A SHIRLEY SHANNON MYSTERY
It was a hot night in the city of angels. The Santa Ana was comin’ in from the San Gabriels like an express train loaded with coals from the devils furnace. I was upstairs in my office in the old John Marshall Building. The fan in the corner doing no more good than if it was off, might as well throw it out the window.
I reached down into the desk drawer and hauled out the bottle of bourbon I kept there for inspiration. I found in right next to my 1911 Colt auto, yeah the one I brought back from the ass kickin’ we give the Krauts. Shoulda paid the government for it but I’m not that kinda guy.
Being a private dick has its compensations, one of which is plenty of time to put yer feet up and contemplate the gams of my secretary Vivian. She’s painting her nails and paying no more attention to me than she would the brick I use to prop the door open when I’m trying to get a little breeze into this oven.
The phone rings with a jangle that punches me right in last nights hangover. Viv picks it up and opens her carmine red lips, takes out her unfiltered camel that smells like it came from one, and says with a purr, “Shirley Shannon, private eye, watcha want?“ God, she’s great. Keeps the lightweights away, that voice gives ‘em the willies.
“It’s fer you,” she says, “It’s that dick Red Baker down at Robbery Homicide, says you better hop on down there, toots sweet. Says it’s important. Thats a laugh. He wouldn’t know important if it walked up and kissed ‘im on the mouth.” She puts the phone back on the hook like a construction worker humpin’ a jackhammer. Thats Viv, all soft and sweet; charmin.’
As usual the elevator in headquarters ain’t workin’ and I had to hump up the stairs to the third floor. The door to the homicide office ain’t so clearly marked. Half the letters is gone, it says Homi now, ya know like the spics say up in Boyle Heights when their talking to each other. Sorta fits though, the LA Dicks do a lotta business up on the East side.
I strolled down the row of battered old desks, most of ‘em empty, but a few heads looked up and ignored me. I ignored them back. Mutual disrespect. Cops don’t much care for guys who are private, ‘specially one who used to work outta this same office. Yeah, I use ta be a cop. Least ’til the bottle and a dame queered the deal. Chief was happy to see my ass go out the door, but like a nightmare I’m still in his head.
“Jeez Shirley, you look like someone just dug you up, maybe I outta check with the Angelus Rosedale, see if they have an empty hole with no one in it.” Red reached up with a right hand, looked like a catchers mitt and took the cheap cigar out of his mouth, “Boy do I got a doozy here.”
I pulled up a chair a flopped down in it like a sack of barley, tired, barley in the distilled form being the reason why. I took off my battered Fedora, wiped my forehead with the backa my hand and said, by way of nothin’, “Hot enuff for ya Red.” He tilted his head back and a grunt which I took to be a laugh bubbled up from his throat. He cocked his head and spat something brown into the wastebasket next to the desk and said, “Kiss my ass, Shannon, I got enough ta worry about without you bein’ such a wise ass.” He shoved a battered file folder across his desk. “Look at this will ya, I wanna know what ya think.” I opened it up and looked at the top sheet. Picture of a cheap hood, greasy hair slicked back, mouth, couldn’t tell if it was a smirk or a sneer. Those bastards must practice in front of the mirror. Always wonder what they think, is it gonna stop a slug? Might shoot ‘em just for doin it, if ya know what I mean. “Name of this piece a garbage, one Steve Campodonica jr. Shirley,” Red went on, “ found him face down on that old has been actress Laura Howards’s carpet, she says she stuck him with a kitchen knife, got ‘im in the gizzard. Bad end for Mickey the bosse’s chief enforcer aint’ it? Killed by a woman. He figured he was real tough, course that actor Sean Conners damn near broke Campodonica’s wrist when he stuck his rod in Conner’s face last year cause he though Conner’s was shtuppin’ the old bag. Steve was a Marine in the Pacific too, musta been handin’ out tea towels though. Not so tough.” Red leaned back in his chair, creaking under his weight, pointed at the file and said, “I need ya to do me a favor for old times sake…..
I loafed down the stairs, thinkin.’ Was I gonna get myself into another mess? Peepin’ Johns about to get divorce papers or servin’ writs was the usual stock in trade for private dicks, boring , but it brought in the shekels that kept Viv in silk stockings and lipstick. Paid for the dump I called an office too. Not to much stress either, maybe the occasional schlub needed to be knocked around, but hey, a guy’s gotta have a little fun in this world before he checks out. Know what I mean?
