1957 Friday 10:00 AM
Duke and Vinnie walked into a real mess Friday. Some guy had glued his fat finger to a trigger with epoxy and rigged a Stechkin with twine so that when he kicked the door open, the automatic kept firing into his mouth. The result was pulp that made the photographer throw up before he could make it out of the bedroom.
“Contaminated the whole fucking crime scene,” the forensics investigator said as he and the detectives crossed paths in the hall. “Damn rookies.”
“Well, he's in pretty bad shape,” Vinnie said to nobody as he stood in the bedroom doorway.
“Thorough kind'a fella,” Duke said as he slid past him, and stepped through the milkshake of brains and pizza to get a closer look. “Not particularly masculine.”
“What kind of guy sticks something hard and cold in his mouth?”
“A determined one,” Vinnie said.
“You really think this is a suicide?” Duke looked around the room. “When this mess gonna be cleaned up? We need to check out the rest of the rooms.” Somebody had stacked rags just outside the door and Duke wiped his shoes before making tracks across the living room.
“We're waiting on a meat wagon, Detective” a uniform said. “Could be most of the day. Here's what we got so far. Victim's name Carl Clemmons...got the usual.” He handed Duke a wallet, and the neighbor’s information.
“We'll check back in a few,” Duke said. Vinnie was already in the car.
They went to Winchell's Doughnut Shop, and sat inside. Only Easterners gobbled up the California sunshine they took for granted. They took a lot for granted now they had their gold shields. Privileges like sitting in a doughnut shop over coffee, discussing their latest cases or latest heartache. Vinnie had his nose open for a big-boned blonde named Sheila who worked at the C’Mon In Club, maintaining that not everybody who worked there was a sexual deviant when Duke asked him for the hundredth time why he hadn't nailed her yet. That was Vinnie's cue to remind him that every time he nailed a gal he had to make another date with Mama Sweet.
“How many little Duke's would be running around now if it weren't for your colored connections?” Vinnie said. He was stuffing down the last of a chocolate éclair.
“Can I help it if I hit the bull's eye every shot?” Duke adjusted his balls.
“I wouldn't brag on that target practice—awful expensive, Pal.”
“Three hundred dollars now or a lifetime of trouble.”
So it went until they were sure their sugar-shots would stay down. Murders got more gruesome every year. “So how does a middle-aged homeowner get hold of a Russian-made automatic weapon?” Vinnie said when he returned with his third cup of joe.
“Beats me. War souvenir maybe? But the feds are gonna be here as soon as they find out. You know Capt' Whitherspoon. He'll be on the horn to DC ten seconds after our report hits his desk.”
“We do all the work, and they take all the credit. Life's a bitch.” Vinnie lit a Pall Mall, and lowered his voice. “Unless we leave that information out of our report. I'm Italian and you're....whatever you are, you sure ain't Russian. We can just say the weapon was an automatic.”
Duke quickly scanned the doughnut shop to see if anyone was in earshot. “What'da we know about Russian guns, right?”
“Exactly my point. We catch us a few Commies, I'll bet we get a raise,” Vinnie said.
By six o'clock, the body and the neighbors were gone and, except for the blood stained walls and the chalk outline of Carl Clemmons, no one could tell a tragedy had occurred on Idaho Street. According to the neighbors, Clemmons was a model citizen who'd just had his lawn mowed, and his hedges clipped. A blue ribbon for ‘best kept’ hanging on the ice box door testified they appreciated it. On the window sill sat a scrub brush and a soap dish. The trash had been emptied. The sink was dry.
“Is the bathroom as clean as the kitchen?” Duke asked Vinnie who'd come into the hallway, his hands in his pockets.
“Our Clemmons was mighty tidy. You find anything?”
“Nothing that can't be explained by the looks of his yard and that shiny blue Plymouth in the drive-way. Let's get to it.”
Duke tackled the desk, Vinnie the dresser drawers and night stand. No unpaid bills. No checks. No savings passbook. No phone bills, photographs, letters, or birthday cards. They moved on to closets and the garage.
