Mystery Writers Don't Shoot, 1987
In the tradition of the pulp magazines of the 30's.
I was hanging around the office burning cigarettes and catching up on my paper shuffling. It had been dry in Los Angeles, but the dark, low hanging clouds in the late afternoon sky promised a change. A typewriter clacked away in the next office. I was looking at my watch, counting the minutes until cocktail time, when a short skinny lad about 22 years old carrying a manilla envelope came in. He was dressed in a blue suit, shiny at the elbows, with a striped bargain basement tie and scuffed brown shoes. A crumpled grey fedora sat on the back of his round head. His eyes, wild in his white pasty face, jerked around the room, over the green filing cabinets, the washbowl, the near walnut client chairs, and came to rest on the brown-eyed, dark-haired 190 pound man, me, sitting in the squeaky swivel chair behind the glass-topped desk. He looked back nervously over his shoulder, then backed up against the door, closing it softly.
"Calhoun?" he asked in a strained voice, ragged and breathy.
"The same," I said.
"I need your help." He took a step toward me and I took my size 11's off the desk and got the office bottle out of a drawer.
"Have a drink and tell me about it," I said, smiling encouragingly at him and pouring two stiff whiskeys.
He drank thirstily, shivered a little, wiped his thin-lipped mouth with a coat sleeve and sat down across from me. "I'm Marty Brannigan," he said, running a finger around the inside of his collar like it was too tight even for his scrawny neck. "I'm a reporter at the Tribune."
"Uh‑huh," I said.
"Some guys are after me." The whiskey had put some color in his face, but his knuckles were white as he clutched his knees with bony, nearly hairless, hands.
"Who are they?" I asked, finishing my drink and studying him closely.
"Some of Ronald Casey's boys."
That was unfortunate. Ronald Casey was a bad bird to cross. He was a big, tough, red‑haired hooch runner turned businessman with a lot of say‑so down at City Hall. He had spread a lot of money around over the years to get his boys in office, and there wasn't much that went on that he didn't know about or get a cut from. He was as crooked as the seam on the hose of a whore with a hangover.
"How did you get on Casey's bad side?"
He waved the manilla envelope at me. "They're after this. It's a detective story."
"I'm a detective; tell me a story."
"I write stories ‑ mysteries ‑ in my spare time. I haven't had any published yet, but I know this one's good." He looked proud of his story.|
"And you want me to proofread it."
"I want you to make sure it gets to Black Mask.
I had seen Black Mask, Thrilling Detective, Crimebusters, some of the others. Magazines printed on cheap paper with lurid covers that sold for 15¢. A guy named Chandler had some pretty good stuff in one of them.|
"Why come to me?"
"I've heard your name mentioned down at the paper. And it was on the way home."
"Sounds like you might not make it home."
"I'm tougher than I look," he said, trying to look tough. I hoped he was right; he still looked like about an even bet against an enraged girl scout armed with a box of stale cookies.
"What does Casey want with your story?"
"I've been sending my stories to these magazines ‑ pulps, they're called ‑ and they write back saying my stuff isn't realistic enough. So I put this story together from some of the things I hear about down at work. The war between Casey and Doc Riordan, the Fischer murder case, the payoffs. It's pretty realistic."
Doc Riordan ran a couple of gambling houses and a night club, all well protected by the police. He and Casey had once been partners, but greed and women had broken them up. The Fischer murder case had been a very smelly deal in which important evidence had been "lost" by the police. Payoffs to city officials from hookers, hoochers, and hooters were no big secret.
"A little too realistic, I guess," he continued, lifting his hat and running his fingers through thin, sandy brown hair. "I let some of the guys at the rag read my stuff, y'know, to get an opinion. Somebody must have recognized the characters and tipped Casey. The main character is a crooked politician named Macey."
"Not too smart," I pointed out.
"I know," the kid groaned, looking miserable. "But I was so concerned about getting the story to seem real... I never thought..." He sat still for a moment, staring down at the floor. Then he looked up at me again. "And with the election coming up, they don't want any bad publicity."
