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DARKNESS AROUND ME LIKE A CLOAK

a Pat Maginess private-eye novel

by

Edward Piercy

(Proof of 8/04/2006)

Cover Art:
"Chinatown" by Tyrus Wong

To My Mom and Dad and Sister
And for Baron, My Dog
All My Love, and This Book

A great Hope fell
You heard no nois
The Ruin was within
Oh cunning wreck that told no tale
And let no witness in

— Emily Dickinson (Johnson: 1123)

Los Angeles, 1951

CHAPTER ONE

The harsh white light that came down upon the young girl's face threw
relief upon her thin, sculpted, slightly downturned lips, causing a
slight shadow above her narrow pointed chin. Her large round eyes
existed in even deeper shadow, which only brought forth more starkly the
the ridge of her long aquiline nose. Her throat was brilliantly lit in
that context, unnaturally upturned as it was, and the light continued
down onto her narrow sloping shoulders and descended into another
darkness around the muscles of her upper arms. The slight expanse of
chest that existed above the white cotton sheet placed over her was
flattish and held no sense of form, with the sheet continuing down over
inches and inches of her until it ended in a pair of pale bruised ankles
and a couple of thin, bony, rather unattractive looking feet.

Ordinarily I would have estimated the girl's age to be about thirty or
so, and a very worn thirty at that. But in fact I knew that the girl had
not even reached her twenty-first birthday. That's what heroin does to
you, I thought. It makes you old before your time. And then it kills you
just to rub it in.

"How long has she been dead?" I asked the Coroner. I was almost afraid
to hear the answer.

"Probably two days" he said. "No sign of rigor left, and well into
decomposition now."

If the girl had been dead two days that meant that she had died about
the time I started looking for her. But that hardly made me feel any
better. My stomach throbbed and I needed a drink, a smoke, maybe a new
job altogether.

The Coroner had been standing at a respectful distance as I viewed the
girl, but now that I seemed to be communicating he approached the table.
He was a very patrician-looking man in his sixties, fairly bald but
with a laurel of silver hair around the back and sides of his head. He
had been getting ready to do the autopsy when I slammed through the
double doors into the morgue. He was wearing his surgical gown, a
scalpel still in his right hand.

He came over to the autopsy table, put the scalpel down and raised the
sheet, exposing the girl's right arm.

"As you can see, there are quite a few needle marks here. The fresh
bruising here indicates she was injecting into this arm most recently."

He reached across her and pulled the sheet down over the other arm.

"She was using this arm to begin with. She no doubt switched to the
other arm when the veins in this arm could no longer handle the
injections. No needle marks elsewhere on her, though. So not as bad as
some I've seen."

The Coroner gently replaced the sheets over the girl's arms and looked
up at me.

"So she was a relative of yours?" the Coroner asked.

"No, no she wasn't" I said. "Her father hired me to find her."

The Coroner nodded, straightening the sheet a little at his side of
the table.

"I guess I found her" I said, sick once again.

We stood there over the girl for a few seconds in silence. The Coroner
reached into his back pocket and took out a handkerchief, took off his
wire-rim eyeglasses and began cleaning them. I knew I should get out my
notebook and ask some questions. I was going to have to report back to
the girl's father, who no doubt would want as much information as
possible. But somehow the notebook seemed too impersonal given the
surroundings. I decided just to keep it in my head for now, in my head
and in the pit of my stomach.

"So she died of an overdose?" I asked finally.

"Yes" he said, slowly settling his eyeglasses back onto his nose. "I
have yet to do the autopsy, but that would be my determination at this
point. She didn't seem to have been using too long, however."

"She's been missing for about three months or so" I told him.

"I would say that is consistent with what I'm seeing here. If she had
been using less frequently over a longer period of time she wouldn't
have damaged the veins on her left arm. And the daily use is suggested
by the number of recent punctures and the recent bruising on her right
arm."

I made a mental note of that, then went on to something else that had
been bothering me.

"What about the bruises on her ankles, doctor? What do you make of
those?"

He moved down to the bottom of the table and pulled the sheet up a bit
to about mid-calves.

"As you noticed, there is bruising to her ankles, also on the backs of
her calves."

"What would cause that?" I asked him.

The Coroner shook his head and pulled the sheet back down.

"Nothing good" he said. "It looks to me like she's been beaten with
something. A blackjack, perhaps. Or maybe a nightstick. But there are
also some small cuts here and there around the same area. Frankly, I
don't know what to make of that except to say that the cuts might have
been caused by something metal. So maybe what we're talking about here
is a metal pipe. But that's just speculation."

"Have you ever seen any bruising like that before?"

"No. But this is San Bernadino. We're a relative backwater compared to
Los Angeles. I get narcotics users in here every once in a while. But I
haven't seen anything like this. This almost looks like…"

His voice lowered a bit and he shook his head again. "Like torture of
some sort."

My stomach rumbled again, and along with it I felt my anger rise up. I
needed to get out of the morgue and back to the Plymouth and to a good
stiff drink to calm myself down. I got out one of my business cards and
handed it to the Coroner.

"I appreciate the information and the time, Doctor. When you're
finished here, please contact me at the number on the card. I'll make
arrangements for the family."

"Of course" he said, taking the card. "It shouldn't take too long.
Probably today for the autopsy itself, tomorrow for the paperwork to be
completed. So we're probably talking about the day after tomorrow. Then
she'll be ready to go home."

"And if it's all right, I'd like a copy of the autopsy report mailed
to me, when you get the chance."

"Well…" The Coroner looked down at my card and read a bit and then
looked back up at me. "Mr. Maginess, it is not really our practice to
provide that information to the public. We issue the death certificate,
that's pretty much it."

"I can understand that, Doctor. But I'm a licensed private
investigator working for the family. And you have to admit these are
rather unusual circumstances. It isn't as if she was killed in an
automobile accident. My job now is to make sure that the family gets all
the information they need to set their minds at rest, but not so much as
to be devastating for them. I'm sure you're a man who can appreciate
that."

The Coroner considered that for a minute.

"Well, I suppose that a copy might accidentally make its way to you
over the next few days. A bureaucratic error of some sort."

"And if it did, I'd just have to forget it ever happened" I said.
"Also, I'd like to look through her personal effects if you don't mind.
Maybe there's something I can return to her parents."

