I was trying to take my mind off the fact that my lungs could really use a breath of fresh air at that moment by wiggling my hands to see if I could free them. The tow rope was huge and therefore couldn’t be tied as tight as smaller rope, but I was still having difficulty with loosening it. It was getting hard to concentrate.
Just when I thought I might pass out I was yanked back up out of the water. I exhaled and started gasping, sucking the sweet, beautiful air back into the shelter of my welcoming lungs...
The goon let go of the chain and I dropped faster than a whore’s drawers. I took a deep breath in and held it right before I hit the water. I sunk into the cold, murky blackness. All I could think about as I descended was rereading Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s book Venus In Furs. Apparently I was a masochist. Only I’m not Severin being whipped by a satin-gown clad Wanda. I’m the idiot that gets off on being kidnapped and damn near drowned.
I thought it was time I started considering a nice, safe profession: like bomb defusing…
The stevedore’s hook was rigged up into a pulley system over one of the warehouse’s rafters. I could guess what was about to happen.
“You wanted the hard way, Randolph. This is the hard way. Now I’m going to ask you once more where Milton Dunn is,” Cal said, his voice betraying the fact that he didn’t want me to tell him just yet.
“You wanna know where Milton Dunn is, Cal? He’s probably in bed with your mom giving her the orgasm your old man never could.”
He nodded to the goon holding the chain connected to the pulley…
I looked at him and said, “Never let it be said that I dashed your hopes, Cal. Let’s do it the hard way.”
He smiled as I felt a sharp pain on the back of my neck. Then everything abruptly went black.
When I came to I thought Cal and the two goons were standing on their heads until I realized I was hanging upside down over the water from a giant stevedore’s hook. My hands were tied behind my back with tow rope and my feet were bound with a heavy chain that was hanging on the stevedore’s hook…
Cal told all the other men in the warehouse to take the day off. They quickly dispersed before he changed his mind and soon after it was just Cal, the two goons and me in the warehouse.
“Okay, Randolph. I want to know where Milton Dunn is. We checked your apartment and he wasn’t there.”
Good. At least they didn’t get to him yet.
“But judging from the amount of empty bourbon bottles we found he was there at some point. Now, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. Personally, I’m hoping for the hard way.”
A man came out from the little office in the front left corner of the warehouse and approached Cal.
“Listen,” Cal said, “we have a problem. You need to take Rose here and gather up all the other ladies and then report to Mr. Diamond for further instructions. Take as many men as you think you need.”
The man nodded, herded up a half dozen men, and left the warehouse. I only hoped my blundering didn’t get all those women killed.
I figured Diamond just wanted to gather them up until he worked out how many people knew about this…
There were a couple of boats tethered to two docks that ran down each side of the warehouse’s inlet. They were bobbing up and down without a care in the world. The giant doors at the back of the warehouse that let cargo vessels in were closed, so the only lighting was artificial, coming from lights that ran down the sides of the warehouse and up in the high ceiling.
I contemplated whether I could get Rose into one of those boats and break through the doors and escape.
Nope. I might've been near Hollywood but this wasn’t a movie…
Our final destination was the Port of Los Angeles at San Pedro Bay, just west of the Port of Long Beach. We pulled up to a giant warehouse that jutted out over the bay. The front of the gray building read Diamond Shipping, with sparkling, faux-diamond lettering. There was no telling what kind of merchandise went in and out of this place. And I was quite sure none of it was legal.
Cal and the goons corralled Rose and me into the building, pushing us along. There were a lot of men milling around the warehouse, performing various tasks…
We were driving west toward the Pacific Ocean but I couldn’t figure out what our actual destination was. Maybe they were going to take me out in the middle of the ocean and drop me over the side with concrete blocks attached to my feet.
I had one thing in my favor: if they hadn’t found Milton at my apartment then that meant they were going to interrogate me to try and find him.
We drove through Wilmington and I surmised that we were heading for the harbor district.
It was a safe bet they didn’t want to go sailing…
I thought I would do a little fishing during the drive.
“So, Cal, why do you want to find Milton so badly? Does he owe you money?”
He just continued driving. He was drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.
“Did he impregnate your sister or something?”
Still he drove. Still he drummed his fingers.
“Or does he tie in somehow with Paige Turner’s murder?”
He was still driving, but he stopped moving his fingers.
“One more sound out of your mouth, Randolph, and I’ll put a bullet in it. Clear?”
I didn’t check to see if he was bluffing…
Rose was sobbing in the front seat. Cal told her to shut the hell up or he’d really give her something to bawl about.
