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It was about two o’clock in the afternoon, early May, with the sun beaming like a toddler who just completed his first four-piece puzzle and earned a striped lollipop. My formal business attire had wilted like a four-day-old Ceasar’s salad at 7Eleven, but it didn’t matter. It had already outlived its purpose. The prince had hired me, and I was now packing one left glass slipper and searching for the right mate in all the meanings of the word. For what was to come, a hazmat suit would have been more appropriate, but I was still lounging in my ignorant bliss like a sea lion on Pier 39.

The house was a large Craftsman on a tree-lined street in well-mannered Pasadena. It had several balconies, a large front porch, and sage-green shingles, and impeccable stonework enough to make a realtor salivate like a zombie running into the astrophysics department at Caltech at a Tesla showroom.

I pressed the doorbell and heard it echo through what seemed like every room in the house, which no doubt was due to Cinderella’s father being a bit of a tinker and no stranger to cheese-themed bondage as it said on the Tinder profile I had matched with his personnel file picture from Ogden Page Accountancy Corporation that was located at the same address as the Bulgarian-American Chamber of Commerce.

The woman who opened the door was barefoot, which explained I hadn’t noticed her approach until she was right in front of the stained glass window on the upper half of the door. She was hot in the menopausal sense, strands of her wispy high- and low-lighted damp hair glued to her forehead, red blotches lighting up her cheeks, neck, and cleavage like the nose of an 80s mall Santa with a severe cold medicine problem which wasn’t helped by her too tight yoga outfit that I was sure was meant to be burgundy but after countless wash cycles now looked more like the color of beets having passed through the digestive system a middle-sized domesticated animal. Her toenails could use a touch-up of the bird’s egg blue polish that must have seemed edgy at the time of application but had turned tired like her in the weeks since.

“Yes?” She said in a voice that bore witness to her status as the second wife of a second-rate bean counter, always clinging on to the hope that her tone could convince people to respect her, which of course, they never did.

“Can I see Cinderella?” I asked and put on a semi-smile that both said I’m not here to fuck her, and this could be her lucky day.

“You can give it a try,” she said and turned around to rejoin her Zoom class for Shavasana in the den to the left. On the way, she pointed up the stairs.

“It’s the second door on the right,” she said. “The one with the naked Marilyn Manson poster and the Bitchin Bitch sign. You can’t miss it.”

And with that, she left me to walk into a case that was as sordid and twisted as a QAnon conspiracy theory on Parlor at 4:35 AM when only the shaman is still awake.

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