Saturday, September 18, 2010
And Away We Go: A Novel in Weekly Installments
Monday, September 6th, 2010
Meet Al Zymer -- a former LAPD detective now a private eye, who might have early-stage Alzheimer's or who might just be doing a bad Columbo imitation. Hired by a Beverly Hills clothing store owner to find out who bombed his expensive shop, Al and his young assistant take off for the city of Ventura, where a mobster named Manny La Mancha -- a dangerous man to cross -- is hiding out in the Witness Protection Program.
FORGET ABOUT IT:
The First Al Zymer Senile Detective Mystery
By Dick Adler
Al Zymer sat at his desk in the Writers and Artists Building on Little Santa Monica. He slumped in his worn and greasy leather chair, sound asleep. A half-smoked 60 cent Dutch cigar had fallen from his lips, narrowly missing his crotch and landing on the rug, where it had fizzled out like its owner without doing much damage.
He was dreaming about one of his old cases, the one where an actress named Toots McAllister had hired him to find out who was sending her threatening letters and following her around the Paramount lot. It turned out to be her former girlfriend, a costume designer who was known to give great head. Now he was ready to collect his fee...
Suddenly, a roscoe barked "Kachow!" Was this a part of Al's dream, or had it really happened?
“Is that your real name?”
Somebody had managed to bypass Effie and get into his inner office. He smiled to himself; there was no Effie. He must still be dreaming.
“I said, is that your real name? Or are you making some kind of perverse joke?”
The voice – high and somewhat squeaky – jolted Al out of his reverie. “Sure,” he muttered. “Al from Albrecht, Zymer from Zimmermann. Believe it or not, some folks in this town don't like Jews – even German Jews. What's your name?”
“Haven't you ever heard of the disease?” persisted the very young, very thin, very pale man who resembled a pipe cleaner as he pointed to the sign on the door: AL ZYMER INVESTIGATIONS.
“I heard about it, but I forget where,” Al said, waiting to see if the youngster got the joke. The truth was that he did have trouble remembering things these days – at least while he was awake. “Once again, who the hell are you?”
“Saul Kearney. I think Arthur Secunda down the hall might have mentioned me to you?” The look on Kearney's face had doubt written all over it.
“Secunda? Oh yeah, the photographer.” Al had in fact known Art and his brother Gene, sons of the great Yiddish theatre composer Sholem Secunda, for 40 years, but he was still playing with this boy. He kicked it around in his head for a while, then vaguely recalled Art saying something about a kid who wanted to work as a private dick so that he could write crime novels. “I hope you have a private income,” Al said. “As you might have noticed, business isn't exactly booming...”
Exactly on cue, a loud blast from somewhere down the street rattled the building's old bones. Al creaked out of his chair and went to the window. A crowd had gathered outside the men's clothing store on the corner, the place where movie and TV stars spent $200 on shirts.
“You're in luck,” Al said. “This could be your first paying job. Help me into the elevator. Let's see what's going on at Castle's.”
Saul was about to complain that he hadn't signed on yet, certainly not as a nurse, but thought better of it. And once the old fart was standing up, his pronged cane in one hand, he seemed to be able to hobble out the door.
The crowd outside Castle's looked like upscale looters, and several Beverly Hills cops had to hold them back. A very well-dressed man in his 60s, complete with a cream-colored Ascot around his neck to hide his wattles, spotted Al. “I was just going to call you. Did you sleep through the blast?”
“My new assistant and I were getting acquainted. What the hell you been doing, Jon? Pissing off the Russian Mafia?”
“The Ivans prefer the glitzy Italian stuff,” said Castle. “They think the Ivy League is a football association. So, are you still in business?”
“You bet your cashmere blazer I am. You and I have dealt with heavies a lot worse than the Ivans in our time. But don't you trust the bomb squad to handle this?”
“Let's say I'd rather have my own man on it,” Castle answered. “Your fee still the same?”
“Sure – if you're still charging sixty bucks for shirts like you did in Clark Gable's day. But I'm certain we can agree on a figure. And don't forget I've got my new assistant to look after. What was your name again, kid?”
They were sitting in a little coffee shop on Rodeo into which tourists seldom wandered. Saul, who had hoped for a giant corned beef sandwich at Nate 'n' Al's when Zymer suggested lunch, silently cursed his new employer as a cheap bastard. But his turkey BLT club sandwich was fresh and crisp and not half bad.
