The Goering Slaying - A Hollywood Land Adventure

Chapter I
Chapter I:

Saturday, September 23, 1939 started off with a bang for me. As the clock struck midnight, I was in LA, at Ciro's, seated between a pair of out of work actresses and a guy who could blow himself, watching "Big Willy" Goering do a stand-up routine. Big Willy was a true Renaissance man, and in addition to being a murderer, dope peddler, bagman and all around swell guy, he also tried his hand at open-mic nights at any nightclub that would have him. He was about as funny as an infant with cancer, but nobody had the guts to tell him that, so on he went and bombed harder than the Red Front in Berlin. Didn't matter how much he tried. Didn't matter how many top notch Hollywood comedy writers he'd get to write material for him. Didn't matter. He was awful. And normally, I wouldn't care about that, but I had business with Big Willy tonight, so I showed up with an audience to laugh at his bad jokes.

"How long is his set?" asked Joe, the self-blower.

I shrugged.

"I was just thinking…"

"Nix. Leave that to professionals."

I gave Joe a twist of Devil's dandruff to bide him over. He got up to go to the bathroom to use it, but I jerked him back down and told him he could do it here. The nightclub was dimly lit and half-empty. 'Sides, I knew the owner, Billy Wilkerson. Joe looked both ways as if crossing the street, untwisted the paper, dug out his car key and slipped on a bump of white powder unto the grooves with shaky fingers. He stuck a key in his left nostril and snorted. The girls watched him, fascinated. Then dug out their apartment keys and joined in. I merely sipped club soda. I wanted to my wits about me today.

Big Willy reached the climax of his act - his infamously awful Ribbentrop joke. Now, I know what you're thinking, how could anyone screw up a Ribbentrop joke? Your maiden aunt can do one. It's the easiest setup and punchline in the world. But Big Willy botched it, every time. Tonight was no exception.

Afterwards, while the fat bastard was wiping flop sweat from a special fuzzy towel brought to him by a no-neck goon, I made my grand introduction, my captive audience in tow: "Great stuff tonight!"

He actually blushed. "Did you think so?" Normally, Big Willy could spot bullshit from a mile away, except when you paid him a compliment about his comedy. There, he took any compliments he could.

"Oh yeah. Loved the Ribbentrop bit."

Big Willy's big smile threatened to break his face. But his No-Neck eyed me suspiciously, so I moved on: "This is Lana and this is Annie, and this here is Joe, he can suck himself off."

"What'd you say?"

"Joe here says he can blow himself."

Big Willy appraised Joe. As did the No-Neck.

Big Willy commandeered a change room. Joe got down to his skivvies and asked one of the girls to jumpstart him. Annie drew the short straw and got him going. After that, Joe sat down on a crate and did indeed play his own skin flute. Big Willy's eyes were glazed and he kept muttering "Degenerate," over and over again, but he kept watching. He patted himself down, produced a pillbox, popped a handful of greenies and washed them down with a flask handed to him by his no-neck.

"You… Annie, is it?" the big man commanded, "Help him with the money shot."

"The, uh, what?"

Big Willy swore under his breath in his native tongue. His eyes were hard as flint and he was sweating from all visible pores in his body. The back of his tux was glued to the back of his neck and his face was greener than Leprechaun vomit. Annie took three steps back when he glanced away from Joe and turned his attention on the hapless girl. I stepped up and whispered into her ear. She nodded.

Big Willy directed the scene. I forgot that part of his Renaissance. Sometimes he'd direct smut films.

Afterwards, he was back to his jovial self. Cracking jokes that were almost funny. He told No-Neck to get Joe involved with a studio and bought the girls ice cream at a joint two blocks up from the club. I watched him destroy three sundaes before I dared to open my mouth, but got cut off with a:

"We'll talk business at the villa, yes?"

I nodded, as if I was given a choice in the matter.

No-Neck brought a giant Caddy from around the corner and we were all in the process of piling inside when three hoods in identical trench coats stepped out of the shadows with Chicago typewriters and raked us left to right and then right to left, all proper.

I hit the pavement soon as I saw them coming. Big Willy would have, but he was half way in the door, with Lana on one side and Annie on the other. He threw Lana to the ground to climb out, but it was too late. They hit him in too many places to count. No-Neck got it too. Annie got her jaw blown off. And Joe wouldn't be blowing himself or anyone else ever again. Lana ate the pavement with her hip and stayed down, more stunned than hurt, but that didn't stop her from screaming her head off as I watched the hoods drop their guns and walk away.

