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Private-Eye Pat Maginess gets into a rough spot and takes care of one very annoying cat.


"All My Todays"

a Pat Maginess private-eye story

by

Edward Piercy

[Cover Art by Georgi Dinev]

Los Angeles, 1952

"I would never shoot a cat" I said, finishing off my third rye of the
afternoon. "Not unless they really had it coming to 'em."

Carmen, my secretary, looked over at me and smiled. She was sitting on
the chaise lounge wearing her blue bathing suit to get some sun. She had
a big floppy hat on and sandal-type heels and a pair of big, black bug-
eye sunglasses. One thing about Carmen, she always managed to dress
really spiffy on the small salary I paid her.

"That's really nice of you, Mr. Maginess" she said, turning a page in
her magazine. "Cats are really cute."

"Well, some of them are, anyway" I said. "That big old grey-and-white
tom that keeps getting into my trashcan, he's not so cute. And I think
he has the skills of a damn safecracker. Hell, I can barely get the lid
off that trashcan myself. One thing, I'm getting really tired of him
getting into it and waking me up in the middle of the night. Not to
mention the trash I have to pick up the next morning."

"Maybe he'll just go away" Carmen said, being the eternal optimist.

"Yeah, maybe he'll decide to take a nice vacation to Hawaii. And then
decide to stay. I should get so lucky."

I had been on a kind of vacation myself the past weeks, though it
hadn't been on purpose. The private-eye game has its ups and downs and
right then business was slow. I hadn't even gotten so much as a divorce
case in almost two weeks. But I had been pretty lucky in terms of big
cases since the previous December and had a nice bundle stashed in the
bank. Even with the money I had spent on the little house I had bought
I figured that I could live and keep up Carmen's salary and my office
for about a year.

"So, are you still going out to buy a surf board tomorrow, Carmen?"

"Yeah. If it's still okay to take the day off."

"It's okay. If you need any time off, now's certainly the time to do
it. I was thinking of not opening up the office tomorrow anyway. I
thought I might take a little drive out to Riverside."

"The women's prison again?" she asked, frowning. "To see that Brooke
girl?"

"Yeah, Carmen. To see Brooke."

Carmen flipped past several pages of her magazine. But it was obvious
she wasn't paying any attention to what she was looking at. She stopped
flipping pages and put the magazine down.

"Can I ask you a personal question, Mr. Maginess? Why do you go out to
see her? I mean, she murdered two people, right?"

"So what's your point exactly, Carmen?" The question seemed ludicrous
as soon as it came out of my mouth. But I stuck to my guns anyway.

Carmen shrugged. "Well, I don't have any experience at love, Mr.
Maginess. But it seems kind of strange is all."

She was right, of course. It was very strange.

"Well, she was a client and all."

"True. But you were also the person that put her in prison in the
first place."

"Also true" I said.

I was about to get up and make another rye and ginger when the phone
rang. It was Christine, my ex-girlfriend. And my ex-fiance as well. I
hadn't talked with her in two months.

"Christine, how are you?"

"Oh, fine. Look, the reason I called is I'd like to talk with you. Do
you think you could stop by the auction house tomorrow afternoon? Maybe
we could take a little walk or something."

"Yeah, I suppose I could do that. Things are really dead right now.
What time?"

"Oh, no special time. Just sometime in the afternoon."

"Okay. I'll stop by. How are you? Do you need anything? Anything I can
bring you?"

"No, Pat. Just make sure you stop by, okay? It's kind of important."

After the call I finally made my drink and went back to the patio.
The phone call bothered me, coming out of the blue like that after two
months.

"Oh, well. I guess I'll find out tomorrow."

"What's that, Mr. Maginess?"

"Christine wants to see me. But I don't know, maybe I should have told
her I was going shopping for a surf board."

********

The next morning I put on my new dark grey suit and a red-and-blue
striped tie and headed out for Riverside and the Southern California
Correctional Institute for Women. It was a long drive, and as usual I
spent the time thinking about Brooke. I had been coming out to see her
for a good number of months, since the previous June when she had hired me
to look into the unsolved murder of her father, a case which had been
cold since 1941. Since then I had been out to see her two or three times
a month. The hour-long drive it took would get me fifteen minutes with
Brooke, given that I wasn't her lawyer. It was worth it. Frustrating,
but worth it. In some way, I loved her. It was seldom that I could ever
figure it all enough to get beyond just that, that in some way or
another, I loved her.

