Read David Bishop - Matt Kile 04 - Find My Little Sister Online
Authors: David Bishop
Tags: #Mystery: Historical - Romance - Hollywood 1938
“Only once. The shot
that took out Detective Chase Tenpenny was fired by a pro. He hit his target. I just happened to be nearby.”
That’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“Hey, don’t get angry with me.
I didn’t pick any of this to happen.”
“I know, Matt. I’m just scared for you. Damn. I get emotional when I’m scared.”
“Getting my car shot up is part of the job. These things happen. I have insurance.”
How many times this year, even the last couple years, have you had your car shot up or otherwise survived an attempt on your life?”
She had drifted
deeper into the surf, the water hugging her ankles. She punctuated her question by kicking at the water.
was the only direct attempt since I started my column. But I always knew it could happen. There is always the chance that I could make enough of an enemy or get my nose too far under the wrong tent.”
“People like Mickey Cohen?”
“Him among others, yes. But for reasons I can’t go into right now, I do not believe the Mickster was behind this attempt.”
“Matt, could it be Johnny Breeze? You said he was a killer and we have been dropping his name a
ll over town while looking for Frances.” She angled up out of the surf and walked on the other side of me, taking my hand.
,” I said. “The list of possibles is pretty long.”
We walked in quiet, looking at the silver shine the moon put on the water when the waves rolled over themselves out
fifty yards or so. After a while, we turned around and headed back up the beach from where we had come.
Now and again
our attention was gathered in when a growing wave burst, or by the lights of a freighter on the horizon, but mostly our walk continued in silence. When we got back to where we left our shoes, we sat on the log to work the wet sand on our feet against the dry sand.
“Should we stop mentioning
Breeze in the clubs? I doubt you expected that helping me would make you a target.”
“People can’t let the things bad people may do keep them from
doing good things.”
I agree in principle,” she said, “but you were nearly killed.”
Truth is we don’t know that Frances is even with Johnny Breeze.”
grasped my upper arm and rested her head on my shoulder. We both stared out to sea.
After Raker told us he’d heard that Breeze had a new moll named Frances, I did some calling around. A gal by the name of Flaxi has for years been Breeze’s moll. Rumor is Flaxi even went along with Johnny when he carried out a few assignments, even that she carried out a couple hits on her own, under Breeze’s supervision. No one knows this Flaxi’s full name or even if Flaxi is her real first name, I doubt it is, and no one I spoke to could describe her. Word is out that he has a new one, but only Raker had a name.”
“Johnny Breeze could think you’re a gunman looking for him so he tried a preemptive strike to take you out
“Very unlikely. Breeze would know who I am.
People in his business know who the top coppers are, also the writers who cover the crime beat. They have to. The people we spoke to about Breeze know me. That means the message that reached Breeze, if one did, would have included my identity. There’s no value in our second guessing. Not at this point anyway. Now let’s hit a couple of spots and then get you home. You plan to go to work again tomorrow so you won’t be able to sleep in.”
Before we got off the log Callie
blurted out, “I’ve been married before.” The words came as if she had strained them through uncertainty.
“Happens to lots of folks.”
“You don’t mind?”
“Not a bit. If you wanna talk about
it, I’ll listen. If not, no problem.”
“We were married three years. We just grew apart and decided to ignore convention and get a divorce. We’re still friends, sort of
… civil anyway.”
“Do you see him anymore? I’m sorry, that’s none of my business.”
“Oh, Matt, I’m making it your business by telling you… . Yes, we still see each other. Occasional dates, I suppose I should call them. No big deal. It’s just that we’re easy together. No pretenses. We might go to a movie or share a light dinner. I dress casual, so does he. No airs. You know.”
I said I
knew, but I didn’t. “Is there a chance you might reconcile?”
“None. He had a husband’s faults and irritating habits. Now he has a date’s
humorous qualities. He’s a good man, but we have no future.”
“Thanks for telling me.”
“I haven’t seen him in over a week. I don’t know if I ever will, again.”
I smiled and we kissed, warmly but not
“What about you, Matt?”
I looked blank.
“Have you been married?”
She asked as if her question had already been obvious.
“Why not? You’re a good looking man, caring, gentle yet strong.”
“Never found the right girl, I guess.”
Intelligent, gorgeous, sexy, affectionate, and, of course, rich.”
“And you haven’t found
this one-in-a-million woman?”
t even printed out the applications.”
We shared a
laugh, another kiss. Then we looked toward the surf to watch a crab inch by, its multi-legged movement dancing along the water’s edge.
She again used my knee
, this time to put on her silk stockings. I had been hoping she would. After that, we put on our shoes and headed for the Trocadero, and stayed there nearly an hour. We did not see Frances and saw no one I felt we should ask. A few familiar faces stopped by to compliment me on my column, expressing their pleasure at my not being harmed. Two men who owned car dealerships gave me a card and promised me a good deal on a set of new wheels.
