NVDT Random – SepSceneWrimo – ’21-11

I made a few calls, found a pilot I knew who ran a converted C47 air taxi out of Burbank. By converted he’d had the cabin outfitted like the Grand Poobah’s flying palace. If I hurried, I could join him on a pre-paid empty haul to pick up a movie star stranded in San Francisco. The bad news was I’d have to find another way home.

On the ground in San Francisco, surrounded by the muck and mud of never-ending construction, I considered traipsing from the private ground services area to the terminal and renting a car, decided against it. I was only going two places. To visit a young jock turned gigolo and dissuade him from any further attempts to get real gangsters to pimp a blackmail scheme, and to John’s Grill. Both places a cab or a cable car would drop me at the door.

I caught a lift from a box truck driver pulling freight straight from Mexican charter to the tarmac to the back of his truck who dropped me at Powell and Fifth. I walked a couple of blocks, hopped a cable car that dropped me at the corner of Hyde and Union where the gigolo lived in a Victorian converted into as many apartments as it once had rooms. I let myself in without knocking, found him in front of the mirror.

“Who…” he turned, startled. “How’d you get in here?”

“I hear that a lot.” I held up grandma’s picture so Brock Holland could see it in the mirror. He snorted. I put a finger behind my ear, raised an eyebrow.

“Hey, I get a buzz on, close my eyes and sling pork on ugly old women for real money.” He avoided the photo, checked his visage in the bathroom mirror. “Is that a crime?”

“On some level. Last I checked there was debate going around about the legality of being a career scumbag.”

“Yeah, well check out ‘consenting adults’ while you’re in jail for breaking into my place.” He straightened his shirt, picked imaginary lint off his sleeves, checked his cuffs. I could see him measure me, see all the things he wanted to say to me arguing with a deep desire to keep his looks in order and not set himself up for chasing his teeth down the street. I guess the ex All American that couldn’t gut it out for the pros and no traction on his blackmail pitch got the best of him and he swung. I leaned back, gave his arm a little help to keep it moving past me. He made it around to forty-five degrees at the waist and I slammed my fist into the base of his sternum. I let him drop to all fours and wretch before I squatted down, lifted his wet chin.

“You were about to tell me about my grandmother.”

He wheezed, I waited. He sat back on his heels, hands on his thighs, head back. I reached up, pulled a towel off his sink, handed it off. He wiped his face, blew his nose like six elephants with head colds before saying, “Thanks.”

“Any time.”

“You know what these teeth cost me?”

“I can guess.”

“Well, thanks again.” He hacked into the towel. “For the body shot.”

“My pleasure entirely.” I held out the picture of Lorelei’s grandmother again.

“She’s your grandmother?”

“Temporarily.” I thumbed through his date book.

“Where’d you get that?”

“Off your dresser after I let myself in. You were too busy admiring yourself to answer the door.”

“Like you fucking knocked…” He checked the page I showed him. “Yeah. The same. If I have any with the same initials, I add a number.”

“What a system.” I wanted to ask him what happened when he ran out of fingers before he ran out of Smiths, left it. I checked the book again to be sure. “You met her the first time back in May?”

“April. May. Sometime in there.”

“What is it with you kids, can’t remember shit for when things happen?”

“We lead busy lives?”

“Must be nice.” I let him breathe for a few. “Let me tell you something about grandma. Her husband’s dead. I’m thinking this book of yours had something to do with it. A book like this is a handy business tool, keeps you organized. It can also be bad for your health. You do what do, learn to keep secrets – you’ll become valuable. And you’ll live a lot longer. Get careless with it? Somebody with connections gets pissed off? No telling what could happen.”

“You aren’t here –” he started to choke, I whacked his upper back.

“No one wants you dead. Not yet. I’m here because you tried to sell your little black book scheme to the wrong people. They’d like for you take your act back to the gutter where little league blackmail belongs. A word to the wise – if you need a front to make contact, keep you out of it, find another scumbag to stooge for you. This is your one warning – Your penny ante brand of blackmail is a good way to end up a different kind of stiff than your day job, Brock. You listening?”

Color was trying to return to his face. It reminded me of a little kid scared shitless ready to swear on a stack of bibles he’d never do whatever it was he’d done, ever again, so long as the belt didn’t come out.

“It’s good we understand each other.” I flicked grandma’s pic. “Know where she is?”

“Downtown. The Stanhope.”

“Not since yesterday.”

“Thank God.” He made a wobbly stand-up effort. I stood, pulled him up.

“Why’s that? She must have set you up for a year unless you have some way to blow through serious jack in a big hurry.”

“It’s not that.” He dropped the toilet seat, sat. “She’s… Insatiable. Three, four calls a day. I told her I couldn’t, that I have other clients who expect me to… Perform. At a certain… level.”

“You couldn’t say no?” I looked at the picture. “I could.”

“If I told her no way I could meet up again, she’d say she’d go battery powered, at double my rate. If I’d run the toy store.” He set the towel back on the vanity.

I swapped grandma’s picture for one of Lorelei. “How about her?”

“I’d dick that down for a nickel and give you a dime in change.”

“An altruistic sausage slinger. I’m impressed. Ever seen her?”

He shook his head. “I wish.”

“Word was you shaved points at UCLA. You must know Tommy S?”

“I never…” He looked away, and it took him an instant too long to get it out. I pocketed the pictures, slapped him with the snot and slobber towel, dropped it on his head. “Don’t take up poker when the poker in your pants wears out.”

