I thought I heard moaning or wailing toward the bathroom so I eased over to the door and pushed it open.
I could see the outline of Tiffany’s glorious naked body behind the shower curtain. She was soaping herself all over and quietly humming.
She saw someone there with a gun and screamed. She pulled back the curtain just enough to see it was me.
“Jake Randolph! You scared the hell out of me!”
“I’m sorry,” I said, putting my gun away.
“How did you get in here?”
“I… kind of… broke the lock on the door.”
“You did what?”
I knocked hard several times and got no answer. I knew she probably wasn’t asleep this quick. I knocked harder. Nothing.
I wasn’t about to wait to try and wake the manager up at 2 am to get a master key, so I used nature’s master key: my shoulder.
I broke the door open, pulling my gun from the holster under my left arm, and stepped in. Her coat was thrown over the couch and her shoes had been kicked off right inside the apartment. There didn’t seem to be any sign of a struggle.
But that didn’t mean anything…
“Rodney, is Tiffany Cross home tonight?”
He nodded, “Yes, suh. Just took her up ‘bout half a hour ago.”
That seemed like the longest elevator journey I’d ever been on.
“Has anyone else been to her floor since then? Anyone in the building you’ve never seen before? Or anyone that shouldn’t be here?”
He started looking scared, “No, suh!”
I put my hand on his shoulder, “It’s okay, Rodney. I’m just afraid Miss Cross might be in danger.”
“Danguh? How, suh?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being paranoid.”
We got to her floor and I raced for her apartment…
If two of the other three women not crossed out in the photo were Paige and Tiffany, and Paige is dead, then that may mean that Tiffany and the other woman in the photo could be next.
I didn’t like this turn of events. I stepped on the gas and got to Tiffany’s apartment in record time. Her car was outside in the parking lot, so I parked beside it and raced into the building and to the elevator.
Rodney, the elevator operator, was on duty. He smiled and said, “Evenin’, suh.”
I stepped in and told him Tiffany’s floor…
It was just after 2 am when I slipped back down the fire escape of the Sandpiper Apartments and walked back to my car at the movie theater. I knew it was late, but Tiffany was probably just getting home from the club anyway.
I headed toward Tiffany’s Highland Park apartment wondering why two of the women in that photo had been X'ed out. It was a safe bet that neither of the women crossed out in the photo was Paige, because the picture was in her possession.
And that didn’t bode well for the other women in the photo…
I found a picture in the recess of a desk drawer, crumpled up when the drawer was closed on it as it obviously slipped down into the back. It was taken in front of the Cherokee Club and featured five women, one of which was Tiffany, and Bobby Diamond. Two of the women’s faces had been X'ed out with a black marker. That left Tiffany and two women on either side of her. I was thinking that one of the other women was Paige, but I had never actually seen her before.
I needed to get this photo to Tiffany…
She worked for him. He had designs on Tiffany being the club’s new singer and Paige seemed to be sure she was on the cusp of moving up in the world. It didn’t make sense that he would’ve killed her unless there was something going on I didn’t know, which was highly likely.
It was the unknown variables that were too vast. Literally anyone in this city could’ve killed her. The only ones that I could conclusively rule out were Harrigan and myself. But I couldn’t investigate the entire population of Los Angeles, California.
But maybe I wouldn’t have to…
I was trying to work out the list of known potential murderers in my head as I shone the flashlight around Paige’s apartment looking for any clues:
There was Milton, obviously, but I really didn’t think he did it.
And there was Tiffany. I really didn’t think she did it either, but I supposed it was a possibility. It didn’t seem likely, though. Tiffany has a gun. I would imagine she would’ve used that over strangulation if murder was her end game.
Then there was Bobby Diamond. He seemed the most viable suspect. And that’s what made me question it…
The lights were off, which was a good indication, but I could still have the wrong apartment and the occupants were just asleep. I guessed I wouldn’t know until I actually broke and entered.
I pulled on the window, easily sliding it up. I slipped quietly into the apartment and switched the flashlight on. Milton hadn’t given any better a rendering of the inside of the apartment than he had the outside of the building, but it was adequate.
Milton was right. The place did look like a tornado had blown through. The cops had left it as it was…
Inside may be another matter, however. They could have an officer posted at the door outside the apartment, so my best bet was to enter through a window. Since Paige’s apartment was on the third floor, though, I was going to have to climb the fire escape. Milton had crudely drawn the outside of the building and where the fire escape for her apartment would be. If I climbed that fire escape and he was wrong I was going to be pissed.