No, they wouldn't. Casey's political power had gone unchallenged for a long time, but this year a concerted effort to clean up city government was underway, with one Raymond L. Kaley, son of a popular Supreme Court justice, as the reform candidate for mayor. Kaley had a lot of money and influence behind him, and it was beginning to look like he might give Casey's boys a hard way to go at the polls. I'd heard that Doc Riordan had thrown his support to Kaley. It was a time for decision ‑ the politicos who ran the town and the sycophants who curried their favor would have to decide between the old guard, Casey, and the new kid, Kaley.
"What makes you think they're after you?" I asked, getting out a pipe and stuffing it with the strong English blend I liked. Maybe the kid's imagination was running away with him.
"I got a phone call yesterday. They offered to buy the story for $500."
"An 'interested party', he said."
"Take the five hundred," I said, drawing on my pipe. "That"s better then you can do with Black Mask.
"I don't care, I want my story published," he said, an adamant look settling on his ingenuous face. "Someone went through my desk while I was at lunch today. And when I left work this afternoon a car tried to run me off the road. I recognized the driver ‑ Mallory, a dick downtown and one of Casey's right hand men."
Brannigan lit a cigarette with a not quite steady hand and our smoke mingled in the still air. Outside rain began to splatter, breaking the quiet of the nearly deserted building; everyone had gone home by now. I got up to close the window.
"They follow you here?"
"I don't think so. I think I ditched 'em."
"Well, let's see it," I said. He tossed the manilla envelope on the desk in front of me. I opened it and riffled through 32 double‑spaced typewritten pages entitled ".38 Killers".
"This the only copy?" I asked.
Brannigan patted the left side of his coat. "Yeah; I've got the original here."
"If you had all this hot info, why not write it up for the paper?"
"Hell," he said, sidling over to the window and peering out through the wet glass at Hollywood Blvd. "It'd be the last piece I'd ever write."
"Now it'll be the last mystery you ever write," I growled.
"I would have used a pen name, or something, if it was published," he said distractedly, wiping sweaty palms on his trousers.
This was some kind of story; I felt sorry for the kid. He was way in over his head. He looked like he needed another drink, and I poured him one. He didn't drink it alone.
"So you'll see that it gets in the mail?" Marty asked.
"Sure, kid," I said.
He addressed the manilla envelope to Joe Shaw at Black Mask, slipped me $25 for my time, and walked out of my office just a little less apprehensively than he had walked in. I rinsed the glasses out in the washbowl, put on my hat and coat, locked up, and left.
I heard the gunfire as I stepped out of the elevator into the lobby. Three quick shots, out in the street. I ran to the double doors and pushed through. Marty Brannigan lay still on the sidewalk; a dark sedan was skidding away from the curb on the rain‑slick pavement. The kid was just a sodden, lifeless bundle when I reached him. I checked at the side of his neck for a pulse and reached into his coat for his story. It was gone. I sent the elevator operator to call the law and I moved the kid out of the rain. A small crowd had gathered, huddled under canopies and in doorways. They stood silently, savoring the smell of death that hung in the wet air.
Lt. Carl Crowley got the case, which was a break for me. I wasn't the most popular guy down at police headquarters. Crowley was a lean, leathery cop with a hook nose and a habit of talking out of the side of his mouth like some Holywood gangster. He smoked too much and had a deep gravelly voice that could rattle the floorboards. We had sleuthed together for Megastate Insurance some years ago. Crowley was a hard guy to get to know, but we had spent a lot of time together and got on pretty well. He had killed six men. I had always been glad that it wasn't only five; number six had been a half-wild Comanche Indian, wanted for murder in three states, who had sneaked up behind me with a tomahawk.
I showed him the story and told him what had happened.
He lit another Camel, pushed his hat back on his head, and read quickly through Brannigan's mystery story. We were in a pale green room at police headquarters furnished with a scarred wooden table and four hard wooden chairs. We drank tepid coffee from plastic cups.
"What did you think of the kid?" Crowley asked when he had finished reading.
"Scared," I said.
"What was his angle?"
"He wanted to be a mystery writer," I said. "In the worst way."
"Enough to die for?"
"The stuff in this" - he shook the copy of ".38 Killers" at me. "True?"
I hadn't read it all the way through yet.
"According to Brannigan it is. And Casey must think so."
Crowley made a wry face and mashed his cigarette out on the cement floor. "And who should I arrest first? Casey? Or maybe the Chief of Police? How about the DA?"
