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Come Die With Me
A Brock Callahan Mystery
By William Campbell Gault
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1959 William Campbell Gault
All rights reserved.
She was one of those tall and busty bleached blondes who don't look quite as alluring up close as they do in a chorus line. Except for her hair, however, there was nothing fraudulent about the girl. Her mink stole was genuine, as were her diamonds, and her second-row nasal was undoubtedly the Corn Belt voice she had grown up with.
I kind of liked her.
She was telling me about her husband. It was a rainy, early April morning and we had been having a record year for wetness. I listened to the rain beating the windows of my office and imagined this big girl on some Iowa farm, dreaming of Hollywood, reading all the movie magazines and ...
And she said petulantly, "You're not paying attention, Mr. Callahan. You're not listening to me."
I smiled. "I'll listen more carefully when you get to the important part, Mrs. Malone."
She frowned. "You don't think it's important, me meeting Tip, how it happened and all ..."
"Maybe to a horse-racing fan," I said. "I'm not one of those."
"I thought it was interesting," she said. "Kind of romantic."
"I'm sure it was," I agreed. And wondered to myself why jockeys always picked these big, busty blondes. I said, "Is your husband chasing—other women, Mrs. Malone?"
"Hell, no," she said. "He's got all the woman he can handle right at home. He's hanging around Frank Giovanni, that's what he's doing."
Frank Giovanni was a man of wealth and too much influence in the area, a man who had been indicted often but never convicted and who had appeared in front of two Congressional Committees. He was not a man most private investigators would care to tangle with.
I said, "There's no law against hanging around with Frank Giovanni, Mrs. Malone."
"Maybe not. But there should be. I don't like it."
I looked at the rain on the windows and back to her. I said nothing, waiting for her to go on.
"I'm boring you," she said. "Do you think I can't afford you, or something? You're rude."
"Not intentionally," I said. "But I run an investigative agency, not a marriage counseling service, Mrs. Malone. You wanted me to check up on your husband, did you?"
"That's right. I don't mean you'd have to follow him around or anything like that. I just thought you could ask around and see if there's something fishy cooking, understand?"
"Look, Mr. Callahan, Tip's doing all right, see? He had more winners at Santa Anita this spring than he ever had before. He's coming into his best years. I don't want anything to spoil that."
"You think his hanging around with Frank Giovanni might spoil that somehow?"
"Won't it? How about the Commission? Jockeys aren't allowed to bet or hang around with known gamblers, are they?"
"Frank Giovanni," I said, "isn't a known gambler. He isn't a known anything."
"You know and I know what he is, don't we? We're special?"
"No." I took a deep breath. "Mrs. Malone, we've had some fine men run for office in this state, haven't we? I mean, some men of supposed integrity who became governor or were sent to Washington from this state?"
She stared at me and nodded.
I asked gently, "Have you ever heard any one of them openly oppose horse racing in this state?"
She continued to stare. "Why should they? There's nothing wrong with it."
"Isn't there? Be honest now. Think of the scum it supports. You must have met some of them. Think of the money that could be spent with honest merchants that is thrown away at the race track."
"Everybody gambles," she said. "Who can stop gambling?"
"Practically everybody gambles," I agreed. "But that doesn't make it right. And when the state encourages it, that makes the state a party to the crime. But you and I can't do anything about it."
"Take a look at the money that Santa Anita and Hollywood Park pull in during a meeting. Think of the breakage and the percentage the state takes out of that. Who is going to fight a combination that rich?"
She frowned. "You got me off the track. It's Frank Giovanni I came to talk about."
"Frank's an evil man," I said. "But any state that permits horse racing is going to have a whole layer of scum like Frank Giovanni. Any place where there's gambling, there are going to be Giovannis. And boys like your Tip are going to run into them."
She shook her head. "I know a lot of the boys. What else do I ever see around the house but the little men? And the good ones don't hang around with trash. They're very careful about that."
The drum of the rain on the windows was constant. I looked at Gloria (Mrs. Tip) Malone and smiled. I said, "I know what you're thinking—you're thinking a crummy private eye isn't qualified to lecture you on morality."
She shook her head. "Not you. Harry Adler gave me the word on you. He's Tip's agent. Harry said you were an ace."
I smiled. "So's Harry. Okay, you tell me that the jocks you know are circumspect. All of them ...?"
"How can I answer unless you tell me what circumspect means?"
"Cautious," I said. "Prudent. Wary."
"Around everything but a dollar, a horse or a woman, they're plenty cautious," she informed me. She adjusted her stole and looked at me thoughtfully. "Mr. Callahan, am I asking for you to serve a subpoena or something? Nose around, that's all I want. Find out what's cooking." She opened her purse and threw some bills on my desk. "Is that enough?"
The bills were fifties and there were three of them. I picked them up, smoothed them out and handed them back to her. "I'll ask around. If it needs more than that, I'll bill you." I winked at her. "In the interest of maintaining this fine romance."
