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Authors: Joseph Wambaugh

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Finnegan's Week

BOOK: Finnegan's Week
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Finnegan's Week

Joseph Wambaugh

A
MysteriousPress.com
Open Road Integrated Media ebook

For Detective Tony Puente,

San Diego Police Department

As usual, I have relied upon dozens of professionals for the expertise, anecdotes, and cop talk that inspired this story. Special thanks goes to Criminal Investigator Donna Blake and Deputy D.A. Mike Carleton, San Diego County District Attorney's Office; Security Director Roger Warburton and Detective Michael Newell, Naval Air Station, North Island; HazMat Specialist Nick Vent, San Diego County Environmental Health Services; Senior Investigator Barbara Naimark, State of California Health Services; Special Agent Gabrielle Carruth, Naval Investigative Service; Sergeant Bill Wolf, Office of Emergency Management, San Diego Police Department; and Private Investigator Manuel Smith, of the U.S.-Mexican border.

And many thanks to Dick and Janene Gant of the San Diego Yacht Club for the local lore and color.

C
HAPTER
1

I
t was the face of a sociopathic killer. Granite eyes: gray, opaque, remorseless. The killer eyes narrowed, the jaw muscles bunched, the clenched lips whitened.

Fascinated, he watched as the killer began to belt out the sociopath's theme song: “Reee-grets … I've had a few … but then again … too few to mention.”

An astonishing performance! Jack Nicholson doing Sinatra. No conscience, no regrets, Cobra Man. Or at least too
few
to mention.

Then he lifted a throw-away razor, five shaves past throwing, and shaved the killer face, nicking his chin dimple. He flicked the razor into the bathtub where it landed on the crumpled sports page, and he plastered toilet paper on the bloody cleft. He used to do a pretty fair Kirk Douglas impression, using the chin dimple to maximum advantage.

All this because
Harbor Nights
—a new late-night network melodrama—was shooting in San Diego, and they were casting for a contract-killer role.
Daily Variety
said that the killer might
appear
to get killed off in the first episode, but that he'd keep coming back at you, like Henry Kissinger or Elton John. So the job might be good for several episodes if
Harbor Nights
got a seven-show pickup.

After the shave he tried to summon forth the killer again, determined to at least read for the part. His worthless swine of an agent hadn't even called him about the role and yet there it was in yesterday's trades. That's what happens, he thought, when you have an out-of-town agent who couldn't make it in L.A., when you're an out-of-town actor who'd never even tried it in L.A. And once again he wondered if it could've all been different had he lived in L.A. instead of in
this
town.

Never believing stories about people being discovered, he believed that people discovered
it:
the opportunity to get out of your own miserable hateful body and
be
someone else for a while, without resorting to mind-altering, liver-killing drugs to accomplish the transformation.

For a moment he thought he'd found his man again while pulling on his socks, but when he ran to the mirror it told him he was wrong. Morning eye pouches caused momentary despair so he pressed a hot washcloth to the sockets, stimulating circulation. The contract killer was supposed to be in his thirties, and he'd just turned forty-five years old. Forty-five!

A wry thought: Maybe they could use a
middle-aged
sociopath. Gazing into the mirror he used an actor's trick and conjured images of middle-aged sociopaths: Fat Tony Salerno, Saddam Hussein, Ted Kennedy. Nothing worked, the killer had boogied.

The only way to catch his worthless swine of an agent was to get him when he came to the office at ten o'clock. That's what he planned to do, and he'd covered himself at his job by claiming he had a morning dental appointment.

The job. Maybe the face in the mirror could tell him the truth about his job, a job he'd wasted himself on for twenty-three years when he should have been acting. Truth? Looking squarely in the mirror at the forty-five-year-old face, he decided there was not a single truth about which he was certain, so maybe he should run for office.

He spoke aloud to the mirror in a theatrical baritone: “Today, a typical day in Southern California, two thousand, three hundred and seventy-five unemployed actors will phone their agents. Three of them will receive callbacks, and I, I shall
not
be one of them.” Then he added, “But maybe I'll catch him and tear the Velcro grin right off that smirky moosh!”

Then after jacking up his agent, he'd have to rush to work and begin the daily brain-slaughtering paper-shuffle that was his life. With a sigh that could blow out a bonfire, he adjusted his tie, brushed off his green-checked sport coat, collected his gun, badge, and handcuffs, and headed for the door. He hoped some junkie would burglarize his goddamn rathole of an apartment so he could make an inflated insurance claim.

It was 10:05
A.M.
when he parked his Corvette on the street in North Park at the office of Orson Ellis Talent Unlimited. Orson was a failed talent agent, formerly of Hollywood, U.S.A., now living in San Diego, California, who'd made a “scientific” study of his failure as a Hollywood agent, scientifically concluding that it was the result of his mother not dubbing him Marty, Michael, Mort, or some other name beginning in M.

After locking his Vette, he noticed a passing coach full of elderly tourists, probably going somewhere like La Jolla, where they'd discover that they could spend two months at a time-share at the Lawrence Welk Resort
with
unlimited golfing for what a simple “frock” would cost in a pricey La Jolla boutique. He knew that most of the seniors would be wearing walking shorts, and would have varicose veins like leeches clinging to their poor old legs. He also realized that the seniors were not
that
much older than himself. It made him think of polyps. Before entering Orson Ellis Talent Unlimited, he decided that Mother Nature is a pitiless cunt.

The agency was not impressive, but Thirtieth Street and University Avenue was not a trendy address. Orson had decorated the place to make you think you could actually get a job there, until you realized that all the inscribed photos of famous movie stars lining the walls weren't Orson's clients, only people to whom he'd sucked up during his twenty years of failure in Hollywood.