***

 A waitress who’d obviously heard too much in her short life span sat me in a booth across from the bar at John’s. She communicated with her pen and monosyllables. “Drink?” “Order?” John’s is intimate, but it it’s not quiet. I started with a Scotch on the rocks with a splash.  Since I’m not the biggest lamb chop fan I skipped the Spade and ordered a New York Strip, skipped the full load on the baked potato for extra butter and green onions.

I was halfway through my salad, and ready to kill the table full of cackling women from New York in the corner booth behind me when a small, florid, round-faced man dressed in slacks and a ribbed-cuff cotton windbreaker slid in across from me. I pointed to my drink with my fork.

“No, thanks.” He waited for me to finish my mouthful of salad. “Meyers?”

“You knew that.”

“So I did.” He smiled one of those pleased-with-himself smiles jovial, pot-bellied bankers in movies smile. “The Bishop said we’d find you here.”

I looked beyond him, into the street. “We?”

“Figure of speech. The people I represent would like you to have this.” He pulled a 5×7 manila envelope from the jacket, slid it next to my salad bowl. He caught my look. “It’s what Mr. Holland was attempting to peddle. And something for you as well.”

“Thanks.” I wiped my mouth with a napkin. “Negatives?”

“Of course. He informed us this was everything. To prove his good faith in our negotiations.”

“You believed him?”

“Certainly not. I’m here because he must have taken whatever your message was to heart.” He studied me the way an antiques dealer studies a vase. “We went by to pay him a visit a short time ago, he’d cleared out, left nothing of value behind.”

“Any idea where?”

“No, and frankly we don’t care.” He looked up at the glowering waitress. “Here’s your steak. Good evening, Mr. Meyers.” He slid out and around her, made it to the door and disappeared. The waitress set my plate down, twisted her shoulder to show me the menu clamped between her elbow and side, broke her monosyllable style with “I brought him this.”

“He and his friends were just making a delivery.”

She quick scanned the room. “Friends?”

“He kept saying ‘we’.”

She pulled the menu with her other hand, went fists on hips. “Some people will do anything to waste a girl’s time…”

I couldn’t decide whether to open the envelope or eat. I knew one way it could ruin my appetite, the other my digestion. I ate first.

NVDT Random – SepSceneWrimo – ’21-10

I picked up my shirts from the desk boy in my lobby. He looked like his stomach hurt. I asked.

“I think you got company, Mr. Meyers.”

“How can you tell?”

“I dunno…”

“C’mon, we’re both grownups.”

“The people who come to see you, they’re… Well… ”

“I get it. How many?”

“Two? Could be three. There was one a hour or more ahead of the other two. Them two, the last ones, I checked, and they were twenty minutes apart.”

I thanked him, handed him a five, took the stairs instead of the elevator. I stopped at the landing between three and four, peered around the railing. Sure enough, the backside of someone I didn’t know, eyes stuck to the cracked-open stairwell door. I hung my shirts on the railing, tiptoed up to the top step, pulled him off balance and into me, whispered in his ear.

“Meyers. Looking for me?”

“Turn it down, will ya?” He didn’t fight my choker. “We’re in the same business.” He tilted his head down and right. “Check it before you throw me down the stairs.” I did a reach around with my right hand, pulled his wallet from the breast pocket of a nice brown plaid sportscoat that smelled like dry cleaning fluid.

“Terrance McGovern, Private Investigator. What puts you on my floor if it’s not me, Terrance?”

“Terry. You know a firecracker redhead lives on this floor, goes by Dolores?”

“Not as well as I’d like.”

“You and every swinging dick in southern California. Real name’s Margaret. Her old man says she’s got at least two personalities. The PTA president he married, and this one.”

“Which is worse?”

“Depends on your point of view. This one’s a hooker.”

“Some guys never catch a break.” I pushed McGovern upright, collected my shirts. I stuck my head out the stairwell door. The hall was empty. “You see anybody go in 9 D?”

“An expensive suit picked the lock like he had a key. A skinny kid with tape on his nose putzed around with the door until the suit dragged him in. I got the times in my notebook.”

“Not now. Drinks are on me, McGovern. Look me up sometime.”

“On a slow day, maybe. Hell of a way to make a buck,” McGovern gave me a brotherly shoulder squeeze. “This one, I get home, I feel dirty. You? Try and stay above the ground.”

I knocked on my apartment door from the side, away from it. “I didn’t order a party, boys. What’s the game?”

“Come in empty handed, Meyers, we’re friendly.” I recognized the voice, couldn’t place it.

“All I’m holding is a rack of clean shirts.”

“No problem with shirts.”

I grabbed the knob, my hand was sweaty.

Inside the first thing I noticed was Frisky’s eyes were red and black, his nose covered in white tape. He looked uncomfortable. The expensive suit offered me a buffed nails hand.

“Good to see you’re still upright, Meyers.”

I wiped my open hand on my pants, took his. “Dorsey Bishop. Been a while.”

“We’ll catch up. The kid here says he’s a got a message for you. From Tommy S.” He put a smile inside a Hollywood grimace. “Didn’t know things were so bad with Tommy he had to recruit busboys for muscle.” His tone went frost. “Let it go quick, kid. Men in this room have business.”

“Tommy said I could whip him first.” The kid reached inside his jacket. I raised the shirts riding over my left hand.

“Pull it and I’ll feed it to you before I kill you with it.”

The kid froze. Bishop might as well have been on Mars. I popped a couple of the kid’s double-breasted buttons pulling the cannon out from under his arm. I handed it to Bishop, stepped back, set my shirts on the divan. The kid’s eyes bulged.

