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I'll only be able to post this story for a brief while.
So if you want to read it, better do it quick. — E.P.

Private-eye Pat Maginess tracks the killer of an old Army pal in "The Salesman."

"The Salesman"

a Pat Maginess Private-Eye story

by

Edward Piercy

Copyright @ 2006 by Edward Piercy.
Any publication of duplication of this
story without consent of the author
is prohibited.

Los Angeles, 1952

I felt like crap. And what was more it seemed like most of the natural
world had conspired to make me feel even crappier, if that were
possible.

The entire morning a bright sun had been popping in and out of
tiny clouds that rolled off of the ocean from the southwest, clouds that
every once in a while would spit big blobs of rain. It wasn't even enough
rain to get you wet. But it was more than enough to be a royal pain in the
ass. When the sun came out from behind the little clouds it would get
hot enough that you wanted to take off your jacket and hat and wipe your
forehead. And then the sun would duck off behind another of the little
clouds and a chill cutting wind would rip across the landscape and you'd
want to pull your hat down and pull your collar up around your neck. It was
totally crazy.

Pete Collins was dead. Everything was crazy.

I was wearing my old Army uniform, which I hadn't worn since my
discharge in '46. To my surprise it still fit, even around the waist.
After giving the buttons and lieutenant's bars a quick shine it looked
presentable enough. When I put the cap on and looked in the mirror that
morning it was as if I had been jerked back in time, and I had to turn to
make sure it truly was the Los Angeles landscape behind me out the
window and not some place in France or Italy.

The mourners around the grave site shuffled their feet or talked
amongst themselves quietly. Some people who I assumed were relatives sat
in chairs around the bier. There were groups of flowers scattered here
and there around the grave, and various military or ex-military
personnel stood around waiting for the priest to conclude his service.
There were a couple of dozen cops around besides, in full dress uniform,
probably enough cops to keep a small town safe.

The priest finished and a minute or so later the bugler began to play
taps. The seven-man honor guard fired off their rifles in the salute.
Two other soldiers took the Stars and Stripes off of the coffin and
folded it precisely, according to form, and handed it to a dark-haired
woman who sat in front of the bier.

By the time the bugler finished I thought I was going to collapse from
it all, and the anger in me rose and made my heart race. The previous
Thursday, five days prior, Detective Pete Collins had been shot outside
his house while going out to get the morning newspaper. He had been shot
six times in the chest. Nobody shoots somebody six times like that right
out in front of their own house unless they're out for revenge of some
sort.

The mourners began to slowly wander off and a minute or so later I
walked up to the grave. Not having any flowers, I squatted down and
picked up a few clods of dirt and threw them down into the pit.

"Damn it, Pete."

I couldn't get over the awful feeling that I had let Collins down,
that I should have been there for him. I wasn't a member of the L.A.P.D.
I was just an occasionally successful private-eye. But Collins had been
my partner at C.I.D. in the war. And that was a bond couldn't be broken.
That was a bond for life, and also in death.

The dark-haired woman who had been handed the flag approached me. She
looked me over for a second and then stepped forward.

"Are you Pat Maginess?" she asked.

She was of medium build and fairly attractive looking. I guessed her to
be about forty or so. She was wearing a black dress and scarf and a pair
of sunglasses. She was carrying the flag from Collins' casket and also a
package of some sort. Since Pete hadn't been married I guessed she must
be the sister he sometimes spoke of.

"Yes, mam. I'm Pat Maginess. Are you Pete's sister?"

"Yes" she said, sounding somewhat surprised that I had guessed. "I'm
Jane Hamilton."

"Pete spoke of you now and then, Jane. I'm sorry we had to meet under
such terrible circumstances."

She nodded, then stepped up a bit closer.

"I had a feeling that you would be at the funeral" she said. "Pete
left a will. He wanted you to have these things." She gave me the
envelope.

In the envelope was a photo and a gun. The photo was one taken of Pete
and me when we were serving in Italy. The photo was a little bit faded
and had a slight tear at one side, but otherwise it was exactly like I
remembered.

"I remember this. We had just wrapped up an investigation in Venice
and were getting in a little R&R."

"Pete always spoke fondly of you" she added.

The gun was Pete's snub-nosed .38 M&P and belt-holster. Pete always
carried two of them, one in a shoulder holster and one in a holster at
the small of his back. It didn't take too much guesswork to know what
Pete was telling me by giving it to me. I could almost hear him saying
to me "Watch your back, Pat."

