Tuesday, December 10, 2013

***The Life And Times Of Michael Philip Marlin-Lost In The Rain 

As readers know Tyrone Fallon, the son of the late famous Southern California private operative, Michael Philip Marlin (Tyrone used his mother’s maiden name for obvious reasons), and private eye in his own right told my old friend Peter Paul Markin’s friend Joshua Lawrence Breslin some stories that his illustrious father told him. Here’s one such story.  

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman-with kudos to Raymond Chandler

Michael Philip Marlin often said that he was not an introspective man, a man who thought long and hard before or after he did something. He said that in his business, the trouble business, the hard-nosed private eye racket, it was best not to mull things over, to brood over things. That stuff was for the uptown intellectuals, the literati, or the Hollywood swells that got paid good money to mull and brood. He emphasized that it was bad business to do that stuff especially when things went south on you. Went south on you from your own doing, or your client’s not levelling with you, or maybe you got waylaid by some dame’s hard luck story and went over the edge that way. So he didn’t sulk and moan as a general rule, got drunk or high or went out with some on the loose dame and forgot about it. Then the next case came along and all that stuff was old hat and hardly remembered anyway. Except this one case, the one that he told me about where for once in his professional life he actually caused more harm than good, and had gotten a couple of guys dead, very dead because he overplayed his hand. That one caused him some weary, sleep-less nights for a while.

Marlin had been having a string of bad luck back in 1940, maybe early 1941 before the Nips blasted us at Pearl Harbor and made luck, good or bad, take a back seat to killing every one of those bastards that we could get our hands on.  His lady love of the time, Fiona Florin, had played the percentages and forsaken him and his single ways for another speedier guy, Benny Sills. His cherished 1932 Packard was giving out on him and he had no dough, no serious dough coming in to fix the thing. He shortly would have to start pounding the pavements of sunny Los Angeles if some business did not show up at his doorstep. Even the doorstep was in doubt since he was three months behind in his office rent and his room rent. He did not figure to do much business if he was living out of some cardboard box down at the Southern Pacific Railroad jungle, or sharing space in some woe-begotten ravine.     

Then L.A. Detective Lieutenant Bunky Pitts called him up and said he had a job for him, maybe. He had known Bunky back in the days when they both worked out of the D. A.’s office and Bunky after that experience would some work, some non-police work his way. The maybe part came when Bunky told him who his client might be- Duke Ravel. Yes, Duke Ravel who was known far and wide as Buster Bogan’s right- hand man. Brogan the boss of bosses of all the West Coast action, booze, broads, drugs, gambling you name it he had his fingers in it. And Duke made sure those fingers stuck, struck gold too. Marlin could see why Bunky would not touch the thing, no public cop, even those on the Brogan-Ravel take couldn’t afford to be seen catering to Duke’s request. Marlin almost told Bunky to forget it, no dice, nada, since he usually gave a wide berth in the gangsters and mobsters around town when he thought for just a minute about his pressing financial needs. So he told Bunky to send Duke over to at least talk it over.

A couple of days later Duke showed up at Marlin’s doorstep wearing a high-priced suit and more gold on his fingers that he had ever seen on a man, or most women for that matter. Duke lit a cigarette, Marlin offered some low-shelf Scotch which Duke accepted with a grimace and he proceeded to tell his story, his reasons for needing, what did he call Marlin, oh yah, “a cheapie gumshoe.”  Naturally it involved a woman, a wild young woman whom he had met at a Hollywood party. Now this woman, Shana Dove (Marlin assumed that was her Hollywood name), had been around the block a few times since she landed in L.A. from some Podunk town in the Midwest, Muncie, Indiana Duke thought. But as will happen to guys, guys from those lowdown railroad jungle denizens to the hard- shell Dukes of the world, will get skirt-crazy and do things they ordinarily would not dream of doing.

Duke wanted to marry this Shana but she had a problem, a recent problem that needed investigation before he took action, if any. She had been a party girl, a Hollywood party girl, paid to do, well, do anything that was needed at a party, a stag party let’s say. Some guy, some smooth operator, a guy named Sam Shepard, some kind of free-lance photographer had taken some photos of her while she was in party mode and had sent a couple of samples to Duke once he knew the score. Duke had paid him off once already to the tune of five thousand dollars. He, mistakenly, had assumed he had stopped the problem. A few days before this meeting in Marlin’s office he had received another lot of photos and another request for dough. He fumed but after he settled down he called up his friend Bunky Pitts to see if he knew anybody who on the QT could get a line on this guy, and put an end to the problem before he murdered the bastard. Marlin thought to himself that Duke had it bad, bad as a man can have it for a women, even if she was some tramp, if he hadn’t already wasted this Shepard guy and left him in some back alley. The biggest thing that impressed Marlin though was this case seemed pretty straight forward despite his distaste for mixing and matching with lowlife. That and the two Gs Duke left on his desk.   

