The Patrolman & Other Stories - #3 White Lights, Bright Sirens (Part I)
W H I T E L I G H T S ,
B R I G H T S I R E N S
The killer, known within his professional circle as Mr. Slate, moved briskly westward along 7th Street.
He had taken a taxicab from the client’s mansion in Beverly Hills and got the driver to pull over in a seclusive spot by the L.A. River, Mr. Slate was a big man with a big walk, and he preferred to walk. He tipped the driver generously and set out over the bridge. Yellow signs with ‘HOTEL’, ‘STUDEBAKER’ and ‘LIQUOR SUPPLY’ stretched the whole way into a vanishing point. When he made it to the corner of 7th & Imperial, less than a half-mile’s walk away, it had just turned eight o’clock. The dinner reservation was all booked for nine, which gave him plenty of time to get things ready.
The evening air was icily cold. The wind, like a blade, cut into the back of his neck. He turned up the collar on his new navy-blue overcoat to protect himself against it. He was wearing a creased flannel shirt with a tank top and bullet-proof vest, but he was frozen. Pulled down over his eyes was a Trilby hat he’d purchased from a thrift store at ten cents – a steal if he’d bought it from someplace like Herschel’s. The clothes were cheap, smart, even sophisticated. They weren’t flashy or likely to gain him attention. The getup was quite forgettable. Still, he was feeling cool. If anyone did remember him, he looked like one of those musical types, holding onto his cello case for dear life, en-route to an underground club somewhere to play Jazz and smoke pot or something like that.
7th Street was a wide street without any stores on it. Strings of over-priced restaurants appeared on either side. There was a minimum of four (and maybe a maximum of six) for every block passed. Bookings were made over the telephone more than a week in advance. The produce was cheap, crap made up to look something palatable. The restauranteurs hired gourmet chefs from Malibu and Latino kitchen porters out of Boyle Heights, working twenty-percent less than anything resembling a living wage. This was the artistic district of Los Angeles after all. Despite its cultural heritage within the city, one word described the area best, neglected. The night was dull, humorless, he reflected to himself. But Mr. Slate did his best to take in his surroundings positively. In his line of work, positive thinking, as some preacher in New York called it, was quintessential to a productive outcome. He tried to do everything positive these days, it was hip to be cool-headed with a War in full swing.
Hobos, arty-types, burnt-out couples passed him on the sidewalk, heading in the opposite direction. The men ignored him; the women did a double-take, he was a strong and handsome man. But he was colored, their heads would snap back round and the thought of him would be cast out of their minds by the sheer look of him. Though, at face-value, the artistic district was strongly Democratic, Negroes still weren’t welcome. Their boyfriends and husbands were pushy types. The kind to push them into these eateries, push them out into a taxicab and push them into bed at the end of the night. Dinner was expensive here. They would be nothing less than satisfied come morning and they would make damn sure of that.
On the corner of 7th & Imperial there was a building that had, once upon a time, been trendy. In the dark of the evening, Mr. Slate could see the paint peeling away from the woodwork on the door and windowsills. The residence was square and masculine. It was cracked and blotchy with neglect. The ground-floor window was brilliantly lit-up by a street-lamp on the restaurant side of the street. Mr. Slate caught sight of a handwritten notice propped up against the glass, it read ‘ROOM TO LET’. There was a vase of white lilies, perfectly arranged under the notice. He stopped walking and moved closer. The first thing he saw in the half-darkness was a lamp overhead, blinking back at him in strobes. Like the exterior, the inside was neglected too. The place conjured images in his mind of hookers and dope fiends, the powerful aroma of whiskey, stale cigar smoke, cat piss and maybe a little reefer rolled into one, it was perfect. An ideal distance from the restaurant he was there to watch, and it would come cheap. Maybe not for him because of his color, but nothing too outlandish, nevertheless.
The next thing he knew, he was moving across from the window to the front door and going for the buzzer. He heard the noise chime in a back room and after a half-minute’s wait, the door opened. A woman was standing there, about forty-five years of age and very attractive. If she hadn’t been an actress, she should have been. The lady gave him a warm, welcoming smile. ‘Oh. Please, come in.’ she said a little too pleasantly. She stepped aside, holding the door wide. He removed his hat, accepting the invitation.
‘I saw the sign in the window,’ Mr. Slate said.
‘The room’s all ready, come in. Honey?’ she called out to someone. A beat, there was no reply from upstairs anyhow. She smiled awkwardly at him and showed him up a set of carpeted stairs to an open landing. The place was pretty dingy but not terrible, it would suit its purpose. ‘Honey?’ she called out again. Again, no reply. ‘That room there is mine. And this one’s all yours.’
‘How much is it, Ma’am?’