"Damn" I said, fighting the tears. "I'm sorry, Jane. I just found out
about Pete yesterday afternoon. Damn fools at the department didn't
think to call me. I guess they wouldn't have known, though."

She nodded again, then put her hand on my arm.

"Take care of yourself, Patrick. I'm sure Pete would have wanted it
that way." Then she walked off.

In the distance I spotted Detective-Sergeant Wilkie in his dress blues
moving his short and rather stout form slowly towards a police cruiser.
I hurried to my car and followed him out of the cemetary and through the
city to the parking lot outside the station house. I parked in the lot
myself at the risk of being towed and followed him up the old dirty
tiled steps of the central stairway to the second floor.

"What do you want, Maginess?" Wilkie said curtly as I entered his
office.

"I think you know what I want" I shot back at him.

"This is a police matter. A cop is killed, we take care of it."

I lost my temper.

"Bullshit. I was running investigations with Collins before anybody
here ever knew his name. So don't tell me I don't have a right to be in
on this. He was my friend, damn it. You tell me you've got this thing
sown up. You tell me that you've got a suspect in sight and you're about
ready to haul him in. Then maybe I'll back off. But you don't, do you?
No, if you're anything like Collins was, you've got four times the
number of case files on your desk than you can handle. So just swallow
your damn pride for once and think of Collins buried out there at
Memorial Gardens and let me in on it."

Wilkie leaned forward and crossed his arms on the desk and stared down
at his ink blotter. After a few seconds he nodded, uncrossed his arms and
pulled his rather wide derriere out of the chair.

"Okay, Maginess. What do you want? Crime scene stuff? Maybe my notes?"

"I want everything. Your notes, crime scene photos, Coroner's report.
And I want to see his case files. The stuff he was working on. It's only
been five days. I'd be surprised if anybody has even bothered to take
them off his desk."

"Maginess, I don't think…"

"Don't give me any crap. I'm going to solve this case. I'm going to
find whatever piece of trash killed Pete. Then I'm going to drop him
hogtied and gagged onto your desk. Case solved. But I want everything."

Wilkie walked me over to Collins' office and slowly pushed himself
through the door like it might be a tight squeeze.

"Maxwell, this is Pat Maginess" he said, nodding to a youngish looking
detective sitting behind one of the desks. The detective looked at
Wilkie and then over at me. "Maginess is going to be…visiting off and
on. He was a friend of Collins. He'll be using Collins' desk for a
while. Maginess, this is Detective Maxwell. He's new, so don't give him
too much shit."

Wilkie pulled the door closed behind him. Maxwell gave me a blank
stare. I went over to Collins desk and sat down. As I had suspected, the
files for Collins' active cases were still piled on top of the desk. The
ashtray was almost overflowing, as usual. I pulled open the large drawer
at the bottom of the desk and found the fifth of whiskey. Nothing had
changed. It was like Collins had just left to go to the bathroom and
would be back any minute. I pulled the bottle out and the two little
glasses that he stocked. I put them on the desk and poured two fingers
of rye into each one.

"You want a drink, Maxwell?" I asked, holding up one of the glasses.

"I don't drink on duty" he said, matter-of-factly.

"Great." I swallowed the contents of the first glass in three big
swigs. Then I turned to the case files.

Collins had never been one for organization. He was much more the man
of action than I was, the kind of guy that knew exactly what to do if a
fifty-caliber machine gun opened up at you from ninety yards. My mind
was more of the organized type. I was good at planning. That was in part
what had made us such a good team.

The first thing I did was go through the files and separate them out
into various piles, one pile for each type of case. When I had sorted
them all I ended up with 11 open homicides, two missing persons cases,
four assaults, two rapes, and one guy that claimed he had been picked up
by aliens from another planet and then dropped in middle of the desert.
I imagined that Collins must have had a good laugh at the last one. I
took a sip from the other glass and lit a smoke.

I spent the rest of the morning reading through the files. The ashtray
grew fuller and the bottle of rye got lower and lower. By the time I had
read through all the files Maxwell had first left and then returned from
lunch and my eyesight was beginning to blur.

There didn't seem anything in any of the cases that would make me
think that somebody would purposely go after Pete. Whoever killed him
had done it for a reason. But apart from a few hotheads mentioned here
and there in the files there didn't seem to be anything that would
suggest that someone might be out to get him.

