Not exactly the climax I was hoping for, but I obliged her. We went to the same diner in Pacific Palisades I had eaten at the night I witnessed Morty and Nick paying off Stan North.
Then Scarlett said, "Take me home, baby."
I headed for her apartment, but with a detour to the Sunset Strip. I pulled up outside of Novelties Unlimited and went in, coming out a few minutes later with a box.
"What is this?" she asked.
She opened the lid.
"A French maid's outfit!" she said laughing.
I smiled and drove away.
I nodded and then said, "Jim."
He turned and looked at me.
"Thanks," I said.
He dismissed me with a wave of his hand, "Ah, get outta here, Randolph."
He got in the car and then leaned his head out and added, "What are friends for?" as he drove off the site.
I turned to look at Scarlett. She'd been kidnapped and nearly killed and she still looked fabulous.
"Soooo," I said playfully, "what do you want to do now?"
"I'm hungry," she said.
I grabbed her around the waist, "Me too!"
"No," she said, "really hungry. Let's go eat."
"We'll see it gets back to him," Harrigan said. Clearly he wanted to take her home.
"Deborah," Scarlett said, "Nick gave me a week off with pay but I guess that's out the window considering he just got arrested."
She shook her head, "No, darling. You take the time off. You deserve it."
Deborah looked at me and then back to Scarlett, "I'm sure you can find something to occupy your time. I'll see you next Monday."
Harrigan put Deborah in his car and then told me, "Randolph, I'll call you when I need you to come to the station."
We stayed at the construction site until well after sunup. Most of the cops had left out and it was just Harrigan, Deborah, Scarlett and me still there. Harrigan and Deborah seemed to be making eyes at each other. I could sense something was happening. I was glad. Maybe it would make Deborah less likely to interfere with Scarlett and me.
"Well," Harrigan said, "need a ride home, Deborah?"
She smiled, "Yes I do."
"Wait," I said, "you came here in a car."
She nodded, "I paid the bartender at the Tiki Moon a hundred dollars to borrow his car."
"Well," Harrigan said, "we're still going to need to pump those two bozos to see which of the building inspectors were on the take. They'll go to prison for quite a stretch, but if they cooperate they may get out before their hair turns gray."
Deborah said, "I'll help in any way I can to clear my company's name and reputation."
Harrigan looked at Deborah and smiled, "Well we might have to work closely together for a while, Ms. Newstead."
She smiled back, "That's fine. And call me Deborah."
Okay, I must say that was a little weird to witness...
The construction site was a sea of police, all milling around. Morty and Nick were in the back of a squad car and about to be taken to the station to be booked.
Scarlett and Deborah were standing together and I dreaded what I was about to walk into.
As I walked up Scarlett ran up and hugged me.
"Oh, Jake! Are you okay?" she asked.
I nodded, "Yeah. Stan North and the ugly guy didn't fare so well, though."
Deborah just looked at me. She apparently had not told Scarlett anything. I nodded and smiled. She just turned away...
Harrigan shook his head, "There are nearly two million people in this city and I seem to spend most of my professional time keeping you from getting killed. Just like in the war."
"Just like in the war?!" I yelled. "How many times did I have to save your ass in the war, huh?"
Harrigan walked over to North's body, "I don't recall one time of you having to come to my rescue, Randolph."
"You have a very selective memory when it comes to the war, Harrigan."
"No, no, no."
We argued all the way back to the construction site...
The shot rang out like a cannon. They say your life flashes before your eyes when you have a near-death experience. None of that is true, at least not with me. I've had a few brushes with the Grim Reaper in my time and all I felt was a sense of despair, a sense of loneliness. A cold vortex that sweeps you up and tosses you about like a rag doll.
I opened my eyes and saw North fall on his face. Harrigan was behind him with a smoking gun.
"Well," I said, "you took your dear sweet time!"
“I won't be facing anything,” North said. “I have an escape plan. I knew working with Nick and Mort was a dangerous proposition. I've kept bags packed and wads of cash on hand. I'll be leaving town. But not before I finish you off, Randolph."
I was out in the middle of the warehouse with no place to take cover. North was standing under a crate that was suspended from the ceiling by a rope. But I had no way to cut it and this wasn't a Derek Slade dimestore novel.
He cocked the gun and I closed my eyes...
He looked and saw that my hands were empty and smiled.
"Just who the hell are you?" he asked as he held the gun on me. "You're not a cop."
"No, I'm Jake Randolph. I'm the one your colleagues so foolishly thought was Mr. Saint and hired me to kill Deborah Newstead."
He nodded, "So, I'm assuming you didn't kill her?"
