- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
The morgue in Los Angeles is downstairs in the Hall of Justice. It was seven o'clock at night, dark now, and Mr. Franklin stopped me when we reached the building's entrance. "You go ahead," he said.
"Aren't you coming in with me?"
"No, Mr. Scott, I'm not going to look at her again. I couldn't. I'm not even going to look at her when the funeral ..." His voice stopped suddenly, choked off, as if it had become almost impossible for him to speak.
But, then, he was her father, and last night she had been alive. She had left the house laughing, shouting back over her shoulder that she'd be home by ten. And Mr. Franklin hadn't seen his daughter again until he saw her on a slab here in the Los Angeles County Morgue.
She was only eighteen.
Last night, some time, somewhere, she had been raped. And some man's hands had closed about her soft throat and squeezed until there was no life left in her young body.
"No," Mr. Franklin repeated, "I won't ever see her again."
I left him standing on the street and went inside. Emil, the morgue attendant, was expecting me. He nodded without speaking, and turned. I followed him. He had her ready for me and I stopped by the table on which she lay. He reached for the top of the cloth covering her body. I had never seen the girl, Pam, alive. Yet, this wouldn't be like looking at the dead body of a stranger.
Mr. Franklin had come to my office, "Sheldon Scott, Investigations," in the afternoon and had asked me to take the case — for $500. I was spending all my time trying to recover two diamond necklaces, and there was $10,000 for me if I got the stones. I was close to them, so I'd told Mr. Franklin I couldn't help him. But he'd seemed about to go to pieces, and I'd finally agreed to come to his house, let him show me some things, and then come with him to the morgue.
At his home he'd taken me to Pam's room, shown me her clothes and school books, scuffed saddle shoes and high-school album. Then he'd left me alone with a big black photograph album. In the album was a photo record of each year of Pam's life. As a baby a few days old, growing up and walking, going to school; a picture taken every year on her birthday; snapshots of Pam alone and with friends, with the date and little notes that she had penned in white ink beneath each picture.
And slowly, without my even being conscious of it at first, I kind of got to know Pam. For one thing, in most of the pictures she was smiling; from the goofy, slobbery smile of a year-old baby girl to the sweet soft smile of a young lady of eighteen. In less than an hour I saw her grow up, pass through awkward adolescence, mature and bloom. I looked once more at the clothes she'd worn, the books she'd read, and they seemed different than they had at first. Mr. Franklin had mentioned he was a widower with one child — Pamela — and that knowledge seemed different, too, than it had at first.
Emil pulled the sheet from her body.
I don't know how long I looked at her. Then Emil said, "Ain't a very pretty looking deceased, is she?"
I answered finally, "She was, Emil. She was beautiful."
She wasn't now. Death never is very pretty — but this wasn't the quiet sleep you usually think of when death is mentioned. I had a snapshot of Pam in my pocket, but the dead girl didn't look like the picture at all. Her lips still were puffed, the lower one split in its center; her left eye was swollen and there were deep, pale scratches on one small breast. An ugly blue-yellow bruise stained the waxy whiteness of her thigh. And, of course, her throat and face were puffed, bruised and obscenely ugly.
"You can cover her now, Emil."
He pulled the sheet up over her body and her face. I got a morgue photo of her from Emil, then walked outside. I understood fully now why Mr. Franklin hadn't wanted to look at her.
When I stopped in front of him he didn't speak, just waited to see what I'd say.
"All right, Mr. Franklin," was all I could manage.
He sighed softly, then nodded.
"You go on home," I told him. "I'll get started."
Los Angeles Homicide is in Room 42 on the Temple Street floor of City Hall, and while it's not the cheeriest place in the world, it's a big improvement over the morgue. And Sam brightens the place up, at least for me. Sam is Captain Phil Samson of Homicide, big, gruff, with iron-gray hair and a clean-shaven pink face. He's my best friend in L.A., and we'd worked together often. I'd been talking to him for ten minutes and had read his reports. Pamela Franklin had kept a diary and that was on Sam's desk, too. I'd gone through it, looking particularly at the entries for the past few days, but hadn't learned anything from it. Nor had Homicide. It was the usual girl-stuff, full of underlined words and exclamation points, with everybody referred to either by nicknames or initials, as if to keep the diary more secret.
Pam had gone out with Orin West, a boy her age, at 6:30 last night. About 9:30, another couple driving in Elysian Park had seen someone lying a little way off the road. They'd stopped and the man had gone over the prostrate figure — that of a youth, who had mumbled a word or two then passed out. The couple called the police, who learned the unconscious kid was Orin West. He'd been beaten over the head; apparently later he'd regained consciousness and crawled almost to the road. Fifty feet away, hidden by the trees, Pam's body had been found, her clothing torn, her flesh still warm. From blurred footprints and trampled grass it appeared that more than one man had been involved in the attack.
