The mad drive into the rising morning sun to the dead body of Amos Fly was over before John Zen knew it. His mind so wrapped up in the murder of the seemingly petty thug he was just about oblivious to everything. The coroner arrived as he pulled into the quarry. His friend, Don Ray, greeted him with a wave of his hand and then beckoned him over with the other. Amos Fly’s corpse was already covered with the standard issue southern California homicide scene blue plastic tarp.
The detective asked, “You want to see?”
“Yeah, let’s do it.”
Flies had already found the mouth of Amos Fly. They danced in and out of it in the early morning light and warmth.
“Shit.” said John.
“Yeah. That too. Zen, someone took their time on this one.”
“No night watchman?”
“Not last night. The guy called in. His wife was having a baby.”
“We already checked. It’s legit. The owners didn’t think one night without a guard would matter all that much.”
“I suppose, that is if you aren’t Amos Fly. Christ, they made such precise cuts.”
“Yep. looks like surgical stuff. The lab boys will check it out.”
Don Ray backed off a step then looked off into the mountains as if to clear the scene from his head. The slowing winds lightly fanned about the two men as he spoke.
“The guy was a ginch. But no one deserves to get it this way, John. He was chopped up and left here for the first workers to find when they come in at 4am. I got the call at 5am.”
“Thanks for calling me, Don. I’ll be here all day looking around to see what I can find.”
“Sure, Zen, we go way back. I know you’re solid. Keep it close to the vest and keep me posted.”
John Zen shook the detective’s hand. Looked once more at the bloody carved up body of Amos Fly and walked back to his car. The slight morning winds helped clear the blood smell that lingered in his nose and the copper taste in his throat. The Pall Mall smoke helped even more to clear the smell and his head.
He drove to Ontario for breakfast at Ford Lunch and to visit his old friend, Sam Hobbs. They greeted each other as only long lost friends can. Each talking in a rush and listening faster.
“Ha ha. I know it’s not funny but I was out back in the store room yesterday when I heard the gun shots and screeching tires. I wondered what was going on.” Sam continued. “So you’re looking to stay here awhile, eh?”
“Yeah, Sam, it would make things easier for me.”
“You can move into the guest house at my place, John. The couple that were living there moved out. Since Hattie died I haven’t had anyone to chat with when I’m at home.”
“Okay, Sam, thanks Sounds good to me.”
Sam handed him the key and said, “Make yourself at home. The phone is still hooked up. I put it in my name.”
“Great, Sam, thanks so very much.’ With that along with a full stomach John Zen drove further south to the old Hobbs place and a long forgotten youth.
He drove south to place where the gravillas and pepper trees ended. To where the farms and dairies began. To that place out of his past. It stood on the northwest corner of Euclid and Ely. Maybe on a couple or three acres of land. Old long abandoned chicken coops and a small horse stable flanked one side of the property. A nice one story house, still painted white, as the center piece. Though to John Zen the real center piece was the huge gnarled old fig tree that had stood in the courtyard for many many long years. The tree trunk was a good 4 feet in diameter and the tree itself yielded up some of the best figs anywhere. The sweet fruit and leaves gone now in the warm December. The majestic tree of his youth had grown even larger. It’s bare limbs stretching out and covering the courtyard. Zen parked his car under the broad lifeless limbs which cast broken shadows of winter light over the decaying asphalt drive. He got out of the coupe and walked over to the tree and put both of his hands on the trunk. Catching up on old times, as it were. The tree swayed gently in the breeze as if to welcome John home again. Zen wished it were summer and the tree so full of fruit that it dropped everywhere. As if it were inviting you to taste it’s sweet bounty. All that fruit on the ground made you stop to sample some of it’s richness. While you rested and hid from the hot bright summertime sun.
He stood there and looked at the home where his mother had worked and the home he played in as kid. Often playing cards or parcheesi with his mother and Hattie at the large dining room table. John imagined he could still hear the laughter ringing inside the home. His mother and Hattie were both gone now. The laughter and joy of youth gone now as well in a current misshapen world of long ago dreams. As he thought this and other thoughts he wiped away a tear as he walked over to the guest house. Opening the door brought back many more memories of others who had lived and loved inside the small cottage. The gambler and his wife. Gone now as well. Among others from a long ago past.
Inside he found the phone and called Vivian.
