The Storytellers Ch. 07byParis Waterman©
The job was mine for the asking. I started then and there, following up on a domestic dispute where a wife had repeatedly stabbed her husband because he brought home pork chops instead of veal cutlet. Returning to the Times after interviewing the police officers who made the arrest, I typed the story up and handed it in to my new editor. He read it, made one grammatical change and sent it out for publication in the afternoon edition.
I was back on the job.
That night I took Belva out to celebrate. Charlie Parker had a regular gig at the Tiffany Club at 8th and Normandy. Parker a relatively unknown musician had seemingly burst upon the jazz world overnight with his sparkling sax work as he played what was being called 'bebop.'
Having spent a few years in Chicago, I was familiar with several of the giants of Jazz, like Muggsy Spainier, Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden. I had seen Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker at a club in St. Louis some months earlier and looked forward to sharing Parker's stultifying saxophone again; this time with Belva, who knew little about bebop, but loved the big bands of the day.
Parker was in rare form, and we stayed for three sets, only leaving because Belva did have to get up early for work the next day.
For the next month or so I worked diligently for the Times, covering the police blotter mainly, but also filling in whenever another reporter called in sick, (read to hung-over to walk into the office) and so I wound up covering everything from weddings to ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
Belva began making noises about wedding bells and I wasn't adverse to the idea, but I still had the novel as something I had to get out of my system before hopping down the matrimonial trail.
Then on August 28th, I was walking down Normandy when I heard my name called out from an alley. It piqued my curiosity as I wasn't that well known in the City of Angels. I ventured into the alley, my right fist clenched into a fist in the event the caller suddenly became confrontational, only to recognize Arthur, my alien colleague New Mexico.
"Hello Roy, how are things?"
"Things are swell. Um, what do you want with me?"
"I thought I'd look you up; see how your novel is coming along," he said smoothly, ignoring the hostility in my voice.
"It's nowhere, man. I hit a dead-end on the Black Dahlia case, just like the LAPD."
"You weren't able to uncover any new data on it?"
"No, Arthur, I hit a dead-end, like I said."
"That's a pity, Roy. So have you looked into the Bill Harbidge thing?"
"The Harbidge... oh, that. No, Arthur, I haven't. Well, I have found out that Harbidge is dead."
"Harbidge may be dead, but Bill isn't. I'm sure of it. There's a great story there, Roy."
"Look, Arthur, that may be true, but I've found this girl...."
"Yes, Belva; she seems very nice, Roy."
"You... know about her?"
"I told you I'd be in touch, didn't I?"
"Yes, but I didn't think it meant you'd be hovering over me."
"Very aptly phased, Roy; you do have the makings of a great writer."
"You're spying on me? But why?"
"It's not spying, Roy. It's merely observing. That's what we do. We observe you and others like you. We've done so for thousands of years."
"Yeah, yeah, but why me? Why this thing about Harbidge?"
"I believe we made a mistake with Bill Harbidge, Roy. That's why I want you to find him and write your novel about him. His story... when you learn it, will fascinate you and whoever reads your book. That I guarantee you."
"Well, Arthur, it's like this; I need moola to get by. I was fired from my paper in Chicago for taking too long on the Dahlia case. I was lucky to hook up with the local paper here in Cinematown."
"So its money that's holding you back."
"How much do you need to carry you through the next... say, two years?"
Something in Arthur's voice, (He wasn't actually speaking. His voice was inside my head. For that matter, I wasn't speaking to him either. He made do with my thoughts. Some of which aren't going to appear on this page) told me he was deadly serious about this, so I didn't make light of it.
"I make $2460 a year at the Times, Arthur."
"Would $7500 take care of you and Belva for a two year period?"
"Yeah, sure, if we were separated as I expect we would be under the circumstances."
"Ah, yes, separation would be best. In fact, when you meet Bill, keep Belva out of any conversation. Don't mention her name at all. He might just inhabit her body to force you do his bidding. That's to be avoided at all costs."
"So mum's the word on Belva, huh?"
"Yes, mum's the word on everything about you. As far as Bill is concerned you have no traceable past. Be warned, he will attempt to learn about you. He will trace you back to Chicago and to Columbia. But that segment of your life is essentially a closed door. Your parents are deceased; you don't have any real ties with anyone in Chicago. Really, there's only Belva and a few people at the Times. Leave that door to your life closed."
"Are you going to give me money to leave the Times?"
"Walk with me to the Bank of California. I believe its three blocks away."