I figured that from what was on the desk that whoever had wanted
Collins dead had been somebody from an earlier case. Somebody with a
grudge for having to do time. But it could take years to go through all
of Collins old arrests.

Maxwell sauntered up to the desk, hands in pockets. He looked to be
about twenty-five or so, tallish and thin with pale blonde hair and blue
eyes. He had his jacket off, and was wearing a red tie of the new, thin
variety along with red suspenders. His clothes looked a bit on the
expensive side for your average force detective. My guess was his family
had money.

"So you knew Collins?" he asked, almost as if asking about the weather.

"Yeah, we went way back."

"Are you from some other jurisdiction or something?"

"No. I'm a private-eye. But I was Collins partner in the Army."

"Oh" he said, moving his hands around inside his pockets a bit.

"What about you? Did you know Pete?"

"I just got my gold shield. Yesterday was my first day on the job. I
ran into him a few times when I was a patrol cop. I didn't really know
him. But he always came across like a good cop."

"The best" I said, almost choking.

"You got any more of that whiskey?" Maxwell said, almost shyly.

"I thought you didn't drink on duty."

"Well, there's always a first time, I suppose."

I had to laugh at that. I poured a little rye into the glass that I
had used the least and handed it to him. He eyed it suspiciously but
sucked the whiskey down anyway.

"There's hope for you yet, kid."

A few hours later most of the bottle was empty and my empty pack of
cigarettes lay crumpled on the desk. And I hadn't eaten anything all
day.

"Hey Maxwell" I said over to the other desk. "Do they still have that
little snack place down in the basement?"

"Yeah, it's still there." He looked at his watch. "It closes at five.
You'd better hurry."

I took the elevator down to the basement, the one I had always claimed
was the slowest moving elevator in L.A. The guy at the stand had two hot
dogs left in the little carousel. I covered them with plenty of mustard
to kill the taste and took them back up to Collins' desk and wolfed them
down with a Coca-Cola. When I finished I no longer felt hungry but it
felt like my stomach was getting ready to blow up. I needed to get out of
there. But I wanted to go through Collins' desk first.

"If you can't be good, you can at least be thorough" I said to myself
and to no one in particular.

"What was that?" Maxwell called over.

"Nothing. Just bad dietary habits."

I went through the center drawer of the desk. There didn't seem to be
anything much in it other than the normal stationery and office supply
type stuff. There were broken pencils, an old ink blotter, a few small
note pads that were so yellow they must have been from the 1930s, as
well as about four thousand paper-clips of various sizes. Evidently,
Collins had been quite the paper-clip man.

The left hand side of the desk held a small drawer about six inches
deep that only seemed to contain letters. There were about a hundred of
them.

"Wonderful" I said, under my breath. I began with the first in the
row and began thumbing through them all, mostly looking at the return
addresses. When I found one that looked interesting for some reason I
pulled it out and put it on the desk.

A little while later Maxwell got up out of his chair and scooted it
under the desk neatly and put his jacket on.

"Well, six o'clock. Time to go home."

I looked up at him, hands still stuffed in the drawer going through the
letters. I couldn't believe he was serious. For a gold shield cop to
think that he could take off at six o'clock bordered on the laughable.
But I figured the kid would learn soon enough.

"Okay, Maxwell. I suppose I'll being seeing you again down the road."

Maxwell walked up and extended his hand. I took my right out of the
drawer, careful not to lose my place, and shook hands with him.

"Have a good night" he said affably. "It's been a real pleasure meeting
you."

"Uh, yeah, Maxwell. You too…"

He walked out the door, closing it carefully behind him so as not to
make any noise.

"…I guess."

I began looking through the letters. Most were letters thanking
Collins for something or other that he had done, usually from the
families of victims. One in particular caught my attention due to the
lack of a return address. It was of a different variety than the rest.
A darker variety.

Lieutenant Collins,

Several months ago I took the examination for the Los Angeles police
academy. I passed the test with high marks. And I did well on my
personal interview.

As I mentioned in the interview, I have over the past few years been
selling the works of the Lord, the Holy Bible and other good books. My
dream was for something more. Looking around at the sinfulness of this
pathetic city, and other cities like it, it was clear to me that I
should become a member of your fine department and help to bring the
Justice of the Lord against those that transgress His and society's
laws.

Evidently, you did not think I was a good candidate for this Holy
Mission. Instead, I received a letter that I had failed the
psychological exam. And not only that, but that you and your board of
inquisitors sought to portray me as being mentally unbalanced.

