Authors: David Bishop
Tags: #Mystery: Historical - Romance - Hollywood 1938
“Why haven’t you done it?”
“Not enough listeners at this point. It’s pretty new, someday, maybe.”
“Okay, scribe, let’s get down to business. I know you came here to tap my knowledge of what really goes on in that big city of yours. What is it you need?”
Tony complained about my asking him these kinds of things, but he also was proud of
how effectively his pipeline reported the doings at City Hall and in the LAPD. Also the gang leaders on the mainland: primarily the gunsels and grifters who take orders from and pay homage to Ben, “Bugsy” Siegel, or Mickey Cohen, or Jack Dragna, the head of the local Italian mob. That is if you don’t toss the politicians and coppers into the gangster count. Tony also liked helping me and he knew I would never write anything in a way that brought him up short.
“Just cut out
them words like ‘mooch,’ ” he said. You’re supposed to be raising my standards, not letting me pull yours down.” Tony waved a certain way at one of the girls. I didn’t understand the wave. She did. A minute later we had coffee and the fixings along with some toast and pastries.
Tony said, “Mickey Cohen eats pastries with every meal, morning, noon and night, also ice cream. But you didn’t come to talk about the Mickster, did you?”
No. Well, I don’t think so anyway. Let’s talk about Harry Raymond. What’ve ya heard?”
“It’s no secret,
Scribe. Raymond had squeezed too many squealers and stoolies, called in too many old markers. That kinda action gets around. He got the goods on the police squad the business community uses as union busters and to control the races in their attempt to keep L.A. white and nonunion. Hell, the L.A. cops and politicians don’t just sell protection to the mob, in many ways they manage the underworld. Hollywood, of course, is a little different. Tinseltown is in the county not the city, so out there the mob mostly buys what they need from the sheriff’s office.”
Who you figure installed the bomb in Raymond’s car?”
“Raymond was only indirectly coming at the underground. His prime target was the cops and the boys at City Hall. To find the who and why, look there.”
I took a drink of coffee. “Politicians
don’t hook up bombs.”
Tony laughed. “The cops do. That’s where I’d lay my bet. Besides, if the
mob had set up the bomb Raymond wouldn’t have survived. If a copper fouls up that kind of assignment a letter of reprimand might find its way into their file. If a button man botches a job like that for one of the bosses, the next bomb goes in his car.”
Over the past few years,
the slur for police officers had begun to be shortened from coppers to cops. Most people opined that the reference to copper came from the fact that early New York officers wore badges made of copper. The more intellectual who delve into such things say the word copper came from anglicizing the Latin word,
which means to grab or hold. Some others arguing that instead
was the source of the street term, caper, which is slang for the grab and hold within a robbery or burglary.
Tony and I gabbed about the events of the day: Hitler’s speech in support of Jewish emigration to Palestine. Tony even said he had heard a rumor that Time Magazine would likely name Adolph Hitler as its 1938 Time’s Man of the Year. [In December 1938, Time Magazine did name Adolph Hitler its Man of the Year.] Tony also said the talk in Northern Italy where he was born was that Mussolini was following Hitler’s lead. And that Germany was building an army too big for anything but invading its neighbors.
evening, while pounding out my column on the attempted murder of Harry Raymond, a little Hollywood gossip and the coming local appearance of Fats Waller, a woman knocked on my office door. The knock’s detectible combination of firm and soft, along with the silhouette I could see through the obscure glass inset of the door, left the unmistakable impression of a woman.
I tossed my porkpie onto one
of the hat tree hooks in the corner beside my desk. “It’s open,” I said loudly enough.
She twisted the knob and pushed the door, letting it swing open, but she didn’t come right in. I turned. It was she, my princess, framed in the doorway. Her legs spread just enough to bring the skirt of her dress taut against her thighs, her skin a blossom of tan silk.
“Hello,” I said, rising but not approaching the door. “Please come in.”
er right leg led. She wore open-toed heels, but they fit her. Women often intentionally wore shoes one size too small, leaving their toes to hang out the opening at the front of the shoe. Think of a dog panting with its tongue lolling beyond the end of its mouth. My princess had no panting toes. The only thing panting in this entire scene was me, but I need to leave that thought behind and get back to the story.
need your help, Mr. Kile,” she said. “Please. I can pay you. My father and I are not wealthy, but I wouldn’t expect you to work for nothing.”
