You had to watch Louie's right hand. If it went under his jacket you were in a world of shit. It was close to his lapel now and he was frowning behind his shades. It was not a good sign. I figured to be fished out of the river in a few days with a hole in my head. And on autopsy, they'd find a couple of cracked kneecaps as well.
"You disappoint me, Jake," Louis said. He raised his Cuban to his lips and took a deep drag. The cigar looked like a black dog turd. I felt like the cigar looked, except I might be stomped on the sidewalk.
"I'm sorry, man, " I said, trying to keep the fear out of my voice. "I did the best I could to come up with the dough."
Louie shook his head and turned to Bones the Undertaker. "He didn't try hard enough, did he Bones?" Bones, looking glum as your friendly neighborhood mortician, nodded. In fact, Bones was a mortician. It was a handy way to get rid of things, in his fiery crematorium. "So," Louie added, "What should we do with him, Bones?"
"I don't know, boss," Bones answered.
"I'll make it good, Louie," I said. That just pissed him off more.
"Like hell you will!" he yelled at me. "You had six months and it ain't good yet. Why will things changed now, huh? Tell me wise guy."
It looked like it might be it for me. What the fuck, I wouldn't beg. I'd taken on some bad dudes in my time and I'd always come out on top. But there was no taking on Louie, Bones and Big Rick. They had me cold. My piece was in Louie's side coat pocket. I was a goner.
"If you're gonna whack me, just make it quick will you," I said. "Is that too much to ask?"
"You want me to whack you?"
"Naw, but I figure you're about to," said I. "I don't wanna die man, but I won't beg either."
Louie sort of smiled out of the corner of his mouth and cut his eyes over at Big Rick. Big Rick was a fucking psycho; he was just standing idly by waiting for Louie to give him the sign. Once he got it, out would come his straight razor. I'd seen his handiwork once and it wasn't pretty.
"Damn, he sounds like a made man," Louie laughed. "How 'bout that, Rick, think he's afraid to die?"
"Gimme the word and we'll see, Louie," Big Rick grinned. "Bet I can make him change his fuckin tune in a hurry."
"Fuck you too, Rick," I said, figuring what the hell. I was a goner but I wasn't going to take any shit off him. "Take that razor outta your hand and you're a helpless piece of shit!"
Rick would have jumped me right there but Louie stopped it. "Cool it man!" he yelled at Rick. "Jake's got more balls than I gave him credit for."
"He won't have none when I get done with him," Rick growled. "I'll cut his fuckin nuts off and shove 'em down his wise mouth!"
All of a sudden, the irony of all this struck me. Louie had hired me a year before to do some legwork for him. He needed a private dick, one a bit on the seedy side, to find an old girlfriend. I took the job, found the girl and that was that. Oh yeah, the girlfriend was the one I saw Rick play his razor music on. Meanwhile, my gambling habit got the best of me. The ponies ran sour for several weeks and I wound up twenty gees into Louie. I managed to make the vig for a while but then things went south. Push came down to shove and here we were, with my tit in a big crack. It was going to slam tight and there wasn't a goddamn thing I could do about it.
"Well hell, let's see," said Louie. "You owe me still about sixteen long ones and it's growing every day. But there might be a way to get out from under that. You interested?"
"Is the fuckin Pope catholic?" I said. "Has a goat got an ass?" That got a twitch of lips from Bones, who had never been known to really smile in his life.
Louie laid it out for me then. Staying alive, and clearing my debt, was simple.
All I had to do was whack Superior Court Judge Harry Grogan. A piece of cake, Louie said. Yeah.
As it stood, I had three options: I could whack the judge, let Louie whacked me or maybe set Louie up with John Law. I knew I couldn't do the first and the second wasn't too appetizing either. So I decided to fuck Louie over.
None of the cops were big fans of mine because I tended to get in their way sometimes. Most of them hated my guts, but there was one sergeant who could at least tolerate me. I gave him a call.
"You want Louie Bostone?" I asked Bill Dill. He snickered.