She smiled and stood up. "I knew you would. Harry said you would. Harry said if there's one guy interested in clean sport, it is Brock (The Rock) Callahan."
"It's not a sport," I said, "and it was never clean. It's your romance I intend to maintain, Mrs. Tip Malone." I stood up. "One question—where are you from? Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota ...?"
"I'm a native," she said. "I was born in Santa Barbara. Why?"
"I just wondered. Everybody out here is from somewhere else."
"Not you," she said. "Not me. Carry on, Irish."
She went out, leaving the smell of her strong perfume behind. I went to the window and watched the rain and the big cars below throwing up geysers from their fat tires. A big-car town, Beverly Hills. Mrs. Malone came out from the building entrance below and hurried to a Continental at the curb.
Twenty-four inches of rain we had had so far this season, though fifteen inches for an entire season is normal. One thing about our weather, it is always unusual.
I knew a jockey by the name of Nose Silvane, and he, too, had a big-bosomed, loud and leggy blonde for a sparring partner. What was it with these little men; were they trying to prove something?
If they were trying to prove they were men, it was a needless gesture. Any hundred and fifteen pounder who would guide a steelshod horse through those tons of horseflesh on a gummy track had more guts than the law should allow.
Maybe it was the old Oedipus, the adolescent American need for those massive mammaries. They were like all the rest of us, except for size.
I phoned Harry Adler and got his sister Bertha. She told me, "A day like this, where would he be? It's too wet for golf. He's at Heinie's, playing pinochle."
Heinie's was a bar and restaurant and gathering place that seemed to attract the sporting trade. I stood by the window for a while, hoping the rain would diminish, but it didn't. I took an umbrella and went over to the parking lot for my car.
It was almost noon and I could use some of Heinie's pig knuckles and sauerkraut. Along with a beaker or two of Einlicher. Heinie's was one of the four bars in this town permitted to serve Einlicher. It is a highly restricted beer.
Harry Adler had finished his morning stint of pinochle and was settling down with some of his cronies for bratwurst when I arrived. He left them and came over to join me in another booth.
He was a short and stocky man with a sad face and a deep, rich voice. He said, "I suppose Gloria Malone has been in to see you."
The waiter came and I ordered and told him to bring us a couple of bottles of beer first.
"I hope it's on you," Harry said. "Einlicher's too rich for my pocket book."
"On me," I said. "That Gloria Malone is quite a girl, isn't she?"
He nodded sadly. "A worrier, too. You wouldn't think, with her background, she'd be such a worrier."
"What's her background, Minsky's or the Columbia Wheel?"
He shook his head. "Nothing like that. She's Big Bill Duster's daughter."
Big Bill Duster was a man who had hit the big money late in life. In oil. He'd wildcatted through Arizona and Oklahoma, finally hit the jackpot in the Castro Hills strike, north of Ventura.
Harry said, "What are you laughing about?"
"I'm laughing at myself," I told him. "I had the girl all figured out. And everything I figured was wrong. Duster runs a stable now, too, doesn't he?"
"Not any more. He used to, that's how Gloria met Tip. She's kind of—crude for a millionaire's daughter, isn't she?"
"She probably didn't grow up as a millionaire's daughter."
"That's right. Her mother died when she was six. She travelled with Bill after that, all through the oil country. Wonderful girl, though. I wish that punk would get smart enough to realize it."
Our beer came, and I drank. Harry drank deeply, wiped his mouth and smiled. "I wish I could afford this kind of beer."
He could buy the brewery that made it, but Harry must have had some Scotch in him. I said, "You're not worried about your client hanging around with Giovanni, eh?"
"Not enough to pay you to look into it."
"If he gets into trouble, that will affect your income, too, Harry."
"So you're going to investigate, right? And Gloria is going to pay you. I'm the one who suggested you."
"She isn't going to pay me," I said, "unless there's something to investigate. And so far I haven't found anything worth the trouble."
He stared at me. "You don't think it's important Tip's hanging around with Giovanni and his hoodlum friends?"
"You don't. Not enough to pay me, anyway."
"All right, so my mother was Scotch. That doesn't mean I'm not a little worried. Not like Gloria, but I'm worried."
My knuckles came and his bratwurst. He looked at his food mournfully. "Is it Las Vegas that did it, Brock?"
"Did what, Harry?"
"Made the scum socially acceptable? All the hoodlums mixing with the citizens, flitting around with the movie stars, moving into the best districts—did Las Vegas do that?"
"It helped, I guess. All the do-gooders worry about juvenile delinquency while adult delinquency is ten times as prevalent. And much more dangerous."
He went to work on his bratwurst and I attacked my knuckles and kraut. The yackers, the wits and the witless talked ceaselessly and occasionally cleverly about the meaningless.
I thought of Frank Giovanni, bigger than the law, sharper than the Internal Revenue boys, invulnerable to Congressional committees. We make our own monsters in this broad land and we had made him. In the old days by buying illegal booze and later by rushing to Las Vegas, by patronizing the race tracks, by voting for the gutless public servants.
