HARRY’S LAST CASE
I’ve always been very perceptive. It goes with the job. So the minute this dame sashayed into my office I knew she was trouble. Trouble with a capital T.
“Ah, Mrs. Boyd. Please, please come in. Come in.”
She entered the room like a jungle cat prowling the stage in Vegas.
“Mr. Murphy….. or Mr. Carson?”
“Sorry, uh, it’s Carson. Harry Carson, ma’m.”
“Call me Dolores…. All my pals call me Dolores.”
That throaty voice; those dark, hooded eyes. Both seemed to hold promises I knew for certain her body would have no trouble keeping.
“Thanks, ma’am. Please, um….. just call me Harry.”
She stepped closer and extended a gloved hand. I wasn’t sure whether to kiss it, stroke it or shake it.
When I’d seen the appointment I’d been all set to greet another war-painted dowager, hopefully with more money than sense, hiring me to hunt down some absconding pooch or spy on an errant husband. Nothing prepared me for this; a classy broad dressed to the nines and with little more than showroom mileage on her odometer.
Dolores’s liquid eyes shone like burnished ebony, she had pouting red lips that craved to be kissed, and that perfume. Wow, I reckon anything that smelled that good should carry a government health warning on the bottle.
“Can I get you anything to drink?”
I could feel myself overheating but Mrs. B seemed not to notice my discomfiture. She dismissed refreshment as if I’d offered to sell her life insurance.
She drew her chair closer to the table and got straight down to business.
“When I spoke to the girl….. over the telephone….. she assured me I would be in safe hands….. told me you used to be a police officer. I was actually expecting somebody a lot older.”
Same here, toots.
“Well, uh, you see. I, uh, I had to take early retirement,” I stammered.
Those eyes blinked ever so slowly.
“A stupid domestic…… Culver City…. four years ago now….. a duplex on Keystone Avenue of all places.”
I knew I was rambling but those eyes of hers were mesmerising me.
“Anyway, I cuffed the guy….. and the next thing I know his wife pulls out this kitchen knife.”
“Yeh. Skewered my right shoulder, see. Irreparable muscle damage. So I had a choice to make….. get out while I could, with reduced pension….. or….. work at Headquarters. Sat behind a desk.”
“Ah, and let me guess, Harry. You’re not a desk kind of guy?”
“Well no, I’m an action kind of guy, I suppose.….”
“I like that. An action kind of guy. That’s exactly what I’m looking for, Harry.”
“So, Mrs., em…..,”
That voice again. And did I mention those eyes?
“Sorry. Dolores….. What, uh, what can I do for you today?”
“Well, Harry. It’s like this. I saw your advertisement, and it says ‘anything considered’.”
“Huh, well yeh. Anything legal, that is.”
“Of course, Harry. Of course.”
Those eyes again. What the hell. I’d have done anything for a paddle in those black, velvet pools.
“It’s my husband, Harry….. I….. I want you to get rid of my husband.”
Suddenly those dark pools of passion weren’t so inviting. Mrs. B didn’t seem such a dream date after all. There was a hard edge to her voice, an icy tone that suggested Mrs. B always got what Mrs. B wanted.
“What? You want me to kill your husband?”
She grinned like death itself.
“Oh, don’t look so shocked, Harry. Of course I don’t. It’s perfectly legit, otherwise I wouldn’t dream of asking. You see….. my husband, he’s already dead.”
- - - - -
“So she wants you to kill a ghost, Harry?”
Murphy was suitably flummoxed when I told her. I still couldn’t get the idea straight in my own head. But brainstorming with my protégé was often the best approach to any new case.
“Not kill him, as such. Just eliminate him from her life.”
“And you’re sure this guy is really dead?”
“Oh, he’s dead all right. James Efrem Boyd. Died December 28. Cause of death – drowning whilst under the influence of alcohol.”
Murphy made a tiny choking noise.
“E-F-R-E-M. You never heard of Efrem Zimbalist Junior? His old man was a concert violinist. Junior became a Hollywood movie star. Kept daddy’s name. Played the lead role in one of the first ever cop shows to be filmed on our wonderful streets. You must have heard of ‘77 Sunset Strip.’”
Murphy gave an exaggerated yawn. 30 years before her time.
