“I was married, Jakey, about a year after I graduated. It was to a girl I dated in high school. We were really in love. We wanted to start a family. After a couple of years we still hadn’t had a kid. We both went to the docs and they said it was my fault and that I was sterile, but they didn’t know why. My wife withdrew after that. It was like if we couldn’t have children she just didn’t wanna be with me anymore. That hurt, ya know?”
I nodded. It was starting to make more sense now…
“Milton, I need to ask you something,” I said.
“Uh oh,” he said, raising an eyebrow.
“When did the heavy drinking start?”
He looked puzzled. “What do you mean, heavy drinking?”
I shook my head, “Come on, Milton. You have to know how much you’re drinking. You don’t call that excessive?”
He stopped and looked down. I don’t think it had even occurred to him how much he was drinking.
“I guess it is,” he said as he looked at his glass flask and took another drink.
“This drinking isn’t just about Paige, is it?”
“No,” he said. “It’s not.”
I got back to the apartment with the food, woke Milton up, and we had dinner and talked about old times. It was actually an enjoyable evening. I was being reminded of so many things I had either forgotten or blocked out of my memory.
Milton, on the other had, seemed like he was just going through the motions. He smiled, made jokes and reminisced, but there was nothing but sadness in his eyes. I didn't know if it was because of Paige Turner's murder or if it went deeper than that.
And he was still swigging on that flask...
So much of Milton's and my past was playing on a movie screen in my head as I drove to the restaurant. I saw all the times we got in trouble in school and Milton took the blame for it all, even though I was reluctantly a part of it. I remembered him as an arrogant little punk always looking out for number one. But my memories had obviously been corrupted over the years.
He was arrogant, even as a young child. And he had a dishonest streak running through him.
But he was also a dedicated friend. My friend...
After a few drinks I told Milton I was going to go out and grab us some dinner from the Italian restaurant a few blocks over.
"Ooh!" Milton said excitedly. "I want some spaghetti! With meatballs and garlic bread!"
I nodded, "Is that all?"
"Yeah. I haven't had a good plate of spaghetti in years."
"Okay," I said, "I'll be back soon."
"Alright. I'm just going to lie here on the couch and rest my eyes," he said, starting to yawn. "I'm awfully tired."
He went out like a light.
"To best buds," I whispered and quietly closed the door...
He just looked at me and smiled.
"To old friends," he said as he held up his glass flask.
"To old friends," I said, clinking my glass against it.
My mind went back to a time when Milton and I were skipping school to go to the pictures to see a Laurel & Hardy movie. We sat in the dark theater, hearts pounding as we scanned the blackness for the iron fist of the truant officer. We clinked our Coca-Cola bottles together and said, "To best buds!"
Time had made me forget just how close Milton and I were...
I gave Milton the ten-cent tour of my meager apartment, and he immediately sat down at the kitchen table and began filling his glass flask up with the recently purchased bourbon.
"Hey, Jakey, sit down and have a drink with your old pal Milton."
My old pal Milton. Believe it or not, I was actually starting to think of him that way.
I grabbed a glass and dropped a couple of ice cubes in it, pouring the bourbon over them.
"Eww," he said. "How do you drink bourbon cold?"
I grinned, "How do you drink it at room temperature?"
We got to my place in Glendale after I made sure no one was tailing us. We'd stopped at a liquor store on the way and I bought Milton enough bourbon to keep him stoned until Christmas. I didn't want him to have an excuse to leave the apartment while I was gone. I needed to have a look at Paige Turner's place once it got dark. It was still an active crime scene, so I would have to break in late at night.
And if I got caught I don't even think Harrigan could get me out of it...
I had one thing going for me in all this: Bobby Diamond had no idea who I was. So, unless Tiffany sold me out to him, there was a good chance I could remain anonymous while I tried to clear Milton's name.
It also meant I could safely stash Milton at my apartment for a while. I'd feel safer if I could get him out of L.A. until I could find out who actually killed Paige Turner, but I wasn't sure where to take him. He needed a chaperone, but I had neither the time nor the patience for that...
I was walking backward toward the car, holding my gun on Bobby Diamond. I knew if I turned around that coward would shoot me in the back. I reached the car, opened the door, jumped in and peeled out.
Milton had watched the whole scene from inside the car.
"You are so cool," Milton said as I tried to put as much distance between us and the Cherokee Club as I could.
"No, I'm not. I just made a mortal enemy of one of the most dangerous men on the West Coast. I'm not cool, Milton. I'm a friggin' idiot."