Once I heard the squeals of their getaway car, I half sat and slapped Lana, almost gently. She blinked.

"Have you been shot," I asked in a voice that almost sounded like mine.

She patted herself down and was about to shake her head when she saw Annie and threw up.

I checked on the others, but they were all dead. Except the big man. He was merely dying.

His sausage fingers grabbed me by the lapel of my now blood and dirt smeared jacket and he whispered, "Moron…" and then shat himself and died. Or maybe he died and then he shat himself. All I know is that his bulky ass was pointed to my knee when he expired and the brown dripped onto my kneecap.

I grabbed his scarf and cleaned my knee and waited for the coppers. In the meantime, I helped myself to a couple of his rings and thumbed through his wallet. The Masonic pinkie ring I did not touch, everyone knew he always wore it and I wouldn't be able to resell that any more than his pretty Blue Max around his neck's fat rolls. Too distinct. But the three rings on his left hand looked generic enough and had real gemstones. His wallet looked suspiciously light, and I only took a sawbuck from it. Then patted him down and fished out a fat roll of twenties. This I kept.

The Sheriff's Deputies and the LAPD arrived at the same time on the scene and had a moment. Technically, LAPD had jurisdiction, but the Deputies belonged to Big Willy ever since Mickey Cohen stabbed himself in the stomach seven times while shaving. Some asshole from City Hall showed up with a jacket and pants thrown over his pajamas and told LAPD to investigate, but for Deputies to secure the scene. That didn't solve nothing and only made things worse. Meant two different sets of harness bulls were sweating me for information. I told them the truth. Well, not all of it, of course. I told them my name and that I had come to meet Big Willy to try to get a gig, but did not say which one.

"D'he say anything before he die?"

"Yeah, he cursed at his killers. Didn't mention them by name though."

"Uh-huh. Stick around, pal. Homicide will be here soon."

I'd have been more impressed if it was somebody from Vice. In most places, murder police is considered the elite of the elite, and most folk believe it, too. I don't, because I used to be in it, back down in Indio, a no account place southeast of Los Angeles. Murder police is boring as dog shit and just as easy to pick up. Most killings involve a sobbing drunk sitting ten feet away from their murder victim. The only creative murders happen in the novels. We'll talk about why I ain't police no more sometime later.

Well, actually we can talk about it now, while I waited for the Homicide detective to show up and look important in his flash suit and hand painted tie. Those assholes always wear hand painted ties in LA. About three years, back while I was still in Indio, I crawled into a bottle, and by the time I crawled out of it, I lost a wife to my former best friend, was demoted and had everyone hating me. So I turned in my shield, moved to the city of dreams and made a living shaking down Mex pimps and their taco bending hyenas until Mickey Cohen got me a gig watching poker rooms and bingo halls down in Tijuana. I didn't steal from him and he appreciated that. And he appreciated me, until the shaving accident.

Eventually a phaeton drove up and a flash dick showed himself. He quizzed me for ten minutes, while sizing me up for the hit. I sighed and told him how I used to be a copper down in Indio, in the Homicide Bureau. That got him eyeing me differently. Not out of any sympathy, just an understanding I knew his tricks and so he moved on to Lana, while hitting on her. I killed a Chesterfield while waiting for him to be finished. The shit stain on my kneecap was really bothering me and I wanted to take a shower.

I was also bothered by the big man's last word. "Moron" was not a Goering word. He cursed much more violently. So it meant something else. And it was starting to bug me as much as the shit stain.

"Can you drop me off?" asked Lana. I nodded and we drove off in my jalopy. The Homicide dick didn't even bother to ask us not to leave town. Not that we wanted to leave anyway.

Lana lived in The Valley, which is north of Los Angeles. I lived off Sunset, which is smack down in the middle of the city. But I didn't mind a drive over the mountains. And so we took the Sepulveda pass and its snaking route. I smoked. She talked, a lot. MGM was interested in her. Of course it was. She was a great dancer. Naturally. She could sing too. I did not doubt it. Then she started crying. I pulled over at the Mullholland drive intersection at a closed gas pump and let my four-banger engine cool off from climbing the biggest hill, and let her smear her mascara on my shit, dirt, puke and blood stained jacket.

