Put Abbey Road, side 2, on the turntable, and proceed to read the following story, a tale of greed, violence, and mayhem, in which your humble author twists and perverts the lyrics of the Fab Four to his own nefarious purposes:
A Beat Less Than a Tune
“So, the walrus was Paul? The barefoot guy, right?” I was stalling, and Flat-Top knew it. I caught his signal to Maxwell, but it was too late. I turned just enough to see a flash of silver before the hammer came down upon my head, and I surrendered to the void…..
I was looking through the bent-back tulips where Maxwell and Flat-top had left me. The eyes in my head saw the world spinning around, images of broken light which danced before me. A crowd of people stood and stared. “Help me if you can, I’m feeling down”, I managed to say. Somebody spoke, and I went into a dream….
EARLIER THAT DAY…
I was in my office, ignoring the phone. There’s always an outside chance that it’s a potential client, but the odds favor its being a debt collector. I gamble, in case you didn’t already guess. So I was working on a broken desk drawer, trying to make a dove-tail joint, a skill I was as good at as fixing a hole in the ocean, when a knock came on the door. I patted my piece for reassurance, since some husbands resented my work for their wives. The gun was warm, I was happy.
“Twist it and push it”, I shouted. The blurry shadow behind the scalloped glass complied, the door swung open, and one shapely leg followed another across my threshold. The gams had a body attached to them; a long lean, flawlessly-constructed body. I meditated on her construction for a heartbeat or two (dove-tail there, mortisse and tenon there and there, you could say she was attractively built..), when a voice from somewhere north of my gaze interrupted my reverie.
“Mr. Moonlight? I’m up here.” Caught staring, I quipped, “I’m looking through you, not at you.” She hinted at a smile, but it was as forced as my awkward line. This was a dame in distress, my cause celebre. She looked at the sawdusted desk, floor, and me. “Is this a bad time? When I call you up, your line’s engaged.”
I gestured at the power tools, as if that would explain my failure to answer the phone. It seemed to. “Have a seat, Mrs…. uhm Miss?” “Miss”, she offered, “Miss Mustard. Pam is fine”. I could see that. I offered her a candy from a box left by a grateful client, a pastry shop owner. “A coconut fudge really blows down those blues”.
Eyeing my liquor cabinet as she sat in one lucky chair, she opined that a drink would better. “A ginger sling with a pineapple heart, then, my specialty”, and I began mixing, waiting for her to get to the reason she had brightened my day. It didn’t take two sips. “Mm-mm, excellent. You tended bar at one time.” It wasn’t a question, and she left no pause for an answer. “I am worried about my brother, Mr Moonlight. He’s been acting strange. Sleeping in the park, shaving in the dark, and it shows. Only time will tell if I am right or wrong, but I think someone is trying to kill him.”
Does he keep a ten-bob note up his nose?”. To answer her puzzled look, I pressed a finger to one nostril, and inhaled deeply. “No, he’s not on drugs”, she said, maybe a little too fast. I filed my feeling away for further study. “He has been hanging around some new people, some were unsavory types, if you ask me.”
“Got any names?” I picked up a pen and a notepad.
“A couple, Maxwell Edison, a guy named Pete, Desmond and Molly Jones, a Mr. Kite. But, except for Max, his new friends have all died recently. Desmond blew his mind out in a car, Pete..”
“He had a good reason for taking the easy way out?”, I interrupted. I had stopped writing after she named Max, with whom I was familiar . Max was an enforcer for a Middle-Eastern loan shark and porn industry fixture, Gajoub. Rahid Gajoub. “Googoo” Gajoub, he was called when he wasn’t around. If he was around, so was Max, rumored to be a medicine school drop-out, so expert was he at inflicting pain. I had met the two unlikely partners in the course of an earlier investigation. Gajoub thought I was a paperback writer, the kind kept in the back room with the Adults Only sign over the door. I had, on occasion, confirmed this impression. Hey, a dollar is a dollar is .45 euros.