She looked like one of the women at the Country Club he used to work at. Mrs Ravelston, Vanstone or something? She had a round pink face, long black hair and very gentle blue eyes which batted at him. ‘I’m inclined to be just a teeny bit choosy. You see, I have a very particular type.’ Was there a drawl in that? Mississippi or somewhere in that region? Definitely Southern. Mr. Slate put on a good show, doing his best not to roll his eyes in frustration. He good at that, used to doing it back at the Country Club. What did he expect coming here? Of course, she’ll jack the price up. Still, he would be out of here in an hour, two hours tops. She must have seen something in his eyes because she said: ‘No, no, my husband and I aren’t like that. We’re very . . . open.’
‘Glad to hear, Ma’am.’ He said. ‘How much for the room?’
‘Eighteen dollars a week, with two weeks paid up-front. Includes gas and water. If that’s too much,’ she added. ‘Then maybe I can reduce it just a tiny bit. My husband and I haven’t had someone of your . . . kind, stay here in a while.’
The bitch was definitely kooky. Mr. Slate dug into his jacket pocket, producing his billfold. ‘Thirty-six dollars is fine. I should like it very much to stay here.’
She blushed. ‘Don’tcha wanna see the room just first?’
‘Lead the way,’ he said, brandishing a white, handsome smile. She smiled again and showed him inside. She definitely wants to fuck me, he thought to himself.
If he had found this place advertised in the back of The Examiner, he would guarantee that the phrases ‘lovely’ and ‘airy’ would feature in the ad to describe the room. That was because it hadn’t been furnished. On the right, there was a bathroom with a sink and no toilet. There was a single bed pushed against the left wall with a small square table in the middle of the floor, which was wooden and creaked. What was most important, was that it had three windows of the same fitting and size, perfectly equidistance from one another. A blind had been dropped over each. Through them, the view of the restaurant was tremendous. It gave him nearly full visibility inside. ‘We have it all to ourselves,’ she said. He turned. She was smiling at him, inclining her head slightly to the left. Her eyes travelled the length down to Mr. Slate’s feet and then up his body again. ‘We have two rules: no loud music, no dogs and no women. Does that seem fair?’
He smiled back. ‘Sure does, thank-you.’ Lucky the celloo’s not real, he thought.
‘It’s such a pleasure to see someone standing just there who is just right.’ She paused. ‘Like you.’ Kooky? That was putting it genteelly. Ignoring her last remark, he took in the room once again. ‘I do home you’ll like it.’ She said, switching on the light. ‘It’s Jean by the way, Jean Maher.’
‘Mr. King,’ he said. ‘Please, call me Jules.’
‘Pleasure,’ she replied, sailing out the room. ‘Jean and Jules,’ pulled the door closed after her. What the fuck?
He waited a few minutes, watching the restaurant through the blinds before getting the room ready.
Mr. Slate lifted the right side of the mattress and slid a silenced .45 underneath it. He made sure it was balanced between the wooden slats. If he needed it, he would just have to reach under and jerk it a little until it came free. From the bed, he would have perfect line-of-fire if the cops smashed the door down. He sat up and lit a Cuban cigar and admired his handiwork.
The room had been rearranged: the table in the centre had been pushed up against the far wall, he’d laid down a transparent plastic sheet, which virtually cover the whole floor, to prevent any burns, his celloo case was leaning by the door, his coat and shirt had been folded neatly at the foot of it.
He sat in silence, smoking in the dark. He was brooding, wondering how it would go down when there was a knock at the door.
‘Tom Maher,’ a voice said. He opened it. ‘I’m Jean’s husband, sorry to miss you earlier.’
Mr. Slate took his hand through the narrow gap he’d left and shook it. ‘That’s O.K., nice to meet ya.’ His wristwatch read eight-twenty, he didn’t have long to go now.
‘Can I come in?’ Tom Maher asked.
‘I’ve just moved everything ‘round a bit, maybe in the morning?’ He went to shut the door when:
‘Is my wife in there with you already?’
He opened it again. ‘Excuse me, sir?’
‘You heard me just fine, sir.’
He wished he’d kept the gun on him, he didn’t hesitate. He had nothing to hide. He threw open the door to show him.
Tom Maher was portly, a sleeved orange shirt with white buttons clung to him. Brown Oxfords, sand-colored pants completed the Strange-O look. He was at least fifteen years older than his wife. He wore wire-framed spectacles, a Hitler-tache and Hitler hair come to think of it. His expression was grim at best. He looked like the prowler, the peeper and panty-sniffer that everyone was searching after in Gardena. He walked into the room and said, ‘She likes your kind, you know.’
Mr. Slate felt threatened, he moved away from him. Standing with his back to the bed, the wood against his legs felt comforting.
