Fri
Jun 2 2017 10:00am

The Naked Ballerina: New Excerpt

A. K. Hirsch

The Naked Ballerina by A. K. Hirsch captures the essence and romanticism of the hardboiled genre and reignites it for a new generation.

Read an excerpt from The Naked Ballerina by A. K. Hirsch, and then make sure to sign in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of this hardboiled tale!

Somewhat hapless but always observant, P.I. Duncan Marsden is hired by a sultry ballerina to investigate the source of a mysterious, illicit photo of her volatile younger sister. As the case spins out of control and the carnage escalates, Marsden not only exposes a sinister truth but also discovers the one woman he knows he could love.

From the seat of power in downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood and the iconic Hills beyond, a uniquely noir-tinged 21st century LA plays a starring role as this seductive story builds to a breathtakingly twist-filled crescendo. 

Five

Back in the car I motored down Melrose toward Stacy’s. Between lights I tried to reconcile Quin’s advice, Stacy’s reported ill-repute and Marie Costello’s legs. Frankly, none of them got me closer to any sort of conclusion, so I adjusted the radio to something more enthusiastic and sped faster toward Santa Monica and Crescent Heights.

The complex was, surprise, a Spanish stucco number; but this time it looked like someone had tried too hard to make it real, opting instead for authentic fake. The beams that jutted from beneath the eves were painted a particularly unpleasant sort of brown, meant to represent wood apparently. On either side of the main entrance were two large light fixtures, which were trying to be historically accurate. 

I checked the parking signs, noted that my car would not be street-sweepered away this late in the afternoon and pulled up opposite the complex, about five car lengths down from the front entrance. I began the stakeout, waiting for my quarry to make her first appearance. It’s true I was theoretically being paid to sit around, but it was the worst kind of sitting: anxious sitting. And there wasn’t even a ton of planning to hash out. I had been a little short with Mrs. Costello that first day regarding how to best track Stacy’s movements, but that was only for business; she had been right in this case. The best way to figure out this particular girl’s story was to follow her from home to wherever and back.

The sky was beginning to dim, and the slightest hint of the curious scent of night was starting to seep out of the jasmine, when someone other than the mailman or water delivery guy caught my attention. I noticed the small palms planted on either side of the building’s entrance rustle slightly as a thin, harried girl carefully bounced down the stairs and across the street to an atrociously boring blue Chrysler convertible. She was wearing a long sleeve white dress with small black polka-dots, which ended at her mid-thigh. A pair of black leather ankle boots seemed to weigh down her lithe legs. Her hair was up in a girlish ponytail.

If I was by the book, I should’ve checked her against my photo, but I figured I’d already spent quite a few billable hours examining Stacy’s photo and decided to give myself the benefit of the doubt. 

She started the car and seemed to instantaneously speed off in the opposite direction than the way I was oriented. After she had passed the four way stop behind me down the street, I sparked the motor and executed a precise U-turn to take chase. She headed up Crescent Heights and into the hills just as the setting sun was turning the sky a painfully beautiful tangerine color. About two miles after crossing Sunset, she took a jerky left and started a switch back route into the depths of the Hollywood Hills. She wound up in a tunnel of eucalyptus trees as I followed about one turn behind.

As we gained altitude the trees began to thin. The road was barely wide enough for one car, let alone the so-called traffic that prowled LA. It was bordered on one side by what seemed to be a sheer wall of dirt and brown, desiccated brush, while the other side simply dropped away down the hills, a house or two precariously clipped to the side of the incline. Just as I was wondering how this part of town had not burst into inextinguishable flames years ago, I turned and found myself about a hundred yards back from the convertible. It was moving forward, but very tentatively. I assumed she was scanning for a street spot, but was instantly proven incorrect as she made a sharp left into a vacant driveway attached to an ostensibly expensive house.

I coasted past just as she was exiting her car. She coiffed her hair a bit and appeared to pause to take a breath before my forward motion brought an aptly named privacy hedge into my line of sight. I cursed under my breath and concentrated on my own parking now that I knew her destination. 

A more patient detective would now sit on the subject until she reemerged, and try to mock up a schedule and destination list before trying to suss out the purpose of her visit. But not me. Of course I couldn’t be the guy who just quietly sat in the car and billed hours. 

I found a place to park one bend up the street and casually walked back down toward the house.