“Let's see what we got,” Al said, pulling out a toothmarked yellow pencil as he began to scratch some notes on a paper napkin. “First question: what kind of bomb was it, and where was it placed? We know that and it should tell us if the bombers were pros. I play poker with the head of the LAPD bomb squad – maybe he can be persuaded to part with some details if I pay him the C-note I owe him. Meanwhile, you can get your computer up and searching the way you kids do, see if this matches anything on Doodle.”
Saul realized that he and the fart hadn't yet discussed payment for him. No matter – he wouldn't be around long enough to bother. “I think you mean Google,” he said.
“That's the one. You got a computer at home? Where is home, anyway?”
“I live in Santa Monica, and I do have a Mac laptop,” Kearney answered. “I even have a car – a graduation present from my family. So, what exactly am I looking for?”
“If I knew that, I wouldn't need you, would I? Okay, I'm going back to the office to use Art's phone. You drive your cute little Penis – is that what those gasless babies are called? -- out to Santa Monica and start clicking. Give me your phone number in case I get a hot idea. My phone isn't working: I owe one of Ma Bell's bastard children too much. Let's meet again at the office at noon tomorrow.”
Saul watched in awe and fear as Zymer wrote down the cellphone number he'd given him on the napkin, then drop the napkin full of notes on the table as he lurched out. Kearney started to shout after him, then decided against it. “He's probably deaf, too,” he muttered as he stuck the napkin carefully into his pocket.
Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13TH
FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT TWO
Monday, September 13th, 2010
CHAPTER TWO -- Saul
I went home and “doodled” (for some reason, I just couldn't get the senile geezer's mistake out of my head) for an hour and went through half a pack of Suzie's Gauloises as I searched for the dirt on Jon Castle in the darker reaches of the Internet. Nothing much: stories of the former second-rate character actor's rise to fame as an overpriced clothier; some rumors in unmoderated chatrooms about his links to Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen; occasional liasons with name actresses – Ava Gardner, Shelley Winters, Lana Turner among them.
Then I did what I should have done much earlier. I typed in “Al Zymer” and waited until the search ground to a halt. The listings started with a “What Ever Happened To?” piece ten years ago in the Los Angeles Times, talking about Zymer as though he was dead. It did give me a major clue: the words “former LAPD detective” leaped from the screen.
I found the details in a 1973 Herald-Examiner column by Jim Bacon: “Rumor has it that LAPD hotshot detective Al Zymer -- the man who broke the Katie Troncoso murder case two years ago -- has been forced to resign or face department charges of misconduct in that investigation. Zymer, 41, has been with the cop shop for 15 years, and everyone I know thinks he's a swell guy...”
A search for “Katie Troncoso” came up blank, as did further clicks on Zymer's name.
“Verrrrry interesting,” I grunted to myself. “Maybe I'll take this job after all....”
CHAPTER THREE: Al
“Why should I give you anything, especially for free?” Capt. Brian Rosoff asked Al when he called. “Besides, you still owe me a century from our last poker game.”
“Yeah, yeah. I'll have it ready to stuff into your uniform pocket the way you cops like,” Zymer replied. “I'll take it out of my first check from Castle.”
“Is he gonna pay to get your phone plugged back in? I see you're calling from some other number in that building.”
That was the trouble with trying to work with the cops these days, Al thought. In his years on the force, they didn't have electronic caller i.d. gadgets or computers – just legs, muscle and the occasional payoff. And brains, of course – at least the good ones, like Rosoff. He wondered if Brian was losing any of his. Probably not yet – he was a lot younger than Zymer.
“There will be money for everybody, once I show Jon I can still put things together better than your mob. So, anything you'd like to share, for old time's sake?” Al deliberately underlined “share,” to let his friend know he was having him on.
“Yeah, we did have some times, back when you were hot shit. Remember when Vito Pantelli tried to get Harry Cohn to pay him ten mill not to blow up the Columbia lot?”
Al shifted through some shadowy memories, but came up empty. “That was then, this is now – at least I think it is. Was Castle's a pro job?”