“You ain’t got no gun under there?”

“Twice in one day, junior, and I’m no all-star like the Bishop here. You don’t get wise quick you’ll never see your twentieth birthday. What’s Tommy have to say?”

“Tommy says he’ll play ball for your girl. But,” he went cross-eyed, scratched at the nose tape, “he says you should take that as a gift and call it a day on the fat man or you’ll get into personal territory.”

“Tell your boss I’m obliged, and I was on the Laurier job before the fat man got dead, so I’ll stop when I stop.” I opened the door, motioned him out. He checked in with Bishop.

“My gun?”

“Tell Stooge the Bishop has your gun. I’ll drop it by next time I feel like a Rueben.”

“Bishop…”

The Bishop,” I motioned again. “Hit it.”

***

“Do what you want with this,” Bishop set the .45 on the phone table. “I walk into Tommy’s he’ll have a coronary.”

“I heard you went to work for the Veazey brothers.”

“Just a job. I took the ugly one for a walk in the desert. At his brother’s behest.”

“Bomb tests, snakes. That could be dangerous.”

“Fatal.”

I picked up my shirts, hung them in a doorless armoire. “Greasy Veazey’s gone, big brother’s in charge, you’re still an independent?”

“Yes, yes and always.” He looked around the room. “You quit drinking?”

I got a pair of water glasses and the bottle of Lorelei’s good Scotch I’d brought from the office. Bishop had taken a seat in the newish wingback I’d found in the hall leftover from a midnight move-out. I handed him a glass. He took his first sip with marked hesitation, took a bigger one, let it linger.

“Where’d you get this?”

“A gift.”

“I have another one for you. First, I have to ask. You get a rep, hang out a shingle, does every squirrel with a problem stop by, drop their nut business on you?”

“They have to know who you are. I’d think they’d leave you alone.”

“We’ll come back to that. I like to play cards…” That hung while he swished more Scotch around. “Doctors, lawyers, bankers. Strangers. People who don’t know me. I’m some Joe at a card game, you know?”

“A game where more players are clean than dirty sounds like a decent evening.”

His glass was empty. I went to the kitchen, brought the bottle back, let him pour his own refill.

“True. But we both know nine times out of ten somebody dirty sets up the games. What I’m telling you is I sat in on one of Tommy’s.”

“You get burned?”

“You kidding?” He eyed his refill, added a touch. “The girl you got Tommy to clear? So you know, she couldn’t have done it.”

“This game of Tommy’s you sat in. She was there?”

“She was. Something’s not right with her and the boyfriend. I took her for floss or a side arm at first, maybe a card counter. When the boyfriend stepped out, it was obvious the girl was no stranger to cards, but she played straight.” He set his glass down, went quiet for a few. “Look, the dead man and the girl are nothing to me, I’m telling you this because you stood up when it was me or a dirty cop going down. You could have gone the easy way, paved your own yellow brick road. I don’t forget a solid.”

“So your word to me is Laurier’s granddaughter is clean?”

“As a whistle. The boyfriend could be your maybe. It’s hinky. They’re hinky. I don’t know how, but I thought you should know.” He got vertical, discharged the last of his drink. “Something else, semi-business, semi-favor related. I have a client up the road in Golden Gate country, has a pest he’d like reoriented.”

“That’s more in your line. Unless this client is the squirrel you mentioned.”

“He is. I’m asking you because he doesn’t want his problem dead, he’d like the problem to be … less stupid.”

“Another sloppy kid?”

“Looking for a backer for sloppy blackmail.”

“Do they all want to die green these days?”

“I think it’s radiation in the water.” He handed me a folded slip of paper. “This plays right into your frame with the fat man and the hinky beauty queen. Take the scenic route north. Eat a Spade at John’s for me.”

NVDT Random – SepSceneWrimo – ’21-9

Lunch hour was in full swing when I closed in on Tommy’s after circling down from four blocks out. The crowd overflowed from inside to the patio and spilled out on the sidewalk all around the place. I pulled around back to the small employee lot. Starting there would have saved me twenty minutes and some gas. The blue Caddy I’d been looking for was first up by the back door. I parked behind it as an inconvenience to the owner if they decided to leave in a hurry without us having a chat. I made a note of the plate number, slid down between the driver’s side and a panel wagon with a smiling pig painted on the side. Presumably a meat delivery but at Tommy’s it could’ve been anything from bodies that needed to cool off for a while to bazookas. It was a tight fit but not so tight I couldn’t open the door enough to reach in and pull the visor down to check the registration. I closed the door, felt the rod in my back.

“Turn around, slow.” I cooperated. He was all of nineteen. Half Hispanic or less, peach fuzz mustache. Icy weasel eyes, a crooked smile being worked for the sake of the gum in his teeth. A hundred pounds wringing wet and half of that might’ve been the cannon in his hand. He jabbed me with it. “You get an invitation to be nosey?”

“Somebody inside this car gave me a headache yesterday. I’d like to I’d return it.”

“Funny. Headache have a name?”

“No, but it looked a lot like you.”

“I was somewhere else. Don’t believe me, ask somebody.”

“That’s the plan, junior.” He worked his gum for a few, I took a step back. “I’ll start now if it’s okay with you.”

“Don’t get frisky.” He followed me, his right foot forward. “I got you cold trying to steal the boss’s car.”

“Frisky?”

“Yeah.” He stopped, smiled around the gum.

I stepped into him, flattened the cannon sideways against his gut, smashed his face into the smiling pig. The gun dropped, went off, the opposite side of the panel wagon dropped. “Now look what you’ve done.”