“Anyway, she showed me his death certificate. The late Mr. B is definitely late – got his own star billing in Forest Lawns just over six months ago. They found his body floating in Toluca Lake, out at the golf course. Blood tests showed he’d tried to drown himself in tequila first, but that obviously hadn’t worked. So he went for a swim.”
“Lakeside Golf Club?”
“That’s it. Classy location - but not the kind of place to go for an impromptu dip. Especially in the middle of winter.”
“So presumably wet boy wakes up in a casket and suddenly decides he wants to party some more before the worms start a-chompin’.”
That’s what attracted me to Murphy when I first met her – her decorous way with words. Pure style. I like her slender, tom-boy figure as well and the way she squirms when I tie her feet together, but stuff like that’s strictly entre-nous as they say down in the Projects.
“Well yeh. You could say that. But things were quiet for the first few months. Mrs. B says the trouble started sometime after Passover. She’d come to terms with her loss, then suddenly all sorts of weird stuff starts happening. First of all she thinks it’s an earthquake. Shelves fall down. Vases tip over. One of her water pipes gets a sudden leak. The usual sh1t you get when LA’s feeling frisky. But then doors would start slamming in her face when she tried to leave the house, the TV kept switching itself on and off, and one day she couldn’t get the waste disposal to turn off.”
“Sounds more like a job for Ghostbusters.”
“Yeh, but they’re not in Yellow Pages apparently….. and I guess she didn’t fancy having her apartment splattered with ectoplasm?”
“So what makes her think it’s her husband?”
“Well, things only seem to get spooky when his ex-business partner’s on the scene. And I mean “on the scene”. Get the message?”
Murphy poked a tongue tip out of her pert little mouth for a second or so. She knew there was a juicy titbit on the way.
“Mrs. Boyd only started getting house-calls from the Twilight Zone when she and this guy, Gregorio, got cosy.”
I could see that mischievous twinkle suddenly light up Murphy’s eyes. She loves to hear about the more lurid details of my cases. The hours of domesticated fun we’ve had looking at covert videos you would not believe.
“Oh, I get it. The widow puts in six months’ compulsory grieving then hey presto this creep offers her a penis to cry on.”
“Well, not quite. Mrs. B suggested that she and this Greek had been practicing the horizontal cha-cha-cha for some time before James decided to test his water wings. It was more a case of….. picking up again from where they left off, once she’d run out of woe.”
“Aw, bless. And she thinks the ghost of her husband is acting hyper because he’s jealous. Now he’s seen what devious Dolores is up to he’s trying to throw a spanner in the works?”
“Spanner, plant pot, paper-weight….. you name it, he throws it.”
“I still don’t get it. How come our number’s the one she picks out of the book? She must have…..”
I can be as callous as they come, but sometimes a thoughtless word can sting as much as a well-aimed barb. Murphy saw the hang-dog expression on my face, stopped in mid-flow and wrapped her arms around me. One look into my soulful eyes and she had no choice but to take pity on me.
“Oh, Scooby Doo, I didn’t mean that to sound the way it did. Me and my big mouth….. I think that she’s desperate, so in that case I suppose she made the perfect choice. I just can’t figure out what the hell you’re gonna do. Are you planning on visiting his grave at midnight and shooting him with a silver bullet or something?”
I shrugged. I was still some way from formulating Plan A.
“Harry, listen. If you want my ten-cents’ worth, there’s no ghost. Ok? It’s just this broad’s guilty conscience giving her a touch of the heebie-jeebies. Now that Mr. B’s not around for her to cheat on any more her scruples are making her imagine things. I reckon she’s only hiring you to put her mind at ease.”
“Well that’s fine by me, doll. I’ve already told her I’ll put her top of my list for the next couple of weeks.”
“But you’re not going to take this case seriously, are you?”
“Does the Pope sh1t in the woods? At $250 a day plus expenses of course I’m taking it seriously. We’re meeting for drinks at eight thirty this evening.”
“You and the two-timing b1tch?”
“Me, Dolores and her boyfriend are having cocktails in Chinatown; together with Efrem if he shows up.”
- - - - -
The ‘Flamingo’ on Bamboo Lane was strictly a no-frills drinking den. Outside, the cinder-block walls looked as if they had been pollocked by every seagull this side of Shanghai. And inside things were little better. The lurid pink carpet sported a threadbare trail between the double doors and the main bar – faded to a scabby grey by years of pilgrimage where countless thirsty souls had journeyed to have their sorrows drowned. The garish lights and throbbing rap music would have driven most culture vultures immediately back out onto the street.