“Too early to be sure. Some things point to that, but others are very strange – as though the blaster was using old or foreign chemicals. I'll keep you posted. And be sure to bring my hundred bucks to our next game. I got my eye on some fine ropes from the J. R. Cigars online site.”
Al sat there, stewing about his own failing mental powers. Who in hell was Vito Pantelli? If Rosoff could remember that case so easily, why couldn't he? His angry reverie was jolted by the chirping of Art Secunda's phone. Should he answer it, or let it ring until what they called “verse mail” kicked in? (He had never heard any poetry on it, but what the hell).
“Al, are you there? Brian just gave me this number. It's Lou. Pick up if you're there.”
Zymer knew that raspy voice, had listened to it groan on and on for a dozen years. His old partner, Lou Gabriel. “Lou? Yeah, I'm here. Howya doin'?”
“I'm good. Sitting out my last three months before the eagle shits. Brian told me you were okay, still working.”
“Yeah, you don't get any dough for being fired. Family okay?"
“Guess you didn't hear. Lorraine died on me, five years ago.”
“Shit, Lou, I'm very sorry.” Lorraine, he vaguely remembered, was a pain in the ass who made a great pot roast.
“Yeah, well... But my kids still call. Keith is at some art school in New York, teaching and painting stuff that looks like an accident to me, but people buy it. And Thelma lives in San Francisco, working as a traffic cop. She just married a criminal defense lawyer, believe it or not.”
“That's nice,” Al said. Nice? His brain must really be shot. “Well, I gotta make a couple of calls...”
“Al, you remember Tina Carone?”
That name he'd never forget. His last case before the fucks dropped the hammer. She was a waitress in an expensive fish place in Malibu, and her body had been washed up on the beach below it.
“What about her?”
“I got a call yesterday from some weirdo in Arizona who says he knows where she's buried.”
“So what? Everybody knows. You and I saw her go under at Woodlawn.”
“Sure. But Al, this guy says the casket we watched had somebody else's body in it.”
Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 20TH
FORGET ABOUT IT: INSTALLMENT THREE
September 20th, 2010
CHAPTER FOUR: Al
It took Zymer an hour to get to Woodland Hills, and not because of the traffic. He missed his freeway exit the first time and had to circle back, something he'd never done before. “Maybe I'd better let the kid drive,” he thought to himself.
Al had driven ever since he was 12, first with his father on the back roads of the Valley, and then as one of the few teenagers at Hollywood High who had their own cars, and the thought of not being able to trust himself behind the wheel scared the shit out of him.
The Motion Picture Home sat like a rich old lady on a hill at the end of a road decorated with luxuriant palm trees. Like the residents, the building and trees were paid for by the movie industry, and every service was provided free by regular donations. Al knew old cinematographers, stuntmen, makeup artists and editors who were lucky enough to get in.
He had come to see Rachel Donner, a still-lovely English actress whose star had burned brightest in the days when the British Colony was a major force in the film industry. She had done Shakespeare with Olivier, horror with Karloff, drawing room comedy with the lordly C. Aubrey Smith, who occasionally took time away from his beloved cricket to make a movie. Then she played people's mothers or elderly aunts until she got the message and honorably retired.
Rachel had never married, although many moguls vowed eternal devotion. She and Al had had a short fling many years before, when he was 30 and she was 40. Now they sat around her room, drinking tea and talking of the past. The last time they'd met, six months before, she had helped him out on a case by reminding him of details about a studio boss which had slipped out of his own memory.
“She's a bit down today,” said the nurse who led him out to the garden, with chairs set up around a bubbling fountain. Al saw Rachel before she saw him, and the first thing he noticed was her robe – not the good one she usually wore, bright with flowers, but a grey and apparently food-stained one supplied by the home. “Can't somebody get her a clean robe?” he said to the nurse, but she was already gone.
Then Rachel turned toward the sound of his voice, and Al realized that many things had changed since his last visit. Her eyes, always bright with life and ideas, were blank now. She stared at him without recognition.
“Rachel, it's me. Al. Sorry I haven't been out to see you, but ....” He stopped as she turned away, looking again at the bubbling fountain. He forced himself to continue, trying to keep the sadness out of his voice. “How are you doing, my dear old girl? Are they giving you everything you want?”
Rachel stared at him with eyes as empty as a dry well.
