The Patrolman & Other Stories - #2 The Patrolman (Part I)
T H E
P A T R O L M A N
Noah ‘Toad’ stared at the gun, which had become an extension of his left hand in recent days and wondered how a Christian boy like himself had wound up in the middle of a bank robbery. The whine of police sirens blared through the window cracks. Santa Monica Boulevard was cordoned off between North Harper and Havenhurst by the LAPD, who had kept their distance for now. Bodies were being taken out in black cadaver pouches and carted away in vans with ‘County Coroner’ sign-written on them, including Henry’s. Henry Mallinson had been released six months ago from the State Prison at San Quentin, where Noah and he had met. Henry had been paroled after serving one-third of his twenty-year sentence for attempted murder and the armed robbery of a bank in Glendale. The deadly assault felony stemmed from a shoot-out with the detectives, but he ran out of bullets. Noah had seen his brown and white spats poking through one of those bags through the window. The Patrolman was yelling at him through the door, don’t do it. Noah pulled back the hammer and put his grampa’s Colt Frontier Six-Shooter in his mouth and closed his eyes, feeling them roll up into his head, he imagined himself back on the family farm. Brushing his fingers through the reeds, he felt himself trudging back through the cornfields on his way home from work. He hadn’t felt this calm in over a month.
Looking on in horror was the part-time filing clerk, who sometimes deposited cash for the manager, June Hartsfield. She had a husband, a teenaged son and a new-born named Humphrey after the actor. Noah could tell she liked the pictures; her hair was curled, well-kept like Rita Hayworth’s. She was nice, she hadn’t asked for any of this, she’d arrived late as most people do on an overcast Monday morning in December. It was just rotten luck that she got caught up in this, especially when her letter of resignation was in her handbag. Her glance flicked between the robber and the bag while he compartmentalized, as one does, with a gat in their mouth. He looked like he was about to pull the trigger when:
‘Tell me about your family, Noah.’ The Patrolman said. Noah opened his eyes. He seemed like a nice guy, Police Officer Lacey, or Jake as he insisted. They had been talking for some time now. Jake had been the first responder. If he hadn’t been patrolling Santa Monica at dead-on nine-thirty, Henry, Noah and the guys would have gotten into the parked car across the way, leaving everyone at the Hollywood Bank & Financial Trust bored of answering police questions for the rest of their working day. Everyone in the bank would have made it home in time for dinner that evening too.
‘Stand down!’ Lacey cries, his only authority coming from the gun in his hand, which
he’s holding too tightly.
Noah has a full-view of the entrance from the landing, the cop is peeking around one of the pillars. He hears the clacking of shoe-heels on marble floor. A gun cocks. Henry appears, his pistol pressed to the side of the Bank Manager’s head. Lacey doesn’t like this and comes out into the clearing, raising the standard issue revolver to eye-level. The cop’s not a day over twenty-one, with pimples on his nose, cheeks and scars about his neck from shaving them. A comma of dark hair hangs down from his cap. Beneath it, his
eyes are entirely focussed on Henry.
‘Just give us five minutes. That’s all we need, anything less and we start shooting people, starting with him.’ ‘Him’ meaning Manager and ‘people’ meaning civilians. The Patrolman takes two quick steps toward Henry, thrusting the revolver forward. Henry gets liberal with his gun’s movements, so Lacey maintains a safe distance. Don’t blame ya, Noah thinks, I don’t trust him much either.
‘Sir, I ordered you to stand down.’
‘Why? You need everyone alive to get yourself that sweet promotion, right?’ Henry says. ‘I suggest you turn out that door, chuck a left and a few doors down on your right you’ll see ‘Cup o’ Joe’s’. Have one on us, Dick Tracy.’
That kind of tac won’t work on this one, he’s got cojones. On his right, a woman steps out of the office at the bottom of the hall. She starts to run back inside, but Noah catches her. Down below, Lacey begs. ‘Please, just stand down.’
The woman, June Hartsfield if you go by the nametag, shrieks and Noah clamps a hand over her mouth. He misses the first part, but not the second. ‘No,’ Henry says, shooting the Bank Manager in the side of the head. A puff of pink smoke. The room erupts, everyone’s crying, praying. Hartsfield remains oddly quiet.
