Whatever Happened to Jerry Picco? A Porn-Noir Fairy Tale

Jerry Picco, the world’s greatest midget erotic actor, has gone missing. And Jack Storm - ex-Berkeley professor and sleaze-loving, unlicensed PI working out of LA (and the trunk of his 15 year-old Mercedes Benz) - has no idea where to look.
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Jerry Picco, the world’s greatest midget erotic actor, has gone missing. And Jack Storm - ex-Berkeley professor and sleaze-loving, unlicensed PI working out of LA (and the trunk of his 15 year-old Mercedes Benz) - has no idea where to look.

Chapter One

“So he just vanished?” I ask.

She’s right next to me on the chaise longue, curled up in a red kimono, cradling a vodka. Skin as sallow as old cheddar, tangled blond hair like the wool off of a sheep. She’s not looking great. But she’s still pretty good, despite everything.

“Just did,” she says, kind of flat, as if something’s gone from her brain. Like they’ve taken a chunk of it away and left her with the vodka and the cheese.

I’ve know Gloria for years one way and another. She’s had the body of a twenty year-old as long as I can remember. Straight six foot in her heels. About the hottest two yards of flesh I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen some flesh.

“He didn’t say goodbye?”

I’m not one for the softly-softly. If he’s gone, he’s gone. I’ll find him. If that’s what she wants. If she really wants him found. But I’ve got my doubts.

My name is Jack. Jack Storm. I do people favors. But not people like you. Your place gets turned over? You find a body? You call the Precinct. Two nice men come down asking questions, looking concerned. If the cops can’t help, there’s PIs in the book. You got options. You got people to call.

But cops have to write reports. Even private eyes have rules. People come to me when they’ve got no options. I’m not in the book.

“Nothing,” she says down into her drink. There’s a lot less in the glass than when she opened the door five minutes ago. “No note. No goodbye. No nothing.”

She’s had the body of a twenty year-old as long as I can remember. Straight six foot in her heels. About the hottest two yards of flesh I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen some flesh.

“Money? Cards? Watch?”

“Still here.”

“Keys? Car? Cell?”

“Took his cell. Nothing else.”

“What was he wearing?”

She shrugs. “The usual. White suit. Violet silk shirt.”

“Violet?”

“Armani. Blue and violet. Flowers.”

“White suit and flowery shirt? First thing in the morning?”

“You know what he was like.”

I know Jerry Picco. And now his wife’s talking about him in the past tense. But if it’s for the insurance, or the house, she calls the police. She doesn’t wait a week and a half then call Jack Storm. One more thing: this is not a jealous wife. She does not put a bullet through his head for screwing around. I know Jerry Picco.

Gloria sniffles, runs the glass across her forehead. Her eyes are puffy, but sort of small inside. Strands of blond hair stick to the worry lines etched deep into her brow. All this close-up work makes me uneasy. I prefer her on the screen.

She was always my favorite, no question. There’s a couple of Jerry’s old videos I watch sometimes, the early ones. Gloria’s one hell of a performer. Jerry too. The chaise longue is in both those movies. I feel honored just sitting here.

I look around at the room, wait for the sniffling to stop. Faded Palo Alto luxury, the floor so thick with fur rugs it’s like someone slaughtered a pack of huskies right here. Louis XIV mirrors, ruby-red drapes, big frameless mock-Rothkos, gaudy chandeliers hung too low, each branch heavy with crystal fruit. A pimped-up abortion of a place, circa way back.

I’ve been here before. That’s why she’s crying. Not because Jerry’s disappeared. Not just that, anyways. I’ve done plenty of jobs for Jerry and Gloria over the years. But it’s one job in particular she’s remembering now. They hired me to find one of their girls. Story was, she’d been kidnapped. They’d already paid the ransom but the girl never showed. It took me about a day and a quarter to find the little slut, holed up in a motel counting the fifty grand she and her sleazebag boyfriend made off of the deal. I didn’t have the heart to tell Jerry and Gloria, especially after the boyfriend cut me in for ten. I beat the shit out of him anyway and gave her the gypsy warning. I felt bad but I got over it.

She somehow manages to keep hold of the glass, the cigarette and the remote, and turns up the volume. It’s one of those sultry Texan movies

That’s why Gloria’s crying. Last time she sent me looking for somebody I drew a blank. So she kind of knows how this might turn out. Leastways, she thinks she does.