Her voice was warm and gooey—like
high marshmallows caressed by a reaching campfire.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” I cleared my throat with the hope this would stop my voice from cracking. “Please come in. Tell me about what you need. You realize I’m a journalist, not an investigator.”
“I read you used to be a
“Long time ago. Now I jockey a column. It pays better
and an unhappy reader generally does nothing more vicious than use my column to line their birdcage.” I grinned but the humor slid by without touching her.
She sat down
on the leather couch along the side wall. The leather releasing a sigh of pleasant surprise upon realizing the current impression had not again been my rump. That being the place where I slept at least one night a week when it was too late to bother going home, or, living alone, nights when I’d drank too much Irish and didn’t feel capable of driving home.
n a manner of speaking, while my princess and I had only just met, I already had her in my sometimes bed. Great progress, eh? Okay, some progress. At least concede me that little.
“Can I get you anything? Well, not anything. I can offer a Coke
, or a gin and tonic, or a little Irish whiskey.”
“Whatever you’re having is fine for me.”
I poured us each several swallows of Tullamore Dew in glasses I wish I had washed more recently. She took one, held it up against the light from the gooseneck lamp on my desk, turning it slightly to highlight the smudges. Not judgmentally, but she looked nonetheless. Woman often claim they can tell a lot about a man by how he keeps house. If she so believed, my odds were not getting better.
face was too honest to hide the troubles she had carried into what she would likely call my small, somewhat tawdry private office. What I called my cozy, intimate space. I spent too many hours here to think of it in drab terms.
“I saw you last night,” she said,
sliding her skirt down over her knee. “You were standing outside the doorway to your building. I thought you might be a masher. Still, I wondered who you were. I checked the building registry earlier this morning and deduced you were Matt Kile, the columnist. That’s when I decided to come and see you.”
I hope my watching didn’t upset you. You were beautiful walking in the night, through the fog. The color from the neon lights, smeared in the damp air, gave the effect you were crossing in front of a painter’s backdrop.”
“You are a writer, aren’t you?
You have a way with words.”
bone colored high heel with a side bow the color of her skin, slid free to dangle off the back of her foot. The way extra glaze forms sugar tears under a wire rack of warm doughnuts.
I wanted to approach you last night, but I didn’t want to appear to be the masher you imagined. So, in the end, my way with words failed me. Instead, I watched your image blur as you disappeared into the fog.”
She leaned forward
, her forearms bracing the thigh of her crossed leg. “I’m Callie … Calandra, but no one calls me that. Hampton is my last name. Now, we’ve met and you’re not a masher.”
It was not exactly
the formal introduction upon which society relies, but enough to clear the way. I had been accepted, pending her further review. I raised my glass, she matched my motion. We each nodded, and then sipped, our swallows synchronized as if guided by a metronome.
, Callie, what it is that has brought you such sadness.”
I nodded, adding a small grin, reassuring, not humorous.
“It’s my sister, my younger sister. Not that I’ll tell you my age, but she is
twenty-two. Her name is Frances, Frances Hampton. She’s missing.”
“Have you gone to the police?”
“They’re no help. You see, my father is Stephen Hampton.”
She said her father’s name like it fully explained why the police had turned a deaf ear to her
plight. I knew who her father was; it was my job to know. I also understood why the police had stonewalled. Not why they should, but why they did. Stephen Hampton ran a successful modest-sized manufacturing business. He was out of favor with the LAPD.”
do you think the police won’t help?” I asked to learn her take on the why.
I’m guessing you know my father is a supporter of Clifford Clinton, the man who owns Clifton’s Cafeterias and heads up CIVIC. You mentioned CIVIC in your column the other night. Harry Raymond, whose car was just blown up, worked for CIVIC. Oh,” she said, realizing she had drifted a bit in her reply. “The police took down the information on a missing person’s report, but they were just going through the motions, shuffling papers. As it turned out, letting my father know that with him supporting CIVIC they would not be there for him.”
“When was that?”
“Nearly a month ago, I think it was April third, something like that. I have the exact date at home.”
I started to open my mouth, but stopped when she shook her head.
“No,” she said, explaining the shake of her head. “We have not heard from the police. Not even once. Two weeks ago I went back to the station to ask about their progress in finding my sister. They said they had no record. That I had never filed a missing person’s report. Rather than argue, I filed a new request that they look into my sister’s disappearance. Yesterday, I returned and was again told they had no file, that I had never reported my sister missing. It’s very disappointing to find the police will further endanger my sister in order to strike back at my father for his modest efforts to help rid the city of crime and corruption. A job which, in truth, should be the work of the police force not Mr. Clinton, my father, and a few other citizens who care.”
touched the corners of her lips, first one and then the other. Her fingers trembled slightly. Then she chugged the last of her Irish.