I was crossin’ the lobby, headed for the door, tryin’ to get outta there to clear the cop stink off me when I heard, “Hey girly, still got that name,” followed by laughter that sound like a file rubbin’ across some sheet metal. I knew I shouldna turned, but I did. I clocked a big lump leanin’ on the receptionist’s desk. It looked like it was an even fight, would the desk hold him up or not. He had his fedora pushed back on his head, showin’ his thinnin’ hair, his tie pulled down, some kinda peacock printed on it, wearin’ a brown suit musta been made out of a surplus army tent by the looks of it. He had the butt of a cop’s 38 special stickin’ outta of his pocket, the only thing he had in front coulda’ passed for the business end if you know what I mean. “Stuff it Pigmeat,” I said, “Rolled any drunks lately?” I strolled over towards him, sayin, “Jerry, how come they ain’t booted you outta here yet, must be some silk lined pocket you’re in.” His little pig eyes, the pupils the size of BB’s narrowed, “Take a hike Shirley, you ain’t wanted around here. Get it, dirty cops get thrown out with yesterdays garbage. Go back to that dump of a office with that trashy dame you got and don’t come around here no more if you know whats good for you.” I shoulda’ give him one right in the beak right there, woulda saved a lotta trouble. Instead I said, “I’ll pass along you compliments to the trash dame, see if she wants to return it.” The receptionist snickered. Jerry snapped his head around and gave the girl a rancid look, “Cut the gas Baby, take the word from the bird and mind your business and you might last a week here.” She lowered her eyes to her work but not before giving me a sly little wink. She knew the score.
I decided to hoof it back to the office, give me some time to think about what I’d just seen. Figured I’d head down Spring to 4th and back to the dump we politely called the office. Once I hit the concrete, I could hear the squeak of brakes behind me.I turned and saw a beat up hack tryin’ to slow down, the binders soundin’ like someone wringin’ the neck of a cat. Could only be one car in the whole town sound like that.
“Oi Shirley, need a lift?” The gal behind the wheel was the only skirt drivin’ a cab in LA. Tillie Picadilly we called her. She was just a slip of a gal, 100 pounds wringing’ wet, Cats Eye cheaters always slipped down on her nose, talked funny ’cause she’s from London’s east end. She hooked a doggie in ’45 to get inta the country and then dumped him when he wasn’t useful no more.
“Wotchor, Shoil?” she questioned. “Hop in and I’ll roll you down to that trash heap closet you call an office, could’n swing a cat in there could ya? Can’t do no better?” What could I say, I fisted open the front and crawled into her heap.
“Hope ya feel special, sitin’ in front, ain’t to many gets to,” She said. She took her foot off the brake and we rolled down the street back to my place.
“Flip me an oily rag, Shoil, I know ya got plenty Bees and Honey in the Rattle and Clank.”
“When you gonna’ learn to speak english Til’? “Whats the hell does that mean anyway?”
“A fag, Shoil, you damn Yanks stole plenty ah things from us British, but hit ain’t English.” She replied. “Giv’ us a smoke Shoil.”
I shook out a Chesterfield from my pack and she stuck it in her face. I scraped a match with my thumbnail and she looked over and lit up, not watching the road, which she didn’t often do anyway judging by the condition of the fenders on her heap.
She pulled up to my building, judging her distance by bouncing her front tire off the curb.
“Gates of Rome, Shoil,” Tilly said, “Oi, “Give us a Butcher’s at your paper mate.”
I’d forgotten I was still carrying the times and I flipped it to her. She clocked the front page a moment and then, “Humph, think that old slag did for the hood?”
“Couldn’t say Til.” I turned and headed for the stairs.
“Oi, Shoil, Ya forgot the bread and honey, float me a tenner and I’ll buy you a drink at the boozer later.” She was laughing now.
“Sure thing Til,” I said, handing her the double sawbuck. I turned and tripped up the apples and pears to the office, thinking about how, whenever I was around her I learned more about whatever the Brit’s called English. Apples and pears, stairs, there’s one for ya.