The judgement of the lord will fall on you, Lieutenant Collins. And
the other inquisitors as well. Be assured that it will.

Sincerely,

Joshua Michaels

The letter had been one on the bottom of the pile I had created, meaning
that it was from the front of the drawer and was fairly recent. I looked
at the post mark. It had been mailed a little over two weeks prior to
Collins death.

"Oh Jeez, no" I cried, getting up from the desk. I paced in front of
the desk, picked up the empty pack of smokes out of habit and then,
realizing it was empty, pitched it across the room with plenty of heat.

"Son of a bitch."

I paced in front of the desk some more, wishing to hell that I had
picked up some smokes at the snack place. I remembered Collins telling
me once that he was on the review board at the Police Academy. Collins'
case load was so heavy that doing something like that just got pushed to
the rear of the conversations we had. It just wasn't something he talked
about. But it was a reminder of just how much Pete Collins had done for
his city that he had been trying to get more qualified cops on board.

There was something about the letter that had made my instincts
zero in on it. And it was more than just the fact that the letter was
vaguely threatening. It was the combination of cool reason and a dark,
underlying fanaticism.

I had ran across fanatics during the war. On the surface of it they
could be anyone walking next to you on the street who said hello. But if
you talked with them longer than a few minutes something more emerged,
an underlying hatred for anything and anyone that didn't conform to
their particular view. They weren't just your ordinary opinionated guy
that sits on the bar stool next to you and drinks too much and maybe
takes a swing at you. In general, those kind of people were relatively
harmless. Fanatics were a different breed. Fanatics were the kind of
people that would smile at you even as they memorized your name and put
it down on some sort of mental shit-list.

There wasn't any certainty about it. But right then it was the best
lead I had. In any case it was late and I had done all I could for the
day. It was time to get out of my uniform and take a shower and maybe
hop down to the Alley Cat Lounge for a drink and some decent food.

****

Early the next morning I put on my new dark grey suit and a blue-and
black striped tie and went back to the station house. I went to Wilkie's
office to get what he had on the case so far. He tossed the folder across
to me and I took it to Collins' desk and started going through it.

The ballistics report indicated that Collins had been shot with a .38.
Which was important information but not exactly earth-shaking either
given that there were probably a hundred thousand .38s in Los Angeles,
including my own. Nevertheless it did narrow it down a bit and gave me
something to look for.

The Coroner's report was particularly disturbing. The first two shots
had hit Collins in the chest at a perpedicular angle. The final four had hit
him at an acute angle of about 45 degrees, indicating that they had hit him
when he was already down on the ground. It was an execution, plain and simple.
And it was excruciating looking at the photos. I kept telling myself that
wasn't Pete in the photos, that it was someone who looked a lot like Pete
maybe, but there was no way that it could be him.

I was just finishing up the report when Wilkie walked in.

"Maginess, Commissioner Porter wants to see you. And that's pronto.
He's waiting for you in his office uptown."

"I'm busy" I said, picking up the case notes.

"That's not a request. If you don't go I'll call in a patrolman and
have your ass hauled down there in cuffs."

I looked up at him for the first time. I could tell he was serious.

"What the hell, might as well" I said, grabbing my hat.

Twenty minutes later Porter's secretary showed me into his office. It
was a rather nice office, considering. It even had drapes on the windows
and carpet on the floors and an nice big antique wooden desk.

Police Commissioner William Porter was tall and reasonably fit-looking
for a desk man. His hair was mildly receding, but otherwise he was
holding up well for a man in his mid-fifties. His appointment a year or
so back had been covered in the newspaper. He had come in to the office
vowing to shake things up, get more money for the department and more
qualified people on the force. He talked a lot about the "new breed,"
whatever that meant. The news hounds seemed to like him, which was
unusual. Collins had seemed to respect him also. I didn't have any
opinion one way or another at that point.

"I hear you wanted to see me for some reason" I said, collapsing into
one of the big chairs in front of the desk.

"Detective Wilkie called up. Seems he got a little nervous about you
ruffling through police files and all. Wanted to cover his ass."

"That's a lot to cover" I said. I stuck a smoke in the corner of my
mouth and lit it with my Ronson.

Porter laughed, sat back a little and then got serious.

"I hear you were a friend of Pete Collins" he said, taking a long puff
on a sizeable cigar.

"I was that."

"And I hear you're a private-eye, and that you're investigating his
death."