Pam continued, “No, he was one of the ‘beautiful people’ “. Here she did the quote-unquote thing with her fingers. “A trust-fund baby. He was set for life.”
“So you knew him?”
“A little. I saw Desmond around. Molly’s a singer with a band. No one has seen her since Desmond’s suicide. Pete and I, we went out a few times. Nothing serious. We met in college a few years back. He suffered blunt trauma to the back of the head in a fall.” I knew the symptom, Max’s favorite method of problem-solving.
I wrote in my notes.. Knew Pete best. “And where is your brother now?”
There’s a party tonight in town. A benefit for Mr. Kite. Paul, my brother, and I are both invited. All his new acquaintances are coming.”
“Any chance I could get in?”
“Yes, it’s a costume ball. Do you have something to wear?” I pulled a fake beard and wig from a drawer, and added a fake nose. I preferred to go overboard, especially if Max and Gajoub showed up.
“Oh, I meant for me. I have been so beside myself, I haven’t bought anything for the party. And it starts in an hour.”
“I’ll wear the face I keep in that jar by the door. You put on this stuff.” I found my coat, grabbed my hat, and we were on our way.
Yes, We’re Going to a Party, Partly
“Nah, that’s Harry, the horse dancing the waltz”. Pam was checking off all the masqueraders who weren’t her brother. It was a big party. Mr. Kite was apparently a popular fellow. I had spotted two bookies I knew in the crowd, one of whom I was only into a little. Pam continued eliminating possible Pauls. “Nah, not him. Nah, nah, nah, na, na, na, nah. Oh, dear! He isn’t here, Mr. Moonlight. I hope we’re not too late.”
I think I said something; the way she moves, it was difficult to pay attention to anything above her neck. That was also due in part to the jarring disparity between the Rasputin-like effect my disguise lent her head, and the stunning body below. So good-looking, but she looks like a man.
“Who is that lady? Madonna?”, Someone snickered. I didn’t even turn around, although I knew the speaker, in a raccoon suit, was referring to the heavily rouged and lipsticked tart-mask I was wearing, and to the blonde-bombshell wig I had added at the last moment. I paid no mind, I was looking through a glass onion across the way, into the face of GooGoo Gajoub, dressed as an Eastern Orthodox church, complete with a see-through minaret for his head. Looked more like R2-D2, as envisioned by Omar Khayam. Behind him, as ever, was Max, who needed no costume. Indeed few costumes smaller than a circus tent would have fit him. Or been as fitting. But costumed he was, as a giant egg, with the top cracked off, presumably by the chromed hammer Max carried in one giant hand. Clever, he could pass through the metal-detector at the door, his weapon of choice assumed to be a part of his outfit. I was unarmed, my rod was in Pam’s Mercedes. Desmond was not the only one in this case who made a living clipping coupons, I had surmised.
I looked around for Pam. I saw her standing there, talking to some guy in a wet-suit and flippers, on his hands and feet. Long white curved tusks made from a plastic milk-jug hung from either side of his face. Sea lion, or something. She looked at me, and indicated I should hang back. I mouthed the words, “You won’t see me”, back at her. Then they melted into the crowd. The pinniped had to be Paul, and here I had begun to think of him as dead. Can’t always trust your instincts.
Pam and her brother were headed outside, I was in no hurry, I never lost anyone, Hell, I’ll follow the sun, if the money’s right. But Pam’s brother had other ideas. I got out in time to see Paul hustle her into a limo, which took off east on Sunset. I was mentally adding new charges for making my job harder. Why she had to go, I don’t know. But she wouldn’t stay, so I had to figure out how to keep up with this strange turn of events.
“Hey Dick!, Over here.” I knew the voice. I turned around and sure enough, here came ol’ Flat-top, the crookedest cop on the force, cruising up slowly.
“That’s not my name, officer”
“Don’t I know it, Moonlight. Still, you’re a Dick!”
I sighed and pulled off the mask and wig. “How’d you know it was me?”
“You’re going to lose that girl, you keep talking and don’t get in.”
