The Patrolman & Other Stories - #2 The Patrolman (Part II)
There was the whip and crack of a gunshot, a windowpane shattering. Lacey dropped the phone, vaulted over the counter. The receiver thudded into it, again and again, swinging by the cord. Taking the stairs two at a time, there was a small explosion. Then another, followed by two in quick succession. Each louder than the last. When he made it to the hallway, the exchange had stopped, and silence hung thickly in the air.
The raspy Oklahoman thudded on the door. ‘I told you, Jake. I told you they was killers.’
Lacey composed himself. ‘Is Mrs Hartsfield O.K.?’
‘Shaken but breathin’.’
‘I need proof-of-life, Noah.’ Why had he got up early that morning? He had a migraine; he could barely see behind the wheel, but he still fucking went in. How come his car had green light after green light? Six blocks east, eleven blocks south. What are the chances of that? Police Officer Jake Lacey, who wasn’t religious in any sense of the word, wondered if He had put him up to this. What if this was his own road to Damascus? Finally, he asked Noah how he was.
‘Damn rifle nearly took my arm off is how. Nearly took Mrs Hartsfield’s head off too. Tell them to double tap it next time.’
‘Why did you come here, Noah?’ Lacey said, tugging at the balustrade. ‘All this and for what?’
‘For a better life, Jake. That’s why.’
‘No, wetback. I meant this place, out of every fucking bank in Los Angeles. Why come to this one?’
Noah ignored the insult. ‘You know the bank seized our farm? Took what was left of our crops and put us all out of business. On our way outta Tulsa, we drove two hundred miles. Two hundred miles of foreclosed homesteads. Two hundred miles of land with nothin’ left to farm on it.’
While he spoke, Lacey approached the door with slow, even-footed steps. He’d taken the revolver out of its holster, holding it behind his back. Through the door-hole, he wouldn’t see it.
‘Why not just hit it on a weekend, with no-one ‘round to stop you? Stick of dynamite and BOOM, you’re out?’
Crack, crack, crack. Door splintered. Jake fell on his side. He gave it back, returning another volley of shots. Four .38 slugs thudded into the door, nothing really happened.
‘You’re not listening to me, Jake. You’re acting like them. Just tryna shut me up.’
‘You’re not making this easy for me, Noah! I want to see Hartsfield and I want to see her now, right fucking now. If she’s alive, I promise, I promise I’ll get you out of this building alive.’
‘I swear.’ He said.
‘Give me the oath, goddamn it. The oath you took when you became a peace officer.’
‘Do you wanna see her? Good, then recite it.’
Lacey got up, keeping the gun in plain-view. He stood a little to the left, if he was going to be a target, he wouldn’t make it easy for him. ‘I Jake Lacey, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear faith and allegiance to the United States and the State of California; that I take this obligation, without reservation of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge my duties upon which I’m entered as an officer of the Los Angeles Police Department of the State of California.’
The breeze was starting to kick in harder through the missing full-length window, June Hartsfield was perched in the corner of the room in the Bank Manager’s chair. Smoking one of his cigarettes and wearing his overcoat, her eyes were fixed on her handbag, which she’d grabbed in the firefight. Noah saw it, held firmly between her ankles. He looked like he’d jammed his finger into the wall socket, he was convulsing. His jacket collar was turned up against the wind. Their eyes met, saying everything to each other but without speaking it. She no longer feared him. Noah coughed; blood rushing out of him, it didn’t look good. Hartsfield dashed the Old Gold into the ashtray and held the bag in her arms like a mother would her child.
Noah’s brows turned down at this.
‘Please Noah, let her go.’ Lacey pulled back on the hammer, hovered the gun at the door
from the hip-position. Why can’t he bring himself to do it? Lacey was left shuddering.
‘Leave me/him/it alone,’ June Hartsfield cried.
He leapt aside; another tirade of gunfire followed. He crossed the landing deftly and broke the door in with a perfect, straight kick to the center. Opening only half-way, Lacey poked the revolver in, snapped on the trigger twice. Hartsfield screamed. Lacey threw his back at it, come on. Then, noticed the chair arm. Using the gun as a club, he smashed it away and entered, the .38 leading the way.