"Guilty on both counts."

Porter pulled a thin file folder over in front of his broad chest and
opened it.

"Took the liberty of getting your folder, the one you filled out for
your peeper license. Private investigator now for, what, six years?"

"Just about that, yeah."

"Some other stuff in here as well. Don't get paranoid, I was just
curious. Let's see. U.S. Army, Military Police. Saw some action in the
war. The last war, that is. Up that to Criminal Investigations Division.
Field commission to Second Lieutenant. Expert marksman."

"When I'm sober."

"Add a sense of humor to the file as well. I like that. Too many cops
I see don't have a sense of humor. Or if they do, they lose it along the
way. And then they end up as bad cops. Or they eat a bullet."

"The world is nuts. You gotta laugh at it or you'll go crazy."

"Well, I have to agree with you there, Maginess. Anyway, I've been
checking around. Seems Collins had a high opinion of you. And Collins
had a pretty damn good reputation himself, so that's saying something."

Porter set his cigar in the ashtray and pulled his center drawer open
and took something out and tossed it to the edge of the desk in front of
me. I picked up the small, wallet-like object and opened it. It was a
gold shield of an L.A.P.D. detective.

"What's this?" I asked him.

"You're now deputized. Rank of Lieutenant. If you agree, that is."

"I didn't know that the L.A.P.D. deputized people."

"I'm the Commissioner of Police for the City of Los Angeles. I can do
anything I want. At least when it comes to stuff like that. Too bad that
doesn't apply to getting more money or cutting through red tape. Anyway,
I thought the badge might do you some good. You'd not only have your own
resources, but that of the department as well. You're now on the books.
I made sure of that this morning. No pay, of course. But if any cop out
there on the street makes an inquiry, you'll be listed. I've arranged
for you to get Collins' old desk. Not that you'll probably be spending
much time at it. So, Maginess. What do you say?"

Having the resources of the department might be useful. But I was
leery.

"On one condition. I do this my way. No interference. No phone calls
from up at the top telling me not to do this or to back off that. I
don't care if the Mayor himself shot Collins, that'll still hold. If I
need your help, I'll ask for it."

Porter picked up his stogie and re-lit it.

"Agreed" he said, taking a puff. "But I've got my own condition,
Maginess, and that's simply don't screw up. Believe me, I've got enough
problems around here right now."

****

It was easy getting Joshua Michaels' license plate number. I simply went
down to the L.A.P.D. employment office and showed the badge and got the
application he had filled out when he tried to join the force. They had
also fingerprinted him as a matter of course, so that was available too
if I needed. Strangely, the one missing piece of information on the
application was his current employer. Michaels had simply put down
"Salesman, Religious Books" in the employment record and left it at
that. The ironic thing was that alone might have excluded him from
getting on with the department, even if it hadn't been for the
psychological exam. The L.A.P.D. were pretty much sticklers for paper
work. The sloppy and incomplete application that Michaels had filled out
would probably have eliminated him anyway.

I stopped down at the station house's main desk and spoke with the
uniformed Sergeant on duty. I filled out a form for an all-points
bulletin on Michaels' Ford and listed my office telephone number. I
didn't tell the Sergeant that we were looking for a cop-killer. I was
afraid if I did that every patrol unit in the universe would descend on
Michaels. And they might very well screw things up. I wanted to get
Michaels cold. And I wanted him all to myself.

The home address on the application was in Long Beach. It was a long
hot drive through tough traffic that did nothing to improve my mood.
Michaels' apartment turned out to be a two-story block of the newer,
cheap variety that had popped up since the war. When I knocked at
Apartment 101 a short, rather busty woman wearing an ultra-short pink
robe answered. She looked to be about thirty and had her blonde hair up
in curlers and had what looked like a gin and tonic in her right hand.

"Excuse me, mam. My name is Maginess. Patrick Maginess. I'm with the
Church of the Second Foundation. I was wondering, is this the residence
of Joshua Michaels?"

The woman smoothed her curlers with her left hand as if trying to make
herself more presentable. It really didn't help.

"Michaels?" she said. "No, there isn't anybody here by that name."

"So he doesn't live here anymore? You don't know him?"

"No, I don't know him. It's just me. Mary."

"Okay, then. Is there an apartment manager on site? Maybe someone I
could talk with about a forwarding address?"

"Apartment 108" she said. "That's the manager. His name is Bill."

"Well, thanks anyway, Mary."

