"Lemme guess," I said. "When you got back she was dead?"
He nodded. I could see it was still eating him up.
"The door was ajar. The place looked like a tornado had blown through. A bunch of stuff was broken and Paige was..."
He looked like he was about to break into tears. He continued, but his voice was shaky.
"Paige was on the floor in the living room. She had red marks all over her neck. Someone had strangled her to death. If I hadn't gone out for booze she might still..."
"You can't think that way, Milton."
I sped up even more. I wasn't sure if Diamond's man was after Milton, me or the both of us. I was going to have to confront Diamond again. Only next time, I'd have the upper hand.
"What happened when you woke up from your drunken stupor?" I asked Milton as I tried to drive toward the warehouse district, where there were fewer cars and people.
Milton exhaled, "Paige was still passed out and we were out of booze. So I went down to the all night liquor store on the corner of her block to get some more bourbon."
I began making some turns to see if the car followed. It did.
"So," I said to Milton as I sped up and continued to take turns to try and shake the pursuing vehicle, "can I assume that the drinking that night led to one or both of you passing out?
He nodded as he put his hand on the dashboard to brace himself against the high speeds.
"Yeah, she passed out and I followed a few minutes later. Why are you driving so fast, Jakey?"
"There's a car following us," I said.
Milton looked back. "That Diamond's man, Cal."
"Even you don't know what she meant by hitting the big time?" I asked.
He shook his head, "She wouldn't say. She just seemed really excited."
"Okay," I said, still looking behind us for a tail. "So, you're celebrating with Paige at her apartment. I'm guessing there was a fair amount of liquor being consumed, am I right?"
"Yeah," he said, pulling that glass flask of bourbon out of his jacket and taking a swig. I got the distinct impression that Milton Dunn didn't need a special occasion to tie one on.
I noticed a blue car following behind us...
The cars behind me were starting to lay down on their horns. I didn't want to attract any more attention to us than I already stupidly had, so I started driving up the street once more.
"What the hell do you mean, Milton?"
"The night she was killed I went with her back to her apartment. She was celebrating. She said she was moving up in the world."
"Hitting the big time, as Tiffany Cross put it?"
He looked at me, "You know Tiffany Cross?"
Biblically, I thought, but I didn't say it.
"Yeah. She said Paige told her that."
"Where are we going?" Milton asked as we pulled out of the motel's parking lot.
"Well," I said as I looked all around for any evidence of a tail, "I'm going to have to stash you at my apartment until I can figure out someplace safe for you. I'm quite sure now that you didn't kill Paige Turner, Milton."
"I didn't. At least I don't think I did."
I slammed on the brakes right in the middle of the street.
"Excuse me?" I asked incredulously. "You don't think you did? You mean you're not sure?"
He slowly shook his head...
"I've been calling your office since yesterday," he said as he closed the suitcase.
"Yeah," I said, "I should probably get an answering service. Why did you lam it from the Silver Sun?"
"Because I was up at the front desk getting some cigarettes and I saw Bobby Diamond's second-in-command, Cal, up the street. I asked the clerk to call me a cab, grabbed my case and ran."
He got his suitcase and we walked back to the parking lot in time to see the man from Room 4 pounding on the desk clerk like a drum set...
I kept walking toward Room 9 as everyone in #4 scrambled to get dressed. Let's see what the desk clerk thinks of my manners now!
I got to the door of #9 and knocked. The curtain over the window next to the door rustled and then the door flew open.
"Jakey!" Milton said, only I was tired of correcting him so I just let it go.
"Get your things, Milton. We need to go, now."
He showed me into yet another crappy, rat infested motel room and grabbed a tattered suitcase and hurriedly started putting a few things in it...
Room 4 was first so I stopped there and knocked on the door. There was a lot of commotion and voices going on inside. A man answered, sliding on a bathrobe, but not before I got a full view of his anatomy. There were three girls on the bed, all minus robes, or anything else. There were two other guys in the room and some camera equipment.
"What the hell do you want?" the man asked gruffly.
"Just a little tip, pal. The desk clerk called the vice squad."
He immediately turned red. "What? That little shit! I'll kill him!"
The man looked at me like I'd just told him his mother was frequently found in the company of sailors on shore leave. I could tell he wanted to hit me but knew that would be the biggest mistake of his life. He looked at his guest book.
"We only had two men check in yesterday afternoon. One is in Room 4, the other is in Room 9."
"Thank you," I said, turning on my heel to exit the office.
"You, sir, are a crude individual with all the manners of an alley cat!"
"Thanks for the compliment," I said...