The devil on my left shoulder was whispering in my ear, To hell with Rose! She made her bed! You’re not responsible for her well being! Save yourself!
The angel on my right shoulder said, She’s in this mess because you went to see her. You have to make every effort to save her as well as yourself. You know it’s the right thing to do.
Sometimes I really wished I wasn’t such a nice guy…
“You’d make a good chauffer, Tiny,” I said as the goon pushed me into the car and slid in beside me. The other goon joined us in the back seat through the other door. Cal put Rose in the passenger’s seat in the front and then went around to the driver’s side. He got in and cranked up.
“You can just drop me off at the bus stop, Cal. Thanks,” I said, adding fuel to the fire.
He chuckled, but not from amusement. I think he was running scenarios in his head of what he wanted to do to me…
I decided it wasn’t. Not only would I be gambling with Rose’s life but the cop’s too. He would more than likely be ambushed by Cal and the goons before he even knew what hit him. I was on my own with this one.
The sun was glistening off the cars as we walked to the parking lot and to a green 4-door sedan, a 1949 Ford. The world’s oldest profession must be doing well for Diamond to be able to afford a seemingly endless supply of new cars.
One of Diamond’s goons opened the back door for me…
“Very good. Let’s go, people,” Cal said as he got behind Rose and did just what he said, pushing the end of the pistol’s barrel into her back and covering it with the other henchman’s coat.
We exited the room and boarded the elevator. Diamond’s two big goons were flanking me, with Cal bringing up the rear directly behind Rose.
We stepped out of the hotel and back into the bright L.A. day. I saw a glimmer of hope in the form of an L.A.P.D. beat cop walking toward us.
I wondered if it was worth gambling with Rose’s life…
Cal snatched Rose up from the bed and told both of the goons to remove their trench coats. They did, and Cal took one of the coats and told Rose to put it on quickly, which she did, covering up the nightgown she was wearing. She then stepped into a pair of shoes sitting on the floor next to the bed. One of the goons came and roughly grabbed me up from the floor and punched me in the gut. I doubled over and began coughing. Then he reached under my arm and pulled my pistol out from the holster…
“Okay, here’s what’s going to happen,” Cal said with all the nonchalance of a Boy Scout troop leader about to take his boys for a jaunt through the woods. “We’re going to walk calmly out of this place to the parking lot and get into the car. Randolph, I will have a gun in Rose’s back at all times and if you deviate from that plan in the slightest I will put a bullet in her. That clear?”
I nodded. I couldn’t take a chance on trying something with Rose’s life hanging in the balance.
I’d just have to wait…
“There’s nothing that’s going to save you, Randolph, so just keep running your stupid mouth,” Cal said.
I had only just noticed the bruising on his face. I would’ve thought he’d already lost a bout with Joe Louis this week, but more than likely those bruises came from his head bouncing off his steering wheel like a pinball when I ran him into that truck. So, I had three guys in this room that not only had a professional grudge against me, being employed by Bobby Diamond, but also had a personal one.
Yep. I am most definitely a masochist…
“However,” Cal said with a smile, “that isn’t going to save her from a severe beating. But sometimes there are fates worse than death.”
“Where’d you read that, Cal, on the back of a matchbook?” I said. “Assuming you can read, that is.”
Why do I enjoy antagonizing people who can do me great harm? I must be a masochist.
Cal looked at the thug next to him, who stepped up and punched me in the face so hard that the chair I was sitting in turned over backwards and I went spilling onto the floor.
Yep. I’m a masochist…
How in the hell did Diamond’s crew find out who I really was? This was not good. If they knew who I was they could easily find out where I lived. And then they’d find Milton. I still didn’t know what they wanted him for but it sure as hell wasn’t to make it a fourth for playing bridge.
“Your stupid sister almost blew this whole thing,” Cal said. “She didn’t follow protocol when she sent Randolph here. The only thing that saved that dumb bitch’s life is the fact that she called us and told us what she did.”
Rose started screaming and one of Diamond’s oversized lackeys came in and backhanded her. She slumped face first onto the bed and began sobbing again. I started to jump up out of my chair and tackle the big bastard when I saw Cal pull a pistol from his coat. He and the other lackey stepped into the room and closed the door.
“Sit down, Randolph,” Cal said. The sound of my real name was like an electrical shock through my body.
“It’s Randall,” Rose said through her sobs.
“Shaddup, you whore!” Cal said harshly. “It’s Jake Randolph. A private dick.”