"It's awfully hot out, isn't it?" she said as I started to walk away.
She pulled the flap of her robe open a bit and ran the tips of her
fingers along the upper curve of her breast. "Very hot. Would you like
to come in and have a drink?"

"Never touch the stuff, mam" I told her. "Being with the Second
Foundation and all."

I tipped my hat and gave her a wink and walked down to the manager's
apartment. But that proved to be equally fruitless. Michaels hadn't left
a forwarding address. And once again he had failed to put his employer
down on the application he had filled out. I was beginning to wonder if
Michaels worked for anybody at all. Besides being a fanatic, Michaels was
proving to be frustratingly secretive as well.

I went back to my office on Wilshire. There hadn't been any calls from
dispatch on Michaels' Ford. I filled in Carmen, my secretary, on the
case so far. Then I put her to work with the telephone book calling
around town to various book distributors, in particular any of them that
might handle religious books. I figured that if I could find his
employer they might have a current address on him.

"Tell them you're a clerk with the L.A.P.D. That should get them to
talking. If they aren't cooperative, say that the detectives will come
in with a subpoena for the records and they'll be lucky to get them back
by the end of the century."

"Are you sure it's okay to do that, Mr. Maginess? I mean, I'm not with
the police department."

I pulled out the wallet with the gold shield in it and showed it to
her.

"Seems I've been deputized."

"Gee, that's really great, Mr. Maginess."

"Yeah, right. I feel more important already. In any case, you work for
me. So you're covered by extension….more or less."

Carmen got to work on the phone calling around and I went out and got
us a couple of sandwiches at the local deli. We ate on the run, with
Carmen on the phone and me working over on the couch. I cleaned my .38
and the little .22 Italian automatic that I carried, using the coffee
table as a desk. Unlike a woman, your gun will never let you down —
unless you don't clean it. Then I started a new file for Pete's case,
copying from my notes and culling from memory. When I printed "Collins,
P." onto the tab on the file folder it was one of the saddest moments of
my life.

By around five o'clock Carmen had covered all of the book distributors
in the telephone book and had come up empty. Carmen was the most even-
tempered person I had ever known, but at the end of it even she was
showing signs of frustration. She leaned her head against her hand and
tapped a pencil nervously on the desk.

"Why couldn't we find him? I mean, he has to work for somebody, right?"
she asked.

"Well, maybe not. I've been thinking about that. He could just order
books wholesale from some printer in New York or someplace and sell them
here locally. In other words, he works for himself. Which might explain
why he didn't put his employer down on his application."

"Oh" she said, sadly.

"That's investigation for you, Carmen. If you're going to become a
private-eye you'd better get used to it."

"Yeah, I suppose."

"Go home, Carmen" I told her. "There's nothing more for you to do
here. Go home and get yourself some of that yogurt stuff that you like.
That ought to make you feel better."

Carmen got her purse and left. There was nothing to do but to wait
around on a call that a patrol unit had spotted Michael's automobile. I
made a rye on the rocks and sat at the desk. My nerves were stretched
tight. For all I knew, I could be sitting there for days waiting to hear
anything. I skimmed through yesterday's newspaper and read through an
issue of STRANGE STORIES and had a few more drinks. About midnight, I
feel asleep on the couch.

When I woke up it was coming up on dawn. I washed my hands and face in
the bathroom and tried to make myself look presentable. I had just put a
pot of coffee on the hot-plate when the phone rang.

"Is this Detective Maginess?" the voice said.

"Yeah, this is him."

"This is police dispatch. We just had a patrol car spot the vehicle you
had the bulletin out on."

"How long ago?"

"What?"

"How long ago did they spot it?"

"The call just came in, Detective. I put it right through to you."

I got the address. Then I threw on my hat and jacket and packed away
the .38 and the automatic and ran for the car.

****

I called him The Salesman. I didn't want to think of him by his real
name as I didn't want to give him that much. He was simply a salesman, a
guy who traveled around selling his Bibles. A sociopath who had killed a
damn good cop because that cop had recognized him for what he was, a
sociopath. He was The Salesman.

The Salesman had been out toting his wares around Los Angeles as if
nothing had happened, as if he were some saint, as if he wasn't a cold-
blooded killer. And at that point he was holed up in a crummy little
motel just off of the Santa Monica freeway, one of those really cheap
places that you could rent by the week or the month. It was seven
o'clock on Thursday and no doubt he was just getting up and getting
ready to go out and start his day. His automobile, a cream-colored Ford,
was parked in front of the motel with its license plate pointed at the
street. Which had made it easy for the cops to spot. I had gotten lucky.

