And they did. Once we got out into the starry night one of them grabbed my shoulder and spun me around to face them. I didn't feel like sparring with these jerks so I kicked the one that grabbed me so hard in the balls that I think he spit up semen. He let out a groan and fell to the pavement. I didn't blame him.
The other took a swing at me that I dodged, and I came up under his chin with my fist so forcefully that I heard some of his teeth break. He fell back.
"Smart move," Diamond said.
I pulled a couple of dollars out of my pocket and tossed them onto the bar for the drinks. I turned back to Diamond.
"I always repay people what they're owed," I said evenly. If it sounded like a threat to him then my job was done.
He grinned, "Boys, escort this gentleman to the parking lot, please."
One of the goons held his hand up in the direction of the door. I walked toward the exit, steeling myself. I knew as soon as we got out of the club they were going to jump me...
Everyone in the joint was looking at us, including Tiffany Cross, wide-eyed from the stage.
"Not such a tough guy now, are ya, smart ass?"
I was trying to see what kind of man Bobby Diamond was. And now I knew. From the goons that bookended him to the instant pulling of the gun when he felt threatened, I could see that he was a cowardly little man with a Napoleon complex. I could've easily disarmed him and made him eat that damned gun, but I didn't want to tip my hand just yet.
"I'll leave," I quietly said...
He grinned, "How about you leave now? The drinks are on the house. Just go before I have my boys escort you. You wouldn't like that."
I stood up from the barstool and faced him. He was at least three inches shorter than me.
"And what would you do if I laid your goons out and then came back for your candy ass?" I asked, wanting to see what he would do.
"Oh, that's when I would do this...," he said as he quickly pulled a .45 caliber pistol from his suit jacket and pressed the barrel against my forehead...
"You ask a lotta questions, pal," he said in a low and typically gangster voice.
"That's not a crime, is it?" I asked calmly.
He shook his head, "Naw, it ain't a crime. It could be detrimental to ya health, but it ain't a crime," he said, dragging the word crime out to two syllables.
"I was just having a friendly conversation with the bartender. That's what people do when they come to the bar to have a drink."
"I ain't never seen you here before, drinking or otherwise."
I looked around, "Have you ever seen all these people before?"
Tiffany Cross finished her song to loud applause. She smiled and took a bow. I turned back to the bar to down the last of my bourbon and I could feel that someone had come up behind me. I turned back to see a small man flanked by two guys that looked like mountains with legs. The little guy in the middle had on a gray suit with a gray vest over a white shirt and a black tie. His black hair was slicked back and greasy.
I knew I was getting my first look at notorious gangster Bobby Diamond..
I nodded, "I think so. So, she never had anything to do with this Dunn guy?"
"Oh yeah, she did. She was one of those, and I hate to speak ill of the dead, but she was sort of man crazy, if you get my meaning."
This was starting to get interesting.
"Could this Dunn have killed her?" I asked as I looked back at Tiffany Cross. I was trying to be as nonchalant about the questions as I could.
"Nah, he couldn't," the bartender said. "He wouldn't have it in him. He's a drunk, always drowning himself in bourbon."
I nodded, "I read the police are looking to question some guy that was last seen with her."
Miss Cross sang on. "For nobody else gave me a thrill, with all your faults I love you still..."
"Yeah," the bartender said, "Milton Dunn, that schmuck."
I nodded, "Yeah, who is he? Another singer?"
The bartender laughed quietly. "Milton? That loser couldn't carry a tune if it had handles on the sides. Nah, he hung around the club, mooning over Miss Turner. But she had her sights set on more than what that bum could provide her, know what I mean?"
This canary could sing like nobody's business. It made me wonder just how good Paige Turner had been before somebody silenced her.
"She's good," I said, looking at the bartender.
"The club found a replacement awfully fast, didn't they?"
He shook his head, "Nah. The boss always has people waiting in the wings. Kinda like understudies in the theater, just in case the featured singer can't make it."
"Makes sense," I said as I took another shot of bourbon. "I read about the other singer in the paper. That's horrible stuff."
He nodded, "Yeah, it was definitely shocking."
She came slinking out on the stage in a shiny red strapless dress. Her light brown hair was parted in the center and fell down in long loose waves onto her slender bare shoulders. The dress looked like it had been stretched over a giant Coca-Cola bottle. She had more curves than the roads going up Laurel Canyon. Dames like this one don't grow on trees. If Paige Turner was half the woman this one was I couldn't blame Milton for going all gooey over her.
"It had to be you, it had to be you..."
Man, I wish...
"What'll it be?" the bartender asked.
