Monday, September 16, 2013

***Out In The 1940s Crime Noir Night-The Stuff Of Dreams-Take Three

Hey, Inspector Tim Riley here. I guess by now you have all read in the Examiner or heard on the radio about how Sam Sutter, who we want for questioning about a couple of things, a couple of shootings and why, has flown the coop. This is a tough one, personally, see Sam was my old friend from when he was on the San Francisco police force with me several years ago, back in the rough and ready early ‘30s when this town was wide open. When you could get all the illegal liquor, women, dope, graft, whatever as long as you had the kale, the dough. A time when life was cheap, when if you were not tough and rough you didn’t have Chinaman’s chance of surviving, nice life surviving anyway. He, fresh out of college, U. of San Francisco if I recall correctly, and I fresh out of the academy the first in my family to make the civil service list and proud of it, were assigned to the D.A.s office where we had our hands full, no, more than our hands full with every desperado who headed west when things went south back east and we had to clean up the mess, or at least keep things in check.
Sam pulled my chestnuts out of the fire more than once when I was more rum brave and foolish than smart running up again Jimmy Clancy’s gang. We were chasing windmills in those days going to clean up the whole world during our tenure although Sam and his college training (and maybe that one year of law school over at Hastings before he decided he wasn’t cut on to be somebody’s mouthpiece) always was reining me in trying get me to pace myself. I got wind that the Clancy gang was unloading unbonded liquor over by the Sutro Baths and went out there along to make the bust one night. Sam came out guns blazing and saved me when things turned hot but it was close. He helped me another time when I was down at the Embarcadero and I was at the short end of the stick against Hymie Swartz’s boys when I tried to serve a silly summons on old Hymie. But enough of cutting up old torches, after all this is about Sam and his troubles, his big troubles.
I kept in touch with Sam over the years even after he went private. Yeah, a private snooper, oops, sorry, private detective, taking any case that interested him, and sometimes when the rent was due, some client “forgot” to pay the bill for services rendered leaving him short, or some dame was giving him that old come hither look instead of dough , anything that came through his door, no questions asked. Hell, not that long ago he and I worked a couple of cases where our investigations met. The Roma gang, yeah, the big drug and numbers guys, was spreading its wings into the Bay Area trying to take over the rackets from old man Clancy and his son, Billy, and we were on the inside of that one and Sam was working a missing wayward daughter case, a Clancy daughter, and our paths crossed. Crossed amid some old time gunfire which we had to shoot our way out over on Bay Street, down by the park. Jesus. He bailed me out of a couple of other tight spots when the mobsters weren’t taking kindly to the idea of a collar and were throwing lead my way so I don’t know what got into him. I don’t know why he flew the coop, why he left his partner Miles Regan, to take the heat after he left.
Who am I kidding. I know exactly, extremely exactly why he left, why he flew the coop. A dame, the whiff of perfume, the feel of satin sheets, you get it, right, get it if you are a guy. I got a few looks at her as we were honing in on the case after it came to our attention that a couple of gunsels were unaccounted for, unaccounted for that is lying face down somewhere, and Sam’s name came up on the ticket. He gave us the runaround like he sometimes did when he was working at close quarters for a client, that thing about confidentiality that he hid behind when it was to his advantage. I could see why he might run amok with her but still he had plenty of dames, good-looking dames with dough, and no strings attached.
One dame, a looker too, some soap heiress from back East, wanted to set him up in his very own suite, with car and expenses attached after he pulled her out of some opium den before she went off the deep end and lost all her jack through disinheritance. The scheme sounded like he was to be her pet poodle and so, no way, but he thought about it. There were a couple of others too maybe not the lookers like the soap dame but with dough and with plenty of tough guys wanting to go around. All I know this time, with this dame, is the note he left for me at his office desk that Miles passed on to me- “the stuff of dreams, I got to go for it, Tim. Good luck.”
Hell, I better back up and tell you what I know, the facts, and maybe you can make something out of what he wrote to me. Like I say Sam and Miles ran a private detective agency over on Post Street. Miles mainly did the divorce work, key-hole peeper stuff since that was what he was built for, a pretty boy, a skirt-chaser, although he was married, very married from what I heard. Miles stuck around for gratitude time and I heard did pretty well with lonely gay divorcees whatever his wife might think. Sam, frankly, not as a good-looking a guy as Miles, Miles and all his feathers, but built and tough, which some dames definitely go for, did the real work, the missing jewelry, the runaway husband or wife, the quick notice body guard stuff, and when necessary the ransom stuff that took a few brains to figure out like with that soap dame. Remind me to tell you about that one sometime when I have time, when we get Sam in our mitts because it was a beauty. The kidnappers never knew what hit them and our soap dame walked away from that mess just as nice as you please. And knew how to show a tough guy her appreciation.

No job was off-limits except that it had to be legit, legit at least in Sam’s calculating mind. So he made a living at it after he left the force. He said to me after he left the D.A.s office when the Madera case blew up in our faces, when a couple of coppers got killed because we didn’t have enough intelligence about the operation when we moved in, that he got tired of chasing windmills trying to bring law and order to the Wild West for peanuts when he could make some decent dough on his own and without the bureaucracy crabbing on him all the time. And maybe he had a point, maybe he was right, except I am married and have three hungry kids and so I couldn’t, wouldn’t think of leaving the force. Yah, and too I am still proud to be on the force, to be the first in the family to make the civil service list. Sam had bigger dreams, dreams he kept hidden, hidden from me anyway. So Sam was ready, ready as hell, when she came through the door.