"Everybody wants old Louie," he said. "The feds would give a million bucks for him. You can turn him?"
"He wants me to hit Judge Grogan," I replied. That got Dill's attention.
"No shit! How did you get hung in that?"
"The ponies ran sour," I said drying. "You know the tune."
"Yeah, well meet me off Rock Canyon Road at six, up by the dam. We'll talk more."
"I know the place. I'll be there."
I went to my filing cabinet, bottom drawer, and got my backup piece. Fucking Louie had my .44 Bulldog Magnum, my real firepower. I flipped the barrel down on the owlhead .32 and noted all five cylinders were loaded. I slipped the peashooter in the back of my waistband and stuck a handful of extra shell in my side coat pocket just in case. The .32 was a shitty piece, good only if you were going to cap somebody in spitting distance. But it beat nothing by a long shot.
My office was in the low rent part of town and I was always cautious coming and going. This day I was more cautious than most, peering out the front windows far as I could see in both directions. I was looking for Louie's Caddy, a big blue number. Big Rick would be at the wheel; besides being a primo blade man, he was the best wheel man in town. I saw nothing unusual and slipped out the front door into the afternoon glare.
The sun hung in blue haze back over the ocean like a festering boil. It was one of those July LA days when the air was still in all directions. The thermometer hovered around 98 and the humidity was close behind. You could take Bic Rick's razor and cut a chunk out of it.
I scoped the area casually before crawling under the wheel of my beat up Mustang. I didn't want anybody tailing me to my meet with Dill, else I'd be fish bait before morning. I figured to take the long way around and keep a close eye.
It was like a sauna inside the car. The air conditioning had quit a couple months before, but I didn't have the bread to fix it. I had to support the ponies, fuck cool air. I rolled down the windows and grimaced when the 5.0-liter engine kicked over. The car looked like a piece of shit but it would move when you kicked it. I kicked it away from the curb hard and hung a left, bolting off in a way certain to draw attention if anybody was tailing. A move like that might fool a rookie. Big Rick was no rookie, however.
I made about five miles of unnecessary turns trying to spot a tail. I pulled up in front of a liquor store on Studebaker and got out. I went in and got a bottle of Beam for later, then came back out. Everything looked cool to me, except the mean ass heat rising in the street. I turned north toward the canyon and was pleased to see that the only thing behind me, way back, was a bread truck.
Dill was waiting when I arrived, leaning against the front of his white Ford. He was smoking a cigar and I could tell he was squinting behind his Ray-bans. Most cops are pricks, but Dill was a little less of a prick than most. He was still a prick though.
"You're fuckin late," he said. I looked at my watch.
"What the fuck's ten minutes."
"Yeah, well, it can make a lot of difference sometimes," he said, but grinning a bit. "Like when you're screwing. By the way, you still seeing Margie?"
Margie was something I didn't want to talk about. I'd run out my string with her and it was finished. I stayed away from the club where she worked because I was afraid I would kill somebody.
"Screw that, I came here to talk about Louie," I said. "If you don't wanna talk, I'll walk."
"Calm down, man," he said, flipping his smoke butt. "OK. Lay it out for me."
I did, the whole nine yards. Grogan was supposedly bought and paid for, but he fucked them with Little Stevie Benza. Little Stevie was up on an attempted murder charge because a guy happened to get in the way of Little Stevie's 'Vette. In fact, the guy got under the wheels about four times according to doctors who tried to put him back together. Grogan was suppose to direct an acquittal during the trial, but he didn't. And so the jury found Stevie guilty and gave him 27 years. Little Stevie was married to Louie's daughter, so Louie was sorely pissed. He wanted Grogan wasted. That was it.
"We'll have to wire you," said Dill when I finished. "Then you'll have to get him to say this again."
That worried me. Louie was no fool and he'd had Rick pat me down good before, when he got my shooter. The fucker had been real thorough, even grabbing my nuts. "I don't know, man, they'd probably find it."
"I'll be close and I'll put a couple more guys on it, we'll cover your ass," said Dill. "What choice you got?" He had me there.