I went through his pants pockets with my free hand while Frisky and the smiling pig made out, pulled a key ring. I got him by the collar and belt, danced him out past the Caddy. He had Ford keys. I’d only seen one in the lot. We danced over to it and the second key opened the trunk. With the hold I had on him he rolled right in like a duffel bag full of bones.

“You got my suit bloody…”

You got it bloody, junior. It didn’t fit that well, anyway.” I slammed the trunk, knocked on it. “I want you to work on your tough guy vocabulary until somebody lets you out.”

I picked up the kid’s government surplus 1911 .45 on the way to the back door, bumped into the delivery truck driver wiping his forehead on his shirtsleeve. He had a lug wrench in the hand at his side.

“You see what happened to my truck?”

“Frisky.”

“Frisky?”

“Frisky happens.”

“Around here it sure as hell does.” He pulled his smiling pig cap down, shook his head, muttered “Frisky… God a-mighty…”

***

Tommy’s office was the first door inside on the right. I knocked, waited for the buzz, let myself in. He looked up from a girly magazine through a medium cigar haze. Shlock instrumental versions of the Great American Songbook crept out from somewhere.

“Who the hell let you in?”

“I knocked.”

“Don’t be cute, Meyers. I got a man on payroll to keep lowlifes outta here.”

“What you have is a kid in a baggy suit with a damn big gun.”

“The suit’s got a damn big gun?”

“That’s Groucho’s routine.”

“So where is he?”

“Groucho?”

“I don’t have time to do this shtick all day, fuckhead.”

“Kid got frisky. Now he’s a Ford trunk inspector.”

“Frisky? What kinda cat crap talk is ‘frisky’?”

“I wondered the same thing.” I dropped the kid’s .45 on Tommy’s girly mag, followed by its clip. “I thought I’d keep a shell. In case.”

“In case of what?”

“In case this doesn’t go well.” There was another knock.

“Goddam Grand Central around here today.” He pushed the buzzer and in walked the brunette whistler from yesterday. Dressed all in black with white buttons. Collarless top tucked into loose-fitting pants, black gum sole work boots. Tommy’s mood improved dramatically. “Meyers, this is my night manager. Tiana, say hello and goodbye to Mr. Meyers. He was just leaving.”

I nodded, glanced at my watch. “Early for the night shift.”

“She’s a good girl.” Tommy patted her hand.

And you’re almost four times her age…

“What can I do for you, darlin’?”

“I,” she pulled her hand away, “we can’t find Jason.” She shot me a quick, nervous glance. Tommy had goo goo eyes so bad he missed it.

“Mr. Meyers said something about Jason getting a little too, ‘frisky’, wasn’t it?”

She glanced between us, worry working her face. “Frisky?”

“His word,” I held out Frisky Jason’s car keys. Whistler evil eyed me, grabbed the keys, stalked to the door. I waited for it to close.

“You in the habit of loaning your car to employees, Tommy?”

“If I’m feeling magnamimous and they got good reason, yeah.”

“Magnanimous. And the ‘good reason’ was to put this knot on my head.”

“You always been a knothead troublemaker.” He pushed the kid’s gun away, shoved the girly mag in a drawer, looked up through more cigar smoke. “I don’t like trouble, Meyers.”

“Neither do I. So why are you making it tough on the Laurier dame?”

“Who says I am?”

“I do.” He let that stew, chewed his cigar. “We know the same people, Tommy. They all talk.”

“I say they’re all talkin’ too fuckin’ much. Okay, maybe I decided to do somebody a personal. Bertam Laurier was a arrogant, first-class, fat ass dip shit and no loss to nobody. I figured his kid for the same.”

“So you box her out of her alibi? How ‘personal’ was this favor?”

Personal personal.”

“No fool like an old fool, Tommy.” I parked my left butt cheek on his desk. “I’m thinking you can find a room full of people to alibi the Laurier girl and we can leave your ‘personal’ out of it.”

He sat back, interlaced his fingers. “You can’t be stupid enough to ask me to expose myself to unwelcome scrutiny.”

“I didn’t say anything about legitimate witnesses at an illegal card game. I said a room full of people who could alibi her. You own a restaurant. Put it together.”

“You’re too goddam wise sometimes.”

“My mother would be glad to hear that. You’ll work on it for me?”

“Sure, sure. Now beat it, Meyers. I’m busy. Take a cigar, they’re Cuban.” He pointed to the box on his desk. “Take a couple. I don’t like trouble.”

***

I stopped at a bright yellow all-purpose drive-through dive off Pico and La Brea claiming to be ‘Mexican & Etc.’. I tried the etcetera, a questionable burger a la Mex that dripped chopped tomatoes, onions and something green resembling runny guacamole, ate it in the car. I cut the grease with a cold, no-label beer that tasted like Bohemia while I worked on what I knew. Which wasn’t much.

Tommy the Stooge had shut out Lorelei’s alibi as being present at a high-stakes, illegal card game as a personal favor to someone unknown. He also had a bad case of lonely oldy for what could have been his great-granddaughter. Had it so bad it made him stupid enough for a guy who didn’t like trouble to loan the girl his car without asking what for and let her run around in it with a kid closer to her own age to thump private investigators, right under his nose. My gut said the kid was as bad off as Tommy. Whatever Whistler was bringing to the party, for whatever reason, it seemed to be working and it was connected to Lorelei. Somehow. I thought I should know, couldn’t find it. It still stunk, still made no sense.

