Japanese-American Beverly Hills homicide detective Masao Masuto is a karate expert, a devotee of roses, and a Zen Buddhist. He does his job with a cool, caustic wit—and with surprising force when necessary. He possesses a singular sense of justice, taking action on his own and occasionally pushing the boundaries of the law . . .
The Case of the Angry Actress: When a Hollywood mogul drops dead at his own party, Detective Masuto must dig into the darkest secrets of the magnate’s past. Now he must uncover a secret worth killing for before someone else dies.
“A good fast-paced thriller.” —Reader’s Syndicate
The Case of the One-Penny Orange: Masuto has a break-in and a murder to solve, both of which are baffling. But when he suspects a connection between the two crimes, he uncovers a bizarre conspiracy that reaches back to the darkest days of World War II.
“A finely perceived mystery puzzle . . . an unusually interesting detective.” —The Washington Star
The Case of the Russian Diplomat: When a dead body is found in a pool at a high-class hotel notorious for its illicit activities, Matsuo finds himself hunting for a killer and tangled in a web of espionage and international intrigue.
“An enjoyable, highly professional entertainment.” —The New Yorker
The Case of the Poisoned Eclairs: A pleasant lull in murder cases is broken when a series of unusual poisoning deaths puts Masuto on the hunt for someone whose terrifying vendetta has only just begun.
“A consummate storyteller.” —The Baltimore Sun
About the Author
Howard Fast (1914–2003) was one of the most prolific American writers of the twentieth century. He was a bestselling author of more than eighty works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and screenplays. The son of immigrants, Fast grew up in New York City and published his first novel upon finishing high school in 1933. In 1950, his refusal to provide the United States Congress with a list of possible Communist associates earned him a three-month prison sentence. During his incarceration, Fast wrote one of his best-known novels, Spartacus (1951). Throughout his long career, Fast matched his commitment to championing social justice in his writing with a deft, lively storytelling style.
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IN Beverly Hills, as in so many of the cities, towns and villages of the United States, there is a right and a wrong side of the tracks. The tracks in this case belong to the Southern Pacific Railroad, and they bisect the town from west to east, departing, as they say, no more than a whoop and a holler from the Pacific Ocean. North of Santa Monica Boulevard — upon which the railroad runs — is possibly the most compact conglomeration of rich people that exists anywhere in the world. Southward, to Wilshire Boulevard, is a very posh little shopping area, and south from Wilshire Boulevard lies the "poor" section of Beverly Hills, where you can still buy a one-family house for forty-five thousand dollars.
Detective Sergeant Masao Masuto, of the Beverly Hills Police Force, did not live in the "poor" section of Beverly Hills. He lived in a cottage in Culver City and considered himself most fortunate to be possessed of the cottage, a good wife, three children, and a rose garden upon which he lavished both love and toil. He secretly dreamed of himself as a gardener who devoted all of his working hours to his garden.
He was driving home this evening and dreaming this particular and favorite dream, when the radiotelephone in the car flickered. He picked up the telephone and was informed by the sergeant in charge of dispatching that evening that a man named Al Greenberg was dead in a house on North Canon Drive, and that the circumstances under which the death had occurred might be regarded as somewhat suspicious.
Would he go directly there?
He would. He was on Pico Boulevard, and now he swung into Beverly Drive — a matter of minutes from the address on North Canon Drive.
Detective Masuto knew the address, the place, the house, just as he knew almost every address, place and house in Beverly Hills. This was not as much of an achievement as it sounds. Where he entered Beverly Hills from the south, driving from Pico across Olympic and then up to Wilshire, the city was only thirty-five blocks wide, and that was about its greatest width, even though it extended a long finger into the foothills of the Santa Monica range. North of Santa Monica Boulevard there were the great elegant streets with their palms, their perfect lawns and their quarter-of-a-million-dollar houses, and these streets Detective Masuto could visualize and name, from Trenton Drive on the west, to Walden, Linden, Roxbury, Bedford, Camden, Rodeo, Beverly and Canon — and after Canon, moving east, Crescent, Rex-ford, Alpine, Foothill, Elm, Maple, Palm, Hillcrest, Arden, Alta, Sierra and Oakhurst — and there the city within a city ended and became Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, there were people and poverty and poolrooms and whorehouses and high-rise apartments and various other ordinary, publicly owned urban equipment. In Beverly Hills, there were property, money and some people.
