Striker was on Diamond’s payroll. That’s why he got so hostile toward me when he found out I knew Milton Dunn. He was afraid Milton might have seen him there at the club and told me about it. I wished Milton had seen him and told me about it. This might not have escalated to this point if I’d known about Striker sooner.
Now it was imperative that I speak with Harrigan alone. But convincing him that his partner was on the take was going to be like trying to defang a bad tempered king cobra with a severe toothache…
“Look, Tiffany, you have to be wrong. I’ve known Harrigan a long time. We went through the war together and there’s not a more righteous cop on the L.A.P.D. than Jim Harrigan, that I can assure you.”
“I’m sorry, Jake, but it’s true.”
Striker and Harrigan slid into a booth. We could see them through the window. Then a thought occurred to me.
“Wait a minute. Are you talking about the guy sitting on the left or on the right?”
“On the left,” she said.
Striker was sitting on the left.
Now this whole damn thing started to make sense…
I was also wondering how he managed to slip away without Cal and those goons getting a hold of him. I’d just have to find him and ask him.
A car pulled up in front of Smiley’s. Striker got out of the driver’s side and Harrigan from the other side.
“That’s my friend Harrigan,” I told Tiffany as they entered the bar & grill.
Tiffany looked shocked, “Uh, I hate to tell you this, Jake, but I’ve seen that guy leaving Bobby Diamond’s office by the back entrance, and usually with an envelope full of money.”
“What?” I asked incredulously…
I ordered the coffee and spoke with Smiley. Harrigan hadn’t been in yet, so I took the coffee back to the car and Tiffany and I waited to see if Harrigan would show up soon. After about forty five minutes, long after the coffee was gone, Tiffany broke the silence.
“Is this kind of like a stake out?” she asked.
“Do you have to do this often?”
“Don’t you get bored?”
“Can you say anything besides ‘yeah’?”
I was lost in thought, trying to figure out where Milton might have gone when he left my apartment…
Smiley’s was on Pico Boulevard and Harrigan ate dinner there almost every night of the week. It was always at different times, though, so I wasn’t sure when he would be there. But I really needed to acquaint him with the current situation.
We pulled up across the street from Smiley’s and I could see through the window that Harrigan wasn’t there yet. I figured I’d go in and ask Smiley if Harrigan had been in yet.
“You want some coffee?” I asked Tiffany.
“Ooh yeah,” she said. “Get some sugar packets too.”
I nodded and went across the street…
“You don’t seriously think that Bobby would try that stuff on me, do you? I’ll shoot him so fast he won’t even have time to blink.”
I shook my head, “It’s too risky. Will you check yourself into a hotel out of town tonight? I have a feeling this is all going to come to a head before morning.”
She nodded, “I don’t think it’s necessary, but I will.”
“Thanks, baby. You being out of the way is one less thing I have to worry about.”
“Where to now?” she asked.
“Smiley’s Bar & Grill. I need to see someone.”
She continued driving back toward Hollywood.
“Do you think,” she asked, “that that’s why Paige was murdered? She didn’t want to be turned into a whore?”
“That seems logical, but I have a feeling that there’s more to it than that.”
“So, what are we going to do?” she asked as we stopped at a red light.
“Well, they know who I am now. I don’t know how but they do. I don’t think they’ve tied the two of us together yet, but I don’t want you going back to the Cherokee Club. Not yet.”
She just looked at me…
If she was acting shocked she needed to break into the movies because it was very believable. But I didn’t think it was an act.
“What? No, I didn’t know that!”
“That’s where all your former singers are going and why you never hear from them again. Diamond grooms them, gets them dressing nicely, refines them, and then recruits them for the world’s oldest profession.”
“This is absolutely unbelievable,” she said, shaking her head.
“Rose Pepper, Annie Albert, Connie Graves, and God only knows how many that came before them are all part of Diamond’s stable of fillies for hire.”
She pulled up beside me, “Need a lift, sailor?”
I smiled, jumped in and said, “Fun’s over. Turn around and get us out of here fast!”
She did and soon we were barreling back toward Hollywood.
“Okay, will you explain what the hell is going on?” Tiffany said.
“Tiffany, I need to ask you some questions and I need you to be totally honest with me. People’s lives are depending on it. Okay?”
She looked concerned, “Okay, Jake. What is going on?”
“Did you know that Bobby Diamond was running a high class prostitution ring out of the Cherokee Club?”
I kept weaving my way toward the mouth of the Port of Los Angeles, moving swiftly but cautiously around the warehouses. I hadn’t seen any sign of Cal or the goons.
The sun was starting to set, creating a beautiful pinkish glow on the horizon. The evening air was a symphony of seagull screeches and tugboat horns and passing trucks, and smelled of saltwater and diesel exhaust.