If the Salesman was heading out of town he would bring his suitcase
out with him and I would tail him. If he wasn't, if he was staying in
town for more sales calls, he would simply leave with his samples and
return later. In the later case I would search his room and see what I
could find in the way of evidence.

Once again I got lucky. A half-hour later the Salesman came out of
Room 220 with his sample case and took off in the Ford. I reached into
the glove compartment and got Pete's old .38 snub-nose and put it in my
right pocket.

Then I headed for the hotel office. It took about two minutes and a
quick wave of the gold badge to get the duplicate key to the Salesman's
room. On my own as a lowly private-eye all I would have needed was a
good tune to hum and my lock-picking kit. But right at that moment I was
carrying the badge of a regular cop and I needed to do things by the
book. I used the office phone and called up Commissioner Porter.

"I need a search warrant" I told him. "I figured it would be faster
going right to the top. I'm not sure how long the suspect I've got holed
up is going to be around."

There was a brief pause on the line. "Okay, I've got you. Give me the
address. I'll get the warrant as fast as I can and bring it down myself."

About an hour later the Commissioner showed up with the warrant, which
was pretty damn fast considering the nature of the court system. My
guess was that Porter must have called in a favor.

"Damn swell of you to bring it down yourself, Commissioner" I said
through the window of the Plymouth. Then I filled him in quickly on the
case so far.

"So you think the punk still has the murder weapon?"

"The guy's got a couple of people on his list, if I'm correct. So,
yeah, I think he's got it. My guess is it's up in the room somewhere
right now."

"I'd love to be in on it with you, Maginess. Unfortunately I've got a
budget meeting. And you can't catch the bad guys without any money.
Anyhow, good luck."

The Commissioner left and I went back to the hotel office and showed
the clerk the warrant.

"If the guy comes back" I said, "don't say anything about me being
here. Got it?"

The guy nodded. I walked to Room 220 and started looking around. There
weren't that many places to hide things in the tiny, dumpy room. Beneath
some clothes in the dresser I found a .38 revolver.

"Bingo" I said, putting the .38 down on the dresser.

There were also a bunch of papers and what looked like a type of
diary. I sat down on the bed and started skimming the diary. It was the
journal of a nut case. I flipped to the back of the diary and turned the
pages in reverse. A few of the latest entries mentioned a Katherine
McKenzie, who was a member of the Police Academy review board. From the
sound of it she was next on the Salesman's list. But the one I really
wanted took me a few minutes to find in all of the insane ranting. It
was a description in detail of how the Salesman had followed Collins
around for a few days and then one morning had gotten up early and shot
him in his front yard and then had gone and got breakfast.

With the evidence I had already I could have called in and had the
Ford hunted down. But I wanted to get the guy myself. Sooner or later he
would come back to the motel. I put the .38 and the papers and diary
back where I had found them and locked the door behind me.

Not knowing how long the Salesman would be out I had no choice but to
stick it out in the car. At one point I ran in to the motel office and
used the rest room, and a little later was able get a get a booth at the
diner down the street were I could keep an eye on the motel parking lot
and get a sandwich. After a while I went back to the Plymouth and sipped
some rye and smoked. I tried to remain level-headed, but it was impossible.
The longer I sat in the car waiting the more the anger rose up in me. The
whiskey didn't help matters. Neither did the memory of the autopsy photos
taken of Pete, and the memory that the last four shots had hit him when he
was down.

Around three o'clock the cream-colored Ford finally pulled in. I
waited until the Salesman was in the room and followed him up.

I knocked. As soon as the door was open two inches I kicked it hard
just inside of the doorknob. The door exploded back, pushing the Salesman
about seven feet across the room and onto his back. I closed the door
behind me and took out Pete's revolver.

"Well, well. What have we here. A little piece of shit, I think. Oh,
wait. Maybe I'm wrong about that." I brought Pete's gun up and examined
it a bit, then leveled it again. "No, I think I was right the first
time. You're a little piece of shit."

The Salesman glared at me. I pulled the badge out and showed it to him.

"And don't worry. I've got a nice little warrant to go along with it.
In fact, I've already found a lot of interesting things in your room
while you were out. Like a diary, for one."

"It's a journal" he said, wiping his mouth. "A journal of the Lord."