As his chief of police had explained it to him once, "This is like no other place in the world, Masao. The money is God; the property is sacred; and the people are to be handled with kid gloves until you know who they are — and mostly they are the kind of people you handle with kid gloves after you know who they are."
"Kid gloves." He was a California-born Japanese, and therefore he was an Oriental and not a white man by any means, but excellent with kid gloves.
"The hell with that," he said to himself now. "You have a job, my boy — not a bad job."
He knew the house on North Canon, and he knew who lived there and when they had moved in and how much they had paid for the house and what it was worth today, three years later. Naturally. He knew every house. He knew that "Canon" without accent or similar indication was pronounced "Cannon" by some natives — if you can speak of dwellers in Beverly Hills as natives — and "Canyon" by others. He used the latter pronounciation, as had Al Greenberg, who now lay dead in the house on North Canon. He remembered a small conversation he had with Greenberg concerning the word "Canon." Greenberg, very rich, had also been very curious, and Masuto could not help liking curious people — he was so hopelessly curious himself.
Now Greenberg was dead, a short, stout wistful man of sixty-two or three, in a great antebellum type of house with outside pillars two stories high, a proper part of a Gone with the Wind sound stage dropped between a Spanish Colonial and an eighteen-room Irish cottage. Greenberg had never been greatly at ease in that house, as Masuto remembered. He had sensitivity, and there was always a shred of shame hanging out of his pocket as if he had never answered the question as to what a small Jew, born and brought up in Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, was doing here in this garden of dreams, repose and dolce vita. It was certainly not de rigueur to be seen on your front lawn at any hour of the day if you lived in Beverly Hills and north of Santa Monica, but Detective Masuto could remember many a late afternoon when he saw Al Greenberg standing in front of the misplaced plantation house, puffing a cigar and regarding the green palm and ivy world that surrounded him with wonder and disbelief.
No more wonder and no more disbelief. Al Greenberg was dead, and they had called the cops.
Masuto double-parked in front of the huge Southern-Colonial plantation house on North Canon. In the driveway of the house were three cars, and five more were parked in front and two more already double-parked; among them, as Masuto noticed, two police cars and two medical cars, one of them belonging to Dr. Sam Baxter, the medical examiner. When Masuto got out of his car, he was met by Detective Sy Beckman, who informed him that Officer Frank Seaton was inside the house and another officer stationed at the door.
"What was it? What went on here tonight?"
"Dinner party — black tie, old buddies, but very formal. Four couples and the host and wife. That's Al Greenberg. He's dead."
"I know. I got that in the car. How was he killed?"
"He wasn't killed. Maybe. He died."
"Of what?" Masuto asked as he and Beckman walked up the path to the house. The planting was old and good, and the air was full of the sweet smell of jasmine. Masuto was never unaware of a planting, and he tasted the cool evening air, mingling his pleasure at the smell with his forlorn reaction to death.
"A heart attack. Baxter's inside and so is Dr. Meyer, Greenberg's physician. I think you better talk to both of them."
"I mean before you talk to the others."
"They want out, but I'm holding them for you. Nothing has leaked yet, unless some smart reporter was listening on the radio band. There was nobody up at headquarters, and the boss is of the opinion that we should keep it absolutely quiet until we know something."
"That it's murder or not murder."
"You said he died of a heart attack."
"That's what the doctors say. One of the guests says different.
Detective Beckman peered at his pad in the poor light that seeped from the windows onto the veranda.
"Feller named Jack Cotter."
Masuto nodded, and then the door was opened by a young and very pretty strawberry blonde, who silently and with a funereal air ushered them into the house. Officer Seaton, a tall uniformed patrolman, came up then and apologized for his partner, who was using the bathroom at the back of the house.
