Sunday, December 08, 2013

The Noir 9mm

It was chilly in Los Angeles, not cold, just chilly.  I was born and raised in the Mid-West so my joints don't turn to guava jelly when the temperature dips to 48 degrees.  I was walking up Fairfax about 7:30 at night when my head began to clear.  The cool air helped me put the pieces together.  It had been raining off and on all day.  I like the streets in L.A. after a light rain.  The pavement cools and brings the oil up giving the streets a silver-white shine when the street lights come on.
My day started at 2 PM when an assistant director over at Paramount, who owed me a favor, called and woke me up.  He told me he had referred me for a job and that I should be at some over-paid, self-important producer's office at 3:30.  "Over-paid and self-important producer" is there any other kind I mused?  My AD friend admonished me that this would be a big paying job and I should be prompt.  "He probably won't see you until at least 4 o'clock but he'll know if you're one minute late and he won't like it!"  Since I hadn't had a paying case in weeks and the studios paid well and their checks didn't bounce I decided to jump on this case before they offered it to the Nick Adams Agency.

As I hung up the phone my brain suddenly brought up a 24 year old memory from Navy boot camp and I could hear my Chief yelling that we had "10 minutes to shit, shower and shave".   I decided to see if I could still do it.  I couldn't.  45 minutes later I left my bungalow apartment, stepped into my almost paid for Sea-foam green Chevrolet and rolled down Western Avenue until I got to Melrose.  I took a right and passed Wilturn and Van Ness Avenues before turning up N. Bronson and parking in the front lot.
I then presented myself to the studio policeman at the Bronson Gate.  He looked me over twice, checked the clipboard and then just like Santee Clause he checked the list twice to see if I was really cleared to see Mr. Swanky Producer.  He even called the producer's receptionist to triple check.  "OK" he says "but before you go in, we don't allow private dicks to bring heaters onto the lot."  "You'll have to leave it with me and I'll lock it in the guard house drawer until you come out".
"Relax" I tell him as I open my coat "I'm not packin' anything today".  "Yeah?" he says, "what pawn shop is it in?"  Little did he know how right he was.  If he had pinched my wallet he would he would have found a pawn ticket for the Sunset Loan company written for a blue steel .38 Smith & Wesson.  I still had 45 days to bring them the cash before they moved it from their vault to a showcase.  What he didn't know was that my Colt .32 was wrapped in a handkerchief and stuffed low into the right front pocket of my trousers. 
"Thanks" I said "I'm glad to see that you found work after Sennett stopped making those Keystone Cops flicks!"  As I slowly walked toward Producer's Row he growled back "Go shit in your hat wiseass".  Another satisfied customer.

I made my way over to the producer's office which was nothing to speak of from the outside however, on the inside, it was an art deco masterpiece.

After traversing a long and wide reception room the general secretary, Miss Lindsay, pointed me to a very art deco bench just inside the open entry arch that was facing an art deco statue of a nude woman.  I didn't like sitting there and facing her and I didn't like sitting with my back to the open entry room.  

True to his reputation the swanky producer kept me waiting for about forty-five minutes.  I heard the general secretary's phone buzz and she then announced that producer extraordinaire, Alfred Lindestrum, would see me now.  I stood up and walked the 10 paces to the office door where it immediately opened by a Mr. Cox who introduced himself as Mr. Lindestrum's personal secretary.  He ushered me over to a cosy little set-up in front of a fireplace consisting of two chairs separated by a small table which faced a coffee table with a couch behind it.  I sat in the chair closest to the fireplace and Cox took the chair next to mine.

The room was certainly as elegant as art deco could be.  I later found out that all of the furnishing were original art deco pieces from the late 1920's that had been purchased as props for films shot during the art deco period.  Before the war they were all packaged up and stored in the Studio's massive prop house until Lindestrum discovered them.  He had the studio designers and carpenter's redecorate his office turning it into an art deco paradise which cost Lindestrum next to nothing.

When Alfred Lindestrum strode into the room a few moments later I was a little disappointed.  Due to the furnishings I was expecting to meet "The Great Gatsby" but instead my client turned out to be a dowdy man in his 60's with a big mustache, a receding hairline and wearing a nice chalk-lined suit.