The men sat at opposite ends of the green-flowered sofa. “Odd, don't you think?” Duke said.
“Not really. Sheila says green is the color of the year.”
Duke nodded his head yes, “Sheila would know. I mean what's odd is that there's no stuff. Where's his bowling ball? Hunting rifle? Christmas ornaments? Where the hell is his dust?”
“Yeah.” Duke ran his finger tips over the coffee table. “See? And not a drop of piss in the bathroom?”
“Maybe when a guy doesn't bowl, hunt, or sing fa-la-la, he's got time to dust.” Vinnie said. “Or has one hell'uva housekeeper.”
But Duke was right. Whoever killed Clemmons stripped the place of anything that might leave a clue about what he was like, who he knew, and whether he had family or friends. Still, Commies might not know of a good 'ol American tradition. He pulled up his cushion and ran his hand along the side and back of the sofa's frame.
“I once lost a condom in a couch,” he said. Duke picked up his cushion and plowed the side and back.
“Bingo!” Vinnie said, and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “It's a receipt.”
“For a gun?”
“No, chicken fried steak from Rudford's Restaurant. Dated three months ago, 2 AM. Wonder what bar Clemmons haunts. Let's ask Annie who signed her name and thanks come again at the bottom, and has very nice handwriting.”
It was eleven thirty. Rudford's was setting up for the late-night crowd.
“Not here. Annie Grant didn't show up for her shift last night either. You know what that means? I had to work another double twelve hour shift.” The cigar chewing chef handed Duke an address he'd scrawled on a napkin.
“This Annie have family—a husband, a boyfriend?” Duke said.
“Not that I know of.”
“She ever date customers?” Vinnie said.
“Not that I know of.”
“You know a guy named Carl Clemmons?” Vinnie said.
“Not a name I recognize.”
“Thanks,” Duke said.
“Not a problem.”
Duke kicked in the door of the Orange Avenue apartment seven residence, the odor of garbage smacking their nostrils. A female body lay in the bathtub, dressed in a white uniform, and wearing a nametag that said, HI! I'm Annie. Her face and half her head were gone.
“No blood or brains anywhere,” Duke said.
“Not that I can see,” Vinnie said and the two men laughed. “Chef Rudford’s gonna have to get himself a new waitress. This one's all washed up.”
Grinning, Duke sat down on the john. “You crack me up. You're one sick son-of-a-bitch, Vinnie.”
Vinnie sighed. “It’s the job. I figure Clemmons killed Annie somewhere, brought her home, makes sure she's not gonna mess up her Spic n' Span bathroom, and then goes home and offs himself.”
Duke rubbed his five o'clock shadow. “Suicide after all?”
“Sure would save us a lot of leg work if we could make it a murder-suicide pact. We got the receipt to connect them.”
“Lover's quarrel ain't gonna get us a raise.” Duke said, and went to the living room to call the uniforms.
Vinnie looked under the tub and checked the cupboard beneath the sink. Annie and Clemmons must have hired the same maid, or spent their playtime cleaning house. He checked the bedroom closet. No bowling ball. No Christmas ornaments. No make-up or perfume on her vanity. No dust. Maybe Annie and Clemmons were two odd-balls who found each other, decided they were just cluttering up the planet, and checked out after a thorough Spring cleaning.
Whatever—he had a blonde getting off work in two hours, and he wanted to shower, shit, and shave before he picked her up. He and Duke could walk away from these two faceless people, add the Stechkin to their report, and let Whitherspoon hand everything to the feds. It's not like they'd invested hours in the cases. Nothing in the victims' lives suggested they were even people, let alone Communists—all reds had code books, secret radios, comrades and defense industry jobs. “You know, I've been thinking, Duke.”
Duke was checking Annie's sofa. He handed Vinnie thirty-two cents and held up a small silver colored coin. “Look at this....”
“You collect old dimes?”
“It's ten kopeks. A Russian dime. Now, what were you thinking?”