"OK, let's do it," I said. What the hell, my options were nonexistent. "I'll try to make a meet with Louie and get back to you."
"Do that," said Dill. "The sooner the better."
But I let it slide right up to the two days Louie gave me to make up my mind. I didn't want to look too anxious to waste a judge because Louie would smell that. I had to play it as safe as possible and that's what I tried to do.
I called Louie. I didn't have to pretend to be nervous. I was scared shitless.
"OK, I don't like it, but I'll do it," I said. "I ain't got much of a fucking choice."
Louie laughed. "I figured you were smart enough to stay alive," he said. "You do this and the debt is clear, capiche?"
"Yeah, but we need to get together and talk about this. I'll need a piece and. . . "
"I'll have Rick get a clean piece to you," he interrupted.
"Fuck that noise, Rick will try to waste me himself," I said quickly. "I trust you, Louie, man I'd rather deal with you." That bit of ass kissing seemed to work. Maybe Louie wasn't as smart as I gave him credit for.
"OK, screw it," he said. "Come by the Shady Lounge at nine this evening. We'll set it all up and you can pick up the shooter then."
"I'll be there," I said, hanging up. The next call was to Dill. Six-thirty o'clock at dam I'd get wired.
I was shaking like a dog shitting peach pits. I didn't like to be scared. It made me dangerous.
I had almost four hours to kill before meeting Dill. It dawned on me that it might be my last day on earth. What I wanna do if I knew it way my last sunrise? I asked myself. That was simple. I wanted to see Margie one last time.
That decided, I piled in the iron and headed for the Chez Sally Club. If I was lucky she'd be working the noon crowd still hanging from a long lunch. I was lucky. Maybe my luck would hold.
I found a stool off to the left of the stage and ordered a double Beam. She worked the pole just as I remembered all legs and tits and blonde hair. I looked at her trim spreading as one leg went high on the pole and the memory of how she tasted made my heart ache. I realized at that moment how much I still cared for her. She saw me then, her face twisted in what was supposed to be some erotic move. Her eyes widened briefly and a tiny smile played over her mouth.
Two drinks got me through her set and she left the stage. A few minutes later she came up, covered now in a blue gown, and slid onto the stool next to me. She put her hand on my arm
"Hi, Jake," she said. "It's good to see you." There was something in the soft look of her green eyes that told me she hadn't forgotten me.
"Yeah, it's good to see you too, kid," I said. "You're lookin' good as always."
Damn. She was 27 and I was 43. We had got on good for awhile, then I got the notion I was too old for her. And I fucked things up big time because of it.
"Kid," she repeated back to me, grinning. "Same old Jake. Thinks he's an old man when he's not."
"I guess it's all relative," I said, smiling in spite of myself.
Her face got serious then. She must have sensed something was up because she asked me, "So, why are you here now, after all these months of nothing? What's happening that brought you here to see me?"
"Maybe I just wanted to see an old flame."
"I don't buy that, you're too bullheaded to come because of that. Please, tell me . . .are you in some kind of trouble?"
What the hell, it might be the last time I ever laid eyes on her. It was time for the truth. So I laid it out for her, or as much as I could. When I finished she had the beginning of mist in the corners of her eyes.
"Oh baby, come home with me," she said. "Please." She took me by the arm. I followed. I would have even if I hadn't believed it might be my last day alive.
She was better than I remembered, much better. You know what they say--good pussy is wonderful and bad pussy is pretty damned good. Margie was somewhere way beyond good pussy. She had a way of slinging that left leg around high on your back and then digging the heel of her right foot into your ass. She could rock you to heaven like that.
At least I had one more trip there before possibly taking the elevator down. She rode me high and hard and she was, yeah, way better than I had remembered.
"And you believe you're too old for me?" she teased afterward, rubbing the hair on my belly. "You wore me out."
"Yeah, well I ain't consistent," I grinned. I reached over and shook a weed out of the pack on the nightstand, firing it with the gold Dunhill. She smiled when I did that.