I said to Samson, "The kid with Pam. What's this 'blagan' or 'blaging' he was trying to say before he passed out?"
Sam scratched his gray hair. "What the kid probably said was 'Black Gang.' Mean anything to you?"
It meant quite a bit. We'd been having trouble in L.A., with kid gangs, teen-age hoodlums. They'd been mixed up in robberies, beatings, and a case or two of gang-rape. There was a Red Gang, and the King's men, the Dukesters — and, among others, a Black Gang. From what I'd heard, the Black Gang was the toughest, nastiest group of hoodlums in the city.
I stood up. "Thanks, Sam. That sort of fingers the punks, doesn't it? I think I'll have a talk with some of them."
"Wait a minute," he said. "It fingers one, probably more out of maybe forty guys in the club. What the hell you think you're going to do? Beat them up one at a time? You'll get into plenty of trouble if you start slapping kids around."
I sat down as Sam added, "Besides, you lift a finger at one of them there'll be ten on your back." He frowned. "What you so steamed up for?"
I told him about Mr. Franklin and the trip to the morgue, showed him the snapshot and the morgue photo of Pam. I told him I was going to have a showdown with the kids tonight, despite his lecture. He could tell I was wound up, and he gave me a funny look. Then he said, "We had our eye on the Black Gang before this came up. Not Homicide. Robbery has been casing them for three weeks. They're as sure as they can be, without evidence to convict, that this Black Gang pulled a couple gas-station heists and knocked over a liquor store. And now we've got this rape-kill. All of our work has been under cover, so the gang doesn't know they've been fingered.
"The kid, Orin West, fingered them when he said 'Black Gang,' but he hasn't said a word since. He's in the hospital now, unconscious, and in a bad way. With his parents' consent, we released a story to the papers, saying both the boy and the girl died. So whoever clubbed him and raped the girl probably think they're clear." He paused. "If the boy comes out of it, maybe we'll get the right answer. But he might not make it, so we've got to go ahead." He gave me that funny look again. "Shell," he said slowly, "as long as you've already made up your mind to stick your neck out, go down to the gang's clubhouse and throw your weight around. Stir them up — particularly the head of the gang."
"Just give me the address."
He wrote it down for me, then said, "I told you we were working on this. In our own way. But it's all under cover and the kids can't know we're interested in them. That's the way we want it. If you can throw a scare into them it might help us a lot. But this bunch is nasty; you might get your head bashed in. Another thing, these gangs are usually all teen-agers — but the top in this one is a twenty-two-year-old tough named Chuck Dorr." He paused. "Dorr can't account for his time between eight and ten last night. And he was up on a sex rap here a few months back. Messing with a fourteen-year-old-girl, slapped her around a little."
Sam looked disgusted. "Naturally; fined fifty dollars and put on probation."
I got up. "I'll keep in touch, Sam."
"Stir them up — but don't overdo it. There's still a chance the West kid can tell us something. And for Pete's sake don't let them know you've even talked to a cop. We want them to keep on thinking the police never heard of them. That's important. I'll know what you're doing, but you're pretty much on your own. And watch this Dorr bastard. He's a grown man, and tough — bigger than you are."
I'm a shade under six two, barefoot, and weigh 206. "What is he?" I asked, "A monster?"
"You'll see him." Sam walked to the door with me and added, "Shell, I — uh — always leveled with you, so I'll tell you. I'm holding out a little on you."
"What does that mean?"
"Nothing. Just wanted to keep it level. Well, watch yourself. Some of those kids, at least one of them, thinks he's already committed two murders — Pam Franklin and Orin West. The next one will be easy. From the record, Chuck Dorr isn't quite right. And whoever pulled the deal last night, whether it was Dorr or somebody else, is definitely psycho."
I grinned. "I won't let anybody kill me, Sam." I left, but I didn't feel quite as flippant as I tried to sound.
I parked my Cad convertible around the corner from the Black Gang's clubhouse, then walked around the corner, down the street past a narrow alley, and stopped before the place. Two motorcycles and three jalopies that looked like hopped-up jobs were parked in front. The club itself was an ordinary house, a big one-story frame building set back twenty feet from the street. A cracked cement walk led through a dirt yard to the door. I walked over it and up onto a warped wooden porch.
There was a lot of noise inside — squeals and laughter and shouts and the thumping of feet as somebody danced heavily. It sounded like a big crowd. I didn't yet know quite how I'd handle this, but I figured I'd let the kids take the lead at first. If they were subdued and pleasant, I'd be the same — as much as possible, with the memory of Pam still fresh in my mind. I didn't expect a cordial reception, though; I'd been up against a couple of teen-age gangs before, and I long ago got over my initial erroneous impression that a criminal had to be an adult. A fifteen-year-old kid once clubbed me with a professionally made sap, and an eighteen-year-old shot at me with a zip gun. He missed by a couple of yards — but he tried not to. My .38 Colt Special was in its shoulder harness, but I hoped the kids would be nice and polite.
