tagExhibitionist & VoyeurA Kiss Between Murders

A Kiss Between Murders

byDemonstrative©

June 9th, 1947

It was two a.m. and my eyes burned as badly as the cheap whiskey I was pouring down my throat. As fast as they were going down you would have thought I could convince myself that it was the good stuff, but my stomach kept reminding me different.

Lou's Last Stop was filled with the usual crowd of sad sacks and lonely hearts. All scrambling to find their next big score and someone with the brains to help them get away with it. With this broken bunch of losers half a brain would've been too great a load to carry.

"Again?" Lou Mackenzie poured me another before I had a chance to answer then retreated back to his corner. For a retired cop he wasn't too interested in chewing the fat, which was fine by me. I didn't come here to socialize. I was killing time before meeting an informant of mine.

"Thanks, Lou." I threw back my drink and then tossed a crumpled ten on the counter. Outside the heat hit me like a furnace. Four days into a heat wave and the only relief the night offered was that you didn't need your sunglasses.

I lit a cigarette and crossed the street, avoiding the potholes and the winos. People were sleeping on their porches or with their windows wide open. Not the best idea in a neighborhood like this.

My gun felt heavier than usual in its holster and my shirt stuck to me like a streak of bad luck. Jimmy's place wasn't far and the booze helped to loosen me up, so I decided to walk. Once I turned onto Lancaster I was all alone with only overturned trashcans and the occasional voices shouting behind closed doors for company.

The Wilshire Estates was hardly the palace its flashy sign made it out to be. Dark bungalows faced each other on opposite sides. In the center of the courtyard stood an empty fountain with a headless statue of a cherub. It was the kind of place that offered its tenants plenty of privacy, mostly because no upstanding citizen would be caught dead there. Or maybe that's the only way they would be there. The swimming pool came at no extra charge even though it was never filled with water.

Jimmy Morgan lived in bungalow number 6 in the rear of the courtyard. I walked past large palm trees. They overshadowed the dying Birds of Paradise that lay along the cracked pavement. I saw shadows moving behind drawn curtains, so I wasn't the only one up at this hour.

I tossed my cigarette at Jimmy's door and knocked. All the lights were out and there was no answer so I tried the doorknob. It turned easily and I opened the door. "Jimmy?"

I stepped inside and the plaster above my head exploded into pieces. I hit the ground and rolled. When I came up my gun was in my hand.

"Get outta here." A voice as thin as paper called out.

"Goddammit Jimmy. It's me." I still couldn't see him but I could smell him.

"Mike?" I could hear him fumbling in the dark, then a light came on.

"Put the fucking gun down, Jimmy." I stood up and kept the dangerous end of my .38 pointed at his head.

Jimmy dropped his gun and crumpled to the floor. He was laughing and crying. "I'm sorry. I didn't know. I'm sorry."

I holstered my gun and shuffled through the trash-filled carpet. I picked up his gun and set it on the coffee table and then dragged Jimmy toward the couch. God he stank. I left him on the floor and pulled up a chair and sat across from him.

"What's with the shoot first ask questions later, Jimmy?" I reached inside my shirt pocket and pulled out another cigarette.

"I thought you were...someone else." Jimmy was in a cold sweat and his words were slurring. I guess we both had been hitting the bottle, only his bottle used him as a punching bag. He tried to stand but his legs had gone on vacation.

"Like who?" I lit my cigarette and offered Jimmy one. He shook his head and closed his eyes.

Jimmy started to lean to one side like he was getting ready for a nap so I kicked his foot and he sat up straight. God, he had wet himself.

"Jimmy?"

"What?" He was looking around like he didn't know here he was. Maybe he was just looking for a bottle.

"Jimmy. What do ya got for me?" I was beginning to feel that this was a waste of my time. Jimmy usually had some decent information for me. But running down cheating spouses was never a reason for Jimmy to start waving a gun around.

"I thought I had somethin' for ya. But I was wrong. It didn't pan out." He chuckled to himself and started looking for that bottle again.

"What's with the gun, Jimmy?" I got off my chair and picked up his piece. The gun was as dirty as he was, but I took it any way, fitting it in my trench coat pocket .

"You know, Mike. For protection and stuff." He looked worried that I wasn't gonna give it back, which meant he was scared for his life.

"You know, Jimmy. I can help you if you level with me."

He managed to pull himself up and made his way into the kitchen. Bottles crashed to the floor as he bumped into the kitchen table.