"Like I said, Brannigan recognized a dick named Mallory ‑"
"Huh," Crowley grunted and the wooden table rattled a little.
"And like you said, he's one of Casey's special pals."
It was still raining when I left the police station. I pulled my hat brim low and hunched up the collar of my
overcoat, walked around the corner to my Chrysler. There weren't many people out on this windy, wet night; my headlights stabbed out a path for me through nearly deserted streets as I drove home, turning the case over in my mind.
When I got home I read Marty Brannigan's story carefully. It was fast‑paced and action packed, though erratically structured. I was no lawyer, but I would guess that if it ever got into print the lawsuits would come pouring in. It was that close to being a recognizable account of the Fischer murder, which had occurred some six months ago, even though Brannigan had changed names and locations.
Sal Fischer was a young hot-shot movie producer who had been shot to death in a posh Beverly Hills bungalow. Doc Riordan and a flashy blonde night club singer had been the chief suspects. But the case never came to court. The murder weapon, a .38 S&W, had disappeared from the police evidence room and the star witness for the prosecution had changed her story at the last moment. Charges were dropped and the case went cold.
In his story, Brannigan had the girl as the killer, with the Doc Riordan character as an innocent bystander. The girl's boyfriend, the Ronald Casey character, was portrayed as a dirty dealing politician with a lot of underworld connections who pulled political strings to get his girl friend off the hook.
Could have happened that way. Or not. Either way, once the story hit the streets Casey's side was sure to lose a lot of votes.
I drank too much whiskey mulling over the story and I got to the office a little late the next morning.
I always left the door to my waiting room unlocked in case a client showed up while I was gone. There was a man waiting for me on the hard wooden bench; half sitting, half lying against the arm rest. He looked at me with clouded red‑rimmed eyes when I walked in. His jacket hung open, revealing a white shirt underneath. There was an ugly dark stain on the shirt midway between chest and waist. It was blood; there was a drying pool of it on the floor under the bench.
"Calhoun," the man rasped. "I'm Jimmy Brannigan. Marty's brother." He could barely get the words out. I had to bend low to hear him. He grimaced with pain at the effort it took to speak. Then, with a convulsive movement, he grabbed my lapels and pulled my face close to his. "Doc Riordan killed..." He wanted to say more, and I wanted him to, too, but he couldn't get it out. His eyes grew wide and he stiffened a little, jerking twice. Then his grasp relaxed and I let him sink back onto the bench. He was dead. It had been a bad week for the Brannigan family.
A tremendous peal of thunder shook the building, lightning flashed, I heard an ear‑splitting crash, and the lights went out. Then a man came through the door with a gun. He was a big, ugly man with a broad jaw, a short neck, and a meanlooking .38 in his ham‑sized fist. He stood there for a moment in the shadows and the flash of the lightning looking at me. Then he looked at the dead man, snorted, and looked back at me with not much expression on his face. He was a life-taker.
"Let's go for a ride, shamus," he said in a flat voice.
"You got the gun," I said, grinning idiotically at him.
"Don't crack wise, it ain't healthy," he said.
Another man came in, taller and thinner than the first. He was dressed in a tailored suit and had iron grey hair visible under his hat. "Frisk him, Bigby, he may be rodded," the newcomer said, pulling out a gun of his own. Guns were cheap around the office this morning. Bigby ran his huge hands over me and got my Colt automatic.
"Let's dangle," Bigby said, poking me with the .38.
We went out into the hall, down the back stairs to the street and got into a black Packard sedan. They got in the front seat and shoved me in the back. The grey‑haired man drove and Bigby turned and crashed a huge fist against my jaw, just for luck, and I fell back against the side of the car, the salty taste of blood welling up in my mouth. He pulled out the gun again and laughed at me.
"Nice try," I said, grinning at him. His eyes narrowed, and he would have hit me again but the driver stopped him.
"That's enough," he said quietly. Bigby snorted again and relaxed, keeping the gun ready.
We drove west on Hollywood Blvd. and up into the hills around Laurel Canyon. It was slow going in the rain; nobody said a word until we had turned off onto a deserted gravel road and parked under a spreading eucalyptus tree. The grey‑haired man cut the engine and both men turned to face me.