"You're going to walk down the street?"
"No one will see me, except you, Roy."
So we traipsed over to the bank of California. He had me loiter by the counter with the deposit slips while he wandered into the vault. Less than five minutes later he was ushering me out of the bank and into the park across the street from the bank.
"Here you are, Roy," he said and handed me an envelope filled with moola.
I counted it. There was $8200 in it. A veritable fortune.
"You robbed the bank?" I was incredulous at his nerve.
"They won't miss it until the end of the month when they perform a cursory audit. What follows is that they will chalk it off to either an embezzlement or miscalculation somewhere along the line. In any event, they can stand the loss. It won't affect their bottom line at all. In my opinion, banks take in depositor's money and lend it out at much higher interest then they give their clients. It's always been that way.
"I recommend you give some to Belva to provide for her in your absence. The occasional phone call will have to suffice until you have the book written."
"But... I mean, the money's fine and all, but, how do I find the guy who changes bodies on a whim?"
"Why that's the easy part. Write him. He'll answer you."
Arthur faded away then, like a morning mist on a summer's day. I recounted the money to make certain my imagination wasn't playing tricks on me. It was still there, legal tender and green as grass. I popped into the nearest watering hole and had two quick Glenfidich's, surreptitiously counted the money again, and made my way back to Belva's place.
I had some thinking and even more explaining to do.
Belva was horny after coming home and taking a shower, so we made love; then on the rumpled sheets I told her the whole story.
She didn't believe a word of it until I showed her the $8200. That opened her eyes and her ears. I told her the story a second time. This time she listened to each and every word.
"You really met... an alien?"
"I did, I really did."
"Jesus Christ! I remember reading about that, Jesus Christ!"
"It's true. I mean, why the hell would I make up a story like that?"
"To explain the money, honey."
"No, no, Belva. Look I write for a living. That means my imagination is maybe a little better, or at least more active than the next guy's."
"So I could make up a more plausible story than meeting an Alien."
Belva drew her knees up under her and gave my response some thought. "How are you supposed to find this guy?" she asked.
"I'll place an ad in a couple newspapers, I guess."
"The Sporting News," she said emphatically. "If he's involved in baseball, he'll read the Sporting News."
It hadn't occurred to me, and I had to wonder why I was thinking New York Times, Chicago Tribune and even the Los Angeles Times, rather than the baseball bible.
"That's good, Belva. I wish I had thought of it."
"You would have baby, but what the hell, you just met an Alien who gave you a boatload of doe-ray-me. You got the priorities straight and I'm not jiving you."
And so the following day I called the Sporting News in St. Louis and placed my ad: Looking for Bill Harbidge, former player with the Hartford Baseball team. I also respectfully bid the kind folks at the LA Times adieu; talked Belva into taking a couple days vacation, got us both into my Desoto, and headed off to a southerly sojourn in Tijuana.
And after five days of beachside tedium and a gaggle of bright and noisy lounges that clustered around our secluded Tijuana cloister, we packed up and returned to Belva's LA apartment and waited.
With Belva's salary and the bundle provided by Arthur, making us feel like we were millionaires, we went out on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Friday we caught the Ritz Brothers hilarious act at a place that burned to the ground later that night after everyone had left.
Since the notorious Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston in 1942, claimed 492 lives was still fresh in everyone's mind, at least in the good old USA, we were counting our blessings and decided to "get back on the horse," as it were by going out again.
Celebrating our good fortune not to have been in the club when it went up in flames found us at the legendary Blue Room Saturday night where Stan Kenton was appearing. Belva had heard great things about Kenton and his "Progressive" style on KFWB, where a disc jockey named Al Jarvis hosted a popular show called Make Believe Ballroom. For the record, he was also known for writing the song of the same name that Martin Block made famous after appropriating it and the programming concept from Jarvis at WNEW in New York City in the early forties.
During the course of the evening, Belva and I met with Kenton's lead singer, a young blonde named June Christy. And when I told her I thought she was an up and comer vocally, she didn't jape me, but was down to earth, saying: "I have a lot of shortcomings technically. The worst being my intonation. I don't swing all that well either.
It's not easy to render the be-bop improvisations in tunes like 'How High the Moon' but I love singing and the monies pretty good."
Her candor left me speechless. As we got to know her over drinks following a set, June told us that before her gigs with Stan Kenton, she would step outside onto the loading dock and scream bloody murder at the top of her lungs to prepare her in competing with the blaring brass of Kenton's band.