"Shit. I really need a drink." He yelled. Then I could hear the sobs dripping out of his pale, sweaty face. "Could you spare me a couple bucks, Mike?"

I was tired and ready for bed and the last thing I needed was to babysit a lush in the middle of the night. But between the two of us, I had the better chance of returning with an unbroken bottle.

"I'll get you a drink, Jimmy." I stood up and helped him back to the couch.

"Thanks, Mike. You're a real pal. I'll pay you back." He fell onto the cushions mumbling something that sounded like "liquor" and closed his eyes. He was fast asleep before I got half way across the room. I kept his gun. No sense dodging bullets twice in one night.

I went back to Lou's and came back with a bottle of cheap whiskey. If we were going to talk over a drink, it might as well be one that I liked. Jimmy's door was ajar when I got there. I hoped he hadn't run out on me and tried to find that drink on his own.

The lights were out again but I could see Jimmy was still asleep on the couch. I went into the kitchen and turned on the light. There were two glasses in the sink that could pass for clean if I wasn't being too picky. I took them into the living room and set them on the coffee table and poured us both a drink.

"Jimmy, wake up." He didn't stir so I kicked his foot. I turned on the lamp by the couch and saw what was left of his brains on the pillow behind his head. My heart tripped over itself as my senses went into overdrive. I took my gun out and turned off the light. Taking a breath and moving quietly I checked the bedroom and closets but the place was empty.

Whoever did this must have waited until I left and then slipped away before I got back. That explained why Jimmy took a shot at me before. And I had Jimmy's gun. He couldn't hit his own reflection if he was standing in front of the mirror, but that didn't make me feel any better about have left him defenseless. Whatever his last thoughts were they were now splattered all over his dirty sofa.

I checked his pockets. A pack of matches, a ring of keys, and a patch of lint weren't the best eulogy for a man, but in Jimmy's case it was better than nothing. I took a drink and then finished Jimmy's glass as well. No sense wasting it. I took the bottle and left his gun. I doused the lights and closed the door on my way out.

Back at the bar I asked Lou for the phone and dialed the cops.

"Twenty-second precinct. Officer Mills."

"Get me Lt. Dobbs."

"Who is this?" I guess Mills felt like his toes were being stepped on. I didn't care.

"Tell him it's McCabe and tell him now before I tell him you're obstructing a murder investigation." That seemed to do it. When Dobbs got on the line he wasn't too pleased to hear from me, which wasn't much of a surprise.

"Jesus, McCabe. It's late, I'm pulling an all-nighter, and I'm up to my ass in paperwork. What the hell do you want?" He was being his usual sweet self so I got right to the point.

"Got a body for you, Lenny."

"Who'd ya kill this time?"

"A snitch of mine by the name of Jimmy Morgan, 2435 Wilshire, bungalow six. Somebody didn't like the secrets he was keeping so they put a bullet in his head to see what would come pouring out."

"Christ, Mike. I got better things to do then pick up after you."

I heard him yelling in the background, "Send a couple of units to 2435 Wilshire, bungalow six. We got a cold one waiting."

"Hey, Lenny."

"Yeah?"

"I'm heading home. You know where to find me later."

"Goddammit, McCabe. Your ass better be --."

I hung up. Tomorrow there would be a lot of explaining but right now, more than anything, I needed to sleep. I took a taxi home and stumbled in the front door tossing my hat and coat on the couch. Falling into bed I took my gun out and held it tight as I got comfortable. Whoever killed Jimmy had seen me, and although I didn't notice any one following me, I wasn't taking any chances.

By the time I woke up the sun was scorching my head like someone held a magnifying glass over my face to burn out my eyes and the smell of coffee was filling my apartment. There was someone in the house, but I'd never heard of a killer making coffee before taking someone out. I got up quietly and entered the kitchen, my gun pointing the way.

"Is that anyway to say good morning?" It was Vera Chandler, my secretary.

"What are you doing here?" I closed my eyes and imagined myself going back to sleep while still leaning against the kitchen counter.

"Here." She handed me a hot cup of Joe and poured herself one. I sank into the kitchen chair and set my gun back in its holster.

"Jeez, Mike. Did you sleep in your clothes again?" She set her ruby lips on her cup leaving lipstick on the rim. Brushing her blonde hair out of her face she stiffened at the taste and scrunched up her face. "God. If that doesn't clear out the cobwebs nothing will."