For the next hour and forty five minutes Lindestrum sat on the couch and entertained us with his life story, one that Cox had undoubtedly heard many times before.  He explained how hard his formative years had been and how those rough and tumble experiences turned him into the tough business man that he is today.  Several times during the discussion he mentioned how he valued honesty, integrity, respect and loyalty.  Experience taught me that whenever someone spends that much time extolling the virtues of honest, integrity, respect and loyalty it is because they possess none of those characters themselves and you can expect them to be dishonest, disrespectful and disloyal.  

After hearing about these virtues for the fifth time I interrupted Mr. Lindestrum, something that he is probably not used to, and told him that he might want to leave some time to tell me about the case he was hiring me for.  Basically it was a simple snoop job, but a snoop job that he was offering me $10 grand to take on.  His pitch was simple.  Janice Evans was his handpicked ingenue of the year.  One of his talent agents saw her at the Miss Beehive pageant in Utah, swept her up and deposited her at Lindestrum's door. From there his studio team taught her how to walk, talk, sign an autograph, put on her make-up and how to dress (and I would imagine how to undress when she was needed to do that).  Lindestrum was afraid that his investment in Miss Evans was either going to walk out of Paramount or get involved in some scandal that would kill her career and tarnish his own as well.  He explained that over the past six weeks she had frequently been late coming to the studio and some days did not come in at all.  On some of the days when she made it in on time she was a wreck.  It was obvious that she had been out drinking and was then suffering from a tremendous hangover.  Lindestrum then opened a folder and dealt out half a dozen 8 X 10 photos on the coffee table in front of me.  He placed them face down so that I could see that they had all be stamped by the MGM publicity department.  When I turned them over I found that they were all publicity photos of MGM stars out on the town at Chasen's, The Brown Derby, The Coconut Grove, Ciro's or Earl Carroll's.

On each photo Lindestrum drew a circle around one of the faces in the background with a red grease pencil.  Each of these faces belonged to Janice Evans.  There wasn't much of a way to tell who she was with but Lindestrum suspected that an executive at MGM was ordering his minions to wine and dine Janice to either to convince her to sign with MGM or to get her involved in a scandal to ruin her promising career at Paramount.  Now, Eddie Mannix, the head of production at MGM, certainly had a shady background but this seemed like a venture that was way below him.

This type of a snoop job should take about 2 days, maybe 3 to tail Evans and her paramours in order to figure out what is going on and get some good photographs as evidence.  Worst case scenario this would cost about $2,000.00.  So when a man is offering up $10K for a $2 Grand job it makes me wonder what else he is expecting for his money.  With the studio crowd they certainly want this to be kept quiet and if anything illegal is uncovered they want to be notified at least an hour before you show up at the police station to turn your evidence over to the cops.  So maybe that's a $4 Grand job. The only other thing I could think of was that he also wanted me to throw a real scare into whoever was doing this.  It almost seemed like Lindestrum was reading my mind because at this point, while my mind was pondering the offer, he reached into his suit coat pocket and pulled out a Colt .45 automatic pistol.

I was upset with myself that I did not notice that the weight of the pistol was pulling his suit coat down on his left side.  Lindestrum them gestured to the pistol with his head and said "If anybody gives you any trouble or if you find out who is behind this I want you to make sure they clearly understand that it would be in their best personal interest to back off".  He then told me that he had heard that my .38 was in hock and asked if I needed to borrow his .45.  I was impressed and more than a little disturbed that he knew about my revolver.  I told him I would be OK.  He then wrote me out a check for $500.00 to get me started and bid me farewell.  

I was walking out of the studio about 6:45 PM still trying to make sense of the whole situation and thinking I might be better off passing on this job when I walked through the N. Bronson gate.  I heard the guard holler "Hey Shamus".  I turned toward him in time to just get a glimpse that this was not the same guard a spoke to coming in when a sap cracked across the side of my head.

To be continued....


Scooter said...

Visions of Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray dance in my head.

CR Cobb said...

Nice. Reminds me of the Comtonental Op. looking forward to the next chapter.

Anonymous said...

Still waiting for the next chapter