It was a mid-century special that hadn’t been well maintained. It could’ve been a jewel, but instead was more of a muddy pebble. The front yard was surrounded by a thick, unkempt privacy hedge, and it looked like the bushy lawn had maybe been trimmed two summers ago. The windows were single pane originals, and there appeared to be more split, dried paint flecks on the stoop than on the door where they evidently originated. I didn’t doubt the house was worth quite a bit over a million at this point, though no one would be able to tell you exactly why. 

As I peered around the hedge, the only light was coming through the front main picture window. The light was filtering out through venetian blinds, and plastered horizontal bars of light across the quickly darkening front yard. I was a little taken aback by what I saw next.

Stacy was mounted on a sort of sarcophagus. She was completely naked except for the brilliantly shiny staff she suggestively held out in her right hand. Her expression was blank at first, then she appeared to follow something out of my view around the room with only her eyes, until she smiled an apparently acceptable amount. Three flashes went off quickly, and then a dark figure’s back appeared through the window partially obscuring the girl. She tried to steady herself on his shoulder, but he batted it away. Then, he roughly grabbed her right inner knee and bent her leg outward slightly. She winced. He then moved the staff between her thighs exactly where a pornography consumer would want it, and I watched a pallor spread across her face. 

I should’ve just observed or I should’ve left. I did neither. 

As stealthily as I felt I could, I used flat fleet and sprinted towards the front door. I hit it perfectly square with my shoulder, which did about as much good as a toothpick spearing a concrete wall. I bounced back a foot or so, but not before the dark shape from before cracked the door to see who his visitor was.

My shoulder was through the open door, and his face, so fast he didn’t even have time to register a yelp, let alone a question. As I plowed through, Stacy dropped her staff and steadied herself on the top of the sarcophagus. Her blue eyes were so wide you could’ve lost a schooner in their depths, but her lips remained just so pursed. I realized she wasn’t blinking, and her bobbing head looked like a balloon attached to her shoulders; she must’ve been on something. Something good.

I swiveled my head back around and found the dark shape to be slightly wider than I was expecting. The man whose face was now mostly pulp was about five foot eight and clearly balding. He wore a sort of tunic that most would scoff at as ridiculous, including me. He wore brown suede beetle boots and dark denim pants that were tight for a woman at least half his age, not to mention weight. 

Blood poured from his nose and from a gash above his right eye. He tried to stem the flow with his plump fingers, but the blood decided it wanted out regardless and trickled down past his wrist. He was still able to stammer though.

“Who are you?? What is this?”

I took a moment to survey the room to ensure there weren’t any threats; plus it meant I could ignore him a few moments longer. 

There was a fancy camera set up next to the bleeding man. It was aimed at what did in fact appear to be a model of a sarcophagus, and one quivering, naked girl. The rest of the room looked like it hadn’t been updated for at least ten years, which was curious, since the consumers of pornography in this day and age demand relevance and realism, or so I’m told. 

“What is the meaning of this?” The bleeding heap was talking again, and I had a feeling I had to respond or I’d be subject to more. I turned back to him sporting a gruff look and a little swagger.

A shot rang out before I could open my mouth and somehow more blood poured from the already badly damaged man’s face. I took a dive, and just in time, as another shot rang out, whizzed through the space where I had just been standing and punched through the picture window in the front of the room. As the window was shattering, I could see the girl deliberately tumble off the prop and take cover behind it, hugging her knees.

And then there was nothing.

I expected more attempts but was wrong; it was just the two shots, then silence. I slowly panned past the now clearly dead pornographer and settled on the teary-eyed naked girl who stared right back at me. Simultaneously I heard some heavy steps down what I guessed was a back stairway and a car start and vroom away. Then all I could hear was the breeze rustling the geraniums in the busted front window’s planter box. 

I slowly raised my head and confirmed that no one else was targeting anyone with any guns. I raised my finger to my lips and made sure the girl saw me. She nodded through her big eyes and I started assessing the damage. 

There was one dead man, another living man with a sore shoulder, a living girl and a suspected pornography studio. There were more bullets around than I cared for. 

Without knowing exactly what I was looking for, I started a cursory investigation of the premises. I stumbled into a dark kitchen. It smelled of stale, day old breakfast. I clicked the lights on and found it to be aesthetically outdated like the rest of the house but otherwise empty, and moved on down the central back hall, which was all darkness. I felt along the walls and found three doors. 