The new secretary was a lip curler, even more hostile than the last one. She wore her blond hair in a retro 1960's Afro, bigger than Danny DeVito. When she reached for the phone he noticed a clump of hair (brown) under her arms, and her toothy grin accentuated by cinnamon-brown lipstick could only be described as iguanalike, but not as warm. There was an X cap on her desk as well as a framed photo of movie director Spike Lee. He'd always had to spar with Orson's guard-dog secretaries, but this one looked like a fight to the death.

“I wanna see Orson,” he said. “I don't have an appointment but I'll wait till he's
out of his meeting
. Or until he comes in through that front door, whichever happens first.”

She shot him a look that could've reversed global warming, and said, “Mister Ellis is
not
in a meeting.”

“Really? This must be my lucky day. I'd check my lottery tickets but I already did that three times.”

“Your name?”

“Finnegan.”

“First name?”

“I'm the Finnegan that calls here twice a week hoping to at least hear Orson say there's no work, except that you shine me every time, and I never hear him say anything at all.”

“First name?”

“Finbar. Fin for short. Middle name, Brendan.”

“It doesn't fit.”

“Neither did General Schwarzkopf's little hat, but he kept that tiny thing perched on his bean anyway. I'd tell my mother you don't approve, but she's dead.”

Like an eel this time: “I mean, Fin Finnegan's like John Johnson or Will Williams. Why don't you pick a professional name that fits? And if you're really a serious actor you
could
consider moving to L.A. where there's more work for
older
people.”

Knowing how openly political and ethnically sensitive show biz was during this presidential campaign, Fin said, “Why don't
you
move to L.A. where your Afro fad might even last
hours
now that African American is Hollywood's craze
du jour
.”

A tooth-and-claw counterattack was interrupted when Orson Ellis came panting into the office. He looked like he'd climbed ten flights of stairs, but Fin knew that Orson wouldn't use the staircase if the building was on fire. He wasn't a man to go vertical other than by mechanical means.


Jew
-lye!
Jew
-lye,” Orson Ellis said to his secretary when he closed the door.

“Pardon me, Mister Ellis? Jew what?”

“That putz Ross Perot
had
to reenter the race!” Orson Ellis said, “
Jew
-lye. I thought he was making an anti-Semitic crack till I realized he was still apologizing for having withdrawn last July.
Jew
-lye. The cracker!” Then he noticed his client.

“Fin,” Orson said, looking like his spaniel died, “Fin Finnegan. How
good
to see you, you old schlemiel.”

Despite having done a thousand lunch meetings at Nate 'n Al's, Orson never got the Yiddish right. He said
kvel
when he meant
kvetch, schmutz
when he meant
schvitz
and
schlemiel
for
schlemazel
. Fin definitely considered himself a
schlemazel
, not a
schlemiel
.

“I thought you might call me next week if I started reminding you every night around midnight. I just dropped by to get your home address so I could start the night stalking.”

“You been here long?” Orson asked.

“I been here so long her roots grew out,” Fin said. Then to the secretary, “Really though, Albert Einstein did very well with that hairdo. I think you should keep it.”

“I
love
this guy,” Orson said to the young woman, who was glaring at Fin with a pair of scissors in her hand.

After Fin followed Orson Ellis into his private office, the fat man removed his size 52, double-breasted Armani knockoff, and plopped his bulk into an executive chair done in “blush” leather to complement the “pearl” client chairs, now that “pink” and “gray” had vanished from the designers' vocabulary.

“Want a drink? No, too early. Want an orange juice? Coffee?”

Fin was shocked by Orson Ellis's hair. All the side strands were about three feet long, and looped, swooped, and coiled across his naked skull, with some extra hair woven through it. The top hair was dyed the color of dead leaves, even though the sideburns were still gray.

“My new do,” the agent said. “Whaddaya think?”

“Looks like a nest of tarantulas're eating your head. Why don't you just put a little minoxidil on your Froot Loops every morning?”

“Sensitive, that's what cops are,” Orson Ellis said to the wallpaper. Then he opened a cold Evian, since Perrier was out. “That's why I took you as a client, your sensitivity and compassion.”

“And because I got your sister's kid outta that jam where he tried to punch out a whale trainer at Sea World because Shamu got his Rolex wet. By the bye, is the little prick still at large?”

“He's maturing. I think he'll eventually find himself.”

“Yeah, in the gas chamber. Another victim of Doctor Spock.”

“What's on your mind, Fin?” It wasn't really a question he wanted answered, and Orson Ellis punctuated it with a wet burp.

“What's on my mind? I haven't worked in fourteen months.”

“Fin, you work every day,” Orson Ellis reminded him, leaning back and raising his patent loafers to the top of the desk. “You're a cop, remember?”

“I was
trained
to be a cop,” Fin said, “but …”

“You were
born
to act.” Orson shook his head sadly. “You got it, kid, the addiction. I knew it first time I saw you. When was it? Five years ago?”

“Seven. In which time you got me four
one
-day jobs on that shitty private eye show, three
one
-line jobs on those movies they shot in Balboa Park that nobody but my sisters saw, and two dinner theater gigs. I got the
real
stage jobs on my own.”

“How about the little theaters, Fin? Not to mention the one-act plays at the Gaslamp Quarter and the Sixth Avenue Playhouse and …”

“Nobody saw me there either. I need a
good
job. The last time you got me a good job that twinkle on your pinkie ring was still coal.”

“It's a shame you ever got involved in that amateur theater group. Look how acting's made you dissatisfied with your real-life job. You
got
a good job. Civil service. With a pension and everything. You're a police detective, for chrissake!”

BOOK: Finnegan's Week
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