The Coroner led me over to a small table in the corner of the room.

"This is it, I'm afraid."

I looked through the small box on the table. There was a pink dress
with sleeves that would have come down to the elbows, a pair of low-
heeled black shoes and a white bra and panties.

"This is all there was?" I asked him. "No jewelry or anything? No
purse?"

"That was everything she came in with" he said.

It didn't seem like much for a girl from a rich family, a girl who had
gone to the best schools and had friends who were children of the
wealthiest people in Los Angeles.

"When it comes to death I guess we all go out poor as mice" I said to
myself and to no one in particular.

"Excuse me, did you say something?" the Coroner asked.

"No, never mind" I told him.

I thanked the Coroner and pushed back through the double doors of the
morgue into the wide tiled hallway beyond. I hadn't told the Corner the
complete truth. I wanted the autopsy results for myself, not the family.
Jenny Foucalt was now lying dead on a cold table, and though there
wasn't anything I could have done to prevent her death I still felt an
incredible amount of frustration that lodged itself into my muscles like
a chill wind. I wasn't sure if the autopsy report would reveal any more
information than I currently had. But if it did I wanted to know it.

Then there was the matter of the bruising on Jenny's ankles. As I
walked out of the San Bernadino Health Building and climbed into the
Plymouth, I felt the anger inside of me rise again. Though I didn't have
much experience either as a P.I. or in the Military Police dealing with
narcotics users, I was pretty sure that getting beaten on the ankles
wasn't a normal part of heroin use.

********

I hit the highway and headed west back towards L.A. It being about two
weeks short of Christmas the sun was setting early, but it still had an
intensity about it that caused me to pull the left visor down so that I
could see the road. I had a bottle of rye in the glove compartment that
I sipped on, but after about twenty minutes the warm booze began to burn
my stomach. I had fixed the old '36 Plymouth up pretty nice a few months
back after receiving a big bonus from a client, but unfortunately having
an icebox installed in the thing wasn't possible.

A few minutes later I spotted a place along the highway that looked
like it might serve a cold drink. It was one of those desert-type bars
that sell gas out front and also dish out some sort of food to people
unlucky enough to have to eat there. There were a couple of motorcycles
out front, a pick-up truck, and a Ford even older than my Plymouth. The
sign over the place said Sunset Depot. I could just imagine what it was
like on the inside, but at that point any place that had ice would be an
oasis.

The interior of the place wasn't nearly as bad as the exterior. In
fact I found myself thinking that even in L.A. it would be a pretty nice
joint, Hollywood excluded. There was a pool table over to the left, a
small empty stage made out of what looked like painted plywood in the
back, a dozen or so small tables in front of the stage, and an L-shaped
bar that stretched out from the right rear of the room and then turned
and ran straight all the way to the right wall. There were beer and
other advertising signs all over the walls and a large stuffed bull head
on the bulkhead over the bar. The color scheme was a mixture of black
and reds and pale tans that had obviously been applied to fix the place
up a bit over a period of a decade. There were four people in the place,
a couple of young guys playing pool, one old gentleman sitting at a
table by himself working on a beer, and the bartender.

"Rye and ginger" I said, pushing myself up to the bar. "On the rocks.
Lots of rocks." My eyes had now fully adjusted to the dark bar after
coming in from the bright light outside.

The bartender came down with my drink. He was about my own height but
rather on the soft side in the belly. He was wearing a red short-sleeved
plaid shirt with a tan leather vest over it and had a mustache and
goatee. There were tattoos on his forearms and he had an old weather
beaten cowboy hat on his head.

"That'll be a buck" he said, setting the drink down in front of me.

I handed him a fiver. He went back down to the register at the same
stately pace that he had used when he had brought me my drink and then
returned with the change. He had a rather personable smile, as if to say
that everything was fine, no need to worry about things, everything will
always be just fine.

"You from Los Angeles?" he asked, leaning over the counter.

"Yeah. Just heading back" I told him. There wasn't much whiskey in the
drink he had poured, but there was plenty of ice and it felt great going
down. I lit a Pall Mall and sat down on one of the bar stools.

"I figured as much. The raincoat and all. I hear you've been getting
some pretty cool weather over there."

"Yeah, very cool, in fact. I guess this raincoat looks sort of out of
place. Considering that it's about eighty degrees in these parts."

The bartender shrugged.

"We get all types."

I noticed the tattoos on the bartender's forearms.

"You were Navy?" I asked him, lighting another smoke with the Ronson.

"Yeah. Gunner's Mate. Saw some action. Got fed well. Met some nice
people."

The way the bartender described it made his service in the war seem
like a not-too-unpleasant cruise on the Queen Mary. I had to admit to
myself that his attitude towards life was a rather pleasant one, if
slightly unrealistic.

"What about you?" he said, with same easy-going smile.

"Army. Military police, later C.I.D."

The bartender just smiled and shook his head, as if to say that was
pretty good, that just about everything in life was pretty good. In
spite of the rather unusual environment, I found myself liking the guy.

"We could use a guy like you around here, if you need a job. This place
might not look like much now, but in about four hours we'll be packed to
the ceiling. Things can get a bit rowdy."

"You look like a guy that can handle yourself" I told him.

"Maybe" he smiled. "But I really don't like to get into those kinds of
things. See those guys playing pool? They come in just about every night
and get into some sort of trouble. And then I throw them out. And then
they come back the next day. I guess that's the way it is around here."

Just on a lark I reached in and pulled out the photo of Jenny Foucalt
that I had been carrying around with me for the past two days.

"You ever see this girl in here by any chance?" I asked him. As I set
the photo on the bar he looked down at it, and as he did so his smile
disappeared for a second and then returned.

"Nope. Haven't seen her" he said, looking at the photo for a few more
seconds. He looked back up at me and gently pushed the photo back.

He was lying. That split second that the smile had disappeared from his
face had told me that.

"No? Well, I didn't think so. Doesn't hurt to check."

"No, doesn't hurt to check" he agreed.

I stored my cigarette in my mouth for a second and reached out my hand
to him.

"Name's Pat" I said. "Pat Maginess."

"Bill Black" he said, taking my hand. "But everyone around here calls
me Buzzsaw."

As he took my hand I almost winced. He had that same, steely grip that
I had noticed on a lot of Navy guys. I figured that it had something to
do with turning huge wrenches around large bolt nuts. And right at that
point, Buzzsaw seemed to be wrenching the truth around a bit too.