I turned up some twenty minutes before my clients were due to arrive. It’s a thing we professional investigators normally do; case the joint, absorb the ambience, and eyeball the staff and regulars. Also it gave me time to quaff a couple of JDs without the clients getting wind of my partiality to the hard stuff.
The joint was hardly jumping. A low table in the corner was occupied by two management types no doubt discussing spreadsheets and profit margins judging by their dynamic body language. At the end of the bar nearest the restrooms a slovenly guy in a check work-shirt and heavy-duty denim trousers with six-inch turn-ups scanned the pictures on the sports pages while he nurtured a beer.
“Howdie there, compadre.”
The bar-tender looked barely old enough to have been weaned. He wore a red ‘Welcome to LA’ t-shirt with the sleeves cut off, and a Dodgers baseball cap with its peak facing backwards.
“Jack Daniels, please.”
I held up two fingers pressed close together.
“As it comes.”
I turned to face the dismal room and wondered why widow B and her beau had dragged me all the way down town to this dump. Presumably this had been hubby’s local, in which case it was time to begin some serious research.
“I don’t suppose you know a guy called Jimmy Boyd? Might have been a regular here up to a few months ago?”
“No siree. Wouldn’t know him even if he came up to me and spat in my eye. I just serve drinks – this job don’t pay enough for me to take a roll-call every night.”
I could imagine Murphy’s response had she been here with me. But sonny boy’s attitude would have to wait for now. The grey-collar worker at the far end of the bar had sidled over to where I stood. His body odour formed a substantial fall-out zone all around him. He slammed his empty glass on the wooden bar and stared at me as if he’d just found Jesus.
“D’you say Jimmy Boyd? I know Jimmy….. always good for a drink or two…. real decent guy. He’s not in trouble or anything is he? I mean, you’re not a cop are you?”
“No, no. Just a friend of the family. When was the last time you saw him here?”
The look in his eyes suggested the offer of libation might lubricate his brain synapses sufficiently for him to be able to consider my question before the drool reached the end of his chin. I got him a Bud Lite.
“Not seen Jimmy in here this side of Chinese New Year. He used to come in most week nights. He works a couple of blocks down from the Dodger Stadium. Managed to get me tickets for a big game a couple of times.”
Well it’s time out buddy, I thought.
Then a tidal wave of cologne washed up against the bar as Mrs. B and her minder crossed the room to one of the spare tables under the window. She flicked her dark eyes in my direction but did not say a word. I made my excuses to the genius at the bar and followed them to their table.
“Hi, there. Can I get you two a drink?”
“Sit down, Harry. Gregorio here will get them.”
Clouds of after-shave hung over him like summer smog above the Bay. He was about six-four, muscle-bound, tanned like wood-preservative, and had the blondest hair I had ever seen on any Greek. He extended a hand and it was like squeezing a shammy. More of an interior designer than a dock worker then.
As the teak Greek set sail for the bar I slid next to Dolores and got out my notebook. The top page was already full of official-looking notes. Murphy had given me a shopping list for Chinese herbs and spices when she heard where I was headed. What we couldn’t eat she’d no doubt end up smoking on the sly.
“I’ve been pushing real hard on the case since you left this morning….. but so far my enquiries have yielded very little useful information. I gather your husband had an office close by. What line of work was he in exactly?”
“Import and export. He owned Boyd Oriental Shipping. Him and Gregorio.”
“So where does Greg fit in then?”
“Mr. Andropolis senior is in shipping in a big way. Tankers and container ships. Greg had lots of contacts, on the West coast and down in Mexico.”
“How long had Jimmy and Greg been working together?”
“Oh, let me think. About four or five years. Jimmy had hit a bit of a lean patch and was desperate for someone to invest in the company. Ah, darling. We were just talking about you.”
The whites of his teeth unzipped a radioactive smile across his totem-pole face.
“You and Jimmy were business partners, then?”
It took a while for the message to reach Athens. By the cautious way he pondered the statement I guessed the guy needed instructions for Velcro.
“Yes, me and Jimmy.”
“Was business lucrative?”
Dolores obligingly translated with a tantalising snigger.
“He’s asking if you made any dough out of it.”
“Oh, yes, plenty dough. Though Jimmy not too good with looking after the dollars. No head for figures. But I have plenty experience…..”
