We walked up four flights of stairs and I had a feeling that Nelson was about to pull something. I wondered if Dolan was even here.
I reached under my arm and pulled my pistol as we left the stairwell and walked onto the fourth floor. Nelson went to the end of the hall and turned toward me. I showed him the pistol.
He knocked three times on the door. It seemed like a signal. I sprinted to the end of the hall and kicked the door open.
Dolan was trying yet again to get away via the fire escape...
"Max mentioned you," Nelson said.
"What did he say?" I said as we reached the door to the building.
"He said Barbara told him that Katie had hired you to find him. And that it may interfere with his plans to get Gallagher."
"What's he planning on doing with Gallagher? Kill him?"
Nelson let that question hang in the air as we started up the stairs.
"So, Mr. Randolph. What are you planning on doing with Max?"
"I was hired to find him. Nothing more."
"He doesn't want to be found."
"Yeah, well, he didn't hire me. His daughter did."
The apartment building was as nondescript as Nelson's personality. Just bricks and windows and a lot of poor, miserable people behind them. The concrete path up to the door was weathered and broken. There were chalk remnants of a game of hopscotch played by dirty little kids who would probably wind up living in a building just like this one with dirty little kids of their own playing hopscotch outside it.
"By the way, Nelson. I never introduced myself. Didn't have time before your mad dash. I'm Jake Randolph, private detective."
I saw a look of recognition in his eyes...
"No," I said, "then how about you enlighten me."
He looked out the side window. We were in Torrance now, about to pull up to the address Nelson had given me. I was dubious as to whether it was actually his apartment building.
"All Max wants to do is get his little girl back," Nelson said as he pointed to a building up the street.
I parked at the curb in front.
"She's not so little anymore, Nelson. Dolan left her in that orphanage for seven years."
He nodded, "I know. And he has agonized about that the whole time."
"Now I don't know who killed those two, Nelson, but I can tell you this: Ricky was lying on the floor with warm blood oozing from a hole in his head as Max was climbing down the fire escape."
Nelson started fidgeting.
"And I spent the next couple of minutes dancing a minuet with some hot lead that was coming out of the business end of Max's gun."
Nelson acted like he wanted to speak but stopped.
"So," I continued, "I put two and two together and came up with the foregone conclusion that Max offed Ricky."
"No!" Nelson yelled...
Nelson gave me the address of his apartment building in Torrance and I pulled out into the traffic, heading in that direction.
"Tell me something, Nelson. Is Max trying to figure out a way to take down Gallagher?"
He said nothing.
"Not gonna level with me, huh?" I asked. "Okay, I'll talk then. Last night I looked up a few of Dolan's old friends; Davy, Ricky and Michael. Of those three the only one that saw the sun come up this morning is Michael, and he saw it out of a cell window at the L.A.P.D."
Nelson looked at me...
He thought about it. I don't think he trusted me but I could tell he realized he had no choice.
"Max is staying in an empty apartment in my building," he said. "I'll take you there."
I let go of him but warned him, "Nelson, if you run or try to warn Max in any way they'll be scraping you up off the sidewalk with a spatula. Do you understand me?"
He nodded and we started out of the alley. I trailed just behind him. I pointed him to my vehicle as the guys in the tire warehouse watched us...
I wasn't really going to shoot him but thankfully he didn't know that.
"I don't know where Max is," he said in a not very convincing tone.
I pushed him up against the side brick wall of the pet shop and said, "Nelson, I have to find Max Dolan. Now I can do it with your help or I can do it while they're taking you to the hospital. But I'd rather have your help."
He gulped, "Do you...work...for...?" he let it trail off.
"Duncan Gallagher? No, and I may be able to help Max if I can find him."
"I...I panicked," he said, stammering.
"Clearly. But why? Have you been a naughty boy, Nelson?"
"No...no...I just didn't know who you worked for."
I straightened his rumpled shirt and patted him on the shoulder.
"I work for a little girl who's desperately trying to find her father, Nelson. Word has it that you're friends with said father. His name is Max Dolan."
He looked like a kid on the day they find out Santa Claus isn't real.
"I need to speak with Max Dolan. It's a matter of life or death. Yours, Nelson," I said as I pulled my pistol...
Nelson grunted as he hit the asphalt.
"Tell me something, Petey boy," I said, "do you start a cross-country run every time someone comes up and calls your name? That must get exhausting."
He just sat on his sore ass looking at me.
"We can do this the easy way or we can do it my way," I said as I grabbed a handful of his shirt and pulled him to his feet. "I'm good either way."
"Who are you?" he asked.
