A case of mistaken identity or delicious deception? BARBARA LACEY, a sultry blonde, saunters into the Night and Day, a St. Louis bar owned by ALFIE GREENBLATT. For hours, she waits to deliver a mysterious envelope to a man that never appears. Reluctantly, she entrusts it to ALFIE and steps into the back alley. Minutes later, Alfie hears the crisp pop of a bullet. He calls SERGEANT REGGIE COMBS to investigate BARBARA’s death. Accident…or murder?
HELEN TATTAGLIA approaches her neighbors, ELVIN SUGGS and his partners, COBRA GLYNES and DIMOND “DI” REDDING, of the Grapevine Detective Agency. She suspects that her in-laws have arranged her murder at the request of their son, Marvin, and she hires them to trail her “abusive” husband. The detectives are skeptical, but they desperately need the money. They accept the case, and soon discover that Barbara Lacey’s past is rife with a host of shady ladies—and more than one Barbara Lacey.
Beneath her prickly façade, DI longs for romance. She is smitten with DR. JULES DERRY, her college sweetheart. Elvin and Cobra protest. They believe he is unscrupulous. A talented plastic surgeon, DERRY lost his medical license after a Tattaglia family member died during surgery. Derry’s subsequent operation on Barbara Lacey also proves fatal. DEJUAN, Barbara’s manager-husband, is livid, but he is determined to stay in business. If Barbara look-alikes assume her identity, his profits—legal or not—will continue to thrive.
DeJuan and Derry underestimated the sultry blonde, aka Barbara Lacey. They never thought she would steal “before and after” photos that showcased Derry’s superior cosmetic surgery skills. The doctor believes they will help him to secure a new medical license, and arranges a meeting to buy the photos from the blonde. A romantic evening with Di turns deadly, and he fails to show.
REGGIE turns to the Grapevine Agency. Their “street” contact, PARRY LEACH, an ex-con, purloins the Lacey files from BARI LUX, Derry’s secretary and jilted girlfriend. The photos explain the relationships between the women. A Tattaglia family member murders Derry. The Grapevine Agency survives another case!
She was not what Cobra had expected. Pouty lips, lacquered black hair, (hey, was that a wig?), and stiletto heels. All in all, he’d never seen a receptionist quite like her; but then, he hadn’t seen many receptionists. He guessed that’s what she was. Elvin, on the other hand, seemed unimpressed. “Mornin’ ma’am,” he said, glancing around the cluttered office. Pictures of Elvis were thumb tacked to the nubby orange burlap that covered a makeshift partition. Country music blared from a radio in the corner. The woman continued to click away at the computer keys with her pink frosted fingernails. Elvin took a step forward. “Ma’am, I b’lieve my partner here had an appointment with Dr. Derry.” The woman turned to face them. “Dr. who?” she said, frowning. Cobra gasped. “Let’s go, Suggs,” he said in an almost breathless voice. “Wait a minute there, Cobra. Ma’am-” “Ah, you’re just on time!” A man appeared in the doorway to the left, dressed in jogging shorts and a tank top. Across the front of the shirt, the words “Shock Rules!” were embroidered in golden thread. “Come in, come in!” “There you go, Cobra!” said Elvin. “I’ll be waitin’ on you out here.” “Like hell you will, Suggs,” muttered Cobra. “You’re going in too.” The pair followed Dr. Derry into an office that might have been a former broom closet. Diplomas and certificates of various sizes covered the gray-green plaster walls. Dr. Derry sat behind a scratched wooden desk and gulped from a bottle of purple Gatorade. Elvin and Cobra took a seat on two card chairs, facing him. The only light in the room was provided by a bare yellow bulb, suspended from the ceiling by a single wire. The wall behind the doctor was lined with a collection of dusty books on human anatomy and diseases. New books with titles such as Exploring the Canine Brain, and New Frontiers in Monkeys were prominently displayed on a separate shelf, directly behind his desk. Dr. Derry leaned back in his tired tweed recliner and placed his sneaker-clad feet on his desk. “So, which of you wants to be the patient today?” Cobra and Elvin pointed to each other. “He does,” they said simultaneously. “Okay, we can do that.” He rustled among the piles of memos and medical journals on the desktop. A few ball point pens clattered onto the terrazzo floor. “Bari, where are the new patients’ charts?” He grinned at Elvin and Cobra. “I hired Bari myself. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, she is dynamite.” Bari appeared in the doorway. “I only had one chart out here.” She strutted across the room and dropped the thin file on the desk. “Somehow, it got mixed in with the charts from Pathology.” “Pathology? Again?” He shook his head. “How could they confuse one of them with one of my patients? It must have been thrown in with the ER patients from last night.” Bari rolled her eyes and left the room. “What do you mean?” said Cobra. “I don’t consider myself an emergency case. And, I’m certainly not dead.” Dr. Derry licked his finger and began to page through Cobra’s file. “Not to worry. It happens all the time. Fine line sometimes between the living and the dead, you know?” He threw the brown file down and stared at the two men. “So now, let me guess. I’m betting that you…,” he pointed to Cobra, “are Mr. Glynes, and your friend there is Mr. Suggs.” Cobra looked stunned. “How did you know that?” “Oh, your friend Mr. Leach told me all about you, and your agency, Mr. Glynes.” “But, how did you know who he was, doctor?” said Elvin. Again, the knowing grin. “Could be the snake tattoo on his left arm, hombre.” He shrugged. “Not to worry. I’m quite fond of snakes, too. So, where is your file, Mr. Suggs? Or haven’t you ever been treated at the People’s Clinic?” “I’m, uh…actually, I don’t think I need treatment, Dr. Derry.” “They all say that. Not to worry, Mr. Suggs. I take all comers. Bari can fluff up a file in a jiffy.” He raised his head and called into the next room. “Oh Bari! Can you turn the radio down, dear?” He turned to Elvin and Cobra. “Girl just loves country music, you know,” he whispered. “She’s very well rounded.” Bari appeared in the doorway, a manicured hand on her hip. “Now, what?” she said.