“Wait till you hear about the new case I just got,” Al said. “Remember Jon Castle, the over-priced shirt peddler across from my office? Well, somebody hit his store with a bomb!” There was no reaction from Rachel, but at least she didn't turn back to the fountain.
“And my poker buddy at the bomb squad thinks the bomb was made by an amateur, using old chemicals.” Saying that out loud tickled something at the back of Zymer's mind. Wasn't there an old case with the same connection? Nothing leaped out immediately, but at least he'd scratched some new ground, maybe even planted a seed...
“And another thing,” he went on doggedly. “My old partner Lou said he had a tip that the body we watched being planted at Woodlawn wasn't Tina Carone at all...”
Suddenly Rachel's eyes flashed and she began to babble “Tina Tina Tina Tina...” like a stuck record. What was she trying to say?
“What about Tina, Rache? Did you know her?” But she continued to babble Tina's name. Then she stopped, and what could have passed for lucidity lit up her face. “Manny,” she said clearly.
“Manny? Manny who? Zalheim? LaMancha?”
Rachel nodded. “Manny LaMancha,” she said. Then her eyes flooded with tears, rolled back in her head and she was lost again.
Al remembered Manny LaMancha, all right – a medium-grade hoodlum who decided to blow the whistle on his mob bosses in Hollywood in return for a seat on the Witness Protection bus. Where had he been relocated? Nothing came to his mind, but it sounded like a good job for his new assistant.
Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler
(To be continued next Monday, September 27th)
FORGET ABOUT IT -- INSTALLMENT FOUR
CHAPTER FIVE: Saul
I was trying to explain my job and my very weird but also oddly intriguing new employer to Suzie, who worked as a medical researcher, had legs and a bottom that stopped traffic, and shared my love for crime fiction.
“I sometimes think he's putting on the senility bit to see how I react,” I told her. “Other times, I'm not so sure.”
“That in itself is a symptom of early-stage Alzheimer's,” she said.
“ 'Do I have it, or don't I? You decide.' "
“For example,” I said, “I went back to his office to see if I could find any evidence of the shot he thinks somebody took at him. Sure enough, there was a bullet hole in the wall, behind a curtain. And he visited an old English actress, a former lover or so I gather, at the Motion Picture Home. She's helped him out before. This time, although she's almost gone to live with the fairies, she suddenly started babbling about a guy called Manny LaMancha – I kid you not – in the Witness Protection Program, and Al asked me to find out where he is.
"It was a cinch; turns out this windwill-tilter is ensconced in Ventura, our neighbor to the north. He's serving as a city councilman and owner of a health club. Then, when I told the old boy about this, he said he knew just the guy to get us more info: a journalist called Ivan Davis, who lives up there. So did he know where Manny was all the time, or is he pulling my chain? How should I handle this, my wise and beautiful love?”
“So Zymer had a hot relationship going with this actress? What does he look like, anyway?”
“Certainly not like an ex-cop,” I said. “In fact, he looks a lot like a description I once read of one of our favorite writers, Fredric Brown -- short, fine-boned, with delicate features. Al looks more like a retired professor than a bull.”
“Some women go for that type. Lucky for you, Mr. Harry Covert, I'm not one of them,” Suzy answered slyly.
We spent the rest of the day proving that in bed.
CHAPTER SIX: Manny, Inc.
Manny LaMancha was having trouble sleeping in his Ventura hideaway. His bed was adjustable, extra long, and cost as much as a used Toyota. But its features weren't helping tonight.
Thanks to a tip-off from his Witness Protection handler, Manny had indeed heard that Al was on his trail. “What the fug?” he exploded, as he did to everything these days. Ventura was a quiet, well-run small city, but his new deal with a famous local actor meant he had to raise a lot of cash for their fancy restaurant. Just gutting and redecorating the old bank on Main Street had cost him about $2 million, and they weren't done yet. The actor lent his name but rarely opened his fat wallet. He would of course accept his hefty share of the loot – especially from the illegal gambling room they planned in the secret cellar.
Why was that nutty old fart Zymer after him? Could he have learned about or figured out Manny's connection with getting him disgraced and fired from the LAPD? It was worth looking into, and LaMancha still had some guys on the Los Angeles turf who could help. And the top cop who was also involved with that dead girl was still in place, and owed Manny a big one.