I finished the beer, missed the trash can on the corner with what I couldn’t eat. A wino gave me the finger for my fail, so I hung a dollar bill out the window. He snatched it. In the rearview I saw him picking up my trash for me. No wonder Ms. Laurier hated L.A.

NVDT Random – SepSceneWrimo – ’21-8

Tommy S ran an all-day, all-night Deli off Fairfax in Beverly that served food and whatever ‘extras’ the moneyed night owl drifters out of Hollywood were looking for. Company of either sex for rent, weed, nose candy, floating high stakes games. He ran his own gambling book, a token gift from the big boys that ran L.A. now for who Tommy used to be. Before he became Tommy the Stooge. 

I walked out of the cop shop looking for a cab to run me back up Wilshire and north up San Vicente to pay Tommy a visit.  I heard a horn, followed by a cat call whistle that split my ears, both from the Caddy I’d just walked past. I retraced my steps, bent to look in the passenger side window, found the driver. A makeup-less short haired brunette with cheekbones and a nose most women in L.A. had to buy. On her they looked natural. And vaguely familiar.

“You could ditch the horn, lady. Where’d you learn to whistle?” 

“Where the roads are dirt and the work dirtier.” 

“How about the people?” 

“Bag the clatter, slick. You riding, or not?” 

Slick? Out of habit I leaned in to check the back seat. 

*** 

Something bright and blurry made me cover my eyes. It was accompanied by a deliciously light, clean, slightly exotic fragrance and something brushing my face… Spider webs. I panicked, tried to brush them away, my hand ran into something soft, solid. 

“Ow.” 

Huh? I sat up, my head hit something hard, my brain started to swim. 

Ow! Damn you!” 

The light was out of my eyes. I blinked, tried to focus. “Lorelei?” She was holding her nose with one hand, the other flat on her forehead. 

“Do you always wake up swinging?” 

“Not usually.” I popped my eyebrows up and down a few more times, forced my eyes open. “Thought you were a spider.”

“That’s a first. Should I be insulted”?

“Jesus,” shit. I’d just head-butted an acutely attractive woman. Who was also a client. “Lemme get you something…” I tried to stand, she pushed me back with the forehead hand. 

“I’m okay, I think.” She rocked the squeeze on her nose back and forth, let it go, checked it with a frown that dissolved. “No blood. I’ll live.” She furrowed her eyebrows, tilted her head, rocked mine back and forth by my chin the way she’d rocked her nose. “Not so sure about you.”

She stood, disappeared, reappeared with a glass of ice water and a shot of Scotch. I slammed the Scotch, drained the water. She pulled an ice cube from the glass, bent me forward and ran it barehanded around my neck, behind my ears and up my scalp to a point that got my attention. She grabbed my hand, replaced hers with it. 

I sat back on my lumpy office couch, ice melting on the knot under my hand. She sat very ladylike, knees together, ankles crossed, in one of the not-so-fabulous guest chairs that were usually parked in front of my desk. A cigarette appeared between her lips, she lit it with a lighter not so different from the dead guy’s. She proffered a slim, silver cigarette case. 

“No thanks,” I waved it off. “I quit.” 

“How’s that going?” 

“Lousy.” I took the case before she could put it in her purse. 

“I quit all the time,” she leaned in, spun the flint wheel on the lighter for me. “Then I remember how it’s supposed to kill me.” 

“You have a death wish?” 

“Listen to you. What happened?” 

“That’s my line.” 

“Alright.” She repeated her lazy smoke drift from the other night. “I stopped by your office this morning –“

“Morning?” 

“-this morning,” the little frown popped in and out. “I found you in a heap by the door. With this,” she held up a piece of pale-yellow construction paper, “pinned to your back.” 

“My back?” 

“You were face down.” 

“It’s my best look.” 

“Butt first?” She put an elbow on her knee, gave me an appraising look. “Could be…”

I snatched the paper. STAY OUT OF IT in chunky, black marker that bled through like someone had carved it on the paper. “Cryptic. Bordering on cliché.” 

“In your line of work I expect you see a lot of cryptic crossing the line into cliché.”

“Or the other way ’round.”

“I can see that, too. I thought your butt to the sunrise situation might be my fault, but with ‘IT’ being so vague…” 

“Cryptic…”  

“Right.” She watched her smoke that lazy way. “Classically cryptic.” 

“And clichéd.” I fished another ice cube out of the glass, planted it on my head. “What time is it?” 

She checked a watch I’d mistaken for a thin bracelet. “Nine-fifty-three. Your turn, Sherlock.” 

I rubbed the ice around the knot, winced. “Yesterday afternoon I walked out of Wilshire Division, stuck my head in a Caddy.” 

She stiffened. “A what?” 

“A dark blue Cadillac –“

“You’re positive? Dark blue, not black?”

“I know the difference. That’s the story, until –” 

“Until you slugged me. Are you okay? If you are,” she stood, dropped her cigarette in the glass of ice cubes, “I really need to be going.”

Watching her leave was the third time that morning I’d admired her posture.

*** 

By eleven I’d had three cups of coffee, another shot of Scotch, showered, and brushed the sweaters off my teeth. I’d also been through every drawer in my apartment looking for a cigarette. I remembered a junkie telling me one time, “I never want no junk Mr. Meyers, except unless I just done some.” The logic I got from that conversation was don’t do it, don’t want it. Something I figured universally applicable to any vice. I vowed not to buy cigarettes but dropped a matchbook in my pocket on the off chance one might find me. What the fuck, Meyers? You quit smokin’ or just quit buyin’?