“See that,” she says, glancing across at an enormous plasma screen in the middle of a marble fireplace straight out of the Getty Museum gift shop. The TV’s been on mute since I got here. They’re showing an old Faith Reagan movie. Everybody’s showing Faith Reagan movies right now.

I look at the screen. There she is, Faith Reagan. The frailest teenager you ever saw, painfully innocent, doe-eyed, freckled, beautiful like you couldn’t imagine.

Gloria lights a Dunhill and pulls a TV remote out from somewhere down inside the kimono. She somehow manages to keep hold of the glass, the cigarette and the remote, and turns up the volume. It’s one of those sultry Texan movies they used to make where it was always sunset and nothing much happened.

“Jerry knew her,” she says, nodding at the screen as she takes a drink.

“Who, Faith Reagan?”

“Yeh.”

“That’d be before she got married, I guess.”

“I guess.”

Faith Reagan was a starlet, years back. Young and pretty, virginal and clean-living. That’s how I remember her. How everyone remembers her. She’s about my age. And Jerry’s, for that matter. Look where we are now. Shit. They used to call Faith Reagan the new Doris Day. To me she was more of a Sissy Spacek with undercurrents. More of a tug, if you get me. What the fuck she was doing bumping into a sleaze ball like Jerry Picco I don’t know. But that’s LA. We all think we know it. But we’re on the outside. We don’t know what goes on.

“How’s business?” I ask Gloria.

She mutes the TV and takes another mouthful of vodka, wincing as she swallows. Her face is blotchy and raw, streaked with sadness. She’s a little younger than Jerry, I reckon, but she always had that big sister look. The perfect partner for him. Now she just looks tired and drunk. I’ve never seen her look like this.

Gloria lights a Dunhill and pulls a TV remote out from somewhere down inside the kimono. She somehow manages to keep hold of the glass, the cigarette and the remote

How’s business? She doesn’t answer that one. Doesn’t need to. You seen Jerry’s name any place recently? No. Something happened to him. His star just dropped out the sky. And Gloria dropped with him. Time was, Jerry could walk into a restaurant down in LA and people would look. He was known. He was liked. Had a couple of mainstream cameos too. Could have crossed over, if he hadn’t liked his job so much.

Where is he now? Fuck knows. He moved here from San Fernando years back, got himself a fifteen-room Palo-Alto villa before the Valley boomed. Anyone who bought big in Palo Alto back then is a bricks and mortar millionaire. And besides, you can only feel so sorry for the guy who married Gloria.

“You sure you don’t want a drink?” she says, walking almost steadily over to a monster drinks counter built of rough-hewn Italian marble. She freshens her glass to the brim, but that includes ice so I figure she’s not suicidal.

I decline the offer. She makes it back to the chaise longue without mishap. There are tears in her eyes, but she’s trying to smile, and now she’s closer to me. A little too close.

“Jack,” she says, cute, “you will find him, won’t you?”

“If he wants to be found.”

She takes a couple of gulps.

“Jack,” she says again, her mouth resting on the rim of the glass. “I can’t pay you.”

Her mouth stays right where it is. A little vodka and saliva dribbles out the side. She’s started crying again.

At the door I turn to say goodbye. But she’s staring at the TV, the glass held to her chin. She doesn’t know I’m there.

I owe you ten grand, I want to tell her. But I figure it’s not the right moment. Any second now she’s gonna wanna hug me, and heavy debtors have problems with intimacy.

Standing, I tell her I’ll be back tomorrow. She’s no use to me like this, and there’s a chance she might be sober if I get to her before lunch. I’ll ask my questions then.

At the door I turn to say goodbye. But she’s staring at the TV, the glass held to her chin. She doesn’t know I’m there.

Off the hallway is Jerry’s office. More fur rugs scattered on the floor, but there’s no bad modern art on the walls, which are lined with leather-bound volumes of Hustler magazine and about fifty others. Then there’s copies of all his own videos, including Think Big Volumes 1 through 12 (his biggest selling movies). I’m missing several for the set. Not that I’m an obsessive or anything but it’d be nice to have the full dozen.

His Rolodex sits on a dark wood desk, which is meticulously tidy and absolutely enormous. Then there’s an enormous desk diary, and the fattest Mont Blanc fountain pen I have ever seen. There’s not much in the diary. A squiggle here and there, something that even the handwriting tells you is unimportant. The page for ten days ago has been folded down at the corner: NBC it says. Underneath, circled in the same blue ink, ALL FIVE!!!, the words underlined so hard that the paper bears little blue-edged gashes.

I take the Rolodex and leave. Several volumes of Think Big go through the door with me.

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