After that we stopped at The Alabam Club. We
instantly knew that neither Breeze nor Frances were there. It was easy. We were the only white faces in the joint. We drove by Dave’s Famous Door, deciding we’d save that spot for a day or two until Fats Waller would be appearing. Callie stayed in the car while I went in to make reservations. A couple of sawbucks passed from my hand to the manager assured us a table for two along the wall on opening night. From there we’d be able to see Fats at the piano as well as the rest of the patrons. We both liked Waller’s songs and his personality. More importantly, Callie said that Frances really dug Fats Waller.
Callie at her home and headed for mine. I was tired and glad the night was over. When I walked in the door, my phone rang. The night wasn’t over. It was Mickey Cohen. Well, it was Joe Sica, but once he got me on the line he immediately handed the phone to Mickey.
“Matt. Got some news a few minutes ago I thought you’d like to know.”
“Johnny Breeze has been out of town the last few days. No details on
where or why, but likely an out-of-town job. I heard it said he wanted to get back in time to take his girl to see Fats Waller’s opening night. That part isn’t firm, but I think it’s reliable.”
s, Mickey. I really appreciate that. And, by the way, I’m seeing Tony Cornero tomorrow morning so I should have something for you soon.”
en in the morning I walked into the small coffee shop in one corner of the onboard bar and grill in the S.S. Tango. Tony was in his usual seat. Dudley and Slim were not on the floor playing checkers with mugs and shot glasses, at least not yet. Then I saw them at a table on the other side of the room finishing breakfast. When I got close, Tony used his foot to push out the chair across from him. We shook. I sat.
iggers and Slim said you could refer to their checker game in your column, if you wanted.”
“Thanks. I’ll save it for a human interest piece.”
After a quiet moment, Tony said, “So, what’s so important?”
“I want you
to promise to hear me out. Not make one of your snap reactions.”
“I don’t make snap
decisions.” Then he snapped his fingers. When the manager of the restaurant looked over he used just his index finger in a circle to order whatever Tony had set up to be brought over once we were together.
“Yes you do. And then, having taken a position, you stubbornly defend that position, often ev
en after you come to realize the position is clearly indefensible.”
“Now that you have me charmed into listening, give
it to me. I’ll hear you out. Just stuff that
style you used for openers.”
“How’d you like to get out of the rackets?”
“You want me to hear you out and you start with a question?”
We paused while two staff members brought over a carafe of coffee and the fixings along with two plates
of eggs and bacon. A separate plate held two bagels which came with a small ceramic crock of cream cheese, known about town as a cup of smear. When they left, I dragged the discussion back to where we had left it.
“How’d you like to get out of the rackets?”
“I ain’t in the rackets. All this,” he waved his arm in an arch, “is legit out here in federal waters.”
“You know what I mean. Put aside the point as to whether it is illegal or not. The business you’re in is one highly populated with mobsters. You know that. How’d you like
to get all the way out?”
, but then this is a lot of fun. And, the dough ain’t bad. Now stop waltzing, Scribe. Less words always makes a more effective column. You taught me that, so let’s have it.”
Tony doused his eggs
with catsup and dropped two cubes of sugar into his coffee while we watched Diggers and Slim turn the mug handles on the beer pieces to their game. They also moved a few of the shot glasses to make sure the whiskey pieces were positioned squarely in the middle of the spaces on their board. They were outside the range of our conversation, so I spread out the offer from the city’s top attorney.
The D.A. wants you to join his office as a special consultant. You’ll be answerable only to him. Still, you’ll advise both the mayor and the police chief, but not be under either their control or order.”
used his fork to push the catsup around to paint the egg clumps which had somehow avoided the dousing.
Advising Mayor Shaw is the same as advising the mob. And, I suppose, I’d have to give up my ship. Right?”
,” I said while spreading cream on a toasted bagel and sipping my coffee. I took it black.
“This here a paid position?”
“I’m sure there’d be a big damn pay cut.”
I nodded again. “The D.A. said he’d discuss pay and benefits with you and be as generous as he can. But, yeah, whatever he offers will no doubt be a pay cut.”
“And when his term is up, I’d be out on my ear, unemployed.
And, I might add, Fitts has already finished two terms as D.A., and is halfway through a third.”
True enough. It’s a stretch, but the position might grow into a state job, maybe even federal.”
“I set my own schedule, hours, like that.”
“I imagine, except for meetings with the D.A. which would be set by him.”
“That’s about it.”
: Pay cut. No job security. Work under a boss, rather than be one. Christ, Scribe, I’m better off now on all fronts.”
“But this way you’re legit. You don’t have the mob trying to cut in. Likely no assassination attempts. You’ll live on the mainland. Settle down. No more hustling. No tug and pull against regulations and laws.”
“This your idea, or’d it come from District Attorney Fitts?” Tony pushed his mostly cleared plate toward the outside of the table.
Fitts called me in and asked me to bring it to you.”
“Damn nice. I’m flattered. Really I am.
” A worker came by and took his plate. Tony refilled his cup from the carafe. Mine too. “But it don’t fit me, Matt. Doesn’t feel my size. Please thank the D.A. for me, but—”
“Before you decide for final,
” I said cutting off his answer, my hand up palm toward Tony. “I’m carrying another message, from another person. Listen to it before you toss out the D.A.’s offer.”