As she warbled, I realized the big man didn't say "moron." Not exactly. Big Willy didn't have an accent. Not much of one at any rate. And yet he mispronounced the word. I couldn't quite put a finger on it, but the accent was on the wrong syllable and provided that the sudden evacuation of his sodden breeches unto my knee or the bullets in his body were not interrupting his natural speech patterns, he said it like it was the start of the word and not a word in it of itself. It wasn't "moron," it was moron-something or other.

Lana pulled back and said something I could not understand. I nodded and drove on. She lived off Topanga Canyon. Which meant I drove across the whole of the Valley from Sepulveda. It was almost pretty, in that living on the edge of something better feel to it. A bit like all those shit Jersey towns on the wrong side of the Hudson from New York. Not that I've ever been. But my sister lives out there.

Lana lived in a small apartment just off the noisiest street in the whole sleepy suburb. But it had a shower. She squeezed in there with me and we both got dirty and clean at the same time.
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I have one really picky suggestion: have the car No-Neck brings as a Lincoln. As the Chicago saying from the general era had it, "Old money drives Packards. Politicians drive Cadillacs. Gangsters drive Lincolns."
Interesting set up. I wonder what's going on in the wider world.
The next update will give a better glimpse.
I have one really picky suggestion: have the car No-Neck brings as a Lincoln. As the Chicago saying from the general era had it, "Old money drives Packards. Politicians drive Cadillacs. Gangsters drive Lincolns."
Ah, but Big Willy is an over-ambitious man as you will soon learn.
OK, so if we're really going over the top, make it a Cadillac V-16 like this:

By the way, an excellent film noir ambience to the story so far. I half expect Norma Desmond to show up from her somewhat decayed mansion on Sunset Boulevard sometime soon.

I love everything about this. Some excellent noire writing, all the classic tropes, Hollywood—can’t wait to see where this goes.

Is the awesome Clifford Clinton still around in Los Angeles?
Chapter II
Chapter II:

I woke at dawn and took the Topanga down to the Pacific Coast Highway. It was a mistake. The traffic on the narrow Topanga highway snarled and some truck broke down in the middle of it. I bought some nuts and berries for breakfast at a local stall near a picturesque view and waited for the traffic to clear.

Out of sheer boredom, I read the papers. The Soviets were steamrolling through Poland but Lord Halifax, Musso-macaroni, von Papen and the President of Poland and its bald headed general Prime Minister were confident they could be stopped at Warsaw and thrown back into the Urals. Noticeably absent from this chorus line was whoever was in charge of France these days. Seemed the frogs wanted to sit out this war and make a deal with Uncle Joe in Moscow. Appeasement might have died in England when Chamberlain got put into the ground and the Baltics were swallowed up by the Soviets, but it was alive and well in Paris. Then again, I don't recall reading about any British or Italian troops in Poland either. Maybe the French were just being more honest. As always, the German ambassador to the United States von Ribbentrop remained optimistic and assured all that Germany would win the war and this was but a minor setback. Ribbentrop was the type of guy who would described being cornholed as being closely tailgated.

The traffic cleared before I could read the hot stove editorials condemning President Roosevelt for remaining silent on the issue of the war in Europe. I chucked the paper in the bin, got in my car and made my way down to my place, where I got a change of clothes and ambled up to my office.

I was officially licensed as a private investigator, because that allowed me to list my cash gigs as legitimate work from nonexistent clients to avoid cheating on taxes. Shaking down pimps, collecting debts and watching illegal Mexican poker rooms the American people can understand, but nobody likes a tax cheat and the Federal government will convict you for it. Just ask Capone. Speaking of cash, I counted up the big man's roll when I was changing clothes. I had two and a half grand. Enough to last me a year, provided I didn't crawl into a bottle or get high on my own product of poker.

The bell jangled and a profoundly unpleasant short little ugly creep oozed into my office. He wore a light brown suit and white gloves and smelled vaguely of lilac. He had a face made for radio. There was a small secret society pin on his jacket lapel. He seemed to have a limp and his smile was crippled.

"Mister Smythe, is it?" he said too carefully, trying to hide his ever slight German accent.