She being Mary Kelly, but who knows what her name really was. She used Brigitte O’Shea on me the first time I met her. That first time I got a good look at her when we were trying to figure out what Sam was up to. She had a passport with the name Helen Dewar on it and later, through Interpol we found she had used Susan Gross, Minnie Smith and Sarah Miles according to her rap sheet so who knows. Lets’ call her Mary because that is what Sam called her, okay. She came through Sam’s office door like a whirlwind. One of those dames whose every movement is calculated for effect, calculated to get some guy to do something daffy, pretty please. Good-looking too, Irish of course, a tall rangy one, taller than Sam, a little too thin for me but a looker, with long brunette hair, blues eyes, the works, and a figure that cried out come hither. A woman who would not have to carry her own luggage, not for long, as my old Irish grandfather used to say.

The time I saw her I would say though that maybe had had a couple of scrapes with cheap street recently but maybe that was me thinking that later when stuff came out about who she was and where she had been . Forget that, okay, forget the cheap street stuff because that stuff wouldn’t mean anything to Sam when she got his wanting habits on. And he got his own wanting habits on, that damsel in distress sensor that beamed in his head even in the old days back on the force when he was nothing but a flat-out skirt-chaser. If I know Sam it was the perfume, the scent, whatever she was wearing combined with her looks that got him, that and the story she had to tell.

And what a story. Apparently she was a chronic lying because she told about six versions of the same story with different twists from what Sam said to Miles before he left and from what little he told me when a few things were going awry in his life before we lost his trail. Sam, despite his reputation for chasing windmills, was cynical enough not to believe any of Mary’s stories too much, although that didn’t slow him down grasping for her favors once he got a whiff of that scent. I bet it was gardenia, it had to be; because I know for a fact that he almost felt off the deep end before when he was on the force after he ran into a woman, Hazel James, smelling of gardenia, who murdered her husband and he was ready to jump through hoops for her saying it was self-defense. All the evidence drifted toward the hard fact that she had shot that dear husband while he was drunk and passed out on the floor. Sam also neglected, or tried to neglect, the little fact that he was having an affair with her after she shown up one day in our office claiming that the dead husband was beating her up. So, yah, I bet six-two-and even that it was gardenia.

Mary told him a story, a story about a statue that she had lost, a very valuable statue that she had purchased in the Orient, in some Hong Kong antique shop, and had been stolen from her room at the Grand Hotel in Shang-hai by a ring of high-end thieves one foggy night. She had been on their trail ever since and had gotten wind that they were in town and she wanted Sam to go with her to negotiate for the return of the statue. Now I still don’t know if the statue thing, the value of it was hooey, or real. All I know is that a couple of guys are dead, Sam is gone, and I am left trying to pick up the pieces so I assume the thing was valuable. A small old time statue, with jewels on it, lots of jewels, in the form of a Buddha.

So Sam and Mary meet this gang, the leader anyway, a guy named Sid Green, a guy known to us from Interpol, a bad character, drugs, kidnapping, art thefts, that kind of thing, and left no loose ends from what we knew, and a couple of his bodyguards, at the Imperial Hotel over on Mission Street down by the bay. Sam did the talking, the hired- gun talking knowing who he was dealing with, but there was no go, no negotiations because after China Sid now knew that the damn thing was even more valuable than Mary thought. Supposedly there was a ton of stuff inside, rare, very rare, almost extinct jade that made the jewels on the outside seem like costume stuff. So no go.

What Sam also found out, found out to no effect as we now know, was that Mary had previously been an associate of Sid’s, a close associate in the days where she was his queen of the married man blackmail scams. They had had a falling out because she was trying to run her own operation, trying for her own stuff of dreams once she got onto the fact that she was smarter and better organizer that Sid. But now she was trying to grab that statue anyway she could, for herself to get a little capital to pull her own scores. And grab it for Sam, of course, now that along the way between the different versions of her story, they had shared some satin sheets together. Nothing happened that night, no shoot-outs, but the no go signaled on both sides that some nasty business was coming down.

The first nasty business was a couple of days later when Sid sent one of his gunsels, a punk kid named Elmer to eliminate Sam and Mary, eliminate for good over at his place. All this Elmer got for his efforts was a quick Sam R.I.P. That action reopened negotiations or so Sam and Mary thought when Sid sent a message that he wanted a truce. Sid arranged for another meeting at the Imperial Hotel to reevaluate the situation under the new circumstances, the one less bodyguard circumstances he said. The new circumstances though turned out to be a planned ambush down the corridor from Sid’s suite. All that got was another gunsel, Willy Proust, a local rat, who we had a rap sheet on as long as your arm, another Sam R.I.P. After the gun smoke settled Sid alone now in his suite was easy pickings for Sam and Mary. They just took the statue from Sid’s table while he watched, watched with a bemused smile. They left, slamming the door behind them, with the Buddha in tow.

Here is where things get squirrely though. Once they got back to Mary’s place and checked out the insides they found that the material, the jade, had been replaced with fake jade, some glass really. See Sid, the savvy old con, had pulled a switch, just in case. Needless to say Sid has since flown the coop for parts unknown. Sam at that point was ready to call it quits, ready to come in and talk to me about everything. He did some over the phone, giving me a lot of the stuff that I am telling you, and I told him to come on in on his own. Then something happened, something happened to Sam, because I never heard from him again, except that note, that “stuff of dreams” note he left at his office. I figure Mary did one of her come hither acts, maybe did a couple of things to him in bed that she had picked up in the Orient, Kama Sutra stuff or whatever they call it, and got him all steamed up and so he threw in his lot with her. Or maybe he just got tired of living on cheap street, on somebody else’s sorrows. He, they, according to our sources which may have it all wrong had been variously seen in Hong Kong, Istanbul, and Vienna. Wherever Sam is and for whatever reason he blew town I hope, I hope like hell, that it isn’t me that has to bring him in.

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