The same goniff from the Witness Protection Program who had tipped off LaMancha about Al's sudden interest also passed the tip to LAPD Chief Byron Gates – who reacted in a similar fashion. He buzzed his secretary, telling her to bring him the Zymer file.
Gates read the file through carefully, although he knew the details by heart. Two names popped out like warning flags: Tina Carone and Katie Troncoso. Two dead women whose ghosts still haunted him.
Meanwhile, Al was getting ready for a date of his own. Sex was problematic these days, but Tess Tosterone – a well-muscled gun dealer – might just be the answer.
She was, all things considered -- and both fell into a deep sleep. At about five a.m., he woke up with a start. “And my poker buddy at the Bomb Squad thinks the bomb was made by an amateur, using old chemicals,” he'd told Rachel, and saying that had set off a ticking clock in his addled brain.
Suddenly, like a sunbeam breaking through the clouds, it came to him. A Russian – Petrov, Petrovsky? – who had tried to steal 100 million bucks from the City of Beverly Hills by threatening to blow up several big stores unless he got his money. This was when? The 1950's? Rosoff wasn't on the job yet, which was why he hadn't picked up on the old chemicals.
Al scratched around to find out what else he remembered. The Russky, whatever his name was, had been caught as he tried to pick up his loot. Zymer had vague memories of his trial; he testified as the arresting officer. Where was Petrov now? Nothing came to mind. This was obviously another job for his new assistant – who certainly deserved a salary as soon as Castle's money began to flow...
Ivan Davis, a lanky Brit who had worked for the London Express for 30 years before he got fed up with print journalism, was doing a piece for his blog when his cellphone rang. He didn't recognize the incoming number.
“Ivan? It's Al Zymer. Howya doing, my old mate? Lost any marbles since we last spoke?”
Davis chuckled. “You should talk. They named the disease after you. Anyway, my mind is as sharp as ever. What's up with you?”
“I just got a case which involves a guy who's in the Witness Protection Program in Ventura. Does the name Manny LaMancha ring a bell?”
“Absolutely!” Ivan replied. “He's a city councilman, and he owns the Primrose Racquet Club, a fancy health place near the ocean. I also know that he and Conner Kevins have turned an old bank downtown into a fancy restaurant called The Waterworks. But I never heard about any Witness Protection action. Then again, I've always thought that Ventura was prime territory for the program.”
Davis was working as a part time private eye and also as an online crime book seller – his site was called Blog Me Dead. “Maybe you and I should have a meal at The Waterworks. I hear it's pricey – are you on an expense account?”
“Yeah, my client says anything goes,” Al replied. It was a lie, but he'd work it out.
Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler
(To be continued next Monday, October 3rd)
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FORGET ABOUT IT -- INSTALLMENT FIVE
October 4th, 2010
(To catch up, see Installments One, Two, Three and Four below. And, to make catching up easier, all the archives are now up on their own site -- in order of appearance.)
CHAPTER SEVEN -- Saul
I had been raised in a town near Ventura called Thousand Oaks. I was a late addition, and my parents – both now retired UC professors – had wanted their only child to grow up in a quiet, safe place. Berkeley certainly had its charms (among them the world's best pizza at Zachary's), but the city itself was becoming increasingly noisy and dangerous. When a colleague recommended Thousand Oaks, we checked it out and made the move.
My favorite place in the town was a bookstore called Mysteries To Die For, where my taste for crime fiction was honed. Such local writers as John Shannon, Gary Phillips, Lee Lockwood and many others read, signed and discussed their latest books on a regular basis. It was as close to heaven -- and as far from the school library -- as a budding mystery lover could get. My mother, of course, objected to my new love of mysteries: she was a historian, and a bit scornful of genre fiction. But my old man, a musician with broader tastes, loved a good thriller and encouraged me.
I could have used my parents' connections to get into Berkeley, but having grown up there I decided to try a new place. UC Santa Barbara looked interesting: they even had a course on vampire literature in their catalogue. I signed up for it to give me a lull in my otherwise heavy schedule. Lucky I did. It was an interesting group -- 30-odd (some very odd) students, most of us looking for a gut course, and a few with a real interest in the subject. We were instructed with a straight face by an assistant professor who had a taste for blood. And there in the front row was an absolutely stunning woman named Suzie Charpentier.