I took a sip. It tasted like battery acid but it helped wash away the taste of last night's activities.

"What's a kid from Kansas doing breaking into a man's home?" I rubbed my eyes and got up to look in the fridge.

"I'm from L.A. and I have a key, remember? You gave it to me last week to pick up the Gorman case files and take them back to the office."

I reached for the eggs and dropped the carton. "Shit."

"Let me. Sit down."

She was a good looking dame with a body that didn't punch out at quitting time. She got down on her knees and I couldn't help but notice the way her chest strained against her blouse. I sat down and watched as she bent over to clean up my mess.

"Got an eyeful yet?" She smiled and looked up at me, her hair falling over the right side of her face.

"Just making sure you don't miss anything." I met her gaze and she laughed.

"I don't miss a thing, Mike."

"Right." I took another sip hoping to start my engine.

"Lt. Dobbs called the office. He wants you downtown as soon as possible. He didn't sound very happy." She stood up and smoothed out her skirt.

"Do me a favor. Check on Jimmy Morgan. He had an old partner. See if we have an address on him."

"You gonna be ok, boss?" She set the eggs on the counter and took another sip of coffee.

"Just dandy. Now get outta here."

Vera poured her cup out in the sink. "I'll see ya later." She scooted out and left me with an empty stomach and a head full of mashed potatoes. I took a cold shower which helped with the heat, and I managed to fry some bacon and finish my coffee without making more of a mess.

The coffee was doing its job. I felt ready to have my best pal at the L.A. police department bust my chops. After scrounging around for ten minutes trying to find my keys, I drove to the 36th precinct where I found Dobbs sitting at his desk.

"Shut the door." He lit a cigarette. "Sit down."

I took a seat and lit one of my own. If I had known it was going to be like a steam bath in there I would have dressed in a towel. Neither one of us said anything for a while until he burst out with, "Are you gonna tell me what the hell you were doing at Morgan's place last night or am I gonna have to beat it out of ya?"

"You're gonna give yourself a heart attack like that Lenny." I took a drag knowing it would just irritate him more.

"Just tell me what happened."

"Jimmy called me last night. Said he had a tip on something big and to meet him at his place at two a.m. He helps me now and then with a case. I got there and he took a shot at me as soon I stepped in the door. He was scared of somebody but he wouldn't say who. I left to get him a drink and when I came back he was dead."

"What was he working on?" Lenny leaned forward, his elbows were digging holes in the desktop.

"He didn't say."

"You expect me to believe that crap?" Lenny crushed his cigarette in the ashtray and hopped out of his seat. He came around the desk and sat on the corner jabbing his finger in my face. "I don't like it when people hold out on me, McCabe." His shirt was wet and a bead of sweat ran down his face.

"Would a friend do that to you, Lenny?" I loosened my tie a little hoping to get some air.

"We are not friends and I'm two seconds away from throwing you in the slammer." The overhead fan had strings of dust hanging down from the blades, which meant it was still broken since the last time I was here. Christ, didn't the L.A.P.D. pay enough for a desk fan?

"On what charge?" I leaned back in my seat and smiled.

"Murder one."

I reached in my jacket and laid my gun on the desk. "Go ahead. Check. You'll find the slug buried in Jimmy's brain pan didn't come from my .38."

Dobbs shifted his fat ass and a stack of files behind him hit the floor. "Goddammit." He looked at me as if he expected me to pick them up. "That's all you got to say?"

"You've got lovely eyes, Lieutenant."

He slid off the desk and sat back down in his chair. "Get the hell outta here and take that with you."

I grabbed my gun and slid it back in its holster.

"You come across anything you call me right away or I'll drag your ass in here as an accessory." He lit another cigarette and took a deep drag. I guessed our little chat was over, so I stood up, my shirt sticking to my back, and opened the door

"Why, Lieutenant. Would I keep anything from you?" I closed the door before he could reply. Back out in the hot sun my legs felt heavy and awkward, but at least my head was finally clear. I drove to my office on Lancaster. The elevator was out again so I had to take the stairs to the third floor. My landlord was not getting a Christmas card this year. I couldn't wait to get into my office and just sit in front of the fan. Vera was on the phone when I walked in.

"Yes. I'll be sure to tell him." She hung up and took a deep breath which always took mine away.

"Let me guess. Dobbs?" I dropped my coat and hat on the couch.