"Why Buzzsaw?" I asked.

"Oh, I sometimes fix things up around here. So I use the saw. But what
can you do? People give you a name, that's okay by me."

"Well, Buzzsaw. You got a telephone around here? I need to call back
to the office."

Buzzsaw nodded his head in the direction of the wall directly behind
me.

"You need change? The rates between here and L.A. just went up. A buck
should do."

"Sure, Buzzsaw. Whatever you recommend."

Buzzsaw gave me some hard change for a dollar bill and I went over to
the phone booth. As usual, I had to stuff myself into the small seat
inside the booth and then try to get the door closed around my legs. Why
they didn't make the booths larger was a mystery known only to the
telephone company.

I gave the operator the number for the Los Angeles Auction House,
where my girl Christine worked as an art advisor and receptionist. After
dropping in the right coins the operator connected me, and I heard the
phone on the other end ringing as if from a distance. After about
fifteen rings Christine picked up.

"Hey, Chris. Pat."

"Hey, Pat. How are you? I was beginning to wonder."

"Sorry. I just pulled out of San Bernadino a few minutes back. Had to
follow some leads out this way."

"Did you find the missing girl yet?"

I didn't know exactly what to say. I didn't really like to tell
Christine about the bad stuff that happened on a case. But of course the
few seconds that I paused pretty much tipped her off anyway.

"Oh" she said, so softly that I could barely hear her. "Bad news, I
guess, then."

"I'm afraid so. Look, I was going to wait until tomorrow to see her
father anyway. I think what I'll do first is stay around here and ask
some more questions. There are a few odd things I don't like about this
one. But I should be back in later tonight."

"Why don't I meet you at the Alley Cat?" she said. "You can have a few
drinks, maybe get your mind off things before we go home."

We agreed to meet at the Alley Cat, our favorite local bar, with the
provision that if I didn't make it in by about ten o'clock that
Christine should just go on home.

After Christine hung up I kept the receiver up to my ear and pretended
to listen as I pulled my raincoat to the side and reached into my left
jacket pocket. I thumbed the safety off on the little .22 Italian
automatic that I kept there. One thing I had learned over the years was
that you can get into quite a bit of trouble asking the wrong questions
in the wrong places, and at that point I was going to assume that
showing Jenny Foucalt's photo fell into the category of asking the wrong
kind of question. Buzzsaw seemed like a nice enough guy, but my
instincts told me he was lying about not having seen Jenny. I wasn't
going to take any chances.

On my way back to the bar I took off my raincoat for good measure,
which made access to the .22 a bit easier. If that didn't work, there
was always my cannon, the long-barreled .38 Smith and Wesson that I kept
in a shoulder holster under the left side of my jacket. I put my coat
down over a bar stool and put my hat on top of it. As I sat down I kind
of nonchalantly let the left side of my jacket open a bit. He tried not
to show it, but I knew that Buzzsaw had seen the holster.

Having covered my bases sufficiently for the time being I ordered
another rye from Buzzsaw. He set the drink in front of me and took a
dollar off the bar. His calm smile at that point had pretty much faded
into nonexistence. He was nervous about something. On the off-chance
that he was just a straight-up guy nervous about a stranger coming into
his bar carrying a gun, I decided to turn up a card.

"I'm a private-eye, in case your wondering about the firearm. Working
on a case."

On the face of it Buzzsaw was still the same guy I had been talking to
ten minutes earlier, just a friendly bartender leaning on the bar and
talking with a customer who had come in. But the smile was gone and
knowing that I had a reason for being in his establishment packing a gun
didn't seem to make him feel any less nervous. I pulled out the photo of
Jenny again and put it in front of him, kind of snapping down the corner
of the photo as I placed it for added emphasis.

"Why don't you take another look at the photo, Buzzsaw. Maybe you made
a mistake. 'Cause this young girl here, she just turned up dead about
twelve miles from here. So, here's what I was thinking. I was thinking
that your bar here is on the highway to San Bernadino, must get a lot of
people in here on their way over or back to L.A. So maybe this girl
comes in here one night, right? Maybe you see her with some people.
Maybe it's late and things are really hoppin' around here, you're really
busy and some trouble breaks out with the guys she's with. So, maybe you
made a mistake?"

Buzzsaw looked at me and nodded. He was right out frowning at that
point.

"Yeah" he said. "Maybe I did make a mistake."

"So you've seen her in here then."

Buzzsaw nodded.

"She came in a few nights ago with some guy. The guy buys her and
himself a drink."

"Did you recognize the guy?"

"Sort of. He's been in a few times. I don't know his name, but I think
he lives on the other side of Bernadino."

"Can you describe him for me, Buzzsaw?"

"Kinda young, skinny. Rancher type. Black cowboy hat with silver band."

"So they came in and bought a drink. What happened next?"

"They sat there for a while. Right at the bar here, just about where
you're sitting at. The girl looked scared or something."

"Scared of the guy she was with? Or of something else?"

"It wasn't the guy she was with, I don't think. She kept looking over
at the door looking real nervous."

"Like there was somebody following her? Or maybe she was expecting to
meet somebody here?" I said.

"Something like that, yeah. I remember she got some change off of the
rancher kid and then went over to the phone booth there and made a call.
She was gone about five minutes talking and when she came back she
seemed kinda relieved about something, like she had just got some good
news. And she wasn't as nervous anymore. After that she got into an
argument with the rancher kid. Or I guess it was more like he got into
an argument with her. I didn't hear all of it. Just pieces. But I caught
her saying something like she had somebody coming to pick her up and him
saying something like he had drove her all the way in from L.A. and now
she was just gonna dump him. You know, the kid probably just gave her a
ride in and then gets all sorts of ideas about it, like it's a big date
or something. You know how it goes. So the kid called her a few names
and left."

"So what happened after that? After the rancher kid left?"

"A couple guys here kept offering to buy her a drink. She really
wasn't looking so good, but you know how guys are. Especially when
they've been drinking. So I get her the drinks. That's when I noticed
her arms. She reached out to pull one of the glasses in and I saw the
marks on her arms. She was an obvious doper. Well drinkin' is one thing
but I don't like to get those kinds of people in here. It makes me
nervous. So I started telling her she had to leave. She says to me then
that she's waiting on a ride. She asks me if she can just stay a while
longer, that she's going to try to find a motel room but she needs to
wait on her ride. And you know, she's lookin' real pathetic about it and
all. So I thought, hey, what's the harm if she stays a few minutes
longer."