I parked in the lot and was escorted to the guard station, where they
checked my guns in and took the box of candy that I had brought for
Brooke. Then a guard led me down a long hall and into the visitors room.
The room was empty except for the presence of a guard at the back inner
door to the rest of the prison. I knew it would take at least twenty
minutes for them to bring Brooke up. I paced and smoked a cigarette. I
didn't want to sit down, as I wanted to see her the minute she came
through the door.

A little while later there was a buzzing sound and the guard opened
the inner steel door. Brooke walked in, standing just at five foot in
her flat prison loafers. Lightening bolts flashed across her iceberg
blue eyes and then, seeing me there, calmed a bit. Her lashes were
sparse and even paler the her pale blonde hair, which fell down to her
shoulders and the top of her gray, short-sleeved prison dress. Somehow
on Brooke the dress looked like a three-hundred dollar designer special.
She walked up to the chair across from me and sat down and pulled the
chair forward from underneath, like a fifth grader getting ready for her
lessons. I took my chair and looked at her. Her eyes were intense and
had a pull to them that could have brought down the moon to the earth. I
called her my tiny witch, and for good reason.

"Did you bring me any chocolates?" she said, getting right down to it.

"Of course, Brooke. I always bring you chocolates. You know that."

She got a puzzled look on her face, then shrugged.

"I know" she said finally.

"I brought you a new kind this time. Very expensive. The woman at the
candy store told me they were really good. Made in Switzerland."

"I liked the ones you brought the last time."

"Well, maybe these will be even better then" I suggested. Brooke
thought it over.

"Maybe."

We sat there for a bit, almost like two lovers sitting on the beach on
a nice day watching the waves come in. Except that we were in the middle
of a concrete and steel prison. I leaned back in the chair and crossed
my legs and tried to relax.

"I read that play you girls put on. You know, Our Town. It was really
good."

"It was fun" she said. "And I remembered all my lines."

"I remember you telling me that."

There was another lull in the conversation. Brooke studied me like she
was reading a newspaper, though I doubted if she had ever read a real
newspaper in her life. Of all the people I had ever known, Brooke's
powers of intuition were the strongest. Which for some reason tended to
make her not the best in normal conversation. She sat with her hands on
her knees and looked at me while I tried not to think about her legs
being just under the table and so close. I wanted to rip the table apart
and get down on my knees in front of her, run my hands down over her
knees and around her perfectly curved calves all the way to her ankles.

"Anyway" I said, jerking myself out of the fantasy.

Brooke looked at me a few moments, and the false smile disappeared.
"What's wrong?" she said.

"Wrong? Nothing's wrong, really. Work is slow is all. No cases."

"You need a new job" she said.

"I don't think that's possible, Brooke."

"You need a new job" she said again, this time more emphatically.

"Maybe" I finally said. We sat in silence again for a while.

"So, Brooke" I said, "anything interesting happen in here lately? You
plan on putting on any more plays or anything?"

Brooke thought about it a few seconds. Then she leaned forward a bit so
she could speak more quietly.

"This girl who looked like a big bear tried to take my hairbrush."

"Really?" I said, almost afraid to ask. "So what happened?"

"I hit her over the head with an iron" she said simply.

"Oh."

"And then they took her to the hospital."

She looked down at the table and nodded her head and her mouth
scrunched up a bit in a what-can-you-do about it all look.

"And what about your combs? Nobody tried to take your combs, did
they?"

The lightening bolts came into Brooke's eyes for a second, then faded.

"Noooo…" she said, giving me one of her smiles.

"Well, that's a relief. You know, Brooke, this prison only has so many
inmates. And if you've got a lot of hair care items back there…well,
I don't know if this place can survive."

Brooke gave me a devilish look. "Bad dog. Your my bad little doggie."

"And did they take away your iron?" I asked, avoiding her dog comment.

Brooke just laughed. She had a strange laugh, like a Peregrine falcon
trying to say "Aw heck." In any case, that answered my question. I
should have known better anyway.

"Well, I'm certainly glad to hear that you're doing so well in here,
Brooke" I said, putting on a smile and nodding pleasantly. "I worry about
you."

"You do?"