I put on my last crisp shirt, bundled up the rest to drop with the Chinaman downstairs on my way out to Beverly Hills. I needed to see if there was a dark blue Caddy parked anywhere near Tommy’s Deli. Even if there wasn’t, I was ripe for a pastrami with hot mustard and grilled onions, a glass of some cheap, fat red and cheaper company. 

NVDT Random – SepSceneWrimo – ’21-7

“So,” Lieutenant Purcell flared a match with his thumbnail, lit his pipe. “You think the fat cat’s kitten, this Loreal, Lori-liar or whoever, she’s good for it, huh?”

“Lorelei Laurier.”

“What I said. Why’s she a standout, aside from her name’s a pain in ass and she’s a clock stopper looks wise?”

“You go through the pictures in that place?”

“I had a dead body in a swanky high-rise and Martin’s on vacation. Enlighten me.”

“Ms. Laurier is some kind of prize-winning sharpshooter. Riding, standing, kneeling. Rifles, pistols.”

“Any pictures with game?”

“None that I saw.”

“Trophies?”

“Not in the apartment. A handful of pictures. You know, toothy smiles with proud grandpa, here’s my ribbons, here’s my trophies.”

“Bein’ Annie fuckin’ Oakley don’t make her a murderer. If the fat man had taken a head shot from across town, I’d be more inclined. But a light load, soft tip .45 vest burner that nobody heard? Besides, genius, her GSR came back with expensive lotion and perfume and nothin’ else. Her coat and clothes and everything in her closet were cleaner than the altar tablecloth at my old man’s funeral and that purse popper of hers you brought in had nothing to do with the fat guy or anybody else in recent memory being dead.” He reached out, tapped his pipe into a coffee cup, sat back. “But you knew that, or we’d never have seen it.” He packed his pipe, cradled it in his left hand. “Her other plus is she didn’t do us all a favor and plug you when she had the chance.”

“Why would she?”

“You’re an asshole? You left her holdin’ the bag on a stiff? She thinks wavin’ a gun around gets most smart guys’ attention and you walk? Jesus…” he found another match in his middle desk drawer. “Where the hell are we, Meyers?”

“She did it. I don’t know how, but she did it.”

“I think you want her for it ‘cause you got nothin’ else and it’d be easy money. My lucky silver dollar’s on who she knows in this town she don’t know all that well.”

“According to her that would be the phone book. She hates L.A.”

“She’s payin’ you. What else you got goin’ on?” He shoved the greater L.A. white pages my direction. “I’d start with B.”

“Boyfriend? He’s an arm candy punk with a habit, one expensive suit and a week’s worth of shirts. And no ride.”

“Says you. Maybe he showed you his card sharp face, not the one he shows the girls and the marks. You should have another, less polite, talk.”

“He’s into Tommy S. Why he’s letting the girl dangle.”

“Tommy says button up, he buttons up? Tommy ain’t got much weight these days. What kinda limp dick lover boy is this guy?”

“I told you.”

“Okay. What’s Tommy the Stooge got to do with the girl and the old man?”

“Fuck if I know.”

“Sounds like it’s time you started earning your day rate.” Purcell popped the match, lit his pipe, sat back. I got up, almost made the door. “By the way, Meyers. Grandma’s spendin’ money in ‘Frisco like she’s printin’ it in her hotel room.” Through the door I heard him say “You’re welcome.”

Shit. I tilted my head back, squinted against fluorescent eye burn. Whatever happened to easy?

NVDT Random – SepSceneWrimo – ’21-6

I lit her cigarette with the dead guy’s lighter. She directed the smoke upward, slowly, followed it with her eyes. I checked the room again. Opulence without taste. Everything was fat, tufted. Fat chairs, fat couch, all with fringed bottoms brushing fat carpet. Fat end tables with fat lamps. A wide fireplace with a thick marble mantle strewn with sterling framed pictures of people living fat. Save for one where a smiling, attractive, athletic young woman in riding clothes stood next to a sleek horse with a garland of flowers around its neck. My eyes came back the stiff on the floor at our feet. The overdressed, dead fat man with a hole in his gray silk blend suit, right over his heart. Nothing in the room was out of place. Dead guy, not much blood, no drag marks. Dropped where he’d stood. None of it made sense. I fought back ‘This stinks.’ Instead,

“What about your grandmother?”

“She must’ve beat it.”

I checked again. The epitome of moneyed composure in front of me, the girl with the horse – the same. I changed my angle.

“I didn’t see a gun when I came in.”

“Was that a question? Well, neither did I, Sherlock, and I wouldn’t have touched it if I had. Why are you staring? I told you, I arrived home,” she released the cigarette hand from tightly crossed arms, motioned at the corpse with the back of her hand, “and there he was. Is.” She drew on the cigarette, let the smoke go the same lazy way. She watched it dissipate into nothing before tapping her ash in a fat crystal ashtray on the fat legged coffee table. “You got here before I had my coat off. Maybe you were already here, and you did it.”

I coughed for effect, plucked a sterling frame off the mantle. It held a picture of the dead man standing with a boxy, bulldog faced woman in a belted tweed overcoat. “Grandma?”

“Yes…”

“How long ago?”

She studied the photograph. “Six months? Early spring? Hard to say, she never changes her hair.” She shook her own out the coat collar as if making a point before she tapped the glass with a bright red nail. “That’s Sausalito. They took a trip up to ‘Frisco. April. May, maybe.”

“Any special reason?”

“To beat the heat? Boredom? You need a reason to beat it out of this town, Meyers? If you do, I hired the wrong man.”