Inside the first on the left was what appeared to be a storage room. I took out my phone to use as a flashlight. From the number of dusty breasts I saw on the documents contained in the moth-ridden cardboard boxes, I assumed it was what could euphemistically be called an archive. Besides the boxes, there was a small step ladder and old cleaning supplies, most of which were paradoxically filthy. I moved back into the hallway and tried the door directly across the way. This room was plain white, and had a striped mattress with a tripod and digital camcorder set up facing it. When I had first glimpsed the illicit picture of Stacy, it had struck me that still-photos were a bit outdated. That picture was probably only a preview for other more sordid media, if this second setup was any indication. 

Finally I gently padded back into the hall and tried the end door. It was a little stiff, but I put some more pressure on it and got it open. This bedroom looked respectable enough for someone to actually live in. Perhaps not a reputable man, but someone. The comforter cover on the king-size bed was a deep plum color, which I could make out thanks to a dim bedside reading lamp that had been left on, perhaps for mood. There were more flowers than one would expect in a man’s room, but then again this was a man who wore tunics. 

Next to the bed was a nightstand, and arrayed under the window along the wall were several official-looking locking filing cabinets. 

I started with the easily accessible nightstand. The top drawer contained the usual expired medications and boring reading material one might find in anyone’s top drawer. The bottom drawer contained the usual naughty and titillating sexual instruments you’d find in a pornographer’s house.

Breathing deep, I shut both and moved onto the locked filing cabinets. As with most cheap filing cabinets, the trick to these was the lock at the top, which locked all the other drawers below it. I took out my small pocket knife, selected a small pick and went to work on the lock. 

With half finesse and half muscle, I ripped open the top drawer, which was very neatly organized. There were folders marked A-F, and each one seemed to contain portfolios of various “models.” While entertaining, there was nothing particularly interesting, except for one extraordinarily roughed up folder marked “Acquisitions.” I saw something I liked, and didn’t like.

A porcelain white, sculpted calf protruded from the tattered folder. 

I gingerly grasped the photo with what existed of my fingernails and pulled it out slowly, separating it from about half a dozen others. A much younger version of a familiar, perfectly worked lower leg connected to an ideally proportioned upper thigh appeared. I pulled more and found her to be wearing nothing else that might obscure her form. As I extracted the entire photo, it looked a lot like a very young ballerina; too young. 

For a moment I froze, wondering what to make of the discovery. What was she doing in this dive, and why did this corpse have so many pictures of her that appeared to be so old? I was sure there was a complicated reason for these pictures to be in this man’s house, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out; my brain hurt.

Before I put too much thought into it, I grabbed the photos I could and stashed them in my leather jacket’s inner pocket. One slipped to the floor and I noticed on the back the word “Upton” scrawled loosely in black pencil. I retrieved it, put it with the others, patted them carefully through the worn leather and stood up, scanning the only window in the room. There was still no movement.

I walked carefully back into the main room. Stacy was still cowering next to the fake sarcophagus. As I approached, I noticed tears had made little streams down the front of her taut face. I stared her down as best I could given the circumstances, then tried to make an approach. She flinched and I froze again. 

Without a word I excused myself from the situation and slinked back into the dead pornographer’s bedroom. I found an emerald green robe and draped it over my arm and put on my best valet act.

Back in the living room I approached again and presented the robe carefully in her direction. Seemingly without moving she accepted the offering and draped herself in the rough terrycloth of his sub-par bathrobe. I stood up and adjusted myself. She slowly fell onto her side and bunched the robe on her chest.

“Alright, it’s time to go.” I waited and hoped I hadn’t triggered any more tears.

“What about-“ she weakly pointed toward the splayed body of her dead photographer.

“He doesn’t matter. Your sister sent me.”

She hesitated, then put her insubstantial weight on one arm and stood up. She appeared to teeter before I caught her shoulders. I looked at the only thing anyone would; her eyes. 

They were bordered with gently trembling lashes and contained those terrifyingly persuasive blue irises. The glinting was almost mesmerizing enough to make me forget she was a naked human girl significantly younger than myself. Then I looked vaguely to her left and noted the corpse of the pornographer. This focused me.

“Alright Stacy, we have to go, now.”

