Authors: David Bishop
Tags: #Mystery: Historical - Romance - Hollywood 1938
“You’re a reporter, Mr. Kile. Why wouldn’t you report what goes on in this meeting whether or not you cooperate with me?”
“I’m a columnist which is slightly apart from being a reporter. We all have a professional life and a personal life. Things involving personal friends are not part of the job.”
“Mr. Cornero is lucky to have such a friend.”
“It would seem we have the ground work established. What is it you want me to do?”
“Carry a message. That’s it. As to advising Mr. Cornero
, that is up to you to decide. Still, I would like you to carry the message as I give it to you.”
despite some of your activities when you were younger, I don’t consider you to be a gangster, not in the traditional sense of the word. You are known on both sides of the law as a man of your word. You know gambling and you know liquor and I think you’re trying to find a legal way to practice your trade. But these ships of yours won’t be it. We will stop you.
I’d like you to take a position with my office as an adviser on the subjects of your expertise. You can do a great deal to help clean up our city, help keep it clean. You would answer only to me, but also be available to the chief of police and the mayor’s office. It’s possible this could be expanded into a statewide position, but I am only offering you a position with my office. If you are interested we can sit together and discuss compensation. I admit it will likely pay less than your past activities have earned, but it will be honest work and you will help to build a safer, more law-abiding community.”
Mr. Fitts, I think this is most generous of you, but I doubt Tony will consider accepting.”
He’s your friend, right?” I nodded. “Well, if he keeps going on with this Rex ship he will lose a lot of money, more money than if he pulls the plug now. If he won’t accept my offer I strongly encourage him to avoid jail by taking his ship and himself away from the coast of California.”
you’re making a decent offer, sir, and yes I will deliver your words to Tony. He may ask me to deliver his reply. Would that be agreeable?”
to sit down with Mr. Cornero. You may join us, if Mr. Cornero would like you to be here. If not, it would be a pleasure to see you again, anytime.”
I left the office of
D.A. Fitts, hopeful that my friend would accept the offer. I liked the choice of Tony living a safer life without fear of more legal trouble.
I stopped for lunch and then drove around most of the
afternoon. Twice I pulled over at phone booths and called Tony, listening to the whirring sound the rotary dial made when I released each number. Tony wasn’t on the Rex or the Tango. The long shot was his onshore home where he seldom stayed. I tried it. That number also rang without being answered on his end.
I didn’t really like carrying water for
Mickey Cohen or, for that matter, for the D.A., a man I had always had suspicions about, but no evidence. Still, the D.A was holding out a way for Tony to get out of the rackets. As for Cohen, Tony needed to know that Siegel and the Mickster wanted a piece of his action. I had told both men I would deliver their messages so I would do so, but I didn’t have to like it.
My driving had been aimless.
It rained some, enough to flood the low intersections, enough to wet my brake lining sufficiently to cause me to feather my brakes after coming through the puddles. Eventually, the darkness began its nightly assault on the day. The city smelled better at night. Don’t know why. Maybe without the sun the garbage lost some of its ripeness. But the real garbage, the two-legged variety mostly came out at night.
In addition to my independent column which
got picked up by one of the city’s major newspapers as well as a few other papers in the outlying areas around L.A. and up and down the coast, I also had a weekly radio show on crime in our City of the Angels. It was mostly a rehash of my columns for the folks who didn’t subscribe to the paper or didn’t like to read. On the air I sprinkled in some extra choice morsels better described verbally than in writing, also any late-breaking tidbits since my last column. Once in a while, a guest related to one story or another would ask to come on to answer questions. Mostly my show was used in these instances by a mobster or his mouthpiece connected to a recent crime or rumor who wanted to profess his innocence or make accusations against another related to his trial. The denials were usually poppycock but they made good theater.
are an important part of the L.A. crime scene. A good shyster can keep a mug out of prison, but can’t stop the coppers from working him over while they hold ‘em in the local jail.
Two days ago
, I received a call from a police detective who wanted to talk with me about the January bombing of Harry Raymond’s car—with Raymond in it. The caller would only identify himself as Chase, his first name, he said. We agreed to meet tonight at seven at the chop house on Wilshire Boulevard.
got there first and took a booth along the side wall. This Chase had said I should be on time. That he would arrive at a quarter past seven and he would recognize me. That if I wasn’t there waiting, he would be gone and that his contact would not be repeated.
At seven-fifteen I saw a
man walk through the front door. I recognized him to be an officer. He wore an open collar shirt and a broad brim hat. He started weaving through the tables, with mine his apparent destination. I couldn’t place his name but, intuitively, Chase didn’t seem to fit.
, at least we’ll call him by that name for now, extended his hand. With him standing and me sitting, I could see the sweat moon that shined on the shirt under his right arm. We shook and he slid into the booth across from me. That is, he did after nervously looking both ways.
“Good evening, Mr. Kile. I won’t be staying to eat. In fact, I’d like to get out of here as soon as possible. I’ve come to say
only two things. The officers who have been charged with the bombing are guilty. The real story is who ordered them to do it.”