“You giving up your column, S
cribe? Taking a new job, carrying water for others?”
I sat back and drank some coffee.
The refill had heated it up. I liked it hot.
“Seems like it, here lately
anyway. I’m not going looking for these jobs. They’re being brought to me. One of the perks of being pals with Tony the Hat.”
“How long you going to keep me waiting? Let’s have it.”
“Mickey Cohen and his boss, Ben Siegel, want a piece. They’re offering help with protection.”
“Don’t need it, Matt. The courts mostly side with me. I’m outside California jurisdiction. No law out here for what I do.”
“Don’t count on it. You advertise inside California. Your water taxi service comes from California, also your phone service, not to mention your customers themselves. You also run some horseracing wires and utilities under the ocean, through their three-mile jurisdiction. Your food stuffs and God knows what else comes from shore over the ocean, all through their uncontested three-mile jurisdiction. It’s not like your operation doesn’t touch California. They got ways to cut your umbilical cords. So far they’ve restricted the jurisdictional fight to what goes on once customers, workers, entertainers, food, etc., are on your ships. They could start looking at the elements of your operation which definitely occur within or come from their docks and cities.”
“There’s truth in what
you say, Scribe, but so far they’ve kept the focus on the gambling itself.”
“That could change
in a heartbeat. These are smart men, powerful men. You’ve licked them in the courts and they don’t like being embarrassed. Political careers can be built on taking down operations like yours. Earl Warren is said to have higher ambitions. I’ve heard he already has plans to run for governor; he has solid support among both Democrats and Republicans. Taking you down might win him that office, maybe eventually the White House. Who knows, even the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s a lifetime position without having to suck up to voters and those who donate. No more elections. Warren might want that. For him, you’re a meal ticket. The same can be said for our next mayor. Frank Shaw isn’t long for the job. There’s a dump truck of corruption on his front porch. The recall movement is gaining momentum.”
“Okay. Okay. Back to Cohen and Siegel. What are they after? Are they claiming they can control
the next mayor and Earl Warren?”
Those two, likely not. Mickey admits that. He points out that to put new laws or even regulations in place those officials will need city, county, and state cooperation. Local politicians and perhaps the voters themselves may need to cooperate. Siegel and Cohen figure that’s where they can come into play. They can help with that, also with the courts. Mickey Cohen makes the valid point, at least he implied, that with their bought and paid for contacts you will likely have less trouble with them than without them. That by showing them some respect, of course that means with a split, and staying open you’ll make more than if you’re shut down part of the time, getting bad press, and dragged into court at every turn.”
“Back when I started
my first ship, partners in the Tango, I did it to get away from John Law and mobsters like Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel.”
Dudley did a double jump on two of Slim’s shot glasses and got to throw them back.
“No man’s an island, Tony.”
“Now that’s funny. An island when I’m doing it on a ship.” We laughed.
“So,” Tony said, “you bring me a choice between closing down and throwing in with the
politicians or staying open and throwing in with the hoods.”
“That’s about it
. Safe. Legit. Working to improve society. Or risky, likely illegal as they evolve the law, and making money off people’s weaknesses.”
People like to gamble. They’ll do it whether or not I’m around, whether the Rex is in play or at rest on the bottom of the ocean. Siegel and Cohen realize that if I’m open they’ll get less action in their onshore gambling dens so they offset that by taking a slice of what’s mine. If my ship is gone, they’ll get more play in their joints. They win either way. Hell, they likely agree with the D.A., if they know about his offer, and that wouldn’t surprise me a bit.”
“Cross ‘em up, Tony. Take the offer from Fitts
and help the D.A.’s office shut down illegal gambling onshore.”
“That puts me back at risk
, with the risk coming from the mob rather than the coppers. John Law locks you up. The hoods bury you.”
I pursed my lips.
“That’s your choice, Tony. It’s not pretty either way you go.”
“How long I got to decide?”
“Not long. This could be a break, Tony. I’d like you to get some fair in your life.”
My friend, you’re such a romantic. Life ain’t fair. It was never set up to be. There’s no logic. No routine to life. No channel of calm water. No assurance that any good deed will get you anywhere. Every man must pick a code to live by. Then do it. If you like yourself, well, the rest works out if you stick to your code. If it don’t and you end up with dirt in your face before it happens natural like, well, them’s the breaks and the last problem you’ll ever have.”
I grinned at my philosophical friend. “
I wouldn’t recommend you taking more than a day or two to decide.”
I watched Diggers
and Slim play a few turns while Tony thought about what he heard.
“Does my answer go back
through you or should I make direct contact?”
“It’s your call. But I’d recommend you use me. Less risk and I can likely reason with them more than they’d let you once they had you in front of them.”
“That’s how we’ll do it then. You’re a good friend, Scribe.”
“The best you got, Tony.”
“Probably true, Matthew.”
Tony had said it like he meant it. I appreciated that. We agreed I’d come back out tomorrow
sometime during the day to hear Tony’s final answer.