"Sure." I did worry about her, though I wasn't exactly sure why.
Brooke was the type of girl that if you would throw her into a pit with
a bunch of lions, the smart money would bet against the lions. And for
good reason. As far as I knew she had only made one mistake in her life,
and that was against me. And I had sent her to prison because of it. But
she had been fighting the lions since she was fifteen years old. And in
spite of her one mistake she was very, very good at it.

"Five minutes" the door guard called out to us.

Brooke brought her hand up over the low partition.

"Did you bribe the guard again?" I asked.

"Of course" she said.

I reached up and took her hand. The false, efficient smile was gone
again. She seemed almost panicked by the thought of my leaving. I rubbed
the back of her hand with my thumb a few minutes, neither of us talking.
Her hand was tiny and pale and soft.

"Pat" she said softly, her eyelids half closed.

I felt an ache all the way down into the center of my self.

"Brooke."

The guard looked the other way and pretended he didn't see us.

********

I drove back into Los Angeles replaying my time with Brooke and wishing
that the roads from Riverside were better and didn't make my old
Plymouth bump up and down like a carnival ride. Although there was no
real reason to do so, I decided to stop in at the office and sort
through some mail before going to see Christine. It was right about
noon by the time I finally pulled up on Wilshire. I took the elevator up
to the third floor, humming an old tune that I hadn't thought about in
years, "I'll Be Seeing You."

I stuck the key in the door and turned the handle. As soon as I had the
door halfway open the little red light went off in my head. I paused and
listened a few seconds. Must be your imagination, I said to myself. I
pushed the door open the rest of the way.

As soon as I was through the door somebody from inside pushed it closed
and hit me on the head with something hard and metal. I was dazed and my
reaction time slowed. A short man with a heavy jaw held a .45 automatic
on me. In a matter of seconds he grabbed my right lapel with his right
hand, spun me around facing him. He reached in and took the .38 out of
my shoulder holster. With his gun leveled at me there was nothing I
could do about it. Then he hit me good and hard on the head with the
side of my gun. I went light-headed and fell onto the floor on my right
side just to the front of my desk.

It took a minute for my brain to start working properly. When it did I
looked up. The short man stood over me, a big sarcastic grin on his
face.

It was Skippy Bennett. Skippy was short and wiry with an oversize jaw
and the look of a bellhop about him. Which is what he had been for a
number of years, a bell hop. He was wearing a ten-year-old green suit
that had seen better days and a grey hat.

Five or so years earlier I had got Skippy on an insurance scam and he
had come to my apartment and shot me. He came pretty close to killing
me, and would have if things had gone a bit differently or if the shot
had been an inch further toward my liver. I left the hospital twenty-
four hours later with a big old bandage on my right side and loaded up
on pain killers. I tracked Skippy down and sent him away.

"Well hello, Skippy" I said. "Good to see you again."

Skippy grinned.

"I bet you are, peeper. But you won't be so glad in a few minutes."

I needed to slow things down a bit and give myself a chance to get out
of the situation, if possible.

"Seems like you picked up a few nice tricks in prison, Skippy. That
was a real professional knocking over you gave me. And you even managed
to get my gun while you were at it. So, I take it you picked the lock as
well?"

"Yeah. I learned a lot of things in prison. Not much to do, you know."

"Well, I'm sure that all of them will be valuable job skills, Skippy."

Skippy had gotten my .38, but I still had the little .22 automatic that
I carried in my right pocket. Lying on my right side like I was at that
point the .22 was just about under my hip.

"I've been doin' a lot of thinkin' about things in prison, peeper" he
said. "And one of the things I've been thinkin' about real bad is how I
was gonna put a couple of bullet holes in you."

"You already shot me once the last time, Skippy. Don't you think twice
would be kind of redundant?"

"Redundant? What's that? Are you calling me stupid or something?"

"Wouldn't think of it."

"Then you're sayin' what? That I'm short? Cause I'm a full five-foot-
five."

"Not that one either. You're a true giant among men, Skippy. Hey, you
know, I'm kinda thirsty. You think it'd be all right if I get up and get
me a whiskey? We can both have one, in fact. Just me and you. A final
drink together."

He thought it over. "Where's the whiskey at?"

I nodded over my shoulder at the desk. "In the desk. Bottom drawer on
the left. You can't miss it."

"Okay, but you just stay right where you are. Or you'll never get that
last drink."

