The Picture Ranch 9
'Stay in the car, whatever happens.'
We were outside a meat packing plant on the far side of El Monte. In an empty lot next door in fact. There was a phone on a side-walk that was losing out to the weeds. Schultz answered on the second ring,
'Schultz's Body Shop. This is Schultz.'
'I'm not in LA.'
'Took ya a long time to look in the trunk. Youse travellin' light?'
I wondered how he knew I wasn't alone.
'We're travelling too heavy. What's with the hardware? Six Tommy Guns ? Are you going to start a war?'
'Naw, got a little business in LA. How far from LA are you? Don't say you're in Carlsbad.'
'Tell you what, We'll stay right where we are for an hour. You send your hardware client and he can take your consignment off our hands.'
'That'll fly. Where's the meet?'
'Gundarsson's , in back of El Monte.'
'A meet at the meat factory, I like that. You got class, Fisher. Or sumthin'.'
I felt like saying he had a nerve, but I wanted rid of his guns and wished I could be rid of his car too, but I needed it, at least for today. Besides, he was one of the last of the independents. For sure he knew that the Siegels and Cohens and whoever The Commission chose to favour would be in charge on the West Coast very soon. He had to know he was as out of date as all the old Moustachioed Petes. He had it all to lose, and he probably knew he was going to lose it. I liked him for it. The defiance. But I didn't want to get caught in the crossfire of any turf war.
Back in the car, Miss Grafenburg looked a little less green.
'So what is in the trunk? A stiff?'
'A stiff? You watch too many bad movies.'
'What is it then?'
She didn't look quite as shocked as I thought she would.
'The letter. I was going to give it to you last night.'
She removed the envelope from her purse. It looked worn. I wondered how she could have read it so many times in a matter of days. She held it out.
'Read it. I'll get some air.'
'If you see a car, get back in here.'
The handwriting was good.
Dear Miss Grafenburg,
you don't know me. But I believe that we are related, that is, we share the same dam.
My name is William Mulvaney. I was sold to the Mulvaney's of Los Angeles, perhaps you have heard of them? Yes, sold. I would not call it adoption.
I am at Military School, in Carlsbad, CA. It is not my ambition to be a soldier, but Mr Mulvaney insisted that I be sent here. 'To make a man of me', were his words. I am sure you know that he is connected with the press, so it is surprising how often he resorts to the trite and banal.
I couldn't believe the kid was fifteen. He wrote like he'd breakfasted on Webster's. Still, his sister was no dim bulb. The letter went on
I should very much like to make your acquaintance, or at least enter into a correspondence with my only living blood-relative. If you should care to write c/o the return address on the envelope, it would be wonderful.
Yours most sincerely
The return address was a box number in Carlsbad.
Miss G was back in the car by this time. I gave her the envelope.
'They're here,' she said.
A pick-up truck blocked the entrance to the empty lot. There was no percentage in staying in the car. We both got out. I went round to the trunk and opened it. Then I put my hands in the air. The two guys kept their guns pointed at me. One of them was in “Randall's” mitt. The other guy wasn’t Boethius, which fact came as some relief. He was a tall skinny guy with a celluloid collar and a suit twenty years out of date.
‘Is all there?’
‘I hope not, Mr Dzherzhinski.’
It was the first time I’d heard ‘Randall’ speak. He could have played the heavy before the talkies, but not now. Miss G and I backed away from the trunk.
‘Not far. See!’
Mr Dzherzhinski was a man of few words, not all of them meaningful. ‘Randall’ handed Dzherzhinski his gat. He lifted the five Thompsons, and carried them cradled in his arms over to the pick-up. He came back with a burlap sack and put the twenty or so drum-magazines into it. After he put them into the metal box with the machine-guns, he jog-trotted over to put his face close enough to mine so I could smell the polony sausage he’d had for breakfast.
‘If I keep running into you, it could end badly.’
‘Leaf him alone, Scotty.’
Randall looked at Dzherzhinski like he wanted to use his initiative on him like he had on me. They left in the pick-up. Simple as that. But I had found out his name. Most likely the boys in San Diego PD thought it was funny to call Detective Randall Scott after the famous movie star. I guessed Detective Scott didn’t like it at all, since he was going by Scotty that day. ‘What’s in a name?’ as some guy wrote. An awful lot when someone goes by more than one.
She looked a little pale.
‘Yes, yes, of course.’
She sniffed, took out a handkerchief and used it to clean her eye-glasses,
‘Mr Fisher, what is going on?’
‘Tell the truth, Eleanor, I don’t know.’
‘That man knew you.’
‘That guy’s a San D Police Department detective. I saw him last in the company of the man who used my face as an ashtray. What’s he doing in LA County?’
‘Do you think it’s to do with my brother?’
‘Oh yeah, maybe not the guns, but...’
I was thinking maybe I should put her in a cab to Encino and pick up the tab.
‘I’m wondering why a fifteen year old boy is so important.’