And now a tough little man with a big blonde wife was hanging around with Frank. And what was it to me? I didn't play the ponies and I carefully avoided Las Vegas.
I said, "I should have taken Gloria's money. What's Tip Malone to me if he's nothing to you?"
Harry colored. "Take her money. Did I tell you not to take her money? I've got a wife who's been in a mental hospital for two years and two sons at Columbia, if you're wondering where my money goes. I've got Uncle Sam living in my pocket."
I said softly, "I'm sorry. I didn't know that, Harry."
"It isn't something I'd broadcast over C.B.S. Why should you know?"
"I didn't even know you were married," I said.
"Who knows anything about anybody today? Who cares?"
I sipped my beer. "Don't lecture me. I'm poor. And almost honest."
He smiled. "Sure you are. Look, last I heard Bill Duster was worth about twenty-seven million. And Gloria's his only child. If the girl wanted to slip you a couple hundred, what was the problem?"
"I didn't see where I could do her much good."
"Huh! She's got a sable coat that cost her thirty-eight thousand dollars. She needs that in California? It's that cold? She's got more diamond rings than she's got fingers for. They do her some good? Can she pick up things better with the diamonds on? Get smart, Rock."
"That's what Jan keeps telling me," I said morosely. "Get smart, get smart, get smart ..."
"She's right. Get smart—and get yours."
Get mine? What did I need? I didn't have a wife or sons. What did I need beyond an occasional glass of Einlicher and an occasional friendly bed?
Harry said, "You're big and still kind of young and you've always considered yourself honest. But what has it got you?"
"Enough, Harry. I told Mrs. Malone I'd bill her if I thought this thing needed investigation. But I've never investigated a jockey's social life before. Where would I start?"
"Start at the other end," he said. "Start with Giovanni."CHAPTER 2
The rain kept coming down in its idiotic way. A car was stalled, wheels submerged, in the low spot on Sunset a block from Jan's shop. From behind the wheel a bulging matron looked out at me hopefully so I swung in a U-turn and came back.
My gallant flivver's bumper was a perfect match for the bumper of her car and I pushed her out and pushed her to the top of the hill, from where she could coast to a filling station.
There was a parking space in front of Jan's shop and behind the lettering on her front window, I could see my love, staring gloomily out at the rain. The lettering read:jan bonnet—interiors in dignified and uncapitalized black script. She waved at me as I stepped from the car.
She is a lovely girl, my Jan, small and well-shaped, with warm brown eyes and soft brown hair. She has a temper and a sharp tongue, at times, but one expects that from small people.
This noon she was all smiles. "You've come to take me to lunch. How thoughtful!"
I thought of the knuckles and kraut, already rumbling in my stomach. I said, "You're a mind reader. How was the party last night?"
It had been a decorators' party and I usually avoid them.
"It was all right," she said. "What did you do?"
"With the boys?"
By the "boys" she meant the other ex-Rams, the ageing and nostalgic warriors, and there was some irony in her use of the word.
"With the men," I said. "What have you got against athletes?"
"They don't grow up."
"Jan, let's not get going on that. Are we going to eat or aren't we?"
She went to get a raincoat, a frivolous creation of pliofilm and treated satin, and I went out to hold the door open for her on the curb side.
On the way over to Cini's I told her about my visit from Gloria Duster Malone and my conversation with Harry Adler. I said, "I thought you might know the Dusters or Giovanni. They're local people and they're rich and you seem to know a lot of that breed."
"I know Mr. Duster," she said. "I did his house, God forgive me."
"So—what's wrong with doing his house?"
"It was all his taste, not mine. He's a stubborn and tasteless man."
"But you still took his money, I'll bet."
"Naturally. I am a business woman. Only an idiot athlete like Brock (The Rock) Callahan would refuse to accept business from a client."
"You sound like Joe Puma," I said: "Most of the athletes I've met have been pretty wonderful people. And so have the ones I introduced to you."
"Socially wonderful and financially imbecilic," she said. "I can give you a letter of introduction to Mr. Duster, if that will help. He thinks I'm kind of cute."
"It's his daughter who wants to hire me," I explained. "His grown-up and married daughter."
"But Papa has the money, and wouldn't Papa be interested in the troubles of his son-in-law?"
I sighed and said nothing.
"It's simply good business, Brock."
"It is like hell. It's an angle and you know I don't play angles."
Silence from her. The incessant rain kept coming down. It seemed that lately the only place Jan and I got along was in bed and that hadn't been often enough.
Cini's has a portico and I drove the flivver under that. An attendant, not quite hiding his disdain for my equipage, held the door open for Jan and then came around to take the wheel.
"Treat it right," I told him. "It's a special model."
His smile was bland.
Excerpted from Come Die With Me by William Campbell Gault. Copyright © 1959 William Campbell Gault. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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