Like me, Suzie was unattached -- though not for want of trying by every other male in the class, including the instructor. Fear of failure kept me from immediately joining the line. But one day during the first week of our class, I walked into a coffee shop called Nicoletti's in Isla Vista and saw that Suzie was sitting alone at a table, reading. It was now or never. "Mind if I share your space, fellow bloodsucker?" I asked in as jaunty a manner as I could.
She lifted her eyes (the color of Canadian whiskey, as one of my favorite Nanci Griffith songs said) from her book -- an old Ross Macdonald paperback, I noticed -- and then actually smiled. "Saul, isn't that your name?"
I tried to hide my delight at her recognition. "And you are Suzie, no? Are you enjoying The Way Some People Die? It's one of my favorites."
"Oh yes," she replied. "I've liked Macdonald best ever since I read that very rude remark about him in Chandler's letters. Do you know it?"
"The one which attacks Macdonald for describing a car as 'acned with rust'? I always thought Chandler was a British public school boy trying to act tough. He was never in Hammett's league, or Macdonald's."
We went on in this delicious vein for an hour, then adjourned to my room. The rest, as they say, is history...
CHAPTER EIGHT -- Al and Ivan
Ivan Davis pulled his ancient but gleaming Triumph Razorback, which looked like a small Bentley, into the valet parking slot at the side of Waterworks. “Hope you guys got a reservation,” the attendant said as he admired the vehicle. “We're standing room only tonight.”
Ivan and Al assured him they were covered. Prepared to spend some time staring around at the amazing restoration job in spite of their reservation, they were surprised to hear the lovely young woman at the desk saying that their table was ready. “If the food is as good as the service, we're in for a treat,” Ivan said. “I hope you've got a credit card with two hundred bucks on it.”
“Don't worry,” Al reassured him. “My client coughed up good.” Another lie; he might have to risk using the fake American Express card he'd paid a former client $500 for.
The menu began with a bang, and got even better as they read it out loud, like Orson Welles in that old commercial:
“CHILI DUSTED PRAWNS WITH ROASTED GARLIC
Sautéed to perfection with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and rosemary ~ 14
Marinated artichokes and fresh tomatoes with basil and lemon. Served on grilled artisan bread ~ 11
Thinly sliced Filet Mignon drizzled with a lemon dill aioli, topped with shaved Parmesan and fried capers ~ 13”
And that was just the starters. Ivan and Al plunged avidly ahead into the main courses:
“PAN-SEARED CHICKEN TAPENADE
Crispy half chicken roasted to perfection and finished with our olive tapenade. Served with wild rice and seasonal vegetables ~ 23
“BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIBS
Slow roasted for over 8 hours. Served on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes, peppers and onions then smothered in our natural pan sauce ~ 25
“LOBSTER POT PIE
Tender chunks of Maine lobster and seasonal vegetables surrounded by a portobello and black truffle brandy sauce. Served in a clay pot topped by a buttery puff pastry crust
(Please allow 30 minutes to prepare) ~ 45
“HERB CRUSTED RACK OF LAMB
Succulent New Zealand lamb plated with a veal demi glace and mint bernaise. Served with crispy rosemary potatoes ~ 37
“NEW YORK STEAK
14-ounce New York steak dusted with Kona sea salt and paired with our red russet garlic mashed potatoes and fresh local vegetables. ~ 37”
Ivan finally settled on the prawns, followed by the short ribs. After warily checking out the prices, Al said “Fuck it” and ordered the carpaccio and a New York steak adorned with cracked pepper demi glace, sauteed portabello mushrooms and shoestring onions.
As they waited for their pricey grub, Al and Ivan checked out what Manny and his partners had done to the stately old bank. The style was an impressive mix of Colonial and art-deco influences: hand-stenciled ceilings, wood paneling and murals painted by various artists. “I'm sure they had a decorator,” Al said. “The Manny I knew could never have come up with this.”
The food was absolutely wonderful, leaving them both smiling with delight. The tab had come in at $178; Al added a $38 tip and nervously handed over his fake AmEx card – which sailed through like a charm.