I shook my head, "Nope. She's at Construction Site 7 right now along with Scarlett Wilcox. Oh, and the L.A.P.D. They'll be here any second. I wouldn't add a charge of first degree murder to what you're already facing."
The smell of gun smoke hung heavy around me like diseased air. The sounds of the shots that echoed through the warehouse were now ping-ponging in my ear canals. I wasn't sure where he was, but I knew he was close. I was crisscrossing between stacked crates, taking cover and then quickly peeking around them before moving to the next one. It's not a fair fight when only one party has a gun. And unfortunately I was on the short end of that particular scenario.
I turned a corner and came face to face with him.
And his gun...
"You're full of shit, North. You're tied to the hit man known as Mr. Saint. We know you were taking bribes from the Commonwealth Construction Company. We know you had Phil Garfield and Deborah Newstead killed and you tried to kill Scarlett Wilcox."
"Shit, shit, shit!!" North screamed as he fired a couple of rounds in my direction.
"I'll kill you!" he screamed, starting toward me.
I backed up and began moving through the crates, hoping I might find my gun somewhere down there.
He fired another couple of shots and I was hoping I could exhaust his ammo supply...
"Who the hell are you?!" North screamed.
"I'm the guy that's going to put a bullet in you if you don't drop your weapon."
He took cover behind a crate of his own. So much for the bluff.
"It's over, North. We know about the bribery. Morty and Nick are already in custody."
I was hoping to make him think I was a cop. I just wondered where the hell Harrigan was.
"I don't know what you're talking about. I'm a city official. I'm here on city business," North yelled, trying his best to worm his way out of this...
I started down the stairs, hoping I'd find my gun along the way. I reached the stairs to the first floor and still hadn't found it. My only hope was that Stan North didn't have a gun on him. He saw me as I descended the stairs and pulled a pistol from under his jacket. Apparently the City Planner's Office was a rough place if they were packing heat.
I vaulted over the stairs' handrail and took cover behind a stack of crates. I might could bluff North into thinking I had a gun.
"It's over, North. Drop your weapon."
After I gave in to that urge, I rose up and tossed the empty shotgun to the floor. I went in to the office, which had a sink in the corner, and washed the guy's ugly face off me. I puked again. I dried my face off with a towel that was hanging by the sink and started out of the office. I heard Stan North yelling up, "Did you do it, Rocky?"
I looked down at Rocky's bloody head. I'd killed a few nameless faces in my day, but it was the first time I'd killed a faceless name...
I managed to wrestle control of the shotgun from the ugly dude and had the barrel under his chin. I had a split-second to make a decision to spare this guy's life and try to deal with him and Stan North, or just end this pathetic loser's existence. But the decision was made for me.
The ugly dude tried to grab the gun from me, causing me to pull the trigger. His head exploded all over the warehouse's third floor. Flecks of brain, blood and bone matter splattered me in the face.
I had a violent urge to puke...
I tried to get my gun under the ugly dude's chin to blow his friggin' head off but he brought his left forearm up and knocked the gun out of my hand. I heard it clanking as it dropped down the stairwell. The steps were open underneath them so God only knew where my pistol had ended up. I heard the clanking sound for what seemed like an eternity. My only hope was to wrench the shotgun away from the ugly dude. There was one more shell in the other barrel.
We hit the floor, rolling back and forth, struggling...
I heard footsteps on the stairs and pulled my pistol. The ugly dude reached the office door and looked through the window, seeing that Scarlett was gone. I came up from behind and pushed the barrel of my pistol to the back of his skull.
"Drop the shotgun," I said.
"Sure," he said, but before I could react he'd elbowed me in the stomach. I doubled over as he turned around. I twisted the barrel of the shotgun as he pulled the trigger, unloading the first barrel. The blast took a chunk out of the crate I'd been hiding behind...
"Dammit!" Stan shouted. "Something's gone wrong. Those two idiots can't do anything right that doesn't involve one of them bending over!"
The ugly guy looked like he didn't understand that reference. But I did.
"You're gonna have to go ice the broad. I was hoping they would be handling that but I work with retards."
The ugly dude smiled. He looked like he was going to enjoy his work. He was going to be proven very wrong.
I eased back up the stairs until I reached the third floor, moved outside the office door and hid behind a wooden crate...
I followed her to the fire escape and helped her through the window, then moved to the stairs that went to the second floor. It appeared to be unoccupied so I got to the edge of the stairs leading to the first floor.
Stan North was down there with a real unpleasant looking S.O.B. that I'm sure was the one Scarlett was referring to. He was holding a sawed off double-barrel shotgun. Stan had the walkie-talkie in his hand and was trying to reach Nick. But I knew for a fact Nick was too tied up to respond...