Life is absurd.
Post-war life is absurd and bizarre – a harsh lesson learned by Vietnam vet ELVIN SUGGS. Eager to resume his life with his wife, petite blonde CHERIE, and his Airedale Terrier SAVANNAH, his hopes are dashed when Cherie demands a divorce. With no future remaining in Memphis, he searches for DIMOND REDDING, the widow of Don, his best friend in ‘nam.
Now a fifty-five year old widow, DI is struggling to build a new life in St. Louis, Missouri. As an ex-Army nurse, she now has a job at the People’s Hospital and an apartment at the Jewel Arms, located in an aging south city neighborhood. Before long, a gruesome murder outside her door challenges her decision.
MATTHEW TORREZ, a prominent, yet shy businessman is stabbed following his daily visit with another tenant, VALERIE GAINS, an aspiring actress and full-time party girl. In his briefcase, police discover an assortment of gold and diamond jewelry. In his coat pocket, is a five carat diamond ring. Why was TORREZ carrying so much jewelry, and why didn’t the killer snag it?
Disillusioned and distraught, DI questions her move to St. Louis. Was this the best place for her? A ghost from her past answers her dilemma in the form of TASHA WEEKS, another first floor tenant. She produces letters from her brother ANTOINE WEEKS, written by DI during his time in a military hospital in Vietnam, and begs for DI’s assistance.
It seems that Detective RICK VALENTINO has arrested her friend PARRISH (Parry) LEACH, in the death of Matthew Torrez. Leach, fresh out of jail and on parole, was at the Jewel Arms at the time of the murder. Tasha insists he was caring for her after her eye surgery, though she couldn’t vouch for the accuracy of anything she might have seen. As a favor to her deceased brother, she asks, can Di help them prove Parry’s innocence?
Di is reluctant to get involved. Elvin, however, has become a private investigator, and has just arrived in St. Louis. In memory of Antoine, he insists that they help Tasha Weeks. They promise to help clear Parry’s record, thereby plunging themselves into lethal consequences with the silent owner of the Jewel Arms – Cherie’s new boyfriend, the greedy WALTER HUBBLE. In a fateful strategy, he has placed the building in Cherie’s name as a ruse, and is using it for his drug-trafficking activities.
Hubble and his slovenly brother Arnold, become concerned when Cherie and Elvin appear to reconcile. If Cherie tells Elvin about their drug empire, the cash flow will evaporate – unthinkable! Thus, Cherie’s murder becomes an overnight reality, as well as the death of Tasha Weeks.
Depressed and lonely, Elvin cruises the streets of St. Louis one frigid night, and encounters a homeless vet huddled in the darkness. To his delight, he has discovered St. Louis native COBRA GLYNES, a former Marine sniper who once saved his life. Elvin picks him up and invites him to share his apartment at the Jewel Arms. Cobra accepts – no questions asked.
Another tenant, Belle Torrez, mourns the loss of her son. Without Mattie, she must rely on ROSE HONEYCUTT, her diabolical nurse. An ex-con herself, Rose has had several aliases. Her nursing license was revoked years ago, forcing her to work “incognito.” Through the years, she has stolen cash and jewelry by over medicating her patients to the point of unconsciousness. While working at the Jewel Arms, she also murders Edmund Mars and Annie Silver, two other tenants.
Matthew had grown wise to her tricks and had taken the jewelry stash for safekeeping, with the exception of the five-carat diamond ring. It was intended for Valerie, but he’d never had the nerve to propose to her; it had remained in his coat pocket. Police want to return the jewelry to Belle’s, but at Valerie’s urging, it is entrusted to Di.
Walter and Arnold are alarmed that Elvin and Cobra are living at the Jewel Arms and intend to kill them. Though they manage to overpower them, Cobra has a panic attack and sets fire to the building. Di grabs the jewelry and escapes before the explosion. The Jewel Arms, together with its treasures and secrets, are destroyed forever.
In the end, Parry Leach is a free man. Now officially homeless, Di, Elvin and Cobra also strapped for cash, decide to sell the jewelry in exchange for a down payment.
Cash in hand, the three vets decide to remain in St. Louis and follow Elvin’s lifelong dream: to open a detective agency.
And Valerie Gains? Her Hollywood fantasies are very much alive, though she continued to book her “dates” and commercials for dog food. The Jewel Arms wasn’t the end of the line for her, nosirree, just because Valentino is still punching the clock in rehab. Someday, she muses, he’d take her to snag her first Oscar. After that, they’d go to all the after parties together. She’d even make sure he was sober. She could see it all now. Today, Valerie Gains. Tomorrow, the Satin Doll!