June Hartsfield’s hands were up. The floor was gore-splashed. In the corner, there was a hat and coat stand. Lacey wiped his face, removed his cap. Two LAPD officers were sitting in the window directly opposite, holding rifles but not paying him much mind. On the ground, half on the sidewalk, half off, mismatched, was the body of the man known to him as Noah ‘Toad’.
At 18.42p.m., Jake Lacey was still sitting in the back of an ambulance. A coat was drawn over his shoulders, a burnt-out cigarette still in hand, and still nursing a cup of cold, black coffee. Hartsfield had just gone, after finally managing to give a statement.
Apparently, Noah turned his Six-Shooter on the two guys across the street, then tumbled to his death two-storeys below. He was still lying there, but with a thin white sheet for cover. Reporters’ cameras flashed while Chief Clemence B. Horrall examined it. He motioned for Lacey to join him and his officers to disperse the crowd. Captain Bill Parker lurked in the background, displeased. Five minutes later, they were left to it. ‘Hand me your service revolver, officer.’
Officer? What happened to son you fat brass hat, or is that only when we draw them out for you? Horrall wasn’t telepathic, but Jake gave him his gat anyway.
Turning him half-over with his shoe, he placed two shots expertly in his chest then
handed it back to him. ‘It’ll look better this way, might earn yourself a commendation.’ Those seven seconds was all Jake saw of Noah ‘Toad’ and what he really was, a kid. They both were. Way too young to be playing cops and robbers. Noah had straw-like hair, a slightly-sunburned countenance with thick, overdrawn brows. The eyes, which were probably blue, were closed.
Horrall told him he had two days to draft his report and dismissed him. Two bluesuits were instructed to take him ‘wherever he damn-well likes.’
Lacey was dropped at the corner of Ninth & Main, outside a mob joint run by ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, The Chicago Confetti Club. Apparently named in-honor after the incarcerated Scarface, Al Capone. Lacey thanked the officers for the ride, checked both shoulders and crossed the street. The door to Malloy’s swung back and forth long after he’d gone inside and they waited there until he went home, following him closely.
Malloy’s was one of those dingy sorts of places. With plenty of roughish charm and a tough crowd, it wasn’t the sort of place for a cop. He knew that so he sat down at the bar and pulled apart his cigarette packet. The bartender, who was Irish, extraordinarily grey and stood over 6’4” came over: ‘What can I get you?’
‘Two packs of Luckies and a cranberry juice.’
‘A cranberry juice? Ain’t ya heard?’
‘The Japs declared War. Done massacred all our boys at Pearl Harbor.’
‘Yeah, fuck. Whiskey?’
‘I don’t drink.’
The bartender grumbled, leaving Lacey to his thoughts. Of all things, he hadn’t expected to hear that today.
The house on the corner of Industrial Avenue in Inglewood, Casa Madeira or 905 if you go by the mailbox, had a prowl car on its drive.
June Hartsfield was sitting on the foot of her bed, listening to her husband and the officers downstairs: ‘She’ll be fine. . . Needs plenty of rest. . . Pretty shaken up. . . Understandably. . . Yeah, I’ll make sure she does. Thank you for your help, officers. . .’ The front door closed; footfalls retreated into the hallway. Her bag was next to her, unfastened. Inside was eight-thousand-dollars in C-notes.
She fastened the zipper, let the bag drop to the floor and kicked it under the bed. June Hartsfield watched herself in the mirror, swept back her hair, pushed down her skirt and went out into the landing. He was half-way up the stairs.
‘Want something to drink?’
‘A Gin Rickey.’
‘Right you are.’ He went back down, leaving her on the stairs thinking about Noah ‘Toad’ and Jake Lacey and how she was going to get rid of the money. What she did know was that she was taking tomorrow off, she’d figure out what to do with it then. With Henry Mallinson dead, there was no way he’d figure she was in on it. She waited on the landing for a long minute, then turned on her heel and took herself off to bed.