I waited, expecting him to blurt out the name and then get on his way, but he paused. “Can I get a drink? My mouth is dry as hell.” I motioned the waiter over and we ordered
two draft beers and water chasers.
As soon as the waiter left
our table the bullet that killed Chase, at least the guy I’m still referring to as Chase, came through the front window, across the dining room, and into the side of Chase’s head. If you drew a line from the center of his left ear to his temple, your pencil would fall into the tunnel the bullet left on its way to his brain. I didn’t see the bullet come through the window, but it had to happen that way because that’s how it had to have happened. The bullet hole in the window had gone right through the “O” in
before making a second “O” in Chase’s head. He hadn’t finished his beer. He hadn’t even started his beer. He was no longer thirsty.
I had been beaten out of a
top-of-the-line scoop by the delay to get a beer and water back.
I told the manager to call the cops. While he did, I went through
Chase’s pockets on the off chance he brought something to give me. Something that might prove the goods on the name he had not yet shared. The name or names he would now never share, the identity of the person who had ordered Eddie Kynette to kill Harry Raymond. Chase had nothing on him beyond a soiled white hankie in the mouse pocket of his suit coat.
For the next hour or more, stern cops stood around looking nervous and bored—a hard combination. All
of whom likely had somewhere else they’d rather be, home kissing their old ladies, or tucking in the kiddies, or leaning against the rail of some cop dive swapping stories about some arrest they had made. The stories growing in the telling the way fish grew after having been caught. Their job was keeping the diners, who had all but forgotten their meals to watch the drama unfolding before them, from interfering in the crime scene or leaving before the detectives spoke to each of them. Also, securing a perimeter around the detectives and any evidence that might be lying about. The exercise was a waste. There wasn’t any evidence and none of the patrons had seen anything. Nothing pertinent had entered the chop house other than the victim and a bullet.
I recounted my take on the evening to a tired looking detective whose face spoke of his disgust for the human race or, at least, those with whom he came in regular contact. It was a permanent mask worn by
many seasoned cops disgusted with themselves for being on the take, or for looking the other way while others took.
I left the chop house at the same time
as the coppers, a little after the medical examiner took Chase away in a dark body bag. Even that had taken a little longer than it should have. The zipper on the bag had stuck and they had to switch Chase to a second bag. The coppers said they hadn’t any idea why Chase was killed. I told them what Chase had told me. I also let them know I intended to report that in my column as well as on my radio show.
The police found no trace of anything outside that
definitely confirmed where the shooter had been. Before the cops arrived, I had rolled up the paper placemat from my booth and slipped it into the bullet hole in the word
on the front window. The one end pointed directly at my table. The other end pointed at the dark innards of the alley across the street.
The police detective
in charge did confirm my dead diner’s identity: Detective Chase Tenpenny. So, his name had really been Chase. I wish we had been able to talk. That I had been able to learn what he had come to tell me. I would also have liked to ask him the history behind the name Chase Tenpenny. In a city full of Smiths and Joneses, Bills and Mikes, Chase Tenpenny was a name that screamed originality.
onight made the second night in a row that shots had been fired toward me, if not at me. The target the night before had been me, or maybe my car—kill my 1930 Franklin Airman, kill me. Tonight’s target had been a guy with whom I was supposed to have a meeting. At least I hoped that was the case and the shot had not been a wild pitch intended for me which had been caught by Detective Chase Tenpenny.
doubted I had been the target. During the day, I had afforded several excellent venues for the shot while I drove around all afternoon, not to mention stopping at phone booths. No, Detective Tenpenny had been taken out because someone suspected he had gone soft and was about to sing to the coppers, or, in this case, rat to a crime-beat columnist. The powers that-be in the under-and-over worlds wanted the Shaw-Kynette-Raymond story to die and they were willing to order the death of Tenpenny to speed the process.
No criminal c
an function without cohorts. Yet, nothing in the underworld was more feared than partners in crime who squealed. These Judases from the world of dark alleys were feared more than the cop themselves, more than even rival gangs. When an insider broke the don’t-rat-on-your-pals creed, or even was suspected of doing so, they were dealt with harshly. This tradition not only protected the guilty in the given instance, but resent the message throughout crimedom: talk to the coppers or the reporters, you’ll pay the price.
Chase Tenpenny had paid the price.
The clock had passed eleven when I got home. I wanted to see Callie
, but fatigue had taken me over. Instead, I imagined feeling her warmth on cold sheets and then falling asleep with her in my arms.
Tomorrow would be another day. I
would polish my column in the morning. After that I’d call her.
I put the car in the garage and started stripping as soon as I closed and locked the front door. By the time I reached the backdoor, I had l
eft a meandering creek of clothing the length of the house. My shirt in the entryway, shoes and socks on the living room floor, pants in the hallway, and my boxer shorts cooling on the kitchen linoleum. Such behavior definitely was one of the perks of a bachelor’s existence.
I stepped into the backyard, I was as naked as when I first tunneled out of the womb.
I dropped into the deep end of the pool. I didn’t dive. I just dropped.
Things around me were getting hot. The water was cool.