"What did Jimmy Brannigan have to say?" the driver asked, equably.
"He said it looked like rain," I answered, and Bigby hit me again. I gritted my teeth and looked at the big .38 in his paw.
"What else did he say?" the driver asked patiently.
The slab-faced man in the passenger seat grinned at me and worked his fist open and closed. The gun in his other hand waved back and forth from one side of the back seat to the other. The rain went rat-a-tat against the roof of the car and the windows began to fog up. There was no sound but the rain and our voices.
I waited until the gun was pointing off to one side of me and then I said: "He said to watch out for a couple of homo dope fiends that were hot on his trail."
Bigby's mouth fell open and he looked quickly at the driver. When he did I kicked out at the gun. It went off, as guns will, and blew a hole in the roof. I leapt up into the front seat, smashing Bigby in the nose with my elbow, and kicking the driver in the head. Bigby tried to point the gun at me, but I knocked it out of his hands and it fell to the floor. There was a mad scramble for it. The passenger door opened and I fell out onto the wet ground.
I reached back for the gun, wrestled it away from Bigby, and staggered away backwards from the car, pointing the gun at them.
All was shadow and murk in the darkness of the storm, but just then a terrifically bright flash of lightning lit up the scene for a moment and I saw, as in a freeze-frame, a gun in the hand of the grey-haired man. It was pointed straight at me.. We fired at the same time. He fell back and slumped over the wheel, dropping the gun. I felt a push against my shoulder, was turned halfway around, and went down on one knee in the mud. Then Bigby had my Colt in his hand. He pointed it at me and pulled the trigger while I was still bringing my gun hand up. The Colt jammed, as automatics sometimes do, and I shot him in the neck. Blood spewed and he gurgled, dropped the useless Colt, and slid slowly out the door and into the mud.
I got to my feet and walked to the car, keeping my iron ready. Both men were dead. I checked my shoulder; it was beginning to throb painfully. Didn't look too serious; the bullet had passed all the way through about half an inch into the meat. I wrapped my handkerchief around it and set about wrestling the big man back into the car; the grey‑haired man out of the drivers' seat. It was a big job for a one-armed man.
I drove back to the office, parked the car, locked it, and went in. The dead man was still in my waiting room. I locked the hall door and sat down at my desk. I found a dry cigarette, lit it with a shaky hand, took a pull from the office bottle. Then I got Carl Crowley on the wire.
"What's up, Calhoun?" Crowley growled at me.
"Got three corpses for you," I said.
"That's fine, we haven't made our quota yet this week."
"Then this ough to send you over the top. Marty Brannigan's brother walked into my office this morning with a bullet in his belly. He said 'Doc Riordan killed...' and then died."
"Killed who?" Crowley wanted to know. So did I. Marty? Jimmy? Sol Fischer? All of the above? I mentioned this to Crowley.
"That's one corpse," Crowley said.
"Two life-takers came in later and took me for a ride. Wanted to know what the brother told me."
"And they're the other two corpses?"
"Watcha do with them?"
"They're in a black Packard sedan around the corner from my office."
"I'll be right over," Crowley said.
"Bring a doctor," I said.
I was at the police station the rest of the afternoon. A big, red-faced cop named McNalty led the interrogation this time. He didn't want to believe me; he stalked the room chewing tobacco and making me tell my story from front to back, and from back to front, and from the middle to either end. It always came out the same, and he couldn't stand it. Crowley sat in the corner and smoked. They finally let me go at about half past dinner time. I talked to Crowley on the way out.
"ID'd your two pals," he said out of the side of his mouth. "The tall one was Vincent Moray, a high-priced fixer from up north. The ugly one was Harold "Big" Bigby, a local tough guy who hired out to anyone with a buck and a beef."
"Like Ronald Casey" I asked.
"Or Doc Riordan?"
"What's next?" I asked.
"We've been trying to locate Riordan all afternoon. No go. Hard guy to find."
"What about Casey?"
"We know where he is if we want to talk," Crowley said, turning away and stubbing out his cigarette.
I was feeling rather used and abused, so I treated myself to a steak at the Pacific Dining Car on 6th St. while I mulled over the events of the past day and a half.