Vinnie looked closely at the coin. It could have been a tip. Sometimes he just reached in his pocket, grabbed whatever coins he had, and left them on the table. Annie could have counted her tips on her sofa and this one got away from her. He'd have to call the C’Mon In Club and leave a message for Sheila he couldn't make it.
“I've been thinking even Commies have love affairs.” They'd never solve this case anyway. If Clemmons was a spy, his assassin would either be getting a medal from Eisenhower, or in a Russian safe house. But when he and Duke got bored, they could haul out the Clemmons cold case and look at the Russian dime.
Monday 5:00 PM Los Angeles
Carl Clemmons and Annie Grant were dead, but Marshall Troy’d been sloppy and Watson hated sloppy work. Everything in their inventories was accounted for except for one coin in Annie's collection: a 1909 double eagle silver ten Kopek.
“Tell Troy to get his ass in here,” Watson hissed to his secretary through his intercom—that’s why he was called 'the snake' by the FBI agents under his command.
Ten minutes later Troy was sitting across from Watson, his head hanging like a third-grader. “I checked every pawnshop and coin dealer in Dago,” he told Watson, “but nobody's buying Russian stuff these days. Too afraid of looking suspicious. I might have lost it in transit.”
“Bullshit. And no agent's gonna risk his career for ten cents of worthless Russian money, so if you're thinking somebody stole it, don’t.”
Watson loved to see 'em squirm when they screwed up. Especially new guys. “The SDPD detectives that caught these cases—what’re their names?” He flipped through the Trot’s ten page report. “Vincent Fresca and William Bukanik. They reported the Stechkin but no coin.”
“Maybe Grant spent it on chewing gum by mistake. Or maybe one of these local-yokels has his own coin collection.”
“When the United States government orders an erasure, it means every speck, mite, and mote, Troy. You Secret Service guys, all brawn and no brains?”
Watson hadn't ordered him to find the damned dime, but it meant a trip back to Dago. Where there were two double agents willing to sell out America, there might be three or four or a hundred more. He might get lucky. He stopped in Del Mar, had a sandwich, and checked into the Travelodge at nine fifty-eight, just in time to hear the ten o'clock news. Jimmy Hoffa had been indicted that afternoon.
Saturday 8 PM
Front pleated gray slacks. Red suspenders. Charcoal fedora. Yeah, Vinnie was gonna make his move on Sheila tonight. “What say we meet up at Rudford's,” Duke said.
“Be part of the last call crowd?” Vinnie was combing his duck tail and admiring the result in a make-up mirror he kept in his desk.
Duke tossed a one inch resin cube into the air like a quarter. Embedded inside was the Clemmon's Clue—the Russian dime. “I want to meet the Blonde Babe that's got you thinking jewelry store.”
Vinnie turned and caught the cube mid-air. “Who made your lucky charm?” On one side of the cube was a Steinmetz Jewelers label. “How much did scheister Steinmetz charge you?”
Like a man handling an egg, Vinnie put the cube on Duke's desk. “Treat it gently.” He buffed his shoes with a brush. “This Clemmon's case dogging your thoughts?”
“You’re damn right. When Witherspoon closes a case without giving us so much as an ounce of shit, something's fishy.”
“As fishy as you hanging around on a Saturday night. What gives?”
Duke gave a quick scan of the room to make sure no one had come back for a forgotten notebook or set of keys. “The coroner's report said Annie Grant was raped post mortem.”
“Do tell. You think that's the reason Witherspoon closed the case? Afraid one of his uniforms is into fucking corpses?” His quivering lips slipped into a smile when Duke's shoulders began to shake with laughter. “I think it’s the new guy.” Vinnie put the brush back in his dop kit.
“It's possible Clemmon's fucked her before he committed suicide. But, I don't see Communists being into kinky sex,” Duke said.
“I don't see them holding meetings at Rudford's restaurant either. Just a hunch.”
“There's more. I'm being tailed by a suit. While I'm waiting for the resin to set, this guy comes in looking for an engagement ring. Pretends he’s all engrossed. Lingers over every ring Steinmetz shows him. Nobody but you'd do that.” Duke lit up a Camel. “I went to the hotel next door and watched from the lobby. The guy left Steinmetz's fifteen seconds after I did.”