Moving as little as necessary, I
poured her another measure of Irish and added to my own. “No word whatever?” I asked. “Not from Frances? From a kidnapper? Threats that your father should back off his efforts in support of Clifford Clinton? Nothing?”
We’re worried sick. I’ve contacted everyone I know who knows Frances. No one has seen her.”
“Tell me about her. Hobbies, work, interests, men in her life,
even vices, whatever comes to mind.” I hated to forgo the view of her legs, but I moved to the other end of the couch from where she sat, taking along a small pad and a sharp pencil. She re-crossed her legs, sending her top gam in the direction away from me.
“Frances is a good girl. A little too modern perhaps
… . No. You can’t help if I’m not honest with you. Frances is a bit wild. She likes bad boys, likes the excitement. She’s gorgeous and she likes loitering in and around the clubs downtown. She has this thing for gangsters, real ones or the guys who play them in the movies.”
any of those clubs offer illegal gambling. Does she gamble?”
“No. She drinks and flirts. Dates some of the men she meets there. She wants to be in pictures and reads that
movie stars hang out in those places. She fantasizes about making that magic contact, getting a screen test, and all the rest. The stuff dreams are made of. Also, the gambling ships. You know.”
“Which places does she frequent?”
“The Trocadero. Cocoanut Grove, La Conga,
The Brown Derby, a few others.”
“Which few others? The places your sister liked
, she probably still likes. Tell me all of them.”
That’s all that comes to mind… . Oh, The Club Alabam.”
“Alabam, the black club?”
“Yes. She likes their music. She says, ‘The Alabam is pretty upscale.’ ”
She’s right. The Alabam is the swankest black club in town, maybe in the country. Any others?”
“She once mentioned a place called Hollywood’s Famous Door.
I think that was the name, something like that. I don’t know where that one is.”
t’s on Vine.”
“Do you think you can find Fran
ces? Will you help?”
Some girls get found. Some don’t. Some don’t wanna be found. You should know I can’t drop everything. I’ve got a column to feed. It feeds me. But some inquiries can be done at the same time. I haunt those clubs to hear things and make contacts. I’ll ask around. I know a lot of people in those nightspots: owners, managers, even some regular patrons.”
“Also, Mr. Cornero.
I understand he owns some of the ships. Frances has gone out to them several times. Probably more often than I know about. Young people rarely confide fully in adults, even older sisters. I know she wanted to get to know Benjamin Siegel. They say he’s lifelong friends with George Raft, my sister’s favorite actor. She was hoping … you know.”
“Sure. Two more things
: how do I reach you—day or night? Also, do you have a picture of Frances that you can leave with me?”
She reached into her purse and gave me a paper on which she had written her address, home phone, the number where she worked, and her father’s
home and work phone numbers.
“I’ll fill Daddy in
. He’ll be so grateful. You can reach him or me whenever. Your calls will always be taken.” She then reached back into her purse and handed me a picture. “This is Frances.”
I whistled low. “She is beautiful.”
“Yes,” Callie said.
added. Callie blushed. “Frances has an unusual hair color,” I said, “red and thick, curly, and wonderful eyes and skin. Does she wear her hair that way all the time?”
“Frances mostly wears
it loose with waves or curls, maybe pinned up in one style or another. For a woman, hairstyles can also be influenced by whether or not she plans to wear a hat. That day, Frances had just washed her hair and liked the way it looked when it dried. I asked and she said okay so I took the picture. I hunted for another picture, but this was the only one I could find. We had dozens, but somehow all of them were gone. Father and I both looked. We don’t understand what happened to them. We checked everywhere. Nothing else was missing, only the pictures of Frances, except for this one which I had in my bureau.”
We can’t solve that part of the mystery now. Let’s get to what you haven’t told me. How wild is Callie? This is important since it contributes to where I’ll look and who I’ll ask. You said no before, but does she have a gambling problem? Drinking? Drugs? You said she likes bad boys. What about other women? Negro men … or women for that matter? I’m not trying to shock you or insult Frances. It’s just the more I know, the better I can judge where to make inquiries. Whether or not I should include the popular fluff bars in town which are known for what’s called twentieth-century sex.”