So he’d been following Pam since before she walked into my office. Ok, A ride and an explanation, sure to be a lie.
Flat-top’s unmarked began rolling forward before I had the door closed. “Don’t see you downtown much, dick.”
“Been away so long, I hardly knew the place, Flat-top. What is going on?”
“I want to tell you, but then I’ll have to kill you.”
“The games begin to wear me down, Officer O’Bell.”
Flat-top flashed his badge in my face. “It’s Detective Denis O’Bell now, all day long, seven days a week, dick”.
I didn’t care if it was eight days a week, but I needed answers, so I played it cool. “I guess the IAB is off your back, then”.
“No, but the bastards couldn’t stop the promotion process. Tomorrow? Never knows, ya know?.” “Christ”, he continued. “You know it ain’t easy. The way things are going…”
I interrupted him, “We got company. Three cars back, one of yours?”
He looked in the mirror. It wasn’t a cop, I knew that. Flat-top hadn’t touched the radio since I jumped the car. He was off the grid. And he knew the car was going to be there, whoever it was. I looked in the side-view mirror. The dark, decade-old car was one clue, a miserly penny-pincher. The little dome of a head barely visible above the dash was another clue. I didn’t need to see the hulk behind the wheel to know that when I turned back around, O’Bell would have a gun on me. That it would be such an elephantine gun*, I had not expected.
It was all too much for me to take in. “So you have a new partner. Congrats.”
“Shaddap, dick.” And he hit me with the .38. Not a big gun, really. Any gun pointed at you looks big, but it was enough of a tap to make me see the proverbial stars, before everything went black. Well, what do you see when you turn out the lights? Blackbirds?
* Ok, not really the lyric. But I misheard it for 40 years.. Its hard-wired in my brain now.
WILL YOU WALK AWAY FROM A FOOL AND HIS MONEY?
My senses were flickering, going in and out of service like a TV that has been dropped once too often. I heard pieces of talk, saw things through skewed blinds “Pete’s share….. , Des… over here..On his feet…., “. Pam’s voice, from a few yards in front of me, …I was leaning on a cool surface. Just when I realized it was the ground, I was hoisted upright. Max set me down on uncertain feet gently enough, I’ll give him that.
“Mr. Moonlight, is glad I am up and waking you are. You owe me book. Two tall girls, Leather and Lace. Many spanking.”
Gajoub owed me money, was the truth. He always kept hostage part of the payment for the last porno novel until I delivered the next. And he would lobby for inclusion whatever elements were currently striking, or in this case, spanking, his fancy. It was like getting a homework assignment from an English teacher who perverted more than the language.
“All you had to do was call.”, I said, rubbing the lump over my left ear, or maybe the lump was my left ear. I looked around. By the rising moon’s light, I could see we were in a valley. I counted three cars. The gang’s all here. Flat-top was to my right, the gun-slash-club pointed towards Pam and Paul, who had a gun pointed back at the detective. Pam also held a .38, but she was covering the rest of us with quiet proficiency. Someone knew someone was following somebody, I missed part of the movie.
“Sorry to put you in this mess, Mr. Moonlight.” Pam’s voice, but very flat.
“So why did you? You don’t look helpless.” I looked at her gun, a very lady-like snub-nose .38. “Any more.”
“Your friend stole from me, is regular Bonnie Clyde, Moonlight. Take down my Friday poker game, shoot Max.”
I looked at Max, who pantomined pulling a bullet from his side, flipping it away, like a spent match.
“I did not want to be alone at the party,” Said Pam. “as Max and Gajoub were looking for a woman by herself, not a couple. I would pick the one PI who knows them…” Max and Gajoub looked at each other. They had no idea I was anything but a porno-writer. I guess Flat-Top had not compared notes with them lately.