Noah watches it all play out in Technicolor. The Patrolman opens fire. Henry takes the bullet, snapping his head back violently, pivoting over onto the floor. Leapfrogging Lacey takes a chance, open firing on the other robbers. Noah doesn’t wait for his turn. He drags the girl down the hallway, locks them inside the Bank Manager’s office. Gunshots let rip and Noah waits for him at the keyhole.
The bastard got away scot-free, hadn’t felt a thing. Jake was the better shot and Noah was the one now left to take the rap for it.
‘Yeah?’ The voice stopped him thinking about it. Suddenly remembering the gun in his mouth, Noah took it out.
‘Talk to me.’ Lacey said.
Noah laughed, or blew through his nose, or did both. Lacey couldn’t tell what he meant. Was he calm now or just getting started? He said. ‘It’s a horrible story and we haven’t got much time for it. How about you?’
Lacey, who was sitting on the other side of the bullet-riddled door, pushed the cap further back on his head. ‘Mine too. Maybe not quite so bad as yours, but still unpleasant.’
‘Go on,’ Noah was an Okie, Lacey could hear it in his vowels.
‘My parents met in Germany at the end of the War. Dad was with the Infantry. He proposed, my mother said ‘yes’, so they moved to the States. Mom looked after me for a while. Dad found work as a rigger with Paramount, moonlighted for Pathé which was a big no-no. There was an accident when I was four or five and he shattered his knee. Paramount ended his contract because he was meant to be exclusive to them, and to them alone. He had to work plenty of construction jobs just to keep a roof over our heads, so I never saw him. When The Crash came, he couldn’t find any work. Took up day-drinking instead. One day and I’ll never forget it, he had tears in his eyes. That afternoon, he took Mom for a ride in the truck and never came back. He crashed it into a bridge off Ramona Boulevard and my Aunt moved me in with her in Inglewood. She takes care of me and I try to take care of her.’
‘She sounds great,’ Noah said.
‘That she is, best thing in my life.’ Jake realised that he was talking to one of the bullet holes in the door. There was a partial light coming through, he could see Noah’s ear in it. In the air above him, there was still a stench of cordite, a pale mist lingered just below the ceiling. He could taste it on his tongue and coughed phlegm into a handkerchief. Noah’s breath could be heard through the door in stifled, short bursts. The filing clerk did her best not to throw another panic attack. She was doing well, Lacey thought. If he was as bent like the other cops on the Force, he would just poke his revolver through the hole and blow Noah’s brains out. He’d spend a night and an afternoon pushing paper, lose a few days’ sleep, but it would all be over sooner if he had it in him. But he didn’t. ‘I told ya it was unpleasant.’ He finally admonished.
A corner of a smile reached all the way up to the ear. ‘I expected nothin’ less, Jake. I lost mine in the Dust Bowl. They came to California to pick peaches, ended up picking Cotton as strike-breakers so I ran away. My brother did too, but he was framed for killing a preacher. He ran off and joined the Communists and died in a jail cell someplace.’
‘What happened to him?’ Lacey asked.
‘Fell over in his cell, hit his head a few times. He landed on a shiv on the way down too apparently. Died in the prison hospital a few days later. We both knew he was goin’ to.’
‘You know Noah, it doesn’t have to end the same way for you.’ Lacey cringed. What he said was textbook ‘lure them to the window and bang, bang,’ kind of stuff. He wanted to apologise. He slumped against the door, lit a Lucky Strike, considered offering one to Noah and June Hartsfield but decided against it. He only had four, he would need
them. Noah was holed-up in an office that wasn’t Hartsfield’s, it belonged to the Manager now on his way to the Coroner’s second hub in Downtown. City Morgue had more than enough bodies on the slab as it was. Lacey couldn’t help but think about him. The Bank Manager, like the others, wouldn’t get to spend Christmas with his family or welcome in 1942.
‘Sorry, away with the fairies.’
‘That’s one word for it. What’s the scenery like where you are?’