October 25th—it would have been their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. She shouldn’t have done it, but nevertheless, Di allowed herself to linger over “the drawer,” as she thought of it, the place where she hoarded the remnants of Don’s life. Even worse, she had put The Supremes on the stereo again, if only to drown out the noise from across the hall. She’d cried herself to sleep that night; something after Don died, she promised herself never to do again. Thirty years, the things they could have done, the places they could have gone, if only he’d made it too.
Trapped in a fitful sleep, she was lost in a jungle. It didn’t look familiar, and yet, somehow it did. Ant was there, and so was Elvin, which was odd, because she hardly remembered Ant, and the four of them had never gone anywhere together. As they moved through the branches and underbrush, a thick fog surrounded them. Some kind of melting jelly dripped from the canopy of overhead branches. The swirling fog grew denser, the goo singed her skin. “Where are we?” she shrieked. “I’m on fire!” But no one answered. She was alone. At least until Elvin and Ant returned to find her sleeping on a pile of dirty uniforms.
“Where were you?” said Elvin. “You should have been there. You could have saved him. It’s all your fault!”
“Where’s Don?” Even in her dream, her voice sounded clear and rational. “We promised we would take care of each other.”
“He kept asking for you. And you were sleeping! Look at you. You were sleeping while they killed him.”
Ant pulled out his gun and aimed at her skull. “You deserve to die! It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault…” The chant echoed relentlessly. Her head felt like it was going to split.
Di sat up in bed, sweating, trying to catch her breath as she looked around the starkly furnished bedroom. The clock on the nightstand said 2:00 a.m. She must have fallen asleep after dinner sometime, she thought, her mind still hazy. Her stereo still played in the living room. At least that noise in the hall had stopped.
She was in the kitchen, getting a glass of juice, when she heard arguing out in the hall. The voices were angry, even threatening. She pressed her ear to the thin door and listened to the sounds of crackling paper and shuffling feet, and witnessed the magic of money.
Without a word, Elvin opened the door and slipped into the hall, just as Dent stepped out to grab his newspaper.
“Hey there, Elvin! Been a busy morning around here, hasn’t it?”
Elvin didn’t respond, fearing Dent misinterpreted his presence in the Silver’s apartment.
“Well, it sure has been noisy down there. Want to join me for some coffee?”
“Not today, Dent.” Elvin inserted his key into his apartment door.
He latched Vanna’s collar onto the leash, and wondered if he should have divulged more of his personal life to Annie. Maybe if he had told her about Cherie—how he had been taken for granted, how much he still loved her, and yes, all the broken promises in his own life—maybe he could have helped her. As he headed down the hall, he could only think about her last remark to him—that he didn’t understand, that it wasn’t that simple.
Suddenly, Vanna jumped forward, attempting to leap down the steps to the first floor.
“Whoa, lady, too fast,“ he corrected, jerking the leash. But the dog persisted in the tug of war. As they reached the first floor, however, Elvin spotted the reason for Vanna’s response. The door to Apartment B stood wide open; uniformed police officers buzzed about like bees to honey.
“Back,” said Elvin, coaxing the dog away from the scene. But as he waited for the hubbub to subside, his impatience grew, and he edged toward the doorway of the open apartment, all the while, holding Vanna close to his side. Craning his neck he pushed closer to the commotion, until he could overhear the muffled comments.
“Looks like they got her at close range.”
“Must have been fast.”
“Get these people out of here.”
“Can you find any ID on the body?”
“Look for a purse somewhere, will ya?”
“Sir,” said a policeman as he approached Elvin, “you’ll have to get that dog out of here.” Vanna’s whimpering and whining grew more intense by the second.
“Who was it?” asked Elvin.
“You live here?”
The cop took a deep breath. “Ever seen a woman with blonde hair around here?”
Elvin nodded. “A blonde lives in A. Right there.”
The cop looked hopeful. “Think you could take a quick look and tell us if this is her?”
“I’ll hold your dog.”
“No sir, she’ll be fine.” Elvin inched his way into the barren apartment. Nothing could have prepared him. Facing Cherie’s corpse, Elvin’s senses toppled like a smoldering skyscraper. His pulse stopped beating-or so it seemed to him—because he couldn’t believe his eyes. Paralyzed by shock, breathless and heartbroken, retaliation was a distant daydream. For a guy who wished he could die, that dream made perfect sense.
“Sir,” said the cop, “just tell us if you know the lady or not, and we’ll take care of the rest.”
When Elvin finally spoke, he felt as if he were floating up from the depths of the ocean, sputtering and gasping for air. “You don’t understand, sir,” he blurted. “It’s not that simple.”