I nodded. I changed my name when I moved up to Los Angeles from Elsinore. No sense in bringing my past life baggage into this one. A lesson I learned at Elsinore when I moved down there from Indio.

"My name is Voormann. Michael Voormann. I'm a writer."

He said that like it should have meant something to me. I might have given a shrug, or I might not have.

"Mr. Goering and I were... associates."

"My condolences, Mr. Voormann."

"Thank you. You were there. Who do you think did the foul deed?"

"It was dark, Mr. Voormann. I didn't see much and when I did, was too busy ducking."

"I see. Tell me, did he say anything to you last night before he expired?"

"Just cussed out his killers, called them bastards, or something like it."

"I see. Did he happen to mention Indio?"

My butt hairs twinged, but I shook my head and studied the sawed off runt.

"Pity. Well then, good day to you, Mr. Smythe." And he oozed out.

I went to my bookshelf and looked for a map of Los Angeles. It was too specific and listed just Los Angeles and not the surrounding areas. There was a library two blocks down from me. I took the walk. Leafing through the map of Indio brought back memories and all of them unpleasant. But nothing on it started with "Moron" or even "Mor." For giggles I consulted the index and found nothing. I then walked back to my office and found a stunner in a black dress cooling her heels in the dingy hallway outside.

It took me a moment to realize it was Liddy, the big man's lawful wife. Though her pals called her Lida. Big Willy found her on his brother's set and got lost in her wild eyes and thighs. I couldn't blame him.

"I'm sorry for your loss, ma'am."

"Thank you. If you return the three rings you took off his body, I won't ask about the cash."

I blinked, nodded and gave up the three rings I pilfered. Her voice retained traces of her guttural Czech and when she spoke quick and glib, it had a way of cutting to the bone.

"Let's talk in your office, Dick."

I flinched. No one called me by my real birth name since Indio days. My head turned and my eyes must have shown more than I wanted on account she took a step back. She went too far and knew it, and gave a smile full of apology and no mocking. I decided not to let her walk into the door nose first and stepped inside my office and flung it open. She walked in, with a lot more caution than when she first flashed her secret knowledge.

"Sorry. My nerves are... I'm sorry, Mr. Smythe. But you have to understand, I'm an actress in a town full of 'em. And my meal ticket is gone."

I nodded. She sounded sorry, and sincere. Christ, I'm a sucker for redheads. Didn't matter that she was as much a natural red as I was an Eskimo, she wore the dye well, real well.

"Did anyone come to see you yet, about my late husband, I mean?"

"Some runt named Voormann."

She sucked air through her teeth. Like everything about her, her teeth were perfect.

"Well, I suppose you being male, he didn't try to get under your skirt."

"You suppose right, ma'am."

She dug out a cigarette and I lit her up. Up close that mane of hair made me want to grab it. And I already got laid not eight hours before. I could only imagine what she'd make me do if I wasn't sated.

"My late husband was trying to close a rather important business deal, Mr. Smythe. Very important. Did he happen to mention something about it to you?"

"No, ma'am."

"Did he say anything about, uh, Indio?"

"No, ma'am."

"What about Palm Springs?"

I shook my head. Palm Springs was a town just west of Indio, closer to Los Angeles.

She searched for an inspiration. I tried not to look at her chest, but that only made me look at her hair.

"Did he say anything to you before he died? Anything at all?"

"Just cursed out his killers, ma'am."

"Yes, I suppose Willy would do that. He was... Well, with men he was hard."

I might have nodded at that, or not. She suddenly stood and I became aware of her butt. Like I said, everything about her was perfect.

"I'd like you to hire you, Mr. Smythe."

"Hire me? For what?"

"Well, obviously not to find my husband's killers. We all know it was Bugsy Siegel."

She might have known, but I sure didn't. Bugsy was buggy, but he was a man who appreciated earners, being one himself. Sure he loved his former business partner Mickey Cohen, and I'm sure he could have avenged the shaving accident, but Goering brought money to the fellas whose last names in vowels and you don't kill an earner for the East Coast outfit unless you're prepared to take his place an earn even more to make them forget the other bastard even existed. Bugsy wasn't prepared for that. Well, at least in my view. The merry widow continued:

"I want you to look into his business dealings in Indio. I will give you an address and a list of his associates there and those here in town, who might worked with him on it. My late husband was quite excited by the prospect of something out there. Said it was… He was quite excited. I want to know what he planned. And since I squat when I pee, none of those tough guys will tell me anything, not unless I suck them off first and I won't be doing those type of favors any time soon, Mr. Smythe."