The police hadn't charged me with anything - yet - and I didn't have a paying client, so maybe I should just let the law take care of things. But I felt a sort of responsibility to Marty Brannigan and his $25. And I had no love for the sort of dirty politics that Ronald Casey represented - who knew but that Raymond L. Kaley might do a few things the way they're supposed to be done? So I decided to play my hand out.
When Brannigan had been killed it had seemed simple - Casey had him offed to keep ".38 Killers" from publication. But what had Jimmy Brannigan been trying to tell me? Whom had Doc Riordan killed? Had Big Bigby and Vincent Moray killed Jimmy? Would they have killed me? Who was paying them to run around shooting at people?
I couldn't just stroll up to Ronald Casey and start asking questions, any more than Crowley could. And I had no more idea than the cops where Doc Riordan was, so I figured the next best thing to do would be to go see the blonde night club singer who had been a suspect in the Fischer murder case and a murderer in ".38 Killers." I had no idea where to find her; she wasn't in the phone book. But I had a friend who could probably help me.
Nemo Manders was probably the best jazz piano player in the world. He could send Tatum or Hines or anyone packing, as far as I was concerned. But he didn't have any ambition. He'd been to New York, and had stopped off in Kansas City to play a little with Coleman Hawkins on the way back. But he didn't like the road and he didn't like working in someone else's band. He just didn't like work. He'd rather play little piano bars around southern California, not putting out too much effort, playing songs he liked. I had been a big fan of his for a long time. I'd even promised to buy one of his records, if he ever made any, even though I didn't own a machine. I went to see him at a little club on Fourth where he'd been working lately.
Any club Nemo worked turned into a musician's hangout; I found a couple of horn players from the Fletcher Henderson band jamming with him, and more musicians gathered around the bandstand of the crowded club. They were smokin', and I could have stayed and listened all night, but I had fingerprints to look for and footsteps to follow.
"Know a little blonde singer named Effie Nesbitt?" I asked Nemo when I had elbowed my way through the crowd and exchanged pleasantries with him.
"Been working at the White Dahlia Club," he said, grinning as he took a pull from my flask. "Fine voice." Nemo knew every musician and singer in town.
A group of out-of-town musicians came in the door, hollering and waving their instruments. I had to leave while I still had the will power.
The White Dahlia Club was a low-slung building on a dark street in Hollywood with a front door surrounded by garish neon lighting. I kept my coat and hat, flipped the hat check girl a quarter, and sat down at the end of the bar. A fuzzy-headed bartender with a glass eye brought me watered down whiskey.
A four-piece band dinned away on a tiny bandstand in the corner; waitresses, showing a lot of leg, moved among the tables serving drinks and collecting tips. The place was half full, mostly couples, a few hungry looking guys on the make. Three or four hard-looking birds stood against the walls surveying the scene with dispassionate eyes. Cigarette smoke hung thick in the air; red lights on the either walls made the room look either cheap or exciting, depending on your point of view.
The band finished the number with a flourish of drum sticks and a slick-headed MC in a ratty tuxedo came out to the mike and told a couple of old jokes. Then he introduced the feature attraction at the White Dahlia Club, Effie Nesbitt.
A follow spot picked her up as she came onstage. She was a tiny blonde with big, dark eyes and perfect legs. She was dressed in a loose white wrapper that clung to her tight little body as she moved across the stage. She oozed sensuality as she launched into a slow blues. The crowd whistled and clapped; she stood there with her eyes closed, tapping her forefingers in time to the music, and just impressed the hell out of me. She was much too good for this place. I ordered another drink, a double this time. I wanted some whiskey in my glass.
When her set was over I got out a business card and scribbled on the back: "I'm a friend of Marty's. Let me but you a drink." I sent the card backstage with the waitress and five minutes later Effie appeared at the bar. We got drinks and moved to a small table in the back.
She looked at me over the flare of my match as I lit her cigarette, questions in her dark eyes. She had a baby-doll face, with soft skin and a Cupid's bow mouth, but there were lines of determination on her brow and her chin had a firm look to it.
"You know Marty?" she asked. Her voice was controlled, but I could sense the tension under her calm demeanor.
"He came to me for help with one of his stories."
"And were you much help?" Her eyelids were closed half-way and she was smoking her cigarette too fast.
"Apparently not; he got killed." That shocked her a little. She blinked and took a quick drink.