Dolores butted in before her pal baffled me with science.
“Jimmy was no accountant. No time for pen-pushing or paperwork. Another action kind of guy, Harry….. that’s why he got in such a mess in the first place. But with Greg keeping an eye on things he kept the business ticking over. Not really ambitious, I guess, but always on the look-out for a new challenge, wasn’t he darling?”
I couldn’t help myself.
“Is that why he chose the 12th hole at Westlake? It’s a par five; got a tricky little dog-leg so I’m told.”
The Greek had already sunk into the seat opposite mine. By the look on his face he was about to spring upright again and teach me some manners. But as he opened his mouth the lights all around us flared to white. Not just his dazzling dentures but also the tubes above the bar. The rap music stopped abruptly and was replaced by what sounded like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on speed. Dolores yelped as the martini in her glass began fizzing uncontrollably. Then with a final flourish, the nylon hair-piece was yanked off Greg’s bronzed head and made a bee-line for the street door like a cheese soufflé on a piece of elastic.
He leapt to his feet, aiming his snarl at me as if I had been responsible for all the mayhem. Dolores spotted his expression and grabbed him before he could button my lip. I half expected her to muzzle him but instead she allowed the Greek oracle to speak.
“Now you see what the little sh1t do, yes? With your own eyes? I want you to sort it out, Harry. You bury him six feet under, right? Do your job….. and enough of your smart lip.”
- - - - -
I made light of Gregorio’s testosterone tantrum, instead choosing to concentrate on the floor show. Murphy was impressed.
She sat at the kitchen table sharing cashews with Murgatroyd. ‘The Murg’, our grouchy old cockatoo. The only bird in Burbank that can quote from ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Shrek’ and ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ to the best of my knowledge. Murphy had tried to broaden his repertoire – starting with one of the lines from that film with the creepy kid. Huh, I can never remember what it’s called - that one where the kid keeps saying “I see dead people” - only the stupid bird ended up saying “I hear dead people”. And he says it so convincingly anyone would really believe he does. Neat or what?
“So you don’t think it’s some kind of scam they’re cooking up then?”
“No. But there’s definitely something funny going on. I’ve seen what Jimmy does when he’s riled. Now I need to study him on his own territory when he’s home alone with Dolores.”
She swivelled her eyes in my direction like a pair of searchlights.
“You’re going round to her apartment? Alone?”
“Come on, Murphy. It’s a chance to make some easy money, hon. The “grieving widow”, make that the “rich, grieving widow”, only wants me for my PI skills. She’s got enough on her plate with the wig-wearing Greek without adding a washed-out Sherlock to her list of suitors. I get the feeling she’s a one-man kind of woman now anyway.”
“Yeh, but this Greek might not be just a one-woman kind of man if you know what I mean. The widow might have had more than enough of his continental tendencies.”
Murphy’s scattershot thought processes often sent our conversations off at a tangent and I couldn’t really see where this one was heading next.
“Come on, Harry. He’s Greek. Didn’t you study any mythology at reform school? Back in your day it would still have been headline news. Those Greeks and Romans had sex with each other, as well as with bulls and goats and swans and all sorts of sh1t. Trojans? Forget about it. She might be thinking about changing her diet for something a bit more wholesome. Just make sure you’re not on the menu.”
- - - - -
My condo is on the wrong side of the Ventura Freeway, and as I drove towards downtown LA, going through underpass after underpass, it did feel a bit like entering the Underworld. Dolores had already told me Greg was going to be out late every night this week – evening classes perhaps. But I wasn’t sure whether I should be more wary of him or the black-eyed widow.
When I pulled up outside the block on Oakshire Drive, a few streets South of Universal City, I did a quick check of the grounds before entering the lobby. I was just being extra cautious in case the boyfriend had someone watching over his girl. In his shoes I might have.
Once inside the lobby I pressed 23 and she buzzed me up without using the intercom.
The lights were low but I could tell the place was tastefully finished. Deep rugs, polished hardwood floors and halogen spots highlighting the expensive, Mexican-type antiques on display. The ambience was completed by a couple of colourful sombreros, and a state-of-the-art entertainment centre. By that, I’m not referring to the lady of the house, although she too was a vision for bloodshot eyes.
“Help yourself to a drink, Harry. Then come over and sit here right next to me.”