“Hey, sis, it’s me.”
“Zen, finally. What’s going on? I’ve been calling your apartment all morning.”
He filled her in on the events of the morning and gave her the number that was on the phone. John told her to take some money from the stash and buy a big steak along with a bottle of dago red for dinner that night. He hoped she would but she rarely did what he asked unless it had something to do with the business. He gave her a sisterly phone smooch and signed off. While sitting at the kitchen table looking at the lifeless fig tree and it’s bare limbs his thoughts weaved a tangled web.
Realizing he was miles away from his scheduled talk with Ben Morris he made another call.
“Hannigan’s. And we ain’t open yet. Call back later.”
“Ben, it’s John. Something’s come up and I’m going to be stuck out in Ontario for at least the day. We still need to talk though. It concerns some friends of yours.”
“I understand. The phone isn’t a place for that sort of conversation. Come and see me when you can. I’ll come in early all week just for you.”
“Thanks Ben. If you want to talk I’ll be at this number.” After reading his friend the number Zen hung up the phone and lit a smoke.
Ben Morris was one of those strange folks you come across in your life thought Zen as the Pall Mall smoke swirled around his head. He was a client from a few years back who John had helped get clear of some movie studio trouble and while doing so Ben had become his friend. Ben turned out to be a good friend to have. The studio madness soured Ben to the Hollywood scene he had grown up with. So, Ben Morris became a business man and bar owner in downtown Los Angeles near Third Street. He cultivated many friends in his new business enterprise with his quick wit and vast knowledge of firearms among many other things. Friends, most folks would certainly shy away from. Friends, that on occasion would sell him firearms or come looking to him for something special. Something special for that special job. Ben Morris was also known for his loyalty to his friends and his tight lips. Attributes his new friends appreciated.
The ringing phone brought Zen out of his reverie.
“John. Ben. Look, I just heard about something going on out where you are. Does it have anything to do with our talk?”
“Yeah, most probably so. Find out what you can and I’ll be at your place tomorrow morning for sure. First thing.”
“Okay. See you. Keep your head down.”
Ben rang off before Zen could make his reply.
If Ben Morris was already getting some info on the Amos Fly murder it meant the case was moving forward. A murder that now was probably, most assuredly, a mob hit. A hit that was made to make a statement. A statement that was meant for someone to take deep into their heart. Lighting another smoke with the butt of the one he was smoking Zen called Velda at the office.
“John Zen, P.I.” spilled the lilting voice.
‘”Hey, sweetie. I’ll be back in town tomorrow morning. Things are beginning to move. I’m going to stay out here for the day and try to talk to your gal pal, Brenda May. Is she still staying at the Orange Hotel?”
“As far as I know, John.”
“Fine. See you late tomorrow morning.”
“OK. John. Be careful.”
After locking up Zen started the coupe and drove back north. He was thinking the best way to handle things at the Orange Hotel would be a stop at Ford Lunch and have a quick word with Sam Hobbs. He parked on Euclid Ave. along the curb. Got out and went inside. He saw his friend talking to some people in a rear booth. The cafe was almost deserted as it was mid morning. The breakfast crowd had thinned out to just that booth. The lunch crowd was still an hour or so away. Zen stayed where he was. When Sam finished his chat he walked over to his friend.
“Long time no see.” Sam chuckled.
“Yeah. It’s been awhile.” Replied Zen. “Sam, i’m going back to Los Angeles this afternoon for some business. But before I go I need to talk to a working girl at the Orange Hotel. Who do I need to see? If you get my drift. I want to keep this as simple and painless as possible.”
“Sure, John, I understand. Let me see, you want to ask for Fast Eddie. He’s a bellboy. His real name is Edward Otto but everyone calls him Fast Eddie. He’s the guy you want to talk to.”
“Thanks, Sam. I’ll stay in touch and I’ll keep the house key.”
“Not a problem, John. Keep your head down.”
“Everyone keeps saying that. I guess I’d better.”
The Orange Hotel was just a block and a half from Ford Lunch. Zen drove the short distance and parked the coupe in the lot out back. John knew that going up to the desk and asking for Brenda May’s room number would just be asking for trouble. He also knew that finding Fast Eddie and then asking about Brenda was somewhat edgy as well. He formed a plan and as he stepped into the time worn lobby he bought a newspaper. Then he went to the shoe shine stand and sat in the chair. As the young man began to shine his shoes Zen read the paper. After a few minutes John asked the young man which bellboy was Fast Eddie. The young man looked up from his work and said with a smile.