"What night was that, Buzzsaw?" I asked.

"About four nights ago. Yeah, four nights ago, Friday. I remember
now."

"And what was she wearing? You remember that, I'll bet."

"She was wearing a pink dress." he said.

At that point one of the pool players came down and ordered a couple
more beers. Buzzsaw put the bottles out for him and took the guy's
money, then came down and leaned over the bar again in front of me.

"Anyway" I continued, "the girl was waiting for somebody to pick her
up. Said she was going to get a motel room. So I assume somebody picked
her up, then?"

"You know, it was really busy. I didn't have time to keep track of
her. It's not like I was her baby sitter or anything, right? I just
thought that hopefully she'd be out of the place soon. And after a while
I noticed she was gone."

"So you didn't see who she left with?"

"No. It was like one minute she was here and the next minute she
wasn't. I didn't see her leave. Honest."

"And about what time was it, when you noticed that she wasn't here
anymore."

"Jeez, I really don't know. Late. Like maybe around midnight or so."

I thought about it for a minute while I lit a cigarette. It sounded
like a plausible enough story. On the other hand it could have been just
a lot of really inventive crap he was feeding me. The main thing that
made me favor the later explanation was that he had originally lied to
me.

"So why did you lie to me, Buzzsaw? That all sounds innocent enough.
Why did you have to screw me around on it if she just came in here and
had a few drinks and left?"

Buzzsaw just looked down at the top of the bar. After a few seconds my
patience grew thin. Ordinarily I wasn't like that but after coming out
of the morgue an hour or so back I wasn't in the best of moods.

"Come on, Buzzsaw. Why did you lie? Did you think I was with the cops
or something?"

Buzzsaw went down and made me another drink without me asking and sat
it in front of me like it was a fragile egg.

"Naw, that would have been alright. I don't mind cops in here
sometimes as long they don't cause any trouble. I was just… just afraid
you were one of them."

"One of them? One of who?"

"You know. The people that sell the stuff."

"Drug dealers? Is that what you're talking about? You were afraid I
was a drug dealer?"

Buzzsaw looked up at me and nodded his head firmly. His eyes had
changed radically. They now looked much more focused and intense, and
for a moment I could fully imagine him at an anti-aircraft gun taking
dead aim on an enemy. And I was willing to bet that he had been pretty
damn good at it.

"Oh, Jeez" I said, belting down the the rye. I pulled out a five
dollar bill and pushed it across the counter to Buzzsaw.

"Let me ask you this, Buzzsaw. If a girl didn't have much money and
needed someplace really cheap to stay at around here, someplace over to
the San Bernadino way, what would be the closest place?"

"Well, there's the Stardust. That's right on the edge of San
Bernadino. That's real cheap. And if you go past there to Arcadia and
take a right then there's the Flamingo. That's cheap, too."

I grabbed my hat and then draped the raincoat over my arm.

"Take care of yourself, Buzzsaw. And don't take this the wrong way,
but I hope I won't be seeing you anytime soon. Because if I do it means
I'm going to have to drive out here again."

"Naw, that's fine" Buzzsaw said as I walked away.

Everything was always just fine with Buzzsaw. Except for drug dealers,
of course.

********

There are many ironies that occur now and then in life that I would be
happy to laugh at. Driving down the same patch of lonely highway three
times in one day working on a case that from the beginning seemed fated
to turn out rotten wasn't one of them. I had been hired to find Jenny
Foucalt and I had found her. The only thing left to do was to go back
into L.A. and meet with her father and tell him the bad news in the best
way I could.

But I guess I had never been the kind of guy who could leave
well-enough alone and let things go. How Jenny Foucalt had spent her
last hours would make no difference to her grieving father, and in fact
knowing more of the details might bring him unnecessary pain. As I
headed back in the dark toward San Bernadino I tried to think of one
good reason why I should be heading east again. And the truth of it was
that I couldn't think of any good reason. Superceding any good reason
was the image I had in my head of Jenny lying under the light of the
autopsy table, a human being who had once gone to parties or played the
piano or whatever the hell it was she did in her life but who had now
been reduced to porcelain and shadow and a set of vicious bruises around
the ankles.

I almost missed the Stardust Motel as I came up on it. It was hardly
the Stardust Hotel in Vegas, all lights and glamour and Frank Sinatra.
The San Bernadino Stardust was more in the line of darkness and sleeze
and maybe there's a radio in the room if you're lucky. The main marquee
for the motel was unlit except for the neon VACANCY sign at the bottom
of it. There was a picture of a big blue star with some sort of stuff,
stardust I guess, raining down from it into nowhere. Twenty years ago
the place might have been a pretty good place to stay at. Now it was
just a dark parking lot leading to a set of convenient chambers that a
person could use to do things they didn't want anyone to know about.

Most importantly the Stardust was the first motel coming in from
Sunset Depot. My guess was that Jenny wouldn't have bothered shopping
around much if she needed a place to stay. She would have stopped at the
first cheap place she came to.

The young kid in the office was reading a newspaper as I came in. He
put it down rather reluctantly onto his desk and came up to the counter.

"Need a room?" he said. I suddenly got the idea that he spent most of
his time saying that, that he could probably get by just fine only being
able to say those two words. At that point I wasn't in any mood to fool
around and take the subtle approach. I pulled out the photograph of
Jenny and banged it down on the counter.

"You seen this girl? Like maybe four nights ago?"

He looked down at the picture for a second, then back up.

"Sorry, haven't seen her."

Crap, I thought. Maybe he was telling the truth and maybe he wasn't.
But there was one pretty good way to find out real quick. I pulled out my
Smith and Wesson and banged that down on the counter too.

"Don't screw with me. 'Cause otherwise I'm going to come back behind the
counter and hit you with that a couple of times. Good and hard."

"Okay okay, she was in, mister" the kid shouted, throwing up his hands.
"Jeez."

"When was she in?" I asked, relieved that the bluff had worked.

"A few days ago. Four days ago, like you said."