I was hiding behind a giant metal crate watching the road when I saw Tiffany’s red convertible coming toward me.
I quickly stepped out from behind the crate and stuck my thumb out…
I called Tiffany's apartment. It rang six times and I was about to hang up when she answered.
“Hello?” she said.
“Tiffany, it’s Jake.”
“Jake! Where are you? Are you okay?”
“I’ve been going for a swim,” I said truthfully.
“Nothing. Look, baby, I’m in a real jam here. Can you come get me? I’m in the Port of Los Angeles at San Pedro Bay.”
“What? Why in the hell are you….. You know what? Nothing really surprises me anymore. I’ll be there as soon as I can. How will I find you?”
“Don’t worry, baby. I’ll find you.”
The warehouse next to Diamond’s was a beehive of activity so I kept swimming for the next one. It looked to be closed, so I pulled myself up onto the dock, dripping remnants of the Pacific Ocean behind me as I made my way to the building. I broke the door open and entered the warehouse. It was big and empty. There was a phone on the wall, so I picked up the receiver, calling Harrigan’s precinct. Naturally he wasn’t in. I called my apartment to see if Milton was there. Nothing.
I figured my last option was trying Tiffany…
I swam under the bottom of the doors and burst up into the daylight and the comfort of the vast Pacific Ocean. I swam to the left toward the next warehouse that was adjacent to Diamond’s. I wasn’t sure if Cal and the goons were still trying to look for me in the water of the warehouse or if they came outside to find me. I didn’t hang around to find out. I just kept swimming toward the next warehouse. I needed to find a phone and call Harrigan at the precinct.
But first I needed to lose my pursuers…
I was running out of time as I fumbled in the depths of the dark water trying to slip off the chain that was binding me. I finally got my legs unwrapped and started back up to get some air. I didn’t want Cal and the goons to see me so I came up between one of the boats and the dock. By this point they had pulled up the hook and realized I wasn’t on it. I could hear Cal screaming for the goons to find me.
I took a breath and swam hard underwater for the back doors…
I knew I had to go in stages…
Stage one: Take a deep breath.
Stage two: Try to thrust my legs up as soon as I hit the water and detach myself from the stevedore’s hook.
Stage three: Use my free hand to get my other hand loose.
Stage four: Reach down and unwind the chain from around my ankles.
Everything was going fine until I got to stage four. I felt like Harry Houdini as I tried to unwrap the chain, but without the stevedore’s hook to hold me in place I just kept sinking right to the bottom…
Bingo! I got my right hand free. And I figured the next time I got dunked if I thrust my legs up as I hit the water I might be able to slip the chain off the stevedore’s hook. But that meant getting dunked one more time. That shouldn’t be difficult.
“You know, Cal, I’ve never considered myself a visionary or a seer, but I’m going to try my hand at it. Get your affairs in order. I’ll make a prediction that you’ll be dead before this night’s over.”
“You first,” Cal said, motioning for the goon to drop me…
I came rushing back from my hallucination as I came rushing up out of the water. I began gasping for breath but was still wiggling my wrists. I almost had the right one free. One more trip into the dunk tank should be all I needed.
“Randolph,” Cal said with the irritation of someone who’d lost his amusement with the current activities, “I’d just kill you and be done with it, but Mr. Diamond wants Milton Dunn. Now if I have to dunk you every couple of minutes for the rest of your life I will.”
I’d bet he would…
I felt like I might be able to slip one of my hands out from the rope if I just had a little more time. I also felt like I was getting lightheaded and was going to pass out. But I kept torturing my wrists by moving them quickly against the rope. I knew I had broken the skin because I could feel the saltwater stinging my wrists.
Soon I was back in the shower with Tiffany, my time being tortured a distant memory. The only trouble was I couldn’t breathe. She looked at me funny as I began choking…
I took another deep breath and hit the water. I noticed the chain bumped up a little off of the stevedore’s hook both times I hit the water so it wasn’t secured very well onto the hook. If I could get my hands free I thought I would be able to slip the chain off the hook while I was underwater. But that meant my hands needed to be free. I kept wiggling them and working at it. The tow rope was made of rough sisal or something similar and it felt like I was scraping my wrists with sandpaper…
Cal gave me a moment to regulate my breathing before getting back to the interrogation.
“Okay, Randolph,” he said. “We’ve had our little fun here. I’m sure you enjoyed having that bath as much as I did watching you, but we’re all running out of time. Now, I’ll ask again: Where is Milton Dunn?”
“Cal,” I said defiantly, “running into the side of that truck was a picnic compared to what I’m going to do to you when I get off this damned hook!”
“Drop him again,” he said quickly to the goon and I went for another unsolicited swim…