun set all around me. I was feeling alright, letting the soft sounds of the city mesh with the smoked-out sonance in my mind. I turned up the hi-fi and let some Marvin Gaye wash over me like south-sea waves, salty and forgiving. That’s when it hit me. Smokey and Miho. February 14th. I opened the LA Weekly and it was confirmed. That night was a Valentine’s day show of the swinging samba sounds of Smokey and Miho, a kind of tricked out Brooklyn version of a 60’s Brazilian group featuring guitarist Smokey Hormel and singer Miho Hatori from Gorillaz and Cibo Mato. My night was about to get interesting…
I arrived at the show sans ticket but a Black private dick who is also una macina del amor usually doesn’t have too many problems getting in. Just need to grease the guardians properly and if all else fails, go in through the back, which is what I did, during Money Mark’s lackluster opening set. Scanning the crowd I noted a disproportionate amount of spindly young gentlemen clad in vintage sweatsuits. If things got heavy I was pretty sure I’d have no problems taking care of business. I couldn’t get a good view from where I sat, so I made for the balcony, which was closed except to VIPs. Needless to say the view from atop was far better.
I had my eyes peeled for the smooth skin sista’s missing man, but he was nowhere to be found. I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to pick a coffee-colored mustachioed businessman out of this crowd, but the smokey haze in front of me made that harder than it should have been. I decided to relax and just as I did so the lights went down and the group came out.
Suddenly the place was transformed by a star– Miho. Dressed in a simple outfit with a hat and a long pink Valentine’s scarf for good measure, this gorgeous frontwoman took over from her first movement, and kept the audience in her grasp the entire show. A bonafide diva, her voice soared through the Brazilian melodies of her solid backing band, which had a jazzy rhythm to play off her more stilted and jumpy cadence. Smokey’s guitar lines managed to be both omniscient and soothing– they were never the showpiece, but on every song they were the emotional anchor that kept the music from bounding off into some sort of quasi-Brazilian jazz netherworld.
Playing a mix of Brazilian standards and not-so-standards, along with some original songs such as Ocean in Your Eyes from the Y Tu Mama Tambian soundtrack, Smokey and Miho managed to create a Valentine’s day universe of pure love of music. Each song was lovingly re-tooled to fit the contours of Miho’s (and backup singer Ganda’s) voice, and the unique phrasing of Smokey’s guitar. Good vibes rained over the crowd and from my hazy perch I could see that love was in the air, that Smokey and Miho’s love of sound had flowed through their instruments and into the hearts of their dancing admirers. Smokey’s mastery of the material made for an interesting interplay between classical sound-making and post-modern isolation of the interesting hook, beat, or chord. But the crowd didn’t care, they were just enjoying the mellow sounds and good feelings that were the ultimate result of Smokey’s confidence and Miho’s charisma.
I made my way into the crowd to be a part of the action, and it was then that I spotted my lovely lady’s missing husband– a tall drink of mocha with a John Waters mustache and a slick suit. Deep in the throes of a soul-kiss liplock, he looked as happy as I’ve ever seen a man. The woman with him had the same rapturous expression. Sliding on by I looked up at the stage and endeavored to make my way backstage and have a little conversation with Miho… maybe introduce her to my stately pleasure dome. It was Valentine’s day, after all, and every man is entitled to a bit of love on this planet while he’s got a chance. Which is why I decided to let Mr. Slick keep his affair and not report back to his ex-lady, who could only cause him and herself pain. And the world needs more soft Brazilian love then it does maniacal estrogen rage.
Another case closed.
Don’t miss Ray Hammett, PI in The Case of the Missing Brother