"Now," I continued, "you can put a tight-ass man at the reception desk and think you're the Ritz all you want, but this is a joint where folks come to have sex with people they aren't married to, or a place for men to sleep off a drunk before going home to the little woman, or a place where people come to disappear, which is what my client is currently using this establishment for. Now tell me what room he's in before the vice squad comes and shakes your tree and sees what falls off the limbs. Got me?"
"Good day, sir," I said. "I'm looking for a man who checked in yesterday afternoon. May be using the name Johnny Fawn."
"May I inquire for what purpose?" the man asked, looking down at me so much it's a wonder he could see through his bottom eyelashes.
"I have a business appointment with him," I said, which technically was true if he was my client.
The man shook his head, "Yet you don't know what name he checked in under? I'm sorry, sir. This establishment doesn't work that way."
I looked around. "This establishment is a shit hole."
I hate doing that to people, deceiving them. But sometimes in this profession you have to. There's just no way of getting around it.
I made my way out to Lynwood, hoping Milton hadn't flown the coop before I even arrived at the farmyard.
I got to the Skyline Motel in the early afternoon and went into the office. The man behind the desk was tall and distinguished, much too classy for a dump like this one. He was attired in a nice black suit with perfectly coiffed hair and a neatly trimmed mustache.
I walked up to the desk...
She only spoke on the phone briefly, and half of that time was apologizing to Eddie for apparently waking him up. She hung the phone up.
"He took Mr. Fawn to another motel, in Lynwood. The Skyline Motel on Century Boulevard."
I smiled and asked, "And if I wanted to reach a certain young lady to offer her a part in a movie, how would I go about that?"
She got a Sunshine Cab Co. business card, flipped it over, and wrote a number on it. I smiled.
Then I threw it in a trash can when I got outside...
She opened her log book and asked, "What's the gentleman's name?"
I laughed, "He ain't no gentleman! And who knows what the hell name he used? He's got more aliases than a cat burglar! He might have been using the name Johnny Fawn. He was picked up yesterday afternoon from the Silver Sun Motel in Garden Grove."
She looked in her book. "That would be Eddie, then. He's off at the moment. Would you like me to call him to see where he dropped Mr. Fawn off?"
I winked at her, "If you wouldn't mind, sweetheart."
She grabbed the phone...
"Say," I said just for insurance, "that script my idiot screenwriter lost has a part in it you'd be just perfect for. That is, if you can help me track it down."
She laughed again, "I'm not an actress, sir, but I'll help you, surely!"
"Much obliged, honey, but my name ain't Shirley!"
She giggled again. I was hamming it up too much. I needed to find where the cab had dropped Milton off and get the hell out of there before someone not so gullible got into this little conversation.
But, sumbitch, I was having too much gaddang fun...
"I've told that absent-minded sumbitch a thousand times not to leave those gaddang scripts layin' around willy-nilly where any ole' sumbitch can find 'em! But does he listen? Hell no, he doesn't!"
She was hanging on my every word. I had the hook set firmly in her jaw. All I had to do was reel her in.
"Say," I said, as I grabbed her chin between my thumb and forefinger, turning her head sideways, "have you ever been in a picture before, honey?"
She giggled like a hyena on laughing gas.
"No!" she said.
"Well, you oughta be."
I stepped over to the drugstore next to the cab company and bought a single cigar and some matches. I lit the cigar and pushed open the door to the cab company like I owned the place.
"My dear!" I said, blowing a wisp of cigar smoke into the air. "I hope you can help me, gaddangit, because I'm in a bit of a pickle! My name is Jacob Randall and I'm an executive over at Paradigm Pictures. One of our screenwriters used your cab yesterday and left a script he was working on in there."
Her eyes slowly widened...
She looked to be in her early 20's; an attractive girl with a head full of platinum blonde hair and a look in her eye that said I want to be a star. She was rapidly chewing a piece of gum as she rifled through her movie magazine.
I was still wearing my stepping out suit from the previous night so I looked pretty sharp, even though the clothes were a bit rumpled after being all over Tiffany Cross's floor. I was thinking I had a good chance of pulling this off.
Even though I regetted having to use people...
I pulled up in front of the cab company and tried to figure out what deception I was going to use to get the info I needed. You can meet a total stranger and within five minutes, of their own free will, they've told you everything about their family for the past two generations. But if you point blank ask them about their family they get very suspicious and tight-lipped. I've seen both ends of that scenario.
I looked through the window of the business and saw the girl behind the counter reading a movie magazine.
Yep. That'll work...