Still beaming, they waited for the elevator to take them up to the top floor, which reportedly offered spectacular views. It too lived up to its reputation.
Going down, they shared the ride with two guys who looked familiar to Al. He glanced over at Ivan to see if his friend shared his own vague recollection, but Davis apparently didn't. Then it dawned on Zymer: they were a couple of Manny LaMancha's crew from Los Angeles.
Al and Ivan got out first; one of the other guys – the short and round one -- muttered something about leaving his wallet upstairs as he pushed the button which closed the door. On a hunch, Al watched the display which showed what floor the elevator was on. It hadn't moved. Al punched the “Up” button; the car arrived empty. Where in hell had those boys gone?
“I think there's another floor under this one,” Al said. “Wanna take a look?” They got into the elevator. Al pushed the “Down” button. Nothing happened. He pushed it again. Still nothing.
“I've got an idea,” Ivan said. He reached over Al and pushed “Up” and “Down” at the same time. It worked; the elevator moved slowly downward. Al reached for his .38, remembering at the last minute that his permit had been yanked last year when he hit 70.
The elevator door slid open, revealing a long room that looked at first glance like a cross between a Las Vegas casino and a very stylish cowboy saloon. It was full of people playing cards, dice and roulette. The absence of slot machines gave the place a distinctly upscale aura. Although the closest he'd been to be Montecarlo was watching a James Bond movie, Al knew that this was a much classier spot than any in Vegas.
Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler
(To Be Continued Next Monday, October 11th)
FORGET ABOUT IT -- INSTALLMENT SIX
CHAPTER TWELVE: Al, Ivan, Quentin
At 11 p.m. that night, Al and Ivan were sitting in the Busy Bee, a coffee shop on Main Street where Ivan's buddy Quentin O'Rourke, a Ventura County Sheriff's Deputy, preferred to conduct his business.
"What, they got no Dunkin' Donuts up here?" Al asked.
"Nope. No Walmarts, either. The City Council is very tough about keeping the place from turning into Los Angeles."
"Is this the same City Council where Manny has a chair?"
Ivan was spared from replying by the arrival of a large man in a rumpled uniform. "You must be Al Zymer," the deputy said. "Is the name real, or are you taking the piss?"
The only other person Al knew, aside from Rachel, who used that expression was Ivan. "You a Brit?" he asked.
"Nope. I was born in L.A. But I've picked up some of Ivan's weird lingo, plus a taste for British soccer -- which they call football. Try telling that to your average 300-pound linebacker."
"So, how did you guys meet?" asked Al. "Working on a case?"
"Believe it or not, this mick is a member of my synagogue," Davis answered genially.
"The O'Rourke is from my father. My mother's name was Moscovitz. I feel right at home every time I walk into a temple."
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Al
"Is this Albrecht Zimmerman?" asked a voice that had 'lawyer' dripping from it like icicles.
"Who wants to know?" Al said cautiously.
"My name is Bernard Montez. I represent the late Bertha Vanation. If you are indeed Albrecht Zimmerman, I have some news for you."
That was her name, Al thought. I never went to see her, and now she's dead. He vaguely remembered a thin, quiet woman, just the opposite of her sister. Al's mother was loud and insistent; his car salesman father put up with it, but Al left the house as soon as he could enroll in the Police Academy. He visited her once, after his old man died, but she was deep in senilty herself by that time.
"How did you get this number?"
"Your associate, Mr. Kearney, gave it to me," Montez said. "Can we get together tomorrow? Please bring as much ID as you can to prove you really are Albrecht Zimmerman."
The lawyer was as smooth and cold as a glass of horchata as he told Al that his Aunt Bertha had left him a small lemon grove on the eastern end of Ventura, along Telegraph Road. The main house was gorgeous -- six rooms full of old Mexican-style furniture. The only other private building on the ranch was the modest home of the longtime manager, Pablo. The seasonal workers who picked the lemons and cared for the trees were housed in a clean but depressing bunkhouse on the edge of the grove.
Al took one look and decided to move in. Ivan was amazingly generous letting him freeload at his house, but Al felt like the ranch was a kind of a homecoming. That plus the fact that Montez had told him the place was green-belted and couldn't be sold until 2020 made up his mind...
Copyright © 2010 by Dick Adler
(To be continued next Monday, October 18th)