She was arranged on the white leather sofa like a real-life marble goddess; I reckoned Venus, or Aphrodite perhaps. None of the names that Murphy would have called her perhaps – nor could the terms ‘vestal’ and ‘virgin’ be applied. A flimsy, white shift covered most of her curves; sheer enough for me to figure out that she had gone commando for the night.
I poured myself a half glass of bourbon and decided that adding ice cubes would be a bad move. The way I was shaking already, the death rattle as I crossed the room might have woken the ‘creature from the crypt’ sooner than expected.
I sat next to Dolores and got comfortable.
To be fair, proceedings began as strictly business. I asked her for more detail about the days leading up to her husband’s death. Had he been in more financial trouble recently, started behaving suspiciously, taken up golf? But the bottom line was that she couldn’t fathom out why he suddenly decided to take a midnight swim.
She laid her bare legs across my knees and wiggled her toes in that feminine sign language I’m all too familiar with. The more she wiggled them the more I could feel my resolve melting, or stiffening depending on how mixed you like your metaphors. I couldn’t decide whether to fix my eyes on her varnished toenails or on those luscious lips. In the end I compromised; alternating between each of the twin mounds straining at the fabric of her chemise.
“Harry. I think we should stop talking and start doing something, don’t you?”
I put my empty glass down and tried to remove her delectable legs from my lap. Murphy had been right to be suspicious of the widow’s motives, bless her cotton socks. It’s just as well she wasn’t around to rub my nose in it.
“Wait, darling. I’m not suggesting we get down to anything serious. Just see if we can get Jimmy moving. Do you know what I mean?”
Oh, I didn’t need Murphy whispering in my ear to understand exactly what this minx had in mind. And although my professional code of conduct was lurking back there with the kid, I admit that Dolores pushed me to the limit.
Client confidentiality forbids me from recording the precise lines of enquiry my investigation followed. To be honest everything became a bit of a blur. But I can remember at one point Dolores begging me to let her hold my gun. I remember how it felt when her long nails circled my battle scars. How we suddenly became joined at the lip. The scent of her hair, the taste of her bare skin and the feel of cold leather on my naked back.
Then without warning the halogens flickered off, Pacific Sports Network came to life on the flat-screen TV (as usual they were showing Canadian League Ice Hockey re-runs), and the door to the apartment flew open then slammed shut. For a heart-stopping instant I thought Gregorio had come home early from ‘Contemporary Ceramics’ or whatever. But things were still peachy.
Efrem had just left the building.
- - - - -
After I’d completed three night shifts at Rancho Dolores poor Murphy was beginning to get edgy. The kid works alternate evenings in a trendy coffee-cum-sandwich bar over in Glendale and is usually pretty fragile by the time she gets home. The thought of returning to an empty apartment while I shared midnight drinks with Mrs. B gave her the hump. By the fourth evening the atmosphere was decidedly arctic.
“All work and no play, eh?”
“I’m getting results…..”
I’d already told her about Jimmy’s appearance on my first date with Dolores. Obviously, I’d left out the exact technique I was using to drive the case forward – call it professional etiquette, call it survival instinct. And, the more intimate Dolores and I became, the more theatrical her ex-husband’s behaviour. I knew I was close to a breakthrough.
“Any chance of a kiss then?” she muttered.
I turned to her before zipping up my jacket and put my fingers beneath her dimpled chin but she snatched her face away and turned her back on me.
“I was talking to the Murg, not you.”
Her voice seemed on the edge of tears.
“Oh, and you’d better take this with you, you creep.”
She turned and handed me a clove of garlic. I stared at it as if she’d stuck a dog turd in my hand.
“What’s this for? What’s going on?”
She choked back a sob.
“Next time you have a shave take a good look at your neck, a$$hole. It’s vampires you should be watching out for, not ghosts.”
- - - - -
The thought of hurting Murphy was too much even for my swinging brick of a heart. The kid was barely out of her teens, she had a filthy mouth on her and some of her personal habits were decidedly unsavoury, but I looked upon her as a soul mate if you’ll pardon the Hallmark moment. Dolores was a definite boost to any guy’s gonads, but I sensed she had a short attention span when it came to men. I was going to have to tell her tonight that I was dropping the case. She’d be better off with a priest than a gumshoe anyway.