“What?” She looked like she was trying to focus about a hundred yards behind me.

I took that to mean she was still doped up. I grasped her chin firmly in my right hand, which I felt was pretty compelling. 

I said: “We have to leave here right now. I’ll bring you to your sister.”

“You can’t!” Her turquoise blue eyes blinked and then started to tear up again. I grabbed her by the collar, but melted.

“Why not?”

 “Please, I promise I won’t cause any more trouble. I’ll do anything.”

I thought to myself for a moment, and realized she had just uttered the phrase that had baffled men for centuries. Unfortunately, I was a man.

“Fine. But we have to leave here. Come on.”

I carefully took her hand and clutched it like I would a rare flower. We made our way outside and stopped at the end of the drive.

Copyright © 2016 A. K. Hirsch.


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A. K. Hirsch is the author of The Naked Ballerina, a screenwriter, and now, somehow, a journalist...

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61 comments
3. Matt Taylor
A well-written mystery that had me frantically turning to the next page. I loved it!
5. leslie c
Sounds exciting!

Hopefully I am entering this correctly!
Barbara Bibel
11. bbibel
This is a great read. I hope that I win so that I can get the whole story.
Michael Carter
13. rubydog
Sounds good.
Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
Thanks!
16. tracy peters
Would love to win!
Sharon Haas
18. kazul
Sounds great! It's on my list now.
Liz Buls
19. lizzyb@nebraska.usa.com
This sounds like a great read! I would love the opportunity to read it and share on my blog, twitter, instagram, facebook, and everywhere else!!
Richard Slobod
21. rs2
Who doesn't like a hardboiled detective?
Lori Provenzano
27. Mountainesque
Can feel the tension while reading this. Looks like an irresistible read!
Laurent Latulippe
30. krag48
Added to my "to read" list. Thanks.
Sally Winkleblech
32. sallyw
This is a interesting blend of a old fashioned detective and a look at a pornographer and how he operates and uses a young girl in his business and what happens after she is rescued.
Marybeth Mank
34. Gr8chefmb
Awwwwwww maaaaannnnn!!!! This is the problem with reading excerpts...I want the whole thing. :-) These are the types of crime novels I enjoy reading. This particular one reminds me of the "The Maltese Falcon" and Sam Spade stories. Please pick me!!! :-) This book would find a good home in my hands for reading. Thank you!
35. Millay
Can hardly wait to read.....
Louis Burklow
37. Nash62
I'd love to read an updated hardboiled mystery. This sounds great.
Lorraine Parente
38. spitfire22804@aol.com
very descriptive...I like the ballerina instead of the same old hollywood actress trope
Susan Morris
39. Samfor3
Sounds like my kind of book! Thank you for the opportunity to win it.
Karen Minter
40. Muscoe22
I love a good mystery - I hope I win!!!
Jane Schwarz
44. Janeschwarz
A most exciting excerpt. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy.
vicki wurgler
45. bison61
the excerpt was great love to read the rest of the story
Cindy Jameson
46. LaCiJ
This book has the potential to be one of my sinful indulgences! I really want to stay up all night reading it...I really shouldn't...I most likely will...
susan beamon
47. susanbeamon
This sounds like a 50s noir set in modern dress. I like it. But then I like mysteries.
Mary Ann Woods
49. puttputt1198eve
Just the kind of mystery I enjoy. Thanks for the chance to win it!
L
52. LStirling
Really, who doesn't like following along with a gumshoe rescuing a dame?
Andrew Jensen
53. atinman
Made me think immediately of Mickey Spillane. Nice to read a bit of noir. Its a lost art. Grabbed hold enough that I'm interested in what happened before and what will happen.
55. Polly Barlow
I'm sorry I missed this sweepstakes. The Excerpt sounded great. I'll look for the book.
Sabine Blanch
56. Schlauberger
Love to read... This sounds like a good book. Thank you for the chance
Rhonda Stefani
57. RStefani72
Wow, sounds absolutely thrilling! Would love to read this, it's unlike anything else I've seen in a very long time!
Wanda Johnson
58. Wjoyj
I would love to read this book (not my usual Genre) but reads really well.
Suzanne Shields
60. AmeK
Woo-hoo, can hardly wait to read the whole thing.
Suzanne Shields
60. AmeK
Woo-hoo, can hardly wait to read the whole thing.
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