Sunday evening found us at the NBC Studios to watch the Spike Jones Show, which was broadcast nation-wide. Jones and his merry men, called the City Slickers took popular and classical numbers and butchered them, using satire and plain old slapstick comedy. They were all talented musicians, with a flair for comedy and they used gunshots, whistles, cowbells, and outlandish vocal to accomplish it.
George Rock played trumpet and performed a couple vocals that had Belva and me laughing so hard the tears were rolling down our cheeks. Two remained with us after the performance: Dressed as a little boy with missing teeth, he sang "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" and followed it later and in a different outfit with "I'm Forever Blowing Bubble Gum."
But the absolute highlight of the evening was when Doodles Weaver was introduced as Professor Feetlebaum, a character who spoke in Spoonerisms. Which is to say that as part of his schtick, he regularly mixed up his words and sentences in various songs and recitations as if he were suffering from myopia and/or dyslexia?
Weaver's rendition of Rossini's "William Tell Overture," was pure genius as he pretended to be the gravel-voiced sports announcer, Clem McCarthy in a satire of a horse race announcer who forgets whether he's covering a horse race or a boxing match ("It's Girdle in the stretch! Locomotive is on the rail! Apartment House is second with plenty of room! It's Cabbage by a head!"). The race features a nag named Feetlebaum, who begins at long odds, runs the race a distant last—and yet suddenly emerges as the winner.
On Monday, Belva went back to work at the insurance company, and for something to do; I rode over to Venice Beach, watched the muscle-men do their thing; watched the girls in their bathing suits do their thing, and went home horny as hell to wait for Belva.
Of course I jumped her bones seconds after she walked in the door.
The next day, left to my own devices again, I regretted quitting my job at the Times. I headed out the door, thinking I needed a drink or some male companionship, when it occurred to me that I hadn't checked the post office box to see if Bill had tried to contact me. Opening the box, I saw a return address for the Middlebury Home of the Aged, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. I tore it open with shaking hands.
Dear Sir I hurd you're trying to find me. At lest that's what a friend a mine tells me. I wuz a ball player of note a while back, and could probably still play the game better than soma these pitiful bastards cavorting in the ball parks today. I seen Lajoie, Cobb, Ruth, Young, Mathewson, Joss, and a whole lot more close up as it were. Right now I am being held prisioner. I am one hundred ten years old and don't have all that much time left before they ship me to the bone orchard, so get here quick.
I will sell/tell you my story for twenty-five thousand dollars American. I am legit. You'll make a bundle off me, but I want the money up front. So get your ass out here before I croak on ya.
Sincerely, Bert Burr, Esq.
The letter was soiled and smelled like someone had wiped their ass with it. It had the name and address of the Middlebury Home of the Aged at the heading on the top of the page. Belva couldn't believe it when I showed her the letter. "So you're going to Pennsylvania?"
"I have too, Belva."
"Are you sure I can't go with you?"
"You know what the alien said. I don't want you getting hurt."
"Why would this... old man want to hurt me?"
"I'm not sure, but there's something Arthur said about him; something about not trusting him, and that he was very dangerous."
"Oh, pshaw!" Belva said, not believing a word of it.
"No, Belva, baby, there's more. He can take over a person's body any time he wants to. Arthur's given me some form of protection against it. I'm not sure how it works, only that I'm to call him Bill at all times. My guess is that... now bear with me on this... he might take over your body and manipulate me through you."
"You really believe all this hokum?"
"I believe meeting an alien is not a usual occurrence."
Sensing that Belva wanted to buy my story, I pushed it a little harder, repeating the key sequences again to make certain she understood how important I thought they were.
She was quiet for a minute or so; and when she started talking again, she didn't make any cutting jibes about the alien or Bill Harbidge.
She didn't like it when I told her our contact would be limited to the occasional phone call and getting her to promise not to come east, or to try to locate me under any circumstances.
"How long will you be?" Belva sniffed, holding back tears.
"I honestly don't know. If I had to guess, I'd say a little over a year."
"A year! I thought we'd be...."
"What... what was it you thought?"
"Never mind. When are you leaving?"
"Tomorrow morning I guess," I said forlornly. At that moment I was so weakened in my position that if she had raised any argument at all I might have dropped the entire idea and begged to get my job at the Times back.
But Belva adopted a stoic attitude and the following morning at a little after nine, I said adios to Oscartown, and headed East in my Desoto.