“So let me see if I got this straight”, I continued. “You two,” I indicated her and Paul, who was still dressed for the party, tusks waving in a gentle breeze. “You and your friends robbed Gajoub’s high-stakes poker game, then got found out. At least, one got recognized…”
“Is Desmond, see me all time for happy pills, robs my game wearing same old brown shoe, scuffed on one toe.” Gajoub went on, “I have him followed, by our friend with badge. Des and Molly good pals with Mr. Kite, Kite play cards that night. Mr. Kite in job up to here”. GooGoo draws his hand across his throat, emphasizing Kite’s involvement, and suggesting his ultimate fate in one motion.
And Desmond talked before his untimely demise, or Molly did. Maybe Mr. Kite did. Gajoub was getting the loot back death by death. Looked like Paul was seeking to get ahead of the cycle. Paul had Pete’s share, thanks to Pam was my guess, braced Gajoub at the party, before his sister showed up, got them interested in a hassle-free, money-for-no-more-dead-bodies-especially-mine agreement.
And Gajoub was going to take the money, and in return let these trust-fund bandidos live out their pointless lives. Well, maybe.
“I do work a shift, Goo-.. Mr. Gajoub. Can we get this done?” Flat-top was getting tired of the art of the deal.
“Yes, give money here. We all go home. Mr Moonlight, would you are so kind to be getting Mr. Mustard’s valise?”
The moon was higher and brighter, and my vision was becoming less snowy. The valley was man-made, we were in a quarry somewhere east of LA. I walked over to the siblings’ position, and bent to get the case. I knew it was empty by the weight. Paul grabbed me, turned me around, and used me as a shield. Stupid man.
“The money isn’t here. I figured it might be a trap.”
“I no trap you! Where is fu-fu-friggin money, son of a boar?”
“Not a trap? Oh okay, then. I keep the money in a big brown bag, inside the zoo. Oops, no it isn’t”, he snickered, then made his offer. “Let Pam go get it. Me and the PI will stay here. You go with Pam, GooGoo.”
Gajoub hated that nickname, but he earned it because he stuttered when excited. He was excited now.
“Th-the m-money is I… me-me-me, mine! Give now!”
“N-n-no”, Paul mocked. Go with Pam, call Maxie here when you got the loot.”
Okay, is plan. Come baby, take d-daddy to his m-m-m…”
As she walked over to Gajoub, Pam kept her gun on Flat-top, who had yet to contribute to the discussion. “OK, little man, just drive where I tell you.”
Gajoub shrugged. He had regained his composure, “I not learn drive much. You drive car night you and palsies rob me, baby, you can drive my car.”
As Gajoub’s jalopy sped out the open gate, everyone relaxed a bit. It was almost done. Paul let me go, and had me light him a cigarette as he kept an eye on Max and Detective O’Bell. He reached for the cigarette, took a drag, and I saw he had lost focus. I knew even before I felt the bullet whistle past my ear, that Max would take advantage of an instant’s inattention. Paul blew out a lungful of smoke from a brand-new hole in his throat, and followed the cigarette earthward. I was tempted to grab Paul’s gun, but I was covered by two pro’s. They were walking towards me now.
Max kept his gun on me while Flat-top ascertained Paul’s transition from the corporeal to the ethereal. People like Flat-top, in their eyes there’s something lacking. His dead eyes told me he was planning a double funeral.
“Look, I got no stake in this. Some thieves get justly rewarded, not my affair.” My senses were back, as if for one last hurrah. Every star in the sky was a lamp. The air smelled clean, and felt cool on my battered face. Faint sirens from the highway, someone was getting pulled.
Flat-top picked up Paul’s gun, began to wipe it. I was guessing my role in the cover-up now. “At least tell me, O’Bell, how you got involved.” I was gonna be the shooter.
O’Bell looked at me like I was a stupid child. “Information and protection. Just like you done in the past, dick.”
“Once, just once”, I said. Keep him talking.
I was talking to O’Bell, but I had gotten a flash of desperation. My words were intended for Max. “You don’t kill for crumbs, Flat-top. You’re after the whole cookie jar. I go, then you do Max after the call, Pam and Goo-goo when they return.”