I know I blinked at that little speech and don't recall shrugging.

"We can call what you stole off my husband's corpse as the first payment. I will give you another thousand in a week if you take the trouble to drive out to Indio and talk to a dozen people. Three thousand if you bring me... whatever he was working out there. I will bring you a list tomorrow."

And she left without giving me a change to agree or disagree. Redheads. Jesus.

Bugsy Siegel was waiting for me outside my apartment. He had a great tan, a better suit and six no-necks. He crooked his finger when he saw me and I walked over, hands away from my pockets. Bugsy didn't like people who made them nervous. Trouble was, everyone made him nervous.

"Mickey Cohen liked you."

I smiled and nodded.

"You want to run some poker rooms out in TJ?"

I smiled and nodded.

"That fat piece of shit was doing something out in Indio. I want to know what he was planning. Go out there and find out for me. I'd do it myself, but my prick is clipped and they know it out there and they don't much like it. I'm guessing that midget Voormann and the fat bastard's wife already dropped a bug in your ear about it, so no one will ask too many questions about why you're there. Bring me what the fat bastard was planning out in Indio and I'll take care of you. Farshtay?"

"Ikh farshtay," I said, despite being born a Quaker. Mickey taught me some Yiddish.

Bugsy nodded back and was chauffeured away. An identical car peeled away after him, with two no-necks inside, seated in the exact same positions as him and his driver in the first car. Then two more cars drove off, each with a no-neck apiece. One took up the lead of the convoy, the other brought up the rear. Bugsy was careful ever since the old mafia don of Los Angeles Jack Dragna accidentally drowned in a pool out in Santa Barbara. After Mickey's shaving accident, he got even more careful. As I watched the four cars drive off, it occurred to me that with the big man gone, the bosses back East would want another earner in his spot, and with no other name popping into my head, they would have to turn to Bugsy. Maybe Bugsy did bump Big Willy off after all, huh?

As I was wool gathering, a Packard drove up. It was the cleanest car I'd ever seen in my life. The man who sat behind its wheel was dressed in a black three piece suit, despite September being the hottest month of the year in Los Angeles, and had gold wire blue tinted glasses. His gloves were black leather. His face showed barely a hint of humanity.

"Mr. Smythe?"

I nodded.

"Mr. Hughes would like to speak with you."

"Mr. Hughes?"

"Mr. Howard Hughes."

I had me a day and a night to kill before the merry widow brought me the list of names, and going for a joy ride to meet the strangest man in the strangest town on Earth seemed like a good idea, at the time. I got in and Blue Glasses drove us off.
The only thing I don’t like about Howard Hughes is that he doesn’t live forever as the mad hatter of capitalism. President Hughes outlawing nuclear power and going to war against disease say…

Mystery and alternate history go so well together and you’re doing a bang-up job :). My only real question: are you a Hammett or a Chandler guy?
The only thing I don’t like about Howard Hughes is that he doesn’t live forever as the mad hatter of capitalism. President Hughes outlawing nuclear power and going to war against disease say…

Mystery and alternate history go so well together and you’re doing a bang-up job :). My only real question: are you a Hammett or a Chandler guy?
Thank you for the compliments. I'm Team Chandler, if I had to choose. Hammett did great lean prose that I liked, but I disagree with Gibson that Chandler was Puritanical, at least more so than Hammett. Hammett's style did not leave room for editorials, while Chandler's could, so you got to hear more of him than of Hammett, that does not mean the two men had differing views, one just spoke them more openly via his characters. The trouble I have is that I am too young to have read Chandler and Hammett fresh, so I read them via other authors who aped their style. By the time I got to actually reading "The Big Sleep" I read a ton of pale imitations. I loved "The Maltese Falcon," but I saw all the ripoffs of it, before I saw the real thing, never mind read the thing. I inherited both authors through their great-grandchildren of imitators. And I like both, but if I had to pick - Chandler. We learn a lot through him about what is and what is not normal in his world. Yes, he tells you that pornography is filthy in some of his novels, but that is his character trying to explain what he is seeing and while still getting past the censors to get the novel published. Also, the Chandler essay on how murder mysteries should feel naturalistic and not involve curare and hand wrought pistols.
1930s Hollywood, Noir, Pulp, Alternate History, Howard Hughes, Bugsey Siegel and everyone wears suits and hats. This my kind of garden party and I'm luck to be invited.