“You figure he'll tail you to Rudford's?”
Duke was tossing the cube again. “See you at two A.M...”
“The hell you will.” Vinnie dialed Sheila to beg off. If Duke said a guy was tailing him, he was. But Duke disconnected the call before she could answer.
“No, keep your date. If he wanted me dead, I'd be in the morgue. I’ll let him get a little closer.”
Cindy Bernardo climbed into Duke's blue De Soto, her face half hidden by a wide-brimmed black hat she thought made her look glamorous. “Thanks for the lift, Cousin,” she said. She never did call him Duke. Only John Wayne was entitled to that honorific in her movie-star madness playbook.
The De Soto crawled away from the curb outside Freedom Bail N’ Bond where Cindy worked the swing shift on Saturdays. “It’s no bother. Busy tonight?”
“The usual. Sailors hitting the bars early. Damn kids don't know how to drink.”
“What you got for me?”
“This could get Hank fired, you know. Where would I find another ex-husband with a steady job if I lost him?”'
Hank was a janitor at the L.A. Federal Building— a janitor with exceptional hearing, a great memory for names, phone numbers, and faces, and a talent for slipping file folders in and out of trash cans.
“He says some agent named Marshall Troy was working the Clemmons’ case. And guess what, there's a report in the case file about you and Vinnie.”
“Hank get a look at that report?”
“Better. He got a look at Troy's personnel file. You and Vinnie are dullsville compared to Troy. A real star. Worked on the Hoffa investigation. Was one of Joe McCarthy's bodyguards during the HUAC hearings...”
Cindy’s info answered a lot of questions. Witherspoon had kicked the case over to the Feds as soon as he saw their report. And Troy was in D.C. when Congress overrode Truman's veto of the stop- the-Commie-spies-even-if-you-have-to-kill- 'em McCarran Act. He walked Cindy to her door, and drove to Tops Drive-in to get a burger and a shake while he thumbed through his little black book to find a dame he could call on short notice. He had to play normal for Troy the tailor. What the hell, he'd go by his ex's place and pretend he wanted to see his kids. They should be asleep by now. He’d plow a familiar patch and catch him a Washington wunderkind.
He gave Kathy a good fuck, a check for $100.00, and kissed the kids—well the kid on the bottom bunk anyway. He gave the one on top a pat on the shoulder and thought of the guy who delivered the milk. Yes, he promised, he'd make an appointment to see the priest, knowing he'd always be too busy. Kathy knew it too—she made him promise twice.
Vinnie got to Rudford's late. He spotted the meat wagon and knew somebody was dead. Customers inside the restaurant were rubbernecking at the windows and a uniform stood at the door.
“Robbery gone bad,” Duke said. They were staring down at a body laying in puddle of blood thickening in the San Diego August air. Three nickel-sized holes near his left lapel told the story. “Wasn't about to give him one damn dime.”
“Find anything in his pockets?” Vinnie said. “ID of some kind?”
"A three pack of Ramses rubbers with one missing is all. Funny, hunh,” Duke said. “I probably need to buy me some of them.”
“He the guy from the jewelry store?
“He look like a Commie to you?”
Duke scratched at his chin. He should have shaved before he left Kathy's. “He looks like one dead stupid bastard to me—cops never have any money.”
“Maybe he didn’t know you’re a cop. No more blue advertising.”
The uniform interrupted, “Witherspoon wants to see you ASAP, Bukanik,” and moved on. Duke headed to his car with Vinnie at his side.
“You were right about Sheila, a.k.a. Syd Beardsley.” Vinnie said sadly.
“Sorry about that,” Duke said.
“Hell-uva pool player. Sure hid his meat well. How’d I miss the clues?”
Duke stared at the ground, grinning sympathy. “It must be hell living a double life.” And maybe it was, for some. For others, not a problem. It all depended on what kinds of friends a man had.