Max was quiet, Flat-top wasn’t. “Shaddap, dick! Max and Gajoub-o are steady income. I ain’t messin’ up a good thing.” Both of us were talking to Max. “I killed the walrus for shooting my buddy, right, Max?
“Walrus!”, I exclaimed. “Paul was a walrus!” Why what manner of flippered critter Paul was mattered at this juncture, I don’t know, I was stalling, grasping straws. Flat-top gestured, Max’s hammer came down, and we were back where the narrative began……
“That’s it, fella! Let it out and let it in. Hey Jude! Begin the plasma drip”. I tried opening my eyes; too much light, too much blue. Blue?
There was a cop at the foot of the gurney. I was wearing an oxygen mask. Max’ victims generally needed no such fashion statement, as their corpses were usually statement enough.
“You remember anything?” The ranking cop asked me..
“Where am I?”
“At the scene of a triple homicide. Two men, one a cop, and one fine lady.” Had your name in her purse.
“The other guy, a big man?”
“In the porn world, he was. And in numbers, narcotics, loan-sharking. “But he was a short fat guy. You slept through it all?
Yeah, I did. But I wasn’t sure that would fly.
“Big guy saved me, clubbed me instead of letting me get shot. I remember Pam and the one guy leaving, officer…”
“Pepper. Sergeant Pepper. They came back, got ambushed by our guy. Our guy,” He repeated, with disgust. “Then he was shot by someone in size 14EEE’s. Your big savior?”
“Look Moonlight, your hands are not clean, but they ain’t got the dirt we need to connect you to a cop-killing. Just tell me which car you came in, O’Bell’s or the Limo?”
No old Buick. Max was gone, with several sacks of money. I related what I knew, leaving out that I knew Max and my ex-publisher by name. It came to me then what Flat-top had said, about Paul being Max’ shooter that night, meaning that he was there. Maybe not inside, but guarding the door, or monitoring police calls. Double-cross became triple-cross, bordering on a quad. Max was big, not stupid. I wonder when he knew? Whatever, he had hit me hard enough to cause complications, but not enough to kill. Maybe we saved each other. I looked around; we were outside the gate, which was locked. My questioner had conferred with some techs while I ruminated. He walked back towards me. “Sgt Pepper, who owns this place?”
“A Mr. Kite, recently deceased.”,
“You may want to search in there, Might be more bodies. One Molly Jones, and maybe one Paul Mustard. ”
Yeah? Way ahead of you, the foreman just got here with the keys. Says a set disappeared around the time of Mr. Kite’s demise.” Oh, one oddity. Forensics says the little guy was killed with a different gun, a .38. And he died maybe two hours earlier than the other two. Whaddya make of that?
He shouted to a cadre of plain-clothes, waiting to be utilized. “To the quarry, men! “, and I fell back into a deep, not entirely restful sleep.
I was back in my office in a few days, the police having decided that I was a patsy, not a participant. Sometimes, just by luck, they get it right. I went over what I knew and didn’t know one more time. Why were well-off kids doing this? For kicks? Had they lived beyond even Their means? Did Max kill Flat-top after moving me out by the road? Why do it in the road? Or did I crawl there myself? Official version aside, Did Max kill Pam, or did he let Flat-top do it, then kill him? Max wasn’t a nice guy, but killing a woman seemed unlikely. Then, so did saving me, and Pam was a player. Maybe she didn’t take the news about her brother well. Maybe Max was moving me when Pam drove back. From where? No one had mentioned where the money was hidden. It didn’t matter, but I was unhappy with loose ends. That meant I was usually unhappy. I was okay with that, once the headaches stopped.
My cases often start like this one…..
The phone rang, I answered it. Yes, just like that. Someone had paid off my gambling debts before he left for parts where he was unknown, no way would he go unnoticed. Anyway, I was no longer telephobic.
“Yes, this is he…” It was my latest client, a husband who suspected his wife had been cheating. She had not. “Well, I saw her yesterday….it’s you she’s thinking of….”