"I don't know what you want with Milton Dunn, but he's under my protection now. The next person you send after him will be mailed back to you in a cardboard box."
"I don't know who you are, you clown. But yer dead!" he said with a finality that let me know I had to remain on my toes.
I fired my pistol at a glass sitting on a table next to Diamond. It shattered as he looked like he did something in his pants that he probably gave up doing a long time ago.
I backed out the door...
The office door in the back flew open and Bobby Diamond burst out, wondering what all the commotion was.
"What the hell?" he yelled as he saw me standing over his top man. The bartender and wait staff all scurried for the kitchen.
Diamond eyed me and went for his gun. I pulled mine first and pointed it at his greasy skull.
"Give me a reason, Diamond, and I'll redecorate your club in red."
"Who the hell do you think you are?" he asked, clearly not used to being threatened.
"I think I'm the guy holding the gun now, Diamond."
I backed my car right up to the front door of the Cherokee Club, reached in the glove compartment and got my .38 out. I hoped I wouldn't need it, but wasn't sure.
I told Milton to stay put and got out of the car, popped the trunk, kicked open the door of the club, yanked Cal from my car and drug him into the club, dropping him like a bag of dirty laundry. The place was mostly empty except for the bartender and a couple of waiters and waitresses milling around.
"Diamond!" I yelled as loudly as I could...
As I started to drive away I could see the mention of Diamond's name made the truck driver contemplate just writing the whole thing off. I didn't think he wanted to get involved with Bobby Diamond. I didn't either, but I didn't have a choice.
"Where exactly are we going?" Milton asked nervously.
"I have a special delivery to make to the Cherokee Club. Won't take long and then I'll get you someplace safe and try to sort this mess out."
I drove to the club in Long Beach and got ready to confront a very dangerous and unstable man...
The driver was inspecting the damage to his truck as I went over and popped the trunk of my car, then walked back to Cal's vehicle. I pulled him out of the car and told Milton to help me get him to the trunk of my car. I took off my belt, binding Cal's hands. Then I asked for Milton's belt, which he gave me, and I wrapped it around Cal's ankles, buckling it.
"Who's gonna pay for this?" the driver yelled as I closed the trunk and got in the car.
"Send the bill to Bobby Diamond," I answered.
I slammed on the brakes as Cal's beautiful blue car tried to mate with the side of the delivery truck. There was a cacophony of squealing tires, breaking glass and crumpling metal. I jumped out of the car about the same time as the delivery truck driver. I figured Cal was out cold.
"What the...?" the truck driver yelled. "My truck!"
Milton got out of the car and came up beside me as I looked through the driver's side window at Cal's head lying against the steering wheel. I checked his pulse. He was still breathing and wasn't bleeding anywhere...
The blue car had floored it and was pulling up alongside us. Milton had said the driver was Cal, Diamond's top doggie. I'd never seen him but Tiffany had mentioned him as well. He seemed like a tough hombre. He was about to be a piñata.
There was a brown delivery truck starting to back out of a warehouse up ahead on the left of us. Just as Cal pulled up even with my car I swerved over quickly at him. He jerked the wheel hard to the left and smacked right into the side of a Niedermeyer's Napkins truck...
"What I don't understand is why Bobby Diamond is sending his top man to get you. He has to know that you're the chief suspect in Paige's murder. I don't get why he's so gung ho to get his meat hooks on you."
"Me neither," Milton said. It didn't sound convincing.
"Is there something you're not telling me?"
He shook his head, "No. Diamond and I never got along. I didn't like the way he looked at Paige and I told him so. He told me that was cute and that I wasn't even worth killing."
That better be all...
We had almost made it to the warehouse district and the blue car was still following us. In fact, it was catching up to us. I didn't know what was about to happen but I was glad I got into a more secluded area.
"Okay, Milton," I said as I turned the car onto a service road that ran behind a long row of warehouses, "hang on. This may turn into a bumpy ride."
The blue car, a new '49 Mercury Eight, pulled onto the road behind us and sped up to catch us.
This was about to get ugly...
"I can't help but think of it that way. If it even did happen that way. Jakey, I was so bombed I could've strangled her before I left and don't remember it."
"You loved her, Milton. Why on Earth would you kill her?"
"I don't know. But everything's just fuzzy about that night."
"Well, stop thinking you could've killed her. I don't think you did. And I'm going to find who did, bring them to justice and clear your name."
He smiled. I could clearly see on his face he was happy to have an ally in this crazy mess...