Skippy walked over to behind the desk. When he got to the other side I
tilted my torso a few inches to the left, slowly so that he wouldn't
notice. I was able to get into my jacket pocket and slide my hand
down over the automatic and slide the safety off.

Skippy walked around with the bottle and a couple of glasses, the gun
still leveled at me.

"Great" I said. "A last drink. What we need is some ice in it. That'll
make it just perfect. I've got some in the little refrigerator in the
corner there. What say I just get up and get us some ice?" I made like I
was going to get up off the floor.

"You just stay where you are, peeper. I'll get the ice. And don't
you move."

Skippy headed over to the refrigerator. He was left handed, carrying
the gun in that hand. The refrigerator in the rear corner of the office
was at about a twenty degree angle in front of me and opened from right
to left. If he kept the gun in his hand when he opened the door I would
have the advantage. Which was exactly what happened. He opened the door
with his right hand and swung it and held it open with his left, the gun
resting on the top of the door on the far side. Then he leaned over and
peeked inside the refrigerator looking for the ice.

I would have preferred just to have gotten the drop on him. But it was
a .45 against a little .22 at fifteen feet, and I figured that if I merely
turned the gun on him I would more than likely end up dead. I had no choice
but to take the shot. I turned over on my back and jerked my hand out of my
pocket, extended my arm as best I could and fired off two shots. Skippy by
that time had turned toward me, but it was too late.

One of the shots hit him in the upper right shoulder. He fell back
against the refrigerator door. Then he brought the .45 up. I fired twice
more, and he leaned forward and began walking across the floor in slow
heavy steps, head down, like Frankenstein. He raised his head and started
to bring the .45 up again. I fired two more shots. The gun fell out of his
hand and he collapsed onto his forearms, rear up in the air a bit. Then he
made a gurgling sound and fell the rest of the way onto his stomach.

I remained on the floor a bit, my heart racing, staring over at Skippy. Then
I pulled myself up and went over to him and checked for a pulse. There wasn't
one. There was a trail of blood from the far wall all across the floor to where
he was laying.

Poor Skippy. Some guys were just the type to always get in over their
head.

********

Five hours later the police had finally asked all their questions ten
times each and they had taken Skippy's body out. I made the drink that
Skippy and me had never gotten around to and sipped it down. There was
an awful lot of blood on the floor. But that was going to be a clean-up
job for another day. There was no way in hell I felt like doing it right
then.

I had called Christine while the cops were milling around to let her
know what the situation was. We had arranged to meet at her apartment
instead. I finished the drink and drove over to her place, with scenes
from my encounter with Skippy blending in with more pleasant scenes of
Christine's apartment and the times we had shared living together. And
in between the cracks images of Brooke would seep into it as well, and
every time they did I found myself wishing that I was just back at the
ugly concrete and steel prison, sitting across from her.

"Sorry about events" I told Christine when she answered the door. "There
was nothing I could do about it, Chris."

"I know, Pat" she said, taking off her painter's smock. She was wearing
a light-gray dress with a white lace collar and black flats. With her short
black hair and dark green eyes and the dress, she looked like some English
princess at Windsor palace.

"I've been thinking about that, actually. Since you called this
afternoon it's practically all I've been thinking about. Pat, I've spent
a lot of time blaming you for all of this. It just felt like a betrayal.
It was a betrayal, actually. But to be honest, I don't know how much
longer I could have taken what you do for a living."

"It's a tough job" I finally said.

She turned to me and walked up close. "I just ran as fast as I could
into your arms, Pat Maginess. And I loved it. But then last December
came. And they beat the hell out of you. I didn't say anything. I tried
to be brave. But I just couldn't. It tore me up inside."

I didn't know what to say, really.

"Let's go for a walk, Chris. It's a nice evening."

We walked up Christine's block, with no particular destination in mind.

"How's your new house?" she said after a bit.

"It's nice, I guess. More stuff to take care of than an apartment. But
it has a back patio that looks out over the canyon. It's nice just to
sit out there and not see buildings and stoplights and billboards."

"I'm glad for you. I think with your job you need someplace where you
can be more alone afterward. Away from the hustle and bustle."

"Maybe. I do like it."

We continued down the block a bit. The temperature was cool, and there
was a nice gentle breeze blowing that seemed to wrap the cool air around
you like a silk jacket.

"So, what did you want to see me about?" I said finally, hating to ask.

Christine dug into her sweater pocket and pulled out the big diamond
engagement ring I had given her and stuck it out in my direction.
"Your ring. You might as well have it back."