‘We’ve had a few of your kind stay here, Negroes. I don’t give much mind to race, money’s money as far as I’m concerned. But when they fuck her, it feels like they’re fucking me. You dig, hepcat?’
You dig? Hepcat? The guy had never spoken jive in his life, why the fuck was he starting to-night. Mr. Slate imagined sapping the fat creep in the throat, taking his gun out and pullet a bullet through each of Tom Maher’s wire-frames. Maybe he would go into her room after, put a pillow over her head if she was still asleep and kill her too. What the fuck have I walked into, he thought. When he came back from his day-dream, he smiled pleasantly at Maher. Just play it nice and cool. ‘Mister Maher, I just want somewhere –- ’
The sentence fell flat and was lost.
Jean Maher appeared in the doorway, a see-through nightgown loosely covered her frame. Silk stockings were pulled half-way up her thighs and she wore black stilettos. Saying nothing, she moved past the two men and sat herself down on the bed, perching on all-fours with her behind to them like the situation was perfectly natural. Mr. Slate figured they’d done this thing before. It was like it was rehearsed. ‘I love you, Honey.’ She finally said.
He returned to Tom Maher, who was unzipping his fly and simultaneously cocking back a .32 calibre. ‘I love you too, Kitty Cat.’ Kitty Cat? What the fuck? He hovered the pistol at him. ‘Mr. King, if you would?’
‘I’m sorry, but —- ’
‘But Mr. King, I insist.’ He said, lowering the gat by his hip. Mr. Slate didn’t dare to look. In a matter of minutes, his load or his brains would be everywhere, and Mr. Slate knew it. He struggled with his braces and lifted his tank top up. If the gun was pointed at his centre mass, Mr. Slate would be able to take the bullet. He’d play dead for a few minutes until they freaked out. ‘That’s it, Lover Boy. Goood boy.’ He looked at her, the eyes smiling at him over her shoulder were entirely focussed on his terrified expression. She was getting off on it, his fright, his disgust and so was her pervert hubby. He looked at Tom Maher and climbed onto the bed slowly, kneeling down behind her. He figured he was right; Tom Maher wasn’t aiming for his head. Why would he? The splatter would cover his wife and freak her out. A clean shot in the back would be enough. ‘Pull down your pants, Lover Boy.’
Mr. Slate had stopped breathing, breathe man. He forced himself too. He pushed down his boxer shorts, fumbling with the elasticated waistband. Jean Maher purred like a ‘Kitty Cat’, marvelling at the size of it. He wasn’t hard or interested in any sense of the word. He was mortified. Tom Maher had started to get himself into a long, slow rhythm, using his fingertips. Mr. Slate thought about all the fucked-up things he’d done in his professional career, all the shit he’d done and experience and the scores of people he’d killed for money and pleasure. He remembered the sound the glass made when he put his elbow through the car window, the squeal Mrs Ravelston made. He’d used a wire coat frame from the cloak room after she called him a ‘Nigger’ and slapped him when he brought her shrimp instead of cuttlefish. That was no way near this level of fucked-up. He closed his eyes and inserted himself with his right hand. With his left, he lightly spanked her butt-cheek. She quivered at it. He noticed she had small, white, quickly moving hands. They reached around behind her and grabbed him; black fingernails dug in his calf and tore the skin.
‘Yeah, like that.’ Tom Maher said, breathless. They thought he was going along with it now, that’s what he needed them to think. Between thrusts, Mr. Slate felt between the bed slats. He felt the metal against his fingers and stopped. He stopped for too long. ‘Go on, Lover Boy. Don’t make me whup ya.’
I’ll do more than fucking whup ya, Fuck-O. Mr. Slate felt something connect with his head and slumped over.
When he came to, it felt like his skull was caving in on itself. It was likely a concussion, no haemorrhage. He explored his sensations. Where the blow had caught him, the hair on the back of his head wasn’t wet. His ribs were on fire, the breath whistled out through the gap in his front teeth. He opened his eyes to see Jean Maher, ‘Kitty Cat’, straddling him. Locking her feet inside his legs, she’d prodded him in the balls. It worked like a cattle prod would a cow. ‘Get the belt, Honey.’ She said. Mr. Slate couldn’t move, he was completely stunned. He felt salty tears choking back in his eyes.
Tom Maher was standing over him, his tiny, pencil dick in the corner of his eye. Crossing over him, he was shuffling into the bathroom. His pants hanging around his ankles. Mr. Slate tasted blood on his tongue, soon realised he was on the floor. To his right was the bed, and it was within arm’s reach.
He smiled at Jean Maher. ‘Are you gonna fuck me or what, Kitty Cat?’