I rang the bell, and noise simmered down inside. A tall, skinny, rat-faced guy about seventeen opened the door and squinted out at me. "Yeah?"
"I'm looking for Chuck Dorr."
"Shell Scott. I'm a private detective."
"Never heard of you." He started to shut the door in my face, but my foot got in the way.
"I guess you didn't hear what I said."
"I heard you. He ain't here. Beat it. You ain't invited. Get it, Mr. Detective?"
This little punk was what I'd expected to find here, and he was making me mad, which I'd also expected. "You'll do," I said. "I'd just as soon talk to you."
He mumbled a couple of filthy words, then said, "The foot. The big foot. Move it."
I moved it. I lifted it up and kicked the door with it. Ratface staggered back a step and the door swung in and slammed against the wall. I walked inside, brushing past Ratface as the room got completely quiet. Three or four guys stood up, glaring at me. There were maybe a couple dozen kids in the big front room, about half of them girls, and all teenagers. None of them was near my size, so Chuck Dorr wasn't in here.
There had obviously been some heavy petting going on. There was plenty of liquor in sight. Probably they were all half plastered, and there was a heavy sweet smell that indicated there were a few marijuana smokers scattered around. Liquor and marijuana make the punks bigger, smarter, tougher.
I stood inside the room for only a few seconds as hostile eyes stared at me, then the door slammed behind me and the silence ended. Three of the guys who'd stood up when I barged inside walked toward me, and the one in front, a short, stocky youngster with the sweet face of a child who spends his evenings looking at filthy postcards, said "Beat it, mister. This is a private racket." Another, with a thin, pimpled face and bright red lips, said. "Get lost; vamoose; disappear."
There were several other remarks, all equally clever. The girls present made it worse, because male punks, like those around me, always get tougher and more "clever" in front of their women — like guys kicking sand at the beach. And the women looked like the type who'd love it. Half a dozen were in jeans or slacks, others in tight dresses.
They didn't like having their party interrupted. I couldn't help thinking that Pam and her boy friend must not have liked it either, last night. I looked at the hard young faces of the three kids standing a yard away, glanced around at the other male faces and they were as vicious and ugly a collection as I'd ever seen in one room. Each time I looked at one of them I wondered if maybe he had beaten Pam, wrapped his fingers around her throat. Any one of them looked capable of it — and one or more of them had probably done it.
The short chunky kid and the red-lipped one on his left put their hands flat on my chest and shoved me toward the door. I could feel my face getting hot. It's simply part of the way I'm made; nothing in the world gripes me more than for a man to push me, shove me around — and now these brats were trying it.
"Keep your hands off me," I said.
Ratface was on my left. "Who do you think you are, Lumphead?"
I looked at Ratface and reached for the wallet in my inside coat pocket. "I already told you," I said.
Maybe he thought I was reaching for something else, maybe he just hoped to scare me; he was standing with his hands behind his back over his hip pockets, and he brought his right hand halfway from behind as I pulled the wallet out. When he spotted the wallet he put his hand behind him again, but not before I saw the reflection of light on the long-bladed knife he must have carried in a hip-pocket sheath. He was a sweet little underprivileged kid. I sure felt sorry for him.
I flipped the wallet open and showed him the photostat of my private detective's license, then showed it to the three other kids near me. They weren't impressed. "Yah, a fake cop," Ratface said, and one of the others made a yak-yak-yak sound. There was a little harsh laughter. I looked at Ratface.
"Let's start with you," I said. I pulled the snapshot of Pam I'd taken from Mr. Franklin's album out of my pocket and handed it to him. I didn't say anything, but waited to see what he'd do.
He looked at it. He kept looking at it. Finally he licked his lips, squinted up at me. "So what's this for?"
"You know her?"
"Nah. Should I, Lumphead?"
"Pass it around," I told him. "Give everybody a look."
He kept squinting at me, and for a few moments I didn't think he was going to do it. Then he shrugged. "So why not?" He showed the snap to the three punks alongside me and they shook their heads silently, then Ratface walked to the nearest chair, gave a young couple there the picture and mumbled something. The short chunky kid near me walked over to Ratface and they started whispering together, glancing occasionally at me. The other two joined them in a few seconds. I walked to the rear wall and leaned against it while the photo made the rounds. I wanted to be where I could watch all the faces — but mainly I wanted that wall at my back; I didn't like the way this was going.
Excerpted from Have Gatâ?"Will Travel by Richard S. Prather. Copyright © 1985 Richard S. Prather. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted December 26, 2012