I was about ready to suggest that she keep it until I realized just
how stupid that was. She was cutting the final cord. I reached out and
took the ring.

"I'm sorry, Chris. I really am."

"Are you?" she said, stopping suddenly. "So tell me. Are you still
going out to the women's prison? To see your tiny witch?"

There wasn't any anger in her voice. Just pain. Which was certainly
worse. In any case I couldn't deny it.

"That's what I thought" she said, walking again. She walked with her
arms crossed, looking only half-at me, the way women sometimes do when
what they really want to do is to tell you to go to hell but don't have
the guts to say it.

"Pat, you need to forget her and get on with your life. Go out and
meet a real girl, not some sort of fairy tale that you're living in your
head."

I took off my hat and found myself playing with the brim a bit. Off in
the distance a fire truck turned a corner and roared off to somewhere
in a big hurry.

"That's what the fairy tale means, Chris. It means you can't forget."

********

I woke up the next morning in a bad mood. The stray tom cat had broken
into the trash can again during the night and had woken me up. After
that I had tossed and turned in bed thinking about my conversation with
Christine. I had finally gotten back to sleep, but it wasn't the kind of
restful sleep that you ordinarily get.

I decided that my main agenda for the day was to mop the blood up from
the office floor and then to take care of the damn cat problem, one way
or another. I put on a pair of old pants and my Army G.I. sweatshirt and
put my baseball cap on and headed for the office. It was a gruesome task
mopping the blood up. I wished that it could have played out differently.
I never did like Skippy, it was true. The guy had shot me and nearly killed
me way back then. But I felt terrible anyway. The fact that I had no choice
didn't make it any easier. After taking care of the office I drove to a
local hardware store.

"I need a short ladder" I told the clerk. "Maybe about three feet high
or so. You got one of those around?"

"Wood or metal?" the guy asked.

"Well, it probably doesn't make any difference. But wood would be
nice."

He took me to a small collection of ladders of various sizes and
pointed out a short one. It was the right height and was painted a dark
blue.

"I'll take it" I told him.

I went home and took the little ladder into the back yard. I tossed
the trashcan lid off to the side and put the ladder up close to the can.
It was my hope that the ladder would make it easy for the old grey cat
that had been coming around to get into the can, and maybe easy to get
out of as well. That way he wouldn't have to break into the thing and
make all that noise or knock it over.

"And if this doesn't work, Mr. Tom, I might just very well shoot your
ass after all."

After taking care of the trash can I spent a little time on the yard.
I got my scythe and went around the yard, swinging it at the tall tuffs
of grass that managed to grow up around the rocks and the dirt. It wasn't
much of a yard, I suppose. But it was relaxing swinging the scythe.
After the yard work I made a mid-afternoon breakfast.

I was just making myself my first drink of the day when Carmen walked
in. I had given her the spare key to the place in case of an emergency
or in case she wanted to come over and lay out on the patio. She had her
blue bathing suit on again, and her bug-eye sunglasses.

"Did you get your surf board, Carmen?"

"They didn't have one my size. They're going to have to special order
it. I guess I'm just too darn big, Mr. Maginess."

"You're beautiful, Carmen. Every inch of that six feet. And don't you
ever forget it. Now, why don't you grab some orange juice from the
refrigerator and we'll go out on the patio."

Her spirits seemed to bounce back a little.

"Okay, Mr. Maginess."

We sat out on the patio and sipped our drinks, neither of us saying
much. Carmen flipped through a magazine and I looked out over the canyon
and let my thoughts just drift.

Christine had been right, of course. In a way I was living in a fairy
tale. A world that was just me and Brooke, the tiny witch and her
faithful dog who followed her around all day and licked her pretty
little heel in the middle of a dark enchanted forest. But more and more
I had been feeling that the dark cloud that Christine sensed had nothing
to do with Brooke, but more with the so-called real world around me. It was
a world with yet another raging war. It was a world in which my temples grew
whiter and my heart a little weaker with every passing month. It was a world
in which only twenty-four hours earlier I was forced to kill a man simply
because he was too stupid to leave well-enough alone. Next to all of that,
the fairy-tale world was looking pretty damn good to me.

In the fairy tale world, nothing ever changed. Tomorrow would come.
And it would be exactly like today. It would just be another today, all
over again.

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