So when I got round to letting her know how things stood between us I expected a scene. I expected a slanging match and getting the door slammed in my face at the very least. What I didn’t expect were tears. I put my arms around her and as her body pressed up against mine my barometer registered an increase in pressure somewhere South of Dixie. When she cottoned on to my condition she let her right hand stray closer to the nitty-gritty.
“Dolores, uh….. move your hand, please.”
The lady did exactly what she was bid. She nibbled my ear as well but I knew deep in my heart this business had to stop.
“No, Dolores….. I meant for you to move your hand away from there, please.”
Her shoulders slumped as she pleaded with me to stay for just one teeny-weeny drink. Those eyes again. Fortunately there were no fireworks courtesy of her ex on this occasion. No electrical disturbances. No channel hopping on the TV or ear-shattering musical interludes. I hadn’t even got my fingers close to her scanties when the sofa seemed to defy gravity and I felt my body blasted into space. As it met that polished, hardwood floor my head exploded into tiny fragments, and I knew that there was a chance I’d be waking up with the worst hangover ever.
But when I did come round things were cool. Cool to the point of being frigid if I’m being honest with you. It’s no joke watching your half-naked body rolled up in a rug, get dragged down to the garage, dumped in the trunk of a Beemer then dropped off in a drainage channel alongside the Pasadena Freeway.
- - - - -
“Dead meat, man.”
The guy lurking next to me with the grey, blotchy skin and deep sunken eyes wasn’t exactly an advert for living but at least his head wasn’t caked with blood and brain matter.
“Name’s Jimmy, Jimmy Boyd. Welcome to my world.”
I stared at him as if I’d seen a ghost. He seemed pretty lucid for a corpse. I can’t say that I felt particularly coherent as I surveyed the scene of my demise. As you will have gathered, I had screwed up and it was bargain basement next stop.
The apartment was a mess. There were smears of body fluids where I’d been dragged across the carpet, an occasional table was currently in its matchwood phase, and Dolores was bunched up at one end of the sofa with tissues clamped to her nose.
“You can shut your whining, you b1tch.”
Her eyes were rimmed with red and I could hear her sobbing as Gregorio scooped up my shoes and jacket and stuffed them into a trash bag.
“Should have whacked you as well.”
He flipped through my wallet and pocketed a couple of fifties before throwing the few remaining dollar bills at her feet.
“Here you go, or did he pay you up front before he had you flat on your back?”
Between the sobs Dolores gave some garbled story about how it was me that had taken advantage of her. How I’d kept coming round night after night once I knew the Greek was otherwise engaged. Coming onto her strong right from the start. She didn’t mention her part in this little drama.
I looked at my new partner. He dipped his head in her direction. For a split second I was terrified it might become completely dislodged from his neck.
“Real piece of work, wouldn’t you say?”
I tried to blush but my heart wasn’t in it.
“It’s ok. No need to say a word, Harry. I seen everything the two of you got up to. I’d have spoke up sooner but nobody paid me that much attention. That’s why I been making such a commotion. Trying to warn the stupid broad.”
“What, warn her about me?”
He grinned like something out of ‘Zombies Reunited’.
“No, you chump. The Greek. He’s the one who got me in this mess. Got a couple of his Mexican amigos to do his dirty work. I found out about this side-line he was running. Smuggling illegals. Threatened to tell Papa Andropolis unless he put a stop to it….. Well, he put a stop to me instead.
“Reckon he got someone to slip something in my drink at the ‘Flamingo’. I remember being dragged outside into some motor, and while they took me on a mystery tour someone kept pouring tequila down my throat like it was happy hour in Acapulco. The goons only ditched me in the lake because they got lost looking for Echo Park. It’s funny. When I tried to join the friggin’ golf club a couple of years ago they wouldn’t entertain it. And suddenly I’m on their swimming team.”
Everything was beginning to make crazy sense now. My deductive powers had triumphed, but the downside was I wouldn’t be around to collect my fee.
Suddenly I came over all depressed. I couldn’t even recall the exact moment when I died because none of my life actually flashed before my eyes like it’s supposed to. The only clear memory I had was the pathetic look on Murphy’s face as I made my dramatic exit earlier that night; the sound of her sobbing and the aroma of freshly crushed garlic permeating the kitchen.
He wiped a crust of gore from my right eyebrow.
“Harry, it’s time to move on.”
“But we have to stop ‘em, Jimmy. You saw what he did.”