"Maybe you should have asked that before you tried to drive a forklift up my nose, Nelson."
Nelson turned and ran down the sidewalk, pushing people down in his way. I took off after him, hurtling over those lying on the sidewalk cursing the crazy man who'd just knocked them down.
After about a block-and-a-half he ducked into an alley next to a pet store. The doggie in the window barked at me as I went past.
I turned into the alley and saw him trying in vain to scale a chain link fence that was blocking his way. I reached up and grabbed the seat of his pants, yanking him to the ground...
"Nelson?" I yelled.
He turned his head and saw me, then spun the forklift around toward me. He raised the forks until they were level with my chest and then started driving at me. I backed up until I was stopped by a stack of tires, which toppled over with me falling on top of them.
Nelson jumped off the forklift and sprinted for the doors. I got to my feet and gave chase.
As I ran out after Nelson the foreman yelled, "I don't blame you, mister! If he'd knocked my sister up I'd be chasing the bastard too!"
"Look," the guy said, "can't you do this after hours? We're trying to work here."
I shook my head, "My old man gets out of jail tomorrow and I really want to get this cleared up before he comes home. You follow me?"
The guy nodded.
"Daddy can be, well, rather violent. And he doesn't care who's in his way."
He nodded again.
"This will only take a minute," I said.
"Go ahead. Just please be quick. He's the one on the forklift. Over there," he said pointing at Nelson.
I nodded and thanked him, then I started toward Nelson...
Okay, maybe sometimes I get carried away with my little charades, but I learned something over the years of being a detective. If you walk up to them and ask them for information they usually tell you to go fornicate yourself. But if you give them a story, something they can get involved in, they're a lot more willing to aid you in your quest for information.
The guy's eyes turned into big white saucers.
"Impregnated my sister!" I said louder. "Did you hear me that time?"
The guy started stammering like he was the one who did it...
I parked my car across the street and walked over to the Titan Tire Co. A man with a clipboard, who looked like the supervisor or the foreman, was standing there barking orders at these trained monkeys. I walked up to him.
"Excuse me, do you have a Pete Nelson working here?" I asked the man.
He was short, with brown hair coming out from under a knit cap and a look that said not to bother him because he was a very busy man.
"Who wants to know?"
"The brother of the girl he knocked up," I said angrily...
So, I put the money in the bank and started investing it. Before long my money was working for me. I didn't need to be a private detective anymore for money. But I did need it for the rush, like I told Harrigan. The adrenaline rush I craved. I shook those thoughts from my head and started for the Titan Tire Co.
It was just after 8 am when I arrived. The doors were open and guys were milling around inside stacking tires, cataloging tires, moving pallets of tires around with a forklift.
It tired me out just watching it...
The taxi dropped me off at Precision Auto Repair to pick up my car, a maroon 1950 Studebaker Starlight Coupe I'd bought two years before. The first new car I'd ever owned. I'd come into a large sum of money thanks to a case involving a woman who'd lost her memory and was in possession of a quarter of a million dollars. Turned out it belonged to a Vegas mobster she was in love with who died. She was so distraught she went back home to her parents and told me to keep the money.
Yeah...I didn't believe it either...
Morning came a lot sooner than I had expected. I had just closed my eyes when the alarm went off. I had to get up early so I could beat Harrigan to the Titan Tire Co. I wanted to chat with Dolan's friend Pete Nelson alone. Harrigan and I had agreed to meet there at 9 am that morning. I was going to pick up my car from the mechanic and meet him there so we could talk to Nelson.
But I got up at 6 am, choked down a greasy breakfast and then called Tony's 24-Hour Taxi Service...
After we got in the car Harrigan sat there a moment.
"I get it now, Jake," he said as he started the car and pulled away from the orphanage.
"Why you do what you do. You're very good with people. You have a way of putting them at ease. And they trust you in a way they never could if you were a policeman. So I get it now."
That's why he was staring at Barbara and me when I got up to comfort her after she started crying.
"Thanks, Jim," I said as he drove me home...
"Well," Katie said with a smile, "any friend of Jake's is a friend of mine!"
Barbara and Harrigan laughed. The more I was around this kid the more I liked her.
"We have to go now, Katie, but I'll let you know as soon as I find out something, okay?"
"Okay," she said. "Good night, Jake. Nice to meet you, Mr. Harrigan."
"Likewise, Miss Dolan," Harrigan said.
"Good night, Katie. Sleep well," I said.
She ran back upstairs.
I turned to Barbara, "I'll let you know something soon."
"Please do," she said.
Harrigan and I walked out into the night...