I ascended the fire escape and made it to what I presumed was the window to Paige’s apartment…
I wasn’t sure what I expected to find in Paige’s apartment that the cops missed, but I didn’t know what other avenue to explore. It really didn’t look good for Milton but I wasn’t going to let him know that. I could try the liquor store that Milton said he went to at the time Paige was being murdered, but that guy probably sees so many people in a night that he wouldn’t remember one guy. But it was worth a try if I struck out at Paige’s.
I scoped around the building outside and determined it was cop free…
I drove out to Inglewood to the Sandpiper Apartments where Paige Turner lived and died. It was after midnight and the streets were deserted, save for a stray car here and there.
I parked behind an all-night movie theater two blocks over from the apartments and walked there, my flashlight in the pocket inside my jacket. You could see the bulge through the front of the jacket. I looked like I was trying to shoplift salami from the deli, but I figured it was better than walking blatantly down the street with a flashlight in my hand, announcing larceny...
I looked at it, “That’s fine, thanks. I’m gonna go case the place and see if they’ve got a cop posted there. If not, I’m going to break in and have a look. The radio’s over there if you want to listen to it. I think Inner Sanctum is on tonight. Anyway, stay put. The L.A.P.D. and Bobby Diamond’s men are out prowling the streets looking for you. Don’t leave this building unless it’s on fire, you hear me?”
“Yes, dad, I hear you.”
I grinned as I went through the door, “I’ll be back late so don’t wait up.”
“Speaking of Paige, I need to sneak into her apartment and look around. Can you draw the layout of her place for me? And what’s her apartment number?”
“301,” he said as I handed him a piece of paper and a pencil. He began sketching out the floor plan of her place as I went and changed into a pair of black slacks and pulled a black sweater on. I got my flashlight and made sure the batteries were good. Then I went back to the table.
“Okay,” Milton said, “I’m no architect, so that’s the best I can do.”
I made a mental note to see if Sharkey was in town when I got all this mess sorted out. Maybe he could help me with Bobby Diamond. I knew then why loan sharking was the one industry in the L.A. underworld that Diamond wasn’t the kingpin of. It was because Sharkey was running that. And Sharkey could chew Bobby Diamond up and spit him out without even breaking a sweat.
“So anyway,” Milton continued, “I’ve known about your profession for a while, but I didn’t want to bother you. But then Paige was murdered and I had no choice.”
“Anyway, I was getting a loan from him and he mentioned your name in passing. I told him you were an old friend of mine. He had a lot to say about you.”
I shook my head, “Do I even want to know what he said?”
Milton laughed, “It was all good. He speaks highly of you. In fact, when I couldn’t pay back the loan to him, he told me since I was an old friend of yours that we were square. But he also told me don’t ever come back to one of his establishments. And I haven’t.”
I was curious. “Who are these people?”
He shook his head, “Just people. Some people you helped get sent up. Some people you helped out of a jam. Just people. The biggest one is Sharkey Russo.”
“Sharkey? How do you know him?” I asked. Sharkey was a Vegas gangster that I thought was going to be an enemy who turned out to be a friend. He helped me with my very first case. But that’s another story.
“I took out a loan from him.”
“I didn’t know he was loan sharking in this area.”
“Yeah. He branched out from Vegas.”
“Hey, Jakey, don’t pity me. I don’t need that from you.”
“I’m not pitying you, Milton. You’re my friend and I’m sorry all this has happened to you.”
He smiled. “I know you’re my friend, Jakey. And I know we haven’t seen each other in a long time and things change and people change. But I knew you wouldn’t let me down. I knew you would help me.”
“How did you even know I was a private investigator?”
He grinned. “Those people I told you I shouldn’t have been hanging around with? They knew who you were. They told me.”
“And then, Paige came into my life, and I felt like I wanted to live again. Sure, I knew I wasn’t in her league or anything. But she made time for me. She cared about me. I know a lot of people thought she was just stringing me along, but they were not there when we were alone. They didn’t hear our conversations. They didn’t know her. I did.”
He reached up and wiped a tear off his cheek that was rolling down it like his heart rolling over the side of a hill.
“I’m sorry, Milton. I really am.”
“So, I started staying out at night, drinking and not coming home until really late. She just kept withdrawing from me so I started staying out later and drinking even more. One day I staggered home and she was gone. Lock, stock and barrel.”
I really felt bad for him.
“And then I got to where I just didn’t even care if I lived or died. I started gambling, associating with people I shouldn’t have. I was walking a tightrope, Jakey. And I was almost hoping I would fall. But I just couldn’t make myself drop, ya know? Too scared.”