"Is that right?" I said. I wasn't sure at that point that he wasn't
just telling me what I wanted to hear. Which would have been worse than
telling me nothing.

"What was she wearing?"

"What?"

"I said what was she wearing?" I picked the .38 off the counter a few
inches and slammed it back down again to emphasize the question a bit.

"Uh, something pink. A pink dress, I think. Yeah."

"Now we're getting somewhere. Was she by herself or was she with
somebody?"

"She was by herself."

"You sure about that? 'Cause a guy told me that she got a ride in.
And that she didn't have any money, either."

"She had money. She paid for the room. There was a guy, I think I saw
her drive in with somebody. I heard the sound of a car engine and I
thought a customer was gonna come in so I walked up to the counter. But
the car was just parked out there for a while. So I went over and sat
down again and a minute later this girl comes in. She didn't look so
good."

He looked down at the photo again.

"She looks real pretty here."

"She was pretty" I shouted, the anger flaring up again. I had to stop
a few seconds after that to settle myself down a bit. "What room did she
stay in?"

"Number 24."

"Give me the key to it."

He looked at me for a second as if he was about to argue, but then went
over and got the key.

"When did she check out of here?"

"The next morning."

"Did you talk with her at all?"

"Naw, not really. She came in the next morning and brought the key.
She asked me if she could use the phone. I told her there was a pay
phone over by the Coca-Cola machine outside. Then she left."

"And you didn't see her again after that?"

"No."

"And what about the guy in the car. Can you describe him?"

"Are you kidding? It's pretty dark out there in the lot, mister. In
case you haven't noticed."

He was being kind of a smart-ass as he added that last bit, but
considering I had barged into the office and threatened to pistol-whip
him I figured I owed him that one.

"Can you describe the vehicle?"

"Well, sort of. A white car. A big long one, 'coupla years old
at most. Didn't catch the make or anything."

"Okay, kid. Thanks for the information."

Mostly out of guilt I got a five-spot from my wallet and put it down
on the counter for him.

"Sorry about the tough-guy stuff. I guess I'm not feeling too good."

The kid nodded and picked up the five and played with it.

"Sure, mister."

I stopped by the Plymouth and got my pint out of the glove compartment
and walked up to Room 24, which was up a flight of stairs on the west
side of the motel. Unlocking the door I instinctively reached for a
light switch, but after fumbling around for a bit I realized that there
probably wasn't one. I made my way in the dark over to the night stand
by the bed and turned on the little lamp. I set my pint on the night
stand and put my hat on the bed.

One advantage a private-eye could always count on was that at a place
like the Stardust they didn't get around to cleaning all that often. If
Jenny had left anything behind it would probably still be in the room. I
checked the drawers of the night stand and the waste basket next to it,
looked under the mattress, searched over the top shelf of the closet and
then went through the dresser. Then I went into the bathroom and looked
in the medicine cabinet and the trash basket and peeked into the tiny
shower stall.

There had been some trash in the baskets and a beat-up old Bible in
the dresser, but nothing that could provide any possible information on
Jenny. My search had yielded nothing. I sat down on the bed and took a
few sips of rye from the bottle, then put it on the night stand and lit
a Pall Mall.

I sat on the bed and put together the pieces that I had so far. The
first report I had of Jenny in the San Bernadino area was Friday night
when she went into Sunset Depot. According to what Buzzsaw told me and
filling in the blanks a little she must have gotten a ride in from L.A.,
evidently from somebody she didn't know or didn't know too well. She
might have hitchhiked. If Buzzsaw's instincts were any good she seemed
frightened or at least on the nervous side. She didn't seem to have any
money at that point and had to borrow the change to make a phone call.
Then she went back and talked on the phone to somebody for a good while.
When she returned her mood had changed a bit and she had evidently
arranged for someone to pick her up. The kid she had gotten a ride in
with didn't like that and got mad and left.

Around midnight Jenny left Sunset Depot and she shows up next at the
Stardust with someone driving a long, white, late-model car. By then she
has at least enough money to pay for a room. So either she was carrying
money all along that no one knew about or she borrowed it off of the guy
who gave her the ride. Or maybe she had to earn it from him. One way or
another she gets the room and the person in the white car drives off.
The next morning she needs to make another phone call to somebody.

The next time anybody saw her was that afternoon. According to what
the San Bernadino cops had told me earlier that morning, she had rented
an apartment over on Pine Street. Evidently the landlord had told them
that Jenny had paid cash for the apartment, one week's rent. Sometime
during the next twenty-four hours she died of an overdose. On Monday her
landlord stopped to check in on her. He saw her lying on the bed through
the front window, but when she didn't answer the door after repeated
knocks he got suspicious and entered the room. Finding her dead, he
called the police.

What seemed out-of-kilter was the heroin overdose. As the Coroner had
said, San Bernadino wasn't exactly Los Angeles. And though I knew
nothing about the local drug trade it seemed to me that twenty-four
hours was a pretty short period of time to find someone in the area who
could provide her with that type of thing, especially if she didn't have
any money. Unless, of course, she already knew somebody. Whoever she had
called from either Sunset Depot or the next morning at the Stardust
Motel might have provided her with the drug she needed and maybe some
cash to get an apartment as well.

And that's where the tale became like a river separating into various
tributaries near the sea. It was hard to believe that anyone involved
with heroin would just give Jenny dope and cash out of generosity. They
had to have known her, known she was rich and might have access to
substantial amounts of money to repay them. And Jenny had to have known
them as well. She had their telephone numbers or at least knew their
names and could ask the operator for the numbers. On the other hand the
people she contacted could just have been old friends who she could
count on to make her a loan and who had no connections with drugs. But
that wouldn't explain Jenny's overdose. In fact, it wasn't even clear if
Jenny had called two different people or had called one person twice.

I took another swig of rye and lit another cigarette. There were too
many damn pieces missing to know for sure what had happened. But one
thing did seem clear to me. At the time of her death Jenny had been
running from something or somebody. And the unfortunate fact that she
was using heroin again didn't explain the bruises on her ankles. The sad
fact was that I would probably never know the whole story.

I stubbed out my cigarette and looked around the room. The little lamp
on the night stand only served to cast the corners of the room into
shadow. Jenny Foucalt had spent one of her last nights in that room, and
her final one in an apartment that was probably a lot like it. I ran my
palm over the cheap blue bedspread. It had a texture that was soft and
gritty at the same time. I looked at the little lamp on the night stand.