“I don’t, but maybe the old lady had a good one.” I tapped the stiff with the tip of my shoe. “He’s done, she’s gone, no gun… You say you were out.” I picked my hat up off the fat chair where I’d tossed it, wiped off the lighter, dropped it next to the dead guy where I’d found it.

“Your grandmother smoke?”

“No.”

“Pull the butt with your lipstick,” I nudged the ashtray with my hat. “Leave the rest for the police.”

“The police?” She dipped, plucked the butt, finally looked at me. “I thought I was paying you to –”

“Run interference with the cops? Not me. You’re going to make an all distraught, female drama ‘my God there’s a body in the apartment and it’s grandfather’ call after I’m gone.”

“I’m not like that.”

“I noticed. Cops love tears, but play it your way. At least you won’t have to remember if you lied.” I turned to the door.

“You’re leaving? Just like that? I… uh…” She’d refolded her arms, stared down at the fat, gilded phone. “Sure. Okay. Where are you going? In case…”

“Don’t worry, lady. They won’t cuff you tonight, so I’m going back to my office. Where I’ll make myself a big, stiff drink with the expensive scotch you left behind when you hired me this afternoon. Then I’ll drink a toast to the big stiff on your floor.”

“What about me?”

“I’m going to put my feet up, nurse my drink and wait for you to come around and tell me some truth after the cops cut you loose. Or I wash my hands of you and the old man and step aside when the cops come back and tag you for his carcass.” I panned around the room with my hat. “This stinks, lady. It stinks so bad to keep out of it your two-bit hustler of a boyfriend will claim he never saw you tonight, he never played cards anywhere tonight and you’re just a rich, bored kid with too much imagination who got greedy and capped the cash cow.” I pointed a finger pistol at the girl, swung it down to the stiff. “Bang.” I settled my hat, opened the door. “Ten bucks says they’ll find granny’s dead, too.”

She flashed a small, shiny .25 automatic from the folds of her coat, leveled it at me.

“Now we’re getting somewhere, Ms. Laurier.” I tipped my hat. “Save the dramatics for the call. If you’d be so kind as to excuse me?”

NVDT Random – SepSceneWrimo – ’21-5

Mississippi night sounds came in on a light breeze through the office’s open sliding glass door. Harper’s eyes rose past the wide, cluttered desk, past the man rummaging through magazines and file folders, landed on a pair of large, framed pictures. One, out the rear of a twin seat F-18 coming up off an aircraft carrier. The other, the man across the desk sat in the rear seat of an F-18, thumb up.

“That you in the F-18?”

“Yep.” The rummager didn’t look up.

“How’d you pull that off?”

“Bush, Senior. We got friendly when he came through here on his ‘Made in America’ tour.”

“Must be nice. Guy that married my cousin was a test pilot.”

He stopped shuffling. “You get a ride?”

“No jets. Lots of rides in Confederate Air Force prop planes.”

“Now that’s a helluva deal. You know somebody?”

“My dad.”

 “He still alive?”

“Nuh uh.”

“Well, that’s a goddammed awful turn. For both of us.” He leaned back in the chair. “Rode in a Navy trainer one time. Those old prop planes are noisy sonsabitches.”

“They rattle and bounce a lot, too. Like they’re falling apart.”

“Most likely they are. Like me.”

“Noisy and fallin’ apart?”

“Shit.” He rummaged some more, gave up. We listened to the night sounds mixed with low volume Hawaiian steel guitar music, sipped good Scotch for a bit.

“How was it, being in the ass end of an F-18?”

“Shit, Harper,” he sat up, engaged, “First, it’s like gettin’ shot out a goddam cannon. Then…”  he leaned across the desk, whispered like someone might be listening, “Don’t tell anybody, but I puked.” He held his hand out flat, fingers together. “Pilot rolled that son of a bitch,” he flipped his hand palm up, “just like that. And my stomach went right along with it.” He dropped his voice more, lowered his hand to the desk, furrowed his eyebrows. “I thought I’d known me some crazy motherfuckers. Gator wrestlers, backwoods boys drew a short hand in the brain game. But those carrier fellas…Jesus fuckin’ Christ. Keepin’ up with them’d be like tryin’ to keep up with a hooker’s got mad cow disease.”

Happy 909 Day!

A day late, but hey that’s why they make machines to keep time.

How many drummers does it take to change a light bulb? I thought they had machines for that. Ba doom Tissssshhhhhh.

The 909 was Roland’s follow up to the 808. PCM and analog, MIDI. Punchier, louder, grittier. But punchier was the key. I used the 909 kick for years, either sampled or in another Roland machine (Boss 660) because it hit hard and I could dial it in to hit harder and was often preferable, to me, over studio samples of “real” drums.

As before, I’m no drummer, and following that thought about electronic musicians further we get to Tomita. Who said of himself (and all of us) that we were all (synthesists) audio cartoonists. As a kid I’d wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up so I latched on to that. It keeps me from getting too serious or artsy fartsy about “audio impressionism”. But I know those people and can talk that shit if pressured. But usually, like “writers”, they’ll do a good enough job of it selling themselves and all I need to do is try not to step in the byproducts.

Back to that kick. When making cartoon music with a beat, it was the best of the analog cartoon kicks. Plug that kick out into an electronic crossover? Three frequencies, three channels? Sheeeeit…

Everywhere from post punk doom pop rock like Radiohead, Skinny Puppy, Aphex Twin and Daft Punk to the million-airs circle with Madonna’s “Vogue”. Don’t even bother listing the Urban, urbane and six thousand kinds of electronica…

But – Here’s some air cheese hypnotica from Orbital. The 909 kicks in (no pun intended) around the three minute mark and lifts you out of the air cheese and into the hypnotic. Put on the headphones. It’s kind of like Roth’s death scene in Soylent Green without Tchaikovsky, Beethoven or Grieg.