One of the hard-looking birds had moved a little closer to us. He stood next to our table with his ears pointed at us, looking off into the club. I lowered my voice a little.
"Did you know Marty well?" I asked.
"He used to follow me around, you know. I might have had a couple of drinks with him." She stubbed out her cigarette in the green glass ashtray and began toying with her pearl necklace, the only jewelry she was wearing. Then she looked in my eyes and asked, with an edge to her voice: "What's your angle?"
"I was just wondering who killed him. I hate to lose clients."
"I wouldn't know," she said in a bored voice, starting to rise.
"Jimmy got it today," I said, a shot in the dark.
She sat back down, hard, her eyes wide with surprise and, maybe, fear. My shot had hit home.
"My God, what's happening?" she said into her drink.
"You knew Jimmy?" I asked.
"We were married... once," she said tonelessly.
"Sorry to spring it on you like that; I didn't know."
She dangled her empty glass listlessly in front of me, not looking at me, and I signalled the bartender. We both felt better when there were fresh drinks in front of us.
"What happened to Jimmy?" she asked when she had taken a drink and lit another cigarette.
"He walked into my office with a bullet in him. Said something about Doc Riordan. Mean anything to you?"
"Doc owns this club," she said. "Jimmy ran whiskey for him sometimes."
"Any reason why Doc would want to..." I let the sentence trail off, trying to keep the surprise out of my voice. So Doc owned the White Dahlia...
"Jimmy had a bad habit of listening at doors. He usually knew more than was good for him, though he was pretty careful."
"These killings seem to have something to do with Marty's mystery stories," I said. "You ever see any of them?"
"Sure," she said. "He showed them to me. He showed them to anybody who could read. That's what he really wanted to be, a mystery writer. But he wasn't very good, I don't think he ever sold any of them."
"Did he show you ".38 Killers?"
She though for a moment. "No. But I think that was the one he said was his best. He was sure he could sell it to Black Mask. But he wouldn't tell me what it was about."
"Do you know where he got the idea for it?" I asked.
The band started playing again and she leaned closer to me. I could smell her perfume, mixed with the odor of fear. I wanted to reach across the table and touch her.
"Probably from Doc."
"Doc?" I was surprised.
"Yeah, he took quite an interest in Marty's writing and he used to tell Marty all kinds of stories. Marty had a lot of problems with his plots. He would worry about them for weeks, trying to make them come out. I guess he just didn't have enough imagination."
"So Marty got his story ideas from Doc?"
"Sure. He got his ideas everywhere. Down at the paper, from the guys in the band, from Jimmy. But I think he got "38 Killers" from Doc. I remember the night he started it. He was real excited about it. He'd been in Doc's office drinking with him that night."
I took the copy of ".38 Killers" from my coat pocket and slid it across the table to Effie. "Read this and see if it gives you any ideas."
"Okey," she said.
"Give me a call tomorrow after you've read it."
When I left, Effie Nesbitt was mounting the stage for her next set. I didn't really think she'd be giving me a call. I had a feeling about her.
I sat in my Chrysler outside the White Dahlia Club smoking cigarettes until closing time. I had a half-pint bottle of rye that I'd bought for the occasion to keep from getting bored. At 2:00 Effie Nesbitt came out, wrapped in a dark fur, and got into a little blue Ford coupe parked at the curb. The rain had stopped, for a little while, and a slight breeze stirred the Hollywood night smells around the deserted streets. A half moon showed in the sky between scudding clouds. The air was heavy with pressure and a dark foreboding. I had my gun ready on the seat beside me.
Fifteen minutes later Doc Riordan, dressed dapper in a dark blue suit and a gray fedora, walked out of the front door. He paused to light a thick black cigar, shielding the flame of the gold lighter with a leather‑gloved hand. He was accompanied by one of the hard‑looking birds I had seen in the club. A long, black Lincoln touring car pulled up and the two men got into it and purred off into the night. Effie started the Ford and followed. I brought up the rear.