"Good-bye, Jenny" I said.

I stood up and stuck the bottle of rye in my pocket and picked up my
hat and threw the room key down on the night stand. I decided to go ahead
and leave the lamp on, just for the hell of it.

And then I left. I hit the same patch of highway for the fourth time that day
and drove back into Los Angeles. The case was over.

CHAPTER NINE

The first thing I wanted on returning to Los Angeles was a good
breakfast. I wasn't ordinarily a breakfast guy, preferring coffee and
cigarettes to the usual breakfast fare, but the burger and fries at the
Jupiter Drive-in in San Bernadino hadn't been much and by the time I
reached L.A. I felt like I hadn't eaten since Halloween. Since it was
Saturday and Christine wasn't working I decided to just cook myself some
eggs and bacon and toast at home.

"Feel better?" Christine said as I finished off my plate.

"A lot better. I think it's time for a nap. I didn't sleep too well
last night. Ended up sleeping on the floor."

"Why on earth did you sleep on the floor?" Christine said, pouring
herself some tea.

"A long story. What I can tell you is that he carpet smelled. In fact
I can still smell it. And the pillow, my god, I think it was stuffed
with straight pins. In any case, I think I'll just play with Atlas a
little and take a nap."

Christine walked over and climbed onto my lap and put her hands behind
my neck.

"You're going to play with me before you play with any damn turtle, Pat
Maginess."

Since she seemed so enthusiastic about it I played with Christine for a
while, making various uses of the chair and the kitchen table and the
kitchen counter. Then I took a nap back in the bedroom. I must have been
asleep about an hour or so when Christine shook me awake.

"Pat. It's Carmen on the phone. She wants to know if you need her to
come in today."

"Carmen?" I said, still half asleep. "Oh, yeah, Carmen. No, I don't need
her today."

"Okay, I'll tell her."

"Wait. Yeah, tell her to come in. I need to go over this new case with
her."

"So she should come in. You're sure?"

"Yeah. Tell her no hurry. Maybe about an hour or so."

Seeing that I was fully awake at that point I went over and petted
Atlas and then stripped and took a shave. Then I showered and put on my
dark blue suit, another of the new ones, setting it off with a black tie
against a light blue shirt. Then I got a cup of coffee and did a bit of
kissing with Christine and drove in to the office.

My main objective for the morning was to get some notes down in the case
file while they were still fresh in my memory. I got out the file and
started to work on it, thinking all the while that it would be real nice
to have a bottle of beer to sip on while I worked. I kept thinking about
them sitting over in the little refrigerator all nice and cold. It was
like they were calling out to me, just begging for me to put my lips
around them and take a nice long swig. As it was I had to get through
the report with one cigarette and a glass of ice water.

Carmen came in a short time later.

"Good morning, Mr. Maginess" she said brightly, taking off her
raincoat.

She was wearing a black skirt with a light blue blouse that fit her so
tight it looked like it was about ready to explode. She had a dark blue
scarf tied around the collar of the blouse and was wearing black pumps
with thick three-inch heels that were slightly behind the current style.
One thing about Carmen, she didn't seem to be bothered by her height
like a lot of tall girls.

"You look nice today, Carmen."

"Thanks, Mr. Maginess."

"Ready to get to work? The reason I wanted you to come in today is I
want to go over my current case with you. In fact I'm just finishing up
the case notes. Why don't you just grab a notebook here and a here's a
pen, and have a seat there. We'll get started."

I spent about the next half hour explaining the Foucalt case, what had
happened so far in the investigation and what might be coming up next.
Carmen seemed saddened by the story of Jenny.

"Yeah" I told her. "Sometimes in this business you run across a lot of
sad stuff. A lot of tragedy. It comes with the territory. And I won't
lie to you, it can get to you sometimes."

"So how do you deal with it, Mr. Maginess?"

"If I ever find that out, Carmen, I'll let you know. Anyway, the most
important thing from here on out is that you need to keep an eye out,
okay? If you see a young Chinese male in a black jacket with the comb-
and-hook symbol on the back hanging out around here, I want you to let
me know as soon as possible. Keep your .38 handy in the desk drawer here
for now. If he comes into the office for some reason, you pull the .38
immediately. I'm not saying you should shoot him or anything, just get
it out and make sure he doesn't come near you."

"Keep him away. Should I call the police?"

"Good idea. But more to scare him than anything else. Walking into
somebody's office isn't a crime. But dial the cops and keep the gun
leveled at him and make sure he knows you're calling the cops. That
should get rid of him. Then lock the office door."

"So I should just let him go, then?"

"Yeah. Just let him go. And keep an eye out over your shoulder as you
go home and come to the office. I don't think you really have to worry
about all this stuff, but it's better to be on the safe side."

"Okay, Mr. Maginess. Gee, this certainly is a lot to deal with. But I
think I'll get used to it."

"I think you will too, Carmen. Now, let's go over ordering office
supplies and stuff."

After going over the office supply situation with Carmen I walked down
to the local news kiosk. I hadn't exactly been keeping a watch out for
Jenny's obituary and I needed to look though the papers.

"Hey, Mr. Maginess" the news vendor said.

"Hello, Eddie. I need a copy of today's Herald."

"Sure" Eddie said. "Last one. You lucked out."

I leafed quickly to the obituaries. But there wasn't anything about
Jenny.

"You wouldn't have an unsold copy of yesterday's paper, would you
Eddie?"

"I've got the one I had lying around. Here. It's got some coupons
clipped out of it, though."

"That should be all right."

In the Friday issue I found Jenny's obituary. I decided to take it back
to the office to read it.

"Here, Eddie" I said, handing him a fiver. "This is for today's copy and
your copy. I'm on expense account. Give me a receipt, a little note or
something, and the fiver's yours."

"Wow, thanks" Eddie said. He tore a piece of paper off of a flyer and
wrote the amount and the name of his stand on it.

"That good enough?"

"I think that'll do. Thanks, Eddie."

Back at the office I went over and sat on the couch. I turned to the
obituary section. They had a nice photo of Jenny with the obituary, the
same photo that I had been toting around during my investigation.