Can you imagine Obiden putting this to use with some subliminals? Boom tish boom tish boom tish…You will get vaccinated…get vaccinated…get vaccinated…

HAPPY BELATED 909 DAY!

NVDT Random – SepSceneWrimo – ’21-4

I have been asked “Where do they come from?” I don’t know. Here’s how they land, head to hand. The hardest part is not the story, it’s setting it.

So, Lamar. How you been?

Did a show with Kitty Flame.

She not on oxygen yet?

Off stage. Show liked to didn’t go off.

She forget where it was she was ‘sposed to sing?

Nah, her wardrobe cases ended up floating around FedEx out by the airport for two days.

Kitty be needin’ all the magic she can get outta them cases. Always has. Who gave her the heart attack when she couldn’t find ’em? I’d tip ’em if I knew.

Some runner for the venue. Drove out to FedEx, asked for Kitty Flame’s freight, they said they didn’t have it. Seems like her management ships her wardrobe rig out under her given name, so nobody’s tempted to steal it. Took two days and her getting here to sort them out on exactly who Beverly Rubenstein is.

Now you’d think she’d learned something about that kinda shit from Loud Howl.

Loud Howl?

Blues man I traveled with a while, probly before you were born.

Loud Howl, Upjohn? Now I know you’re shittin’ me.

No, now Lamar, listen up. Man could play anything you put in front of him made noise and sang like the devil was in his drawers. His real name was Laudermilk. Laudermilk Howell. You see it now?

Now. Can’t say I saw it coming.

‘Course not, you not knowin’ the man, the way he was an all. Back when he was comin’ up, gettin’ some steady work, the man had luggage tags printed. Engraved, more like. Brass things, like about yay. He held his thumb and finger up about the size of a standard mailing label. Hole drilled in one end. Like skinny, high-dollar dog tags.

Seems like getting banged around, in and out of busses, trains, trunks they’d have come off.

Man didn’t use no cheap chains or a shoelace or piece a leather. No sir. You know those figure eight things they hook up real dog tags with? I’m talkin’ the tags a dog gets for a rabies shot now.

Rabies tags?

Keep up, Lamar. You know, they have a stout piece of some kinda wire goes through the hole, and they bend it into a figure eight? Can’t nobody bend them damn things back out by hand.

You’re sayin’ this Loud Howell used the rabies tag method to hook up his custom luggage tags?

I am. Back in the cheap suitcase days, fiber’s what they called ‘em, but that was just some bullshit for cardboard, he’d go through suitcases regular, travelin’ an all, and have to pry those damn tags loose. Ten years on or so one of the hooks gave it up. Moore, Oklahoma, I think it was. McKelvy had to run into a vet’s office for Howl, askin’ for some replacement rabies tags hooks.

McKelvy?

McKelvy was our drummer at the time, and white, so he ran a lot of errands if we were in the wrong end of a town, or the whole wrong town. Drug stores, mechanic’s shops. One time he –

Howl and his luggage tags?

You getting’ impatient in your old age, Lamar. McKelvy, he had to pay a dollar a pop to register three dogs to get the vet to give up the tags. McKelvy told the man all he needed was the hooks, not the tags, an the man told him they came as a unit, numbered by the county and a lotta other nonsense. McKelvy says ‘fine’. ‘Cept now the vet starts in wantin’ to know who the dogs are, and where they lived and maybe he needed to see did they have their rabies shots an McKelvy put a ten spot on the counter, along with the three dollars that was already there and said to the man ‘Make something up.’ Well, the vet said he wasn’t sure, so McKelvy told him he was a musician and musicians made up shit on the spot for a living, so a dog doctor with a college degree ought to able to do the same. He scooped up the tags an beat it back out to the car. Howell spent the rest of the drive to Tulsa, or maybe Wichita, with some pliers and plenty a cussin’, pullin’ those hooks open enough to dump the dog tags and get his own on there.

And Kitty Flame? There’s something in all that she needed?

Boy, you never did pay no attention when you should. Once he got on to bigger and better gigs and such, Loud Howl stuck to him like flypaper. Pretty soon his luggage was always showin’ up late ‘cause somebody, wherever they were at, would go to the train station or the hotel and start hollerin’ for Loud Howl’s luggage.

And those fancy tags he’d bought all those years ago were all about Laudermilk Howell?

I knew your mama was lyin’ when she told me you were born a touch slow.

NVDT Random – SepSceneWrimo – ’21-3

I made my way to the corner of the room where the floor turned from marble to an eight-by-ten-foot patch of polished oak awash in disco ball reflections and topped with a black baby grand, a patinaed sax on a stand next to an open, blue velvet lined case. An upright bass that had seen better days leaned in the corner. Whoever the last two belonged to had gone missing. Up close though, the dame who leaned cat-like against the piano? She still made the presence of four or five women like she had from across the room. Not too tall, or too beautiful. Her hands were small, until she played the piano. Her voice, like a cat’s tongue feels. Until she sang. Her figure, slender and round made out about equal in all the places they should. The dress is what made her somehow… striking. I had to ask where she bought her gas.

“Darling, anyone can be cutesy,” she sipped something clear with ice in a Collins glass. “It takes a broad with her tits on to wear a dress like this.”