Pete's niece

(from pp. 82 & 85 of the novel)

     [Ten minutes after she summoned me] I was there, knocking on the door. Carole Vandoren was wearing the same outfit that she wore at the lawyer's the curve-hugging, heavy, red velvet dress that showed so much cleavage. But this time it seemed less provocative: A bad case of sunburn had reduced the contrast between fabric and flesh. I walked in, maneuvering around two suitcases.
     "I'm moving out of here this afternoon. I can't stand the pipe smell." She gestured to a collection of pipes, sitting on a coffee table near the couch. "I didn't dare throw any of them away. I might be throwing away an important scientific relic."
     I glanced around. The place didn't look bad at all. "You said the apartment was a mess?"
     "You said there were magazines lying around?"
     "I didn't say that."
     "Weren't there a lot of typewritten papers lying around?"
     "But you said there was a mess and you had to get a maid service."
     "It was so muffy. It had to be thoroughly cleaned. I can still smell the tobacco residue."
     "It won't bother me while I go through his papers. You haven't boxed anything or thrown any of them away, have you?"
     "Fine." Now I could afford to chat with her. I looked down at the suitcases. "Where are you going?"
     "I'm doing the Beach. I'll be at the Park Central Hotel on Ocean Drive. I'll stay there for two days, then go back home."
     "When are you going to start sorting out Pete's personal things?"
     She gave me a big smile, like we'd known each other for a long time. "That's what I want to talk with you about. I was wondering if I could . . . hire you . . . to do it. What I mean is, you do it and we could split the profits.


     I glanced at my watch and put on a frown. "Have to get back to the med school. I've got an appointment. Have a blast on the Beach."
     She presented her cheek as I passed her to go out the door. I gave her a kiss on the cheek while touching her lightly on both elbows. She grabbed mine. "Ben, you'd make a perfect escort. Why don't you do the Beach with me tonight?"
     For a second, I thought of "doing the Beach" with her in Pete's 1956 Olds. We could play it retro, like a couple of squares from a bygone decade. And if I drove the car to the right places, we'd probably find out what it was worth. But then, I thought the better of it.
     "Sorry. I've got my work cut out for me here."
     But I did carry down the two suitcases for her. She agreed to call me before leaving town.