"You kept the lighter I gave you," she said. "That must mean something."
I laughed. "Yeah, twelve hundred buck lighters don't grow on trees."
"It's more than the money," she said.
"Yeah, you're right about that. I can't deny it. Sentimental value and all."
She rubbed lower. My buddy Willie paid attention, it was hard not to.
I used her shower before I left. It was strictly in consideration for whoever would be taping something on my balls. And I also borrowed the little .22 Baretta I'd given her. It wasn't much but it might be concealed and I wasn't going to the meet without something on me, no way.
I thought about Scarface and the chain saw scene. I'd rather drop in a blaze of glory and maybe take a couple out with me. If it came to that, Louie would get the first one. I hadn't practiced lately but I could still throw a head shot offhand if I had to. And I might have to.
Dill was up at the dam when I arrived, this time in a black van. There was a guy named Roman in the back, a skinny dude who appeared a little on the gay side. I had no big problem with gays, but I didn't relish the thought of one dabbing around my balls with tape. But he may not have been gay because he insisted on taping the box and mike on my chest.
"Fuck no," I said. "Hell, I might as well tote it in my hand than do that. It's a sure way to get killed and I won't do it."
"Yeah," Dill agreed. "Seems a little reckless to me too. Go ahead and put it where he wants it."
I wound up with the transmitter behind my balls and the mike cord around and on my lower belly. I'd worn pouch briefs especially for the occasion. I pulled the .22 out of my back pocket. "This is going in the pouch," I said. Dill shook his head. "I'd have to recommend against it," he said, but not with too much conviction. "They find it, you're fucked."
"If they find it they find the wire and I'm fucked anyway. I got a plan."
"Well, you're right about that," he said. "But don't use it unless you have to, understand? We'll be right outside the building, front and back, in case something goes sour."
"That's comforting, but the pistol stays," I said.
"OK, just be cool."
"I'm always fucking cool," I said. I didn't feel too cool, though. The peach pit shit shakes were coming back. I had to get that under control in about an hour or I was history.
Against my better judgment, I took a big jolt of the Beam after I crawled back in the Mustang. It was so good I took a second. After the third one I capped the jug. It was calming me, but I needed a little edge. Not too much, just that quick jump afforded by a small case of nerves.
About five miles down from the dam I seemed to be getting to that place. I even managed a smile. I was going to fuck Louie, or he was going to fuck me. It was all so simple, just like everyday life. People screwed or got screwed.
Tomorrow we'd know who got fucked today. I hoped the screwing I had earlier was my last one for this Tuesday.
I pulled into a parking lot a block from the Shady Lounge at twenty minutes before nine. I didn't want to arrive early and appear anxious, so I sat for a few moments. The jug looked tempting and I picked it up and removed the cap. But I thought better of it and screwed the top back on. If I survived, I'd have a drink then. One right now might be one too many.
At about five till, I slipped out of the car and started down the sidewalk toward the joint. There was quite a bit of traffic and a lot of curbside parking, but I spotted the van pulled up on the curb directly across from the Shady. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Dill sitting behind the wheel. I knew there were others in it as well and no doubt somebody would be inside the joint.
I yanked one of the double doors open and stepped into the club. It was dark and the air visible in the faint light looked like one of those news scenes of the rain forest on fire. There were a dozen or so drinkers bellied up to the bar and an equal number scattered in the booths. None of them looked like cops in a brown wrapper, but that was good if they were.
Louie's office was at the end of a hallway in back, past the toilets. I went up and rapped on the door. After a few seconds it cracked open and Bones peered out. He turned and said, "It's him." I heard Louie tell him to let me in and he did, opening the door. I stepped in and Louie held up his right hand in a halt gesture from where he sat behind his desk. Big Rick was standing leaning on a cabinet to his right, looking mean as usual.
"Frisk him," Louie said. Rick grinned and started over. It was now or never for me, because the frisk he gave me before would find the gun and the wire. Then it would be razor time.