Strangely the case actually did work out to be pretty easy, until that last day, the day when everything blew up in Marlin’s face.  He had persuaded Duke at that first meeting to let him talk to this Shana to see where she stood, see what she knew about this Sam Shepard and his roving camera eye. So he met her one sunny afternoon over at her apartment at the Longview Arms in Bunker Hill (when that section of town was a step-up for those hordes who had descended on Hollywood to make that big silver screen and had some measure of success, maybe as extras, behind the camera, or, um, a starlet) where he learned later, later when it was too late that Duke was footing the bill. Shana met him at the door and she certainly had some looks, blonde, naturally, as was the style for everybody aspiring to any hope to be in front of the camera, slender, long legs and well- turned too, blue eyes, eyes that he would get back to in a minute. Flash looks though from Marlin’s experience, working class Midwest minute glamor and then fast fade after children, life’s grind or its sorrows for those not smart enough to get away from the low-life scene of bars, salesmen, and cheap perfume. She welcomed him in, asked him to take seat, offered him cigarettes, Scotch, or some snow (snow before it became illegal and when you could purchase it at your local drugstore just like aspirin). He cut to the chase quickly, wanted to know her background, what she knew about Shepard and what he had on her, and why.              

Shana gave Marlin the litany, the song he had heard many, too many times before. She, a small town girl, had few prospects except getting married to some farmer’s son, having kids and fading gone. But she was restless like a lot of people who went through the Great Depression and couldn’t, wouldn’t stand still just in case something turned up somewhere and they could get out from under. She had seen a movie (more than one but as the song went one was enough) with some beauty who couldn’t hold a candle to her looks, decided that she would be the next thing, left that Podunk town on the fastest Greyhound bus and arrived in Hollywood ready to go set the night on fire.

Things hadn’t exactly worked out as expected, she had run through all her dough and was at her wits end when she met Sam Shepard at Snyder’s Drugstore over on Vine (the same place where Lana or some screen beauty was “discovered”). He claimed like a million other guys looking for some off-hand sex that he could get her into pictures, if. Well, she did the “if” and he actually had gotten her in films, blue films where he was the cameraman. She was so hungry to get into films that it did not matter to her if that was her entrée. (Sam had told her how more than one famous star, male and female, had started in the blues and maybe it was true.) Of course part of being a “starlet” was to be available for the Hollywood party circuit, to be available to show the guests a good time, a high-class whore as she well knew once she started working that circuit. But it paid the rent and that is where she met Duke, Duke who was crazy about her from the first time he eyed her (and had her that night). When he talked of marriage she finally thought she had made the big time (and would finally get her “break” since the mob, or rather Buster Brogan was the behind the scenes financier of many film productions). Then this Shepard stepped up for his cut, or else (she had not told Duke of her prior sexual relationship with Shepard and Marlin thought it best not to mention it to him when he reported back). The story sounded familiar to Marlin, he could name actual parallel cases all around town, and more importantly it sounded plausible.      

Maybe that is where the whole thing started to blow up, believing her. No, not believing her for the usual hard luck story that dames will throw at you, and tear at your heart, but because those blue eyes mentioned earlier were stoned, stoned to the gills while she was

telling her lying story. Shana “forgot” to mention that she had had a boyfriend back home, a guy named Kenny Taft, who was supposed to marry her until she got Hollywood stardust in her eyes. This Kenny decided after she dumped him to follow her to the West Coast and they had been lovers and living together until Duke started paying the rent. Moreover Shana had begged Duke pretty please to give her friend from back home a job. Which he did. That is how Kenny wound up being Duke’s driver and confidante.

Now Kenny did not mind, or at least he went along with the idea of Shana being a “party girl,” in fact he encouraged it to further her career. He did not mind or went along with the fact that she was mobbed up but what got to him were those old blue movies, some pretty raw. The way he found out about it was when Duke confided in him that he was being squeezed by this Sam Shepard for pictures taken of his fiancé. And showed Kenny those samples Shepard had sent along as proof. Kenny saw red and decided to confront Shepard about it in order to get all the prints. Well sometimes in this life people, in this case Shepard get on their high horse especially when they see a goldmine ahead. Shepard would not see reason and so Kenny Taft plugged him, plugged him dead.       

That is where believing Shana, doped-up Shana, led to some unintended consequences. Shepard had a partner, a best boy, named Joe Simon, who had copies of the prints for his own purposes and so he tried after Shepard’s untimely death to squeeze Duke, squeeze him big time because he thought that Duke had killed his partner. Duke informed Marlin and he set up a meet with this Joe.    

What Duke and Marlin did not know was that Joe was the guy who provided Shana with her high-grade coke once she got a taste for that after the drugstore stuff faded. She was at Joe’s place when the met occurred, stoned. Here is where Marlin made his final mistake. He really believed that Duke had killed Shepard after working through the possibilities that he knew so he wanted to set up the meet in such a way that Duke would drop in if for no other reason than he was hot-headed enough to come storming in with his own program, an off-hand .38 blaring away. He wanted to see if Duke was in a killing mode. He was, and one Joseph Simon was shot by one Richard “Duke” Ravel. In the confusion though Marlin realized something was wrong with the play, especially when Duke started firing at him in his fury. And on that day one Richard Ravel bought his rest in peace.      

As for Shana, like a million other Shanas, she walked away from the room after perfunctory police questioning, walked away free and clear. For a couple of years she traded in on her notoriety by commanding high prices as a “party girl” and as her looks faded under the weight of the life and dope she too faded, maybe went back to Muncie for all he knew. As for the Shepard case that was never solved, the L.A. Police Department not desiring to spend much time on some pervert cameraman, some low-rent grifter so Kenny Taft never faced the gallows big step-off and for all Marlin knew he too could be back in Muncie. As for Marlin he spent a few restless steamy nights figuring out why he figured wrong, about as wrong as a man could figure. 

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