We followed the Lincoln to the Granada Towers on Wilshire. Riordan got out with his bodyguard. Effie slowed down, as if to park. The liveried door man was opening the gilded glass door lobby door when Effie suddenly speeded up, screeched to a halt in front of the entrance, and fired a small caliber handgun out the window. The shots cracked wickedly in the still night, echoing off the surrounding buildings. Riordan and the bodyguard hit the pavement and the doorman jerked back inside. Effie emptied the gun ‑ six shots ‑ and careened over the sidewalk and back into the street. Then two more shots, bigger and louder than Effie's, rent the night and Effie's car swerved and smashed into a cab parked across the street. Riordan's bodyguard lay on the sidewalk on his belly and elbows, a smoking .38 in his hands.
The night was perfectly still after the banging and crashing of the gun battle. Then suddenly new sounds filled the air; windows opening, people shouting, the hiss of steam from the little blue Ford'd radiator, the wail of a distant siren.
Riordan lay, unmoving, on the sidewalk where he had thrown himself. His man struggled to his feet; he was having a lot of trouble with his left leg. The doorman peered anxiously out from the safety of the lobby, not certain if all was clear yet. I jumped out of my car and ran to Effie. Her car was still running; I reached in and turned the key off. She was slumped over in the seat, blood covering her face and neck. There was a nasty gash on her forehead. I got her out of the car as gently as I could and laid her on the sidewalk.
"The girl in the story..." she moaned. I cradled her bloody head in my arms. "It was me." She coughed a little and blood trickled out of the corner of her mouth, mixing with her smeared lipstick. The sidewalk underneath her was becoming sticky with the blood; she had taken a slug in the back.
"I know," I said, wiping her face with my handkerchief. I didn't relish the though of two people dying in my arms the same day.
"Marty couldn't see it, though. Even though he wrote it." She said this in short gasps. "The sap was in love with me."
Then Crowley was at my elbow. Three police cars had arrived.
"Where'd you come from?" I asked in surprise.
"Been looking for Riordan. We weren't far behind you," he rumbled softly, looking at the girl on the sidewalk. "Ambulance on the way."
"Listen, quick," Effie said urgently, gathering all her strength. "The story Doc gave Marty to write ‑ ."38 Killers" - he had me as the murderer. Didn't happen like that. Doc pulled the trigger. But I was there; an accessory, I guess. But also a witness. My contract at the club is up next month, and I've got some good offers. From other clubs, to go on the road, maybe to New York. But Doc wants me to stay; if I leave, so does his business. " She closed her eyes for a moment and I put my bottle to her lips. She took a sip and continued: "Doc's backing Kaley all the way in the election. If he wins he'll owe Doc. And I'll be facing a murder rap ‑ unless I stay at the club, of course. It's also good insurance that I'll never talk."
Then Effie closed her eyes and relaxed, sagging back into my arms. She was breathing shallowly when she was loaded into the ambulance. The rain started again when they drove off with her.
It was the next night and I was sitting alone in my apartment getting very drunk. The window was open and a cool breeze wafted in. Stars twinkled in the California sky; the rain had stopped. I had been to see Nemo, but nothing sounded right tonight, and the whiskey tasted better at home by myself, anyway.
Effie had died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. But she was playing a rough game, and those are the risks you take. At least she had avenged Marty's and Jimmy's deaths. The lead she had squirted at Doc Riordan had done its job, and he'd been DOA, too.
I hadn't really believed Marty when he showed up in my office . I didn't know much about the publishing business, but I wouldn't think ".38 Killers" would hit the magazine racks in time for the election. But it had started to look real when he was killed. Riordan had double‑crossed him; hiring him to write the story and take it to me with the tale about Casey being after him, and then having him rubbed. The poor kid probably really though he was finally going to get a story published. I was the dupe, the guy to take the story to the police. Riordan had never intended it to make Black Mask, just the local papers. Riordan had sent Moray and Bigby after Jimmy when Jimmy found out what was going on.
That would have made it bad for me if I hadn't got the drop on them. And it was lucky Riordan hadn't seen me when I dropped by the White Dahlia.
Well, I guessed Casey would stay in power when all this hit the papers. Too bad, Raymond L. Kaley.
I would always wonder who killed Sol Fischer. Had it been Effie or Riordan? Not that it made much difference, now. But I would still like to know, just so I could file it away in my mind under Human Nature. Or maybe under Beautiful Blondes. I had one more drink, a toast to one Beautiful Blonde in particular, and then went to bed.