I raised my hands high and stepped to the sides, spreading my legs wide. I grinned as Rick approached.
"Hey, give my balls and cock a good one," I laughed. "I noticed how much you liked it the other day, must have picked that up in the slammer eh?" His face went red and he gritted his teeth.
"Fuck you man," he said. "That mouth's gonna be the end of you some day." But he merely rubbed under my arms and around my waist and stepped back, scowling.
"This chickenshit ain't got the balls to come in here packing," he said to Louie. Louie nodded and then reached into a drawer and removed a pistol. He lay the .22 revolver on the desktop.
"Here's a clean piece. Pitch it when you're done. You got two days to make it, or your ass is mine."
"No, boss, you promised me it was mine, remember," Rick grinned.
"Two fucking days?" I said. "Christ Louie, I can't set it up that fast, killing a fucking judge!" I wanted to get him to commit to that on the wire.
"Just do what you gotta do in two days," he said like he meant business. "Do it and you free and clear. Don't, and your friends will wonder what became of you."
"He ain't got no goddamn friends," Rick laughed. "Nobody wants a low ass gumshoe for a friend."
It was about that point that the problem began. I felt it before I heard it, felt a vibration in my crotch. I almost went into a panic but I managed to stay cool enough. But seconds later it was making an audible sound, a high pitched beep. Everybody started looking around.
"What the hell, somebody wearing a wrist alarm or a beeper?" asked Louie. Then, the noise got louder and they all looked at me. Louie understood what was happening first, because, his eyes bulging out of his head, he screamed, "The motherfucker is wired!"
That was it. As Rick broke from his spot by the filing cabinet, I spun to my left and made a dive forward, my hand going down the front of my pants. I got the handle and pulled the little shooter on the roll, coming up on my back with Rick closing in fast. He'd fished out the razor and it was about four feet from cutting my throat. I threw the pistol up and popped a cap, watching as a tiny red spot opened up between his upper lip and nose. I triggered again and saw his right eye disintegrate and his head snap back. He stopped in his tracks, sat down limply on his ass and fell to his right, dead before he hit the floor.
About the time I saw Rick die, I heard Louie's 9-mm fire. I was slammed halfway around to the left. Bones had come out with a snub-nose piece, but seems to have a problem because he was fumbling with the safety. I fired two rounds at Louie, missing but causing him to duck, then took Bones out with an aimed shot through the forehead. Louie came back up firing and that's when all hell broke loose. There was a loud crash and the door fell in. It sounded like a reenactment of World War Two suddenly as Dill and his boys came in shooting. Louie took at least a dozen rounds, dancing back to the wall and sliding in his brains down it.
"How bad you hit?" Dill asked, coming over. There was blood seeping through the front of my jacket. "Get an ambulance," he told one of the other cops.
"Hell I don't know, left shoulder is fucked up some," I said. "It's not hurting but it felt like a bat hit me. That fucking wire almost got me killed."
The little guy who had put it on me grinned, then looked at Dill. "It worked just fine, didn't it Sarg," he said. Dill grinned. "It damned sure did," said Dill. "Like a charm."
It hit me then what had happened. "You sons of bitches," I said. "You used me as bait to get these fuckers." Dill laughed.
"Jake, you just performed a hell of a public service. And you saved the taxpayers a big bundle of dough."
"Fuck the taxpayers," I said. "And fuck you too."
That was a month ago. I spent the night in the hospital for the flesh wound. A doctor said if it had been an inch higher it would have clipped an artery and I'd probably have bled to death before the meat wagon got there.
I had to leave town. I'm staying in a friend's cabin in the mountains now, but I can't stay here forever. I'll have to watch my step because Louie had friends. I'll be looking over my shoulder for a long time.
I thought about bringing Margie with me. She'd come, I know, but I decided that was no good. I'm too old for her and besides, she'd be in danger. If they whacked me, they'd whack her just for the hell of it.
So, I screwed Louie and Louie screwed me. Dill screwed us both.
But shit happens, as they say.
And they weren't lying.