‘Honestly?’ Lacey said. ‘It’s like Baton Rouge.’ One of the robbers was still lying on the landing a few feet away. When the other officers arrived on-scene, they didn’t bother going for their service pistols. There’s a saying in the Department that when you grab the shotguns, which can be found in the boot of every prowl car, somebody or everybody is gonna die. One of the detectives who worked the traffic desk had caught the robber in the breast with his shotgun, sawed him near-enough in two. The remaining robber downstairs, some guy who was stuffing cash into a bag and his pockets, surrendered instantly. The boys had other ideas though.
As a matter of principle, the Captain popped him in the back of the head. Forensics would be spending the rest of their day sieving his teeth out the cash. The thought crossed Jake’s mind whether they’d do the same to Noah, an eye for an eye. Four good cops were dead, and four robbers were on their way to the morgue. Noah was the only one left.
On the other side of the door, Noah turned the gun repeatedly in his hands. Resting his eyes, he asked: ‘How many?’
‘Ten, I think.’
‘Some are on their way to Central Receiving Hospital.’
‘Good,’ Noah ‘Toad’ said, partly relieved. ‘What about my guys?’
Bupkis, he hissed more smoke out through his nose. Noah got the gist and looked at June Hartsfield pitifully. Perhaps if he let her go? The thought lasted a half-second, then the telephone shrieked into life. At this, she screamed, and Lacey jumped out of his skin.
‘Noah?’ he said, unable to see anything through the door. He heard him scrambling for the telephone.
Hartsfield shrieked again, which was met with a hard slap and choked-back sobs. Noah let it ring a few times, then picked it up. ‘Yes, she’s fine. . . Officer Lacey – Jake – can give you proof-of-life. . . I’m not lettin’ him in, not yet anyhoo. . . What number are you callin’ from, sir? 4-3533 . . . Yeah, I got that. Just hold your end of the bargain, keep that cordon where it is. I don’t want anyone comin’ in. . . Jake’s fine, not you. . . Don’t worry, I’ll get him to. Good-bye.’
Lacey heard the receiver being replaced, the drag and shuffled footfalls and felt Noah looking at him through the door. ‘That was the Chief, Jake. Said for you to call him at Hollywood Station, 4-3533. Got that?’
He was on his feet at once, marching purposefully along the hallway. Trying not to step on the body, his limbs were splayed out awkwardly. Treading down the main staircase, he felt abandoned.
The Hollywood Bank & Financial Trust was a prime example of early twentieth century gothic architecture. It was well-furnished, with oak and wood carvings on every baluster, every desk. Chandeliers twinkled overhead, there were stone busts with the famous faces of finance moulded expertly into them in every corner. The bank vault hadn’t changed much since 1902, which is probably why Henry Mallinson’s gang hit it. The carpets either end of the marble floor, blood-red and in dire need of replacement, were splintered with wood from the gunfire. No cars or trams passed-by the entrance.
The getaway car was the only one parked outside which may or may not still be running Lacey thought, moving behind the counter and going for the telephone, pushing the dial assembly ‘round with his index digit. There was a crackle on the line. The operator answered. It was a female voice, old, soothing. ‘How can I help you?’
‘Put me through to Chief Horrall, ma’am.’
‘Name and number, please.’
‘Officer Lacey, Badge 5759.’
‘Hold the line, officer.’ Before he could thank her, the transfer began. A faint clicking started, the call was being recorded. He had a sharp intake of breath, canvassing the main hall, still empty.
He noticed the ceiling. Cherubs were painted in a mixture of pinks and yellows, firing arrows at the ground. The one in-charge was Cupid, fatter and hair curlier than the others. Women in white robes clambered up a rock face to reach them, white and brown streaks of anguish in their faces. What if the cherubs were just wreaking havoc? Some sort of sick ritual perhaps – kinda makes sense, Lacey figured. Suddenly, a burly voice was barking his name. ‘Sir.’ He replied.
‘How are you, son? Are you away from the door?’ The Los Angeles Chief of Police was a shoo-in for Mayor when Fletcher Bowron decided to take up golfing full-time.
‘Good,’ Horrall said. Quiet, but still audible, Lacey heard four words that sickened him.