“Man, I already tried everything I can think of. And don’t go giving me that two heads is better than one bullsh1t. We ain’t got one good head between us. We just gotta let this pair go on making a mess of things ‘til they get found out. Time for bye-byes.”
But there was no way I could leave Murphy on her own at a time like this. She would be out of her mind with grief. At least, I hoped she would. They always tell those who are left behind that the dearly departed would not want them to be upset. Well I for one definitely wanted her upset. I wanted her distraught.
“Ok. So how do we get out of here, Jimmy?”
By the time we materialised over in Burbank there was a squad car parked outside my apartment block. The hood was cold. Murphy would already have been told the worst. I dreaded going inside.
The young cop in the kitchen looked about twelve. He sat perched nervously on a bar stool as Murphy desperately tried to relight her cigarette. My little Nicotine Patch Doll back on the dreaded weed. I felt proud that it had taken my demise to push her over the edge. There were dark rings under her eyes, her spiky red hair was in more disarray than normal, and lines of snot ran down her top lip all the way to her pert little chin. I’d never seen her look lovelier.
“Murphy, I’m right here, doll.”
She sucked in a lungful of smoke.
“I tell you, it’s got to be linked to that Boyd b1tch. Otherwise what would Harry be doing near the Pasadena Freeway?”
“I can’t say right now, miss. But one of my colleagues has already telephoned from the station like you asked. Mrs. Boyd says Mr. Carson hasn’t been near the place since Monday night. Perhaps there’s another case that he’s involved in? I should take a look at his files. Do you have spare keys to his office?”
Murphy fumbled at the back of one of the kitchen drawers.
“Don’t give them to him. Somebody needs to go and see Dolores and her pit-bull.”
It was hopeless.
“This one fits the outside door and the main office door. There’s an alarm but Harry never switches it on – I mean….. he never used to switch it…..”
She disintegrated into a fresh flood of tears.
I tried to comfort her as best I could.
“We can catch ‘em, baby. You just gotta listen to me.”
Jimmy pulled me away as gently as he could.
“Can’t hear you man.”
“Can’t hear you man.”
We all jumped at the high-pitched squawk as the Murg seemed to wake up; straightening himself on his perch with a fanfare of white feathers.
The young cop stood and extended one of his fingers towards the cage.
“Hi, little fella. What’s your name?”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. His eyesight’s not up to much. He might decide to munch on that finger.”
Jimmy looked at me, pulling his hands wider apart as if asking what to do next.
“Quick. Say something else,” I said.
“Like what, Harry?”
“Like what, Harry?”
The Murg spoke again. Then it seemed to take forever to calm the situation down. Murphy was freaking out until the cop took control and told her to can it so he could start taking proper notes. Every single word Efrem spoke the bird repeated as if they’d been reared in the same nest. Jimmy explained the situation we were in before reeling off names, addresses, dates, account numbers and computer access codes. Within a quarter of an hour there were squad cars en route to Dolores’s apartment and three or four addresses in Chinatown.
Murphy had brewed herself a fresh mug of black coffee. Her hands were shaking while the cockatoo sang like a canary. Her sodden eyes stared into space slightly left of where I was standing but it was good enough. I got the feeling she knew I was there in spirit at least, even though my voice was inaudible to everyone except my new buddy.
“You’d better tell her we’re gonna have to go soon.”
Jimmy nodded. He looked at the young girl as she crushed another stub out in the saucer on the table.
She gave a crooked smile of regret as the cockatoo regurgitated my famous last words. It even brought a tear to my palsied eyes. After that I couldn’t bear to stick around the place any longer. Whoever said that after death all feeling expires obviously knew nothing about life. Me and Jimmy crept out by way of the fire escape and headed West towards the bright lights.
“So what happens now? Do we get to stick around and watch the Greek tragedy unfold?”
“Nah, nah. It’s over, bud. I finally get to rest in eternal peace as the minister said so eloquently at my funeral service. You got that honour still to come. Enjoy.”
“Huh! Not even time for one more shot of JD? Surely we can both grab a bar stool and gaze at one final snifter before heading off into the sunset.”
He looked at me quizzically.
I nodded my head in the direction of all points South.
“Follow me. Don’t worry, this won’t take long. There’s one little thing I need you to help me with before we split for good. There’s a certain smartass bartender I’d like you to meet up with. I want to be there so I can watch while you spit in his eye.”