"A journal of a murderous piece of shit, more like it. Stand up. Let's
go see some of your little relics."

The Salesman slowly got to his feet and I pushed him across the room
towards the dresser. I pulled open the top drawer and threw the diary
down on top and pulled out his gun and put it down on top of that. Then
I backed away a few feet.

"The cop you killed was my friend. So go ahead, go for the gun if you
want. I'd just love that."

"They're all godless heretics" he said, snarling at me.

"Yeah? Well, I'm a bit of a heretic myself. I even read books about
it. 'How to Be a Heretic in Ten Easy Lessons.' I pick them up at the
public library. So what are you going to do about that one? You going to
shoot me, too? Go ahead, pick up the gun."

The Salesman eyed the gun again, taking a step closer to it.

"The Lord knows what is right. He's written it down for us." The
Salesman nodded over at one of his Bibles. "It's all right there. I am
merely the instrument. The instrument of the Lord's justice. Like
Michael, the archangel."

"Well, Pete Collins was no angel. But he knew more about what was
right than you will in ten damn lifetimes, you frigging weasel. So go
ahead. Show me how tough you are. Reach for the gun. Hell, I'll even
make it easy for you."

I stuck the snub-nose back in my right pocket. The Salesman eyed
the .38 on the dresser. He was obviously weighing his chances. But in
the end cowardice won, as I pretty much figured it would. He stepped
back a little, and I could tell that he had made up his mind to let me
take him in.

"Good decision" I told him.

I pulled the .38 out again and leveled it and walked up close. Then I
took his gun off the dresser and tossed it over onto the bed.

"Get down on your knees and put your hands behind your head."

He stared at me, but didn't move. I walked to the side of him and
kicked him hard in the back of his left kneecap. He fell solid onto his
knees with the force of it.

"Now put your hands behind your head." When he didn't respond to that
either I grabbed his left wrist and put it up behind his head. "Now the
other one." I tapped the side of the revolver into his head and he
brought his right hand up with the left one.

I moved around behind him and pushed his head down and put the barrel
of Pete's gun up to the back of his neck.

"I got reports of people shot like this in the war. People forced down
on their knees, just like you are, and shot in the back of the head like
it was nothing. Shot by people who thought they knew everything. By people
who thought they had all the answers that everybody needed. By people like
you. By evil bastards. So maybe it's your turn now. Put one down on the
other side of the scale for a change."

There was perspiration on the Salesman's forehead and his breathing
was rapid.

"You going to beg for your life? What do you think? You think you can
beg for your miserable life? Hey, I'm a fair guy. I just might let you
live if you do. So go ahead, beg. Otherwise I'm going to count to ten.
And then put a bullet into your skinny little brain."

His breathing increased to an even more rapid rate and I thought that
soon he was going to go into convulsions. But he didn't beg. He didn't
say a word.

"No, I didn't think so" I said to him in disgust.

I hit him in the back of the head with the butt of the gun and he
collapsed onto the floor unconscious.

"Courtesy of all us heretics" I said, my heart racing.

And then I phoned the police.

****

"I just wanted to call you and say good work" Commissioner Porter said
over the phone. "The A.D.A. tells me the case looks real solid.
Ballistics was a match, and we've got the stuff you found on Katherine
McKenzie. We're going to try for a conspiracy charge on that one."

"That's good, Commissioner. Thanks for calling."

"One more thing, Maginess. You know we've got a real shortage of
detectives right now. We could use a man with your experience. What
say you just keep that gold shield I gave you and come work for me?"

I didn't know what to say, really.

"I'll have to think about it" I said.

"Of course. Come talk with me. The job doesn't pay much, but you'll
get at least a little something in retirement."

After the call I got a beer out of the refrigerator. I sipped it and
smoked a cigarette, my feet up on the desk. I listened to the gentle
sounds of traffic coming off of Wilshire from below and studied the
striped patterns made by the afternoon light coming through the blinds.
I thought about Pete Collins and the man he was. And then I thought
about the things me and Pete had been through in the war and the things
that I had done since and the things that I might have left to do in the
world.

"What the hell, might as well."

I found a big manila envelope in the desk and addressed it to Porter,
Commissioner, L.A.P.D. I put the wallet with the gold shield in it and
licked a few stamps. The I went downstairs to the mailbox.

"Arrivederci, Pete" I said, suddenly feeling a little bit better about
things. I hesitated for a second, then dropped the envelope in the mailbox
and went back to the office.

THE END

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