"He said to make sure to tell you that if you slip up even a little your ass was his." She smiled. "Which would be a shame because it's a nice ass."

"Control yourself, Vera. Did you find anything on Morgan's past associate?" She handed me a file.

"That's all we got, boss."

"Alright." I went into my office and closed the door. I sat behind my desk, opened the file, and propped my feet up. Good old Vera already had the fans going.

Every office needs a pretty girl to keep the clients in a good mood, and Vera had that talent in spades. But she was more than just a pretty face. She had a knack for finding things out and was smart enough to know how to dig for them. The file she'd compiled on Jimmy Morgan covered all the bases.

Jimmy had once had a great future in the boxing ring. Jimmy "The Mauler" Morgan they used to call him. He'd had it all. Women, money, fame. He would have made the middle weight title if he hadn't been having an affair with every bottle of booze he could get his hands on. His weakness for the ponies didn't help either. By the time he was taking dives to pay his bills, he had one foot in the grave already. But he was popular. Even his old gym let him keep a locker at no charge. Probably just for the publicity.

After his boxing days were over he'd done favors for certain criminal elements. Nothing major, just a little strong-arm stuff, collections. He didn't last long with all the drinking. I was working a case four years ago that had involved one of Jimmy's old bosses, a two-bit player named Vincent Carlisle. For the right incentive Jimmy had been more than willing to share some old secrets. You could say we'd had an agreement since then. Whatever he had gotten himself involved in was way over his head. Now he was just a number on a drawer at the morgue.

Looking through the file I found what I was looking for. He used to drive Tommy Capra, also known as Tommy Hooks. This guy was a real piece of work. He liked to hang his victims on meat hooks. Last I heard he was still working for Tiny D'angelo who ran the unions in L.A. harbor. Tommy liked the whores running out of the Sunset hotel on Cyrus Street, in particular, a red head named Evelyn Crandle.

I dropped the file on my desk and decided to pay Miss Crandle a visit. I told Vera I'd be back in a couple of hours. I was just grabbing my hat and coat when the phone rang.

Vera answered with the usual, "McCabe Investigations. How can I help you?" I didn't wait to hear the rest. By the time I got downstairs my legs felt like jello and my head suddenly remembered it wanted to practice drumming. I didn't feel like driving so I found a cab on the corner.

"Sunset Hotel on Cyrus," I said, falling into the back seat.

"I'm eating my lunch buddy." The driver had a mouth full of something that looked like either a meatball sandwich or the slaughter at a pig farm.

"Listen pal," I said. "Either you get moving or I force feed you that sandwich until it comes out your ass." I lit a cigarette and waited for this joker to make up his mind. It didn't take long. He dropped his sandwich and screeched away from the curb. I probably shouldn't have barked at him, but I'd left my patience back on the sidewalk by my office. When he pulled up to the Sunset I dropped some bills on the front seat and got out with barely enough time before the driver tore out of there.

Pushing through the dirty glass door into the lobby I could see a few girls sitting in the lobby. Some were alone and others were entertaining their clients. I didn't see any redheads among the Lana Turner knockoffs.

At the front desk a fat man with a pencil-thin mustache and a shiny forehead was reading the paper. The stench of cheap booze and cigars hit me as I got close. He didn't seem to be in any hurry to find out how my morning was so I hit the desk bell just to annoy him. He looked up from his headlines. "Yeah?"

"Evelyn Crandle," I said.

"Never heard of her." He looked down at his paper again. I pulled I out from under his sweaty hands and rolled it up.

"Where is she?"

"Take a hike pal and give me back my paper." He gave me the evil eye so I tried asking a little nicer.

"You're too stupid to read so quit pretending and tell me where she is." He reached below the desk so I grabbed a fistful of shirt and pulled him hard. I shoved his head down on the counter and pressed hard, trying to see which would break first, the desk or his head.

"You wouldn't be pulling a piece from down there, would ya?" He struggled and the grease from his hair made me want to let go in a hurry. "Evelyn?" I lifted his head and brought it down on the bell.

"309," he spit out. I let him go and wiped my hand on the newspaper and then tossed it at him.

"You're a helpful guy. And don't try anything. I haven't had my target practice today." I opened my coat and showed him my piece. He puts his hands up and backed away from the counter. "Good boy."

I took the elevator and got off on the third floor. It was dingy and dark and the carpet looked like it hadn't been cleaned since before the war. At 309 I listened for any voices but all was quiet. I knocked.

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