“Fast Eddie? This time of day? Mister, you must be crazy. Fast Eddie don’t be come to work till after 4 most days.”
“Oh. I see. Well, a friend of mine suggested I see him about this girl, Brenda May. He said if I was ever in the area to stop by and pay her a visit.”
As John said this he folded a five in half and handed it to the young man. The youngster palmed the fin and said under his breath.
“She be in room 548, mister.”
“Thanks.” replied Zen. The shine cloth snapped a few more times as the young man finished up the job.
After paying for the shoe shine he walked over to the elevator and lit a smoke as he waited. Getting in he hit the fourth floor button. At the fourth floor he got out and walked up the stairs to the fifth floor. On the fifth floor he looked both ways to get his bearings while he stubbed out his smoke. He turned left and walked to room number 548. Before knocking on the door he took a deep breath and put his hand inside his jacket and closed it around his gun. He knocked. There was no answer but he could hear movement inside the room. He knocked again. This time louder.
“Who is it? What do you want? I’m busy.”
“Fast Eddie sent me.” Was Zen’s reply.
With that the door opened and a rather good looking dark haired woman stood in the door way with her hands on her hips.
“It’s too early for that. Besides I have to go out. So scram!”.
John pushed his way into the room while drawing his gun. He kicked the door closed behind him. Quickly scanning the room he saw that Miss May, was packing her bags. Stepping to the bathroom he looked inside. Opening the closet door revealed there was no on else in the room other than the two of them. Putting his gun back in his shoulder holster he said.
“John Zen, PI. You must be Brenda May. Looks like you’re in a hurry here.”
“So, you’re Vivian’s p.i. boss? Hmmm. Well, honey, you’re too late to help me now. Just get out of here and tell Vivian thanks but she can’t help me any more.”
With that she turned and began to pack more of her clothes into the open suitcase on the bed.
“Look, sister, things aren’t that simple now. Someone is dead and it looks like you think you might be next. Talk to me before it’s too late.”
Brenda turned from her packing with tears running down her face, streaking her make-up.
“Honestly, I don’t know anything. All I know is Amos Fly is dead. He was nothing but trouble for me. See? A strange little man with strange feelings about me. I haven’t seen him since the cops got involved a few weeks back. The guy was trouble. I don’t know anything. Now he’s dead and I’m not sticking around to find out if I’m next.”
“Where are you going?”
“Back to L.A. I guess. I don’t know. But I’m not staying here.”
“Okay. I’m heading that way myself. Why don’t I give you are ride back to L.A. You can stay with Vivian.”
“No, I’m not getting Vivian involved anymore than she already is. I have a friend near downtown who I can stay with. I’ll take the ride offer and you can drop me off at Union Station.”
“Fine. Finish packing and let’s go.”
Brenda May quickly finished packing and John Zen led her to the stairway for the walk down the five floors to the lobby.
“No sense taking the elevator. We don’t want anyone to see you leave here with a suitcase in your hand.”
When they arrived at the ground floor Zen stepped into the deserted lobby. Looked about. Then he grabbed Brenda by the wrist and they made a quick exit out into the parking lot. Zen tossed the suitcase into the back seat as he started the car. Brenda May was already sitting in the front seat.
“Get down so no one will see you leaving the hotel with me.”
She did as she was told and the two of them started their trip back to Los Angeles. They drove in silence for a few miles. Zen lit a smoke and spoke.
“I think you know more than you’re letting on. Come clean with me and maybe I can put a stop to all the madness in your life. How did you meet this Amos Fly character?”
“Fast Eddie said there was going to be a party out at one of the wineries in Cucamonga. This was a few months back. I’d been stuck at the hotel for awhile and just sorta drifted into a working girls life. A girl’s got to eat you know.”
“Sure. Go on.”
“Well, me and a few girls took him up on the offer and we were driven out to the winery.”
“Do you remember which one?”
“It was dark but, yeah. It was the big stone place out past Archibald and the train tracks some where near Turner, I think.”
‘Okay. That’s good. It must have been Padre winery. Keep going.”