He looked like he was born a bartender; a stout man in a white coat buttoned all the way up to a black bow tie. He had a moustache under his nose that looked like it couldn't decide if it wanted to remain an Errol Flynn or move up to the deluxe Wyatt Earp. And he had the obligatory white bar towel in his hand.
"Bourbon. On the rocks," I said and turned to see the emcee announcing Miss Tiffany Cross. The audience clapped and the band launched into "It Had To Be You."
The sign out in front of the club announcing the entertainment had the name Tiffany Cross pasted over Paige Turner's. Out of sight, out of mind, I thought.
I went inside, telling the maître d' that I didn't want a table, just a drink at the bar. He directed me through. The place was packed and the tables were full; so I couldn't have gotten one even if I'd wanted one.
I made my way to the side area where the bar was located. It was crowded as well but there were a couple of spots available.
I sat down...
I grabbed some lunch and headed back to my apartment in Glendale to get ready to go steppin' out at the Cherokee Club. I put on my best blue pinstriped suit, white tie, black wingtip shoes, blue velvet fedora, and a white scarf.
I pulled up to the club in Long Beach, across the street from the Pacific Ocean. The parking lot was full. I guess the reports in the papers about a deceased singer from this very club brought out the curious seekers of all things morbid.
The sun had just gone down and the night was coming alive...
I got up off the floor and started for the door. He jumped up.
"Wait, Jake! I'm sorry!"
I went back to my car as I could still hear Milton calling for me. I needed to do a little thinking and a little investigating before I was willing to throw in with Milton. I couldn't be guaranteed that what he would tell me would be the truth. So I needed to do some homework before I was willing to accept anything he said as truthful.
The first thing I needed to do was pay a visit to the Cherokee Club...
"Of course not!" he exclaimed. "But it kept me out of the war."
I shook my head. "You know, Milton, you were a dickhole when we were kids and you still have piss dribbling down your chin."
He laughed. "Did you go?"
I didn't want to get into a discussion about the war. I was trying my damnedest to forget it.
"Yes I did. And I wasn't drafted, Milton. I actually volunteered."
He laughed so loud the crummy paint started flaking off the crummy walls.
"You talk about when we were kids," he said. "You always were a sanctimonious prick!"
I knew I had to prime the pump.
"Okay, Milton. Start from what happened after you and your parents moved to Pasadena."
He exhaled, "Geez. Okay, finished junior high, graduated high school, barely, went to work for my old man's stationary business. Then the war broke out."
"Did you go?"
He hesitated, "Well, I got drafted. I knew war wasn't really my cup of Joe, so I made passes at all my commanding officers. After a few beatings they drummed me out for being a queer."
"Are you a queer?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
He grinned like an idiot...
He took the glass flask out of his pocket, swigging more of the bourbon. It smelled cheap. It was beginning to look like everything around Milton Dunn was cheap.
"I told you, Jake, I'm not wanted for murder. Just for questioning."
"Because you were the last person seen with Paige Turner before she was found dead?"
He nodded. The fact that he wasn't rushing to tell me this story to prove his innocence let me know that, if he was innocent and I decided to help, this was going to be like trying to push a tank up a hill...
"Thanks, Jake," he said, wiping the running snot from the end of his nose. He tried to hand the handkerchief back to me.
"Keep it," I said, holding my hand up.
I sat down on the floor beside him. We were both leaning our backs against the end of the bed.
"So," I said softly, "care to explain to me how this all got started?"
He nodded. "I fell in love, Jakey... I mean, Jake."
"Wouldn't be the first time that falling in love caved a man's world in around him. But it doesn't always get him wanted for murder."
I actually saw red in his eyes, and I don't think the bourbon had had time to lacerate his eyeballs yet.
"Don't you talk about Paige that way, Jake! She was a good girl. She was..."
He slumped to the floor and started bawling.
I hate to see grown men cry. I never know what to do. A dame I can handle, but not a guy. I just stood there motionless like a dime store mannequin. I was hoping he would find his composure soon. Thankfully he did. I pulled my handkerchief from my pocket and handed it to him...
I laughed, "Who the hell would want to frame you?"
"Bobby Diamond," he said, taking another swig of the amber liquid.
That stopped me in my tracks.
"Bobby Diamond? The gangster Bobby Diamond? The kingpin of the L.A. numbers runners? Stable of the finest whores in Southern California? And, if rumors are believed, purveyor of marijuana and other illicit substances?"
"That's him," Milton said, still drinking.
It was coming together now. "Ah, owner of the Cherokee Club where recently deceased Paige Turner performed her sappy numbers. Lemme guess, she was also performing private shows for you and Mr. Diamond, huh?'