“Can you work up a file here for Mr. Suggs?” Bari pursed her lips and again, left the room. The twang of electric guitars echoed from the other room. “Doctor, I don’t mean to be rude,” said Elvin, “but Cobra here is really the one that needs your help. I’m just here for moral support.” “Certainly, Mr. Suggs.” The doctor grinned and his eyes flashed with excitement. “But, I do quite a lot of research, you know. I never know what new discovery might be lurking just around the corner.” He winked at Elvin.
“That’s how I found Miss Lux in there.” His face brightened at the sight of the buxom young woman, who had appeared with another thin brown file. Elvin thought she looked bored.
“Doctor,” she said, “I forgot what information you wanted on a new patient form.”
Dr. Derry patted the desktop. “Oh, just leave it here, Bari,” he said. “A girl can’t be expected to remember everything. Just run along, now. Could you please feed the monkeys on your way out? There’s a bag of popcorn in the chemical closet.” He took a gulp of Gatorade.
“But, getting back to you, Mr. Glynes. What brings you to my clinic?”
Cobra was watching Bari. Her black seamed stockings held a special fascination for him that was not lost on Elvin. He nudged Cobra in the ribs. “C’mon buddy, this guy’s time is worth a lot of money.” “Actually, Mr. Suggs,” said the doctor, “it isn’t. At least, it’s not worth what it used to be. But, I’m happy to help in any way I can. My main interest these days is in the field of electroshock therapy.” With trembling knees, Cobra rose to leave. “That’s it, Suggs. Nobody, but nobody, is hooking me up to anything electric.” Dr. Derry grinned. “The voltage can be adjusted, Mr. Glynes.” He leaned forward. “But you haven’t answered my question, which is, why have you come here?” “He’s anxious,” said Elvin. “Yes, I can see that,” said Dr. Derry. “You know, I’ve had quite a lot of success in reducing anxiety in my monkeys. Why, after a few of my treatments, they’re as mellow as Miss Lux out there. I’m so close to a breakthrough, I can taste it. If I could run a few trials on a real live human, just think of the progress I could make. Really, Mr. Glynes, if you could agree to check into my clinic for a few nights…” “Me?” said Cobra. “You don’t mean me, do you?” The doctor shrugged and gestured in Elvin’s direction. “Or Mr. Suggs there. Either one of you would do quite nicely. I could even offer a modest compensation.” Now, Elvin jumped to his feet. “No thank you, Dr. Derry. No offense intended, but I don’t think your place here is what my friend needs right now. I b’lieve Mr. Leach made a big mistake.” “I’ll never let him forget this,” mumbled Cobra. Behind them, Bari appeared in the doorway once again. This time, she was holding a limp looking dog in her arms. Elvin thought perhaps it might have been a cocker spaniel, but the scorched fur made it difficult to identify the breed. Dr. Derry began to wave her away, but it was too late. Cobra had already seen it. “Please reconsider, Mr. Glynes,” said Dr. Derry. He got up and made his way around the desk. For the first time, Elvin noticed what skinny, pale legs he had. “This is your chance to be part of a monumental scientific discovery!” Cobra had already fled from the room without a word, dashing past Bari on his way to the nearest exit. She was still holding the dog. “What should I do with Mr. Chompers, doctor? I don’t think he’s coming back.” “Just put him in the pile with the others, Bari.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “I was so attached to Mr. Chompers. He was just so-so eager to please me. Some people just don’t understand what it’s like to lose a friend like him. Tell me, Mr. Suggs, do you have a dog?” Stunned by the sudden reference to his pet, Elvin became agitated. No scientific advance was worth losing Vanna, he decided. He put out his hand in a gesture of farewell. “Good day, Dr. Derry. What do I owe you?” “Nothing at all, Mr. Suggs. All of my consultations are absolutely free. I’d like you to return, though. We still have a lot of work to do.” Elvin nodded in agreement. “Yes sir, we do. But, I don’t think that this is place for us to do it.” He turned and strode through the door into the afternoon sunshine, relieved to have escaped the clinic unscathed. In the distance, he could see Vanna sitting up in the backseat of the silver Cadillac, her tongue wagging, her fuzzy ears standing at attention. To him, she had never looked so happy-or so valuable.