(In normal English this looks interesting and I'm interested in more).
Chapter III
Chapter III:

Blue Glasses drove me down Pacific Coast Highway, then turned inland at a road with no name. We snaked our way up what the East Coasters would call a mountain, but we good California natives would only designate a hill. There was a bungalow up there with a garage and an aircraft hangar. Blue Glasses dropped me off in front of the hangar.

"Mr. Hughes is waiting for you inside."

"Don't you wanna introduce me?"

"He saw us drive up."

I did not ask how, because I was better off sleeping at night not knowing and took a minute to find a door. It was set at an odd angle where I least expected it. I opened inside and was struck dumb and deaf by the sight of the biggest pair of breasts I had ever seen. They filled a third of the wall of the hangar. Gradually I realized they were attached to a woman in a white blouse. She was a brunette judging by the thick canopy on her head and was reposing on what appeared to be straw. In her hand was a cowboy six shooter. It was a projected image. The projector was on my left. On my right stood a nervous little man with a strange mustache in pajamas. Instead of shoes he wore tissue boxes. He had a respirator slung over a shoulder, but the mask was around his chin and not his mouth. He was gazing up at the image, sadly.

"She did not wear it."

"Mr. Hughes?"

"My bra. I created it just for her, you know. But she did not wear it. I can see that now. How sad."

So far Hughes was living up to his billing.

"You asked to see me, Mr. Hughes?"

"Goering. He was a good man. A fine pilot. A great stuntman. His brother is a good director. Follows my directions. Find his killers. I'll reward you."

I said the biggest amount of money I could think of: "$25,000?"

"Yes, yes. Fine. Finds his killers. She should have worn the bra."

I gave a courtier's bow and departed. Blue Glasses took me back to my house. Howard Hughes might have been the only human being on the planet who would describe Goering as a good man in 1939. That the fat bastard was a fine pilot I will not doubt. His stunt work was pretty good, especially when he flew in his brother's flicks, until the big man crashed one time too many and got addicted to greenies and most of Hollywood saw him for what he was - a drug addled monster. But Hughes stuck with him even after that, and got him a job busting unions, skulls and strikes. And that's when the big man became a bigger legend. Prior to Goering, strike breakers weren't what you'd call organized. After all, they were created to break up organized labor. Goering made them into an army. Drilled them. Marched them. Plenty of the ole' skull breakers weren't much enthused for that sort of thing and quit. After all, those Okies and cowboys didn't come to Hollywood to do real work, they came out to be in the pictures, figuring them owning a pair of boots and knowing a lasso trick would make them into movie stars. Once that failed, they fell into all kinds of jobs. Knee cap breaking being the easiest. And here came a kraut with funny ideas about getting organized and not making it so easy any more. So some of them fell out with him, but plenty of real bastards stuck it out and saw results. And that's how Goering became the toast of the town. If you had a union in your plant or in your back lot, one phone call got a truck full of sturdy young thugs in your loading dock or studio and you didn't have a union no more.

Now the worst part, I almost joined his goon squad to make an easy buck, and only didn't on account Mickey Cohen got me a gig. This whole thing was starting to reek of bad old memories, and now I was going to go to Indio, to face the worst of the lot. And I couldn't even get drunk properly to chase away the old demons on account if I drank tonight, I'd be gone for a week, or I'd be dead. Whiskey and I aren't friends no more. Never been friends actually. More like allies.

Left alone on the curb outside my house with a pocket full of bad memories and a storm cloud promising more of the same, I went to a movie theater to let the moving images wash over me and try to push out the bad things running through my skull. The picture was awful though and did not do its job. But a funny thing about it, the co-writer on it was one Michael Voormann, the director was Al Goering and an associate producer of it was my old sometime pal, the owner of Ciro's, Billy Wilkerson. Billy also owned a couple more clubs and a local paper. He is a Southern gentleman and the most degenerate gambler I ever met. He once even bet that Bela Lugosi's career would recover. Then again, he almost won that bet, even though he cheated by being the one to call in a favor and get that washed out Hungarian junkie an important straight bit in "The Wizard of Oz." Sadly for him, Bela was Bela, and within a year he was playing sadistic Soviet commissars in poverty row pictures.

