A Hard-Boiled Christmas
By Rodger Jacobs
L.A. is no place for someone as sensitive as a classics professor.
It was 6:15 PM on Christmas Day. My partner and I had drawn the holiday call-out duty. We were having dinner at the Cat and the Fiddle when my cell phone rang. I was glad for the intrusion because my partner, “Mac” McIlvaney, was carrying on with all of these boyhood Christmas memories that were so thick with sugar and sweetness that I wanted to heave up my bangers and mash right there on the bar.
It was Katz on the phone. Katz is the desk sergeant at the Hollywood Division of the L.A.P.D. A citizen up in Laurel Canyon reported shots fired – two shots, to be precise, more than likely from a pump-action shotgun, the citizen reported. Turns out the guy knows his stuff, being a firearms consultant for the movie studios.
Anyway, when the black and white boys arrived on scene all they had to do was gaze through the plate glass window to know they had a situation. On the living room floor they saw the body of a woman, approximately thirty years of age, sprawled underneath the Christmas tree. The responding officer noted in his report that it was an artificial tree. When the officers gained entry to the residence they discovered the body of a second victim, a 58-year old white male, victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was a classic murder-suicide job.
Suicide runs are common during the holidays. You don’t need my expertise to tell you why. It’s a lonely time of year for a lot of people. Deck the halls with boughs of holly and ventilate your room mate’s chest with a shotgun before turning the piece on yourself.
The male victim was one Albert Peltz, a UCLA classics professor, a real respected guy who was as shy as a deer in the real world but in front of a class room, from what we were told, he became as electric as a Method actor.
The female victim, Denise Galine, was Peltz’s house guest. She was a trust fund baby who longed to be a teacher like Peltz. Friends described her as “free-spirited and adventurous”. On a whim she would take off for Paris and Rome, absorbing herself in European café society, living the so-called romantic life of an American expatriate.
Albert and Denise met when Denise was a waitress at a restaurant in Westwood Village. That was ten years ago. They both loved good wine and classic literature and they quickly developed a close relationship. Or so Peltz thought.
As far as Galine was concerned, she and Peltz were just friends. She kept is platonic. But in Albert’s mind they had a budding romantic relationship.
Mac did the lion’s share of the interviews with Galine’s friends and family while I concentrated on Professor Peltz. The female victim was a frequent house guest of the classics professor. They entered cycles, friends told Mac, where they would become very close until Denise would pull back and embark on one of her famous jaunts to Europe. On the last trip abroad she apparently came back with a boyfriend and, looking for a place to stay, she called on her old platonic friend. That was more than Peltz could handle.
In the Professor’s bathroom I found a flurry of medications for manic depression. Colleagues and acquaintances told me that Peltz was a socially reserved man and in the last few years he had grown increasingly moody and isolated while still maintaining his absolute genius in the class room. In his mind he was Humbert Humbert and she was Lolita, except Denise Galine was certainly no nymphet but you get what I’m saying.
When the Times got ahold of the story they headlined it “Spurned Advances May Be Behind Shootings”. Let me tell you one thing right here and right now: no murder is ever that simplistic.
© 2004-05, Rodger Jacobs
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