JENNY M. FOUCALT. AGE 20. STUDENT, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA. CLASSICAL
PIANIST. BELOVED DAUGHTER OF JEAN AND MARIE, LOCAL ENTREPRENEUR. IN SAN
BERNADINO, OF COMPLICATIONS DUE TO PNEUMONIA. VIEWING AT JOSHUA KLEIN
FUNERAL HOME, LOS ANGELES, SATURDAY 7:30 P.M. FUNERAL AT ST. XAVIER
CATHOLIC CHURCH, LOS ANGELES, MONDAY 10:00 A.M. DONATIONS MAY BE GIVEN
TO ST. XAVIER STUDENT SCHOLARSHIP FUND.

I laid the newspaper down on the couch. It didn't seem like much for a
life. Just a few lines, a few words. Young as Jenny was it seemed like
there should have been more to it than that. A lot more.

I went over to the refrigerator and got out a beer.

"To hell with it" I said, removing the bottle cap, my health not
seeming too important right then. "All men are mortal."

I took the newspaper over to the desk and showed it to Carmen. Then I
got into my lock box and took out a fifty dollar bill.

"I want you to send this to the scholarship fund they have listed
there, Carmen. I'm sure you can get the address for the school out of
the telephone book…"

"The private investigator's best friend" Carmen said.

"That's right. Anyway, write a note or something and put the bill in
it and mail it out, okay?"

Before anything Carmen read through the obituary. Then she dug into
the drawers of the desk and by some miracle managed to find a nice piece
of stationery and an envelope stuck in the back of one of the drawers.

"I'll try to make it a really nice note, Mr. Maginess."

"Thanks, Carmen. That's really sweet of you."

I drained the beer off and went over and got another one and lit a
Pall Mall.

"And by the way, we have a funeral to go to on Monday."

********

Private-eyes don't work by the usual schedules most of the time. When
working a case days can become nights and nights can become endless and
the distinction between weekdays and weekends becomes meaningless. The
idea is to work the case until it's finished and then, if you have
enough money in the bank, to take a few days off.

But that didn't mean that it wasn't possible to take an evening off
on occasion even in the middle of a case, and in fact I had found
myself doing more of that since I had taken up with Christine. My next
step on the Foucalt case was to try to get a foot into old Chinatown.
But there wasn't any reason that couldn't wait until Tuesday after
Jenny's funeral. Foucalt wasn't paying me by the day. He had paid me a
lump sum to do a certain job for him, to find those responsible for
Jenny's death. As far as I knew, an extra day wasn't going to prohibit
that, and I didn't know exactly what I might be able to do or not do in
Chinatown on a Sunday anyway.

Christine and I spent a quiet day together. When evening came we
tossed it around for a while and decided to go down to the local VFW and
play some poker with some friends of mine, a group of veterans that I
had known for years and who Christine affectionately called "The Boys."
Marty had a little crush on Christine, "Chris" as the boys called her,
and he wasn't shy about displaying it.

"You still with that no good bum, Chris?" Marty told her as we grabbed
a few Coca-Colas from the machine. "I keep telling you, you'd be better
off with a guy like me."

"I know, Marty. I just can't seem to shake him. But if I ever do,
you'll be the first one in line."

"Promise?" Marty laughed, putting his good arm around her. Christine
put her arm around him too, and gave him a little peck on the cheek.

"Promise" she said.

"Hey, I think that will be quite enough of flirting with my girl, if
you don't mind" I said, pretending to be really ticked off about it.

"Go screw yourself, Maginess" Marty said, smiling. "Now, why don't we
get down to some serious Poker. I feel lucky tonight."

Marty took it upon himself to deal first, without asking. He shuffled
the cards using his good arm and his left, which had been amputated at the
elbow, using a special technique he had developed over the years. He was
right about being lucky, too, at least at first. He won about six of
the first ten hands. But then as usually happens at cards the luck
decided to migrate a bit, first to Christine and then to Leo. Skill
usually wins out over luck in the long run, though, and by the time
thirty hands had been played Frank, the best player among us in spite of
the steel plate in his head, was on the receiving end of most of the cash.

"Well, what's up with you gentlemen?" I said, throwing a few discards
down with disgust, cursing my own bad luck. "Anything new?"

"Marty got one of those televisions, didn't you Marty?" Andy said.

"That's right. Works real good. It's almost like you're right there
seeing it."

I had seen televisions in a few bars that I had stopped into. But I had
never met anyone who actually owned one.

"What kind of stuff do they put on those televisions, anyway?" I asked
Marty.

"Oh, you know. They have comedians, that's what I like. And they have
contest shows or sometimes they will put a play on. They've got music,
too. I saw Bing Crosby the other night. What a voice. And they advertise
for products a lot. All sorts of products. You'll have to come over and
look at the television with me sometime, Pat. There's this new one on
called DRAGNET. It's about two cops here in L.A. I really think you'd
like it."

"Yeah, I'd like to do that, Marty. Just say the word."

"It won't last" Andy said. "People want books and newspapers. There's
no way they're going to sit in front of one of those stupid little boxes
for hour after hour."

"That's a bunch of crap, Andy, and you know it" Leo said. "People will
waste their time with all sorts of shit."

"You're fucking crazy, Leo."

"I kind of like my television" Marty threw in.

"I don't want all that stuff coming into my apartment" Frank said,
entering into the discussion. "If I can see them they can see me. And I
don't want them to see me."

"Uh, I don't think it works that way, Frank" I said. "I think it's
what you might call unidirectional or something. It's not like the
radios we had in the war. But you might have a point about it being a
little on the invasive side."

"Fifty years down the road we'll all be fucking machines" Leo said,
throwing down a pair of twos and a pair of aces. "We'll buy what they
want us to and do what they want us to and everybody will believe
whatever the fucking government tells 'em."

"That's crap, Leo." Andy said, throwing down a full house, eights over
jacks. "People are smarter than that."

"I kind of like my television" Marty said again.

"Hell, Andy, they already believe everything they read in the
newspapers. What makes you think this new television thing will be any
different?"

I threw down a flush, all hearts. Unfortunately it wasn't good enough
to beat Andy's full house.

"But isn't the point of this that you can actually see what is going
on?" I said. "I mean, with newspapers you have to take their word for
it. But with cameras, it's right there in front of you. You can make up
your own mind about it."

"Hell, Pat" Leo said. "They'll just show you what they want you to see
is all. No different."