"The doctors are in the living room there," he said, pointing over his shoulder. "The rest of them are in the viewing room."
The viewing room was par for this particular course, Masuto reflected, hardly listening to the blonde's explanation that this was where "poor Al" showed films. He was looking at the stately double staircase and the spread of the living room beyond, and without even glancing at the blonde, he asked her name.
"Trade Burke — Mrs. Sidney Burke."
"Then would you join the others in the viewing room, Mrs. Burke, and tell them that I would like to talk to them in a few minutes."
"You're very official, aren't you, Detective —?"
"I thought you were Japanese. Good-looking. You know —"
"Please do as I say, Mrs. Burke."
"I just thought I'd be here to greet the big brass and let them know that there's no murder, and it is all a lot of nonsense, and suppose we all go home and leave poor Phoebe with her grief, such as it is."
"Please do as I say, and later you can tell me all about that."
The other officer came back to the front door. Masuto regarded him without pleasure, waited for Trude Burke to disappear, and then followed Beckman into the living room, where two middle-aged physicians were restlessly observing their wrist watches. Dr. Baxter, the medical examiner — tall, skinny, gray, and tired — shook hands with Masuto and introduced him to Dr. Meyer. Masuto had heard about Meyer, successful, reputable, and expensive.
"Tell him," Dr. Baxter said impatiently. "The facts, not the nonsense. Beckman can feed him the nonsense after you and I go about our business."
"Mr. Greenberg was a patient of mine," Dr. Meyer said. "He has suffered for many years from angina. Quite bad. Tonight he had an attack and he died. Very quickly."
"What kind of an attack?" Masuto asked him.
"A heart attack, of course. Coronary. There was a myocardial infarction, and he passed away."
"Yes. Before he could reach his medicine."
Masuto turned to Baxter. "Do you agree, doctor?"
"No other possibility?"
"There is none that I can see, officer," Meyer said. "No other is being offered. Jack Cotter, who is here and who is Mr. Greenberg's business associate, has made a very serious accusation — namely that Mr. Greenberg was threatened and frightened to death. He calls it murder. I have no desire to comment on the legal aspect or even on the social aspect concerning what happened in this house. I came here. My friend and patient was dead. I examined him and did what I could — which was nothing. This is not a house I enjoy being in at this moment, and there is no grief here for me to assuage. So I wish to go."
"Could Mr. Greenberg have died of fright? Or excitement?" Masuto asked.
"Of course. That's the nature of the disease. Or of ten other trigger causes."
"Is there no way to tell?"
"Even with an autopsy?"
"And you agree?" Masuto asked the medical examiner.
"Yes, Masao. Absolutely."
"Just one or two more questions, Dr. Meyer, and then you can leave. Did you expect Mr. Greenberg to die so suddenly?"
"How does one know?"
"But you must have had some idea of how bad the disease was."
"Of course I had some idea. I had a very good picture of his sickness."
"Suppose he was a lucky man — which he was not. How long might he have lived?"
"Ten years — twelve. You simply cannot pinpoint it. Maybe five years — maybe twice that. Would you like to see his body?"
Masuto nodded, and Meyer led him upstairs to the master bedroom, where under a sheet the mortal remains of Al Greenberg reposed. Masuto uncovered Greenberg's face and looked at him for a long moment.
The living room was French, a combination of several Louis', with a huge, pale Aubusson carpet. The viewing room was practical leather — two enormous leather couches and half a dozen leather lounge chairs. At one end, the projection room, at the other the screen — but both now concealed behind beige drapes. A third wall, where the drapes were drawn back, revealed the planting behind the house, a small tropical jungle which separated the house from the swimming pool. A well-equipped bar and an orange rug completed the furnishings.
There were nine people sprawled on the couches and chairs, and they all looked at the door with a more or less common expression of sullen annoyance as the two men entered, Detective Beckman with Masuto behind him. Death muted them, yet they were annoyed and put upon. One of them, a lean, good-looking man in his middle forties, said something about house arrest being a little less than to his liking. "I have had about enough of it," he said tartly.