I went back to my place and rang up Billy.

"Jesus, guys, how long is it going to take?"

"Billy, it's me."

"Oh, thought it was the taxi. Waiting on those bastards to take me to the airport."

"Going out to Vegas again?"

"What else can a good man do in Los Angeles on a Monday night?"

"Right. Won't stop you. What do you know about Michael Voormann?"

"What, he put a hand up your skirt?"

"No, but I got a client that is saying he's worth a shakedown."

"Is she female?"

"I got priest-penitent privilege over here, Billy."

"Uh-huh. Your gal is leading you to monastery. Voormann is connected to his Honner."

That was not good. Frank Shaw has been Lord Mayor Emperor Pope of Los Angeles for now close to a decade, and was so utterly corrupt, Chicago and New Orleans papers would mock us for it.

"Uh, how?"

"Voormann wrote that Northridge speech for him."


"Christ, you have no idea what I'm talking about you, do you?"


"Reading is good for you. You should try it. His Honner made a speech at Northridge, up in the Valley, six months ago, proposing the use of forced labor work camps to attempt rehabilitate persistent political enemies of good law and order."

"Ain't that a peach? Does he do more than write speeches?"

"Plenty, per the starlets."

"I meant, does he collect debts and send out warnings?"

"Not that I heard. But he's an oily tick, so who knows. Stay away from him, pal. And don't go trying no cowboy stuff. Hey, I'm hearing a car outside. That must be the taxi. We'll talk in a week!"

Billy hung up before I could thank him for the warning. The last guy to make life difficult for his Honner got himself blown up in his garage. The papers called it a tragic accident.

Lana called just then, wanting to talk. I let her talk herself out, while I looked up the maps. Somewhere in my closet lay a brochure from a do-gooder organization into which a girl I was throwing a hump into on a regular basis two years past belonged. The do-gooders proposed the creation of "free-ways" to make life easier for the people of Los Angeles. Like all things that involve LA City Hall and public money, it all came to grief. Federal Highway 99 would get me from Los Angeles to Riverside, and the good part was that it was almost half gravel and had four lanes in a quarter of the places. Then I'd make do with the old Federal 60 all the way to Indio. Seems simple enough, until you get out there.

Now, highways might not seem like a big deal to you folks who are not lucky enough to have been born in California, but you have to understand the scope of our beautiful state. You can fit all of England and Scotland between Los Angeles and Oregon. Highways are a matter of life and death here.

I suddenly realized Lana stopped talking and said, "And what does your agent think?" And that got me an earful of bullshit for another fifteen minutes as I outlined my plan for tomorrow's travels.

Indio. Shit.

I contemplated driving up to the Valley to spend another night with Lana, but did not want to her think I needed her as badly as I did. About four hours after she rang me up, I called it quits, bid goodbye and turned to sleep.

I woke to the radio telling me the Soviet tanks entered Warsaw. As omens go, that was not a good one. Then my phone rang. It was the big man's old lady.

"I will be in your office in fifteen minutes, Mr. Smythe."

The line went dead.

I decided to make her wait and ambled up to my office in half an hour.

There was no one in the hallway.

When I opened my office door I saw an envelope on the floor. I picked it up and saw a woman's writing. Inside were ten names and addresses. The addresses were familiar to me. I was from Indio, after all. Of the names, I recognized only two and both were well known rancid assholes even before I crawled into a bottle. With a heavy heart, I got into my car for a long ride to nowhere.
I'm expecting at any moment some little goon to appear and talk about body fellas before cutting into our protagonist's nose.

I like how this Alternate LA is shaping up. Still as corrupt and Vice driven as it was back then but a bit more right wing due to all of the problems in Europe.

Who would you say your protagonist looks like more? Humphrey Bogart, Jack Nicholson, Gaberial Bryne, Robert Mitchum I could go on but I'll stop there.


Gone Fishin'
Who would you say your protagonist looks like more? Humphrey Bogart, Jack Nicholson, Gaberial Bryne, Robert Mitchum I could go on but I'll stop there.

I have a suspicion we’d recognize quite well who our protagonist looks like.