"Okay, gentleman" Christine finally said. "Whose deal is it?"

"It's Pat's deal" Leo said.

"No, it's my deal" Frank added.

"That's crap, Frank. It's Marty's deal."

"Okay, I'll deal" Christine said, pulling in the cards.

"I kind of like my television" Marty said to himself, a bit sadly.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

That night I put on my sweater and baseball jacket again and drove back
to Chinatown. I wanted to check out the second warehouse, the one a
block from the one where Lee had his sex parties. The two most southern
warehouses both had big loading docks on the street side, and climbing
the short stairs up to the dock I found the door just to the side
unlocked. Like the first warehouse, this one seemed totally empty of
contents, of the stuff that warehouses normally store. My guess was
that none of the warehouses had been used since the war.

I walked around the bottom floor of the warehouse, and came across a
man and a woman standing close and engaging in some heated whispered
conversation. Neither of them noticed me in the dark. The man was tall
and wore a good suit and looked like he could kill anybody that looked
at him so much as sideways. The woman was thin and classy-looking and
was wearing a mink stole and a little hat with a feather sticking out.
The man held out a small white packet to the woman, but when she reached
out to take it he jerked it back. He said something to her and smiled.
The woman pressed herself up against him and then turned around, bent
over slightly and pressed her derriere up to his pants and then slowly
began lifting her skirt. I turned around and found the wide concrete
stairway to the upper floors.

I walked up the stairs to the second floor. Across the room, two men
crouched over someone on the floor. They were in the process of going
through his pockets and then they turned to his shoes and started to
remove them, one at each foot.

"Hey!" I cried across the room. They looked up at me with eyes like
black holes and then scampered off like frightened lemurs through the
branches of trees.

I walked up to the man lying on the floor. His eyes alone told me
the tale, but I checked for a pulse in his neck anyway just to be sure.
I slid my palm down over his forehead and over his eyes and closed them.
Then I went though his pockets. But if there had been anything in them
the two men had gotten it. I did find a holy card which the men hadn't
thought of enough value to even bother with. The holy card was of
St. Christopher. But on that particular night the saint must have been
on vacation. On the back of the card was an address for a local
church and I slipped the card in my pocket, thinking that I could give
them a call. That was probably as much as I could do for the guy,
inasmuch as no law enforcement people or ambulance would ever claim him
at the warehouse. He very well might have a family who cared about him,
parents or a sister or a son. But at that point he was alone. It didn't
get any more alone than that.

I walked up the stairs to the next level. I walked past people jabbing
metal needles into discolored yellow skin stretched across arms like
sticks. Most of them paid no attention to me. I was merely a part of
some external world that they didn't care anything about, a shadow. A
few of them looked at me suspiciously, one guy making sure I knew he had
a knife. Then he turned and went back to wrapping a belt around his arm.

I walked up another flight of stairs, rested at the top, and
passed into another set of rooms. Here and there someone laid on the
floor or rested with their back up against the wall, a lit candle next
to them to warm up their junk. I managed another flight of stairs
somehow, pushing myself through to the end.

I walked up to a black man sitting on a mattress. He was in his late-
fifties and had some white in his hair and was dressed in a perfectly
respectable green suit. He had his jacket off and his shirt sleeve up.
He was shaking so badly that he couldn't get the needle in his arm. He
dropped the hypodermic on the blanket and slowly picked it up with his
shaking hand. Then he brought the needle towards his arm and dropped it
again onto the blanket.

He looked up and saw me standing there.

"Help me, mister!" he whined. "Please!"

I shook my head no. He looked down at his arm and once again tried to
get his shaking hand to insert the needle. But it was useless. He just
kept stabbing himself in the arm with the tip or missing the arm
completely. He dropped the needle again. His head fell forward and he
broke down in tears.

"I just can't do it" he wept. "I just can't do it."

"Oh, jeezus" I said under my breath, rubbing my forehead. I had been
trained to administer morphine on the battlefield. After thinking it
over a bit I decided that administering the white toad couldn't be all
that much different.

Squatting in front of him, I pulled the man's wrist out and took the
needle up off the blanket. Then I tapped his arm with the tips of my
fingers until I found some semblance of a good vein and slid the needle
in, pulled the plunger back until there was blood and then pushed it
slowly all the way in. In a manner of seconds the man's eyes rolled back
and closed and a brief interval later the shaking began to subside. I
pulled the needle out and took the belt off his arm and rolled his
sleeve down. His eyes gradually opened. "Merry Christmas!" he whispered
to me, smiling. Then he turned over onto his side on the blanket into a
fetal position and hugged himself. He began humming some tune or other.
I had no idea what the tune was. I didn't want to know, because I knew
that the tune would then be poisoned for me for the rest of my life.

I walked back down the steps, and with each flight I walked faster. I
finally reached the loading dock door. I stopped at the edge of it and
put my arm over my forehead and leaned against the door frame. It had
just been too much. Way too much. I wanted to bang my head against the
door until it hurt. I wanted to go find Danny Lee and put a bullet in
him and walk off without saying a damn word. I wanted to fly to a place
far, far away where the sun shone day and night and the world was a
happy one and where I would never again have to see what I had just
seen.

Leaving the warehouse the weather was much colder. The pull-over
sweater and baseball jacket that I had on were no match for the
current temperature, which I guessed was below freezing. Nevertheless I
was glad for the fresh air and the open space and the fact that I was
anywhere at all but inside that hellish warehouse.

Out on the loading dock I stuck my hands deep into my pockets and
stopped. To my far right and left there was darkness like the edge of
the world, but a light atop the tall pole set against the opposing
building illuminated the area directly in front of me. From the right
small flakes of snow fell at a sharp angle into the light and I felt
them touch my right cheek. They were like tiny cold kisses from arctic
spirits.

"Beautiful" I whispered.

I stood there for a long time, letting the flakes of snow hit my cheek,
breathing in the cold crisp air.

"Just beautiful."

I started to walk down the steps from the loading dock. I stopped and
turned. I looked at the snow falling, and then at the warehouse. I went
back in and up to the second floor and lifted the shoeless dead man and
carried him down the stairs. I carried him out the loading dock and down
the steps and down the streets to the parking lot and my car. I rested a
bit, then got the man into the passenger side of the Plymouth. Then I drove
to County Hospital and carried him in and down the long hallway to the morgue.

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