There were four men and five women in the room. Masuto recognized the man who had spoken. His name was Mike Tulley, for years a small part player in Westerns, who now was a sort of star in television terms. He had a program of his own called "Lonesome Rider," and his rating was high and he earned well over three thousand dollars a week.
Another man, older, tall, with white wavy hair and very certain of his presence, rose and came toward the detectives. "Easy does it," he said, "We're all under a strain, you know. My name is Murphy Anderson. I was Al's — that is, Mr. Greenberg's lawyer. Also his business associate. We've all been shaken by his death —" He had addressed his words to Masuto.
"You are a policeman, aren't you?" he added.
"You're in charge here?"
"With my colleague, Detective Beckman."
Masuto absorbed the room. You listened and absorbed; you were conscious of many things, which was in the manner of his life and way, and you pressed conclusions away from you. He noted the five women in the room. There was the strawberry blonde, whom he had seen at the door. There was a girl with dark hair. The other three were blondes. But all five, in the particular manner of Beverly Hills, could have been cast from the same mould. Two of them rose after he entered and then slipped onto the chair arms. Another went to the bar and mixed a drink. All appeared to be about the same height, each with the same trim, tight figure. Even their faces were alike, noses tip-tilted, mouths full. They were a part of a social organism that demanded beauty and alikeness, yet each was different, separate, unique. One of them he recognized — Phoebe Greenberg, widow of the dead man. She was neither prostrated nor weeping, but since she could hardly be more than thirty, with a husband who had been sixty-three and ill and very rich, this was not a matter for surprise.
Of the men, he had recognized only the actor, Mike Tulley. Now he added Murphy Anderson, lawyer, to the file. Anderson would be about fifty. He introduced the widow, then his own wife, Mrs. Anderson, the girl with the dark hair. Then Murphy Anderson introduced Trude Burke, the strawberry blonde.
"I am Detective Sergeant Masuto, Beverly Hills police," Masao Masuto said politely. "I understand that this is a strain for everyone concerned."
The youngest man in the room rose and introduced himself as Sidney Burke, the head of a successful PR agency. That made him the husband of the strawberry blonde. He was about thirty-seven, small, tight, competent, with pebble-black eyes. Tough, dangerous, wily — all words that Masuto remembered and discarded. You simply did not know. It took time.
"More than that, it's a stupid imposition," Burke said.
Masuto's eyes deliberately avoided the final couple. The remaining man, fleshy, balding but once quite handsome, with a long, thin nose and excellent chin and mouth, pinged on the detectives's memory. He had been a sort of a star — just after World War II — but briefly. Then a very successful agent — or was it a producer?
He rose and said, "My name is Jack Cotter, officer. This is my wife, Arlene —"
Of course, the agent. And now Al Greenberg's vice-president in Northeastern Films.
"— and I am afraid that I am responsible for the imposition. Entirely responsible. You see, I have made a damn nusiance of myself by insisting that Al was murdered."
"You can say that again!" Tulley snorted.
"A veritable goddamn nuisance," said Burke.
"Suppose you shut up, Sidney. You talk when you're told to talk," Tulley, the TV actor, said.
"Just who the hell do you think you're putting down?" Burke demanded. "I don't work for you, Mister. You're a client of mine, and now that Al's dead, I don't want such clients. So up your ass!"
"Take it easy, Sidney," Murphy Anderson said. "You too, Mike," he told the actor. "Just take it easy. Jack heard something, and not to report what he heard would make him an accessory after the fact."
"What fact?" Sidney Burke demanded.
"The fact of a murder — if a murder took place. I don't like the whole thing any more than any of you, but there it is —"
Masuto held up his hands for silence at this point. Being a policeman in Beverly Hills might not be exactly like being a diplomat to the Benelux countries. It might be better compared to being a UN representative to a small, new country. It required tact, judgement, and above all, good manners — and control.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Masao Masuto Mysteries Volume One"
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