“We got there and there’s a bunch of Italians and a few other guys standing around drinking and eating in this very nice large room inside the winery. Lots of food and drinks set out. Us girls were told to just mingle and if the guys wanted anything they would let us know.”
“Tell me some more about those other guys that were there that night.”
“Nothing much to tell other than Amos was one of the guys, along with 4 or 5 of his friends, I guess.”
“So was Amos the guy in charge or what? I mean obviously the Italian mob guys were hosting some sort of party. Who seemed to be the other big shot?”
“Oh, it wasn’t Amos. That’s for sure. It was some other really good looking guy along with this sorta dumpy side kick kinda guy. Amos seemed to know both groups of people. The Italians and whoever the other guys were.”
“So how did you get to know Amos from that evening?’
“Come on. He wanted to get laid and he picked me. He was pretty drunk and had some trouble. I didn’t give him a hard time about it and I guess he fell in love. Simple as that.”
John Zen was beginning to see the picture. To bring it to clarity he would need to have his talk with Ben Morris in the morning.
“I see. So you do Amos. He falls in love and then won’t leave you alone. Right?”
“Yeah, that pretty much covers it. The guy was creepy, ya know? But look, I needed the money and he was easy.”
“Okay. Understood. Did you happen to over hear anything while you were around Amos or at this party?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean like anybody talking about some business deals you weren’t supposed to hear.”
Brenda sat and thought about that for a mile or two. She finally spoke.
“Yeah. Maybe. See, we had gone between these two big redwood wine tanks for some privacy. I don’t think anyone saw us go back there. But while I was trying to get things taken care of I heard the big Italian guy and the good looking guy with his dumpy friend talking about Nevada and Las Vegas. And some stuff about a new horse wire in Los Angeles that was going to go up against the guys from Chicago.”
“Jesus, honey, no wonder you’re scared. Yeah, you might be next on their hit parade alright. Someone saw you two back there and Amos did something after that night that made some one very unhappy.”
They drove the rest of the way into downtown Los Angeles in a sporadic silence. There was no way Zen could really put it all together without some more info. He had most of what he needed from Brenda but the rest of what she had was probably just Amos Fly being some sort of a strange freak. Nothing that would move things along as to why he was killed or just what the mob had in it’s plans. Or more importantly what Amos had done to get himself so brutally murdered.
The afternoon was bight and clear with very little left in the way of the Santa Ana winds. The tail end of the devil winds was always very welcome. That’s if there could be a good thing to the winds. The departure of the wind left the air and vistas scoured clean for a time. Or until things went back to normal and the smog began to roll back in from the Pacific where it had been blown by the winds in order to turn things back into that dappled wintertime southern California sunlight of transparent grey brown hues. Hues that reminded the locals of summertime but without the oppressive heat. It would stay that way until it rained or the next Santa Ana blew in to scour the air clean once again.
Zen exited the highway at Alameda St. He turned right and drove the short distance to Union Station. The City of Lost Angels beautiful Spanish slash art deco train station. Usually the place where those with money arrived in L.A. Not the Greyhound bus depot, just a few miles to the west. Where legions of Howard Hughes’ men preyed on the young women from corn country who came to L.A. without much of anything in their pockets other than a lust for the silver screen. The men Hughes sent promised them motion picture work and a place to live. All they had to do was sign on the line and Mr. Hughes would take care of everything. Some of them were lucky enough never to see Mr. Hughes. Or the inside of a motion picture studio, for that matter. Others, well, others, just ended up as Howard’s fuck toys. Living the life of Lotus Land while being used and abused by the jackals and locusts of tinsel town. Some made it out. Others never did. Just another seemingly endless sad story in the City of Lost Love.
Zen pulled to the curb in front of the station. There were some comings and goings but not enough for a porter to rush him away from the curb. He removed Brenda May’s bag from the back seat and told her.
“Look, if you need anything at all, you call Vivian. Understand? I don’t like this but you’re a big girl and I can’t make you hide out with Vivian if you don’t want to.”
“Thanks, John, for all you and Vivian have done for me. I just don’t want you involved anymore with me and my screw ups. Okay? I’ll be fine. My friend will pick me up here as soon as I call. Please, don’t worry.”
With that she gave Zen a hug and a kiss on his neck then turned to walk into the train station. She went a few paces toward the lobby doors then turned and gave John a big wonderful smile. A smile and a wave that made his heart skip a beat.